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Posts Tagged ‘YA Literature’

I was looking for a book to read during Christmas Eve and I thought I’ll read a Christmas-y book. ‘Let it Snow‘ leapt at me. I have had it for years – after I read John Green’sThe Fault in Our Stars‘, I went and got every book that had John Green’s name on it. But I hadn’t read it yet, and now I felt that the time has arrived.

Let it Snow‘ is subtitled ‘Three Holiday Romances‘. It has three romances set during Christmas-time. The three romances can be read as three different stories, but they all happen in and around the same town. They are all interlinked though, and a minor character or a character who is just inside the edges of the frame in one story is the main character or the narrator in the other. I won’t tell you more about the stories. You should read the book to find out more.

I don’t read much YA literature now. There was a time I went through a YA phase, when I read a lot of YA books. I used to ask friends for recommendations and discover new YA writers. But then that phase passed and I didn’t read as many YA books as before. These days I just read books by two of my friends who are YA writers. One of them publishes a new book every two years. Her previous book came out last year. Her new book is coming out soon. I am looking forward to that. My second YA writer friend last published a book six years back. I don’t know when her next book is coming out. I occasionally read a YA book that someone highly recommends. That is how I discovered the wonderful Tschick‘ by Wolfgang Herrndorf, this year. But otherwise, I don’t read YA much.

Let it Snow‘ made me remember why we all love YA books so much. Especially, the first story in the book, ‘The Jubilee Express‘ by Maureen Johnson. The prose in that story is cool and stylish and makes us smile. There is not a single dull sentence. There is no unnecessary word. The narrator is a cool and nerdy girl with an interesting sense of humour and we are totally in her team. That story was wonderful and exceptional and I didn’t want it to end. After reading that story, I wondered why I haven’t heard of Maureen Johnson before, why I haven’t read her stories before, why she is not as famous as John Green or Rainbow Rowell. Because she is good, really good. I want to read more stories by her. The second story in the book is by John Green and we expect that, because he is a celebrity YA writer, he will raise the book to greater heights. But the book suffers a huge, unexpected, sophomore slump there and we keep wondering, “Is this really a John Green story?” That story has its nice parts, but still…In the third story, Lauren Myracle tries to salvage the book and bring back its earlier glory and succeeds partially.

But on the whole, the book succeeds admirably. It has three Christmas romances and they all have wonderful, engaging stories, and beautiful, satisfying endings, and they provided lots of delight to this particular reader, during this holiday season. I loved it. It is a great book to read in winter, in front of a crackling fire, with your dog sitting nestled against you gazing at the fire in wonder, or your cat sitting on your lap purring in her sleep, and you thinking about your great love and smiling to yourself.

Have you read ‘Let it Snow‘? What do you think about it?

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One of the books that I eagerly awaited this year was Gae Polisner’s ‘The Memory of Things’. I loved Gae Polisner’s first two books ‘The Pull of Gravity‘ and ‘The Summer of Letting Go‘ and so couldn’t wait to read the new book. It came out this week and that is what I have been reading for the past few days. Here is what I think.

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The Memory of Things‘ is set on the day of 9/11 and the story continues during the subsequent days of that fateful week. It is a beautiful Tuesday morning and suddenly there is an explosion and initially people ignore it but when more explosions happen and everyone realizes what is happening, people start moving out of buildings. The narrator of our story, Kyle, is a teenager who is presently at school. Once the seriousness of the events become apparent, everyone from Kyle’s school gets evacuated and teachers try to get their students home. Kyle has to cross the bridge to get to Brooklyn, where his home is. He sees something strange at the bridge, which looks like a big bird. When he moves back and tries to take another look, he discovers that it is a girl, who is wearing huge wings. It appears that she might be trying to jump into the river. Kyle rushes and gets her and takes her home. She appears to have suffered temporary amnesia probably because of the shocking events of the day. She can’t even remember her name. We also learn that Kyle’s father and Uncle Paul are officers with the NYPD and are at Ground Zero, his other uncle Matt who used to be at the NYPD is paralyzed because of an accident and lives with them, while his mother and daughter are in LA for an audition.

How does Kyle handle this situation? Who is this mysterious girl whom he feels responsible for but whom he also feels attracted to? Is Kyle able to reach his dad during this day filled with crisis? Is Kyle able to reach his mom? How does the story of each of them pan out? You should read the book to find out.

I loved ‘The Memory of Things‘. I loved the way the book evoked the atmosphere of that time, the fear and uncertainty that followed the disastrous events and also the calm of the people who stood strong. It is a story of everyday heroes who stood strong amidst adversity and handled the situation with grace and dignity. I loved the way the relationship between Kyle and the girl evolved, from being uncertain strangers to friends to something more. I also loved the character of Uncle Matt – though he couldn’t walk or speak much he was a cool character and has a wonderful sense of humour. In one place he says – “Am pah-lyze, Ky-uh. Not brain … dead…” – I couldn’t stop laughing when I read that 🙂

I loved the way the story is told, the narrative voices alternating between Kyle’s and the girl’s. Kyle’s voice narrates the story and moves the action along, while occasionally contemplating on life and the deeper meaning of things. The girl’s voice is poetic, dreamy, surreal. Both of them complement each other so beautifully. I liked some of the little things in the book that we discover when we look carefully – like this nod to Dickens – “it occurs to me that, in the middle of one of the worst things that has ever happened to me, is now also one of the best things.” The ending of the story is bittersweet but perfect. There is a note by the author at the end of the book in which she describes how she was inspired to write the book. It was beautiful to read.

I loved many passages from the book. Polisner’s prose is beautiful and I couldn’t stop highlighting passages. Here are two of my favourites.

    “Well, it feels like that, Kyle, back there. Like I’m adrift, in soaking wet clothes that are too heavy with the weight of things I don’t even know. And then the water doesn’t drown me but carries me and, for a second it lightens everything a little, and I feel momentarily hopeful. But always, there are things, beneath the waves, threatening to pull me under. And the land is right there, close enough to swim to—I can see it—but I’m not sure I want to come back to shore again. It’s like I’m here, solid, but I’m not connected to anything. I’m completely untethered. I know that makes no sense,” she says.
      “It does,” I say, “I think I get it. But you’re wrong. You’re tethered to me.”

      Change comes in two ways. The first is the blindside way that comes without warning. Like Uncle Matt’s motorcycle accident. Or the Twin Towers collapsing one Tuesday morning as you’re minding your own business in school. Or a girl showing up out of nowhere, covered in ash, and wearing some costume wings.
      That kind of change takes your breath away.
      But other times, change comes gradually, in that sure, steady way you can sense coming a mile away.
      Or maybe a day away.
      Or, maybe, a few short hours.
      And, since you know it’s coming, you’re supposed to prepare. Brace yourself against the stinging blow. But just because you plant your feet wider, doesn’t mean the blow won’t take you down.

I loved ‘The Memory of Things‘. It is a story about normal people handling extraordinary situations with great dignity and courage. It is also a story about friendship, love and family. It is one of my favourite books of the year. If you haven’t read it already, go get it now 🙂

Have you read ‘The Memory of Things‘? What do think about it?

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My book reading has not been going too well these last two months. So I thought that to break the jinx, I will read a YA book. And so I got John Green’s ‘The Fault in Our Stars’. ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ was recommended to me by one of my favourite friends Heidi. Then it was part of NPR’s best YA novels list. And then it ended up in many year-end favourites lists in 2012. So, I had to read it. I finished reading it yesterday. Here is what I think.

 

The story of ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ can be told very briefly. It is about Hazel who has cancer but still has a few years because of a medical miracle, and Augustus who appears to have been cured of cancer in his bones. They meet at a Cancer support group, the sparks fly and what happens after that forms the rest of the story. Other characters like Hazel’s parents, Augustus’ friend Isaac, a reclusive writer called Peter van Houten, who has written a novel about a girl who has cancer, and his assistant Lidewij also play important parts in the story.

 

I loved everything about ‘The Fault in Our Stars’, starting from its Shakespearean title, to the way the cover has been created – the title in white chalk on a blackboard and the author’s name in charcoal on a whiteboard :

The Fault In Our Stars By John Green

 

To the second paragraph in the first page which grabbed my heart and refused to let it go :

 

Whenever you read a cancer booklet or website or whatever, they always list depression among the side effects of cancer. But, in fact, depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying.

 

To the story which was beautiful, humorous, intense, happy and heartbreaking in equal measure, to the beautiful sentences which keep appearing frequently and melt one’s heart, like this :

 

As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep : slowly, and then all at once.

 

And this :

 

Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.

 

And this :

 

“Some war. What am I at war with? My cancer. And what is my cancer? My cancer is me. The tumors are made of me. They’re made of me as surely as my brain and my heart are made of me. It is a civil war, with a predetermined winner…Cancer isn’t a bad guy really. Cancer just wants to be alive.”

 

And this :

 

I would probably never again see the ocean from thirty thousand feet above, so far up that you can’t make out the waves or any boats, so that the ocean is a great and endless monolith. I could imagine it. I could remember it. But I couldn’t see it again, and it occurred to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again. That is probably true even if you live to be ninety – although I’m jealous of the people who get to find out for sure.

 

And this :

 

It was kind of a beautiful day, finally real summer in Indianapolis, warm and humid – the kind of weather that reminds you after a long winter that while the world wasn’t built for humans, we were built for the world.

 

To the beautiful dialogues like this one :

 

Hazel : “To be fair to Monica, what you did to her wasn’t very nice either.”

Isaac : “What’d I do to her?”

Hazel : “You know, going blind and everything.”

Isaac : “But that’s not my fault.”

Hazel : “I’m not saying it was your fault. I’m saying it wasn’t nice.”

 

And this one :

 

Stewardess : “Sir, you can’t smoke on this plane. Or any plane.”

Augustus : “I don’t smoke.”

Stewardess : “But –“

Hazel : “It’s a metaphor. He puts the killing thing in his mouth but doesn’t give it the power to kill him.”

Stewardess : “Well, that metaphor is prohibited in today’s flight.”

 

To the delightful references to mathematics and infinity that the book makes, to the fact that the book doesn’t simplify the theme it takes on but illuminates it in all its complexity while still making it read like a YA novel – I loved ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ for all these and more. It is a perfect book. I know that I must be the last person on earth to read it, but I heartily recommend it. Be prepared to laugh and cry and think, all at the same time.

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After I read my first Judy Blume book ‘Are you there, God? It’s Me, Margaret’, I thought I will get other Judy Blume books which are similar and read them. I discovered that she had written around eleven books for older children (early and late teenagers) which covered interesting topics. I wanted to read all of them 🙂 So I went and got seven of them from the bookstore. I read five of them in the past couple of weeks. Here is what I think.

 

Then Again, Maybe I won’t

 

 

 

This book is about a boy called Tony, who lives in a small town, and whose father is an electrician trying to take care of his family and make ends meet and whose brother is a teacher. His brother’s wife is also studying to become a teacher to support their family. She suddenly becomes pregnant. Tony’s father starts working hard in his basement and invents a new product. He sells it to a big corporation in New York and moves his family to New York to a luxurious house. Tony is not sure whether he will like it, because he has always been a smalltown boy. After moving to the new house, Tony makes new friends who are rich, but they have their own flaws and interesting eccentricities. He misses his old smalltown friends for a while, but he moves on after a while.

 

I found ‘Then Again, Maybe I won’t’ an interesting book on growing up, from a boy’s perspective. (Thanks to Kelly from KellyVision and Mrs.B from The Literary Stew for recommending it :)) It is also about what happens when a poor family becomes rich overnight – what are the consequences of it at home and what kind of pleasant and unpleasant transformations happen. The whole of our modern civilization is based on working towards a better income and a better lifestyle and sometimes we don’t realize the kind of sacrifices we make for that and the beautiful things that we lose because they slip between the cracks of the transformation and sometimes we don’t even realize that we have lost them. In this story, some of the interesting changes that happen are that Tony’s mom becomes a ‘high-society’ mom after they move to New York – she goes out for shopping, gets a cook to work at home, wants her kids to hangout with rich kids, wants her husband to get a better car, wants Tony to learn the piano – and Tony resents this most of the time. Tony’s brother, who is a teacher, leaves his dream job of teaching in a school and joins his dad’s company, because the pay there is more and so his family’s financial future will be better as a result. How many times have we seen people give up their dream jobs or their dream lives, because something else offers more money? How many times have we done something like this ourselves? Tony feels sad when this happens. I felt sad too. Another interesting change that the story describes is that Tony’s grandma who always managed the kitchen at home and made delicious food, is ejected out of the kitchen after a new cook is hired at home. She resents it deeply and sticks to her room and refuses to come out even for dinner. Of course, there are lots of nice things that are also depicted in the story because of the change in the financial status of the family – Tony gets new friends who are sophisticated and rich, he gets a new bicycle which is really cool and he gets pocket money to spend on things that he likes. 

 

I liked ‘Then Again, Maybe I Won’t’ very much. I was quite impressed by the way Judy Blume described the life of a boy while growing up, as accurately as she had described the life of a girl in ‘Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret’. Three cheers to her. I wish I had read this book when I was in school. I think I would have loved it.

 

Some of my favourite passages from the book :

 

Playing basketball

 

      When I’m playing basketball I don’t think of anything else. Not Lisa or school work or my family. I concentrate on the ball and getting it into the basket. Basketball makes me feel good. I wish we didn’t have two teams. I wish I could be in there all the time.

 

(Comment : When I read this I remembered what Steffi Graf said many years ago during the peak of her career, when someone asked her what she thought of her dream match. She described her dream match thus – she would like to play on a grass court – probably Wimbledon Centre Court –  with Martina Navratilova. There should be no scoreboard, there should be no record of points won or lost and there shouldn’t be any winner or loser. She and Martina should just keep playing. I loved that reply – it was a great tribute to Martina by one of her great rivals.)

 

Playing the piano

 

      ‘It’s really neat,’ I said. ‘But nobody here plays the piano.’

      ‘Not yet,’ my mother said, putting an arm around my shoulder.

      I knew what was coming. Piano lessons for me. Sometimes I wish we didn’t have so much money. How can I tell them I don’t want piano lessons? How can I tell them I can’t even clap my hands in time to music. I don’t even sing in the shower – I’m that bad!

 

‘Kids are pretty expensive. Especially when you want to give them everything.’ Ralph and Angie gave each other a secret smile.

      I thought, maybe that’s the trouble. Maybe kids don’t always want you to give them everything.

 

Blubber

 

 

 

‘Blubber’ is about Jill and her life at school. Jill is part of a gang of friends in school, which has the star of the class, Wendy, in it. Wendy keeps bullying the weaker and shy students in the class and Jill along with the rest of the gang join in that. The girl who is bullied most of the time is Linda, who is pudgy. But, once, Jill does the unthinkable – she defies Wendy and she tries to be fair to Linda. Jill pays the price for her defiance. She discovers that she has been ejected out of the ‘in-group’ overnight and has become an outcast, while Linda is part of Wendy’s closest circle now. Now everyone in the class bullies Jill. Luckily Jill gets support from Tracy who is her best friend in school, and she manages to tide over this crisis.

 

‘Blubber’ is an interesting book because it is about bullying and anyone who has been bullied in school, because they were pudgy, or they had buck teeth or they were wearing spectacles or their eyes looked different or their dress sense wasn’t considered fashionable or they were from a different ethnicity or spoke a different language at home or practised a different religion, will be able to identify with this book. But for some reason, I didn’t like the book. Looking at it from a neutral perspective, I think Judy Blume does quite a wonderful job in depicting how things are at school and focussing on the bullying aspect of life in school. So, I was surprised that I didn’t like the book much – most probably because I didn’t like most of the characters in the book. Even the heroine and narrator, Jill, is a bully and keeps taunting the less fortunate in her class, till she gets a taste of her own medicine. The only character who was nice was Tracy, Jill’s best friend.

 

My strange reaction to the book, made me ponder on the reasons behind why we like a particular book. Is it because we like the story? Or is it because we like the characters? Or is it because we like the author’s prose? Or is it because we like the realistic way in which the author has depicted the scenes in the story? Or is it because we could see ourselves in one of the characters in the story? I remember reading in a book called ‘The Story of Art’ by E.H.Gombrich about the Renaissance painter Albrecht Dürer’s painting of his mother. You can find this painting here – Portrait of the artist’s mother at the age of 63. The painting shows his mother in old age with lots of wrinkles – ‘it is a tender and unflinching study’ as Wikipedia puts it. Gombrich while talking about this painting, asks the question – what is regarded as beautiful in art? Should the subject of a painting be beautiful or should the painter’s skill be wonderful? It is an interesting question. Most of us respond to the beauty of the subject and unfortunately the painter’s genius gets relegated to the background. Many of us who are not art connoisseurs but are general art fans, wouldn’t look at the portrait of Albrecht Dürer’s mother a second time, but we will keep gazing and admiring Dürer’s another painting ‘Young Hare’, or Giovanni Sassoferrato’s ‘Madonna and Child’. I keep wondering why this is so. After pondering on this for quite a while, I feel that we initially respond to the subject of a painting and it determines whether we like a painting or not. But later, after experiencing art for a while, we learn to respond to the painter’s genius, and the beauty or otherwise of the subject of a painting gets relegated to the background, and we immerse ourselves into the soul of the painting and are able to respond to the painter’s vision. Some people are able to do it from their first instance of experiencing art. So, I don’t know whether this is a natural skill or something which is acquired by experience, though to me, this is something which has happened over the years by experience. When I thought about my response to ‘Blubber’, I remembered Gombrich’s discussion on Dürer’s painting of his mother.

 

What do you think about this? Do you think you respond to the beauty or elegance of the subject in a work or art or do you respond to the artist’s vision? Do you respond to the goodness or otherwise of characters in a book or do you respond to the vision and prose of the writer?

 

It’s Not the End of the World

 

 

Karen has a brother and a younger sister. Her parents frequently keep quarrelling. One evening her dad walks out of home and doesn’t come back the whole night. Then strange things start happening at home. Karen discovers that her parents are separating. She tries different ways of getting them back and making them like each other again. But, unfortunately, every attempt of hers, fails. Her dad moves to a new apartment and introduces Karen to one of his neighbours. This neighbour is divorced from her husband and has a daughter called Val. Karen and Val become friends and Val shares her knowledge and experience on what it means to be the child of a single mom. Karen gradually realizes that despite her best intentions and actions her parents are not going to get back together. She also realizes that her parents love her but they don’t love each other any more.

 

I enjoyed reading ‘It’s Not the End of the World’ though the story was a bit sad. It looks at separation and divorce from a child’s point of view.  One of the interesting thing I liked about the book is how Karen grades each day at the end of the day – starting from ‘A+’ for one of the best ever days and ‘C-‘ for a worst ever day. I think that is an interesting concept. I should start grading my days – I think it will be an interesting experience J

 

Some of my favourite lines from the book :

 

Children can’t understand

 

      ‘Karen…there are some things that are very hard for children to understand.’

      That’s what people say when they can’t explain something to you. I don’t believe it. I can understand anything they can understand.

 

Just As Long As We’re Together

 

 

‘Just As Long As We’re Together’ also tackles separation and divorce. It is told from the point of view of Stephanie. Stephanie’s best friend is Rachel. Rachel is tall, beautiful and is a perfectionist – she excels in music, debate and in academics. Then at the start of a new academic year, Stephanie becomes friends with a new neighbour called Alison, who also joins the school in which Stephanie is studying in. Alison is the adopted child of a famous actress called Gena. Rachel reluctantly accepts the arrival of Alison, but it leads to a few sparks and tense moments among the three friends. Stephanie’s father travels on business quite often and Stephanie notices that recently he is away most of the time. When he comes back home during festival times, Stephanie’s father takes her and her brother out for dinner, while her mother keeps away. Stephanie doesn’t think too much about it until she discovers by accident that her parents are not getting along well with each other and are undergoing a trial separation. She is shocked when she learns that. She also hides it from her friends. How Stephanie learns to accept reality and how she comes out of her shell and talks about it with her friends and how her friends react to it form the rest of the story. While telling Stephanie’s story, the book also talks about the growing up of the three friends, about what they think about boys, about the issues that Rachel and Alison have to deal with, about Alison’s own reaction when her mom becomes pregnant and the secrets that the three friends hide from each other.

 

I loved ‘Just As Long As We’re Together’. I think it is one of my favourite Judy Blume books till now. The way Blume constructs the story like an artist and the lovely scenes which make up the story, delighted me very much. It deals with the same theme as ‘It’s Not the End of the World’ but it is difficult to compare them because these two stories are told so differently. I liked both of them, but I found ‘Just As Long As We’re Together’ a little bit more interesting, a little bit more complex, a little bit more sophisticated (check the ‘walking’ scene below). The development of characters is perfect, I liked most of the characters in the story and the scenes which take the reader through the story are beautifully constructed, elegantly written, delightfully told. I think this is a book that I would like to read again sometime.

 

Some of my favourite passages from the book :

 

Learning Vs Grades

 

      If Mom and Dad were in a debate and the subject was grades, Mom would say that what you actually learn is more important than the grades you get. Dad would argue that grades are an indication of what you’ve learned and how you handle responsibility. If I had to choose sides I’d choose Mom’s.

 

Crush

 

      Jeremy Dragon came back for a second brownie, then a third. Alison handed him the brownies and I took his money.  That way we each got to touch him three times.

 

“I’ll walk you home”

 

Later, I walked Rachel home…The houses at Palfrey’s Pond are scattered all around, not lined up in a row like on a normal street. They’re supposed to look old, like the houses in a colonial village. Rachel’s is on the other side of the pond. When we got there she said, ‘Now I’ll walk you home.’

      I looked at her and we both laughed.

      When we got back to my house I said, ‘Now I’ll walk you.’

      Then Rachel walked me home.

      Then I walked her.

      Then she walked me.

      We managed to walk each other home nine times before Mom called me inside.

 

Here’s to you, Rachel Robinson

 

 

‘Here’s to you, Rachel Robinson’ is the sequel to ‘Just As Long As We’re Together’. It continues the story from Rachel’s point of view and most of the characters who were there in the earlier book make an appearance here. But because the point of view has changed, the story looks different. Some of the characters appear to be different when compared to how they we imagined them to be after reading the earlier book. We realize that Rachel is not as perfect as it seemed earlier. She has her own problems, her brother Charlie seems to be a problem kid and has just been expelled from school and her sister has issues of her own. Her parents have issues of their own, though her mom is promoted to become a judge. Though I liked this book, I felt that the story and the characters had lost their sheen in this book. I also felt that though the author had given a glimpse into Charlie’s character, it is just a tantalizing glimpse. I would have loved to read more about Charlie, because Charlie is interesting, rebellious and wise. However, I enjoyed reading this book, nevertheless.

 

Some of my favourite passages from the book :

 

The Beautiful World of Music

 

I took my flute out of its case, sat at my music stand and began to play a Handel sonata. Music takes me someplace else. To a world where I feel safe and happy. Sometimes I make mistakes but I can fix them. Sometimes I don’t get exactly the sound I want, but I can find it if I keep trying. With music it’s up to me. With music I’m in control.

 

On Beauty

 

Mom isn’t beautiful like Alison’s mother but she is very put together. She wears classic clothes and her hair is always perfect, whether it’s loose or tied back. She says grooming is more important than looks. I hope that’s true because when Mom was young she was awkward – too tall like me – and had a serious case of acne, like Jess.

 

Have you read any of these books? What do you think about them?

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I discovered ‘Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret’ by Judy Blume through fellow book bloggers. I had never heard of Judy Blume before and most of the bloggers who wrote about it said that this book influenced them in important ways when they were growing up. Later, while browsing at bookstores, I started seeing Judy Blume books. They seemed to be written for children – not the YA variety but for children – and I rarely buy children’s books, except during those once in a while times, when I really go and splurge on children’s books and read children’s literature for whole months. So, though I made a mental note of Judy Blume, I never read any of her books. A few days back, after taking a long walk in the evening, which ends at a place near a bookstore (not good for me!), I decided to stop by at the bookstore and just browse around. I somehow ended up at the children’s section and there were rows and rows of Judy Blume books. I looked through some of them and decided to get one and it was ‘Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret’. I finished reading it in one sitting. Here is what I think.

 

What I think

 

‘Are you There, God? It’s Me, Margaret’ is about ten-year old Margaret who moves to a new school when her family moves from New York to New Jersey. The story is about the new friends she makes, the new experiences she has, the perceptions and prejudices that float around at her school, about the boys she meets and about her experiences with religion. It is a story of growing up. It is also about the changes – biological, mental, emotional, behavioural – and transformations, the eccentricities and the peer pressure that growing up entails. It is a book written for children, especially girls, but which adults can relate to.

 

I liked all the characters in the book – there are no heroines and heroes and villains, only normal, lovable, imperfect people. I liked the characters of Margaret’s parents (Margaret’s father was born Jewish and her mother was born Christian and so her mother’s parents disown them when they get married), especially Margaret’s mother, who is really like a friend to Margaret. One of my favourite characters was Margaret’s grandma (her father’s mother), Sylvia Simon. She is cool and she rocks! I like the way Margaret’s parents try to not push her into any religion, but let her grow up and have different experiences before she decides whether she wants to believe in a specific religion or not. It is a beautiful concept, but I haven’t seen any parents practise it, because it is complicated. I also liked Margaret’s teacher Mr.Benedict, who is a nice and shy teacher, teaching his first year in school. One of my favourite scenes was when the naughty class of students plays a trick on him, but Mr.Benedict is patient and wins the game.

 

I also liked a character called Laura Danker who is Margaret’s classmate and who is tall and looks grown-up and who is avoided by the rest of her classmates. I remember having a classmate like that when I was in primary school. She was called Tasneem and she was tall and she looked like a grown-up and no one in the class talked to her. Those days, we had classes only in the mornings till lunch time. But sometimes we had extra classes in the afternoons too. One day I came to the school in the afternoon and discovered that there were no classes. Tasneem had come too. We spoke for a while and we played a few games and I discovered that she was a really nice and pleasant girl. I didn’t know why I didn’t talk to her before and I didn’t know why the others in the class kept away from her. I also liked the scenes where Margaret goes to a Jewish temple and then to a Presbyterian church and then to a Catholic church to find out how the experience is.

 

One of my favourite passages in the book was this :

 

During this time I talked to Nancy every night. My father wanted to know why we had to phone each other so often when we were together in school all day. ‘What can you possibly have to discuss after only three hours?’ he asked. I didn’t even try to explain. Lots of times we did our maths homework over the phone. When we were done, Nancy called Gretchen to check answers and I called Janie.

 

This passage was one of my favourites because it made me feel nostalgic 🙂 I was a late bloomer with respect to the phone – I avoided it like plague before and hated its ringing sound. It was like a siren was blowing which shattered my tranquility. Then at work, I met a friend, who was big on the phone. She inducted me into it, and oddly, we started talking many-a-day after getting back from work. We left work at around 6 O’clock in the evening, we reached home at 7 O’clock and at half past seven we were on the phone talking for an hour! I was a guy who struggled to speak on the phone for a few minutes before and here I was speaking for hours! So, when I read that passage, it made me smile 🙂

 

I think I will ask my sister to read this book, when she is in town the next time. I think she will like it and will be able to identify with the story and the characters. I wish there were books like this for boys – most books for boys seem to be about adventures and don’t depict everyday life.

 

I think I must be the last person to read ‘Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret’. But in case you haven’t read it yet, and you think it looks interesting, I would recommend that you give it a try. It is a good book to gift to your daughter(s) or your niece(s) or your friend’s daughter(s) who are in their pre-teens or in their early-teens.

 

If you are a Judy Blume fan, I have a question for you. Which Judy Blume book(s) would you recommend that I read next?

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I discovered ‘Unhooking the Moon’ by Gregory Hughes, when I was doing some random browsing in the bookstore, a few months back. I read the story summary at the back and it appealed to me and so I thought I will get it. I read a few pages the previous month, but yesterday I read the whole book. It is not often that I read a book in a day (except for comics and graphic novels) – the last time I remember reading a book in a day was Raymond Chandler’s ‘The Big Sleep’ a few years back. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened in the end and so I kept awake late and finished the book yesterday. Here is the review – the first one of this year 🙂

Summary of the story

I am giving below the summary of the story as given in the back cover of the book.

‘Where are you going?’ asked border patrol.

‘We’re going to New York to see our grandma and the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty and everything. And our granny’s going to bake us her very own apple pie.’ She sounded so convincing. Some days I wondered who the Rat really was.

‘What’s your granny’s name?’ asked the officer. That’s it! The Rat’s Little Red Riding Hood performance had ruined us.

‘Grandma, of course.’

I was relieved when I heard laughter.

‘Would you like to see our birth certificates?’ said the Rat.

She always had to overdo it! She wouldn’t be satisfied until we were locked up.

Meet the Rat : A dancing, soccer-playing, gangster-wise prairie kid.

When the Rat’s father dies, she decides to head for New York. What can her older brother Bob do but follow?

Join Bob and the infuriating, fantastic Rat on their funny, poignant and gripping road-trip adventure.


What I think

‘Unhooking the Moon’ tells the story of two siblings – 12-year-old Bob and 10-year-old Marie Claire (also called as Rat) – who leave their home in Winnipeg after their father dies and go on a trip to New York to find their long lost uncle. They meet some interesting people on the way – a cigar smuggler, a hustler, street fighters, a rap star – and the adventures they have and the dangers they overcome are told in the story. The story is told in the voice of Bob but the real heroine of the story is Rat, who is a cool, fearless, adventurous spirit and who, when there are two options in life, one of them which is safe, practical and boring and another which is exciting, dangerous and adventurous, always chooses the second option. This leads to frequent tensions between the brother and the sister, on their road-trip, but Rat’s adventurous way of thinking wins most of the time. Rat also has frequent premonitions about the future and frequently her premonitions come true – sometimes they are good and sometimes they are not. A frequent question which came to my mind when I read this rollicking adventure was – how much of the story was inspired by Gregory Hughes’ own life? I had this question, because Gregory Hughes own life seems to have been one wonderful adventure till now – the potted biography at the beginning of the book says : “Gregory Hughes was born in Liverpool, the eighth child in a family of nine. He was expelled from school and then sent to a home for wayward boys where he spent some happy times. After a few madcap years, he went to university and since then he has travelled the world working as everything from a high-rise window cleaner to a deep-sea diver. He has lived in Canada and the US as well as several Nordic countries but his home is in Liverpool.”

There are beautiful descriptions of the Canadian landscape in this book. One of my favourite descriptions goes like this :

We had a good breakfast sitting in the doorway of the boxcar. It was nice to eat and watch the land go by at the same time. There were blue lakes and turquoise rivers with fishermen wading through them. There were hills and rocky outcrops above which long-fingered buzzards seemed to float. Then there were more lakes and rivers followed by a sea of sunflowers that bathed in the sunshine.

When the train curved for a bend we could see the front of the train and the engine that was pulling us. It slowed to a walking pace as the bend narrowed and we saw hundreds of prairie plants growing wild. Their buds exploded into a supernova of seeds that drifted on the breeze like tiny parachutes, a minute version of the Big Bang that had first put the stars in the sky.

There were interesting events from Canadian history which were described in the book. One of my favourites went like this :

Louis Riel is buried in the St.Boniface graveyard and he’s a real Winnipeg hero. You see, he stood up for the Métis, who were the French-speaking descendants of European men and Native women. When the government tried to install English-speaking settlers on their land, old Louis Riel wasn’t having any of it, and he led the Métis in rebellion.

It is interesting to know how in most countries, the ruling government has been uncomfortable with the minorities (and sometimes with the majority) and has tried to suppress them in different ways – by making laws which discriminated against them or by employing techniques like sending new settlers into the natives’ land. It is interesting that this is how things have been done across the millennia.

I don’t know much about Canadian history. It is odd and sad because as the second biggest country in the world, Canada deserves better.  One of the reasons for this might be that Canada is frequently clubbed with the United States with respect to literature, culture and history, which is unfortunate, because Canada is unique in its own way. I read an essay in the book ‘Lost Classics’, about a book on the history of Newfoundland and it got me intrigued too. I want to read the history of this exciting country one day.

Bob describes his love for his country which goes like this :

I love our Canadian flag. It’s just a maple leaf, nothing to get excited about. But it represents more than a tree common to our country. It represents being down to earth and true like the tree itself. And it stands for modesty and compassion, which is our Canadian way. At least that’s what it means to me. I’m sure most people care about their countries but Canada’s special. It’s like America without the armies and the arrogance.

There are some interesting contrasts between Canada and America and Winnipeg and New York, described in the story. Here are a few descriptions of Winnipeg :

It (my story) begins in the wonderful city of Winnipeg, or rather the prairies of that city. A land so flat you can watch your dog run way for three days.

Winnipeg mosquitoes are as vicious as they come. There’s no need for mosquitoes to exist as far as I’m concerned and I’m always getting bit.

The sun was golden when we reached the trees. Its rays were warm and mild for now but later it would dry the ground to a crisp. Believe me, Winnipeg’s as hot as the Sahara in the summertime.

And here are a few descriptions of New York :

We rode up to the top of the bridge and stopped to take in the view. Above us a beautiful American flag fluttered in the breeze. It looked magical. But everything looked magical. What’s more the city seemed to buzz. It wasn’t a sound you could hear, it was more of a vibration. Maybe it was the millions of conversations, or the cars on the streets, or the electricity that ran through the cables. Or maybe it was a force that came from the city itself.

I was soon to learn that you could act as crazy as you like in New York and nobody would care.

The New York subway was depressing. It was dirty and dismal and the floor was sticky with gum. You’d think a city as rich as New York could get the gum off the floor, or at least get the drunk off the bench so you could sit down.

We waited for the train to come while breathing in the stale air and watching out for muggers. There are always muggers in New York movies, especially on the subway. It’s a movie mugger’s paradise. And there were a few crooked-looking characters standing about. In fact the whole platform looked like a line-up for America’s most wanted. I couldn’t wait for the train to come.

Here is an interesting conversation between Rat and the rapper, Iceman.

‘Haven’t you ever been happy, Ice?’ asked the Rat.

‘I was when my mother was alive. She was a great woman, strong and intelligent. You know she’s never let me hang out on the street. Church on Sunday, football on Saturday, and boxing three times a week. She took care of my education too. Once a fortnight she gave me a book to read. When I’d finished I’d have to write an essay about it with no spelling mistakes. By the time I was fourteen I’d read every book that Maya Angelou had ever written.’

The book has a sad and poignant ending. I felt sad when I read it because I was hoping that the ending will be happy, but unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way. As Bob says in the end :

…in the real world you don’t always get a happy ending no matter how much you want one.

What happens in the end? Do the children find their long-lost uncle? Are they able to come out safely out of the adventure – navigating through waters which has some interesting, good and dangerous characters? To know more about this, you have to read the book 🙂

I searched for this book in Google and in Amazon.com and imagine my surprise when I discovered that there was only a Kindle version of it. (Amazon.co.uk had the book version, though. I didn’t find it in Shelfari too – which was even more surprising!). I was surprised by it, because I thought that like all rivers end up in the ocean, all books end up in Amazon.com. It looks like this might not be true, and wonderful books like this, might be lost, if readers miss them during the short window during which they are published and reviewed.

Final Thoughts

I loved reading ‘Unhooking the Moon’. I loved the character of both the narrator Bob and his sister, the cool heroine Rat. I enjoyed reading their adventures across two different countries and two different cities. If you like Young Adult books, you will love this. I don’t know whether Gregory Hughes will write more books in the future. I hope he does. If he doesn’t, I hope this book gets a better readership which it richly deserves.

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