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Monday, October 13, 2008

Take Ten: Columbus Day Readalikes

In honor of the spirit of exploration we celebrated today, I would like to suggest a few books with unlikely adventurers. All of these books and annotations are taken from my Shelfari shelf which you can access with this link, or at any time on the right column of this blog. Call it an impromptu "Take Ten," in no particular order.

Watership Down by Richard Adams
Fiver senses the impending disaster about to befall his community and convinces a small band to leave the safety of home and run away. Hazel, the leader, takes the group on an Exodus like journey to the promised land of Watership Down. Hazel, Fiver and their band are no ordinary pilgrims, however. They are rabbits and the reader is drawn into their world of warrens, rabbit folk-lore, and complex politics while following them on their dangerous journey. The result is a moving tale of survival and adventure, no matter the species.

The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue
At age 7, Henry Day is kidnapped by a pack of hobgoblins who replace him with one of their own. The chapters alternate between the experiences of human Henry and hobgoblin Henry. Neither Henry feels content in his life, and both are losing a grip on their true pasts. Their concurrent struggle to find where they came from lead the two Henrys to finally meet decades later.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Richard Mayhew is your average young Londoner, until he stops to help a young homeless girl he finds on the street. This chance encounter leads Richard into “London Below,” a dark and magical parallel city under the familiar streets of his hometown. Before he can return to the world above, Richard must battle monsters and henchmen, visit with a fallen angel, and find his own inner strength.

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
A deadly virus is quickly killing off everyone on Earth, and Laura Byrd, a researcher in Antarctica is apparently the last person left alive. This apocalyptic story alternates between Laura’s struggle for survival and an alternate universe called “the city,” populated by the dead who still are remembered by those living on Earth. This compelling and original tale is chilling and thought provoking.

Girl in Landscape by Jonathan Lethem
13 year old Pella Marsh and her family flee a post-apocalyptic Brooklyn to become settlers on a new planet. The previous inhabitants of this planet were a highly evolved alien race which used viruses to alter the planet. To add to the tension, Pella’s father, a politician, clashes with another settler about the type of society they want to establish. Although the novel takes place in outer space, the story feels more like a classic Western than Science Fiction. Told through Pella’s eyes, this is a tale about the loss of innocence and the trials of being a pioneer.

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
In this classic novel, 18th Century, explorer Lemuel Gulliver, encounters Lilliputians, giants, scientists, philosophers, and brutes in five different worlds. Swift used each encounter to skewer his contemporaries, but 300 years later, his insight into human behavior and hypocrisy is still surprisingly fresh.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
At age 6, Ender Wiggins is identified as the “last hope” to defeat the alien race set upon the destruction of the Earth and all of its inhabitants. Sent to a special military training school in space, Ender leaves his family behind and begins an intensive training involving team building and simulated war games. The reader follows both Ender’s trials at living on his own and his family’s story of dealing with the increasingly difficult political situation back on Earth. Ender’s Game is a moving coming-of-age tale with a science fiction twist.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
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.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob Jankowski, a ninety-something year old nursing home patient. The novel is his reminiscence of his life in a depression era circus, specifically his coming-of-age as a man and as a veterinarian. The story follows Jacob as he learns of the indignities of circus life and the intense desperation of the Great Depression. We follow Jacob as he falls in love with a performer, tries to save her from an abusive husband, and fights for the rights of the circus workers and animals. But it is with the introduction of Rosie, an elephant, that the story blossoms into something special.

Ines of My Soul by Isabel Allende
This historically accurate novel relates the true story of the Spanish conquerors of Chile in the 1500s. Ines Suarez narrates the book in her old age, as a memoir being told to her daughter, Isabel. Ines began her life as a seamstress in Spain, but became the first Gobernadora of Chile. Ines relates the trials and jubilation, the hard times and the wonderful moments of establishing Santiago, Chile. Most of the novel is taken up with the story of Ines and her lover, Pedro Valdivia, the war hero, and their bloody struggles with the indigenous people of Chile. This is the story of Ines’ life, a chronicle of the founding of Chile, a comment on the price of “discovering” the New World, and a tale of the power of love.

As a side note, my library was closed today. My adventures led me and my two school-aged children to see Beverley Hills Chihuahua and explore a suburban pumpkin farm. Not nearly as memorable as "discovering" the New World (or slaughtering indigenous people) but a fun day off nonetheless.

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