Book Review: My Name is Mina by David Almond

“To write is to take some words for a walk”-Mina pg. 104

My name is Mina by David Almond is one of those rare treats that I simply devoured.  I was blown away by the poetic writing and philosophical thoughts this very special 9 year old girl was capable of producing. Even though she is deemed, weird and ‘crackers’ by some, she had the ability to make any reader fall in love with her.  Although the book doesn’t have much of a plot, it definitely kept my attention, written in a diary format with eye catching fonts, styles, and poems.

 Everything in the design of the book reflected Mina’s unusual personality. Mina wrote about her life-including her dislike of school, trouble making friends, her deceased father and newly dating mother, and religion… but mostly, she wrote A LOT about birds. She had a huge fascination with birds, and at one point even labelled herself the Guardian of the Chicks.  The book also had some of the most hilarious and strange chapter titles; my personal favourite is ‘Fig Rolls, Pee, Spit, Sweat & all the Words for Joy (Chapter 8)”.  These titles hinted at the chapter contents and made me want to keep reading chapter after chapter to find out what Mina could possibly say about the topic. Moreover, at the end of the majority of chapters, Mina leaves the reader with an ‘EXTRAORDINARY ACTIVITY’ challenge. For example, after filling two whole pages with words that bring her joy, she also challenges the reader to do the same.  I think they were super inspiring, and glad they were included in the book. 

The book had so many fantastic philosophical quotes that I find it difficult to pick one.  Therefore, I have chose one that simply made me laugh. This quote is Mina describing her teacher—

 “She stared out of the classroom window into the darkening afternoon. I could see she was thinking that it would have been better for her to be something like a traffic warden of a police constable. Or a sprout, maybe”. 

 Not only are there fantastic quotes, but there are empowering short stories that Mina writes about herself using the third person narrative. Earlier in the book Mina explains, “But somehow it is better to write this in the third person, to say, “Mina did this and Mina did that”.  She writes these mini stories in the third person to make her feel brave and confident—like when she approaches the boy neighbour that just moved in.

I adored getting to know the free-spirited Mina, and definitely will be reading Skellig the sequel.  Even though Skellig was released first, you don’t need to have read it to understand the character of Mina.  I hope she never has a ‘destrangification operation’ because I love her just the way she is.  If I can leave you with one piece of Mina advice, it would be ‘remind yourself that you are a star’.

PS- I’ll will never look at floating flakes of dust the same way ever again (*shudder*)

***If you visit David Almond’s website, he includes downloadable Reading Notes. The notes offer discussion points, questions, and more. They would be great for teachers and book clubs! I’ve attached the link here.

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Book Review- This dark endeavour : the apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel

Most people know of Mary Shelley’s classic, Frankenstein, but in This Dark Endeavor: the Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, Kenneth Oppel adds a prologue detailing the rise of young Victor Frankenstein.  I absolutely devoured this fresh angle to this familiar story, and have no doubt that Oppel’s novel has renewed interest in the classic Frankenstein.

To summarize: Victor and Konrad Frankenstein have led a privileged life growing up in the Frankenstein castle. However, their lives abruptly change when Konrad mysteriously falls ill. By surprise, they stumble upon The Dark Library containing secret books of alchemy and ancient remedies. Although forbidden to access, Victor is determined to aid his brother with an ancient formula called the Elixir of Life.  However, Victor, Elizabeth (cousin and love interest of both twins), and Henry (friend) require help to create the formula and enlist the assistance in a man known for his alchemical works.  The book follows the group as they set upon on a fearless quest for the three ingredients.

Why I loved this book:

– There is a little bit of everything: magic, adventure, drama, romance to appeal to wide range of readers (including reluctant boy readers). It is a fast paced, edge of your seat story!

-Even if readers haven’t read the classic Frankenstein, they can still follow the story. It’s a great introduction to the classic, and as mentioned, it will likely persuade individuals to pick up Frankenstein for the first time.

-Oppel’s writing. This book is fantastically written.  I applause authors that can create an arrogant, egotistical, reckless character, yet still have the readers root for him.

– I enjoyed the hints at Victor’s future. For example, on page 204, he awakes from a dream in which Konrad is revived from the dead.  I don’t want to give too much away, but on the last page of the book, Victor (despite warnings) vows that he is not done with alchemy.

Interesting fact: This Dark Endeavor is soon to be a major motion picture!

Other Reviews:

“Oppel’s novel is a gripping tale of undying devotion, mixing hope with foreboding.”—The Horn Book

“Oppel’s tale is melodramatic, exciting, disquieting…a delicious mix.”—Publisher’s Weekly

“Brash, jealous, and arrogant, Victor is sweet relief from today’s introspective YA protagonists, and one can easily visualize how this teen becomes the mad genius of Shelley’s Frankenstein.”—Booklist

Book Review: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

After reading The Giver, I knew I had to have more Lois Lowry. I shamefully must admit that I’ve also never read Number the Stars.  As an interesting side note, this book was the first I’ve ever read on an EReader (I borrowed one from my colleague to test whether I wanted to purchase one).  This amazing story follows Annemarie Johansen, a ten year old girl living in Copenhagen, Demark during the Nazi invasion and her family’s attempt to protect her best friend’s Jewish family.  When the Johansen’s concealed Annemarie’s best friend Ellen as their own daughter, they put themselves at great danger and risk. My heart was pounding when the Nazi’s stormed the Johansen’s house in the middle of the night and began questioning whether Ellen was truly their daughter.  The Johansen’s quick thinking and bravery is so admirable.  Lowry did an amazing job at making the reader feel all the emotions the characters were experiencing.  

 Although Number the Stars is classified as a historical fiction story to introduce children to the Holocaust, almost all of the details were based on true accounts.  Lowry definitely did her research on the resistance and survival when writing this novel.  This book informed me of the lengths the Danes went to protect the Jews. In the author’s notes, readers learn that the Danes helped nearly 7,000 Jews to flee from the Nazis.

Number the Stars truly deserved the 1990 Newberry Medal for the ‘most distinguished contribution to American literature for children’. If I had to sum up the book in three words: touching, powerful, and unforgettable.  A must read for all ages.

                                                                                                                                                                   

Book Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry

This week I chose to read a classic, rather than a new release.  Since The Giver has forever been on my ‘to-read’ list, it was an obvious choice.  However, I wish I read this in high school or in a book club so I could have the opportunity to discuss this amazing thought provoking novel.

So what’s it all about? Jonas lives in a ‘perfect’ world. Careers, marriages, and children are all assigned.  His community lives in ‘sameness’ so individuals are protected against making the wrong choices. When Jonas turns 12, he is assigned a very rare job that requires training from the Giver. When Jonas becomes the ‘Receiver of Memories’ he begins to learn the truth of his world.  Such memories bring him pleasure (feelings of love, colour, etc.) and pain (memories of hunger, war, etc.)

Classified as a children’s dystopian novel, I can definitely see where The Giver has influenced the genre.  For example, one similarity between Divergent and The Giver is the element of age. In both novels, age plays an important part in the lives of the main characters as they undergo life-altering age ceremonies.

After reading this book, I was left with many philosophical questions. What would life by like if we converted to ‘sameness’?   If I were chosen as the Receiver of Memories, could I be capable of taking on all the pain, emotions and joys of an entire community? I don’t think avoiding all the pain and bad memories are worth giving up all the joys of life and I’m glad Jonas thought the same too.

My only critique is the ending. I know I’m not the only one to state my disappointment with the abrupt ambiguous ending. However, Lowry has stated that there is no right or wrong interpretation and it is up to readers to form their own conclusions.

Overall, since the book does include heavy issues such as euthanasia, infanticide and suicide, I would recommend this book for mature children, ages 8+.   Also, if you are among the millions of readers that loved this book, you’d be happy to know that the book is the first of a trilogy, with Gathering Blue (2000) and Messenger (2004) following.                                                                                                 Cover

Book Review: The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff is one of the most fascinating, original stories I’ve read in a long time. I found it so fitting that I read this book over Halloween since the story also takes place around the same creepy time. Around Halloween you begin thinking about all the ugly, twisted things in the world, and this story delivers all that and more! 

From Goodreads:Mackie Doyle is not one of us. Though he lives in the small town of Gentry, he comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. He is a Replacement, left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is fighting to survive in the human world. Mackie would give anything to live among us, to practice on his bass or spend time with his crush, Tate. But when Tate’s baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably into the underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem. He must face the dark creatures of the Slag Heaps and find his rightful place, in our world, or theirs.

🙂 THE GOOD

-Descriptions. The descriptions of the town (Gentry) and the twisted, dark underworld (Mayhem) were definitely the strongest elements of the book. In an eerie, fantasy based novel, the descriptions have to be strong for the reader to visualize and imagine the world in which the story is set.  Yovanoff did a fantastic job at setting the mood and backdrop.

-Storyline. The storyline is so intriguing and there is a fun genre mix of fantasy, thriller and romance that will appeal to a wide audience of readers.

-Sibling relationship. Although ‘replacement’ babies usually die at a young age, Mackie has made it to high school-largely due to his sister’s care and love. I really enjoyed that Emma is so prominent in his life.

-Take home message.  Despite all the dark and dreary elements, the main message of the book is that everyone wants and needs love—even if you aren’t human.

-Not a series. YAY- finally a good stand alone book. It seems like every book these days is being turned into a money grabbing series.

 

 😦 THE BAD

-Huh? Throughout the book, Mackie is described as being hypersensitive to loud noises, yet he can attend heavy metal rock concerts and be totally not bothered? 

-Lack of curiosity. I just don’t see how the whole town of Gentry could live with an oppressive cloud over their head and do nothing about it.  How can they just accept that babies go missing every couple of years? Also, I find it overly bizarre that Mackie himself lacks any real curiosity about what and who he truly is. Early on, he recognizes he is different, but instead of really questioning it, he tries his hardest to blend in and appear ‘normal’. Maybe it’s because he wants to be human so badly, but I just don’t buy it.

 

                                               I LOVE the cover- screams creepy!

Warning: Just so readers are aware- the book includes:  teen drinking, profanity, and sexuality.

Check out the youtube book trailer if you dare…

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