My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I enjoyed all of Steinam's stories of her life on the road, although the order was definitely disjointed. Once I stopped expecting chronological flow, I just kind of sat back and enjoyed her experiences. Recommended for gr. 9-12, adults.
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After experiencing critical and commercial success with his second novel, author Henry L’Hôte spends five years researching and writing his next novel. He wants to do something that nobody has ever done before: a flip book containing both fiction and non-fiction elements pertaining to the Holocaust. Unfortunately, the publishers do not believe that the book will be a commercial or a critical success, and so Henry decides to give up writing altogether. He and his wife, Sarah, move to an unnamed (but “great”) city and Henry loses himself in the anonymity of waiting tables, acting in local theatre productions, and taking clarinet lessons. When he receives a package that contains a short story by Gustave Flaubert, an excerpt from a manuscript, and an entreaty for Henry’s help by the author of the manuscript, Henry is intrigued. He traces the package to a taxidermist’s shop and through a series of increasingly strange visits, the taxidermist reveals most of the manuscript to Henry, whose suspicions that it is an allegory about the Holocaust are ultimately confirmed in a brutally violent ending.
What a complete and utter disappointment this novel was! I was one of the millions who adored The Life of Pi, Martel’s second novel, and so I immediately picked up on the autobiographical tone of this story. My interest was piqued with the story-within-a-story (the taxidermist’s manuscript) and the allegorical characters (a donkey named Beatrice and a howler monkey named Virgil), but as the taxidermist revealed himself to be stranger and stranger, the manuscript also became increasingly bizarre. The connections to the Holocaust were too subtle for me to pick up until Henry started to piece it together, and then it became about as subtle as being hit over the head with a board. The brutal ending—in the main story, not necessarily in the manuscript—came out of nowhere, and I was left feeling cheated on so many levels. I do not believe that too many high school students would finish this novel, even if they chose it because of their love for The Life of Pi.
Not really recommended for grades 10-adult.
Submitted by Kevin, 12th grade.
Don’t know what to read next? Are you ready for an adventure? Try The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. You will not be disappointed with your decision. I sure wasn’t. You are probably thinking that it looks boring and the cover has nothing to do with the title, but don’t let that discourage you from discovering the greatness that lies on its pages. On those pages is an intriguing story of a man who believes that his life is pointless until he arrives in heaven.
Eddie, the main character, loved to go to the pier as a child to ride the rides and play the games. To his dismay, he followed in his father’s footsteps and worked at the pier his whole life. Eddie’s father had made his childhood miserable by abusing and avoiding Eddie. When Eddie’s father passed, Eddie was left with his mother. He went off to war and was taken prisoner in the jungle. When Eddie and the others escaped, Eddie experienced many things that he had no desire to talk about. Once back from the war, Eddie returned to his wife and his maintenance job at the pier. At the pier, Eddie worked very hard to keep everyone safe on the rides, as evidenced during Eddie’s last minutes on earth. During his time in heaven, Eddie saw things that he had never seen while he was alive, and these experiences provided him with a sense of closure.
I know you are interested in meeting the people that Eddie met and learning all about Eddie’s amazing time on earth as well as in heaven.
Recommended for grades 9-12.
Being Ukranian-Canadian is what has defined Colleen Lutzak for her entire life. She has always danced Ukranian dances, sung Ukranian songs, and eaten Ukranian food, yet she has not taken the time to learn much of the Ukranian language or history. Throughout the story, Colleen tries desperately to figure out where she fits in. Ultimately, she comes to terms with her heritage, embracing it with her heart as well as her mind, blending all of the various parts of her into one strong character.
This novel was much too long. I found Colleen to be rather shallow and whiny for most of the story. When given the chance to re-invent herself at school in Swaziland, Colleen chooses to continue to be an outcast in spite of her insistence that she wants to fit in. Colleen’s relationship with her cousin, Kalyna—whose funeral Colleen is returning for at the beginning of the story—is underdeveloped, leaving readers wondering why Colleen is so changed by her death. With three relatively unknown cultures represented (Canadian, Ukranian, and African), its daunting length, and the fact that it takes place in the 1980s, this book has three strikes against it from the outset.
Recommended in a lukewarm way for students in grades 10-12.
The novel is set in the future. Society (our present day) was getting out of control, and so certain people set out to create a better society with defined social classes and strict rules that were enforced with harsh punishment. In Gilead, the upper classes were allowed to be married and have children--by whatever means necessary. Everybody else existed to help make that happen. This story is Offred’s, one of the Handmaids, and it is fascinating.
We read this book for the HS Book Club. The students wanted to choose a banned book (in honor of Banned Books Week), and I was delighted that they chose this one. The discussion--among those who were brave enough to read the entire book--was interesting. If you decide to read The Handmaid’s Tale, you need to read the last chapter. It looks like it’s just random notes not connected to the story at all, but in fact it explains what happened to Offred and to the society of Gilead. Those who had skipped the last part felt disappointed by the book’s ending, but those who had read it felt like they had more closure.
Oh, and Ms. Miller said that The Handmaid’s Tale could be used as an AP selection. Bonus!
Highly recommended for grades 11-12
I didn’t like this novel for a number of reasons, but I mainly disliked the main character and narrator, Lee Fiora. She has no backbone, is completely obsessed with fitting in with her fellow pretentious “prep school” classmates (why???), treats her parents horribly, is incapable of forming true friendships with anyone because she’s always so afraid to be herself...not to mention her dysfunctional and inappropriate relationship with the very popular and handsome Cross Sugarman.
I did not find this to be a very realistic book and I thought that Lee was the embodiment of somebody’s idea (stereotype, maybe?) of how teenage girls think and act.
What would push a 17-year old so far that one day he wakes up and decides that he’s going to load his backpack full of guns and shoot anybody that he comes into contact with? The answers aren’t quite as black and white as we would like them to be. The horror of what happens to the teachers and students during the nineteen minute shooting spree is interspersed with the horror of abuses heaped onto the shooter, Peter Houghton, for his entire school career. Does it excuse him? No. Does it help explain why he snapped? Maybe.
Jodi Picoult writes books for adults with teen characters. I really enjoy her books, but sometimes I think they’re inappropriate for teens in spite of the age of her protagonists. Nineteen Minutes is one of those books that I would have recommended highly if it didn’t contain some inappropriate (and absolutely unnecessary) material.
Recommended for grades 11-12, college, adult.