Saturday, October 22, 2011

Book Report #27

At three years, four months here in the Seoul Patch, it's blog post number 701 (and book report #27)!

  • Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick - Steven is an ordinary suburban middle-schooler who plays the drums, has trouble talking to girls and is annoyed by his younger brother--until said younger brother is diagnosed with leukemia. Frankly, had I read the blurb more carefully, i probably wouldn't have picked this book, but I liked the title and the cover art, since I am always trying to find a new book in case I teach book club again in my camp time. That said, tearjerker though it is, this book is an honest and well-written account of what this experience is like. Don't read this without a box of tissue on your bedside table.
  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett - Armageddon and the end of the world was nevr so funny! An angel and a demon are the key characters in this tale, who have spent the millennia since the Garden of Eden days prepping Planet Earth for the Final Battle between Good and Evil. Unfortunately, they've misplaced the Antichrist, who happens to be an eleven-year-old boy, and he's not really sure he wants the World to End. Okay, so it's basically a lark, but along the way the authors make some valid points about religion and culture, poke fun at corporate training seminars, and make me laugh till I cry two or three times. Good Omensstuff!
  • The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen - Yolen is one of the most prolific authors of children's fantasy fiction in America, with around 300 books. This one focuses on a young New York Jewish girl, Hannah, who complains about having attend another seder at her grandparents' house. Grandpa Will sometimes makes a scene by yelling at the TV set and brandishing his left arm--sleeve rolled up, you can see the blue tattooed numbers on his forearm. He scares Hannah at these moments, and she wonders why he wants everyone to remember, if it was such a bad experience. Anyway, sent to open the door for the Prophet Elijah, as per seder tradition, she is surprised to see not the hallway of her grandparents' building, but a greening plain under a dark sky, across which lumbered a hulling figure. Hannah is thus transported to a Polish shtetl circa 1942, and soon finds herself tattooed with a serial number at the Auschwitz camp ...
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot - Skloot spent over ten years researching and writing this book, some considerable portion of that time working to gain the trust of the relatives of the title character. As that may suggest, Henrietta Lacks was a real person (even if often misidentified as a "Helen Lane") whose importance to the world of modern biological research cannot be overstated. As she was dying of a particularly vicious cervical cancer, Johns Hopkins researchers harvested some of her cells, and found that they--unlike virtually all samples they had tried to date--grew well in culture media. Not just well, extremely well, so well that today there are tons of Henrietta's cells in labs today. Meanwhile, her family and children have never benefitted from their use, and were never even informed of the cells' being harvested. Fascinating, painstakingly researched.
  • This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper - The Foxman family is sitting shiva on the death of patriarch Mort, and narrator Judd Foxman has just learned that his wife, who just left him for his boss, is pregnant with his (Judd's) child, five years after their first baby was stillborn. Sounds like a depressing tome, but it is one of the funniest things I've read in a long time. Not many books provoke a belly laugh every ten pages, especially when it is detailing the complicated, dysfunctional lives of a family in meltdown. Adept turns of phrase at every turn of page, flawed but genuine characters who leap from the page, well=paced story-telling that makes you want to turn the page, and then feel sad when there are no more pages to turn. Highly recommended.

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