Saturday, April 30, 2011

Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

smallIt took me a while to start to like this book, but then I really began to appreciate the story, which is a testimony to the resourcefulness and resilience of children who must cope with a parent with mental illness.  11-year-old Jack wakes up in his tent on what is supposed to be the first day of a camping vacation with his mom, only to find that his mom, her tent, and their rental car (with all their provisions in it) are gone.  It’s not the first time that Jack has had to deal with his mother disappearing, so he’s really good at covering up.  He uses the little bit of money he has to buy himself breakfast at the store nearby, and when his new friend Aiden invites him along on a family outing, he fends off Aiden’s mother’s attempts at meeting his mother, and still manages to go along.  As time passes, he starts to freak out, but he’s so afraid of being taken away from his mother and made to live with his grandmother (who his mother has told him terrible stories about) that he can’t bring himself to reach out for help.  Jack is obsessed with elephants –it’s one of the things he and his mother share –and he comforts himself with remembering stories and facts about them.  When all else fails, he decides to try to get to the animal park in York that he was going to visit with his mom, to see the elephant Lydia that lives there. There’s plenty of suspense as Aiden tries to make his way home to Massachusetts, and then to York, Maine, without being intercepted by the police or any of the well-meaning adults he encounters along with way.  Review by Stacy Church

The Star Maker by Laurence Yep

star makerThis is the story of a young boy growing up in the 1950’s in San Francisco.  In those days, Chinese-American families had no choice but to reside in Chinatown if they wanted to live in the city of San Francisco.  One of the good things that Artie discovers about living in Chinatown is that he is surrounded by all of his family.  His aunts, uncles and his grandmother all live close by.  On the holidays they get together and celebrate as one big family.  Since Artie is the youngest, he tries hard to keep up with his older brother and cousin.  They tease him constantly, and, in response, Artie makes up his mind to show off for them.  He boasts that he will get firecrackers for the Chinese New Year.  Good-naturedly, Artie promises to share them.  Cousin Petey promptly announces that Artie has promised firecrackers for everyone for the family’s Chinese New Year celebrations.  Now Artie is in trouble.  He wished he had kept his mouth shut.  Firecrackers are expensive and his family is large.  Is there possibly a way for Artie to get enough money together for firecrackers for himself and everyone else?  How Artie tries different ways to make money and solicits help for his project so that he can keep his promise is a wonderful story.  We meet Artie’s large Chinese family and learn about some of their customs and ways as they celebrate together.  The Star Maker by Laurence Yep transports us back to the early 1950’s in Chinatown in San Francisco where a young boy struggles to grow up and find his place in his large family.  This is a beautifully-written book that introduces us to the Chinese-American culture.  Review by Trudy Walsh

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Mourning Wars by Karen Steinmetz

mourning I found this book pretty heavy going, but I did enjoy the story, I just had to make myself keep going.  The cover is a bit melodramatic, also, with the subtitle: Born a Puritan Raised a Mohawk.  It’s 1704, and in the middle of the night, Eunice and her family are awakened by a band of Mohawk Indians who kill some of them and take the others prisoner.  After a grueling march to Canada, Eunice is adopted into a Mohawk family who love and cherish her.  It’s fascinating to read about what Eunice’s life was like in her Puritan family compared to her new life in the Mohawk family.  Over the next couple of years, the Puritans make some effort to get Eunice back, but the decision is up to her, and she decides to stay with the Mohawks.  She is a remarkably strong and loyal person, so the decision is difficult for her.  Part of my problem with following the story had to do with the names, which are long and sometimes similar, and part of my problem was trying to follow the history and politics of the time. There is a long author’s note at the end that does a lot to clarify things –I recommend that you read that first.  Review by Stacy Church

I, Emma Freke by Elizabeth Atkinson

freke Emma feels like a total misfit at her school, and not just because she’s almost 6 feet tall at the age of 12. Unfortunately, her home life isn’t much better: her mother expects her to spend every afternoon minding the bead shop they own, cook for her grandfather, and take care of most of the household chores while she goes out on dates with a string of unsavory men. Emma doesn’t know anything about her father, or whether she even has any other family. For her birthday, her mom (who she calls by her first name, Donatella) tells her that she doesn’t have to go to school anymore because now she’ll be homeschooled by her grandfather (who spends most of his time snoozing with his fat, old bulldog farting on his lap). What she didn’t tell Emma is that she didn’t make any arrangements with the school, so Emma gets busted for truancy. Out of the blue, a special delivery letter arrives inviting Emma to the Freke family reunion at a campground in Wisconsin, and Donatella wants her to go. Of course, once Emma gets to Wisconsin she finds herself surrounded by people a lot like her. Well, at first they seem a lot like her. With the help of an estranged cousin, Fred, Emma proceeds to shake things up in the Freke family, and, in the end, meets her father. There are some really funny parts to the book (especially the first scene with Ms. Fiddle, the school psychologist, asking Emma to use a clock to rate her own popularity in comparison to the most popular girl at school.

“Um. One minute past twelve?: I said in a tiny voice, because I wasn’t sure if there was a correct answer or if she really had no idea how invisible I was in middle school. “We were not including minutes,” said Ms. Fiddle, arching one eyebrow so high it made that side of her mouth droop. “Just hours.”

There’s a lot about the story that I found too cliched, but it’s still an entertaining read. Review by Stacy Church