scrounge: /skrounj/ informal verb: to actively seek [books] from any available source
Holes is a book that sat on my to-read pile for a long time, because I'd already seen the movie a few years back, so I wasn't as eager to read a story I'd already heard. Still, not only did I really enjoy the book, but it reminded me how much I really did enjoy the movie as well.
Even though I remembered quite a few of the details, I'd pretty much forgotten the ending, so it was nice that the story added details to what I already knew but saved some surprise for what I didn't.
Stanley Yelnats (yes, his name is a palindrome) is arrested after a freak accident makes it appear that he stole a famous baseball player's shoes. His family's life has generally been unlucky, and they blame it all on his great-grandfather who brought a curse on his family after neglecting to fulfill a promise he made to a friend.
Stanley is sent to Camp Green Lake, which was once a lake but is now a desert, and the boys at the camp are required to each dig a hole in the ground every day.
It's an odd premise, but I love how the story occasionally flashes back in time to build layers of story until things gradually begin to make sense and you start to see how different characters are interrelated -- dare I say, it's a bit like an onion. Due to the complexity, it's not surprising that the movie doesn't deviate very much from the story, and it's neat that the author wrote the screenplay as well.
Sachar doesn't waste words as he describes the odd characters and their interactions, and so the book flows quickly along. I really enjoyed the story, and now it makes me want to watch the movie again.
Scrounged From: A local flea market
Author: Louis Sachar
Content Advisory: A couple scenes involve violence -- some descriptions of death but not gratuitous.
The story follows Hans, a baker's son who dreams of becoming a Riding Master someday. He demonstrates a sincerity and passion in his pursuit of knowledge and experience that is admirable and contagious, and his singular focus brings him closer and closer to his goal of someday doing the courbette on his beloved Borina.
I enjoyed reading this in a large format rather than a mass-market paperback -- Wesley Dennis's numerous small illustrations really help tell the story, especially when complex horse ballet movements are described.
Scrounged From: A gift from a relative
Author: Marguerite Henry
Illustrator: Wesley Dennis
Content Advisory: Injury and death are briefly described, but not in detail.
Number the Stars is a book I know I read in middle school or high school, but since I couldn't remember much about it I decided to read it again, and I'm glad I did -- it's not a long story, but manages to portray a concise and moving picture of a family living in Denmark during the Nazis' "relocation" of the Jews. They may not be part of a resistance movement, but when their friends' lives are in danger, they know they must act to help them. The climax involves ten-year-old Annemarie who is faced with a task of delivering a necessary item to people who are trying to flee.
I was especially interested in the Afterword at the end which confirms that, while the families portrayed in this story are fictional, it is closely based on many events that actually happened (broadly) and inspired by brave people who did actually risk their lives (and some died) to save others. Definitely recommended.
Scrounged From: Our local flea market
Author: Lois Lowry
Content Advisory: Murders of a sister and others are mentioned, and peril and suspense while Jews are smuggled away, people encounter soldiers, etc.
I decided that a blurb in my 2017 round-up post did not do The Phantom Tollbooth justice, so I'm writing up an expanded review all of its own.
I'd heard of this book for a while before reading it, but the title led me to assume it was some kind of ghost story. It's not -- it's basically a geek's paradise -- full of word play, fun with mathematics, etc. Have you ever wondered what it would be like if music had colors -- like if an orchestra played the sunrise? Or what it would be like to collect sounds, or eat letters? Or what a world without sound would be like? (At times this is basically "Synesthesia: The Novel.")
The story revolves around a boy named Milo who is simply bored and lethargic all the time. But when he receives a strange tollbooth in a box, he finds a portal to a land full of interesting places and eccentric characters -- for example, there's a witch who's actually a "Which," a "Whether Man," a Mathemagician, as well as King Azaz the Unabridged, all with something to teach him about the value of learning and curiosity.
It's a very fun story, especially the parts that involve word play and puns (which is why I'd much rather read the book myself than have it read to me, and imagine it could be more fun for children to read on their own as well). I suppose this is a book about learning, but also something about how to be wise, or how not to be ignorant, or how/why to pay attention to all that's around you -- in a way it's about educating yourself, but without all the heavy-handed "educational" stuffiness.
Scrounged From: PaperbackSwap.com
Author: Norton Juster
Content Advisory: There are a few scenes of peril, especially toward the end.
Inside Out and Back Again is probably one of my favorite "verse novels" that I've read so far (not that there have been a lot). I think that style worked well for this story, which seeks to simply convey the most immediate and condensed thoughts and experiences of a girl whose family leaves Vietnam right before the fall of Saigon.
This is a segment of history that can get overlooked, because most of the US history I've learned tends to end the story of Vietnam right after the US pulls out. But for Ha (our protagonist), there are a lot of changes experienced not only in Vietnam, but also on the boat and during her time of adjusting to the US in which her family lives in Alabama.
While this is technically fiction rather than memoir, it draws very heavily on the author's similar experiences, which I think really helps the story to feel real. From details of the cuisine and traditions of Vietnam, to the feelings and reactions to American culture, bullying, and the details and difficulties of learning English, Ha's story is compelling and realistic.
Scrounged From: PaperbackSwap.com
Author: Thanhha Lai
Content Advisory: Scenes of bullying, brief descriptions of war, and some descriptions of parental loss (nonviolent)