Good Young Adult fiction available from our library…

Recently we’ve been reading more from our collection and for a while Mrs Maxted had been intending to read books by Joyce Carol Oates, knowing her to be a renowned American writer of adult fiction.  A quick search on our shelves threw up one title: big mouth & ugly girl published in 2003.  Oates’s first novel written for young adults tells the story of two high school students thrown together due to an incident taken to be a threat to the school and its students.  Matt Donaghy, a good student who is popular with classmates through his ability to make people laugh, finds himself accused of threatening to blow up the school and shoot students and staff if the play he is writing is not selected for the school’s drama festival…  Outsider and ‘ugly girl’ (she has given herself this name), Ursula Riggs, knows what really happened and informs the school’s principal after Matt has spent several hours trying to exonerate himself at the police station.  The book is told from the perspective of each character and follows subsequent events and the experiences of both students as they come to show the truth of what really occurred, as well as getting to know each other.  This is a very well-told story and Mrs Maxted’s view was endorsed by a current Year 12 student as they waited in the queue at the recently-held blood donation session at school!

It’s an interesting standpoint showing what can happen when an off-the-cuff remark is taken out of context, especially in light of other works on a similar theme, for example Lionel Shriver’s We need to talk about Kevin and actual events known to have happened such as in Columbine High School in 1999.  Let us know what you think…

Mrs Maxted’s second book choice in the last couple of weeks was Julia Green’s Baby Blue.

Baby Blue picks up Mia’s story (begun in Blue Moon) just after the birth of her baby. Mia is sixteen now, and still living with Dad, although this relationship comes increasingly under strain. Not only is Mia having to work out the complicated emotional and practical implications of being a mother when she herself is still a child, with huge emotional needs of her own, she is also having to negotiate new relationships with the adults and young people around her.” Synopsis courtesy of

This book gives good insight as to what life can be like for a young mother such as Mia. It does not go into great depth but expresses the thoughts and difficulties experienced by Mia and her family in the first weeks of the baby’s life.  By the end of this part of her story, Mia recognises that she is more fortunate than some girls in her situation, and, although it is difficult for her to accept, she understands that the people around her need to focus on their own lives, as they have also been affected by her decision to keep her baby.

Look out for more reviews of our Sixth Form Collection here soon!

may contain nuts (John O’Farrell)

Mrs Koulouris recommended this title to Mrs Maxted for her third book to read over the holidays and found it in the school library.   It is a funny book and, gasping incredulously, she was gripped until the end!  O’Farrell writes convincingly as a woman, which is never an easy proposition for a writer, but one successfully accomplished here.

“Alice never imagined that she would end up like this. Is she the only mother who feels so permanently panic-stricken at the terrors of the modern world – or is it normal to sit up in bed all night popping bubble wrap? She worries that too much gluten and dairy may be hindering her children’s mental arithmetic. She frets that there are too many cars on the road to let them out of the 4×4. Finally she resolves to take control and tackle her biggest worry of all: her daughter is definitely not going to fail that crucial secondary school entrance exam. Because Alice has decided to take the test in her place…  With his trademark comic eye for detail, John O’Farrell has produced a funny and provocative book that will make you laugh, cry and vow never to become that sort of parent.”  NielsenBookDataOnline

If you have read this novel, do you agree that the author has written convincingly as a woman?  Interesting subject…

One Moment, One Morning (Sarah Rayner)

Another of Mrs Maxted’s Christmas reads was Sarah Rayner’s novel One Moment, One Morning.  This is a story told from the perspectives of three women affected by a single event and how they come to terms with its aftershocks during the ensuing week.

“The Brighton to London line. The 07:44 train. Carriages packed with commuters. A woman applies her make-up. Another occupies her time observing the people around her. A husband and wife share an affectionate gesture. Further along, a woman flicks through a glossy magazine. Then, abruptly, everything changes: a man has a heart attack, and can’t be resuscitated; the train is stopped, an ambulance called. For at least three passengers on the 07:44 on that particular morning, life will never be the same again. Lou witnesses the man’s final moments. Anna and Lou share a cab when they realise the train is going nowhere fast. Anna is Karen’s best friend. And Karen? Karen’s husband is the man who dies. Telling the story of the week following that fateful train journey, “One Moment, One Morning” is a stunning novel about love and loss, about family and – above all – friendship. A stark reminder that, sometimes, one moment is all it takes, it also reminds us that somehow, and despite everything, life can and does go on.”  NielsenBookDataOnline

Has anyone else read this book?  Please leave a comment if you have.

The Legacy (Katharine Webb)

Mrs Bailey has recently read Katherine Webb’s The Legacy. A synopsis of this book is below:

“In the depths of a harsh winter, following the death of their grandmother, Erica Calcott and her sister Beth return to Storton Manor, a grand and imposing Wiltshire house where they spent their summer holidays as children. When Erica begins to sort through her grandmother’s belongings, she is flooded with memories of her childhood – and of her cousin, Henry, whose disappearance from the manor tore the family apart. Erica sets out to discover what happened to Henry, so that the past can be laid to rest, and her sister, Beth, might finally find some peace. Gradually, as Erica begins to sift through remnants of the past, a secret family history emerges; one that stretches all the way back to turn-of-the-century America, to a beautiful society heiress and a haunting, savage land. As past and present converge, Erica and Beth must come to terms with two terrible acts of betrayal – and the heart-breaking legacy left behind. THE LEGACY is an unforgettable, deeply satisfying story that will stay with you long after the last page has been turned.”  NielsenBookDataOnline

Mrs Bailey thinks:

“I am currently reading The Legacy which is a mixture of 1900’s and current day and a bit of a “Family tree” story….with a crime/mystery element a very good read.”

Dr Hundal’s great summer reads…

We asked all members of staff to tell us what they had been reading during their summer holidays and received some really interesting replies.  Here are Dr Hundal’s choices:

Netherland by Joseph O’Neill

Dr Hundal says of this book: “An enjoyable account of a father taking solace in cricket as a means of escaping his personal woes (failing marriage and his tedious job in finance).  The book is set in New York and explores, amongst other things, the main character’s attraction to the world of immigrant cricket and the dreams of one man.  Lots of memorable moments as the central character drifts through life without any clear goals – if only life could be that simple…”



The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins

Dr Hundal’s thoughts are: “Well it is me (!) – an accessible book detailing the evidence for evolution.  Worth a read, if this is your first book on the subject.”
Nielsen BookData Online adds:”The Greatest Show on Earth” comes at a critical time: systematic opposition to the fact of evolution is now flourishing as never before, especially in America. In Britain and elsewhere in the world, teachers witness insidious attempts to undermine the status of science in their classrooms. Richard Dawkins provides unequivocal evidence that boldly and comprehensively rebuts such nonsense. At the same time he shares with us his palpable love of the natural world and the essential role that science plays in its interpretation. Written with elegance, wit and passion, it is hard-hitting, absorbing and totally convincing.”  Open your minds!
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This book needs so little introduction, so concur with Dr Hundal’s  view or not (please let us know what you think):
“It was great to go back and re-read this – got aught up a bit in the hype of its 50th year of publication.  I was amazed at how much more I got out of it second time round – the tensions surrounding Scout and the expectations to conform to a Southern notion of womanhood, the ‘reverence’ of calling their father Atticus rather than Dad, the polarisation of the community between justice and racism.  For me, this book has stood the test of time.”
What do you think?  Why do you think that this book has appeared so often on the American Library Association’s list of banned books?  The banning of it is still sought in American schools…

Le premier jour du reste de ta vie (Film: The first day of the rest of your life)

This is a wonderful French film shown yesterday evening (Wednesday 17th March) at the equally wonderful Rex Cinema.  It tells the story of a family growing up where each family member has his or her own day defining the beginning of the rest of their lives.  It covers a time span of twelve years and begins with eldest son, Albert, taking the decision to move out of the family home and have his dog put down, and that same day, finds the girl whom he is to marry.  For each family member, the story continues to take them through each day which is important to them, whether it be their 16th birthday (Fleur), the day grandfather offers to teach younger son, Raphael, about wine, the car accident which almost kills mother Marie-Jeanne or the day when father Robert learns of his life-threatening illness.

‘Le premier jour…’  is beautifully and tenderly filmed, showing plenty of humour and typical French wit.  I’m about to buy a copy of the DVD…!

Gilead (Marilynne Robinson)

Mr Maxted has read and reviewed Marilynne Robinson’s book ‘Gilead’ for us.  He says:

” ‘Gilead’, by Marilynne Robinson, had been recommended to me by a number of people. The book is essentially a diary written by a 77 year old Presbyterian pastor, Revd. John Ames, to his seven year old son. It is set in the small Iowan town of Gilead and won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. 

The book combines Ames’ stream of consciousness with words of advice to his son. It also documents Ames’ fear of the son of another pastor in the town, a prodigal named Jack Boughton.   Robinson explores Boughton’s story further in her Orange Prize 2009 winning novel, ‘Home’.

 ‘Gilead’ is a gentle novel which is moving in parts. Nevertheless, I found elements of it difficult to comprehend and on a different wavelength from me. I was glad, however, that I persisted as the ending beautifully describes Ames’ reconciliation with Boughton and his sympathy and understanding of the young man’s plight.

 I didn’t enjoy the novel sufficiently to make me want to read ‘Home’ immediately. I think I will try something different first but am mindful to return to Robinson’s writing at a later date.”

Mr Grant’s books for World Book Day 2010

On Thursday 4th March, 2010, World Book Day, we asked teachers to talk to their classes about their favourite books or books they are currently enjoying.  Mr Grant spoke with his classes about a number of books.

The first is Gunter Grass’s ‘The Tin Drum’.   Nielsen Bookdata Online says of the book:

‘The publication of The Tin Drum in 1959 launched Gunter Grass as an author of international repute. Bitter and impassioned, it delivers a scathing dissection of the years from 1925 to 1955 through the eyes of Oskar Matzerath, the dwarf whose manic beating on the toy of his retarded childhood fantastically counterpoints the accumulating horrors of Germany and Poland under the Nazis.’

This was followed by ‘The Wild Things’ by Dave Eggers:

‘Seven-year-old Max likes to make noise, get dirty, ride his bike without a helmet, and howl like a wolf. In any other era, he would be considered a boy. In 2007, he is considered willful and deranged. His home life is problematic. His parents are divorced; his father, immature and romantic, lives in the city. His mother has taken up with a younger man who steals quarters from the change bowl in the foyer. Driven by a series of pressures internal and external, Max leaves home, jumps in a boat and sails across the ocean to a strange island where giant beasts reign – “The Wild Things” from Maurice Sendak’s visionary classic. This is an all-ages adventure, full of wit and soul, that explores the chaos of youth while Max explores the chaos of the world around him.’

Thirdly, Mr Grant talked about Cormac McCarthy’s ‘All The Pretty Horses’:

‘This is Volume One of the “Border Trilogy”.  ‘A uniquely brilliant book …told in language as subtly beautiful as its desert setting. One of the most important pieces of American writing of our time’ – Stephen Amidon, “Sunday Times”. John Grady Cole is the last bewildered survivor of long generations of Texas ranchers. Finding himself cut off from the only life he has ever wanted, he sets out for Mexico with his friend Lacey Rawlins. Befriending a third boy on the way, they find a country beyond their imagining: barren and beautiful, rugged yet cruelly civilized; a place where dreams are paid for in blood. “All the Pretty Horses” is an acknowledged masterpiece and a grand love story: a novel about childhood passing, along with innocence and a vanished American age. Steeped in the wisdom that comes only from loss, it is a magnificent parable of responsibility, revenge and survival.’  Now this is a book that did translate beautifully to the big screen, very atmospheric. Matt Damon, as usual, was amazing in the role of John Grady Cole…  Must read and see…

All quotes are from Nielsen Bookdata Online.

The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly (Jean-Dominique Bauby)

“The diary of Jean-Dominique Bauby who, with his left eyelid (the only surviving muscle after a massive stroke) dictated a remarkable book about his experiences locked inside his body. A masterpiece and a bestseller in France, it is now a major motion picture directed by Julian Schnabel. On 8 December 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered a massive stroke and slipped into a coma. When he regained consciousness three weeks later, the only muscle left functioning was in his left eyelid although his mind remained as active and alert as it had ever been. He spent most of 1996 writing this book, letter by letter, blinking as an alphabet was repeatedly read out to him. ‘The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly’ was published in France on Thursday 6th March 1997. It was immediately hailed as a masterpiece. And then, three days later, he died. ‘The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly’, which records Bauby’s lonely existence, is probably the most remarkable book about the triumph of the human spirit, the ability to invent a life for oneself in the most appalling of circumstances, that you will ever read. It has now been made into a captivating film, directed by Julian Schnabel and starring Mathieu Amalric, which was the winner of the award for Best Director at Cannes and nominated for the Palm d’Or.”  Nielsen Book Data Online

This synopsis says it all except that it truly is a remarkable book that, whilst recognising Bauby’s condition (Locked-In Syndrome), really makes you feel glad to be alive.  He  muses on life, love and relationships and how he has gone from being Editor-in-Chief of Elle Magazine in Paris to being in this state of near-complete paralysis.   Bauby touchingly compares his new situation with that of his father who is in his eighties and quite infirm himself.

The book cover shown here is a couple of stills from the film (in French with subtitles) which is, as many French films are, filmed beautifully with an almost ethereal quality to it.  Well worth viewing on DVD…