Posts Tagged ‘Recommended books’

Sail on Silver Girl, Sail on by -Paul Simon

It’s funny how you think you can know a person. -Tayari Jones

Reading Silver Sparrow felt like being the recipient of a secret. I had to read this book on my own. I holed up in my childhood bedroom in my parents house, blasted the fan on high, and read this book in two days and three sittings. Tayari Jones is my new favorite person. The book was such a surprise to me. Like receiving a secret, it was also like opening a gift, one page at a time. The synopsis blurb on the back only told me that the book was going to be told from the first point of view of the daughter of a bigamist so I didn’t know what to expect from the book.

The story is told from the POV of two daughters of James Witerspoon who is simultaneously married to Gwendolyn Yarboro and Laverne Witherspoon. The two girls are both his daughters but they are not treated equal. Dana, the daughter of Gwendolyn, the “second wife”, only gets to see her father on Wednesday evenings and then it’s only for dinner. Dana also gets shafted several times throughout the novel since she can not be around Chaurisse she is denied several opportunities like jobs, college and parties. However, as a trade off, she and her mother are aware of Laverne and Chaurisse, but Laverne and Chaurisse are completely in the dark when it comes to Dana and Gwen. After almost two decades of living like this Dana reaches out and befriends Chaurisse in order to see if life is better on the other side. As the two girls approach the end of their high school careers Dana becomes more and more involved in her “half sister’s” life and like every secret kept in the dark, this one will come to the light and explode each characters existence.

The novel is written with two very convincing and heartbreaking voices. I had to stop reading and research Jones’ life as the narration was so raw I honestly thought that perhaps this was a memoir. Each character has their own back story and their own cross to bear. Miss Bunny, the grandmother who only learns of one of her granddaughters right before she dies. Raleigh, the father’s best friend who has been in love with Gwendolyn since the day he met her. And Marcus and Jamal who are the first boys the girls let intimately into their lives.

The book poses many questions: Would you rather be the family that didn’t know about the other and living in privilege or would you rather know about the other and therefore that you are not #1? Is it possible for a father to love one child more than the other? Is James really married to both women? Are you on team Dana or Chaurisse? What is a marriage? What makes a family?

Though none of these questions are blatantly answered in the novel, the questions will linger with you for days after reading it. Five out of Five stars.


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Last week I started my list of my top ten children’s books. Now, on to the top five!

5. I’m As Quick As A Cricket. Author: Audrey Wood, Illustrator: Don Wood. Publication Date: 1989.

This book is on my list in the top five not because the story is overly memorable (it’s not) or because the illustrations are fantastic (they’re not) but because this was the first book that I ever read on my own. I remember I was four years old, sitting up in my bed reading with my mom and my dad and I told them that I wanted to read the book to them..so, I did. Of course they thought I had memorized the story and matched it up to the pictures so they kept skipping pages around and opening other books and viola! I could read! And I hadn’t stepped foot into a Kindergarten classroom. 3 out of 5 stars!

4. Officer Buckle and Gloria. Author & Illustrator: Peggy Rathmann. Publication Date: 1995.

This book is just fabulous! Another of my animal picks I love the loveable Gloria. The story is of a police officer who has a sidekick in the form of a puppy dog. The pair goes to schools all over town to present safety tips to the students. The best part of this book (besides the handy safety tips “never lick a stop sign in the winter!”) is the illustrations. Most of the story is told through the pictures. The reader gets to see what Officer Buckle does not- Gloria cutting up and getting some laughs. The story tells a valuable tell of friendship and honesty and it does that while also giving us a tickle. Plus, Gloria is SUPER cute! 4.5 out of 5 stars!

3. The Skippyjon Jones Series. Author & Illustrator: Judy Schachner. Publication Date: Since 2005. 

I can not express over the interwebs just how much I truly love, love, LOVE the Siamese cat who thinks that he is a chihuahua! That Siamese cat is none other than Mr. Skippyjon Jones. I could not choose one Skippyjon book to put in my number 3 spot so I’ll just gush all over this post about how great ALL the books are. Since 2005 Judith Byron Schachner has been blessing the reading world with her Skippyjon books and she’s now up to 11 books featuring the loveable troublemaker. The cat has an imagination as big as his ears and each of his books takes him on a rhyming rocket ride through different scenarios that he has imagined. If you want a silly book that will get the adults and the kids laughing, this is IT! 5 out of 5 stars!

2. The Zen Series. Author and Illustrator: Jon J. Muth. Publication Date: 2005 (Zen Shorts), 2008 (Zen Ties) , 2010 (Zen Ghosts)

So it was the whole “Zen” series that got me started thinking about my favorite children’s books in the first place (see last weeks TTT post).  I love everything about these books. I love panda bears, I love the messages that the book  relates to the readers about kindness and love and compassion, I love the beautifully exquisite watercolor paintings that Muth has done for the illustrations. When I worked in an elementary school library I did a whole unit on China, haiku, panda bears and watercolors using these three books. The children LOVED the story and they begged to hear each book again and again. This is a series of books that are timeless; they will be just as loved 100 years from now (though no one will have a CLUE what a panda bear actually is then) as they are today. These are books that adults and children can all adore. Each of the books in this series has something extra in it. By that, I mean that one book is filled with haiku poems and a panda is named “Koo” so whenever someone says hi to him it comes out “hi koo” or “haiku”.  Zen Ghosts is full of stories within the story. There is always something new and different to discover each time you read a book in this series. Great job to Jon J. Muth and if it hadn’t been for a sprightly redhead I met when I was a little girl then these books would have been numero uno on my list! 5 out of 5 stars! 

1. Madeline. Author & Illustrator: Ludwig Bemelmans. Publication Date: 1939.

When I was a little girl my mom read the story of Madeline to me and I fell in LOVE with this crazy girl! I had to have  everything Madeline after that. I bought and read (and re-read) all of the books, and watched the television show cartoon religiously. I even had a little Madeline doll that I carried everywhere with me and she had a yellow hat AND an appendix scar (because remember when she woke Miss Clavel in the night and gave her a fright and she said ‘Something is not right’ and she had appendicitis?!). Bottom line: I LOVE Madeline. If I ever have a daughter (or if I get a cat) I think I will name her Madeline and I will hope that she is as spirited as her namesake and I hope that she has red hair. A perfect 5 out of 5 stars!

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Our aspirations are wrapped up in books, our inclinations are hidden in looks –Belle and Sebastian

“That day Henry made a choice…that some men are just too interesting to die” –Seth Grahame-Smith

“So keeping the box closed just keeps you in the dark, not the universe.” –John Green

This weekend was a big reading weekend for me. I finished Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter  by Seth Grahame-Smith and I read Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. I wasn’t sure which of these books to review (they were both very good) so I figured that I would do a quick review of both of them.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Author: Seth Grahame-Smith. Publication year: 2010

The “quirk-book” trend of taking classic works of fiction and revamping them with zombies or sea monsters was a trend that I jumped head first into. The fact is that these books whether they be re-worked classics or re-worked histories of famous people, the history is still there. The entire plot of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies and Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters was still there and a few details were added to make the story have otherworldly elements. The entire history of Abraham Lincoln’s life is in AL:VH. That’s what makes these books so good and so appealing. You get the history and you get the classic literature, but it is more accessible to today’s generation because they do want to read about zombies and monsters and vampires.

I enjoyed AL:VH very very much. I love all things Abe Lincoln. I am so excited for the movie to come out in a few weeks. The book took a turn for me during the Civil War parts, but the ending was just so spectacular and so historically relevant and so, just, well…gnarly that I ended up giving Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter 5 out of 5 stars! I highly recommend it!

Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Authors: John Greene & David Levithan. Publication Year: 2010.

What was great about this book is the fact that it was so obviously written by two different authors. The story is that of two high school aged youth boys in Illinois both named Will Grayson. The story is told in two points of view with each chapter being voiced by the two Will Grayson’s (eg. Chapter one is Will Grayson 1 and chapter 2 is Will Grayson 2 and chapter 3 is Will Grayson 1 again, etc. etc.). The voices are obviously different and the fact that each author wrote the POV of one Will Grayson worked PERFECTLY. I had no idea that this was the style that the two authors were doing so halfway through chapter 2 I realized that Will Grayson 1 wasn’t actually suffering from a bi-polar disorder, but rather it was the other Will Grayson narrating.

The trend of dystopian fiction and vampire fiction in YA literature as of late has been exhausted, in my humble opinion, so it was very refreshing to read a story about “normal” high school students dealing with “normal” high school problems. I also enjoyed this book because it really is a very good LGBT choice. One of the Will Grayson’s is gay and the other Will Grayson’s best friend is gay. A few of the supporting characters are also gay and several characters belong to a gay/straight alliance at school. A major event in the book revolves around a very gay character writing, directing, producing and staring in a musical designed to bring an understanding and a tolerance to gay students. The book is at the same time heartwarming and heart breaking. I loved it. It had humor, love, and honesty. The ending took a weird turn for me so I couldn’t give it the full 5 stars that it could have earned. However, I do recommend it for anyone who may be gay or questioning, especially high school students. This is not a YA book that I would recommend to my middle school students (the language and some of the situations were a little advanced). This is a book that could be beneficial to bullies who may be harassing gay students. This is even a good book for adult parents of gay teenagers and it’s just a good book for anyone looking for a good read. It was a quick read (I read it in a day). 4 out of 5 stars!

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 Some things are melting now, well what’s it gonna take till my baby’s alright? -Tori Amos

On GoodReads I challenged myself to read sixty-one books this year. Tonight, December 20, 2011 at 8:45 PM I reached my goal. My (possible) last book of 2011 was The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian. (side note, I highly recommend you watch that interview with Bohjalian that can be found by following that link. It was great to hear how he came up with the idea for the book and how he himself had moved into a creepy house much like the Linton’s do in his novel.) I have given this book three stars on GoodReads which means I liked it. I did. I liked it. Right up until the epilogue. I sat for a moment thinking about what kind of post I wanted to do tonight. Perhaps one expressing my ire at poor epilogues. How can one futuristic look at the lives of beloved characters ruin an entire story? I’m not sure how, but I know that it sure can.

I came into the office and recorded my book on GoodReads as read. I was then greeted with a congratulatory box stating that I had reached my goal. I then decided to look at all of the books that I have read over this past year. Looking at the covers brings back a specific memory of exactly where I was at (physically) and where I was (emotionally) when I was reading that book. The first book I read in 2011 was To The Lighthouse by Virgina Woolf. This brings back memories of last Christmas at my parent’s house. It was a horrific holiday. I was snowed in and missed two trains that were to take me to see my boyfriend who I was in a very long-distance relationship with at the time. I spent too much time cooped up with my parents and as a result we fought. Big time. I retreated into my bedroom (slamming the door and screaming as if I were right back in high school again despite the fact that I am a 26 year old adult) with the Ramsay’s. I didn’t care for this book at all. In fact it is still sitting in a basket in my old bedroom at my parent’s house. I gave it two stars. As I look back at the reviews of it on GoodReads I have to wonder if it was truly the book that I didn’t care for, or was it the prisoner-like way I was being held against my will and being treated?

I read the entire Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larrson (read my post on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo here) this year. I remember reading all of them in my second-story bedroom in coastal, NC. The first I read as a borrowed copy from G’s mom. I started it on the road back from Raleigh where we spent New Year’s Eve. I remember reading it in G’s jeep as we crossed the entire state. I read the second two as borrowed copies from the library. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest was read in late spring, mostly on the beach.

I read the last two books of the Hunger Games trilogy this year. Both on my Nook that I got for my birthday in March (read about that adventure here).

I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks in May. It took me five days to read it. I read it in the midst of an emotional crisis. I remember finishing it on the beach on a breezy, cool day by myself. I remember people walking by, but I don’t remember anything specific about those people because I was so engrossed in the book. I was alone as I read it. I went to the end of the island and turned off my phone and I faced my towel towards the horizon and I devoured the atrocity that was the medical field.

This year, I am selecting The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as my book of the year. I am selecting it for many reasons and before I do an entire post on it I feel the need to collect and focus my thoughts on the book a little bit more. However soon, look for my 2011 book-of-the-year post. Until then, revisit last year’s post on The Help which I selected as my 2010 book of the year.

Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Happy Christmas, Have a blessed new year. Until Next Time…

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“I really can’t think about kissing when I’ve got a rebellion to incite. ” -Katniss Everdeen from Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

“We can fight our desires, but when we start making fires
We get ever so hot whether we like it or not” -La Roux

In the spring of 2009 I arrived early to a class on The History of the Book. I always arrive early. To class. To work. To anything, really. I got there to pull out my Harry Potter that I was currently reading and found that for the first time in a long time there was someone who had arrived before me to class. She was a girl that I had had a few classes with and I knew her well enough to strike up a conversation. The Library Science program is small enough at UNCG that everyone knows everyone else and what they are doing at any given time. So, I asked her what she was obviously so engrossed in reading. This girl worked at the on campus Teaching and Resource Center that provided materials to those who may be seeking a degree in K-12 education. They got in tons of YA and children’s books and those that worked there got to read them before anyone else did (jealous).

The book that she was so into, she told me, was called The Hunger Games. She proceeded to give me the gist of what was going on in the plot up to where she was reading. It sounded just plain awesome. Cut to Fall 2010 when I am working in my first real, full-time, library job. I get some cash to order some books for the library and one of the books I pick is The Hunger Games. I will admit that one of the main reasons that I purchased this specific book was because I had been wanting to read it for so long. So, when the order arrived in November I took the book home with me for the weekend where I proceeded to do nothing but lay on my parents couch and read the whole book. It was just that good!

What I adored about this YA novel was how strong the main character was. Katniss Everdeen lives in a futuristic world in which the districts are ruled by an evil Capitol who forces two children “tributes” to play in an annual Hunger Games. During the games the children (one boy, one girl) are thrust into a thematic environment and forced to kill each other off until only one survives. When Katniss’s younger sister, Prim, is called forth to be District 12’s tribute Katniss immediately jumps to take her place. Katniss is a powerful female protagonist which I think that YA literature has been missing lately. The first comparison that comes to mind is Isabella (Bella) Swan in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Now, I want to say that I adore Twilight, like it or not, I do. I am in line at midnight for the opening of each movie and I’ve devoured the books and I loved them before they became pop culture phenoms. However, my one major complaint with that series was how weak and Edward-obsessed Bella was. As soon as she met the vamp, she lost all ability to think for herself and to consider her own dreams for the future. Everything became about a man (undead, but still) and she was willing to die for him. Katniss Everdeen is the anti-Bella Swan and that is exactly why I love her. Like in the quote I chose, she does NOT have time for kissing, this girls got more important things to think of, like leading rebellions, fighting wars, surviving, providing for her family, and taking care of everyone around her.

I know, I know I know. You can’t really have a YA novel without a little romance now can you? Enter Gale and Peeta- the two young lads who are vying for Miss Everdeens affections. Gale is the friend that Katniss has hunted with since Katniss’s father died in a mining accident. Gale is that first love, childhood friend character that the reader just roots for to win. Peeta is the artistic and articulate son of a local D12 baker. Peeta is the male tribute opposite Katniss. You see where that leads, right? Katniss must either kill Peeta or be killed by him. I won’t ruin the books for those of you who may have never read them, but Peeta AND Katniss are both in all three books. As is Gale. Triangle much?!

The love story is not the  main theme of the book though. It’s not just juvenile sappy romance. It’s about survival in the most chaotic, frightening, and evil of times. Children are killing children in gruesome ways here. The death scenes are amazing and creative. Katniss is a hunter, as I mentioned earlier. She has an acute ability to hit any target be it moving or still, human or not. The fact that this young teen girl has to provide for her poor mother and sister and does so without hesitation is what young girls should be reading about. They should be reading how a girl can beat the boys in something as fierce as a hunger game (spoiler: not once, but TWICE!). They need to be reading that boys are not the be all and end all of life. They need to know that they can all be a kind of Katniss and beat the boys and be in control of their own lives and survival. Are you reading this, Bella and Stephenie? I sure hope so!

My one complaint was completely about the last book. It didn’t read like the first two did. And perhaps this is because this is the only book in the trilogy that does not have a Hunger Games in it. This book felt rushed somehow to me, as if Collins was under an intense deadline to get this book written. It didn’t have the same feeling as the first two. I wasn’t as compelled to read this one. This one was more somber in tone. This one was about nothing but straight up war and revenge. There is an epilogue at the end of this novel that I could have so done without. We find out which suitor Katniss ends up with and what becomes of them. I don’t want to spoil anything, again for those of you who may not have read it all yet, but the future that Katniss has is not one that I envisioned for her. Reading the epilogue and how Katniss talks about her future, I also get the feeling that this is not a future that she envisioned for herself. I wanted Katniss to be out of the games and out of the control of the district and happy. I didn’t get the feeling that she was very happy. I would have rather had the book end open-ended so that readers could envision their own futures of happiness and hunting for Katniss.

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“I just witnessed a thirty-five-year-old man-definitely a virgin-dressed in a duck costume doing the electric slide” -Elna Baker The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance

I am Elna Baker. No, I’m not actually Elna Baker. What I mean to say is, I was able to connect deeply with Elna Baker for most of her memoir The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance. This is one of those memoirs that I really, truly and thoroughly enjoyed. I found myself laughing out loud at several times during this book. Take for instance the story that she recounts about a prank that her father played on her and her sister in which he made the girls believe that “Dilly Bars” were an object of frightening evil rather than a tasty treat served at Dairy Queen. After he has scared them out of their five year old minds he then goes off in search of some Dilly Bars to bring back to the house. “Tina started crying ‘The Dilly Bars! Not the Dilly Bars!’ I peed my pants.” (29)

The book is about 20-something Elna Baker living as a mormon in New York City, which is just as hard as it sounds. I was able to connect with Baker over a few things in this book. I connected to her over her struggle with religion. Today, I consider myself a Christian. This was not always the case and I spent a good chunk of my life as an Atheist. The book touches a lot on Baker’s doubts and seeing her weigh the possibility that Mormonism might not be the best road for her to travel. Entering into any religion is tricky. It’s not like buying a new pair of jeans; if they look tacky, oh well, that’s why there is a goodwill. When one chooses to enter into a religion, especially one as deep and consuming as Mormonism, it’s a complete lifestyle choice. Mormonism is hardcore. No coffee?! Really?! That is where you loose me and I have to opt for something a little safer, like Presbyterianism. The choice of Mormonism for Baker meant that many times she had to do (or not do) things that she would not normally be so keen on (or that she would love). I remember what it was like to decide to believe in something bigger than myself. It was not an entirely good, easy, or comfortable feeling. It was scary and it made me feel like I was not being the smart and practical and reality based girl that I so prided myself on being. It was comforting to read that someone who was brought up always beliving in a higher power also had doubts about her faith. “How can I possibly sign my name to something I don’t entirely agree with?” (18) Like me, Baker is smart. She is a smart and thoughtful girl. And it was another comfort to read this: “I think most religious people experience just as much doubt as they do faith; they just don’t admit it. And I don’t think doubting makes you bad. I think it makes you smart.” (17) I loved knowing that someone so devoted to such an enormous faith felt the same way that I, a huge sinner and many-year Atheist, did.

Besides religion and doubt, I also connected with Baker on her quest to find love. A Mormon is raised to find another Mormon to marry and then procreate (a lot) with them. “‘Why do our lives only matter if we’re married?’ Tina complained. ‘Because we’re women,’ I answered.” (37) I feel like a spinster at 26 sometimes, but that is nothing compared to what Baker has to endure. “As if aging, social pressure, potential weight gain, dried-up ovaries, and a mother’s constant prodding isn’t enough to motivate marriage, I have to find a partner for eternity, and I can’t even sleep with him first.” (36) I’ve always been a person who believes in that deep, life altering, storybook love. I blame it on reading too many fairy tales as a child, but it is what it is and it’s who I am today. I ached for Elna to find someone that she could spend her life with. And she wanted it as well, so badly. At one point in the book, it looked as if she had found him. Matt. He was the yin to her yang, the Harold to her Maude, the Ren to her Stimpy. However, that turns out to be quite a debacle. He is an Atheist. I felt really ripped off by this part of the book. I felt as if Baker herself did not want this relationship to work and she sabatoged it to make it fail. And that upset me, because I had spent many nights wrapped up on my couch on her journey to love, rooting for her to find a man just like Matt and then when she did, she just let it go to pot. I was mad at Elna, and I did not feel like she was my friend anymore.

And then, things got even worse between Elna and me. I started to get the feeling that perhaps Ms. Baker was not being 100% honest with me, her devoted fan and reader. Certain scenarios began to seem embellished and just a little too shiny for me. These things would be excellent anectdotes in a work of fiction, but this was April and I was reading memoirs, you know, that little thing called the truth. Two instances immediatley spring to mind to prove my point:
1. At one point Baker and her friends sneak their way into a 7-11 conference by pretending to be employees. This possible fabrication went on to have Baker and her friends invited on a cruise for 7-11 higher-ups and has her making a toast to the entire conference attendees over the awesomeness of the 7-11 franchise.
2. Later in the book, Baker is working as a hostess at a fancy pants New York restaurant. While here she engages in a conflict over the phone with a noted celebrity who is not Warren Beaty but whom she refers to as Warren Beaty. This phone conflict develops into a face-to-face conflict in which the celebrity, NOT Warren Beaty, but a celebrity of his caliber, physically comes to the restaurant to confront our heroine. This confrontation leads to a date with the celebrity (who, don’t forget, is NOT Warren Beaty). The date itself becomes wildly unbelievable in that Baker drinks (cue the audible gasp) wine! Baker then makes out with the celebrity (who is not Warren Beaty) and then he comes home with her where she does not sleep with the man who is not Warren Beaty, but she does make a huge fool of herself. She paints the celebrity (who is not Warren Beaty) to be kind of a dumb schmo, who just can’t take a hint that she does not want to sleep with him despite the fact that she has lead him on to believe that she will all night, but at the end of that chapter, it was Baker, with her school girl antics and her infuriating actions that I felt embarrassed for.

I have my doubts too, Elna. I have my doubts about religion at times, and I am glad that we could relate there. But, I also have my doubts about your “memoir”. Was the entire book a work of non-fiction? I can’t say for sure yes or no there, but I do have my doubts. Was the entire book enjoyable and difficult to put down? Yes, it certainly was that. Do I recommend this book? Yes, I do, without a doubt.

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“The world is always changing brightness and hotness and soundness, I never know how it’s going to be the next minute.”

Welcome to the month of memoirs! Before I get to the two memoirs that I have read for this month, I want to talk about a book I read back in March called Room by Emma Donoghue. As soon as I read about this book on IndieBound I knew I had to read it, and quickly! That was back in December and I remember really really wanting to read it at several different times. Over Christmas break at the Target at my parents house I had picked it up, read the synopsis, placed it in my buggy, and then I put it back on the shelf. Why? I am a teacher and I am poor and I had just spent a good chunk of my savings on Christmas presents and I could not justify spending over $25 on a book. I silently wished that my local library would get a copy soon! And lo and behold they did. Flash forward to March: I dowloaded a sample onto my Nook and I wasn’t sure what I thought of it. It is told entirely through the point-of-view of a five-year-old boy who has been locked inside of a one-room shed for his ENTIRE life. I didn’t think I could read an entire book written in that manner. However, one Saturday morning I was perusing the new book section of my local library when I spotted it! I quickly grabbed it, along with Unberable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi which is my first memoir for April! I ran home and read Unberable Lightness first. Then when I started Room, I could not put it down! I had to keep reading. I had to know what was going to become of Jack and Ma. Were they going to make it out ever? How did they get to be in that room in the first place? Who is Old Nick? Does Ma know him before? If they do get out, what is life on the outside going to be like for both parties!?

Fear not, the five-year-old narrator thing actually works for this book! You get the fear and the incomprehension from Jack and you also feel the frustration that Ma deals with. I don’t want to ruin the book for anyone who has not read it, even though you all know that when you read these posts I expect that you have read it. The book is that good! It’s so unexpected that I don’t want anyone who may stumble upon this post that may not have read it yet to have the surprise ruined for them. My only advice to you is to read it as soon as possible, you won’t be disappointed! A very quick and enjoyable read!

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