Thursday, June 17, 2010

Book Review of A Stranger Here By Thelma Hatch Wyss

The Non-existent Romance
A Stranger Here, written by Thelma Hatch Wyss, is about a sixteen year old girl named Jada Sinclair who visits her relatives for the summer, and meets the infamous Starr Freeman, the one who died on the same day she was born. This novel takes place in the summer of 1960 and should appeal to those interested in the lives of small tight knit communities, and even if it is marketed for young adults, I doubt this novel will hold much appeal, especially in 2010.   Published by HarperTrophy, ISBN: 0-06-447098-9 in 1993. This is historical and takes place in 1960s.  
The characters are flat in my view. Minus one flaw Jada sounded a little too perfect; she is able to get along with her aunt and uncle, she is a romantic, keeps her promises and is a good listener. She doesn’t seem to go through any change. The only part I disliked about her is that she is very rude to the boy that likes her. “’What do you mean it doesn’t matter?’ Daniel followed Jada down the row…’I’ve been courting you since first grade.’ [Jada] ‘And you are wasting your time. Don’t you know that?’ (43) I should also add that Jada is hardworking and is obsessed with picking peas. The character of Jada’s paramour, Starr Freeman, we learn very little about him in the book, besides the fact that he died on the same day that Jada is born and that he was an aspiring artist and an only child. The real reason he visits Jada isn’t given. Despite the whimsical cover that promises more than it delivers, there is literally no chemistry and feelings are exchanged with what seems to be very casual attitude.
To be honest I have no idea of the theme for this novel, or rather I am having a difficult time in thinking of what have I learned while reading it? Probably the only theme that I can think of at the moment is that stories of people aren’t shallow and there is more to them than what meets the eye and the only thing that I found of interest in it is the dialogue of the minor characters, along with hope chests. I had no idea what they were or that they existed or what they were used for until I read the book. I found the scenes of nature to be beautiful as well, and the cover itself is a bonus, with Jada holding on to hyacinth while Starr Freedman lounges on the fountain in front of the willow tree. (This scene, I believe, occurs almost at the end.) But as mentioned earlier, the cover promises more than what it delivers.
I don’t think the plot was handled well, and not to mention the characters seemed to lack chemistry with one another. For me personally, there was no attraction between Jada and Starr, and between Daniel and Jada. The book did have an interesting premise and showed a lot of potential, but because it was short, for me it fell flat and quickly forgettable. The author really should have built more on this attraction between Jada and Starr and should have been more realistic as well. There seemed to be nothing besides a simple birth date to attract Jada to Starr. I should also mention that this is my second time reading the novel, and even in my first reading I quickly forgot of its existence and only remembered that I read it. If anyone was to ask me what was the conflict, reading the book straight I wouldn’t be even able to tell the conflict or anything like that about it. It only seemed to be about life and only one resolution existed at the end. Many things went unanswered in the end, which is frustrating.
Thelma Hatch Wyss also wrote Here at the Scenic-Vu Motel which won an ALA Best for Young adults award and she also wrote A tale of Gold and Bear Dancer and lives Salt City in Utah. Unfortunately not much information is given about her. (Besides A Stranger Here, I haven’t read the others she wrote.)
“Sixteen year old Jada Sinclair was resigned to spending a boring summer with Aunt May and Uncle Mac on their Idaho farm. That was before she found the old Victrola in the dusty ballroom, and awakened the spirit of Starr Freeman. When Starr appears, Jada feels an immediate connection to him. And no wonder. A war hero, Starr was shot down over the Pacific on the very day that Jada was born. Somehow, he knows everything about her: her name, her dreams, even her secret fear that she is not really her parents’ child. Starr makes Jada feel special. But as she finds herself falling for him, she can’t help but wonder: Why has he come back? And can help unravel the mystery of her past? “
In my view, the book could have been so much better than what it was. If it was longer, I wouldn’t have minded the length, if only to see some sort of real chemistry between Jada and Starr or Jada and Daniel. This book also has unrealistic reactions to the events. If one sees a ghost, then wouldn’t that person be afraid of them or something of the kind? And if a girl rejects a boy constantly, for years even, then the boy will move on, won’t he? Jada always seems to be cold towards Daniel, yet Daniel still hangs out with her. This book is written more for very young children and for one reason or another I am reminded of Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt when thinking of this novel. (Although Tuck Everlasting seemed much better than this novel.) I don’t think I’d recommend this book to anyone but small children actually. This might be something they will enjoy. When I read it as a seventh grader and I was in my early teens, I didn’t even like it back then, and I like the type of the ending that the book provides. (Because this is a book review, I cannot say what ending is that.)
In conclusion, if you decide to read it, then I hope you might like it or get something out of it that I couldn’t.

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2 out 5 stars
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Book Review of The Midnight Club by Christopher Pike

Hidden Mysteries
The Midnight Club by Christopher Pike is about five teenagers that have incurable diseases and are dying. But they also created Midnight Club where every day at midnight they meet at a room to tell different tales. In particular it focuses on Ilonka Pawluk as the main character, and tells of her affection and love towards another member, Kevin. There is also focus on different stories that the members tell that range from past lives to modern society and lessons that can be gleaned from all. There is also a hint of a supernatural force at play. Published by Archway Paperback in February of 1994, ISBN is 0-671-87263-X. Despite the young adult label, this book should appeal to all ages (I doubt this will appeal to little children), especially those who love supernatural elements in stories, and to Christopher Pike diehard fans (I myself am almost one,) although due to eastern theories of reincarnation, I doubt this novel will appeal to serious Christians. This is supernatural.  
Ilonka Pawluk, who is a three dimensional character in my view, is loyal to her friends, almost shy and hesitant in expressing herself, but she is also a gifted storyteller, often telling or retelling stories of her past lives that involve her and the other member of the group called Kevin. She is also optimistic and doesn’t give up easily, even when odds are against her. “Ilonka Pawluk checked herself out in the mirror and decided she didn’t look like she was going to die…But even her feelings could be changed, Ilonka decided, and today she was determined to be happy. The old cliché sprang to her mind-today is the first day of the rest of my life.” (1) Ilonka also tends to be a tad bit insensitive to others, particularly when Kevin’s girlfriend, who is healthy, visits for a brief time. She tends to act first then regret it later.
Other characters such as Kevin, Spence, Sandra and Anya are also three dimensional and Kevin in particular is given very mystical qualities that others don’t possess. The characters also seem to change little as the novel progresses. But they still are in possession of more interesting traits and very briefly their histories are explained at the novel’s end. What I wished in particular was to know more about Ilonka’s past of this life rather than her past lives, but unfortunately very little information is provided. 
Kevin is another member of the Midnight Club and before coming to the hospice was both an athlete and an artist. It is also revealed that he and Ilonka share past lives together. His personality, to me anyways, didn’t stand out. He is forgiving and understanding however. Beyond revealing spoilers, very little is described about the other characters.
In here as well Christopher Pike toys with the idea of reincarnation, of giving ideas that meeting between people are not accidents and that in today’s life we are paying for the past mistakes. Sometimes he reveals some interesting answers to the stories that the main characters tell: one story that I found of interest is of the devil granting a wish to a girl wanting to be both bad and good at the same time. In this story it is shown that it’s impossible to be both and there literally is only one choice. (On second thought, maybe diehard Christians will enjoy that story in particular.) The idea of reincarnation was supported throughout the book and through the stories that Ilonka shares, along with Kevin’s long story. (For fear of spoiling that story, read it and you’ll see what I mean.)
The plot starts out with Ilonka getting up and getting herself ready. Already the reader learns that she is in a hospice, that she believes in reincarnation and has a crush on a guy who might possibly not like her. She is also trying to be positive in this situation and wants to live. The main conflict, I believe, is whether or not Kevin likes her back and if he recognizes himself in her stories. Past the introduction, the book details the last few meetings of the Midnight Club where strange miracles occur. This is honestly a heartbreaking novel, and I wasn’t too happy with the ending. I wish that the ending would be done better instead of being the way it was, and unfortunately some minor conflict wasn’t resolved the way I wished it would be. (Typically Christopher Pike is good at resolving minor and major conflict in stories, so I am a little surprised by that.)
Christopher Pike wrote 30+ novels mainly for young adults, the most famous or well known one is The Last Vampire Saga, Final Friends and Remember Me, and his real name is Kevin McFadden. One of his books, Fall Into Darkness was created into a movie. Unfortunately he doesn’t have a website, but there is a fan club that is devoted to him. ( )
Here is the summary: “Rotterham Home was a hospice for young people, a place where teenagers with terminal illnesses went to die. Nobodoy who checked in ever checked out. It was a place of pain and sorrow, but also, remarkably, a place of humor and adventure. At the hospice was a group of five young men and women who called themselves the Midnight Club. Every night at twelve they met and told each other stories-tales of intrigue and horror, of life and death. True stories, made-up stories, and stories that fell somewhere in between. But one night, in the middle of a particularly scary story, these five peple make a pact with each other that says that the first one of them who dies is to make every effort to contact the others-from beyond the grave. Then one of them does die. And the story begins. The most wonderful story. The most horrible. “
I enjoyed reading this book and for me it felt bit escapism ironically. Due to the subjects and stories that are presented there this book is enjoyable and would be something I would recommend for readers. Maybe because I’m pretty familiar with a typical Pike book that I didn’t see it as life changing or anything like that. It’s not a bad book, just didn’t have that oomph like Whisper of Death or Scavenger Hunt, my two favorite Pike books. What is unique about it though is that out of all Pike books this seems to be the most realistic. No kidding. Books by Pike always involve an element of supernatural, whether outer space or deep into history or ghosts or vampires, the supernatural is felt and seen and experienced. In this novel, however, there are only traces of supernatural and I felt that he neglected an important minor conflict. There is something else I will warn readers about: If you desire to read his books, read the ones published before 1996? Then you will experience that magic that I am discussing. This novel should satisfy young adults/adults who are into all sorts of genres, and this will also be enjoyed by girls in particular due to some strong female characters that are present within the book.
In conclusion, this novel is something I would recommend be it for unique type of escapism or other reasons and I hope that those who have it will enjoy it.
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3 out 5 stars
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)
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