Archive for the ‘General Fiction’ Category

Banned Books Week review of:


by Katherine Patterson

Author’s Website: http://www.terabithia.com/

Once again, today’s review comes from the ranks of the Newbery Award-winners. Katherine Paterson’s wonderfully-crafted Bridge to Terabithia was (like so many YA books of late) recently made into a film version, which, rather surprisingly, was quite a faithful adaptation of the book. Nevertheless, I stand by my firm belief that, 99.9% of the time, the book is better than the movie, and this is no exception. Paterson’s story is thoughtfully and poignantly told, and the digital fantasy animation of the film just doesn’t do justice to the nuance of Leslie and Jess’s imaginations….


Growing up in rural Virginia, Jess Aarons’ greatest ambition is to be the fastest kid in the 5th grade. Jess’s life is not a happy one—he is mostly ignored at home, is bullied regularly at school, has few friends, and carefully conceals the fact that he loves art because of his reputation as “that crazy little kid that draws all the time”. All of this changes, however, when Leslie Burke comes to town. Leslie is unlike anybody else who has ever attended Lark Creek Elementary; she is tomboyish, talented, creative, and wise beyond her years. She is also faster than Jess, and beats him and every other boy in a playground foot-race on the first day of school. In spite of this inauspicious beginning to their relationship, the Leslie and Jess gradually become close friends, creating (with the aid of Leslie’s powerful imagination) the magical kingdom of Terabithia in the woods, where they reign as king and queen. One day, however, a terrible tragedy strikes out of the blue, and Jess must use everything he has learned from Leslie and Terabithia to come to terms with it.

I’m going to say it: this is the kind of book that can easily make you cry. This is not simply due to the aforementioned tragedy, but also because the entire story rings so true, and the ending of the book leaves you with a beautiful ringing that lingers long after you’ve closed it. I love this kind of resonance—it’s the feeling you get when you finish a book and know for sure that the author has done her job extremely well. The characters are wonderful, finely-wrought, and oh-so believable; trust me when I say that it is worth your time to read this book.

The main reasons this book has been banned so frequently are the use of “coarse language” by some characters and the devastating event that shapes the book’s ending so perfectly. Author Katherine Paterson explains the former thus:

“Jess and his father talk like the people I knew who lived in that area. I believe it is my responsibility to create characters who are real, not models of good behavior. If Jess and his dad are to be real, they must speak and act like real people. I have a lot of respect for my readers. I do not expect them to imitate my characters, [but] simply to care about them and understand them.”

Parents argued that the topic of death was inappropriate for middle-grade readers because it was not a topic kids should have to deal with. I could not disagree more—Jess’s experience, while hopefully one we would never wish on ourselves or our families, is as real as it is heart-achingly painful, and Jess’s reaction is utterly convincing (the story is actually based on the childhood of the author’s son, who, not coincidentally, wrote the screenplay). For kids who have experienced the tragedy of loss, this book is a confirmation that they are not alone in their feelings; for kids who have not, it is a window into that world. Finally, I have to emphasize that the book does have a positive ending, as the characters struggle and eventually come to terms with the event that has shaken their lives so deeply. Although Bridge to Terabithia is without doubt a sad book, it also offers the reader the gifts of courage, friendship, love, and hope.

I would recommend this book for ages 10 and up (but older readers and adults shouldn’t be put-off by the recommended age range or the age of the protagonists).

That’s it for Banned Books Week! I’ll be back soon to review some more great novels…in the meantime, happy reading!

Best wishes,


“If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”

-Noam Chomsky


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Banned Books Week review of:


by John Green

Author’s Website: www.sparksflyup.com

If you Google the name of author John Green, you will undoubtedly find myriad references to his first novel, Looking for Alaska, which won the Michael L. Printz Award, among numerous other accolades that I’m too lazy to mention (and the Printz is the one that matters because it’s the one that shows up with the big, shiny medal on the book’s cover). However, the book has also gained notoriety due to the controversy that arose when teachers at Depew High School in New York decided to teach the book as part of an 11th grade English class. If you’re curious about the details, I’ll let John explain them to you himself; suffice it to say that I am beginning my reviews with this book because it is a powerful story, and one told with amazing emotional honesty. I have a great deal of respect for John Green’s writing—his characters are funny, acerbic, silly, stupid, and so utterly believable that I have to love them because I honestly knew kids like that in high school. Unlike some YA authors (whose books you will never see reviewed here because they are not good books), Green does not condescend to teenagers, and manages to color them with all the foibles of adolescence while simultaneously giving them due credit for their perceptiveness and depth of feeling. Looking For Alaska, while not my favorite of his three books, is nevertheless well-worth reading (and I’ll get around to reviewing my favorite one soon, I promise!).


Miles Halter’s life is utterly boring: he has no friends at school, and his only real interest in life is reading biographies and memorizing famous last words. Thus it is that, inspired by the final words of French writer François Rabelais (“I go to seek a Great Perhaps”), Miles finds himself heading off to the hallowed halls of Culver Creek Boarding School in search of something more. It is at Culver Creek that Miles meets the gorgeous, cheeky, brilliant, sexy, screwed-up, and fascinating Alaska Young who lives just down the hall. But Miles’ life at Culver Creek is a countdown to a terrible event that will turn this year of new experiences upside down, and afterwards, nothing will ever, ever be the same again.

I would recommend this book for readers 15 and up, mostly due to language and sexual content (the latter being the main reason it was objected to at Depew High School). However, I certainly would not discourage mature 13/14-year olds from reading it if they felt comfortable with the content—the characters are high-schoolers, and many of their antics and experiences are typical enough that most teens will be able to relate on some level.

If you have any questions about this book, feel free to post a comment and I’ll get back to you ASAP. In the meantime, happy reading!

Best wishes,


“Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads.”
-George Bernard Shaw

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