Review: The Great Gilly Hopkins

“The trick was in knowing how to dispose of people when you were through with them, and Gilly had plenty of practice performing that trick.” page 51

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The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson.
HarperTrophy, HarperCollins, New York, 1978.
Historical fiction, 178 pages.
Lexile:  800L  .
AR Level: 4.6 (worth 5.0 points)  .

At eleven years old, Gilly Hopkins already has a reputation for being unmanageable and a talent for moving homes.  She has no interest in living with the Trotters and is determined to pull out all the stops to get out of this latest home.

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I feel so conflicted about this book.  On the one hand it seems to play into every old stereotype about foster care.  The majority of Gilly’s homes are careless at best.  But let’s start with some of the positives first.

Paterson must have had at least some knowledge of foster care, because there are some things she gets right.  The difficulty of transitioning from one home to the next, the reluctance to love a new family, the battles over personal care and confusion over standards are all common.  The dedication is to an adoptive child, so perhaps she learned about foster care through first-hand experience.

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Review: My Brother Martin

“We three stuck together / like the pages in a brand-new book. / And being normal young children, / we were almost always up to something.” page 10

My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Christine King Farris, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet.
Simon and Schuster, New York, 2003.
Picture book nonfiction, 40 pages.
Lexile:  970L  .
AR Level:  5.0 (worth 0.5 points)  .

Personal remembrances of Martin Luther King Jr.’s childhood from his older sister Christine.

My Brother Martin

I debated a lot before buying this book.  Our local libraries didn’t have it and the cover, especially in a small thumbnail version, is just so unattractive.  However, I was hoping for something different from the standard stories, which is exactly what this book delivers.  Luckily the interior art is excellent!

The book does skew a bit toward older readers with denser text and more difficult words like chifforobe, Cyclorama, Auburn, cruelty, bigotry, nourishing.  The main focus here is on MLK’s childhood, specifically on two fronts – both the ways in which he was an ordinary, sometimes mischievous little boy, and the events that shaped his personality.

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Martin Luther King’s congregation includes his son MLK, Jr. on pages 28 and 29 of My Brother Martin.

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Review: The Underground Railroad

“His patients believed they were being treated for blood ailments. The tonics the hospital administered, however, were merely sugar water.” p. 124

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.
Anchor Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2016.
Adult fiction, 313 pages.
Lexile:  890L  .
AR Level: not yet leveled

Cora is a young woman on a Georgia plantation when a new arrival asks her to run away with him.  Only one slave has ever successfully escaped the Randall plantation, but Caesar believes that if they run together, they’ll make it to the elusive Underground Railroad.

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It took me a good while to get to this one.  I’d seen a lot of mixed reviews, and in general I’m not a fan of magical realism (which is what most people were calling this).  Finally I saw this at Target and decided to use it as one of my targetpicks selections.

Going into the read with low expectations definitely helped this novel blow me away.  It’s a very difficult book to classify.  Whitehead uses elements of many different genres, including historical fiction, adventure, science fiction, magical realism, and realistic fiction.

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Review: Killers of the Flower Moon

“Mollie was one of the last people to see Anna before she vanished.” p. 8

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann.
Vintage Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2017.  Originally published Doubleday, 2016.
Nonfiction, 377 pages including notes and bibliography.
Lexile:  1160L  .
AR Level:  8.8 (worth 14.0 points)  .

Through an unusual turn of events, in the 1920s the Osage people became astonishingly rich.  Unable to stomach an autonomous American Indian tribe, the United States government appointed “guardians” who would watch over their every purchase, and white settlers moved in to the area with ridiculously overpriced goods and services.  And then came the murders.  Many were focused around one family, and the FBI eventually got involved in their case.

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Normally I read books about more Northern tribes because that’s where we live and travel most often, but after passing through Oklahoma, the Osage interested me.  If you are looking for a book about the Osage, this one keeps coming up, so when I saw it at Target I decided to give it a try.

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Review: A Country Called Amreeka

“Today there are at least an estimated 3.5 million Americans of Arabic-speaking descent, and they live in all fifty states. […] The purpose of this book isn’t to separate them out but to fold their experience into the mosaic of American history and deepen our understanding of who we Americans are.” p. xi

A Country Called Amreeka: U.S. History Retold Through Arab-American Lives by Alia Malek.
Free Press, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2009.
Nonfiction, 292 pages.
Not leveled.

A walk through American history through the lives of a wide variety of Arab-Americans.

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I picked this book up on a whim, but it turned out to be very interesting nonetheless.  Mostly, I wanted to know why America was misspelled in the title (Amreeka is the Arabic word for America), and after looking at the blurb, I thought this could be an interesting perspective on American history which I personally had not very much considered before.

Much like Prisoners Without Trial, this book opened my eyes to another important part of American history.  Similar to that book, this one also deals with a limited time period, since immigration laws prevented large numbers of Arab immigrants prior to the 1960s.  However, Malek tells her story in a very different (although just as engaging) way.

After a brief forward explaining the background, format and scope of the book, she takes snapshots from various Arab-American lives and uses them to illustrate a wide variety of experiences and time periods.  In between these vignettes are brief chapters that give immigration statistics, updates on legal and cultural developments, and information about world politics that had bearing on Arab-American lives.

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Review: The 57 Bus

“For now, both teenagers are just taking the bus home from school. Surely it’s not too late to stop things from going wrong. There must be some way to wake Sasha. Divert Richard. Get the driver to stop the bus. There must be something you can do.” p. 5

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater.
Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, New York, 2017.
YA nonfiction/true crime, 305 pages.
Lexile:  930L  .
AR Level:  6.5 (worth 8.0 points)  .

In November 2013, two teens were on the same bus for just eight minutes.  Agender senior Sasha fell asleep on the long ride home from fir small private school.  Sixteen-year-old Richard was joking with friends as he left his large public school.  Then Richard held a lighter to Sasha’s skirt, forever changing the course of both their lives.

The 57 Bus

This unique, well-written exploration of one particular incident evokes much more.  Richard’s struggling (but loving) young mother took in two nieces after her sister was murdered.  He grew up in a rough neighborhood, where 4 of his close friends and family members had been murdered before he was 16, and he was mugged at gunpoint only a week before the fire.  And Richard was African-American, possibly ADHD, and definitely traumatized.  He spent time in a group home because of fights before, but didn’t start them – he was a follower.

Sasha is white, middle class, an only child who had struggled with fitting in before – autistic and agender, with a major passion for public transport.  Fi is shy, so fir parents were surprised when fi started wearing skirts.  However, they took great joy in seeing the child a psychiatrist told them to lower their hopes for blossoming into a confident, thoughtful teen.

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Review: Keeping the Dream Alive

A unique coffee table book with ample photos and information about legal work for justice.

Keeping the Dream Alive: The Cases and Causes of the Southern Poverty Law Center by Booth Gunter.
Southern Poverty Law Center, Montgomery, Alabama, 2014.
Non-fiction, 248 pages.
Not leveled.

This is a book with photographs and text from the history of the Southern Poverty Law Center, from its founding and earliest cases, to their current educational efforts.

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Keeping the Dream Alive: The Cases and Causes of the Southern Poverty Law Center by Booth Gunter.

I love shopping at library sales and used bookstores.  This book was incredibly cheap and didn’t appear to even have been opened.  It’s not something I would have sought out, just a great random find.

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