Just Above My Head by James Baldwin

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This is the sixth novel by James Baldwin, and again it is set in Harlem, New York where he grew up in. All of his books can be seen as children inappropriate but to some degree, I am just so engrossed in the realism aspect of these novels that I can’t seem to stop myself from checking out another one from the library. I actually really revered in the brotherhood of Hall and Arthur Montana. However, the character that made the most impression on me would certainly be Julia.

She was a child preacher from the age of eight and has since been a very devout Christian. Her parents always took huge pride in her which is also the reason why her brother hates her because she has all the attention of their parents. Gospel hymn quotations kind of adds a lyrical sense to the novel and thus suggests the fact that music has played a large part of the African American experience and life.

I know Julia did not want to be a preacher by heart or even believe in Christianity. However, she was a very filial girl and therefore would do anything to make her parents happy. By way of contrast when her mother passed away eventually due to health issues and his brother was sent away to her grandma because his father couldn’t endure him, Julia notices signs of degradation in her father. Which eventually, led to sexual assault and she was raped by her own father. Not only in the novel did I notice the main focus isn’t on racism anymore, but it just so much struck me when Baldwin employs a very vivid and strong way to protest against sexual abuse, a very morbid form when it was done by a father to his own daughter.

-Coreen C. 

Just Above My Head by James Baldwin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin

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This is another semi-autographical novel which makes it itself another classic and the first major work Baldwin has written. For one thing, I feel like a lot of children should be able to sympathize with John Grimes: we all wish and hanker to be our parents’ favorite child. We take care of our younger siblings because we want our parents to feel proud of us. But then a lot of times life treats us as unequally as how it treats John Grimes, his father abuses him because he wasn’t of his blood, but merely the child between his mother Elizabeth and another man he doesn’t know.

And then there is Gabriel’s sister Florence. In my opinion, she really hates her little brother again because of how unfairly their mother treated her. This religious woman, although strict toward her son, made Florence do everything and even denied her of her education. Sexism forced Florence to leave home and doubt religion altogether with the existence and faith in God because such a sinful man like Gabriel could become a preacher.

My two favorite characters: John and Florence both serve as the centers of the theme of injustice. They didn’t do anything wrong or egregious for their parents to hate them, but one because of her gender, the other of his blood denied them of any attention and love they could possibly get which really saddens me a lot according to the descriptions they were given in the book. Since this is semi-autobiographical I am surmising here that the author James Baldwin probably was not the favorite child either if not the least favorite child liked by his parents with eight siblings.

-Coreen C. 

Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone by James Baldwin

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This book, like many other of Baldwin’s novels, includes many scenes of bisexuality and racism. Barbara and Leo Proudhammer stick together like a pack of gum, I can feel Barbara’s oppression of his love for Leo because one he is black, so this white woman under societal pressure backed up and could only watch Leo from a dark corner. However, it wasn’t long before Leo also steps in and the two crossed the line: and failed. Both eventually returned to their positions as friend and from that on I wouldn’t say the amorous aspect of their love for each other just vanished, but the two characters did an awesome job of suppressing it.

My favorite character in this book would actually be Caleb, Leo’s brother who is a World War II vet. He was falsely imprisoned when he was a young man, but through his faith in Christianity, he was able to release his grudge for white people. Now, in most books religion occupy a huge chunk of Baldwin’s plot, but usually in a negative way as he always seems to question or deny the positive influence of religion and denounce it. But in this book perhaps Caleb is the first character who actually was able to eradicate his sense of racial discrimination through the divine guidance of God. Nonetheless, though, Christianity also Caleb very orthodox and traditional. He didn’t like Leo being an actor and constantly rebukes him for being an atheist. This implies a theme of maturity because before Caleb was arrested he was a very promiscuous and frivolous person.

The reason I love Caleb is not because of his devoutness in Christianity but that his love for Leo, his little brother. It may not be conveyed in the best way, but he tries his best to create an atmosphere of family for Leo which is very heart-warming.

-Coreen C. 

Tell Me How Long The Train’s Been Gone by James Baldwin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Shaken: Fighting to Stand Strong No Matter What Comes Your Way by Tim Tebow

When I saw that Tim Tebow would write a young readers copy of his book Shaken, which I read and loved, I was ecstatic! I adore Tim with everything he does, and this book is no different!

The book starts off with Tim going through a tough time in his life: getting let off from the Eagles. He explains how he got through it and how we can all get through tough times by letting God lead us and remembering his love for us. Throughout the book he let’s us into the kid’s life’s that he has worked with and how tough they have it and what he has learned from it. He never comes off as having an ego and always tries to tell us that it doesn’t matter how people view you on Earth, it doesn’t matter if you are popular, we are all equal in God’s eyes!

I believe this book would be perfect for any child going through a tough time (especially if they know Tim and enjoy football). It really manages to hold the readers attention.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for sending me a copy to review.

-Skylar N.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown is a thrilling mystery that follows a professor of symbology at Harvard University named Robert Langdon. While traversing the roads of Paris, Robert and his companions stumble across mysteries and codes to crack. To add to the mayhem, they’ve got the French Central Directorate of the Judicial Police and later on, the British police to worry about.

Jacques Sauniere, renowned curator of Le Musée du Louvre in Paris, has been murdered by a Catholic monk named Silas, and the Direction Cnetrale de la Police Judiciaire (France’s detective and security service) has discovered something highly unusual about his body. There is a symbol written across his chest and his body is positioned in a peculiar manner which mimics Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. They also find that Sauniere has left a cryptic message on the museum floor around him.

Robert Langdon, who is in France on business, is called in by Bezu Fache, a DCPJ captain, on the pretense of helping to interpret the strange symbols and aspects of the crime scene. Langdon explains to Fache that the pentacle written on Sauniere’s chest must be an allusion to goddess worship, as Sauniere was well-versed in this subject. Shortly after, Langdon is made aware that he is Fache’s prime suspect for the case. Sophie Neveu, a police cryptographer, is the one who secretly tells him this, and helps him to escape the Louvre. It turns out that Sophie has her own motivations and, with the help of Langdon, begins decoding the message the curator left.

This book has been on my reading list for a while now, and I’m so glad I finally came about to reading it. I found it very fascinating as much of it pertained to actual religious groups like the Priori of Sion and Opus Dei. I don’t really know much about groups like these, so it was interesting to hear about them and their beliefs. I also really enjoyed the codes and how they were broken. Throughout the book, Langdon explains certain meanings behind symbols, and I found that particularly intriguing. Much of the book focuses on goddess worship and feminine versus masculine roles. Today, this is a very sensitive subject, but it’s interesting to see how male and female roles have evolved throughout history.

This book is full of twists and turns, and is definitely something I would consider re-reading. The artwork and religious groups discussed in this book are accurate, so I actually ended up going back and looking at some of the paintings that were brought up. I was surprised to notice things that hadn’t previously come to my attention.

I would definitely recommend this book–it’s an absolutely riveting read.

-Elina T.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive

Film Review: Heaven is for Real

I see myself more of a spiritual person more than religious one. Not that I don’t believe there’s a God or that there’s a higher power, I just feel myself being drawn to spirituality and the stories and tales behind it. My opinion and outlook on that has never really changed because I believed in it so strongly. Although it doesn’t make me narrow minded (that at least I’d like to believe). Because of my open mind, my sister convinced me to watch Heaven is for Real directed by Randall Wallace and written by Wallace and Christopher Parker.

The story begins with a young boy around age of 5 who goes into a risky surgery with a small chance of survival. During his surgery he tells of his near death experience and how he visited heaven and met Jesus Christ himself along with the Angels. Throughout the movie his father, the pastor of their town church attempts to convince others that his child really did see heaven and that Jesus is real.

To me, the movie portrayed hope and that a strong belief can do wonders for you. After watching the film, it made me look at religion differently and has changed my opinion heavily. It was a wonderful and eye opening movie and I would really recommend it to anyone.

-Leann D.

Heaven is for Real is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Code of Honor by Alan Gratz

Image result for code of honor bookIf you are into current events, this is a good book to read. Kamran Smith is half Iranian, the QB of the varsity football team, and is named homecoming king. But that all comes crashing down on him.

Kamran has always looked up to his older brother Darius. He is currently in the military, and Kamran has decided to follow the same route as him. But when Darius says on video that he was in charge of several terrorist attacks, all bets are off.
Everyone at school looks at Kamran like he’s a terrorist himself. He girlfriend ignores him, his best friend doesn’t want to talk to him, and he’s distracted in football practice. At home, the phones are ringing off the hook, and his parents aren’t functioning well. Camera crews show up at his house. And it only gets worse from there.

I feel that the ending was a little bit weak, and it could have been written better. When you find out who one of the terrorists is, it’s funny. The beginning and middle of the story was well written, but then the ending was crammed.

Terrorism has been a major part of current events since 9/11. It’s been 16 years, and it’s not improving by much. This story really hit me hard, because if we were in the shoes of Kamran’s friends, we would probably do the same things. Even if you aren’t that into current events, this still is a good book to read. Sure, a lot of the action is unrealistic, but imagining it is still interesting. It’s also a short book, about 250 pages, if you’re tired of annotating your long, annoying English book.

-Rebecca V . 9th grade

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

lifeofpi_yannmartelLife of Pi, by Yann Martel, is perhaps one of the greatest books on philosophy ever written, delving heavily into themes of faith and hope, all while telling the exciting story of a boy and a tiger.

The story goes like this: Piscine Patel is a young Indian boy who lives on a zoo. There, surrounded by animals and the beauty of nature, Pi develops a fascination with religion, exploring and questioning every aspect of it. When his family is shipping the zoo across the ocean, a storm sinks the ship. As the sole survivor, Pi is cast to sea on a lifeboat, with only a Bengal Tiger as his companion. While drifting on the Pacific Ocean, Pi survives and slowly creates his own perception of faith and hope.

From the surface, Life of Pi seems like another tale of adventure and survival, much like Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. However, I personally think that Yann Martel was more writing about the concept of religion. Even the themes of hope and survival are all linked back to Pi’s faith in God, or Gods.

Right from the beginning of the book, Pi establishes himself as an extremely religious person, becoming a devout Christian, Muslim, and Hindu all at once. When the truth comes out, all of his religious leaders and parents push him to settle on one religion. Pi replies, “‘All religions are true.’ I just want to love God” (Martel 69). Whether he is correct in saying this is unimportant, because the purpose is to show the frivolous nature of rivalry between religions. At the same time, he felt that atheists were his “brothers and sisters of a different faith” (28). Of course, when his situation spirals into survival on the ocean, Pi’s faith is shaken, but he finds his own peace with his God.

Life of Pi surpasses an average philosophy textbook because Martel doesn’t monotonously write about philosophical concepts. Instead, he weaves a beautiful story with elements of philosophy introduced alongside Pi’s experiences on the ocean and in his zoo. In this way, the story’s excitement and thoughtfulness work in tandem, each making the other more meaningful.

In conclusion, Life of Pi is a beautifully written book that will leave you questioning your existence without having to endure the boredom of a typical book of philosophy. Perfect!

-Philip X.

Life of Pi is available for check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available digitally from Overdrive.

The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

scarletletter_nathawthorneI recently read the classic novel The Scarlet Letter. I really enjoyed the dramatic story of Hester Prynne and her daughter Pearl as they live in a strict Puritan society. Nathaniel Hawthorne was clever in his symbolic elements to highlight the importance of such things like the scarlet letter itself, her daughter Pearl, and Mr. Dimmesdale among others.

To give a brief description of the story: The novel opens with a woman named Hester Prynne being publicly scorned after her release from prison. The reader is informed that she was convicted of adultery and as punishment must wear a scarlett letter “A” sewn onto the breast of her dress. She is holding her daughter in her arms who we later find out is named Pearl. As the story progresses Hester and Pearl face challenges for being outcasts of their society. But Hester’s love for her daughter and her strength in character get them through along with the help of a sacrificial man (whose name I will not reveal because no spoilers!) The story ends dramatically but you will have to read to find out!

I loved how Hawthorne ended the book because he brought closure with a tiny cliff hanger that perfectly balance the other out. My favorite character is Arthur Dimmesdale-the adored priest of the town who saves Hester from having to give up her daughter. His charm and genuine heart carry off the pages and into the hearts of the readers. The dreary character of Robert Chillingworth gives an eerie vibe to the story when he sets out for revenge against his wife and her mysterious lover. The story and the characters come together in this Puritan society through love, revenge, and more, and it is definitely one of my favorite required reads so far.

All in all, this twisted love triangle story is a classic for a reason. I love the writing and though the vocabulary is tricky at parts, this book is definitely recommended by me!

– Kelsey H., 11th grade

The Scarlet Letter is available for check out from the Mission Viejo Public Library and Overdrive.