Category Archives: Nova

Reviews from a 9th grade girl.

Princess Mononoke – Japanese Anime

Princess Mononoke is a brilliant fantasy anime film about a man named Ashitaka, who comes from a small, dying village. The forest is dying because of humans, and a demon comes in a fury to try to kill Ashitaka’s village. He kills the beast, but in the process it touches his arm and he becomes cursed, and it will soon kill him. The village elder tells him to go and find the Forest Spirit, who may be able to lift his curse.

On the way Ashitaka meets Lady Eboshi, who runs Iron Town, which mines the ground in the forest to make iron. He learns that Iron Town was responsible for turning a god of the forest into the demon that cursed Ashitaka; they continue to chop down the forest and anger the other forest gods. Ashitaka has to stop Lady Eboshi from killing the forest spirit, and he also has to stop San (Princess Mononoke), the girl raised by wolves who is trying to protect the forest, from killing all the humans and getting herself killed in the process.

Hayao Miyazaki is the best Japanese anime artist and director there is, and Princess Mononoke is one of his very best anime movies, filled with lots of action and romance. Fighting demons is just the beginning! This is one of my favorite movies of all time. I have lost count of the times I have watched it. And it’s not just me – Roger Ebert included it on his list of the best movies of 1999 – not the best animated movies, the best of ALL movies!

Recommended age: 12 and up for fantasy violence and gore and disturbing imagery.

Voice acting by: Billy Crudup (Ashitaka); Claire Danes (San/Princess Mononoke); Minnie Driver (Eboshi); Billy Bob Thornton (Jigo); Gillian Anderson (Moro The Wolf); Jada Pinkett-Smith (Toki).


Age 15

QUICK LINKS:
Roger Ebert’s TWO THUMBS UP review of Princess Mononoke: READ NOW
See Princess Mononoke on DVD

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The Place of Lions

The Place of Lions, by Eric Campbell, is about a boy named Chris Harris who lives in your average modern city in the United States. A while back, Chris had lost his mother from an illness. When his father tells him that they’re moving to Africa, he is overjoyed. But when their plane crashes, what then? In this book, Chris finds out that surviving in the wilderness is not all fun and games, and can be very dangerous.

When Chris is in Africa with his father, they take a plane to get to their new home. When the plane’s engine fails and it crashes into the planes of Tanzania, it leaves Chris, his father, and the pilot stranded in the vast wilderness. His father has a broken leg, the pilot is near dead, and Chris has an injury as well, but he is the only one who can move about freely. He scavenges the crashed plane for food and shelter, making a tent to protect them from the sun and finding some scraps of food. While Chris is out scavenging, a pack of lions moves in on him.

They toy with him for a bit until the leader of the pack comes, and Chris can make a run for it. But he stays out of sight, watching what happens. The pack leader gets wounded and is shunned, being replaced by a younger lion. The rest of the lions leave, and eventually even the former pack leader is gone from Chris’s sight.

While that happens, there is a man named Mike Taylor, who hunts poachers, trying to keep the wildlife safe. Mike is taking a tourist from New York, Hyram Johnson, to see the thing he most wants: an elephant. When they finally get around to seeing an elephant, it’s a dead one. Poachers had killed it for its ivory, setting Mike and Hyram on their quest to find the poachers and put them to a stop.

As Mike and Hyram are off hunting the poachers, Chris has been talking with his father and has figured out which direction the nearest town is in by the route they took. Chris leaves early in the morning, leaving his father and the near-dead pilot to try and get help. After walking a while, he realizes that the old lion is following him! Except the lion is no threat. It is wounded, and is traveling with Chris if only to give him energy to keep him going.

Mike and Hyram cannot find the poachers and are about to give up, when they reach a hill and they see a person, thinking it’s one of the poachers, they raise a gun and prepare to fire. That is when they see that it is not a poacher, but a small boy, who is being followed by the lion, completely unaware of the danger. They aim for the lion instead, determined to save the boy.

Chris sees that it is harder for the lion to keep on going. Eventually the lion stops, and Chris turns around to stand next to it. The lion gets up again and they travel to the hill. That is when Chris gets rescued and the lion leaves, this time for good.

As you can see, surviving in the wilderness is difficult. This is an excellent book, fast-paced and written well. Things got a little odd at times, like how Chris felt “connected” to the lion until they reached the hill, where they separated, and it was never really explained why. I recommend this book to people. It’s a great read.


QUICK LINK:
Place of Lions (Piper)

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The Golden Goblet

The Golden Goblet, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, is about a young boy named Ranofer who is living as a worker in a goldsmith shop, back in ancient Egypt. He wants nothing more than to be apprenticed by a goldsmith and to become great at it, but since his parents died and his older half brother, Gebu, a stonecutter, started taking care of him, that dream was smashed to pieces. Ranofer discovers that his half brother has been stealing – from more places than one. But Ranofer is too scared to do anything about it. Ranofer soon finds out that sometimes you have to do the right thing, even if you’re scared to do it.

Just previous to the start of the book, Ranofer lived with his father, a goldsmith. Ranofer was training to be one as well, and his father often promised him that he could one day be an apprentice under Zau, a good friend of his father’s and the best goldsmith in Egypt. But Ranofer lost his father. When nobody else could take care of him, his older half-brother, Gebu, decided to take him in. Only then did Ranofer find out that Gebu was quite evil, and though he does let him work in a goldsmith shop, Ranofer is not allowed to become better because all he is permitted to do it pour molten gold into the molds and nothing else.

One of Gebu’s friends, Ibni, works with Ranofer. But his wife often makes wine, and Ibni gives Ranofer a flask of wine to give to his half-brother about every week or so. But often times Ranofer finds Gebu pouring the wine out on the ground outside carelessly – even purposefully.

Soon, the owner of the goldsmith says that somebody has been stealing gold. Not a lot, just a little at a time. Ranofer makes a friend, Heqet, and they both wonder who was stealing the gold. Ranofer remembers the wine flask, and how Gebu always seems very happy to get it, even though he never drinks a drop of it. He realizes that it would be very easy to slip small lumps of gold into the opening when nobody is looking. Ranofer tells Heqet of this, and they both think that it is the most likely option.

Ranofer feels very confident, and confronts Gebu, saying that he knows his secret and can tell the authorities at any time. Gebu says that who will the authorities believe, a petty worker in the goldsmith, or the head of a stonecutter shop? Ranofer gets beaten for his confidence, and he discards the idea of even going against Gebu. But he then realizes that he’s a part of the crime, too, because he takes the wine flask to Gebu. He thinks to refuse the wine flask, and does so, telling Ibni that Gebu no longer wants the wine. When he gets home, though, he is beaten for not bringing the wine. Gebu threatens to take Ranofer away from the goldsmith shop, and to put him to work in his own stonecutting shop.

Ranofer tells Heqet, and Heqet says that he will tell the goldsmith owner who has been stealing gold. Ranofer doesn’t want to, for fear that Gebu will think that Ranofer told. Heqet says that he will not even mention Ranofer’s name. Before Ranofer knows it, Ibni is gone and the gold stealing stopped.

Ranofer also befriends an old man, whom he and Heqet call the Ancient. Soon, though, Gebu makes Ranofer work in the stonecutting shop. Ranofer absolutely hates it. He has not seen Heqet in a while, either. Gebu seems to be getting richer and richer, even though a stonecutter’s wages aren’t that much. Ranofer thinks something is up, and he, Heqet, and the Ancient started meeting during lunch time and agreed to spy on Gebu and several of his suspicious friends.

Heqet is given the task of delivering an object to Zau, the master goldsmith, and he invites Ranofer to come along with him. Ranofer accepts, and he sees Zau. They talk for a while and Ranofer explains what happened to his father. Zau said that if Ranofer wished, he would apprentice him. But he could not provide food or other such things for him. Ranofer realizes that if he were to be apprenticed for Zau, there would be no doubt that Gebu would throw him out. Zau says that Ranofer has to change his life before he can be an apprentice.

One day in the stonecutter shop, Ranofer sees a plan for a tomb in the stonecutter shop. He notes a small room on the plans that seems to be useless, so he asks Gebu for what purpose it was to be used for. Gebu nearly explodes and tells Ranofer to mind his own business, which only makes Ranofer more suspicious. When Gebu is gone one night, Ranofer sneaks into Gebu’s room and finds the thing he would least expect: a golden goblet that belonged to king Tut, nearly a hundred years previous. Ranofer realizes that this goblet was stolen from the pharaoh’s tomb. In shock, he puts it back and crawls back to bed, unable to think about what had happened.

Ranofer discovers that Gebu and his friends are going to rob the tomb of the recently deceased king and queen, and that the small room was actually an entrance for Gebu to get to the rest of the tomb. Ranofer decides to keep this information to himself, and to not tell his friends and follow Gebu and catch him in the act, and maybe to get an authority when they were deep inside of the tomb. But he is discovered in the tomb by Gebu, and is chased out. Ranofer manages to but a boulder in the way of the entrance so they could not get out, and runs to get his friends. They run to the tomb to guard it while Ranofer finds help. He goes to Zau’s shop, to find that he isn’t there. With no other option, he runs to the palace, where the new queen ruled. He is caught on attempt to sneak in, and is brought to the queen.

The queen thinks he is lying, but then decides to test him. She asks him to describe an object in her parent’s tomb to see if he actually knew what he was talking about. Ranofer answered correctly, and immediately the palace guards go out and find Gebu and his friends, capturing them and sentencing them to death for the horrible crime. The queen asks Ranofer what he wishes to have – anything he wanted, for finding the criminals. Ranofer asks for a donkey, so that he might cut down papyrus and the donkey would carry it to the shop where he could sell it and make money for himself, so that he may work with Zau and become a great goldsmith. The queen grants his request with a smile, giving him the finest donkey in all of Egypt.

As you can see, even thought Ranofer was scared to confront his half brother and to bring him to justice, it was better to do the right thing. It is a very well written book, and I enjoyed it. It did get a bit complicated with the many characters coming in and out, and having to keep track of who everybody was: alive and dead.


QUICK LINKS:
The Golden Goblet (Newbery Library, Puffin)
See more great books from Eloise Jarvis McGraw!

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Esperanza Rising


Esperanza Rising, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, is about a thirteen-year-old girl named Esperanza, who lives with her mother, father, grandmother, and servants in Mexico in the 1930s. She is very rich and her life is very good until one night, Esperanza’s dad is shot and killed by bandits. Her uncle, Tío Luis, burns everything down and threatens to do worse unless Esperanza’s mother married him. Her mother says no, and they flee to America with the help of three of their servants: Hortensia, Alfonso, and their son Miguel. Esperanza soon learns that true wealth does not mean that you have lots of money.

When they leave for America, they are forced to leave Esperanza’s grandmother, Abuelita, because she hurt her ankle and can’t make the trip. Miguel says that he and his family were planning on going to America anyway, and that life there is better, because they don’t have to be servants. “In America you can work your way up to a good wage, and I could be more than a servant,” Miguel tells Esperanza. Esperanza believes him, until they actually get to America.

Once there, Esperanza is horrified that they all have to share two tiny housing units with another family whom already lives there. The family arranged for them to live there, because they are relatives of Miguel’s. Everybody except Esperanza is happy. While the parents and Miguel are working, she and the other girl that lives there, Isabel, have to take care of the two babies in the house. But soon Isabel goes off to school, and Esperanza must take care of them by herself.

She does not like it, and she wants her old life back. She’s wants her land, her nice dresses, her free time … she hates this new life! But slowly she becomes accustomed to it, and her previous life is now just a story to her, a fairytale that couldn’t possibly be true anymore. When her mother comes down with Valley Fever and is hospitalized, everything shatters for Esperanza. Her mother was her last family member with her, and she cannot lose her! The doctor explains that her mother is not getting better because of stress. She had lost so much in so little time, and the sickness just opened up the floodgates for her mother. Esperanza is convinced that if she can bring her Abuelita back, that her mother would get better.

So Esperanza starts working with the rest of the adults after she finds somebody to take care of the babies for her. When Esperanza almost has enough money, she and Miguel have a big fight. Americans are coming in from other states to get jobs, and even though they aren’t even half as experienced as the Mexicans are, they are still getting paid much more. Because of that, Miguel lost his job and Esperanza is angry because Miguel seems fine with it. She screams, telling him that he is still a servant. “You aid things would be so much better here in America, but they aren’t,” she tells him.

The next morning, Miguel is gone. Everybody is sad, and Miguel’s father mentions that he thinks he went to the north to find a new job. Soon after, Esperanza’s mother gets better and is allowed to come home. Esperanza tells her mother about everything, and then finally says that she’s been saving up money to get Abuelita to come. But when Esperanza looks at where she’s kept her money, it was all gone! Everybody then suspects Miguel, and Esperanza is even more angry with him than before.

When Miguel shows up one day, everybody is shocked. They are even more shocked when he comes back with Abuelita. He says that he snuck back into Mexico and past Tío Luis, and got Abuelita here for Esperanza. After that, everything is well again, and Esperanza doesn’t care that she is has no money anymore, because she is still rich.

As you can see, Esperanza learns that being rich doesn’t mean that you have a lot of money. She knows that it means having your family with you, and being happy with what you have. This was excellently written, and is a great read.


QUICK LINK:
Esperanza Rising

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The Light in the Forest

The Light in the Forest, by Conrad Richter, is about a boy named John Butler who was captured by the Indians in the midst of a raid when he was a little boy. He was renamed True Son by his Indian father, Cuyloga, and grows up as one of the Indians and is treated like he truly is one. True Son learns that it is difficult to be in two cultures at once, to be a white boy and Indian all in one.

In the story, True Son gets word that the English people want their children back eleven years later. True Son does not want to go, but is forced to by the English people. Along the way his cousin Half Arrow decides to follow him to keep him company. He also delivers gifts from True Son’s Indian father. Half Arrow plans to follow True Son, but the English people say that he cannot any more.

True Son is brought to his parents, but he is not happy about it. He rebels and even tries to escape at one point, but he is forced to stay.

Half Arrow and his friend, Little Crane, come to find True Son and help him escape into the woods. Little Crane was killed by a white man, and True Son flees with Half Arrow. They find a small clearing in the woods with a river and plenty of fish. They stay for a long time, fishing and exploring. When they finally go back True Son’s Indian family rejoices. But as for the Indian Little Crane who died, his family did not join in. They convince others to strike back against the English people in revenge for their lost member. Others agree, and True Son joins them.

On the way the other Indians see that True Son had been tainted by the white people, and that he was not the same. When True Son tries to lure a boat from the river in so that the other Indians can shoot it, he hesitates and the boat gets away. True Son’s own Indian father decided that he must go back to the English, because he was not a true Indian anymore.

This book was interesting to me because I have never experienced being a part of two cultures with different beliefs that conflicted with each other. I enjoyed the book up until the end, when he was forced to go back to the English people. I loved the fact that he was an Indian struggling to survive in the English culture, but disliked that the English people would not accept him as an Indian even though he was still their kid.


QUICK LINK:
The Light in the Forest

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Beyond the Western Sea

Beyond the Western Sea: The Escape from Home, by Avi, is the first book in a series about two homeless children named Maura and Patrick O’Connell trying to find their way from Ireland to America. On the way they bump into a runaway from home named Laurence Kirkle. All three of them are trying to get to America but have obstacles in the way of their destination.

When Maura, Patrick, and their mother were driven out of their home in Ireland, they got a letter from their father who was in America. They were informed that their father had become rich, and he wished that they followed him. Enclosed in the letter were three tickets – one for each of the O’Connell family.

When it came time to go, their mother refused. She stayed behind while Maura and Patrick left for London, and from there, America. Unfortunately for Maura and Patrick, a boy named Ralph Toggs deceived them, and ripped up the passes to the hotel where they were supposed to stay. Ralph guided them to a rundown inn and dumped them there, where they befriended a man named Mr. Drabble who helped Maura and Patrick around the strange town of Liverpool.

While this was happening, a young boy named Laurence Kirkle was in a fight with his elder sibling Albert and his father Lord Kirkle. It ended in Laurence getting beaten, and Laurence insisted he was going to run away to America. Of course, nobody believed him. When he stole a thousand pounds from his father and suddenly disappeared, though, Lord Kirkle sent for Mr. Pickler, a detective, to find Laurence and bring him back.

However, Albert did not want him to come back. He sent for Mr. Clemspool to make sure that Laurence did get on the boat to America, insuring that he never came back. On the way Laurence was robbed by Mr. Grout, Mr. Clemspool’s partner. Mr. Clemspool met Laurence on the train to get to Liverpool and befriended Laurence. He brought him to a hotel and made him feel like he did before: the pampered son of a lord. Then Mr. Clemspool announced that Laurence was sick, and he called for a doctor. The doctor prescribed a strange medicine, and Mr. Clemspool took it, left the room and informed Laurence that he would be back to give him the medicine in only a moment. When he is gone too long, Laurence took a peek through the keyhole to see what is going on. Laurence found out that Mr. Clemspool knew he was from a wealthy family, and that he was being held prisoner. He escaped that night by climbing down the curtain from the window.

He was found by Patrick, as they were both trying to find their way around in the heavy fog. They were pulled onto a ship called the Charity, a chapel ship, much to Patrick’s dismay (he was Catholic). After staying there some time, Patrick promised Laurence the extra ticket that had been for his mother. When he told his sister Maura that he offered the ticket to somebody else, she informed him that she had already given the extra ticket to the man who had helped them so much – Mr. Drabble!

When Patrick told his friend Laurence that they could not give him a ticket, they both agree to stow him away on the ship. Laurence gets the help of a friend in the city, Fred, who was Ralph’s rival, to sneak him on board the same ship Patrick, Maura, and Mr. Drabble were to board. Fred got him on the ship and stuffed him into a crate, where Laurence was left to wait for Patrick to get him out.

As you can see, it is as good a cliffhanger as any to stop a book. I thought this book was well written and had a good complex storyline, but was very confusing when it swapped back and forth between seven different stories. The theme of trying to overcome the obstacles in their path was repeated throughout the book. I would recommend this book to others who are not easily confused.


QUICK LINK:
The Escape From Home (Beyond the Western Sea, Book 1)

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