Tuesday, June 25, 2013

In Darkness

In Darkness book jacket
In Darkness


Lake, Nick. 2012. In Darkness. New York: Bloomsbury.  ISBN 978-1599907437


            Shorty is a 15 year old Haitian boy who has witnessed the brutal murder of his father and the capture of his twin sister.  Now, trapped in a collapsed hospital with a bullet in his arm drinking blood to survive he remembers how he came to be injured and he begins to hallucinate.  Through the hallucinations of Toussaint L'ouverture and his battle against Napoleon to free the slaves of Haiti, Shorty finds his strength and an unexpected connection to a man long dead.


            Jumping back and forth in time, In Darkness is a haunting analysis of life and tragedy in Haiti.  Although the novel is fiction, certain circumstances presented within the pages have the authenticity of real tragedy occurring within a country controlled by gangs.  The struggle to survive is clearly defined within the work. The title is fitting in many ways. Shorty struggles to survive in a collapsed hospital surrounded by darkness.  But more than physical darkness is the bleak dark of oppression and tragedy which permeates the pages of Lake's novel. Shorty clearly establishes the bleakness of his situation when he says in darkness I count my blessings and the only blessing he can count is that he is alive. 

            Shorty's hallucinations show the reader as much about the state of his physical existence as it does his emotional state.  The desire to help free the Haitian slaves from the French is as much about his desire to be free from the oppression of the future as it is about the history of a nation. 

            Woven into the novel are comments about guns and the desire to kill.  The want to end a life combined with the knowledge that to do so would be morally wrong battles within Shorty.  And yet, sometimes the only way to survive is to keep others at bay or join forces with those who are in power.

            Further, Lake presents the idea of power joined with responsibility.  L'ouverture faces the dilemma of freeing the slaves only to have to control the situation which follows and of the possibility of going from one oppressor to another. 

            In Darkness offers a glimmer of hope without providing any answers or resolutions to the problem of life in Haiti.  It is a dark and engulfing story of pain and danger combined with a level of enticement which does not often find its way into young adult literature.



·         Michael Printz Award

·         ALA Best Fiction for Young Readers

·         Carnegie Medal in Literature Nominee

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Audio Book Cover
Saenz, Benjamin Alire. 2012. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. New York: Simon & Schuster.  ISBN 978-1-4424-0892-0
It is the summer of 1987 and Aristotle is an angry young man about to begin a journey of discovery which will take him through trials and tribulations and possibly lead him to the secrets of the universe and it will all begin with Dante and swimming lessons.  Ari and Dante are two Mexican-American young men who do not seem to fit in with others and yet forge a bond of friendship that changes who they think they are and allows them to discovers truths about themselves and the world around them.  An honest look at coming of age in a time of intolerance and confusion, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe offers a glimpse into the reality of two different young men whose bond will be tested through books, laughter, love, shame, and acceptance. 
 Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is an exceptionally well written, honest look at the struggle with who we are and who we want to be and what we will allow ourselves to become.  Saenz does a masterful job at developing the personalities of not only Aristotle and Dante, but also those of their parents allowing for a depth of character development and understanding of interpersonal relationships which is not often seen in young adult literature.  The exploration of anger, confusion, love, and acceptance which takes place between the covers of the novel provides the reader with an emotional roller coaster ride of sensations. 
Aristotle or Ari as he insists on being called is an angry young man who does not truly understand why he is angry and sad all the time.  He has few friends and little desire to make any.  What he does have are two loving, if slightly damaged parents who must silently fight their own demons.  What Ari gains is Dante.
Dante is a softhearted young man who boldly offers to teach Ari to swim on the first day of summer at the local pool.  His demeanor and relationship with his parents are not what Ari is used to encountering.  Theirs is a family who hugs and kisses and expresses emotion freely.  Ari is pulled into their life and loved with abandon by all.
The friendship of Aristotle and Dante is a progression from loneliness to honest and unprecedented love amidst confusion and shame from themselves and a world which can be unaccepting and cruel.  Through the love and acceptance of their families and the acceptance of who they truly are inside, Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of themselves and where they fit within the universe.

  • ALA Notable Children's Books
  • Bank Street Best Books of the Year
  • Kirkus Best Young Adult Book
  • Lambda Literary Award Finalist
  • Pura Belpre Award
  • School Library Journal Best Books of the Year
  • Texas Tayshas High School Reading List
  • Stonewall Book Award
  • Michael Printz Honor Book

  • Click the link below to view my book trailer for this title.


    Monday, June 17, 2013

    The Perks of Being a Wallflower
    The Perks of Being a Wallflower
    movie tie-in book jacket
    Chbosky, Stephen. 1999. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Gallery Books.  ISBN 978-1-4516-9619-6
    Charlie is an awkward teen who, after the suicide of his best friend and the death of his Aunt Helen, sits outside of life looking in at others.  Set during the early 1990's during Charlie's freshman year of high school, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is told through letters written to an anonymous "friend" at part of Charlie's prescribed treatment.  Through the letters Charlie introduces us to his family, his newfound group of older friends including the beautiful Sam and homosexual but wonderful Patrick.  The novel is a journey through first dates, drug experimentation, sex, music, and truth even when it is painful and damaging.  Through the journey Charlie discovers, with the help of friends, family, his English teacher Bill, and therapy that growing up and navigating life are hard but ultimately worth the ride.
    The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a hauntingly accurate and heartbreaking coming of age story about a boy who is emotionally fragile.  The novel is well written and cleverly uses the letter format to soften the harsh reality of Charlie's world which is filled with suicide, sex, drugs, molestation, abuse, and loneliness. 
    The characters are portrayed as rather two dimensional.  Chbosky fails to fully develop any character other than Charlie.  However, due to the nature of the book and letter format this oversight does not detract from the storyline or ultimate conclusion.  Rather, the flatness of the other character lends to a realness to Charlie which enhances his appeal and allows the reader to develop a relationship with him through his painful past. 
    One area in which Chbosky succeeds is the presentation of the feelings associated with adolescents.  The natural mistrust of adults, especially parents, accompanied by the need to belong to a group of peers and find acceptance drives the novel and establishes an honesty within the text.  Also, the use of a large cast of supporting characters provides a glimpse into the many facets of Charlie's world.  And finally, the use of foreshadowing throughout the novel in the form of discussions and memories of Aunt Helen lead the reader down a winding path with Charlie toward truth and discovery. 
    The novel also makes excellent use of music and literature selections as a form of communication.  Within the book Charlie is given additional reading materials by Bill and introduced to musical selections from multiple sources.  Knowledge of these literary and musical items helps forward the storyline and provides insight into Charlie's emotional state.

  • While the novel has won no major awards it is important to note that according to the American Library Association this book is frequently banned or challenged due to the content.  It should also be noted that the ALA does not support banning books and believes in intellectual freedom.  For more information please visit the following website:  http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10
  • The book was made into a film in 2012.  The film adaptation stars Logan Lerman and Emma Watson and features a screenplay by the author Stephen Chbosky. 

  • Friday, June 7, 2013

    Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry

    Taylor, Mildred D. 1976. Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry. New York: Dial Books.  ISBN 0-8037-2647-3
    Set in the Depression of the 1930's, this Newbery Medal winner is the story of the Logan family and their struggle to keep the land that they own and love in rural Mississippi.  But, more than that, it is the story of the loss of innocence and the journey into understanding of how things should be and how they are for Cassie Logan who has felt the protective blanket of her family's love against the brutal truth of hate and racism.  As Cassie and her family struggle against injustice and fight to keep what they own despite growing racial hostilities, they learn what is worth fighting for and that sometimes battles are larger than one person or family.
    Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, though fiction, is a wonderful depiction of a complicated time in American history.  Through realistic characters and settings, Mildred D. Taylor manages to transport the reader back in time to the 1930s and the Great Depression.  Further, without sounding "preachy" she weaves the injustices and racism faced my African Americans into the work with a sad authenticity.  The work is well written and the story progresses at a pace which manages to not only hold the readers interest but allows for the realistic development of Cassie's realization of the harsh truths of the world in which she lives.  The use of language within the text is authentic to the period and location.  Clothing descriptions, when used, are appropriate to the setting and economic condition of the characters. 

    Ms. Taylor manages to present the Logan family in a way that shows the strength of character of each and the love which exists between them.  The roles held by each member are appropriate for the time period and are presented as an accepted norm.  For readers unfamiliar with the gender and racial roles of the era, this may present some confusion and questioning.  However, this presents an excellent opportunity for the gaining of new knowledge by the reader. 

    Even 37 years after the publication of the work, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, presents itself with a level of truth that cannot be denied.  The racism which existed in Mississippi during the early 20th century is still, unfortunately, a presence in many parts of the country, though one would hope not to the extent in which it appears within the work.  The novel is a valid work of historical fiction which can and should be held by libraries and utilized within classrooms as part of the American experience.

    4. AWARDS
  • Newbery Award (1977)
  •  ALA Notable Book