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June 12, 2007 > Book Reviews

Book Reviews

A Northern Light" by Jennifer Donnelly

This book surprised me - rich, delightful and filling without dragging in any part. Mattie is a fictional character, whose life has been skillfully interwoven with a true event. I wish Mattie were real so I could meet her. She's a delightful mix of a young adult woman who wants to reach for her dreams of higher education, an author in the making, but also one who yearns for a local farming boy, Royal Loomis. She feels trapped by her life with her family, taking care of her widowed father and her sisters. With no money for extra food or clothing, there's much less for train fare or rooming fees of a college girl.

To make ends meet, Mattie takes a summer job at a hotel where she encounters a young couple Carl Grahm and Grace Brown. Just before they go out on a little canoe, Grace hands Mattie a packet of letters, tied together with a blue ribbon. "Burn these," she begs. "Burn these right away." Mattie agrees, but delays just in case the woman changes her mind.

Something goes horribly wrong. Grace is dead; Carl's body is still missing. Meanwhile disaster strikes Mattie's family, friends, and even her dreams. She turns to the letters, just to see what Grace's life might have been. She soon realizes that what she holds in her hands is the evidence that Grace's death was no accident. But who will believe a poor farm girl?

Note: The mystery of Grace Brown and Carl Grahm is the same one that Theodore Dreiser wrote of in "An American Tragedy."

Recommended for young adults. Reviewed by dh.

"Green Angel" by Alice Hoffman

Green lives with her family outside of town. They grow their crops, harvest them, and take them into town to trade. One weekend, her parents and sister leave for town without her, saying that Green has some things to do that can't wait. Frustrated with their decision, angry and left behind; she doesn't wave goodbye or say "I love you."

The unthinkable happens. Readers aren't told exactly what kind of disaster, but the entire town population and Green's family are annihilated. Everything is covered in grey dust; Green's life is ashes.

That is just the beginning of this slim, yet powerful, little book. There is life after devastation, but it doesn't just grow on its own. It has to be carefully watched, nurtured and fed before it can again be Green.

Recommended for Junior High and up. Reviewed by dh.

"Playing with the Enemy, A Baseball Prodigy, a World at War, and a Field of Broken Dreams,"
Eugene Moore was destined to be a baseball great. Everyone in the small town of Sesser, Illinois, could see he was a star catcher and power hitter. Spotted by a baseball scout while still in his teens, Gene is signed to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. But life can derail a dream. Pearl Harbor is attacked and like most young men in America, he enlists to fight for his country. As a promising ball player, Gene is placed in the navy's baseball team to play exhibition games for troop entertainment. Later, he returns to the states with his teammates to guard German POW's. To keep in shape, Gene persuades the prison commander to let the Americans teach the Germans how to play baseball. One fateful day, Gene's life plan takes a detour.

"Playing with the Enemy" is written by Gene's son who learns of his father's baseball dreams as his father is dying. This is Gary Moore's first book and his capable, yet uninspiring dialogue can get in the way of a terrific story. He does a good job of bringing the reader into Gene's world, but the drawback is this as an obvious tribute to his father. A stronger book would allow readers to draw their own conclusions. Gene Moore was a good man who faced his demons and broken dreams honorably.

A movie is in development.

Recommended for fathers and sons of all ages. Reviewed by jgp.

For junior high:

Defiance by Valerie Hobbs

Eleven-year old Toby is through with cancer treatments, so it's a real treat now to be on vacation in the country with his mom. In his explorations, he encounters a blind woman with an old cow. Despite appearances, the woman is secretly a famous poet. She seems a little odd, sort of cantankerous and swears the cow speaks to her, but Toby's not so sure. Still, she becomes his friend, and he likes talking to her. He also has a big secret - his cancer is back; he can feel it. And this time he's going to refuse treatment.

"Without morbidity, Hobbs ranges between tart and poignant, sorrowful rage and hope." -- The Horn Book

Recommended for junior high. Reviewed by dh.

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