Sunday, October 31, 2010

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins


     This second book in the Hunger Games trilogy read so quickly, I hardly knew what hit me. It continues the story of Katniss Everdeen and her friend Peeta as they return from the bloody Hunger Games, a reality show/punishment put on by the government of Panem.
     The world of Panem created by Collins is a kind of post-apocolyptic country of 13 Districts, one of which has been blown to bits by the Capitol as punishment for revolution there. This book takes place after the Hunger Games in which Katniss and Peeta have won an unprecedented dual victory because of a seemingly innocent stunt pulled off by the presumed in-love couple. Now they must begin a life together and yet apart, a life where they must pretend they are happy with their fate and not forever changed and disheartened by the cruelty of the Capitol.  But the nation of Panem now sees in Katniss a true inspiration for revolution: she is someone who could save them all. But the Capitol is not full of dummies, and they threaten Katniss and Peeta to help squelch the seeds of rebellion before they begin to grow in the Districts and pose a problem forever.
     Eventually, though, the only thing the Capitol feels it can do to punish the Districts once again for their disobedience to their power is to schedule a new kind of Hunger Games for the "Quarter Quell". The new scenario is that the tributes, or players, will come from the pool of former winners of the games. Because there are only 3 former winners from District 12 and one of them is an old, out-of-shape drunkard, Peeta and Katniss are once again sent into the arena to fight to the death others who have already won the games at some point in Panem's history.
     Again there can only be ONE winner. Will Peeta once again protect Katniss from certain death, sacrificing himself? Or will Katniss now protect Peeta, a charismatic speaker and all-around wonderful human being, so that he can lead Panem into revolution? What of the other equally interesting characters/tributes Collins has created for this special Games? Will one of them be the sole survivor? You'll just have to read to find out.

The Color of Water by James McBride

     Memoirs are really not my thing, or so I keep telling myself. But maybe I'm wrong because I really enjoyed this one by James McBride. It's a touching, gut-wrenching, beautifully told story of how one black man grew up in a huge family led by a Christian-reformed Jewish mother. Yeah, imagine the stories.
     McBride's mother grew up an Orthodox Jew with an abusive, rabbi father and a handicapped, ridiculed, silent mother. All she ever wanted was to be loved, and she finally finds this love in the American South among the blacks who were just as poor and persecuted as her own family. She eventually falls in love enough to marry one black man, McBride's father, and she willingly moves into a black neighborhood, a primarily black Christian church, and a life where she simply refused to see the colors or religions of others around her. McBride says that before he went to public school, he never even realized his mother was white or different from him. She was simply his mother. This was simply their life.
     This idea that 10 children of mixed heritage living in the heart of New York City could grow up colorblind and committed to God is so wonderfully refreshing and soul-warming that I just couldn't stop reading this memoir. Alternately told in the words of McBride and his mother, the book unfolds easily, almost like a good fairy tale because it is so unbelievable yet real, so lovely and yet so heart-breaking at times, but always full of the great truths that I am trying so desperately to teach my own children. That truth is that all people are equal in the eyes of God, and we are all capable of great things no matter what our backgrounds. If we all took that idea with us to church or to meditation or to silent introspection, we would be better people indeed.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The premise of this book is absolutely terrifying to think about. As a lesson to society about the evils of bucking the system, the country of Panem's government has decided to sacrifice 11 of its children each year as atonement for  . . . I don't know or remember; I got so caught up in the action of the book, I really don't care about the why.

In this first book of an exciting YA series by Collins, each year there is a lottery from which one boy and one girl are drawn from each of the 12 districts of Panem. These 24 "tributes" are then put into a kind of "game show to the death" called The Hunger Games,  where 11 will die, and only one can survive. They are all ages from 12-18 with all different skill levels and economic backgrounds. The main characters, Katniss and Peeta, are from the poorest district, 12. All 24 are plunked down in a life-sized "arena" where they will have to hide, fight, hunt, and survive until there is only one left. And I thought "Survivor" was tough! I thought Jack and Kate had it hard fighting smoke monsters and polar bears on "Lost." Those people are all a bunch of pansies compared to the kids in The Hunger Games.

Collins has created a wild but believable world in Panem, where kids are tougher than their parents, government is scary, life is a struggle, and people are really into their reality shows. Huh . . . that sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it? The battle that goes on in the arena and the emotions that play out before, during, and after are intriguing to say the least and totally engaging. I can't wait to read the two sequels, Catching Fire and Mockinjay very soon. Let me know what you think!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman

Being a lover of books and all things literary, I was immediately sucked in to the story of Arcadia Falls.  It is told from the point of view of the main character, Ms. Rosenthal, a teacher who has recently lost her husband. While she and her daughter Sally reel from the tragedy of his death, they discover themselves poor and in need of a change from their lives filled with memories and grief. So, Rosenthal acquires a position with an artsy prep school called Arcadia where she will teach classes on myths and fairy tales and finish her thesis on the artist/author of a children's book called The Changeling Girl, which was written by the school's founder, Lily Eberhart.

As Chris Bohjilian does in The Double Bind with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Goodman intertwines the fairy tale of The Changeling Girl and its mysterious and tragic history with the more modern main story of Rosenthal and her daughter at the Arcadia school. What results is a mystery, a romance, a family history drama, and a ghost story all rolled into one very engrossing novel.

One other nice touch in the book is that the theme of the fairy tale of The Changeling Girl becomes like a metaphor for the life of the main character, and we as readers are drawn to the question of how we see ourselves and how others see us. Like the ending of the book, we discover that sometimes the answer to these questions is surprising and mysterious.