Archive for February, 2011

Up Over Down Under (S.A.S.S.) by Micol Ostow, Noah Harlan

One of the S.A.S.S. (Students Across the Seven Seas) series books, it’s an interesting and fun read about a girl trying to get tanned and meet cute boys down under(Australia) and another trying to make the most of her EPA internship at up over (America), when they swap places in a student exchange program.

Eliza Ritter picks up Melbourne, Australia for her environmental program, only with the intent of getting some laid back time, away from her social-image-concerned parents. But she is in for a disappointment, as she slouches through muddy cold beaches collecting soil samples, or working at the family’s fish N chip place. Adventure gets better of her though, and she does have some good time, at the expense of some serious awkwardness.

“Eventually she started getting the hang of it. That was to say, she got the hang of those four steps. Paddle, hop up, freak out, fall over. At least she finally stopped looking like she was being attacked by a swarm of bees each time she hopped back up unto the board.”

Aussie Billie Echolas took her environmental program seriously and was looking forward to serious field work. But Washington was nothing like she expected. She soon got tangled in the politics and Eliza’s love life. Eventually the girl does bring herself together.

“There was still the Green Gorillas, the sit-in and article…and lots of other causes. She wasn’t done fighting. Not by a long shot. Mr. Ritter seemed to respect Billie’s sticking to her convictions. So she was just going to keep right on doing so. And best of all? She’d have Parker at her side while she did.”

Spiced liberally with Australian slang, the girls take us to some hip places in Washington D.C. and Melbourne. If you like travel books and more so teenage ones, this book is totally recommended. Fun and fluid, it sure makes one “no worries”, good book in S.A.S.S. series.

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A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

Don’t go by the book size; this one is a bomb. The brutality people can inflict on other people will shatter you and put you right back together by the kindness that blossoms even in such mad times. The memoirs of Ishmael are haunting with all the human disfigurement and bereavement. The story is told with clarity and honesty, and with a pain the boy feels at seeing his country painted red.

“Some nights the sky wept stars that quickly floated and disappeared into the darkness before our wishes could meet them. Under these stars and sky I used to hear stories, but now it seemed as if it was the sky that was telling us a story as its stars fell, violently colliding with each other. The moon hid behind cloouds to avoid being what was happening.”

Ishmael loses his family when rebels attack his village. He then walks hundreds of miles, passing one village after another; some ravaged by war already or hostile to him due the ill fame of child soldiers. He is recruited by the army as a child soldier and motivated to fight the rebels that bereaved him from his loved ones; he becomes the perpetrator of mindless cruelty and butchery, elevated by an overdose of cocaine, brown-brown and kill fest movies.

After two years, he was luckily rescued to a rehabilitation centre for child soldier. Through diligent care, understanding and counselling he was set on his way to a normal childhood. He was chosen to represent Sierra Leone at a UN meet to convey the situation of child soldier. He had a strong message to send across.

“ ‘We can be rehabilitated’, I would emphasize, and point to myself as an example. I would always tell people that I believe children have the resilience to outlive their sufferings, if given a chance.”

Finally Ishmael leaves his country at the age of seventeen, as the rebels reach Freetown, capital of the country. He fled from meeting the same fate of being a child soldier again and went through some gruesome immigration, before reaching America. He is actively striving to bring around changes in the lives of child soldier now. This memoir of a child soldier is one of a kind; from a person with firsthand experiences and coming through such brutality with compassion and an open smile on his face. This book demands to be read.

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Second Glance by Jodi Picoult

“Do we love across time? Or in spite of it”

The plot is set in the beautiful Comstock, Vermont. Jodi has woven a story around the lives of many colourful characters, which is annoying for a while, until the story starts developing. The book has many dimensions; it’s a ghost story, modern science, romance, suspense, murder investigation, history and supernatural. An old man fuels protest from Abenaki against redevelopment of their so called ancestral burial ground and sets forth a series of events that unravel the ancestry of a family and gives them a second chance to reconciliation.

The first part of the book deals with paranormal investigation by Ross, a suicidal investigator looking for his lost love. He comes across Lia, and falls in love all over again. The second part is a capturing reminiscence of 1932, the drifts of that time. Suspense and misery around the “feebleminded”, distressed Cecilia grows into something much more sinister. The third part deals with some very interesting investigation and modern age forensic science to solve a seventy year old murder mystery.

It’s a story of Ross who has lost love and the will to live. It’s a story of two children who suffer from some chronic illnesses, but struggle to make the most of their life. It’s a story of two mothers hoping for a miracle to happen with their children. It’s a story of people finding love and long lost ancestry. Most importantly it’s a story of a mother’s love for her child.

“Ruby never told Meredith what she’d told Luxe in the moment before her heart gave out. Now, though…with Lucy suffering…well, Meredith might understand the way love for a child could make a woman go crazy.”

I didn’t find the climax very convincing and it does not do the story justice. The suicidal ambitions of Ross that passes on to the two children is rather a stretch. And at some point the characters drag. The novel questions the morality behind eugenics and embryology. Jodi’s gift with sketching characters and weaving a story that is both suspense and paranormal, makes it an interesting read.

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