Sunday, April 23, 2017

MMGM (4/24/2017): Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

For MMGM, I am recommending Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol.




Here's the publisher's description:

Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn't kidding about the "forever" part . . . 
Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who's been dead for a century. 
Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya's normal life might actually be worse. She's embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she's pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend—even a ghost—is just what she needs. 
Or so she thinks. 
Spooky, sardonic, and secretly sincere, Anya's Ghost is a wonderfully entertaining debut graphic novel from author/artist Vera Brosgol.

I really enjoyed this graphic novel! It is a very quick read (I read it in about an hour), as well as a very fun one. The main character, Anya, has a family who has only lived in America for several years, having come from Russia. Anya smokes in an attempt to seem cool, and she isn't a good student. Just a few pages in, Anya falls down a well, where she meets the ghost of someone who died in the well. Anya and the ghost become fast friends, at least until they have a falling out and Anya discovers something shocking about the ghost. Although Anya makes many mistakes, she is a likable character, and she is very realistic. I also enjoyed the book's theme, which is mainly about how we perceive people as having better lives than we do, when that may not be true. Finally, I love the art style of this book, which is drawn mainly in black and white, although the black has more of a purple look to it. All in all, Anya's Ghost is an entertaining, thoughtful, and just-creepy-enough read!

Poetry Sunday (4/23/2017): "Rain" by Mary Oliver

If you've ever read my early Poetry Sunday posts, you might be aware that I often recommended Mary Oliver poems. Today, however, I finally get to recommend my favorite, which I don't think was legally available online until now: "Rain" by Mary Oliver. I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

MMGM (4/10/2017): Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

For today's MMGM, I am recommending Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead (author of When You Reach Me).





(If you are confused by this cover, it is the redesigned version, not the original.)

Here's the publisher's description:

This brilliant, New York Times bestselling novel from the author of the Newbery Medal winner When You Reach Me explores multiple perspectives on the bonds and limits of friendship. 

Long ago, best friends Bridge, Emily, and Tab made a pact: no fighting. But it’s the start of seventh grade, and everything is changing. Emily’s new curves are attracting attention, and Tab is suddenly a member of the Human Rights Club. And then there’s Bridge. She’s started wearing cat ears and is the only one who’s still tempted to draw funny cartoons on her homework.  

It’s also the beginning of seventh grade for Sherm Russo. He wonders: what does it mean to fall for a girl—as a friend?  

By the time Valentine’s Day approaches, the girls have begun to question the bonds—and the limits—of friendship. Can they grow up without growing apart? 

I do love books that are timeless, but sometimes, a book has to be specific to a certain time. That is the case with Goodbye Stranger, which deals with complex problems in a well-written way. The book features several different stories and points of view, all of which, in some way, relate to friendship. The book has a great balance of humor and touching moments. However, above all else, the best part of this book is a major plot point involving Bridge's friend, Em (short for Emily). Em and a boy she knows start exchanging pictures, some of which are of their bodies, and Em's leaks into the school. Goodbye Stranger manages to discuss every major topic that could relate to this, such as who is at fault, how exactly bad this was, etc. This review doesn't do the book justice, but Goodbye Stranger's combination of discussing something important and current and of being an overall great book makes this a great book for any older middle-grader. (And just FYI, I love this book even more than When You Reach Me, if that helps sell you on it!)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

MMGM (4/3/2017) Classic Critique: The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

For MMGM, I am doing something a little different. As you might have noticed, all of my past MMGM posts have been recommendations, with little to no criticism. However, I have noticed that, for all the good books out there, some classics (i.e. those we are forced to read) aren't as good as many lesser-known books. Since I recently had to read a book for a school project, I have decided to review it while it's fresh in my memory. Therefore, I am reviewing The Red Pony by John Steinbeck, using the classic pros-and-cons style.




Pros:
  • Enjoyable style and voice. The Red Pony, originally written in 1945, revolves around a boy named Jody growing up on a ranch in what seems to be the 1920s. Steinbeck's narration of the four short stories comprising the book is enjoyable to read, featuring heavy use of figurative language and a distinct style and voice (the author's voice, not the main character's) that is omniscient, switching between several characters thoughts and feelings.
  • Interesting characters. Steinbeck crafts an interesting cast for the book. Jody is a somewhat strange boy (often noticing what shoes his father is wearing based on their sound, for instance) who rarely talks, while his father is often mean and distant, trying to seem tough, but often internally realizing his mistakes, only to immediately make them again out of shame.
  • Reasonable length. Unlike so many other books of its time, The Red Pony has 100 pages of material formed into a book that is exactly 100 pages. After reading so many 600-page classics, a shorter one is refreshing.
Cons:
  • Everything is gruesome. There are 5 parts of the book (all of which involve animals) that are described in a way that could traumatize anyone (e.g. cutting open a horse's windpipe, beating a buzzard to death with a rock). This is far too many, and Steinbeck's skill at description is actually problematic here, making it challenging to get through many parts of The Red Pony.
  • Everything is depressing. So much of this book is sad, from the fate of the titular character to the feelings of many characters (such as Jody's grandfather, who always tells the same stories from the past over and over, much to the dismay of Jody's father). Since the book is so short, there are very few happy or hopeful moments, making the book drag on, despite its short length.
  • Everything is misspelled. When character's names are misspelled as "Judy" and "Billly," it is slightly concerning (especially on a copy printed 50 years later—why hasn't it been spellchecked?)

Verdict:
This book has many good qualities, but, in my opinion, its unrelenting sadness severely lowers its ranking. However, it could
always be worse, and, for an old book, it is relatively enjoyable, featuring great writing (I can understand why it is a classic). I know many of you will probably disagree with me, but I still hope you enjoyed reading this review!

Poetry Sunday (4/2/2017): THREE POEMS!

For Poetry Sunday, I am recommending 3 different poems! They are "Afterwards" by Thomas Hardy, "The Oven Bird" by Robert Frost, and "Keeping Things Whole" by Mark Strand. I hope you enjoy these!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

MMGM (3/27/2017): The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli

For MMGM, I am recommending The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli.




Here's the publisher's description (copied from the back of the book):

Robin has grown up the son of a nobleman. He knows he must serve the king by becoming a knight. But Robin's destiny is changed suddenly when he falls ill and loses the use of his legs.
     A monk named Brother Luke rescues Robin and takes him to the hospice of St. Mark's. There Robin learns woodcarving and—much harder—strength and patience. When danger threatens the great castle of Lindsay, Robin discovers there are more ways to serve a king than riding into battle. As Brother Luke says, "Thou hast only to follow the wall long enough and there will be a door in it."

Originally published in 1949, this book is set even earlier (the 1300s). Unlike some historical fiction, however, this book is short (about 120 pages) and to the point. The majority of the book revolves around Robin as he tries to regain function in his legs and also learns skills such as woodwork and writing, with the monk who found him alone and with no ability to move. The story has an especially current message, which is that even those who are disabled are still beneficial to the world and to others. This is reinforced by the end of the story, in which Robin helps save a castle by discovering useful information. Unlike many Newbery books, this one is relaxing and calm, with no particularly sad moments. This is one of my favorite historical fiction novels of all time!