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Monday 10 December 2018
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The final great escape

DEBBIE JACOB

ALMOST EVERY newspaper and book store has “summer” or “beach” reading lists that consist of light reading for the long school holiday, but I think of this as a time to relax with books that open up a whole new world.

My holiday reading list, which ends today, is both enlightening and edgy. Here are my top five picks:

1. Warlight by Michael Ondaatje – The Booker Prize-winning author of The English Patient defined my holiday in an unexpected way. Set in 1945, when World War II is supposed to be over, Warlight explores the dark, murky line between war and peace, which can never be determined by a treaty.

In this story, 14-year-old Nathaniel and his older sister negotiate their own fragile peace when their parents, who served as spies in the war. When they leave the teens in the care of Moth, a mysterious man whom the teenagers suspect is a criminal, the children struggle to make sense of their world and figure out their parents’ and Moth’s place in it. The teens walk a metaphorical tightrope between freedom and terror.

Once again, Ondaatje uses magical realism’s sense of time to blur the borders of past and present, creating a moving novel about the emotional and physical borders that define us. This turned out to be a defining novel for me as I embarked on a research project in the US South, moving between Tennessee and Alabama. It sparked my interest in reading Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II by Keith Lowe.

2. De Rightest Place by Barbara Jenkins – On my return to Trinidad from Nashville, I discovered Barbara Jenkins’ magical story of one immigrant’s quest to upgrade a bar as she deals with being abandoned by her pan-playing husband when he decides to stay in Toronto. There’s nostalgia and hope for the future in this novel that features a colourful cast of characters – artists and ordinary people – who are both witty and profound.

De Rightest Place is a fun, fresh, uplifting novel in an original voice that offers much to enjoy and much to ponder. This is a book that should be on the CAPE reading list, but that’s a subject for another column.

3. Ban This Book: A Novel by Alan Gratz – Young readers from ten to 12 will enjoy this novel about Amy Anne, a shy fourth grader who finds her voice when a parent successfully challenges her favourite book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler by EL Konigsburg. The importance of freedom of speech and standing up for basic rights permeate this compelling novel, which teaches children about the history of banned books. This is a fun and empowering read for children.

4. One of Us Is Lying by Karen M McManus – Here is an authentic Young Adult (YA) mystery that features themes about friendship, loyalty, beauty, stereotypes, prejudice, bullying, revenge and individuality especially geared for teenage readers.

This novel about five characters who serve an after-school detention together will keep readers guessing every step of the way. The characters include “Bronwyn, a Yale-bound student who never breaks a rule; Addy, the picture-perfect homecoming princess; Nate, the criminal, on probation for dealing; Cooper, the athlete and star baseball player, and Simon, the outcast, who is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.”

By the end of that detention, everyone in that room had secrets to protect and Simon was about to reveal those secrets. I could not put this book down. It’s very popular in my school library.

5. The Neighborhood by Mario Vargas Llosa – I once asked a professor in a Greek art class, “Where is the line between art and pornography in Greek art?” I could ask the same question about the work of this Nobel laureate from Peru who loves to push sexual and political boundaries in his novels.

In The Neighborhood, a political/detective novel, Vargas Llosa uses sex and sexuality to explore the vulgarity of corruption in “the turbulent and corrupt years” of Peruvian President Alberto in the 1990s. The novel features two wealthy couples from high society whose secrets expose them to bribery and corruption on an unimaginable level. This is an adult book that pushes the envelope, challenging thoughts about society and politics on a whole new level.

And so I wrap up my holiday reading lists with one last thought: Books do far more than help us develop the skills we need in life. They provide the great escape: a cheap vacation. Happy reading!

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