Category: book reviews

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Book Review: The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, by Nicholas Carr ★★★★☆

Ed. Note: The following book review is by Noam O., a student in Kathleen’s class in San Francisco.

Glass Cage Coverfavicon The Glass Cage is a neutral book about the pros and cons of technology and automation. I enjoyed it because I expected the book to be biased against technology, and I expected it to speak of the evils of modern technology. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by the author’s neutrality and his ability to weigh the pros and the cons of technology and automation. It talks about how technology has been incredibly helpful and is the hallmark of our species. At the same time, the book also speaks of the dangers of its misuse and how we must balance the use of technology. favicon

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Book Review: Crank, by Ellen Hopkins ★★★★☆

Ed. Note: The following book review is by Nicholas G., a student in Kathleen’s class in San Francisco.

crank2favicon Crank, by Ellen Hopkins, was one of the most interesting fiction books I’ve read in a long time. The writing style author Ellen Hopkins employs is odd, yet it provides for a much more entertaining read. It is almost like reading a poem, yet it still is very unique.

The story tells of a girl and her downfall into the depths of drug addiction. I would recommend this book for someone looking for an unusual but quick read. Since the pages are like a poem with unorganized stanzas, it actually doesn’t take too long to get through this book. favicon

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Book Review: Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson (★★★★★)

Just Mercyfavicon Please read this book as soon as you can. That’s pretty much it.

Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, is probably the best book I’ve read in the last five or so years.

It’s pretty much about everything I care about: social justice, race, poverty, compassion and empathy, commitment and dedication, and the power of hard work and hope.

Mr. Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, is an attorney who has spent his life defending people on death row. He has done most of his work in the South, where the death penalty, along with years of mass incarceration, serves to extend the legacy of slavery.

In fact, Just Mercy is a perfect companion to Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. While Prof. Alexander’s book focuses on the institutional progression from slavery to race terrorism to Jim Crow to segregation to mass incarceration, Mr. Stevenson centers in on the personal, dedicating most of his book to the case of Walter McMillian. He intersperses the main narrative with poignant, disturbing chapters on injustices facing women, children, and people with intellectual disabilities.

There are many reasons to read this book. If you care about issues of social justice, the justice system, race, or poverty, then this book is a natural fit.

But this book is even more. It will push you to consider what you’re doing with your life, about what you stand for, about how you treat people. It will get you out of the humdrum dailiness and encourage you to think about the big.

Just as an example, here’s a short excerpt where Mr. Stevenson reflects on why he stays in this challenging work. After a page in which he describes how society has “broken” his clients, he continues:

I do what I do because I’m broken, too. My years of struggling against inequality, abusive power, poverty, oppression, and injustice had finally revealed something to me about myself. Being close to suffering, death, executions, and cruel punishments didn’t just illuminate the brokenness of others; in a moment of anguish and heartbreak, it also exposed my own brokenness. You can’t effectively fight abusive power, poverty, inequality, illness, oppression, or injustice and not be broken by it. We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and have been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent.

Also, if you haven’t seen it yet, consider watching Mr. Stevenson’s TED Talk, “We Need to Talk About an Injustice.”

As Mr. Stevenson says, let’s listen. And once we’ve listened, let’s talk about what we may not want to talk about. Let’s believe things that we haven’t yet seen. Let’s consider our hearts in addition to our minds. Let’s have an orientation of hope. And if you’ve read the book, let’s start talking about it! Please leave a comment. favicon

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Mateo reviews The New Jim Crow

coverfavicon Mateo, a student in Kathleen’s class in San Francisco, has this to say about Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.

I extremely enjoyed this book, and I admired Michelle Alexander’s courage to raise issues that are plaguing our society.

Alexander goes in depth about the prison industrial complex, in which we continue to see black men incarcerated for drug crimes. She states statistics that show that white men actually use and sell drugs at astronomical rates, but still black men are being imprisoned.

Alexander concludes that we are in “The New Jim Crow Era.” Many people feel as though we are no longer fighting against explicit racism; however, with the incarceration rates of young Black men, it shows people of color are still being “tamed.”

Alexander’s passion for and knowledge of the Prison Industrial Complex really inspired me to raise these same issues to people who are ignorant to the injustices people of color are facing. favicon

Readers: If you’ve read The New Jim Crow, please leave a comment for Mateo. What did you think of the book?

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A few recent KCP book reviews

favicon Students participating in the Kindle Classroom Project record their finished books, and if they feel moved, they write a review.

Here are a just a few books that students completed this week. (I’m working on a way to publish them all.) If you’ve read one of the following books, feel free to leave a comment below!

Child Called ItA Child Called It
By Dave Pelzer
Review by Trevon, Kathleen’s class, San Francisco

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading disturbing books. The main theme for this book is child abuse, and Dave Pelzer does a good job of detailing every little torture game his mom played with him. The only tough part about the book is how the sentence structure is. Dave has a choppy sort of sentence structure to add that dramatic effect to it, but that is what makes the book a little harder to read.

By Allison van Diepen
Review by Olivia, Kathleen’s class, San Francisco

FINALLY, I have discovered a book I truly love! I read SNITCH, and it was amazing. I could not put it down. I would read it in class, at home, and even at work! I would recommend it to young adults who enjoy urban fiction. Overall I would rate this book five stars. Once again, thank you to Miss Large for inspiring me to increase my reading.

PerfChem2Perfect Chemistry
By Simone Elkeles
Review by Lesly, Nicole’s class, Oakland

I love this book. It has that excitement and romance I look for in a book. Its one of those books that keeps you engaged. You want to keep reading it.




The Day the Streets Stood StillThe Day the Streets Stood Still
By JaQuavis Coleman
Review by Carshell, Kathleen’s class, San Francisco

I like this book because it created a narrative about drug lords and king pins’ lives. It either confirmed your theory that you already had about them or further informed you on how they actually lived. This book was very educational; streets-wise, it taught you the repercussions of drugs and also how selling drugs can bring tragedy in your life. This book also taught the reader that you can overcome anything as long as you put your mind to it. It’s a book of successes and downfalls that leaves you wanting to read more. I would recommend this book because it’s very realistic and teaches you lessons of the streets that can keep you from making the same mistakes in your life.

The AlchemistThe Alchemist
By Paulo Coelho
Review by Nicholas, Kathleen’s class, San Francisco

As someone who tends to read mostly non-fiction books, I must say that this is certainly one of my favorite books. The Alchemist is about a shepherd who is in search of his “personal legend.” According to the book, a personal legend is essentially someone’s true destiny. I actually enjoyed this book because compared to the other books I was reading, it was an incredibly easy read. I loved the story and the characters that get introduced as the shepherd progresses through his journey. There is also a plethora of quotable lines within the book and is written very exquisitely. I would recommend this book to anyone as it is very easy to read and gets more addicting as you progressively get further into the book. favicon

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Book Review: The Smartest Kids in the World, by Amanda Ripley (★★☆☆☆)

cvr9781451654448_9781451654448_hr_0favicon Amanda Ripley knows how to write extremely well. In The Smartest Kids in the World, Ms. Ripley follows three American exchange students as they study in Finland, South Korea, and Poland. By doing so, Ms. Ripley investigates how the American education system could improve.

I appreciated that Ms. Ripley selected three different countries to focus on in this book. But I didn’t quite figure out her central thesis.

To me, the book was a series of anecdotes and vignettes to make an overall point that different countries are different, there are some different ways to have a good education system, but that in general, the quality of teaching matters most. And the stories were well told. But I would have preferred a little more detail and concreteness.

Maybe the problem for me is that the book tried to follow three students but was only 200 pages long — with about a quarter of it to introduce the students (before they arrived overseas).

In short: This is an extremely well-written book that maybe tried to do too much. Or maybe I’m just critical and biased because I’m the education field (and this book’s audience is white middle-class parents). Yes, maybe that’s it. favicon

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Book Review: The Circle, by Dave Eggers (★★★☆☆)

the circlefavicon The Circle is definitely a page turner, a thriller, and I like its premise (or at least what I think its premise is): What would happen if Google, Facebook, and Amazon became one company? Nothing in this book is too far off or too far-fetched. It’s all happening right now — or at least soon — and it’s scary.

The book is this generation’s 1984. George Orwell’s three mantras, including “War is Peace,” are substituted with their more modern versions, including “Sharing is Caring.” “Circlers” also believe that “everything must be known,” which is just a small step from Google’s current mission to make all the world’s information available to everyone. If everyone lived transparently (Mark Zuckerberg’s hope), there would be less crime and other nefarious deeds. Why keep things secret if you’re living a reputable life?

Some critics of this book don’t like the main character Mae and call her gullible. Why can’t Mae be more like 1984‘s Winston? My thinking is that Dave Eggers wanted Mae to be this way. He wants to remind us that we are Mae. Though we want to be some heroic figure that will fight against our impending doom, the reality is that we’re not. We just want to check our phones and send tweets.

Overall, I really liked this book and ripped through it, but I wish it were a bit shorter and tightened up. There are several subplots, and too much of the writing relied on dialogue. But I think that some of my students would like it. It definitely sends a powerful and scary message of where we’re headed.

If you’ve read The Circle, please leave your thoughts! favicon

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Book Review: Quiet (★★★☆)

QuietCoverfavicon People have told me that I’m an introvert, and so have a few Myers Briggs tests, but reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking confirmed it. I’m sure I had a similar reaction to Quiet as did other introverts — something like: I’m not a complete freak. And that’s why I really enjoyed the book.

Plus, Ms. Cain writes really well. I didn’t like all the chapters equally — for example, the one on relationships was very interesting, whereas the one on raising kids was not as much — but overall, the book kept my attention and offered a new way of being in the world. Its message, in short, was, Everything is OK.

At points, however, I felt like Ms. Cain (introverted herself) was trying to argue that introverts are smarter and kinder and better people who have more empathy. Whenever she’d go a little too much in this direction, though, she made sure to reel her judgment back in to a more objective stance.

Another way to think about this book: It’s definitely somewhere in the newish nonfiction genre, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, of self-help-with-a-little-science, but Ms. Cain’s tone wasn’t as matter-of-fact annoying, not as too-sure. I liked that a lot. favicon

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Book review: My Beloved World (★★☆☆)

favicon I really like Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She’s a hero. So that’s why I was really excited to read her memoir, My Beloved World. Although her story is inspirational, Justice Sotomayor’s writing is only OK and occasionally sappy.

On one hand, the book is a perfectly solid and well-written memoir, and there are parts that are quite moving. Justice Sotomayor is an inspiration, and from the first pages, in which she discusses her Type 1 diabetes, the book’s message is clear: take what’s given to you — positive and negative — and consider everything a gift.

In particular, I really like that Justice Sotomayor emphasizes the importance of education and how crucial it was that she worked very hard as a student. Also impressive is her direct endorsement of affirmative action. Because the Supreme Court will likely strike down affirmative action this term, I valued that Justice Sotomayor recognizes that she is a successful product of affirmative action, while Justice Clarence Thomas has long repudiated the notion.

Justice Sotomayor is, of course, a wonderful person, and her American story is one that needs to be told. But at points, the writing was a bit cliche — most likely because she is still serving on the Court. You can’t quite say everything you want to say when you’re supposed to be impartial. Toward the end, there were too many mentors and people to thank and happy, organized endings. And I wish she would have discussed her time as an appellate judge. Maybe that memoir will come in time. favicon

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Book review: The Fault in Our Stars (★★☆☆)

favicon I was supposed to like The Fault in Our Stars. I mean, it’s by John Green. It was Time’s fiction book of the year. It won Goodreads’s award for this year’s best young adult fiction. The protagonist is memorable, the topic is cancer, and the story is poignant.

What am I missing? Apparently, a lot — I didn’t much care for the book.

Or maybe it’s just that I preferred Mr. Green’s other books — An Abundance of Katherines and Looking for Alaska, to name a couple.

This might sound insensitive, but I didn’t feel sympathy toward the main character, Hazel, who is dying from cancer. It’s clear that she doesn’t care much for the typical platitudes that accompany conversations about cancer. Hazel would rather get to the honest truth: that we live and die, that death involves oblivion, that there is no heroism in fighting cancer, that pain needs to be felt, and that there aren’t side effects to cancer — rather, there are side effects to dying.

Even when she meets Augustus at a support group and they fall in love, Hazel remains snarky. I mean, I suppose that a teenager dying from cancer deserves to be snarky, but this is typical for narrators in young adult literature. Perhaps my students would identify with Hazel’s personality, but mostly I found Hazel a bit mean, especially when she meets the author of her favorite book.

Most important, I don’t see my students reading this book. A few of my students have parents who are battling cancer; I’m not sure this book would be appropriate. And like many YA books, this one seems targeted to a White audience. That doesn’t mean, of course, that African American or Latino students couldn’t find this book valuable. It’s just that there would be many other books for them to read first.

While I applaud Mr. Green’s effort to offer a different kind of book about cancer, The Fault in Our Stars misses the mark. Of course, I could be entirely wrong, and I know that there are thousands of people who disagree with me. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments, and maybe I’ll be enlightened! favicon