Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

RoomRoom by Emma Donoghue

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I admit that when I was first given this book, I didn’t think I had the mental or emotional energy to dive into this story. The publisher’s synopsis sounds intriguing, of course, but given the subject nature you expect there to be some heavy material. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to enjoy “Room” much more than I thought I would (it’s even made it onto my “books that give you the ‘oh wow’ factor” shelf!).

The thing about this story that really hooked me was/is its narrative style. Right from the beginning, the reader’s eyes are opened to the world of “Room” and each of its individual, defining aspects–Table, underneath which is Spider, Wardrobe (safe place), Rug, etc. Seeing things first-hand from Jack’s perspective, the reader gains an idea of what it would be like to grow up within this confined space and daily routine without knowing anything more. What I found especially haunting is the way in which the reader gleans details about the world outside of Jack’s understanding through secondary characters and things said or not said. For instance, the “Screaming” game to Jack is just one of several routine activities that he and his Ma do to pass time, whereas we the readers realize its true significance.

I think that the way in which the author focuses the story on Jack and Ma’s relationship both in Room and outside of it, rather than on Room’s origins or the horrors of Ma’s past, is what makes this book credible and unique. As a reader, I found it more appealing to read about how someone would survive in this situation and what it would be like for them afterwards, interacting with the world. The author handles the details of this subject matter with a subtlety that allows story to build on characters rather than on pure shock value.

The one thing about this story with which I have trouble believing is the maturity of Jack’s narration. I found that he sometimes said things or (claimed to) understand things that seemed too mature, too complex, for a 5-year-old. I found myself wondering, “Would a 5-year-old really say/think that?” I’m not sure if some of these instances are meant to move the story along (i.e. suspension of disbelief) or whether I just don’t know 5-year-olds very well. The latter could be the case. :)

At any rate, I’d recommend this book for a longer-term read.

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Volunteer Management 101

Glarcina:

I’d never thought that I would one day be in the position to “people-manage,” but here I am! Working in a school library, things pile up fast and you learn to appreciate any extra help you can get! At the school where I currently work, we have great parent volunteers who commit themselves to spending at least an hour a week helping us with everything from shelving and checking in/out books to pulling books for class study units. And guess who’s partially in charge?

I’ve learned how to “people-manage” on the spot from the experience of working with our parent volunteers. However, this post is a great source of information–a reminder (as well as a source of new information) to appreciate the volunteers who come in as people who free themselves to help out, and not just extra hands. Thanks Hack Library!

Originally posted on hls:

Hello Hack Library School readers! I’m excited to introduce myself with a topic very near and dear to my heart: managing volunteers.

In 2011, after finishing my MA, I found myself at a bit of a crossroads and needed to do something different and interesting while I figured out what was next. So I started a year-long AmeriCorps placement with an arts education nonprofit, helping administer three volunteer programs. I did everything from the nitty-gritty of event RSVPs and answering questions about the application process to big-picture reevaluations of the entire volunteer recruitment and screening system. Although none of these skills are taught in my MLIS program, I can already tell that they’ll be among the most valuable skills in my professional toolkit.

Much of the recent debate about unpaid internships can also be applied to volunteering; it can provide valuable experience for volunteers and build capacity for organizations. Plus…

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Review: Fangirl

Fangirl
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I don’t have the time that I’d need right now to post a full review of this book, I wanted to share some of my post-reading thoughts.

I have to say, I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this story–due largely, I think, to its characters. While the setting is average (freshman year of college in Nebraska) and the plot relatively relaxed, the very real, down-to-earth characters are what drives the story. Aside from that of the two main characters (Cather and Wren–by the way, say their names one after the other slowly. It took me a second to get it), there actually isn’t much character development. However, that doesn’t make the rest of the characters any less real. I empathized with Cather, my heart warms to Levi, I’m intrigued by and secretly want to be friends with Reagan, I roll my eyes and dismiss Courtenay…all in the context of dorm life. I felt/feel as though I got to know these characters throughout their experiences of getting to know each other, so that towards the end of the book I felt very reluctant to say goodbye.

One other thing: I read some opinions that this book would have been more successful had it developed the fandom aspect more deeply. Personally, I think that the book captures the spirit of fandom and its loyalty (with which I am partially familiar given my teeny-bopper days of writing boy band fanfiction. Cather’s recollection of the different directions of “Simon Snow” fanfiction, her drive to finish her story before the last book is published, her and Wren’s references to the online fandom, etc. are all details that painted a clear picture of what it means to belong to a hardcore, passion-driven, internet-based fangroup. There is one scene in particular, during which (DON’T WORRY, no spoilers!) Cather meets a fan of her (Cather) fanfiction and they gush together over the details of “Simon Snow etc,” which felt so intimate and real.

I’d highly recommend this book. While it doesn’t take itself too seriously, at the same time it does balance humour with some heavy concepts and a sprinkling of good ol’ thematic substance (sister-sister relationships, family relationships, discovering/developing self-confidence, discovering/appreciating one’s talents & abilities, etc.).

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Review: The Metro Dogs of Moscow

The Metro Dogs of Moscow
The Metro Dogs of Moscow by Rachelle Delaney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I came to love this book much more than I initially thought I would. My first reaction was along the lines of, “Oh, it’s just another cute animal story,” which it is. However, I think what makes this book more than just a cute story is its strong narrative style. Similar to the original (and my favorite) story, “101 Dalmatians,” this book describes life in Moscow entirely from a dog’s perspective, encouraging the reader to interpret human behaviour as a dog would see it. One of my favorite examples is how dogs refer to their owners as “their humans.” While cute, the dog’s-eye view is also realistic, portraying dogs as reasonable thinkers, which I think makes the story more interesting rather than an overdose of animal cuteness.

The story is very character-driven: JR (the Jack Russell) comes to realize that he, like his owner, has a problem letting other people/dogs come into his life. JR experiences very real and familiar emotions: longing for a more stable life, a little jealousy in wanting to keep his explorations with the strays a secret from the other embassy dogs, and the guilt associated with wanting/needing to do the right thing for his friends. Despite the fact that all of the primary characters are dogs, I think that readers will sympathize (maybe even empathize?) with JR as he becomes more self-aware.

The pacing is relatively relaxed, though it does pick up as the story takes a dramatic turn and JR takes initiative to save the day. What’s especially great about this book is its appeal to both young and older readers: the author takes a horrible reality as the evil against which they fight, yet presents it in a way that is (age) appropriate for readers of any age.

Overall, a great read for anyone Gr. 3+ (and adults of course!)

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Review: Replay

Replay
Replay by Steven Sandor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this story despite the fact that I’m a football ignoramus (for which I’m very appreciative of the glossary that the author included).

With the constant football references and the context of teamwork and working towards the championship, this book obviously caters to the sports’ fans. For that reason as well as the fact that the story is told from Warren’s point of view, I’d thought the book would appeal to a very limited audience. However, my attitude shifted as the story progressed and Warren commits himself to hiding his secret. For one, I thought that the author did a good job of weaving in themes of self-discipline, dedication to the given job, good sportsmanship, living with one’s lie, etc. without coming across as preachy. I felt that there was genuine, substantial character development on Warren’s part and that the author successfully used Warren’s father and the coach as strong secondary characters to support that development.

The context of games leading up to the championships was a good frame in which to set the story and keep it at its length. The pacing was well set; I thought that given the short length of the book, the author realistically conveyed the gnawing guilt that Warren felt growing within in, to the point that I totally empathized with him (and didn’t want to read on!). I also thought that the outcome of Warren’s confession was realistic; he did cheat, but he confessed not only to his community but (it’s assumed) publicly via that news reporter with the smartphone recorder. Secretly, I thought the revelation of the coach having found out and forgiven was a bit of a cop-out; however, it wasn’t enough to ruin the story for me and, as a reader, I’m glad that things resolved themselves amicably.

Drawbacks: I think that the non-sports fan will get lost in all the game lingo and descriptions. If readers don’t understand the scoring system, they won’t find the play-by-play of the game scenes very exciting. I also think that the other characters–Bridget, Brad, and any other kids (did Warren have friends at all?)–were weak.

Overall, a great short book for anyone interested in football and/or sports in general.

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Review: Jason’s Why

Jason's Why
Jason’s Why by Beth Goobie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really like this book and I think it’s a good choice for reading lists about kids who have social problems, anxieties, or who come from troubled families.

One of the strongest appeal factors for me is its narration. I think that the author does a wonderful job of capturing how a child with social difficulties/problems experiences life in a way that is interesting and age appropriate for young readers. The story of Jason’s move to the group home as revealed through his thoughts and feelings is very natural and candid (reminiscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, though definitely at a younger level). As a reader, I felt very connected to Jason as the story progressed to the point that I sympathized with his insecurities (especially when he wakes up to a different staff member at the group home–i.e. another new person to meet).

The story itself is very short. It seems that not much time passes before Jason has his first visit with his mother and his sister, during which they come to terms with one another’s problems. I’m not sure how realistic it is that Jason comes to grip with himself to the extent that he does–learning that he doesn’t have to fight to be liked, learning to settle in the group home, etc.–within the time frame of the book. However, I don’t think this detracts from the story as the reader is not intended to know Jason’s diagnosis to determine whether or not this is a realistic portrayal. Moreover, I think that the author does a good job of constructing a story with a discernible beginning, middle, and end from the difficult experiences of such a boy as Jason.

On an educational note, I think that this book opens the floor to some good group discussion about why we think the way we think (ex. why is Jason motivated to make friends the way he does? Why does he want to go back to his mother when she abuses him? How do we see people who are different, compared to how someone like Jason sees us?)

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Review: Dinosaurs vs. Aliens

Dinosaurs vs. Aliens
Dinosaurs vs. Aliens by Grant Morrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Background: I am an aspiring graphic novel, comic book, manga reader. I picked up this title based on the title alone (really?? Dinosaurs “vs.” aliens??), and the beautiful cover art was a bonus.

Essentially, I thought/think this work is beautiful in terms of both its concept and the art. I really like how the story interprets the theme of colonization through this fantastical context, and especially how it visually depicts the dinosaurs with cultural decoration (literally with headdresses, warrior paint, beading, etc.).

The artwork is beautiful. I’m a big fan of realistic illustration and I love the detail and fusion of colour that the artist transcribes into each pane and the varying use of clean lines and jagged frames to articulate the scenes.

I think that this work is a springboard for the reader’s imagination, offering a very interesting look into a clash of cultures in the context of survival. Given the mature subject matter and occasional graphic violence (there are dinosaurs, and there are aliens, after all), it’s definitely a novel to be appreciated by the young adult-adult crowd. But the artwork! That, for me, is one of the main appeal factors.

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