Best Friends by Shannon Hale

5 stars Graphic Novel Middle School

Are your actions and feeling based on how you actually feel or are they based upon how you’re supposed to feel?  It was all so confusing and to Shannon, it seemed that the rules keep changing. 

It’s their last year in elementary school and Shannon thought this year would be great yet it’s not starting out that way. She thought that she fit in with her girlfriends but now, she just doesn’t.  Why is it that there’s a difference between what Shannon thinks and what her girlfriends think now? How had they become so different? Shannon starts to second guess everything about herself and it’s painful to see how much she’s working at this. I had to wonder why Shannon was the only one who was excluded in this bunch of girls and why?  The girls, I thought, were mean sometimes to Shannon, yet she didn’t want to be excluded from this group so she worked harder to try to fit in.

I didn’t read the first book in this series but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this graphic novel. I could totally understand how Shannon felt in this book although, I’m not the targeted audience.  I believe many individuals understand this frustration.  It’s only when you start feeling comfortable and accept who you are, do you start doing your own thing and you don’t worry so much about fitting in. I’ve even met older women who still worry about what others think too much. 

Shannon tries to be cool like her friends, she tries to figure out the correct way to act and feel yet, just when she thinks she has it figured out, the rules change!  One minute it’s one way, another minute it’s another way – Shannon just can’t keep up!

It’s a terrific graphic novel with wonderful, colorful text boxes. The flow of the story was easy to follow also.  This graphic novel is definitely one that’s worth reading.   

Hill Women by Cassie Chambers

4 stars Nonfiction

Just outside Owsley County, you’ll discover this narrow, gravel road that’ll lead you straight down into a holler, that’s surrounded by trees. That’s Cow Creek. It’s almost hidden, this small community in Kentucky.  This is why Cassie Chambers wanted to get the word out about the women in this area before they are forgotten and also, to make this area more visible to the public.  This area was home to Cassie before she headed off to college to become a lawyer.  I really enjoyed this book as Cassie told us about her family, herself, and this small community.  

Cassie decided to practice law in rural Kentucky to make a difference.  Wanting to represent women who couldn’t afford an attorney, Cassie headed to her hometown where, she knew that her services were needed.

Cassie’s story is personal as she serves her community.  She makes a lot of interesting points in this book but there was one that I remembered reading early, that stayed with me as I read the rest of the book.  This comment was about education in this area.  She mentioned that the men in this area, don’t see education as important for anyone.  Why?  Because for one, the men have all the opportunities that are available in the area so why would they need an education? Two: if a woman should get an education, that would change the opportunities that would be available to her (indicating a bad idea).  For everyone knows that the only job that a woman should have, is their own home.  How interesting is that?

With this way of thinking, the abuse, the seclusion, and the poverty, I felt deeply for these women and grateful that Cassie chose to come home to help them.

This is Cassie’s story, a tribute to the amazing women who raised her.  It was an interesting story and I enjoyed reading about Cassie’s life. 

Maus: a Survivor’s Tale- Part 1 by Art Spiegelman

4 stars Graphic Novel

I’ve been meaning to read this graphic novel as I’ve heard many great things about it so when our bookclub announced it for this month’s read, I was pretty excited.  This book afterall, was a graphic novel and it pertained to WWII, so what could go wrong?

This graphic novel is presented in black-n-white and written by the son of a Jewish Holocaust survivor.  The son, an illustrator, visits his father and inquiries about his life in Poland around the time of WWII.  His father’s memory is quite good as he recalls this tragic event in history. 

I was amazed at how well Vladek recalls the names of places and individuals as he reaches back in time to relive his life. As the story unfolds, his journey was quite extensive.  I have a hard-enough time remembering what I did yesterday and Vladek memories include quite a bit of detail.

This novel provides more than just his father’s flashbacks during this father and son interview, we learn about other individuals who play a role in their lives.  We learn about other relationships, past and current, including the relationship between the father and his son.  I thought the some of these relationships were quite interesting and I was amazed at the connections that Vladek had. 

I do feel that there were times that the language in the book felt stiff and off for me.  I think it was how the book was translated that threw it off for me.  As I read, during Vladek days of trying to survive, I went through many emotions.  A good read will provoke that in a reader. 

I appreciate Vladek for sharing his story and for his service.  I also appreciate that Art wrote this graphic novel about his father.  It’s a momentous piece of history told from one who survived.

Last Witnesses: An Oral History of the Children of WWII

5 Stars Nonfiction

These stories lives came with a punch, they struck viciously against my heart as I read them. To think that all of these individuals were children, innocent little people, who did nothing yet they received such a life-altering experience, that still haunts them today. I didn’t and I couldn’t read this book, all in one sitting. From the beginning, I wanted to appreciate each chapter: each individual’s situation and account. Upon reading, I realized that this is not a book that I could read straight through. The emotions and the energy in each of their stories lives, makes it a book that needs space.

From the voices of Russian children, we hear their side of what occurred to them during WWII. From a few pages to up to six pages, they tell us what they remembered. The children were affected in a variety of ways by the war: many had to leave their homes, some watched their fathers leave to fight in the war hence leaving them with lots of questions running through their minds, some children had to prepare for the war themselves and some even tried to stay in their own homes while the war ragged outside. They told their account and it was translated but the tone and the feelings are still in the words on the page. It’s as if these survivors were sitting with me, telling me how they reacted to a world that had turned upside down on them.

I could tell you about many of the individuals in this book as every story life in this book is worth mentioning. Their stories are different but every single one of them, are forever changed. How many times I read the word, “Mama!” I cannot count them all. How many times I read, “I was hungry,” I cannot count them all. How many times I read about death, how it had become part of these children’s regular, daily schedule, I cannot count them all.

There was Marlen, age 11, who is now a member of a town council. Marlen remembers always being hungry while living in the orphanage. He remembers needing to be first in line or you might not get anything to eat. With it being -20 degrees outside, Marlen takes off his hat and had a soldier ladle some soup into his hat instead of finding a metal tin. Marlen quickly runs back to the orphanage. He now has frostbite on his ears but he has supplied frozen soup to everyone there. Now, this adventure puts a smile on my face.

This is a book worth reading. I enjoyed this book and I appreciate the individuals who shared their stories lives with me.

Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson

5 stars Nonfiction

I knew this book was going to be rough, I had been warned but I knew that I had to read it for these are the types of books that I enjoy.  I don’t enjoy them for the struggles and the pain that the individuals go through but for a multitude of other reasons.

I enjoyed this book because it made me feel, it brought my emotions up front and center.  And boy, did I have plenty of emotions with this book.  Most of my emotions were directed at Shaun, whether I was ready to scream at him, be scared for him, frustrated with him, or I just wished I could reach inside the book, wrap my arms around him and comfort him.  

This book also showed me how resilient Shaun was. As I read this book, Shaun faced a lot of crappy situations but when all is said-and-done, Shaun persisted. Shaun experienced scrapes, bruises, and scars during the process, and he’s definitely a changed person because of what he went through. That to me says a lot about a person and I enjoy reading how these individuals find their strength and courage. As I read these stories, I feel like I’m part of the story.  I give them encouragement (sometimes more vocal then I should) and push for them to find hope, yet I know that I’m nothing but a voice talking to a book.

This book is also one that I will not forget.  I liked how Shaun warned his readers at the beginning of the book that it contains some difficult topics.  Shaun is being real; this is his life and he’s not going to smooth things over to make his readers happy.  This really happened according to Shaun.  So, deal with it. 

Shaun discusses in this book growing up, discovering his sexuality, how he came out, and his depression.  It’s pretty straight forward and there’s swearing, homosexuality, drugs, suicide, stealing, and some sex, so be willing to walk with Shaun as he covers what his life was like and how he survived.  I thought the novel was powerful and moving.  I realize the year on the calendar has changed, yet I wonder if things have really changed in how individuals are accepted.  Parents, peers, friends, relatives, and siblings all have an impact during this time.  I appreciate Shaun honesty and I appreciate that he shared his experience with others.

Shaun never felt good enough for anyone.  He’d start to get comfortable with someone and then, internally a switch would go off and he’d start waiting for the ball to drop.  It was too good to be true, something bad was bound to happen.  Shaun wanted to fit in with his peers.  Shaun wanted to like girls but when he was with them, it just didn’t feel right.  He lied to fit in but paid the price for it over and over again.  He knew he was different yet he didn’t know why.  Shaun had his own view and opinions and these clouded his mind and judgement.  It took him a while to figure out exactly what made him different and then, he needed to figure out what to do next.

A great read that will definitely leave a lasting impression.  Thank you, Shaun, for sharing your story with others.

Age of License

2 stars Nonfiction

This was not what I expected.  When I thumbed through it and read the synopsis, I expected something like a graphic novel, a novel and journal rolled into one. Yet, that isn’t what I read.  The book started out fine but after a while I lost interest.  It was the great illustrations that kept me turning the pages till the very end.

I really had a hard time with this synopsis and the beginning pages of this book. They didn’t seem to follow what happened in the book.  The synopsis said there would be “descriptions of culinary delights” and “cute cat cameos” but I really had a hard time finding these. In the beginning pages, Lucy talks about her month-long trip to France, how she’ll be traveling alone, and how excited she is. I was excited to see France with Lucy, go on some adventures but that wasn’t what I read.    

Lucy’s mother and her friends had rented a house in France and Lucy wanted to go too. That’s how she ended up in France. Lucy said she was traveling alone, so I figured, she’d go off and do her own thing whenever she wanted.  Well, not exactly. Most of the time, Lucy spent with her mom or with her new friend, Henrik.  She just met Henrik at a party, before she left on vacation, as Henrik was visiting Lucy’s friend Lonnie.  Henrik lives in Stockholm.  

Lucy was usually with someone and the time she was alone, she was either contemplating life or doing activities as a writer.  I liked seeing the writer side of Lucy, the entertainment side and the obligations.  She met up with Henrik in Stockholm and they got alone, very well. They really hit it off!  I thought she latched onto Henrik and I was surprised how much the book included him.  I thought this book was more about her feeling towards him and her emotions than anything.  Not really what I expected.

I really enjoyed the illustrations.  I liked how some were colored and some were black-and-white.  I thought they included a lot of detail and they were fun to look at, including the different text fonts that were used in them. 

This book didn’t keep my attention. I guess I was expecting one thing and it delivered something else.  It felt flighty to me, not a good book for me.

Patient Care: Death and Life in the Emergency Room

4 stars Nonfiction

I’m glad that I listened to an audio of this novel, as some of the medical terms and jargon that was used, I know that I would’ve had a hard time pronouncing had I read the novel.  I enjoyed listening to this novel as Dr. Seward recalls his medical practice and he shares stories about working in the ER. 

Seward describes some of his most interesting cases that he has had the opportunity to experience in his lifetime.  These cases are not always his most successful cases but they’re ones that meant something to him.  The novel teaches, the novel shows you what it is like to be on the other side of the table, and the novel shows you the emotions, that are not only one-sided.  Great book and a short one also.

Little White Duck by Na Liu and Andres Martinez

4.5 stars Childrens Graphic Novel

I really liked this graphic novel and I have a feeling by looking at the cover of it, many children will not be picking it up.  The cover is really not very attractive.  Inside this cover, there’s eight, great, short stories about living in China during the mid-1970’s. 

I liked how the author gave a first-account of her life in China as a young child. The novel begins with her younger sister getting the opportunity to attend school since only one child per family was allowed.  I thought it was interesting the difference between a family name and a given name and how they used them. There were many things inside this novel that I thought were interesting as I read them. 

I appreciated how the author included some history into the novel both personal and historical.  I feel that the novel includes a great deal of information and I learned quite a bit about China from reading this it.  The information presented wasn’t all personal in nature, but included the traditions and routines of the country and her family’s involvement in them.  

The graphics were easy to follow, they were at-the-most-part big and the text was easy to read.  I thought the colors used in the text, just like the cover, was a bit on the drab side. There were a few pages that were colorful, but most pages carried an olive green or dull yellow tint to them.  I can’t say enough about the content of this graphic novel, it was excellent.  Pick this graphic novel up for the content and for the illustrations, imagine your own color in it.   4.5 (.5 off for the color issue)