A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

“It is very hard for evil to take hold of the unconsenting soul.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 240 pages.
Read from November 26, 2018 to November 27, 2018.

Published in 1968, this novel is one of Ursula K. Le Guin first ventures into children’s literature. She never intended to write children’s literature but thanks to her persuasive publisher this classic fantasy piece exists. Ursula was not only a pioneer in fantasy and science fiction but she also managed to create accessible and YA novels that were also pieces of literature.  I’m not sure how this author went under my radar as she is a highly acclaimed author but I’m glad I’ve found her.

This story the classic coming-of-age story of a young wizard named Ged. Ged has a natural talent for magic which is what gets him away from his poor upbringing and into a prestigious school to hone his magical skills. However, Ged is overly confident and he makes a mistake that will affect him for the rest of his life. After learning the hard way the cost of power, Ged must find a way to deal with the Shadow that he has released upon the world and come to realize that you are defined not by your mistakes but how your rise to overcome and learn from them.

“You thought, as a boy, that a mage is one who can do anything. So I thought, once. So did we all. And the truth is that as a man’s real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do.”

 

Ged’s trials are what makes this book timeless as the message the story provides to youth is essential, especially when the majority of kids are terrified of making mistakes. The book also emphasizes kinship and friendship with others and with animals and the choices it takes to be brave. That, and what kid doesn’t want to read about winning over dragons and beating their own shadows? This book is exciting enough to appease any youth reader and insightful enough to satisfy any teacher or parent. In a way, I am surprised that this series doesn’t have more a cult following as I imagined it reading like the Harry Potter of its day.

What is also pivotal in this book, especially considering its date of publication is the colour of Ged’s skin. Ged is described as dark-skinned and is not Caucasian, despite the cover art on most of the earlier published books. Imagine the ethnic minority readers this would have spoken to in the late 60s, and even today, who might have never had a character to admire or look up before that looked like them. Ursula became known for pushing boundaries on gender, race, environmentalism and more in some of her other works adding that exceptional element of brilliance to her writing.

Earthsea-painting-CharlesVess
Image by Charles Vess

While I have heard that this novel isn’t necessarily Ursula’s best work it laid the foundation for a phenomenal series and I know for me, it has made me want to read her more well-known adult novels and series. I would highly recommend that this book and its series be added as an essential to any fantasy-readers list and for those that love YA. This book is perfect for almost all ages making it a great book to re aloud to children or for those kids reading on their own.

 

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews

Did this book traumatize you as as teen?

4/5 stars.
ebook, 416 pages.
Read on October 26, 2018.

So this is the book that disturbed a generation of teens! Huh, I can definitely see why. ‘Cause this book is the epitome of a fucked up childhood. This book is banned in a lot of places and I can see why but at the same time I’m not sure I believe in sheltering teens away from certain realities. By reading books like this one, teens open up their mind to the world around them and become aware that there is a good chance that someone they know is suffering from some form of child abuse.

Everything was perfect for the Dollanganger family, four beautiful, blonde children and their doting parents, but their idyllic family-life is brought to an abrupt halt when their father suddenly passes away in a car accident. For the twins, Chris and Cathy, they soon realize that their mother is no longer able to provide for them alone. Their mom then makes a decision to return to her wealthy parents for assistance, a reasonable decision. Or so it would seem; their mother has been keeping secrets from them. The children soon learn that their mother has been disowned by her own family due to the scandalous relationship that brought them into this world, and that if their mother wants to inherit the family fortune the children need to be hidden away until after their grandfather dies. Since they are children they reluctantly agree to the strange situation with their mother promising to return in a few days. Those days turn into weeks, months, and then years as the Dollanganger children live out some of their peak emotional and cognitive years in the confinement of their grandmother’s attic. Their situation is volatile and desperate but they deeply fear their grandmother so they only thing they can do is stick together and look out for each other.

Annnnnd that’s where I will end the book summary since things get particularly twisted from there on out. Most people approach this book knowing full well the pinnacle twisted moment so I’m going to spoil part of it… Chris rapes Cathy. It’s a tumultuous and sad scene as Chris has confused his love for his sister in not having any other contact to the outside world. There are also a number of horrific and heartbreaking scenes involving the grandmother and of course their despicable mother. The author does such a remarkable job in creating this terrible story that many people have wondered if any aspect of the story was real. The author claims this plot is a fictionalized version of a true story as part of the plot came from the author overhearing a story from a doctor during a stay in a hospital.

It’s hard to believe that this book is classified as YA because it sure doesn’t read like one. This book is twisted and it might be too much for people who have had the trauma of child abuse, rape or incest. Having said that, this book left its impression on a generation for better and for worse. I would let older teens read this if as a parent you’re comfortable with but I would suggest that you read this book first, if you haven’t already.

My Real Name is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih

Finding hope in the darkness, both literally and figuratively…

3/5 stars.
ARC, ebook, 208 pages.
Read from July 6, 2018 to July 12, 2018.

Expected publication: September 11, 2018

WWII and holocaust survivor stories are some of my favourite reading genres so when I saw this book on Netgalley with the absolutely raving reviews I knew I just had to read it.

Set in Kwasova, Ukraine during WWII, My Real Name is Hanna is a unique coming of age story.  With the rise of Nazi Germany, Hanna and her family don’t initially suspect that that anything will happen to them in their small town.  Hanna spends her time helping her neighbour dye decorative pysanky eggs and hanging out with her friend Leon.  However, the tides quickly change with the Nazis on their doorsteps and the carefree life and childhood that Hanna has known comes to an abrupt end.  Her family is desperate to stay together and do whatever it takes to keep it that way. A few kind friends and neighbours help Hanna and her family plot their escape into the forest when the Nazis come for them.  After their first safe place comes under threat, Hanna and her family are forced underground where they have to learn to live in a cramped cave in order to avoid the horrible Nazi forces.  Finding hope in the darkness, both literally and figuratively, is all that Hanna and her family have left.

Everyone seemed to love this book and while I didn’t dislike the novel I also don’t feel the need to rave about it either. I am struggling to find the words for my indifference to this story as the plot was exciting and definitely nerve-wracking at times.  The plot and layout of this story is its best feature but I felt a disconnect between some parts of the story and with the characters. For example, the book Hanna was given as a gift, which is the focal point of the first chapter, felt absolutely unnecessary in the rest of the book and really could have been edited out.  Based on the reviews I have read, it seems that the majority readers had a strong emotional connection to the characters but I, however, found it a bit lacking. The characters struggles, as awful as they were, did not seem like they were communicated as well as they could have been.  While one of the most touching scenes of the story entails Hanna and her friend Leon but at the same time, Leon also felt like an unnecessary character. If the story had focused on just Hanna and her immediate family members, the characters might have felt a bit more robust to me.

I can see why readers have compared this story to The Book Thief as this book has successfully discussed a difficult and tragic story but has also kept it attainable for youth readers.  However, in terms of potency and character development, The Book Thief is still the clear winner for me.

While I wasn’t as enthralled with this book as other readers the content of the story is good and many others swear by its moving story so I would still recommend this book for those interested in the WWII narrative and YA readers.