Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo 
submitted by Caren

I had read some rave reviews of Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which is why I picked it up. Wow! I read through practically in one gulp, hardly coming up for air. This is one compelling read, and the truly stunning thing about it is that it is all true. You simply cannot walk away untouched.

Katherine Boo is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has covered social inequalities in the past. This is her first book, in which she chronicles several years (from late 2007 to early 2011) in the lives of select families living in a slum near the Mumbai International Airport. I am absolutely amazed at the way she was able to get into the hearts and minds of those she studied. As others have said, it reads like a novel, the characterizations are so finely-drawn.

Yes, we have gross inequalities in our own society, but I doubt anything can touch what you will read in these pages. The well-considered thoughts with which she leaves us at the end of the story will haunt you:
"Every country has its myths, and one that successful Indians liked to indulge was a romance of instability and adaptation - the idea that their country's rapid rise derived in part from the chaotic unpredictability of daily life. In America and Europe, it was said, people know what is going to happen when they turn on the water tap or flick the light switch. In India, a land of few safe assumptions, chronic uncertainty was said to have helped produce a nation of quick-witted, creative problem-solvers. Among the poor, there was no doubt that instability fostered ingenuity, but over time the lack of a link between effort and result could become debilitating. 'We try so many things', as one Annawadi girl put it, 'but the world doesn't move in our favor.'" (p.219)

I have a feeling I will be thinking about this book for a long time to come.

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T-Minus: The Race to the Moon by Jim Ottaviani 
submitted by Lynette

This is a graphic novel written for teens, but should not be limited to this age group alone. T-Minus very beautifully sums up what led up to getting man not only into space, but onto the Moon itself.

As we all know there were two main players in the race to the Moon; the United States and Russia (then the Soviet Union). It is unfortunate that in school we aren’t taught much about the Russian side of the race, we were just taught that there was a race, and the United States won. But, that is far from the whole truth. Here’s a bit of history; did you know the Russians made it to the Moon first? Yes, they got there first with the Luna 2 which was the first man-made object to reach the Moon – though Luna 2 was not designed to travel back home, it was essentially designed to crash into the Moon, and that is where it still lies today. Yes, we were the first to put a human on the Moon, but let’s give credit where credit is due. Though I can rattle off some space trivia, I’ll tell you there was plenty of information in this that was new to me – and yes, I fact checked – Ottaviani did his homework!

The main characters in T-Minus are the scientists behind the programs of Apollo, Luna, and the flights that led up to it. The astronauts themselves take a backseat in this adventure, and put the focus on the many brilliant minds that made space travel possible. Ottaviani gives us an ample amount of names, dates, and trivia throughout the story. He uses skinny side panels that run the full length of the page with information on rocket and satellite launches, with which I was in love. He notes the major missions of both sides, even if they were failures. Too often in history we don’t talk about the failures, even though they too have their importance. Learning through our failures is how we make improvements – and it isn’t all rainbows and sunshine when it comes to science. This shows the blood, sweat, tears, and intense stress put on to employees at both NASA and the Soviet Space Program by politicians who were determined that their country would make it to the Moon first - no excuses.

T-Minus is beautiful in its clarity and simplicity of its illustrations. In no way do I feel like black and white illustrations take away from this. It added to the feeling of looking into the past; like watching black and white television, or looking at sepia toned photos. The line work is crisp, and easy to understand, with the added little bonus bits of information they squeeze into the spaces between panels. Ottaviani gives copious amounts of information without making it overwhelming. He provides ample amounts of reading suggestions at the end to further your independent study of space and the Moon, as well as a glossary of terms.

This is a great macro view of the Space Race for those who may already feel like they know everything, and for those who feel like they know nothing. Even space buffs who feel like they know it all will enjoy the story because it puts the facts into context – it shows the emotion and passion behind one of man’s greatest engineering and scientific feats.

It is definitely teen and up, and I as a grown up enjoyed it thoroughly, but this could be read by much a younger advanced reader. My only hesitation for that is that they might be overwhelmed with all the extra bits of information Ottaviani gives. Honestly, for a non-fiction graphic novel, I cannot say enough wonderful things about this title!

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Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry 
submitted by Katy

Have you ever lost something and couldn't find it? Remember how frustrating that was? Echo is a high school senior who has lost something vital, memories of how she almost died and was left with scars covering both arms. Now in counseling, Echo wanted to regain her lost memories and stop the recurring nightmares. Once part of the social crowd, an A student, dating a hot jock, in her junior year everything changed...blood everywhere and a cry for help that wouldn't be answered soon enough. When she returned to school after several months' absence, all but a few of her former friends avoided her. Life sucked. Aries, her beloved brother, was dead. Her parents divorced, her mother was facing her own demons, and her dad had married Ashley, the babysitter, who is now pregnant. Nothing would ever be the same again.

Noah, a high school senior, had once been part of the social group too, but since his parent's death he and his younger brothers had been separated, with very limited visitation rights. Guilt and worry plagued him. Shuttled between indifferent foster parents, angry, compensating with drugs and sex, Noah is on a downhill slide. All he wants now is to graduate and make a home for his two younger brothers and himself; but if he doesn't bring up his grades and go to counseling sessions he has no chance at all of graduating or seeing his brothers.

Enter Mrs. Collins, the school Counselor. Echo is in need of money to repair her brother's car, Noah needs help to catch up on his studies and Mrs. Collins sees an opportunity for both of them to get what they want. Echo will tutor Noah and get paid; Noah will bring up his grades and graduate. Both are angry at the world, hurting for different reasons, can they stop fighting against each other long enough to listen and help themselves heal their open wounds?

In alternating chapters, Echo and Noah share their feelings, desires, nightmares and hopes for a better future on the pages of this beautifully written examination of a rotten slice of today’s life in our imperfect world. They will lean on each other, touch your heart and show us a side of life that many know exists but would rather ignore. In the end they will find their own answers and still leave us with enough room to imagine the rest.

To check out a copy of Katie McGarry's Pushing the Limits, click here.

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11/22/63 by Stephen King 
submitted by Debbe

On November 22, 1963 I was sitting in my 7th grade classroom, participating in an art project, a message was sent in from the principal’s office, the President had just been shot. The only other things I remember about being in school that afternoon is that my best friend dropped her bottle of black ink and that my teacher gave me permission to go to the school library, where my mother was volunteering that afternoon. That day and watching the televised events of the following three days changed my life, as it did for many of my generation.

Stephen King is one of the most prolific authors writing today. Horror, science fiction and fantasy are not genres I enjoy reading so that is why I had not chosen to select one of his titles for my bedside table. However the premise of this book was intriguing, as I am one of many, along with King, who have wondered how would the world be different if John Fitzgerald Kennedy had not been assassinated. I’ve always thought I should give King a try so I took this opportunity to do so.

I found 11/22/63: A Novel both fascinating and tedious. King is an excellent story teller. I was hooked from Chapter 1 and finished all 849 pages. I found it to be repetitive, so in my opinion it could have been just as good a story with 200 less pages.

The main character, Jake Epping, by stepping through a time portal can return to 1958. He then has 5 years to decide if Lee Harvey Oswald is a lone gunman (there are the conspiracy theories he needs to investigate) and if he is, how can Jake stop him. Jake has a personal mission that motivates him has well. But over and over again, adding to the suspense of the novel, he is reminded that “the past is resistant to change.”

Five years is a long time so it is not surprising when Jake falls in love with Sadie. She also needs to be rescued and have her future changed. Will he be able to stay in the past with Sadie or will she be able to move forward 48 years with him? The questions keep you reading. The final question is will he use his ability to go back, as every step through the portal resets the past, so if you don’t like the outcome you can change it again.

What will 2011 be like if John F. Kennedy had lived? King has an interesting alternative history to recount. However, this is a work of fiction so it is a history we will never know.

I doubt I will read another of King’s books although I have had others tell me to give The Stand a try, all 1153 pages of it. Maybe in my future life I will.

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submitted by Nita

I picked up Winkie by Clifford Chase because I thought it would be hilarious. Winkie is a teddy bear who comes to life, runs away from home, and is eventually mistaken for a terrorist and put on trial. But Chase eschews “Farce=Funny” literary convention, crafting a brilliant and surprisingly poignant allegory about the loss of innocence and how it may be recaptured through memories.

We begin with Winkie's recollections of his early life:

"He had never been smaller than he was now...but he had once been like a baby just the same. It was a time when he wasn't even Winkie yet, when he wore a white blouse and black velvet dress, and he belonged to the little girl Ruth. He could almost hear her calling to him across time, 'I love you, Marie.'"

The story alternates between Winkie's wistful memories of his early life as a beloved toy, his life in the woods after he ran away and found a bear cub to call his own child, and his present status as an imprisoned terrorist suspect.

"It could be said that the whole of the bear's life as a toy formed one long incantation that produced, at last, the miracle of his coming to life. Winkie had hoped to understand that incantation through recollection, maybe even to reproduce its magic and thus regain his freedom."

Remembrance as self-actualization is a constant thread throughout the tale. Just as Winkie is spurred by memories to will himself to life and mobility, Chase suggests that revisiting those things that fed our spirit as children can recharge our spirit as adults.

“In the dream and in remembrance of the dream, inside and outside, a hated thing might be let go, might fly off, might weep, and then the wider world could unfold again in small clicks…the rose in the coloring book, the rose of the world and hope.”

The book includes photographs of Winkie, his childhood home, and the "Killer Bear Manufacturing Facility." While sly humor abounds in this little gem of a book, you'll want to read it for its heart and the lyrical ring of the language. This is a grown-up fairy tale that will stay with you long after you've stopped reading.

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