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History

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

February 14, 2019

When a fifteen-year-old artist, Lina, is ripped from her home in 1941, all she can think about is her father, who has been separated from her brother, mother, and her. While she grieves for him, she is also terrified for her own life, as she makes her way through Russian territory to slave away with limited food and rest at work camp after work camp. She attempts to send her artwork to her father to let him know she’s alive—in hopes he will receive it and understand it’s from his daughter. As she and her family take on an incredibly harrowing journey, she learns the most powerful values are strength, love, and hope.

I fell in love with the characters in this book, especially the main character of Lina. She is developed flawlessly as a strong young lady who can fend for herself, even in the tough environment that holds her captive. She and her brother are unlike any other brother-sister pair I’d ever heard of or seen. Their cooperation and support for each other is heartwarming and will keep readers invested throughout the ups and downs of the conflict.

The plot was extremely suspenseful and fast-paced. The storyline is interesting because Lina and her family are constantly being moved from camp to camp, and the audience will want to follow them on their journey. I loved how Sepetys ended each chapter on a suspenseful note; this was another aspect that added to the fast pace.

Although Between Shades of Gray is a work of fiction, it is well researched, and Sepetys includes many details about World War Two. She describes specific places in Russia and Poland, where the work camps were, and exactly the cities they traveled through.  This made the book plausible and more enjoyable to read, knowing that it could have happened in real life.  

Lina’s art was a wonderful addition to the plot, because the reader is always curious about whether her art will reach her father, and if it did, how that would affect her story. It also helped develop Lina as a character, because the artwork gave her a passion that added to her personality.

Sepetys has also published two other historical novels that are just as compelling as this one: Salt to the Sea and Out of the Easy. I have only read Salt to the Sea, but it easily became my favorite book of the year. Between Shades of Gray is a must-read, and I guarantee that your perspective on war and violence will be forever changed.

Kate

Philomel Books, 338


The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

Sage is a baker struggling with her mother’s death: alone in the world until she meets Josef, an elderly man in her grief group. They strike up an unlikely friendship, but everything changes when he asks her for an impossible favor and confesses who he really is—not the Little League coach and retired teacher as everyone assumes, but a former Nazi SS Guard. With her view of this man completely changed and her grandmother a Holocaust survivor, she must decide what to do about the favor he asked—one that may have legal consequences if she grants it but personal ones if she doesn’t—and whether to forgive him or give her grandmother the revenge she deserves.

This gripping novel by Jodi Picoult from told in five perspectives. It starts with just Sage, and the others come in when their characters are introduced and wind around her perspective. I thought this was effective because it allows Sage to be the main character and her story to be in the foreground, but it also gives the reader all the background information and additional stories to make the plot more interesting.

Another effective aspect of the distinct perspectives is that each is in a different font. This is helpful because, since the perspectives usually last around twenty pages, the fonts make it easy to know which one you are reading if you flip to a random page. I thought the length of these narratives was effective because the reader has time to really get into each one, but they aren’t so long that the audience forgets other pieces of the story. They are also all told in first person voice, which I think allows the audience to have a deep connection to each character. 

I thought that Picoult successfully withholds information, such as Josef’s real name and who the fifth perspective is. I found this effective because it keeps the reader wanting to read on to find the missing information. The perspectives also change at critical moments in the characters’ stories, which adds to the suspenseful tone.

Picoult meaningfully incorporates many genres, including historical fiction, realistic fiction, survival, and touches of fantasy and romance. This makes this book accessible for everyone, and although the historical and survival aspects were my favorite, the others added nice touches to the story, and I found myself enjoying them as well.

I would rate this book a ten out of ten for its well-developed characters and captivating plot line, and I would recommend it to everyone twelve and over. So what are you waiting for? Go grab a copy and prepare for a phenomenal read that you just can’t put down.

Maren

Simon and Schuster, Inc., 460 Pages.


The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

February 11, 2019

Two sisters. 1939. Nazi-occupied France.

Vianne is twenty-eight and cautious. Her husband has left to fight, and when a Nazi requisitions her home she must make one impossible choice after another to keep her daughter safe. Isabelle is eighteen and rebellious. She is appalled by France’s surrender, and when her lover betrays her she joins the Resistance and risks her life time and time again to save others. As the war escalates around them, each sister embarks on her own journey of love, hope, and survival in Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale.

Hannah did an amazing job crafting these two perspectives with opposite personalities. Vianne is always careful, which is reflected in all of her thoughts and actions, and Isabelle is more courageous, which is shown in all of hers. I found this effective because I could see two different sides of the story—this allowed me to gain a wider view of the plot.

This novel alternates between the perspectives of the two sisters every couple of pages, so the reader has time to settle into each narrative, but is also kept updated on each sister’s current situation. Hannah always switches perspective at critical moments in the characters’ lives, which makes the reader want to read on to find out what happens.

The diction that Hannah uses has strong connotations and sucks the reader into each scene, by making it easy to picture Nazi-occupied France through her vivid details. Another effective aspect of the book is the strong connection Hannah creates between the characters and the reader through the sisters’ carefully crafted, realistic personalities. This makes this book emotionally powerful—every feeling the sisters portray is echoed in the audience’s reaction.

Although The Nightingale is a novel, it is well researched and relates to real-world people, places, and events, which made it very plausible—I could prove everything in the setting and quite a bit of the plot, which left the protagonists as the only truly fictional element. As someone who reads partly to gain knowledge of history, this added to my reading experience. Another aspect of this book that I found effective was that Hannah managed to squeeze in themes about love, war, survival, and the human spirit, to name a few, which makes this book accessible and interesting for everyone.

The Nightingale was such a successful title that it will be coming out shortly as a movie, and although I am excited to see it, I just hope it will capture the features of Hannah’s incredible story. 

I would rate this book a definite ten out of ten for its incredible characters and captivating plot, and I would recommend it to everyone twelve or older. So go get a copy and prepare yourself for an amazing read that makes you wonder: What would you do if you were in Isabelle or Vianne’s situation?

Maren

St. Martin’s Press, 438 Pages          


Night by Elie Wiesel

February 13, 2018

Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust.

It’s 1944, at the height of the Holocaust, when Eliezer, a young Jewish boy is deported to a concentration camp in Auschwitz, Germany, altering his life forever. Eliezer had lived in Sighet, Transylvania, with his family for his entire life. But when Nazis are sent to deport his family, along with 15,000 other Jews living in his town, everything he knows is stripped away from him.

After arriving at the camp, Eliezer is separated from his mom and sister. He sees smoke from crematoriums drift into a silent sky, and realizes his family’s devastating fate. At the camp he and his father are forced to work in terrible conditions and fed nothing but stale bread and water. Eliezer is tortured and must watch his friends and neighbors be killed because of the god they believe in. Night by Elie Wiesel—the grown man and survivor—tells the story of a son and a father who must endure through one of the darkest times in our history.

Night is both expertly crafted and a gripping story. Wiesel’s sensory descriptions transport readers to the labor camp and help them better understand the hardship and anguish that millions of Jews experienced. When Wiesel describes how he was starved, beaten, and barren of any hope for the future, he writes in such detail that his readers can’t help but feel the same emotions.

Wiesel writes about his own experiences, bringing the reader through the powerful changes and growth he experienced. Eliezer loses his innocence and faith. He no longer believes in his god and struggles to find his identity. This transformation is shown through the emotions and actions of the young man, giving the reader a taste of the trauma that lived within the prisoners.

Night is layered deeply with theme. Eliezer is just a child at the beginning of the book, naive and unaware, but he is quickly awoken to the harshness of the world. Wiesel beautifully weaves together themes of prejudice, religion, and the importance of family.

This memoir is a heart-wrenching read. You will experience both anger and sadness—and be left with a powerful impression of the Holocaust.

Anna

Bantam Books, 109 pages.


Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden

January 26, 2018

It’s an in-and-out operation to drop in on a Habr Gidr clan leader meeting in the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia. Today’s targets: two of political leader Mohamed Farrah Aidid’s lieutenants, another attempt to get closer to revealing Aidid. There are four chalks; each have twelve Rangers. As they surround the perimeter of the block, a Delta team rushes into the building and captures the lieutenants. It should only take an hour.

But it all goes wrong when one Black Hawk helicopter gets shot down, and now one hundred elite soldiers have to rescue those men—and find their way out.

This work of non-fiction, Black Hawk Down, is interesting because author Mark Bowden thought to talk about the fighting techniques of the Somalian men. Most of them were just armed civilians, but there were also members of Aidid’s militia who were better trained. They hid in crowds of woman and children, firing from behind them, making it so that the Rangers would have to shoot innocent people, too. The Somali women would bring the Somali men ammunition and rockets.

I also found it powerful that, as well as interviewing and collecting experiences from the U.S. troops, Bowden interviewed Somali people. Some were even the ones fighting against America. It brings in some different perspective and keeps the narrative from being biased. Readers get a look at the situation from both sides.

Readers will appreciate how the theme Bowden is getting at is clear, especially at the end, and relevant. His message is that when soldiers get into a firefight, and a bunch of their buddies get killed, or wounded they come back home and lots of people don’t know, don’t remember, or don’t care about their experiences. And then they realize all the lives taken, and realize it’s not appreciated. Somebody has to write a book about an unknown firefight, so people know. And it makes me think that there are probably other fights like that.

There is also a decent movie adaptation of this book, and it follows the story accurately. I would suggest reading the book first, since the movie doesn’t change perspectives as much, which loses some of the depth that makes the book so strong.

I rated this book a nine, just because some parts were a little slow.  Still, I recommend Black Hawk Down to anyone who’s interested in the military. Even though its a non-fiction book, it gripped me and was a page turner. Prepare yourself for an exciting and terrifying true story to remember those who were there.

Dae

Grove Press New York, 360 pages

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Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

January 31, 2017

Black Dove and White Raven are the stage names of Delia, and Rhoda a team of female stunt-pilots. Traveling with them as they perform are their two young children, Emilia and Teo. During one of their shows, a bird strike crashes their plane and immediately kills Teo’s mother. Emilia’s mother, Rhoda, survives and adopts Teo. But in this novel’s particular time, 1930’s America, it is often considered suspicious to see a white woman raising a black adopted son alongside her own white daughter. Following Delia’s lifelong dream, Rhoda moves to Ethiopia so she can raise Teo where he won’t be discriminated against for the color of his skin. But soon after they arrive, war with the Italians threatens to push them out forever.

This historical fiction book by Elizabeth Wein (author of Rose Under Fire and Code Name Verity) is told in the first person through a letter to the emperor from the present (March 4, 1936), and then a collection of stories from the past attached. Wein gives the reader an overall idea of all the different characters and incorporates the points of view of both Teo and Emilia using flight log entries. These logs give the reader a glimpse of the characters’ thoughts, almost like a diary, revealing untold emotions. Throughout the book , short stories that Emilia and Teo write foreshadow or explain complicated events in a simpler situation. Wein portrays the characters in a way that makes the story come to life.

Although the beginning of the book is slow to develop, the result is an action-packed conclusion. Wein’s detailed plot will make the reader laugh and cry alongside the characters. This heartfelt historical fiction novel would be enjoyed by anyone who likes a heroic adventure. I definitely rate this book a ten out of ten for its realistic and unforgettable story.

Arden

Hyperion, 345 pages


Copper Sun by Sharon Draper

January 27, 2017

Amari’s life had once been perfect: engaged to the man of her dreams, blessed with an adorable little brother, and living in a beautiful African village. But one summer day in 1738, this changes forever. Amari is captured from her home and brought to South Carolina to be sold. On the treacherous voyage across the Atlantic, she meets an older woman, Afi, who encourages her and lets her know that everything will turn out right. After spending a year at the plantation Amari realizes that being a slave is not what she wants for her life. She makes many friends that treat her like family, but after a tragic event Amari chooses to escape with two of her friends: Polly, the indentured servant, and Tidbit, the cook’s son.

I enjoyed how Sharon Draper wrote this novel in third person; each chapter focused on a different character, either Polly or Amari. Draper also wrote from family history, knowing that made the plot more believable. Her diction was amazing throughout the book­–it felt like I was reading poetry because every sentence was so concise, which made it a quick read.

The only aspect that didn’t work for me was how the author developed Polly; Draper made her a very stuck up, self-centered character, who didn’t add to the book. This made me look forward to reading the Amari chapters more than the Polly chapters.

I loved that this book was written about a hard, unexplainable time in America’s history, but wasn’t completely focused on the horrors of slavery. If you’re over twelve and are interested this time period, you would love this book. Over all, this optimistic historical fiction novel is a must-read, so pull out that Someday List and write down Copper Sun by Sharon Draper.

Ella

302 pages, Simon Pulse

 


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