Read This Book: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

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After reading some of the reviews on Goodreads, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. But I’m glad I did. I loved Diaz’s eloquent language, his authentic street voice and his engrossing storytelling. His style of writing (interspersing Spanish dialogue and phrases, along with footnotes relating to the historical events taking place throughout the story) is not for everyone, but I found it engaging. I’m sure that knowledge of Spanish would have added another dimension to the story, but NOT knowing Spanish didn’t make the narrative less enjoyable. I was able to infer what he was trying to impart from the context, and the footnotes provided valuable historical references (although sometimes it was a bit TOO much information). This technique really pulled me in and gave me more information to better understand the thoughts, actions and motivations of the characters.   

Diaz also uses an interesting POV, telling the story NOT through Oscar’s voice, but through the voice of Yunior, his sister Lola’s ex-boyfriend. I found it a bit confusing at first, but once I got past that, the story began to fit together.

The plot revolves around Oscar, an introverted, overweight video gamer and anime freak who spends his life holed up in his room trying to write the next fantasy/sci-fi best-seller (in his own attempt to become the next Dominican Tolkien). He fills notebooks with stories that will never see the light of day, and despite his solitary existence and his total inability to connect with others, he longs to find his true love. As the narrator, Yunior takes you back and forth between the Dominican Republic and New Jersey, introducing you to Oscar’s extended family, many of whom came of age during the violent regime of dictator Rafael Trujillo.

What’s so wondrous, you ask, about a life led by an odd, awkward fellow like Oscar? It’s that he manages to evade the Dominican curse–the fuku (the Curse and Doom of the New World) for as long as he does. It’s the curse that has been passed down through Oscar’s family, especially those who were victimized under Trujillo’s regime. And, as hard as Oscar tries to make his dreams come true, the power of the curse is so strong that, in the end, he just can’t beat it.

As a side note: I’m a long-time NJ resident and the parent of a Rutgers grad; I found myself absorbed in many of the descriptions of local scenes. Diaz transported this Jersey girl back ‘home’ through his rich depictions of life in New Brunswick and Paterson.  

I’m so glad that I gave this book a chance. Diaz is a brilliant writer and his book is definitely one of my favorite reads of this year.

Reviewed by Denise Mortensen, LFHS Library/Media Assistant

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Does My Head Look Big In This?

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Does My Head Look Big In This?

When sixteen-year-old Amal decides to wear the hijab full-time, her entire world changes, all because of a piece of cloth…

Sixteen-year-old Amal makes the decision to start wearing the hijab full- time and everyone has a reaction. Her parents, her teachers, her friends, people on the street. But she stands by her decision to embrace her faith and all that it is, even if it does make her a little different from everyone else.

Can she handle the taunts of “towel head,” the prejudice of her classmates, and still attract the cutest boy in school? Brilliantly funny and poignant, Randa Abdel-Fattah’s debut novel will strike a chord in all teenage readers, no matter what their beliefs.

(Taken from Goodreads)
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This was a fun-to-read teen novel about school, family, friends, fitting in, and romance issues with the added cultural background of how it is to grow up Muslim. I learned more about about the faith and what one teen’s experience was when she choose to wear a hijab. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about a different faith or perhaps about their own culture and how to stand out versus fit in.
Dr. Hirose, LFHS Library

READ THIS BOOK: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz

screenshot-2016-10-14-at-2-00-30-pmThis is a beautiful coming-of-age story about Aristotle and Dante, two 15-year-old boys from El Paso, Texas, whose chance meeting turns into a life-changing friendship, and ultimately, a loving relationship. Set in the 1980s, just as the LGBTQ movement was taking off, the story takes you along Aristotle and Dante’s path of self-discovery.

What I loved most about this book was the way the parents were so open-hearted and open minded about their sons’ affection for each other, lovingly accepting (and even encouraging) their budding romance, despite the stigma associated with being gay at that time (the AIDS epidemic, the Catholic Church’s attack on gays, and legislation against gay rights).

Before meeting Dante, Aristotle is like a dark, shapeless nebulae, floating aimlessly through life with no real connections: he doesn’t watch TV, he has no friends, his mother dotes on him, and his father is unable to confront his own post-Vietnam war demons, making him out of touch and uncommunicative. Worst of all, Aristotle’s parents are hiding a deeply held family secret: Bernardo, their older son, has been in prison for years and they won’t tell Aristotle why.

When Dante swims up to Aristotle at the pool one hot summer day, it’s almost as if a cosmic explosion takes place and the two are instantly connected by a force greater than both of them.

Over time, Aristotle and Dante’s relationship is in flux; like two celestial bodies, they are caught between varying degrees of attraction and repulsion. Aristotle is badly hurt after leaping to push Dante out of the path of an oncoming car, so Dante tenderly nurses him back to health, even giving him a sponge bath. Aristotle is surprised by how good it feels, but is afraid of these new feelings and withdraws his friendship. A year later, after Dante returns from living in Chicago, their friendship is rekindled, but each is in denial of their growing affection. One day, after Dante kisses a co-worker in an alley and is beaten up by a group of homophobic thugs, Aristotle gets so upset he pummels one of the men. It is only when Aristotle’s parents tell him they believe he’s in love with Dante, that he has an epiphany. Suddenly, the walls he’s built around himself come crashing down and he realizes that the most meaningful connection he’s made in his life, is right in front of his nose.

In the end, Aristotle and Dante do discover the secret of the universe: that love is the greatest force-and it’s the one over which they have the least control.

Want to read this book? Check it out today–and be sure to let us know what you think!

Reviewed by Denise Mortensen, Library/Media Assistant LFHS

READ THIS BOOK: Review of Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

gabi-a-girl-in-pieces-cover-artWelcome to the world of Gaby Hernandez: closet junk-food binger, aspiring poet and Latina high school senior whose world collapses around her just as she’s beginning to find her place in it.

Gabi’s life is full of typical teenage angst: academic stress, mad crushes, negative body image, mean girls, and mom conflicts. But underlying that everyday turmoil is Gabi’s struggle to answer deeper questions about her ethnicity, class, and her sense of self: Is her skin too white even though she feels brown inside? How long can she hide the fact that her dad is a homeless meth addict? Is she too fat to be noticed by the cute guy? More importantly, will she ever break free from her family’s cycle of poverty and rise above the cultural boundaries set by her mother and aunt?

Told through diary entries, Gabi reveals her innermost thoughts, feelings, hopes and despair as she navigates her way through a senior year straight out of Drama 101: Her best friend becomes pregnant, her guy friend announces gay, she gets dumped by her boyfriend, her dad’s addiction is destroying her family (among other life-changing dramas), and through it all, she soothes herself by writing brilliant poetry while devouring sweets and sopes.

Gabi’s character is self-deprecating and real. It’s almost as if the author, Isabel Quintero, has stepped inside Gaby’s brain and downloaded its contents into the diary entries of this book.

I loved how Gabi presents herself as a strong, empowered woman, yet, as a reader, we are a partner to her most fragile, tender thoughts. She’s resilient amid the chaos around her and, for all of her perceived faults, she’s still quite likeable. After reading the first 20 pages, I wasn’t so sure I’d make it through this book. But her character grows on you; suddenly you connect and you’re swept up in her life–and her very own, very real journey to mend her fractured soul.

This book is also a 2017 Abe Lincoln Award Nominee. You can find it and other nominees on the shelf under the stairs. Check out the link here for a full list of Abe Lincoln Book Award nominees!

And let us know your thoughts if you decide to read Gabi, A Girl in Pieces.

Reviewed by Denise Mortensen, Library/Media Assistant at LFHS.