Flashback November 2005

I’m flashing back to reviews from years past. Here is what I was reviewing in November 2005.

I have to say, from a purely selfish viewpoint, I’m a bit fascinated at the evolution and growth of my writing and writing style over time. Some of these I’m not even sure are “reviews”.

Understanding the Holy Land : Answering Questions about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Mitch Frank. From my review: “Understanding the Holy Land is set up in a question and answer format. What I like about UHL (and about J and YA NF in general) is that at just over 150 pages it is concise and to the point. It gets to the heart of the matter. This is a complicated, complex, intricate subject; Frank, despite the brevity, writes honestly, truthfully and fairly about history, religion, ethnicity, race, and geography. It is obvious that Frank did a lot of research; because only by having an in depth understanding can someone write something that gets it all done in less than 200 pages.”

A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Philippe Lardy. From my review: “Emmett Till was 14 years old when he was kidnapped and murdered. Two people were tried for the crime and, despite eyewitness testimony that one of those people had forcibly removed Emmett from his grandfather’s home, and despite a motive, the two were acquitted. And later told a reporter the story of how they had killed Emmett. What had Emmett done? Why were the murderers acquitted? Emmett was African American; he was a 14 year old, raised in Chicago. Emmett had gone for the summer to the South, to Money, Mississippi, to visit relatives. While there, he may, or may not, have whistled at a white woman. Nelson’s wreath is a series of sonnets: in particular, a heroic crown of sonnets. This is poetry that is structured and requires discipline; it is not easy to write. Each word, each syllable, is important. It doesn’t just happen. It takes talent, it takes creativity, and it takes mastery of the form — especially where, as here, each sonnet reads so smoothly. Art like this — that requires time, patience, skill, dedication, practice, training, heart — doesn’t just happen. Nelson says that this form became “a kind of insulation, a way of protecting myself from the intense pain of the subject matter, and a way to allow the Muse to determine what the poem would say.” What is brilliant about Nelson is that the discipline and structure is what frees her. This series is heartbreaking, haunting, and evocative. To learn what happened to Emmett, to see the pictures of his body, to think about the horror of his final hours… the brain shuts down, the heart cannot bear it. And so Nelson has found a way to make it bearable; and in making it bearable, we can listen, and learn. Just as each syllable matters to achieve the heroic crown of syllable, each second of Emmett’s life matters.”

Seven Alone (alternate title: On To Oregon). From my review: “I guess it just goes to show that whether a story is happy or sad all depends on when you decide to say “the end.” Does the story end when the Sagers reach the Whitmans? Or does it end later? Another thing I’ve learned: when I’m watching any movie or reading any book that takes place over 100 years ago, I say to myself at the beginning: no matter what happens, they’d be dead by now anyway. It’s just a matter of how and when they die. So try not to get upset.”

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. From my review: “I had forgotten that the narrator speaks to the reader, in a way similar to The Tale of Despereaux and Lemony Snicket. And I still felt the excitement as coats made way for trees. I was surprised at the violence and how well Lewis described the battle without going overboard. No matter what anyone else says, I still think of Turkish Delight as fudge. I love that the children grow up in Narnia and return home accidentally.”

Rebel Angels by Libba Bray. From my review: “OK, it was really difficult to try to explain the plot in a few sentences. I’ve written and deleted for the last ten minutes. Here’s my best try, and yes I’m leaving a lot out: It’s Christmastime in Victorian England, where Gemma attends an exclusive boarding school. But Gemma isn’t your typical Victorian teen. Part of her being different is she was born and raised in India; part is because of her mother’s tragic death the prior year. But she also possesses magic; she can go from our world into a realm of magic full of myth and beauty. And something dark and dangerous has gotten loose, and it’s up to Gemma to try to save and protect both the magic realms and our world.”

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