Summary: Howl’s Moving Castle tells the story of young hatter Sophie who is bewitched by The Witch of the Waste into an old woman. She runs away and must live in the Wizard Howl’s moving castle if there is any hope to reverse her spell. It is rumored that Howl eats the hearts of young pretty girls, so Sophie doesn’t think she has anything to worry about because she doesn’t believe she’s pretty. But when Howl falls for her sister Lettie, reversing the spell becomes even more crucial.
My Commentary: I think it’s rather obvious that I chose this book because of the magic that is Howl’s Moving Castle, the movie by Hayao Miyazaki based on this novel. The first half of the book was nearly identical to the movie, which I think made it even more enjoyable because I saw it played out in my head. The major difference between the book and the movie is that the movie was Miyazaki’s way of using his fame to share his anti-war sentiment. On the other hand, the book had nothing to do with war. Rather, it focused on Howl’s womanizing.
Sophie is one of my favorite literary characters. She is absolutely hilarious! Her cantankerous, grumbly old woman attitude made me laugh out loud. Her story line also includes something alluded to in the movie but never fully developed. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that it was a true testament of Jones’s power to make all of the little details count in the end.
I don’t know if I liked the book or the movie better and that’s because they are two completely different experiences. If you have seen the movie, then please read the book, and if you have read the book, than watch the movie; you won’t be disappointed.
Jones created a truly magical world and I am very glad I was transported there for 329 pages. My only issue with this book is I wish it was longer! This is one I can read time and time again and have a different experience each time.
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Summary: How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents is the story of four sisters whose family flees to the Bronx when their father gets caught taking part in the revolution in the Dominican Republic. As they grow up in 1960s American culture, the girls are confused as they are taught to embrace their Dominican and Catholic roots amongst a society where women are gaining their freedom. They also must adapt from their wealthy lifestyle to that of an American immigrat.
My Commentary: I decided to read this book because I loved Julia Alvarez’s novel In the Time of the Butterflies. Unfortunately, it did not even come close to meeting my expectations. I was used to Alvarez’s writing style in which she switches of first, second, and third person, but in How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents it is done so randomly that I was really confused and often had to reread parts. One of the chapters is told from first person, yet names all of the sisters in third person. It was as if there was some mysterious fifth sister. I didn’t get what she was trying to do.
It is evident that each of the chapters was written as a short story originally and then Julia Alvarez decided to lump them together into one novel. It became rather irritating when you are relearning basic information about the characters on the two hundredth page. Standing alone, each chapter would have been very touching, but together they are just confusing.
What made this so disappointing was the book had so much potential. I was immediately hooked just by the title. I am very interested in stories of clashing cultures. This one seemed even more relatable because I also have to deal with the conflict of living in America with a very conservative Catholic upbringing.
Yolanda was the only redeeming character. She was the only one I genuinely cared about. Her story was the most interesting for many reasons. Spanish was her first language, but she found her voice in English and becomes a writer. She experiences a mental breakdown in which she “loses her voice” and can only speak by quoting famous authors. Julia Alvarez calls her words “a black bird.” It’s one of my favorite symbols of any literature I have read. She decides to move back to the Dominican Republic and she struggles even more to fit in there than she did when she moved to America. It really solidified the idea of not belonging to one culture. I wish the book was told only from her perspective. The other sisters lacked development.
The story is told chronologically backwards, so you know the ending ahead of time, but Alvarez ended it so abruptly that I thought my book was missing a chapter. It was incredibly anticlimactic. That being said, it was still enjoyable while reading. I didn’t realize I didn’t like it until after I finished (if that makes sense). I wouldn’t tell people to avoid this book, but I would never consider rereading it.
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