Second Reflections – a Muster of 3 Mini-Reviews of YA Classics and 1 Adult Classic

Ahoy there me mateys!  I have read more books this year then there are days left to review them individually.  So today I bring ye a muster of mini-reviews.  What be a muster?

Well the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as:

  1. assemble (troops) especially for inspection or for battle;
  2. collect or assemble (a number or amount); or
  3. a group of peacocks.

Here I take a second look at previously enjoyed novels and give me crew me second reflections, as it were, upon visitin’ them again.  They don’t get full reviews because I be running out of time.  But me rule is that I have to review every book I read.  Arrrr!

Side note: the book covers come from Goodreads and ye can click on them to add the books to yer Goodreads’ Ports for Plunder List.  

the sign of the beaver (Elizabeth George Speare

I adore this author!  I previously shared me second reflections of one of me favourite children’s books, the witch of blackbird pond.  It was both a banned book and a Newbery winner.  Then earlier this year, I read her other Newbery winner, the bronze bow, for the first time.  The two reads made me want to revisit this one.  And I loved it.  What I didn’t catch as a kid was that this is sort of a reverse Robinson Crusoe retelling.  I think I hadn’t read that Crusoe tale before readin’ this one.  In this story, a young 12 year-old boy is left behind on the new homestead in Maine while his father goes to fetch the rest of the family.  Young Matt gets into trouble and a local tribe helps him out.  In return Matt is supposed to teach Attean, a young member of the Beaver clan to read.  This book explores the relationship between the two boys while using the book Robinson Crusoe as a backdrop.  What I loved best about this book was that the “savage” tribe ends of saving the day and the white boy Matt is enriched and grows through this relationship.  Now given that I am not a Native American, I am not sure how well the rep is done in this.  But I do enjoy the friendship between the two boys.  And of course survival in the wilderness stories always make me happy.  Arrrr!

Side note: I looked up the representation in this book and found this article. from the American Indians in Children’s Literature website.  It was excellent and I particularly enjoyed the comment section regarding whether this book should be taught in schools.  Also the story was based off a real Attean who did befriend a white boy.  Cool!

Matt stood at the edge of the clearing for some time after his father had gone out of sight among the trees. There was just a chance that his father might turn back, that perhaps he had forgotten something or had some last word of advice. This was one time Matt reckoned that he wouldn’t mind the advice, no matter how many times he had heard it before.
― Elizabeth George Speare, The Sign of the Beaver

the island of the blue dolphins (Scott O’ Dell)

I read this book like a billion times when I was little.  This tells the story of Won-a-pa-lei whose secret name is Karana.  She is left behind on her island and lives alone for many years.  I absolutely loved this survival story and the girl power it contained.  The story was based off the “true story of “The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island,” a Nicoleño Native Californian left alone for 18 years on San Nicolas Island, one of the Channel Islands off the California coast, before being discovered and taken to the mainland in 1853 by sea otter hunter George Nidever and his crew.”  I loved getting sidetracked while readin’ about the new-to-me facts of the real story while writing this post.  I adored listening to the audiobook version of this story.  The idea of this woman being left behind on the island and living alone for so long still captures me fancy.  If ye haven’t read this Newbery winner, I highly recommend it.

Side note: Apparently there is this Complete Reader’s Edition with extensive footnotes and historical detail.  Aye, that does sound awesome.  I purchased a copy.

UPDATE (12/28/18): Me matey, Sara Letourneau, linked to another post from the American Indians in Children’s Literature website about the representation in this book.  It was also excellent.  In the comments section of the article was a link to the “Lone Woman and Last Indians Digital Archive” at the University of South Carolina.  So check it out.  I shall.  Arrr!

The morning was fresh from the rain. The smell of the tide pools was strong. Sweet odors came from the wild grasses in the ravines and from the sand plants on the dunes. I sang as I went down the trail to the beach and along the beach to the sandspit. I felt that the day was an omen of good fortune. It was a good day to begin my new home.
― Scott O’Dell, Island of the Blue Dolphins

dear mr. henshaw (Beverly Cleary)

Aye, another Newbery winner.  This is a sweet and realistic tale of Leigh Botts as told through letters that he writes to Mr. Henshaw, his favourite author.  This was one of those books that reminded me of me divorced family when I was a kid.  I loved Leigh Botts and his letters to and from Mr. Henshaw.  I loved Leigh’s mother.  I loved that Leigh’s dad was problematic but that he wasn’t the worst father in the world like mine was.  Listening to this one on audiobook was wonderful.  This is just a snippet of looking into the life of a young, troubled kid but it ends with hope.  This remains the best Beverly Cleary book I ever read.

Dear Mr. Henshaw, I wish somebody would stop stealing the good stuff out of my lunchbag. I guess I wish a lot of other things, too. I wish someday Dad and Bandit would pull up in front in the rig … Dad would yell out of the cab, “Come on, Leigh. Hop in and I’ll give you a lift to school.
― Beverly Cleary, Dear Mr. Henshaw

one flew over the cuckoo’s nest (Ken Kesey)

I listened to this in audiobook form and absolutely loved it.  I worked on a theatrical production back in the day so a lot of the plot was still in me noggin.  What is lost in the stage version (and movie) is how absolutely beautiful the writing is.  Getting the story through the perspective of Chief Bromden really makes the story that much better.  The voice of Bromden makes the events of the novel all the more harrowing.  He comes across as a voice of reason but then has these wonderful interludes about technology that show how crazy he is.  The novel is complex and layered and compelling.  I believe I listened to narrator Tom Parker.  He was fantastic.  I highly recommend.

Side note: I liked discussing this book again with the First Mate so much that I demanded he write his thoughts.  So here are some Tidings from the Crew from him:

From the First Mate:  “Cuckoo’s Nest is one of those novels where my memories of it had been almost completely overwritten by having watched the film adaptation.  Given how incredibly well made that film is, it’s not all that surprising that Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched completely replaced the book version in my mind.  Or that Nicholson’s McMurphy elbowed out the one that existed in Kesey’s prose.  And, perhaps most damning, how the existence of the Combine faded from my memory entirely.  So, the book I set about rereading turned out to be a somewhat different book than I was expecting.

Actually, I didn’t reread the book; I listened to the audio version read by John C. Reilly and it is incredible.  Reilly makes for an awesome McMurphy.  And I great Chief.  And, really, all of the other characters.  Seriously, if you’re going to listen to an audiobook version of Cuckoo’s Nest, please make it the John C. Reilly one.  You won’t be disappointed.

I had remembered the book being well written, but I wasn’t really prepared for the level of sadness it contained.  I know that it seems strange to not be prepared for a book about a psychiatric hospital and the patients therein to be sad, but, well, like I said, the movie was in my head.  The book is populated with characters who are unable, for various reasons, to exist out in the world at large.  Some of them, like the tragic Billy Bibbit or the germaphobe George Sorenson, likely will never get out due to their issues being nearly insurmountable.  Others, like Dale Harding, are there entirely by choice because they feel intense shame at being in a world that wants them to be entirely something else.  The shame, the lack of agency, and the fear of authority pervades all of the interactions amongst the patients.  Kesey’s gift is to make you understand just how hard these people are trying and, sadly, failing.

My memory of Chief Bromden was completely wrong.  Perhaps it was the parody of him in a Simpsons episode, but I truly had a memory that the Chief was just hanging out there, biding his time, and was the most normal of the patients.  I was wrong.  I was really, really wrong.  The Chief believes he lives in a world controlled by the Combine.  A world in which one can see the circuitry inside of a pill if one is fast enough when breaking it open.

Upon this reading, I was highly surprised to discover that I had sympathy for Nurse Ratched and scorn for McMurphy.  I know that wasn’t the case with the film (who ever has sympathy for a character played by Louise Fletcher?), and I suspect teenaged me wouldn’t have been sympathetic to the authority figure either.  But now I can see that she might have just been doing her job.  Ratched and her staff probably won’t be able to help many of their patients.  The methods employed may be making the situation worse (especially when viewed through a modern perspective).  But McMurphy isn’t trying to help, either.  McMurphy is just passing the time, and he cannot stand the authority or that others around him submit to it.  I don’t think either character deserved what happened to them, but I felt way sorrier for Nurse Ratched.

Like I said, Cuckoo’s Nest is an extremely well written and incredibly sad book.  I’m glad to have gotten a clearer memory of it back.”

What the Chronics are – or most of us – are machines with flaws inside that can’t be repaired, flaws born in, or flaws beat in over so many years of the guy running head-on into solid things that by the time the hospital found him he was bleeding rust in some vacant lot.
― Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

So there ye have it.  Me second reflections on some classics from me past.  Arrrr!!

15 thoughts on “Second Reflections – a Muster of 3 Mini-Reviews of YA Classics and 1 Adult Classic

  1. Thank you for this intriguing article. I also read the link regarding The Sign of the Beaver, which made me aware of just how much sensibilities have changed. I haven’t either watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or read the book, so don’t feel qualified to comment – but I am always fascinated about the tension between the book and the film versions. The most successful films-of-the-book deserve to be treated as a separate entity, I feel.

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  2. Awwww, Island of the Blue Dolphins was one of my favorite books when I was younger, too. Oddly enough, a few months ago I came across an article about Island at the American Indians in Children’s Literature site you linked to in your Sign of the Beaver review. It offers some historical context on the real-life story that inspired the book, as well as a critique of the inaccuracies and assumptions O’Dell made about the Aleutian and Nicoleño peoples. Here’s the link, in case you’re interested:

    https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2016/06/a-critical-look-at-odells-island-of.html

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I knew that it had to be inaccurate but figured that was because so little research had really been done. Plus it was written when more license was taken with history. I like to think writers are trying to write more accurate and socially aware historical fiction these days. The copy of me new edition arrives tomorrow so I will be looking into the matter more in the months to come. Thanks for the link. I am going to start with that now. Excellent comments matey. They make me grizzled heart happy.
      x The Captain

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I saw the movie first, then worked on the play many years later, and then read the book. So I do love all three. But I haven’t watched the movie since that first time so I am not sure how it would hold up especially having read the book again. But Louise Fletcher was fantastic as Nurse Ratched and it’s kinda iconic. So her performance sticks in me memory. Interesting to think about. The first mate and I had a lovely discussion about it in the middle of me writing this response! Thanks for the lovely comment.
      x The Captain

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  3. I’ve only read Witch of Blackbird Pond by Speare and I haven’t picked up anything else from her because I’m afraid it just won’t be as good. That book is a forever favorite of mine! Maybe I’ll read it again in 2019.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do believe that witch of blackbird pond is her best. In fact I am always amazed at how much I love it every single time I read it. Many of the Newbery winners’ effectiveness are blunted with time. For me, this isn’t one of them. Lovely comment.
      x The Captain

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  4. I’ve read half of these books (Dear Mr. Henshaw and The Sign of the Beaver) but not recently enough to remember anything about them. I have plans to read a lot more Newbery Winners and classic fiction, though, so I’ll be looking into all of these over the next few years!

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