Holes: A Review

Holes by Louis SacharStanley Yelnats IV is not a bad kid. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time which happened to lead to him getting arrested. In fact, all of the Stanley Yelnats right back to the first had a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and just being all around unlucky. Each Stanley Yelnats knows exactly where that unfortunate knack comes from. It comes directly from Stanley’s no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing great-great-grandfather.

But most people don’t believe too much in curses that stem from stolen pigs. They also don’t believe Stanley when he proclaims his innocence. Arrested and found guilty, Stanley is given a choice: go to jail or go to Camp Green Lake. Stanley had never been to camp before.

But Camp Green Lake isn’t like a regular camp. This isn’t a girl scout camp. Camp Green Lake is a camp for bad boys. There used to be a lake and a town by the camp, but they disappeared long ago. Now there are only yellow-spotted lizards and heat. And holes.

The theory is that if you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy. So Stanley and the other campers dig.

But the more Stanley digs, the more he starts to wonder. What are the holes for? What could be buried by the non-existent lake? What starts as a search for answers might lead to a journey that will break the Yelnats curse once and for all in Holes (1998) by Louis Sachar.

Find it on Bookshop.

Holes was the 1998 Newbery medal winner for its “distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” It is also, it must be said, strikingly similar in style and theme to Maniac Magee, the 1991 Newbery winner.

Sachar takes what could potentially be a bleak, mirthless story and instead delivers a darkly funny, intensely exciting one. It may seem that a story about boys digging holes would have little in the way of action. Far from it, Holes is filled with entwined storylines, witty dialogue, intrigue, and even some near-death experiences and commentary on discrimination.

If you enjoy Holes (as I’m sure you will), be sure to check out the movie adaptation (Spinelli had a hand in the screenplay and Shia Labeouf played Stanley) and the sequel Small Steps (featuring Armpit and Xray).

Possible Pairings: Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The View From Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg, Count Karlstein by Phillip Pullman, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Small Steps by Louis Sachar, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Holes (movie version)
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Sound good? Find it on Amazon: Holes

Bloomability: A Chick Lit Wednesday review

Bloomability by Sharon CreechBloomability (1998) by Sharon Creech

Sharon Creech won the Newbery Medal for “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” in 1994 for her novel Walk Two Moons. Bloomability, from 1998, is one of Creech’s later novels for children.

Thirteen-year-old Domenica Santolina Doone, known to almost everyone as Dinnie, does not have what most people would consider a mundane life, let alone an average one.

“In my first life, I lived with my mother, and my older brother and sister, Crick and Stella, and with my father when he wasn’t on the road.”

As Dinnie’s father, a Jack-of-all-trades by name and choice, moves across the country in search of new “opportunities,” Dinnie and her family follow.

“By the time I was twelve, we’d followed my father from Kentucky to Virginia to North Carolina to Tennessee to Ohio to Indiana to Wisconsin to Oklahoma to Oregon to Texas to California to New Mexico. My things fit in one box.”

There was also a stint in Arkansas so brief that it escaped Dinnie’s recollection. As some readers might have guessed, this lifestyle did not always work out for the family. The crux of the novel begins when Dinnie makes this series of observations:

“Dad was on the road, Crick was in jail, and Stella was having a baby.

And that was the last week of my first life.”

That’s when Dinnie is kidnapped by two complete strangers. At least, that’s how it seems to Dinnie. No one else seems to agree. But, just because she met her Aunt Sandy and Uncle Max twice before, it doesn’t make them like her real family. At least, not right away.

Dinnie’s aunt and uncle take her off to Switzerland for an opportunity of her own as a student the school where Max will be headmaster and Sandy a teacher. At first, Dinnie doesn’t see how any of that is an opportunity. But then she gets to the school and starts to meet some of the other students. Coming from all over the world, and from many different cultures, everyone is different. For the first time in Dinnie’s life, she isn’t the only stranger. Miles away from her family and in a foreign country, Dinnie might finally have a chance to find herself.

Along the way, she also finds friends (and family) that she never would have encountered anywhere else. Creech does a great job here of showing different cultures. The book is a nice example of a truly international book. It also might teach readers a thing or two about the importance of tolerance. In fact, I’m sure it could be used in a variety of classes as a teaching tool even if I can’t get into all of the ideas in this review. It’s also written in a very authentic, humorous voice.

The title of this book, Bloomability, refers to possibilities–a recurring theme in the novel. Dinnie isn’t happy about a lot of the things she has to do, but as she soon learns, every change is an opportunity and a new possibility. On a personal level, this book is actually a really relevant review for the week, and I’m sure most other readers would also find it has some valuable insight to offer during times of change.

Ella Enchanted: A (mildly feminist) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson LevineWhen it comes to empowered heroines, Ella is the last word–except, really, she’s the first word. When I first started the CLW reviews, it was to exhibit books with protagonists like her. That said, bear with me for this review because I love the book and spent a good part of last semester writing a paper about why it is an effective feminist text while the movie adaptation loosely based on the novel totally sucks.

Feminists often denounce traditional fairy tales because they perpetuate the ideals of a patriarchal society by encouraging girls to behave like proper princesses and wait for charming princes to take charge and save the day. In response to these traditional fairy tales, many authors have tried to reclaim the realm of fairy tales for girls. These retellings feature active protagonists who are not scared of taking charge and do not need princes to save them. One example of this new fairy tale genre is the 1998 children’s novel Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, which takes an nontraditional approach to retelling the story of Cinderella.

Find it on Bookshop.

The novel addresses several specific feminist issues, specifically negotiating and fighting the burden of obedience, the importance of female friendships and, of course, learning to save yourself.

The story is set in an imaginary, medieval-esque kingdom called Frell. A roaming fairy named Lucinda gives Ella the gift/curse of obedience at Ella’s birth. As a result, Ella has to do everything she is told, no matter what harm it might cause to herself or others. (In the novel, the severity of Ella’s curse in constantly underscored with passages explaining how little control Ella has over her own life: “If someone told me to hop on one foot for a day and a half, I’d have to do it. And hopping on one foot wasn’t the worst order I could be given. If you commanded me to cut off my own head, I’d have to do it.”) As the plot moves forward Ella is compelled to leave home to try and find Lucinda and ask her to lift the curse. Along the way she also falls in love with Prince Char. For varying reasons, depending on the version, Lucinda refuses to lift the curse. Further difficulties arise as Ella continues her quest.

That’s the main body of the story. The Cinderella element is relevant mainly to the last quarter of the novel where actual elements from that story (the slipper, the ball) appear in the story, although the evil step-sisters and fairy godmother are present throughout the narrative.

There are several reasons that I love this novel and recommend it to everyone. The first is that it’s an imaginative retelling of Cinderella which makes the story exciting for readers familiar with the original version without making it too abtruse for readers who have never heard of Cinderella. Also, the book is full of great role models for girls. All of the female characters are strong, self-aware women–things seen far too rarely in the fairy tale genre. The novel is narrated in Ella’s voice. This makes it easy to see how strong Ella is as a character (especially at the end of the novel).

The other great thing about this book is that it all seems authentic, never over the top or under-written. In addition to creating immensely likable main characters, Levine creates a compelling world within the pages of Ella Enchanted vivid with details ranging from Elvish and Gnomish languages to customs at a Giant’s wedding. The story is an immensely entertaining page-turner that will (even better) leave readers feeling satisfied when they reach the final scene where Levine ties everything together, artfully blending empowerment with a happy-ever-after ending fit for a traditional fairy tale.

This review is excerpted from a scholarly paper I wrote comparing the book version of Ella Enchanted to its movie adaptation. You can read the full article here: http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/research_awards/1/

Possible Pairings: The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Beauty by Robin McKinley, Frogkisser! by Garth Nix, Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp, Princeless Book 1: Save Yourself (2012) by Jeremy Whitley and illustrated by M. Goodwin, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede