Book Reviews: Old and New

I started a new job three weeks ago, so I’ve been rereading familiar books as a backdrop to all the new ideas!  However, right before going back to work, I read a book published in 1999 that was new to me.

Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger

John is a teenager in the era of zines–that brief time between when teenagers started wanting to tell everyone their innermost thoughts and when blogging became possible.  That time and its trends are perfectly evoked in this novel of self-exploration and the joy of getting to know a really interesting person.  When you’re a straight white suburban guy, and your new best friend is a Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee lesbian, should you ask her to the prom?  I didn’t expect much from this book, but I really enjoyed it.

Kumquat May, I’ll Always Love You by Cynthia D. Grant

I read this book several times as a teenager and liked it so much that it had been on my shelf all these years, but I never got around to reading it again until now.  It’s pretty well done, with zany characters and some very clever lines, but now I see it as kind of self-consciously over-written, and Olivia is so mature and perceptive that her inability to pick up on painfully obvious clues doesn’t make much sense.

Olivia is a high school senior who has been living alone for two years.  First her father died, then her grandmother, and then her mother went out to the grocery store and never came back.  Her mom sends postcards once in a while, always promising to be home “soon.”  Meanwhile, Olivia has kept her solitude a secret from everyone but her best friend Rosella.  But now, her childhood friend Raymond has moved back to town, bringing new energy into Olivia’s life, falling in love with her, and sharing a secret of his own.  What will happen if she tells him the truth about her mom?

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This one did not disappoint me when I read it for what must be the fifth or sixth time, at least.  If anything, I’d forgotten just how excellent the prose and dialogue are, how wonderfully the various events of Scout’s childhood weave together into an overall story that feels so true, how perfectly it depicts a range of characters who understand that racism is wrong yet to some extent take it for granted, and how it’s not just about racism but about multiple ways of respecting people for who they are.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

My partner Daniel brought out his DVD of The Secret of NIMH to watch with our two-and-a-half-year old Lydia, who loved this story of a brave mother mouse and has wanted to watch it every week or so since–but Daniel and I were frustrated that the movie so drastically over-simplifies the plot of the book and adds a lot of magical mumbo-jumbo and makes Jeremy the crow so irritating!  We think the best thing about the movie is the colors; many scenes, especially at sunset, are visually gorgeous.  Anyway, I was inspired to look for the book, which I’d read in school in sixth grade.  I found it in the library.

Mrs. Frisby is a mouse raising four children alone since her husband’s untimely death last year.  When her son Timothy comes down with pneumonia, she visits Mr. Ages, a mouse known for his knowledge of healing, and gets medicine and the advice that Timothy must stay indoors and warm until he is fully recovered.  But the mice must move out of their winter home before the farmer plows his field and destroys that home, and the weather’s getting warmer too soon for Timothy to make the journey to the summer place.  Mrs. Frisby happens to rescue a crow tangled in string, who advises her to consult the wise old owl about her problem–and that leads her to learn about her husband’s surprising past and his association with the mysteriously intelligent rats who live in the big rosebush.

This is an excellent story combining cute animals with deep thoughts about the nature of intelligence, ethics, and cooperation.  Lydia’s interest in it is really pushing her toward accepting a story with very few pictures!  We’ve tried other chapter books on her, and she’s accepted them some of the time but often insisted on flipping through the book to see all of the pictures or on hearing Chapter One over and over again.  With this book, she keeps asking to hear the part about the owl (perhaps because that’s one of the scariest scenes, perhaps because she likes my owl voice) but she’s generally letting me pick up where we left off, so I think we’ll be able to read the whole book before it’s due back to the library!

Visit the Quick Lit Linkup for more book reviews!

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About 'Becca
author of The Earthling's Handbook, about the environment, parenting, cooking, and more!

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