Freedom Writers Diary

by The Freedom Writers and Erin Gruwell

It is rare when a book moves me to tears. It’s not that I’m not sentimental about things that have meaning to me, but that I can generally separate myself from what I’m reading enough to retain necessary distance. So when I say that The Freedom Writers Diary, made me cry, that’s saying a lot.

If you’re one of the five people in the country who hasn’t seen the film, read the book first, then rent the DVD. The book has 150 or so diary entries, designated solely by number, by the students in Erin Gruwell’s English classes from Wilson High School in Long Beach, CA, during the late nineties. They are frank, often brutal, glimpses into the lives of real kids living in a city that MTV dubbed “the gangsta rap capital of the world,” and they will tear at your heart strings.

Bookending the kids’ diaries are journal entries from Erin herself, the young teacher who manages to turn a bunch of disenfranchised teenagers into first a class, and then a family, teaching them about tolerance by using the diaries of Anne Frank and Zlata Filipovic as well as other works she finds relevant to their lives.

It’s a moving book, made more so by the knowledge that these kids, now college graduates, have turned around and continued to teach the lessons Gruwell taught them.

The Martian Chronicles

by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury is one of the icons of Science Fiction, which shouldn’t be surprising since he’s published something like 500 works, so when I added The Martian Chronicles to my list for the decades challenge, I did it in honor of his contribution to the field, as well as because I vaguely remember reading part of it as a child, and not really appreciating it.

Re-reading it was sort of disappointing. I’d forgotten about the sexism and racism – products of the time – that were in the various short stories, and that colored my appreciation of Bradbury’s version of Mars. On his Mars the canals actually hold water and the atmosphere is breathable. In addition, there are actual Martians, though, as in another iconic work of science fiction War of the Worlds a mundane human disease destroys the entire population quite accidentally.

Dated notions of society aside, I enjoyed revisiting this version of the Red Planet, especially because of the last tale in the book, in which a picnicking family boats down a canal, and their son asks where the Martians are, only to be told to look over the edge. What he sees is his own reflection.

True Believer

by Nicholas Sparks

Jeremy Marsh is a skeptic whose had some success with the media, and when he goes to a small town in North Carolina to debunk some graveyard ghost-lights, it’s pretty clear he intends to solve the mystery and beat a hasty retreat to his home in New York. Instead he finds himself falling in love with town librarian Lexie Darnell.

As with many of Sparks’s novels, True Believer is a gentle tale with earthy three-dimensional characters that seem like people any of us might know. Character is as vital as plot with him, and that’s good, because to be honest, I found the plot of this offering to be a bit predictable. I won’t outline it here, because I don’t like to offer spoilers, I’ll just say that it’s best to read this novel because you want to visit a cozy small town and meet interesting people, and not because you’re looking for a great surprise ending or plot twist.

As a cozy novel, True Believer goes well with a rainy day and hot tea, and in that light, it’s an enjoyable read.