Book Reviews

Visit our Recommended Reading page in the Kids section for reviews of children's books >

Dorothy West

What is more appropriate for June than a wedding, or The Wedding by Dorothy West?  Published in 1995, it, together with the story collection, The Richer the Poorer, constitutes the final output from the Harlem Renaissance generation of writers.

West (1907-1998) was one of the last surviving members of that literary and artistic movement, which had its peak in the 1920s and 1930s. West had her entry into that world with a story, “The Typewriter,” which won second place in a literary contest in the 1920s.  She tied for second with Zora Neale Hurston, another of the women writers associated with the Harlem Renaissance. 

West was less influential as a writer than as an editor and publisher.  She got the magazine Challenge off the ground in 1934, and its successor, New Challenge, later in the decade. These magazines provided an outlet for many of the young writers of the Renaissance. Richard Wright got his start writing stories for these magazines. 

In addition to the two works listed above, West produced the novel The Living is Easy in 1948, and these three works are the entirety of West’s literary output.

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht reads like a piece of allegorical art. It is a literary creation to be savored, debated, enjoyed, and interpreted differently by each person who experiences its mysterious creativity.

Set entirely in the war-torn Balkans, this newly-published novel begins with the voice of four-year-old Natalia as she describes her weekly trip to the zoo with her physician grandfather to visit the captivating tigers. While spending time together, her grandfather reads his beloved copy of The Jungle Book to her and tells her incredible stories filled with Slavic folklore and superstition. 

Eventually Natalia grows up and becomes a doctor herself. While she is away on a mercy mission to inoculate children at a distant orphanage, her grandfather dies alone under odd circumstances in a strange town. Natalia is puzzled by his actions and feels compelled to seek truth and understanding about his death. Slowly and with determination, she begins piecing together the details of her grandfather’s last days, but in doing so, she also puts together the pieces of his life and discovers a new understanding of who her grandfather really was as a man.

Three Cups of Tea may just be one of the most well-known works of non-fiction around today. It’s a tricky one to avoid hearing about. If you haven’t read it, someone you know has, or you’ve seen one of the thousands of interviews given by co-author Greg Mortenson.

And even if you’d managed to avoid all of that, the potential scandal unearthed by CBS’s 60 Minutes last month, alleging not just that portions of the book are fabricated, but that Mortenson mismanages the charity that allows him to build all these schools, has put the book and Mortenson directly into the public spotlight and headlines.

It was this hoopla, actually, that prompted me to pick up Three Cups of Tea. After hearing about it for so long, I wanted to decide for myself what to believe.

The current popularity of knitting as a craft comes from its versatility and creativity. As a teenager in 1960s Japan, Kyoko did not view knitting in such positive ways. For her, it was a symbol of repression.

Yarn: Remembering the Way Home is New York Times noted author Kyoko Mori’s memoir of her life in Japan, her decision to leave Japan the first chance she had, and how she developed a successful life in the United States.  

In her seventh grade home economics class, Kyoko was required to knit a perfect pair of mittens. With mismatched stitches and uneven knitting, Kyoko’s mittens earned only a D-. She had little use for knitting and for many other skills taught to teenage girls; skills she saw as symbols of repression thrust upon Japanese women. She had witnessed how the strong patriarchal society had destroyed her mother, leaving her with suicide as her only means of escaping an overbearing husband.

Being a runaway is hard enough as it is – leaving behind friends, family, and the life you’ve always known just to get away. Survival is always a concern, and it gets even trickier as a runaway in Unwind. In Neal Shusterman’s dystopian young-adult novel, they’re not just after you. They’re after your body parts.

In the future, in order to satisfy both sides of the pro-choice and pro-life war, the American Government has approved the Bill of Life.  The Bill of Life states that parents may choose to retroactively abort a pregnancy when their child is between the ages of 13 and 18.  In doing so, the child is technically kept alive by the dismemberment and “recycled,” with 100% of the child’s body material getting repurposed. The child’s life is never taken, just...“redistributed.” This process is known as “unwinding,” and the unfortunate children and teens fated for this are known as “Unwinds.”

Our three main characters are all on the run for different reasons. Connor is a troubled boy whose parents decided to unwind him after multiple fights in school. Risa is a ward of the state who feels she was never really given a chance to shine. And Lev is along for the ride with Connor and Risa after being kidnapped on his way to his own tithing – he is his family’s religious contribution to the unwinding system.

Pages