Friday, March 28, 2014

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

Budo is Max’s imaginary friend. He looks like a real person, unlike most imaginary friends, and he is the oldest imaginary friend, at 5 years old, that he knows of. That’s because Max is different and he needs a friend like Budo. Max doesn’t have any friends. He doesn’t talk a lot, look people in the eye, understand sarcasm or many social cues. But he understands Budo. When Max leaves with Mrs. Patterson, one of the teachers that works with Max in the Learning Center at his school, Budo is the one who has to save him because no one else knows the truth behind Max’s disappearance at school. Budo knows Max is alive because he, Budo, still exists. But he doesn’t know what will happen once he rescues Max. Max may not need Budo anymore and if he doesn’t then Budo will disappear, like all imaginary friends must, when their friend no longer believes. That’s a risk Budo will take to save his imaginary friend.
                Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend was a fascinating story about a young boy with Asperger’s Syndrome and the only person that really understands him, his imaginary friend, Budo. The story is delivered through the eyes of Budo, who knows how uncommon it is that he has lasted so long and that his friend’s peculiar nature is the only reason why. Budo doesn’t know why Max is different, but he accepts his differences more than Max’s parent who are constantly trying to change Max. When Budo is faced with the ultimate decision to rescue Max or stay with him, and stay alive, in his imprisonment Budo has to do what is best for Max. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy.
                I thought this novel was well written, easy to read and a fresh look on friendship. Budo offered a new and compelling idea of a friendship. His relationship with Max and their dependence on each other throughout the story was well thought out. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend was also an interesting examination of a young boy, growing up with Asperger’s Syndrome and the challenges he faces. This story is imaginative, playful and enjoyable.

I give this novel 3 out of 5 stars. As much as I enjoyed this novel, there were repetitive moments that hindered the movement of the story. I also feel like the storyline would have benefited, if the relationship between Max’s parents were embellished and Mrs. Patterson’s mind set expanded on. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Banned Books: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

 As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

It would be a few days journey in the wagon to take Addie Bundren to Jefferson from Yoknapatawapha County once she passes away. The family has been preparing for the journey since she fell ill. Days have passed, death is imminent and you can hear the coffin being built. Anse, her husband, has promised to take her back to her home town. All of her children, most of whom are grown, are ready to take the journey with their father. But when she passes away and the rain begins to fall, the journey becomes more dangerous and tiresome than they expected. Tempers flare, emotions are spent, words are exchanged and what was supposed to be a going home trip becomes much more.
As I Lay Dying is a captivating novel that examines a family’s emotional mindset after the death of their matriarch. The narrators changed throughout the novel, allowing everyone’s point of view to be seen, including some of the townsmen they come across throughout the journey. There was a wide range of understanding and stages of grief explored. There was also a wide range of motivations regarding the trip which weren’t all noble. The trip was revealing in many ways for the family and readers were able to watch everything slowly unfold.

Faulkner created an in depth novel that took the opinions and emotions of a large variety of characters and made it cohesive. The use of characters outside of the family was an ingenious way to gain understanding about the Bundren’s actions and was more often than not a comedic interlude. After adjusting to the unique narrative I enjoyed the novel. Obviously since the book has been banned many times there are others who didn’t enjoy it very much. The American Library Association states that the novel has been banned for referencing abortion, masturbation and for questioning God. In my personal opinion, all of the subject matters were handled tastefully. The aforementioned actions held weight on the characters that were affected and added to the somber reality that is the novel.  It isn’t easy dealing with death but life goes on. As I Lay Dying is a great example of life moving forward. The Bundren family experienced a tragic loss but that didn’t stop pregnancy, gossip, and betrayal. By exposing the truth about how families continue to live after death, he exposed a harsh reality that many, I guess, simply can’t face.                                                                                                                                                                                                              Retrieved 03/07/2014 

Friday, March 21, 2014

She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb

Here we have Dolores Price and her life.  See her at four when she watches TV for the first time. She rides her bike with friends at ten. By thirteen she’s fantasizing about men. At seventeen she is two hundred and fifty seven pounds. She has no respect for anyone, hates high school and doesn’t want to go to college. She has horrible relationships with her parents and absolute no use for authority figures. Dolores is willing to blame everyone but herself for everything that’s gone wrong in her life and isn’t sure what adulthood will bring. And this as they say is just the tip of the iceberg.  As she looks to her future, she still makes rash and hurried decisions that truly lead to her undoing.
                This novel didn’t pull me in right away. The storyline took awhile to really take shape to me. Dolores and her family seemed like an average 1960’s family, everything wasn’t perfect and you had a feeling something was off but nothing horribly out of the norm. And then Dolores’ voice and personality really started to come through and I knew there was a storm brewing. Dolores was a hard character to completely understand. A lot of her decisions were made out of anger and because of horrible communication skills. As she began to grow and mature it was easier to wrap your head around her situation because she was finally starting to understand herself, or so we thought.

                I thought Lamb did a great job with this extremely extended coming of age story. When I hear the phrase, coming of age, which a lot of people consider this novel to be, I think of teenage years going into adulthood. This novel followed Dolores’ life from four years old, well into her thirties. It explored so many different phases a person may go through and how relationships can form or dissolve based on lies, anger, regret, and misunderstanding. By the end of this novel, I could see the amazing growth and revelations that the character had gone through and there was a certain level of respect I felt for Dolores that I didn’t expect. She made me angry at times, had me laughing at her ridiculousness at other points but in the end, I think she figured it out. But I’ll leave that to you decide if you pick up this book. I give this novel 4 out of 5 stars and would definitely recommend this rollercoaster as a good read. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Banned Books: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Fifteen year old Alex is well known in the streets of London, him and his Droogs, who terrorize any and everyone. Fighting, stealing, bullying, raping, and drinking is all in a nights work. No worries for these teens who do as they please. Alex’s parents swallow the lies he tells about working nights. His Post –Corrective Advisor is well aware that he has been running the streets but knows he is helpless in stopping him. These droogs feel like the night is theirs for the taking. Until Little Alex finds himself in prison for murder. Life inside those walls are much different from the care-free life he has been living. There they try to cure him of his violent ways and thoughts. Sickness overwhelms him whenever he thinks of rape, murder, and fighting. Imagining doing wrong after the treatments he has been subjected to, sends his mind and body into turmoil. In order to return to society he must be purged of the urges to commit crimes. He has no choice but to be an honorable citizen or suffer the pain his own body will create.
A Clockwork Orange is a very somber look at the life and mind of an unruly teen. Alex is the definition of a criminal. He has no remorse for the crimes he commits. He encourages those around him to participate. He has absolutely no problem lying to those people who care about him. He actively pursues more crimes to commit. Alex is every parent’s worst nightmare. Throughout the course of the novel you expect Alex to grow and to want to change. The changes do come but they are forced and therefore not genuine. If he is forced to be only one thing then he becomes a clockwork orange. He becomes something unhuman because he doesn’t have the free will to make a choice. The choices are being made for him.
I struggled in the beginning of this novel. Mostly because of the language. Burgess introduced a slang that is not easy to decipher. After the first couple of chapters, I was able to understand (most of) the terms that the characters were using. The tone of the novel was very obvious from the beginning: we have a group of ridiculously unruly teenagers who don’t trust or respect authority, their elders or the government. Being inside the mind of Alex, the humble narrator as he refers to himself, heightened that sense of tension and overall manic behavior. There is no doubt that he is aware of the pain he inflicts and every decision that he makes. It is unsettling to say the least. Burgess creates this unease masterfully, drawing us into this world and this language where your worst fears and ideas about youth have come to life.
When this novel was first released in the U.S. in 1962 the last chapter of the novel was removed. A Clockwork Orange is three parts, seven chapters in each part. Chapter seven of part three was removed at the request of the publisher. Burgess re-released the novel in the U.S. in 1986 with the last chapter included, like it had originally been published in Great Britain. The inclusion of that chapter, to me, makes a huge difference in defining Alex’s character. So here we have a different type of censorship when we have a publisher choosing to change the work of an author to create a certain mood in those reading the book. I’m glad Burgess made his final decision to re-release the novel in its entirety. It allows a certain amount of closure that I find more appealing than ending it a chapter earlier. But this isn’t the only type of censorship this novel suffered. According to the American Library Association a bookseller was arrested in Utah for selling this novel and it has banned in high school for its language. I found it ironic that a book that is about free-will and making choices could be censored to where people aren’t allowed the choice to even sell it. I agree with the book: you’re only human if you are allowed to make a choice.                                                                                                                                                                 Retrieved 02/28/2014 

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The day Theo Decker lost his mother in an attack on a New York Museum, he saw “The Goldfinch” a painting by Carel Fabritius, for the first time. It was also the day he stuffed it in his backpack and kept it for years. It was his mother’s favorite painting and as much as he wanted to return it, he couldn’t. It reminded him too much of his mother, of his loss, of his pain and of how much things had changed. As he aged, he felt his life in many ways was defined by possessing the painting, as illegal as that maybe. “The Goldfinch” was with him as he lived with an acquaintance from school, travelled to Las Vegas to move in with his father and eventually with Hobart, back in New York, who lost his partner in the same attack that took the life of Theo’s mother. Theo changed and yet his dedication to the painting of the little bird in a chain never wavered.
                The Goldfinch is the coming of age story of Theo. With Theo as our narrator we are able to see his ups and downs, his challenges and his somewhat self-destructive nature. This was a novel that I was easily intrigued by and then consumed with. I found myself infuriated by some of the characters, fascinated by others and outright dumbfounded by the decision making of some, Theo included. Theo was thrust into an unimaginable situation: the unexpected loss of his mother after his father had abandoned the family months earlier. The subsequent question was what will happen to Theo now that he seemingly has no one. This novel took many different turns, all of which were unexpected and begged questions of chance and fate. Examining the circumstances surrounding him taking the painting and the friendship that spawns from that decision our great examples. As well as his decision to hide the priceless piece of art, while being uprooted from place to place.

                Prior to The Goldfinch I had never read anything by Donna Tartt. This is not a novel I would normally pick up but after scanning the review written by Stephen King about The Goldfinch I had to read it. I trust King’s opinion. Tartt’s narrative and use of language in this novel is beautiful, extremely intimate and honest. Filled with all of the angst of a youth, some of the wavering confidence we discover as an adult, and the uncertainty that unwillingly fills those gaps. I found myself reaching for this novel, every chance I got and losing myself in its depth. This novel was full of layers, differing personalities, and honesty. I give this novel 4 out of 5 stars and recommend this book because of the solid narrative. There were moments when I questioned the motives behind the actions in this novel but overall I was glad I took King’s advice and gave it a shot. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Banned Books: For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

Robert Jordan fell in love in the mountains of Spain. As part of the International Brigades he was sent to an antifascist guerilla unit to blow up a bridge. Maria was with the guerillas after being rescued from the fascist. The emotions were real and wholly unexpected between the two. Their days together were few and filled with mission planning, fear, scouting and a thirst to know one another. We live through their days together and learn of the plight of the guerillas and the International Brigades in their fight against the fascist.
                There is no denying that Hemingway is a great writer, who is able to add passion and beautiful details to any scene. In For Whom the Bell Tolls we see Hemingway at his best. The story of love in the middle of the battlefield isn’t completely unexpected from Hemingway but the situation provides one fraught with danger, where love is the last thing anyone was hoping to find. Death is too near in these situations. Jordan was a well-developed interesting character that was both controversial and influential in the lives of all the characters. I was willing to follow Jordan on his mission and in this new love that he found in Maria. I was not particularly drawn to other parts of the story. In all honesty, I wanted more from his relationship with Maria. I wanted the love between the two of them to happen almost as much as they did. It was a depressing version of a love story almost too full of realism in a weary situation.
                I enjoy Hemingway’s novel because I enjoy his writing style. I love reading his descriptions of the scenery and the movements of everything around him. I don’t know if I am a huge fan of the subjects he chooses to describe. I can only imagine how different and yet amazing the novel would have been if it just focused on Jordan and his movements with the guerillas. As much as I enjoyed reading about Jordan and Maria’s love, I doubted the possibility of there being a happily ever after, which made me very apprehensive when it came to certain moments in the book. The U.S. Post Office decided the novel was non-mailable in the 1940’s according to the American Library Association. Turkish publishers were put on trial by the Istanbul government for spreading unfavorable propaganda in regards to For Whom the Bell Tolls. This novel does go against fascist ideal and speak very bluntly about death and murder but it was a time of war. I’m sure most people reading this novel in the mid 1900’s saw worse on the news. But banning books is all about control and seeing how far that control extends. The banning of this novel about two people in love in a time of crisis is a great example of that.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Molly has been to a dozen foster homes in 9 years since the loss of her father and the destruction of her mother. Shy in nature and a loner by choice she has never had many friends and doesn’t feel at all understood. After being sentenced to fifty community service hours for stealing, she meets Vivian, a ninety one year old retired woman who lives alone in a fourteen bedroom mansion. Molly’s mission is to spend her community service hours cleaning out the old woman’s attic and then figure out what she will do in nine months when she turns eighteen and is no longer a part of the foster care system. But as she goes through each box in the attic with Vivian, who doesn’t seem very interested in changing anything in the attic, the history of each item comes to life. Vivian begins to tell her life story and how she went from being Niamh, the young Irish orphan, on a train from New York to the Midwest in hopes of finding a family, to the wealthy woman she is now. They bond over their shared stories of being orphans and an unlikely friendship ensues, one that examines the variables in both of their lives. Is there such a thing as fate? Does everything happen for a reason? Or is there only chance?
                This was not a part of history I was at all familiar with so learning the history of these “orphan trains” that took kids off the street and literally shipped them to the Midwest to find families was interesting to say the least. The situations mentioned in this book were all plausible. Farmers needed field hands and mothers needed help with their kids and that took priority for many when selecting an orphan. Scared children traveled for miles in hopes of finding a family and agonized over what their future held if they weren’t chosen. Niamh didn’t have it easy and she had a hard time dealing with her sorrow but in the end she did find a family who loved her and gave her a new beginning. Molly, on the other hand, has had new beginning after new beginning and is lost. Vivian revealing her past and the friendship that is formed between them gives Molly a different sense of self and comfort. They built a bridge over generations and were able to relate their loss and lives to one another.

                This was a page turner. The story moved well and kept me engaged. The narration jumped from Vivian in her younger years during the 1920-1940, to present day occurrences in the lives of both Vivian and Molly. First person was only used during Vivian’s younger years which made those instances much more intimate. I really enjoyed the conversations between Molly and Vivian and watching their relationship grow. It was easy to recognize when the tones between the two became playful and their conversations became smoother. I was immediately drawn to Vivian’s childhood even though it was full of characters that made me angry. I rooted for Vivian, then Niamh, to get through but I recognized the horrific struggle. I give this novel 4 out of 5 stars. It took me very little time to get through the book and if you are in the mood for a historical fiction with a contemporary feel you should definitely give it a try. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Banned Books: Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

                Holden Caulfield just failed all but one of his classes and is being expelled from yet another school. But he has no remorse. Why? Because he hates the phonies. Can’t stand them, doesn’t understand them and doesn’t want to be around them. So he deliberately cuts class, doesn’t study and eventually gets kicked out, of all the schools he’s attended. As he wanders through the streets of New York, trying to decide when he should return to his home and the anger of his parents, he reflects and observes the people he has had in his life. In his mind, every encounter affirms his beliefs. It’s not him, it’s them.
                There is something about The Catcher in the Rye that sticks with people. I remember reading this book in high school and being able to relate to the angst-filled dialogue, the analyzing of others behavior and the belief that I alone was different. This novel affirms that everyone goes through a phase, not to the extent of Holden but a phase none the less, where we became overtly critical of the masses and try to separate ourselves as much as possible. Through the eyes of Holden everyone is criticized and judged. There are very few people that Holden comes across that he is able to praise, two of which are his siblings: his deceased brother and his kid sister. Everyone else, including his parents, can be deemed worthless. Holden has a very honest but somber view on life and it’s holding him back from experiencing many things. Holden is great at finding fault with everyone but himself, and his inability to recognize where he needs to change is ruining him and his future.
                J.D. Salinger did such a great job with this novel. To put it plainly, he was able to transport readers into the mind of a teenage boy, who is obviously still trying to figure things out. More importantly he was able to make readers see pieces of themselves in Holden. I’m not Holden, thankfully, but I have had those moments where I was frustrated by everyone around me. People can relate to
Holden’s struggle. People will always be able to relate to Holden. This book has been banned for numerous reasons. According to the American Library Association it has been seen as anti-white, unmoral, and full of profanity and sexual connotations. I think more people are simply caught off guard by Holden’s attitude about life and live in fear that such an attitude could affect their child’s mind so they fight to keep it out of schools and libraries. Holden represents one of the many. His story has to be told and shared if we can ever truly understand how others view the world, how they view us and how we should view ourselves.