Thursday, June 1, 2023
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Wednesday, May 10, 2023
The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
Monday, May 8, 2023
Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez and The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe
I’ve been buried in school work these past few months, but I did manage to read a few books. Both were young adult historical fiction, so I decided to talk about them both in the same post.
Historical fiction is a genre that I don’t pick up as often as others, but I always enjoy it whenever I do. Young adult novels in this category tend to hit me hard, with emotional storylines and compelling plots. These two stories were no exception to that.
Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez centers around two teenagers named Naomi and Wash living in a rural 1930’s Texas oil town called New London. Naomi just moved to the area from Mexico with her younger brother and sister to live with her stepfather. Her relationship with her stepfather is fraught and abusive, but there are better opportunities for her siblings in New London. They are light enough to pass as white and are able to attend a good school there. For their sake, she forces herself to stay.
When she meets Wash, an African American boy, she is instantly drawn to him. Though she tries to deny her feelings at first, they fall in love with each other and start dating in secret. Although neither one is white and both suffer from the racism of their surroundings, no one believes it’s appropriate for them to be together. They dream of running away to Mexico to start a new life, but their plans are thrown into chaos when the New London School explosion occurs. The disaster sets a chain of events into motion that threaten to destroy everything Naomi and Wash have been working towards.
This novel was beautifully written and completely gut wrenching to read. It touches on many heavy topics including racism, domestic abuse, substance abuse, grief, and more. Trigger warnings are in order for just about every bit of sensitive content out there, but those that are up for taking an emotional journey will be rewarded with a complex story about love persevering through unimaginable difficulties. The chapters are quite short and rotate through the perspectives of several different characters, making this an easy book to pick up and read a little bit at a time. It was very sad, and very good.
The New London School explosion is a real event that killed over 300 people, most of them children, in 1937. A natural gas leak caused a massive explosion that destroyed the part of the school housing the 5th-11th grades. I had never heard of it before reading this novel, but it was horrific and absolutely devastating to the community. It was a very intense backdrop to Naomi and Wash’s story and Pérez did a nice job of integrating it into the text.
The second novel I read was The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe. This novel was based on the life of a real Auschwitz survivor, Dita Kraus. Dita was taken from her home in Prague and imprisoned in Auschwitz when she was a young teenager. While there, she and the other children attended a makeshift school run by other captives. The school managed to assemble a secret collection of eight novels to use in their teaching, and Dita was placed in charge of these books. To be found with a book in Auschwitz would mean instant death, so Dita's job was extraordinarily dangerous. Fortunately, Dita is an extraordinary girl, and her bravery and determination to keep her little library safe keeps a spark of hope alive in an unimaginably terrible place.
This was another beautiful book set in a brutal place. Iturbe is a Spanish writer and this is a translated work. Sometimes the language sounded a bit off in the way that translated works do, but it was still a very touching story and a great reading experience. The terror and sadness of Auschwitz was portrayed clearly, and Dita’s story was told in a way that was inspirational and emotional. The story did what great historical fiction does–make history come alive to readers. It’s incredible that the real-life Dita Kraus was able to keep this secret library safe. I really enjoyed learning about her story through this novel.
So ultimately, even though the pace of my reading has slowed down quite a bit, I have still been able to find some really great reads. Both Out of Darkness and The Librarian of Auschwitz were excellent books. My semester is nearly over now and I’m looking forward to a summer where I can read and write a little more frequently. It’s funny–I’m in a graduate program to learn about the science of reading and how to help struggling readers. I’m literally spending so much time reading about reading that I don’t have time to read. Go figure.
Sunday, March 19, 2023
Hands by Torrey Maldonado
Sunday, February 26, 2023
Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
Thursday, February 16, 2023
Tooth and Claw: The Dinosaur Wars by Deborah Noyes
Tuesday, January 31, 2023
Straight On Till Morning by Liz Braswell
2023 Reading Challenges Tally:
- Goodreads Reading Challenge: 2/24
- Clear the Shelves 2023: 1/24