Hi, I'm Mrs. F-B!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

I recently finished this book written by the boy soldier himself, now grown up at 26 years old and living in New York City. The non-fiction piece is very well written for a non-native English speaker. The power of this book, however, does not come from the quality of the writing, but from the incredible, heartbreaking story.

Ishmael was born in Sierra Leone,on the west coast of Africa, in 1980. In 1992 his country was in the midst of a brutal civil war and Ishmael became separated from nearly all of his family. He and several other boys, including his older brother, roamed the countryside, hiding from the violence as best they could, and surviving on whatever they could beg off of someone, or, in most cases, steal. It was a miserable and terrifying existence, but those turned out to be some of the better times, because eventually Ishmael was captured by the army and forced to join the fighting.

From ages thirteen to sixteen Ishmael fought beside his friends, high on drugs the army gave all the boys to keep them amped up for killing. The acts they committed were horrific, and many are recounted with a fair amount of detail which is pretty disturbing, even for an adult, so I will not be putting this book in our library. However, the realities of war are not very nice, and this is a good reality check for those whose vision of war is what we often see in the movies. War is a horrible thing, and the inclusion of children in its violence is unforgivable.

At age sixteen UNICEF pulled Ishmael from the fighting, but I was disappointed to read some of the things that happened after the "rescue". The children in the shelter were, of course, in a better place than being out in combat every day, but it seemed like UNICEF had very little in the way of a plan of what to do with these children once they rescued them. It was not much more safe in the shelter at some times than it had seemed outside it.

However, once the drugs wore off and the children got more used to their new surroundings, most of them did seem to adapt. IT was not, however, easy for them, and I believe it had to be much more difficult than was alluded to in this book. There were mentions of some of the young people being withdrawn, rarely speaking, having difficulty adjusting, but it wasn't very deeply addressed, even for the author himself. That is, I'm sure, a coping strategy, and undoubtedly necessary, but I would have liked to read more about the depth of their thoughts and underlying struggles.

Ishmael is one of the lucky ones; he ended up being able to come and live in the United States, finish high school at the UN International School in New York, attend and graduate from Oberlin College, and he is now a member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division Advisory Committee. Unfortunately, as soon as he is leaving Sierra Leone, the book ends, and we do not hear anything about what happened once he got here. There are a few mentions of things in the course of the story, but overall we know very little about what happened when he left. I'm not sure why this is, but I thought it was a very unsatisfying conclusion, and I was very disappointed. However, it was still definitely worth reading and will provide lots of really great discussion among people who read it. I would not recommend this book to middle schoolers unless they are reading it with an adult so they can talk about it together. It is available at Multnomah County Libraries.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Forever in Blue - the Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood - Ann Brashares

This is the book where we're saying goodbye to Lena, Tibby, Camen and Bee, young women who I've spent the last several years reading about and who even though they're not real, surely seem to be. Ann Brashares has done a masterful job of character development in these Sisterhod of the Traveling Pants series, and she does not fall short in this last of the series. I will say, however, that knowing it was the last one, I think I read it differently and probably because of this it's not my favorite of the four. I didn't want to become as invested in the characters because I knew they wouldn't be coming back. It's sort of like when you meet someone that you really connect with, but you know they live far away or move in different circles or whatever so you won't be seeing them again, and so you don't really let yourself get close to them so that you won't miss them later. Have you ever done that? It's actually interesting, because it's sort of like one of the things that's happening in the novel, too.

In this novel, the girls are in college, and there are too many things that happen that aren't really appropriate for a middle school library book ,so I'm not going to get it for our library, but you can get it at Multnomah County if you've read all the rest and want to read the conclusion. Get your box of Kleenex handy, though.

Assassin - Patricia Finney

This is the first of "The Lady Grace mysteries, from the daybookes of Lady Grace Cavendish" and I found it to be a delightful story, even if it was about murder. Lady Grace is an orphan girl, favorite maid to Queen Elizabeth I whose mother died accidentally when someone attempted to kill the Queen.

Grace, at thirteen, must choose her betrothed at the Valentine's ball, and so she does. But when one of the other suitors is found murdered and the man she has chosen is accused, Grace decides she must act to save him. She and two friends, with the secret permission of the Queen, engage in some very tricky sleuthing, getting themselves into more than a few close scrapes along the way. Ultimately, of course, Grace and her friends do discover the villain and he is brought to justice by the Queen. Grace also receives some justice in the end, which I was happy to see.

This is an exciting and interesting historical fiction narrative that I think both girls and boys would enjoy. This is the first in a series which is written, interestingly, by more then one author. The first three books are written by Patricia Finney, but then books four and five are written by other people - sort of like the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. I'm interested to read the different authors and see if I can tell a difference between them.

Mountains Beyond Mountains - Tracy Kidder

the subtitle of this book is "The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World." This is the story of an incredibly gifted man who chooses to use his knowledge and skills to fight for some of the poorest people on earth, primarily in Haiti, but also in Peru, Russia, Cuba, and, ultimately, all over the world. Dr. Paul Farmer is a Harvard medical school graduate and professor who has founded a charity called Partners in Health (PIH). His speciality is infectious diseases, especially TB and AIDS, prevalent problems in many parts of the world which, with aggressive care and appropriate drugs can be cured. And yet many agencies, governments, corporations, people are unwilling to put resources toward fighting these diseases in poor regions. The commitment and dedication Farmer has for his work is unflagging, uncommon, and incredibly inspiring. I found myself wanting to quit my job and join the Peace Corps or something as I read it. It is an amazing story and I highly recommend it to high school students and adults. If you want to be inspired by someone who lives his passion and is doing incredible things for impoverished people all over the world, you must read this biography of Dr. Paul Farmer by Pulitzer Prize winning author Tracy Kidder. Available at Multnomah County libraries.

Memoirs of an Invisible Man

Well, I haven't made a post here in quite some time because I've been taking a little break from kid books and reading some grown-up books that probably wouldn't be so interesting for kids, but I'll tell a little bit about this one because it dovetails with Things Not Seen. This was a book my book club (yes, FINALLY I joined one) chose, and I was pretty excited that it came along just at the time we were reading about Bobby who had become invisible, like the protagonist in this novel. But I have to say, Bobby's story was SO much better. This novel had too much detail, went on too long, and was just too implausible for me. Yeah, being invisible is impossible, I know, so I should have had a problem with it in Things Not Seen, but I really didn't. But in Memoirs of an Invisible Man a lot of pretty high powered people knew about him and were after him, but for over a year they never captured him. I mean, come on. And there were just too many ridiculous things he did that I couldn't buy. So if you're really fascinated with invisibility, you might try this novel, but otherwise, I really don't recommend it. How often do you hear me say that????

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Things Not Seen Trivia #16

This is our last Things Not Seen trivia question. Thanks for playing trivia!

When Bobby sneaks into the offices at Sears, how many people does he discover have made a complaint about the blankets, and what does he do once he finds this information?

DUE DATE: April 6

Things Not Seen Trivia #15

This is the second to last Things Not Seen Trivia Question!

What law is Bobby referring to when he tells Alicia “Companies love it when…um…people like you apply for jobs…because they actually have to prove that they try to hire everyone. It’s a federal law or something.”

DUE DATE: April 6

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Things Not Seen Trivia #14

What company made Bobby’s electric blanket?

DUE DATE: April 5

Monday, April 02, 2007

Things Not Seen Trivia #13

How many hits does Bobby get when he plugs in "invisible people"?

DUE DATE: April 4