This has been an odd year. No really, it’s 2013.
But it has been odd in other ways, particularly in that I am reading books throughout the year instead of just during summer vacation.
I thought I was done for the year, but no. We went as a family to the library, which is a common occurrence, but for some reason I felt like checking out a book for myself. I think the impulse was mostly due to Ricky Anderson’s excitement about Ender’s Game, what with the movie being released soon and all.
So I grabbed Ender’s Game, just to see what all the fuss was about. Then as long as I was going to be checking out a book, I might as well grab a couple of them – more bang for my buck. I had heard a few recommendations for Eragon, and I wanted to read it before Alpha asked to read it so I would know how appropriate it was. And then there was a book that has been mentioned a few times on various lists of best books – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. It is supposed to be a great spy novel. And then my wife threw in a book – Out of my Mind – that Alpha was going to be reading in his class and she wanted to be familiar with it. And then she also grabbed Wonder, which Alpha’s class was already reading.
So that’s 5 books. I’ll review them here in the order I read them.
I had a deadline for this one, since the movie was pending. The book was captivating, and if you are not familiar with it then try not to read any descriptions of it because the story is much better if you don’t know what is coming. Don’t worry, no spoilers here.
I liked the book a lot better after I finished it, compared to while I was reading it. You need the whole story to appreciate the parts.
What I thought while I was reading it is that it was a bit too crude for my tastes. Not crude as in the writing is primitive or unscholarly, but crude as in crass. Not a lot of it, but enough. This is a book about kids, but it is not a book for kids.
I like to describe it as a cross between Lord of the Flies and White Fang but set in space. If you don’t like the premise of, and descriptions of violence in, Lord of the Flies, then you won’t like Ender’s Game.
I forget how I normally sum up a book in my review posts. Interesting story, well-written, but not for everyone. Right now, I would say if my kids ask to read this I will tell them to wait until they are in high school.
While I was reading Ender’s Game, my wife was reading Wonder. She wanted to be familiar with the books Alpha’s class was reading.
I noticed she was moved (emotionally, not physically) while reading this book, so I figured it would be a heart-warming story of some sort.
(On a side note – it’s a shame there is not a city named Tears that is a home to many businesses. Then, if anyone was relocated there for his job, he could claim he was moved to Tears.)
I sensed a theme in the books that Alpha’s class was reading: anti-bullying. This book is done well; it is not a heavy-handed piece of anti-bullying propaganda. It is a story, a story of a boy whose disfigurement causes him to be a social outcast. The book tells his story through the eyes of different people – family and friends – and the reader comes to understand the effects of teasing or ignoring someone with abnormalities.
The book was good, but there were some side stories (the high-school sister and her boyfriend, for example) that made me think I wouldn’t have picked it for 4th graders. There was nothing objectionable, that I remember, but I think those parts of the story won’t be appreciated by kids younger than middle school. They won’t understand or empathize with the sister’s disagreements with the parents, or the other aspects of high school that are portrayed in this book.
But there is plenty about the school where the younger brother goes that they will understand, so I guess it’s okay.
Out of My Mind
I figured out Wonder had an anti-bullying message, but I didn’t figure the class had a theme of anti-bullying books until I read this next book, Out of My Mind.
Maybe “anti-bullying” is not the right term. The books are not anti-bullying, but the messages they promote should reduce bullying. Both books are saying “be nice to people, regardless of how they look”.
Out of My Mind is the story of a girl with cerebral palsy who can’t speak. But she can move her arms and thumbs. With the help of the right people, she starts achieving things.
What I liked about this book is that, unlike Wonder, not everything goes well. Not anything against Wonder, it is a compelling story, but it has a Hollywood ending. Out of My Mind does not have a typical Hollywood ending.
The main detraction in the book was that the author named technologies. She has characters mention putting things on MySpace and such. My suggestion for authors is to make your story more timeless by not mentioning specific brand names when a general term would do. The MySpace examples stands out because it is rapidly fading from society. If students a couple of years from now read the book, they might have to stop and ask what MySpace is. But if the author had used a general term, such as “class website”, it would have more staying power.
When my wife handed me the book, I thought I was previewing a book that Alpha would be reading. But when I started reading, the class was already halfway through. His teacher was reading the story aloud to the class, only a chapter or so a day, so I quickly passed them.
The book is fine for elementary schoolers.
There is a lot of hullabaloo surrounding Eragon. When my son saw me reading the book, he pulled out his World Records book and showed my the picture of the Eragon author, winner of the category “Youngest Author of a Best-Selling Series”.
This one is pretty simple – if you like stories about dragons and magic and medieval-type fighting and battles, you’ll like this book.
It’s a long book, but compelling. What did it compel me to do, you may ask. It compelled me to keep reading, that’s what.
When I finished the book, I offered it to Alpha. He hemmed and hawed. I told him he didn’t have to read it, I’ll just give it back to the library if he’s not interested. He didn’t care, then I mentioned that it was like Septimus Heap. Then he jumped up and grabbed the book.
The book is fine, the story is fine. There are some descriptions of violence, and there is a chapter that involves torture (the concept of it, not depictions of it), so it is not for younger kids. The definition of “younger” is relative, depending on the child’s maturity and sensitivity.
We went back to the library this week, and Alpha eagerly picked out Eldest, the sequel to Eragon. I’m not going to keep up with him on these books – I’m going to trust Common Sense Media for the rest. They say that the second book is less violent than the first book, so Eldest is fine. But they warn that the third and fourth books are more violent. I’ll tell Alpha to wait on Brisngr and Inheritance.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
This book had all positive reviews, but I think only people who like spy novels actually read the book and left reviews. I read some Tom Clancy books in high school, and those were interesting. But I would not consider myself a fan of spy novels. Still, this book was so highly recommended that I figured I would try it.
Now I know – avoid spy novels. It was not that entertaining for me.
Sure, there was some suspense. And there were some characters. But overall, the book felt dreary. I think it was all the depressing depictions of the characters’ personal lives. People were having marriage problems, the business was having organizational and succession problems, kids at the school were having emotional problems, etc. I’m not saying that everything has to be happy all the time, but, to ruin a C.S. Lewis quote, the book was all winter with no hope of Christmas or spring.
I did not read this one with the intent of deciding if it was appropriate for Alpha to read. Not for kids. I picked it to be able to say I read it. And that’s about all I got out of it.
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.