Pat Schmatz (Young Adult Fiction)
“One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.” Might as well be, “One fish, two fish, Travis is a stupid fish.” At least that’s what they all say…well, what one person says, but he is a VERY influential person. Travis Roberts is the new kid in the eighth grade. The only thing keeping him in school was his dog, Rosco, and now that he’s gone, what’s the point? He’ll always be stupid. He’ll always be a bluefish. But then Travis meets Vida (her public calls her “Velveeta”) and Bradley Whistler (who is THE smartest kid EVER) and Mr. McQueen, his reading teacher. Up until this point, everything that Travis cared about was gone. Maybe now he has a reason to begin caring again…even if he is just a bluefish.
Pat Schmatz serves up an awkwardly accurate and often humorous portrayal of adolescence through three flawed and endearing misfits—all longing to fit in and wanting to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Our three protagonists are no longer a child and not quite an adult, and Bluefish shows us the mask each wears to cover up their insecurities and shortcomings. From the brainiac to the class clown to the strong, silent type, Schmatz successfully encapsulates the complicated world of teenagers and the tangled and convoluted roadmap that directs their everyday lives and dictates their emotions.
Bluefish is more than a story of friendship and middle school survival, it’s a story of how one person has the power to change the very course of our life: a kid who finds and hands back your stolen shoe; a girl who invites you to sit with her at lunch; or a teacher who volunteers his or her time to tutor you before school. Thank you, Ms. Schmatz, for reminding us of the importance of not giving up on our friends, and—more importantly—not giving up on ourselves. You have shown us that being a bluefish really isn’t so bad and can actually be a rather remarkable thing after all.
*Book cover image attributed to www.barnesandnoble.com
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While on his way home from school, 15-year old Michael Berg falls ill. Sick with hepatitis, he is found by a kind stranger who cares for him then walks him home. His benefactor is 36-year old Hanna Schmitz and that chance encounter sets in motion a series of events that eventually leads to their unlikely and indecent love affair. Throughout their relationship, Hanna is secretive and keeps her past private. All Michael knows is that she grew up in a German community in Rumania, served in the army at 21, and held various jobs following the end of the war. Hanna’s silence is off-putting yet intriguing, and the mystery surrounding her only increases with her abrupt disappearance from their town and his life. Years later, all of Michael’s unanswered questions about Hanna’s past are revealed when he sees her in a courtroom standing trial. Hanna’s shrouded past is a secret no longer.
The Reader is divided into three parts: the first deals with Michael and Hanna’s meeting and growing relationship while the second and third focus on Hanna’s trial and the events following her verdict. The latter two parts deal with weightier issues and make for a more interesting and faster-paced story. Early on, Hanna is portrayed as a detached lover actively avoiding any kind of emotional commitment. She has no need for our sympathy and we, the reader, duly deny her of it. However, as Schlink sheds light on Hanna’s past and we begin to fully understand her moral makeup, our apathy slowly and willingly gives way to pity. The author doesn’t allow our feelings to develop much further beyond this given Hanna’s tragic and unsympathetic backstory. At this point, most authors would attempt to force a more intimate connection with one of his main characters, but Schlink seems satisfied in allowing us to remain unemotional bystanders and we do so without guilt or regret.
Bernhard Schlink gives us an unforgettable story of love, betrayal, secrets, and sacrifices. What surprised and impressed me most about this novel is the number of thought-provoking and provocative questions he poses: Is being right or honest worth the price of freedom? Can you recognize atonement without granting absolution? Is it ever too late to change? Questions such as these not only offer us a more in-depth view into Michael’s internal thoughts and struggles, but they also force us to examine our own moral convictions. The Reader is one of those rare books that not only entertains and educates, but also challenges the way we think and feel while encouraging us to be better versions of ourselves.
*Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com