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National Book Award/Finalist

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See
Author: 
Doerr, Anthony
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is the story of two teenagers living during World War Two. Marie-Laure LeBlanc is blind, and lives with her father in France. Werner Pfennig lives in a coal mining town in Germany. As war draws near, Marie-Laure and her father move to the French coast to try to avoid the war while Werner is pressed into service in the German army. Both of the main characters learn to accept and cope with war in their own unique ways. They come of age through the war, and learn to navigate their war-torn world. This novel was recommended to me by my grandmother. I took her recommendation eagerly, as I love studying history. I thoroughly enjoyed the way the author used different points of view to show many sides of one story. Each of the characters must learn to interpret their own experience whether that is Marie-Laure memorizing her way around her city or Werner in his military service. I found both of the main characters very relate-able, despite their story taking place decades ago. Marie-Laure has a never-ending curiosity and Werner is constantly questioning the morals he is presented by his society. These characteristics are things that I think many teenagers, of any era, can relate to. This has been one of my favorite reads this year, and I would highly recommend reading this novel.

Reviewer's Name: 
Hannah H.

Book Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing

Sing, Unburied, Sing
Author: 
Ward, Jesmyn
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

Jo Jo and his mother Leonie have been living on a farm in rural Missisippi for their entire lives. Jo Jo's father, Michael, has been in jail for drug related crimes, and thus most of Jo Jo and his sister Kayla's upbringing has been done by their grandparents: the gruff but ultimately loving Pop and the cancer-ridden matriarch, Mam. Everyone's world is about to be upended, though, as time grows near for Michael to get out of prison.

Writing any sort of synopsis for this book was particularly challenging, as there's not much in the way of plot. I don't mean that in a bad way. I sometimes love books that focus solely character development, and that is absolutely what this is. The writing is insanely gorgeous and it's obvious from the gruesome beginning scene as to why this won the National Book Award.

Ward manages to make almost all of the characters relatable or lovable even as they do and say and think terrible things. She absolutely captures some of the wonderfully horrible aspects of the human condition, and here is a lot to love in this book.

That being said, I did not much care for certain aspects of the audiobook. First, by the time I got the book, I had forgotten what it was actually about. I did not remember that ghosts were a part of the story and was really confused for the first part of the book (are these flashbacks? how is that character here? I thought he was dead?), but I eventually figured it out. For me, the ghosts detracted from the story and I could have done without that element, even though magical realism is often my jam. The biggest problem for me, however, was Rutina Wesley's performance (which, hilariously enough, is why I went for this in audiobook format - I liked her in the few seasons I watched of True Blood). It was over enunciated especially given that Leonie is from Mississippi, and I found her parts to be melodramatic as there were a lot of weird pauses and words said breathlessly. It just didn't work for me, and I wanted to skip all of Leonie's parts.

If you would like to read a gorgeously written character study/family drama with a compelling setting, then this is a great bet. Just read it, don't listen to it. 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: 
Britt

Book Review: The Pox Party

The Pox Party
Author: 
Anderson, M.T.
Rating: 
1 star = Yuck!
Review: 

I didn’t enjoy this book at all. It is not a classic but it is written like one. It is historical fiction and there is some pretty disgusting parts in this book. Warning: do not read before eating. However, do not let my opinion discourage you. You may love this book and you may not. I, on the other hand won’t read this book again.

Reviewer grade: 8th

Reviewer's Name: 
Elizabeth C.

Book Review: Pachinko

Pachinko
Author: 
Lee, Min Jin
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Read a story of family, loyalty, racial prejudice and the meaning of difference. Enjoy the individual triumphs and failures of several generations of one family and changes they experience as they live and learn. Find out about the old time gambling sport, pachinko and its effects on an extraordinary family. This is the kind of book that makes you miss your "friends" when you finish it.

Reviewer's Name: 
Parris

Book Review: Ghost

Ghost
Author: 
Reynolds, Jason
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Jason Reynolds (author) + Guy Lockhard* (narrator) = Magic

Castle Cranshaw, aka Ghost, has been running from things his whole life: his violent father, the consequences of altercations at school with a bully, and most of all, the anger that's been building up inside him. So Ghost has a ton of natural talent, which he puts to use when he inadvertently impresses the coach of a local track team. After the coach begs him to join, and Ghost reluctantly agrees, he begins to see that he might be happier if he runs towards something instead of away from everything.

I listened to this audiobook, and it was excellent. I really struggle with middle grade fiction, as I oftentimes have trouble identifying with the characters (I mean, middle school was a loooooooong time ago), but Reynolds took me right back to the thick of it. In a good way. The day-making/ruining things your classmates would say, interactions with adults in positions of authority, and not really being sure about who you are and what you want in life - Reynolds nails it all. Moreover, Ghost is just a straight up likable character, even as he makes poor decision after poor decision. We really get to see him grow over the course of the novel, and even as he does the wrong thing, his heart is usually in the right place. I loved his relationship with his mother, and later, with Coach. There aren't always positive adult relationships in fiction for young people, and so it was nice that Ghost had so many adults that he could turn to. The secondary characters were just as dynamic, and also had very serious problems of their own to deal with. I'd read a book about any of them. Shoot, I wanted to adopt most of them. As a runner myself (although I'm not competitive and do longer distances), I really liked that the book was about track as it's not a sport we read or hear a lot about. There's a bit about fartleks that was pretty hilarious, and I think runners (Land Sharks, anyone?) will find a lot to love here.

If you are looking for a book to listen to or read with your kids, this is a great one. There are loads of teachable moments, and it is ultimately a heartwarming tale of self-discovery. I couldn't get enough of it - 5 stars.

*Shout out to Guy Lockhard - he narrated the other Jason Reynolds book that I've listened to (All American Boys), and he is a fantastic narrator. It seems like Reynolds thinks so as well, because it looks like Lockhard will be narrating Reynolds' recently released book about Spiderman Miles Morales. I may have just put that on hold...

Reviewer's Name: 
Britt

Book Review:To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird
Author: 
Lee, Harper
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Although it was a little hard for me to get into this book, once I did I was hooked. This book is about Scout, a 7 year old girl who is dealing with the hardship of her father having to defend a black man of rape in the 1940's. Along the way, Scout and her brother Jem meet Dill and they spend their summers together. Dill wants to get Boo Radley to come out of his house, and in the end, he does. With this book is the message to put yourself into others shoes to see how they feel. A classic book, great for anyone.

Reviewer's Name: 
Alex

Book Review: Raymie Nightingale

Raymie Nightingale
Author: 
DiCamillo, Kate
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

The best way I can describe Raymie Nightingale is to say that it is a book you can fall into. Kate DiCamillo is a master of characters and story, and Raymie Nightengale is no exception. This author weaves magic through words. We enter Raymie’s life mid-stream; she is ten years old and floundering a little. Through some new, strong friendships, she discovers strength in numbers – and in herself. The subject matter might be a bit much for some. Raymie’s dad has “run off” with a dental hygienist. But DiCamillo is never heavy-handed with the details and navigates the discomfort with aplomb.

Reviewer's Name: 
Kristin

Book Review: The Zero

The Zero
Author: 
Walter, Jess
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

I’ll be honest and say that I had no idea what this book was about before I started listening to it. Once I got into it, I could clearly see how the title and cover image related to the story at hand. It’s interesting to think that a mere five years after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, a book like this could be written. Of course, there is plenty of highly descriptive language that helps to cement the story to the reality of the tragedy. That being said, there are many situations in the plot that feel quite cynical, if not downright dark in their humor. Perhaps it’s this mixture of the absurd and the tragic that gives The Zero its interest.

I did find the memory gaps experienced by the main character to be an interesting literary device, especially in their transitions. For the main character to have a series of memory gaps to add to the eventual reveal at the end of the book, I almost felt like I was listening to the film, Memento (2000). Considering how much I love Memento, this was a good thing. The character only knows as much as the reader, which leaves him and us piecing together what happened at the same pace.

Despite its ability to poke at the ridiculous nature of the nationalism that resulted from this disaster, The Zero does show the effects of this national tragedy on its citizens. Loss can be hard to deal with, and everyone does so in their individual way. The poignancy of the narrative is true even today, more than 15 years after the events that transpired that day.

A cynical and often darkly humorous examination of the effects of 9/11, I give The Zero 3.5 stars out of 5.

For more reviews of books and movies like this, please visit www.benjamin-m-weilert.com

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin

Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird
Author: 
Lee, Harper
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

To Kill a Mockingbird shows us that growing up can not always be as easy as it seems. Especially when you live in Maycomb, Alabama, and your father is a lawyer defending a black man. Scout grows up not knowing much about the real world it is not until the trial that turns the whole town upside down that she really discovers how the South is really run. I love how relatable the characters are to teenagers like us today. I love how simple the story line is and the literature is beautiful. It tells you simply how things should be, it states things blatantly through Scout's eyes. The only thing I did not like about the book is that at some points it was hard to follow the story line. Although the story is very simple it got more complex when reading further. I chose this book because I had heard from many people that this was an incredible book and decided to see for myself. The book itself did surprise me as it did have a rather twist ending that was rather unpredictable. The characters were extremely relatable, I could see that in certain situations I would have acted similarly. I would say that it is definitely one of the best book I have read this year or even ever for multiple reasons. It can relate to old and young and describes an issue that still exists today.
Reviewer Grade: 9

Reviewer's Name: 
Sarah C.

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