Book Review: The Mysterious Island

Awhile ago, Johnny, one of the Element youth guys asked me during our Bibliopolis time if I had a copy of The Mysterious Island. I had never heard of the book (gasp!), and when I asked him where he heard about it, he told me his small group leader Denny (class of 2013 from Gracepoint Berkeley church) told him that he had to read it. Always on the hunt for new voices to feature on the blog, I shamelessly asked him to write a review. And he did!

mysterious_island-coverIn 8th grade, I read a book called The Mysterious Island, by Jules Verne. I wanted to read it because I had also read Around the World in 80 days, Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by that same author and thought it was good stuff. I actually don’t remember too much of the content now, but the book did have a partial influence on my college major and career path.
The book is set during the American Civil War and has five dudes and a dog from the Union army who escaped, as war prisoners, if I recall correctly, in a hot air balloon. They land on the eponymous island and now they have to find a way to get back to society somehow.
The main character is the balleringest civil engineer and through his ingenuity, he’s able to find systematic ways to find and cook food, create nitroglycerin to blow up granite and use it to create space in a granite cliff behind a waterfall so that they can have a fortress to protect themselves from wild animals. He somehow makes a telegraph on this deserted island and is able to determine where they landed as well. On the island, they also encounter an orangutan which they adopt as their pet. And all the while, of course, mysterious things keep happening on the island, where the stranded characters suspect there is someone else on the island.

So, in a nutshell, in just one book, you get a cool civil engineer, a pet monkey and five guys trying to survive on a deserted island in their manly, engineered waterfall-guarded granite fortress. Too good. So come college applications, what does a 17-year-old who did OK in math and physics and knows nothing about what engineering really is about end up doing? Apply for civil engineering programs and aspire to be just as ballering. BOOM. Books change lives, folks. Read on!

I don’t know about you, but that was pretty much the balleringest book review and plug for reading I’ve read this year! 🙂

Have you read The Mysterious Island? Or any other Jules Verne book? I confess I haven’t, but this review bumped The Mysterious Island up my To-Be-Read List.

Youth Book Review: A “Wonder”-ful Companion Novel

It’s been a spell since our last Youth Book Review, which was a smash hit, and lots of people ran out and read Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Since writing the novel in 2012, Palacio has written several shorter pieces that were previously only available in e-book format. Earlier this year, all three “chapters” were published together in the form of Auggie & Me.

If you’ve already read the e-books, you’ve already read Auggie & Me. 🙂  Just to clarify, this is *not* a sequel. There’s a whole ‘nother thing that has emerged in the book publishing world, in the form of the “companion novel”. It’s set in the same world, and in roughly the same time period as the events of the original novel, but tells the story from another character’s point of view, or the fuller story of a supporting character who was in the original book, as a sort of parallel story. Its close cousins are the 0.5 story (prequel), or the 1.5 story (the story published as an e-book while you wait for book 2 to come out in a series). But I digress.

Today’s book review comes from a 7th grader from our Gracepoint Los Angeles church. As she is the sole 7th grader at our LA church plant, her identity is not a secret. Nevertheless, because pen names make everything more fun (see: Mr. Sketch), she writes under the nom de plume Number Two, which is a literary allusion to Pencilla’s code name in The Mysterious Benedict SocietyGet it? Number Two…Pencilla?

Number Two’s natural ebullience* comes through in her review, and it makes me wish that I had added my name to the Book Waiting List for the book before setting it loose among the Bibliopolis middle school patrons!

auggie and me coverI wanted to read Auggie and Me by R.J. Palacio because I absolutely loved Wonder. When I saw that there was another book relating to it, I immediately wanted to read it. In the three novellas, Auggie is more of a side character than the main man. The three main characters are Julian (the bully), Christopher (Auggie’s old best friend), and Charlotte (Auggie’s “welcome buddy”). Each story is told from one of their perspective.

The first story is “The Julian Chapter”. If you have read Wonder, you know how Julian is like. He’s the kind of kid who doesn’t like changes, so he tries to turn things back to normal by making Auggie feel ashamed of himself, in hopes of him leaving the school. In Wonder, I really didn’t like Julian at all and he just made me so mad. But in this chapter, Julian finally comes to his senses and realizes what he has done to Auggie. His big realization comes when he says that sometimes we hate the things that we’re afraid of. For him, it’s Auggie. Over the summer after thinking a lot, he finally decides to apologize to Auggie and wants to start things over with him. He makes a precept that says: “Sometimes it’s good to start over.” Towards the end of this chapter, I kind of felt for him more and could see what he was going through.

The second story is called “Pluto”. It kind of peeks into Auggie’s life before the events of Wonder, when he still had his best friend Christopher, before he moved away. When Chris moved, he and Auggie slowly grew apart. Before reading this I didn’t really know how Chris was like but as I continued to read it, he became a very relatable character especially since he is in middle school. When he went to his new school he realized that it’s hard to have a friend that looks so different. So Chris decides to find some normal friends who people won’t stare at all the time and ignores Auggie for a little while. But then something happens (you’ll have to read it to find out what!) and Chris realizes that having a true good friend is worth the extra effort.

The third and final story is “Shingaling”. It’s based on the perspective of Charlotte Cody. She is the “welcome buddy” for Auggie and is kind of known as a “goody-goody”. I remember I didn’t like her that much in Wonder because she seemed “too nice”, but as she enters middle school she struggles with popularity and friend problems and I was able to understand her a little better. As she continues to try to help Auggie out and be a good friend to him, she encounters problems of her own (which you’ll find out about when you read!). Through all this she realizes that doing what is right is not always popular. This novella was probably my favorite because I was able to relate to it most.   

As you can see, through the three characters’ different perspectives you get to see how they feel about Auggie. I really liked this book, because it described some things that I would’ve never known was going on in their lives. After I finished reading, I felt like I finally understood everyone’s background and was able to understand more of them rather than making quick judgments by the little that I heard in the previous book. I would recommend this book to “Wonder lovers” or anyone in 6th grade and up**. This book shows that being a good friend is hard but is worth it. And even though you may encounter problems, just stick through and if you have a good friend to rely on it will make it so much more easier. Like Charlotte says: “It is not enough to be friendly. You have to be a friend.”

Have you read Auggie & Me, or any of the stories separately? If so, which is your favorite? 

*ebullience (n): the quality of being cheerful and full of energy; exuberance.

**All of the Bibliopolis middle schoolers who have read this thus far say that it’s definitely for middle and up. I trust them!

Reading Testimonial: The Good Earth, A Good Book

I’ve decided to ix-nay the cutesy categories that correspond to the day of the week. It was too constraining, and I was struggling with making posts fit into categories. I’m going to be way more organic and true-to-reality with the categories, as they come together.

Today I want to feature the first of what I anticipate to be many “reading testimonials”*, which are basically vignettes from regular people throughout Gracepoint ministries sharing their own stories of a powerful reading experience. Some are from long ago, and some are more recent. And some may or may not include a mini-review of specific books. To kick it off is a story from Sophia, who is serving on staff in our Praxis ministry at Gracepoint Berkeley church.

I was never a strong reader as a child and never had much interest in reading.  The fact that I was an immigrant kid trying to learn English growing up did not help either. Then as an adult, I was always too busy to read for pleasure. As a parent, I saw that my daughter was also not fond of reading, but accepted it as a given, and that she was just like me. Recently, I wanted to motivate my daughter to read more, so I tried managing her time better by requiring her to read for X amount of hours after school.  But I saw that I was doing something that I would not like to be put upon myself at that age! Then I tried rewarding her for reading books and allowed her to choose her own books, despite my own opinion about the books.  That effort gained some traction because she was motivated by the reward and the books she chose were interesting enough. I also started reading with her whenever I could; she would read one page and I the next. Through another conversation with Emily, I decided to try to lead by example rather than just telling her to read and not do it myself.

thegoodearth_coverTherefore, out of my love for my child, I picked up the book The Good Earth by Pearl Buck from the Bibliopolis Adult Extension bookshelf. I was not sure how much time I would have to read for pleasure; all I knew was that I have always been curious about some of the famous books but never got time to actually read them. I wanted to know what a Nobel-prize winning author writes like.  And to my complete surprise, I was hooked once I started reading. I couldn’t put the book down.

As a Chinese growing up both in Taiwan and America, I was impressed by the detailed yet succinct way in which Pearl Buck described the Chinese sentiment. Her observations about the irony of human life cycle and the weakness of man in the face of temptation made a deep impression on me as a Christian. Wang Lung is a poor but upwardly mobile farmer trying to raise a family during a time when the rich seem to have all the blessings from the gods, and the poor are stuck in their relentless cycle of poverty. But through hard work and some luck, he slowly becomes rich. The irony is that the problems he faces after becoming rich – the temptations he faces as a man and the family quarrels – were much sadder for me to read than the struggles he has as a poor man. Wang Lung never loses his love for the earth, yet he is, after all, a mere man and gives into his lust and self-justifying voices. Moreover, he has no higher authorities to look to except the two earthen figures to which he gives some incense from time to time, but does not hold back in spitting upon when he feels like it. Despite everything, he is a likable figure and an accurate portrayal of a good, hard-working Chinese. At the end of the story, Wang’s life is eerily similar to those he envied in the first place.

The book helped me to have a greater appreciation for  the cultural struggles that took place in China in the past one hundred years.  It gave me a greater understading and greater sympathy for the Chinese people, even though I am a Chinese myself.  I think it’s a must read for all who are interested in getting to know the Chinese people of today!

More than that, I am surprised by how hooked I got on the book. After finishing it, I decided to check out Between Shades of Gray, after reading Elise’s review and watching the video with the author. I’m reading that now!

Can you relate to Sophia’s story at all? Are you someone who “discovered” reading once you became a parent? Have you ever stumbled upon a great book in an effort to model reading for your child? Or when trying to find a good book for someone else, you found one you liked?  

*If you have a catchy category title for this type of post, I’m open to suggestions.