The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

The Story of Arthur Truluv

The Story of Arthur Truluv

Elizabeth Berg (Adult Fiction)

Arthur Moses has had lunch with his wife Nola every day for the past six months (missing only just one day, which is not bad for an octogenarian with no car and bad knees).  He departs the bus with his folding chair and bagged lunch, sits beside her headstone (she’s passed away you see, but “a promise is a promise”), and tells Nola about the day’s events or complains about their neighbor, Lucille (who considers the world to be her classroom, BUT happens to make THE most wonderful desserts).  While Arthur gains comfort through his daily cemetery visits, 18-year old Maddy Harris seeks escape.  Maddy is a budding photographer and artist (who is rather pretty despite that awful nose ring), but she is viewed as an outsider by her high school classmates and therefore endures relentless ridicule and abuse.  At the graveyard, she finds peace, and it is here where she and Arthur meet and begin a very unlikely friendship.

Berg delivers an endearing, amusing, and pleasant story about three flawed individuals who, like most of us, merely want to be accepted, useful, and loved.  Each one of them holds a piece to the others’ happiness and when they are placed together, they fit to form a quirky yet beautiful puzzle.  This is a delightful read that is surprisingly uplifting and inspirational, despite the underlying themes of death and loss.

Early in the book, Maddy mentions that her English teacher taught her one of her favorite words: hiraeth, a Welsh word meaning yearning and grief for lost places.  The Story of Arthur Truluv provides the reader with some glimmer of promise and hope that grief is never permanent and what is lost will once again be found.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.penguinrandomhouse.com

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Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies

William Golding (Adult Fiction)

Tragedy strikes when a plane carrying English schoolboys crashes onto an uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean.  Lacking adult supervision, they eagerly welcome the adventure that awaits them.

“This is our island.  It’s a good island.  Until the grownups come to fetch us we’ll have fun.”

Their elation soon turns to discontent as rules are quickly established to maintain a semblance of order.  Soon, their tight-knit group breaks into factions and their once carefree lifestyle is threatened while they wait and hope for rescue.

This book will leave you unnerved and emotionally raw as you watch this group’s slow descent into moral depravity and eventual savagery.  Absent the presence of an actual authoritative figure, these boys suffer no negative consequences and slip into traits which come naturally to them: frivolity, disobedience, and indifference.  Desperate for structure and stability, they will follow any strong and decisive leader—regardless of how corrupt or destructive this person may be.

Golding masterfully lures us deep into a place full of wonder, mystery, and danger, and his attention to detail is as lush as the forest he describes.  He slowly builds tension and suspense, which ultimately culminates in a heart-stopping, gut-wrenching, and unforgettable climax.  Perhaps the most disturbing and frightening aspect of this book, published in 1954, is not its plausibility, but its lurking inevitability.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.bookdepository.com

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The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (YA)

It’s Tween and Teen Tuesday where we review either a juvenile (J) or young adult (YA) book.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Jacqueline Kelly (Young Adult Fiction)

Calpurnia Tate is 11 years old (almost 12!) and having quite the summer.  It’s 1899 in Fentress, Texas and her sole objective at the moment is staying cool…which is proving to be quite impossible.  Priorities soon shift when her brother Harry gives her a small, red notebook and tells her she can use it to record her daily observations.  You see, Calpurnia loves to watch things, and after she watches things, she has questions—lots and lots of questions.  One of those questions brings her to her grandfather who presents her with a copy of Darwin’s The Origin of Species.  This singular gesture not only marks the beginning of their relationship, but it also sets Calpurnia’s life in a direction that’s very different from the one her mother has planned for her.

I really enjoyed Calpurnia’s character—a girl ahead of her time who dismisses the notion that women can only be teachers, nurses, or wives.  Instead, she is eager to trade her knitting needles for a microscope and her cookbook for a science book.  Kelly gives us a strong and feisty heroine who loves, angers, disappoints, and surprises yet through it all, never loses her sense of self or what is most important to her.  I also loved seeing her relationship with her grandfather deepen as their shared love of nature and science draws them closer.  The author does leave a few unanswered questions at the end of the book which may frustrate some readers, but these loose ends are not enough to detract from a likeable main character and a charming, witty story.

Grandfather Tate once told Calpurnia, “It’s amazing what you can see when you just sit quietly and look.”   I hope The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate encourages all of us to disconnect from our devices long enough to reconnect with the beauty and majesty that surrounds us in the natural world.  All we have to do is sit quietly and look.

Rating: 4/5

 

 

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

Anton Disclafani (Adult Fiction)

It’s 1930 and America is in the midst of the Great Depression.  The southern wealthy send their girls to the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, an elite equestrienne boarding school located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.  For 15-year old Thea Atwell however, her stay is more punishment than privilege—a repercussion of “the mess” that would impact the lives of those closest to her.  With its established social hierarchy and strict moral culture, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls forces Thea, for the first time in her life, to undertake girlhood friendships and deal with rival animosities.

To say this book was disappointing is an understatement.  Just shy of 400 pages, it was a futile investment of my time and emotions.  Thea is a girl incapable of making good life choices.  Although we could easily attribute this to her age and being raised in near total social isolation, we still can’t overlook the fact that at nearly every moral and ethical juncture, she ignores her better instincts and chooses the path that leads to her own self-fulfillment and pleasure—regardless of the consequences.  Very seldom does she bear any responsibility for her actions or show the slightest bit of remorse.  Unfortunately, the adults in this book don’t fare any better, although the reasons behind some of their decisions (which seem excessive, cruel, or just simply foolish at the time) are explained toward the end of the book.  By this time, it is much too late for the reader to scrounge up any vestige of interest or sympathy for these characters.

I’ve noticed this book appearing on several 2018 summer reading lists.  Between an unrepentant main character and an unmercifully long story devoid of any moral lessons, this book is better left in the stable than taken to the beach.

Rating: 2/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com

 

Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin (J)

Ruby on the Outside

Ruby on the Outside

Nora Raleigh Baskin (Juvenile Fiction)

Eleven-year old Ruby Danes is caught between two lives:  inside of prison, where her mother is currently serving a 20- to 25-year sentence, and the outside world.  When Ruby is on the inside, the rules are pretty straightforward:  it’s OK to cry, but don’t be too disruptive; mind what you wear; and don’t bring anything with you.  On the outside, the rules become a little more complicated and the lines of right and wrong seem more blurry and inexact.  When Ruby finds true friendship with the new girl in her condo, will the truth about her mother being a inmate ruin everything?

This book had a lot of potential, but unfortunately is beset with quite a few problems.  First, it is billed as a story about friendship and the secrets we think we must keep close in order to preserve it.  This book actually goes deeper and a little darker by exploring justice, fairness, separation, honesty, and loyalty.

Secondly, this book is most likely going to be inappropriate for the age group for which it is intended.  Most juvenile fiction is written for the 7 to 12 age range, but Baskin delves into child abandonment, murder, armed robbery, incarceration, and drug abuse.  These are fairly weighty issues for readers on the younger end of the scale.

Lastly, the copyediting is pretty unforgivable and hard to overlook.  I am willing to ignore the occasional omitted word or misused punctuation mark, but when you find close to a dozen or more occurrences, then it’s just sloppy and careless work.  On a side note, I understand that several of these issues were resolved in the second edition paperback version, so if you avoid the hardback edition, you will not experience this irritation.

In summary, if you’re looking for a book that deals with young children coping with a parent serving time, this might be a good option, but there are better and more appropriate choices out there that discuss children seeking friendships and looking for peer acceptance.

Rating: 3/5