Friday, January 6, 2017

Teen review: S. E. Hinton

That Was Then, This Is Now
S. E. Hinton
192 pages
realistic fiction, stand-alone novel
Reading level: Grades 7 up

Reviewed by Chloe Hu, grade 9

Bryon Douglas and Mark Jennings have lived together almost like brothers since Mark’s parents died in a gun fight. Bryon’s mother is in the hospital, and because of that, the two boys need to make money to scrape a living. The two boys were similar to one another when they were young, but as time passed, they began to have different appearances, characteristics, and behaviors. During this time, there were lots of changes happening in their lives. Bryon found that sometimes he and Mark were not like they used to be, and sometimes he felt estranged from Mark, even though they maintained their strong sense of brotherhood in daily life. Bryon then accidentally discovers that Mark has been secretly selling illegal drugs to get money. This makes Bryon realize that both of them have changed and that they are not boys any more, and makes him examine the friendship.

This book is not one that I would recommend to everyone, but I think you can experience some great feelings from this book. The author tells the story in a natural way, and it makes you feel that you are not a spectator, but a real person within the world that the author creates. Each character in this book has his or her own story, and each of them is a complete person, with difficulties and choices. Bryon wants to be mature so he can shoulder the responsibility of his family, but he is a teenager so he makes many mistakes and has many problems. Mark tries his own solution to maintain his family's happiness, bu the way he chooses is extreme. Their lives could never mesh again, which is the origin of the book's title, "that was then, this is now." We cannot influence the living style of others, we can only change our own.

I do like the cover of this book. The blue and the black and the man walking down the street alone foreshadow the story.

Personally, I will give this book a rating of 3 (readable/entertaining), because it was not a book that will give deep enlightenment, but if you choose this book you can have a great experience.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

10-12 Book Club

Eighteen of us met Tuesday night for 10-12 Book Club to discuss John Scalzi's book Lock In, which is kind of hard to summarize: It's a murder mystery that takes place in the future, after a pandemic has altered the world and people who lost their ability to move are able to get around by using "threeps" (named for C3PO) as mobile devices. One FBI agent is an "integrator" (someone who can suppress her personality and allow a "Haden" to use her body), while the other is a Haden, who uses a threep; and the main suspect? He's an integrator, so it could have been him who murdered the guy, or it could have been somebody else, using his body. You may have guessed by this point that it's science fiction. Sadly, Zoey, who has been politicking for months to read this book, couldn't be with us; but we had a lively discussion nonetheless, including some debate about the gender of the protagonist, Chris.

A few people loved the book unreservedly, while most had a few caveats but liked it pretty well. Ryan called it out as a favorite because it wasn't dystopian and it ended well! Ha! We all appreciated its lively style and the lack of excessive didactic explanation, which opinion we arrived at through discussing Isaac Asimov's series of robot novels pairing Earth detective Elijah Bailey with humanoid robot R. Daneel Olivaw, which starts with the book The Caves of Steel. We wondered whether people who liked Lock In would enjoy those, since Asimov does come from a tradition of "info dumping" in his novels. Hailey thought yes. The range of ratings for Lock In was a high of 9 and a low of 6, with a final score of 7.5.

Coincidentally, next month we are also reading about an out-of-body experience when we tackle David Levithan's Every Day, a book in which the protagonist wakes up every morning in a different body! And March's reading was hotly contested, with some final contenders from our ongoing list and some new nominations. We ended up choosing Side Effects May Vary, by Julie Murphy, in which Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, expects to die, and therefore commits mean-spirited revenge pranks on all who wronged her in life; but then she goes into remission! Uh-oh...what to do?

Other books we considered, in descending order of popularity, were:

Graceling, by Kristin Cashore
Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
Bumped, by Megan McCafferty
The Boy Most Likely To, by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Proxy, by Alex London
I'll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
          (are we ever going to read this book?!)
The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
Conjured, by Sarah Beth Durst
Enclave, by Ann Aguirre

We will keep these on our list. Next month the club meets on February 7th. Those who missed the meeting, pick up a copy of your book at either branch.

Monday, January 2, 2017

What we're reading: "Ripped from the headlines"

The story of How It Went Down, by Kekla Magoon, bears striking similiarities to the real-life shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, in Florida in 2012. Martin was on foot, on his way home from the store, when Zimmerman spotted him from his car, decided he looked suspicious, and got into an altercation in which he ended up shooting the young man. In this book, Tariq was on his way home with a carton of milk he'd fetched for his mother, when he was accosted by one man, egged on to fight him by his friends, and shot by a passerby in a car, a white man. The book is definitely not an exact duplicate of the Martin event, and in fact could stand in for many such incidents (such as the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri). But the riveting way in which it is presented shows all the possible pitfalls of making assumptions based on race and circumstance.

Magoon writes the story in short, effective, page-turning chapters and from many viewpoints (17, to be exact, with thanks to the person on Goodreads who counted them)--those of the people who were there on the spot and thought they had the facts, and those of people peripheral to the story who nonetheless made assumptions based on what they knew about the protagonists, what they were told by others, and on which side their prejudices landed when the event happened. You get to hear firsthand from the store owner, the guy who thought he was helping out, the gang members who gathered to see a fight, and the friend of the shooter, who saw a completely different scenario when he viewed it from farther down the block. You dip into the thoughts and reactions of everyone who knew Tariq, and some who did not, like the "Reverend" politician who hopes to gain visibility through his association with the volatile event.

What we are ultimately left with is more questions, because the only person who really knows the truth is Tariq, and he's dead. But the truths that we get from each of the players showcase all the nuances we need to consider when looking at every person in every circumstance, clearing our vision and refusing to be limited to one set of lenses. This is an important book, deserving of the awards it has won, and is also a riveting, gritty, realistic read.