By Anne Frank
Synopsis: Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl living in Amsterdam, received a diary for her 13th birthday in June 1942. Less than a month later, her family went into hiding in order to evade capture by the Nazis. They lived with another Jewish family in the “Secret Annex” which was a collection of rooms in the back of her father’s office building. The families were able to live in safety there for over two years. During that time, Anne wrote in her diary regularly, recording facts about the war and what it was like to live hidden from society. They were apprehended in August 1944 and were separated and sent away to various concentration camps. Anne died of typhus while in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945. The camp was liberated in April. Anne’s father, Otto Frank, was the only member of either family to survive. He was devoted to having Anne’s diary published so that their story would live on.
Review: You can’t write a review about a person’s diary. So I’ll just say why I think everyone should read this wonderful book. Anne states a number of times that she knows she can be completely candid in her diary because no one would ever read it. How wrong she was! But how wonderful it is to have such an authentic, honest, forthright account of Anne’s innermost thoughts during one of the most traumatic times in human history. Given the circumstances in which this was written, I was expecting writing filled with despair, anger, and fear. But instead, I was riveted right from the start by this bold, precocious, funny young girl. She writes not only about her struggles, but also about everyday occurrences in her daily life, many of which are quite ordinary and at times even humorous. She also makes insightful observances about her family and the other people in hiding with them. I found it remarkable that even through this tremendous trial, she still had many of the usual thoughts and emotions of a typical teenager. She writes about friends, boys she likes, fashion and etiquette, and her hopes and dreams for the future. She also comments astutely about politics, religion, and society in ways that shows she was definitely smart, observant, and quite knowledgeable about the world around her. This was a fascinating book, completely engaging from start to finish.
Here are some of my favorite excerpts:
“I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why I’m so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that’s inside me!”
“My writing’s all mixed up, I’m jumping from one thing to another, and sometimes I seriously doubt whether anyone will ever be interested in this drivel.”
“I look upon our life in hiding as an interesting adventure, full of danger and romance, and every privation as an amusing addition to my diary. I’ve made up my mind to lead a different life from other girls, and not to become an ordinary housewife later on. What I’m experiencing here is a good beginning to an interesting life, and that’s the reason—the only reason—why I have to laugh at the humorous side of the most dangerous moments.”
“Earning happiness means doing good and working, not speculating and being lazy. Laziness may look inviting, but only work gives you true satisfaction.”
“People who are religious should be glad, since not everyone is blessed with the ability to believe in a higher order. You don’t even have to live in fear of eternal punishment; the concepts of purgatory, heaven and hell are difficult for many people to accept, yet religion itself, any religion, keeps a person on the right path. Not the fear of God, but upholding your own sense of honor and obeying your own conscience.”
And my favorite of all…
“It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”
Rating: 5 Boots and then some
Recommendation: Everyone should read this. You will be richer for it.
By Kodi Scheer
Published 2016, 211 pages
Synopsis: A depressed teenaged girl goes on a trip to Paris with three of her French language classmates. Having recently lost her beloved brother and feeling neglected by her mother, the girl is convinced that she should end her life by jumping off the Eiffel Tower. She’s also determined to psychologically damage a classmate–one of the girls on the trip–who she thinks ruined her chances of getting a college scholarship. She puts her plan into motion by starting a game of truth or dare designed to “teach” the other girls–whom she believes are too privileged–about reality and hardship.
Review: I hate to write bad reviews; I really do. I was just going to skip writing this because I don’t have anything good to say. But I thought that I have the right to voice my opinion and maybe save someone from having to sit through this. This book had problems right from the start. The author never gave us the main character’s name, so when someone addresses her I didn’t realize whom they were talking to. I was like, “who’s Nessa?” It was extremely difficult to feel empathy for this girl, despite the fact that she lost her beloved brother. She just was not likeable at all. My own brother died at a young age and I can honestly say that even though my whole family grieved and felt terrible, none of us became vindictive, suicidal, or morose. Another problem–There were times when the mood would suddenly shift with no explanation. All of a sudden three of the girls were disgusted and angry with the fourth girl, Kat, for cheating her way through high school. I didn’t understand their anger and horrible treatment of her. Who cares that she cheated? That’s her problem, not theirs. And why in heaven’s name did Kat want pizza so bad after having been gang-raped? The whole plot was just too unrelatable. I didn’t like any of the characters and I didn’t understand their motives for most of what they did and said.
Rating: 1 boot
Recommendation: avoid this
By Katherine Applegate
Published 2012, 320 pages
Synopsis: Ivan is a Silverback gorilla who lives in a small enclosure at a roadside mall. The maintenance worker for the mall often brings his daughter to work with him. She befriends Ivan and an elephant who is forced to do tricks in order to drawn in more customers. The girl feels sorry for the lonely animals. When a new baby elephant is brought in and threatened with a claw stick, Ivan feels compelled to do something to protect her. With the help of the young girl, he paints a picture of a zoo and paints the word “home” on it. The huge painting draws the attraction of animal rights protesters who finally rescue the animals.
Review: Why did I wait so long to read this book? It’s fantastic. I love that it’s told from the perspective of the gorilla; we get some insight into what he might be thinking. The author based this book on the true story of a gorilla named Ivan who was also trapped in a roadside attraction and who was also a gifted artist. The language is very simple, sweet, and straightforward. The story unfolds a little slowly but I’m okay with the pace because it forces the reader to slow down and listed to what the gorilla has to say. I loved it. I won’t give away the ending; I’ll just say it was very satisfying. It’s terrible what these animals go through; I only wish there was maybe a little more about how these atrocities can be prevented.
Rating: 4 boots
Recommendation: A nice easy read for ages 9 and up.
Visit the One and Only Ivan website here: http://theoneandonlyivan.com.
By RJ Palacio
Published 2012, 322 Pages
Synopsis: A ten year old boy with a disfigured face is about to go to school for the first time in his life. Since people often stare at him, he has been homeschooled through fourth grade. But now his parents think he can’t just hide away from the world; he must face it head on. Middle school is challenging enough for most kids, but nothing compares to the challenges faced by this brave boy with a heart of gold.
Review: I was going to say that this is an important book that everyone should read; but that almost makes it sound educational and boring. Though the book teaches many a lesson, it is far from boring. The story starts out from August’s point of view; August is the 10 year old with the misshapen face that causes most people to look away in disgust. He is immediately likeable which leads the reader to feel empathy for him and gratitude for their own blessings. But then the story changes perspective; we get to see August from the points of view of some of the kids at school and his own sister. I thought it was very clever to include multiple perspectives on such a difficult subject because we start to realize that everyone has good intentions–almost everyone. I like that the boy’s parents loved him unconditionally and I LOVED that others found themselves envying August’s family’s closeness and loving attitude toward one another. Everyone has some kind of burden in this book; it’s just that August’s is more noticeable. A wonderful lesson for all of us.
Rating: 5 Boots!
Recommendation: Ages 10 and up–especially all middle-schoolers–this book could offer you the encouragement and guiding principles you may be looking for.
By JK Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
Published 2016, 330 Pages
Synopsis: Harry Potter is an adult now with three kids and a job at the Ministry of Magic. For the first time since Voldemort’s defeat, pain returns to Harry’s scar and dark dreams begin to plague him. Harry’s son, Albus, isn’t doing so well at Hogwarts, but he makes the most unlikely of allies in the son of none other than Draco Malfoy. Harry receives a warning that “darkness” surrounds his son; he immediately assumes that the darkness is coming from the Malfoy boy. He soon discovers that he still has a lot to learn when it comes to the Dark Lord, friendship, and time itself.
Review: When I read the first Harry Potter book, I was an adult and was delighted to find that a book meant for kids could be so thoroughly entertaining. I enthusiastically awaited each new HP book and was always so pleased when they each turned out to be even better than the previous ones. To me, and I know to so many others, the Harry Potter books were books I could read over and over again and always be as enthralled as I was the first time. I was so nervous when I heard that a new book was coming out in this series. After all, the story ended. It was over; there had been a satisfying conclusion. No more could be said. Could it? The answer… heck yeah.
This 8th story in the Harry Potter franchise is just as wonderful as the first seven books. It’s different, yes. For one thing, it’s a play; it’s not a narrative with tons of description. But that fact did not end up bothering me as much as I thought it might. It was very fun to read and moved along at a very nice pace. Man I love when a story moves along. Sometimes it seems like authors get so caught up in describing every little thing that it makes the plot drag on and on. But not so in this story. It was swift, funny, surprising, and had twists and turns that made my mouth fall open more than once. More than that, it was completely wonderful to see our old friends Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and then meet a whole new set of characters as well.
Rating: 5 boots!
Recommendation: Anyone would enjoy this; it’s fantastic.
By Robert Beatty
Published 2015, 293 pages
Synopsis: The year is 1899. Twelve-year-old Serafina lives with her father in the basement of Biltmore Estate. Her father is a maintenance worker there and for reasons of his own, he keeps his daughter hidden from everyone. She is only allowed to roam the grounds at night. It is during one of her nighttime jaunts that she witnesses the Man in the Black Cloak kidnap one of the children who is visiting Biltmore with her parents. Never having had any friends, Serafina is compelled to rescue this child. But as other children start to disappear, she begins to feel that all hope is lost. As she unravels the mysterious kidnappings, she also unravels the details of her own past and finds that the two stories are related.
Review: The only reason this is four stars and not five stars is because it took me a bit of time to get involved. But then, about 1/4 of the way into it, it just took off and never slowed down. It was a very quick read but a lot happened and it got pretty deep. There were a few mysteries surrounding the main character and they were addressed in a satisfying way by the end of the book. I was glad it didn’t leave questions unanswered.
Side note: I love books that take place in my home state of North Carolina, especially in the mountains. There is magic, mystery, darkness, and beauty in the Blue Ridge Mountains; that much is clear from the sheer volume of books written about them. I’m happy that this great little book added another tale to the folklore of this place.
Rating: 4 boots
Recommendation: Ages 10-12. It’s easy to read, but at times was quite scary!
By Mark Dunn
Published 2010, 590 pages
Synopsis: In a hidden valley cordoned off from the rest of the world, a civilization exists in a permanent Victorian stance, even though the year is 2003. Their ancestors were told that the “Outland” was a disease-ridden wasteland from which no one who ventures ever returns. Their society was begun by a group of orphaned children who had the Bible, the Encyclopedia Britannica, and the entire works of Charles Dickens as their only source of writing. From this limited information, they build their community. Over time, the civilization becomes divided into an unfair, sometimes cruel caste system. But soon, some of the citizens begin to piece together the puzzle of what the outside world is really like and why the orphans were abandoned there in the first place.
Review: I was looking forward to this book because I loved everything I ever read by Mark Dunn. And I thought I would love that the isolated valley remained a Dickensian society; but I have to say, I found it to be difficult to read at times. The narrator seemed to take many words to get to the heart of what he was saying; largely due to the fact that he only speaks and writes in Dickensian prose. At some point in the book I realized that maybe I don’t like Dickens that much. I’m a fan of brevity; I like when authors get to the point. I felt like this story could have been told a lot quicker. That being said, the story itself is excellent. There is a lot of suspense and it is cool to think of an isolated place that is still very much the same as Victorian England. Kind of like Colonial Williamsburg without the tourists. I like the premise and the way the plot developed. Overall, for me, it just dragged a bit too much.
Rating: 3 boots
Recommendation: Oddly enough, given the synopsis, I would recommend this book to someone like me–someone who enjoys reading Victorian-style dramas combined with a suspenseful thriller. All you need is a bit more patience than I have. This is clearly and adult novel, though, as there is a lot of violence.