Monday, April 23, 2012

My Name is Mina by David Almond

My Name is Mina by David Almond

Rating: G, 5 stars

Summary: Mina doesn't have any friends. For most children, this would be a terrible loss. But Mina has an incredible imagination, and she uses this to fill the pages of her journal, giving the reader a glimpse into the world as only a child can see it. Mina's journal recounts her journey to find a good education, after leaving the public school, her trip into an old mine shaft, and so much more. All of these are told deftly in Mina's unique voice.

Opinions: I didn't know this books was a prequel to Skellig until after I had finished it. And I'm ok with that. This book is lyrical, so transformative, that I didn't feel I was missing a single thing while reading it, except for maybe 100 additional pages of Almond's poetic prose. Seriously, I need to read Skellig now to figure out whether or not all of his books are this poetic.

I picked up this book because I was fascinated with the cover. I couldn't tell if the title was simply My Name is Mina, or if it was My Name is Mina and I love the Night, or what. That alone intrigued me. And then I opened the book. The opening passage was beautiful. I started this book half an hour before I had class, and I regretted it. If I'd had the time, I would have read all of it in one sitting. As it was, this was a book that snuck out during dinner, at breaks in class, right before bed, etc.

What makes this book succeed so much is the voice. The actual plot and the character would be good, but nothing spectacular, without Mina's voice. The way she sees the world is imperative to how well the book reads. My Name is Mina is filled with unique formatting and different font sizes that truly communicate Mina's voice. Almond created a narrator who simultaneously thinks like a child and speaks with a profoundness that many adults lack. The stereotype that “children's” is synonymous with simple is absolutely shattered in this book, and shattered only in the best way possible.

Basically, I loved this book. There were times that the sheer beauty of the prose nearly had me in tears. I think this is the type of book that anyone can and will enjoy. I think children will be drawn in by the surface simplicity, while adults will fall in love with prose and the beautiful undercurrents. This is a book that everyone should read.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo

Rating: PG; 3 stars

Summary: Heaven is For Real is the story of a little boy, Colton Burpo, who, after nearly dying in the hospital, started telling his parents things about God and heaven that a four-year-old shouldn't have known. Although at first his parents wrote him off as just telling stories, after several repeat incidences, they began to believe him. The book describes this journey starting from before the hospital and ending with how the family decided to deal with what seemed like a gift from God.

Opinions: I want to make it very clear that my opinions on this book do not stem from whether or not I believe Colton's account. I picked up this book because I curious as to how much I would find believable. After reading it, there were some things that I did believe, and some things that I didn't.

My disappointment with this book lie in the writing style. While I appreciate the need for Colton's father to write this story because of how young Colton was, I think that he occasionally lost sight of what the book was about. In particular, I thought there was too much focus on the father: his thoughts, feelings, and motives. I got the book expecting to read a story about Colton, and instead what I got was a story about how Todd dealt with Colton.

Now don't get me wrong, there are times when Todd's perspective really did improve the book. I really liked the parts about how both parents dealt with Colton talking about the holes in Jesus' hands, a grandfather he never met, and other things that were just unbelievable. These were moments that were really crucial to hear from the parents' perspectives. However, I felt that the parents' perspectives were used too much. I don't think that I need to know all of Todd's thoughts and emotions step-by-step when Colton is in the hospital. However, maybe I would think differently if I was a parent.

I think that in general, this book was misrepresented. I expected a story about a boy's cohesive narrative of heaven, and that's not what the majority of the book was about. However, I do think this is a worthwhile read if you like spiritual nonfiction. I don't think that you have to completely believe everything in it to enjoy it, however I do think it becomes more enjoyable if you keep an open mind while reading it. Because of the subject matter of the book, the Burpo family's religious ideals and interpretations are quite out in the open. It is quite likely that many readers don't see eye-to-eye with their views. I approached this book with an open curiosity, and that's the attitude that I recommend.

I gave this book 3 stars for writing style, perspective, and misrepresentation. However, I still did enjoy this book. I read almost all of it in one sitting. The tone makes it very easy to read. This isn't a book for everyone, but I think those with an open mind will definitely find some things to think about in reading it.