Thursday, September 22, 2011

Al Capone Does My Shirts

by Gennifer Choldenko

Goodreads Summary:
A twelve-year-old boy named Moose moves to Alcatraz Island in 1935 when guards' families were housed there, and has to contend with his extraordinary new environment in addition to life with his autistic sister.

If you go into reading this book with the understanding that Al Capone is NOT a major character, even though he is mentioned, you will probably enjoy it. I like Moose-he is funny and caring. He truly wants to do what is best for his sister and has a fierce loyalty to his family. The setting of Alcatraz is definitely a plus for this book, mainly because there are so many things that could happen in the story! With prisoners wandering everywhere- working in the gardens and houses of the people on the island, there is a tension created that few other places could replicate. 

As much as I liked this book, I really would recommend reading it to get to the second book, which I thought was even better.

The Little House Series

by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Summary of The Little House in the Big Woods from Goodreads:
Wolves and panthers and bears roam the deep Wisconsin woods in the late 1870's. In those same woods, Laura lives with Pa and Ma, and her sisters, Mary and Baby Carrie, in a snug little house built of logs. Pa hunts and traps. Ma makes her own cheese and butter. All night long, the wind howls lonesomely, but Pa plays the fiddle and sings, keeping the family safe and cozy. 

Everyone who lives in the Midwestern United States should read these books. I am rereading them with my 5-year-old daughter, who is loving every minute. These stories give modern-day readers a chance to look back into the late 19th century and learn about how life used to be. The exciting stories of bears attacking pigs and dogs saving people from panthers are weaved in with everyday routines, such as how Pa cleans his gun and prepares for each day. Grace and I both love the stories that Pa tells Laura and Mary about when he-or his father, their Grandpa-were their age. It seems like the mix of this information should make it confusing, but Wilder's tale is told smoothly. 

I love reading these books, looking out into the fields now, and wondering what life like a pioneer would have been like.

Ashes, Ashes

by Jo Treggiari

Goodreads Summary:

A thrilling tale of adventure, romance, and one girl's unyielding courage through the darkest of nightmares.
Epidemics, floods, droughts--for sixteen-year-old Lucy, the end of the world came and went, taking 99% of the population with it. As the weather continues to rage out of control, and Sweepers clean the streets of plague victims, Lucy survives alone in the wilds of Central Park. But when she's rescued from a pack of hunting dogs by a mysterious boy named Aidan, she reluctantly realizes she can't continue on her own. She joins his band of survivors, yet, a new danger awaits her: the Sweepers are looking for her. There's something special about Lucy, and they will stop at nothing to have her.

I enjoyed this look at the future of New York City and thought Lucy was a well-developed character who was easy to relate to. She is fiercely independent in the beginning, but obviously needed to have some sort of human interaction when she meets Aiden. 

There are some slow points to the story, where the mystery and action seem to stop and the characters make no progress emotionally or physically. Those parts brought the book down a bit for me, but overall I really enjoyed the story.

She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall

by Misty Bernall

Goodreads Summary:

She Said Yes is a story of growing up in the '90s, of peer pressure, adolescent turmoil, and the tough choices parents make. It is the story of a mother's loss - of dreams and hopes dashed by the cruel reality of death at an early age. But it is also a story of redemption more enduring than the tragedy that cut a young life short.

When 17-year-old Cassie Bernall walked into the library of her suburban high school around 11:00 on the morning of April 20, 1999, she had little more on her mind than her latest assignment for English class: another act of Macbeth. How could she know that by the end of the hour, two classmates would storm the school, guns blazing, and kill as many people as they could, including her?
As the wounded were carried from the bloody scene, several stories of bravery emerged, but one spread faster and farther than the rest. Confronted by her killers, Cassie was asked, "Do you believe in God?" She answered, "Yes."


It took me quite a few years before I finally decided to read this book. I knew it would be emotional-reading a daughter's story, written by her mother, after being lost is such a tragic way. I also knew, because I remembered the Columbine High School shootings from when I was in college, that it would bring back that scared and lonely feeling many of us had. Even when we were watching the footage, crammed around the TV in our apartment, millions of miles away in Iowa, Columbine made many of us feel very alone.

I was really impressed by how Misty Bernall portrayed her daughter's story. She explained how Cassie got to where she was when she was killed-emotionally and spiritually. She didn't pretend her child was perfect, but she knew that there were perfect things about her that the world needed to know. She let others add their own thoughts-Cassie's dad, brothers, and friends-as well as Cassie herself, though diary entires and letters. While there was nothing that could change this from being a sad story, Misty Bernall does an excellent job showing that even in tragedy, there are things that we can all believe in.