The Bridge Home, by Padma Venkatraman

cover image of 'The Bridge Home'I just finished reading the book A Bridge Home, by Padma Venkatraman. It was very good, and emotional, at least for me. The story was absolutely heartbreaking, but contained many positive messages, including ones about family and friendships, and how one should treasure them. After reading this book, I had a new sense of how lucky I am to have a family that loves and cares for me through thick and thin.

The protagonist is Viji, an 11 year-old girl who decides to leave home with her older sister, Rukku. Rukku has a disability, and Viji takes it as her responsibility to care for her. The reason they leave home is that their father, Appa, abuses both them and their mother, Amma, and teases Rukku because she has a disability.  They meet two boys, Muthu and Arul, who also left horrible situations, and become a family.

This was an easy read for me, and I’m in 6th grade, though I checked online and the Garden City Public Library marks it as a young-adult book. I don’t think there is anything wrong with reading an easier book though, so you should still read it, out of pure enjoyment.

I would rate this book a 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it to most if not all of my friends. I wasn’t sure about the genre, but in the back few pages of the book, the author includes a note that explains how she came up with the plot. She spoke with many children from India who had difficult situations and made “A Bridge Home” a blend of all those. Does this make it nonfiction? I’m still not sure, but I hope anyone who reads this book enjoys it!

The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak

cover image of 'The Book Thief'The Book Thief is written by Marcus Zusak, and takes place during World War Two in Nazi Germany. Throughout the novel, the narrator is Death, and yet the reader is able to understand the inner thoughts of the other characters. Our narrator is an all-knowing character, able to know how and when characters will die; which is slowly revealed to the reader as the story continues.

Our protagonist is Liesel, a young German girl who struggles with the grief of her younger brother’s death when the story opens. She moves in with her new foster parents; and though she misses her mother, Liesel grows to love her foster parents as well.

There are multiple facets to the book, as there are many other characters. We explore Rudy and Liesel’s friendship as it grows, and how the two can be morally just but steal to fill their hunger. Liesel also befriends Max, a Jewish-German forced into hiding.

The book gets its title from Liesel, as she continually steals books. And yet, these repeated actions aren’t criminal acts – the books become a source of power for Liesel in a world where people have little control over their lives. Liesel and Max discover the use of words when they write their own books about their lives.

Our narrator, Death, is beyond the stereotypical death that is generally viewed. He is sympathetic to humanity, yet he is troubled by humans. While we would find death bizarre, he finds humanity to be a mystery. The odd thing about the narrator is how he finds meaning in his life – by looking at the colors at every death.

While I read this book as a summer reading assignment, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the story itself. Originally I had thought it would be another ‘Holocaust memoir’, based on the time period. Of course it turned out to be much more than that, with an entertaining narrator, and well developed characters. None of them turned out to be one dimensional, but layered and complicated like the time period itself. Furthermore, the book puts a new spin on the Holocaust and the suffering that was felt by all Germans. Even in seemingly safe areas that were not on the warfront or where concentration camps were located, The Book Thief displays the struggles faced by everyday Germans.

Overall, would I read it again? Probably not. Would I recommend it for people to read? Yes, I would. This definitely is not a favorite of mine, but I would definitely say for a person to read it once. And as summer reading books go; this is one of the better ones.

Finding Gobi, by Dion Leonard

cover image of Finding Gobi, by Dion Leonard, is the nonfiction story of a small dog! It was very good, and began introducing us to the two main characters: a small, yellow dog, later to be named Gobi, and a man in a yellow running suit named Dion Leonard. The dog is at the start of a long race that’s about to be run by hundreds of runners. He and Dion form a special bond, and the dog runs, sleeps, and eats with the man for the entire duration of the race. When the race is over, after days and days of hard work and bonding with Gobi, Dion calls his wife and together they agree that they can take Gobi home.

The man runs into a few problems. One, he can’t take the dog to a different country with him, for safety reasons. He leaves Gobi with a friend in China, where the race took place, and goes home to start working on getting the dog. Unfortunately, the dog goes missing. Dion sets up a huge search team, and they all work on finding Gobi.

This book was amazing. I loved every minute of it, and was surprised and happy when I found out it was true! It gave me a sense of hope in the world, and proved the statement that a dog is a man’s best friend. It is intense, as when Dion sneaks Gobi into a hotel when he thinks they are being followed by undercover government agents. It is also funny, as when he realizes the “undercover government agents” were really just a few friends trying to protect him.

I would recommend this book to everyone I know. Yes, that’s how good it was. I will warn you, it is an easy read, but so what! I would rate it 5/5 stars.

The How and The Why, by Cynthia Hand

The How and the Why, by Cynthia Hand, is excellent, and one of the best books I’ve read in quite a while. The formatting was cool and kept me interested in the book, and the author really put some emotion into her words.

To quickly summarize this story, it has two main characters. Sandra, who goes as “S” for 99% of the book, and Cassandra, who goes by Cass. Sandra had Cass at a young age and put her up for adoption. The book is about how Cass and her best friend Nyla, who was also adopted and is originally from Africa, try to find Cass’s birth mother. What makes this book most interesting is that the book’s chapters alternate between two formats. One of the formats is a letter from Sandra to Cass, even before Cass was born. The backstory is that the adoption agency did a program in which the biological parents write letters to their kids, and the kids can choose to read the letters on their 18th birthday if they want to. The other format is simply a story told from Cass’s point of view. The book comes together in the end, in a rather surprising way.

I would recommend this to some of my friends, but I’m in the 6th grade and it was a higher-level book for me. I understand that some of the content might be seen as inappropriate, so just be aware of that. I’d rate this story 10/5 stars. Yes, that’s how good it was. This was the first one of Cynthia Hand’s books that I’ve ever read, and she has a way of pulling readers in and keeping them on the edge of their seats until the end. The way I can tell if I actually like the book I’m reading is if I’m thinking about getting home and reading it even when I’m doing something much more fun. This happened to me many times during the time I had this book. The genre was realistic fiction. Enjoy!

How to Make Friends with the Dark, by Kathleen Glasgow

cover image of 'How to Make Friends With the Dark'I didn’t find this book to be particularly good. The characters are shallow and, for the most part, unlikable. The main character, Tiger, is petty and spineless in the beginning. She has good reason for acting the way she does, since she grew up without much money and without a father, but it still grated on my nerves to read through her self-pitying thoughts. However, she does evolve throughout the course of the book. By the end, she becomes less sheltered and weak and learns how to live without the coddling of her mother, a skill that she is forced to learn once her mother dies and leaves her to the care of foster homes, her sister, and, at one point, a juvenile-detention center.

Tiger’s sister, Shayna, has her good and bad points. She is portrayed as obnoxious and immature when she is introduced, but the author does a good job of slowly revealing layers to the character. Readers learn how, despite her difficult past, being a former alcoholic with an incarcerated father and abusive boyfriend, Shayna makes the effort to be there for her half sister and take care of her.

The characters can often be unlikable, but the author is effective in detailing the destructive effects of grief, especially on someone from an already unstable home. Tiger is a well behaved, quiet girl who is forced into situations for which she is not prepared. She lived her entire life with only her mother and best friend, Cake, to support her.  She cannot process, and isn’t given time to process, only having half of the two people who matter most to her.

Unfortunately, the important message and themes can be overshadowed by the annoying characters, dialogue, and somewhat inaccurate depiction of life as a teenager in this day and age. For example, the author frequently adds in people taking pictures or videos of Tiger when she is in pain, and Tiger will make up the hashtags she imagines they are using. The way in which the author inputs these hashtags got on my nerves and the frequent use was, in my opinion, unnecessary. Furthermore, Tiger’s inner monologues can get repetitive and it becomes hard to feel empathy for her because of her inability to see reason through the cloud of grief obscuring her view. This does help in showing how awful loss can be and how it can lead us to make terrible decisions, but I personally found some of it to be monotonous.

Overall, the book had good intentions and was relatable in some aspects, but it was hard to overlook the characterization and dialogue resembling that of teens in a Disney show.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

cover image of 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,' by Maya AngelouWhen I finished the book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou, I was left thinking about it for the next few days. To be completely honest, I can’t even tell if I liked it or not! I liked some parts, extremely disliked others, and while reading other parts, I wasn’t really impressed or annoyed.

To give a quick summary of the book, it is about a young girl and her brother Bailey’s life and how she overcame some of her obstacles. She and Bailey Jr. don’t really have a stable family. Throughout the story, they get bounced around at least four times to different parts of their family. In the beginning and middle of the story they live with their grandma and Uncle Will. Then they go to live with their mother, then to their father, then back to their grandmother.This is something that made the story a bit confusing, since sometimes the author didn’t elaborate enough on whose house they were in, or even simply where they were and when.

Another obstacle is that Maya is black, and the setting is during a time of segregation om the South. I found it interesting that this is actually an autobiography of the author’s life. Maya Angelou includes events from her own childhood. I learned so much, not just about Ms. Angelou, but also about U.S. history.

Just to give you a heads up, there was a small amount of slightly inappropriate content towards the middle of it, but, other than that, the book wasn’t too mature.

I would rate this book three out of five stars. As I said in the beginning, I can’t really decide if I liked it or not. I would definitely recommend it to others though, because others might like it. Go try it! Enjoy!