Holes (Louis Sachar) – Did I dig this book?

So this year, Holes, the winner of the 1999 Newbery Medal is our selected reader for Grade 7. Here’s my review for you to chew on.

Stanley Yelnats did not steal those shoes, I repeat, they fell from the sky. He never needed to dig holes in the ironically named dry wasteland that is Camp Green Lake. This was all the fault of his” no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.”

Stanley Yelnats has an interesting family history, from the pig-stealing Elya Yelnats to Stanley Yelnats (the II) who got robbed by the famed outlaw Kissin’ Kate Barlow. His story wraps up the tale of bad luck following his family for generations. He is an intriguing protagonist with a different body type and a mindset worth thinking about.

First off, the very real bullying problem. Stanley is overweight, and would be the first to admit it. For this he gets bullied by a puny short kid, however, his teachers don not believe him, revealing a common stereotype: larger kids are aggressive and bullies. Tiny kids can’t be bullies. Derrick (a kid who, on the day Stanley ‘stole’ the shoes, had dunked his notebooks in the toilet) is short and miniature in size , contrary to what most children believe a bully looked like.
And, since we’re on the topic of bullying, another thing the book portrays is bullying well beyond what I thought was its reach. I saw it rear up its ugly head in various circumstances, like an adult bullying another adult, or an adult bullying a child. This is shown during the scenes where the head of the camp, the Warden, repeatedly directs physical threats in both counselors’ (Mr. Pendanski and Mr. Sir) direction and when the counselor for Stanley’s cabin, Mr. Pendanski, never misses a chance to point out the low intelligence of the mute-by-choice, Hector Zeroni or Mr. Sir (the supervisor) throwing an insult at Stanley’s masculinity.

Secondly, can we just take a moment to appreciate Hector Zeroni’s mental strength? A kid whose life until then had just been stealing, ended up being orphaned and homeless and after finding a group of people who could be potential friends, gets shut out from them and is nicknamed “Zero” (quote-unquote, ‘because there’s nothing in his head’) by his cabin mates, and it is religiously used by the campers as well as the counselors. Despite this, he’s in a very good state, both physically and mentally and is the nicest to Stanley, digging his hole when he decides to cover for the group, even though Zero doesn’t share any of the guilt. And even after running away with no water, he still survives and is alive after a little over a day, when Stanley finds him. Have to learn that power of positive outlook from him“When you spend your whole life living in a hole, the only way you can go is up.”

A little problem I had with the story were the plotholes, which were probably intentional due to the corresponding title.  To top it, the author adds the element of slight mystery ..very interesting, letting the reader interpret the story their own way. I found it made reading a bit harder, made me think more. I cant say I loved the style. However, this is my personal opinion and you’ll have to read it yourself to understand.

The best written thing about this story is the friendship that blossoms between the great-great grandson of Elya Yelnats and the great-great-great grandson of Madame Zeroni. A healthy relationship built on the simple basis of teaching the other to read, grows into a strong bond that eventually leads to Hector’s release from the camp along with Stanley and a role model for the kind of friendships we should inculcate today (though not under the same circumstances), in our daily life.

Friendships should be shown openly and are not flimsy sheets to cower under when you get into trouble. This is shown when ‘Magnet’ steals a bag of sunflower seeds and all the boys (besides Zero) are enjoying the change in regime, when all of a sudden someone tosses the bag to Stanley and it open above his hole and spills into it. Their supervisor, whom the seeds actually belonged to, comes over to check on them and Stanley takes the blame with the rest of them voicing their fake betrayal. After coming back, the rest of the boys still don’t appreciate him for covering for them, saying he should have caught it in the first place, while Zero, who doesn’t even have anything to do with the seeds in the first place, has finished digging his hole for him. Later on, the other boys are slightly hostile to him, despite vocalizing their friendship multiple times.

This particular incident and the whole book makes you think about the qualities of friends we have. Are they compassionate? Reliable? Honest? Would they stand up for you? I’d choose a friend like Hector Zeroni any day. What about you?

Another theme is the good old “Whatever goes around, comes around” A rather intricate version plays out repeatedly in the plot of Holes. The family curse , the plight of the town of Green Lake, and Stanley’s readiness to risk his life .. many things come a complete circle. The past keep turning up, to shape and influence the present. Indeed makes you truly ruminate on the long term consequences of your actions…reminded me of the “karma theory” mom talks about often. 

All in all a very different and intriguing book! clearly  a great choice by my school.

 

PS: do leave a line to tell me what you thought about my review

Apoorva’s Fat Diary (Nandini Nayar) – Enormously Funny!

Is Apoorva’s Fat Diary an Indian retort to the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ series? A fat girl struggling to survive in a malicious, non-forgiving school world? These were my initial thoughts as I picked this book.

Written by Nandini Nayar and published by Mango Books, this book is indeed a delightful diary of a plump Indian school girl. Apoorva (the main character in this book), like all growing tweens, loves food and hates to write! The diary begins as a negotiated agreement between Apoorva and her persuasive mother to improve her writing skills. Apoorva agrees to this on one condition-she will only write about the 12 best meals she has eaten- and nothing more! But the story has been crafted so beautifully that it is a insightful peep into of every chubby school kid’s diary. Her mother relying on fat parenting books to get her fit into the shape of the world, a super fit dad, an adorable Aaji, her pretty sister Avantika and of course, an annoying, irritating little brother Ashu are very relatable!

The bus bully Bharat and the quirky ‘elephant’ jokes are hilarious! Rakesh uncle, his mindless attitude and the family’s varied reactions to his mean comments, once again underline the importance of remaining unperturbed and following you heart like Apoorva. I really like Apoorva’s cool attitude because it inspires me not to get shaken by jokes and let nothing bother me.

The book was very entertaining, stuffed with breaths of everyday school life thrills and chills- from eating someone else’s lunch, getting glasses to the ‘Grand Sports Day’ and Apoorva’s discomfiture. What truly elevated the experience was the superlatively funny illustrations by Lavanya Karthik.

A few of my favourite are the monster in Rakesh uncle’s shadow, Ashu with a tape across his mouth, Apoorva getting squashed by a ‘fat’ book, her trial for sports day events and the question and answers. With my habit of doodling in my own diary, these cartoons made it a perfect kid’s dairy to me!

Every fat girl will find herself nodding to this book. But Apoorva’s sensible head, the take everything in your stride attitude and her value for true friendship in school life were the takeaways for me.

I chose this  for the contest because every Apoorva and her friends need to read this book to get a taste of what it is like to be a fat girl in the school and why that’s cool too!

 

(P.S. My review was one of the winning reviews for the Leading Reading Schools of India 2016 challenge and was officially published here.)

Wonder (R. J. Palacio) – Simply Wonderful!

Just yesterday, I read Wonder by Raquel J Palacio (which, by the way had to be wrested away from my mothers hands. Often happens in our home). And, boy, am I glad I did.

Yes,  I read it in one shot, although I had to put the book down for a few minutes in the middle, because it was so overwhelming.

Wonder is a heart-wrenching, emotional and -best of all-  very realistic story

It is the story of the fifth-grader August Pullman, who suffers from mandibulofacial dysostosis -which is a rare genetic malfunction which causes facial deformity.

As a middle schooler, I can make out the standard stereotypes of middle school..  the stares, the smirking, the mean glances and whispers,  the popular groups and the wannabees, the unnecessary hostility, misunderstandings with friends and those few true friends that make the journey easier. So with a face like August, it can be only a million times worse.

No, I’m not giving out any spoilers. At least, not without a warning.

My favorite part of the book is how R. J. Palacio gives us a peek into each pivotal character’s mind, letting us know how they think or feel about a particular situation. It’s riveting to know how other people think about the events going on which are all related to the main character, and not just hear what the main character thinks about them himself. It brings in a wonderful rounded perspective to the book and its characters!

My favorite character is definitely Via, August’s older sister. Via, or Olivia, treasures her younger brother as it is prominent in many incidents where she gets mad when other people whisper or stare at August. Yet there are moments when she just wants to NOT be his sister.Her chapter in this book deals with her growing self-consciousness and worries about her identity. I think I find Via among my favorites because I identify with her struggles and worries that I will only be known for my brother and his trouble-causing nature.

Minor issue? I haven’t watched Star WarsDarth Sideous and Bobba Fett jokes don’t register with me. Even though it was explained, I still had to go to my brother for a second-time explanation. It’s not all bad though, because it’s time for a movie marathon!

The big problem? August can have a happy ending but seemed too nice to me.Since when has middle school ever been nice? Do bullies even change? Do the other who choose being “safe and neutral” rather than stand up for the  kid that is singled out actually have the courage to take a stand. There are some answers I will only know when I’m more mature…may be

But being inspired by August’s positively inspiring upbeat attitude, it makes me want to believe “The universe takes care of all its birds.”

More Quotes I liked..

I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.”
…wish  I could orchestrate that.
“Kinder than is necessary. Because it’s not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed.”
…by far the most important thing that lingers after you read this book
“If you can get through middle school without hurting anyone’s feelings, that’s really cool beans.
… same thing ..cool beans!
“I wish every day could be Halloween. We could all wear masks all the time. Then we could walk around and get to know each other before we got to see what we looked like under the masks.”
….made me think how much we make assumptions based on looks.
So yes, please do do read this book!!
Most Important: I heard Wonder is being made into a movie this year! All those who haven’t read it, your time is running out. Every voracious reader knows this, but I’ll say it again – Never judge a book by it’s movie!