book reviews

Posted on 23 December 2011 Friday


Have you been missing my book reviews? I have been reading books, just not writing much! I have several book reviews today on four very different books.

I’m now 5 posts away from 1000!

We the Animals

by Justin Torres

date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2011

We Are the Animals is the story of one family, three brothers, told in connected vignettes. We don’t see the boys at school or interacting much with neighbors because they really only have each other.  While there are a few patches that indicate this is Torres’ first book, the entire book indicates Torres is a real storyteller.

With parents who are as unreliable s they are immature, the three boys are not just rough and tumble; they’re jagged. They’re animals because growing up just isn’t easy when the children are growing up right alongside the parents. While there are moments of happiness, there are mostly volatile relationships from which the boys want to escape.  The characters never redeemed themselves to me and were impossible to like, even when they most needed to be liked just for who they were. Was Torres giving us reason to like his characters or to detest them?

Torres writes a rather short story that explodes with characters who live in a tightly woven family. So tightly woven that when one of them “breaks” the others pull even tighter together.

review copy provided by publisher

 Cleopatra Moon

by Vicky Alvear Shecter Arthur A Levine 2011

main character: Cleopatra Selene

Cleopatra Moon is a fictionalized account of the life of Cleopatra Selene, the daughter of Cleopatra VII and Marcus Antonius. Schecter frames the story with a character list at the front and historical notes in the back which help keep the people, places and events in order.

Cleopatra Selene is taken from her homeland in Egypt when her mother is defeated by the Roman emperor, Octaviunus. She and her brothers are forced to live with her captors and adapt the Roman life style. It’s interesting to learn how easily people of this era moved about, how they exchanged knowledge, rulers and materials. The ancient Mediterranean was truly one of diversity!

Shecter is quite clear about what details she had to change or create for the sake of the story, but as much as possible, she stayed with the historic details. I think writing in the first person voice of a child limited the scope the story could have had, and created a character who seemed at times a bit too wise for her years. I do think 21st century girls will be impressed to read about a young woman who lived such a long time ago who was intelligent, educated and able to impact history.

signed review copy provided by the author

Dreams of Significant Girls

Author: Christina Garcia

date: Simon and Schuster; 2011

main characters: Vivien; Shirin and Ingrid

I picked up Dreams of Significant Girls expected a fluffy, romantic book about three spoil aristocrat brats in a boarding school. What I got were three very unique young ladies who confronted issues that were anything but lighthearted.

With chapters in alternating voices, we learn about Vivien, a German Canadian with a wild and vibrant person that hides her journey to find herself; Shirin, an Iranian princess who is pampered and protected and Ingrid, a Cuban Jewish girl with a talent for cooking. It’s hard to believe these girls become friends, but as they return to their Swiss boarding school every summer, they become closer and closer. They grow as individuals as they learn to accept the differences in their friends. Did you catch that one girl has a German background while the other, Jewish? That gets quite interesting!

Garcia writes a fascinating story about rather independent girls growing up and growing in friendship. Their mischievous antics, boy troubles, family issues and self doubts are something that every reader can relate to even though the ethnic and class culture of these girls may be a bit different. Readers can easily slip into these character’s lives and want only the best for them.

I reviewed a purchased copy of this book.

 Acts of Grace

author: Karen Simpson

date: Plenary Publishing

main character: Grace Johnson

I have to confess that I read Acts of Grace months ago and kept putting off writing this review. I’m not sure why, because this was one of my favorite books of 2011. I’ve tried nominating it for several awards only to find that it was originally released as an adult novel. I’ve tried ordering it for my school library only to find that none of my vendors carry it! Unfortunately, I read a Nook version of it and cannot donate that. One more disadvantage to ebooks!

I know that I didn’t want to read the book because it’s promoted as being the story of a young Black girl who saves a racist white person from death and Black people don’t like her for that. This book is much more than that.

It’s the story of Grace’s spiritual and emotional coming of age.

Simpson simply states at the beginning of the book that this is a story of African American shamanistic practices. There are appearances of spirits, bottle trees, magical colors and talk of demons and saints. As with the faith practice of many Blacks in or from the south, these are syncretic practices within the context of Christian beliefs. Grace grows in her faith, in her belief in higher powers (in god, in self and in others) in this story. At first, we see her as a very unlikable, bitter child. She eats to bury her problems and to fill her voids, so she is consequently a very heavy girl. We explore the depths of her relationship with her mother, the source of Grace’s bitterness and see Grace blossom as other adults come into her life and help her see her real beauty.

There is an underlying story of racial hatred and the need for forgiveness in this town of Vigilant, Michigan but the message is that we need to more than just forgive the past to be able to rise up and move on from the hatred that racism perpetuates. Simpson gives us a story of forgiveness void of all the stereotypes. She puts a lot on this one child, but after all her name is “Grace”.

I reviewed a purchased copy of this book.

 

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Posted in: Book Reviews