Monday, August 18, 2008

THe Rag and Bone Shop by Robert Cormier

Unsettled...that's how I feel right now. I finished this book last night and I'm still shaken by it this morning. This sparsely written novel by Rob Cormier (written just before his death) has really unsettled me. I started reading it weeks ago and was so disturbed by where it was going I had to stop. I just picked it up this weekend to finish it. I found it to be chilling and terrifying. There were parts of the book I found to be implausible...more on those later...but over all felt the book was succinct and intense. Cormier managed to portray and develop two very gripping characters (Jason and Trent) in this short psychological thriller. Very reminiscent of his earlier book- I Am the Cheese. If you liked this book I would highly recommend that title.

There are so many things I would like to bring up- but first of all can anyone explain the reference to "Rag and Bone Shop?" I believe it is from a poem by Yeats?

One of the things that most upset me was the Jason a psychotic killer in the making. Could Trent's actions have manipulated him that much? Very scary.

I had a few problems with the book, starting with- where the heck were his parents??? Before and after the interrogation. Yikes. I know most YA novels downplay the role of adults...but this book took it to an extreme. And...I wanted to know more as to why Brad killed Alicia. Cormier left that just hanging. I was hoping for some closure on that issue.

I will stop here to see what you all thought and then jump back into the dialog.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This book was chosen as a Prinz Award Honor Book, was winner of the National Jewish Book Award, and received all types of star and rave reviews. But I have to confess, when I first started reading it I was not immediately drawn in. I thought the beginning was very slow going. However, once I got into the story I was able to see why it won such accolades. I couldn't help but to compare it to other Holocaust stories such as Diary of a Young Girl, Night, and Number the Stars. I think this book is right up there with these literary classics!

There are many parts of the book that merit discussion- the character of Liesel, who loses her family, experiences life in Nazi Germany but yet finds something special in books- who loves books and words so much so that she risks her life to steal them. The part of the book where she steals the book from the Nazi's book burning spree had me at the edge of my seat. How could you not love this character?! (We seem to have a theme this year of feisty, strong, female characters!) Her relationship with Hans, her foster father, is also intriguing, their compassion for helping others is compelling.

The whole literary device of using Death as the narrator is fascinating and makes for a unique twist to the traditional Holocaust stories. And Death is a great character! One review I read stated: "First, I think Zusak has created one of the all-time great characters/narrators in Death. I know that sounds funny, but Death, in this story, is human, humane, compassionate, and a bit humorous. At the end of the book, Death says, "I am haunted by humans." In some ways, I think Death is haunted by humanity - both the good and the bad parts. When Death does take children in the story, his compassion and gentleness moved me to tears." I couldn't have said it better myself.

I could absolutely see this as a companion book to Night or Diary of a Young Girl because it does tell the story of the Holocaust from such a different perspective- first of all from the perspective of Death, but also from the perspective of an average German, who had no choice but to endure and survive.

Once again, I loved the epilogue. I was very impressed with the way Zusak pulled all the threads of the story together in such a satisfying way. I like completion so this was a great ending for me.

There are some many aspects of this book I would like to delve into...almost makes me wish we could talk about this one in person!

The down side- I wonder if this book is too advanced for some students? Would any of you recommend it for 9th grade- which is when Night is typically taught? I thought you definitely had to have some knowledge of Nazi Germany to understand the story. And does the sophisticated use of the narrator, of irony, multiple themes etc...make it too challenging for high school? I am anxious to hear what everyone else thought.