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Clever Books for Clever Folks… April 13, 2010

Posted by stacey in Genre Book Discussion, Literary Fiction.
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Hmm, what good timing… The same week we’re celebrating National Library Week we’re sharing our latest genre book discussion, which just happens to be literary fiction! Sometimes you want to read a book that focuses on an author’s inventive writing technique or get to know a character’s personality through their thoughts rather than their actions or maybe something that’s been declared an award winner once or twice. If any of those descriptions sound appealing then you might be interested on our literary fiction picks!

Carol: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow. In Durrow’s debut, set in the 1980s, young Rachel is the only survivor after a Danish woman and her biracial children fall from their Chicago apartment’s rooftop. The whereabouts of Rachel’s father, an African-American G.I., are unknown. Rachel, who has lived overseas in Germany for much of her life, now travels to Portland, Oregon to live with her African-American grandmother, and there, she finds herself in a new role as a “black” girl. Rachel also must come to terms with events that led to the death of her mother and siblings, and as she struggles with her identity and grief, the truth of that horrible day is slowly revealed. This is at times a heart-breaking read but Rachel’s story makes for a hard-to-put-down coming-of-age debut novel. Through the wise-beyond-her-years character Rachel, Durrow eloquently explores issues of identity and race. This poignant novel won Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize for best fiction manuscript that addresses issues of social justice. I highly recommend this novel and eagerly await Durrow’s next effort.

Emma: A Lesson before Dying was written by Ernest J. Gaines in 1993. The story takes place in Bayonne, Louisiana in the late 1940’s. Jefferson is at the wrong place at the wrong time. He witnesses a robbery and killings at a local convenience store. Two young black thieves are dead and so is the white store owner. Someone has to pay for the death of the owner. Poor, black Jefferson is arrested, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. Jefferson’s godmother Miss Emma recruits teacher Grant Wiggins to spend time with Jefferson and help him to prepare to die with dignity. This is a powerful story with an inevitable ending.

Evelyn: Hester: The Missing Years of The Scarlet Letter: A Novel by Paula Reed. At the end of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the reader is told that Hester and her daughter Pearl travel to England, which is where this book begins. Pearl inherits a large sum of money from Roger Chillingworth and Hester wants to use it to find Pearl a proper match for a husband. Consequently, Hester reunites with a friend who is a close ally of Oliver Cromwell and she becomes deeply involved in the political intrigue of the times. Cromwell, the ultimate Puritan, is fascinated by Hester’s ability to see the sins of others and uses her talents to find those plotting against him. This is an interesting and imaginative historical novel giving us a glimpse into Reed’s vision of what life was like for Hester and Pearl after The Scarlet Letter. Although the book can stand-alone, knowing at least the basic facts of the original makes it much more entertaining.

Ann: Come Sunday by Isla Morley is a beautifully written book although hard to read at times. Abbe Deighton’s life is ripped apart by grief, and she struggles to stay afloat in the present while reflecting on her South African childhood. A multi-layered novel: a family saga; the story of a mother’s grief; and a book tuned to the rhythms of the religious year.

Megan: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The horrors of World War II are recounted by Death as he tells the story of Liesel, the young book thief. Death first meets the young girl at her brother’s graveside, where her book stealing career begins. Death has many more opportunities to see the young foster girl as she and her new family tries to survive the war. The books that Liesel steals, and eventually learns to read with the help of her accordionist father, offer comfort and hope to her neighbors during bomb raids and to the young Jew the family has hidden in their basement. Liesel’s story is touching and Death’s perspective and opinions of human life make this award-winning book unique.

Janet: Tinkers, the debut novel by Paul Harding, focuses on George Washington Crosby’s final hours of life as he lies in a hospital bed in the middle of his living room. Crosby’s memories and thoughts take center stage. As the reader we go along for the ride which slowly unfolds. The descriptions of nature, George’s childhood and many random experiences are all exquisitely brought to life by the language of the author.

Stacey: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelley is one of the Newbery Honor books for this year. It’s one of those magical books that can accurately transport a reader back in time to 1899 Fentress, TX but is equally engaging on a personal level. Callie, her many brothers, her Mom and Dad, and especially her Grandfather, are unique characters with lovable quirks, but this is really Callie’s story of exploring Mr. Charles Darwin’s ideas of science and evolution with the help of her Grandfather. Will Callie be able to break free of what society expects from a young woman of her day or will her spark be stifled by having to conform? Plus there a plenty of scenes to make you laugh-out-loud!

Chris: The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris. The “unnamed” is an unknown illness that plagues the protagonist, Tim Farnsworth. It’s an illness that compels him to stop whatever he’s doing and to start walking. He will leave in the middle of the night, the middle of a court case, the middle of his marriage to do what he must—walk. And when he can’t take another step, sometimes months later (allowing for a few naps along the way), he’ll call home for help. As unusual as this illness is, I believed it was real, because everyone in the book did. Throughout the story you see the love and commitment Tim and his wife, Jane, share as well as the love and understanding his daughter, Becka, provides, but you worry about how long it can be sustained. Early on, you lose hope that Tim will ever be cured and that the family will ever be able to return to the charmed life they led before page one. I loved the author’s first book, Then We Came to the End, so I’m going to write this off as the second-novel-syndrome and look forward to Ferris’ third.

Julie: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson is another look by the award-winning author at a difficult topic. Being 18 is tough enough – school, fitting in, parents who don’t understand – but Lia must also contend with her (former) best friend being found alone in a hotel room, dead. All of this while trying to convince everyone she is recovering from anorexia (she’s not) and no longer cutting herself (she is). Lia’s voice is believable and lyrical, her story is heartbreaking but not without hope.

Dori: The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez . When Gabriel Santoro publishes a book about Jewish refugees to Columbia during the 1930s, his father’s angry reaction shocks him. After his father becomes ill and dies in a car accident, he digs deeper into the past, uncovering facts that will destroy his father’s reputation. Questions of the sins of the past, silence vs. truth-telling and the effects of war and exile dominate this beautifully written novel.

A lovely list of literary fiction all for you! And the next time? We’ll be happy to provide you with a lovely list of … graphic novels! According to the American Heritage Dictionary a graphic novel is defined as: a novel whose narrative is related through a combination of text and art, often in comic-strip form. They do say a picture is worth a thousand words and now we’ll be able to judge for ourselves!

— Stacey

P.S: Would you like to enjoy another special celebration of the literary kind? Ocoee Middle School and Full Sails Education Media Design & Technology program made this super entertaining YouTube video I can’t stop watching. You go kids! Readers of the future unite!!

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