Thursday, October 6, 2011

Book Review: Sarah's Key

Star Rating: 5/5

Sarah’s Key

By: Tatiana de Rosnay

When Julia Jarmond is assigned to write an article about the sixtieth anniversary commemoration of the Vel d’Hiv roundup, she becomes consumed by her work. Though American, Julia has spent the past 25 years in Paris. Regardless of her time in France, she has little to no knowledge about the horrors committed against the Jews by the French during and surrounding the roundup. More disturbing to her even than her lack of knowledge is the indifference of her French husband and of some of those she interviews. Julia wonders how such events could take place and why so little was done about them. Then on a routine visit to her husband’s ailing grandmother, Julia unexpectedly finds out that her in-laws moved into their apartment in July 1942—the same month the roundup forced thousands of Jews from their homes. Could the apartment have possibly belonged to one of those Jewish families? Haunted by this idea, Julia delves deeper and finds herself linked to the tragic events of 1942. The more she discovers the more she realizes how long she’s kept her eyes closed and decides that she can not and will not close them again.

Tatiana de Rosnay presents a beautifully written, heart-wrenching story that illustrates how the past, present, and future are interwoven. Alternating between two perspectives, she leads the reader through the events and effects of the Vel d’Hiv roundup. The main narrator is Julia, the middle-aged journalist. Julia’s perspective in the present mirrors the readers with her discoveries. The other narrator is Sarah, a ten year-old Jewish girl from 1942. Sarah’s perspective from the past brings the Vel d’Hiv to life. While Sarah causes the reader to feel the horrors as they occurred in the eyes of the children who experienced them, Julia causes the reader to question their own knowledge of their circumstances and the world around them. Together Sarah’s and Julia’s stories make the Vel d’Hiv roundup tangible, touching our lives and our hearts. Most importantly, however, Sarah’s Key prompts us to question ourselves, open our eyes, and act.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Book Review: The Red Pyramid

Star Rating: 5/5

The Red Pyramid

By: Rick Riordan

Christmas Eve is supposed to be fun, but Sadie and Carter Kane are skeptical about their dad’s idea of enjoyment when he takes them to the British Museum. Sadie is particularly annoyed since this is one of the few times a year she sees her dad. After their mom’s death, she’s lived with their grandparents in London. On the other hand, Carter isn’t enthusiastic about the idea either because he’s been dragged from museum to dig site year-round with their dad. Both of them are in for a surprise when their field trip literally ends with a bang. In one night, the two siblings who feel like little more than strangers are left with the monumental task of saving their dad, themselves, and the world from the rise of the Egyptian gods their father just set free. Sadie and Carter have no idea where to begin or what really is happening. They quickly learn from their Uncle Amos that they are born magicians and their parents were members of a secret group known as the House of Life. With little time before the freed gods’ plans destroy the world, Sadie and Carter’s lives depend on working together and discovering what they can do.

Rick Riordan’s The Red Pyramid is a catchy, dramatic read. The novel is written as a transcription of the two main characters as they retell the events as they experienced them. Riordan gives Sadie and Carter their own voices, and even includes fun “real-time” interchanges between the two as though they were defending their statements to the other while recording. Interestingly, even though Sadie and Carter’s characters follow the familiar seemingly-ordinary-but-actually-extraordinary character model, they do not instantly gain full control or knowledge of their “extraordinary” side. In fact, they don’t gain either by the end of the novel. This is a delightful turn from the usual and much more realistic. I absolutely loved that I didn’t have to severely dislocate my imagination and believe that they had mastered their unknown abilities within hours of discovering them. This switch allows the reader to connect more easily with the narrators. It makes Sadie and Carter more believable, trustworthy, and, in this case, likeable. While The Red Pyramid packs a whole lot of danger into a few days, the characters spice up the story with their retelling and imperfections.