Monthly Archives: July 2016

Book Review: “The Book Thief”

By Kaitlin Gertz 

a German girl — a hidden Jew — spoilers — many deaths — and the importance of books

I would recommend this book under the following conditions: you are 1) appreciative of good books and enjoy reading them, or are 2) a fan of crying. I am both, so this book was a win-win for me. It managed to contain a lot of drama and history into a book that seemed to just be about everyday life in Nazi Germany.

***A BRIEF SUMMARY***
The Book Thief is about a girl named Liesel Meminger.
She is, indeed, a book thief.
She is also an orphan.
It takes place in Nazi Germany, where she lives with her foster family.
They hide a Jew in their basement.

As a reader (but not thief) of books, there were many things that drew me in. First and foremost was the time period. Markus Zusak chose a time that is both highly controversial and a subject that attracts a lot of people because of the sheer amount of tragedy involved. Where there’s tragedy, there’s onlookers. The actions of the Nazis during the Holocaust killed millions of people within such a short amount of time that the general public only had a glimpse of what was really going on after so many deaths had occurred. The book juxtaposes characters who have an intimate knowledge of concentration camps and those who are a part of the oblivious general public. As a reader, it presents an interesting narrative,

You would also expect a book about the Holocaust to be from the perspective of a Jewish person. Instead, the narrator is Death, and the main character is a non-Jewish German girl. Death doesn’t even focus too much on the concentration camps. They focus on Liesel and the deaths that impact her. For example, the book starts with the death of Liesel’s brother. This event follows her into later life, and is what draws her and Hans Hubermann, her foster father, together. She has nightmares and Hans wakes her up and stays with her to make sure she’s alright. Having a foster family means Liesel is without any biological family, as neither of her parents could not care for her and her brother is dead. However, her family still exists by way of the Hubermanns, her foster family, and her friend Rudy. It was an interesting way of portraying the theme of “family is formed by choice, not birth” without saying it outright.

Another interesting technique was the narration of the book. As stated before, the narrator is Death. But Death rarely speaks. There are parts in the book where their voice is very clear: one, in the beginning, where they explain what they see when people die; two, when they describe events in the book in which Liesel has no knowledge of, like a character dying later or the background of a specific character; and three, at the end, when Liesel finally dies.

The official point of view in the story is omniscient, because Death knows all which creates 19063.jpgan interesting dynamic between what Zusak chooses for Death to reveal and what he doesn’t. For example, he reveals that Rudy, Liesel’s best friend, is going to die. For most, this is a pretty big no-no in books: you do not reveal what is going to happen at the end of the book. That ruins one of the points of reading. However, it does creates a lot of dramatic irony. We know Rudy is going to die, and that Liesel is going to be very sad and regretful that he died, but Liesel doesn’t know. In the book, Rudy is always asking for a kiss, and Liesel is always saying no. When Rudy dies, Liesel kisses his dead body. It makes an already heartbreaking event even sadder.

One thing that is stressed throughout the entire book is the importance of reading, and the importance of not just reading good books, but reading anything you can. The very beginning of the book starts out with Liesel stealing a book but having absolutely no idea how to read it. This is another way she and Hans grow closer: they read together. It also brought Max, the Jewish man the Hubermann’s were hiding, and Liesel together. Max reads with Liesel and eventually starts writing her stories.

He writes a little book called The Word Shaker, which is about the importance of words and how you use them, and how the right words can get people to side either with you or against you. It was a great metaphor for not only the world then, as Hitler’s speeches convinced so many that the Jewish race was subhuman, but for any time, as words can hurt people or weave stories or make people like you. As a writer, I loved that section. To write something that carries so much meaning is the dream, and that’s what it meant: words mean something, so make them count.

Writing also saved Liesel’s life in a very obvious way: she was in the basement writing when her town was bombed. As a result, she was not impacted by the physical devastation. Instead, she had to deal with the aftermath, in which Max comes back for her after the concentration camps were freed. It was a very heart-wrenching, but tied up way of ending the story.

I’m going to end this review the same way I thought the book ended: unnecessarily. In the book, it skips a few decades to Liesel’s death. While I understand that the narrator is Death and that’s what they do, it didn’t seem to fit well with the story. I appreciated knowing Liesel turned out okay, but having Max and Rudy’s dad come back already kind of signaled that. I would have preferred to fill in the blanks myself. I would have also preferred to end this in a better way.

Kaitlin Gertz is a Sophomore at Barbara Ingram

 

When Killers are Idolized

By Alanna Anderson 

 

A recurring fact of life is that when you see a disaster or crime occurring it is hard to look away. The suspense surrounding the situation seems to capture our attention there and keep it due to morbid curiosity. But while looking at the crime itself, we don’t see the victim(s). We don’t see who has been affected and injured by the event. Of course there are victims, but we don’t know their names, we don’t know who in their life will be affected by the event, and we don’t know their stories. All we’re usually told is an estimate of their age, a brief mention that they are leaving children or a spouse behind, and facts on why the attacker would’ve attacked them: like gender, race or other characteristics and actions to provide motive.

This is the same case in a lot of mass killings. While we receive detailed observations of the attacker through the news (their name, age, reassurance of their “calm” personality, and how exactly they had planned and executed the crime) the information about the victim(s) is left in the dark. They become lost as a number. A countless one, two, and three on a list of the people dead or injured. In the meantime, the attacker receives multiple detailed profiles.

Even when reading some novels on serial killers, the killers are almost idolized because of the attention that they receive, but usually just one or two of the victims are mentioned, usually to evoke sympathy, and the rest is just statistics. Otherwise, the lives of the victim(s) are lost to us and they become the unwilling catalyst for propelling the killer’s fame and popularity.

To add on to the idea of idolization, you have to think about this from the point of view of the shooter. In their profiles, they are often depicted as attention seekers that feel wronged somehow by a perceived injustice that has been dealt against them. They then turn that strong feeling of betrayal into an ideology that includes the pain of others for retribution. Part of that retribution could be public humiliation. Though many killers say that the act was for themselves and not the public, there is a harsh kind of empathy in forcing others to feel the pain that you are feeling or have felt.

By paying so much attention to the killer we are giving them attention that they may need to further their agenda. This attention is given to them in place of reaching out to give sympathy to the victim who has been violated and exploited.

“We need to pay more attention to helping the victim instead of making killers into movie stars.”

People tend to dehumanize shooters and make them into pop culture icons instead of the actual human beings that they are. But it does help to keep in mind that they are people. They are our neighbors, the people standing behind us in line at the grocery store, and driving in the car in front of us. In the words of Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird: “A mob’s made up of people, no matter what.” Behind every violent action is a human emotion that drove them to that path.

While these people shouldn’t be idolized and given so much attention to the point of ignoring the victim(s), we need to make sure that we keep this person as human as possible without glazing over their horrible actions. By seeing the attacker as human, it helps to keep in mind that they have to be held accountable for what they have done since we are all (for the most part) accountable for our actions.

Sometimes people may not even be aware of the fact that they are promoting what this person has done. This, however, can’t be helped. The idea of the unknown and different just attracts us. We can’t help but be curious about the people who have deviated from the morals and paths laid coded into different cultures and societies. We collect their facts like trading cards and we memorize every facet of their treacherous executions. The issue is not the morbid curiosity itself, it’s how it becomes presented when dealing with the situation. Writers and publishers are getting paid to provide what will be relevant and what will sell. When they see that what people are more interested in the killer than the victim, they feed off of that in a cycle of buy and demand.

When media and people’s personal interests give so much attention we are feeding into the attention that they crave. We are giving into that motive that they had and proving that through this terrible action they are getting closer to reaching their ulterior motive. What makes this even worse is when a person who allegedly knew the attacker says things about them that seem to erase the fact that they have murdered or injured a person/people. Things like: “they are usually so nice,” “I’ve never known them to be violent or rude to anybody,” and, “this isn’t like them at all.”

There’s also the trouble behind the news displaying certain attackers as distinguished and polished people and focusing on all of the reasons why they couldn’t have done this instead of all of the things that they did.

Remember that whenever you think about the actions of a killer, you must always remember those directly affected by them too. While the killer should be considered in a situation, you must always acknowledge the victim and their suffering. Pay attention to the victim in a car crash instead of the sight of the cars after they’ve crashed. And, besides, why would you want to romanticize a person who’s done nothing romantic or heroic?

In order to make the victim feel like what they have gone through has not been ignored in the face of the person who has hurt them, we need to make sure that we have our priorities straight as far as who we’re going to reach out to. We need to pay more attention to helping the victim instead of making killers into movie stars.  

Alanna Anderson is a Sophomore at Barbara Ingram 

“The Glass Castle”Book Review

By Stephane Mohr

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is one of the most brilliant, gorgeous books I have ever read. A heartbreaking, intense story of the life of Jeanette and her three siblings as they learn to cope with their parents’ instability, Walls recalls her childhood and, more specifically, the heart-wrenching relationship between she and her father with such vivid descriptions that it’s easy to forget the novel is actually a memoir. Complete and utter real life events and people mapped out within three hundred pages of broken promises and barely-there hope.

The novel follows Jeanette from the age of three until what seems to be, but is never specified, he early thirties, and her siblings Lori, Brian and Maureen as they bounce from place to place on the west coast with their unreliable parents — their alcoholic father, Rex and their selfish, seemingly uncaring mother, Rose Mary. He can’t hold a job for very long, doesn’t trust anyone, and is always “doing the skedaddle” — moving anywhere the government can’t find him, probably because he owes taxes, although he creates elaborate, intense stories of mafias and gangs that are after him, instead, just to make everything seem more like an adventure.71VBpx0qsmL.jpg

Everything has to be an adventure for Rex and Rose Mary. They get antsy if they stay in one place too long, and hate “living like normal people”. They’d much rather camp out in the middle of the Nevada desert and starve than live in a regular house with neighbors and a steady income. Which is all fine and dandy — when you’re not dragging a newborn and three elementary school aged children along with you.

Not everything in the Walls’ children’s life is bad, and their parents aren’t completely horrible at times — and what a beautiful thing Walls, as an author, does to show us this. When reading a memoir, I find myself always needing to remind myself that everything is really. The people actually lived, the events actually took place, certain dialogue was actually said — those types of things, and The Glass Castle was no different. However, what did stick out to me from other memoirs I’ve read was the characterization of the people she was writing.

People are not black and white. An obvious statement, but still, necessary to make. Everyone is deeply flawed and intensely intricate in their own ways, and the relationships we form with others is no different. Jeanette shows us this in the most beautiful way possible. As she recalls her childhood, the struggles she faces and the relationships she forms with her siblings is obviously there, but it becomes clear almost immediately that the book as a whole is about her father. And about she and her father’s relationship as a father and daughter.

She takes us through being a child, and idolizing her father. Hanging on to his every word, defending him when others call him a bum, or an alcoholic, or accuse him of being a bad dad. She shows us that he is a highly unlikable character. Verbally abusive to his wife, neglectful of his children, selfish. As readers, we want to hate Rex, but we can’t quite do it. Why? Because he’s human. And because he’s human, he is not all bad. Jeanette shows us sparse, but absolutely stunning moments where we as readers can see just how much he truly loves his children.

The moments are more like seconds. Barely there glimpses into his mind and his thoughts. When he takes each child out individually and gives them a star for Christmas. When he almost loses Jeanette and Brian because they get caught in a fire. When he sneaks them in to the zoo and convinces them to pet a tiger. When Jeanette finally leaves the house. But these moments, like they are not enough, in the end, to keep Jeanette wanting to stay, are equally not enough for us, as readers, to feel completely bad for him. Still, he is human.

Along with her stunning characterizations of not just her father, but her mother and siblings as well, Walls pairs her unique narrative with such vivid imagery, the reader is immediately there with her, wherever she goes. A casino in Vegas, a run down town at the edge of a barely-running train station, a suburban neighborhood in Phoenix, an ashy mountainside in Virginia. Every description of every season, sunset, street corner and car ride is so alive and so detailed, you wonder if she visited these places again as an adult, just to get them just right.

“The Glass Castle”, while the title of the book, is also the dream Rex Walls had for his children. Whether it was a legitimate plan, or just something he made up to keep them sedated and interested is never truly explained (although the reader gets the feel it was more of the latter). The Glass Castle was just that — a castle made of glass, that he would build sky high and they would all live in. One big happy family. The Glass Castle serves as well as a metaphor for all of the promises Rex made Jeanette and never kept. All of the dreams he talked about having, and the things they would all do, but never did.

The book catalogs the less than unusual childhood the Walls children had, the bonds formed between siblings in the face of adversity and neglect, the love Jeannette has for literature and writing, the dreams she and her siblings had to finally get out, and get away, and escape. And her father. The one she always vouched for, always believed, and always loved. The one who, even though he may have made some pretty questionable decisions, was still, until the very end, human.

Stephane Mohr is a Senior at Barbara Ingram

Fourth of July: When America Takes Over the Internet

By Alanna Anderson 

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Fourth of July is a time for barbecues, fireworks, people wearing full outfits with the American flag as the only pattern, and the highly anticipated summer memes. They can be optimistic, or sarcastic, but either way they will discuss the views and thoughts of some citizens when it comes to America. First, I’ll start out by introducing a little background on this holiday that is more than just a day for elaborate firework shows.

We all know, even if it’s vaguely, the story of the colonists showing true American stubbornness by declaring independence from the British. What you may not know is that since John Adams believed that Independence Day was on the 2nd he refused to celebrate it on the fourth. Ironically, he died on July 4th, 1826. I don’t know exactly what you’d like to do with that information but, if anything, you could use it as an excuse to light fireworks on both days — even if your neighbors give you disgruntled looks. Early celebrations of the Fourth of July differ from today mainly because of the cultural differences of the time periods.

Fireworks were documented to have been used as early as 1040 in China, but the first commemorative fireworks set off in America was in 1777. Despite this, fireworks for public use didn’t become available until 1783. This ruled out the early use of fireworks and in its place was instead the ringing of bells, bonfires, recitation of speeches, concerts, parades, and the firing of cannons and muskets.

Another interesting event, which may or may not be debated as morbid, was the fact that the colonists held mock funerals of King George III. The colonists saw this as a way to symbolize that the King’s rule was dead. They would even carry around an empty casket with the King’s name on it and sit it near a gravestone that also had his name on it. I don’t know about you but I could see this becoming a coming-of-age tradition for eighteen year olds leaving the house to go to college. Or for millennials when they leave home.

Back to the focus of the article, it seems that a new tradition has been adopted by the holiday. While some guests at celebrations are kicking back with reminiscent tales, the others are lounging back in order to post what we’re all really excited for: holiday memes. It seems like memes have a culture all their own. They manage to connect all of our thoughts and emotions into one little picture and facial expression.

Fourth of July memes take on a whole new meaning when they begin to remind us of the reasons why some people might not appreciate the fourth of July. Such as:

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While others are focusing on the advantages that this holiday brings (like the sales) (just kidding) (kind of), others are focusing on other aspects. Like the reasons why the holiday highlights the fact that though we fought for independence, the lack of independence for some means that we have an unfinished battle.The Fourth of July is when  some will take the time to focus on the fact that the holiday contains a lot of irony.

Such as:

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We shouldn’t ignore that there is merit to the holiday, but we also shouldn’t ignore the irony of the holiday. While watching the fireworks light up the sky, also remember the smoke of muskets that took the lives of people whose land was taken. While stuffing hot dogs in your mouth, also remember those who were stopped from eating for the sake of being forced to build this country.

Fourth of July memes help to bring people back from the fireworks and into reality. They help people realize that there is more to this holiday than food and American flags. That even though we are free from British rule, there are still people in the present and in the past that have been oppressed by America’s power and ruling. This is not to say that people shouldn’t enjoy the holiday, it’s just to say that people should be aware of what this holiday means to everybody and not just themselves. Memes help people to be able to step away from themselves and into other perspectives. A memorable caption and a facial expression accomplishes this with just a click, and internet connection.

Alanna Anderson is a Sophomore at Barbara Ingram