Thursday, March 31, 2011

Flannery O’Connor on the Banning of Books in High Schools

A very interesting article about the type of books that should be chosen for high school students and why this is so. I have to say that I agree with the perspective presented in this piece.

The real problem, she says, is not that the schools are assigning "dirty" books, but that they are assigning a preponderance of modern books, and that there seems to be no clear purpose behind the teaching of literature in most middle and high schools other than to try to capture the "interest" of the adolescent mind. This principle – the idea that it is the school's duty to excite or gratify the unformed tastes of teenagers – she calls "the devil of Educationism…the kind that can be cast out only by prayer and fasting," and she notes with bemusement that mid-20th century America seems to be "the first age in history which has asked the child what he would tolerate learning."

Great literature has always portrayed characters fornicating and killing. What has changed is that the way the modern writer portrays such acts in literature, even a devout Catholic modern with an intense moral sense like O'Connor (she would insist: ESPECIALLY a devout Catholic modern with an intense moral sense), is graphic, explicit, a kind of total immersion in dirty deeds. Such modern writing is strong stuff; it is not to everyone's liking, and sometimes it can be a little TOO much to the liking of the 15-year old mind, and for the wrong reasons. But this kind of literary technique is not ipso facto "immoral" writing, and it may be very suitable for the reader who has the moral and the literary experience to understand and appreciate it.

And of course, generally speaking 15 year olds simply don't have the literary experience to understand this sort of thing.

To make modern/contemporary literature the predominant or sole business of the high school English class is to commit the serious error of putting second things first; it is to deny students sight of the literary works of the past which are the only things that can help them to intelligently judge the works of the present.

I often work with English teachers to help them prepare booklists for their students. Predominantly, they assign modern young adult fiction, much of which is rife with violence, sex and bad behaviour. There is usually one class per semester that is required to read "Classics" such as Huckleberry Finn, War of the Worlds, Pride and Prejudice and "The Scarlet Letter". Since I personally have read many of these classics I try to steer students to the ones that I feel will be engaging.But I often wonder just how many students actually read the books.

I have to say that my own high school education 30 years ago was somewhat similar, although regular English classes did read the classics. When I arrived at a new school in Gr 9, I was bumped into the Advanced English class. In this class we studied modern novels such as "I never promised you a rose garden" and "Black like me". When I reentered the regular English stream in Gr 11 (Advanced was only for 2 grades) my writing and reading had deteriorated greatly. It was a mistake for me to have strayed away from the classics and in some ways my writing never recovered.

As a young adult I set about to read all the classics I could get my hands on - Moby Dick, numerous Charles Dickens novels, Ivanhoe (the most boring book in the world), The Three Musketeers, War and Peace, The Count of Monte Cristo (once on the banned book list for Catholics!) and many many others. Interestingly, at this time I couldn't read Pride and Prejudice nor any other of Jane Austen's fine works. They were too wordy and simply incomprehensible. Happily, that changed a few years later.

I wish I could get back to reading more of the classics. There are so many yet untouched - many Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy, Anthony Trollope and Dostoyevsky. Perhaps this year I will try to read more of these classics. I feel like I've been sucked into the YA vortex.

You can read the full article here:

Flannery O’Connor on the Banning of Books in High Schools

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Blindsided by Priscilla Cummings

Fourteen year old Natalie O'Reilly was born without irises - a condition known as sporadic aniridia. It is this condition that is the cause of her juvenile glaucoma and the resultant gradual loss of her eyesight. Despite daily eye drops and numerous operations to control the pressure in her eyes, the inevitable seems to be happening. Natalie is going blind. Hoping that she might be spared total vision loss, at first Natalie resists attempts to prepare for such a situation and to develop the skills she might one day need. She is in denial.
Blindsided details the gradual slip into blindness by a young teenager and her coming to terms with her vision loss and her life situation.

Natalie's vision first began to deteriorate at the age of eight when her peripheral vision begins to vanish, "It's like the world got shrinked."
Soon reading becomes a struggle and as her vision becomes more limited, everyday life becomes more difficult. She has trouble finding her classrooms and taking notes. Eventually Natalie's vision deteriorates to the point where she is sent to the Baltimore Center for the Blind to learn the skills she needs; reading braille, using a cane and learning to function as a vision impaired person in a sighted world.

When she first arrives at the Center, Natalie is resistant. When she is told they will do a sighted guide around the Center on her first day there, she believes this isn't necessary.
"Sighted guide meant taking another person's elbow and letting them lead. But she didn't need it. Didn't want it would be more to the point. People here would get the wrong idea. Should she speak up?"
Natalie is frightened and in denial of what her future might be. Her mother tells her it's now time to learn the skills she will need. But Natalie isn't prepared for this.
"But it couldn't be time, Natalie thought to herself. New skills would only be necessary if Natalie went blind and that just couldn't happen. Natalie did not want to lose her sight. No way! A world of darkness? A world alone?"

Natalie tries making deals with God in the hopes that she will not loose all her vision. But when it appears that God isn't listening she experiences anger and doubt.

Priscilla Cummings does an excellent job of detailing the emotional and psychological obstacles a young teen must face in a devastating and life-altering situation such as this. Natalie not only has to cope with her own feelings but also with those of her parents and friends. She struggles to hang onto her friends who continue to attend classes at what was once her  high school. In the end though, Natalie succeeds in coming to terms with her visual impairment and comes through an especially difficult trial to realize that life is worth living, despite being blind.

One thing I felt Cummings accomplished in an exceptional manner was her portrayal of a visually impaired person learning to navigate a busy intersection. Although I'm always cautious when I see a visually impaired person at an intersection I felt a new sense of respect for how difficult it might actually be to know when to cross. Natalie was a believable, well drawn character who readers will sympathize with. If anything she will help young readers understand better the world of the visually impaired (many are not completely blind for example).
My one complaint was the two episodes of sexual content which were irrelevant to the storyline and seemed downright silly. Sometimes I get the impression that authors of YA books feel that there must be some sexual content in a book in order to keep the reader interested. The inclusion of these episodes really served no purpose to the plot or character development.

Book Details:
Blindsided by Priscilla Cummings
Dutton Publishers   2010
240 pp.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother. Stories of Loss and Love by Xinran Xue

Again and again, I cannot and will not believe that outdated customs combined with government policy can really force human beings to renounce that most beautiful and basic of human feelings, the parental instinct. It should not be possible, but it is.

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother is a heart-rending, eye-opening account of women's lives in China. It is a recounting of the "tragic stories of what traditionally happened to abandoned girl babies and what continues to happen." Each of these stories sears the heart as the reader comes face to face with the clash of Chinese culture, traditional and modern, and the deepest desires of the heart in Chinese women.

Xinran's book is a collection of stories told to her as well as personal incidents she experienced when she worked as a reporter and radio broadcaster in China. These are painful stories, told by courageous mothers, to Xinran over a period of years either in person or in the form of letters. It took many years before Xinran could bring herself to tell these stories.

In her travels within China, Xinran discovered the crushing poverty of her fellow Chinese and how little she knew of Chinese history and culture. She came to understand that young Chinese did not know what their mothers and grandmothers had suffered. She also realized from her life in the United Kingdom that many Westerners had no understanding of the Chinese people. When she was asked if it was "true that Chinese women physically lack emotional cells and are mentally short of love" Xinran was devastated and angry.

This book, which she began to write in 2008 was to show that Chinese women have suffered terribly and continue to suffer so. It was to demonstrate the ability of Chinese mothers, daughters and grandparents to love deeply and unconditionally, but that their culture works against their feminine nature in ways that Westerners cannot comprehend.

During the course of writing books about Chinese society and Chinese mothers, Xinran received many letters about Chinese women who placed their daughters for adoption with Western families. By the end of 2010, Xinran writes that the number of Chinese orphans adopted numbers over 120,000 - almost all of whom are girls. Why is this so? Why are the Chinese abandoning their girls?

Xinran believes that girl babies are abandoned in China for 3 main reasons:
  1. traditional practices in Eastern farming cultures in which a preference for boys who can undertake hard manual labour. There is also the ancient system of land allotment in China in which males are given land and therefore are responsible for creating wealth, Females do not have such rights.
  2. sexual ignorance and economics
  3. one child policy which then made it imperative that in order for number 1 to hold, couples MUST have a male child if they wanted to increase their wealth and carry on the family name.
Message from and Unknown Chinese Mother is not for the faint of heart. The stories leave one gasping at the seemingly callous perspective that pervades Chinese society, particularly in rural China, one that holds that girl babies are better off dead than living in any sort of existence. Xinran struggles to understand this mindset and what drives families to abandon their baby girls. Sometimes these encounters occurred during what appears to be an ordinary day - such as bicycling to work.

When Xinran rescued a baby girl abandoned in front of a public toilet she was admonished and harassed.
"The words rang in my ears but I kept repeating to myself:
No, no, I'm not going to let this tiny creature die in front of my eyes. This is a human being. A real live human being capable of giving life to countless other lives."

When she rushed the baby to the hospital Emergency Dept., she was told that without a birth permit, they could not treat the baby. It was only when Xinran threatened to talk about this on her radio show that the nurse relented and the baby was saved. The duty nurse told Xinran that the hospital received so many abandoned baby girls that they had to hire night guards to prevent people from abandoning babies at their doors.

There is no doubt that Chinese women bear a heavy burden of suffering. I agree with Xinran that traditional cultural preferences for male children combined with the draconian one child policy have led to the abandonment and outright murder of millions of Chinese girls.

It's estimated that tens of millions of Chinese girls are "missing". Human rights groups, population experts and social scientists have been warning for many years now of the effects of this gender imbalance will have on Chinese society.

Attitudes towards women and girls need to change in Asia especially in China and India. Public policy also needs to change. Governments have no business telling couples how many children they can have. Young women who become pregnant need the support of family and society to bear their children and if they so choose, to keep and raise them. Culture has no business telling women that girls are worthless. Without women, a society loses it's heart and will inevitably die.

The book I read had the cover shown above. But I have to say that I really love this cover better:

Xinran Xue's book is an important window into Chinese culture. I highly recommend it and also her website The Mothers' Bridge of Love

For more on gendercide you can read the following articles:
The worldwide war on baby girls

China's One-Child Self-Destruction

The following website is devoted to women's rights and focuses especially on the area of forced abortions, sexual slavery and other problems China's one-child policy has created.
The website is Women's Rights Without Frontiers

Book Details:
Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother. Stories of Loss and Love by Xinran
New York: Scribner 2010
239 pp.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

deadly by Julie Chibbaro

We've all heard of "Typhoid Mary". Who was she? What was her story?
Deadly is a smart retelling of the story of Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant who worked as a cook in New York City in 1907. Her story is told through the diary of 16 year old Prudence Galewski, a young Jewish girl living in New York City at the turn of the 1900's.

Prudence and her mother, whom she calls Marm, are alone and struggling to make ends meet. Prudence hase suffered the loss of both her father and her brother. Her father, Gregory Galewski is missing in action, having gone to Cuba to fight in the Spanish-American war of 1898, while her brother Benjamin died from gangrene. Prudence is interested in science and more specifically in why people get sick and die. She has a secret desire to understand the human body. This desire originated from her experiences helping her mother who is a midwife. Of course, in 1906, these sort of inquiries are not expected from young women.

Instead she is stuck learning how to walk on her toes, draw portraits and embroider at Mrs. Browning's School for Girls where she has been enrolled by her mother in the hopes of improving her social status. After applying for numerous typist jobs, Prudence is offered a unique job in the New York Department of Health and Sanitation. There she is an assistant to Mr. George Soper, a Sanitary Engineer who as head epidemiologist for the department, investigates the causes of disease epidemics. It is the perfect job for Prudence who tries to learn everything she can about the body, disease and how people get sick.

Initially, Soper is sent out to investigate an outbreak of typhoid at Oyster Bay on Long Island. When tests at the house fail to find the source of the outbreak Prudence makes an astonishing discovery that leads them to consider the cook as a possible source. That cook is Mary Mallon. When they approach Mary she is uncooperative, violent and refuses to be tested. And so begins the struggle to quarantine and test Mallon - one of the first recognized "carriers" of disease. When she is finally captured and Soper's theory is proved correct, they must deal with the ramifications of their actions. They have taken an apparently healthy adult woman, arrested her and placed her in quarantine with other patients who are sick.

Matters are further complicated when Prudence finds herself forming an attachment to Mr. Soper. Added to this, Prudence herself has also reached an important personal turning point in her life. Her acquaintance with Dr. Baker makes Mary aware for the first time of the possibility of studying medicine.

Prudence is more an observer to the actions of Soper and Dr. Baker than a participant. Chibbaro develops Prudence in the role of a character of conscience in deadly. She is someone who questions the actions and motives of the New York Department of Sanitation, the police and the medical profession in the case of Mary Mallon.
"How did he and Dr. Baker find the strength necessary to take the cook from her life they way they did? ... And was it right? I felt as if we had broken the law. We had no warrant for her arrest, no right to raid her employer's home. Her typhoid was still speculative. Weren't we obliged to release her?"
Prudence sees Mary as a person with dignity, instead of a unique medical case to be investigated.
"Besides the obvious question - does she really carry the typhoid germ? - there are still so many unknowns to her case. What is her history? Who is she, and where has she been?..."
"It's one thing to follow the course of a disease through observation and questioning. It is truly another to be out jailing human beings suspected of carrying germs....The whole incident was immoral."
This is in direct contrast to Mr. Soper who seems clinical and whose concern is focused more on the families who have hired Mary and the people who are sick. It seems his lack of concern for Mary begins when she starts to resist any attempts to test her as a carrier. She is robust and healthy and doesn't believe she could make anyone sick.

Eventually Prudence feels deeply conflicted over the Mary Mallon situation. The conflict she senses is that between a scientist's quest to learn and the dignity of the human person. There is also the balancing of the rights of the individual person with those of society. Prudence worries she will not be able to consider medical cases from a purely scientific point of view if she were to study medicine. In a meeting with Dr. Baker, she confides her concerns;
"I saw illness as a kind of week, something that could be found and cleaned away. I didn't think it could live inside a person without sickening or killing them, not like with Mary. Now it's as if the disease and the person are inseparable. When the police officer threw Mary in the snow and they locked her up, they were treating her like a disease...."

It is therefore, through the thoughts of Prudence, that Chibbaro wants us to consider Mary Mallon's position and what it must have been like for her. She tells us in her Author's Note that she wanted a sympathetic protagonist for her retelling of the story of "Typhoid Mary". She wanted someone who understood the immigrants position in early 20th century American society and how they might have perceived the Mary Mallon situation.

Typhoid was a bacterial disease that killed people by the hundreds and even thousands. Medical professionals and sanitation experts had been working for years to clean up the municipal water supplies and improve sewers and sanitation. They often faced great resistance from a public who couldn't understand the science behind the policies.

Mary Mallon was one of the first living examples in support of a new theory put forth by Dr. Koch of Germany; that a healthy person could be a carrier of disease without actually becoming ill from it.
This idea was so revolutionary, that many people had great trouble accepting it just as they had great trouble believing many years earlier that tiny microscopic organisms were responsible for disease. For Mr. Soper and Dr. Baker, it must have been supremely frustrating to deal with someone like Mary Mallon and her supporters. The scientific evidence pointed to her being the cause of the typhoid outbreaks, yet she saw herself as a victim of Irish prejudice and fear.

It's easy to judge the past from the comfort of the present given our modern, highly efficient investigative tools. Soper and Baker did not have much in the way to offer Mary Mallon as treatment and therefore this made the situation more critical and requiring more direct means of action. Chibbaro puts the Mary Mallon situation in to perspective considering the social situation and conditions that existed in the time in America

Chibbaro's novel is well written and engaging with the story having a touch of romance. Young readers will learn about a controversial event that had a major ramifications on public health policy. Along the way they will be rooting for a female protagonist living in society on the cusp of new scientific discoveries- discoveries that would forever change the day to day life of most people.

Book Details:

deadly by Julie Chibbaro
New York: Antheneum Books for Young Readers Simon & Schuster 2010

Friday, March 18, 2011

Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang

Dori Jones Yang has crafted a thrilling historical novel centered around the visit of Marco Polo to the Great Khan Khubilai who was a grandson of Genghis Khan. Alos known as Kublai Khan, he was the 5th Khan to rule the Mongolia Empire from 1260 to 1294. Among his major conquests was the subjugation of China and the forming of the Yuan Dynasty in 1271. The Great Khan Khubilai met Marco Polo's father, Niccolo and his uncle Maffeo when they travelled to Asia years before. Daughter of Xanadu explores the time when Marco now in his early twenties returns with his father and uncle to Mongolia.

In this regard, Daughter of Xanadu is a romanticized fictional account of some of Marco Polo's adventures in Xanadu. According to the opening of the story, it tells "the story of two adventurous hearts from thousands of miles and worlds apart: one from medieval Venice and the other from the royal court of the Mongol Empire."

Fifteen year old Emmajin, granddaughter of the Great Khan Khubilai has a mind of her own. More capable at archery and horsemanship than her numerous brothers, including her half-brothers Suren and Temur, Emmajin is determined to be a warrior in the Khan's army. After competing in an archery competition, Emmajin petitions her grandfather to become a warrior. Instead of granting her wish he assigns her to spend time with young Marco Polo to learn about the countries to the West and to find weaknesses that the Mongols might exploit in order to bring about the conquest of Christendom. However, as time goes on, Emmajin begins to find herself attracted to Marco and his kindly way. His respect for women is unlike anything Emmajin has experienced. When she does eventually discover a potential weakness her love for Marco creates tremendous conflict.She finds herself questioning the Mongol way of war and conquest.

Eventually Emmajin gets her wish and becomes a soldier in the Khan's army along with Suren and Temur. It isn't until Emmajin and Suren are assigned to join a small reconnaissance party into southern China to investigate Burmese incursions that she gets her first taste of battle. In a major battle with the Burmese who use elephants, Emmajin's perceptions of war, manhood, valor, and life and death are forever changed. The suffering and loss of life shatter her ideals. Determined to make a difference, Emmajin reconsiders her life and what she wants from it.

Daughter of Xanadu is finely crafted, with lots of detail about life in Xanadu and the customs of the Mongolian people in the late 1200's. Marco Polo's family who are merchants are portrayed as somewhat naive about the intentions of the Great Khan. Emmajin is a well developed character who, with her feministic character will appeal to young women readers. I wondered if it was possible in any way for a woman to become a warrior in Mongolian culture. Somehow, I am doubtful of this prospect. Nevertheless, this book is a great read and doesn't deserve the ending Yang wrote. The ending is somewhat anticlimatic, with the remaining chapters tying up the loose ends surrounding Marco Polo and Emmajin. I wasn't too keen on the suggestive ending either.

Overall though, this was a great read and I enjoyed the book. Historical fiction is hard to write well and I think Yang has accomplished this. She took a very unknown period in history and has made it accessible to young readers. That is what historical fiction is all about.

Rating: ****/5

Book Details:
Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jone Yang
New York: Delacorte Press 2011

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner

Threads and Flames is a fictional account of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire which occurred on March 25, 2011. This disaster forever changed the way factories treated their workers and helped to create support for workers unions and workers rights. At 4:45pm at the end of a Saturday workday, workers were in the process of leaving the building and collecting their belongings when fire broke out in the scraps of material beneath a table of sewing machines.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Company had the practice of locking all the doors and searching employees at closing time to make sure they did not steal from the company. All the doors in the building opened inwards which would have disastrous consequences for those trying to flee. The company also insisted that its building was fireproof and that the fire escape at the back of the building was sufficient to evacuate the building should a fire happen. Only 27 buckets of water were available to use in dousing any initial fire.

When the fire broke out on the eighth floor, it spread quickly due to the large amounts of cloth, bins of rags, hanging patterns and sewing machine oil. Trapped by the locked doors, barred windows and a fire-engulfed stairwell, many young women chose to leap from the eighth and ninth floor windows. The other choice was to burn to death. Witnesses at the scene describe the sickening sound of body after body hitting the pavement. In all 146 people either burned to death or leapt to their death.

More than anything, it was the sight of young women leaping to their deaths that motivated people to seek changes in the fire prevention laws and also in workplace safety laws. Although the owners of the factory were prosecuted, they were acquitted because they broke no existing fire laws.

Below is a short documentary in two parts on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire:

Friesner's novel starts off slow, carefully building both setting, background and characters. We first meet thirteen year old Raisa as she is recovering from typhus. There is a foreshadowing of the future catastrophe in Raisa's life in the description of Raisa's illness:
"Raisa's world was fire. The blaze was everywhere. She was lost in the heart of the flames. Wherever she turned, walls of heat beat against her like hammers. The air throbbed and rang, filling her head with merciless thunder."

When she recovers from her illness, Raisa learns that her older sister Henda who emigrated to American 4 years earlier to escape the unwanted attentions of an obsessed suitor has saved enough money for her to come to America. We follow Raisa as she leaves the Polish shetl and her beloved Glukel, a neighbour who took care of both her and Henda after the death of their mother. On the voyage to America, Raisa befriends another young Jewish girl, Zusa Reshevsky who is joining her family in New York. She also takes on the responsibility of caring for an orphaned child, Brina whose mother dies on the voyage. Upon arriving in New York city, Raisa soon learns that Henda has vanished from the tenement house where she was last living. From the information Raisa can gather, it seems that Henda was very distraught, believing that her sister Raisa had died from typhus. Raisa's search for Henda thus becomes a subplot within the storyline.

Despite initial struggles to find a place to stay and work, Raisa and Brina eventually settle in with the Kamensky's and their son Gavrel who is studying to be a rabbi. After several months, Raisa manages to get hired on at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory as a seamstress, thus setting the stage for the tragedy. Gradually Raisa begins to fit into American society, taking extra classes to learn English and even falling in love. But is she destined to lose everything, the man she loves, even her own life when tragedy strikes?

Friesner works in many details about young immigrants coming to America, the promise and expectation of a better life and the difficulties faced due to language barriers, poverty and discrimination which help us to form an understanding of life in America at the beginning of the last century. We learn how workers were taken advantage of in sweatshops and how they organized and fought to obtain respect and decent, safe working conditions. Friesner also portrays how segregated American society was at this time, with each ethnic group having it's own insular community often prejudiced towards outsiders as well as the strong class distinctions that still existed at this time.

Ultimately, despite the tragic setting of the novel, readers will be satisfied and will have learned much about American society during the early 1900's.

Highly recommended.

Book Details:

Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner
New York: Viking Group 2010
390 pp.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Cate of the Lost Colony by Lisa Klein

Cate of the Lost Colony is a fictional account of the settlement of Roanoke Island in Virginia Colony in 1587.
The story begins in England with Catherine Archer who is taken into the Queen's service as a lady-in-waiting. Catherine's father died during fighting in the Netherlands and she is brought to London, as a favour for the sacrifice of her father to his country.
Catherine soon becomes infatuated with the much older Sir Walter Ralegh, Queen Elizabeth's Sir "Warter". Ralegh was a favourite in the Elizabethan court for many years. Soon Catherine Archer and Walter Ralegh are corresponding and meeting on occasion - an possible scenario given court life in the 1500's. Ralegh in real life, did in fact seduce one of the Queen's maids and ended up marrying her so it's quite possible that he would be interested in a character such as Catherine Archer.
However, when Elizabeth discovers the relationship between Catherine and Walter she imprisons Catherine in the Tower of London and then banishes Catherine to the New World - specifically to the colony Ralegh is setting up on Roanoke Island.
Catherine is thrilled to be going to the New World because she hopes that she will finally be free to be with Walter Ralegh whom she assumes is also making the voyage. She also envisions herself and the colonists making the Indians of the New World good subjects of the Queen. From this point on, Klein explores what might have happened to the 100 colonists who land on Roanoke Island and who are never heard of again.
Klein's Cate is a heroine who is both brave and intelligent. Cate of the Lost Colony is a romanticized fictional account of what happened on Roanoke Island. I found the second half of the book more interesting than Klein's account of life in the Elizabethan court at the beginning of the novel. I appreciated the Cast of Characters at the front of the book but would have also liked a map to help me understand the location of the colony in the New World:

I highly recommend Cate of the Lost Colony for teen fans of historical fiction.

You can read an account of the first colony of Roanoke, which consisted of 100 colonists who settled there in 1585, online. It was written by Ralf Lane who was in charge of the colony under Sir Richard Grenville.

Book Details:
Cate of the Lost Colony by Lisa Klein
New York: Bloomsbury 2010

Sunday, March 6, 2011

When Rose Wakes by Christopher Golden

When Rose Wakes by Christopher Golden is the penultimate twisted fairytale. Golden takes the basic story of Sleeping Beauty and adds elements of horror while bringing it into a modern high school setting that young adults can relate to.

Rose DuBois wakes after a two year coma to find that she doesn't really remember anything or anyone from the time before the coma. She recognizes her two aunts, Fay and Suzette who tell her that they use to live in France and that they have brought her to America to receive the finest medical treatment possible. After going through physiotherapy, Rose is brought home to Boston's Beacon Hill to live with her aunts.

As she struggles to regain her life, Rose is haunted by terrifying nightmares she cannot understand but which seem vaguely familiar and appear to hold the clue to her past. When she mentions the dreams to her aunts they try to comfort her by telling her that they are "only dreams" that have no meaning.Instead they tell her to drink a bitter tea they make for her every day to help her regain her memory.

Eventually, Rose begins classes as a sophomore at St. Bridget's High School in Boston's Back Bay where she is known as "Coma Girl". Rose struggles to fit in and cope with the typical high school cliques and conflicts. It doesn't take her long to meet and befriend a handsome junior, tall, muscular, Jared Munoz and make a best friend in Kylie O'Neill. But she also makes enemies with Courtney Sauer who takes an instant dislike to Rose often becoming confrontational with her.

As time goes on bizarre happenings continue to plague Rose. Besides the increasingly detailed nightmares, there is also a strange woman who Rose discovers is following her as well as the creepy presence of black crows who appear to be watching her every move. Her Aunt's persistent warnings that she stay away from boys - all boys move Rose to rebel against their warnings and to pursue a relationship with Jared. She feels that Aunt Suzette and Aunt Fay are out of touch and unreasonably old-fashioned. Yet there are hints from her nightmares that guys are dangerous.

Eventually Rose begins to realize that her dreams are very similar to the fairytale story of Sleeping Beauty.Is she the princess? Is there a curse on her too and if so what part of it includes love and intimacy?

It isn't until Rose is violently attacked at school by Courtney that her Aunts tell her the truth about her past,the present about themselves and about the actual curse on her. I won't reveal how Golden weaves into the modern setting the story of Rose's past and the Sleeping Beauty fairytale because that would simply give away too much plot. But from this point on, the story moves breathtakingly fast. There is an epic battle between good and bad that involves Rose, her Aunts and their spurned sister.

The ending is bizarre and unsatisfying in some aspects. For me, this bizarreness ruined the book. It was strangely out of character with the situations and the characters involved. If someone were really trying to kill you and you knew they would never ever stop, would you spare them? I also found the entire premise of the fairytale element unworkable because the present day situation and that which occurred in the past is actually based on the dishonourable behaviour of Rose's father, the Duke of Rigauld.

There is an element of horror in this story but it's not overwhelming and Christopher Golden writing is well done in this regard. I wished there had been more character development for Rose's aunts but Golden does a great job developing the sweet romance between Rose and Jared. It is this romantic element which helps to hold the reader's interest in the middle of the novel when there is not much action occurring.

Overall, I think most young readers will enjoy When Rose Wakes, especially if they are fans of Golden's previous books. When Rose Wakes is a good blend of romance, mystery and horror. But I hazard that they will ultimately be very disappointed in the bizarre ending.

Book Details:

When Rose Wakes by Christopher Golden
New York: Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster) 2010


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Jesus of Nazareth, Vol II by Pope Benedicto

Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. II by Pope Benedict is an exploration of the final week in the life of Jesus including his trial, torture and execution.
This book is the second in his series about Jesus and picks up where Vol 1 left off after the Transfiguration.
I have the first volume and haven't made the time to read it - yet. But I plan to purchase this one and read them both.

The booktrailer from Ignatius Press: