Book Review: The Rock and the River

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-11-51-28-amThe Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon is a coming-of-age story set in Chicago in 1968. Thirteen-year-old Sam Childs is caught in the middle. His father is a civil rights leader and colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His older brother is a member of the Black Panthers.

“You can’t be the rock and the river,” his brother tells him.

Blaine and I both enjoyed this book. It raises complex issues for discussion—both societal (race, class, police violence) and personal (family dynamics, relationships, growing up). And like the best historical fiction, it teaches the reader a lot about the time period in the context of a compelling story.


A Dystopian Paradise

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 12.28.44 PMWhat could be more idyllic than curling up on a late summer evening with an adventure story set in a dystopian future?

Blaine and I recently finished Legend, the first book in Marie Lu’s dystopian trilogy. It’s set in a future Los Angeles, part of the war-torn Republic. It’s told from the viewpoint of two fifteen-year-olds from different sides of the tracks: June, a top student at an elite military academy, and Day, a wanted criminal hiding out in the slums. When June’s older brother is murdered, Day is the prime suspect and June goes undercover to track him down.

Blaine and I both enjoyed the book. Occasionally we quibbled with some of the amazing leaps (deductive and otherwise) made by the characters. And Blaine, in particular, noted the characters’ overuse of the word “wound.” Although this book has not replaced The Hunger Games as our favorite dystopian novel, we’re eager to read the next two books in the series.

So why are we drawn to these books? Several years ago, in “The Dark Side of Young Adult Fiction,” the New York Times asked authors and other experts why post-apocalyptic fiction is so popular. I’m inclined to agree with Maggie Stiefvater, author of Shiver, that dystopian novels are more an escapist pleasure than an exploration of real fears about the future. Stiefvater suggests that in a world of complex, nuanced choices, “the absolute black and white choices in dark young adult novels are incredibly satisfying for readers.”

We’d love to hear your recommendations. What is your favorite dystopian young adult novel?


To Kill a Mockingbird

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 8.24.00 AMThe world does not need another review of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Since its publication in 1960, it has won the Pulitzer Prize, sold more than 40 million copies, and been reviewed many, many times.

So, this is not a book review. Instead, it’s a read-aloud recommendation. If you’re looking for a book that will spark conversation with your child, this is a good one.

I read To Kill a Mockingbird with my 6th grader this year. I wanted to re-read it before reading Lee’s newly published Go Set a Watchman. And I wanted to share it with him because it’s on every must-read list—from the Goodreads 100 Books You Should Read in a Lifetime to Powell’s 25 Books to Read Before You Die.

We thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s sometimes funny, sometimes sad, always absorbing.

I was glad that we read it together because I could provide some historical context. The setting—1930s Alabama—is more than 80 years and 2,000 miles distant from his experience. He flinched at the book’s use of the n-word, taboo in his world. And he struggled to place the story in history. For example, Scout’s Cousin Ike Finch is a Civil War veteran; World War II hasn’t happened yet. And Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech that he’s studied in school is 30 years in the future.

The book contains big topics, of course, such as racial prejudice, poverty, and rape. It also contains smaller topics equally worthy of discussion, such as Scout’s observations on her 1st grade education, her attempts at cussing (“pass the damn ham please”), and her resistance to her aunt’s efforts to feminize her.

Lee once said in an interview that she’d like to be the “Jane Austen of South Alabama.” Like Austen, she is a keen observer of people, their speech and their mannerisms, their strengths and their foibles. Her characters feel familiar and real.

I’m looking forward to a To Kill a Mockingbird family movie night!