Tag Archives: American Lit.

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger (Review by Alysa S. ’22)

This Tender LandThis Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book made me smile and frown and laugh at all the right times. I loved the protagonist Odie’s character development from the moment he undertook a journey of escape towards a better future to the day he returned home, and I also greatly enjoyed the incredibly strong theme of friendship present between the four main characters on the journey.

This Tender Land begins in the rural countryside of Minnesota, and I especially appreciate the author’s accurate historical representation of the Great Depression Era and its socioeconomic effects on the various demographics that we encounter throughout the journey. Although Odie is the main focus of the book, I enjoyed the visibly significant growth of each of the four characters. I think what made this book such a feel-good read was Odie’s relatability as a protagonist: he’s clearly unsure of himself and shoulders immense responsibilities at a young age, but his resilience and inherently caring nature cause me to gravitate towards his character and admire both his strengths and weaknesses.

Though This Tender Land seems occasionally juvenile in its storytelling (understandable from the young protagonist’s POV), for anyone who wants to experience an epic, cross-country adventure while learning a bit of 1930’s history through the eyes of a teenage vagabond stepping into the role of a young adult, this coming-of-age tale proves to be a satisfactory read. —Review by Alysa S. ’22

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The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (Review by Emma A. ’21)

The Catcher in the RyeThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At this point, I believe this book is infamous. If you have not read it, you have certainly heard about J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. It seems that people either love to love it or love to hate it with no in-between. Before reading the novel, I was sure I would hate it. However, I was gravely wrong as in the book, I found the story of a deeply troubled boy who desperately needed someone to help him.

The Catcher in the Rye is a novel about a 17-year-old boy named Holden Caulfield, who, upon being kicked out of his prep school, goes on a three-day stint in New York City before he has to face his parents and tell them of his expulsion. Holden’s declining mental state is also hinted at throughout the novel and is the source of many of his rash decisions and actions.

In my opinion, many readers immediately cite Holden’s pretension, pessimism, and insufferability as the reason why they vehemently despise the novel. I believe that this is a severe disservice to Salinger’s book. Through looking deeper into Holden’s psyche, one finds a deeply damaged, isolated, and depressed boy. Holden has clearly been profoundly affected by the passing of his brother, and with allusions to possible sexual abuse/harassment, is left to fend for himself without the help he so desperately needs.

What is also interesting is the number of teenagers this book resonates with, especially male-identifying ones. Many see themselves and their perspective on the world represented through Holden’s bleak narrative. I find that this points to a larger problem surrounding how we should set out to remedy the youth’s dreary outlook on life, but that could just be spurred by the onset of changes and hormones so entwined with teenage life.

Overall, The Catcher in the Rye thoroughly surprised me, and I especially recommend it to those, who, like me, think they will despise it, as maybe, just maybe, it will surprise you too. —Review by Emma A. ’21

For those who enjoyed The Catcher in the Rye, Emma also suggests On the Road by Jack Kerouac, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey.

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Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee (reviewed by Anya W. ’20)

Outrun the MoonOutrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s tough to be an American born Chinese girl in San Francisco in 1906, and Mercy Wong knows all about it. But, for all that she was born and raised in chinatown, she’ll let it shape her but not define her. So, after she finishes her last year at the only public school in the city open to kids from chinatown, she seizes the first opportunity she can get to con (beg, borrow, barter, blackmail) her way into a better school. After all, St. Clare’s will help her get a foot in the business world, so one day her weak younger brother won’t have to take over her father’s laundry business. Things go all right, at first. Then they devolve. But when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and Mercy is nothing if not tough.

Lee’s Outrun the Moon is a riveting tale of prejudice, friendship, and loss, set against the wonderfully dramatic background of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Her characters are dynamic and multifaceted, each with their own stories, weaving a well-built picture of many different lives converging by chance. Lee paces her story well for the most part, and my only request is an extra hundred or so pages in the middle to allow more time for characterization. Even though the romance is predictable, it is still fairly sweet, and the rest of the novel more than makes up for it. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. – Anya W. ’20

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Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (review by Sachi B. ’21)

Of Mice and MenOf Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written by John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men, is a heartwarming novella about two men working to achieve their dream of having their own farm. The novel revolves around the Lennie and George, the protagonists who are complete opposites. George, a smart and caring man, acts as a protector for Lennie, a hard-working man with the mind of a child. The duo work and travel together as migrant workers in California during the Great Depression. Though George sometimes criticizes Lennie for being an extra burden for him, deep down he knows that he can never abandon him. Both Lennie and George have absolutely no family; they only have each other. These two men work in a farm, dreaming of the day to have sufficient money to buy their own land. While the novel is mostly light-hearted, it takes a massive turn towards the end, which made me give it four stars due to the extremely depressing ending. Despite the climax of the novel, this book showcased the importance of friendship and how one always needs another human by their side. I would definitely recommend this short but sweet novel that teaches the important message of friendship. – Sachi B. ’21

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Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (review by Ms. Stone, STEM teacher)

Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When high school junior Lydia turns up dead in the lake, every member of her bi-racial Chinese-American family examines the events in their communal life leading up to that moment. Vis-a-vis this fictional family, author Celeste Ng explores racist stereotypes about Chinese Americans. She also sheds light on the devastating effects of parental pressures on student academic performance. – Ms. Stone, teacher

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A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx by Elaine Showalter (review by Andrew R. ’17)

A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie ProulxA Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx by Elaine Showalter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ours is a young nation, and its literature is a young literature. But in A Jury of Her Peers: American Women’s Writing from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx, feminist scholar Elaine Showalter profiles the enormous amount of progressive, boundary-pushing material that’s come out of America since the days of the Pilgrims. The writers featured in this encyclopedic book—more of a literary reference guide than a readable chronological account, although a few chapters are marked exceptions—tend to weigh toward the nineteenth century, with novelists like Harriet Beecher Stowe getting far more individual attention than the more modern women writers whose names come to mind when we think back on American literature. Civil War–era authors like Catherine Sedgwick may be in more dire need of recognition than better-known writers, but, with familiar names like Dorothy Parker and Flannery O’Connor on their way a few chapters later, it’s hard for the reader to stay invested in the dustier, more distant history of these early chapters. The core of the book is a long, engaging, and appealingly written dual portrait of Wharton and Cather. If Showalter had adopted this storytelling mode for the rest of the book, A Jury of Her Peers would have been not just informative but enjoyable, too. – Andrew R. ’17

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Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov (review by Tiffany Z. ’17)

Pale FirePale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Russian-American writer Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, Pale Fire, consists of an eponymous poem written by a fictional American poet, John Shade, and the annotations to that poem, written by the enigmatic Zemblan professor, Charles Kinbote. Fear not, however, that this work will be didactic or esoteric: Kinbote takes advantage of the commentary section in which he is supposed to elucidate aspects of Shade’s poem (a quiet introspection on the poet’s life) to tell his own adventure story of an assassin’s tenacious pursuit of an overthrown king. His thrilling tale, placed in the middle of a placid text, jars at first. But as Kinbote’s story picks up pace–in stark contrast to the mellow, unhurried rhymes of Shade’s poem–little details in both narratives begin to click together, and in the book’s last pages the two narratives coalesce in a bizarrely thrilling rush. I heartily commend Nabokov not just for the technical feat of composing a 999-line poem and “discarded” drafts in a fictional writing style, but also for whisking us on a maddening journey that, hours later, made me think. I only suggest that readers have a dictionary open while reading this.

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Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (review by Jacqueline H. ’18)

Go Set a WatchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve been yearning to read Go Set a Watchman for the longest time. A highly anticipated sequel of sorts to the acclaimed classic To Kill a Mockingbird, Watchman was released just this summer. I bought a copy last week to annotate and read, and I can now say that while this sequel isn’t for everyone, it certainly has its perks. The novel characterizes the life of Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, who returns to her Alabama hometown after a few years in New York. During her visit, the dissonance between her childhood memories and the reality of her town becomes clear. Disillusionment is a key theme in Lee’s novel–Jean Louise realizes that the world isn’t a dichotomy of good and bad, but rather a morally gray setting that people simply make the best of. Watchman is more realistic than Mockingbird. Although it is more somber, it is nevertheless poignantly written. While Lee’s prose is incisive and delightful to read, there was a discrepancy to her characterization that I found disturbing. For instance, it was very difficult to connect the older Jean Louise to Scout in Mockingbird. Watchman also reads more like a rough draft than a full-fledged novel–and the ending wasn’t as satisfying as I hoped it would be.

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On the Road by Jack Kerouac (review by Lisa L. ’16)

On the RoadOn the Road by Jack Kerouac
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book made me want to throw on a denim jacket, steal a packet of cigarettes and hitchhike across America to wind up in a damp basement in New York City to crank out pages of leaky ink poetry on a typewriter. On the Road invokes a sense of nostalgia for the way America used to be, when the roads were full of strangers promising money at their brother’s house in California, and the good life was hauling groceries up a hill outside San Francisco, and everyone was mad, mad about their loneliness or their art or the American Dream or their girl or their drugs. Or all of it at once. Kerouac takes the hitchhiking words of the English language and throws all the vagabonds, the orphaned teenagers, the Midwestern farm boys together to make lines of beautiful metaphors and descriptions. This book is the essence of spontaneity and trying to create the purest form of art out of the whimsy of the human mind. It’s gritty, dark, and hopeful all at once, and definitely one of my favorite books.

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The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (Review by Daphne Y. ’16)

The Fire Next TimeThe Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Fire Next Time, written by the legendary 1960’s Civil Rights advocate James Baldwin, is a book every adolescent and young adult living in the United States should read. For the first half of his book, James Baldwin writes a letter to his nephew who is incarcerated, trying to inspire him to transcend anger in dealing with an unjust society. In the second half, the author writes about his own childhood growing up as an African-American boy in Harlem, and also his views upon the influence of Christianity on race relations. Though published in 1963, the book brings to light a problem that still exists today: a broad recognition of the inequity between races, but hardly any cooperation or a change in mindsets to be made. This book, with all its emotions, from thrilling to frustrating, is definitely something we should all read to educate ourselves about the state of our society, not just in the past, but also in the present.

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