Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Recent Reads

Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen (2012). What bookish girl doesn't fall in love with Robin Hood at a fairly young age? I've been fascinated by the legend of Robin Hood since I first read Howard Pyle's The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of his exploits when I was eleven or so. I loved that book and reread it often. Years later when my parents took us to England for vacation the summer after I turned fifteen, we decided we had to go to Sherwood Forest. It was there that I learned, to my supreme disappointment, that Robin Hood was just a legend. (I wonder why I thought he was real?) This book is a reworking of the Robin Hood legend from the standpoint of a knife-wielding, female "Will" Scarlet, disguised as a boy. I'm not sure how I feel about this book. For sheer entertainment value, it did pretty well. With a few exceptions, I stayed interested in seeing what was going to happen. I mostly liked the characterizations, although I personally don't think the strength of Robin's character features very clearly. Little John features a little too much. I didn't care for him. The story has good action, but the plot is a little lacking, and had too many repeats of the same incident (Scarlet sneaking into somewhere to snoop or free people and getting beat up/wounded in the process), just tweaked a little. I also didn't like the love triangle going on. I think it was relied on too heavily as a plot device, and the many jealousy scenes got old. (I get so tired of love triangles in YA fiction.) But for all my little peeves, it was a very decent read.

My cousin Suey of It's All About Books brought this one to my attention. (Clicking on the website link will take you to her enthusiastic review.)

For a better retelling, read Robin McKinley's The Outlaws of Sherwood. Apart from the Pyle book, it's probably my favorite. It's suitable for readers as young as eight.

Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax (2005). I read this one on the recommendation of a speaker at the last homeschool convention I attended. The book discusses the differences in the male and female brains and the author draws some conclusions about the ramifications of those differences. I'm not sure what I feel about it. I think that the common trend for gender-sameness in public schools is problematic, especially for boys. (By "gender-sameness" I mean the idea that there are no physiological or chemical differences -besides the obvious glandular and hormonal ones- in boys and girls and how they learn best.) I'm not sure I would draw the same conclusions he does in some instances regarding what to do about those gender differences, especially in regard to those children he terms "anomalous." But the book makes for fascinating reading.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. (Unabdridged Audiobook, read by Esther Benson) I had only a vague recollection of this book, centering exclusively around Pippi herself, her little monkey Mr. Nilsson, and the horse on the porch. I do remember one of my elementary school teachers reading it aloud, but I couldn't for the life of me remember anything of plots or stories. Since it's a childhood classic, I have long been toying with the idea of reading it aloud to my girls, but other, more interesting books have always gotten in the way. We found the audiobook at the library and decided to get it to listen to during our about-town errands. Esther Benson does a good job with the narration, but I have to confess that I'm not a fan of the story. It's like nails on a chalkboard. And I know why I remember almost nothing about it. There's not much there to remember. My feelings can be summed up by my seven-year-old Karina's comment, "For all her travels, she's not very smart, is she?" For all her wildness and shenanigans, she's also not that interesting. I can only attribute the book's lasting impact being due to the wildly outrageous, non-conformist main character, because everything else about it, including the "adventures," is boring. And why, for being as old as she is, does she never learn from her social gaffes? Her wide-eyed, quasi-innocent, "isn't-this-jolly" preciousness (as my grandmother would have said) is nauseating and irritating. Her wildly braggadocio lies aren't even very interesting. This is one book I won't be adding to our personal library. If my children end up loving it down the road ('though they don't seem very keen on it at present) they can buy it with their own money. So there.