Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Invaded by Melissa Landers

Invaded is the sequel to Alienated by Melissa Landers.

In the first novel it was revealed that Earth has been scouted by an advanced alien culture from another galaxy. The L'eihrs require human DNA to rejuvenate their people and wish to form an alliance to bring human colonists to their planet for that purpose. As a result of contact with the L'eihr, Earth's water has inadvertently been contaminated by a super algae that will eventually destroy all the oceans and make the planet uninhabitable. Most humans are not aware of this impending catastrophe nor that the L'eihr have the technology to decontaminate the water. This fact is being hidden by the governments on Earth. The L'eihr will only provide the technology if Earth forms an alliance with them.

The novel ends with Cara having learned Aelyx's (along with Eron and Syrine) role in trying to sabotage the alliance by planting a parasitic tree, sh'alear, which destroyed nearby crops. When she is brought before The Way, who are the L'eihr Elders, Cara meets the two newest and youngest leaders, Jaxen and Aisly. Jaxen tells her that despite the murder of Eron and the violence against Syrine and Aelyx, the alliance negotiations will continue, Syrine and Aelyx are to be sent back to Earth to regain the human trust and work for the alliance and Cara is to accompany Jaxen and Aisly to L'eihr.

Invaded opens with Cara Sweeney headed to L'eihr alone after the L'eihr Elders decided to send Aelyx back to Earth to help rebuild the alliance between the two planets. They were supposed to start a life together on L'eihr but now Aelyx is in Manhattan with Ambassador Stepha. Aelyx finds life on Earth fraught with danger as HALO (Humans Against L'eihr Occupation) seems determined to assassinate him. His security detail is run by Colonel Rutter along with a new guard, Private David Sharpe who saves Aelyx from being killed when they first return to New York. As a result of this incident, Ambassador Stepha decides to confer with The Way. They decide that the technology to neutralize the algae blooms will be provided in the spring during an alliance ceremony between Earth and L'eihr. Any further attempts on the lives of the L'eihr youth will terminate the relationship. Both Aelyx and Stepha are puzzled at the ambivalent attitude of the Elders towards the attacks. He knows the real purpose behind the alliance is to recruit human colonists who will eventually provide fresh DNA to rejuvenate the L'eihr population. He knows humans are unaware of the algae contamination and believes that they should be told the truth.

To try to counter the resistance by people on Earth, Director General Kendrick suggests that Aelyx and Syrine undertake a multi-city tour in the hopes they can win over the human population. Syrine, who is disgusted by humans, begins to change her opinion after visiting dying children in a hospital. Soon after this, two more attempts are made on Aelyx's life. When David repeatedly risks his life to save them, Syrine begins to fall in love with David. Despite the attempts, the Elders refuse to call off the alliance leaving Aelyx and Stepha puzzled.

On L'eihr,  Cara is escorted to the capital by the two young Elders, Jaxen and Aisly. Aisly and Jaxen reveal that they are seventeen and twenty-one years old. This puzzles Cara because Aelyx has told her that the oldest clones were nineteen. Cara finds L'eihr very different from Earth: it has twin moons and one large continent in a vast ocean. Instead of being taken to the colony as she expected, Cara is taken to one of the five precincts in the capital to live. Jaxen tells Cara that the colony is still under construction and that it is located on an island where influence from the L'eihr will be minimal. Cara feels unsettled by Jaxen who looks like the L'eihrs but who seems different in some way that Cara can't yet explain.

Cara is assigned to live with Elle, (Aelyx's genetic sister) whose l'ihan, Eron, was killed while he was stationed in China. Cara's brother, Troy, a Marine, is stationed on L'eihr as her human mentor. Despite her devastation over the loss of Eron, Elle works with Cara on her Silent Speech and helps her to begin to adjust to life on L'eihr. Cara's days are filled with L'eihr classes in the Aegis, brutal fitness classes with an instructor she nicknames "Satan" and time in the L'eihr nursery.She has her Sh'ovah, a sort of citizenship ceremony but it is marred by the crash of what appears to be a meteorite. Cara notices that it is some kind of spherical object secretly retrieved by Jaxen.

On Earth, the attempts on Aelyx and Syrine's lives continue when David discovers that a supper brought in has been poisoned with strychnine. An image consultant is brought in to help reform his and Syrine's reputations and Aelyx agrees to be interviewed by a journalist named Sharon Taylor. During the interview, Aelyx explains that he and his fellow L'eihrs were initially against the alliance because of their views about humans which changed as they came to know them on a personal level. The interview is stopped however when Taylor brings in Marcus Johnson, the student who tried to kill Aelyx.

Living separately in two different galaxies begins to take its toll on Aelyx and Cara's relationship. Cara believes that Aelyx is attracted to Syrine and when Aelyx learns that Cara's brother deliberately missed his transport home, he worries that Cara is having trouble adapting. Aelyx also begins to form a strong friendship with David, his security guard. He becomes concerned when he discovers that David is taking L'eihr injections for a degenerative genetic disorder.

On L'eihr Cara continues to be challenged by someone determined to sabotage her mission on the planet. Professor Helm's tablet goes missing and is found in her quarters. Dahla, a L'eihr who hates Cara,  is poisoned by a deadly toxin that has been placed in her food. In both situations Cara is implicated but helped by Jaxen. But this is not as disturbing to Cara as her trip to the colony. Cara quickly realizes that the humans will be unable to leave the island once they are settled there and that they will be unable to choose their vocations. While on the island Cara makes the shocking discovery that both Jaxen and Aisly have the ability to control people's minds when they erase her brother Tory's memory of a second object falling from the sky. Cara, whose mind is more trained is able to block Jaxen's attempt and to hide his failure to do so from him.

Aelyx is puzzled when Cara tells him about Jaxen and Aisly hidden abilities since mind control is not believed to be possible. Tension begins to develop between Cara and Aelyx when she tells him that based on what she has learned about the colony she cannot go through with plans to live on L'eihr.  Aelyx tells her that she can appeal to the leading Elder, Alona, which she decides to do after she is accused of attacking Dahla a few days later.  While Cara deals with this, Aelyx decides to research the archives of the Voyagers who traveled the galaxies scouting various civilizations. He learns about a L'eihr researcher, Larish who believes that aliens called the Aribol transplanted humans to L'eihr thousands of years ago. His research only leads to more questions; if the mysterious probes are from the Aribol, why are they investigating L'eihr now?

Aelyx meets HALO leader Isaac Richards and reveals to him that all of Earth's water has been contaminated by a deadly algae bloom. He tells Richards that years ago L'eihr's Voyagers came to Earth and introduced scientists to their nanotechnology. Not fully understanding the technology, Earth's scientists unwittingly released nano-fertilizers into the oceans where they are now acting to destroy the water. Aelyx asks Richards to support the alliance publicly so that he can help Earth get the technology from the L'eihr's to save the planet.

Meanwhile s third attempt on Aelyx's life leads Colonel Rutter to identify the mysterious hit man. David's impressive ability to save Aelyx each time leads Syrine to fall hopelessly in love with him.

Cara's interview with Alona impresses the Elder and sees her being assigned to the colony development panel. In an attempt to figure out the origin of the probes, Cara meets with Larish who supplies her with information about the Aribol. Larish believes the Aribol to be tinkerers, who "seed species across multiple galaxies to see how each one develops" but he doubts that the Aribol would be sending probes to L'eihr . Larish tells Cara that the Aribol have the ability to change how they look as do the L'eihrs. This information tells Cara that Aisly who uses drops to alter her eye colour and Jaxen are not regular clones, only deepening the mystery as to who they are and why the probes are falling on L'eihr.

As Aelyx and Cara work to uncover the mystery behind the probes, they learn the real reason behind the L'eihr's desire for an alliance and discover a betrayal that has deadly consequences for David and Syrine and threatens the alliance and the future of both planets.

Discussion

Invaded is an exciting second novel in the Alienated series. It continues the interesting story started in Alienated although the title feels somewhat off for this novel since no real invasion occurs, only the threat of one. Landers does an excellent job of creating suspense and developing layers of intrigue. As with the first novel, the story is told by Cara and Aelyx in alternating voices, although Cara feels like the main narrator. Through her voice we learn more about life on L'eihr.

The characters of Cara, Aelyx and Syrine are more fully developed in Invaded with Landers adding a new villain in the character of Jaxen and introducing her readers to Elder Alona, Larish, a nasty pet named Vero and an anti-hero, David Sharpe. Readers will not only enjoy the suspense but the romance between David and Syrine.

Landers does a good job of showing how prejudices which are usually formed when people encounter those who are different can be changed. Syrine found humans disgusting and was visibly sick when she first went out with Aelyx on a public-relations tour. However, gradually her encounters with the sick children and with David changed how she viewed humans to the point that she even fell in love with a human.


My biggest complaint with this novel involves what I consider to be several weak plot points. For example, the plot in the first novel revolves around the point that Earth's water has been contaminated by a nano-algae unleashed into the world's oceans. This premise is continued in Invaded. Somehow, the algae problem, which is apparently easily detected by a microscope, as Aelyx demonstrates to the leader of  HALO, Isaac Richards, is being kept from the general population which seems completely unlikely.

In the second novel, Cara grows increasingly suspicious of L'eihr's motives for the alliance with humans. As she and Aelyx piece together the puzzle, Cara uncovers the reason for the weapons training on L'eihr; they are preparing for war. She learns from Alona that the Aribol have been sending dozens of probes over the entire planet. Fearing an invasion, the L'eihr desire an alliance with  humans because they do not have the soldiers to defend their planet. They intend "to arm humans with iphals and use them in battle in exchange for decontaminating the water supply."Cara who has mastered Silent Speech is unable to fire the iphal. The iphal is controlled by a person's mind. To expect human soldiers to be able to do the same and to battle aliens who are far advanced stretches the credibility of this part of the plot.

Landers ties up most of her loose ends but does leave room for a third novel in the series. It would be a shame to not have a final book that would explore the role of the Aribol and to finalize what happens to Jaxen and Aisly. Landers has said that if sales for Invaded are strong enough she will pen a third novel. Stay tuned!

Book Details:
Invaded by Melissa Landers
Los Angeles: Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group.     2015
356 pp.




Saturday, March 21, 2015

Movie: Cinderella

Continuing the series of fairytales that are being made into movies or remakes is Kenneth Branagh's visually captivating Cinderella starring Lily James and Robert Madden as Prince Charming.

The movie follows exactly the Disney version of fairytale Cinderella. Young Ella lives a beautiful, happy life with her father and mother. Her father is merchant who often travels away from home. When at home the family are kind and caring to one another. Then one day Ella's mother takes ill and then dies. Before dying Ella's mother tells her to have courage and to be kind.

Ella grows into a beautiful, kind woman. One day her father tells her that he will be marrying Lady Tremaine and that her two daughters, Anastasia and Drizella will be coming to live in their home. After the marriage, Ella's father resumes his business travels, only to die while away. This leaves Lady Tremaine in charge of the estate.

From their arrival, it is evident that neither Lady Tremaine nor her ill-mannered daughters are fond of Ella. Their treatment of her is dismissive at first but burgeons into full blown resentment and hatred. Gradually she is sent to live in the attic.

One day while out riding, Ella comes across a handsome young man who is part of a hunting party after a stag. She refuses to give him her name and he tells her his name is Kit but does not reveal that he is the Crown Prince. Ella returns home happy while Kit returns to the palace determined to learn the identity of the beautiful young girl he met in the forest. His father however, reminds him that he has a duty to marry a "princess" but Kit feels this is not important.

In order to learn the identity of the mystery girl, Kit, decides to hold a ball, to which every eligible maiden will be invited. This of course, sets in motion the events that lead to them finding one another, losing each other again and the discovery of the real identity of the prince's mystery girl.

Branagh's Cinderella is a lovely adaptation of the Disney fairytale that recaptures the innocence of the story. Parents with young children, older viewers who wish to just enjoy a good fairytale without the dark elements, the modern cynicism and the feminist overtones so common in even children's movies, will love this film. Ella is beautiful, kind and courageous - true to her mother's dying request. No matter how terrible Lady Tremaine treats Ella, she meets her time and again with unfailing kindness and respect. Even when all seems lost and she's locked in the attic, Ella refuses to despair or hate. And when Ella is rescued by the Prince from the clutches of Lady Tremaine, she responds not with hate or condescension but with forgiveness and humility. Lily James superbly captures Ella's purity of soul and strong character.

Prince Charming is well.... absolutely charming with a gorgeous smile and a determination to discover the true identity of the maiden who's captured his imagination. Encouraged by his father, the king, to marry a woman based on her social status, Kit hesitates. Despite everyone telling him that he doesn't know this girl and even that she is not suitable, he trusts his own instincts. He treats her with deference and respect. He also suspects that someone in the palace may be working against him.

As expected, Helena Bonham Carter plays the fairy godmother with her typical eccentricity. First appearing to Cinderella as a quirky, beggar-woman, she tests Ella by asking for something to drink and eat. Cinderella kindly complies. In this film, Helena is far from the Tim Burton style she's known for Les Miserables and Sweeney Todd. Her gown is pure white with 400 LED lights to achieve that fairy-godmother magic.

Cate Blanchette plays Lady Tremaine with cold harshness that convinces viewers there's not a nice bone in her body. Beautiful in a chilling sort of way, Lady Tremaine's evil is only emphasized by her spectacular couture costumes in bold colours and rich velvety fabrics.

Some aspects of Cinderella are exquisitely done. For example, the scene where Ella stumbles upon her fairy godmother,  ho turns a pumpkin, mice and a few lizards into a coach, horses and footmen, is brilliantly done. The lizard footmen are fantastic, still retaining some of their reptilian qualities that make them a bit repulsive but not enough to be totally off-putting. It's a chance once again, to showcase Ella's remarkable magnanimity as she treats the footman kindly, even though he's a bit creepy looking.

The costuming in Cinderella is simply stunning. Three time Oscar winner, Sandy Powell designed all the costumes including the amazing dresses worn by Lily James and Cate Blanchett. Swarovski provided Powell with 1.7 million crystals with which to use in Cinderella's ball gown and shoes. Cinderella's gown contains 270 yards of fabric in twelve layers and 10,000 Swarovski crystals. Powell wanted the dress to be voluminous and "to look like she was floating" when she danced and also ran down the stairs. Her wedding dress was simpler and more modest because as Powell explained in an interview with Paul Chi of Vanity Fair,  “Cinderella wins the Prince’s heart through her goodness, so I wanted to show this through her clothes."


The Prince, played by Robert Madden who has deep blue eyes, wore a blue wool military jacket that highlighted his eyes. It was modelled after the jacket in the Disney animated movie made years ago. 


Sandy Powell began working on the costume design two years before the film and has said that she blended 19th century style with that of the 1940's. This was especially evident in Lady Tremaine's costumes which are almost all done in green - the colour of envy.


Cinderella is a delightfully refreshing movie. Just go see this lovely film.


The trailer contains brief cuts of many scenes in this wonderful movie. Enjoy!






Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney

The Red Pencil is a novel in verse for young readers aged 9 to 12 that explores the Darfur genocide.

Twelve year old Amira Bright lives with her Dando, Muma and her little sister Leila on a vegetable farm. Her Dando grows tomatoes and okra and they have sheep as well. Amira is desperate to go to school but her mother does not feel schooling has any advantage for Amira, who is expected to marry. Amira's mother is like most in their village - bound by tradition.
"When it comes to schooling,
my mother is the most tight-minded of anyone."

Amira's mother believes marriage and farm chores are more important. But Amira feels her mother is locked in a "hut of tradition...with no windows for letting in fresh ideas."

Unlike Amira's family, her best friend Halima's family has left their village, moving to Darfur's largest town, Nyala. Halima's parents hope to send her to Gad Primary School which accepts girls.

One of Amira's neighbours, Old Anwar often argues with Dando about silly things such as the size of their tomatoes.When Amira admonishes her father for his feud with their neighbour he tells her that they are in a contest.

Overshadowing Amira's life is the threat of war. Dando tells her the war is about land and that,
"Brothers are killing each other
over the belief
that in the Almighty's eyes
some people are superior."

For her twelfth birthday, Dando gives Amira a sturdy branch with which to make pictures in the goz or sand. Amira loves to draw and spends much time doing this. But Amira's dream is to go to school and whenever she talks about school, her mother scolds her telling her they do not have the means.

One day Amira's mother warns her about the Janjaweed militia and that if they attack she is to run. After this warning, Amira notices that her village neighbours are stalked by the constant fear of attack by these dangerous people. That attack comes to pass one day when helicopters and Janjaweed riding camels attack and burn her village to the ground. Amira manages to escape but witnesses the murder of her father. Left with nothing, Amira, Leila, Muma, Anwar and Gamal, a boy who is friends with Leila set out to find safety.

After walking many nights, Amira and her family reach a Displaced Persons Camp at Kalma where they live in a structure made out of rice-bag scraps. Food and water are rationed as there are thousands in the camp - a number Amira finds unbelievable. Amira is so traumatized by what has happened to her family that she is unable to speak. It is Miss Sabine with her pencils and notebooks who helps Amira find her way out of her grief. A visitor to Kalma from Sudan Relief, Miss Sabine gives the children paper pads and pencils and for Amira, a beautiful, red pencil. Amira cherishes her red pencil as it re-ignites her desire to learn and to go to school. Locked in the safety of the camp means her dream might never happen but for some unexpected help from an unlikely person.

Discussion

The Red Pencil tells the story of the Darfur conflict through the eyes of a young girl. At the back of the novel, Pinkney provides readers with the backstory; a civil war that led to the Sudan government's use of the Janjaweed militia made up of Arab groups to fight rebellion by two groups opposed to the government.The name "Janjaweed" means "devils on horseback".  The massacre of hundreds of thousands of Darfuri civilians began in 2003 and continues to this day and is now widely considered to be genocide. The whys of the conflict are not deeply explored in this novel for younger readers as they are complex and date back to Sudan's independence from Britain in 1956. Instead the story focuses on the trauma the survivors like Amira and her mother experience.

Amira's life is simple and unencumbered. She lives on a farm where their food is grown and the major difficulties are carrying water, birthing lambs and dealing with haboob - sandstorms. The cycle of life passes simply from mother to daughter, from family to family. The attack leaves her afraid and unable to speak.

Pinkney captures Amira's distress in a straightforward manner. Amira is completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of both her personal tragedy and the displacement of thousands of others.

Everywhere bodies:
          We've fled
           peaceful homes.

Beautiful villages,
              Abundant farms.

              Forced to leave
              Prosperous lands
              whose unfortunate luck
              has set us in unsafe places,
              making us prey
              to the Janjaweed.

When she cannot speak her Muma tells her
"Amira, sorrow's fence
has locked you in," she says.
"The only way out is through time."

The conflict and what has happened to her also leaves Amira determined to achieve her goal of becoming educated. The gift of a red pencil helps her regain her voice and her determination.
"Today the red pencil does more
than beg for my hand.

It makes me a promise.
It tells me to try."

Amira eventually discovers that not only does she want to learn to read and write but she wants to teach others too.

Amira is strong, resilient and decides to take her future into her own hands. She sees in the young girl married to a much older man and now pregnant, her possible future. Leaving the camp is dangerous but, like the flies caught in the Fanta bottle, she must either flee the camp or die inside. It is the flies caught in the Fanta bottle that make Amira realize her situation;
"Maybe they know there's a way out,
but are too frightened by the possibility." 

Just as the flies cannot stay inside the bottle forever, Amira knows she too cannot stay in the camp forever. She must flee the camp to live the life she desperately wants or  stay and see her dreams and hopes die.

Amira represents the hundreds of millions girls and women throughout the world who are unable to read or write and who have little chance of obtaining a basic education because of cultural restrictions and/or poverty.

This novel written in free verse is illustrated by Coretta Scot King Award Winner, Shane W. Evans' grey coloured line drawings. The author has included an very informative Author's Note explaining the Darfurian crisis. The Red Pencil is based on Andrea Davis Pinkney's extensive research and interviews with people who lived through the Darfur conflict. Her novel contains many interesting references to tribal life including calling the moon which young readers will find fascinating.

For those wishing to learn more about the Darfur genocide check out the Darfur page at World Without Genocide and Save Darfur.

The Red Pencil is a sensitive, well crafted novel. Pinkney's sparse poetry combined with Evans' simple line drawings convey both the beauty of tribal life in Western Sudan as well as the brutality of a conflict that has affected millions.

Book Details:

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Boston: Little, Brown and Company 2014
309 pp.




Sunday, March 15, 2015

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

This is a story about a girl whose privileged life is turned upside down by an unspeakable tragedy.

Cadence (Cady) Eastman lives with her mother, Penny, and their dogs in a house in Burlington, Vermont. The year before her fifteenth summer, Cady's father left  her mother for another woman. Cady and her mother are part of the fabulously wealthy Sinclair family of Boston, headed by her grandparents, Harris and Tipper Sinclair. Harris and Tipper have three beautiful, tall, blonde daughters, Penny - who is Cady's mother, Bess Sheffield and Carrie Dennis.

Every summer Harris and Tipper along with their daughters and their families would travel to the family's private island, Beechwood Island, where Harris had built homes for each of his daughters. Penny and Cady lived at Windemere, the Sheffields at Cuddledown and the Dennises at Red Gate. Harris and Tipper resided at the largest home, Clairmont with its family portraits, expensive artwork.

The older cousins, Cadence Eastman, Johnny Dennis, Mirren Sheffield along with Gatwick Patil were eventually nicknamed the Four Liars by their aunts. Cadence, Mirren and Johnny were cousins, their mothers - Penny Eastman, Bess Sheffield and Carrie Dennis respectively.

For eight summers, three of the cousins who were closest in age, Cady Eastman, Johnny Dennis and Mirren Sheffield hung out together on Beechwood Island. During summer eight, Aunt Carrie (Dennis) arrived on Beechwood with Johnny and baby Will and her new partner, Ed, a dark skinned man of Indian heritage. Her marriage to her husband has broken down and she was now divorced. Ed brought along his nephew, Gat, who immediately seemed to fit in with the three cousins. Gat and Johnny grew close and Gat began coming to Beechwood every summer after that. From this point on the three cousins and Gat became known as the Liars.

When Cadence's father left, Cady was heartbroken. After the break-up, her mother told Cadence to ignore her feelings to pretend like nothing had happened. They proceeded to redecorate the house, throw out anything her father left behind and retreat to Beechwood Island. That summer was also different because Cady's grandmother, Tipper Sinclair had died eight months earlier and Granddad was struggling. As with the divorce, Cady's mother refused to allow her to mourn the loss of her beloved grandmother.  "She made me act normal. Because I was. Because I could. She told me to breathe and sit up."

However, Cady was very broken over the loss of these two people from her life. Gat comforted Cady and tried to get her to talk about what had happened " as if talking about something could make it better. As if wounds needed attention." That summer Cady found herself forming a deepening friendship with Gat that began to blossom into a first love. While her cousins Johnny and Mirren did their usual swimming and snorkeling and minding the "littles", Gat and Cady spent time together. Until one night Cady apparently went swimming alone, was found in her underwear on the beach by her aunts and was taken to a hospital on Martha's Vineyard. Cady remembered nothing about what happened that night.

Back home in Burlington, Vermont, after the accident, Cady wrote Gat and then Johnny but got no response from either. She began experiencing terrible migraines and blackouts six weeks after her accident. In the year after her accident, Cady missed classes and eventually failed her junior year. She tried calling both Mirren and Johnny but was unable to get an answer. During the next summer, Cady went to Europe with her father. Since Beechwood doesn't have cell reception, Cady sent Johnny and Mirren emails which also are ignored.

After the trip to Europe, Cady mails her cousins each something she owns; Mirren an old Barbie doll and Johnny a striped scarf. Cady only remembers certain things from the summer of the accident and when she asks her mother, she tells Cady that she keeps telling her the truth but that she keeps forgetting what she's been told. The doctors now think it's better that Cady remember on her own.

For summer seventeen her father plans to take her to Australia and New Zealand, but Cady wants to return to Beechwood. She wants to see Mirren and Johnny. She wants to remember the accident and to know why Gat disappeared.  Her parents eventually decide that she will go to Beechwood for four weeks and then spend the rest of the summer with her father.

In what will be her first trip back to Beechwood Island since her accident, Cady can't wait to catch up with the Liars. But the memories Cady uncovers will be more devastating that she could ever have imagined.

Discussion

We Were Liars is an amazing story with a truly heart-wrenching conclusion. Although Lockhart gives her readers clues along the way, the twist at the end is shocking and unbearable to the reader. But the truth, when faced by Cady, allows her to begin the path to healing.

At the center of the story is the dysfunctional Sinclair family with its wealth, its concern for a carefully crafted public image of beauty and strength and its inability to confront failure, death and conflict. Cady describes the Sinclairs as "athletic, tall, and handsome" and as "old-money Democrats" with "wide smiles, square chins.." The three daughters, Cady's mother and her aunts are tall and blond. Appearance is everything to the Sinclair family and especially so to Cady's mother, Penny who does not allow her daughter to express any emotional pain. "It doesn't matter if divorce shreds the muscles of our hears so that they will hardly beat without a struggle. It doesn't matter if trust-fund money is running out....We are Sinclairs. No one is needy. No one is wrong." Later on Cady describes "the beautiful Sinclair family" as believing in outdoor exercise, prescription drugs and cocktail hour. "We do not believe in displays of distress. Our upper lips are stiff,..."

When Cady arrives on Beechwood during Summer Seventeen and she sees that the beautiful maple tree with the swing is gone she feels immensely sad. Her mother's reaction, even after all Cady has been through is one that does not acknowledge in any way what Cady is feeling. She is to pretend all is well. "Be normal now," she whispers. "Right now."..."Don't cause a scene," whispers Mummy. "Breathe and sit up." I do what she asks as soon as I am able, just as I have always done."

The three sisters, Penny, Carrie and Bess have failed marriages and are struggling financially. Their aging father, the patriarch of the family, has a vast fortune to leave to them. But the three sisters are grasping and manipulative. Their fighting and back-biting begins to take a toll on the older grandchildren, Cady, Johnny and Mirren as they are drawn into the feud between the three sisters. They decide they've had enough and it is this decision the sets up the terrible tragedy which befalls the Sinclair family.

One of the strengths of this novel is the exquisite descriptive writing that allows the reader to deeply feel what Cady's pain. For example when talking about her father leaving Lockhart uses an extended metaphor to portray the depth of Cady's pain.
"Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound,
then from my eyes,
my ears,
my mouth.
It tasted like salt and failure. The bright red shame of being unloved soaked on the grass in front of our house...My heart spasmed among the peonies like a trout."

Later on when Gat talks about Gran's death, Cady describes her reaction in a way that metaphorically compares her to slitting her wrists:
"Everytime Gat said these things, so casual and truthful, so oblivious -- my veins opened. My wrists split. I bled down my palms. I went light-headed....When blood dripped on my bare feet or poured over the book I was reading, he was kind. He wrapped my wrists in soft white gauze..."

Only Gat allows acknowledges Cady's pain and allows her to express what she feels. He also attempts to make the Sinclairs confront the frayed areas that are common to all families but which the Sinclairs habitually ignore. For example, summer Fifteen, when Gran was gone, Gat makes a comment about Tipper and how he misses her. Instead of acknowledging their own loss, Johnny attempts to cover up what Gat has said. It is this willingness to acknowledge the unseen difficult parts of life, whether it be death of a beloved grandmother or poverty in India that makes Gat so special to Cady and yet as she says "a stranger, even after all those years." "He asked about Dad and about Gran-- as if talking about something could make it better. As if wounds needed attention."

The novel's story is told from the perspective of Cady who, because of her amnesia, will be gradually seen to be an unreliable narrator. Her narration is broken and at times disjointed, reflecting her fragile state of mind; first dwelling on the Sinclair family, then her father, then "her Gat", the boy she loves, then life on Beechwood and back to the elder Sinclairs. Overall the novel is divided into four parts. The backstory is provided by flashbacks in Part One Welcome where Cady sets the tone and also provides readers with an understanding of the family structure and how the Sinclair family function.To help with this, Emily Lockhart has included a map of Beechwood Island as well as a Sinclair family tree. Part Two Vermont tells of Cady's attempts to recover her memory and her struggles after her accident. Part Three Summer Seventeen relates her return to Beechwood and what happens that summer. Lockhart gives subtle hints at what is really going on; although Taft, Mirren's younger brother called to tell Cady they are already at  Beechwood, the Liars do not meet her at the dock when she arrives, Taft is afraid of the noises in Cuddledown which he believes in haunted and so his family abandons their home to stay with Granddad at the new Clairmont home, the Liars have Cuddledown to themselves and they never show up for meals at Clairmont. Gradually Cady begins to remember events from that summer. Part Four Look, A Fire reveals the truth about that summer and how the family conflicts led to the unspeakable tragedy.

We Were Liars
is a brilliant novel with a shocking truth revealed at the end. Emily Lockhart has written a "must read" novel for teens. The author had many well published authors comment on the early drafts of the novel including Sarah Mlynowksi, Justine Larbalestier, Lauren Myracle, Scott Westerfeld and Robin Wasserman. The result: a beautifully crafted story that readers will remember for some time to come.

Book Details:
We Were Liars by Emily Lockhart
New York: Delacorte Press      2013
227 pp.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Fight For Power by Eric Walters

Fight For Pow3r is the exciting second novel in Walters' Power of Three series. It's now been sixty-six days since the catastrophic crash of computers bringing modern life to a halt. Nothing electronic works forcing society into an agrarian existence. Since then Adam and his family along with Herb, a former CIA agent and others have organized their neighbourhood into a community working together to survive the catastrophe.

Set in a location geographically similar to a neighbourhood in Mississauga Ontario, the story opens with Adam and the rest of the Eden Mills community dealing with the aftermath of blowing up a bridge to save their community from an attack by another band of survivors. After a nearby neighbourhood, Olde Burnham was destroyed by a group of heavily armed survivors to the north, Adam's group determined that they were planning a major attack on their neighbourhood. This group appeared to be made up of ex-military.b Herb orders Brett and his team to search the bodies and vehicles for anything that can be used including weapons and body armour.

Back in their neighbourhood the committee made up of Adam's mother, Herb, Judge Roberts, Councilor Stevens, the fire chief, two engineers, a lawyer, Howie who was one of Adam's mother's police officers, Lori's father, Mr. Peterson and two others, debate how to follow up the attack. Herb tells the Eden Mills group that unless they attack first their fate will be the same as the Olde Burnham neighbourhood. They go on the offensive, bombing the bridge leading to their side of the river, killing four hundred and eighty three men from the military compound. After scavenging for supplies and weapons from the bodies, Herb is determined to destroy the remainder of the group. He believes that unless every single person in the marauding group is killed they will continue to attack them.

First he orders Brett to take a group of trusted men to the far side of the bridge to make sure that any scouting party sent out from the military compound does not return alive. Then Herb convinces the committee to sanction the attack on the compound using two hundred and forty men and women from the neighbourhood.

Prior to the attack, Adam learns that they have a prisoner, named Quinn, who was left after the assault on Olde Burnham. Herb takes Adam to talk to Quinn who has been uncooperative. When Herb leaves a short time later to get coffee, a woman bursts into the room threatening to kill Quinn. Adam manages to defuse the situation until Herb returns with the guard. However, Adam is shocked when Herb tells him the entire situation was staged in order to get Quinn to cooperate and provide them with information about the compound. Herb tells Adam that while he is important to make sure they survive, Adam's strong conscience will be important to help rebuild society when things improve.

When they do attack the compound they find it abandoned but they discover forty-seven women and children who have been kept as prisoners in a building. At first Herb does not want to take these people to Eden Mills, but Adam insists they take them back with them. They also find an old Cessna and manage to push it back to the neighbourhood where repairing the engine becomes a priority.

Throughout all of this Adam becomes increasingly alarmed at Brett's strange pleasure in killing and his blood lust for battle. Brett tells Adam that he loves the high, the rush adrenaline produces and that he just wants more and more. Brett admits to Adam that he admired what the men from the compound even though they locked the women and children up to starve to death because they were prepared to do whatever they needed to in order to survive. Brett's attitude horrifies Adam, who is becoming increasingly wary of his strange behaviour.

When they are in the forest hunting deer, Adam inadvertently brings down one deer. A second deer is killed. However two young kids also out hunting insist that the second deer killed is theirs. Brett violently threatens the boy and girl leaving Adam to intervene. Adam tells Leonard and Penelope that they will share the deer meat with them and despite Brett's insistence that they do not, this is what the committee and Herb agree to do. When Adam, Todd and Lori help Leonard take his share of the meet home, they meet his family, his grandfather Sheldon and his Aunt Mary and his mother Amy who are living in tents, off the land in the forest.

Herb decides to send Brett and his small patrol out at night to learn what is happening outside the walls. Howie has indicated that things outside the neighbourhood walls are growing increasingly tense during the day. As a result Herb feels it would be wise to know what is happening at night too. Brett chooses nine people to be on his patrol including Tim and Owen, two boys Adam knew well from high school. They dress in black and slip over the fence each night to conduct their patrols.


Two unexpected events send the neighbourhood into a crisis that leads to a dramatic showdown.First, a condominium bordering the western side of the neighbourhood is set afire, leaving many homeless. Although Herb does not want to help these people, Adam once again insists that the least they can do is to find sleeping bags and tents for them. Those homeless are allowed to set up tents outside the wall of the neighbourhood but Herb and the committee are insistent that they receive no other help.

And then one night the tent community is attacked by men in black who set fire to the tents and kill many of the condo fire survivors. At dawn Herb, Adam and others go out to assess the damage. The identity of the attacks is unknown and the motive for the attack puzzling since nothing was taken. No longer safe outside the walls of the neighbourhood, Herb comes up with a unique solution to help the survivors. Soon however, Adam learns the truth of the attack and that the greatest danger they are all facing is from within their own community.

Discussion

The Fight For Power is an thrilling second novel with a cliffhanger ending that will leave readers desperate to read the final novel. Narrated by Adam, the story flows easily, his voice believable and remarkably mature for a young person whose world has been completely turned upside down. Yet for all his maturity, Adam is still a typical teen, questioning the actions of the adults in his life. His questioning nature is characterized by strong morals and an active conscience. He wants to help everyone and he wants to give most people the "benefit of the doubt" while struggling to sort out the morality of their decisions. Although he admires Herb, he's not entirely sure he trusts him and recognizes that Herb is only feeding him the information he needs him to know.

In direct contrast to Adam are the two most interesting characters in the novel, Herb and Brett. Herb is a former CIA agent and has admitted to doing many terrible things. He has a way of referring to people in a derogatory manner. When he and Adam are discussing what to do with possible survivors of the bridge attack, Herb tells Adam they may have to "take action" which upsets Adam. Herb tells Adam, "...It's on me. I wouldn't leave a dog to die in pain." to which Adam responds, "But we're not talking about dogs..." When Adam is arguing with Herb about taking in the women and children they have found at the compound, Herb makes compares the survivors to garbage when he states "It's not that simple. You can walk by a piece of garbage on the ground, but once you pick it up you have the responsibility." Again Adam reminds Herb that people are not garbage.

Brett who was a rookie police officer under Adam's mother's command, turns more violent as the novel progresses. He is impulsive and over reacts in almost every situation involving conflict. At first he is friendly towards Adam, but gradually that friendliness turns to contempt. His true personality is gradually revealed through his actions. He begins making derogatory remarks about Adam's mother and his girlfriend, Lori. The bloodlust Brett experiences when out hunting for deer frightens Adam who doesn't realize that it is this same excitement of the hunt that will draw him into hunting humans outside the walls at night. It is a deadly miscalculation on Adam's part. One night when Brett arrives back at Eden Mills with two of his team dead, he is questioned by Herb and Adam's mother. His attitude is cocky and confrontational. When Herb and the committee learn what Brett has been involved in outside the walls of Eden Mills, Herb recognizes the danger Brett has become and knows he must act.

Herb is able to recognize what Brett really is because he sees himself in Brett. Brett represents Herb when he was younger, a man addicted to the adrenaline rush and who learns to be a weapon. Brett describes his actions as "...I wasn't thinking, I was feeling. Like I said, it's a rush." Herb tells Adam that in the end "he and I are both animals, but I believe that we are basically two different types of animals." Herb states that he used Brett as a weapon just as the agency used him but that he likes to believe that he was motivated "by a sense of duty." Where they differ is that Brett enjoys the killing and feels no remorse for what he has done. So despite being similar in their natures, the strongest conflict in the novel exists between these two characters. This results in the ultimate showdown that creates the climax of this novel.

The Rule of 3 series will definitely appeal to 12 to 14 year old boys who are looking for an exciting survival story. Walters tackles the ethical problems and difficult decisions that survivors of an apocalypse might encounter but is never heavy-handed in his treatment. Walters is a Canadian author who has been quietly toiling away at his craft since 1994, having penned over ninety books since that time. Many of those books are solid reads that circulate well from libraries and which find themselves on class booklists. Walters has stated that one of the main themes in his novels is the ability to effect change in one's life and to survive difficult situations. This view is based on his own personal experiences growing up when he lost his mother to cancer at age four and watched his father struggle to raise him and his older sister while coping with mental and physical health issues and unemployment.

Overall Fight For Power is a great second book to a very exciting series. I wanted to keep reading and reading, the ending coming all too soon. Well written, with a creative cover to draw readers in. Highly recommended!

Book Details:

Fight For Power by Eric Walters
New York: Farrar Straus Giroux      2015
346 pp.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Movie: Mr. Turner

This independent film, by English director, Mike Leigh, explores the last twenty-five years of arguably the greatest British painter, J.M.W.Turner. Joseph Mallard William Turner was born in 1775 to William Turner, a barber and wig maker. His mother suffered from mental illness and was eventually hospitalized. Her illness led to Turner being sent away to school. The senior Turner encouraged his son's artistic talent early on and his earliest drawings were sometimes sold from his father's barbershop.

Turner gained admittance to the Royal Academy schools in 1789 and advanced through them studying various art mediums. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1790 through to 1796. Turner often painted in water colours but he also mastered oil. His first exhibited oil painting was Fishermen at Sea. He was elected an Associate of the Academy in 1799 and an Academician in 1802.

Turner travelled all throughout England - Yorkshire and the Lake Distric as well as Wales, with the intent of improving his craft. During the Treaty of Amiens, in which the hostilities between the England and the French Republic ceased, Turner was able to travel to Paris and into the Alps and Switzerland. The Napoleonic Wars interrupted his travels on the continent but he did eventually travel to Italy in 1819. His travels in Italy, especially Venice, were to have a profound effect on his art.  He focused on the grandeur and violent power of nature, painting storms, avalanches, volcanic eruptions and fires.  He painted numerous marine scenes and even had himself lashed to the mast of a ship so he could capture the fury of a storm in his painting Steam Boat off a Harbour's Mouth making Signals in Shallow Water and going by the Lead. This obsession with the power of nature led to a gradual evolution in his art. Instead of representing form by line, Turner gradually utilized colour and light. In this regard he was ahead of his time, resulting in the public and fellow artists alike not understanding what he was attempting to accomplish.

Turner's father lived with him for thirty years and was his studio assistant. His father passed away in 1829 and his death affected him keenly. Turner never married but was believed to be the father of two daughters, Evelina and Georgiana by Sarah Danby. He lived with his mistress, Sophia Caroline Booth in Chelsea where he died in 1851.


The film, Mr. Turner is essentially a character sketch of the artist that focuses not so much on his art, as on his personal eccentricities. Well known British actor, Timothy Spall, who portrayed the famous painter spent considerable time preparing for the role. He spent two years under the tutelage of Tim Wright who taught Spall to paint like Turner. In total, Wright had him create three hundred pieces of art. That Spall succeeded is evident in scenes where he is painting - he really does appear to be accomplish. However, the paintings seen in close ups are the work of artist Charlie Cobb while those shown in the background are prints.

The movie picks up Turner's life as a middle-aged man living with his father.  Spall captures Turner's libertine ways, common to the Georgian age which comprised most of his life.  By the Victorian age, social mores were changing and after his death, John Ruskin who went through Turner's art supposedly found a great deal of erotic art which he claimed to have destroyed.

Spall was able to accurately portray some of Turner's supposed mannerisms including his grunts and snuffles that he was known to make while painting, although sometimes it was difficult to understand the dialogue between the accent and the grunts and snorts.

At times Mr. Turner lags; the pacing is slow through most of the movie, picking up towards the end. Leigh manages to show a Turner who is focused on his art, traveling about the country, sketching constantly, involved in the Academy and even lecturing. His housekeeper's declining health is well shown as we see Hannah who suffered from psoriasis, which was a greatly misunderstood condition in the 19th century, shunned and at a complete loss at his death.


This movie is Restricted in Canada mainly due to its somewhat limited, but graphic sexual content. Turner is shown visiting a brothel and there is also other sexual content in the movie.

Mr. Turner will definitely appeal to those interested in either the artist or the art of film and so it's likely your best bet to catch it before it goes to DVD is through film clubs.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

Marguerite Caine is the daughter of two brilliant scientists; Dr. Sophia Kovalenka, a physicist and Dr. Henry Caine, an oceanographer, physicist and mathematician. Dr. Kovalenka has been working on multidimensional universes and theorized that it should be possible to interact with them. Marguerite's father became interested in her work and they eventually became research partners and married. Marguerite and her sister, Josie, are the result of that union.

After twenty-four years of research, her parents were ready to try traveling between dimensions after their work demonstrating the existence of alternate dimensions had been replicated.They began working on building a device that would enable energy to travel between dimensions and since consciousness is a form of energy, theoretically this meant that people would be able to travel to other dimensions. The device to enable multidimensional travel needed to be made out of specific materials which move easier than other forms of matter and "anchor the consciousness of the traveler". Eventually Henry and Sophia made a device, which they named "Firebird" that seemed like it would work.

However, one of Marguerite's parent's trusted research assistants, Paul Markov, is suspected of murdering her father and has fled into another dimension with the only working Firebird. Theo Beck, their other research assistant,  is determined to recover the device and to stop Paul. To do so he has assembled two working Firebird devices from old prototypes which will enable him to pursue Paul who is leaving traces as he travels through different dimensions. Despite Theo's objections, Marguerite is determined to be involved and they both travel to the dimension where Paul has fled.

The first dimension Marguerite lands in finds her in London, England. Computers appear to have been invented much earlier and are more advanced. When she is contacted by Theo via computer, she learns that he is in Boston at MIT. It appears that Theo has experienced some sort of confusion, a side effect of dimensional travel and one that Marguerite has not had yet. Marguerite discovers that in this dimension her entire family was killed in an hovercraft accident years ago and that she is living with her father's sister, her Aunt Susannah. She also learns that Paul Markov is a research assistant at the University of Cambridge.

Marguerite finds her way to Aunt Susannah's posh apartment. The Marguerite in this dimension doesn't read, is a partier and dresses in designer labels. When she gets in trouble at a party, Theo rescues her and takes her back to Aunt Susannah's apartment. However Theo has problems, first blanking out in this dimension and needing a "reminder" to wake his consciousness and then he shoots up with a strange green liquid later on. This causes Marguerite to realize she may not be able to count on Theo to help her.

After recovering Theo tells Marguerite that they need to find Wyatt Conley head of Triad Corporation which has been financing Marguerite's parent's research. Triad is one of the world's biggest tech companies and Conley is to speak at a convention in London. Marguerite remembers that Paul was increasingly suspicious of Triad, especially after a machine used for measuring something called "dimensional resonance", which had been in Marguerite's family's home, overloaded, shocking Marguerite but otherwise not harming her. During the months before his disappearance she remembers him being very paranoid.

Theo and Marguerite confront Paul at the convention but when Theo gets carted off by security, Marguerite is taken by Paul onto the Tube. In the subway car he is shocked to learn of her father's death and tells Marguerite he would never hurt her father. Paul tells Marguerite that Theo must take her home and then abruptly jumps to another dimension.

Marguerite follows him only to find herself in a dimension where she is the daughter of His Imperial Highness Tsar Alexander V of Russia. As Marguerite enters into the body of the Marguerite in this dimension, she is walking down red velvet carpeted stairs and she falls, breaking a pearl necklace and the Firebird. In this dimension, Marguerite's mother is dead, her father Henry Caine is tutor to the royal children, and she has an older brother Vladimir and a younger sister, Katya and brother, Peter. Paul who has jumped ahead of her into this dimension, is the dashing Lieutenant Paul Markov, assigned to protect the Imperial Princess Marguerite.

At first Paul remembers who he is and as he's escorting Marguerite to her rooms, he warns her that Wyatt Conley is dangerous and that she needs to go home. However, Marguerite shows him the broken Firebird which he says can be fixed but before that happens, Paul loses his own Firebird when Colonel Azarenko takes it from him. Even worse, Paul's consciousness begins to fade inside this dimension's Lieutenant Markov. Marguerite does not know where Theo has landed in this dimension until she eventually receives a letter from him indicating that he is in France.

In this dimension, Marguerite falls in love with Lieutenant Markov and discovers that her father had an affair with the Tsar's wife, Sophia Kovalenka and that he is her father. Marguerite recognizes her father's brilliant mind and decides to ask him to put the Firebird back together. When the royal family decides to travel to Moscow via train, they are ambushed by the Tsar's brother, Grand Duke Sergei, who is intent upon killing the Romanov family and seizing power. This results in Marguerite and Lieutenant Paul Markov fleeing the train and spending an intimate night together. During this time Marguerite decides to reveal to Paul who she is, in the hopes that he can help her retrieve the Firebird and get her own device repaired.

The attack on the train leads to a civil war. Marguerite insists that Paul take her to the royal war camp which he does and there she also tells her biological father, Henry, her true identity in the hope that he can reconstruct the Firebird. Eventually her father does repair the device and Marguerite jumps to the next dimension, shortly after Lieutenant Markov has died and the fate of Paul from her dimension unknown.

Because her Firebird is set to follow Paul to whatever dimension he jumps, Marguerite reasons he is alive in this dimension that is very much like home. Marguerite finds her parents both alive and that they have been awarded a Nobel Prize indicating that they must have made their discoveries several years earlier. Marguerite learns that in this dimension, Paul is being sought by the police for stealing her parents data. When Theo shows up, he continues to press her to not believe in what Paul tells her. At dinner with her parents, Theo tells her that Triad wants to not only send energy but matter as well to different dimensions. The proof that matter can be sent is the presence of the Firebird in each alternate reality. Her father states that Conley's agenda is more sinister, involving spying on other dimensions and to take over the bodies of other people in alternate realities. Because they cannot stop Triad, they have managed to get Theo into Triad as an intern. This position allows Theo to take Marguerite into Triad's headquarters to see Lab Eleven where he works. However a series of desperate texts from Paul warn Marguerite to leave the building immediately. Marguerite manages to do this and meet up with Paul.  In this dimension, Paul reveals what is really going on and the danger Marguerite is in.

Synopsis

A Thousand Pieces of You is the first in the Firebird series by Gray with the second book, Ten Thousand Skies Above You, due out November 3, 2015. This first novel weaves an intriguing story involving the sci fi element of dimensional travel with a romantic relationship between Marguerite and Paul. The interesting premise which forms the basis for the entire series - traveling through alternate dimensions - is the prime strength of this novel.

The story is told in first person narration by Marguerite, a strong, vibrant protagonist. The novel starts out with Marguerite believing Paul is responsible for her father's death and that she must kill him to exact revenge. While this is a great hook to draw the reader into the story, (Marguerite writes "Kill Paul Markov" in lipstick on a wall) the decision to kill him seems a little over the top despite the fact that he's wiped their research data, killed her father and stolen the Firebird. Even Marguerite recognizes that such an action is problematic. wouldn't killing him in another dimension kill two people, one of whom lives in that other dimension but who is innocent? Marguerite does understand this when she says "It hasn't escaped my attention that the Paul I need to destroy is currently a passenger in the body of another Paul Markov entirely. Although right now it seems to me that anybody as evil as Paul would be evil in every single dimension, I don't know that for sure. So it's not as simple as finding him and...shooting him..." Wouldn't Marguerite's mission be to bring him back to his home dimension to face murder charges?

Gray does a good job of creating and maintaining suspense throughout the story and readers will probably clue into the fact that Paul might not be the person Marguerite needs to be worried about. Eventually all the lose ends are tied together through revelations by various characters. Unlike Paul or Theo, Marguerite retains her ability to function in the different realities because of the Accident with the machine that was placed in her home by Triad. It is this ability to retain her memories and her consciousness that Wyatt Conley of Triad hopes to utilize. His intent is to use Marguerite to control her parents - the inventors of dimensional travel, and thus control the technology in as many alternate realities as possible. In this way he can keep the technology to himself. Paul believes that the Wyatt Conley from the dimension which developed the technology earlier and in which Marguerite's parents won a Nobel Prize, has been visiting their home dimension for some time and may have even been in collusion with that Conley. All this is eventually revealed to Marguerite by Paul so that she understands the danger she is in.


At first it appears that there will be a love triangle between Marguerite, Paul and Theo but that is gradually resolved as the novel moves along. Marguerite's time in the alternate reality set in Russia is quite lengthy and it is in this dimension that Gray diverges from the storyline to develop the romance between Marguerite and Paul.While this development slows the novel, the relationship between Paul and Marguerite does further the plot because Paul holds vital information about her father's murder and the motive behind what really happened.

At times the novel does suffer from poor editing - for example when Marguerite spends almost an entire page discussing homeschooling. But overall readers will enjoy this story which offers the opportunity to consider what it might be like to travel to other dimensions (if they do in fact exist) along with a touch of romance. The beautiful cover art by Craig Shields will certainly entice readers to at least open the cover and check out the first few pages.


Claudia Gray is the pseudonym of New Orleans based writer Amy Vincent. She is also the author of the Spellcaster and Evernight series.

Book Details:
A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray
New York: HarperTEEN     2014
357 pp.









Tuesday, February 24, 2015

All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

"What if life could be this way? Only the happy parts, none of the terrible, not even the mildly unpleasant. What if we could just cut out the bad and keep the good?"

All The Bright Places is a story of two teens struggling to make sense of life through the lens of depression and suicide. It is a tragic tale with lessons for us all.

Two seventeen year olds, Theodore Finch and Violet Markey unexpectedly meet at the top of the bell tower at their school. They are not there for the view, but to commit suicide. Finch, a loner with few friends, is struggling with depression and the break up of his parents. It's the first week of the second semester of senior year and he's planning on ending his life.

When a student on the ground points, not at him, but at the girl standing on the ledge on the other side of the tower, Finch realizes he's not alone. On the other side of the tower is "Violet Something" who is "cheerleader popular" and not someone you would think would consider suicide.

Violet is trying to come to terms with the death of her older sister, Eleanor, in a car accident last year. She recognizes Theodore Finch and because she's beginning to panic,  allows him to move closer to her and help her off the ledge. She in turn helps Finch off the ledge. While other students such Gabe Romero (Roamer) taunt him to jump, Finch's best and only friend, Charlie Donahue, comes to the top of the tower to help him. Because Finch yelled his thanks to Violet for saving him, their classmates believe that it was Violet who saved Finch. In the aftermath of the tower incident, both are sent to the student counselors for help.

Mr. Embry, whom Finch refers to as Embryo, warns that if he tries something like this again he will be suspended and wants him to come in to talk twice per week. Finch missed five weeks of school near the end of last semester during what he refers to as the Asleep. His mother never knew, instead his sister Kate phoned the school and was the person Mr. Embry unknowingly spoke with. Violet meanwhile meets with Mrs. Marion Kresney who is concerned about the nightmares Violet has been having since the car accident. Mrs. Kresney is concerned because Violet has applied to a crazy assortment of colleges, except the one she most wanted to go to, NYU, where she was hoping to study creative writing. Although Violet filled out the application and wrote her essay she never submitted either.

Violet and her sister had a website, EleanorandViolet.com, that they started when they moved from California to Indiana. This website posted their views on different areas of life. With Eleanor's death, that website and Violet's desire to write have ended. Violet reveals to her counsellor that she has not driven again nor has she gotten into her parent's car. And she hasn't returned to cheerleading or student council. It's obvious she's not been coping well with her sister's death.

In their U.S. Geography, Finch impulsively (and to Violet's embarrassment) asks Mr. Black if he can partner with Violet for a class project to see three wonders of the state of Indiana. At first Violet doesn't want to be involved with Finch on this project. Finch however is very persistent. He comes over to her house one night and during a walk Violet tells him that she was considering suicide because of what happened to her sister and that she felt nothing mattered anymore. Finch tells her that living life to the fullest is important. Finch sends her his rules for "wandering" to see the wonders of Indiana. Violet agrees to do the project with him but insists that they walk or ride bikes and that they do not go far from Bartlett. Finch accepts this and their first "wandering" is to Hoosier Hill, eleven miles away.

Violet and Finch's friendship begins to grow slowly as they message one another on Facebook quoting passages from Virginia Woolf and Narnia. This blossoming friendship has the effect of causing Finch to want to stay in the Awake (a term he uses for staying alive) and he draws up a list of how to do this. And although her friends are shocked to see her spending time with Theodore Finch, resident "Freak" of Bartlett High School, Violet finds herself falling for him.

Even more importantly Finch helps Violet learn to live again. When he meets her parents one morning, he learns what she was like before the accident. So when Violet tries to bike to their next destination Finch confronts her about her fear of getting into a car again.
"The other Violet sounds fun and kind of badass...Now all I see is someone who's too afraid to get back out there. Everyone around you is going to give you a gentle push now and then, but never hard enough because they don't want to upset Poor Violet. You need shoving, not pushing....Otherwise you're going to stay up on the ledge you've made for yourself."
This pushes Violet into Finch's car (nicknamed the Little Bastard) and they drive to their next destination, the Bookmobile Park outside of Bartlett.

Although Finch tries to stay in the Awake his behaviour continues to be erratic. He misses his appointment with Embryo, fantasizes about hanging or poisoning himself and meets Violet to walk her to all her classes getting both of them detentions. One day he discovers his sister Decca cutting out all the "mean parts and bad words" from the books she has found around their home. Finch tries to cheer her up but wonders why she's doing this. Decca tells him that the bad words "trick you". Finch understands this because of the nasty article written about him in the school gossip magazine, Bartlett Dirt. "Better to keep the unhappy, mad, bad, unpleasant words separate, where you can watch them and make sure they don't surprise you when you're not expecting them." This seems to unsettle Finch further. He retreats to his bedroom where he begins taking down all his creative sticky notes and decides to repaint his bedroom from deep red and black to blue.

It is at this point that Finch and Violet start to take different paths. After several wanderings, which Violet has recorded in the notebook Finch gave her, she begins to rediscover the urge to write. Violet writes out possible story ideas and the beginnings of a new website. She takes a picture of the bulletin board in her room which is covered with the ideas and sends it to Finch but gets no response from him.

Finch however, begins to unravel. He misses a week of school unbeknownst to his mother, who never checks the answering machine and thus never learns about his absence. When he finally reappears at school, Finch leads Violet into trouble. Pulling a fire alarm to get her out of class, Finch takes her down to the river where he shows her a hooded crane, impulsively strips and goes swimming in the icy water and ends up in a fight with Roamer.

When Violet's parents learn of her skipping school and the fight at the river, they confront her. This leads Violet to tell them how she's feeling, that she has lost everything, her cheerleading, her student council, her boyfriend and her friends. "I wasn't acting out. That wasn't what it was...I don't have any friends or a boyfriend, because it's not like the rest of the world stops, you know?...Everyone goes on with their lives, and maybe I can't keep up. Maybe I don't want to." Her parents acknowledge her struggles and affirm what she is feeling. Her mother comes to her room, spending time with Violet to help her focus on setting up her new website. The result is that Violet has some concrete ideas, purchases her new website domain, www.germmagazine.com and decides that she will have contributors to her website. She also realizes that this is the first day she hasn't crossed out a day on her calendar. She throws out the calendar and puts Eleanor's glasses back in her sister's room - signalling that she is beginning to move on.

In contrast, Finch's family is clueless about what is going on with him. After the fight with Roamer at the river, Violet races to Finch's home to check on him but finds his sister Kate strangely ambivalent, "You never can tell what that boy's going to do." After Violet leaves, Finch who was in his room, knows he could go downstairs and tell his mother how he's feeling but her typical response will be to suggest Advil and to calm down. "...because in this house there's no such thing as being sick unless you can measure it with a thermometer under the tongue.Things fall into categories of black and white -- bad mood, bad temper, loses control, feels sad, feels blue." He tries to convince himself to live, "I will stay awake. I will not sleep." He even considers calling his school counselor but then doesn't. It turns out to be a fateful decision.

The next day Violet is stunned to see Finch at breakfast with her parents. Her father states that he has now set some rules for their geography project and asks for Finch's parent's contact information. Violet is upset at hearing Finch lie to her father about not having seen his dad for years and notices that even his handwriting is not the same as usual - a lie in her eyes. Finch also tells Violet's father that he's not sure what his plans are for the future because he doesn't know how long his life will be and he prefers to live as though he only has two day left. When Violet confronts Finch about his lies he tells her "Because it's not a lie if its how you feel." but this only angers Violet who wonders if he has been lying to her too.

Finch and Violet continue their wanderings through Indiana and as they do their relationship deepens and changes. At one stop at the Blue Hole, a round pool of water ringed by trees, Finch and Violet go swimming. The Blue Hole is reputed to be bottomless and capable of sucking a person down to their death. Finch stays underwater for so long that he terrifies Violet, who thinks he may have drowned. This intensely emotional incident leads them to become intimate, with Violet staying out all night and not telling her parents. When she returns in the morning with Finch, they are furious and tell her they cannot see Finch. Because Violet's parents were so worried they contacted Finch's mother, who in turn called his dad.

The repercussions from this situation set in motion a series of events that deepen Finch's depression and alienation. His behaviour becomes increasingly bizarre and impulsive. He assaults Roamer, gets expelled from school, overdoses on sleeping pills, begins giving away his possessions and moves into his bedroom closet. All without his family noticing. He also begins withdrawing from his relationship with Violet. When Amanda Monk tells Violet about Finch's attempt to kill himself, Violet begins to understand that Finch, the boy who has helped her recover her own will to live, is in more danger than she could ever have imagined. But is there enough time to save him from himself?

Discussion

All The Bright Places was a very difficult read for me. For one thing reading about someone spiraling down into depression and suicide without anyone really noticing is intensely disturbing. Niven's story does a good job of portraying mental illness, of showing how getting the right support is so important and how mental illness is still very much stigmatized. All The Bright Places paints an accurate picture of how those suffering from mental illness can be passed over by family and even the closest of friends.

The novel is narrated by both Finch and Violet, so the reader gets to see what is going on in the minds of each. Both teens are dealing with difficult life situations; Finch's parents have split up and Violet has lost her older sister in a car crash. It gradually becomes apparent that Finch and Violet come from very different homes. Violet's parents are married and her mother is a college professor and writer who did her graduate work at NYU. Her father is an intelligent, caring man who engages Finch in an intelligent and meaningful way. They are concerned about Violet but allow her space to deal with her sister's death. In fact, they may even be over zealous in their attempts to help their daughter. When Violet returns home early from a party at Amanda Monk's home, her mother says, "Do you want to talk about anything? I know that must have been hard, and surprising. Why don't you hang out with us for a while?" Violet defines her parents as being perfect. "They are strong and brave and caring, and even though I know they must cry and get angry and maybe even throw things when they're alone, they rarely show it to me. Instead they encourage me to get out..."

In contrast Finch lives in a family shattered by divorce and has two parents who are self absorbed. Finch lives at home with his mother, Linda, his eighteen year old sister, Kate, and his eight year old sister Decca. His father, Ted Finch,who is a retired professional hockey player, has left Finch's mom and now lives in a new home with his younger wife and her son. Finch's father is a man with a powerful physical presence. He has an anger problem and is physically and emotionally abusive towards Finch and his mother. When Finch was eleven, his father broke his mother's chin and put her in hospital. A year later, Finch was assaulted. Finch was often told he was worthless and stupid. His mother holds down two jobs and according to Finch, has been "trying hard to be the cool parent." But she is also deeply suffering, telling Finch that she "never expected to be single at forty." Her way of coping is to drink wine at night and to routinely ask her kids what they learned each day.She tries to understand Finch's sadness and blames it on the divorce and his dad. With his father gone, Finch feels that everyone in the family is "running off in three different directions." His mother expects that Finch to be the "man of the house" not realizing that Finch is in crisis. He has only one friend at school and is often called "Freak", a name he was given after he asked a classmate to jump with him in front of a car to see if it would make the headaches he was having disappear.

The drastic differences in their family life, the level of involvement in their child's life make a significant difference in the outcomes for Finch and Violet. Unlike Violet, Finch has a history of mental illness which began when a cardinal died after repeatedly flying into his family's living room window. It was after this event that the dark moods began. All the warning signs and strange behaviours are simply written off by Finch's family as "That's just his thing. It's what he does."

Niven also explores the wide reaching effect suicide has on those left behind. At school, Finch had few friends, was frequently bullied and called Freak. Violet is upset to see how her school responds to his death. "...the entire school body seems to be in mourning. There is a lot of black being worn, and you can hear sniffling in every classroom." A shrine to Finch has been placed in the main hallway complete with notes stating how he is missed. This makes Violet angry. "I want to tear them all down and shred them up and put them in the pile with the rest of the bad, false words, because that's exactly where they belong."

Finch's counsellor, Mr. Embry tells Violet he feels responsible - to some extent but that he doesn't know what else he could have done. Embry tells Violet she is a survivor and that how well she does depends upon how copes emotional with what has happened. He gives her a resource to read to help her.

Violet, who was closest to Finch suffers intensely from his suicide. She feels anger at Finch leaving: "You can't do this to me. You were the one who lectured me about living. You were the one who said I had to get out and see what was right in front of me and make the most of it and not wish my time away...." Violet even hates Finch for dying. She also experiences guilt at her last words being to him being angry ones: "What would I have said to him if I'd known I would never see him again?" From the book Mr. Embry gives her Violet comes to understand that because of Finch's suicide she is "forever changed", something she must accept if life is to go on. Eventually in her letter to Finch, post suicide, Violet is able to express how he helped her and what she is feeling. Violet comes to some semblance of acceptance over what has happened when she completes the wanderings Finch undertook before his death and she finds a poignant letter he left for her.

As in life, Finch and Violet's families behave very differently after his death. While Violet's family believe that Finch's death was a suicide and that his family are partly to blame , Finch's mother and father are willingly to believe that his death was an accidental drowning. They are so disconnected from their own son they don't appear to comprehend the reality of what has happened.

Niven tackles some of the stigma surrounding mental illness and in particular suicide through the support group that both Finch and Amanda attend. Finch knows that people who have a mental illness are stigmatized in a way that people with other illnesses are not and he feels overwhelmed by it. "I want to get away from the stigma they all clearly feel just because they have an illness of the mind as opposed to, say, an illness of the lungs or blood." A girl in the group vocalizes how suicide survivors are treated due to this stigma. "My sister died of leukemia, and you should have seen the flowers and the sympathy.' She holds up her wrists,and even across the table I can see the scars. 'But when I nearly died, no flowers were sent, no casseroles were baked. I was selfish and crazy for wasting my life when my sister had hers taken away.' "  Later on when Violet tells Finch she wants to help him, Finch tells her "But I'm not a compilation of symptoms. Not a casualty of shitty parents and an even shittier chemical makeup. Not a problem. Not a diagnosis. Not an illness. Not something to be rescued. I'm a person."

Finch is the tragic character in this novel, suffering from mental illness and a dysfunctional family. Throughout the story he tells Violet numerous times why she should go on living, yet is unable to take his own advice. Instead he seems to consider himself to be irreparably broken. Although Finch could not save himself, in the end he does save Violet, at the bell tower and later on when she decides to continue to live even after his death. Violet is a complete contrast to Finch. She has a supportive family and no long last mental health issues. And while Violet could not save her sister nor Finch, she is able to save herself.

All The Bright Places is a haunting novel, filled with tragedy and loss but also hope.Niven writes at the back of her novel that she lost a boy she loved to suicide. Like Violet in her novel, she was the one who found him. Unable to speak much about her experience, Jennifer Niven decided to write about the experience in the form of this novel.

Suicide has touched my own life in an indirect but tangible way. My ex-husband's paternal grandmother (his father's mother) committed suicide supposedly over gambling debts. When I met and married my husband, the family reaction to her death was still one of derision and blame. There was still much shame, very little compassion and even hatred for her as she left behind a husband with debts to clear up. Sadly this poor woman is buried in an unmarked grave in a cemetery in Toronto, not worthy of a marker for her resting place. The repercussions of her suicide have spread down through the generations, negatively affecting her son, her grandson (my ex husband) and even to some extent my son and daughters as well as their extended family.

My eldest daughter had a direct experience with suicide in her senior year of high school. In a group of friends, one who showed none of the signs of being depressed or suicidal, decided to end her life two weeks before graduation. She drove to Niagara Falls, climbed over the railing on the Canadian side and went over the Falls. I cannot fathom a more horrible way to die. Those left behind were devastated. My daughter and her friends spent weeks trying to understand what had happened. They have no explanation. They have no answers.

All The Bright Places is slated to be made into a movie, starring Elle Channing. You can check out GermMagazine at www.germmagazine.com

Book Details:
All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
New York: Alfred A. Knopf     2015
378 pp.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Winnie: the true story of the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker

Winnie tells the true story of the bear who became the basis for the famous children's books, Winnie the Pooh written by A. A. Milne.

After studying at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Ontario, in 1911 Harry Colebourn was  appointed a veterinary surgeon for Canada's Department of Agriculture in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In joined the 18th Mounted Rifles and eventually became one of the original officers of the 34th Fort Garry Horse. When World War I broke Harry volunteered and was granted a leave of absence.

Harry was sent from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Valcartier, Quebec by train. He was transferred from the 34th Fort Garry Horse to the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps where he held the rank of lieutenant. When the train stopped in White River, Ontario, Harry met a hunter who had a bear cub on a leash at the train station. The hunter did not realize that the bear he had shot had a cub and he was now trying to sell the cub. Harry purchased the cub for about $20. He decided to name the cub, Winnipeg, after the city he lived in. Eventually that name was shortened to Winnie.
The real Winnie with Harry Colebourn in 1914


Harry  was attached to the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade under the command of Lt. Colonel Arthur W. Currie. The Second left Gaspe Bay for England on October 3, 1914 with Harry and Winnie. During his time in England, Winnie became a pet and mascot to the soldiers. However, when the time came for Harry and his fellow soldiers to travel to the battlefields in France, Winnie was placed in the London Zoo.

Harry Colebourn wrote six diaries during the war and he revealed that he fully intended to return to the Zoo to take Winnie back to Canada. However, by the end of the war, Winnie was an important attraction at the zoo and she delighted thousands of children who came to the zoo. As a result, Colebourn decided that she should stay there and he returned to Canada leaving her behind in London.

One of the children who delighted in Winnie at the London Zoo, was the son of A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin. Milne who also served in World War I with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, was a novelist and poet. His books Winnie the Pooh and The House At Pooh Corner were based on Winnie, Harry's black bear at the London Zoo. The other characters in the books were based on his son's stuffed toys.


In Winnie, Sally Walker tells the story of Winnie, how she met and was purchased by Colebourn and her life with the soldiers and then at the London Zoo.

Walker's story is illustrated by the delightful artwork of Jonathan D. Voss who used watercolour with pen and ink on Arches Hot Press Watercolor Board. Voss's illustrations have a whimsical character to them that seem to capture Winnie's easy going nature for which she was famous.

The author has included many photographs on the inside covers of Harry Colebourn as well as several photographs of A.A. Milne and Christopher Robin. There is a detailed Author's Note, a list of Sources and also information for further research.

Winnie lived to the age of twenty, dying in 1934. Her death was reported in many newspapers throughout Canada, England and the United States.


You can read more about Major Harry Colebourn at the Canadian Great War Project.

Book Details:
Winnie: the true story of the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker
New York: Henry Holt and Company 2015








Monday, February 16, 2015

Walking Home by Eric Walters

Thirteen year old Muchoki lived in the town of Eldoret with his parents and his seven year old sister, Jata. His family had a house on a small piece of land, livestock and a store in the market. He had many friends and relatives. Muchoki's father is Kikuyu, his mother Kamba, so he is Kikukamba. Everyone knew who was Kikuyu and who was Luo or Kamba. It didn't matter because they lived and worked side by side. Then one day, Muchoki and his family learned that it did matter.

Muchoki and his family, along with relatives, neighbours and people they didn't know found themselves being attacked. They sought refuge in a church from the mob armed with machetes, clubs and torches hoping that they would be safe on sacred ground. Instead, the church was set afire. Only Muchoki, his sister and his mother survived the mob. They now live in a tent in a refugee camp that holds over twelve thousand people, surrounded by barb wire and guarded by soldiers.

Muchoki's mother is suffering from malaria and very weak. This leaves Muchoki to care for his sister who attends the refugee camp school while he goes outside the camp to gather firewood. One day he meets a boy, Jomo, who with his sisters has come to collect firewood. Jomo tells Muchoki that he is Meru and that his family is waiting for their father to come from Isiolo to take them home.

One night Muchoki's mother tells them a story about the origin of her people, the Kamba, which means 'people of the string." She tells them that the Kamba began when a boy and a girl ran away to be together when their families forbade them from marrying. To be able to find their way back to their homes some day, the girl tied a string to the door of her home and let it out as they fled into the night. They married and had a child and wishing to return home to show the child to their parents they followed the string home, only to find that it had broken. They could not longer find their way home.

When Jomo decides he is going to go outside the gates to kill a gazelle for his family, Muchoki accompanies him. However the two boys do not kill a gazelle but instead encounter a Masai warrior who has brought down a gazelle. Because Muchoki scared the gazelle into the path of the Masai he gives Muchoki a share of the kill. On their way back into the camp, Jomo raises the ire of one of the camp guards but Muchoki smooths the situation over by inviting the guard to share their meal of the gazelle with his family. It is an act that will have significant repercussions for Muchoki and his family in the not to distant future.

The guard comes to dinner that day and Muchoki and his mother learn that he is from the Kalenjin tribe which massacred Muchoki's father and the other Kikuyu people. However the guard tells them that what happened was terrible and that he is a Kenyan first and a Kalenjin second.

When Muchoki's mother dies of malaria the man in charge of the camp tells him that he and his sister will be taken to different orphanages to live. Muchoki is deeply upset by this and determined not to be separated from his sister, he makes plans to leave. The Kamba soldier who had dinner with them helps Muchoki by telling him to leave that night, before the matron arrives in the morning to collect his sister. With the soldier's help and the money he gives Muchoki, they leave the camp that night and head to the road leading to Nairobi. Like his ancestors who tried to follow the string back to their homeland, Muchoki is determined to find his mother's family in Kikima.

Synopsis

In 2011, Eric Walters along with his friend Henry Kyatha, four children from the Rolling Hills  Orphanage and four young Canadians, made the same journey Muchoki and Jata undertook in Walking Home. They walked "from an internal displacement camp on the Mara, up the Rift Valley, down to Nairobi, through Kibera, along the Mombassa highway, to the mountains of Kikima." Along the way they interviewed, videotaped and wrote about their experiences and this adventure became the basis for the novel. It is this personal journey that gives a tone of authenticity to both Muchoki and Jata's characters as well as the to the large cast of supporting characters in the novel.

One of the strongest themes in the novel is that of the personal journey. Each of us experiences our life as a journey, both a physical and an inner spiritual one. Not only does Muchoki undertake a strenuous physical journey of almost 200 km but he also experiences a personal inner journey that forces him to change the way he thinks about those who have grievously harmed him and his family.

Muchoki's family who are Kikuyu, were attacked by Luo and Kalenjin. Muchoki is now fearful of these people and does not trust them. When he forms a polite friendship with one of the guards at the gate and invites him to dinner he learns that the man in a Kalenjin. Muchoki's response is one of anger.
"I tasted bitterness in my mouth. If I had known he was Kalenjin, I would never have invited him to our tent, never offered the invitation to dine at our side."
However, the guard does not respond in the way that Muchoki expects. Instead he tells him that he defends all Kenyans and that the violence "is nothing more than an excuse for people of violent natures to act violently." He blames the Kenyan politicians who have divided the people as tribes instead of uniting them. The soldier tells them that "An eye for an eye will leave everybody blind." He also tells Muchoki's mother that if "...I can repay her kindness, I am at your service."

Despite what has happened to him in Eldoret, Muchoki finds himself forced to trust in the Kalenjin soldier. This soldier not only helps him and his sister leave the camp, he also gives him directions and money to take the matatu (bus) part of the way to Nairobi. After the soldier hears Muchoki's story of the massacre in the church at Eldoret he tells  Muchoki, "It is important that Kalenjin show friendship to Kikuyu and that Kikuyu do the same to Kalenjin...You must try to do this."

This causes Muchoki to wonder if he could show kindness to the people who have caused great harm to his family, wondering if this is being disrespectful towards his murdered father's memory. But the soldier warns him that "You cannot fight evil by becoming evil...The only cure for darkness is light."  The soldier warns Muchoki to not let the evil deeds erase the good that remains in him. Still at this point Muchoki states that while he will remember the Kalenjin's act of kindness, it in no way makes up for the murder of his father and his family.

While they are walking towards the road that will take them to Nairobi, Muchoki and Jata come across a church. The minister asks his congregation if they are not justified in killing out of revenge for the murders of Kikuyu by the Kalenjin and Luo. When the congregation gives its approval of such, he tells them that the commandment given by God to Moses, Thou Shalt Not Kill was written in stones so that people might know it was eternal and firm. The minister tells them they may defend themselves, but they will not attack and they should spread peace. This causes Muchoki to reconsider his determination to seek revenge for the killing of his father.
"It is easy to say those words, sitting here inside this church where there was so much, where it seemed as if nobody had lost anything. Would he still be saying the same things if his father had been murdered? Would I kill the men who killed my father if I had the chance? Yes. It would be my duty. Would I kill those who were innocent, even if they were Kalenjin or Luo? I knew  what I would have answered in the weeks that had passed before we were helped by the two Wilsons, before I'd heard his words."
Further along in their journey, Muchoki and Jata are helped by Omolo, a farmer who sells oranges in Nairobi. Muchoki agrees to help Omolo push his cart up the hills of the city in exchange for a few oranges. However when Omolo is threatened by thugs who want to steal his donkey and cart of oranges, Muchoki scares off the attackers. When Omolo hears that Muchoki's father was Kikuyu, he apologizes as he is Luo and the Luo have killed many Kikuyu in the riots. Omolo offers Muchoki and Jata a place to spend the night but Muchoki is frightened when he learns that he will be staying inside a compound with Luo. Instead Muchoki is given a safe place to stay and Omolo walks with them through Nairobi so they can safely begin the next part of their journey.

Finally when Muchoki and Jata are in Nairobi, and Jata begins to question him on why God allowed their family to be murdered, Muchoki reveals how his encounters with the soldier, the minister and Omolo have changed him.
"I had once felt that it was my duty to avenge my father. But now, when I thought of the sergeant and the minister and Omolo -- when I thought of all the people who had helped us along the way -- I knew that I had already chosen a different path."

Muchoki and Jata also meet Masai warriors twice in the novel. According to Muchoki, the Masai have a reputation of being short of temper and fearless. While he is afraid of them, in both his encounters with the Masai they treat him kindly and return his respect. Through all these encounters, Muchoki learns the important lesson of treating others with respect and of forgiving others, even when a great wrong has been done.

Walking Home is a gentle treatment of tribal violence in East Africa. Written for children, Walters covers the brutal violence in a way that is not graphic yet conveys both the magnitude and the far-reaching effects of the terror that children like Muchoki and Jata experience. A country is seriously affected when entire families are destroyed. The displacement of families from homes and livelihood affects the health and education of children and severs their connection to the communities they have lived in. All of this is effectively portrayed in Walking Home. Muchoki was a good student, third out of forty-seven students and hoping to attend at least a provincial school, if not a national school. His father owned a prosperous business and the family was doing well enough that Muchoki had never known hunger. All this changes with the murder of his father and the loss of their home.

A map of Muchoki and Jata's journey would have been a wonderful addition to the novel. Walters has provided readers with an array of multimedia resources at www.ericwalterswalkinghome.com as they read the novel.  For example in the first chapter, readers can listen to Eric read the opening two paragraphs, they can view pictures of the tents in a displaced person's camp 100 km from Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. Readers are very much encouraged to check out the multitude of photographs, videos and log entries for each of the books chapters.

Walking Home is a well written, engaging novel that will help North American young people understand life in Kenya and may encourage them to reach out and become involved in helping their brothers and sisters in Kenya, a country rich in resources and blessed with its greatest wealth of all, its diverse and unique people.

Book Details:
Walking Home by Eric Walters
Canada: Doubleday
290 pp.