Monday, July 11, 2011

Week 26: American Skin, by Don DeGrazia

American Skin is a novel loosely based on the life of its author, Don DeGrazia. It’s the story of Alex Verdi, a teenager who finds his life completely uprooted when his hippie parents get busted for dealing pot. In a single day, finds the family farm ransacked and one of their dogs shot, and his parents and little sister are nowhere to be found and presumably in police custody. He makes a split decision to run away from the bucolic Illinois town he lives in and head for Chicago. Alex is a smart, savvy kid, and he quickly gets a factory job and moves into the Y. Just as quickly, he is indoctrinated to city life by way of multiple muggings. He manages to learn from them and becomes incrementally more street-smart. One day on the subway, he is on the verge of a tussle with a few thugs when a group of skinheads come to his aid. Alex spends a night hanging out with them and they take him under his wing. He befriends Timmy, who helps manage a local music venue/club that provides a living space for many of the skins. Later on, when Alex loses his job, he takes Timmy up on his offer to move in. And so begins Alex’s initiation into skinhead culture – not Nazi skinheads, but the skinheads who listen to punk and ska music and are proponents of racial equality. These “good” skins are constantly fighting with the “bad” skins (the ones that are more into white power and all that). A brief history of skinhead/punk history ensues, and it’s pretty entertaining to read about it all playing out at the club with its cast of colorful characters. Alex’s current adventures are subtly shaped by his upbringing, as the reader sees how snippets from his past influence him in different ways. His longing for his family, or any family, is touching at many points. He silently carries around his past, never sharing the whole truth with any of his new friends. As life circuitously brings him from the club to the Army (enlisted by force after breaking the law) to Northwestern University (pretending to be a student to impress a girl), one finds his evolution from boy to man half inspiring and half sad. The reader will undoubtedly be rooting for Alex’s sweet yet tough persona, as well as all of the other hysterical, realistic characters. The book is slightly campy, but always entertaining; a great summer read.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Week 25: Lord of the Flies, by Wiliam Golding

OK, as mentioned in my previous post, I need to hustle through this review because it's the Friday before the Fourth of July, and I'm running late. But in an attempt to not fall behind on the blog too badly, I thought I would squeeze this post in. There's a lot of things to say about this book. And I think the first thing is: "WTF? Thanks, Golding, I'm totally creeped out now and terrified." I mean, look at this book cover! Could it get more disturbing? Plus, I took this book to a camping trip ON AN ISLAND. Ooh, how fitting and perfect for my island camping trip! Well, I sure was singing a different tune lying in my tent at night thinking about a gang of little boys chanting "kill the pig spill her blood", etc. For some reason, I had not read this book growing up like most adults nowadays. It was interesting to observe elements of the book that have been borrowed in pop culture today. For instance, everything about the show Lost?! For those unfamiliar with the plot, it revolves around a group of little boys who were in a plane crash and end up on a deserted island. Their attempts to fend for themselves and create order are successful until suddenly, they aren't. The deterioration of their society is pretty harrowing. The various personalities of the boys play out in ways that might initially be predicted, but hoped against. It's incredibly sharp commentary on what it means to be part of a community, and how that distills down into simple survival mode, as the boys revert back to a more primal nature. It's never maudlin or overly done; it's understated in a way that makes it more compelling. An important, thought-provoking book.

Week 24: AM/PM, by Amelia Gray

It’s almost time to leave work before the holiday weekend, so I will keep this brief. Very brief. And perhaps this is fitting, considering the nature of this book. AM/PM is a collection of short stories that are loosely connected to each other. At times, the stories are no more than a few sentences. Other times, they are a little longer, but not by much. No matter the length of them, they are all concentrated down into potent little vignettes. They can be moving, or abstract, and they are filled with interesting characters. For example, one vein of stories concerns itself with a personified John Mayer concert t-shirt. Another involves two people who are stuck inside a box. It was really fun to read about this quirky cast, and it was a reminder that sometimes less is more. Like this review.