5 Awesome Books I’ve Read This Semester

In honor of finishing The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien today, here is Part 2 to my previous blog, with the 5 most amazingly awesome books I’ve read this semester. Again, in no particular order, they are:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

What a mouthful, right? I loved this book. I read it in my E 405 class last week, and it’s amazing (see Dr. Garcia, I don’t hate all of your books). The book is about this kid named Junior, a fourteen-year-old Spokane Indian who was born with hydrocephalus and growing up on a reservation in Washington state, who decides to transfer from his reservation school to a school in a white town 22 miles away. First, Junior is amazing. He’s funny, quirky, sarcastic, but also dreamy and hopeful. Plus he’s ambitious, unlike the rest of the reservation. He doesn’t want to grow up to be a depressed drunk; he wants more for himself. I also really liked the supporting characters, especially his best friend, Rowdy, who’s basically a walking, talking contradiction. He’s very angry and violent and gets into lots of fights, yet he’s best friends with the nerdiest kid on the reservation. He also loves to read old cheesy comic books, and is actually quite sensitive – as demonstrated by how angry and hurt he is when Junior transfers to Reardan. And I like the little pictures and sketches that appear on nearly every page. While not necessary, they definitely add that extra hint of authenticity, creativity, and story-telling that words wouldn’t necessarily be able to convey as well. And they represent an important part of Junior’s personality. Drawing cartoons is what he wants to do when he grows up; why wouldn’t he include them in his diary? Overall, it was fantastic, and everyone should read it.

My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger

This book is told (mainly) from the perspective of three teenagers – T.C., Auggie, and Ale – as the write essays as juniors about their “most excellent year,” which was their freshman year of high school. This book is insane in the number of risks it takes. Not only is it written from the perspective of three different characters, one of which is gay, it is written in nearly every format imaginable – email, instant message, letter, fax, article, note, essay, website, you name it. And yet (to me) this novel succeeds. The main characters are likeable, witty, and well-rounded, if a bit cliché at times (particularly Auggie, the gay character, who is sometimes a bit too effemininate). Belief definitely has to be suspended, particularly at the end when T.C. takes little Hucky to meet Julie Andrews, aka the world’s greatest nanny Mary Poppins. However, this suspension lends itself to the fanciful and almost magical quality of the novel because these three kids have big ambitions, from saving Fenway Park to directing a musical to starring in a musical. While lacking in conflict, it’s a hilarious, witty, and touching novel, and provides an excellent contrast to other popular, depressing YA novels like Crank.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

This is a very complicated, intellectual novel that could easily transition YA and adult literature. The narrator, Mary Russell, flaunts her intelligence in her prose and philosophical reflections, writing her “memoirs” as a much older woman and recounting the year she moved back to England and befriended legendary detective, Sherlock Holmes. Regardless of her age or genius however, Mary is definitely a teenager: stubborn, rude, defiant, and with a sense of invincibility, she strives to carve a future for herself even as she clings to Holmes’s guidance. Yet Mary is multifaceted; although she projects the image of a snobbish, intellectual loner, she spends a great deal of the novel as a gawky, bookish girl, still reeling from her family’s death.  But Mary humanizes Holmes in a way Doyle never did, drawing out of him playful, intellectual banter and moments of affection that he was never quite able to demonstrate around Watson. Also, Laurie King does the best job invoking a historical world without it feeling in-your-face or contrived, especially compared to another book I read that was set in the 1920s.

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

This book is definitely one of the best books I’ve ever read. In the same vein as the Harry Potter series, Landy introduces us to Stephanie Edgely, a twelve-year-old Irish girl who accidentally stumbles into the underground world of magic and meets the title character, Skulduggery Pleasant, a skeleton detective. Landy masterfully combines the genres of fantasy, horror, humor, adventure, mystery and suspense in a book that is appealing to a wide range of readers. His style and voice are completely unique—the exposition is straightforward and vibrant without being elaborate and it’s infused with snappy, sarcastic dialogue and descriptive, visually engaging action sequences characteristic of a screenplay. The novel is populated with witty and likeable people, each one flawed, each one struggling against their own individual darkness. I adore Stephanie and Skulduggery and their constant witty repartee. All in all, Landy has successfully created a world that is, to quote Doctor Who, “so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.”

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Unlike the other books on this list, the plot of this book wasn’t my favorite part. The Hobbit is the prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it’s about how a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, is recruited by the wizard Gandalf and thirteen dwarves as a burglar in order to help the dwarves reclaim their homeland from the dragon, Smaug (I’ve blogged about it). Don’t get me wrong, it’s still awesome, if a bit simplistic at times (Tolkien wrote it for his children, so it’s structured like a children’s book even if it’s shelved elsewhere), but I’m just not in to the whole “high fantasy” genre. What I did love about this book was Bilbo. Bilbo is the unlikeliest hero ever; he really doesn’t belong on this adventure. At least, not at first. Over the course of the novel, Bilbo moves from useless scaredy-cat to bonafied burglar, leader, and hero (read: total badass). While a lot of the other characters are being corrupted by greed, power, and/or revenge, Bilbo’s still thinking about his warm little hobbit-hole back home, and he’s definitely over the allure of treasure and war before everyone else. Plus the ending was nothing like I expected, which is fantastic because I hate predictable books (ruins the whole endeavor of reading, dontcha think?). So even though it was a lot like I expected, genre-wise, it was also completely different than anything I’ve ever read. And Bilbo’s awesome. Just sayin’.


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