Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

I struggled to finish this book because I knew what was coming. If one were to read the back of the book they would know that the ending is not happy but reading it will open your eyes.

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I consider myself a scholar of World War II and if ever I were to get my doctorate that would be my area of study. I don’t know everything about WWII but what I do know is sad and awful and never talked about. The amount of space given to the Holocaust and WWII in my history textbook was a paragraph. We never studied the third reich, we never studied Stalin and to this day I don’t really know what was happening in Italy during WWII. You could argue that doesn’t make me a scholar but I know more about WWII then your average person or even average college professor. Why isn’t it talked about? Why did I have to read a YA novel to know about the 9,000 people that were killed on the Wilhelm Gustloff? You are probably asking yourself what is the Wilhelm Gustloff? It was a passenger ship caring 10,000 civilians running for their lives from the Russians and it was blown up by Russian torpedoes. The Russians may have helped us win the war but that was after they decided to break ties with Germany, never forget that.

The story follows four different characters, Joanna, Emilia, Florian, and Alfred. Joanna is a Latvian nurse running for safety. Emilia is a Polish girl with a secret. Florian is a German spy with an important mission for the Fuhr or is he? Alfred is a lone soldier determined to make a name for himself before the war is over. What brings these four together is the Wilhelm Gustloff and only the way people who have experienced tragedy at the expense of war can. Poles weren’t the only people who died and experienced tragedy at the expense of the Nazis, and Germany wasn’t the only country killing people. There was tragedy all around the world during WWII but burying those tragedies doesn’t make them any less tragic. Nine thousand people dying isn’t something to just not talk about. I scoff at people who say history doesn’t repeat itself because it does. Countries constantly turn their back on the suffering of other countries whether out of fear or an unwillingness to become involved in other people’s business. There is no right answer for these problems but not talking about them in classrooms or social circles isn’t the right answer. These people didn’t suffer to just be forgotten.

-A

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

I read this book for a class but it was such an eye opener and honestly I think it is a book that should be read in every high school classroom. I live not too far from an Indian reservation and my job puts me in contact with a lot of Native Americans that live on the reservation. I can tell a lot about them in the items they purchase and I’m not going to lie I have passed judgement on them. Reading this book made me reevaluate my opinions of them and their purchases. One of the big things that got me was the illustrations specifically the illustration where Junior compares himself to a white kid. It was his shoes that hit me the hardest because even though I grew up poor my parents always made sure to buy me good new shoes for the school year and I see Native Americans coming in and buying crappy plastic shoes that are not going to last six months let alone a whole year and it breaks my heart.

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Junior is an fifteen (?) year old kid who is entering his Freshman year of high school at an all white school off the reservation. He knows in his heart he needs to get off the reservation and the first step to doing that is going to a different high school. Of course anytime you leave your hometown for someplace new it is almost always seen as a betrayal and that is no less with the Native Americans who see Junior leaving the reservation as turning his back on his people and culture. Not only does he lose respect from his people but his best friend, Rowdy, as well. Junior or his given name Arnold has to make the first of extremely tough decisions in his life and that is continuing to go to Reardon, the all white high school. He not only faces the pitfalls that come with being a Freshman he is also perceived as different because of his ethnic background. People will always prejudge and Junior’s experience is no different.

This story is not only tough because of the Racism and Prejudice Junior experiences but the things that happen back on the Rez. At one point Junior says he has been to forty some funerals and it breaks my heart reading that. The kid is only fourteen or fifteen and he has been to forty some funerals. I can probably count the number of funerals I have been to on my fingers. There is a lot of blunt conversations in this book about sex and other sensitive subjects so I wouldn’t recommend it to Junior high kids even though that is technically the demographic. I would teach it to older high schoolers, not only because it is an easy read but it also teaches students a lot about life on a reservation.

-A

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

The first time I ever heard of Alice Hoffman I was looking at a copy of The Museum of Extraordinary Things. It looked really interesting and I absolutely love historical works of fiction. I actually ended up reading The Probable Future before I read the other book and ever since then I have been hooked. There is just something about Hoffman’s way with words that makes the story come off the page. It’s like Hoffman has her own form of magic ;). Her words are lyrical, inviting and come so easily to the tongue that putting them all together creates a wonderful story that one never wants to put down.

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I actually did not know this story was going to about French artist Pissarro’s parents until I read the name Pissarro and started putting two and two together. I thought this just a historical work of fiction about two worlds clashing, however I was pleasantly surprised. My favorite class I ever took in college was an Art History course and if I wasn’t so dead set on becoming a teacher I would have chosen some degree in the art appreciation field. I remember studying Pissarro but he didn’t stick like some of the other artists such as Cézanne, Monet, Manet, or Degas.

I wasn’t sure where this story was headed and I appreciated that it covered most if not all of Rachel Pissarro’s life and that of her closest friend. There were plenty of love triangles and hidden family connections to keep me reading until I fully understood what was happening. It truly is the story of the marriage of opposites and how they made it work despite all the forces working against them. Rachel is the strong woman heroine that everyone wants to read about. She cared what people thought but she honestly cared more about her own personal happiness considering that it had been taken too often from her and those she cared deeply about. This isn’t only the story about a marriage it’s the story of a woman learning to love herself after growing up with a loveless mother. It’s the story of a woman taking control of her own life after being married for business purposes. It’s the story of a mother learning to let go of her favorite son. It’s the story of families reconnecting across oceans and old secrets being put to rest.

If this story had been told by any other author I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much. Hoffman has a way of bringing a story to life and making you emotionally invested in characters you may or may not like. It’s the kind of story that makes you find a quite corner so you can read for hours uninterrupted.

-A

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

I had a lot of expectations going into this book and honestly it really didn’t fulfill all those expectations. I was expecting a ghost story that made me shiver while reading in a dark room in the middle of the night and all I really got was a psychological study. Everything I read said it was a ghost story and even my cousin who is a librarian called it a ghost story but honestly it is more of a mystery because I am pretty sure no one is dead, because if someone is dead then everyone is crazy.

 

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The story is told from the perspective of Merricat Blackwood who is an unreliable narrator considering the story is about her and she can shape it however she wants. This is what adds to the mystery because Merricat talks in an almost child like voice that is never quite telling the whole story.

Merricat lives in her family home with her older sister Constance and her elderly uncle Julian, who was left crippled from the poisoning. Merricat has a cat for a friend, Julien, and spends most of her days wandering around the woods that surround their home. She goes into town on Tuesdays for groceries and library books but sadly that all changes when cousin Charles comes to live with them. Charles Blackwood is a cousin to Constance and Merricat and while he says he is only there to help in Merricat’s eyes he is there to bring change.

Merricat’s defining characteristic is the fact that she doesn’t like change and will do anything to ensure that life will always stay the same between her and Constance. I can’t for the life of me think why Constance stays with Merricat, but after one losing one’s whole family maybe you cling to the family you have left?

I like the child like voice of Merricat because even though she is eighteen it is like she never quite got past that year that she was sent to live in the orphanage after her family died. In some ways acting like a child is a defense mechanism and one of the reasons I believe that Constance forgives Merricat so easily is because she is all Constance has left. I also think Constance feels responsible for what happened to the family because in a way she herself was responsible for Merricat. However, it is hard to curb a siblings psychopathic tendencies so Constance shouldn’t feel all that responsible.

I must say I was hoping for a more dramatic ending but it was a suitable ending considering the whole story. I really thought Merricat was going to do something a little more drastic but in the end she got what she wanted and both her and Constance were happy.

-A

Cruel Beauty by Rosamond Hodges

I am a huge fantasy nerd/geek and I love a good spin on a fairy tale. I devoured Hodges book Crimson Bound and I devoured Cruel Beauty. As a kid growing up I was never a huge fan of Beauty and the Beast despite sharing some similar qualities with Belle. That being said I have been getting into a lot of Beauty and the Beast spin offs and Cruel Beauty is in the top five.

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My favorite part about this book was how it kept me guessing until the very end as to what was really happening. This is the tale of two sisters and how one of them has been chosen since birth to bring peace to her land-the only downside is that in order to bring peace she has to marry an evil man and then kill him and herself. Easy enough right? Except she falls in love with this devilishly handsome man and finds that she cannot bring herself to kill him because what if he isn’t really all that evil? What if someone else is telling him what to do?

This story was a little bit of a combination of Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella. Nyx not only has to deal with a neglectful father but a wanna-be stepmother and protect her little sister from Nyx’s eventual fate. However when Nyx starts to question everything she has been told can she still save her people and restore her relationship with her little sister? Or will she chose to save Ignifex the man she’s come to love?

I’ll admit the story started out a little slow but it picks up and the ending hits you like a ton of bricks. I almost had a panic attack when I got to the ending but like all good fairy tales there is a happily ever after.

-A