Cites & Bytes @ Bailey

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Recently Read...

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews.
For some reason, this book took me a long time to read and although it was very funny in spots, it left a very sad taste in my mouth. This young adult novel (but don't let that discourage you adults, the lines are very blurry) tells the tale of Nomi, a young Mennonite girl constantly rebelling against her repressive community. Her sister and mother leave the community but Nomi vows to stay with her gentle and devoutly religious father. The language is very rich, with a gem worth remembering on every page if not every paragraph. Even when betrayed at the most devastating levels, Nomi has a hilarious, sarcastic comment. Characters resonate with eccentricity and complexity. Nomi drinks, smokes weed, shaves her head a la Britney... not your typical "Menno" girl, certainly... and is eventually excommunicated and shunned by her community. Does she escape in the end? The author leaves that to us... and I think I have to make up my own happy ending. Definitely strikes a chord with those of us who would like to leave hometowns behind. Apparently a favorite of book groups, this edition included discussion questions at the back of the book. Thanks, Steve, for the recommendation. Very deep, funny and sad.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
Speaking of funny and sad, this first young adult novel by Alexie is sweeping the children's literature blogs and is a National Book Award winner. Native identity is explored in this story of a self-described dork born with water on the brain who chooses to go to a high school off his reservation. The results of his decision include losing his best (and only) friend, a basketball show-down, facing down bullies, an ill-fated romance with the prettiest girl in the school and learning new ways of getting along in the world outside the "rez." Cartoon drawings interspersed throughout the book add to its humor, but plenty of sadness creeps in. I was touched by descriptions of the hopelessness of reservation life and the state of their school. Lots of great characters in this book also, but more appealing to younger readers, I would guess. You know how it is when something is unanimously praised... expectations are too high, but all in all, this was a good and original story shaded by both humor and tragedy.


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