American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

225x225bb.jpgAmerican Born Chinese follows the lives of three different people who stories will collide in a way you never expected. Jin Wang, a middle school Chinese-American student, faces bullying and discrimination because of his race in school. Danny, a white high school student, tries to do damage control when his cousin Chin-Kee comes for his annual visit. Lastly, the Monkey King faces several hard life lessons about what it means to be a monkey.

I really enjoyed this book. This graphic novel has a lot to say about the experiences of Chinese-American students in America today. Not only does it makes great social commentary, but it is a quick and hilarious read. The images are easy to follow along with, and they will keep you entertained. I give this book a 5 out of 5. I would highly recommend this graphic novel to all my students.

Common Sense Media: 13+ years

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

61sidpXiAIL.jpgBruno is a young boy growing up in Nazi Germany. When Hitler begins targeting Jews and placing them in concentration camps, Bruno doesn’t have to worry because his family is a part of the SS. Told from Bruno’s perspective, there is a lot of confusion surrounding what is going on, and why his family is moving to a place called “Out-With”. An aspiring explorer, Bruno meets a young boy from the other side of the fence and forms a friendship. Will he be able to fight the prejudice his family supports? Will he be able to save his new friend?

I really don’t know how to feel about this book. In some ways, I really want to love it. I feel like there is some innocence in Bruno’s perspective that is valuable because as the reader we understand why things are how they are, however we see our main character lacking this knowledge. In other ways, however, Bruno’s ignorance is extremely annoying. Even at 9 years old, you would expect him to be able to catch on to things a lot quicker. I give this book a 3.5 out of 5. It’s something worth reading, but I think other holocaust books narrate this time in history much better.

Common Sense Media Rating: 12+ years old

 

The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith

used to be.jpgEden just started High School, and she is ready to make the most out of the four years. However, during her Freshman year, she is raped by her brother’s friend. Told over the next four years of her life, Eden deals with the pain and suffering her rapist left behind. Will she be able to speak up? Or will she stay crippled beneath the weight of her biggest secret?

This book is not for anyone who is triggered by accounts of rape. The rape scene is retold is fairly good detail, and much of the book focuses directly on what happened to Eden. However, I think this book houses an important story that needs to be told. Particularly, I think this book sheds light on why so many people do not speak up after being raped or how assault can affect a person many years after the fact. This book is really moving and had me flipping pages like crazy. I give it a 4 out of 5. I would highly recommend this book, and I think many people would benefit from it’s story.

Common Sense Rating: 14+ yrs

Rape scene, drugs, alcohol, language

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

raisin.jpgLorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is a drama that tells the story of a working class African-American family in search of their dreams. Inspired by Langston Hughes poem “A Dream Deferred”, Hansberry gives the reader an inside look at the struggles the Younger family: Walter, Ruth, Mama, Beneatha and Travis. With a life insurance check on its way, the family battles and fights over where the money should go. Mama wants to donate to the church. Ruth wants to move out of the crowded apartment. Beneatha wants to continue medical school. And Walter wants to became a Black man who follows is ambition. Who’s dream will they follow? And can money solve all their problems?

I absolutely loved this story! It was funny, heartwarming, sad, and eye-opening…all the great things you would expect from a drama. This book gives a great insight to the lives of struggling working class families, especially African-Americans during the civil rights era. This is a well told story that will have you rooting for the Youngers and praying it all works out in the end. I give this book a 5 out of 5. Quick yet fulfilling read.

Common sense media: 13+ yrs

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

bnw.jpgBernard has always felt like an outsider. In a world where babies are produced in factories, and their life is predestined, there is an expectation for how everyone should act. Relationships are frowned upon, and regular casual sex is normal and encouraged. But Bernard has a hard time living up to the societal ideals. Well, until he becomes well-known in the society for his trip amongst the savages. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is a classic dystopian that envisions the world in “Henry Ford’s” time, where machines rule everything and production is a way of life.

This book really is not one of my favorites. I hardly ever decide to stop reading before I have finished a book, but I simply couldn’t take anymore of this one! While the idea and premise behind the novel is interesting, Huxley spends too much time describing scenes and not enough time telling a story. The plot can also be very difficult to follow because there are words and ideas that Huxley uses which are unique to his world, but are not explained to the reader. Overall, I give this book a 2 out of 5. I really wanted to get into it, but I didn’t have the energy to pull apart the book and focus on the detail.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

hawkinsThis book has been on several “must read” lists, but I was hesitant to read it at first. However, I recently came across a movie trailer for the book, and I was convinced. I’m very much a read-before-you-watch kind of person. I have mixed reviews about the book, but I am very excited to see the movie.

Rachel is spiralling. She is an alcoholic still mourning the loss of her husband and the life she once lived. Every morning she takes a train to work, which scoots by her old house – and the house of Jess, a woman she’s been watching on every commute. Jess and her husband have a seemingly perfect life, the kind Rachel dreamed of living. But one day, everything changes. Jess turns out to actually be a woman named Megan, and Megan is missing. Rachel thinks she has some answers, but she is also surrounded by speculation and confusion. Rachel’s journey will have you questioning everyone – including her.

I think this book will make a fantastic movie. I actually think that it would have worked out better that way in the first place. While the book was mostly captivating, Hawkins sometimes is too vague and too mysterious for my liking. One of my biggest pet peeves with mystery/thrillers is when characters begin to change so that we will suspect them. I also felt like the vagueness of things became really confusing at times. From the very beginning we get “he” and “she” pronouns with no name so that we question who it is. Which is great…but I don’t want to spend 200 pages guessing. Lastly, the book switches between characters AND time periods. Two of the characters are told in a similar time frame while the other starts a year back. This got really confusing, for me, at times. I had to remember what happened and when. This is why I think a film adaptation will be better – the time can represented smoother. Overall, I give this book a 3 out of 5. I want to give it more, because I did enjoy it, but there were several things that really hindered my ability to read it.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

secretI have seen this book on several “must read” lists in the past few months and decided to finally buy it. And I am sure glad I did! I couldn’t stop talking about it with my friends and family…now they just have to read it too.

In The Husband’s Secret, Cecelia Fitzpatrick comes across a strange envelope one day. It reads on the outside: “For Cecelia Fitzpatrick, my lovely wife, to be opened upon my death”. She knows immediately that it is written by her husband…who is alive and well. The contents of the letter will act as a wave, creating ripple effects upon various people in the community, and it will forever change Cecelia. This book is about the secrets we keep and the lies we live. They say secrets bring people closer, but they can also tear people apart.

This book was absolutely amazing. It was one of those books you can’t put down. I was clearing my schedule to make time for reading! One of the things I really like are the various perspectives the story is written in and how we see the role of secrets in peoples lives. She does a great job of creating parallel stories and keeping a time frame. Especially in the end, when things are very intense, the simultaneous stories helped build tension. Moriarty really keeps you captivated…even until the Epilogue. And man, did she go out with a bang. Incredible. I give this book a 5 out of 5. I would definitely recommend this one.