The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

“Twelve-year-old Amir is desperate to gain the approval of his father and resolves to win the local kite-fighting tournament, to prove that he has the makings of a man. His loyal friend, Hassan promises to help him – for he always helps Amir – but this is 1970’s Afghanistan and Hassan is merely a low-caste servant who is jeered at in the street, although Amir feels jealous of his natural courage and the place he holds in his father’s heart. But neither of the boys could foresee what would happen to Hassan on the afternoon of the tournament, which was to shatter their lives. After the Russians invade and the family is forced to flee to America, Amir realises that one day he must return, to find the one thing that his new world cannot grant him: redemption.”

Don’t remember how I got my hands on this book, but I distinctly remember finding it excellent. It was the book that changed the books I read; since then I have been fascinated with historical and political fiction based in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan (and various other Middle Eastern nations) and India. It was such a vibrant and compelling story that swept me along through an intriguing and enlightening cultural experience. The tale is an honest and tragic one, simply devastating in parts. It keeps you asking questions, big ones about loyalty, heroism, redemption, forgiveness and guilt.

Again, some heavy issues and moderate violence, recommended for ages 16 and up. 4 1/2 stars.

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To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

Scout Finch and her older brother Jem, spend their days in a small, sleepy town in the American South. Their adventures, including terrorizing the mysterious occupants of the old Radley House, are set against the story of their father, Atticus, battling for the rights of a Negro man accused of rape.

I wanted to read this classic after I read Jasper Jones because it referred to Harper Lee and Atticus Finch the whole way through. It took me some pages to get used to the more classic style of language, but Lee’s writing makes the characters and their 1940’s, deep south, little town come to life. I was swept along portions of the book, carried by suspense and curiosity, while at other times I needed a bit of resilience. Written in the 1960’s, the social and political context of the story is paramount and it’s innocent narrator unveils the complexities of growing up amidst the prejudices and inconsistencies of the adult world. It is a beautiful coming of age story about family ties, loyalty, prejudice, racism, tolerance, understanding, and what it means to be a ‘man.’

Recommended for readers ages 15 and up.  I’m giving this poignant novel 4 stars (it’s a classic!).

Jasper Jones: A Novel

Jasper Jones - Craig Silvey

“Late on a hot summer night at the tail-end of 1965, Charlie Bucktin, a precocious and bookish boy of thirteen, is startled by an urgent knock on the window of his sleepout. His visitor is Jasper Jones, an outcast in the mining town of Corrigan. Rebellious, mixed-race and solitary, Jasper is a distant figure of danger and intrigue for Charlie. So when Jasper begs for his help, Charlies steals into the night by his side, terrified but desperate to impress. Jasper takes him through town to his secret glade in the bush, and it’s here that charlie bears witness to Jasper’s horrible discovery…In the simmering summer where everything changes, he locks horns with his tempestuous mother, falls nervously in love, and battles to keep a lid on his zealous best friend, Jeffrey Lu…”

Taken off the ‘to read’ list, this was a recommendation from a student. I’d seen it around and had noticed the stacking list of awards attributed to it since it’s publication in 2009. I finished it today and I am thrilled with the genius of this book. Intertwined with inspiring intertextuality, the present-tense narrative is page-turning. The characters are rich, outlined by brilliantly crafted dialogue portraying both stark humour and rash cruelty. It’s a beautifully crafted, quintessentially Australian story with all the sadness and redemption of an excellent novel. Jasper Jones is a fast-paced, coming of age story set against the very real issues of fear, courage, truth, racism and prejudice. Really great read.

Recommended for readers ages 16 and up. It deals with some pretty heavy themes and utilizes a lot of expletive language. I give this piece of mature teen fiction 5 stars.