Book Review: Five Things They Never Told Me

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Erin, the main character in the story, chooses to live with her family dog, Picasso, who lives with her father. She can’t stand not having a say in anything anymore. With a moment of impulse, she ends up getting grounded and is forced to help out at a retirement home. When she arrives, she is uninterested in Martha, a wheelchair bound senior who is unable to talk. Soon, she realises that it would be the beginning of a sincere friendship. She then learns that she should not dwell in the past, but instead focus on making the present better.

The story is written from the perspective of Erin, a thirteen-year-old girl. However, there are some chapters in the book that are written from the perspective of Martha and I think it adds a very interesting angle to the story as I enjoy reading about how Martha really felt in the story. This is because in the story, she sometimes hides her feelings from Erin. I also feel that the book is very descriptive and thus I was thoroughly engrossed when I was reading it. One of the reasons why I enjoy the book is because Erin’s actions sometimes resemble those of mine. For example, when she got into a squabble with her Dad because she was so forgetful that she left the sausages grilling in the oven until they were burnt. I can definitely relate to that as I am sometimes a scatterbrain!  Besides that, I really enjoy the part of the story where Martha and Erin spent their last afternoon together, drawing in the garden. Erin drew a picture of Martha. Erin is extremely talented at drawing and when she shows Martha the picture that she drew of her, Martha was extremely touched and she cried. This meant a lot to me as I enjoy spending time together with my grandmother.

 I think that this book is extremely meaningful as it also reminds me that although our Grandparents or the old people in our lives may not be active and may not seem to be fun to be around, they have experience that we do not have and they have made many contributions to our society before. Thus, we must always remember to respect them and try to spend time with them which I am sure they will be grateful for.

In conclusion, I feel that this book is great and I highly recommend you to read it!

Hannah Quah

Secondary 1 Grace

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas -Ursula K. Le Guin

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“The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.”

The Ones who Walk Away From Omelas is a short philosophical fiction depicting a very festive ideal utopian city (which is obviously called Omelas). Everything seems great and enviable about this perfect place except for the dark secret of the city – the whole city’s happiness relies on a single child’s eternal misery. When citizens come of age, they are told about it, however, they treat the information very matter-of-factly and absolutely do not mind to let a poor child suffer in exchange for their infinite happiness. Some disagree with this system, but are powerless over it and therefore have no choice but to leave the city forever, therefore becoming “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”.

This book is still very relevant in today’s context of scapegoatism although it was written almost 5 decades ago. Scapegoat is a term from the bible and it is understood as a person or a group of people who “absorb” the sins of others and bear their consequences and carry them away from the ones who had originally committed them. Scapegoatism has been entrenched in our world since the start of mankind. Some examples would be in WW2 when Hitler rallied the whole of Germany through scapegoating the Jews and with Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant and islamophobic sentiments, repeatedly scapegoating on the Mexican and their native-born descendants, claiming that it was because of them that all the problems in America existed, from safety and security issues to economic issues existed. Just as how the rest of the population in Omelas was aware of the child being sacrificed to take on and pay off all their sufferings for them, likewise Mr Trump has emphasised on this point, knowing very well that the Americans with low-paying jobs or even jobless Americans will definitely channel all their anger and violence at the immigrants and will not “cause him any problem” by turning onto him, questioning the government’s policies, etc, keeping him in office, comfortable and in his Omelas. (This scapegoatism eventually led to physical violence and hate speech from the white working class citizens in America towards the immigrants, sort of paralleling the fact that a child was to bear all the unhappiness and misery for the rest of the city’s joy.)

We are often put off and disgusted by the idea and evidence of ancient rituals of human sacrifice to “appease the gods” and bring back peace in the land. We hypocritically look upon them with disdain and classify them as cruel barbarians because we are so much more civilised, right? 

When reading this book, many of us heroically decide against allowing a child to suffer in such a manner and for such a cause. But we don’t realise that every day, we already do so, subconsciously or not — every racist “joke” we pass or laugh about, every snide remark about another religion or country. 

Much like sacrificing a person in ancient times and sacrificing a child to suffer for all eternity, xenophobia and hatred have no place in our world. We should all be more aware of our comments, our actions and out thoughts, so that we can, hopefully, move towards a brighter and more peaceful society for all communities and peoples. 

Elizabeth Leong 

4 Purity

The Hate U Give

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  The main lead of this story is Starr, a sixteen-year-old. Being one of the only two black students who attend Williamson Prep, a prestigious school predominantly white, and living in Garden Heights, a suburban black neighbourhood, Starr switches between two worlds, playing the role of either a “hood” girl or a “whitewashed” preppy one. However, after having seen the murder of her childhood friend one night, Starr’s life is turned upside down.

  In the story, we see Starr trying her utmost best to deal with the mess that her life has spiralled into after the tragic incident, and, at the same time, fight for justice for her dead friend. She struggles to get her voice heard at first, but as the story progresses, we watch as Starr’s constructed identities crumble and she matures into her own person.

  Dealing with heavy and sensitive issues of our world today, not only does The Hate U Give expertly handle themes such as racism and police brutality, it also brings to light the plight of young black girls like Starr who fight for their stories to be heard and believed. 

  I recommend this book as Starr’s story is an inspiration to me. Dealing with the death of her friend would be hard, yet Starr has shown tremendous strength and growth towards the end of the story, and, to some readers, this could serve as a reminder that anybody’s voices and stories can and will be heard. After having read the story, I am also left feeling motivated to, like Starr, persevere through hard and challenging times that I am bound to encounter in my life.

References: 

https://medium.com/amateur-book-reviews/the-hate-u-give-a-book-review-52357a5fb0e8

https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/03/the-hate-u-give-angie-thomas-review/521079/

Chloe Tan
3 Truth

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

If you are a fan of fantasy novels, I have just the book for you! Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is the debut novel of American author, Ransom Riggs. There are currently four books in this series, being Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Hollow City, Library Of Souls and A Map Of Days. This series is particularly interesting as the stories are told through a combination of narratives and photographs from the personal archives of the collectors listed by the author.

The story starts off by talking about the protagonist Jacob Portman’s grandfather, Abraham. As a child, Jacob listened to Abraham’s stories about living with peculiar children in a special children’s home run by Miss Peregrine. But as Jacob grows older, he starts to doubt his grandfather’s stories until one day, he visits his injured and dying grandfather and sees the strange, horrifying creature his grandfather had always told him about. The catch is, only Jacob and Abraham could see the creature! Obviously, no one believes Jacob’s account of the invisible monster, and he was believed to be going crazy. His parents take him to Dr. Golan, a psychiatrist, who suggested that Jacob go to Wales, the location of his grandfather’s children’s home. However, upon his arrival, Jacob finds the home deserted, and tries to seek information from the local people there.

Despite being told that the home had been destroyed by a bomb in 1940, Jacob refused to give up. He returns to the home once again and this time, encounters a girl who could produce fire with her hands. Upon seeing Jacob, the girl ran away, with Jacob in hot pursuit. When he crossed the bogs, however, he realised that his surroundings had changed. It is later explained that he had entered a loop, where Miss Peregrine and her children lived in.

In my opinion, this book is a great pick for people who love to read about fantasy! There are also a lot of plot twists along the way, which adds on to the suspense of readers. Even though I am not a huge fan of fantasy, I found this book series very interesting and immediately took a liking to it.

-Desiree Lim

3 Hope

 

 

The Fault In Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars is a heart wrenching tale of two seemingly star crossed lovers. It is an intriguing tale of two teenagers, Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace fighting a long battle against cancer. They first cross paths at a support group session and soon enough, Hazel finds her inner walls being broken down by Augustus’ warm and friendly exterior. Augustus helps bring colour to Hazel’s once dull life, breaking boundaries and introducing new emotions and experiences for the both of them. One highlight of the book is a trip to Amsterdam to meet Hazel’s all-time favourite author- except things take a saddening turn when things do not turn out the way everyone would have liked. Hazel and Augustus’ story spirals downhill when Augustus reveals that his cancer had returned. To quote Hazel, “The world is not a wish-granting factory.” 

Amongst other things, this book deeply reinforces how there always is light in the darkness. Augustus brought light to Hazel’s life. She had once been a reserved person who seemingly had given up on life. However, she regained a positive outlook on life after Augustus repeatedly showed her that cancer patients could be happy too.

I particularly enjoyed this book as the author, John Green expertly used humour to tell this story, such that there were moments where one would be torn between laughing and crying. I personally found Hazel’s transformation from a sad teenager who had lost most of her life into a bubbly one, full of love and wisdom and a new perspective towards life very heartwarming. The story was told from the perspective of Hazel, a teenager which allowed me to relate to the characters more. From tensions with her family to mulling over posts on social media, Hazel faced problems that many teenagers would encounter, allowing us to better appreciate the book and connect to the characters on an emotional level. I also enjoyed how the author grasped our attention by telling a story using simple language yet being able to convey such powerful emotions. I find The Fault In Our Stars unique as it does not seem to have a specific meaning to it, rather, it serves mainly to tell a story and leave the readers to think about the meaning and purpose of the story.

The Fault in Our Stars is definitely a good read and I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for an engaging book which would tug at their heartstrings.

Lok Qi Ern

2 Loyalty

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, which you worked tirelessly for, is no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, and instead, is shadowed by inevitable death that came too soon? When Breath Becomes Air is an intricately crafted non-fiction autobiographical book written by Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who, at the age of 36 and on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training, was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. This book chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student yearning to learn about and to live a meaningful life, to a neurosurgeon at Stanford, and finally into a patient and new father facing his own mortality.

There are numerous themes which permeate this book, some of which are, the meaning of life, the difference between the sciences and the humanities, doctor-patient relationships and the importance of support from loved ones during harsh times.

As Paul said, “What makes life meaningful? I still felt literature provided the best account of the life of the mind, while neuroscience laid down the most elegant rules of the brain. Meaning, while a slippery concept, seemed inextricable from human relationships and moral values.” From this quote, and others in the book, we learn about the meaning of life. Man, even with prodigious achievements such as being a neurosurgeon who had made astonishing breakthroughs in neuroscience, will still be incapable to turn back the sands of time at the end of the day. Hence, as cliche as it may sound, this book has taught me to live life to the fullest. We may be able to gain colossal amounts of money, but, it is not about how much we earn in the time we have, but what we can do with the time we have.

The difference between Science and Literature, two very different areas of study, and the equal importance of both of them was also discussed in this book. Paul, who was initially a neurosurgeon before he was diagnosed, had to go through the transition from being a well-practiced doctor to a patient whose daily life was shadowed by death. From the book, the readers can understand the paramount importance of having loved ones by their side, especially during times of difficulty. Paul was fortunate to have his wife, baby daughter, friends and family members by his side to support and motivate to do the most he can with the little time that he had left.

This book also enabled me to understand more about neuroscience, a field of work which I am interested in. The readers follow Kalanithi from his early school years, when the question of his career choice had barely registered in him, to his residency as a neurosurgeon. We acquire knowledge on the struggles one might face during residency and what neurosurgeons in-training do on a daily basis.

When Breath Becomes Air is a remarkable and memorable life-affirming reflection on the challenge of confronting mortality, the meaning of life and the tedious, laborious and exhausting job of neurosurgeons. Overall, this book is extremely resourceful, informative and eye-opening, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to gain a deeper understanding of neuroscience, or of life itself.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25899336-when-breath-becomes-air

Htoo Myat Noe

2 Purity

 

 

The Woman in the Window

the women in the window

The Woman in the Window follows a former child psychologist, Anna Fox, who had been reduced to an alcoholic recluse after a traumatic incident that caused her to lose both her family and career. Additionally suffering from severe agoraphobia, she is physically unable to leave her house, where she has confined herself in for the past year. To pass the time, she watches black and white movies, plays chess, learns French, and obsessively watches her neighbours’ daily routine from the lens of her camera.

When the Russells move into the house across the street- father, mother and teenage son- they seem like the perfect family; and Anna is quickly transfixed by them. That is, until she sees something that she shouldn’t have. As she tries to report what she witnessed, she runs into many roadblocks- police are unwilling to believe her, questioning her to the point where even she begins to believe that she has hallucinated the whole thing.

Finn’s writing had allowed me to fully immerse myself into Anna’s frazzled mind as she tries to grapple with what is true and what isn’t, all the while dealing with her phobia and trying to overcome it. Even though she spends most of her time confined in her own home, repeating her daily routine through most of the book, I was still able to feel the suspense of the plot through short, fast chapters and the little interactions Anna has with others. Through the small details of her life, such as the video calls with her daughter, whom she misses dearly, and her love for old movies, as well as the challenges she faces, like the fear she feels if she ever tries to step out of the house, and the dilemma she feels when she tries to decipher whether what she saw was real and who will speak the truth, I was able to better sympathize with her, and all the while immersed in the sinister mystery that overshadows everything.

The book is a short read, written to finish in one or two sittings, and I would recommend it if you are short on time but would still love to feel the thrill of a mystery.

Chen Yu Yang

4T

 

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

to all the boys ive loved before

Have you ever had one of those days where you just ache for some clichéd teen chick flick? A typical romantic story that you’ve heard being told numerous times but still enthralls you? To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han definitely fits that criteria!

Lara-Jean Song has always been a bit of a hopeless romantic; even though she has never been in a proper relationship, she still keeps love letters in an old hatbox, addressed to all the boys she has been in love with. Of course, she would never send them so they are filled with her innermost feelings and a fair few cringey moments.

But the unthinkable happens when the letters somehow get sent to all the boys and Lara-Jean must now deal with the repercussions.

I for one was immediately hooked by this book. Lara-Jean was such a relatable introverted person. Her innocence was incredibly evident and every emotion that she experienced was projected back to me as I frantically read her story. For instance, when shown one of her letters that she had written when she was younger, it was so incredibly awkward and embarrassing that I could just feel the shame oozing from the character of Lara-Jean.

On the surface, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before seems like just another typical romance book. It has a typically unrealistic premise, and The Reluctant Protagonist Who Thought She Didn’t Need Love lead that proliferates the genre.

But I guess that’s exactly what makes this one different.

Lara Jean isn’t like the standard romance book lead. Lara Jean represents the large swath of people who feel disillusioned by love. And actually, what sets To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before apart is how it actively deconstructs the misrepresentations of romantic ideals peddled by most love stories.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is definitely a good book that outshines first impressions and I would wholeheartedly recommend it when you’re in the mood to sit back and enjoy a book.

Together, they are able to stare down the entire history of teen fiction they reference both implicitly and explicitly, and do it all justice and then some.

Jenevieve Tan

4 Truth

Six of Crows Series- Leigh Bardugo

six of crows

‘No mourners, no funerals’

Six of Crows is a fantasy duology, which takes place in a world inspired by the Dutch in the 17th Century. The main city, Ketterdam, also draws its inspiration from Amsterdam. Set in the centre of this bustling hub is infamous thief, Kaz Brekker who is offered a large sum of money to steal a scientist from the Ice Court in a nearby country, Fjerda. This scientist has discovered an addictive drug that enhances the powers of the Grisha, people with magical abilities.

Kaz assembles a team of six outcasts: Inej, Wylan, Nina, Matthias and Jesper. “They may be the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.”

This is one of the most amazing book series I have read. As this is a hybrid between historical fiction and fantasy, it perfectly fits into my favourite genre of books. There are many classic elements of a childhood fairy tale as well as the tension and suspense of an action novel. There are several moments in the book where things may be looking up for the main characters until they are faced with unfortunate situations.

For me, one of the highlights of this series is the characters. Often, when there are so many characters, it is hard to focus on a single one. However, in this duology, every character is developed so well over the two books. I feel like I am taken on an adventurous yet emotional journey with them. Although the book is set in an almost out-of-this-world universe, it is remarkably easy to relate to the 6 characters, as they are young adults as well.

I strongly recommend anyone who loves fantasy and/or adventure to read this fantastic duology. I read this book around 3 years ago and am still in love with the characters.

Rachel Lie

2 Purity

 

Romancing the Nerd

romancing the nerd

“Romancing the Nerd” is a lesser known sequel to the book “The Summer I became a Nerd”.  They are both written by Leah Rae Michelle, an author who usually writes young adult, contemporary romance. And trust me on my word: “Romancing the Nerd” is even more so, or at the least ‘on par’, with the quality of “The Summer I became a Nerd”!

“Romancing the Nerd” is a story from the perspectives of two teenagers. Dan Garrett, a person most would classify as a ‘Nerd’, has become ‘Popular’. From a live-action role playing geek, his sudden growth spurt and insane Basketball skills has brought him from zero to hero. But there’s a catch! This sudden climb of the social ladder may cost him the girl of his dorky dreams! This particular girl is Zelda Pott’s, a tuba player and geeky girl with a unique fashion sense. When Dan decided to leave behind his ‘past life’ of nerd-dom, it was painful enough for Zelda. But he humiliates her in school, leaving Zelda to decide to get back at him in her own, geeky way…

This book was really a great kickstarter for my love for role-playing games! I was first introduced to Dungeons and Dragons in “The Summer I Became a Nerd”, but “Romancing the Nerd” really reminded me of why I loved their role-playing, geeky culture. Zelda is not a conventional female lead. She’s strong and yet feminine, aggressive and still kind. The way the author expressed Zelda’s hurt and happiness resonated with me very much. I couldn’t help but want to be part of her story! Dan is a fantastic multi-dimensional character. His love for dorkiness and desire for popularity is not written off as something cliche, but rather displayed as a relatable and convincing inner conflict. “Romancing the Nerd” is an enjoyable and casual read, perfect for unwinding after a tiring day. Definitely worth recommending!

Jaime Ng

3 Truth

 

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25664525-romancing-the-nerd