I couldn’t believe how shocked I was when I read Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray. I mean, I had taken a world history class with “in depth” unit about WWII and didn’t really know much of anything about what Stalin had done — nor had I even heard of the [Soviet] Holodomor (roughly translated to “death by hunger”) that rivaled the well-known [German] Holocaust. After reading Between Shades of Gray, though, I felt like I had a much better grasp of WWII history… And then I read this book. How is it that there is yet another major piece of WWII history that has flown under the radar for so long?!?
Before reading Salt to the Sea, I had never even heard of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. I was stupefied to learn that OVER NINE THOUSAND people died in this tragedy. Prior to reading this book, I would have been willing to bet that the Titanic and the Lusitania were the two largest maritime tragedies of all time. Even when you combine the death tolls of those two ships, nevertheless, they only account for about a third of the losses of the Gustloff. I wish American ethnocentrism didn’t extend to history classrooms in which *world* history is being taught, but it seems pretty evident to me that the anti-Germany sentiment surrounding WWII and the lack of American passengers aboard the ship have both contributed to a lack of American attention. People from all walks of life [civilians, refugees, and soldiers] and of all ages [from babies to senior citizens] were aboard that ship. It was a tragedy of unbelievable proportions.
Thank goodness Ruta Sepetys! With her well-developed characters and gripping plots, Sepetys is providing readers with compelling stories that will also spread awareness of these previously unknown tragedies. Who knows? Maybe her books will even lead to better coverage in future history textbooks and classes. I can only hope that the multiple points of view provided by this particular story will resonate with readers and finally bring much-deserved American attention to the great number of lives that were lost in the Baltic Sea [almost exactly] 71 years ago.
I think this book should be required reading for all teens and adults in America right about now. All too often, I find myself listening to or reading about people who just don’t understand why America should step up and actually help the Syrian refugees. Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that people don’t have any concept of what life is truly like for people who are forced to flee their home and country in fear of losing their very lives. Without a frame of reference, people have no idea what it is that they are turning their backs to. I am sick of the, “It sucks to be them, but it’s not America’s problem” mentality. Perhaps, by reading this story [about three children who narrowly escaped the Armenian genocide of 1915], people can begin to understand what these current refugees are experiencing. And maybe, just maybe, people can put aside their fear long enough to see that there is something we can do. We can open our hearts — and our borders — to the huddled masses who so desperately need somewhere safe to go. I think Master Yoda said it best when he said, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” So, let’s stop letting our fear get in the way. In this season of giving, love, and goodwill, let’s do our best to put aside our fear and to actually help out our fellow human beings.
This book was an interesting blend of historical fiction, mystery, and science fiction. I can certainly see why it won the Newbery Award, since it was well written, pays homage to a “classic” children’s book, and has a nostalgia factor for the teachers and librarians who grew up in the 70s and 80s — especially with all the references to Miranda’s mom practicing for her appearance on the game show $20,000 Pyramid. I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that a lot of tweens and teens would find it difficult to really get hooked on this story. I was curious about how things would play out in the end and all, but the story didn’t exactly keep me on the edge of my seat.
One day, as Miranda walked home with her best friend, Sal, he got punched in the stomach. The kid who punched him was new to the neighborhood and didn’t even know Miranda or Sal, so there didn’t seem to be any reason for the attack. Even worse? Right after that incident, Sal began to get distant. Miranda felt lost without Sal, since the two of them had been constant companions since their early childhood. And then, when the hidden/”emergency” key to her apartment went missing and she found a strange note hidden in a library book, Miranda got understandably freaked out. Especially since the author of the note seemed to know things about her — even things that hadn’t happened yet. Fans of A Wrinkle in Time are sure to enjoy the way Miranda’s life experiences drew parallels to that book and made her question the real possibilities of time travel. I think there are enough details, nevertheless, that the story will still make sense to readers who aren’t familiar with L’Engle’s work.
You may have noticed that I am doing daily reviews this week, as opposed to my typical weekly post, and that is for several reasons. First of all, I have a lot of book reviews to catch up on! Secondly, school vacations are the perfect time for tweens and teens to read for fun, and I wanted to help out the people who might want/need extra suggestions. Last but not least, I realized that I was inadvertently on a roll with books that took place in summer… Since I still have a few more books that fit the bill, I decided it would make sense to keep with it and to help us all escape the winter blues, one book review at a time. :-)
After listening to What I Saw and How I Lied, I was excited to check out Blundell’s second book. So many books were piled up on my “to be read” list, though, that this book got bumped… and then I forgot about it. (Ack!) Sometimes, thankfully, fate will intervene and remind me about a book I’d forgotten to read. In this case, my audiobook ended while I was out and about. Since I didn’t have another CD audiobook on standby, I browsed the OverDrive app on my phone to see if any of my “wish list” downloadable audiobooks were checked in. Boy, am I glad this one showed up! Continue reading
In October of 1962, my mom and dad were 7 and 13, respectively. They’ve told me stories of the old “duck and cover” drills they had to do in school and how frightened they were about the potential onset of a nuclear war, but I don’t think I truly appreciated what they went through until I listened to this audiobook. Experiencing the 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis vicariously through a character in a book, even knowing how the entire thing ended, was enough to make me anxious. I can’t imagine I would have fared well if I actually had to live it. (I probably would have had panic attacks all day, every day!) Such is the power of this extremely well-written book and it’s wonderfully produced audiobook. I was curious how the scrapbook pages would translate in an audiobook, and I was very pleased with the way sound bites were interjected into the story and sometimes woven together. (It actually reminded me quite a bit of the commercials in MT Anderson’s Feed.)
More striking than the anxiety this story induced, nevertheless, was the hope that it inspired. One quote, in particular, made such an impression that I pulled over during my evening commute to write them down. (Because my OCD self was concerned about accuracy, nevertheless, I found a print copy of the book.)
“There are always scary things happening in the world.
There are always wonderful things happening.
And it’s up to you to decide how you’re going
to approach the world…
how you’re going to live in it, and
what you’re going to do.”
Though Franny’s sister, Jo Ellen, was responding to Franny’s fear over the Cuban Missile Crisis, her words can truly be applied to any person’s response to any terrible situation. And, especially since this book goes beyond the facts of the Cuban Missile Crisis to explore Franny’s relationships with her family and friends, I think this book has a much broader appeal than just fans of historical fiction.
From looking at the cover of this book, I assumed it would have been a historical romance novel. I honestly thought it would have read like The Luxe or Manor of Secrets, and I was hoping for a Downton Abbey fix. And though there was a touch of romance, my assumption was pretty far off. Gemma Doyle’s experiences in a London finishing school [in 1895] were historically accurate, and she did experience some romantic entanglements, but the plot was primarily focused on the supernatural forces at play in Gemma’s life. While part of me wishes I knew about this book when it first came out, part of me is happy that all three books were already published and available as audiobooks so I could listen to them in rapid succession!
Gemma had a fairly uncomplicated life until the day a strange creature attacked her mother in an Indian marketplace. Rather than be captured by the creature, her mother committed suicide. Gemma’s father insisted on telling everyone that his wife died of an illness, but Gemma knew the truth and was racked with guilt over the fact that her mother was only in that area of the marketplace because she (Gemma) had run off in a snit. After witnessing the attack/suicide, Gemma started having visions — and the visions only got worse after she was sent off to Spence Academy. Trying to make new friends and to succeed in finishing school while also figuring out what was behind the visions proved extremely challenging, but these challenges were no match for Gemma’s pluck and determination.