Restart – by Gordon Korman (2017)

restart

Have you ever longed for a “restart” button on your life? Maybe you wish you could erase every memory and begin life over. Painful memories plague you every day. If only you could start over…

Chase, a middle-schooler, has no memories of his life before he wakes up in the hospital with a brain injury from falling off a roof. He recovers at home, then goes back to school. Chase is told that he was the star of the football team, and the coach is eager to get him back on the field. But the doctor has ordered Chase’s parents to keep him out of sports for a while, so Chase joins the after-school video club instead.

He keeps getting this weird vibe that many students are afraid of him. As time goes by, the truth comes out: Chase was the ring-leader of a trio of boys that tormented, teased, bullied, and beat up kids at school. In fact, he and his side-kicks had been arrested, and had been doing community service at a local nursing home. His mother gently broke the news to him that he had committed a crime, even though he couldn’t remember doing it, and the court expected him to finish the community service hours, now that he was physically recovered from his fall.

Chase ends up really enjoying his time at the nursing home, and becomes friends with one of the residents, a Korean War hero. He also likes working on the video club team. Some of the kids at school think he is just faking his amnesia, others are convinced that he has totally changed. The two co-bullies don’t know what to believe, and keep trying to get Chase to join them in terrorizing other students.

I was totally engrossed in this story. Although it was fictional, it was a great book about the power of choice, and how we are all given this gift. What we choose will determine the direction of our lives. If we don’t like where life seems to be going, we can change. While we may not be able to forget the mistakes and negative things we’ve done, we can restart and move our life in a positive direction.

Advertisements

The Last Christian – by David Gregory (2010)

The Last Christian

Modern science, medicine and technology have made some amazing improvements to the lives of people around the globe. Some have been able to regain hearing or sight. Face transplants for severe burn victims have been possible. Replacement limbs are giving many a nearly normal way to function. AI, or Artificial Intelligence, has given us self-driving cars, better military defenses, robotic surgery, spam filtering for our email, and a host of other benefits.

“The Last Christian” is a futuristic thriller set in 2088. Neuroscience and medicine have progressed so far that people can now swap out their original brain for a new silicon brain that contains all their own memories and knowledge. It’s an improved brain that speeds up learning, and best of all, will never die. It can be transplanted into another body if the original body dies. So a person’s consciousness could go on indefinitely. But what happens to a person’s soul and religious beliefs when they get this artificial brain?

Abby Caldwell, an American by citizenship, has lived her entire life with her missionary parents in a primitive New Guinea village. Her parents died many years ago, but she continued to live there, even adopting an orphaned girl. When a strange illness attacks the village, she goes up the river to look for help. Unfortunately, when she returns, every person in the village is dead. She decides to go to the United States. When she gets there, she is shocked to discover that she cannot find anyone who is still a Christian. She appears to be the last Christian in the country. No religion exists anymore.

Although the story seems somewhat far-fetched, it really does stretch the reader’s thinking. How far can we go with AI? Could it really cause people to lose their faith? A scenario such as this book describes is not that far in the future.

Deeper Water – by Robert Whitlow (2008)

Deeper Water

Author Robert Whitlow generally writes about lawyers, court cases, and the South. In this novel, the story centers on a young law student – Tami Taylor – who is looking for a summer job. She is offered a position as a law clerk at the Braddock, Appleby, & Carpenter firm. Her main assignment is to investigate and build a defense for an elderly black man named Moses, who is charged with several dozen counts of trespassing. Moses lives on his fishing boat, and would tie his boat to private docks along the river for the night, which irked the neighbors who owned the docks. It seems like a petty charge that should just have ended with a warning to “please ask folks if they mind before you use their dock”. But as Tami works on a defense for Moses, she discovers that there is more of a story than meets the eye. Is he a harmless old man, or a heartless killer?

This story did not seem very realistic. The main character, Tami, is just too naive to seem plausible. She has been homeschooled, is deeply religious, and consults her parents for every decision. If she is still that tied to the apron strings of home, how did she make it through several years of law school? And when she applies for jobs, she has no cell phone, internet service, or e-mail for them to contact her with, only her parents’ landline telephone. She also has no car, and depends on her parents or friends for rides. She can’t accept the job, which involves moving to another town, until her parents give their blessing (which they do)

After she starts working at the firm, she often loses track of time, forgets to do things, keeps the company’s loaner car longer than she should, and goes off for a leisurely lunch with one male lawyer or another when she has work to do. When I compare that to any of the John Grisham novels about lawyers and court cases, Grisham’s guys are always running like crazy, eating lunch at their desk, and working like maniacs to get their work done on time. After work, Tami seems to have plenty of time to spend with her elderly landlady, sometimes heating up supper for her. Tami never seems to have to bring cases home to work on, and has enough energy to get up early in the morning to run four miles before walking to work.

The other female summer clerk also does not seem real. She is always trying to get the lawyers to go out with her, calmly doing research in the company library, or going to parties at night. She never seems tired, and frequently pokes fun of Tami’s religious beliefs, which causes friction between the women.

Then there are the two guy lawyers, Zach and Vince, who coincidentally are both Christians like Tami, and who are both interested in dating her. What are the chances of that? Although this was a clean read, which I appreciated, the story never seemed even close to real. If you are looking for a legal thriller that is at least somewhat authentic, this book is not it.

The Kindly Isle – by Frederik Pohl (1984)

Platinum Pohl    Year's Best

“The Kindly Isle” is a Cold-War-era short story written by the prolific author Frederik Pohl. The main character, Jerry Wenright, works for a hotel chain, which sends him to resorts that are up for sale. Jerry inspects the properties, assesses their worth, and makes recommendations to the company about whether it is worth buying or not. In the story, he is sent to an island in the Caribbean area to check out a vacation resort that was started but never finished. On the island, he spots a scientist that he suspects of biological terrorism, which makes him very uneasy. But he also meets a lovely woman who has arrived on one of the cruise ships.

The tale ended with a twist that I totally did not suspect. I quite enjoyed this little gem of a story! Where can you find this story? It is included in the book “Platinum Pohl”. Check with your local public library. If they no longer have a copy, you can buy it as a Kindle e-book.
https://www.amazon.com/Platinum-Pohl-Collected-Best-Stories-ebook/dp/B008YHUTNY/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=platinum+pohl&qid=1568822212&s=books&sr=1-1

The story can also be found in “Year’s Best Science Fiction: Second Annual Collection”, compiled by Gardner Dozois. You can get it from Barnes & Noble’s website:
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-years-best-science-fiction-dozois-gardner/1111742882?ean=9781466807310

You can also get it as a Kindle e-book:
https://www.amazon.com/Years-Best-Science-Fiction-Collection-ebook/dp/B006ZMR68Q/ref=sr_1_10?keywords=the+year%27s+best+science+fiction+second+annual+collection&qid=1568821904&s=books&sr=1-10

Anyway you can find it, this is a sweet story.

Eventown – by Corey Ann Haydu (2019)

Eventown

This book starts out feeling like a cross between the movies “Stepford Wives” and “Pleasantville”. Eleven-year-old twin sisters Elodee and Naomi leave their hometown of Jupiter, and move with their parents to Eventown. There are no phones, televisions, or computers. They spend the first few days thinking they’re in paradise – no stress or conflict or unpleasantness. Everyone agrees with everyone else, acts the same, and is polite to a tee. The kids all love school! Something is definitely wrong in this town.

Alarm bells go off in Elodee’s mind when she visits the library and discovers that every book is blank. And what’s up with those mandatory interviews at the Welcoming Center? Her sister Naomi seems different after her interview. Elodee completes only half of her interview, at which time she figures out what is going on in Eventown.

 

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

 

In the end, you find out that the town has been set up as a refuge for families who have gone through a severe life trauma. As they are interviewed at the Welcoming Center, their memories of life before coming to Eventown are erased. They no longer feel the sadness or anger or anxiety they once felt. They are in a safe, predictable place where they can live happily every after. The question is: If you erase all the painful parts of life, can you fully enjoy being human?

Although this book is written for kids, it covers some deep topics – sibling relationships, family crisis, mind manipulation, depression, and death. The farther you get into the story, the more serious it becomes. The youngest reader age I would recommend is 5th grade.

My Year In The Middle – by Lila Quintero Weaver (2018)

My Year In The Middle

Lu Olivera is constantly in the middle of things. It’s 1970 in Alabama, and the public schools have just been integrated. In her 6th grade room, the white kids are seated to one side, the black kids to the other side, and hispanics and “others” occupy the middle section.  There’s also a political divide. Governor Albert Brewer is running against George Wallace. Some of the students’ families support Brewer, some support Wallace. Then there’s the rivalry between their school and the neighboring school, against which they will be competing on Field Day. And of course there are circles of friends at school that don’t get along with different circles of friends.

It’s a confusing world. Why does everyone have to be so divided? Thankfully, Lu has caring parents, a protective older sister, and kind neighbors that give her a solid base while she grapples with the issues of race, politics, and just plain meanness.

The book was inspired by the author’s own experience of coming to the United States from the country of Argentina. Although Lu and the town in the story are fictional, the racial tension and the political campaign are true. This novel is a good read for anyone 4th grade through adult.

Lucky Broken Girl – by Ruth Behar (2017)

Lucky Broken Girl

Most of us don’t give our ability to stand upright and walk a second thought. We do it without thinking. We just assume that we’ll be able to navigate around the house, through the local park, and wherever we need to go at work or school. But imagine that you’ve been in a car accident so severe that one of your legs is horribly broken. You’ve been placed in a body cast that extends from your mid-torso to the bottom of both feet. The orthopedic surgeon explains that although only one of your legs is broken, both legs need to be immobilized to keep one from becoming longer than the other. Now imagine being stuck in this situation for nearly a year.

In this novel, 5th-grader Ruthie has been in a serious car accident that leaves her in the condition just described. As time goes on, she finds her world shrinking down to just the bedroom she lives in. When it seems that she might never be able to live a normal life again, the love and care of her Cuban-American immigrant family surrounds and encourages her. The book is based on a similar period of time in the author’s life, when she also was restricted to bed for almost a year as her leg healed. If you enjoy reading realistic fiction about tight-knit families, this is a must-read book.