The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

 The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is a massive undertaking of a book. (The audiobook was over 30 hours long!) Despite its length, this book is masterfully crafted and deals with a wide variety of topics from drug use to terrorism to museums to alcoholism to loss to survival. So many different themes that some reviewers have called this book an odyssey. I would have to agree with them. I definitely felt like I was being given the complete tour of the main character’s life, as well as everyone that he came in contact with.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt tells the story of the life of Theodore Decker. This book follows Theo’s life starting as a young boy in New York City to his current situation as a man in his twenties who has wound up back in New York. As a young boy, Theo lives with his mother after his father abandoned them. Out one day with his mother, Theo miraculously survives a horrendous attack that kills his mother and many other people. Traumatized, alone, and unsure of his future, Theo finds himself ensconced in the home of a wealthy friend. When his father unexpectedly pops back into his life, Theo finds himself ripped from his only place of security into a whirlwind of confusion. He bounces around the country meeting new people, but is always drawn back to New York, the girl he met the day of the attack, and the artifact he found. This artifact, a painting, leads Theo down an unexpected road into the art underworld. Theo’s life journey, accompanied by this small, mysterious painting, is perilous: full of loss, mania, fixations, power struggles, new identities, and the looming, heady sensation of anguish and grief.

This book is such a rich expanse of wonder that, once you are finished, you will be left gaping at everything that the author was able to pack in. It’s not shocking that this book won the Pulitzer Prize. Tartt has created a masterwork that takes readers through present-day America as Theo struggles to find himself amidst unbelievable loss and tragedy. Tartt pays such close attention to Theo’s feelings that readers are acutely aware of everything that is happening around him and how the tragedy he has suffered has deeply changed him. This is a story of massive loss and overwhelming survival, of obsession and the need to become a new person. Highly recommended.


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I spend a lot of time reading review journals, magazines, and online blogs about books. This helps me to order the most current books for my sections and keeps me aware of other books that are coming out across the whole library. The Hate U Give came across my radar as a book to recommend to teens about gun violence. Based on all of the talk going around about this book and its relevance to the Black Lives Matter movement, I knew I needed to read The Hate U Give if just to try to understand the power this book has.

The Hate U Give is a MASSIVE New York Times and Amazon bestseller. If the title drives you grammar nerds a little crazy, Thomas has reasons for it. The Hate U Give comes from the acronym THUG LIFE that Tupac Shakar had tattooed across his abdomen. It stands for “The hate u give little infants f**** everybody”. (If you’re offended by that word, I strongly suggest you don’t read this book. It doesn’t shy away from violence and language.) That acronym runs rampant throughout The Hate U Give and the main characters keep returning to it. It’s important. Now let’s get down to what this book is about.

The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr.  By the time she is sixteen, Starr has seen both of her best friends die as a result of gun violence: one by a gang drive-by and the other just recently fatally shot by a cop. Starr was out at a party, something she never does, when shots rang out. She and her friend Khalil took off running to his car. On their way home, they are stopped by the police, pulled over, and Khalil is shot and killed. (Obviously there’s more to the story, but I don’t want to give too many spoilers!) Starr is the only witness to Khalil’s fatal shooting by that police officer. This fact causes her a great deal of agony. Does she speak up? Obviously her parents and the cops know that she witnessed his death, but does she tell her friends? How will she react when the story is plastered all over the news? What will she do if the district attorney contacts her or if the cops want to interview her? Starr wants to stand up for Khalil, but she is afraid. How will she react if people start telling lies about Khalil? She just doesn’t know what to do.

Starr has grown up in the rough area of Garden Heights, but with a solid family backing her up. Her mother works as a nurse in a clinic and desperately wants to move away to protect the family. Her father, known as Big Mav, is a former gang-member who took the fall for King, a notorious gang lord in the community, and spent three years in prison when Starr was younger. Now Big Mav owns the local grocery store and is working to make the community better. Starr doesn’t go to the local high school; instead she goes to Williamson, a private school in a more affluent neighborhood where instead of being a black majority, she’s one of only two black kids in her school. Starr constantly talks about her Williamson self and her Garden Heights self. They’re kept separate and each Starr acts different. Her Williamson friends and her Garden Heights friends hardly ever mix. This is a life that Starr has kind of adjusted to, but the slightest bump to her normal life could cause her world to come crashing down. Khalil’s death rocks her world and Starr soon finds herself and her family the target of the police and King, the local drug lord, as everyone puts pressure on her and intimidates her in order to figure out what really happened the night that Khalil died.

The author, Angie Thomas, began writing in response to the fatal shooting in Oakland, California in 2009 of 22-year-old Oscar Grant. She quickly found the subject too painful, so Thomas set the book aside. After the stories of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice broke the news, Thomas knew she had to start writing this book again. Thomas had to voice her opinions, had to acknowledge the neighborhood where she grew up, and needed to shine a light on Black Lives Matter. The themes of social justice, opinion, responsibility, existing in two worlds, and violence are so prevalent and deeply explored in this book because Thomas knows what she is talking about. She lived it.

This book has been optioned for a film and is in development. I can only hope that the movie is just as moving as the book was. The movie has the opportunity to further change the world.

All the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue

all the summer girlsAll The Summer Girls by Meg Donohue focuses on the lives of three friends: Philadelphia lawyer Kate, Manhattan mom Vanessa, and San Francisco writer Dani. Kate’s fiancé has dumped her on the same day she found out she was pregnant. Vanessa is dealing with news that her husband cheated on her with another woman and is searching the internet for a man she dated eight years ago. Dani has just been fired yet again in San Francisco and is turning to her good friends (drugs and alcohol) to cope.

Kate, Vanessa, and Dani have been best friends for years, but have drifted apart. Their separation is as much to do with where they each live, their adult lives, and a major event that happened eight years ago during their last summer at the shore, as it is with normal daily life. The three plan a long weekend getaway at Dani’s father’s house in Avalon, the place where they spent two weeks out of their summer every year until one deadly night eight years ago. Being back in this familiar place brings tension to the surface of their friendship, making them all realize just how much their choices eight years ago have shaped their lives today. Each woman is holding onto a big secret, one that each is afraid to tell, and yet all of their secrets are interconnected. Kate, Vanessa, and Dani are forced to come to terms with the decisions they made eight years ago as their friendship hangs in the balance.


This book is also available as an e-audiobook through OverDrive.

Kill the Messenger

kill the messengerI don’t know about you, but my attention is always peaked when I start watching a movie and it says, “based on a true story” somewhere in the opening credits. I watch the movie trying to absorb as many of the facts as possible, so that when the movie ends, if I still find the topic and people the movie is about interesting, then I can go research more. My newest “based on a true story” movie is Kill the Messenger starring Jeremy Renner.

In Kill the Messenger, Renner plays Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gary Webb, an investigative reporter who worked for the San Jose Mercury News, who finds himself entangled in a political and drug war when he at first becomes tricked into helping a younger drug dealer get his charges dropped in trial. Webb inadvertently stumbles upon a huge life-changing story when he digs deeper into the initial story he was presented with and finds a connection between the U.S. government and a Central American war. Through investigative reporting and tracking down anyone that could possibly be tied to this case, Webb finds that a United States intelligence agency has linked themselves to a group of Central American drug smugglers. Webb’s story seems to only be getting better until he is dragged in front of operatives for the agency and is told, in polite terms of course, that if he does not stop, he will be unequivocally endangering his life, the lives of his family, and the lives of everyone he knows. Here is when everything starts going downhill for Webb. This movie can be described as a riveting suspense, an explosive race for the truth, and even a compelling political drama. I was intrigued by the suspense and the cover-ups that happen throughout and how everything you think you know, you actually don’t know at all. Check out this movie and let me know what you think!


If you’re interested in learning more about Gary Webb, the journalist who exposed the CIA, check out the books below. They contain essays written by Webb, while Kill the Messenger by Nick Schou is one of the two books that the move is based on.

ktm bookinto the buzzsawyou are being lied to

 

 

Iowa’s unfortunate export

indexCA3TZVXSIowa.  Midwestern values.  Bridges of Madison County, Postville, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.

Salt of the earth people in an idyllic pastoral setting.

Juxtapose this with the harrowing, gory details of the crystal meth epidemic and you have Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town.

It’s a problem we somewhat comprehend due to the occasional headline-evoking mental images of skinny wound-up kids.  Enter Oelwein, IA near Waterloo.  Although, with the population of roughly 6000, and a tiny barbershop/greasy spoon Main Street, on the surface it could just as easily be called Eldridge, LeClaire, Wilton, or Maquoketa.  For a time, Iowa was a national power in this citizen stopgap solution to high unemployment and corporate agribusiness.

Methland functions as a primer featuring real people of this cottage industry that operates out of backwoods trailers and gravel-road labs, letting the reader become intimately acquainted with the toothless, burned-up shells of former townspeople and the futile management efforts of local powers.

If you’d like a local nonfiction version of your favorite gruesome primetime CSI fare, here it is.