April 2015 Wrap-Up!

The Raging QuietUprootedThe Perilous GardHomeless BirdAlmost Famous Women: StoriesSadako and the Thousand Paper CranesFuzzy MudFreak the Mighty

The Raging Quiet by Sherryl Jordan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an old historical fiction is that beautifully written wrought with strong emotions and a touching plot.



Uprooted
by Naomi Novik

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

See my review on Goodreads and on my blog.



The Perilous Gard
by Elizabeth Marie Pope

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I still have not read a detailed myth on Tam Lin which is quite a shame because The Perilous Gard does a great job in spinning a story. Although I’ve gleaned bits of Tam Lin legends from other faerie books, The Perilous Gard is thoroughly original and surprising in its fresh historical attention to the year of 1558 in England. That, of course, may change once I actually acquaint myself with Tam Lin because I’m still satisfied with the retelling; it’s logical and is strangely realistic despite its fantastical elements. The tales of the Fair Folk touched upon their origins, reasons for staying underground, their cult practices, and immense wealth in gold and other minerals. Pope definitely knows her history which just made me enjoy this more. It’s no wonder she won the Newbery Honor Award for it!



Homeless Bird
by Gloria Whelan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to say that I really didn’t expect much going into a historical fiction book especially one for children. I’m always cautiously stepping around historical fiction especially multicultural ones because my greatest pet peeve is historical inaccuracies and lack of research. Thankfully, Homeless Bird blows them all out of the water and I thoroughly immersed myself in the Indian culture. I have a bit of background knowledge of India so it especially helped that I did not have to flip back to the glossary to figure out who ‘Krishna’ was or what ‘turmeric and coriander’ and ‘Holi’ was.
The cultural setting filled with rich traditions and holidays was very interesting to read, and the poor village life was highly intricate and detailed. There was a fine focus on Koly’s life, and the author made her story so matter-of-fact that readers can tell that what’s happening to her is normalized in India.
It was a deeply moving story because a helpless character like Koly usually elicits pity and frustration at her passivity from reader. In this case, Koly was strong in spirit even if she cannot express it outwardly, and she is not resigned to her share in life. She shows great resilience in every situation and somehow persists to have a purpose to live on through her widowhood, separation from her sole friend sister-in-law, and abandonment. I was most drawn into the story when Chandra was arranged to be married because it marked a monumental shift in lifestyle for Koly who was comforted through Chandra’s presence. With Chandra gone, I anticipated Koly in emotional turmoil and her desperation to leave. It was a huge blow to her mainly because she’s now lonely and I wanted to see how she would cope with it compared to Sass and Sassur. The aftermath of the wedding helped put Koly into perspective because she made the best of it while Sass and Sassur fell into deep depression and bitterness.
Throughout the story, Koly never became bitter and this enabled her to befriend Raji, the rickshaw boy, who kindly transported her to a safe haven in Vrindavan. Although the love interest was introduced way later in the book, I did not see it as a convenient deus ex machina for Koly to achieve a satisfying proper life. Of course, most widows end up like Tanu, still on the verge of poverty but most likely to remain a widow for the rest of her life. I liked Koly’s story because she finally gets the happy ending that she deserves which is very fitting for a children’s book. Her life has ultimately come to a full circle because what she should have gotten from her first marriage is now reality. This, in my mind, also means that she may contemplate visiting her family soon because her marriage to Raji finally allows this reunion to occur.

Three THOUGHT-PROVOKING discussion questions:

How would Chandra react in Koly’s position through every obstacle?
What Indian customs confine women into weak, inescapable situations?
How does illiteracy hurt women and tie in with the plot?



Almost Famous Women: Stories
by Megan Mayhew Bergman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a collection of realistic biographies about ‘nearly famous women’ that are wildly speculative but still grounded in many facts. The women themselves all existed and have Wikipedia pages dedicated to them but it’s very sparse and have faded to the backdrop of history.

I don’t think I was ever as strongly affected by the meticulously crafted writing as when I read one page on women in the Holocaust concentration camps. Although many of the women in the book made poor life decisions and were sometimes execrable, I was sucked in by the excellent writing and the dicey choice of words. The short stories were not too long or too short and they were potent.


Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I understood from the prologue that Sadako is a sensitive subject to Japan because of her innocence and martyrdom. So little has been talked about the extensive suffering that continued in the aftermath of the war, and the amount of coverage on Hiroshima damage paled in comparison to the Holocaust. They’re both equally important but American history does not teach the gravity of our mistakes, and tend to divert attention to other people’s evil. At least half of Germany were blind to Hitler’s actions but America understood the ramifications perfectly when they dropped Little Boy.

The bombing of Hiroshima was what caused all the poisoning and led to Sadako’s prognosis but it was not discussed in detail which is understandable since the story is for children. However, for a short 80 pages, it needs more substance to back up Sadako’s life and her family. I think the story would speak to children on a deeper level if there were passages on home life and how Sadako’s hospitalization affected her family. The attention was all on her pain and the cranes that I did not get to know her best friend Chizuko at all. The names of her siblings easily slipped my mind and I could not distinguish them for one another. Of course, if I were to describe their actions and how they helped out Sadako, I can do that sufficiently but I’d fail to grasp their personalities.

Although Sadako was essentially confined to her deathbed, she was still hopeful and maintained a wide circle of support system to help her pass the time comfortably. The significance of the origami cranes were great symbols and function well to teach children about plot devices. Every time the author updated the reader on the progress of the origami, I felt a ray of hope that perhaps recovery is possible. I knew the guarantee of a happy ending was impossible but I was nevertheless diverted from the bleak situation by the cranes that also occupied Sadako through the monotony when she was alone.

Whether intentionally or not, the author used Kenji, the patient Sadako briefly met before his death, to act as a foil to show their different outlooks on their remaining days. Kenji had already grown cynical with his extended stay and imminent death while Sadako kept up her cheerful disposition and maintained it through her discomfort and tiredness. This is the courage that children can easily relate because they have all tolerated pain at some point. The illustrations interspersed throughout the story also acted as supplements to capture the mood of the story. It was what propelled me to turn the pages in the hopes of glancing upon another painting. It certainly did not hurt that they were simple but well-drawn with accurate depictions of facial expressions to convey what everyone was feeling. It complemented the story well because it was a skeleton of a storyline that barely touched upon leukemia treatment, family history on Oba-chan, culture, war, and holiday celebrations. More backstory should have given about the legend of the thousand paper cranes, and descriptions of the cultural icons like kimonos should have been explained. I highly doubt children know the proper occasion to wear a kimono, let alone what a kimono is. However, I was still drawn to Sadako’s story; I wanted to know more about her thoughts and it would have been enlightening to read her diary entries from the book Kokeshi. I’m glad I finally learned about Sadako and I think children will be satisfied with the book, but older readers who hear her story will likely be compelled to want to know more than what this book supplied.

Out of five stars, I would give this book: 4

Three words to describe the book: sparse, heartening, redolent

Three THOUGHT PROVOKING discussion questions:

How did a support system help Sadako get through her hospitalization?

What events were foreshadowed in the story?

How does the time period play a role in the story?



Fuzzy Mud
by Louis Sachar

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Highly insightful and relevant to today’s sustainability and environmental progress without sounding too preachy. This continually proves Louis is diversely talented enough to still connect elusive topics and make them interesting just like Carl Hiaasen.



Freak the Mighty
by Rodman Philbrick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a children’s book that I read due to my sister’s recommendation. She’s known to have dubious literature tastes because she likes a bit of romance but hates the dystopian genre. She’s read a fair amount of popular books and believes them to be inferior in writing or how hyped up it is. Thankfully for her, Freak the Mighty is strictly in the children’s category and is not as renowned as The Fault in Our Stars.

She draws a parallel between these two because it talks about two damaged individuals that form an unlikely strong bond. I have to concede, Freak the Mighty had a better plot than TFiOS even as a children’s book. TFiOS may have pretentiously intellectual conversations and unsmoked cigarettes but its plot was more or less a mess in the middle. I’m not saying Freak the Mighty is better than John Green’s moneymaking baby because it’s not. But there’s some thing about it that I really enjoyed and I know other little kids will like the story. (Who will then graduate on to read John Green in high school, most likely.)


Honorary Mention:
The Blue Castle The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

How is it possible that this was better than Anne of Green Gables?!!

L.M. Montgomery is the queen of Mother nature descriptions and floral specializations. And romance which is sweet and subtle. She almost reminds me of Georgette Heyer but Heyer knows how to make swoon-worthy characters.

Montgomery pegs me as a writer of feisty heroines (GO ANNE GO!) and strong character development. Anne is a better heroine than Valancy but it’s hard for anyone to beat the liveliness of our favorite ginger. Valancy also has a strictly repressive childhood and has lived most of her life under her mother’s thumb. However, the author does not make her out as a pitiable character but as someone the reader can root for and cheer on through her every rebellion.

View all my reviews

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