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Jean and Johnn by Beverly Cleary

In YA Lit on September 4, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Title: Jean and Johnny
Author: Beverly Cleary
Genre: Juvenile Fiction
Rating: ***/****
ISBN:0380728052

Beverly Cleary is a giant in Children’s Literature, & has been for the past few generations. Whether a person has read her Runaway Ralph series, grew up with Ramona, or delved into her teen romances such as the one I’m about to review, it’s no mistake that her fiction has a timeless quality. Of course, some may be put off from reading this book because of the title itself, Jean & Johnny are two names which aren’t quite so common anymore, couple that with details relating to Jean’s economic background e.g. having to sew her own clothes, prices at the stores & drive-in, & it obviously dates itself a bit.

What makes it timeless is how Cleary keeps you engaged with the character, one many young girls can remember being. They were all fifteen once, or at one point felt very unsure of themselves. They were interested in boys, but didn’t have the confidence, or felt themselves appealing at all to the opposite sex.* Pop stars were their idols, & this shared interest was a great way to bond with their friends.

In Jean’s case, she’s an awkward young girl, who has a best friend name Elaine & they share each other’s company. But after sneaking into a dance, Jean is invited, to her surprise, to dance with the most popular, handsomest boy in the school, Johnny. This changes her entire outlook of herself, because she doesn’t see why a boy like Johnny would pay any attention to her. So, Elaine & she begin their efforts to make Jean noticed by Johnny to find out why he likes her, if he does at all.

What I liked most about the book is how it teaches you that you must value yourself & not depend upon the attention of others for self-esteem, how you should listen to your elders, especially in this case her sister Sue who is a little older & wiser, & how you should remember who has always been there for you, such as your dear friends, even after you start dating. Most importantly, it teaches a young reader that the exterior is only one aspect of a human, that they must pay attention to the behavior of a person to tell their true character & feelings.

*I’m not intending this to be heterosexist.

Messages: Signs, Visits, and Premonitions from Loved Ones Lost on 9/11 by Bonnie McEneaney

In Nonfiction on August 1, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Title: Messages: Signs, Visits, and Premonitions from Loved Ones Lost on 9/11
Author: Bonnie McEneaney
Genre: Nonfiction
Rating: ***/****
ISBN:0061974072

I’ve just finished reading Bonnie’s book in one sitting, but I have to admit that I’m a skeptic & an atheist. However despite what may be viewed as a bias too deep to appreciate what was conveyed in this work, I must say that even though I am not convinced there is an afterlife I do believe these people have had some amazing experiences.

Each chapter deals with various people who died, how their family or friends have been sent messages. They’ve experienced a wide range of phenomena from finding coins or keepsakes, objects being moved unexpectedly, apparitions, voices, & overwhelming moments of tranquility.

What most intrigued me were the stories about their loved ones which showed how the world lost some amazing people that day, in particular ‘the man in the red bandanna’ named Welles who wanted to trade in his higher paying career to become a firefighter before dying.

Also, the details surrounding the premonitions these people had were eerie, they had dreams, personality changes tipping them into depression or melancholy, but overall everyone detailed as having them had a sense of foreboding. Some knew they were going to die & soon, which makes it all the more heartbreaking when you realize they were right.

What I took most from the book is that these families/friends have made peace in their own way with the murder of their loved ones. If finding a coin gives them a sense of connection, who am I to say it isn’t true? Do I have any proof otherwise? I hope they keep experiencing the connection for the rest of their lives.

But the book was not flawless. At times, it seemed that survivors were grasping at any examples to back up the idea of messages from beyond & worse, visits to psychics were not properly discussed & analyzed. In some cases, information was provided to psychics, which led me to believe that perhaps some of these psychics are taking advantage of the victims without them knowing it.

The Shiksa Syndrome by Laurie Graff

In General Fiction on July 28, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Title: The Shiksa Syndrome
Author: Laurie Graff
Genre: Fiction/Chick Lit
Rating: ***/****
ISBN: 0767927621

Although I’ve labeled this a 3-star review, I’d say parts of this novel required the reader to suspend their belief at times. Yes, it’s fiction, that’s what happens, but how could a 39 year old proud Jewish woman transform herself into a shiksa? Isn’t that degrading, especially when she’s doing this for a Jewish man who is prejudiced against Jewish women? Okay, if you suspend belief there, it’s an entertaining novel, even if Aimee’s actions are not easily understood.

What I got from this novel is how difficult it can be in regards to Jewish dating. Jewish men have an easier time finding non-Jews willing to convert, whereas Jewish women are fighting a losing battle between compromising & possibly having a struggle to raise any potential children Jewish in a mixed marriage, & trying desperately to find a Jewish man who feels the same way about their religion & culture. I could sympathize a lot with Aimee, because every woman has her own difficulties in life in regards to dating & has to wonder if it’s worth it to lie a little here & there to make yourself more suitable to potential matches. (Bleached blondes do this all the time.)

I read a blurb about this book a few years ago, so what finally drove me to reading it was wondering what would happen to Aimee’s relationship once her Jewish man, Josh, found out his goy was more Yentl than Mary Sue. I won’t spoil the ending, but I found it to be realistic & inspiring in a way.

A warning though from reading other reviews from Jews & Gentiles alike, some found the stereotypes to be cruel. I was left wondering why Aimee’s shiksa friend Krista (who is dating a Jewish man) couldn’t understand why Aimee was pretending, seeing that she could observe throughout the novel very prejudiced statements from Jewish men directed at Jewish women. Also, her insensitive questions about the attractiveness of shiksas vs. Jewesses was insulting while giving Aimee full knowledge of her boyfriend’s low opinion of Jewesses was unbelievable. Even with my belief suspended, I couldn’t understand why Aimee didn’t smack the back of her blonde head for being so tactless.

One last thing: Who the hell gave the author the idea that non-Jews don’t refrigerate butter? Seriously.

One other last thing: She dyes her hair red, why did they make the cover blonde? Oh was that to make it more appealing in terms of what constitutes a stereotype of a shiksa? Nonsense.

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