Pulitzer Prize Winner/Nominee

Book Review: Gilead

Gilead
Author: 
Robinson, Marilynne
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

I feel the same way about this book as I do certain of my favorite foods: I absolutely love it but I can understand why someone else wouldn't. The very distinctness of this book is what makes it so lovely. If you're looking for an action-packed page-turner, keep looking. This is a book to be savored.

On the pages of Gilead, I was confronted with the transcendence, the miracle that is everyday life. The author beckoned me to see the smallest detail of existence as a thing to be cherished. I found myself deeply moved by the quiet steadiness of a man who had lived in one small, inconsequential town his whole life. He wrote no great books, and made no national waves, but he was faithful and content. What a concept! Yet he fought real battles! They were the struggles he waged in his own heart. For instance, he fought hard to love the wayward son of his best friend who had caused the family so much grief for decades, and had now returned. But in the end, he rose as a victor, and gave a blessing so moving it could change the course of a life. He had struggled for decades with loneliness. While his best friend had a household of eight kids, he had remained wifeless and childless for years after his first wife had died in childbirth. But this eventually served only as a platform to make him a stronger and more sensitive man--a man able to love more deeply because of all his heartache. All of this is described so skillfully, so carefully, that the reader cannot help but love all that the author loves. And what else is a good story for if not to capture the affections?

Reviewer's Name: 
Leslie Taylor

Book Review: Housekeeping

Housekeeping
Author: 
Robinson, Marilynne
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

How can the deepest loss be quantified? What happens in the heart of a little girl when her mother drives off a cliff after leaving her and her sister alone at Grandma’s? How does such a girl become a woman? Who does she grow to be?

In the achingly beautiful prose that only Robinson can craft, the reader comes to taste a small portion of the fear, the ache, the loneliness that is the human heart. All these emotions find their representation in the haunting landscape that surrounds the forsaken town of Fingerbone. The defining feature of this town, next to its remoteness, is a great, icy lake. A train full of many passengers, including the young girls’ grandfather, once plunged off the bridge into that lake. Her mother also drove her car into it.
By staring into it, Ruthie sees everything lovely swallowed up. As she grows older, she finds herself bound to the same hopelessness that drove her mother into there. She begins to feel the pull.

Ruthie’s aunt Sylvie, now her guardian, represents the living dead.
Although she has never tried to drown herself in the lake, Ruthie begins to realize more and more that the cold lake is where Sylvie’s heart lies. She begins to see Sylvie as a representation of what her mother would be like if she had never driven off, but wished everyday that she could. What Ruthie needs as she comes of age is someone to bring her into the light. She needs someone to be the mother she never had: to delight in her and think that everything she does is adorable. But true to real life, the longing that Ruthie has is never realized and she resorts more and more to the cover of darkness.
This is a book that stares loss in the face for what it truly is. When one gives one’s life over to darkness, the ripple effects are so devastating, so tragic, so destructive, that a little girl can be forever derailed. And what can be more heart-rending than that?

Reviewer's Name: 
Leslie Taylor
Genres: 

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See

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

If All the Light We Cannot See were a movie, I would consider it “Oscar bait.” Set during the most romantic of World Wars: check. Main character with disability: check. Drama, tragedy, and suspense: check, check, and check. It’s then no wonder that All the Light We Cannot See ended up winning a Pulitzer. Sure, it’s filled with plenty of the “award” tropes that we tend to see repeated over and over again—but it works. What helps this book stand out from the rest of the books and movies that try too hard to earn awards is twofold: its characters and its plot.

Before I get too far into my praise for this book, I have to mention that the narrator for the audiobook version seemed to mispronounce a few words early on, which threw me for a loop and made me wonder if I’ve been mispronouncing them myself. Similarly, it was a little challenging to track the timeframes for some of the subplots, but the impact of the book was still the same. The author was able to paint a vivid set of lives set on opposite sides of a global conflict. From the blind French girl forced to survive on her own to the prodigious German boy with a penchant for radios and STEM, their internal and external conflicts were prime examples of gripping and engaging storytelling.

While there didn’t seem to be one primary driving plot in this book, the addition of the handful of subplots worked in concert to create a gem of a story (har har). These subplots were natural to the characters that embodied them, which helped to produce an amount of realism that held everything together. Everything just made sense, and even the semi-tragic ending was a satisfying end that left no subplot or loose end untied.

A beautiful piece of prose worthy of its Pulitzer, I give All the Light We Cannot See 5.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin

Book Review: The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea
Author: 
Hemingway, Ernest
Rating: 
1 star = Yuck!
Review: 

I did not enjoy reading The Old Man and the Sea mostly due to the format it was written in. The Old Man and the Sea is a book that focuses on one of an old man’s most memorable fishing trips where he attempts to kill massive a fish larger than his very ship. One of the main reasons why I did not enjoy reading this book is because of the fact that all of the main characters have names that are revealed throughout the story, but they are never used by the narrator figure. For example, throughout the entire book, Santiago is only referred to as “the old man” by the narrator, even though his real name is known early on in the novel. I also found the book to have a dull plot, focusing on descriptive writing rather than events that occur within the story. Even though I did not particularly enjoy reading this book, there is a lot of symbolism and descriptive writing throughout the novel, which some people may enjoy.
Reviwer Grade= 9

Reviewer's Name: 
Hanna N

Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

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

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is an amazing story with important underlying themes. I really enjoyed this book. I read To Kill a Mockingbird on my own and then in class, which only made me appreciate the book more. The book explores controversial issues such as prejudice, racism, what it means to be a woman/lady, and growing up, which are all still relevant in today’s society. However, this is not a book for people who enjoy eventful/plot driven stories. To Kill a Mockingbird is more of a character-driven story (in my opinion). Harper Lee’s usage of symbolism, language and setting add to the enjoyment of the book. I could not recommend this book enough. To Kill a Mockingbird is a thought-provoking and classic book that everyone should read before they die.

Reviewer's Name: 
Sophie L.

Book Review: The Underground Railroad

Book Review: The Underground Railroad
Author: 
Whitehead, Colson
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

I listened to this book on audio, so I'm sure I missed bits and pieces. Cora's life as a slave in Georgia and through her journey on the underground railroad was fascinating. The depiction of the underground railroad as actually being an underground railroad was odd to me, but I'm sure there's some symbolism or other literary device that escapes me. Probably the most interesting part of this book was the section that took place in North Carolina. It was so indicative of the Third Reich that it was chilling. I found the ending to be abrupt, but still overall an interesting read.

Reviewer's Name: 
vfranklyn

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: The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried
Author: 
Tim O'Brien
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

The Things They Carried is a collection of short stories, written by the protagonist (Tim O’Brien), of self reflection about his experiences during the Vietnam War. O’Brien itemizes a list of the things, both tangible and intangible, that members of his platoon have brought with them to war. The plot follows the fate of the Alpha Company members both during and after the war, as well as adding O’Brien’s personal comments on the events he transcribes.

This book humanizes war. It’s no longer one side versus another, but actual people with lives and stories beyond the war. I really enjoy the style O’Brien uses, inserting himself into the story gives the novel verisimilitude. This book is very unlike books I normally read, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much it made me think.

Reviewer's Name: 
Emma

Book Review: Maus

Maus
Author: 
Spiegelman, Art
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Maus is a two-part graphic survival story of World War II in Auschwitz. It is a true story of Art Spiegelman's father, who was a Polish Jew and was put into Auschwitz, one of the biggest concentration camps in Nazi Germany.
The comic book style is an amazing way to learn history, as it enforces themes through images and tells a story rather than spitting facts, like some history books do. The author portrays different nationalities as different animals, which stands as an ongoing theme in the book: The Jews are the mice and the Nazis are the cats. This makes for an easy relation between the two (cats hunt mice). I am not a huge fan of learning history for the sake of learning history, but I adored this book. I found it intriguing on a very personal level, but also extremely informative. I strongly recommend Maus.
Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: 
Sabrina J.

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

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