Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

looking for alibrandi by melina marchettaRating: 7 out of 10
Summary:Seventeen-year-old Josephine Alibrandi is no stranger to conflict. If she’s not caught between her strict single mom and her even stricter grandmother, then she’s trying to choose between wealthy good boy John Barton and working-class bad boy Joseph Coote. Josephine is always in trouble with the nuns at her Catholic school (who everyone calls “penguins because of them wearing wimples and all that Sound of Music gear”) because she fights with native Australian kids over her mixed Australian/Italian heritage. Just when she thinks her situation couldn’t possibly get more complicated, her mysterious, long-lost biological father comes back and Josephine must decide if it’s worth getting to know this person who abandoned her and her mother. But through it all–including a startling revelation from her grandmother and the suicide of a close friend–Josephine manages to hold on to her sense of humor, as in this reflective moment: “I could have been a model for Hot Pants. Except that when I finally put my glasses on, reality set in. Hot Pants would have to wait.”

Summary 2: A scholarship student at a tony Catholic girls’ school, Josie is aware that she is different from her affluent “Aussie” classmates: she’s illegitimate, and she’s closely tied to her Italian immigrant community. She feels periodically rebellious against her classmates’ snobbishness, against the nuns’ authority at school, against her community’s mores. Even so, Josie clearly regards the women in her life–her single mother, her grandmother and even some of the nuns–with affection as well as exasperation. Josie has less experience dealing with guys until senior year, when three members of the opposite sex complicate her world. Her father, who has not previously known of her existence, arrives on the scene unexpectedly, and she can’t help feeling drawn to him. She also becomes involved with two boys her own age: the upper-class but desperately unhappy John Barton and the wilder, iconoclastic Jacob Coote. (both summaries from amazon.com)

My Thoughts: I think this is the third time I’ve read this book–I get something different from it each time because the first time I read it I was quite young–probably elementary school, and the second time I was in middle school, and now I am graduating from high school. I remember being extremely confused when I was younger because of the cultural/geographic differences between Australia and the U.S. Several times in the narration it talks about how July is the coldest month, and school ends in September or something, or it’s hot during Christmas… I was so confused, hahaha.

Some of the plot points and characterizations might sound cliche and stupid from the plot summaries, but Marchetta has a way of making everything very multi-faceted–the characters aren’t just two dimensional cardboard cutouts.

I liked the way the author developed Josephine’s family and relationships, and the way she changed as a person throughout the novel. There were funny aspects (Josie has what most people would call a big mouth), but there were serious and somber aspects too. It ended well. A good “coming-of-age” novel.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Rating: 8 out of 10
Summary: In the stunning title story, Ruma, a young mother in a new city, is visited by her father who carefully tends her garden–where she later unearths evidence of a love affair he is keeping to himself. In “A Choice of Accommodations,” a couple’s romantic getaway weekend takes a dark turn at a party that lasts deep into the night. In “Only Goodness,” a woman eager to give her younger brother the perfect childhood she never had is overwhelmed by guilt, anguish and anger when his alcoholism threatens her family. And in “Hema and Kaushik,” a trio of linked stories–a luminous, intensely compelling elegy of life, death, love and fate–we follow the lives of a girl and boy who, one fateful winter, share a house in Massachusetts. They travel from innocence to experience on separate, sometimes painful paths, until destiny brings them together again years later in Rome.

My Thoughts: I was never a big fan of short stories, and before Jhumpa Lahiri’s work, I mostly only read anthologies of short science fiction or fantasy when I did have to read short stories.

Interpreter of Maladies, winner of the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, was such an intense and wonderful introduction to Jhumpa Lahiri’s work. Wow. I remember how melancholy, beautiful, and heartbreaking every story made me feel. Lahiri immediately became one of my favorite authors.

When I heard she had a new collection of short stories coming out, I pre-ordered it. I finished the Unaccustomed Earth about a month ago, and it did not disappoint. I still like Interpreter a bit more just because that first introduction to a brilliant author’s writing can’t really ever be topped, but Unaccustomed was a great follow-up.

I’ve heard some people say that her stories are much too depressing, that she’s got the same mood and tone in every story, but I highly disagree. “Depressing” is too shallow and commonplace a word to describe her stories. They are more multi-faceted. Extreme joys and total disappointment can be present in the same sentence. Many of the situations her characters end up in seem really realistic.

I think it was the third story, A Choice of Accomodations, that made me feel like I had the briefest glimpse into the life of a real couple, not just some pretend characters. I lived there life for 15 minutes, and felt and experienced everything they did. Lahiri uses very plain language, nothing flowery or maudlin or over-the-top. The simplicity of her style underscores very well all her intentions.

Highly recommended.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Rating: 7 out of 10
Summary: (From BN.com) “I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.” So begins The Kite Runner, a poignant tale of two motherless boys growing up in Kabul, a city teetering on the brink of destruction at the dawn of the Soviet invasion.

Despite their class differences, Amir, the son of a wealthy businessman, and Hassan, his devoted sidekick and the son of Amir’s household servant, play together, cause mischief together, and compete in the annual kite-fighting tournament — Amir flying the kite, and Hassan running down the kites they fell. But one day, Amir betrays Hassan, and his betrayal grows increasingly devastating as their tale continues. Amir will spend much of his life coming to terms with his initial and subsequent acts of cowardice, and finally seek to make reparations.

Commentary: This book has been on everyone’s mind since it was published (and subsequently made into a movie) but I actually read Hosseini’s second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, first.

The Kite Runner did not disappoint me, even with all the hooplah surrounding it. Hosseini’s style is clear and emotional, everything is well-paced and descriptive. A good, solid read and great glimpse into Afghani culture and history.

Even with all the destruction and warfare and devestation throughout the novel, it retained a sense of hopefulness which I think is especially crucial. At times it was a little too wound up and weepy, but generally smooth and I recommend it.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Rating: 8 out of 10
Summary: In a heartbreaking parting, a man gives his wife and daughter a last kiss and boards a steamship to cross the ocean. He’s embarking on the most painful yet important journey of his life – he’s leaving home to build a better future for his family. Shaun Tan evokes universal aspects of an immigrant’s experience through a singular work of the imagination. He does so using brilliantly clear and mesmerizing images. Because the main character can’t communicate in words, the book forgoes them too. But while the reader experiences the main character’s isolation, he also shares his ultimate joy. (from bn.com)

Commentary: Beautiful. Tan is both the author and the artist, and what an artist he is. Really amazing drawings and flow throughout the book. It’s a graphic novel without words, so you can’t really describe it in words. 

Highly recommended.