Saturday, February 17, 2018

MMGM (2/19/2018) Classic Critique: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

I have had to read yet another classic novel for school, so I've decided to review it this week. For MMGM, I am reviewing The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.




Here's the publisher's description:

The best-selling coming-of-age classic, acclaimed by critics, beloved by readers of all ages, taught in schools and universities alike, and translated around the world.

The House on Mango Street is the remarkable story of Esperanza Cordero, a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become. Told in a series of vignettes—sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous—Sandra Cisneros’ masterpiece is a classic story of childhood and self-discovery. Few other books in our time have touched so many readers.

Pros:
  • The characters. One of the best parts of The House on Mango Street is the characters. The main character and narrator, Esperanza, is a true-to-life combination of a girl who tries to have fun and enjoy her childhood and a young adult who has come/is coming to terms with the world she lives in and how its harshness is further amplified for those who are impoverished. She describes (consciously, as she often writes poems and later her own story) the story's many other characters. These include her family members, such as her young, oblivious sister, Nenny, and her now-deceased aunt, who she loved and regrets her behavior towards; her friends, such as harmless, happy sisters Rachel and Lucy and Sally, an abused girl who Esperanza befriends but later blames for an awful event; and other members of the neighborhood, who often have regrets, people they miss, and unique personalities.
  • The setting. There certainly are not an excess of books set in poor neighborhoods, which makes this novel very unique. Cisneros as Esperanza describes the setting vividly, making every location in the novel seem real. Every home's objects and flaws, every building's shape and color, every field or garden's appearance are all depicted, drawing the reader in and making them feel as if they are actually living Esperanza's life.
  • The writing. By now, you might have guessed (if you didn't already know) that Cisneros is a fabulous author. Her writing is filled with personality, with sentences that sound like the dialects of those who say them and a unique story setup consisting of many 2-to-4-page short stories, keeping each page fresh. Cisneros is also able to depict the characters' thoughts and troubles extremely well, in a way that makes it easy to understand them. The novel is filled with fun phrases and sentences that will make readers think, "That's genius!," cementing the novel's place as a great classic.
Cons (although not really):
  • The content is important, but it may not suit younger ages. In the introduction to The House on Mango Street, Cisneros discusses her experience at a school helping students who often had bad home situations. These experiences made their way into the novel, through characters whose spouses imprison them at home, whose parents beat them, or who are even sexually harassed or assaulted. This content is all dealt with realistically and intelligently, but I do want to warn everyone that younger middle-grade readers may struggle with the novel's content. For older readers, however, the novel provides a realistic introduction to the awful circumstances that many people face every day.
  • The novel is often sad, albeit necessarily. With all of the characters' hardships, whether they are simply being too poor to live in a nicer neighborhood or something else, the novel is obviously sad. For someone looking for an upbeat, happy read, you should probably look elsewhere until you want to read something else. However, for those who are willing to read some unhappy content (which, luckily, does not drag on for too long or overwhelm the book at all), The House on Mango Street will broaden your horizons and leave you a better, more knowledgeable person.
Verdict:

There is certainly a reason why The House on Mango Street has become a widely-read classic. It features an incredible combination of real-life topics, genius writing, and rich characters, making it one of the rare novels that everyone will enjoy and be impacted by for the rest of their lives.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

MMGM (2/12/2018): Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

For MMGM, I am recommending Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend.




Here's the publisher's description:

An instant New York Times bestseller!

“A Harry Potter-esque adventure.” — Time Magazine

A breathtaking, enchanting new series by debut author Jessica Townsend, about a cursed girl who escapes death and finds herself in a magical world–but is then tested beyond her wildest imagination.

Morrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she’s blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks–and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday.

But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.

It’s then that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city’s most prestigious organization: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart–an extraordinary talent that Morrigan insists she does not have. To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests–or she’ll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate.

Perfect for fans of the Harry Potter series and Neil Gaiman, this fast-paced plot and imaginative world has a fresh new take on magic that will appeal to a new generation of readers.

This novel is one of my new favorites! There's so much to love that I don't know where to begin, but I'll try! The plot of the novel is well-balanced, including slow, sad portions that set the stage for the book, action-packed scenes (often chases) that are actually early in the book, calmer moments as Morrigan gets used to her new home, and a part-ominous, part-thrilling climax that ends off the novel (the first in a series). The world of the book is incredibly vivid—I read an article about how the author had been thinking about the series for about a decade (I liked the book so much that I looked it up), and it shows! There are many clever new creatures, inventions, and myths that are described in the perfect amount of detail. The novel also has many great characters. Morrigan is an excellent protagonist who has a personality clearly influenced by the events of the story. Other characters include adults who are children at heart, kids who can be serious and grouchy or fun and caring, a number of antagonists ranging from essentially harmless to incredibly destructive and terrifying, and a giant, grouchy, talking cat (see the cover)! To round the novel off, Townsend also adds in a bit of conflict that overtly parallels the real world: the government tries to get Morrigan expelled from Nevermoor for having entered the city illegally. Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow is an excellent start to a series that has immense potential, and I know that every reader will wait for every new novel (and the upcoming movie!) with unconfined anticipation and excitement!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

MMGM (2/5/2018): The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt

For MMGM, I am recommending The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt.




Here's the publisher's description:

“Librarians often say that every book is not for every child, but The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp is” (The New York Times). Meet Bingo and J’miah, raccoon brothers on a mission to save Sugar Man Swamp in this rollicking tale and National Book Award Finalist from Newbery Honoree Kathi Appelt.

Raccoon brothers Bingo and J’miah are the newest recruits of the Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts. The opportunity to serve the Sugar Man—the massive creature who delights in delicious sugar cane and magnanimously rules over the swamp—is an honor, and also a big responsibility, since the rest of the swamp critters rely heavily on the intel of these hardworking Scouts.

Twelve-year-old Chap Brayburn is not a member of any such organization. But he loves the swamp something fierce, and he’ll do anything to help protect it.

And help is surely needed, because world-class alligator wrestler Jaeger Stitch wants to turn Sugar Man swamp into an Alligator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park, and the troubles don’t end there. There is also a gang of wild feral hogs on the march, headed straight toward them all.

The Scouts are ready. All they have to do is wake up the Sugar Man. Problem is, no one’s been able to wake that fellow up in a decade or four…

Newbery Honoree Kathi Appelt’s story of care and conservation has received five starred reviews, was selected as a National Book Award finalist, and is funny as all get out and ripe for reading aloud.

When I first discovered this book at Half Price Books, I was unsure of whether or not I would actually enjoy it. Luckily, I did, enough so that, several years later, I remembered it and decided to review it today! Despite some sad topics, this novel ends up being absolute fun from beginning to end (providing a break from the many relentlessly-sad MG books currently being published). Even during points of the plot holding sadness or fear, the humorous, just-colloquial-enough narration will hold any reader's attention. The book switches between events involving adventurous Bingo and nervous J'miah, which add in bits of action and suspense as they find out new information and try to fight against the swamp's issues, and those involving Chap, his anxiety about Jaeger Stitch's plans, and just enough grief about the recent loss of his grandfather, who dearly enjoyed the swamp. The plot of the book will suck readers in, while the writing will make them want to savor each word. The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, its characters, and its ideas will make it a favorite of any reader!