Teen Book Reviews: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Holes

Teens: did you know that you can earn community service credit for writing a book review and submitting it to us? Today, we’ll hear from a teen who did just that. Find out more about how to earn community service hours from home at cheshirelibrary.org/teens/.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, reviewed by Ali A.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a book about a Native-American boy named Arnold Spirit. Arnold was born with “water in his brain” and lives in the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington. His reservation is full of drunk and violent people who often die to alcohol overdose. In fact, Arnold said he had been to 42 funerals by the age of 14. Everyone in the reservation has accepted the fact that they are poor and that there’s no hope for them, except Arnold. Arnold realizes that the only way to make it out of his sad life is to go to a predominantly white school in Rearden. However, things aren’t easy when Arnold begins his high school life in Rearden. Rearden High School is 22 miles away from Arnold’s home, so his dad can only afford to drive Arnold only once or twice a week due to gasoline prices, so Arnold has to dangerously hitchhike with strangers to get to his school. Occasionally, Arnold can’t find anyone to drive him so he has to walk the full 22 miles! And once Arnold gets to school, he has no friends and everyone mocks him. After Arnold finally starts sticking up for himself and fights Roger, the school’s football star, Arnold feels more respected at Rearden and Arnold thinks that he can put his reservation days behind him. He quickly starts making friends with the school brainiac, Gordy, and even Roger becomes friendly with him. Arnold then tries out for the basketball team and actually becomes a starter for the varsity team and their best shooter. Everything seems to be going well, until the reservation turns on him. People from the Spokane Indian Reservation label him as a traitor and his former best friend, Rowdy, starts hating him. Arnold’s grandmother and sister both die, and Arnold begins to feel depressed. Finally the reservation starts to accept Arnold after he had to endure those tragic losses. Humorous, heart-breaking and amazingly written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian reflects the life of an teen attempting to break away from the hopeless life he was destined to live.

4 Stars.

Holes by Louis Sachar, reviewed by Ali A.

Holes one of my favorite books and I’d recommend it to readers who enjoy adventure books. Holes is about a kid named Stanley Yelnats who is wrongfully accused of stealing a pair of shoes from a famous baseball player named Clyde “Sweet Feet” Livingston. Clyde Livingston’s shoes were supposed to be donated to charity, but instead Stanley found the old shoes on his way home from school. Stanley was unaware that those shoes belonged to the baseball player so he instead brought them home for an experiment his father was conducting. Once the police found out that Stanley was in possession of the shoes, they arrested him and sent him to Camp Green Lake, which is actually a dessert where the prisoners dig holes from dawn to dusk. Stanley starts making friends, and one of them is Hector “Zero” Zeroni. Stanley is finds it strange that Zero keeps trying to excessively help him dig holes, until he finds out that Zero was the one who stole Clyde Livingston’s shoes and dumped them on the sidewalk to avoid getting caught. Stanley forgives Zero and they both decide to escape the harsh conditions on Camp Green Lake. As Stanley and Zero make their journey, they make discoveries about Camp Green Lake and why the counselors force the prisoners to dig holes all day long in the desert heat. I’d rate this novel a 5/5 because of all the details Louis Sachar incorporates into Holes. This book also makes me think about all the people around the world that are wrongfully accused and jailed for things they didn’t do, except that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you enjoy Holes, I’d also recommend Small Steps, which is a book about what happens to some of the boys after they leave Camp Green Lake.

5 Stars.

Teen Book Reviews: Darius the Great is Not Okay and Divergent

Teens: did you know that you can earn community service credit for writing a book review and submitting it to us? Today, we’ll hear from a teen who did just that. Find out more about how to earn community service hours from home at cheshirelibrary.org/teens/.

Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, reviewed by Ali A.

I really enjoyed Darius the Great Is Not Okay and feel like it’s a must-read for teens. The main character of this novel is Darius Kellner, a white-washed Persian living in the United States who is diagnosed with depression. He feels disconnected from his relatives in Iran, and doesn’t even get along well with his own father. His father, Stephen Kellner, is always disappointed in Darius and wishes Darius could be more normal instead of an overweight loner with funky hair. Darius gets teased at school and only finds peace at the tea shop he works in, the Tea Haven at the Shoppes at Fairview Court. Darius and his family then finds out that Darius’s grandfather, Babou, has a brain tumor and would die soon so Darius’s mother plans a family trip to Iran. It’s Darius’s first trip to Iran so he’s excited but is also worried. Darius knows barely anything about his Persian culture and heritage and doesn’t know if any of his family will like him, especially since Darius doesn’t even know the language of Farsi. However, when Darius gets to Iran, his life changes. He quickly makes friends with a neighborhood boy named Sohrab and Darius discovers more about the Persian culture. Darius’s relationship with his father also becomes tighter and they enjoy each other more. One thing is for sure- Darius is a different person by the time he returns to America. He is no longer lazy, lonely, or as teased as before. I loved this book because I share a lot in common with Darius Kellner. My grandparents and extended family live in India whereas I live on a whole different continent. Also, I only see my grandparents through awkward Skype calls and it’s tough to communicate with them because I don’t know Urdu which is the language that they speak. Adib Khorram did a wonderful job writing this empathetic novel that many teens including myself can relate to and love.

5 Stars.

Divergent by Veronica Roth, reviewed by Ali A.

Normally I hate science fiction books. They are usually about aliens, robots, or people trying to take over the world. Most of the stuff in science fiction books are too complicated for readers to understand and visualize in their minds and science fiction books are usually boring. However, Divergent is the only science fiction book that I have ever fully read and loved. Most science fiction books go overboard on crazy futuristic ideas, but Divergent keeps it real. The Utopian land that the citizens live on is divided into 5 difference groups, which are called factions. The 5 factions are Abnegation, Dauntless, Erudite, Candor, and Amity. Each of the 5 factions prioritizes a special aspect. Abnegation prioritizes selflessness, Dauntless prioritizes bravery, Erudite prioritizes brilliance, Candor prioritizes honesty, and Amity prioritizes tranquility. The main character of the book is Beatrice “Tris” Prior. Beatrice was born into Abnegation and loved her parents and her brother. When everyone is 16 years old, the students are required to take the Aptitude Test, which helps the students discover which faction they should join. Beatrice takes the test and receives a horrid result. Her results revealed that she was Divergent, meaning she doesn’t really fit with one faction but rather a mix of all of them. Beatrice doesn’t understand why being Divergent is so bad or different, but no one explains that to her. On the Choosing Day, where each 16 year old chooses which faction they want to join for the rest of their lives, her selfless brother chooses to join Erudite. Beatrice knew she wasn’t as selfless as her brother so she thought that if he didn’t fit in Abnegation, then she didn’t either. So at the last second, Beatrice chooses to join Dauntless. In Beatrice’s training she has to work hard and do cruel things such as fight her peers for fun and learn to shoot guns. Although the pain is overwhelming, it makes her stronger. Beatrice soon finds out that Erudite is making plans with Dauntless leaders to declare war on her old faction, Abnegation. Veronica Roth did a wonderful job with the plot of Divergent and keeps the readers hooked with plot twists after plot twist.

5 Stars.

My Favorite Android: The Murderbot Diaries

The first use of the word “robot” dates back to the 1920’s (robotnik or similar being a term for factory worker in many slavic languages), but the word “android,” meaning a miniature human-like automaton, is older, as far as 1863. A robot – a disembodied piece of machinery – does work for you – like a Roomba, or the useless rolling pest in the grocery store that spies on people who might steal things (at least Roomba can clean up a mess it finds, and doesn’t cost $35,000). An android looks like a human, moves like a human, interacts like a human (more or less), but inside is a machine.

That fact has led to a huge amount of introspection – how do we define Human? Is a self-aware, English-communicating Gorilla a person? What about our AI creations? When a computer becomes self-aware, does it have a soul? Is it “human”? At that point, is the use and ownership of an android slavery?  That question was battled in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Measure of a Man,” where Starfleet claimed to own Data the android and control him like equipment, while the case was made he was sentient and free. The movie(s) Blade Runner also focused on that question. 

I’m not a techie. Computers are great if they do what I need,  but I couldn’t care less about future tech, AI interfaces, androids, or streaming. Anyone who knows any science fiction knows you never trust AI or give it too much power. I like Data, I don’t love Data. C3PO is annoying. I hated Marvin the Paranoid Android. No matter how many times I watch Blade Runner, I think it’s one of the most boring movies ever (I still love The Six Million Dollar Man, but he was a bionic human, not android). So I was really, really surprised that I even picked up the book All Systems Red by Martha Wells, also known as The Murderbot Diaries #1. Not my kind of book. But from the first page, I could not put the book down. I read it while cooking. I read it while my kids were in the tub. I read it while walking. I had to finish it in one day. Thankfully, it’s a short novella, and that’s entirely possible.

Murderbot, as it calls itself (it has no gender. Murderbots are not built for sex; that’s a sexbot), is a Security Unit (SecUnit), a partly organic robot/android construct built to provide security detail for whoever rents or buys it. Of course, mostly what security entails is killing whatever might harm the persons it’s hired to protect, hence the term Murderbot. Murderbot, however, manages to hack its own governor module, releasing itself from control by the company who owns it. 

This starts Murderbot on a soul-searching (or soul-developing?) quest to find out exactly who or what it is now, all while working hard not to let anyone realize it’s free, because an uncontrolled killing machine is a very, very dangerous thing (to quote Kyle Reese from Terminator, “That terminator is out there, it can’t be bargained with, it can’t be reasoned with, it doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear, and it absolutely will not stop… EVER, until you are dead!”).  But Murderbot isn’t fond of killing. He’s fond of soap operas and TV serials (like The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon). All he wants is to be left undisturbed to watch his shows while he tries to figure out the human race. Life never lets him, and he feels obligated (like the heroes in the soaps he watches) to help while trying to solve the mystery of who is trying to kill the people he was hired to protect.

Murderbot is sarcastic, droll, funny, depressed, almost autistic in his stilted approach to emotion and interaction with people. He’s a fast thinker and an opportunist. He says s**t a lot more than Data. He doesn’t want to be human, yet is fascinated by them and can’t stop studying them. And he makes mistakes, just like a human. The innovative – and logical – adaption/hijacking of computer systems has opened my eyes to issues I’ve never given a thought to, such as the power of drones. With all the issues currently happening via ransomware, spying, and breaches, and the mass-market and miniaturization of drones, maybe we should be thinking more along the lines of Murderbot, as our military is also controlled by computers, and nothing but nothing is hack-proof. People mistrusted the NYPD robodog so much they had to send it back.

I had to read the second book Artificial Condition (possibly my favorite, because of ART, Murderbot’s name for the “A*****e Research Transport” ship computer), whipped through the third, Rogue Protocol , flew through the fourth Exit Strategy, (also possibly my favorite), and am now reading the fifth, Network Effect. The sixth and current volume is Fugitive Telemetry, with three more commissioned by the publisher, and a TV version is in the works (please, please don’t mess it up!). All Systems Red has won the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, the Alex Award, and the Locus Award. Yes, the stories are simple (good guy must take down bad guy) but the humanity and humanism throughout the series will keep you emotionally invested to the very end. 

Pure enjoyment, with no other agenda. Murderbot is my favorite android ever. 

 

Teen Book Reviews: Flowers for Algernon and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Teens: did you know that you can earn community service credit for writing a book review and submitting it to us? Today, we’ll hear from a teen who did just that. Find out more about how to earn community service hours from home at cheshirelibrary.org/teens/.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, reviewed by Ali A.

Flowers for Algernon is one of my favorite books of all-time. The main character is a man named Charlie Gordon, who is 32 years old and has an IQ of 68, meaning he is intellectually challenged. Charlie Gordon goes to class at a school for intellectually challenged people and due to his positive attitude towards learning, he was chosen as a test subject for an experiment/operation that makes intellectually challenged people into geniuses. Throughout the book readers can watch the progress Charlie goes through on his quest to becoming a genius. Once Charlie becomes smart, he recalls past memories of his childhood. Once the full effects of the experiment kick in, it turns out not everyone likes the “New Charlie”. The “New Charlie” is stuck-up, arrogant, and makes other people look dumb. Charlie’s co-workers hate him so much that they created a petition to fire Charlie, and 840/841 voted to have Charlie fired. The only person who didn’t sign was Fanny Birden, and even she didn’t care much for Charlie and only didn’t sign because it wasn’t in her place to decide who could work and who couldn’t. As the world starts to turn against Charlie he receives more bad news- the intelligence that he acquired isn’t permanent, and after the operation wears off, Charlie will have a lower IQ than he did before the experiment. As Charlie’s emotional and mental growth goes back to normal, Charlie doesn’t. He starts out as a happy, fun, and care-free person before the experiment but after the experiment he is anti-social, mean, and boring. I enjoyed this book very much but I found it sad to see what happened to Charlie as the intelligence he acquired started to wear off. However this book made me grateful that God gifted us with lots of knowledge, and that we should never take it for granted.

5 stars.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, reviewed by Ali A.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a great book about Christopher John Francis Boone, a brilliant but autistic 15-year old boy living in London. Christopher is heavily gifted in math and takes A-level advanced courses at his school. However, Christopher does have some behavior issues, including the time he punched a police officer and was arrested and also when he and his father had a small fist fight. When one of Christopher’s neighbor’s dog turns up dead with a garden fork next to him, Christopher is automatically blamed without any evidence. Christopher then decides to clear his name by secretly investigating who actually committed the dog murder. As Christopher moves closer and closer to cracking the case, he starts to learns more about what happened with his divorced parents. His father, who takes care of him, said his mother died due to cancer in a hospital. Christopher believed his story for a while, but Christopher did remember that it was suspicious that his father casually told him that one night his mother was dead and forever gone. However, during Christopher’s investigations, he starts realizing that his father’s claim might not be accurate, and that his mother might still be alive so Christopher decides to find her and escape his dangerous neighborhood. I really enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time because readers can live inside the brain of a kid with autism by feeling their emotions and thoughts, and experience the cruelty of the outside world. I also enjoyed this book because readers can also use their brains to piece together clues and try to crack the case themselves. I recommend this book to people who enjoy mysteries, thrillers, and plot twists, especially when you find out there’s a dog killer in your own family.

5 Stars

Facing the Music with Bill and Ted

I don’t know when I first saw Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but I know it was likely on HBO. Dumb, mindless comedies were in, harmless “Teen” fluff that didn’t pay much attention to reality. It had George Carlin, and Carlin was cool.

I don’t know if it was the painful but common ignorance of misprounouncing “So-crates” or the stoner-intoned dialogue, but I did find it cute, amusing, it had an actual story line, and it introduced me to that actor with the weird name. This was an era when Saturday Night Live was high on the charts, and comedy was in.

A generation later, my kids loved the film and its sequel, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, as well.

Fast forward 30 years later – Keanu Reeves is a household name that we can all pronounce. Alex Winter also appeared in The Lost Boys, one of the better vampire movies ever made, but has had a steady career as a director of movies, television, and music videos. Together, along with many of the original cast, they come back to the big (well, Covid-big) screen in Bill and Ted Face the Music. Bill and Ted are middle-aged, still stuck trying to make the Wyld Stallyns band work, when the future calls them into service to save the world with their music.

Can 1989 comedy work in 2020, or is this just a nostalgic film for middle-aged fans? It’s hard to say. After knocking back movies like The Matrix and John Wick, seeing Reeves break the dead-pan assassin mold and fall back into comedy was strange – and fun. Both actors pick up as if they’d never stopped. Conceived and written by the original creator, the script was predictable (did you expect otherwise?) but true to the characters. It has the same feel, the same style, the same details as the originals, which isn’t the easiest thing to do – too many movies bomb on the third try (Beverly Hills Cop 3, Lethal Weapon 3, Die Hard 3, X-Men 3, Superman 3, The Godfather 3, Divergent 3, etc). George Carlin has unfortunately passed on, with his character Rufus seen in tribute as a hologram, so they brought in a new character, Rufus’s daughter Kelly – played by Kristen Schaal. Viewers are introduced to Thea and Billie, Bill and Ted’s 20-something daughters, characters who do a marvelous job of both imitating their fathers and yet modernizing them for a new generation to identify with. While it makes Bill and Ted seem old and outdated, it’s actually a touching way of passing the torch.

If you loved the originals, if you like mindless fairly clean comedy (PG-13 for language), if you like movies you don’t have to think about that have happy endings, then the movie is well-worth seeing. Is it Oscar material? Of course not. But it is faithful fun.

If you like Bill and Ted, try these other similar movies you might have missed!