The Fountains of Silence

by Ruta Sepetys
First sentence: “They stand in line for blood.”
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Release date: October 1, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some violence, and some talk of sexual assault and affairs. It will probably be in the Teen section (grades 9+) for more “mature” themes than the YA section usually holds.

The one thing that Sepetys does better than any other person writing historical fiction out there is finding the stories underneath the major events, and focusing in on what the decisions of dictators – in this case, General Francisco Franco of Spain — have done to ordinary people. (Well, she did write one book that didn’t head in that direction, but go with me here.) She looks at the lives of the peasants — in this case Ana and her siblings, who were children of people involved in the resistance during the Spanish Civil War — and how the strict rules and the fear effect their daily lives.

It’s 1957, and Ana has gotten a job at the Castellana Hilton, a posh hotel that has opened up in hopes that Americans will go to Madrid on vacation. One such American is Daniel, the son of a Dallas oil tycoon, who would much rather be a photojournalist than go into the oil business. They strike up a friendship (romance?) as David looks into the hidden worlds under then shine that is the Castellana Hilton.

There’s more going on than that in this book: Sepetys touches on the kidnapping of children — the government would take newborns away from parents, and tell them that their children had died soon after birth — and on the general fear that the Guardia Civil inspired in the population. It’s a lot for one book, but Sepetys handles it all without letting it overwhelm the more personal stories of the book.

Very highly recommended, like all of her books.

Henry Huggins

by Beverly Cleary
First sentence: ”
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Content: It’s really simply written; it could easily be a beginning chapter book these days. It’s in our classic chapter book section.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

I realized last year, when doing my kids summer book club, that part of what drew people to it was the chance to revisit books the parents loved as a kid, and to share them with their kids. So, I decided to revisit one of my favorite authors this year: Beverly Cleary.

Now, I say she was one of my favorite authors, but in all honesty, the only books I ever read by her were the Ramona ones, which I adored. I think my brothers may have read some of the others, but I didn’t. So, I consciously picked the books I hadn’t read for this group. (I missed the Beezus and Ramona week. I am going to have to reread that one on my own time!)

Henry Huggins is living a boring life. That is, until a stray dog finds him. And then, all of a sudden, Henry’s life becomes SO much more adventuresome.

Some  thoughts:

  • It’s very dated. I could tell it was written in the 1950s, not just because of the references (like a bus ride being a nickel, etc.) but because of the attitudes. And that sometimes grated on me. (Like Henry’s disdain of the class play. Get over yourself; it’s not that bad.)
  • The kids at the book group liked it, for the most part. Mostly they liked the dog. I agree. The dog was the best part.
  • It was REALLY simple. If it came out today, it’d be put in the beginning chapter book section. I don’t know if Cleary meant it to be for the 7-9 year olds, or if children’s publishing has gotten more sophisticated. Either way, both I and the kids in the book group noticed.
  • The lack of over-arching plot was also noticeable. I liked the vignettes with Henry and Ribsy, but I also missed a plot with conflict, rather than just a series of events happening.
  • I think the ending was sad, but that’s just me.

I’m glad I took the time to read this one, even if it’s not my favorite.