Category Archives: Contemporary Realistic Fiction

LaRose by Louise Erdrich

LaRoseLaRose by Louise Erdrich

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a big Louise Erdrich fan and this novel did not disappoint. Set on the outskirts of a Native American reservation the story begins with tragedy: a neighbor accidentally shoots and kill’s his neighbor’s 6 year-old son while hunting in their adjacent woods. In an effort to provide solace and justice to the suffering family, he and his wife, who is a half-sister to the child’s mother, “give” their youngest son LaRose to the family. The rest of the story is dedicated to the collective grief the two families suffer and the family histories that led them to this point. The story is gripping at times with lots of foreboding and beautiful metaphors. The characters are complex and well-wrought and the history of mistreatment and exploitation of Native Americans is palpable throughout. A highly recommended read. ~ Ms Dimmick

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Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Turtles All the Way DownTurtles All the Way Down by John Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed revisiting John Green’s smart, snappy, snarky, funny prose after a long break. I also appreciated his insight into the mind of an obsessive, compulsive teen, something he portrayed with empathy and realism. The plot, a “mystery,” definitely felt like a device for him to explore the characters and their relationships, which didn’t bother me much because that part was done well, but a mystery reader would be seriously disappointed by the predictability and anticlimactic nature of the ending. Read it if you’re a John Green fan or if you suffer from or want to learn more about obsessive compulsive disorder. ~ Ms Dimmick

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The Mothers, by Brit Bennett

The MothersThe Mothers by Brit Bennett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Mothers was an enjoyable read with a disappointing ending. The lack of a complete narrative arc left me wondering what the point of the story was, and in fact I wondered whether it was written as a cautionary tale for those considering abortion. Though the message was not actively anti-abortion, the teenaged abortion in this story seems to have left an indelible mark on the prospective mother, father, grandparents, friends and an entire church for years to come. Then again, the protagonist’s mother, who was apparently depressed over her fate which was decided at a young age due to an unplanned pregnancy, committed suicide. Maybe the message is just not to risk an unplanned pregnancy because you’re damned either way. The story was well-written, but felt unfinished. ~ Ms Dimmick

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Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, by Matthew Dicks

Memoirs of an Imaginary FriendMemoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Such a clever premise! Budo is 6 year-old Max’s imaginary friend, and he has survived longer than most imaginary friends (who typically disappear in kindergarten, when children make their own, real friends) because Max is “on the spectrum” and doesn’t have any real friends. Budo helps Max navigate the confusing social environment of school, and protects him as best he can from bullies and from “getting stuck.” But there are limits to Budo’s power in the real world, and when Max faces some serious danger, Budo feels helpless and incapable of mounting a rescue effort. Budo is also in danger, but of a different kind. If he is successful at getting Max to be independent and help himself, will Budo cease to exist like so many other imaginary friends? The book gave me great insight into the thoughts and challenges faced by autistic children while at the same time telling a faced-paced and thrilling story of manipulation, deceit and derring-do. I could have done without the author’s obvious agenda when it comes to certain styles and strategies of teaching, but it didn’t detract too much from the good story. ~ Ms Dimmick

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The Memory Book, by Lara Avery

The Memory BookThe Memory Book by Lara Avery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to this book on the Axis 360 app. The book originally came to my attention from a book review I read last spring. But when I was ready for a new book, I wasn’t exactly sure I wanted another book about a sick teenager. Yes, 18-year old Sammie was recently diagnosed with a genetic brain disease that will cause dementia and eventually death. Normally kids with this disease don’t even make it to high school. This has thrown quite a wrench into Sammie’s plans, which were big since she is a national-level debater and had already been accepted to NYU.

Despite my initial reservations, I was glad to have read this book, even if I ended up weeping in the parking lot as the book drew to a close. The author has structured the narrative in the form of a book that Sammie is writing to her future self to help her remember her life as the dementia sets in. She is sarcastic and funny, and not a little bit hard on herself at times. ~ Ms. Steiger

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The Sun Is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon

The Sun Is Also a StarThe Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. Natasha and Daniel meet in New York City on what might just be the most important day of each of their lives. Natasha, an undocumented immigrant from Jamaica, is on her way to a meeting that might just be able to avert the deportation of her family that night. Daniel, the son of Korean immigrants, is on the way to his interview for Yale, what his parent’s call the second best university (Daniel’s older brother goes to #1 university – Harvard). The book chronicles the day they spend together as Daniel tries to use a scientific method published in The New York Times to get Natasha to fall in love with him. Since I listened to this in audio via the Axis 360 app, it almost felt like Natasha and Daniel’s twelve hours together were unfurling in real time. ~ Ms. Steiger

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Americanah, by Chimandanda Ngozi Adichie

AmericanahAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a very well written story, and thought provoking, but in the end I almost resented the time investment required to get through it. I appreciated the insight into race in America as observed through the lens of a young, accomplished African immigrant woman, and I especially enjoyed the contrast with Nigerian culture, but I never really warmed to the protagonist. Ifem struck me as judgmental and superior without adequate empathy for the people who loved her. I found myself wondering why she inspired such deep devotion from at least three wonderful men, each of whom she needlessly and thoughtlessly wounded. They deserved better. Then again, perhaps that was what I was supposed to feel. Perhaps the author was also conflicted about Ifem? A worthy read for those exploring race in America, but prepare yourself for a significant commitment. ~Ms Dimmick

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Dumplin’, by Julie Murphy

Dumplin'Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Willowdean is the overweight teenaged daughter of a former beauty queen living in North Texas. You might think that would give her a bit of an insecurity complex, but Dumplin’, as her disappointed mom calls her, is actually quite content, and even confident, in her own skin. It’s that confidence that draws other girls who don’t fit the typical teenage beauty standards to Willowdean for friendship and guidance. It also attracts Bo, the hot private school boy who works with her at a fast-food restaurant and surprises her with his undeterred admiration. When Willowdean and her gang of atypical friends decide to enter their small town’s beauty pageant, a series of amusing and endearing escapades ensue. This book is pleasant read filled with the predictable teenage drama that romance, friendship and high school can bring, but stamped with its own brand of uniqueness in its small town North Texas setting (I had to Google pictures of homecoming mums to see what on earth they were!), its Dolly Parton sound track, and of course, its challenge to the American ideal of female beauty. Read this if you’re looking for some light, breezy, young adult romantic fiction. This is not the book for you if you’re seeking genuine depth or high literary quality. ~ Ms Dimmick

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Challenger Deep, by Neal Shusterman

Challenger DeepChallenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Challenger Deep is a perfect example of why reading fiction is so valuable. Studies show that reading fiction builds empathy, and in this case a reader’s empathy is developed by inhabiting the troubled mind of Caden, a promising teenaged boy who is descending into severe mental illness. No matter how much nonfiction I read about schizophrenia and related psychotic diseases, I would never grow to appreciate the terrorizing experience of losing touch with reality, increasing paranoia and compelling hallucinations the way that I did by reading this book. The author’s son helped to illustrate the book, and provided the insight necessary to bring it to life, based on his personal experience as a teen with mental illness. This was at times difficult to read, not only due to the nature of the topic, but also because of the way in which the narrative switched sporadically between Caden’s real life and his hallucinated one. The latter was disturbing and filled with symbolic connections to reality that kept me guessing and hoping for a pathway back to normalcy. This is an important book, and I’m grateful that the author and his son had the strength to write it. ~ Ms Dimmick

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Student Review: Penelope, by Rebecca Harrington (reviewed by Katie D.)

PenelopePenelope by Rebecca Harrington

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Penelope is a humorous and amusing book written by Rebecca Harrington, about a socially awkward girl named Penelope who is starting her freshman year at Harvard. When starting her time at Harvard, Penelope is faced with the challenge of making new friends, a task which turns out to be more difficult than she had expected. When she first arrives at Harvard, Penelope discovers that she is rooming with two other girls, Emma Green and Lan Wu, and expects that the two of them will end up being her good friends. However, she could not have been more wrong. Emma is snobby and over-privileged, and admits that the only reason she managed to get into Harvard was because her New York socialite parents had ‘connections’. On the other side of the spectrum, Lan is an eccentric ‘loner’, who’s only friend is the cat that she brought with her to Harvard. Penelope does not feel any connection with either of these people, in fact, she hates Lan and is hated by Emma. The book describes Penelope’s journey through her freshman year, and her struggle fit in. What makes it even harder for Penelope to find her way, aside from her social incompetence, are the challenges that she is faced with along the way. From boy problems, lecturers who loathe her, and a mother trying to live her dreams through her daughter, Penelope faces it all. The book touches on the topic of coming of age, as we watch Penelope grow throughout her first year of college, into a more confident and self-assured character. I would really recommend this book to anyone who likes to read modern books which have topics that are relatable to them, however if you are looking for a thriller or a plot with lots of action, I would not recommend his book, as it there is not a lot of drama in it, just descriptions of Penelope’s hilarious encounters as she navigates her way around Harvard. ~ Student: Katie D.

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