Thursday, January 13, 2011

Coffee For The Brain Book Tournament - Round 1 Decision #4

Last night I had another book decision come in. This group did a fantastic job of really breaking down both stories. I am just loving the write-ups from everyone so far. What a great start to the tournament. You guys rock.

The book matchup was

Escape from Memory by Margaret Peterson Haddix

 and Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers.

Synopsis for each book follows…

Escape from Memory is a science fiction fantasy novel. Unaware that she holds a secret within her, fifteen-year-old Kira agrees, at a sleepover, to let her friends hypnotize her. Hoping to hear her secret crush, her friends instead hear a child's buried memory of fleeing from danger with her mother and Kira speaking a language none of them understands. When Kira confronts her eccentric, quiet mother with questions about her revelation, she becomes frightened. Kira, with the help of her best friend Lynne, set out to find the answers to Kira's questions. Before any of these questions can be answered, a woman who calls herself Aunt Memory appears, claiming that the women Kira thinks of as her mother has been kidnapped and that only Kira can save her.

Aunt Memory kidnaps Kira and transports her to an old-world county, called Crythe, hidden within California. Kira finds herself imprisoned with the women she always believed was her mother, and her best friend, who stowaway on the plane. It is in Crythe that Kira finds out she is a special child, the daughter of two brilliant Crythians. Kira discovers that her parents stored important data in her memory, which could only be discovered through hypnosis. In order to save herself, her best friend, and her mother, Kira must unlock the memories hidden deep inside her. Kira is faced with the difficult decision of whether to unlock those memories, which she has been told could harm her own memories, or try to save her family and friends on her own. The plot moves at such a rapid pace that only at the end of the story does the reader have time to contemplate the unresolved questions concerning the power and role of memories in our lives.

While a good mystery and tale of friendship, the book ends, leaving one main plot unresolved. This was frustrating to me, but Aaron thought the ending was good.

In Fallen Angels, seventeen-year-old Richie Perry, a black high school graduate from Harlem, travels to Vietnam to fight in the United States Army. When Richie leaves basic training for Vietnam, he harbors a host of illusions about the war and the army. He confidently believes that the medical profile he has received for a knee injury will be properly processed and prevent him from engaging in combat. He also believes in the flurry of rumors about imminent peace and in the prevalent romantic myths about warfare.

When Richie first arrives in Vietnam, he befriends Harold “Peewee” Gates and Jenkins, two new recruits assigned to the same squad. A sergeant assures them that they should encounter only easy, light work, as there is not much fighting near Chu Lai, where their company is stationed. These rumors prove to be wishful thinking, however, when the three new soldiers arrive at their camp; Jenkins is killed by a land mine during the squad’s first patrol. Richie is deeply shaken and longs to communicate his terror and horror to his family, but he finds himself unable to write the truth to his mother and his brother, Kenny.

As Richie witnesses’ ever-increasing levels of destruction and brutality, he begins to doubt whether there is any straightforward morality in war. He sees that the line between good and bad is often ambiguous. He also becomes disillusioned with the selfishness of his commanding officers, particularly the company commander, Captain Stewart, who is more concerned with earning a promotion than he is with the safety of the soldiers under his command. When Richie’s platoon leader, Lieutenant Carroll, is killed during a combat mission, Richie begins a serious search for answers to why he and his fellow soldiers are even fighting in Vietnam in the first place. Though his friends insist that such thoughts are futile and dangerous, Richie feels compelled to find meaning within the chaos. He also longs for some way to communicate his confused thoughts and emotions to his family, but he remains unable to do so. Richie is not sure how to sort out the emotions he feels or how to communicate them effectively to civilians who have never seen combat.

As Richie searches for meaning in the war, he also searches for his own sense of self. He struggles to unravel his motivations for enlisting in the army, wondering whether his reason was a selfless one, based on the desire to earn money to provide for Kenny, or a selfish one—simply to escape from the hard life he faced in Harlem. Richie also forces himself to confront the uncomfortable question of what he will do when he returns to civilian life. Though he is highly intelligent and highly motivated and has ambitions to become a writer, his family is too poor to send him to college. Richie’s father abandoned the family years ago, and his mother has since become an alcoholic. Richie is afraid that without an education he has no career potential, and he is unsure what he has to look forward to if he survives.

Richie is wounded in a battle and transferred to a hospital. During the peaceful weeks spent recuperating, he begins to remember the joys of safety and gains a new sense of the horrors of war. When he is declared healthy and ordered to rejoin his unit, he wonders how he can possibly go back into combat and considers deserting the army. In the end, though, he rejoins his unit as ordered.

Back with his unit, Richie learns that the old squad leader, Sergeant Simpson, has been sent home. His replacement is the racist Sergeant Dongan, who always places black soldiers in the most dangerous positions. Early in their tour of duty, there are racial and ethnic tensions among the squad members, which frequently result in physical confrontations. As the squad’s bond grows stronger, however, petty prejudices begin to fade, and the squad bands together against Dongan’s racism. Soon, Dongan is killed, and the squad is placed under the command of one of its own soldiers, Corporal Brunner.

Brunner leads the men on a deadly mission to track down a group of Vietcong—North Vietnamese guerilla forces—along a river. After a series of mistakes and miscalculations, a firefight breaks out, leaving both Richie and Peewee wounded. Richie’s medical profile is finally processed while he is recovering, and Peewee’s wounds are serious enough to earn him a discharge from the army. Peewee and Richie fly home on the same plane, along with caskets containing dead soldiers. They try to stand tall for the new recruits, who are just arriving in Vietnam.

Because it was written in first person I assumed (correctly) at the beginning of the book that the main character survived the war. Aaron is still trying to finish this book as it was a difficult read due to the character’s dialog, racism issues and war history.  Not a G rated book by any means. 

We would like to advance the Escape from Memory as it was an enjoyable and easy book to read as well as thought provoking but we doubt it will make it to the finish line! Looking forward to round 2.  

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