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Monday, March 31, 2008

What I'm Reading: March 2008

I begin this month's reading report with Elizabeth Berg's WWII set novel, Dream When You Are Feeling Blue, which also happens to be the book chosen for my area's "Big Read." This is the summary of the book as posted on The Big Read website:

The time is 1943; the place is Chicago, Illinois. Three Irish-Catholic sisters, the Heaney girls, spend part of every evening sitting at the kitchen table in their pincurls, writing to their boyfriends and to other men fighting in World War II. Observing the daily life of these girls, as well as their parents and three brothers, we get a glimpse of what life was like on the homefront; in the letters that the women receive from men, we get an idea of what it was like “over there.” This novel is an evocation of a time gone by, a purposefully nostalgic and sentimental - and fun! - look at the forties: the clothes, the music, the language, the meals, the sentiments. It is a dramatic example of how a certain period in time can shape a person. Most of all, it demonstrates how much we are willing to give in the name of love.

There is quite a lot of information about the book and the events being offered at the participating libraries to be found here. The Big Read is going on right now!

Although the events are only open to residents of the participating libraries, the organizers of this cooperative event have been doing this for a few years now and have set an excellent example of how multiple communities can pool resources and offer outstanding adult programming and Reader's Advisory. Look at their website for ideas for your own community.

The Big Read Organizers have also an extensive list of WWII era read alikes to be found with this link. However, for those who read this book and enjoyed the relationship between the sisters more than the time period, you could also try Jennifer Weiner's In Her Shoes, which has nothing to do about WWII, but everything to do about the bonds between sisters.

I also listened to the popular A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. Hosseini's follow-up to The Kite Runner tells to stories of two women, Miriam and Laila, as they live through three decades of war in Afghanistan. With his second novel, Hosseini has shown that he is an excellent storyteller who is here to stay. I especially enjoyed the detailed history lesson which this book provided. Mostly, I was riveted by the two women, their voices, and their stories.

Those who like Hosseini's setting of Afghanistan should also try the current nonfiction best seller Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson or the fiction title The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra. Those who enjoyed learning about the history of Afghanistan may also want to delve into the Iranian Revolution (a neighbor of Afghanistan). Here I suggest The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. In this accessible graphic novel, Satrapi tells her personal story of living through war and Islamic revolution in Iran. Much of her story resonates with that of Miriam and Laila's. Finally, those readers who found the women's friendship against all odds very appealing, I suggest Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. Although this novel takes place in China, the laotong relationship between the two main characters has many similarities with Hosseini's novel.

Now for something completely different. To fulfill one of my two YA reading requirements I went to my local public library to talk with the YA staff. Debbie suggested How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. I am glad I sought out assistance in choosing this title because I thoroughly enjoyed the originality of this novel and its Science Fiction twist on the traditional finding yourself theme found in most Young Adult literature.

I How I Live Now, Daisy is a disaffected, motherless, NYC tough girl who is sent to live at her Aunt's English Country Estate. The twist here is that a World War is beginning and eventually, Daisy and her cousins are left to fend for themselves without any communication with the outside world. The story that follows has some violence, but is very realistic. You will be emotionally affected by this novel. Up against terrible odds, Daisy learns what really matters in life and the reader is treated to a fairly happy ending.

How I Live Now is being marketed as a both a YA and adult read, but I will focus on adult read alikes, since that is my expertise. An obvious choice is The Road by Cormac McCarthy which is the story of a boy and his father as they travel a very dangerous, post-apocalyptic, American landscape looking for a safe place. Mark Zusak's The Book Thief is also a good suggestion here. Another popular YA/Adult cross-over novel, The Book Thief tells the story WWII era story of a young German foster child.

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