Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tomorrow's Wizard, by Patricia MacLachlan

MacLachlan, Patricia (1996). Tomorrow's Wizard. San Diego: Magic Carpet Books, 66 pages.

I am a huge fan of this author, and when I saw this book on my roommate's bookshelf, I decided I must read it. I didn't know MacLachlin had tried her hand at fantasy. Tomorrow's Wizard, his apprentice, Murdoch, and their talking horse set out to respond to villagers' wishes. Tomorrow only wants to deal with the big problems, but Murdoch is willing to take a more human approach. They help cure grouchiness, perfectionism, and loneliness in chapter long episodes, and come to realize that they may want more than they have.

This book is great. It's entertaining and humorous, but at times cliche. The chapters each tell a story within the entire story which make it great for an independent reader. It's simply and swiftly told. It is a lot less magical than I expected it to be. I would say practical, which is probably why I liked it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period, by Gennifer Choldenko

Choldenko, Gennifer (2007). If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period. New York: Harcourt, 217 pages.

Aaaaah, another quirky, angst-ridden middle school drama, with a twist reminiscent of Days of Our Lives. Told from the perspectives of both Kirsten (her chapters in first person) and Walk (strangely told in the third person) the story begins with a new year at Mountain Private School. Kirsten is your typical rich, white student whose parents are constantly arguing and whose best friend is following a more popular path. Pair those things with her distorted body image and she's in for a hard year. Walk is an African-American student who worked hard and earned a scholarship. He excels in school but becomes angry when stereotypes affect him and his friends. It turns out that Walk and Kirsten are more connected than they ever imagined.

This isn't a bad book. It is fast-paced and has short chapters to hold a reader's attention. Small if not predictable events keep the story moving. All the loose ends are carefully tied up by the end which is a little too Full House for me, but I can see the appeal. I had a hard time deciding who I would recommend this to. The writing seems appropriate for a younger audience, but the themes (especially the plot twist) would take a more mature reader to handle - hence my labeling it young adult. I would say middle-school students would enjoy it the most.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Your Own Sylvia, by Stephanie Hemphill

Hemphill, Stephanie (2007). Your Own Sylvia, a Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 261 pages.

It's obvious that I'm in a poetry rut at the moment and probably imperative that I read something different for awhile. This biography of Sylvia Plath is simply o.k. The author took on a hard task trying to mimic the work of a master. Hemphill did well, but not good enough for me to love the book. She tells the story of Plath's life from beginning to tragic end using poems written from the point of view of those who knew her. There was the occasional insertion of one of Plath's poems rewritten to describe her life.

Here are a few impressions from the book:
  • The author had a heavy feminist bias. Apparently men only use you as an object, drain all of the talent out of you, and break your heart. She did not relate it well only to Sylvia's situation which made the work biased..
  • The descriptions of Sylvia's suffering were excellent. The poems were fast-paced and agonizing - this was good work.
  • I did find that most of the poetry lacked in the occasional emotion as mentioned above. The metaphors seemed off and it all seemed like a stretch to be poetic rather than fluid poetry.
  • I can see the appeal in this book for a young audience especially those interested in Plath's writing or other similar characters.

Overall, however, the book really wasn't for me. Now to move away from poetry.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Carver: A Life In Poems by Marilyn Nelson

Nelson, Marilyn (2001). Carver: A Life in Poems. Asheville, North Carolina: Front Street, 103 pages.

Before I give a summary of this book, you must know that I was biased to begin. I've heard praise of this book from many sources and was expecting to enjoy it. In fact, I found it nearly flawless. It was refreshing to read a work so artfully written.

Nelson tells the life of George Washington Carver, using vivid poetry. Rather than focusing the poetry on Carver's agricultural accomplishments, she emphasizes the type of person he is. I felt a bond with Carver by the time I was finished. Rather than just saying that Carver was a well-rounded man who broke through many barriers for his race, it was almost sung. The imagery was beautiful. In one poem a woman refers to Carter as a "sepia boy" describing his color. Another poems says "Beauty is commonplace, as cheap as dirt." And again, "history is a jetsam of stardust." I rarely read such well-written works.

There are many things about this book that I loved, but the emphasis on Carver's faith in God was probably my favorite. He was criticized by the science community for claiming that inspiration helped him in his work. But Carver was a great example of a man who believed in God, and Nelson freely included this in her poems. Nelson quotes directly in the poem about Carver's bible class "Your Creator, he said, is itching to contact you." Communication with God is described as a "vast broadcasting system."

To sum this up there are very few people to whom I would not recommend this book - peanut lover or not. It brings together important information, excellent storytelling and real poetry.

"A personal relationship with the Great Creator of all things is the only foundation for the abundant life. The farther we get away from self, the greater life will be."
George Washington Carver

*One of the labels of this post claims that this is a novel. It is not a novel, but in this case uses verse to tell a true story.