Thursday, June 30, 2011

Freedom Giveaway!

It's my first blog hop and giveaway!
Because it is my first I'll make it very simple.  Just make a comment on this post and you will be entered into the giveaway.
What can you win?
A $20 gift card to Amazon!
Follow the link below and you'll find lots of other giveaways to enter:

Participating blogs

Sounds like fun, doesn't it!!

Thanks to Kathy at this blog
 and Stacie at this blog  for co-hosting the hop.

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

     It was fun to pick this one up the day after visiting Martha's Vineyard and spending some time in Edgartown, called "Great Harbor" in the book.  Even though much of the island is inhabited, there are enough open spaces to get a feel of how it must have looked in the 1660's
     However, this book is mis-named.  Caleb is the first Wamponoag from the Island to attend Harvard but the voice of the novel is Bethia, the daughter of the local minister.  It is through her writings that Caleb's story, but more often her story, is told.  The "crossing" is his literal crossing the divide between the island and the mainland and, what is much more important, figuratively crossing over to a culture that was assumed by the English to be vastly superior to the Wampanoag culture, although there were many incidences that proved that he hadn't left behind his native beliefs entirely.
     Bethia first meets Caleb when she is twelve.  She manages to run into many times, always done without the knowledge of anyone else.  She teaches him English and he teaches her his language and culture.  They meet again when he comes to live with her family so her father could teach him along with her brother and another Wamponoag boy.  They eventually end up in Cambridge at a boarding school, preparing for eventual admission to Harvard.  Bethia goes too since, due to their reduced circumstances, she becomes an indentured servant at the school.
     I felt that the over-riding theme of the book is the comparison between the English culture and the Wamponoag culture, especially in regard to religious beliefs.  What the English accepted as true would seem strange to an outsider, just as the beliefs of the natives seemed strange to them.  After listening to Caleb explain their beliefs on many occasions, they started to make sense to Bethia.  She attempts to teach him Christianity only to be frustrated when he challenges her beliefs.  After listening to him describe some of his beliefs, she writes,  "Of course, I thought it all outlandish.  But as I rode home that afternoon, it came to me that our story of a burning bush and a parted sea might also seem fabulous, to one not raised up knowing it was true."  He eventually becomes a Christian, at least in appearance.  "Caleb had taken the teachings of his youth and simply recast them in terms of our teaching.
     The treatment of women in both cultures was a theme that I found very interesting. The prejudice against women at that time was just as strong as the prejudice against the natives, even stronger at times because Caleb and Joel, and even a native young woman, were able to get an education but it was denied to Bethia. She was fortunate to be able to work in an institution of learning so that she could eavesdrop on lectures and lessons.
     The assumption by the English that the Wamponoag were "salvages" seems ludicrous at times to Bethia when she realizes that her own culture, and their mode of living, is found wanting.  She worries when Caleb comes to live with her family that he would feel a "lack", that it would be inferior to the home of his childhood with its hard bed and burlap cover instead of soft furs.  Their homes were built in well-drained sheltered places, but the English had built their homes "in the path of maritime gales, and already constant use has fouled the springs...I feared that Caleb would feel himself in a reduced condition here."   Things are even worse when they go to Cambridge with its closely-built homes and pungent odors.  The school where they board is spartan and there is never enough food.  Yet Caleb flourishes in many ways, at least in the eyes of the English.  They feel that there is a "complete... crossing as Caleb has made into English ways, these many years."    Bethia considers him a hero.  "He ventured forth from one world to another with an explorer's courage, armored by the hope that he could serve his people.  He stood shoulder to shoulder with the most learned of his day, ready to take his place with them as a man of affairs.  He won the respect of those who had been swiftest to dismiss him."  During the commencement exercises, Bethia finds herself wishing that Caleb had given one of the commencement orations.  She thinks that he would have given a "lively exegesis, drawing as it did on a very different experience of what was good and beautiful, and how beauty might be perceived quite differently by foreign souls in unalike times."
    In other words, the culture of the natives was not inferior to the English culture, just different.  It was the English, in their arrogance and their assumption of superiority, that sowed the seeds of discord that led to war.
   Although the historical basis for this book is slim, little is known about Caleb, I felt that the author did well to describe the cultural conditions of the time.  I enjoyed it immensely despite being misled by the title and recommend it as a worthwhile read.

Was it clean?  Yes, very clean!  There was very little to object to, just a few adult situations that might make it too adult for younger children, who probably wouldn't want to read it anyway.

Friday, June 24, 2011

What Happened to Goodbye? by Sarah Dessen

We have moved several times, sometimes 1000 miles or more away, three times to places where we didn't know a soul initially.  At times I had the desire, like Mclean, to reinvent myself.  It was refreshing to go somewhere that my faults weren't known and I could be a different person but, like Mclean, I discovered that you can't really run away from your past.  "Your past is always your past.  Even if you forget it, it remembers you."
Mclean Sweet (aka-Lizbet, Eliza, Beth, and Liz) lives with her father who is a restaurant consultant.  His job requires frequent moves which is just fine with Mclean.  In Mclean's small college town, everyone knew when her mother left her dad for the popular college basketball coach, and knew that she was expecting twins because of the affair.  Mclean felt a need to leave her past behind and become a new person.  She likes reinventing herself and becoming a different person in every new place. 
This time, however, she lost control of things.  She wanted to be called Liz but instead was called by her first name, Mclean.  Her new friends chose her instead of the other way around.  She wasn't given the chance to invent her own persona.  Sarah Dessen explains where she got the idea for the book here.
One new friend is especially important, her next-door-neighbor Dave.  He isn't like the boys she had known before, wasn't really her "type" but he is there for her even when he finds out her "warts".   I thought that the scenes with Dave represented the novel's theme best.  In one scene, Dave brings Mclean some soup.  He goes to her cupboard to get some thyme and finds that the cupboards are nearly bare.  "He'd opened the door, exposing the empty space behind it. He paused, then reached for the next one.  Also empty.  As was the one adjacent." 
Mclean is embarrassed that he has seen inside her cupboards: "I really wanted to get up and shut the open cabinets, but for some reason I felt like it would be admitting something."  Admitting what?  Possibly that she isn't really the person she seems to be.  She explains the empty cupboards,  "When you move a lot, you don't have a lot of entanglements.  There's not really time to get all caught up in things.  It's simpler."  Dave counters:  "But if you never really make friends, you probably don't have anyone to be your two a.m."  He explains that your two a.m. is someone you can call on anytime, who will be there for you no matter what, warts and all. 
Later he tells her about his babysitter who had a huge wart on her wrist.  She had told him that, "If we loved her, we loved it, too.  It was part of the package."  Mclean still isn't sure about letting people see the real Mclean, or about forgiving her mother. "It's easier said than done.  Accepting all the good and bad about someone.  It's a great thing to aspire to.  The hard part is actually doing it." "I think that's why I like moving around so much.  Nobody gets to know me well enough to see any of the bad stuff." 
She eventually learns that her made-up, false personas didn't make for good relationships:
 "I thought of all the times I'd found myself with boys over the last two years, and how none of them
came anywhere close to being like this.  Because I wasn't.  I was Beth or Eliza or Lizbet, a mirage, like a piece of stage scenery that looked real from the front with nothing behind it. ....All those clean, fresh starts had made me forget what it was like, until now, to be messy and honest and out of control.  To be real."
 Mclean discovers that loving someone means loving all of them even when they do things that hurt you.  She also learns to love herself, all of herself including her past, and that to do that she needs to be her real self, that others will still love her even when they know the truth about her.
I hadn't read any of Sarah Dessen's books before this one.  I just might have to read a few more!

Other quotations I liked: 
Outside, the ocean was crashing, waves hitting sand, then pulling back to sea.  I thought of everything being washed away, again and again.  We make such messes in theis life, both accidentally and on purpose.  but wiping the surface clean doesn't really make anything any neater.  It just masks what is below.  It's only when you really dig down deep, go underground, that you can see who you really are.

Home wasn't a set house, or a single town on a map.  It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together.  Not a place but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.

Was it clean?  Yes.  There were several mild expletives but for the most part it was quite clean.

*Book courtesy of the public library.  Check it out!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

*Spoiler Alert*
The following review may contain unwanted information for those who have not yet read the book.
It's been three years since Mia Hall was in the devasting and tragic accident found in If I Stay. Mia went on to Julliard and is living in New York City while Adam's band has done remarkably well and he is an official "rock star" with all the less-than-desirable encumbrances. Adam isn't handling them very well, in fact he hasn't handled life well at all since Mia left. Where She Went tells the story of Adam finding Mia by chance in New York while he is there with his band, of them haltingly reconnecting and then finding understanding.

What I liked about the book: I liked the symmetry of the two novels, that the first is in Mia's voice, the second in Adam's, that what happened to break them apart and how Adam handled things in the ensuing years is told little by little just as Mia's story was, that each becomes the other's savior in a way. I think that the author is really good at letting us get inside their heads so that they feel like real people even when they act in a way I would never act. I think that their emotions are very real.  I enjoyed reading the books within a week or two of each other.  If there had been a lot of time between I don't think I would have enjoyed it as much.

What I didn't like:  I really really didn't like Adam at all through much of the book.  I thought that he had many of the worst characteristics that seem to be somewhat common to celebrities, such as his whiny and petulant behavior, his extreme absorption with himself, his violent outbursts, his pill-popping, his inability to get along with his bandmates, and even his cigarette smoking, all of which seemed to portray someone with disdain for others.  He seemed so angry and angsty and just didn't seem to care about anyone, most especially himself.  It wasn't until at least 2/3's of the way through the book that I started to like him again, when I understood why he was so angry, that he had given so much to Mia only to have her turn her back on him for what seemed to him to be no reason.  He had needed to grieve for the loss of Mia's family, and then for the loss of Mia, without anyone to help him through it and then was thrust into the spotlight with his band's meteoric rise.  Being recognized and mobbed by fans and paparazzi, being misaligned in the gossip magazines, hounded by the media, and having jealous bandmates, was all too much for someone who had yet to heal from tragic loss.

Was it clean?  No, not at all.  Many many f-words, and Adam's sleeping around with groupies, definitely keep it from being considered clean.  I understand that many celebrities speak and act that way but to me it is a distraction and it  kept me from enjoying it as much as I would have if the language was cleaner.

*Book courtesy of the public library.  Check it out!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Divergent by Veronica Roth

It seems to me that there is a post-Hunger Games explosion in YA dystopian novels, just as there was with vampire/werewolf novels after the Twilight series became popular. I started seeing that "dystopian" label everywhere and thought I had better figure out if what was "dystopian" in my head was the correct definition. 
Well, almost. It makes sense that dystopian is the opposite of utopian, you know, those idealistic societies that we wish ours was like. Dystopian societies are not pleasant places but in my head I had it mixed up with post-apocalyptic when life is so terrible after the whole society is destroyed. Dystopian societies are terrible places by strict definition but there doesn't have to be an apocalyse, just a change in society. In order for a novel to be considered part of the dystopian genre, some would argue that a controlling central government, a totalitarian government, which discourages individuality and dehumanizes people needs to be part of it and play a strong role in the novel. A dystopian novel is quite often set in the future but doesn't necessarily need to be. There is usually an individual, or a small group of people, who do not conform to the strict rules placed on them and it is that conflict which usually forms the basis for the novel.
Okay, now that I've gotten that out of my head, I want to focus on Divergent, which takes place in Chicago decades in the future.
Society has been split into 5 factions based on the founders' belief that war happened, not for political or other reasons, but because of certain facets of human nature. They divided themselves into factions based on whatever part of human nature they blamed for war.
The factions are:
Amity, who strive for peace because they blamed aggression,
Erudite, who strive for knowledge because they blamed ignorance,
Dauntless, who strive for courage because they blamed cowardice,
Candor, who strive for honesty because they blamed deceit, and
Abnegation, who strive for selflessness because they blamed selfishness.

On one day each year, those who are 16 are tested to determine which faction they would fit in best. They are allowed to choose whether to change factions or remain in the one of their parents, after which they go through an initiation phase and, if they pass, are accepted into the faction. Those who don't pass are considered factionless which is the society's worst fear. If someone doesn't fit in to just one faction, they are considered "divergent" which is a closely held and dangerous secret. Those who are divergent try to hide it and choose their faction just like the others.
Beatrice has been raised in Abnegation. She makes a surprising choice which changes her life completely. From that point on, she is known as "Tris". The initiation phase is brutal but she manages to find friends and allies. Along the way, she discovers a conflict that threatens the society's way of life.
One of the interesting things about the factions is that often the quality that each faction initially revered has morphed into something that is negative and could potentially start a war between the factions. For instance, the Erudites quest for knowledge is lending itself to power and greed, and the Dauntless' love of bravery leads to the acceptance of violence as a way of life. I am curious if the future books in the series will play out this theme even more. We don't learn much about some of the factions but I hope that we do in the future.
Honestly, it has been difficult to write this review without giving away much of the plot. I am aching to talk about it! It is one of those books that sticks with you for awhile. I don't know how many books are planned for the series, only that there are more. This book ends with a major conflict that is somewhat resolved but leaves us with a lot of uncertainty.

Things I liked about the book: I loved getting to know Four even though he seemed so distant at first, watching Tris discover her strengths, the distinctness of each faction even though each citizen can choose only one facet of their personality to acknowledge is frustrating, and the reappearance of Tris' mom.
Things I did not like about the book: I did not like seeing Tris losing some of her humanity and becoming too strong to acknowledge her emotions, I think that she lost some of her likeability by the end. I also did not like the extreme amount of violence especially during the initiation phases.
Would I recommend it? Absolutely I would! I enjoyed reading Divergent and look forward to reading more about Tris and Four!
Was it clean? There was some swearing but not too bad, no f-words, and not too much of it. The sticking point for me would be the amount and intensity of violence in the book. It definitely made me cringe and I would not recommend it to younger teens. There was also an episode of attempted molestation but it was interrupted before it got too far.