Bibliophobes can skip this one.

I have read some excellent books lately, but I sometimes find it difficult to write them up because I never know the sorts of things people want to hear about books. So I am going to give you the quick and dirty version of a few books I have read in recent days. And by “in recent days” I mean “at some point in 2009”.

How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life by Kaavya Viswanathan. When I teach my 6th graders about plagiarism (which is a fun lesson), I invariably go over the story of Kaavya Viswanathan, the Harvard student whose book was accused of plagiarism. If you aren’t familiar with the story, follow the above link and you will see what I am talking about – there are a lot of examples. I worked at the public library when this book came out, and it never came in because the publisher pulled all the copies. Except . . . maybe they didn’t, really, because the Greensboro Public Library has a copy. Which someone alerted me to. So I checked it out. It was pretty much what you would figure from the title – a girl who had been so focused on her education finds that she doesn’t have enough of a life to get into Harvard, so she decides to remake herself and focus on friends and shopping and socializing with boys to improve her chances. You know what I hate about books/movies like this? There is always that scene where the girl walks into the cafeteria and has to decide whether she is going to sit with her old nerdy friends or try to fit in with the popular people who are going to change her life. Here are my problems with this. First, no matter how I looked or what designer clothes I wore, the popular people were never going to invite me to sit at their lunch table. Second, I hate how this sort of thing subtly affirms girls who think they have to give up their intelligence to be popular. Despite these objections, I thought this was a fun, light book, and I am disappointed that so much of it was taken from other stories, because it was an enjoyable read. The best part was feeling like I was reading something that had been banned. I love living on the edge.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Oh my gosh. Go read this book. Do it right now. Why are you still here? Oh, you ordered it from Amazon/placed a hold on it at your library? Okay, well, I will tell you about it, then. The Hunger Games is about Katniss Everdeen, who lives in a sort of futuristic America, where the Capitol requires one boy and one girl from each of the 12 Districts to come to the Capitol and fight to the death in a nationally televised competition called The Hunger Games. Katniss is a wonderful character – her sister is the one whose name is drawn for their district, but Katniss volunteers to take her place. And yet, she is a tough character, and as she progresses through the Games, she works the cameras the same way that I like to imagine that I would do if I was on Survivor or something similar. Y’all, this book is awesome. I read it in a day. I could not put it down. I was impressed with the way that it dealt with the ideas of humanity and compassion, especially as Katniss, manipulating her way through the competition, struggles with losing sight of who she is and what she wants. The only downside is that the second book doesn’t come out until September.

The Girl With No Shadow by Joanne Harris. I assume you are familiar with the story of Chocolat? This is the sequel, set some years later as Vianne tries to reinvent herself without magic as she continues to try to protect her family. It had interesting things to say about good and evil and accepting who you are. I have read Chocolat twice and seen the movie once. I liked it okay the first time I read it and really enjoyed the second time I read it (partly because my book club had an exceptionally good discussion of it). I remember Johnny Depp was really good looking in the movie. All that to say: I am not particularly attached to the story. If you liked Chocolat at all, I think you will like this one. I thought it had more depth and meat to it, that it was a little bit less judgmental. That was my main objection to Chocolat, and I thought that The Girl With No Shadow managed to have a lot more compassion. And it was as well-written as her books always seem to be. My only complaint is that the way that the story moved between narrators was a little bit frustrating. However, overall, I recommend it.

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. After reading the book, I am more disappointed with the movie. I liked the movie, and I liked discussing the movie, but there were so many things that they left out that would have enhanced the story. I kept telling Mike about the book and he kept saying, “They didn’t show that!” If you thought the movie sounded interesting, give the book a shot. It’s a quick read, but it has a lot of meat to it.

Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian. This book is about the end of World War II and follows a German family (and a Scottish POW staying with them) escaping the Russians, Jewish women being forced to march across Germany, and a Jewish man who escaped from a train to Auschwitz and is masquerading as a German officer. These people all cross paths at different times and in different ways as they try to survive. It was probably not the best idea to read this in conjunction with The Reader, because it was too much Holocaust all at once. And they deal with similar questions about the responsibility of the German people. Skeletons at the Feast dealt with the responsibility of the German people of the time, and The Reader was focused on the next generation, so it was interesting to read them in conjunction. I have only read one other book by Chris Bohjalian, but he is definitely an author I will pay attention to. This was a difficult, well-written, amazing story.

I am currently reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and it’s good, but so far it has been a lot of setup. Nothing has happened. I am interested to see when it will get going.

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