Pink Sheep Cafe Facebook Page

Just a quick post to let everybody know that I’m on Facebook now. I know, Facebook isn’t the favored spot for Book Bloggers anymore, but perhaps those of you who do use it will head over to the new Pink Sheep Cafe page. You can link to it by clicking on either the Facebook button above, or the one to the right.

P.S. – Yesterday was my first blogiversary, but, being that I wasn’t blogging for much of the past six months, it didn’t feel appropriate to have any sort of big celebration. I’ll aim for a giveaway of some sort next year!!

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The Canterville Ghost – Oscar Wilde – Short Story Review

HOLY CRAP, IT’S OSCAR WILDE!!

OK, so here’s the deal, I have adored Oscar Wilde for a long time, but…I’ve never actually read him :P. Until now that is…

I have always admired Oscar Wilde. I have great respect for his audacity and tenacity, and for the courage he had to be himself at a time when being outside the mainstream was more than uncomfortable. Yet, despite my respect for Wilde the man, I have never had an opportunity to appreciate Wilde the author. Back in January, I sought to remedy the problem by picking up Collins’ Complete Works of Oscar Wilde which I have since allowed to sit on my TBR pile unmolested. Last week I had my first encounter with the Wilde Man.

The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde, 1887.

Publisher: Harper Collins

Pages: 20

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New

Reason for Reading: Reputation of Author

American minister Hiram Otis and his family have recently moved to Canterville Chase, just outside of London. The previous owners made it quite clear to the Otis family upon purchase of the estate that the home was haunted. Being a practical, upstanding family with republican values, the Otises don’t believe in anything of the supernatural sort. The reappearing blood stain in the front room and the perpetual visits of a rather noisy, translucent visitor with a taste for the theatrical, however, quickly convince the good American minister and his kin otherwise. What do they say about the presence of this apparition in their abode? How rude!! As desperate as he is to scare the wits out of his newest victims, it seems this ghost may have bitten off more than he can chew.

“The next day the ghost was very weak and tired. The terrible excitement of the last four weeks was beginning to have its effect. His nerves were completely shattered, and he started at the slightest noise. For five days he kept his room, and at last made up his mind to give up the point of the blood-stain on the library floor. If the Otis family did not want it, they clearly did not deserve it. They were evidently people on a low, material plane of existence, and quite incapable of appreciating the symbolic value of sensuous phenomena.” The Canterville Ghost, page 9.

The extraordinary humor in this story was an unexpected treat. Truly, the refined British ghost is at a loss to understand this unruly, unrefined family of foreigners.  I was in stitches reading this short story; honestly, who could come up with something like this, a ghost being driven bananas by the people he is desperately trying to haunt? The story comes together so nicely in the end with its message of acceptance and forgiveness, but the change in tone doesn’t effect the overall jocular nature of the work.

If this story is indicative of authentic Oscar Wilde, the man may quickly move to the top spot among my favorite authors. I know it doesn’t make much of a review, but I honestly don’t know what else to say. When I finish a story with a smile as broad as the one engendered by this Wilde tale, I can’t help but be speechless…

RATING:A Wool New Kind of Reading Experience

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Weekend Wreading Writuals

It’s been a tough slog, but my partner and I have finally finished our new place in Yellowknife! I insisted on the largest room being reserved for my books and so, behold, our new library…

OK, OK, fine, you got me, it’s not REALLY my library! A guy can dream can’t he? But what this IS, is the most beautiful library I have ever seen! It is the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the largest library of its kind in the world, at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. The library was opened in 1963 and, among other things, has one of the only twenty-one complete Gutenberg Bibles remaining in the world.

The library was featured this week on one of my favorite real estate blogs, Buzz Buzz Home, along with several other prominent celebrity libraries. Take a look at Buzz’s original post to get a look at libraries belonging to Oprah Winfrey, Woody Allen and others. I expected Oprah to have a bigger library, but really it just looks like she fills her shelves with Reader’s Digest collections. What’s with that?

Sigh!! I just keep telling myself everyday, ‘One day Robbie, one day you too will have a beautiful, behemoth bibliothèque of your own.

Enjoy your weekend everyone!

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If I Stay – Gayle Forman – Book Review

If I Stay by Gayle Forman, copyright 2009.

Publisher: Penguin Group

Pages: 259

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New

Reason for Reading: Book Blogger Recommendation

Ok…just FYI…this entire book review is pretty well ONE BIG SPOILER, so if you haven’t read the book yet, I recommend you stop reading here.

I picked up Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, based on this October review by Ashley at Books From Bleh to Basically Amazing. Since then I have seen a plethora of comments and reviews; everyone seemed to be raving about it. Intense, poignant and masterful are just some of the terms that I keep seeing used to describe the novel. I don’t know if I could really go quite so far as to call it any of those things; certainly, the plot is contemplative and original, but, beyond that, I think meh would serve as a more appropriate “adjective.” I guess I still have a bit of a bias against YA reads; somehow I expect more in terms of depth than they are often able to offer up.

Mia is a talented, cello playing, classical music loving, seventeen-year-old high-school senior adrift in a family of drum and guitar playing, punk rock loving, hipsters. Needless to say, Mia sometimes feels a bit lost in the mix. For the most part though, her relationship with her family is pretty awesome. Her parents are uber supportive, her brother thinks she walks on water and her boyfriend is on his way to being a rocking, talking superstar. Life is grand! Then, one snowy February day, in the blink of an eye, everything is taken from Mia; her life is irreversibly altered in a tragic accident. As she lays in a coma and listens to the buzz of the lights, the beeps of the machines and the goings on of her surviving family and friends, Mia is struck with the reality of her situation. She must decide if she has the strength to wake up and face an entirely new, painful world, or slip away from it to be with the ones she loves the most.

First off, I was really irritated early on in the story, right after the accident first takes place and Mia is initially pondering whether she should stay or go. I was irritated because, at the time, she was aware that her brother had survived the crash and it felt, to me, like there wasn’t much of a choice. Mia is presented as this sarcastic, sickeningly responsible goodie-two-shoes, who, quite obviously, if given the choice, would stick around for the sake of her brother. I’m one of those people who really needs to see a heavy dose of reality in a literary work in order to make it really shine. Death sucks, but it’s realistic, and for it to seem like there was any real choice for Mia to make, her little brother needed to die. The problem is, we don’t find out that Teddy is actually dead until so late in the story that it makes about 100 pages in the middle feel like filler.

By the time it was finally acknowledged that Teddy was dead and the story was winding down, I was starting to get a bit sick of the book and kept thinking to myself that unless Mia chooses to die, I am going to be very disappointed. Not because I’m a cold hearted jerk, but because I couldn’t image any way that the author could find to inspire Mia to live that would seem very satisfying. Luckily, I was wrong. The ending was, in fact, one of the only really inspirational moments in the whole story. I was somewhat impressed that Gayle Forman managed to pull a literary rabbit out of her hat. Her choosing to make Yo-Yo Ma a part of Mia’s inspiration for living, presented to me the first real glimpse of reality in an otherwise tedious plot.

I feel like I am being a bit hard on Forman and I don’t wish to make it seem like this isn’t a decent read. Certainly I enjoyed and respected the author’s fleshing out of several raw details, especially as concerned the accident itself.

“I see Dad first. Even from several feet away, I can make out the protrusion of the pipe in his jacket pocket. “Dad,” I call, but as I walk toward him, the pavement grows slick and there are gray chunks of what looks like cauliflower. I know what I’m seeing right away but it somehow does not immediately connect back to my father.” If I Stay, page 16.

I have respect for authors who aren’t afraid to add those raw details that give a story its sense of authenticity. Unfortunately, the inclusion of those details didn’t carry on beyond the first thirty pages of the story. Furthermore, I think Forman failed to exploit the potential of that rawness to create any sort of emotional draw. As I read about the insides of the father being strewn across the pavement, I was drawn to the story by the unexpected presence of those details, but I didn’t feel any sort of shock or heartfelt emotion as a result of it.

RATING: Meh

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More About Paddington – Michael Bond – Book Review

More About Paddington by Michael Bond, copyright 1959.

Illustrated by: Peggy Fortnum

Publisher: Harper Collins

Pages: 144

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New from Munro’s Books

Reason for Reading: It’s Paddington Bear, why else?

When you are looking for some lighthearted comfort reading, nothing beats Paddington Bear. I remember watching a TV series featuring the bear from Darkest Peru when I was a kid, although, after reading this book, I suspect I didn’t watch nearly enough of it!

In More About Paddington, Paddington Brown, the polite, marmalade-sandwich eating immigrant surprises his adoptive family with a “new” camera he has purchased at the market with a little help from his friend Mr. Gruber. Once Mrs. Bird, the housekeeper, extracts Paddington’s head from the inside of the camera, our young bear friend elates the family when he manages a rather nice, if somewhat smudged, shot of the whole works of them. The goodwill earned on his camera escapade only goes so far though when the Brown Family returns from an outing to discover that Paddington has been doing some redecorating in their absence. Dear me, the decorating is only the beginning of Paddington’s (mis)adventures. Those who are familiar with Michael Bond’s charming Peruvian ours will know, there is no shortage to the trouble the young Mr. Brown can get himself into. The stories in this collection are no exception.

“In the back of the car Mrs. Bird pretended she hadn’t heard a thing. An idea had suddenly come into her mind and she was hoping it hadn’t entered Paddington’s as well; but Mrs. Bird knew the workings of Paddington’s mind better than most and she feared the worst. Had she but known, her fears were being realised at that very moment.” More About Paddington, page 29.

Paddington Bear, it seems to me, is a somewhat underrated literary character in North America. Winnie-the-Pooh hogs the spotlight on this side of the Pacific, even though, clearly, Paddington has far more brains and charm than the bear from the Hundred Acre Woods. I suspect Paddington has a much wider following in the UK, and perhaps Peru too for that matter. Nevertheless, fifty-some odd years after his debut, Paddington Bear still manages to bring us joy.

Peggy Fortnum’s original illustrations of Paddington used in the storybooks bring a far more authentic feeling to Bond’s stories and make the Paddington of literature seem like an entirely different character than the one we are accustomed to seeing on PBS today. When I see the image of Mrs. Bird’s large bottom walking down the hall with a tiny, paint-soaked bear in tow, leaving painty paw prints the length of the hall, I can’t help but smile. I think doctors should start prescribing Paddington Bear for patients with clinical depression.

RATING: A Wool New Kind of Read

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The Atom Station – Halldor Laxness – Book Review

The Atom Station by Halldor Laxness, copyright 1948.

Translated by: Magnus Magnusson

Publisher: Second Chance Press

Pages: 202

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased Used

Reason for Reading: Reputation of Author

Now that Canada Day has come and gone, and I have completely given up on all but the most personal of my reading goals, I am free, it would seem, to dig into whatever I darn well please. Thus, as I endeavour to get my reading and blogging life back on track, I find myself heading straight for the known goodies! My last experience with Halldor Laxness, one of Iceland’s most revered authors, was a huge success and I knew I could count of the Nobel Laureate to deliver once again.

Ugla is a country girl from Iceland’s rural north and has come to Reykjavik to work as a housekeeper for a Member of Parliament and learn to play the organ. The ways of the city are a far cry from the life she has known in a place where the folklore and historic sagas of Iceland are more gospel than the gospel itself. The family she serves certainly have some strange ways, but it is at her weekly organ lessons where Ugla discovers the truly peculiar side of Reykjavik. Her organist is a free thinker (perhaps a hippy before his time) who burns money, lives with his mother and keeps company more bizarre than himself. It is here that Ugla learns, from gods, poets and prostitutes, about the evils of Capitalism and the political turmoil that is sweeping urban Iceland. The people are up in arms because the Figures-Faking-Federation has plans to “sell the country,” build an atomic station in Keflavik and repatriate the remains of the Nation’s Darling. What’s a naive country girl to do?

If you are thinking that the story sounds a bit strange, that’s because it is. This is my second Laxness novel and it bears little resemblance to Independent People other than for its beautiful prose. Am I allowed to contribute the quality of the prose to the author or must I credit it to the translator? I’m a little confused on that point.

“Quite apart from how debased Nature becomes in a picture, nothing seems to me to express so much contempt for Nature as a painting of Nature…Certainly Nature is in front of us, and behind us; Nature is under and over us, yes, and in us; but most particularly it exists in time, always changing and always passing, never the same; and never in a rectangular frame.” The Atom Station, pages 42-43

While the prose in this story were equally as magnificent as they were in Independent People, they weren’t really what captured my attention in this work; what I appreciated the most was the history lesson. Those of you who are regular followers of Pink Sheep Cafe will know that I am a huge fan of Timothy Findley. I love the way he blends historical fact with an often satirical fiction. In this way, I found The Atom Station very reminiscent of Findley…well, Laxness came first, so I suppose it’s the other way around, but, either way, I love trying to pick out the fact and the fiction in these tongue-in-cheek, historical reads.

The part of this story that concerns the building of the atom station in Iceland is very much true; in 1946 the Government of Iceland granted the United States a 99 year lease on a piece of land at Keflavik where they constructed a military base. The exhumation and repatriation of the remains of Jonas Hallgrimsson, Iceland’s most revered poet (affectionately known as The Nation’s Darling) also has a foundation in fact. The retelling and slight contortion of these historical details are all done with a spirit of pert impertinence. This is best demonstrated in the story by the government’s “selling of the country” that Laxness uses to insinuate the perceived loss of sovereignty that would accompany the Americans’ presence.

Those who enjoy peculiar historical fiction that is reasonably plot centric will enjoy this book. If you are going to delve into The Atom Station, however, you will need to be prepared for not just its quirkiness, but for its equally heavy doses of philosophy and politics. Without question this was one of the most overtly Communist books I’ve read.

“But no one doubts that Communism will win, or at least I know of no one who doubts it – I can confide this to you because the hour is twelve midnight, and a man becomes loose-tongued then, if not downright frivolous. You, on the other hand, are not conditioned against Communism and you have no occasion to be afraid of it; so for that reason you can be a Communist if you like, it’s quite becoming for a healthy country girl from the north to be a Communist – more so, at least, than being a lady.” The Atom Station, page 113.

RATING: A Wool New Kind of Read

Check out these far better reviews at Laxness in Translation.

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Reports of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated!

Soooo, I’m back…apparently. Did you miss me? Is anybody still even following me? Please say hi…I miss you all!

Since moving back to Yellowknife 😦 from Croatia 🙂 in February, life has been very tumultuous. I started a new job that didn’t really grant me much time for reading. When I was fortunate enough to get some spare time, there seemed to be so much else going on that reading sort of got lost in the hither and dither of life.

This was compounded by the fact that I experienced a sort of reading-soul-death earlier this year. This happens when I pick up book after book after book and each one turns out to be a DNF. Each false start drags me down just a little bit more and soon I start having dark thoughts…well, really just one dark thought, but it’s bad…the thought that I may never find another good book. It becomes a phobia; I become scared of picking up books, even books that I know are good, for fear that I might start reading it and be let down.

Early February started out with some fairly decent reads including:

Blindness by Jose Saramago

Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

Dinner Along the Amazon by Timothy Findley

Those were followed by a series of less fortunate encounters, false starts, DNFs and spectacular failures:

Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee (I read about 140/150 of this book and was so fed up with it I couldn’t finish the last ten pages)

God’s Little Acre by Erskine Caldwell (Finished it, but it was awful)

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (Finished it, but it was very meh)

The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham (False Start)

The Inheritors by William Golding (False Start)

A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe (Spectacular Fail)

I was particularly disappointed that I wasn’t able to get into the books by Golding, Oe or Maugham, I was looking forward to them all. If anybody knows some better titles by any of those authors please let me know, as I would like to try them again. Or, conversely, if anyone can vouch for the quality of one of the above books, I might be able to give one of them another shot in the future.

So, as I said, I’m back. Quite honestly, I don’t know for how long. At the moment my job is accomodating my ravenous reading habit and is permitting me time to write some days as well. I don’t know how long this is going to hold up, but I am going to do my best. No matter what happens though, I am truly happy to be back!!

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Parrotfish – Ellen Wittlinger – Book Review

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Pages: 294

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New

Reason for Reading: LGBT Content

While I was in Victoria over the holidays, I made a stop in at Munro’s Books on Government Street. I discovered that the staff at this fifty-year-old Indie bookshop actually have more passion for books and are better informed than those at any chain bookstore I’ve been in. I was elated to find someone who could point out in an instant the best LGBT YA reads the store had on hand. One of the women who specialized in the store’s humongous YA section recommended a couple of Ellen Wittlinger’s books to me. As soon as she mentioned that Parrotfish was about a transgender character, I snatched it up. This was my first foray into trans-literature and I was really excited.

Angela is fourteen-years-old and she is in the midst of the long-struggle of helping her family understand her situation. She broke the news to them slowly, making the transition from tomboy to lesbian easily enough and now she is trying to introduce them to her being transgender. It’s turning out not to be as easy as she had hoped. Her family and friends are already accustomed to Angela’s dressing different and shunning anything girly, but when Angela takes the big step and asks people to begin calling her Grady and referring to him as a boy, things really hit the fan. Verbally abused by his classmates, shunned by his sister and just plain exasperating to his parents, Grady discovers support and friendship from the most unexpected people in the most unexpected places.

Something I thought was fantastic about this story was that Wittlinger touched on so many mature issues in its pages. She doesn’t just address gender identity, but touches on homosexuality, suicide and bullying as well. I think I sometimes take for granted that parents have the commonsense to bring up these topics with their kids, but we all know that isn’t true. Seeing literature that exposes kids to these things early on and treats them as potential realities rather than just things that happen to other people is encouraging.

“And then, as I hurried down the hall toward my locker, I felt a twinge of pain low down in my abdomen, because apparently a bad day can always get worse. Already kids were whispering about me as I passed them, maybe using the same words Danya had. Freak. Mutant. Pervert. And now I was a boy who had just started his period and was probably bleeding all over his jockey shorts. Yeah, that was normal.” Page 59, Parrotfish.

Parrotfish may have been intended for twelve-and-up, but Wittlinger doesn’t talk down to her readers and clearly aims for her story to strike a chord with a much wider audience. For much of the book I forgot that it was a young adult read, but I suppose that might have more to do with the subject matter than anything else. The only thing that may have diminished this book a little for me was that the ending was excruciatingly predictable. That aside, I was fascinated much of the time and learned a great deal from Grady’s story.

RATING: Not Baaaaaaahd

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The Feast of the Goat – Mario Vargas Llosa – Book Review

The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa, copyright 2000.

Translated by: Edith Grossman

Publisher: Picador

Pages: 404

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New

Reason for Reading: Reputation of Author

Vargas Llosa is the most recent addition to the Nobel club, having won the prestigious prize last year. He is also my most recent stop in my attempt to traverse the entire list of literary laureates. The Feast of the Goat was a little tough to get into; this can be attributed partially to the fact that the story is told from so many perspectives, but most of all because there are just too many characters of which to keep track. Perhaps not everyone would find this plethora of characters such a hassle to keep tabs on, but I tend to have great difficulty in keeping Spanish names in my brain.

In 1961, the Dominican Republic languishes under the iron fist of the meticulous, brutal and adroit Rafael Trujillo. Feeling the sting of OAS sanctions and under threat of invasion from both Cuba and the United States, Dominicans struggle to maintain their loyalty and love for El Benefactor. Parked on the highway to San Cristobal, cradling their guns in their arms and fighting off fatigue, seven men wait for the 1957 sky-blue Chevy Bel-Air, that will carry the goat to his late-night rendezvous with one of a string of young Dominican girls. The seven men have a different sort of rendezvous planned for the aging dictator. Here, in the dark, in the middle of San Cristobal Avenue, they will assassinate the Father of the Nation. Each man has a different reason for doing what they are about to do, some will do it out of hate, others out of love, but all will do it for the sake of the Dominican Republic.

In the beginning, this was a very frustrating read. For the first half or three-quarters of the novel, the chapters alternate consecutively between the perspectives of Urania Cabral, a young lady whose relevance to the story does not become apparent until the end of the book; Rafael Trujillo; and, sequentially, each of the seven would-be-assassins. At some point all of these perspectives disappear and the story begins to be told chapter-after-chapter, by different people, all of whom were involved in the plot to assassinate Trujillo.

If this sounds really convoluted, that’s because it is. Make no mistake, I had to pay close attention, especially in the beginning, to really get a handle on what was taking place. I am not a fan of stories being told from different perspectives, even when it is only two or three, so you can imagine how I felt reading this. But, in some crazy way, it really worked. I came out of this story feeling that I had a genuine understanding of the emotional and psychological warfare that was the foundation of this period in Dominican history. There is no doubt that I missed a great deal; a re-read would definitely be required to soak up everything that The Feast of the Goat was attempting to convey.

If you read the synopsis and were excited, and you can handle dense historical reads that might take a little longer than normal to get through, then don’t be put off by the peculiar format. You will take a great deal away from Vargas Llosa’s masterpiece.

RATING: A Wool New Kind of Read

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Afternoon of the Elves – Janet Taylor Lisle – Book Review

Afternoon of the Elves by Janet Taylor Lisle, copyright 1989.

Publisher: Puffin Books

Pages: 122

Genre: Juvenile Fiction / Science Fiction / Relationships

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New

Reason for Reading: Nostalgia

There aren’t a lot of books from my childhood that I can recall being particularly crazy about, but this is one that has long stuck out in my mind. Afternoon of the Elves was a Newbery Honor Book in 1990 and is written by the author of the Investigators of the Unknown series.

Hillary is nine-years-old and has lots of friends. She lives in a little house on a quiet street and her Dad keeps their yard beautifully manicured. Hillary thinks this is fine at first, but, as she soon discovers, a well kept yard does not provide the correct conditions for elves. In the house behind Hillary’s lives Sara-Kate who, two years older than Hillary, dresses like a ragamuffin and keeps to herself. Oh, and one other thing, her yard is a complete dump. Overgrown and trash strewn it is the talk of the neighbourhood and, as it happens, perfect for the habitation of elves. One day Hillary receives a surprise invitation from Sara-Kate to come over and play. In her yard, Sara-Kate reveals to Hillary the mysterious little village and its unseen inhabitants. Day after day Hillary returns to Sara-Kate’s yard to help make repairs to the village. Soon, however, Hillary begins to notice some strange goings-on: why does Sara-Kate have so many elfish features and why isn’t Hillary ever allowed inside of Sara-Kate’s house?

“By morning it was clear that the magic of Sara-Kate’s elves must be real, for while Hillary slept, it crept, mysterious and cat-like as ever, out of the Connolly’s backyard, up the hill and through the half-opened window of Hillary’s bedroom. There she awoke beneath its spell shortly after dawn and immediately was seized by a mad desire to run down to Sara-Kate’s yard in her nightgown.” Afternoon of the Elves, page 9.

Ok, so it’s not quite as wonderful as I remember, but I am sure my nine-year-old self would still think it was a favourite. It’s quite funny to compare what I remember the book being about to what it is actually about. All I remember about the story is that there was an awesome elf village with a Ferris wheel and neat little houses. That was all that I got out of the book when I was nine. Now I read the story and can appreciate what it is really about, a young girl, in need of a friend, but desperate to keep her privacy. Terrified of exposing what goes on behind the locked doors and closed blinds of her home, Sara-Kate tries to make everyone think she is a bit crazy so they will always be just a little bit afraid of her and won’t ask too many questions.

I think there is better juvenile fiction out there, but this is certainly not a bad read that can introduce kids to the fragility of friendships and the importance of trying to see people for who they are instead of what they seem to be.

RATING: Not Baaaaaaahd

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