Things I Like This Week Mini-Reviews

Lately, my allegiance has been divided. No, not between ketchup and mustard for preferred hot dog condiment (though that is seriously becoming a problem at cookouts, okay?). Rather, I’m being pulled in two blogging directions at once; right now, this blog seems to be the one that’s losing out. Rather than remedying that with a new post, perhaps on a book I recently finished, like The Secret Adversary, I instead have found another solution: the mini-review. Below, I have included two brief (some would argue half-hearted) reviews on books that I read this past month, which originally appeared on my other blog, Things I Like This Week. This is totally okay, because I am the one who wrote them. It’s just…lazy.

Between Shades of Gray

While most people were off reading Fifty Shades of Grey (or waiting behind 50 other patrons for a library copy), I was devouring Between Shades of Gray, the heartbreaking but beautiful YA novel about a Lithuanian family’s forced relocation to a work camp in Siberia. I know, I know, it sounds like I chose the significantly less fun option. And maybe I did: there’s certainly nothing fun about this WWII-era story of Soviet oppression. It’s gut-wrenching, bleak, and shows a very dark side of humanity. Nonetheless, it’s an important story—one too often left out of the history books—and it comes with a powerful lesson on the resilience of the human spirit. Fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother and her brother—not too mention many other average Lithuanian citizens—endure freezing conditions, near-starvation, and the cruel caprices of the NKVD guards without ever sacrificing their humanity. I wish I could convince everyone I know to read this book. It is without a doubt one of the most extraordinary, and extraordinarily haunting, novels I have read this year.

When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, is like the juvenile fiction equivalent of those Pixar movies that parents enjoy more than their children do. It’s charming, thought-provoking, and unexpectedly moving. The shame of it is that, since it’s a “kid’s book”—and since most adults feel awkward even venturing into the YA section of their local bookstore or library—most people over the age of 12 will never be exposed to it. Although I read the book ostensibly for “research” (I volunteer in the children’s section of a public library), I found myself quickly absorbed in the story. It’s the sort of book I imagine I would have liked as a tween, but I was able to appreciate it even at nearly 25 because Stead is such a talented writer. The story works on so many levels: it’s at once a coming-of-age tale, a speculation on time travel, and a reflection on the nature of friendship. Plus, it’s set in a late ’70s New York City, which is just so much more interesting than Anywhere, USA. I’m so glad that I gave in to my curiosity and finally read this book, pride be damned. There’s plenty to get out of it, even for someone far outside the target age range.

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