Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Homer's Odyssey

Homer's Odyssey
by Gwen Cooper

Homer was a kitten, found only a few weeks old, with eyes so infected they had to be removed to save his life.  Of course an eyeless kitten is hard to find a home for so he was in danger of being euthanized.  Gwen Cooper rescues him and adopts him into her family which consists of herself and her two feline fur children adopted previously.

I adore this story of Homer's life.  He is truly an amazing cat.  His story ranges from out loud funny to tear streaked face to pure amazement.  And his Mom's telling of the story is perfect. Like everyone (almost) who meets Homer, I fell in love with him, too, and also wanted to be "Homer's buddy."

Okay, to be honest, I didn't want to just be his buddy, I wanted to be his new mommy and take him for myself.

 The things an eyeless cat, at least this eyeless cat, can do are amazing.  Like blind people who use echolocation to navigate their world, Homer has super sharp hearing and sense of smell to offset his "disability."  Indeed, "disability" can almost hardly be used in describing Homer. He is fearless and determined to make the world his own on his terms.

Homer enters Gwen's life when she has newly broken up with a live-in boyfriend.  As Homer's story unfolds, so does Gwen's, although hers is definitely the background story.  The most poignant part of the story was the telling of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center from the author's perspective as the resident of an apartment only a few blocks from ground zero.  Forced out of the area with no notice, the despair of not being able to get back to her apartment or her cats was unbearable. I witnessed 9/11 only through news coverage and was enthralled with this personal account.

I am a cat lover and related to this book in many ways with tales and memories of my own roaming through my mind as I read.  I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever been owned and loved by a pet.  And just one little *SPOILER ALERT* that you probably won't mind...  no cats die in this book, of old age or any other cause.  I think that would have made it unbearable!

Five shots of five from me.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

I Am Nujood

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced
Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui

Nujood is a Yemeni girl, probably around 10 years old.  She is born in a very small village in the countryside where no records are kept of births. In a large family with illiterate parents no one is entirely sure of her age, but probably between eight and ten years.

As a young girl with older siblings there are many things happening around her that she doesn't understand.  She is interested in things children are.  Adult concerns are beyond her interests and understanding.

Nujood's family is cast out of their small village and go to Sana'a, the capitol of Yemen.  They arrive as a poor family.  Her father loses interest in supporting his family and spends his time chewing khat with his friends as his family loses their home and begin begging on the streets.  Eventually he agrees to marry Nujood off to a man three times her age in exchange for a dowry of about $750 (US value).

Understandably, Nujood is very upset by these circumstances and even more so as she learns what marriage means to a woman. Her husband forces himself on her night after night and beats her when she fights his advances. Her days are spent in dread of the coming night and the nightmares that follow. Somehow she finds the strength to go to the courts and ask for a divorce.  In her naive mind she believes it will be that easy.

Nujood was fortunate in connecting with judges and a strong female lawyer, Shada Nasser, who were outraged by her circumstances and fought for her divorce.  Although she was far below their legal age of marriage, her lack of birth records and the popular practice of marrying girls off this young was not in her favor of being granted a divorce. 

This book is Nujood's story and is told as simply as she tells it from the perspective of a child.  Her life and struggles are detailed but in its simplicity it failed to elicit the emotional response I expected of myself.  I am outraged that her story is one of many and that young girls are simply family possession in too many instances, but I felt detached from the story. For instance, Nujood was told by everyone in the legal system, her attorney and the judges, that her divorce would be very hard to get and she would likely fail.  However, it seemed to be granted very easily. Few details of the legal battle are shared.

I do feel it's a good "jumping off" point to learn more. I googled Nujood and Shada trying to find updates on either of them.  Nujood is doing well, the royalties from her book helping her family and her education.  Shada continues to help young girls in similar circumstances and lobbies for the legal age of marriage in Yemen to be raised.  There are more heartbreaking stories that parallel this one, indeed even in Nujood's own family.

I give the book three of five shots.  It's a story that needs to be told, but I would have liked more depth.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Ranson Riggs

Here I present another selection from the young adult or children's section of the book store or library.  There are some fun stories to be found there!

Within the pages of this story you will find many vintage photographs, such as the one on the cover of the book.  I couldn't help but think as I read the story that the author must have come across this collection of photos and decided to create a story around them. At the end of the book there is a small blurb along with the photo credits and I do believe the story was indeed conceived while pondering the "photographic evidence."

Jacob is a young child taken with his grandfather's tales of his life in an idyllic, happy home for children where he was sent after his family perished in the war.  The children were all "peculiar," each having some strange ability or characteristic. His grandfather shares strange photos of the odd children as he tells his stories. 

As Jacob grows older he comes to realize his grandfather had been making up stories to entertain him as a child and he easily sees through the gimmicky photography.  The days of boyhood fantasy are now behind him and he helplessly watches as his grandfather slowly loses his hold on reality. 

When Jacob's grandfather dies a violent death, Jacob begins to feel his own grasp on reality is slipping.  That is until he discovers all of his grandfather's stories are actually true and that he himself is an important ingredient in a story that continues on. 

Because I don't want to issue a spoiler alert I'll leave the synopsis of the story at that. Ranson Riggs spins a tale where past and present come together and Jacob has to make the decision of his lifetime.  And through it all we meet a cast of quirky characters that I found quite charming, and really not so odd.  There will surely be a sequel to this book.  I don't think the story can be left where it ended.  I only hope we have more peculiar photos to go along with it.

I give this novel four shots of five. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Jonathan Safran Foer

This is a story of Oskar, a young boy trying to make sense of his father's death two years after 9/11.  He finds a key in his father's things and decides if he can find what the key opens it will bring him closer to his father in some way.

As he searches for the mysterious lock that the key must fit we learn some about his ancestors and his past.  His grandmother lives alone in the apartment building across the street from him.  We learn about the grandfather he never met and the war and bombings his grandparents survived in Europe years earlier.  We meet the elderly man who lives in the apartment above Oskar but never leaves his apartment.  We meet people all around the city named "Black" as Oskar believes that name is a clue to finding the lock the key fits.

While looking for the key the stories are intertwined and the horrors of 9/11 are presented side by side with the horrors of World War II, the senselessness and human suffering.

I found parts of this book absolutely wonderful and captivating in detail, description and story telling.  However, I found even more of the book tedious to read due to the way it was written.  The author writes much of the story from Oskar's perspective, that of a ten year old boy who has suffered through a terrible tragedy, has secrets that are tearing him up and can't stop imagining the horrible scenarios his father may have died in. Some of the book is written as letters to people who will never read them, and other parts as conversation between a mute and a speaking person.  None of the conversation in the book is written in correct grammatical form, but in long paragraphs with only quotation marks separating one speaker from another.

I can appreciate what the author was doing in making his style actually a part of the story telling, but I found it difficult and distracting to read.  Part of my rating system for books is questioning myself as to whether I would read the same book again.  This book almost begs to be read a second time, but I honestly don't think I could.  How do I rate a book like that?

I'm going to give it two shots of five.  I think this is one of those books you will either love or hate and I feel less inclined to love it.

As a side note, this author also wrote "Everything is Illuminated."  I didn't read that book but saw the movie based on it and thought it was quite odd, too.  I suspect I just don't 'get' this author.