Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Language of Flowers

Diffenbaugh, Vanessa. The Language of Flowers: A Novel. New York: Ballantine Books, 2011. Print.
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My Thoughts

The book is divided into four parts (1-Common Thistle, 2- A Heart Unacquainted, 3-Moss & 4-New Beginnings).

The story alternates between the now and the past. We meet Victoria Jones, an 18 year old who is exited out of her foster home to a guidance home. After 3 months there, she's evicted because instead of finding a job, she spends her time finding flowers. She is infatuated with flowers. We learn that at one (pivotal) foster home, Elizabeth taught her "the language of flowers is non-negotiable, Victoria" (Diffenbaugh 63).  Once evicted from the guidance home, she lives in a park in a secluded spot. She begins working with Renata at Bloom, a flower shop in San Francisco and evens finds a "closet" to rent out so she doesn't have to sleep in the park.

Victoria has a love and understands the "language of flowers" (First title reference on page 29. Also appears other times in the book.)  and has a gift that helps Renata's business. Victoria later learns that Elizabeth "had been as wrong the language of flowers as she had been about me" (Diffenbaugh 74). Victoria begins a quest to photograph and collect the real meaning of the flowers. She's learned that sometimes there are more than one meaning.

Victoria feels unworthy and doesn't trust and has a hard time loving because she seems to ruin the good things in her life. However, she makes some good choices, based on her love of flowers, that actually pull her out of a life she could have lived. In many ways, the flowers both destroyed and saved her life.

There is so much in the story that I reacted to while reading. The story was enjoyable and I learned about what meaning certain flowers hold. As I read, I started a list of the flowers mentioned and their meanings. This was unnecessary, as in the back of the book, there is a flower dictionary. At times, I wanted to scream at Victoria for the way she treated Grant and Hazel. However, I did understand her need for survival. She'd been kicked (sometimes literally) too many times.

I enjoyed how Diffenbaugh wove the stories together of the past and present, as we are always connected to decisions we've made. "Every decision I'd ever made had led me here" (Diffenbaugh 249).  Some parts of the book were predictable or unbelievable, but the story also holds a few surprises.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tofu and T. rex

Leitich Smith, Greg. Tofu and T. rex. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2005. Print
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My Thoughts
Here is another book that's been on my shelf too many years. I received this as an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) (at the Texas Book Festival?). Again, I thought THIS is the summer I will read this book!

When I started to read it, I noticed the author's name. I recognized this name. So I "Googled" it and sure enough, this author is married to Cynthia Leitich Smith, an author I sought out to hear this year at TLA. This became another confirmation that this is the summer to read it. Now, on to the story.

The book is written for "middle grades, ages 8-12" (back cover). It was a funny read that I'm happy to share with my daughter. The story is told from two points of view: cousins Frederika (Freddie) Murchison-Kowalski and Hans-Peter Yamaha. The setting is Chicago. Freddie is a vegan. The kids' grandfather owns a butcher shop where both cousins work. There is conflict.

Freddie attends the Peshtigo School where Hans-Peter is trying to enroll. The application process is quirky, much like the school. Hans-Peter is dinosaur obsessed and the Peshtigo School offers a wonderful program that he wants to study. Will his admittance essays on sausage making be enough to convince the board he is Peshtigo worthy?

Through the story, the cousins come to understand that being different doesn't mean they can't be good cousins. They each end up helping the other in surprising ways.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ashes of Roses

Auch, Mary Jane. Ashes of Roses. New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf, 2002. Print.
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My Thoughts
This book is historical fiction. It's another book I've had on my shelf for a few years and decided THIS is the summer to read it. It is about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that happened March 25, 1911, but it really isn't just about that because the fire doesn't happen in the story until page 204.

This is really a story about the resilience of humans. Margaret Rose Nolan and her family immigrate from Ireland to the United States. Upon arriving, the youngest Nolan child is denied admittance because he has trachoma (a descriptive passage explains this very painful process of how this is found). Da decides to return with the boy and leaves Ma and the three girls in New York to meet up with his brother Patrick.

Uncle Patrick's family is none too happy to receive these "dirty" relatives (Auch 47). The women stay there for a brief time until it is decided they must return to Ireland. Living in the United States just isn't working. At the dock, Margaret (now just Rose) and Maureen talk their mother into letting them stay. I can't imagine what a decision that was for the mother!

Rose is smart, but she doesn't know the ways of this new country. She befriends Gussie (or perhaps Gussie befriends her) and Rose begins work at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory where she earns $6 a week for long hours.

Auch does a wonderful job describing in the book:
  • the process of entering the country (I was worried that the family would be separated as they herded from one hallway into the next.),
  • the working conditions of the factory,
  • the hopes and aspirations of immigrants wanting the streets in America to be paved with gold, only to find that they weren't,
  • the "unsavory" characters that prey upon those that don't know or don't have a voice to protest
The title reference is on page 52, which is a fabric color, but I believe the title is a double entendre after I read about the fire.

I can tell that Auch did her research while creating this story. The descriptions are just too real to not be true. She also doesn't allow for a "happily ever after" ending because that would be disrespectful to those 146 people who died at the Asch Building.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

An Abundance of Katherines

Green, John. An Abundance of Katherines. New York: Dutton Books, 2006. Print.
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My Thoughts
Last summer I read two of John Green's books (Fault in our Stars and Looking for Alaska). John Green became my "go to" author recommendation for the school year (and gave me a little "street cred" with my teens!).

Green did not disappoint me with this novel. It is witty and full of memorable characters. Colin Singleton is a prodigy. He speaks eleven languages. He creates anagrams and memorizes things he reads. "It wasn't just that things interested him because he didn't know from boring--it was the connection his brain made, connections he couldn't help but seek out" (Green 92). Because of this, he only has one real friend, Hassan. After being dumped by Katherine XIX, Colin and Hassan take off on a road trip in hopes of Colin getting over being dumped. They end up in Gutshot, Tennessee where they meet Lindsey and Hollis Wells. The Wells own the local textile factory and hire the two boys to record the stories of the locals. As the stories unfold, Colin works on his Theorem. This will be a mathematical calculation of his relationships with all of the Katherines. However, there is a flaw. Once Colin figures out the missing piece, he creates a "perfect" Theorem of relationships. Will this be enough to make Colin matter to the world?

Some parts of the book were predictable (no spoilers here). I absolutely loved the footnotes of random facts that Green includes. These notes add to Colin's character. He is a little weird and including the weird footnotes works. Plus, I always enjoy knowing random things that seemingly have no connection, yet they really do. My brain sometimes works the same way.

I laughed out loud several times reading this story. When Colin and Hassan go on the hog hunt (which was a funny episode), Hassan explains why the "whole world is turned upside down" because "It's like we're in a snow globe and God decided he wanted to see a blizzard so he shook us" (Green 166). I've thought this, too.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Journey to Topaz

Uchida, Yoshiko. Journey to Topaz. Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books, 1971. Print.
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My Thoughts
I've had this book since 2007 and decided THIS is the summer to read it. It is the first book of my summer reading, in fact.

The story is about an 11 year old Japanese girl named Yuki Sakane and her family's relocation to an internment camp during WWII. The characters are fictional, but the events are true. They spend four months in a horse stall at Tanforan Racetrack and then are moved to the deserts of Utah.

The story was simple and moving. I could feel the optimism of Mother, as she believes that all will work out for the family.  She is a "gentle, Japanese lady" with a "strong and noble spirit" (Uchida 18). Mother will "observe every letter of the law" (Uchida 32), because she believes if the government is asking them to relocate, it is for a good reason.

Brother Ken is not so optimistic and struggles with his new role as head of the household when Father is arrested by the FBI (almost immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor). When Ken gets upset about the relocation, Mother tries to calm him by saying, "Fear sometimes makes people do terrible things" (Uchida 25).

Yuki tries to remain positive, but she begins to loose her innocence when she sees the conditions of the "apartments" and listens to the older people speak of the war. Her beloved dog Pepper is not allowed to relocate, so Yuki asks a neighbor to watch him. She learns in the camp that Pepper has died. This is her first experience of death and the world changes for her.

Two words I learned from reading this book are "Issei"-1st generation Japanese and "Nisei"-Japanese-born in America.

The title reference is on page 93.

One passage that I thought was beautifully written (I loved the imagery.) is "The car captain's voice broke the silent web of memories in which they all had been tangled up for a few moments" (Uchida 89).

I didn't like the ending, though. The story just stopped, in my opinion. Perhaps Uchida is just giving us the "slice of life" while the family is interned, but I want to know what happens to them when they leave the camp for Salt Lake City. Do they still face discrimination because they are Japanese? Does Ken finish school and become a doctor? Will Yuki find caring neighbors there like she had in Berkeley?