Book Review: Wonder by R J Palacio

11387515This is a Young Adult/Children’s novel with a message which is just as valid for adults as it is for children and teenagers.

The story isĀ about August, a ten year old boy with a facial abnormality, and his journey into mainstream school. It is a book about bullying, acceptance, empathy and friendship. It is a book that emphasises the understanding of people as people and not just faces. It is a book that confronts the way in which people react to those who are different. It confronts the ignorance, the fear and the stupidity of selfish, self righteous fools. One example of this confrontation is with Julian and his parents, who epitomise this ignorance, and are the focus of all of my bad thoughts whilst reading this book.

It is well written, from the perspectives of different characters within the novel, each getting to express their opinions and allowing us an insight into their minds. I understand that there are some critics who may feel like having all of these voices throws the novel, or doesn’t allow us to get deep enough into the characters’ feelings. I, however, think that this change of narrator is essential with the subject of the book. The fact that it is all about how we deal with people who are different from us makes it necessary to understand not only the feelings of August, as being different, but also the feelings of those around him, with how the deal with all his differentness. I understand that the most important perspective is indeed August’s. However, in order to learn about empathy, children (who I am sure that this book is aimed at) need to understand how others react, and what the correct way is to react to those who are different from themselves.

Palacio manages to capture the voices of these characters well, so that it is entirely believable that I am reading the words of children. I am hoping that this, along with the short, easy to read chapters, will allow me to read this book with my students. In fact, I can imagine this book becoming part of the English syllabus in the near future. I certainly think it would be a good lesson for students today to learn a little about empathy.

4.5/5

Is reading important for writing?

I have recently started a creative writing club where I work for a group of children aged between 11 and 15 and I had a huge amount of interest in it, which I was really please with, and quite frankly surprised by – mostly because of the amount of students willing to stay behind after school for the club.

So, from the outset, it was clear to me that children are generally interested in writing and are naturally creative creatures. However, as soon as I started this club I hit a great, massive, brick wall. For the first creative writing task, I thought it might be fun to run a project. The outline of this project was to work in groups, and take a book that they had read (at least 1 of them needed to have read it) and turn it into a play. The problem arose when practically none of the students could think of a book they had read.

Bearing in mind that these are children who have elected to join a creative writing club, yet did not seem able to recall any books. When I asked them about this, the majority of them informed me that they do not read outside of the classroom (this, despite the fact that the school has a strict policy that every student must take a book out of the library every fortnight). It got me thinking about the importance of reading.

I decided to change the topic to short story writing instead. So, after the first couple of sessions, when they had finished their short stories, I collected them up and read through them. What I found was not at all surprising. Most of the stories were creative and were based on good ideas (so clearly not reading did not effect their creativity much). However, for the couple of children who did read for pleasure, it was clear that reading effected their writing. The range of vocabulary they used was much wider and more mature, their stories were more captivating and the format was better.

It was clear then, to me, that reading is an important tool for structured and creative writing. I honestly think that there is not enough done to promote reading and I am going back to the drawing board to try and solve this – at least for my students! If you have any ideas on promoting reading to teenagers, please let me know.

Film: Rain Man

rain-manLast night I rewatched Rain Man for the first time in about 7 or 8 years. There are obviously many reasons why Rain Man is a cinematic classic – it has a great story line and amazing acting by Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman.

The reason I am writing the review of Rain Man is due mainly to the fact that my reaction to the film has changed, or more accurately, developed. When I first watched this film, I was watching it mainly because it was a film classic and I felt that I ought to. I was a teenager and still in secondary school, and the only knowledge of autism that I had at the time was actually from the film itself. Even then, though, I realised that Dustin Hoffman’s acting was astounding and I could appreciate the effort that went into making the film.

However, for the past 5-6 years I have spent the majority of my time working with children with Special Needs, and in particular with children on the Autistic Spectrum. This has meant that my knowledge on the complex issue of autism has developed immensely since the first time I watched Rain Man. So, as you can imagine, watching it last night, I was able to reflect on the knowledge I now have – and I can say, without doubt, that Dustin Hoffman’s acting, rather than just being astounding, is the best acting that I have ever seen. The way he captures the unique idiosyncrasies of a person with autism is amazing. There was clearly a lot of research that went into preparing for the role, and that’s something that I can really appreciate – there was clearly care taken over the way that autism was portrayed in the film.

Apart from that, I also think the way in which Tom Cruise’s character develops through the film is really impressive. It highlights the ignorance surrounding autism in the late 80’s, and how understanding can mean everything.

This is definitely a must watch classic!

5/5

Also as a side note, I recently watched the BBC Horizon documentary on Living with Autism which was a good clinical insight into the subject.

Book Review: May We Be Forgiven by A M Homes

May-We-Be-ForgivenPB-649x999This book instantly captures you with the seriously high paced beginning. There is a Thanksgiving meal, Harold’s niece and nephew are glued to their phones, nobody is helping Jane, Harold’s sister-in-law, clean up, and Harold and Jane have a moment in the kitchen. Shortly after that, when George (Harold’s brother) and Jane’s kids are back at their boarding schools, George crashes his car causing a young boy to become orphaned. George goes mad and is locked up. Harold keeps Jane company while his own wife, Claire, is away on a business trip. Things then heat up between Harold and Jane, who end up getting it together. George somehow escapes, and comes home, finding his wife in bed with his brother. He goes even crazier and kills his wife with a lamp.

That synopsis may seem like a spoiler, but it seriously isn’t, this all happens within the first few pages. After reading this I was left thinking, what can happen now? What is there left that can really happen? But then, the story takes a complete turn. It turns into a novel about humanity, about human emotion and about treasuring life beyond the materials.

Harold becomes the guardian of his niece and nephew, Ashley and Nate, who teach him about being a real person. Throughout the novel a once lonely Harold picks up friendships, and soon his family grows wildly. I did like how during the beginning, when Harold was this kind of unfeeling statue of a person, there were aspects of the way it was written that were reminiscent in Bret Easton Ellis’ work – the whole sociopathic monologues anyway. There are so many elements of this novel to put into a single review, murder, paedophilia, sex addiction, prescription drug addiction, affairs and way way more.

In all honesty, though, this book hasn’t changed my life. It has kept me occupied, it has entertained me, but it hasn’t changed me like I would have expected. One thing I felt both enhanced the book and let it down was Nate’s young age. He is such an insightful, genuine and intelligent character, that it is just not realistic that he is only 12 years old.

Nonetheless, it is a good book, and you would have to read it yourself to truly understand it.

3.5/5

Book Review: Oh Dear Silvia by Dawn French

Firstly, I have to say that I love Dawn French. I grew up watching comedies on the old Beeb starring Dawn, and I have very fond memories of those times.

This is the first book I have encountered of hers, but thanks to some googling and wikipedia, I discovered that she has written more.

So, on to the book review, and I am afraid that it will be short. I read this book because I wanted something light to read. I think it was in a half term holiday or something so I had time off from work and didn’t want to delve into anything deep. Well, it was definitely a light read, and I do remember laughing.

The trouble is, that is all I can remember. I remember finding the book funny at some points, but I remember practically nothing about the story. I have tried reading the blurb to try and jog my memory – but still nothing.

So to conclude, it is a light read, and is occasionally funny, it’s just not memorable. I would only recommend this if you were looking for something seriously light, it’s a book to pass time with but not much more than that.

2.5/5

Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

gone-girlSpoiler Alert: You’ve probably already read this, but just in case you haven’t, there will be spoilers in this review. Gone Girl was one of those books that was so hyped up last year that you kind of had to read it just to be involved in the ‘book hype’ of 2013.

Firstly, I have Gone Girl and Gillian Flynn to thank for me exploring the genre of contemporary thriller, and since reading Gone Girl I have read two more of Flynn’s novels: Sharp Objects and Dark Places, both of which I thought were really good.

Gone Girl is the story of Nick and Amy, a pair of really unpredictable and unreliable narrators. Nick is quite pathetic as a person, and lies to the reader on several occasions, including hiding his affair with Andie from us. And Amy, well she’s as manipulative as they come, she manipulates us and she manipulated many of the other characters in the novel.

Amy attempts at first to frame Nick for her murder, and is almost getting away with it until she starts to think she’ll be recognised. Then she decides to frame Desi for her kidnapping and murders him. Her story is ultimately believed by all but her less than adoring husband. If only he was sensible enough to see that she had psychopathic issues before marrying her…

One aspect of Gone Girl that I found interesting, and troubling, was the fact that you can never really know a person completely. I’m sure that myself and my other half know each other very well, at least, we know a lot of things about each other – lots of facts that add up to make our impression of a person – but can we ever really know what goes on in another person’s mind? Gone Girl says no, and underlines that ‘no’ many times.

It’s definitely a captivating read, and will keep you going. However, I thought the ending let it down. It just didn’t satisfy me. I couldn’t bring myself to imagine that anyone would stay in that kind of situation, which is what makes me think that Nick is pathetic. Also, Amy’s last words highlight that she is delusional and makes me think of a young manipulative pre teen trying to play grown up. She seems to delude herself into thinking that all will be forgiven because she is pregnant – that just screams immaturity to me.

Oh and at the end of this year the film adaptation will be released, apparently with Ben Affleck and Neil Patrick Harris. Im intrigued to see how it will be adapted for screen.

Admittedly I liked Gillian Flynn’s other work much more than I liked this, but still, not bad.

3.5/5

Book Review: Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson

beforeigotosleepThis is another one that I read a few months ago. A few months ago I had a lot more time for reading, as my Uni course had not yet started. So most of my reviews now have come from that indescribable period of a few months ago.

I read this book following a few recommendations from people who I generally associate with varying genres. This made me think, if so many varied readers like this book, I should really give it a go.

I have to say that I was not disappointed. In my most humble of opinions, Before I Go To Sleep is a well written suspense novel. It manages to get the cogs of one’s brain whirring without placing too much stress in the analysis of reading. It is a nice easy read, with a captivating storyline.

I found that the premise enticed me. I liked the idea of having the story told from the perspective of a really unreliable narrator. This unreliable narrator was our only gateway into the story, and therefore everything that she believed, the reader is led to believe. This makes the narrative even more interesting, and somewhat personal.

I love that this book highlights the importance of memory and of perception. It manages to give a little bit of an insight into how memory plays such a big role in our lives. If you know anyone who suffers from any memory loss (i.e. Alzheimer’s), it will really help you to imagine what they are going through.

In terms of the story, I loved the twists and turns. I was certainly not expecting the ending to turn out the way it did, but I’m glad that it did. This is one of the best debut novels that I have read in a while.

I would recommend this book to most readers.

4/5

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