Down These Mean Streets (Piri Thomas)

This was a great book – Full of love, hate, chaos, moral challenges, and everything else you could want in a coming-of-age tale. Piri’s memoir brings the reader back to mid-20th century Harlem, where his family faces the Great Depression before moving out to Long Island in the burgeoning days of Suburbia.

Piri is raised in a multi-racial household, with a Puerto Rican mother and an African-American father. As he gets older, Piri begins to realize what this means, and attempts to come to terms with his racial identity and the implications it holds for him in pre-Civil Rights Movement America. He struggles to maintain a relationship with his white-looking siblings, strikingly different than his own appearance, and eventually leaves his family to return to his beloved Harlem.

Piri tells his story in a somewhat ineloquent way, which makes it all the more genuine to the reader. You can feel the frustrations and confusions of the Puertan Rican street kid as he travels through the South and back to New York in attempt to figure out who he is. As you follow Piri through his struggle with addiction and his stint in prison, you develop an appreciation for the boy who would eventually grow up to write this award-winning memoir.

Piri’s story is probably not that relatable to many who read it today, including myself, a middle-class white woman who grew up in a comfortable beach town on the East End of Long Island. Regardless, his struggle to discover his identity and his place in the world is familiar to each and every young adult, as the majority have struggled with these issues throughout adolescence and even their early twenties. I would definitely recommend this book to today’s youth, and anyone looking to gain some perspective.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson)


This was, for lack of a better term, a really cool book. I expected it to be much longer, considering the amount of literature and other media that it has inspired over the years. My first exposure to the character(s?) came with The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, a movie loved by a childhood friend of mine.  Like many of its modern readers, I began the book with the preexisting knowledge that Jekyll and Hyde were one and the same.
This knowledge did not take away from the story at all, and it was still exciting to read the original tale of Jekyll & Hyde. In some ways, it made it even more interesting, as I tried to figure out what was going on as I read through the beginning of the book. At  Stevenson’s first description of Hyde, I was immediately thinking to myself, “That’s Hyde!” and then spent the next few chapters waiting to see if I might be right. Stevenson’s tale, being the original, also explains exactly how Jekyll becomes Jekyll and Hyde, a fascinating bit that is often left out of modern adaptations.

The book was the perfect mix of creepy and entertaining, keeping the reader anxious to learn more with each turning page. Stevenson evolves his tale into a commentary on the good and bad in all of us, and the dangers of allowing evil to dominate your personality. This was a very thought-provoking book that leaves readers considering their own identities and how they might act in Jekyll’s shoes – I would recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it, as we can all benefit from a bit of self reflection.

Murder on the Orient Express (Agatha Christie)

4 StarAs someone who enjoys murder mysteries and suspenseful stories, this book was right up my alley. Although I have always gravitated towards murder mysteries, I have not read much Agatha Christie, although that will probably change after reading this book.

Christie has a great “whodunnit” style that remains lighthearted while still keeping you on your toes. This is the type of book that I read in a weekend, making it great for the summer or any other time that you might be on vacation. While I admittedly read it while lounging on the couch, I could see this being a great book to read while traveling. The book becomes more and more of a page-turner as it continues and you learn more about each character and become engaged in the mystery. I was trying to guess the murderer’s identity from the very beginning, and I have to say, I never even came close.

While Christie keeps her story feeling authentic and unique, there is a refreshing simplicity to her writing and plot. It is so common in this genre’s modern stories to become convoluted into the most bizarre and complex storylines, often supplemented by shock-value violence or action. Christie crafts a simple whodunnit plot – Someone is murdered on a train carrying a detective, a murderer, and a collection of suspects. Genius! Christie’s style brings us all back to a simpler time and reminds us that the value is not in the complexity of the story, but in the way that it is told.

I would recommend this page-turner to anyone looking for a fun book to read when you have a few days off or are traveling on a long trip.

Turning to “The Classics”

I have recently developed an interest in classic literature, which has become a rewarding chapter (no pun intended) in my literary experience. It started last year when I decided to read through a number of Dickens novels that I ended up really enjoying and learning a lot from. I was gifted a decent amount of Barnes & Noble credit this summer, which I happily took to their huge store in Midtown Manhattan to purchase new reading material.

For those of you who don’t know, Barnes & Noble has an amazing classics collection. You can find it upstairs in the 5th Ave store, covering an entire wall. Not only do they have a wide selection of classics, they are available in different sizes and prints to fit your needs. And the best part – Most of them only cost a few dollars, with the more expensive ones hitting just $6-$7. I was able to purchase about ten classics, each a comfortable size to fit in a small purse, and none of them larger than the Kindle I normally carry.

Anyway, I have been working my way through these books all summer, and it has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Not only is it enjoyable to read through such strong writing from great authors of different times, it is also great for my Social Studies classroom. History and literature go hand in hand, and integrating them can help students find a more personal connection to both subjects.

My personal commentaries on the books will be hitting the blog in the upcoming weeks, but it felt appropriate to include this post to explain the trend and encourage all of my readers to start their own classics binge!

Wreckage (Emily Bleecker)

4 Star

Warning: Clicking through to Continue Reading will reveal spoilers.

 

This book popped up on my Kindle recommendations yesterday and I realized that I had not posted about it, and it definitely deserves a post (Better late than never!). Wreckage tells the story of two plane-wreck survivors who spend their time living off the land of a deserted island while they wait to be rescued. The two survivors have since returned to their normal lives as best they can, and the book switches between past and present to tell their story.

Wreckage is a very cool book and definitely a page turner. Bleecker organized the book phenomenally, letting the reader’s curiosity grow and satisfying it at the perfect moments. It felt like I was dying to get to the next page and find out what was going to happen for the length of the entire book.

While the book has mixed reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, I was a little put off by some of the negative comments. It seems like many people did not like the book because it wasn’t realistic. I mean, did these readers really pick up a book about two people who survive alone for two years on an Pacific Ocean island and expect it to be a realistic survival story? The book is not meant to be some sort of survival guide, it is simply a fictional setting in which to examine the ways people grow and live together, within and apart from society.

Warning: Spoilers past this point.

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Gone Again (Doug Johnstone)

3 Star

Warning: Clicking through to Continue Reading will reveal spoilers.

 

I wish it was summer, because Gone Again feels like a perfect beach read. The book is quick but enjoyable, highlighting the value of loved ones and keeping your attention with emerging mystery and excitement. As Mark faces the loss of his wife, he rebuilds his relationship with his mother-in-law and leans on his young son for support in a difficult time.

Gone Again leaves you with the sadness of losing a lover and best friend, but also the optimistic idea that close families can get through anything together. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good vacation read.

Warning: Spoilers past this point.

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