Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Flowers for Algernon – thought-provoking and engaging

Flowers-for-Algernon-_book_coverTitle: Flowers for Algernon

Author: Daniel Keyes

Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes, is the story of a man named Charlie Gordon. Charlie was born with a brain disorder that caused him to have an IQ of just 68. However, Charlie has just been approved to pilot a radical operation that will turn him into a genius. Well, human pilot. It’s already been tried on a rat named Algernon, and it was an unqualified success. The story is told as a series of “progress reports” written by Charlie after the operation, for the purpose of documenting the effects of the operation for science. The operation is a fast success, and soon Charlie has an IQ of 185 and is an expert in every subject. But can his humanity survive the change?

For me, Flowers for Algernon was an extremely engaging and thought-provoking book. The book starts out with a quote from Plato comparing visual impairment with mental impairment, and admonishing anyone who would laugh at those with either. This seems like a straightforward thing to do. Only a deeply cruel person would laugh at a disabled person. But Flowers shows us that even our most well intentioned acts can carry unconscious cruelty. The scientists who design the operation, the medical community, even his own mother are all trying to “fix” Charlie. But, as Plato said, “the bewilderments of the eyes are two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light.” At the beginning of the story, Charlie was entirely in the dark, the worlds of politics, academics, and religion closed off to him because of his illness. Yet, when he comes into the light, is he not equally blinded?

As he gains intelligence, Charlie very quickly realizes that most of those whom he thought of as friends were actually laughing at him, patronizing him to feel better about themselves. He starts to see people for who they really are, frauds trying to navigate their way through life. As he surpasses everyone in intelligence, people start to resent him, and his social relationships suffer. He finds himself no more a part of the world than he was before. I was absolutely absorbed by Charlie’s transformation, from what was essentially a small child to an adult. The characters in this book are very believable, from the scientists that designed the procedure, Dr. Strauss and Dr. Neimar, to Charlie’s former teacher and current love interest, Miss Alice Kinnian. Everyone had a different, unique reaction to Charlie’s change, and they all teach him something about what it is to be human. This was probably my favorite part of the story, during his transition from “idiot” to genius.

There are too many themes in this story to count: The benefits of innocence, the insecurity of mankind, the limits of intelligence, the allegory of life. Yet what remains most striking is the emotional attachment that we feel for Charlie during the course of the novel. One of the things that makes me personally feel the most emotional is when someone who clearly is in a terrible situation nonetheless maintains a positive attitude. Charlie, and we imagine Algernon as well, don’t want people to feel sorry for them. All they really want is to impress their families and peers. In my opinion, Keyes is telling us that we have no obligation to do so. Charlie so desperately wanted to be smart, he never realized that what he had – his innocence, his kindness, his drive, and his love of people – was worth more than that. Life isn’t a contest like Algernon’s maze, after all. No matter what you do, you’ll reach the end. The value comes from the relationships that you form in the somewhere in the middle. A lot of society’s ills come from people taking themselves too seriously, worrying too much about their own pride. As Charlie puts it, “Its easy to have frends if you let pepul laff at you. Im going to have lots of frends where I go.”

-Jacob, Greenwood, Teen Blogger

GWD

Fangirl – a tale of fiction, family & love

fangirlTitle: Fangirl

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Summary: Cath is a Simon Snow fan (a spoof of Harry Potter) and for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, surrounded themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere. Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

Six Word Review: A tale of fiction, family and love.

I started reading because: It caught my interest with its relatable story line and I fell instantly in love. I feel as if I am a part of Cath because I am so much like her.

I kept reading because: I was taken in by her story and I couldn’t put it down until the end.

I would give this book 9/10 stars because it’s interesting and unique. I feel as if this is the perfect tale for anyone to read because it’s so relatable. I loved the snippets of her fan fiction story that the author puts in her story. The only things that hung on me were some of the characters.

I loved the fan fiction stories that Cath wrote. I don’t usually like fan fiction but something about her writing felt fresh and original. Packed with action and romance I couldn’t turn away from them.

I hated the way some of the characters were established. Some of them started out in the book with good intentions but ended as nothing more than selfish pricks.

If the lead character was in a high school yearbook, they would be voted Most Likely To:    Write Fan Fiction.

– Rachel, Green Lake, Teen Volunteer

GLK

Tortall and Other Lands – a Collection of Tales

tortalTitle: Tortall And Other Lands – A Collection Of Tales

Author: Tamora Pierce

Summary: A series of short stories mostly set in the fantasy country of Tortall and its surrounding areas.

Gut reaction: Girls, magic, religion, inner strength

Why: Tamora Pierce, as always, writes about magical girls and inner strength. She also touches on religion and acceptance this time, with a religion that’s clearly Islam under another name and some social pressure thrown in. A few stories are continuations of her previous novels. She’s a good writer, but not the best. I think she handled the Islam stories very well, but I’m not Muslim, so I can’t say much on her accuracy. Also, for once she wrote from a male perspective, and that, too, ended up well.

Who would like this book: Tamora Pierce fans, feminists, fantasy/magic fans.  I enjoyed it.

–Lexie, 16, West Seattle

WTS

The Stellar Six of Gingacho – Please bring the good old days back!

ssog1Title: The Stellar Six of Gingacho

Author: Yuki Fujimoto

Summary: A girl tries to reunite her childhood friends

Gut reaction: I love this!

Why: As a nostalgia addict, I can deeply connect with Mike’s struggle to get her friends back together and into a close group once more. The desire for things as they were is both impossible and human nature. The characters are mostly solid, although a few are flimsy, and the setting is very heart-felt. I immediately empathized with the characters and cheered them on in their struggles. I hope it ends well, because I’m too focused on the past to predict where it’ll end up in the future. Please bring the good old days back!

Who would like this book: shoujo fans, slice-of-life fans, shounen fans, other nostalgia addicts. I, of course, will doggedly follow it until the end.

–Lexie, 16, West Seattle

WTS

Jellicoe Road – Unusual mystery. Believable characters. Fast-paced.

JellicoeTitle:  Jellicoe Road

Author:  Melina Marchetta

Summary: Taylor Markham, who was originally abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was 11, is now a 17-year-old trying to piece together her past all while juggling being the leader of her boarding school dorm, competing with other schools in their “territory wars,” and (maybe) falling in love. All of this is made more complicated when her guardian, Hannah, disappears, leaving Taylor with only Hannah’s manuscript written about 5 kids in the 1980’s.

Six Word Review: Unusual mystery. Believable characters. Fast-paced.

I give this book 8/10 stars. This was a very compelling read.  Marcheta writes with unusual style—somewhat similar to Ransom Riggs’ in that both of these authors write in a sort of surreal, perhaps fairy-tale-esque tone, even when the book itself is realistic fiction.  This is especially true of the excerpts from Hannah’s manuscript.  Overall, readers can connect to the characters, even if they’re not always likable, and the plot is engaging.

I started reading it because my best friend gave me this book as a gift in maybe 6th grade, and while I read it, I just remember being really confused.  I always meant to re-read it, and after a few years, I picked it up again when I needed something to read on an hours-long plane trip.  I kept reading because I was intrigued by the characters and struck by the unusual voice of the story.

Gut Reaction:  Really good book, but when reading it, it can feel really confusing due to the number of characters and the sections of Hannah’s novel placed unannounced throughout the text.

What you hated: there were a few plot holes that caught my attention, ranging from small *SPOILER ALERT* (character using cell-phones after readers were told there was no service) to large (the author refers to one character killing another even when the author didn’t make that clear in the first place).

If the main character were stuck on a deserted island, they would: Taylor would probably get angry first and then figure out practical solutions: finding shelter, food and water, all while plotting how to get off of the island.

This book reminded me both of Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, in addition to Jonathan Safran Foer’s work because they have similar, if a little odd, styles.

Who would like this book: mystery book lovers, people who like books within books.

Websites of Interest:
Melina Marcheta’s blog
MM’s Website
Publisher’s site

–Emma, Greenwood, Teen Blogger

GWD

 

 

Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat

Red

Title: Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat

Author: Gail Jarrow

Summary:  In the early 1900s, an epidemic spread across the southern states. Victims showed physical symptoms – like rashes and digestive problems, as well as mental illnesses.  Many went crazy and committed suicide.  It was a medical mystery with many suspects, and only one brilliant doctor would figure it out.

Six Word Review:  Mystery illness in the South solved!

I give this book 9/10 stars.  It’s a great non-fiction book about solving a real puzzle, but it had too many pictures of the sick patients. Yuck!

Gut Reaction:  Ewww… but what is causing it??

​I loved how deduction was used to finally solve the mystery.  The disease was very tricky–it mostly affected women (but not always); it was mostly in the South (but not always); sometimes it would make people go crazy (but not always); it affected the children in orphanages, but not their caretakers.  Looking at the clues to figure it out was really fun.  Lots of different theories were tested, but only one was right!

This book reminds me of An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic in 1793 by Jim Murphy, which won many awards and received high reviews by top journals.

Confession:  I couldn’t wait to find out what caused the disease!  I skipped ahead to the end and then went back to read the rest of the book!

–Guest Blogger Amy L., Magnolia Librarian

MAG

Three in Love – high school threesomes?!

Three in loveTitle: Three In Love

Author: Shioko Mizuki

Summary: High school threesome

Gut reaction: We’re allowed to have polygamy in media now? Why wasn’t I told before?

Why: The story is actually pretty tame and simple, but I do like it. The main girl, Machiru, and her love rival decide to date their love interest together and Machiru is really fond of the other girl as well. Unexpectedly, the characters are deep and complex, insofar as shoujo goes, and the story isn’t predictable or boring. A grounded shoujo is so rare these days that upon discovery I become inconsolably happy.

Who would like this book: Shoujo fans, manga fans in general, people in threesomes? I’m happy and will follow it until it ends.

Lexie, West Seattle

WTS