Category Archives: Review

How Katie Got a Voice (and a Cool New Nickname)

  • Author – Pat Mervine
  • # of Pages – 26
  • *includes illustrations

How Katie Got a Voice (and a Cool New Nickname) is a story told by a fourth grade classmate of Katie, the new girl in school. Everyone in the school has a nickname related to individual interests and personalities. When Katie comes into the class, the students are eager to involve her in their activities and to learn what is special about her. This proves to be quite a challenge. Katie has significant physical disabilities. How can Katie fit in with her classmates when she can’t even talk? When Katie is introduced to assistive technology, she is finally able to communicate with her new friends. As a result, the students are delighted to see her as a person with many interests and abilities, just like them. Katie knows she is a valued member of the school when she is given her own special nickname.

Just like its theme, there is a very special concept that differentiates between this book and many other books for young readers. Most times stories written for young kids try to emphasize the idea that being different is okay, and go against the idea of herd mentality – a term that describes how people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors, follow trends, and/or purchase items. In this case, the book’s starting point is that everyone is different. Miguel, nicknamed “The Punster,” makes up nicknames for kids and staff at school based on what makes them unique (such as Picasso the painter or Tunes the music lover). When Katie shows up he can’t figure out a name for her since she can’t… do anything. Katie doesn’t move or play or talk. She just laughs and looks around. Usually, Katie would be the “special” one, as we often use the word “special” in a negative connotation to hint at disabled kids. However, here her disability specifically is not considered an issue with the kids, they just can’t figure out how to include her in the group. After explaining the issue to her teacher Katie gets sent to a speech therapist, and eventually is connected to a machine that allows her to draw, play music and even talk! The kids, by turn, exclaim out loud that Katie can now participate in their hobbies – reading, painting, playing music, and even cheerleading for the sports team. Now, when they can get to know her, Katie can be given a nickname as well, one that showcases, of course, her uniqueness.

The book How Katie Got a Voice takes a very delicate subject and handles it beautifully. It shows kids that being unique is important, and it also teaches skills such as asking for help and including everyone in the group. When the kids don’t know how to play with Katie or share their hobbies with her they turn to a teacher for help. They don’t avoid Katie, or the problem at hand, and instead choose to actively search for a solution. They want to be able to hang out with their new friend, even if she’s unlike any other kid they’ve met, because that’s what makes kids cool – being different. Moreover, the book had both male and female characters. Many books these days don’t have enough important female characters with actual lines and importance, and so it’s important to start writing well developed characters for both genders in books aimed at kids and young children.

The book’s last pages include some simple tips for kids when dealing with people with disabilities, such as not staring at them or asking about their condition unless they bring it up first. The tips explain that even when someone needs an interpreter or assistant to communicate, you should speak to the person and not the companion, and most importantly, be patient. The author’s website includes a PowerPoint presentation called “Katie’s Lesson in Disability Etiquette,” aimed to help teachers introduce students to the topic.

In conclusion, this is a very good book for kids. It’s relatively short and easy to read, allowing young kids to read it themselves. The illustrations are colorful and very pretty. More importantly, the book deals with many important subjects that parents often don’t know how to bring up with their kids. How Katie Got a Voice can assist parents and teachers in introducing these topics and starting discussions about them with their children. I highly recommend the book both for reading at home, and for reading in class.

*I received a free copy of this book from Story Cartel in exchange for my honest review.

 

Dirk Gentley’s Hollistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

  • Title – Dirk Gentley’s Hollistic Detective Agency
  • Author – Douglas Adams
  • # of Pages – 306

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There is a long tradition of Great Detectives, and Dirk Gently does not belong to it. But his search for a missing cat uncovers a ghost, a time traveler, AND the devastating secret of humankind! Detective Gently’s bill for saving the human race from extinction: NO CHARGE.

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Dirk Gentley’s Hollistic Detective Agency is the seventh Douglas Adams novel I’ve read (if you count Starship Titanic, which was his idea and highly resembles his writing style, depsite being written by his friend Terry Jones). I’ve mentioned countless times how much I love this man. I usually do so not by using the word love exactly, but by mentioning future plans to pickle his brain in a jar on my shelf or plan a pilgrimmage up to his grave. I think Adams is a brilliant writer – witty, funny, and a master of satire and sarcasm.

It took me nearly two weeks to finish this book – a major break from my previous five-completed-books week. The last Adams book I’d read before this was Starship Titanic and even though I haven’t, were I to review that book it would be very similar to the points I shall make in this one.

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

  • Title: The Reluctant Fundamentalist 
  • Author: Mohsin Hamid
  • # of Pages: 191

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid turned out to be another one-day read. It’s relatively short, not even 200 pages, and it is told from the point of view of the main character Changez, telling his story to an American stranger as one continuous monologue. The book is literally just a story being told.  We do not know what is going on in Changez’s setting lest he chooses to mention something. The entire time he talks he is sitting in a restaurant with this foreigner he met seemingly at random, only leaving near the end as they walk to the stranger’s hotel. The reactions of the American to the story, the arrival and departure of the waiter, the noises and sights surrounding the two as they sit in Lahore in Pakistan and dine – all of these occurrences are known to us only if Changez chooses to address them.

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Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford

  • Title: Suicide Notes
  • Author: Michael Thomas Ford
  • # of Pages: 295

I’m not crazy. I don’t see what the big deal is about what happened. But apparently someone does think it’s a big deal because here I am. I bet it was my mother. She always overreacts.

Fifteen-year-old Jeff wakes up on New Year’s Day to find himself in the hospital. Make that the psychiatric ward. With the nutjobs. Clearly, this is all a huge mistake. Forget about the bandages on his wrists and the notes on his chart. Forget about his problems with his best friend, Allie, and her boyfriend, Burke. Jeff’s perfectly fine, perfectly normal, not like the other kids in the hospital with him. Now they’ve got problems. But a funny thing happens as his forty-five-day sentence drags on: the crazies start to seem less crazy.”

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Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford is a novel told from the point of view of a kid who finds himself in a 45 day psychiatric hospital program after attempting to commint suicide on the night of New Years Eve. The chapters in the novel are basically entries for each day – 45 total – in which Jeff, a ffiteen year old teenager, goes through a self-discovery journey that starts from anger and denial and eventually reaches a sort of acceptance and attempt to get back up on his feet.

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How They Met and Other Stories by David Levithan

  • Title: How They Met and Other Stories
  • Author: David Levithan
  • # of Pages: 256

How They Met and Other Stories is a collection of eighteen short stories written by David Levithan. This is the sdecond Levithan book I’ve read – well, you could say first and a half – the half being Will Grayson Will Grayosn which he co-wrote with author John Green.

This book is a collection of short love stories. There is no connection between the plots or the characters except the general theme – love. The writing spans across Levithan’s entire life as an author, icnluding stories he wrote in high school up until more recent ones. It started with Levithan writing a physics-themed love story in a boring physics class as a junior, a story he later gave to his friends who obviously demanded another one – and so he gave them just that. Over and over again.

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84, Charing Cross Road / Helene Hanff

  • Title: 84, Charing Cross Road
  • Author: Helene Hanff
  • Published: 1970
  • Page Number: 97
  • ISBN: 0-380-00122-5

“It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene’s sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.

 

 

I was recommended this book by my mother, who said it was fantastic. The book is a short one and it took me two days to finish. 84, Charing Cross Road belongs to the genre of epistolary novels, which are novels that are written as a series of documents such as letters or diary entries.

The book 84, Charing Cross Road is the documentation of the correspondence between Helene Hanff and the staff at the bookstore Marks & Co. between the years of 1949 – 1969. Hanff is a writer living in New York. She is a lover of books and so she contacts a second-hand bookshop in London, wondering if they might have books she’s looking for. The great service and quality of the books she receives by post leads her to send another letter, which leads to more and more letters that eventually leave the topic of books and become a correspondence between friends – Hanff and Frank Doel, the man who replies to her letters. Doel tells Hanff of the rations on food products in England following WW2 and she sends the shop food for the holidays which leads to other staff members secretly mailing her as well. Hanff manages to form true friendship with quite a few people from the shop and even with Doel’s wife, Nora. Along with other stories, in the letters the friends discuss the idea of having Hanff come and visit the bookshop in person.

As a child, I actually despised epistolary books. I could not understand how a bunch of letters or diary entries could form an interesting story. Eventually I discovered that I was mistaken and since then I have read quite a few epistolary novels.  84, Charing Cross Road is a wonderful book. It is definitely a new favorite of mine. Despite not knowing many of the books mentioned in Hanff’s letters, the writing itself is lovely. It was so interesting to see how a friendship was formed over the simple matter of a correspondence between a salesman and a client. Hanff’s letters are funny and I found myself laughing quite a lot. In the beginning Doel’s replies to Hanff are very official since he is writing as a representative of the bookshop, but Hanff drops the official tone almost immediately and just writes how she pleases, as if she’s known Frank for years. I feel like my review can’t possibly do this book justice, and even quoting is pointless because the sentences are part of a whole – a letter, a relationship – and don’t mean much out of context. All I can say is that through 97 pages and 20 years, Hanff manages to build a sturdy, loving relationship that spans over time and space. The core of the relationship is a mutual love of books, and behind these books we find people filled with so much more. The letters are both sad, bitter, amusing and smile inducing – sometimes even at the same time. The sadness because of the distance is tinged with the bittersweet happiness of still being able to communicate and the hope to one day meet.

Helene Hanff’s book 84, Charing Cross Road made me want to have my own similar correspondence. I wish I could thank Hanff for… for publishing her letters and for affecting me in a way I utterly fail to explain in this review. Unfortunately, Hanff died about two and a half months after I was born. I hope this book won’t be forgotten. It is small and simple, and yet so much better than many of the larger, more exciting, bestselling novels of our time.

What If / Yoav Avni (Original Hebrew הרצל אמר / יואב אבני)

  • Title: What If / Yoav Avni (Original Hebrew הרצל אמר )
  • Author: Yoav Avni
  • Published: 2011
  • Page Number: 381
  • Format: Paperback

*originally In Hebrew

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The Con / Karri Justina Shea

  • Title: The Con
  • Author: Karri Justina Shea
  • Published: 2012
  • Page Number: 116
  • ISBN: 978-0-9880431-0-7
  • Format: Paperback / ebook

thecon

The first thing that Ren Coffey needs you to know is that she is nobody’s fangirl.

She agreed to play with wizard rock band Neville’s Toad at their crazy geek conference only because her cousin Whitney begged her to – and for the free trip to Florida. So when a chance encounter with wrocker-turned-movie star Teddy Hudson leads to an unusual proposal to help him stave off the more fervent of his rabid fans, she figures she can handle his supposed charm. What she doesn’t expect to find is how much she and Teddy actually have in common – and just how much their charade could cost her before it’s done.

Set in the unconventional world of fan conventions, The Con is a novella about music, friendship, and finding the courage to geek out to your heart’s content.

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