The Book Thief – A student review

‘The Book Thief’, written by Markus Zusak, offers an alternative story of Germany during the Second World War, and presents how conflict can cause a downfall of one’s country.  The words within the novel are powerful and heart-warming, offering both hope as well as the survival of hardship under the Third Reich. This moving novel creates sympathy of the survivor’s stories as well as a deeper understanding of mankind and the harsh cruelty possibe other human beings.  As mentioned by ‘Scotsman’s report, “Zusak’s writing is hugely imaginative” and creative, as the story is narrated by death, or perhaps a higher being, or God. This is presented in the quote “I could introduce myself properly, but it’s not really necessary … I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms”. Zusak’s creative writing infuses religion through even the darkest of times in history, perhaps Zusak is asking his readers to consider their own beliefs and how they are affected.

Although Liesel is known as the “book thief”, she was inspired by the words within the stories and wanted to further her education, does that still make her a book thief or someone who is courageous, who gathers inspiration and transforms it into her daily life. Furthermore can we ultimately call ourselves “book thieves”? As the author’s create words that inspire our understanding of the world we live in and further our development of finding love through friendship and family, the fulfilment of grace and pursue loyalty towards others.

I would recommend this book to those in year 9/10 and above as Zusak’s imaginative language can pull on anybody’s heartstrings, also be prepared to have tissues.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Review by Miss Cooter

I had always looked at the Handmaid’s tale as a book you read in school – Boring, “grown up”, irrelevant.

I’d never even considered what the book was about.

Even with the release of the series on TV, I hadn’t actually thought about reading the book. I was putting off the telly series until I was in the right mood.

But, having read all the other books on my “to read” list, I searched the ILC’s database for Dystopian Novels, something I was in the mood for.

The Handmaid’s Tale popped up, and for the first time I read the blurb on the back of the book.

What a fascinating concept.

I read the first page.

I couldn’t put it down.

This book is the story of a woman whose entire world has been turned upside down. All of her freedoms have been removed. She has lived through a series of events that are not far removed from what the Jews must have felt on being forced into concentration camps.

She is confined, redefined; her role as a woman, how she sees herself, has been fundamentally changed by the ruling government. She is no longer allowed to even read text. Woman are seen as subservient, but also dangerous. The men in charge are well aware of how precarious the balance of their power is, and how these women could tip things in their favour. If only they were able.

The women are so controlled by law and force, even by other women at times, that they cannot rebel. They cannot see a real way out. The only way these woman can assert themselves is though snatched moments of conversation, and hurried whispers under the noses of their masters. Brief moments of shared knowledge.

Even then, the role given to these women still controls their life. They are ruled by it: the need to conceive a child.

In a world of falling birth rates, this is now their purpose.

Their only purpose.

This story, told with beautiful, near-poetic prose, tells the tale of one woman’s existence in this world.

She both longs for and loathes the idea of falling pregnant. She hates the world that makes her this way, and she knows she has been indoctrinated, and yet, even with that knowledge, she doesn’t entirely want to escape it. To fall pregnant would mean safety. It would prove her worth.

Along the way, we also see glimpses of the world “before”. It’s the world we know; freedom, women’s choice, sexual decisions, abortions, divorce, laughter. Conversation.

There are many messages that could be taken from this story. One is that a woman’s power is always limited in the view of men by her ability create life, to give birth – that this makes her weak. Another is that environmental changes could to lead to far reaching social changes we may never be able to foresee. Another message is that power is always corrupt, and taking this further, that corruption always leads to downfall.

However, the message I believe I took from this story is one of strength. Strength of will to continue, to hold out against the next challenge that must be overcome, to maintain – This is the most powerful message. No matter how bad, no matter how awful the world is, there are always moments of joy. There is always a future. Uncertainty can be hope. Not all people are bad. Friendships can mean more than life and death. To know all of this is strength. And, that is what this tale tells us. Strength is hope and hope is strength, and this will carry you through the dark times.

I’ve finished my book…Now what?

Have you ever finished a book and it was so awesome that you told all your friends about it until they just wished you shut up? Have you read a book that was so awful that you need to share it with the world and save them from the torture?

Or have you finished a book and just don’t know what you want to read next? Have you finished all your favourite authors and don’t know what you fancy?

Well there are a couple of things you could do:

  1. Ask a friend – chances are they’ll have read something they think you’ll like
  2. Talk to the ILC team – we love recommending heaps of books
  3. Have a look at the Booktrust Bookfinder – you can filter by age and genre to find something new
  4. Or check out Toppsta, an interactive review site where you can read reviews by other people your age, or vent your burning joy (or wrath!) about a book.

Even better, Toppsta is a great place for you to see what else is out there that you might not have considered.

If you want to write a review make sure you know what you want to include. It’s best not to give away the ending or any major plot twists, but tell people why you loved it and why they should read it too. You could talk about why you liked the character, or the setting or if there was something unusual which made the book stand out. Make sure you give the book a rating out of 5 as well.

If you’re under 12 make sure an adult sets up an account first and they can add you afterwards. Or come and see Mrs Lown who can add you to the school account!

Keep reading and get reviewing,

The ILC Team

Robert Seethaler – A Whole Life

Review by Mrs Archer

Having just returned from the St. Laurence School senior ski trip, I felt inspired to write about one of my favourite books about life in the mountains.

A Whole Life is a contradiction in the greatest sense of the word. A novel that is both vast in scope, yet close and intimate in its portrayal of Andreas Egger, a gentle yet physically toughened man facing a harsh life in the mountains; who watches the 20th century make its mark on the wild and imposing landscape. In a literary world full of 600 page epics, Robert Seethaler has pulled off a miracle in writing a novella that can fit into your back pocket and feel like you are carrying around an entire existence.

Andreas Egger is orphaned as a boy and grows up under the disdain of his uncle, forced to take in his vulnerable but capable nephew. After one beating too many, Andreas is left with a permanent disfigurement but a determination to make his own way in the world. His home however, rarely strays from the mountains that prove both a source of comfort and cruelty. In fact, the mountains are as important a character as Andreas himself: providing friendship, challenge, sustenance, pain, suffering, joy and relief across the whole of his life. Seethaler details the setting with the lightest of touches, never allowing the magnitude of the mountains to overwhelm Andreas as the focus of our attention. They perfectly complement each other.

I am not usually a re-reader of books but I have turned to this many times. The cover of A Whole Life speaks to the side of me that would love to leave the city behind for a simple life in the mountains. Inside is a reminder that although they can feed the soul, they can also be merciless and that a life of quiet solitude is not for the faint-hearted.

I would wholly recommend this novel as a story that combines people and place; humanity and nature seamlessly, and leaves you feeling like you have been let into the secret that a contented life is one of quiet humility.

Emmy Laybourne – Monument 14

Review by Ms Whitfield

Books about kids surviving without adults after an apocalypse are nothing new – when I was a kid it was always post-nuclear (The Firebrats series was really popular, as was Brother In The Land), but disasters and technology as well as the means of survival have evolved since then. I was interested to see what Laybourne’s take on the situation would be in Monument 14.

Set in a town about 50 miles south of Denver, in the near future, fourteen kids of varying ages – from very little though to older teens – are trapped in a shopping centre when the outside world and society completely collapse. Rather than nuclear fallout, the causes of the disaster are natural at first – a mega tsunami that takes out the east coast of America followed by some destructive weather patterns – but then this knocks out all the technology and sets off some very sinister chemical weapons…

A bit like the New Zealand TV show The Tribe (which you can find on YouTube if you want to laugh at the bizarre make-up), the fact that Dean, Alex, Astrid and the rest are shut up in a shopping centre means that they’ve got enough food as well as access to power sources, so they don’t starve or freeze. But there are loads of other conflicts for them to face – fights over leadership, relationships, getting into the shops’ alcohol and drugs stores, the needs of the little kids, the effects of the chemicals, and so on. This makes it really gripping and interesting. Lead character, Dean, is intelligent and tells it like it is without being patronising. You get a real sense of the conflict, confusion and danger that the characters are facing in this new world.

Do they all survive? Well, that would be telling. But there are two more books in the series, and they are apparently making a film of it too, so that might give you a clue.

Mrs Lown reads – We are all made of molecules

This book has been on my to-read pile for ages, but only after a year 7 student persuaded most of his reading class to get it did it finally make it to the top of my list.

The blurb starts with the phrase ‘there are two sides to every story,’ which is completely true, the story is told from the alternating perspectives of Ashley and Stewart who have become part of a blended family after their mum and dad started a relationship.

Ashley and Stewart couldn’t be more different. Ashley is 14, into fashion and being popular but not studying. Stewart is 13 and gifted but doesn’t have a clue how to fit in.

Stewart is an immediately likeable character, he’s funny, individual and full of heart and is definitely the one that keeps the story going at the start. Meanwhile Ashley is… well… hideous. You wouldn’t want her for your worst enemy let alone your new step sister whilst you’re struggling to fit in in a new school.

Suffice it to say that Ashley gets her comeuppance in the end, but I won’t say any more to spoil the surprise!

If you’re looking for a quick read (it only took me an evening), about what it means to learn to live together with all our differences, but also explores more serious questions about consent, the use of technology and whether appearances are all that matters, then this is definitely worth trying.

We have multiple copies in the ILC, so if you want to read with a friend or even a small group, come and speak to the ILC about borrowing them together.