Tag Archives: discrimination

Student Review: The Freedom Writers Diary, by Erin Gruwell (reviewed by Jayden B.)

The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around ThemThe Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them by Erin Gruwell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gun violence, sexual abuse, rape, and drug addiction are just a few topics that are a part of the Freedom Writer’s everyday lives. The Freedom Writers Diary, an inspiring and heartwarming book, revolves around 150 minority students and one teacher and how they changed their lives and the world around them. Throughout the book, these students share their experiences regarding various hardships. These students owe most of their success to the one person who motivated and encouraged them to fight on, Erin Gruwell. These students were deemed “unteachable and at-risk” at the beginning of their freshman year, but are now changing the way people perceive them and how they see themselves.

With the honest and blunt entries, the reader is able to gain knowledge of their tragedies and the demons that haunt them. The stories that revolve around intense and serious subjects often make a reader think, “Wow, this could be in a movie.” These stories not only grab the reader from the beginning, but they also make the reader want to continue. As the book progresses and the closer the Freedom Writers get to graduation, the reader can clearly notice the change in writing style and fluency. This resembles the Freedom Writer’s progression, not only as writers, but also as people. However, the word use and fluency raises doubt about who actually wrote these diaries. It is not fully believable that a group of “at-risk” students could write these outstanding entries. For many of the Freedom Writers English is their second language, and it is hard to believe that their diary entries are 100% their own words.

This book not only targets students, but it also targets adults, teachers, administrators, and officials to understand how much of an impact a single teacher can have on hundreds of kids. It teaches important life lessons for students as well as teachers. For example, Ms. Gruwell transformed a “remedial” class into an engaging and thriving class. In Ms. Gruwell’s second diary entry, she explains how unfair the system is when these kids are never given a chance, she says, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you tell kids they’re stupid–directly or indirectly–sooner or later they start to believe it.” Many of these kids have been told they would never amount to anything by teachers, parents, and peers. When a brand new teacher comes in and begins teaching a completely different way, it changes their lives. Erin Gruwell’s freshman class did not know how lucky they were to have her as a teacher, but they soon would. Many teachers would consider Ms. Gruwell’s teaching style to be unconventional, but her crazy antics helped these students thrive. By working extra jobs and fundraising, Erin Gruwell was able to give her students a chance to make connections in life. She was able to take her kids on many field trips to museums, concerts, movies, and even to Washington D.C. to relate her classroom assignments with the global world. Without her guidance and optimism, these students would either have dropped out of school, or turned to the streets. This is exactly how all classrooms should be structured.

Overall, this book is a great read for all ages and captures the true meaning of being a great teacher. Having teachers that are invested in their work can dramatically change the atmosphere of the classroom. This book is a must read for those who are interested in changing and shaping the lives of young adults. ~ Student: Jayden B.

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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:‘Tis: A Memoir, by Frank McCourt (reviewed by Isabel C-S.)

'Tis‘Tis by Frank McCourt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fantastic addition to the already fabulous book Angela’s Ashes. The Pulitzer Prize winning author, Frank McCourt comes back to give us a phenomenal piece of literature that will have you screaming and crying at the same time. The memoir starts off where he left off last, crossing the ocean on a boat to come back to America. The rest of the story depicts and examines the life he leads there. All along the way he is met with stereotypes and people judging him because of his accent and his race. They say, ”Goddamn Irish always drinking,” and he is always told, “stick to your own kind”. The book embodies what it meant or might still mean today to be an immigrant of any kind with stereotypes following you around everywhere you go. As his life, and the story with it, progresses the reader finally gets an appreciation for how hard it really is to work your way up in the world. It might come as a bit of a shock for some readers, but overall it is well worth it to gain some overall knowledge about what our grandparents or great-grandparents faced during their first years in America. Before reading this book I highly recommend reading the prequel, Angela’s Ashes. While it is by no means necessary for understanding, it gives one a greater appreciation of Frank McCourt the character and the writer. This is an overall great book for anyone interested in immigration life. ~ Student: Isabel C-S.

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Student Review: When I Was Puerto Rican, by Esmeralda Santiago (reviewed by Shayla F.)

When I Was Puerto RicanWhen I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago, is about Esmeralda becoming an American. She was born in Puerto Rico and lived there for a while, but then her family moved to America. The book is about her transition from Puerto Rico to America and what she does in both places. She started off in the barrio (not so wealthy neighborhood) then to Brooklyn, NY, and then becoming a student at Harvard. I liked this book because it was entertaining, I didn’t get bored while reading it. I also liked it because it showed that you don’t have to be a rich white male to be successful. The booked showed how Esmeralda got to where she is and it wasn’t because everything was handed to her it was because she worked hard and she believed that she can do it. This book showed me that despite what other people say or think about you it doesn’t have to affect your life, the only thing that matters is how you see yourself and if you want something so bad and you work hard enough to get it then you will have it. The only reason why I didn’t like the book was because there were parts to the book where I couldn’t relate because Esmeralda talked about being hispanic and what it is like to be hispanic, but other than that the book was a good read and I advise anybody to check the book out. ~ Student: Shayla F.

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Student Review: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, by Sherman Alexie (reviewed by Nick M.)

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in HeavenThe Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie, the reader is brought into the world of the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington State. Through a compilation of short stories, Alexie shows the reader the hardships of the forgotten, neglected tribes that used to populate the United States. This collection illustrates the struggle faced by Native Americans accurately, but its change in narration and inconsistent timeline make it very hard to follow. At many points in this book, it is very unclear as to who is narrating and when the event took place in relation to the other stories. In addition to the narration and timeline being unclear, the text in general can be quite confusing. Sherman Alexie’s collection focuses on the guised meaning rather than the literal meaning of the text. These subtleties and lack of storyline deterred me and made it highly difficult for me to relate to the main characters, Junior and Victor. Themes also play an immense role in shaping the various storylines written throughout the book. Two of the main themes include alcoholism and identity, each represented within the two main characters, Victor and Junior. The world surrounding Victor becomes so bleak that he reverts to alcohol, as a way of escaping reservation life. Even as a child, Victor struggles to fit in, wearing “horn rimmed” “U.S. Government glasses”(171) and having the “other Indian boys [chase] [him] from one corner of the playground to the other.” (171) Junior also experiences similar struggles, finding his identity, and breaking an awful drinking habit. Both Victor and Junior fall in love with white women, and are both left by these women. Both try to embrace the world outside the Indian Reservation and fail, exemplifying the struggle Native Americans have in finding an identity. Ultimately, I do not recommend to book to anyone. The lack of plot and storyline make the stories very difficult to follow and comprehend. If you enjoy over analyzing ambiguous text and spending more time interpreting rather than reading, this book is for you. ~ Student: Nick M.

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Student Review: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, by Sherman Alexie (reviewed by Matthew M.)

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in HeavenThe Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In this compilation of short fiction stories, Sherman Alexie shows the sempiternal hardships and difficulties that Native Americans endure. The Native Americans in this book are located on Spokane Reservation, Washington State. Through the book’s depiction of this multi tribal society, the reader is presented with the conflicts and strife the Spokane people face. Alcoholism and discrimination run rampant in the lives of these Native Americans, who endlessly try to find their identity amidst a nation that wants to take it away. While The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven thoroughly illustrates the difficult lives of those living on the reservation, I did not enjoy the book. The narration is neither clear nor systematic, and the stories are not placed in chronological order. This makes it difficult to follow each character’s sequence of events. Alexie also focuses more on themes and symbols than building a storyline, which sometimes left me wondering about the specificity of each character’s events and actions. While Alexie’s style grants an ample opportunity for profound analysis, it does not yield to an emotional connection with Alexie’s two central characters, Victor and Junior. From beginning to end, these two characters battle with identity, a profound theme in the story. Toward the beginning of the book, Victor moves into Seattle to try and adapt to American society. In the end, he moves back to Spokane Indian Reservation after constantly being judged through stereotypes of a typical Native American. Junior also experiences problems fitting in with society. After having a child out of wedlock with a caucasian in college and being discriminated against by his teacher, he does not know where he belongs. When choosing between school and the reservation, he states, “It’s a matter of choosing my own grave” (242). Victor and Junior struggle to find their identity because they do not fit any societal norm. As a result, they live in perpetual exile. While this book effectively uses these two characters to convey the theme of identity, the lack of plot, action, and structure is my reason for giving it two stars out of five. Unless you want to deeply examine and analyze a book with profuse, opaque content, I suggest you leave this one on the library’s bookshelf. ~ Student: Matthew M.

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Shanghai Girls, by Lisa See

Shanghai GirlsShanghai Girls by Lisa See

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pearl and May Chen are “beautiful girls” in pre-WWII Shanghai, living a modern and glamorous life posing for calendar covers and shopping for the latest fashions. Their beautiful life comes crashing down when their father announces that he has gambled away all of their wealth and arranged for them to marry a pair of American Chinese brothers seeking Chinese brides. As they consider their fate, Japanese bombs begin to bombard their beloved Shanghai, and they begin a harrowing and horrific journey from Shanghai to Los Angeles. As they await release from the wretched Angel Island immigration facility, their sisterly bond is cemented forever with an inescapable secret. This secret, coupled with petty jealousies and misunderstandings, threatens to cleave the sisters’ relationship forever. The story is compelling and well written, but a second best to the author’s earlier novel, Snowflower and the Secret Fan.  Below, watch author Lisa See describe her book, and illustrate the sisters’ world in China and LA in the 1930s and 40s.

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SHANGHAI GIRLS by Lisa See from Expanded Books on Vimeo.

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