Kurt Vonnegut tried for years to write a book that captured his experience as an American soldier in a Dresden POW camp during the night of bombing that claimed 135,000 lives–most of them civilians–in World War II. He finally does so through the story of Billy Pilgrim, a former soldier who has come unstuck in time, traveling back and forth through moments of his life without any control over his movements. He has also had the unique experience of being abducted by the Trafalmadorians, an alien race which understands time very differently from Earthlings. His story is told in the style of Trafalmadore: brief moments packaged together in an order that makes no sense linearly but can be experienced as a unified whole.
Vonnegut uses time and science fiction to frame an event that can only be grasped with an appropriate backdrop of absurd horror. The story is powerfully told, and is a book that I find I must savor, reading it slowly, taking pauses, and allowing the writing and meaning to fully sink in. It is a great book for adults and older teens who enjoyed The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and/or Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. If you enjoy Slaughterhouse-Five and have not read the aforementioned, you might enjoy them as well.
Art Spiegleman’s parents survived a Nazi concentration camp before moving to America. Years after his mother’s suicide, Art decides to tell his parents’ story in words and pictures, hoping that the bonding experience might ease some of the tension in his relationship with his father relationship. This Pulitzer Prize winning memoir captures Spiegleman’s struggle of growing up in the shadow of his parents’ past, as well as the poignant and heartbreaking story of Vladek and Anja Spieglman’s love and life in Nazi occupied Poland.
This is one of my favorite books, and I highly recommend it. It is written for adults, but I read it for the first time in 8th grade and appreciated it as much then as I do now. The reading level is not difficult, but the subject matter is heavy. I realize that some people do not like books in graphic novel (panel art/comics) format, but if you have never tried reading a graphic novel, or assume that graphic novels are limited to stories of superheroes or fantasy worlds, this is a superb graphic memoir to try. I cannot recommend it enough!
Spiegleman’s story is completed in Maus II.
Seven minutes after midnight, Christopher John Francis Boone found a dead dog outside of Mrs. Shears’ house, stabbed straight through with a garden fork. Since Christopher’s teacher had encouraged him to write a story, he decides to write a murder mystery: an account of his own investigations into the dog’s death. Despite his father’s command that he “stay out of other people’s business,” he sets out to detect who killed the dog—and ends up uncovering a host of family secrets in the process.
Christopher has Asperger’s syndrome. The entire novel is told in his voice in a stream-of-consciousness style which gradually reveals the details of his life to the reader. The book examines both the challenges that Christopher faces in relating to his family and those around him and the beauty of his world and his unique and brilliant perspective on life. Mark Haddon, who has worked with children on the autism spectrum, crafts the story masterfully around the murder mystery framework. Christopher’s voice is believable and clear, and his experiences range from humorous to heartbreaking. I highly recommend it!
As far as Snowman knows, he is the last human left on Earth. The blazing sun—hotter now that the atmosphere has thinned—burns his skin, even in the shade of the tree that is his home. His only companions are the human-like Children of Crake, a tribe of genetic experiments of whom Snowman was made guardian, before the known world came to an end.
Food is scarce, and Snowman must brave a dangerous trail, crawling with genetically-modified predators, to find supplies in the ruins of a nearby city. Haunted on his journey by the memories of Crake, the cunning super-genius, Oryx, his enigmatic lover, and Jimmy, the unremarkable boy that Snowman used to be, he relives the series of seemingly inconsequential events that led to the destruction of his world.
Oryx and Crake is both exciting and thought-provoking–taking readers on a journey through the monster-infested ruins of American civilization and forcing them to consider the potential dangers of genetic engineering, cyber-stalking, global warming, and biochemical warfare. As in most post-apocalyptic tales, Snowman’s story is intense and tragic. It isn’t a light read, but this book is hard to put down!
If you liked Oryx and Crake, you might like The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer.