Friday, September 24, 2010

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Fences Between Us: The Diary of Piper Davis (Dear America) by Kirby Larson-- Middle Grades Historical Fiction
Hooray! Scholastic has relaunched their Dear America series. This is the first new book in the relaunched series. Piper Davis is a typical thirteen year old girl living in Seattle, Washington in 1941. She loves clothes, makeup, candy bars and BOYS! She hates being a PK (preacher's kid) because her dad is so strict but she has her older sister and brother as allies. Her brother enlists in the peace time navy in the fall of 1941 and Piper misses him a lot. When the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor on December 7, Piper's world changes in an instant. She is constantly reading the newspaper for any news of her brother's ship, worrying about his safety. She also has to deal with the wounded men who were sent home from Hawaii. Piper's Japanese neighbors experience discrimination and attacks once America declares war on Japan. Piper feels that discrimination is wrong, but she isn't willing to take a stand yet. Her father, on the other hand, as minister of the Seattle Japanese Baptist Church, will fight for the rights of his friends and neighbors. When Piper's Japanese neighbors are rounded up and sent to incarceration camps, the time comes for her to take a stand, at least until her father ruins her life with a monumental decision. Resentful and sullen, Piper feels sorry for herself until she sees that her friends have it much worse. This new book holds up to the standards of the previous books in the series. It's well-written and Piper's voice sounds like a typical teenager. Piper can be bratty and immature at times, like all teenagers, but her experiences help her grow up and learn to think about others. The story is also about endurance and hope and how Japanese-Americans dealt with the terrible events of WWII. The story hooked me in and I really cared a lot about the characters because they were so well described, I felt like I was reading about real people. The story is entertaining and educational, sad and funny all at the same time. This book is a bit more mature than some of the others. Piper is a bit older and the descriptions of life in an incarceration camp are not downplayed at all. I highly recommend this book to readers 11 and up.

Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood by Jame Richards -- Young Adult Historical Fiction This novel in verse tells the stories of the inhabitants of the communities around Johnstown Pennsylvania in 1888 and 1889. Celestia, the daughter of a wealthy Pittsburgh businessman has come to the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club with her parents and older sister for summer vacation. Relaxing by the lake (reservoir) reading, Celestia meets Peter, the son of a coal miner from Johnstown. Celestia and Peter quickly become friends and then involved in a secret romance. Maura, a young wife and mother waits for her husband to sound the train whistle before arriving home. It's their secret signal; a way of saying "I love you" even when they're apart. Kate, a young woman who has become bitter and old since the death of her fiance excels at counting and ordering things. She's sent to nursing school to make use of her skills. When Celestia's family uncovers her secret they move to stop her, but a family emergency changes her life in an unexpected way. Celestia must decide whether she's willing to defy her family for the sake of love. The characters' lives become intertwined when the earthen dam in Lake Conemaugh breaks and the water comes soaring down the mountain into the villages below. In the wake of tragedy, each character must discover their inner strength in order to do what is right. This is an excellent debut novel. At first the blank verses seemed a little unusual for a novel, but they do come together and create a plot. The plot resembles Titanic or Dirty Dancing for the first half of the novel but the characters move beyond the cliche as the story moves along. Each set of poems comes together to create a mini plot that all come together in the final pages of the book. I couldn't put it down until it was done. The characters are well fleshed out and the reader gets a good sense of personality and thought process through the poems. I admire the way the characters all dealt with the flood, especially Kate. The ending of the novel is rather fairy tale-esque but it's sweet and enjoyable. The novel makes me want to learn more about this historic flood and the author lists several sources available for that purpose. I would definitely encourage readers 12 and up to read this book.

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