Monday, March 15, 2010

Project 50 Redux: February

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
This is a graphic novel-style non-fiction memoir by a woman who grew up during the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Her parents were Communists and many of their friends were targeted and imprisoned or killed. She grew up with a fervor for knowledge and a gutsy stick-it-to-the-man attitude, encouraged by her parents, which got her into trouble when she questioned the rewritten history she was taught in school after the change in government. To be honest, I have little knowledge of Iranian political history, so in some parts of the book I just had to take her word for it, which was sometimes hard because it was written in the style of the age the author was at the time. I think it was interesting to have the combined perspectives of 1. a woman in 2. a liberal family in 3. a Middle Eastern country with its share of political and religious conflict. B+

“Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” by Susanna Clarke

This book really held my attention well considering that not much action actually happened for most of the book. It is the tale of two English magicians, the only two “practical magicians” in England, at the time of King George III. To keep the story moving along, the author finds ways of weaving new characters into a deep-held secret that only Mr. Norrell and the reader really understand for most of the story. Even though it’s an 800+ page book, I never really found myself bored because I got invested in the separate storylines that were sometimes close together and sometimes almost unrelated, and sometimes tied to actual events in history. Characters from previous parts of the story kept popping back up and knitting the storylines back together. I wasn’t all that satisfied with the way that the story ended because I felt like it should have been more finished, but the rest of it was so involved I felt like I was actually in the time period. A-

“Artemis Fowl” by Eoin Colfer
The premise of the book really put me off. Artemis Fowl is a young genius and heir to the fortune of a crime family which has lost its partriarch. He’s twelve and is just too brilliant and too cocky for my liking. I just don’t like books in which children are given more autonomy than they are supposed to have. He cooks up a plan that involves kidnapping a fairy soldier (I’ll admit that the rewriting of folklore into a “what humans think they know but don’t” mythology was pretty clever) and holding her for ransom, negotiating with the supernatural military for her release, pretending to want something that he doesn’t… oh it was all too contrived for a twelve year old. Maybe it would be more fun for someone who actually is twelve or younger, but I’m not buying it. C-

“The Ride Together: a Brother and Sister’s Memoir of Autism in the Family” by Judy Karasik and Paul Karasik
This book was co-written by the brother and sister of a man with autism. The sister writes in normal chapters, and the brother delivers his experience in graphic novel style, which worked especially well in some parts because of his brother’s interest in Superman. I especially liked it because the brother with autism was older than both of them, so they don’t tell much about his childhood, but mostly the family’s experiences bouncing him around to different group homes as an adult and his visits home during vacations or transitions. One transition near the end of the book was hard to read about because it came about when the facility was shut down because of abuse of residents by the caretakers. It spoke to me as a person who works with people with disabilities to say never, ever take advantage of a situation in which you are the person in power. A-

“Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH” by Robert C. O’Brien
I think the last time I read this book I was in the fourth grade. It’s a little bit magical to read something that you thought you knew as a kid. I didn’t remember all the action in the story happening within just a few days, but that was probably because my class read the story over several weeks with vocabulary and comprehension sheets in between. The way the rats build up their civilization is so imaginative and complete, I can really see why this book was a Newberry Award Winner. A-