Monday, November 19, 2012

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a MockingbirdThis story is a classic novel and movie, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. It is for mature readers. The plot follows Jem and Jean Marie (Scout) Finch as they grow up and deal with racism in Alabama during The Depression. Scout is an emotionally naive, young girl, although she has a fiery temper and narrates the story. The children are almost obsessed with seeing their mysterious neighbor, Boo Radley, and rumor has it that he almost killed his father with a pair of scissors. Atticus Finch, the children's father, is a lawyer and is appointed a case that will bring the town's emotions and anger to dangerous levels. Tom Robinson, a black man, is accused of raping a white woman, and the rage and bigotry of the some white citizens is almost uncontrollable. Through it all, Scout learns the lesson that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird.

The plot moves back and forth from the simple, small-town lifestyle to the emotionally charged atmosphere of prejudice. The topic of racism is central to the plot and much of the language is very blunt, perhaps offensive. A major conflict deals with the uneasy relationship between whites and blacks, and the problem is compounded by the pressure of The Depression. Scout's innocence helps to address the serious issues in a simple manner, and this quality actually helps to ease some tense situations. This book won a 1961 Pulitzer Prize, but it's only for readers ready for some serious reading. It's my daughter's favorite book of all time.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

Front CoverI'm not sure everyone will enjoy this book as much as I, but I gave it a rating of five out of five. Steven is in the eighth grade and can't think of a topic for his journal entry entitled "The Most Annoying Thing in the World". He decides to write about his five-year-old brother and all of the things about him that are annoying. However, the journal entry takes an unexpected twist when Steven reveals that Jeffy has been diagnosed with leukemia. Most of the plot deals with Steven's internal battle with the conflicting feelings that are racing through him. He's sad that Jeffy has this disease that may kill him, but Steven gets angry when his parents focus all of their attention on Jeffy. Then, Steven gets angry with himself for feeling jealous of his brother. Throw in the normal eighth grade problems of getting good grades, having a crush on the hottest girl in school, and dealing with friends, and Steven's life is spinning out of control. He wants to appear like he's keeping things together, so no one really understands just how messed up he's feeling inside. Steven is able to find a safe place where he can escape when he heads to the basement to play his drums.

This plot focuses an character, so it won't appeal to readers looking for action. The author does a wonderful job of expressing Steven's feelings, and they're realistic. It's easy to feel jealous when your brother is getting all of the attention, even if it's because he has a deadly disease, but then it's equally easy to feel guilty about those feelings. The book contains some light-hearted moments, and they usually come from Jeffy. His dangerous pie, his embarrassing comments to Steven, and his innocence throughout the ordeal help to ease some of the tension. The book has the common plot situation where the boy has eyes on a popular girl, but his close friend, a girl, has the same feelings about him.