Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Spoiler Alert

I review a lot of books. That means I read a ton, because I don’t chose to review everything I read. I try to be careful not to give out spoilers in the review. I once mentioned a plot device an author used in a book I won’t name here. It was a totally phony way of getting the protagonist out of a predicament, and I still maintain the author cheated. I noted that plot device in a review and got a nasty-gram from someone telling me I had spoiled the book by telling them what happened so they saw no point in reading. I had ruined the whole story for him/her.


A: I only talked about one of many incidents in the story.  B: that incident had nothing to do with the eventual resolution (although I suppose if the protagonist had been beaten then the story might have ended). 

But that made me think of the whole idea of Spoilers and the idea that knowing the end can make a book not worth reading.

Last week I read a book I could not put down. Before I opened the cover I knew the plot. Knew the characters, the hero, heroine, villain, who won and who lost, how and why. I’ve heard the story over and over since I was a kid. I’ve even taught the story to other kids as an adult. But the author kept me hanging on every word. The book was titled Esther. Yeah, that Esther, the story many of us heard in Sunday School. Like I said, I’ve taught that story to students. It’s all about … well, just in case you are the one person who never heard it, I won’t spoil things for you. I’m not trying to promote the book, so I won’t tell you which one – there are dozens of versions of the  story out there.  The point is, even knowing what would happen next, I kept going for hundreds of pages all the way through the epic final battle.  Because this book had more than just the plot – this story had VOICE.

I still can’t define voice, but I know it when I read it. Voice is the reason I reread favorite books again and again. Why I read a book even after I’ve seen the movie. (And why people still cry that the book was better).  

If the writing is fantastic, the story simply can’t be spoiled.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Review - Tua and the Elephant

Tua and the ElephantTua and the Elephant by Randal Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story is a little younger than I usually read, definitly middle grade, but totally enchanting. Little Tua (whose name means peanut because she was so small at birth) brings us her world, Thailand, as she struggles to rescue a baby elephant from the men mistreating her. In the process we meet her loving and hard-working mother, her aunt the actress who considers the world her stage and everyone a potential audience, and the men and women of the market who love little Tua and consider her part of their family.

There are also the bad guys, who even steal from a poor beggar woman. We learn a lot about Thailand, the culture and its people. Tua, while poor, has everything she needs, including empathy and a willingness to sacrifice for others. She sets off to take the elephant she names Pohn-Poun becasue if one Pohn means happiness then two has to be perfect.

The villains are perfect for the age range, one cruel but inept, the other a follower who shows what happens when you don't know how to say no. The added bonus is learning about the culture of Thailand and how the people feel about elephants as Tua takes Pohn-Pohn to a sanctuary and a happy ending for everyone.

A perfect book for the early years, with gorgeous illustrations.

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Book Review - Fighting For Dontae

Fighting for DontaeFighting for Dontae by Mike Castan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story depicts the struggles of a young man and his friends in the inner city. Javier is in seventh grade and joins a gang because the gang says so - they jump him and after being badly beaten in the initation he is in, no choice in the matter. But he does chose to stay as out of things as possible. Students will understand his struggle to be himself, when the friends he has grown up with turn to drug use and violence. His father is in and out of jail, more in than out. When he comes home things are great, but eventually he breaks a law and ends up back inside.

Javier has one thing going for him. A teacher that he learns to like and respect takes an interest in him. When he is forced to do a service project, that teacher recruits him as an aide to the special ed class she teaches. At first concerned that his friends will call him just another "retard", he learns to care for the kids he cares for, and have pride when he can help them. And when that teacher lets him know she beleives in him, his natural intelligence and empathy come to the fore. Dontae and the other kids need him, and that need serves as a counter pull to the call of the gang, the increasing violent confrontations his friends are involved in, and the drugs that surround him.

At times the story gets a little preachy. But it shows the difference a caring adult can make if he/she says just the right word at the right time in a young person's life.

Yes, there is cursing, there is a gang, and these are real kids, not saits. And yes, there is drug use, one of many temptations Javier and other real kids have to confront and learn to avoid. Watching Javier say no may help other kids learn to do the same thing. And watching Javier help Dontae and the other kids int he class serves as an example of the power that caring for someone else can have for the giver.

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