Holes by Louis Sachar

“Here’s a good rule to remember about rattlesnakes and scorpions: If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you. Usually. Being bitten by a scorpion or even a rattlesnake is not the worst thing that can happen to you. You won’t die. Usually. […] But you don’t want to be bitten by a yellow-spotted lizard. That’s the worst thing that can happen to you. You will die a slow and painful death. Always.”

Background

Stanley Yelnats is cursed – a curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pif-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has followed the Yelnat family for generations. When Stanley is accused of stealing a pair of shoes belonging to basketball great Clyde “Sweetfeet” Livingston, he is sent to live at Boys’ Detention Center Camp Green Lake (ironically named, as there IS no lake) where the boys spend days building characters by digging holes exactly 5 foot wide and five foot deep.

My Thoughts

Completely unfairly, I was expecting Holes to be your typical YA text where the protagonist is a degenerate who learns some kind of lesson in a way akin to Aesop’s Fables – yeah, you learn a totally a valid lesson from reading it and all, but any kid worth their street-cred will roll ear eyes and run a mile before picking it up.How bloody wrong I was. And it annoys me how close I got to not reading Holes because of my stupid assumptions, so I implore you to not make the same mistake that I almost did.

Image from the film adaptation of Holes

This is a supreme novel for a number of reasons. Stanley Yelnats is not your archetypal bad kid who turns good – he’s actually a good kid who was in the wrong place at the wrong time (a fate that he attributes to the curse he has inherited from his no-good-dirty-rotten-pif-stealing-great-great-grandfather), and while you might expect a sullen, sulky protagonist, the monologue we are presented with is just so refreshing. Stanley is the kind of kid who just gets on with it, no matter what cards he is dealt. And I think that is why Holes is an enjoyable novel from my perspective. It doesn’t shove the message and moral down its readers throats; it subtly makes you consider how your own mindset and attitude and compels you to also look on the bright side – even if you are cursed.

 

Aside from this, Holes offers a great mystery story that draws its audience in. The story of Stanley’s ancestry is weaved throughout the narrative, making the audience consider and wonder about if and how this relates to Stanley’s narrative. The mystery teases the reader skilfully, offering some information and then quickly jumping away, leaving you wanting more. This is definitely a ‘Even-though-I-said-I-would-stop-reading-I-have-to-read-the-next-chapter’ book.I already knew that Holes has been adapted into a film, but today while checking Goodreads, I was so very excited to see that there is a sequel to (called Small Steps) and I seriously cannot wait to read it. If it is half as good, I will be pleased.

Holes– Louis Sachar

My Rating: Must Read! Get It Now

Suggested Audience: Tweens to Young Adults

Page Count: 233

Publication: 2000

Where Can I Get It?

To buy Holes for a great price and have it shipped straight to your door for free, follow this link to the Book Depository. At the time of posting, the Book Depository is selling Holes for only $6.24; what a serious bargain!

 

 

Free Delivery on all Books at the Book Depository

The Secret River by Kate Grenville

The Secret River – Kate Grenville (web | facebook)
My Rating: Must Read! Get it Now!!
Suggested Audience: Everyone!
Page Count: 349
Publication: 2005

Background

London, 1806 – William Thornhill, happily wedded to his childhood sweetheart Sal, is a waterman on the river Thames. Life is tough but bearable until William makes a mistake, a bad mistake for which he and his family are made to pay dearly.

“He stood up in the prisoner’s dock, a high pedestal where he was on display as if naked to the whole court. His hands were tied hard behind his back, forcing him to bow his head. He kept trying to straighten up, to look his fate in the eye, but the pain in his neck forced him to hunch. Up so high, he could feel the rising vapours of those below him in the court: all those bodies encased in their clothes, all those chests breathing in and out, all those words, passing around through the air.”

His sentence is to be transports to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. Soon, Thornhill, a man no better or worse than most, has to make the most difficult decision of his life.

My Thoughts

This book is a masterpiece. A. Masterpiece. Beginning on the shores of poverty-pitted London, The Secret River follows the life of William Thornhill right through to his emancipation to Australia. It is a fascinating read, fantastically written with a narrative that weaves through fiction and history, allowing the reader an insight into true life in newly settled New South Wales.

Author Kate Grenville wrote The Secret River after five long years of researching into her family history. As Kate Grenville says:

“The whole thing started innocently enough, as a search into some family history. My mother had told me stories about the first of our family to come to Australia – my great-great-great grandfather, Solomon Wiseman was a lighterman on the Thames, pinched a load of timber and was transported for the term of his natural life. Within 6 years of arriving here, he’d become a free man and “taken up land” on the banks of the Hawkesbury River. He went on to make buckets of money, built a fine stone house, and was buried – so the story goes – in top hat and tails, with a box of sovereigns at his feet. (Unfortunately for his great-great-great grand-daughter, the next generation proceeded to lose the lot.)”

Even though I am sure my Australian background and interest in our nations history sparked my interest in The Secret River, this is a novel that would be enjoyed by any culture. The themes of poverty, family and racism are not Australia-centric and the narrative works well to draw any reader in.

Since its publication, The Secret River has won numerous awards, including the ‘2006 Commonwealth Prize’. It is a novel which is seeped in Australia – both our past and our future. The novel compels its reader to consider social injustice, and ponder and question how we move forward as a nation.

In saying that The Secret River is deeply invested in history is not to say that it is not an entertaining, enjoyable read. Kate Grenville paints a scene so vividly that you feel like you too are starving and impoverished in 19th century England, desperate for a solution:

“He was always hungry. That was a fact of life: the gnawing feeling in his belly, the flat taste in his mouth, the rag that there was never enough. When the food came it was a matter of cramming it into his mouth so his hands could reach for more. If he was quick enough, he could grab the bread his little brother was lifting to his mouth, break a piece off and get it down his gullet. Once it was swallowed, no one could get it back.”

Trust me when I say that you will love this book. This will be one that you read over and over again; it is the kind of novel that you can always find more to think about and consider. You will not regret taking the time for this one.

Where Can I Get It?

To buy The Secret River for a great price and have it shipped straight to your door for free, follow this link to the Book Depository.

Free Delivery on all Books at the Book Depository

The Gatecrasher by Madeleine Wickham

The Gatecrasher – Madeleine Wickham (Sophie Kinsella) (web)
Publication: 1998 (paperback), Black Swan
Page Count: 315
My Rating: Must Read! Get it Now!! (women)

” ‘The day thou gravest, Lord, is ended,’ same Fleur. She forced herself to look down at the hymn book and pretend that she was reading the words. As though she didn’t know them off by heart. As though she hadn’t sung them at too many funerals and memorial services to count. ‘Why did people choose the same dreary hymns for funerals?’ she thought. Didn’t they appreciate how boring it made things for the regular funeral gatecrasher?”

Madeleine Wickham is best known for the novels published under her pen-name, Sophie Kinsella. While the novels published under this pseudonym are extremely popular, with two novels in Kinsella’s Shopaholics series being made into film, Madeleine Wickham’s work should not be discounted. It is extremely fresh and enjoyable to read, with The Gatecrasher being my personal favourite among her titles.

Background
Fleur Daxeny goes through rich men faster than she goes through designer hats… Black hats, that is. She routinely gatecrashes society funerals to meet wealthy men before entangling herself in their lives to take advantage of their deep pockets. When she meets rich widower Richard Favour, Fleur is ready to continue her gold-digger ways… Until she finds herself falling for Richard and embracing his family. As she contemplates ending her gatecrashing days, a long-buried secret from her past threatens to destroy her new family…

My Thoughts
From the very first passage of The Gatecrasher, I was hooked. While of course, you might not expect to automatically engage with or like a gold-digging character, Fleur was likeable from the first page and I found myself smiling and actually mouthing her dialogue, so beautifully written was it!

” ‘All right!’ said Fleur. ‘I’ve decided!’ She pushed up the veil and beamed around the room. ‘I’m going to wear this one today.’
‘Lovely,’ whispered the hairdresser.
‘So if you could just pack the other five into boxes for me…’ Fleur smiled mysteriously at her reflection and pulled the dark silk gauze down over her face again. The woman from Take Hat! gazed at her.
‘You’re going to buy them all?’
‘Of course I am. I simply can’t choose between them. They’re all too perfect!'”

To the modern reader, the notion of “Funeral Crashing” may not be as shocking as it was when this novel was published, due to the hit movie “Wedding Crashers” starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. But if I were to compare the premise of these two texts, I would say that The Gatecrasher is a deeper, more facinating narrtive. Of course, gold-digging is quite an abhorrent subject, but the narrative is extremely engaging and does not follow the path you might expect of it.

The narrative is aided by the deep consideration of multiple characters. In particular, I loved how they individually manoeuvred through the narrative so that you couldn’t pre empt the resolutions of the various story lines. The characters of Phillipa (Richard’s adult daughter) and Lambert (her conniving husband) in particular made me enjoy this novel more than a typical women’s literature novel. Both characters were, for me, the kinds of characters you just want to shake or yell at, and its easy to lose yourself in their individual problems. The Gatecrasher is not the sort of women’s literature novel where the reader finishes reading with warm-fuzzy feelings about each character. The individual characters and their various issues and their varied attempts at seeking resolution offered a point of difference from novels typical of this genre.

As I reached the end of The Gatecrasher, I has that awful sinking feeling you get when you know that this wonderful book you are reading is near its end. I would thoroughly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys chick-lit; it was an incredibly enjoyable, lighthearted read and you will not be disappointed!

Where Can You Get It?
To buy The Gatecrasher for a great price and have it shipped straight to your door for free, follow this link to the Book Depository.

Free Delivery on all Books at the Book Depository

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help – Kathryn Stockett (web | twitter | facebook)
Publication: 2009 (paperback), Penguin Group
Page Count: 444
My Rating: Must Read! Get it Now!!

“Enter a vanished world: Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. Where Black maids raise white children, but aren’t trusted not to steal the sliver…”
As reflected in the passage directly after the conclusion of the narrative The Help, Kathryn Stockett grew up in Jackson, Missisippi with her family and their maid, Demetrie. While she acknowledges that The Help is a ficitonal novel, Kathryn suggests that her impetus for The Help was her upbringing in Missisippi, acknowledging that as she wrote, she considered what Demetrie would have considered it. The Help has become widely popular, especially after 2011 when it was released as a feature film starring Emma Stone.
Background
While each chapter focuses on varying points of view, The Help opens from Aibileen’s perspective. Aibileen is busy raising her seventeenth white child as she works as a maid for the Leefolt family. Over the course of the novel, Aibileen acts as central point as we meet her friend Minny (whose cooking is only just slightly more sassy than her attitude) and white woman Miss Skeeter (named for her tall and thin physique, like a mos’keeter), who is home from college and wondering why her beloved maid Constantine has disappeared. All three live in a town with long-seated values of race hierarchy. As they come together, they realise that they have the power to make serious change…
My Thoughts
In my experience, novels that chop and change perspectives can be quite shallow, as we never get a decent chance to come to know or bond with the many characters and their perspectives. The Help is the absolute antithesis of this though; as each chapter swaps between characters, it mimics the gossip-factor of a small town and envelopes the reader as if they too are privy to the changes afoot. Instead of only receiving a single perspective, we see both White and Black perspectives, and we relate to and sympathise with both sides of the contextual hierarchical scales.
Kathryn Stockett’s characters are extremely likeable. Even though I personally didn’t relate to their struggles, I found myself enraptured by their tenacity and cheered on the fight for change. Unlike other novels set in this time-period, the “good guys” and “bad guys” weren’t necessarily distinguishable by their race. I think this greatly improved the novel; it can be sen as a fictional slice of history as opposed to a novel working to persuade the audience to “side” with any particular side. My personal favourite character was that of Miss Cecilia Foote, who just never seemed to get it right. I giggled at her various faux-pas and loved her for her heart.
Celia Foote (image courtesy of Dreamworks Studios The Help)
I think the other reason I love this novel is that there are lovely, delicious twists throughout it; it doesn’t flow as you would expect and therefore maintains its fresh attitude. For a novel based on events in our global history, I think this is very important. The Help does not flow as you would expect and keeps the audience wanting to read more.
The voices from each character are written loud and clear; as Kathryn Stockett writes, you can literally hear the voice clear as a bell in your head (although this did not translate when I read it aloud to Him, and He said I sounded like I was going deaf; cheeky!).
“Mister Raleigh Leefolt still at home this morning, which is rare. Whenever he here, he look like he just counting the minutes till he get go back to his accounting job. Even on Saturday. But today he carrying on bout something. ‘This is my damn house and I pay for what goddamn goes in it!’ Mister Leefolt yell.”
 
I honestly couldn’t rate this novel high enough; I enjoyed each minute and felt a sense of sadness as it ended as I just wanted to keep on reading Kathryn’s words and wrapping myself in her world.
Where Can You Get It?
To buy The Help for a great price and have it shipped straight to your door for free, follow this link to the Book Depository.
 

Free Delivery on all Books at the Book Depository