(I left THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and THE HUNGER GAMES off the list because I’ve read them both 1224678635 times before, but they were assigned books for my YA Lit class and I adored them as much this time as the first time I read them.)
5. THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie
I read this as part of my YA Lit class and it was easily one of the most well-liked books on the syllabus. The book is a National Book Award winner and tells the story of Junior, a 14 year old boy growing up on a Native American reservation. Instead of staying at the rez school for high school, he decides to transfer to a primarily white school to receive a higher quality education (the rez school has very little funding). He is seen as a traitor by his friends and neighbors and has to find his way in this new environment. The book portrays the rez culture honestly and really opened my eyes. At age 14, Junior has attended 42 funerals, most of the deaths alcohol-induced. Junior is an honest and likeable narrator. Even though much of the story is bleak, he always talks with some humor. Junior also likes to draw, and there are cartoons on some of the pages, depicting the scenes as we read them.
4. THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO by Junot Diaz
This book is hard to sum up briefly, but I’ll do my best. Oscar is a “ghetto nerd” who desperately wants to find love. But he and his family are cursed by the fukú, a Dominican myth that the family believes keeps them from getting what they want. The book, broken into sections, follows Oscar and his family (his sister, mother, and grandfather all have their own sections where their story is told) and their struggles. In a way, the book is a series of character studies about several generations of the family (AND the story of the narrator, Oscar’s college roommate). The story is full of Dominican Republic history, Spanish words and nerd lingo. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before. It won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and is a fascinating read.
3. THE FEAST OF LOVE by Charles Baxter
Love…and all the ways it can go wrong. That pretty much sums up this book. It starts out with a narrator (named Charlie, a fictionalized version of the author) suffering from writer’s block. He decides to collects people’s love (or lost love) stories and wants to create a book from them. He hears a neighbor’s divorce story, then goes to the neighbor’s ex-wife for her side, then to the neighbor’s employees at a coffeeshop who have stories of their own…and the story extends from there. Eventually Charlie the Narrator disappears, and we hear stories from six or seven different first-person narrators and can still tell EXACTLY who is speaking. It’s fascinating and inspiring…I WISH I could write something like that. I loved this book! Loved it loved it loved it!!!!
2. A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME by Wiley Cash
I mentioned Wiley’s book in a previous What’s Up Wednesday but didn’t talk much about it. It’s modern Southern Gothic fiction and tells the story of a North Carolina community affected by an extremist church. A young mute boy dies during a faith healing at the church, and the incident is witnessed by his younger brother, Jess , one of the book’s three narrators. Along with the other two narrators (Adelaide Lyle, an elderly yet powerful woman who refuses to be a part of the extremist church, and Clem Barefield, the sheriff investigating the boy’s death), readers are given most of the puzzle pieces surrounding this church and its leader, a convict turned preacher named Carson Chambliss. I flew through this book, completely engrossed, and highly recommend it!
1. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD by Richard Yates
My favorite book of the semester! I wrote my final seminar paper (22 pages) about the American Dream and really got to dig into the ideas and symbols in this book (along with some help from The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises…I’m salivating just thinking about the awesomeness surrounding these novels). The book follows Frank and April Wheeler, a young married couple moving to the suburbs temporarily. At least, they think it’s temporary. They always planned to go back to their bohemian lifestyle from college, but a decade later they’re still white picket fencing it with two kids and a boring office paycheck. They are both depressed and fed up with the monotony of suburban Connecticut and decide to move to Europe to pursue their passions, to really live their lives instead of just going through the motions. No spoilers here, but it doesn’t exactly turn out the way they planned. The book examines the 1950s American Dream (picket fence, nuclear family, steady job) and shows how, even if you attain it, it will never be enough to satisfy. (I could talk about this book and its ideas FOREVER, but I’ll stop there.)
Fun sidenote: the movie version of this book was the big Leo DiCaprio/Kate Winslet reunion everyone was talking about back in 2008. Their relationship in RR, however, is MUCH different than Titanic’s, just to warn you!