Monday, October 29, 2012

Left for Dead by Pete Nelson

Left for DeadThis book is a non-fictional account of a boy's attempt to clear the name of a World War II captain, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. As you should know, the first, and only, time an atomic bomb was used occured during WW II and quickly ended the conflict with Japan. The USS Indianapolis had a long, distinguished history in the Navy, and it was chosen to carry the parts needed to build the huge, dangerous bomb across the ocean. However, the navy withheld some important information from Captain McVay, and the Indianapolis was sunk, after completing the mission, by a Japanese submarine. Many men died quickly from the explosions and fire, but many others died slowly as they drifted for days in the ocean. Injuries, hallucinations, dehydration, and sharks took the lives of hundreds of additional soldiers. In the end, about 900 crew members died, only 317 men survived, and Captain McVay was court-martialed and found guilty of endangering the lives of his crew. Fifty years later, a young boy named Hunter Scott was looking for a topic for a history project. He chose to take on the task of challenging the navy and officially clearing the captain's record. The book is his story.

I found it helpful that the chapters broke the incident into manageable parts. There were stories about the war, the crew, the mission, the attack, surviving at sea, the rescue, and the trial. Some of the events after the sinking were very inspirational, while others were very disturbing. On one hand, there were crewmen risking their lives to save others, but on the other hand, there were hallucinating crewmen who were a danger to others. Readers who enjoy war history will probably love this book. For most of us, I think, some of the sections were a little too factual, but other parts were intriguing. Overall, I enjoyed the book, and I'm glad I read it.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True StoryThis book is based on a true story, set in 1985 wartime Sudan, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. The main plot of the book follows a Dinka boy named Salva  as he is forced to flee from his school when rebels attack. It's not safe to return to his village, so he starts heading east. His journey takes him through lion territory, across a desert, and over the Nile River. He finds danger from wild animals, rebel attacks, heat, and thirst. He hopes to find his family someday, but he's focused on surviving right now.

In a shorter subplot, set in 2008 Sudan, a Nuer girl named Nya walks four hours, twice each day, to get water for her family. The family is forced to move for three months each year when the water source dries up. However, one day two strange men arrive and start digging a hole into the dry ground near Nya's home. Who are these men, and what are they doing? The two plots are woven together to come to one peaceful resolution.

The book was written similar to a memoir, but I think I would have liked it better if it had been written in first person, from Nya's and Salva's points of view. The narrator let us know their thoughts and feelings, but I didn't make a connection with the characters that I might have made if the stories had been told through their own eyes. The stories of Nya and Salva were more interesting when I remembered that the Dinkas and Nuers had been enemies for hundreds of years.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Great Brain by John Fitzgerald

The Great Brain (Great Brain #1)I've heard about this book for many years and finally read it. I gave the book a rating of four out of five. The setting is in a small rural town in the 1890's. The narrator is J.D., John Dennis, but The Great Brain is his brother, Tom. Tom comes up with creative ideas in each chapter, most of them to make money, and J.D. sometimes tries to out think him. That never works. Tom tries to make money when work is being done to install the first indoor toilet in the town. He comes up with a plan to help the sheriff find some kids lost in a cave. He helps a Greek immigrant boy learn to defend himself and learn English. Tom profits from all of these plans, and more, so the reader begins to wonder if Tom has compassion for others.

The book was not what I expected. I thought the Great Brain would be the narrator, and he would create all kinds of wacky inventions. I thought the Great Brain would help others, but Tom came up with all kinds of schemes to get money out of people. Each chapter had its own plot, and Tom's character seemed to change a little as the book moved along. It was funny to see two brothers interact in typical ways and to see how Tom could change almost any situation into a money-making opportunity.