Something for everyone . . .
Ms. Bartels Recommends
Confession: I've seen the movie "The Bridge on the River Kwai" probably two dozen times in my life – it's one I find hard to pass up when I find it on Turner Classic Movies. Alec Guinness is superb in it, and so seriously flawed, that his final realization of what he has done is all the more powerful because he knows that he has pushed his men to death because of his own bizarre sense of duty and pride. The movie is gritty, but very Hollywood. The book on which it is based, The Bridge Over the River Kwai, is also good, but such a product of it's time – the 1950s – that it is harder to read now than it probably was in 1952 when it was written. But it was a story I was already fascinated with, so picking up Flanigan's Booker Prize-winning novel was a no-brainer.
Every year there is always one book that just bowls me over with the beauty of its writing, with the gripping details the author creates that make the reader feel like she is in the story – A Little Life, All the Light We Cannot See – and now this story. Dorrigo Evans is so deeply flawed in every aspect of his life – he's a chronic liar, he cheats repeatedly on his wife, he's egotistical to a fault – it makes the work he does in the POW camp as the camp doctor all the more astonishing. The decisions he makes in the camp, and the devastating choices he must make on that day in August, haunt him the rest of his life.
Flanagan's own father was one of the 60,000 Australians who were forced to build the railway between Burma and Thailand in 1942 and 1943. His own research – plus the stories his father finally shared with him – is what takes this novel to another level. I read it over the course of four days this summer while visiting Botswana, finishing it at 2:00 am, and I was sobbing my eyes out. Now, several months later, the details surrounding that fateful day in August about which Flanagan writes still haunt me. This book is not for the squeamish – torture, disturbing scenes of violence within the camp, disgusting descriptions of prisoners at war with their own bodies, the elements, and the enemy will make it hard for the reader to sleep some nights. But this is an important read.
"A novel of the cruelty of war, and tenuousness of life and the impossibility of love.
Richard Flanagan's story — of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor haunted by a love affair with his uncle's wife — journeys from the caves of Tasmanian trappers in the early twentieth century to a crumbling pre-war beachside hotel, from a Thai jungle prison to a Japanese snow festival, from the Changi gallows to a chance meeting of lovers on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Taking its title from 17th-century haiku poet Basho's travel journal, The Narrow Road to the Deep North is about the impossibility of love. At its heart is one day in a Japanese slave labour camp in August 1943. As the day builds to its horrific climax, Dorrigo Evans battles and fails in his quest to save the lives of his fellow POWs, a man is killed for no reason, and a love story unfolds." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 10+
Ms. Ricker Recommends
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
Students who look for heart-warming stories where animals play a starring role will adore this book. If you loved Applegate's Newbery-winning title The One and Only Ivan, you will find many similarities here, but this story is timely and fresh. It tackles the experience of a Muslim girl being bullied and made to feel unwelcome in her neighborhood. Applegate leaves her readers with a very satisfying conclusion – readers will be cheering by the end!
"Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood ‘wishtree’ – people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red's branches. Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red's hollows, this "wishtree" watches over the neighborhood.
You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red's experiences as a wishtree are more important than ever." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 6+
Ms. Kazan Recommends
Did you ever read e. lockhart’s We Were Liars and couldn’t stop thinking about it? How could you not see that twist coming!? Genuine Fraud has those same qualities: a sleek, fast-past novel that will make you want to re-read it in order to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Jule is a slick protagonist; I actually found myself rooting against her and wanting her to get caught in the end. No spoiler alert here: you’ll have to read it to find out what happens.
“Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat.
Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete.
An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two.
A bad romance, or maybe three.
Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains.
A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her.
A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.” ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 8+
Ms. Matlin Recommends
Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
After reading too many novels in which the protagonists (mostly with extraordinary abilities) team up to foil global or universal threats (technological override of free will, etc.), I was really looking forward to a YA novel about ordinary people and this book delivered. Viv is a splendidly ordinary teenager living in small town Texas. In response to sexist behavior in her class, Viv starts an anonymous 'zine, the titular Moxie. What begins as a way for Viv to vent grows into an activist movement with Viv as the sometimes-unwilling leader. The narrative has its share of clichés (Viv's mom starts dating a Republican) and the response to a rape accusation is simply terrible. But I really enjoyed how Mathieu mixes the history of Riot Grrls (a ‘90s movement) in with timeless feminist issues such as intersectionality and those that are relatively new, like #notallmen. I also loved how Viv's story is completely grounded within her own small bubble. It's good to be reminded that you don't have to save the world to be a hero.
“Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with an administration at her high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment, and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.
Viv's mom was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the '90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother's past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She's just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.
Moxie is a book about high school life that will make you wanna riot!" ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 9+