Wednesday, February 27, 2008

More coming soon.

I know it's been a while, and I have read several wonderful books, but no time for reviews right now. When I return from Edmonton (where I'll be speaking at their Teachers Conference along with although probably not alongside Stephen Lewis) I'll write reviews of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist which I totally loved, and the first two Alfred Kropp books which I also loved. They're coming. I promise. Later. Sheryl

Monday, February 4, 2008

Baeh controversy

You may or may not have heard that an Australian newspaper reported has questioned Ismael Beah's facts in Long Way Home. I have been following the controversy with interest, especially after James Frey's eventual admission that parts of his A Million Little Pieces were exaggerated. Of course the thing about true stories is that there supposed to be true! If Beah made honest errors in his time line, why not just admit it and move on. After all, memory under normal circumstances; and war can hardly be considered normal, can be sketchy. If, however, he was exaggerating for the purpose of capturing our attention as was James Frey, this is a whole other matter. Still, if the latter is the case, then it says an awful lot about readers today doesn't it? A story can't just be terrible or tragic, it has to be so horrendous that it shakes us to our very core. Otherwise it simply isn't worth our time. How very sad for us.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Tamar by Mal Peet

I've just finished Mal Peet's phenomenal novel Tamar which deservedly won the Carnegie Medal. It's one of those difficult to read but hard to put down World War II stories in which the writing is superb. The characters are complex and fully drawn, meaning that they are both heroic and fraught with human frailties. The story's twists, turns, intrigues, and deceptions will keep you reading late into the night. In fact, Peet's characters were so real that it was at time, difficult to believe I was reading fiction.

At first I thought the 400 plus page novel was totally about the Nazi occupation of Holland and the courageous resistance fighters who risked their lives to thwart them. It is such a compelling story that if that was all there were to this book, I would have felt satisfied. However, Peet sets his sights much higher, He doesn't just explore the tragedy of wars, but also of their after-math. Well into the novel, 15-year old Tamar, the granddaughter of one of the two surviving resistance fighters, drags readers out of the past and into modern-day England. I found myself resenting her intrusion into that other story. After all, I was totally caught up with Tamar (the resistance fighter), Dart, and Marijke and their struggle to survive, to resist, and to stand up to the Nazi's despite insurmountable odds. However, Peet so deftly intertwines the past and present that you are as compelled to follow the younger Tamar as she tries to make sense of her grandfather's suicide and her puzzling inheritance as you are compelled to follow the World War II story. What Tamar finds at the end of her journey is as much a surprise to her as it is to the reader.

Tamar is an intense and riveting tale of passion about the resistance fighters of World War II which truly demonstrates that war has far reaching heroic and tragic consequences. While it is beautifully written and rich in detail, it's length and it's subject matter might make it a difficult read for some. Still, if you can handle the scenes of stark brutality that Peet does not shrink from, Tamar is brilliant and well worth your time.