The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

At the suggestion from a comment on this blog, I decided to read The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult. I had high expectations for the novel, as I read and thoroughly enjoyed My Sister’s Keeper. The novel did not disappoint.

The story follows Sage Singer, a baker who has shut herself away from the rest of the world. She goes to a grief group, but outside of that, she hides her face from the rest of the world. Even Adam, with whom she has a complicated relationship, may just be pitying her. And then she meets Josef Weber, a nonagenarian with a lingering German accent who has a mysterious request: For Sage to help Josef kill himself.

Why her? you may ask. They just met… Well, Sage’s family, except for Sage herself, is Jewish. And Josef… he swears he was an SS Officer.

What makes this novel touching is how the characters relate to one another. They each deal with their own internal struggle and it is incredible to watch them grow to trust one another, or to betray the other. I loved that the story was interrupted by an extensive account of a young girl’s experience in concentration camps, because it made the novel feel not only like a moral decision in the present day but relevant to how history proves to repeat itself.

This was one of the greatest stories I have read in a while. I strongly recommend this novel. It deserves a 10 out of 10.

– Leila S., 11th grade

Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac

Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two, by Joseph Bruchac, is based on the Navajo code talkers during World War II who created a secret code based on their language to be able to send and receive messages that wouldn’t be deciphered. It is told from the point of view of a former Navajo Marine who is talking to his grandchildren, so the book is relatively fast-paced since it goes through a span of a few years pretty quickly and doesn’t go extremely in-depth. It starts off with the main character going to an American boarding school, and continues through until a bit after the end of the war with the Japanese.

The book highlighted a part of World War II that I never knew about, and emphasized the importance of the code talkers during the War of the Pacific with Japan. It also focused on the personal reactions of the main character to the things around him and the way he uses his culture and the “Navajo way” to help him deal with his surroundings. The book also goes over some of the prejudice that the Native Americans went through and the way they overcame it by showing that they were capable of handling their jobs. Overall, the book summarizes a lot, but it was cool to learn about historical facts that I’d never heard of before, the different islands that were battled over, and the Japanese and American defense and attack strategies.

Personally, reading this book came at a good time for me, since I started reading it right before we learned about WWII at school. I really liked it, although I felt that it could have gone more into depth about some of the things that happened and the people around the protagonist. I do think the way it was written was appropriate, though, because it was written like a person would probably tell a story about serving in war to young kids, while having to remember the things that happened.

-Aliya A.

Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac

Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two, by Joseph Bruchac, is based on the Navajo code talkers during World War II who created a secret code based on their language to be able to send and receive messages that wouldn’t be deciphered. It is told from the point of view of a former Navajo Marine who is talking to his grandchildren, so the book is relatively fast-paced since it goes through a span of a few years pretty quickly and doesn’t go extremely in-depth. It starts off with the main character going to an American boarding school, and continues through until the end of the war with the Japanese.

The book highlighted a part of World War II in the Pacific that I never knew about, and emphasized the importance of the code talkers during the war with the Japanese. It also focused on the personal reactions of the main character to the things around him and the way he uses his culture and the “Navajo way” to help him deal with his surroundings. The book also goes over some of the prejudice that the Native Americans went through and the way they overcame it by showing that they were capable of handling their jobs. Overall, the book summarizes a lot, but it was cool to learn about historical facts that I’d never heard of before, the different islands that were battled over, and the the Japanese and American defense and attack strategies.

Personally, reading this book came at a good time for me, since I started reading it right before we learned about WWII at school and the war with the Japanese. I really liked it, although I felt that it could have gone more into depth about some of the things that happened and the people around the protagonist, but it was written like a person would probably tell a story about serving in war to young kids while at the same time remembering the things that happened, so I think that the way it was written was appropriate.  I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in history and WWII.

-Aliya A.

Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Front Lines by Michael Grant

Image result for Front linesI don’t normally enjoy history. It’s my worst subject in school, and I can never focus on memorizing facts for tests. Before Front Lines, I have only enjoyed the Dear America series and The Only Thing To Fear by Caroline Richmond. Usually whenever I read one, it feels like I’m in school.

I picked Front Lines off the New Shelf at the Mission Viejo Library because I saw that it was a new Michael Grant book, and I completely freaked out. I didn’t even read the inside cover to see what the book was about until I got home. I originally thought that it was going to be something along the lines of his Gone series, which is still one of my favorite book series. Out of the books I checked out that day, I left this one until the end because I still wasn’t sure that I wanted to read a historical fiction novel.

Front Lines is about an alternate World War II. What if women could fight in the war? The book is told through the perspectives of Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr, and Rainy Schulterman. I think that this book really makes you wonder about how World War II could have been fought differently if women were fighting on the front lines. I’m hoping that a sequel comes out soon. Even though the book is over 500 pages, you still want to know what would happen next.

For people who have fallen in love with the Gone series, I encourage  you to read this book. It’s good for all teens.

-Rebecca V., 8th grade

Front Lines by Michael Grant is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne

boyinthestripedpajamas_johnboyneTo Bruno, Out-With was not a good place. That was where his family moved, away from their perfect life in Berlin. It was all because of Father. Father soon got a pressed uniform and the title of Commandant, which Bruno’s grandmother despised. And then the Fury came to visit, and right after, they moved from Berlin to Out-With. Gretel, Bruno’s older sister who was a “Hopeless Case,” later said it wasn’t pronounced “Out-With” and the man people saluted wasn’t called the “Fury,” but Bruno knew he was correct nonetheless.

Bruno hated his new life at Out-With, being removed from his friends and confined to the general vicinity of the house. He had no friends here, since Gretel was too focused on her dolls and Lieutenant Kotler to pay Bruno any mind. Plus, the house was no longer a five-story structure like the house in Berlin had been. And soon, Mother and Father made Gretel and Bruno attend lessons under Herr Liszt, but they had to learn history, not art and poetry like Bruno wanted.

Bruno, however, began to learn other secrets about his new life, about Maria the maid, Pavel the server, about the people on the other side of the fence that he could see from his bedroom window. The people who all wore the same striped pajamas every day and who were never invited into his house, though the soldiers were somehow invited to the other side of the fence.

This novel was a poignant tale of the Holocaust. Told from the perspective of a naive nine-year-old, the whole situation was simplified to the greatest degree, which amplified the story in my opinion. This book has been on my “to-read” list for years now, and I am fortunate I finally got a chance to read it. In reality, it is a simple read, but the themes presented deal with the moral issues of the Holocaust and thus make this novel suitable to at least a middle school audience. That being said, as a junior in high school, I still found this book touching and would definitely recommend it.

– Leila S., 11th grade

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive

The Unfortunate Decline of Anna Seghers

annaseghersFame. Money. Glory.

For most prominent celebrities, authors, or personalities, the former nouns are essential to their ways of life. However, what happens after a renowned author loses all of their fame and glory?

Anna Seghers, one of the most important German woman writers of the 1900s, definitely knew the answer to that. Before her untimely death, Seghers wrote many outstanding novels during World War II. Her most popular novels included The Excursion of the Dead Girls, Transit, and The Seventh Cross.

Laden with beautifully-developed symbols and leitmotifs, each of her novels condemned Fascism, especially German Fascism under the influence of Adolf Hitler. Although Seghers herself lived in Fascist Germany for a while, she despised any form of Fascist totalitarianism. Her novels are a clear indicator of her anti-Nazi sentiment. Her novels were loved by many people all around the world. Citizens of Allied countries (during and after World War II) read her works fervently as they also fought against Fascism in Europe.

It was near the end of Seghers’ literary career that she started to lose both fame and glory. Although she fought against totalitarianism in Germany, she soon became a part of the Soviet Communist party while in exile. Simultaneously, Seghers condemned Nazism and preached the tenets of Communism.

After Hitler’s death and the end of the war, Seghers resided in the Soviet-controlled part of Germany. She tenaciously stuck to Communist beliefs, even after Stalin’s infamous show trials, where more people were killed than during the Holocaust. Almost immediately, all of her avid readers in the West were lost. Her American and liberal German readers lost interest in any of her other works. Anna Seghers went from a literary “hero” who fought against Fascism to a “traitor” who only carried on totalitarianism.

Seghers became a “spiritual” follower of Communism, taking part in Soviet politics and condoning the deaths of millions of people. Never again were her books ranked as national best-sellers. After her literary decline, Seghers only published two more novels; however, they did not receive any recognition at all. It was not a matter of how well her works were written; rather, it was a matter of what her novels stood for.

Anna Seghers was a phenomenal author; there was no doubt about that. However, it was what her novels preached that led to her gradual decline. Seghers’ unfortunate tale leads us to a very important conclusion: Individuals must always fight against tenets of evil and fight for tenets of good.

-Elaha N.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

allthelightwecannotsee_anthonydoerrNormally, books about World War II are excruciatingly sad, desperate, and hopeless. Yet All the Light We Cannot See comes a hopeful theme and relief from the classic WWII historical fiction novel. Told in a series of sections from different parts of the war, switching between the past and the present, this novel tells the story of Marie-Laure and Werner and the people they encounter throughout the years.

Marie-Laure, a young French girl, lived with her father, the locksmith of the Natural History Museum in Paris. At a young age, she lost her vision, so her life was completely dependent upon her father. Her father took this to heart, building a mini scale model of their city for Marie-Laure to memorize, to the point that she could get around the city unaided.  She even counted storm drains as she walked the museum every day. When the war started, Marie-Laure and her father evacuated, bringing them closer to the action of the novel.

Werner, on the other hand, grew up an orphan in the Zollverein, having the whole responsibility for his younger sister. In order to prevent his future being consumed by working in the coal mine, he applied and received acceptance into one of the government’s schools on account of his extraordinary talent for working with radios. The novel tracks how Werner felt and reacted to what the Nazi party committed during the war, providing a unique perspective on Nazi life.

The novel’s plot is thick with questions, as the novel follows many characters other than Marie-Laure and Werner. With stories about Marie-Laure’s father, a German Sergeant, Werner’s friend from school, and the infamous Sea of Flames diamond, the novel is crafted in an original way that carries the story forward but provides enough details to immerse the reader into the action.

This is certainly a book that is difficult to put down. With so much going on, it was hard to leave one character’s story for a chapter to catch up with the other characters. I would definitely recommend this novel though there are some parts that are sentimental.

– Leila S., 11th grade

All The Light We Cannot See is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive.