Three for the Circular File

I haven’t done something like this in a while, but none of these three books deserved their own post, so here I am lumping two did not finishes and one blah book in a post. Feel free to skip if you feel so inclined.

Hachiko Waits
by Leslea Newman/Illus. by Nachiyo Kodaira
ages: 7/8-10
First sentence: “When Professor Eizaburo Ueno woke up, he liked to play a game with his golden-brown puppy, Hachi.”

My fundamental problem with this one wasn’t so much that I often felt the author was talking down to me — sure it’s for lower Middle Grade readers, but in the best ones, I never feel that way — it’s that this simplistic little book was the one chosen for our 4th/5th grade mother-daughter book group. I kept wondering why we couldn’t have picked a story that wasn’t so maudlin (sweet, yes, but so maudlin).

It’s the story of a dog, a dog so faithful and so unwavering, that he became beloved by the Japanese people in the early 1930s. Hachi was the dog, an Akita-ken, and every day he waited for his master, Professor Ueno, at the train station. One day, Professor Ueno had an unexpected heart-attack at work and didn’t come home. Hachi was confused, and the next day came back to wait. He kept coming back, day after day, for ten years, until he finally passed away… waiting.

Yeah.

As I said, it wasn’t so much the story, or even the author talking down to me as a reader, as it was that I can’t believe there’s going to be much to discuss. Next month, I swear, I’m going to push something more complex. (Appropriate, though.)

Hamlet
by John Marsden
ages: 15+
First sentence: “‘Do you believe in ghosts?’ Horatio asked him.”

I picked this one up in my ever-continuing attempt to make sense out of htis play. It’s not a constant search, just every once in a while, I do like to try and see if a different person — especially someone with more imagination — can make more sense out of Hamlet than I can.

I abandoned it because it just wasn’t jiving with me. It’s a very sexualized version of Hamlet, and a very modern take as well. Hamlet was a bit of a weird jerk — there was this scene involving animals and I wasn’t quite sure if it was bestiality or just ritualized killings — and the narrative kept flitting between characters. Each one of these things, individually, could have worked for me. But the combination of them just killed the story. Admittedly, I didn’t get very far — my time is precious, of course — and perhaps it got better further along in the book. Then again, maybe it wouldn’t have and I’ve spared myself the agony of time lost, never to be returned.

But we’ll never know, will we?

Return to Sender
by Julia Alvarez
ages: 11+
First sentence: “Tyler looks out the window of his bedroom and can’t believe what he is seeing.”

I wanted to like this one. Really, I did. But, it had one strike against it from the start: I really don’t like books written in present tense. (Yeah, I know: I just complained a couple days ago about a book written in past tense. I’m being picky this week.) But it seemed like a nice story about a farmer, and about the use of illegal immigrants, and separation and loss. And I felt like I needed a Hispanic story.

And yet, what I hoped this story could do got lost in what I thought was an overly preachy tone. I’m sure Alvarez meant to be sympathetic to the plight of illegal immigrants, especially the children of the immigrants. But she kept hammering this point in over and over and over and over, that I finally abandoned the book due to preachiness.

Sigh. You can’t win them all.

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5 thoughts on “Three for the Circular File

  1. You're welcome. I think too many people just don't review books they don't like, giving the impression that they like *everything* they read. Sigh. I think it's important to let people know what you don't like so they can make a fully informed opinion of your opinions….

    But then, that's just me.

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  2. I did finish Hamlet (though outside the US, it's called Hamlet & Ophelia) a couple weeks ago. If you're familiar with the play, I didn't think Marsden brought much to the story that was especially helpful, though the thing with the animals (that wasn't part of the play, right?) was strange and I didn't especially like that invention. But Hamlet is a very sexual play, and though I wasn't crazy about how Marsden brought it to the fore, I kinda liked that he did. I mean, high school teachers mostly gloss over it.

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