Sunday, November 30, 2014

Banned Book: The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

                Ponyboy is a greaser. He lives with his brothers Darry and Soda on the East Side of town. He is the only one of his brothers still in school. Darry is twenty and has taken care of Soda and Ponyboy ever since their parents died. Soda dropped out of school to help Darry with the bills so they could all stay together. Dally, Johnny, Steve and Two-bit were greasers too. They were a group of friends that banded together and looked out for each other. They hated the Socs. Those guys were a bunch of do-gooder, rich kids from the West Side of town that ride around in Mustangs with girlfriends that drive Corvettes. It was easy to tell who was a Greaser and who was a Soc. One group was automatically given respect while the other had to fight for every bit of respect they got and for the right to simply live in peace.
                The Outsiders is an extremely simple, emotionally honest novel about circumstances and how those circumstances can define your life. Ponyboy was an fascinating, detailed narrator that was young enough to give an honest, detailed account of his life, passing judgment on not only those around him but himself. The life of a greaser is the life that Ponyboy knows and understands. This is the life he has lived with his brothers and with the people in his neighborhood that have become like family. He admits to not being able to relate to the life of a Soc and it isn’t until he begins to speak to those outside of his comfort zone that he realizes that there is more to a Soc and to people in general that he never realized. He has been judging the Socs just like they have been judging him and the other Greasers.
                I enjoyed The Outsiders. It is simple, hypnotic, gritty and haunting. I invested my time in the pages trying to understand Ponyboy, the life he has experienced and the struggle to be respected and understood. It was very well done. The characters were very well developed and painfully molded. Hinton did a great job at bringing to life some of the very real problems within society and how many are unrightfully marginalized. I can hardly believe that this novel was started when Hinton was fifteen years old. The Outsiders was published when Hinton was eighteen years old and this novel definitely shows a remarkable talent at such a young age. In 1965 when this novel was released it was controversial. It has been challenged because of the use of drugs and alcohol. It was also said to promote gangs, excessive violence and unchristian values. It has been banned and challenged so often that it was #43 on the American Library Association’s Top 100 Most Challenged Books of 1990-2000. It makes people uncomfortable to read about a part of society they wouldn’t want to have exposed. The fact that a teenager wrote this novel and was able to capture so beautifully the injustice that many were exposed to is amazing but fear can hinder many from recognizing where the problem really lies. Society has a way of creating dividing lines where none should exist. We are all people and it doesn’t matter what side of town you were born, you have feelings, emotions and the chance to be amazing. How other people pass judgment should not hinder or effect what you can become.

“Banned Book Awereness: The Outsiders”    Baldassarro, R. Wolf

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Monster by Walter Dean Meyers

                Steve Harmon has been called a monster and is currently on trial for the murder of Mr. Alguinaldo Nesbitt. Two men robbed a store and during the robbery shot and killed the store owner. They then emptied the cash register, stole cigarette cartons and went to get food from a fast food restaurant. Steve isn’t being accused of being either of those men. He is being accused of being the lookout. He is on trial with, Mr. James King, one of the accused murderers. As a lookout if convicted he could face twenty five years to life. Steve is only sixteen years old. The idea of spending the rest of his life in jail is something he’s understandably having a very hard time coping with. To escape the trial and the finality of the situation he begins keeping a journal. In this journal he writes down everything that happens inside the court room as if it were a movie he was writing, producing and directing. It was Steve’s way of telling his own story since everyone around him was telling versions of their own.
                Monster is a simple, easy to read depiction of a young misunderstood black youth who is on trial for a crime he didn’t commit. The robbery and murder happened days before Christmas but Steve wasn’t questioned until weeks later. He was taken from his home, in handcuffs to be questioned, while his mom was given no information for where he was going and what he was being questioned about. Steve is obviously scared throughout the entire novel and for many reasons. This is not the life he expected. As a budding film student he was interested in telling stories and was at odds with the fact that he had become one. I felt like he was an honest narrator even through his fear. He wanted to relay everything as he experienced it knowing that would be vital in proving his innocence.

                I remember a lot of students that I knew reading Monster while I was in high school. I never thought much of it. So when it came across my path all these years later I decided to give it a try. It is a gripping story that is told in a very cinematic way (obviously, Steve was supposed to be writing a movie) and I think that version of storytelling is part of why the novel was so interesting. It was a different approach to telling a story. It was effective in portraying characters bluntly. Was this an enjoyable novel that I can recommend? Yes. BUT it has its flaws. Being built around a singular mindset, the other characters came off as shells. The only well-developed character was Steve, everyone else was a caricature of their roles. The prosecution seemed really stern. The defense attorney might not have necessarily believed he was innocent but had to defend him anyway. King was a thug. I give this novel 3 out of 5 stars. If it wasn’t for the method of storytelling and the portrayal of what can be a corrupt legal system this wouldn’t have been very successful to me. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Banned Books: The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

Two men fell thirty thousand feet in the air, landed in the English Channel and were found washed up on the beach. Their plane, the Bostan, had exploded in flight, the act of a terrorist group that had taken the plane hostage. Gibreel Farishta was the famous Indian actor that had vanished and begin living his life in the silent shadow. He was on the way to the woman he loved when his flight was hijacked. Saladin Chamcha was the lesser known voice over actor that was desperately trying to leave his family and past behind. They fell together, one singing songs while the other was desperately flapping his arms trying to save his life. Their falls would end with transformations for both, one into an angel of God, the other a representation of evil.
Where to begin? This book was all over the place. In the first hundred pages of this novel, I was just trying to wrap my head around what was going on. Here we have an actor singing as he falls to his death, even though he believes (correctly) that it’s really his rebirth? And what’s with the other guy, the other Indian actor, who seemingly tries to adopt a new life and identity away from his Indian home? All of these questions are answered throughout the pages of the novel but I’m not sure how satisfying I found it. I can hardly adequately explain what happened because everything feels like it would either be a spoiler or just cause confusion. There was a lot going on in this novel. Too much going on in this novel. I found myself distracted by half of this novel and incredibly moved by other parts. It was trying and difficult to invest myself in this novel. Did I do it? Yes but I’m not sure how to summarize it so I won’t. The aforementioned will be as good as it gets. (In my opinion this novel simply took the longest, winding road imaginable to express itself.)
Now one thing that must be said because it weighs very heavily on the reasons why this novel has been banned is the religious context of this book. I am not well versed on the Quran but the religious tones of this novel are obvious throughout the pages. Even though this wasn’t an all-out battle between good and evil, it definitely presented different aspects of faith, representations of that faith, expressions of that faith and completely turning away from said faith. The Satanic Verses has been banned in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Qatar, Indonesia, South Africa and India because of its criticism of Islam. Riots have happened because of this book where people have lost their lives. It was even considered a crime to own or read this book in Venezuela, with a penalty of 15 months imprisonment. Translations of this book has caused serious injury and death to those who have translated it. Now, The Satanic Verses definitely discussed Islam and I’m sure it challenged many people’s views but this is as extreme as it gets. Nothing else I’ve read as part of this years banned book theme has come close to the repercussions I am seeing here. I don’t think Rushdie wrote this novel intending to piss people off but it seems as if he did it masterfully. Most people don’t like to have their faith tested and would see this novel as blasphemous but I can’t imagine entire countries being so outraged that they have banned this novel and made it a crime. I find that to be extremely absurd.

Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course top 100 Novels of the 20th Century

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

                Jenna Metcalf is looking for her mother. It has been ten years since her mother Alice checked herself out of the hospital and disappeared forever. It was the same night one of the caretakers at the New Hampshire Elephant Sanctuary, the elephant sanctuary her parents ran, was trampled by an elephant and Alice had been found unconscious hours later.  Jenna’s father, Thomas, has been institutionalized since then suffering from manic depression, leaving Jenna to be raised by her grandmother. Now thirteen years old Jenna remembers her mother but only bits and pieces of their lives together. She spends her time either checking the missing person’s database for any information about the mother that left or reading through Alice’s journals trying to imagine the woman her mother was. But Jenna needs her mother and enlist the help of the psychic Serenity and Virgil, one of the cops who handled the death at the sanctuary. Together they begin to uncover the truth around what happened ten years ago and the many reasons Alice may have fled.
                After ten years wouldn’t anyone want answers? Especially when you have these questions that your grandmother seems unwilling to answer and your committed father cant? It was only a matter of time and Jenna took this opportunity to find out as much as she could about what happened to her family. Serenity is a psychic who was once very popular and renowned but after and embarrassing and career crippling failed reading is now struggling to make ends meet. Virgil is no longer with the police force and works under the name Vic as a private eye. The Alice Metcalf disappearance has haunted him for the last ten years as well and though unwilling to admit his own shortcomings, he wants the answer to her disappearance almost as much as Jenna. These three unlikely accomplices have a cold case on their hands and they must depend on each other’s strengths if they ever want to answer any of their questions.
                I am a huge Jodi Picoult fan. HUGE! To the point where I buy everything that she releases because I have so much faith in her writing ability and her storytelling. This novel was a huge disappointment. It felt forced from the very beginning. This story is told from four different perspectives: Jenna, Virgil, Serenity and Alice. I struggled the most with Jenna. Picoult is usually great with taking on the voice of youth and making it realistic and relatable but Jenna felt flat. She was uninteresting and whiny. Virgil and Serenity were a little better but not by much. I could understand and relate to them more than I could Jenna, that’s for sure, but they were still flawed. They seemed like caricatures: the cop that had that one case he couldn’t live down and the psychic who now referred to herself as a “swamp witch” because she gave fake readings to survive. Alice on the other hand was extremely interesting but her story was impeded by the need to relay as much information as possible about elephants and grief and how that relates to the story and human interactions. The entire thing started to feel repetitive after a while. And completely unrealistic. There were inconsistencies riddled throughout and plenty of moments where I just shook my head because the circumstances just seemed ridiculous.

                Leaving Time, in my opinion, honestly felt like Jodi’s attempt to reach outside of her comfort zone and do something completely different. I applaud her for trying something new but this was unsuccessful. I give this book 2 out of 5 stars and I can’t even believe I am writing that. I want to give it higher but I just can’t. It is only because I am such a huge fan of Picoult that I held out faith the entire time that it would get better but it didn’t. I can’t recommend this novel but I could recommend My Sister’s Keeper, The Storyteller, and The Tenth Circle in a heartbeat. This one was a simply a swing and a miss. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Banned Books: Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

                Mr. Shelby has arranged for his slave Tom to be sold in order to pay off debts that he has incurred. Tom will leave behind his wife and children to pay off his owner’s debts. Mrs. Shelby is furious. Not only with the sell of Tom but that of her own slave, Eliza’s, son Harry. She has promised Eliza that her son would never be taken from her and yet Mr. Shelby has made arrangements to do just that. Eliza after learning of the purchase of her son takes him in the dead of night and runs for her and her son’s freedom. Tom stayed, wished his family goodbye and trusted in the Lord that even though he was heading to the South no harm should come to him. Years would pass and Tom’s faith would never waiver through all the trials and tribulations he endured.
                Now that I have written this brief synopsis of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, I almost don’t know what else to say. This is a novel that I am glad I read now, when I was old enough and mature enough to not be filled with hate over this disgusting past that existed in the country I reside in, The United States of America. This novel is about slavery and how it tore families apart. It isn’t gory or over the top and filled with torture. It’s a heartbreaking account of the family aspect of slavery. It details how man at one point could be viewed as property and treated as such with no regard to the emotions, and capacity of a human being. It is extremely believable and yet horrific in its honest delivery. I waited a long time before I ever attempted to read this book. I was well aware of the reference to someone being an “Uncle Tom” but it was always used in such a negative light that I always imagine this book to be something that I would ultimately tire of. I am shocked that I was so invested in this novel. Tom was not anyone to be ashamed of. I see the same thing in this story that I did in Gone with the Wind where some of the slaves were extremely loyal to their owners. In this novel Uncle Tom was extremely loyal to his faith and felt it his duty to be an honest man and a hard worker. I could never fault the character for that.
                This novel was about so much more than Tom though. This novel was about all the men, women and children he encountered throughout this story. This was about everyone’s loss and everyone’s pain. It was about the kind slave owner and well as the ruthless one. It was about the Christians who turned a blind eye on the atrocity that was slavery and those who genuinely tried to help those in chains. This novel took in the different aspects of slavery and placed them collectively in a novel to show the many aspects of the story. The bravery this must have taken Stowe to produce this in 1852 before the Civil War had even begun is amazing. I can only imagine the reaction that this had across the country. It must have been extremely eye opening to the masses to have the story conveyed in such a way. I am not surprised at all that this novel was banned, immediately upon its release, in the South. Of course they wouldn’t want such Abolitionist propaganda spread. It was also banned in Russia for its religious outlook and idea of equality. More recently in 1984 the novel was forbidden in Waukegan, Illinois for its language. It seems to me most, especially in the South, wouldn’t want to read this book and see the reflection of themselves. This was an incredible novel. One that exposed slavery to its very core, to the bones and heart of the matter. Cruelty existed and there is no way to hide from it, especially when a novel such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin exposed it so poignantly.

“Banned Book Awareness: Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe” Baldassorro, R Wolf