Monthly Archives: April 2014

Little Free Library

I’ve been meaning to post about this for a while. Are you familiar with Little Free Library? Our neighborhood recently got one courtesy of a crafty neighbor, and I finally stopped by to see it yesterday!

The libraries come in all shapes and sizes (apparently there’s one somewhere nearby that is a robot). This one is a little schoolhouse, and it’s packed full of books. The idea is that if you take a book, you should leave a book (I neither took nor left one this time, but now that I know where it is, I will definitely do some of each.) I hope more of these continue to pop up. They are a great convenient way to get more people reading!

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I Am Malala – Malala Yousafzai

photoBook Description (Amazon): When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.

Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize.

I am Malala is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons.

I am Malala  will make you believe in the power of one person’s voice to inspire change in the world.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: inspiring

Of course I had heard of this book when it came out, but I really only knew the just of it–a girl in Pakistan had been shot by the Taliban for standing up for education for girls. I had partially intended to read it, but at the same time, I was nervous that it was going to be really hard to read and sad. It was honestly really neither. Malala, who would have been 15 or 16 at the time of the book (and English is not her first, or second, language), is a really impressive writer (which of course makes the idea of girls’ education even more obvious). Separately, the end, where they get into more of the details of her shooting and recovery, is sad, but in the most pious, hopeful sort of way. It was very emotional, but not really that sad. (In fairness, it did probably help that I knew she lived).

This book is going to be very hard for me to summarize, as it is quite dense on details. So you’ll just have to read it yourself. The first 1/2 -2/3 of the book is a lot of the details of the history of Pakistan (interspersed with stories of Malala’s life). While the reader is introduced to the story of the shooting at the start of the book, the full story including the aftermath doesn’t happen until the end.

Malala was born in the region of Swat which is near the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It has a rich history, having been lived in by a variety of groups of people over many thousands of years. It’s in the northern section of Pakistan where there are hills, valleys, and rivers. (It used to be a major tourist destination.)

In the 90s, Pakistan’s leader was a woman named Benazir Bhutto, one of Malala’s heroes. (Bhutto was eventually voted out and was in exile. She eventually returned to Pakistan where multiple assassination attempts were made on her, one finally succeeding). After the events of 2001, the hunt for bin Laden created serious tension in Pakistan and the Taliban rose to power in the region. It started innocently enough with a radio program talking about being a better Islam (with ideas that everyone agreed with) and then slowly but surely transitioned into more radical ideas. It’s incredible to me that in less than a decade, enough wide spread panic occurred to set Pakistan back hundreds of years (my great aunt was in school in the rural US in the early 1900s and continued until high school graduation).

Through the Taliban’s rule, women were “strongly encouraged” to wear the burqa. (Malala’s family were Sunni Muslims which are only required to cover their heads, not even their faces, and did not wear burqas.) They were also forbidden from attending school (which was eventually lessened to girls could only attend school up until a certain grade). The girls continued to pretend they were younger, and also thought they were safe in the region once the Taliban claimed that they had left the region. (Of course they actually didn’t).

During 2008, when the education for girls was announced to be stopped, Malala began being the spokesperson for girl’s education. She did many interviews and did a diary program for the BBC speaking of her general feelings. In the middle of 2009, a peace agreement was formed with the Taliban, which they pretended to agree to so then they were forced out by the government (more fighting in the region). However after this, Malala and her friends returned to school. Things were tumultuous but fine until bin Laden was found hiding in Pakistan. US-Pakistani relations became even more stressed. The Taliban, which was not ever really gone, came back.  Then in 2012, Malala is shot.

After Malala was shot, the world opened up and poured out help for her. She was taken to the hospital where emergency surgery was performed. She was then transferred to a military hospital where her recovery continued. It was obvious that additional, more highly technical surgeries were needed so she was again transferred. This time on a private flight by the UAE royal family to a military hospital in Birmingham, England. She went without her family (who could not get passports in time for some asinine reason). Her recovery continued and eventually her family arrived. Malala’s father was offered a job in England, allowing the family to stay. Malala wants to eventually return to Pakistan and continue her activism. I hope she succeeds.

Verdict: 4.5 Stars

I realize that I provided a very short summary for this book. The book is so detailed that for me to provide a summary would have been to rewrite the book. I tried to hit on the main points. This book really is amazing and worth reading. My husband actually lived in Pakistan his first few years of life as his dad was on job rotation there. I am sure that rotation no longer exists. I truly hope Malala succeeds in changing the face of Pakistan back to one that supports all its people regardless.

 

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Allegiant – Veronica Roth

photo(11)Book Description (Amazon): What if your whole world was a lie?
What if a single revelation—like a single choice—changed everything?
What if love and loyalty made you do things you never expected?
The explosive conclusion to Veronica Roth’s #1 New York Times bestselling Divergent trilogy reveals the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: uneasy

My sister had warned me that this book “was terrible” so I was a bit leery going into it. However, on Sunday I spent the afternoon reading it cover to cover. I have a lot of mixed feelings about it. Overall, I felt like a lot of thought had gone into the first two books and that Roth just didn’t exactly know how to conclude the story, so a lot of things felt a bit out of place.

First thing though, for some reason, Roth decided that instead of sticking to one point of view like she had in the previous two books, she was going to alternate between Tris and Tobias’s viewpoints. However, unless you look at the chapter page, there was almost no way to tell who was “telling” the story. There were no different fonts used, and more importantly, there was no obvious change in writing style. It was needlessly confusing.

So we left off the last book where the Factionless are now somewhat in charge courtesy of Four’s mother, Evelyn. And we know that the fence is supposed to be open to the outside. We start this book with more of the same. Evelyn is leading and trying to make everyone behave like the Factionless (really not a terrible idea in general). But the Factionless of course have a mega chip on their shoulders so there are a lot of fights between the true Factionless and the previously Factioned. At the same time, a group calling themselves the Allegiant have formed (Allegiant referring to their allegiance to the original intent of the factions). They recruit Tris and she brings some of her friends with her. The Allegiant are led by Cara (Will’s sister) and Johanna, the previous leader of the Amity. They decide a plan of splitting up. One half will go outside the fence and the other half will try to overthrow Evelyn and reinstate the factions. Obviously the regulars (Tris, Four, Christina, Uriah, Cara, Peter, and Tori) are the group to go outside. Uriah and Four rescue Caleb from execution (for helping Jeanine) and he joins the group. Johanna admits that people have gone beyond the boundaries before but were taken care of by use of a memory serum. Apparently each Faction has a serum–Dauntless has the hallucination serum used for the fear exercises, Candor has the truth serum, Amity has the peace serum, Abnegation has the memory serum, and apparently the Erudite have a death serum. Interesting but not terribly believable.

They are on their way outside the fence when (seemingly arbitrarily) Tori is killed by Dauntless/Factionless/whoever guards. They get outside and are surprised to see advertisements (I found this really strange but I’ll get back to it later). The group is picked up by a patrol consisting of a woman named Zoe and a man named Amar, who Four is shocked to see. (Four had thought Amar had committed suicide but it was faked to get him out.) They make their way to the Bureau of Genetic Welfare which happens to be in the O’Hare International Airport. Zoe gives Tris a picture of Natalie (Tris’s mother) in her younger years. Natalie also knows Tris’s name (nickname). Something is up!

After going through security, they meet David, the head of the Bureau. He explains that Edith Prior/Amanda Ritter was only partly true in her video. In truth, their city was developed to regrow proper genetics in society. Apparently a long time ago in the United States (a term that the group was unfamiliar with), they tried to get rid of bad genes like fear, low intelligence, dishonesty, aggression, and selfishness. Basically it was an utter failure because when you take away one thing, you usually take away something else too (i.e., you take away aggression and you also take away the ability to stand up for yourself). From this, a “Purity War” developed–essentially a civil war between those with damaged genes and those without (and the scientists who damaged their genes). Apparently more than 50% of the US population was destroyed in this war.  So Chigago and a variety of other cities were used as test societies to get back to correct genetics, aka Divergent. (I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS!!! What sort of history was taught at the schools in Chicago? How did they not know about the United States? How did these “geniuses” at the Bureau think that putting people into factions to essentially inbreed was going to make genetics better? If this is set many generations in the future, how does Chicago not have Coca-Cola ads? For reference, the Hancock building was built in 1969 and Coke came out long before that.)

So of course, everyone is all in a tizzy. Only the Divergent among them are considered “pure”. The rest are “damaged, including Caleb who puts up the most fight. And then David tells them that they have been being watched by the Dauntless security cameras a la  The Truman Show. (I find it hard to believe that David with his lack of compassion is considered “genetically pure”.)

Tris finds out that her mother was not originally from Chicago. She was pulled from another city/research project because she was “GP” (genetically pure) and placed into Chicago because that one was working the best. Tris is upset about all this (the fact that her mother knew that the outside existed, and that they were being watched, and that no one saved her mother like they did to Amar) but it is mostly a fleeting thought. The next day David provides Tris with her mother’s journal/letters she wrote to David. They go meet Matthew, a younger guy who does lab work for the Bureau. He wants to do some genetic testing on her and Four. They go the following day and Four finds out that it’s basically just a fluke that he is resistant to the serum; he’s actually “GD” (genetically damaged). They also learn that all the serums were provided to the factions by the Bureau, and they meet Nita, the lab tech who is also GD.

So then Four basically proves that he actually IS genetically damaged because he secretly meets Nita without Tris’s knowledge. They plan a somewhat hair brained scheme to “stick it to the man”. Eventually Four brings Tris along, and she is sure that Nita is lying. Nita says she is trying to break into a top security vault to get memory serum, but Tris suspects it is more than that. Four doesn’t care. He’s soooo damaged. He goes along with it anyway. In fairness, Nita does offer an interesting point during all of this, one which is not investigated in a lot of detail unfortunately. One of Nita’s associates has information about the old wars prior to the genetic testing. So essentially (as we all know), before the genetic manipulation, the GPs were frequently at war. (This felt very 1984 to me, adjusting the reality that is shown to the general populace.) Nita also reveals that the attack serum used by the Erudite was transplanted into the society by the Bureau to prevent the Abnegation from releasing the video. And now that they have, there is going to be a mass memory reset in Chicago.

In the mean time that Four is being emotionally unavailable, Tris goes up in a plane with the others (kind of a weird pointless part of the story. Also how did no one ever see the plane?) and reads the sections of her mom’s journal. She suspects that there was some sort of relationship going on between her mother and David which ended obviously when her mother made the decision to stay and get married to Tris’s father. Also, Marcus is sentenced for execution (they can see on the surveillance.)

Tris and Caleb are still on rocky terms despite him showing her the library which has Chicago’s family trees on it. (I am curious how many people did live in Chicago. That’s a lot of people to keep track of and do surveillance of.)

Tris finds out that Matthew was previously helping Nita because he doesn’t believe there is any merit to the whole GP/GD thing at all. But he found out that Nita’s actual plan was not to steal the memory serum–it was to steal the death serum instead. (Just like Tris thought). And then a bomb goes off in the Bureau and puts Uriah (who was standing nearby) into a coma. Nita and the others kidnap David at gunpoint and try to get him to give them the code to the Weapons Lab. In a really confusing situation, Tris takes David hostage and gets him out alive (albeit injured). The rebels, including Tobias, are arrested.

Tobias realizes what he did and feels terrible, although really only because Uriah was injured in the accident, which Tobias takes personally since he promised Zeke that he would look after Uriah. Tobias is tried and released because he didn’t know the plan (technically) and of course because he’s GD (so probably too stupid to know what he was doing despite Nita also being GD). Side note, I wonder if GD is the new slang for high schoolers to say that someone is an idiot.

Through the control room, Tobias learns that his father, who was sentenced to leave the city, has been hiding out inside it (good enforcement of the laws there, Evelyn). He meets with Johanna and uses his charismatic ways to become an Allegiant leader. Tobias realizes that there is going to be a war involving his mother and father leading the opposite sides.

Tris gets an invitation to become a member of David’s council which she agrees to so that she can spy. The group of the Allegiant at the Bureau form a plan to try to stop David from wiping the memories of everyone in Chicago. The plan is to wipe David’s memory (and the rest of his posse’s apparently) instead. But at the same time, just in case, they are going to go back to the city and “vaccinate” their family (there sure are a lot of serums here) and Four is going to get Uriah’s family so that they can say goodbye. After multiple visits to the control room, Tobias also decides that he has to reset one or both of his parents’ memories so that they can make peace.

Tris visits Nita and finds out more details about the weapons room. Apparently it is armed with death serum. The Bureau-Allegiants meet and it is decided that Caleb will be the one to open the weapons room while wearing a clean suit. He will still die because he’s GD (although no one can resist the death serum except maybe Tris because she also resisted the truth serum) and the suit only will protect him for a short period of time. Others in the group are going to shut down the security. Exactly the same way that Nita had. (smart). Then before the three groups separate, there is a sappy goodbye between Tobias and Tris…

Tobias’s group succeeds in vaccinating all the family members, and getting Uriah’s family. Peter decides to come with Tobias when he goes to wipe his parents’ memories, and it is revealed that Peter intends to have his memory wiped. He wants to start over so he can be less evil. (Um, Matthew said that it only erased stuff like your name and your address, not innate behavior like knowing how to ride a bike. Peter is always going to be evil, just with a different name!) Tobias decides to start with his mother (easier to find) and he convinces her to stop fighting for his sake and let everyone be happy. (Here’s your Disney ending, folks)

Tris and Caleb (with Matthew’s help) end up having to go earlier than expected due to an emergency lock-down. (Told you recreating the same plan was a stupid idea). They arrive at the weapons room and Tris decides to see whether or not she can survive the serum because Caleb is only sacrificing himself out of guilt, and she can’t let him do it. (Is she not then also sacrificing herself out of guilt for letting him “volunteer” for this in the first place?) She survives the death serum and opens the door to the weapons room…to David pointing a gun at her. He obviously has an antidote to the death serum (duh he has antidotes to the others), and she has no weapon. She goes for the memory serum activator and David shoots her in the process. And she dies. Yes, seriously.

Everyone in the Bureau has their memory erased. Tobias comes back and Caleb relays Tris’s message of “I didn’t want to leave him (Tobias)”. Tobias considers using the memory serum on himself like Peter did, but Christina talks him out of it.

Cut to 2.5 years later, Tobias is back in Chicago but things are different now. Johanna apparently knew how to speak to the government, aka David’s superiors, and request that people be allowed to stay in Chicago (despite the program ending). Tobias takes Tris’s ashes and zip lines down from the Hancock Tower releasing them as he goes (because apparently normal cities are totally OK with zip lines from sky scrapers. Houston is so behind the times.). The book ends with a slight message of hope: “We can be mended. We mend each other.”

 Verdict: 2.5 Stars

I really waffled about this verdict, in fact I had 3 stars until I was about 3/4 of the way through my review. But the more I typed, the more holes I found. David had superiors, an army, enough resources to develop serums to wipe people’s memories and we are supposed to believe that ending? How did Johanna know there was a government, and why would they agree to stop testing they likely spent an infinite fortune on?

And to touch on the elephant in the room, Tris dying, I kind of get the idea that Roth may have wanted to be different. She didn’t want that “happy ever after” ending. Fine. I’m OK with that. I’m even OK with the main character dying. But really, for her brother, who never explained his actions? Who never even really seemed like he felt that bad about it? Tris was brave and led crusades against armies nearly single handedly (yes OK that wasn’t all that realistic either but at least, let’s have some consistency) and she volunteers to die for her brother because she felt bad? No.

I think that the general idea of this book could have worked. But to be successful, Roth should have probably made it 2 books and delved into a lot more detail about this whole genetics thing a la Michael Crichton books. (I read those as a young adult. I don’t think it’s too much.) All in all, I liked the series. The ending was certainly a major let down, so I’m hoping when the movies come out, they remedy some of these oversights.

 

 

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Divergent, the movie

Yesterday we had book club where we saw the movie Divergent and then discussed the book and also compared it to the movie.

I actually really enjoyed the movie!

When I was reading the book, I imagined Tris to be more like a young Luna Lovegood–frail, very blonde, and extremely short. So I did not imagine a moderately tall, athletic brunette (although her hair was lightened). However, I thought that Shailene Woodley actually did a great job, and I did really like her in the end. However, I do think having someone so tiny play Christina (and someone so relatively tall play Tris) negated some of the fact as to why Tris was having difficulty in the initiation. As for the rest of the characters, I thought they all fit my perception of them. And when Four took his shirt off in the movie to show Tris his tattoos, all the tweens sitting behind us were cheering. (It was quite entertaining.)

Peter was not as menacing in the movie, which I do think was a bit of a poor choice. The scene with Edward was completely omitted, which isn’t a really big deal, however, that was really the point in the book where you knew that Peter was a psycho. In the movie, he was just a tough competitor who was a little mean. Perhaps this will be further developed in later movies.

There were a variety of small changes in the movie–some for the better, some for the worse, some to just keep the length under control. A lot of characters were omitted, including Edward, Uriah, etc. (We really only met Peter, Christina, Al, and Will.) The paintballs during the game of capture the flag were changed to bullet simulators that gave you the pain of being shot but only lasted a few minutes (which I actually thought made it better–more of a training and less of a game). The meeting day was changed to where Tris “accidentally” bumped into her mother when they were picking up supplies. Her mother didn’t tell her to go talk to Caleb about the serum, so that whole point was somewhat changed and made it feel a little more random that Caleb showed up later to help fight the Erudite.

The main thing that was different about the movie however was that Jeanine took a much more significant role. On top of being at the choosing ceremony, she was the main point of the ending. I’m not totally sure how I felt about the ending. In some ways I liked it a lot better than that book because the book felt so anti-climatic. On the other hand, it seemed a bit contrived because why would they just leave a disabled Jeanine lying there (either kill her or take her).

All in all though, I thought the movie was quite well done. I am looking forward to reading the last book which I got yesterday and then seeing the other movies when they come out.

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