Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

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“How could he explain it in a way Leslie would understand, how he yearned to reach out and capture the quivering life about him and how when he tried, it slipped past his fingertips, leaving a dry fossil upon the page? ‘I just can’t get the poetry of the trees,’ he said.”

Genre: Fiction, Bildungsroman

Book Jacket Synopsis: “All summer, Jess pushed himself to be the fastest boy in the fifth grade, and when the year’s first school-yard race was run, he was going to win. But his victory was stolen by a newcomer, by a girl, one who didn’t even know enough to stay on the girls’ side of the playground. Then, unexpectedly, Jess finds himself sticking up for Leslie, for the girls who breaks rules and wins races. The friendship between the two grows as Jess guides the city girl through the pitfalls of life in their small, rural town, and Leslie draws him into the world of imagination-a world of magic and ceremony called Terabithia. Here, Leslie and Jess rule supreme among the oaks and evergreens, safe from the bullies and ridicule of the mundane world. Safe until an unforeseen tragedy forces Jess to reign in Terabithia alone, and both worlds are forever changed.”

Review: I first read Bridge to Terabithia sometime in middle school, and remember being profoundly moved by the story. This novel, perhaps more than any other, greatly influenced the development of my own early writing style and literary voice. I was happy to discover, upon rereading, that Bridge to Terabithia still manages to impress and move me, even a decade after my first experience with the novel. Bridge to Terabithia remains one of the most poignant and insightful investigations into childhood friendship, death, and grieving. With inspiration for the book stemming from the real-life death of author Katherine Paterson’s ten-year-old sons’ best friend, Bridge to Terabithia, in my opinion, is one of the best books that any grieving child could read. Jess’s own path towards healing after Leslie’s death is rife with denial, confusion, anger, and eventually acceptance. He is able to emerge from the tragedy as an altered but inspired person, and he learns how to honor Leslie in death as he honored her in life. Winner of the 1978 Newbery Medal, few books, especially those targeted at young readers, render death in such eloquent, relatable terms. Altogether, the strength and beauty of this novel make it the first banned/challenged book on my list to receive a five-star rating.

“It was up to him to pay back to the world in beauty and caring what Leslie had loaned him in vision and strength.”

Reason for Ban/Challenge: Bridge to Terabithia ranks number eight on the American Library Association’s list of most commonly challenged books for the decade of 1990-1999  and number 28 for 2000-2009. The primary reason this book typically faces opposition, particularly in schools, is because death is an essential and pivotal part of the plot. Additionally, Jess’s frequent usage of the word “lord” outside of prayer and occasional offensive language have contributed to various school challenges.

Rating:

Five_Star

 

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BONUS BOOK*: After Alice by Gregory Maguire

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“Of course, these days, the accepted sequence is under revision. Six decades and some into the century, though Browning does indeed reassure us that God is still in His heaven, Darwin is taking tea in the Croft. Heaven shudders as Cambrian creatures shake mud from their gills, rewriting history. Sequence, and consequence.”

*From time to time, I will post reviews on books that have not been banned or challenged (although based on some of the content in After Alice, I could certainly see it being banned in the future). These books will be known as ‘Bonus Books.’

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Adventure

Book Jacket Synopsis: “When Alice toppled down the rabbit-hole 150 years ago, she found a Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the worlds she left behind. But what of that world? How did 1860s Oxford react to Alice’s disappearance? In this brilliant new work of fiction, Gregory Maguire turns his dazzling imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings – and understandings of old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll’s enduring tale. Ada, a friend of Alice’s mentioned briefly in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is off to visit her friend but arrives a moment too late – and tumbles down the rabbit-hole herself. Ada brings to Wonderland her own imperfect apprehension of cause and effect as she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and see her safely home from this surreal world below the world. The White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the bloodthirsty Queen of Hearts – droll and imperious as always – interrupt their mad tea party to suggest a conundrum: If Eurydice can ever be returned to the arms of Orpheus, or if Lazarus can be raised from the tomb, perhaps Alice can be returned to life. In any case, everything that happens next is After Alice.”

Review: I became a fan of Gregory Maguire after reading Wicked in high school. I loved the idea that there could be more to the Wicked Witch of the West, and other literary characters, than initially meets the eye. For that reason, I was really excited to read After Alice. This imaginative novel delves deep into the lives of Alice Clowd, Ada Boyce, Lydia Clowd (Alice’s sister), and various grown-ups and authority figures. Alternating between Ada’s adventures in Wonderland and the above-ground search for both missing girls, After Alice kept me spellbound the entire time. While it took several chapters to get used to Maguire’s complicated word-choices and occasionally off-putting style of writing, I found this story to be extremely compelling. Touching on subjects as diverse as Victorian etiquette, Darwinism, the American abolition of slavery, and more, After Alice provided a fascinating window into the issues of 1860s Oxford. Riddled from an early age with a spinal deformity, Ada Boyce makes an unlikely but lovable heroine. Her devotion to her only friend, Alice, is admirable and endearing. Additionally, Ada’s precocious nature makes for some of the best quotes in the book, including this portion of an exchange she has when she spots a unicorn in Wonderland:

“Did you fail to board the Ark? And did you drown?” Ada asked of the Unicorn. “Did Noah even try to save you?”

The book also has an extremely creative ending, regarding the mythical Jabberwock that the characters in Wonderland spend a majority of the book running from. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that the conclusion was tremendous. Through After Alice, I rediscovered my love for Gregory Maguire’s work, and plan on re-investigating some of his other novels.

Rating:

Four_Star

 

How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell

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“‘I win,’ gasped Billy to the blue, cloudless sky. ‘I win.”’

Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “People are always daring Billy to do zany things. But Billy may have bitten off more than he can chew when he takes his friend Alan’s bet that Billy can’t eat fifteen worms in fifteen days. If Billy wins, Alan has to fork over fifty dollars. Billy wants the money to buy a used minibike, so he’s ready to dig in. He sets up mustard and ketchup, salt and pepper, and sugar and lemon to disguise the disgusting taste. Good news for Billy – once he gets going, he finds himself actually getting hooked on those juicy worms. Bad news for Billy – Alan is busy cooking up schemes to make Billy worm out of the bet. Will Billy keep up his wormy work for fifteen days? No cheating! Keep eating! Worm by worm by worm…”

Review: I know that I read How to Eat Fried Worms when I was younger, but I don’t remember my reaction to the book. I do know, however, that it wasn’t a childhood favorite, which was reiterated during this second reading. There were definitely parts of the book that I enjoyed, especially when Billy’s family got in on the bet and helped him craft meal concoctions to mask the earthworm flavor. Overall, however, the book just wasn’t very interesting. The fact that I don’t have any emotions associated with How to Eat Fried Worms from my childhood (as opposed to how I have felt about other childhood books, like Olive’s Ocean) suggests that I wasn’t overly impressed when I read this book the first time either.

Reason for Ban/Challenge: While reading, I was struggling to determine why this book has frequently been banned. Apparently, it comes down to the fact that How to Eat Fried Worms encourages “socially unacceptable” behavior (i.e., eating worms) and gambling (i.e., betting). Altogether, this line of reasoning is flawed in that it prescribes too much power to a harmless children’s book. When I first read How to Eat Fried Worms, I did not find myself any more inclined to eat worms or place bets than I had been before. This is definitely one of the more ridiculous banned/challenged books on the list, given the book’s innocuous and light-hearted nature.

Rating:

Two_Star

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

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“In the dark aisle of the church Florence stood, his numbed arms outstretched, unafraid of eternity.”

Genre: Chicano Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Antonio Marez is six years old when Ultima comes to stay with his family in New Mexico. She is a curandera, one who cures with herbs and magic. Under her wise wing, Tony will probe the family ties that bind and rend him, and he will discover himself in the magical secrets of the past – a mythic legacy as palpable as the Catholicism of Latin America. And at each life turn there is Ultima, who delivered Tony into the world… and will nurture the birth of his soul.”

Review: I am a bit torn when it comes to this book. While I definitely appreciated Rudolfo Anaya’s elegant and illustrative writing style, it took me almost a month to finish get through the 262 pages that comprise Bless Me, Ultima. I actually had to read Bless Me, Ultima simultaneously with another book because it was so hard for me to get completely drawn into the story. I think part of the problem was that I don’t really enjoy reading religious fiction. While Bless Me, Ultima is not solely a religious book, it can certainly be considered a religious coming of age  novel. I would never argue with someone who promotes this book on the strength of Anaya’s writing alone, but as far as plot goes, I found that the book dragged.

Reason for Ban/Challenge: Bless Me, Ultima has been challenged in the past due to adult language, some violence, and several sexual references. Several schools have also cited irreverence toward God, anti-Catholic angles, and pagan content as justification for bans. Overall, however, Antonio shows a deep reverence for God and looks to God to understand the complexities in his life. This book is, after all, a coming of age tale, so it is completely understandable that Antonio also questions God (for example, he cannot understand how the evil Tenorio can get away with murdering family friend Narciso without punishment). The adult language and sexual references were minimal and I believe the overall pious nature of the book easily outweighs any “immoral” content.

Rating:

Three_Star