Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Reviews

I review New Zealand authored books on but sometimes I'm sent books from overseas.  I've just finished two that I'd like to share with you.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio published by Random House

When Augie finds out his mother wants him to attend school he is frightened.  He likes being home schooled - at least there, he doesn't have to deal with kids making fun of him.  Augie has a facial abnormality. His eyes are like diagonal slits and hang halfway down his face. His ears - also lower than they should be - resemble little cauliflours. He doesn't have cheekbones and there are deep creases running down both sides of his nose to his mouth. And that is after the surgery.

After a tour of the school 10-year-old Augie decides to be brave and risk going. For the first couple of months, he endures the stares, and people avoiding touching him but when he overhears his best friend saying he had to befriend him; it all comes crashing down around him.  With the support of Summer, his sister Olivia , loving parents, and Jack who realises he is missing out on a real friend; Augie manages to navigate his first year of school.  This is a heartwarming story of a boy coming of age. It's also about kindness, not judging a
book by its coverboy by his face, and recognising true friends.  The author has written the story from five point of views, which children under 14 years might find difficult to follow. It helps that the designer symbolises those changes by calling them Part 1-8 with a different symbolised face for each person. I think the quotes on those pages, though interesting for sophisticated readers could be confusing for younger readers. However, I'm glad the author gave us the different perspectives, as I thought hearing why Jack had put-down Augie and how he felt bad about it and redressed it, gave an interesting perspective. Also, we heard what it felt like being Augie's sister; a character that would often be largely ignored in a story. The changing perspectives also helped the story not be over-sentimentalised. Though, the last chapter did veer too much into this territory but not so you stop reading it; more like you have to wipe the tears away so you can continue reading it. Highly recommended for 14+ readers but most probably read by adult females. Teachers, it would be a great book to study for Health or English at Intermediate/Highschool level, or read aloud to the class because of the issues it covers, and the warm feeling the book leaves you with. Plenty to talk about afterwards.

Six Days by Philip Webb, Scholastic, UK

Six Days is part dystopian, part fantasy.

Cass and her brother Wilbur make a living with their father ransacking a devastated London.  For hundreds of years the scavengers have been searching for a lost artefact. Wilbur believes he knows where it is.  It is up to Cass to help him find it, help two strangers, and then save the Earth.

This first time author narrates the story through the main character's cockney voice. He skilfully introduces back story - the fight between father and grandfather, the death of their mother, into the story. There's a little bit of romance but not too much because Cass is a tough nut. But ultimately this is a quest story - finding the lost flinder before the Russians use it for evil purposes.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story but my 12 year old daughter became confused when it changed style (dystopian to fantasy). For some people this transition is unexpected. You couldn't call it unoriginal though. The characters are three dimensional and likeable (or not likeable as in the case of the bad guys).  However, I'm not sure if I liked one of the main characters changing sides, and some of the characters were given a lot of introduction then they disappeared from the story. I thought it a bit old fashioned to have the bad buys as the Russians. The Cold War has long gone. Worth reading though.


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