The Catcher in the Rye

1 05 2008

The Catcher in the Rye

By J.D. Saliger

Summary:

This book covers a time span of a few days in the life of Holden Caulfield’s life. He starts off at the school Pencey Prep, a boarding school from which he was just expelled.  After hanging out at the school for several hours and the readers learning about the other characters, Holden decides to leave the school and go home.  After leaving he walks to the train station, which takes him to his home town. From there he decides that going home a little early from school so he goes to a hotel. After this he goes and hangs out around town which includes riding in a taxi and also going to a duck pond. After that he went to a hotel and hired a prostitute that he only talked to and didn’t sleep with. She left with only half the money that he was supposed to pay her and because of this she came back with the man who hired her out, to get the rest of the money that she was owed.  Holden crawled to the bed and fell asleep where he awoke later and left for home to find his parents asleep but woke his sister who talked to him, after which he left and was leaving when his sister stopped him and wouldn’t let him go without her. He managed to leave his house without his sister, and took a cab to go to the duck pond with his red hat that he wore to keep warm.

Review:

This book is a very interesting book for the time because of the simplistic style of writing and the subject of the writing. These ideas about Holden hanging out with a prostitute and the inappropriate language used in the text itself are very contrary to how everyday people lived in the fifties.  However these ideas complete the character, and somehow make the reader believe the character and the stress that he is under. Holden does not care about anything, especially school. He has a way with people and a certain manipulative ability.

Why is this book “dangerous?”:

During the fifties, when this book was written the ideas that this book presented went very much against what society at the time believed in. The ideas ranged from keeping up with the Jones and also the baby boomer era which are very similar and were very different from the style of writing which is portrayed in this book. Some of the problems that the public had with this book were things like the language especially, the scene with the prostitute, and some people had a general dislike for Holden’s general outlook on life and how bad it is.





The Lovely Bones

1 05 2008

The Lonely Bones

By Alice Sebold

Summary:

The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold, begins with a fourteen-year-old girl telling us about her life and death. The girl, Susie Salmon, is now in heaven as she watches down on her world as everyone copes with her death. One day as Susie walks home from school, a neighbor stops her while she is taking a shortcut. The neighbor takes Susie into a structure he has built within the ground where he rapes her and ultimately kills her. Days later, a neighborhood dog brings her elbow into sight causing a ruckus. As the police begin to investigate her murder, Susie watches from heaven as her family and friends suffer from her mysterious disappearance.

The book continues on for multiple years as Susie watches how her family and friends live without her. She sees her friends mature and develop into young adults. She must watch as her parents grow apart after her death and her younger siblings grow up without an older sister. The book then concludes years later when Susie sees her younger sister with her newborn baby. In the end we also watch as Susie sees an older man recover her long lost charm bracelet that we see on the cover.

Review:

I definitely enjoyed reading this book, which I can’t say is true with all the books I have read for a class. It was well written and it made you want to continue, whether that is true from the writing or the pure fact that it is considered a mystery or thriller. I don’t want to say that everyone would enjoy this book because it does deal with a fourteen-year-old girl and her life, something that a teenage boy may not find very captivating.

The whole concept of the book interested me as well; you have this teenage girl who is looking down on her friends and family back on earth while she is in heaven. This allows for the author to have the book jump around to different people and events, as they occur to keep the book moving. Since this book is turning into a movie I am especially interested how this will be portrayed on the big screen, it seems to pose quite a challenge.

Why is this book “dangerous?”:

While The Lovely Bones has been praised it has also received some negative responses. The book involves the main character being in heaven, not just a generic heaven but one personalized to her tastes and personality. Some people believe that Alice Sebold is questioning some aspects of religion. They considered her version of heaven to have no God and to have no kind of judgment for those entering heaven. Sebold came back at the readers who criticized her heaven with this, “To me, the idea of heaven would give you certain pleasures, certain joys – but it’s very important to have an intellectual understanding of why you want those things. It’s also about discovery, and being able to come to the conclusions that elude you in life.” Books don’t always have to be politically correct; if they were, every book would be practically the same. The author gets to develop their own ideas that may be questioned or interpreted differently than they had hoped.

The Lovely Bones has also been taken out of many school libraries due to its explicit content. The book does deal with a fourteen-year-old girl and so the book has been put into some middle school libraries so that some of the older kids could read it. It was when fifth graders were seen reading the book that parents became worried. In March of 2008 a parent from Massachusetts tried to get the book pulled from the shelves of the middle school library in which her children attended. She said, “They say this book is about healing and hope, which it’s not. The guy committing the crime doesn’t get punished. The mom runs away from her family.” The book does deal with healing and hope but it is on a deeper level, one that a sixth grader may not understand, which is why it may not be a bad thing to keep it out of some middle school libraries.





In the Night Kitchen

1 05 2008

In the Night Kitchen

By Maurice Sendak

Summary:

A boy named Mickey is awakened by some noises downstairs while trying to get some sleep. When Mickey goes to investigate he stumbles on the night kitchen and finds the chefs there that are trying to make some cake. He then goes on a journey through the town to find the milk that the chefs were talking about. He takes the milk to the chefs and they bake him into a cake that turns into an airplane that takes him away back to his home.

Review:

This book is a classic Sendak with his infamous illustrations. While reading the book you don’t even notice the things that would have made it controversial. The way the book flows you don’t notice he’s naked unless you know that is what the controversy is about. Then there is just a cuteness to it that lends itself to being a great children’s novel.

Why is this book “dangerous?”:

This book was considered dangerous because of the nudity that is oblivious throughout the novel. Thought the Sendak didn’t not intend on this book as controversial as it was, he just didn’t want to deal with the issue of him have clothes on in the batter.  There was the censorship being applied and having the librarians mark out the privates that have been exposed.  There are also concerns about the fact that Mickey is playing milk which could be bodily fluids.





Animal Farm

1 05 2008

Animal Farm

By George Orwell

Summary:

George Orwell, born Eric Blair, wrote his classic Animal Farm during World War II and it was published in 1946.  Orwell was a renowned and open socialist.  He was not however a supporter of communism’s interpretation of socialism in the USSR or in Spain (he saw first hand oppressions in Spain when he fought for the Spain’s cause of independence).

Animal Farm opens in Britain where there is a small to mid-sized farm called “Manor Farm”.  The farm is run by a Mr. Jones, symbolizing Czar Nicholas II, along with five other men.  The animals work the farm at the human’s command and do so without reproach.

The animal and human coexistence begins to become threatened however when a pig named old Major, the incarnation of Karl Marx, prophesizes a rebellion of the animals that will overthrow Mr. Jones.  The animals prepare animals prepare for the coming rebellion not knowing when it will occur.  To replace Major, two other pigs find themselves coming to the forefront of leadership for the rest of the animals.  These two pigs Napoleon and Snowball, Stalin and Trotsky respectively, start the rebellion when Mr. Jones uses his whip to beat animals away from the food stores.  After that incident the animals begin to rule themselves.  However, it is not done so in complete democracy, Napoleon and Snowball are pushed into leadership positions by the rest of the animals.

As the story progresses the animals slowly give more and more power to the pigs who are like a ruling class, and begin to bear a striking resemblance to Mr. Jones.  This class is split when the issue of constructing a windmill is brought up by Snowball at the farm’s Sunday meeting.  Napoleon and Snowball fight with one another until Napoleon drives Snowball away through use of his nine dogs, the secret police of what is now called Animal Farm.

The animals accept the fate of Snowball, because they are told that he was a traitor and in league with Mr. Jones.  Soon after, Napoleon announces that the windmill he had so vehemently opposed is going to be built.  At this the animals start to become confused and angered that Napoleon appears to be contradicting himself.  The outrages do not stop there however, because as the story unfolds the pigs become more and more like Mr. Jones and his men.  The animals’ rights are continually reduced until they are working more than they used to for less.  Eventually Boxer, the seemingly dull witted strong horse who is the symbol of the proletariat, calls Napoleon on his hypocrisy.  As a result, Boxer is sold off to a glue plant when he can no longer work only to be replaced by five other horses.  The liberties of the animals continue to be stripped down until the pigs have all the power and freedom while the other animals are little more than slaves.  This return to Mr. Jones’ regime is completed when the pigs host some humans in the manor house.  The animals creep up to the window to watch the goings on.  Soon after an argument breaks out over the card game going on and the animals cannot tell which of the subjects before them are pigs and which are humans, because they all look the same.

Review:

This book is one of my favorite books.  I thoroughly enjoy Orwell as an author because of his fluid motion of thought through his writing.  It is smooth and works well in describing exactly what he hopes to portray. Animal Farm was written as a warning to Europe about the Soviets.  The book’s subjects are all representative of some aspect of the Russian society (ie Napoleon is Stalin, Snowball is Trotsky, Boxer is the proletariat, etc). Orwell has an ability to write in a manner that perfectly conveys what happened in Russia.  His nonchalant approach to writing about the pigs seeming indifference to their own transformation back to what they were to replace, the czar style government, makes the book.  Orwell is able to capture the essence of how the transformation took place and how the other animals were convinced that what was happening was the preferred outcome.  Orwell’s ability to portray what was actually going on in Russia is why this book is so good and is why anyone interested in Stalin, Russia, communism, or the history of Europe should read Animal Farm.

Why is this book “dangerous?”:

Animal Farm was written during World War II, when much of Western Europe was very happy with communist Russia for its efforts to beat Germany.  This book is a slap in the face to that idea.  It was written as a warning to Europe to be on guard against a communist country.  Though it was only meant to be a precaution it was immediately met with disapproval from many in the Western World.  These people branded Orwell as a fascist and supporter of the Nazi regime for the way that he portrayed Stalin.  Slowly, however, this image began to die away as many realized Orwell was a socialist.  Also, as time wore on all that Orwell wrote seemingly came true.  His feelings about what would happen to Russia as Stalin’s power grew came true.  Now, Animal Farm is viewed as one of the best works of the 20th century and Orwell one of its best authors.

Read Animal Farm on Google Books





The Chocolate War

1 05 2008

The Chocolate War

By Robert Cormier

Summary:

The Chocolate War is the story about an all boys’ school that lacks discipline when students act in malicious ways towards each other. The school is run by a student formed gang called the Vigils. This gang not only influences other students to do certain assignments that involve pranks and other wrongdoings to the school, but they also influence teachers in scams and briberies. The novel starts out when a normal, freshman named, Jerry, tries out for the football team. After his experience at tryouts he is immediately selected by the Vigils to receive his first assignment. The novel is centered on this fundraising effort by the school that involves the sale of chocolates. Brother Leon, who is a corrupt teacher notorious for his tolerance towards the Vigils, is asked to lead the sale and make sure that all of the chocolate gets sold. Brother Leon, then, turns to Archie, who is an assistant leader of the Vigils, to make sure that the sale “runs smoothly”. Archie plans for Jerry to refuse to sell chocolates as part of his assignment until the tenth day he would give in. Jerry takes matters into his own hands when he starts to reflect upon personal matters that involve his mother’s death and his relationship with his father. From this point on, Jerry continues to refuse to sell chocolates for the school. When chocolate sales start to take a dive, the Vigils take matters into their own hands. Archie and Emile Janza, who is another bully at school not part of the Vigils, start to use physical violence and excessive prank phone calling to try and persuade Jerry to sell chocolates in order to drive the sales back up. Jerry continues to refuse to sell the chocolates, and both Emile Janza and Archie scheme a plan to raffle off Jerry’s chocolates through a fight that is performed in front of the entire student body consisting of Emile Janza and Jerry as contenders. On the raffle tickets, themselves, it determines the attacks that each fighter would take. The fight was pretty even until Emile Janza started ignoring the commands from the raffle tickets and started unleashing on Jerry eventually striking him in the temple. Jerry is then rushed to the hospital with a fractured jaw and internal bleeding. The novel ends as Archie becomes even stronger by portraying the hero in destroying Jerry’s reputation and orchestrating the entire plan on behalf of the Vigils. While, on the other hand, Jerry feels weak and feels that the school has betrayed him in that they allowed the Vigils to pursue their immoral acts.

Review:

Robert Cormier, definitely, chose his words careful when writing The Chocolate War because although the novel read smoothly and was fairly short, there is distinct detail within every chapter that one must pay attention to. For example, Cormier instinctively uses symbols such as the poster that says “ Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?” as a literary tool to help the reader experience what the character is feeling at that point in the novel. At that particular point in the novel, Jerry was debating whether or not he should go against the Vigils and follow his own path. It is interesting that in this novel the true hero is the one that is, actually, the outsider in the school. Jerry is not the most popular guy in school and is, in fact, he is very lonely. He dreams about having a girlfriend and even buys a pornographic magazine only to throw it away and question whether someone will ever love him back. Jerry seems to find his niche at school in the only way that he knows how to, which is to reject the status quo and refuse sell chocolates. Although Jerry becomes physically abused because of his actions, he becomes the hero of the novel because he is the only one that will standup against the wrongs caused by the Vigils. Archie becomes the classic villain of the novel because although he seems powerful for Jerry’s destruction, he is still following the footsteps of everybody else in the Vigil gang. In other words he is a clone of his surroundings in that he is just other gang member. The novel is a constant power struggle between the powers of good and evil. In this novel it seemed that evil conquered all by the end, but in actuality, Jerry’s courage is the model and the persistence in his motives is what causes the powers of good to ultimately win over evil. In summary, I believe that Robert Cormier uses his literary devices to his advantage by establishing symbolism through certain background pieces within the text that helps the reader get a glimpse into what the character is feeling. In addition, I think that overall, driving theme of the novel is that goodness prevails even when evil seems to take over because it is the actions and the model that one sets that is determined as great in the end.

Why is this book “dangerous?”:

The Chocolate War was banned due heavy use of profanity, sexual references, and references to bribery, distortion, and physical violence within the novel. There are many scenes in the book where the Vigils and other characters use extensive profanity. According to one, dissatisfied, parent’s estimation, there are 171 cuss words within the novel (www.freedomforum.org). There are two distinct sexual references within the book that involves the purchase of a pornographic magazine and an illusion to a masturbation scene when Archie blackmails Emile with a photo of him masturbating while sitting on a toilet. Throughout the book the Vigils use mafia type techniques to get whatever they want. For example, Carter, the leader of the Vigils, beat up a kid that would not comply with the Vigils. Unhappy parents believe that their kids will start to model this behavior. According to Robert Cormier, he says, “ The language and some of the controversial scenes are what gives the novel its credibility amongst young readers.” (www.freedomforum.org). Robert Cormier suggest that the public is only looking at the exterior language of the text and not what the overall message of the story has to offer. Considering that the book is placed on most eighth grade reading lists, there is no question that there are going to be some unhappy parents who believe that the book is just feeding their kids bad ideas. The Chocolate War remains at number 5 on the top 50 most frequently banned books according to Hebert Foerstel’s Banned in the USA (http://archives.cnn.com). The book is also part of the American Library Association 100 most frequently challenged books (www.ala.org). Robert Cormier devoted his life to keep his book off the challenged book list, but the book continued to receive criticism. Although the books does contain some explicit content on the surface, by reading the book for oneself one can see the author’s perspective and can grasp the overall theme and message that novel is trying to deliver.





The Basketball Diaries

1 05 2008

The Basketball Diaries

By Jim Carroll

Summary:

The Basketball Diaries is an autobiographical account of Jim Carroll’s life between the ages 12 to 15 in the form of his edited Diary. The story takes place in New York City. In the opening chapters, Jim’s basketball coach, who he suspects is a homosexual, gives Jim’s teammates fake IDs, enabling them to play in the 13-and-under basketball league which they dominate. Jim and his friends are trouble-makers. In addition to basketball, they enjoy drinking, stealing, and sniffing cleaning products in order to get high. After transferring from a Catholic school that he despises, he begins smoking marijuana, often times by himself. His curiosity for drugs grows, as he moves on to opiates and eventually heroin. This combined with some confusing sexual experiences lead to his decision to prostitute himself. Despite having the opportunity to play for his virtually unbeatable high school basketball team, Jim drops out of school. When he returns, he continues his drug use and is eventually sent to prison. After being released from prison after a very short time, the temptation to use drugs still exists, so Jim gives in.

Review:

I would recommend this book, especially to young adults. It shows how natural teenage thoughts, confusion, curiosity, and desires, which are very easy to relate to, can cause one to develop into something terrible. The combination of the mean streets of New York City and Jim’s curiosity leads to his experimentation with many drugs and eventual addiction to heroin, and his sexual desires result in confusing encounters and self-prostitution. The way in which these experiences unfold in the life of a developing adolescent is comparable to those of the book Go Ask Alice.

Jim uses basketball as a metaphor for his life off of the court. The game is the only activity that is consistent and causes wholesome happiness in his life. However, even Jim’s Biddie League becomes corrupt due to older players with fake IDs and a coach who has desires toward his young male players. Although Jim is very talented, drugs ruin his dream of becoming a basketball star at the next level. This transition as a player is similar to the change he goes through as a person. As a young child, everyone is innocent, but as Jim grew older he eventually became addicted to various drugs, which ruin part of his life. At the end of the diary, after feeling the negative effects of a usage of heroin, he gets up to puke and exclaims, “I just want to be pure.” In the same way that Jim wants to play the game the way that he used to, he also wants his innocence and purity back. Carroll shows how normal adolescent feelings can turn into disaster under certain circumstances in a way that the reader easily can relate to.

Why is this book “dangerous?”:

This book can be considered controversial for many reasons. The most apparent is the language that Carroll uses. In addition to excessive profanity, he describes obscene sexual situations and thoughts with detail, such as Jim’s and his friends’ responses to nude pictures of lesbians that he found in a wallet that they stole from a woman. It is also sexually controversial because the seemingly responsible coach of Jim’s team likes to touch the little boys in a manner that confuses the author. Later in Jim’s diary, he recalls when he skips school and enters the movie theater with someone who he thinks is a woman. He does not realize the truth until after he has made out with him. However, the most dangerous aspect of the book is the descriptive accounts of Jim’s drug usage. He begins by sniffing cleaning products and drinking beer, moves on to marijuana and LSD, and eventually becomes addicted to heroin. Although he only starts using heroin every once in a while, he ends up describing a period of time when he remains high for four consecutive days, which he describes as “temporary death.” He also has to resort to prostituting himself in order to support the addiction.





Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

1 05 2008

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

By J.K. Rowling

Summary:

In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter is forced to spend his summer with his muggle family outside of Hogwarts. While staying at his muggle family’s house, he gets a surprise visit from little Dobby, who is the house-elf at Hogwarts. Dobby warns Harry to not return to Hogwarts for school this year because Dobby knows of terrible things that are going to be happening that would put Harry’s life in danger. But being the courageous person everyone knows Harry Potter as being; he decides to ignore Dobby’s warning and returns to Hogwarts as planned. When Harry returns to Hogwarts and has spent some time there, there are strange things going on and something is definitely not right. Harry starts hearing mysterious voices from inside the walls. Multiple Muggle-born students are being attacked. Ron’s little sister is kidnapped from Hogwarts and there is a message written in blood on the wall of the bathroom saying, “The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir, beware”.

Review:

There are quite a few reasons why some parents may not want their child to pick up and read this three hundred and forty-one page book. One reason is Harry potter practices disobedience and lying multiple times in the book. He repeatedly lies to avoid explaining what he has done and is always keeping secrets from his elders. Some parents might think that for a hero like Harry Potter to lie would promote lying to their children. Harry also has a muggle family that lives outside of Hogwarts that he hates and says that it is impossible not to hate them. Since he has no family at home, he finds family at Hogwarts. Some parents might be a bit skeptical about this because every time they discipline their children, their child could want to run away to Hogwarts to find a better and more welcoming family. There is also a good amount of “bathroom humor” in the book. J.K. Rowling decided to make the scene where the mystery of the chamber of secrets is solved in a bathroom. There is also a lot of violent content in the book. The monster in the Chamber of Secrets speaks to Harry and says, “Come… come to me. …Let me rip you. …Let me tear you. …Let me kill you.” Some people are not okay with reading about violence so they might not be okay with reading the book.

Why is this book “dangerous?”:

The book tends to really keep people glued to the page. J.K. Rowling talks about a boarding school that is populated with ghosts and monsters, and also explains the crazy lives that the students live that attend Hogwarts. The plot of the book always keeps the reader on their toes. It consists of a giant man-eating spider, a ghost who lives in the girls’ bathroom, time travel, magical-transformation potions, near death experiences of many of the most important characters, and a confrontation with the most evil, evil wizard, Voldemort. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a book that pulls adults and children into another world, which is sometimes just what everyone needs.