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Student Review: The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini (reviewed by Alyson S.)

The Kite RunnerThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book I read was The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. The book is about Amir, a boy in Kabul and his servant Hassan. Amir is having trouble connecting with his father (Baba) and spends most of his time writing. Amir is jealous of Hassan’s relationship with Amir’s father and tends to tease Hassan on the fact that he is illiterate. After a traumatizing experience between Assef ( a bully) and Hassan, Amir and Hassan’s relationship is never the same. Amir sees the incident, but doesn’t say anything. Amir and Baba have to go to America because of the fighting going on in Afghanistan. Amir grows up and becomes a writer and gets married. Amir receives a letter from Rahim Khan (Baba’s friend) and has to return to Kabul in relation to Hassan’s son. Some topics the book covers are guilt, redemption, and father-son relationships. I think that other people should read this book because it conveys strong messages and reveals some truths about society. Readers that should avoid this book are children because the book has some mature scenes and messages that children would not understand or are ready for. Readers that would enjoy this book are mature adults who enjoy stories that are dramatic and have powerful messages.~ Student: Alyson S.

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Student Review: A People’s History of American Empire, by Howard Zinn (reviewed by Dan B.)

A People's History of American EmpireA People’s History of American Empire by Howard Zinn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As we all know, America is the land of the free, a land of wonder and pure accomplishments. It is the only country in the world that has never done wrong without a good reason. Or at least that’s what our political leadership wants us to think. In reality, America is a country like any other. It does good and it does bad, and if you’ve ever decided to read one of Howard Zinn’s books, you’re definitely not reading for the good. But that does not mean this book is bad. In fact, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of American Empire is a thought-provoking collection of some of America’s darkest secrets.

Journeying through its past, readers will learn of the accomplishments America does not want you to know, and the reasons for which said deeds have been pushed so far out of our view. Illustrated in the simplistic design of Mike Konopacki’s brilliant cartoons, every page is rich with flavor and emotion. The book starts with its training wheels ripped off, with Zinn putting his views at the forefront of this text, and they are quite interesting.

With our story starting at the beginning of the 21st century, we find Zinn outraged by the 9/11 bombings of the time, but not for the reasons one would normally expect. He didn’t curse the bombers or scream for some war of revenge. No he screams for a different reason altogether. He screams instead at the United States’ refusal to learn from their past. He screams, in all the honesty of his mind, that, “[The U.S. Government] learned nothing, absolutely nothing, from the [war and terrorism] of the 20th century!” (3). Zinn, of course, was commenting not on the bombings themselves, but instead the address President Bush would later give, an address that promised the bombing of the very same terrorists who bombed us. And with that, the horrors of the 20th century started once more.

“But what horrors?” You may ask. “World War 1? 2? Afghanistan?” You ask again, and while you are correct in some ways, you still misunderstand. It’s not the wars themselves that caused the 20th century’s terror. No, it was much more. The true horror of the 20th century was caused by its leaders. In particular, it was its drunk leaders. Leaders so drunk on their own power and ambitions that they would do anything to climb the social ladder. Massacres and sabotage of innocent populations was but a small fraction of their misdeeds. They were the true horrors of the 20th century, and if you wish to learn more, about America, about secrets or about the 20th century in general, then this book is for you. But don’t take my word for it. Read it for yourself and discover A People’s History of American Empire. ~Student: Dan B.

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Student Review: Ana’s Story, by Jenna Bush (reviewed by Sky M.)

Ana's StoryAna’s Story by Jenna Bush

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Imagine being born with HIV/AIDS in a community that is not at all accepting. Imagine never feeling loved and like a burden to everyone around you. How does that make you feel? Well, this story explains the life of someone who experienced those exact things. It takes us through the life of a 17-year old mother in South America named Ana who lived full of loneliness and secrecy for most of her childhood. Her story not only explains the difficulty of being someone born with HIV/AIDS, but also covers the raw and gruesome details that most people are reluctant to discuss. Along with the struggles of living with HIV/AIDS it shines a light on some other serious problems Ana faced in her life such as poverty and sexual abuse. Although many somber matters were involved, the author, Jenna Bush, kept the readers engaged by including some of the typical teenage obstacles such as school, love, and making new friends. Because this story explained her life up until present time, this book is not for readers who enjoy books ending with full closure. Ultimately, despite the topic of this book, I was very pleased by how the story went and loved that throughout it all Bush managed to capture Ana’s pure and youthful personality. This book is a quick and easy read, very informative and worth reading. ~ Student: Sky M.

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Student Review: The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls (reviewed by Gali G.)

The Glass CastleThe Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jeannette Walls reveals her remarkable past in her memoir, The Glass Castle. This coming-of-age story unfolds Wall’s unstable childhood filled with negligence and abuse. Walls has been through many hardships throughout her life, yet she is able to write maintaining the point of view that she had in that moment of her life, generally withholding judgement that she felt later. One of the most intense books I have ever read, this book is even more heartbreaking because it happened in real life. Walls’ family is so dysfunctional that it only gets more and more painful to read throughout the book. The fact that I, an unbiased third party, gave up on her father almost immediately, whereas she tried to keep faith in her father for so many years sheds light on the powerful effect that family has had on her, clouding her judgement to a downright dangerous extent. Although it can become quite difficult to read, this is definitely one of my favorite books of all times. Jeannette Walls does an excellent job in the portrayal of her experiences, tackling very difficult subject matter in an engaging, heartrending memoir that I would easily recommend to anyone I know. ~ Student: Gali G.

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Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan TrainOrphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Available as a free ebook from NSHS Library. Orphan Train is a perfect blend of historical and contemporary realistic fiction–just the thing to hook newcomers to the historical genre. The hook: Molly Ayer will turn 18 in a few months and age out of the child welfare system in coastal Maine where she needs to find a community service project to save her from eviction from her foster home and banishment to juvie. Vivian Daly is 91 and wants help sorting through her life’s memories stored in the attic of her grand home in Molly’s community. A seemingly unlikely friendship is formed as Molly helps Vivian in more ways than she ever imagined, and finds confidence and purpose in the process. The history: Vivian’s tale is told through flashbacks to the 1920s through the 40s, beginning with being orphaned as a young immigrant in New York City and being sent West on an Orphan Train in hopes of being adopted by a loving family. The reality of the fate of the orphan train passengers is something far less rosy. The story is engrossing, and the parallels between the two protagonists’ lives help to bridge the historical to the contemporary for readers who would otherwise stear clear of the historical genre. The writing is solid but not noteworthy; this is an enjoyable, enlightening story, not high literature. ~ Ms Dimmick

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Bittersweet, by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

BittersweetBittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I found this book to be an utter disappointment. It held such promise for a summer read: set on a charming family compound on Lake Champlain in Vermont, young, wealthy, beautiful characters with a dark family secret and a plucky outsider protagonist who yearns to belong to this exotic and tantalizing world. Oh, and of course, romance. Unfortunately the book was contrived, not credible, and forced. It relied on the standard “rich are evil” trope. There was far too much emphasis on predictable description and no depth to the characters. The mystery was the only thing that kept me going and even that was disappointing. ~ Ms Dimmick

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Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s hard not to just repeat what John Green says in his NYT book review of Eleanor & Park, because as is usually the case, I am in full agreement. Rainbow Rowell has created a touching and luscious romance framed by the gritty reality of what it’s like to be both poor and heavy, or mixed-race and different, and in high school in Omaha in 1986. Eleanor is overweight, has lots of freckles and bright red, frizzy hair which she has to wash with dish soap because her family can’t afford shampoo. She dresses in an eclectic, clownish wardrobe in part to hide her size, but also because dressing from Goodwill requires creativity and a unique sense of style. She has just returned from a year of exile in another home because her alcoholic, abusive stepfather threw her out. She lands on the bus next to a “stupid Asian” Park, who despite his unfriendly reception to her unwelcome presence on the bus was the only kid willing to allow her to sit. Park is half Korean, half Irish and comes from a loving family with deep roots in their lower-middle class Omaha neighborhood. Park’s history grants him relative immunity from the relentless school bus bullying, but his love of comics and punk music and his sensitive nature isolate him. As Eleanor begins to take refuge in reading Park’s Watchmen comics over his shoulder, Park surreptitiously slows his page turns to accommodate her reading pace. This is the start of something beautiful, as their bond over comics, and later music, and much later over one another’s physical presence grows and intensifies. Rowell perfectly captures the earnest and breath-taking emotions of early first love and yanks the reader along with her characters for that perilous roller-coaster ride. The language in the book is sometimes graphic, but always true to the characters, the era and the situation. The writing is well crafted. My only complaint is that some of the dialog and manners of speech are scripted for today and not 1986 (e.g., things like ending a sentence with “right?” or emphasizing single words with periods like, “Prom. As if.” I was young in 1986. We. Didn’t. Do. That.)  Read this book if you want to know what it feels like to fall in love when you’re 16. It’s awesome. ~ Ms. Dimmick

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Student Review: Brewster, by Mark Slouka (reviewed by Siena S.)

BrewsterBrewster by Mark Slouka

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Many of us have dreamt of one day escaping our small towns that seem to confine us so well; breaking the walls down and finding our places in the world is what we were meant to do. The beautiful imagery and stunning conclusion, found in Brewster by Mark Slouka, are entirely worth the wait. Slouka brings his book to life through the journey of Jon Mosher, a teenage boy living in the small town of Brewster, New York in 1968. The reader watches as Jon, an outcast of a student, tells the story of his high school experience as he makes and loses friends, learns the difficulties of growing up, and tries to escape from his life in Brewster. The voice used clearly demonstrates the mind of a boy who truly does not understand much of what is going on around him but attempts to decipher it as best he can. Despite some of the situations being unlikely to occur now, the characters are still easy to relate to because of Slouka’s detailed descriptions and the emotions he draws out of each character. The book may be a bit vulgar and does drag out at points, but it is written with skill and precision, as well as a voice that really gets into your head and makes you feel strongly for each of the characters. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone willing to read it. Each sentence of the book has something powerful to say; as Jon says, “We could change the world, rearrange the world, but that’s not how it felt, ever. Not in Brewster. How it felt was like somebody twice as strong as you had their hand around your throat. You could choke or fight,”(15). ~ Student: Siena S.

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Student Review: Girlchild, by Tupelo Hassman (reviewed by Sophia F.)

GirlchildGirlchild by Tupelo Hassman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“‘Someone’s got to make it and it has to be you’”

Though we learn many things in our high school careers, there is one question that tends to go unanswered: How does one survive? I believe Girlchild is a beautiful and poetic telling of the struggles of life both extreme and common, spoken about through the voice of a young girl growing up in 1970s Nevada.

In Girchild by Tupelo Hassman, the antagonist, Rory Dawn Hendrix, is forced to learn how to cope with her hostile surroundings and harrowing past. Growing up in a trailer park outside of Reno, Rory struggles with a multitude of problems ranging from poverty and sexual abuse to mental illness, addiction, and loneliness. Rory is characterized through multiple forms of writing such as vignettes, social worker documents, newspaper clippings, and The Girl Scout Handbook. Her character portrays the ups and downs of life and the sometimes hopeless looking situations that everyone is faced with now and then. A recurring theme throughout the book is the idea that life can be drastically changed by certain events. In many books, pivotal moments may seem like just points on a straight line. In Girlchild, the author realistically portrays the butterfly effect traumatic events can have on a person.

I would recommend this book to anyone who feels ready to be left in deep thought about how circumstances and events beyond our control shape our lives and how we should view others who don’t have the advantages we do. ~ Student: Sophia F.

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Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple HibiscusPurple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love it when an author introduces me to a time, a place and a culture that I could never discover without her. This time it was Nigeria following a coup and the culture was revealed through a diverse cast of African characters who inspired both my love and disgust. Told through the eyes of Kimbili, the teenaged daughter of a wealthy, educated and tyrannical father, the story unfolds with a sense of foreboding that only intensifies over time. Kimbili and her brother Ja Ja’s lives are governed by the suffocating schedules and paralyzing expectations of their father, whose tyranny is inspired by his fanatical attachment to his Christian faith. Kimbili and Ja Ja’s sheltered existence is suddenly brought into sharp contrast when they spend a week visiting their cousins in a much poorer home filled with love, laughter and intellectual stimulation. The reader yearns to comfort Kimbili as she struggles to make sense of these starkly divergent ways of life and pays an agonizing price for questioning her father’s wisdom. This is at once a painful and beautiful read. ~ Ms. Dimmick

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