It's December, the time of year when days are short, nights are long and cold, and the perfect time to make hot chocolate and curl up with a good book. So I feel it's my duty to share with you some good books with which you can do that curling up. :)
Last month, I had a long road trip to take, so that meant a trip to the library for a couple of audio books. I came away with two YA titles.
First up was Markus Zusak's The Book Thief, about which I'd heard a lot of praise. And let me tell you, it was worth every bit of that praise. This is a beautifully written book set in Nazi Germany just prior to and during World War II. The narrator is Death, although it's the story of Liesel Meminger, a young girl who is placed in foster care by her mother, though we are never explicitly told why. But we can guess based on some hints and snippets of conversation. The story shows Liesel's relationships with her foster parents, particularly her accordion-playing Papa; the kids in the neighborhood, including her best friend, Rudy Steiner; and the cool and broken Ilsa Hermann, the mayor's wife.
Death is fascinated by Liesel each time he sees her, the three times she is at the side of someone Death has come to claim. Throughout the story, she is known as the Book Thief because she acquires books through a variety of not-paid-for means. Her first book falls out of the pocket of a gravedigger near her brother's grave site. She rescues others from Nazi book burnings. Still others she steals from Ilsa's expansive home library. The words on those pages and the thrill of stealing the books bring a brightness and excitement into Liesel's life. But she's not alone. While Germany is being bombed, Liesel reads to her family and neighbors as they hide in air raid shelters. Mixed with the normality of helping her foster mother with chores and playing soccer in the street with her friends are woven scenes of the Jew her family is hiding in their basement and the necessity of Liesel, Rudy and the rest of their friends taking part in Hitler Youth events.
The story is wonderful, but I was also struck by the beauty of Zusak's writing. Something as simple as a word choice or snippet of description gives the book a lyrical, three-dimensional quality. And as is the case with audiobooks, the narrator can make all the difference. This is definitely the case for this book. Actor Allan Corduner is fabulous as the narrator, bringing life to Death. I highly recommend this book, whether you read it or listen to the audio version.
The other book I listened to was Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. This story is set during the yellow fever epidemic that claimed 5,000 lives in Philadelphia in 1793. At the time, that was 10 percent of the city's population. The central character is a teenage girl named Mattie Cook, who lives with her mother and grandfather above their coffeehouse. When the fever starts making news, her grandfather, who fought alongside Washington, thinks people are making too much of it, that there are fevers every summer. But as the epidemic grows and Mattie's mother falls ill, Mattie and her grandfather flee the city along with thousands of other residents.
What follows is a lot of fear, a story about how the fever often brought out the worst in people. Families literally threw out their family members if they fell ill. Towns armed their outskirts to keep out travelers. Few were willing to help care for fever victims. "Doctors" were making things worse by bleeding patients and not really knowing what they were talking about. Real heroes emerged in French physicians who knew more about treating the disease and the Free African Society, whose members nursed those suffering from the disease, often at the expense of their own lives. Mattie is a witness to these aspects of the epidemic as she falls victim to the fever, recovers, returns to the city to find it a dangerous place where crime and hunger reign, and hopes that somewhere her mother is still alive.
Fever 1793 is a fairly quick read, but an interesting glimpse into a scary time in our young nation's history when Philadelphia was still the capital.
It seems I hear about more YA books being optioned for movies every week. Some of the recent ones I've stumbled across are City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Firelight by Sophie Jordan, Matched by Ally Condie. I also found a blog that tracks YA books-to-movies news. Check it out at YA Takeover.
Hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and get lots of great books for presents. See you in January.