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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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Student Review: Crank, by Ellen Hopkins (reviewed by Naomi H.)

Crank (Crank, #1)Crank by Ellen Hopkins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An incredible piece of literature, Crank by Ellen Hopkins breaks the traditional rules of a novel to create something extremely insightful that seems to have life in it. Written entirely in poetry, each chapter captures a moment or thought of the story. The book is about Kristina, the common ‘good-girl’. The one who does her work without complaint, hangs out with ‘good’ friends, never disrespects her parents, and definitely never messes with drugs. However this all changes for Kristina with a “court ordered visit” (10) to her father’s house. There Kristina begins to walk on the wild side of life, meeting boys, smoking cigarettes, and soon starting to do meth. Absorbed in this world Kristina realizes who she thinks she wants to be, and that person isn’t Kristina. Instead, she decides to become the other side of herself, a flirtatious, brave and drug loving girl who calls herself Bree. However, once the summer draws to a close Kristina must return home, but Bree follows her and so do her new habits. These characters breath life, and their thoughts and emotions really do affect the reader. Additionally, I think the use of poetry adds to the dimension of the Bree/Kristina conflict. For example, Bree’s mindset might be narrating a moment in her point of view, making the reader see Bree’s way of approaching life: wild and never satisfied. However in the style of that specific poem, every stanza the last word might be set apart. When only these set apart words are read as their own sentence, Kristina’s innocent perspective of the situation is revealed. I think this adds so much to the reality of the characters, showing how Kristina can never truly choose which side of herself she wants to be, there is always regret. It would be simple to say that the life lesson of Crank is to stay away from drugs, however I believe that there is more to it than that. Kristina refers to meth as ‘the monster’, and her dependence on it as their relationship. She uses sayings like: “soon I was making love with the monster” or “you fly until you crash two days/two nights/no sleep,/no food,/come down off the monster/you crash real hard”. This reference to meth as a live being really illustrates how out of control Kristina is. She doesn’t have the power to stop any of it because the living being of the monster takes her against her will, if not Bree’s. Based on this I think that the message of remaining in control of your own life is really one that the book conveys. Overall, Crank is a brilliant and highly addictive book that I would certainly recommend. ~ Student: Naomi H.

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Filed under *Student Review, Contemporary Realistic Fiction

Student Review: The Kitchen God’s Wife, by Amy Tan

The Kitchen God's WifeThe Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Despite some abusive stories, The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan is a warm-hearted book that depicts a mother-daughter relationship. Winnie is a Chinese-born woman who is a mother of an American-born daughter, Pearl, and a fugitive from her aggressive ex-husband. Hoping to improve her relationship with Pearl that was exacerbated when she slapped Pearl for not crying at her beloved second husband, Jimmy’s, funeral, Winnie shares her deeply hidden secrets with Pearl. While Winnie narrates her stories, there exist many ironies. First, the stories consist of her bitter relationship with her father who is one of the richest people but is not caring enough for his daughter to force a marriage with a pretentious Chinese man, Wen Fu, who later reveals himself as sexually abusive and egocentric. Also, Wen Fu appears as a pilot who fights for China from Japan when he cannot even protect his family well. As I read more and more stories, it really depressed me to see Winnie heartbroken by her father and frequently abused by her ex-husband. At the same time, it made me wonder why almost every Asia-related book portraits women as weak characters. Even though Winnie once attempts to kill Wen Fu and later escapes from him, it still doesn’t make her a strong woman. I would recommend this book for those of you who want to experience probable lives of people during a war between China and Japan but not for those who are advocates of feminism or domestic tranquility. ~ Student: Jenny K.

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Filed under *Student Review, Historical Fiction

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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Filed under Historical Fiction