Book Reviews: What I Read in March

I went back to work full time this year, which somewhat explains my absence.  It was kind of a last minute decision.  I was intending to be part time for another year, but we became short a teacher at the beginning of the school year, so the administration asked me to take over a new position- librarian.

I do not have a Library Science degree, or any previous experience as a library media specialist, but I do love to read.  And I love to teach.  I was rather daunted by the thought of learning everything I needed to manage such a monumental task back in August, but now I’ve fallen into a comfortable rhythm.  I have a small army of junior librarians and parent volunteers adding new books to the system, making sure books get checked in and re-shelved, and I love planning fun library events!

Even more than that, I have re-discovered just how much I love to read.  I really missed reading when I became a momma.  Now that my kiddos are a little older, I have a little more time to indulge in an old favorite pastime.  I joined a book club, and started picking up new titles for the library.  In addition to the incredible amount of kid and young adult lit that I have read this year, I have enjoyed some grownup titles as well.  March was a pretty good month for me in terms of books I’d recommend, so here is my brief review of the four titles I’d happily pass on to friends:

A Good American by Alex George


I picked this title up at the Dollar Tree, of all places.  As a musician, I was intrigued by the cover with the trumpet.  I know- books and covers and all that- but it’s the honest truth.

This book is the origin story of an American family that has become deeply rooted in the small town of Beatrice, Missouri for four generations.  It begins with two German lovers who find themselves in a bit of a fix when she gets pregnant out of wedlock, and the couple hastily boards the first ship out of the country to America.  They land in New Orleans and gradually find their way to a town that they can call home.  Along the way, they encounter the complicated mash of humanity that makes up the United States- the music, languages, flavors, races, and cultures of everyone completely swirled together.  They have to make sense of their new country.  The book is thoughtful, sometimes tragic, often very funny, and overall very entertaining.  I loved the nods to music throughout the story- opera, ragtime, jazz, blues, and barbershop all make cameos.  I have to admit that some of the guy humor had me rolling my eyes from time to time, but hey- the male perspective is a legit one, right?

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith


This one was on the shelves of my school library, and had often shown up on lists of books to recommend to young adult readers.  I had heard of it before, and know that it was a beloved American classic, so I took it home with me.  I loved it.  Another story of an immigrant family finding their way in a new country (the unintentional theme of the month), this book follows the lives of the second generation born on US soil.  It is a beautiful coming of age story, an inspiring book about the power of education to lift a family out of poverty, and a testament to the power of female friendship.  The women in the family hold everyone together, and fight for their daughters to have better lives than they did.  It’s one of those novels that I thought about for weeks after I put it down.  It’s now at the top of my recommendation list for my eighth graders.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed


I read this one for my book club.  Wild was recently turned into a movie, and I think that may have been the primary motivation for our club choosing this book for March.  It was a good read- moved at a quick clip- and was an emotional memoir of a trying time in Cheryl’s life after the death of her mother.  Her world fell apart, and she decided that the way she would put it back together was by dropping everything and hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  I had trouble connecting with Cheryl.  We are very different people.  I found myself frustrated with her at the beginning when she was making terrible choices and sabotaging everything good in her life, but came to understand as the story unfolded that it was how she had to live out her life.  It’s a book about growing up, the importance of and fluidity of family, and self love.  The book was a good one for a group discussion, and I’m curious to see how the movie is.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot


I picked up this paperback at Costco after having heard about it from a number of friends.  It is by far the most riveting piece of non fiction that I have read in a long time.  It tells the true story beginning in the 1950s of a loving woman who died from an extremely aggressive form of cervix cancer at a very young age, leaving behind five children.  During a surgery at Johns Hopkins that was supposed to save her life (3 months before she died), the surgeon, without patient or family permission, took a sample of her cancer cells and placed them in a petri dish to send to the lab.  They had been trying to grow human cells for years with no success.  For reasons that were never fully explained (I’m not sure the scientists know still today) her cells grew at an incredible rate. Her cancer swept through her body rapidly and took her within just a few months of her diagnosis, but her cells continued to thrive.  Soon, her cells were being sold all over the world for medical research. Named HeLa cells after the first two initials of her first and last name, they became the cells that were used to develop a vaccine for polio, sent into space to see how human cells would react to the environment, exposed to nuclear waste, and overall became the standard human cells used in research for almost every major medical breakthrough in the last 60 years.  Her family had no idea for nearly 30 years.  Henrietta was African American, and this book has much to say about racism and the misuse of men and women by the medical community.  I so badly wanted to talk about the book after I finished it that I made Bryan download it on Audible (can’t get him to read hard copy books), and gave my copy to the science teacher at school and demanded that she have it read after spring break so we could discuss!

Happy reading!  I know some of the 5 people on Earth who read this blog read, too.  Post your picks in the comments!


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