Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Outsiders

by S.E. Hinton

Set in Tulsa in the '60s, this young adult novel tells of the fights between the greasers and the wealthier Soc kids.  Ponyboy Curtis, a greaser raised by his older brother, gets caught up in a fight that ends with a Soc stabbed to death.  He and Johnny, the scared greaser who did it, go on the run, but return after saving some children from a church fire.  When Johnny dies, pressure builds on Ponyboy and Dallas, his wild friend.

I think I first read this in, maybe, seventh grade – decades ago.  It’s got a few stilted bits of narration that sound corny or misplaced, but hell, Hinton wrote this when she was sixteen.  Given that, this is an incredible piece of work, harrowing and seeming all too real.  Ponyboy’s introspective narration is amazingly effective, weighty with emotion. 

[read twice]

five stars

Monday, June 25, 2007

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There

by Lewis Carroll

Alice walks through a mirror and meets Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the White Knight, Humpty Dumpty, and the others in a vast game of chess.  She goes across the field and becomes a queen at the end.  This volume is just as funny, madcap and memorable as Alice in Wonderland.  I liked the reappearance of the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, now under the names Hatta and Haigha.  It seems clear to me that the White Knight (who is probably the funniest character) is supposed to be Carroll himself, with his “gentle, kind eyes” and distracted, thoughtful air.  But nearly every section has something incredibly clever, or absurdly inventive.  And John Tenniel’s illustrations are unsurpassable. 

[read twice]

five stars

Sunday, June 24, 2007

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

by E.L. Konigsburg

A sixth-grader named Claudia and her clever little brother Jamie run away from home out of boredom, just for some adventure.  They stay in the Metropolitan Museum and decide to try to solve an art mystery: whether Michelangelo sculpted the statue called Angel on exhibit there.

This book won the Newbery, but it is easily the most juvenile of the winners I’ve read this year.  This book has very simplistic episodes and lacks a level that adults can enjoy as well – it’s written directly at children and no higher.  Beyond that, I just didn’t enjoy it – the children do nothing exceptionally clever, and Mrs. Frankweiler is a rather unpleasant old lady, to boot.

[read twice]

two stars

Friday, June 22, 2007

Alice In Wonderland

by Lewis Carroll

Alice falls asleep on a river bank, goes down a rabbit hole, and it’s all nonsense from then on. Truly one of the most inventive and wonderfully, amusingly absurd books in the English language, a delight to adults as well as bright children. The poems are a high point, including “You Are Old, Father William” and “’Tis the Voice Of the Lobster.” Of course, the wordplay (who knew shoes under the sea are made of soles and eels?) and bizarre characters are what keeps this book in the collective consciousness. I especially enjoyed the Kafka-on-Prozac trial of the Knave of Hearts at the end.

[read twice]

five stars

[followed by Through the Looking-Glass]

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Wrinkle In Time

by Madeleine L'Engle

Meg Murry, an ugly duckling and social outcast, and her five-year-old brother Charles Wallace, a super-genius with some kind of empathic power, live in a small town with their mother.  Their long-absent father is a source of town gossip.  When Meg meets Calvin, another “strange” child, and the eerie “witches” Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which and Mrs. Whatsit, the three children tesseract across space and time to find their father, imprisoned by the evil IT on a faraway planet.

It’s a very strange novel, an allegory about the problem of evil and the grace of God wrapped in social and science fiction.  It won the Newbery, and probably deservedly so for its novelty and depth of imagination at least.  I can see how it would resonate deeply with a shy, introspective, smart child.  For me, it was a bit too quasi-mystical (Mrs. Whatsit becoming a male winged centaur on Uriel?  Wha?), but fine reading overall, with a good resolution.

three stars