Alan Gratz: Prisoner B-3087

image_about_loraxBased on a true story of Jack Gruener, Prisoner B-3087 tells the story of a Holocaust survivor, Yanek Gruener.

He is 10 years old when the Nazi’s gradual extermination of European Jews begins. Yanek’s dad is confident that the West will protect them and that the war will not last long. Yanek takes these words as fact and goes about life as though everything were normal.

However, when Poland is annexed, it’s clear that he cannot resume normalcy; Jewish children were prohibited from attending schools, Jews were banned from working, going to the movies, etc. Worst of all, they were branded with the Star of David. Explicitly marked as despicable Jews. 

By the time Yanek is 12, a solid wall is built around his neighborhood, now officially a Jewish ghetto. Now he had to share his home with 14 other people. Although his dad continue to assure them that everything will end quickly, Yanek is no longer sure. Within a year, Yanek’s entire family and relatives are deported. He remains alone in his old neighborhood until he too is taken away to a labor camp. Thus begins nearly 4 years of being transported from one camp to a worse camp where death, starvation, torture, and endless labor become the new normal.

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William Landay: Defending Jacob

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Imagine this: You are first assistant DA and you just found out that there was a murder in your own community. A 14 year old boy, Ben Rifkin, was stabbed on his way to school in the park you jog through every morning.  You decide to head the case and quickly discover that Ben attended the same school as your own son, Jacob. While investigating what appears to be a hopeless case, you find reason to suspect that your son may be guilty. What would you do?

The story begins one year after the murder of Ben Rifkin. Andrew Barber, former assistant DA, has been summoned by prosecutor Neal Logiudice who questions the way Andy handled the murder case. The book goes back and forth between the current trial and the devastation that hit Newton county in 2007.

When Andy first began his investigation, none of the students at Ben’s middle school would talk, there was barely any substantial evidence, and no real suspects either. But Andy gets an anonymous email inviting him to a Facebook group made in honor of Ben. He decides to check it out and reads through the comments until he freezes at one made by his son’s best friends Derek Yoo. Derek basically calls Jacob out, accusing Jacob of possessing a knife and having used it against Ben.

Initially, Andy hesitates to make much of the comment. I mean, what parent would want to believe it were even a possibility right? That is, until, he actually finds a knife in Jacob’s drawer. However, he never once doubts his son, or at least that’s what he tells himself for the duration of Jacob’s trial. Yet, instead of turning the knife in as possible evidence, Andy reprimands his son and gets rid of it. Then, when Derek’s comment is discovered by investigators, Andy is kicked off the case and Logiudice, who relentlessly insists Jacob is guilty, takes over.

Through this book, I was definitely able to get see high-profile cases from a different light. I think when it comes to crimes like murder, we never really think about the impact the case will have on the people involved. Rather, we just want to know, “who dun it?” But as you will read in this book, trials like this can severely damage the life of people involved, both directly and indirectly. Indeed, Jacob’s family may never be the same again after this. Furthermore, we also want to know the “truth!” Yet, as the book point out, the verdict of a trial is not necessarily “the truth,” it’s just closure. Indeed, “not guilty” does not mean “innocent” and “guilty” does not necessarily mean the defendant was actually guilty.

Julie Otsuka: The Buddha in the Attic

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“Most of us on the boat were accomplished, and were sure we would make good wives. We knew how to cook and sew. We knew how to serve tea and arrange flowers and sit quietly on our flat wide feet for hours, saying absolutely nothing of substance at all. A girl must blend into a room: she must be present without appearing to exist.

The Buddha in the Attic is a short novel based on the true experiences of Japanese-American immigrants in the early 1990s. It begins with a group of group of Japanese picture brides journeying to America on a boat to finally meet the husbands they only knew through letters and photos. They compare photos of their spouses and imagine what their new lives will be like in a foreign country where men held doors for women and it’s always “ladies first.”

However, it turns out that even in America, they will lead invisible lives — both as women and as Japanese immigrants. It turns out they were lied to. Their husbands are 20 years older than the photos led them to believe. Their husbands weren’t accomplished business men in American. It turns out they would still be farmers wives or house maids in a foreign land that didn’t welcome them.

As years go on, the women slowly lose their sense of identity. They stop grooming themselves and live routine emotionless lives as though they were machines. Working in the public for their families and working in the home for their husbands. But whatever the Japanese women do, they remain in the background — quiet, cleanly, and reliable, but always invisible.

When war breaks out, the situation worsens for Japanese Americans. Eventually, the suspicion grows and they are removed from their communities. It is only then do the Americans notice the Japanese among them. It is only when they disappear that they become present.

Overall, this book was interesting to me because it was like all of the Japanese picture brides from the both were speaking in one voice and their experiences melted together into one. It was also beautifully written — quiet and gentle, as though a Japanese person was speaking to me.

Jhumpa Lahiri: Interpreter of Maladies

988261_682712241754797_999308452_n The Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of nine short stories involving the lives of Indian American immigrants and their children. Some stories document the struggle immigrants go through as they attempt to adjust to a new society. Some characters want to hold on to their own cultural identity, or at least a peace of it. Others find it difficult to immerse themselves into the American way of life and, therefore, feel like an outsider. Sometimes, even the American-born children of immigrants feel like outsiders, unable to truly identify with either culture. In other cases, American-born children are largely disconnected from their heritage. For example, in the title-story, when Mr. and Mrs. Das visit their home country for the first time, they seem more like American tourists than Indians returning home.

Although none of the stories are action-packed, each one does take a small unexpected turn in the end. Also, the theme of love is evident in each story. For instance, in “A Temporary Matter,” Shobar and Shukumar are both aware of their faltering marriage. While both seek a new beginning, Shobar is alone in hoping for a new beginning together. However, love is not always related to romance. For example, in “When Mr. Pirzada came to dine” and “The Third and Final Continent,” love is more about friendship.

In general, although this book was a good way to pass time in the cardio room, it wasn’t a can’t-put-it-down type of book. Maybe the lack of action had something to do with it because it did seem kind of slow. But overall, I would recommend this book to immigrants and children of immigrants for I think they would definitely be able to relate to many of the experiences relayed in the book.

Alex Grecian: The Yard

alexgrecianIn late nineteenth century London, it was commonly believed that crimes were committed out of habit or need, not passion. Indeed, the existence of serial killers was unheard until the killings of Jack the Ripper. Likewise, criminology, forensics, fingerprint identification were also radical. It was also the first time a detective is brutally murdered in this Victorian society.

Although Inspector Walter Day has little confidence in himself, he is chosen to replace retired Edwards as the newest member of Scotland Yard. Despite his lack of experience, he is now responsible for catching the man, or woman, who stabbed Detective Christian Little multiple times and sewed his mouth shut.

With the help of self-appointed forensic examiner Dr. Kingsley, Hammersmith, and Blackleg, Day discovers new clues that seem to be leading him closer to the killer. Not too long after a dancing homeless man, Henry, discovers the murder weapon, a young girl discovers another trunk… Another officer killed.

The second death only increases anxiety for the detectives who are already swamped with hundreds of crimes, most of which go unsolved. The fact that there are more crimes than detectives in the city only means that detectives must work overtime, are often unmarried, and have little time to wash or change their clothes. Thus, I would say that this book sheds light on the life of detectives, which Hollywood tends to glorify.

Ultimately it was a good read. Each murderer is gradually revealed to the reader, but at a much faster pace than they are revealed to the detectives. It is a thrilling book with such detailed descriptions that I had to skip over a few lines to keep myself from picturing the words in my head.

John Green & David Levithan: Will Grayson, Will Grayson


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It’s not so unusual to think that there is at least one person in this world who shares the same name as you. And in the Digital Age, all you have to do is Google or Facebook your name to find out who that is. What is highly unlikely, however, is that you would unexpectedly run into this person in a porn store after you’ve been ditched by your friends or “stood up” by your online relationship. Even more unlikely is that this person would end up dating your best friend or that you would end up dating that person’s best friend. But that’s the very story of straight Will Grayson and depressed and gay will grayson.

Will Grayson, will grayson is the first LGBTQ YA fiction I’ve read so far. For me, the book was less about homosexual relationships and more about how when we learn to look past our own hurts we can truly see how much we love and how much we are loved. We are able to truly see ourselves and truly see others. In fact, I didn’t even really notice the fact that two boys were falling in love. Of course this doesn’t matter. My point is that although Will Grayson, will grayson inolved homosexual relationships, it had much larger themes that overshadowed the fact that it features gay characters.

Kathleen Grissom: The Kitchen House

WK-BC920_ARENA_DV_20120814154317Although The Kitchen House takes place on a tobacco plantation in Virginia during the era of slavery, it was more about challenging traditional understandings of what constitutes a family. Lavinia is only seven years old when both of her parents die, her brother is sold away, and she is brought to the Pyke’s plantation to work as a servant in the kitchen. She is clearly different from the rest of Captain Pyke’s “properties.” She’s a white girl from Ireland with fiery red hair and freckles on her face.  However, throughout her childhood and even into young adulthood,  Lavinia remain largely oblivious to the different social positions of whites and blacks. While her innocent ignorance enables her to  regard Captain Pyke’s slaves as her own family, it also proves to be a double-edged sword.

Overall, I highly recommend this book as a must read. You will not be disappointed by how well the characters and their relationships with one another are developed. You may even find yourself thinking in the dialect used by some of the characters!