Freedom Mountain Academy students are big readers! In our unique environment, they do not have access to cell phones, Blackberries, email, instant messaging, video games, Ipods, or any other electronic distractions. So, they read. In addition to the FMA literature program, they peruse our extensive shelves of fiction, history, biographies, poetry, and outdoor lore. Many students when they arrive make the declaration “I don’t read,” but before they leave they have read, on average, 15 to 16 books during their nine month stay.
But, its not just reading. FMA students think about what they read, and there is no better evidence of this than the book reviews they write for the student newsletter, Mountain Musings.
So, with summer reading on everyone’s mind, here is a selection of what Freedom Mountain Academy students are recommending for you!
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Reviewed by Garrett C.
The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett is a 600-page epic about a small town trying to create a better church, while struggling to adapt to the ever-changing world around it. This book is quite a page-turner, thanks to Follett’s detailed portrait of the era, excellent storytelling, and dramatic and exciting action.
When the story begins, Tom Builder, a master builder, was seeking work so he and his family would not starve. They ended up in Kingsbridge where he found work at the priory rebuilding the church. Meanwhile, William Hamleigh, one of the novel’s primary antagonists, and his mother were trying to gain earldom over William’s ex-fiancée Aliena. A tragic series of events led Aliena and her brother to Kingsbridge, where she met Tom and his adopted son Jack. As first Tom, and then Jack, worked on the building of the church, it grew to symbolize the tension between characters as well as the town becoming united, stronger, and bigger.
As each character’s story was developed, it was incorporated into the main narrative, leading to a multi-character climax in which even the distant back-stories played a vital role. As the book comes to a close, the cathedral is completed and all of the characters get the ending they have earned.
The Pillars of the Earth is a remarkable story that is well worth reading.
The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
Reviewed by Kelsey G.
The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis is a very meaningful story about not giving up no matter what. It taught me that when I’m going through challenging times I must keep moving forward and not give up despite how tempted I am.
In the book, the main characters, Jill and Eustace, two English school children, were given the task of finding Prince Rilian by Aslan, a very noble lion, who told them to not give up unless they had succeeded in their mission.
Puddleglum, a helpful marshwiggle, who traveled with them through Narnia, following the specific signs Aslan had given Jill, aided the children on their quest. The signs were: Eustace would meet an old and dear friend, and, when he did, they would have help on their journey. Second, they must journey out of Narnia, to the north, until they found the ruined city of the ancient giants. There, they would find writing upon a stone and they were to follow whatever it said. Lastly, Aslan said they would know the lost prince (if they found him) because he would be the first person they met in their travels to use Aslan’s name.
At first, Jill carefully remembered and followed the signs; however, when things got tough she became lazy and began to believe that the signs were never there. Puddleglum, the children’s faithful guide, was the one who helped Eustace and Jill move forward and not give up.
On their journey they encountered giants at Harfang Castle, where they went after meeting the mysterious Lady of the Green Kirtle who invited them to Harfang for the autumn. Hungry for warmth and comfort, the children forgot all about their mission to save Prince Rilian until they found out they were going to be eaten by the “friendly giants” at the autumn feast. At the castle, they suddenly remembered their instructions from Alsan and, once again working together, escaped.
While fleeing all three of them fell down a hole into what’s known as the Underworld, where for several days and nights, they had to travel in darkness. Upon arriving at the queen of the Underland’s castle, the rescuers freed Prince Rilian, after he had spoken Aslan’s name, and then narrowly escaped capture by the witch who tried enchanting them with potent charms. Fortunately, Puddleglum stamped out the magical fire, and he, Eustace and Rilian killed the witch after she had turned into an enormous serpent.
Upon the queen’s death all her spells were destroyed which set free all the gnomes and other strange Underland inhabitants. Prince Rilian and the children returned to the Overworld just in time to see the King’s homecoming. Even as his son, Rilian, arrived, the King, who was very ill, passed away. Aslan returned Jill and Eustace to England and their strange school, the Experiment House, with his congratulations.
This book illustrates the idea that when things get challenging we must not give up, but keep moving forward. It is very inspiring and I highly recommend this book if you have not already read it.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Reviewed by Jose D.
What are gods? They are what human’s create and believe in, in order to gain spiritual strength. This premise is at the heart of Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods. Known for creating the popular Sandman series of graphic novels, Gaiman’s novel explores what happens when god’s lose their significance. Do they die? What takes their place?
This story center around a man named Shadow, who is returning home to start a new life after being released from jail. On the way, he is approached by a mysterious man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday, and who offers Shadow a job. Through Shadow the book takes us on a journey of events, leading up to war between the forgotten gods of the old, and the new “American Gods” of television, computers, and others including a federal organization similar to the FBI, which exists only because people believe it exists.
Gaiman has incorporated extensive mythological history in compiling the gods of this book, blending Norse, African, Egyptian, Albanian, and many, many more mythologies.
This book earns a 5 (out of 5) star rating because it is rich, entertaining, and has a purely original story line. It has fascinating characters that enrich the story as a whole, in a classic blend of old and new mythology. Throughout the book, there is use of actual landmarks in America, which is outstanding. This book is truly a treasure, and I am glad we have someone with as great a mind as Neil Gaiman. I recommend this book to all readers ages 13 and above.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Reviewed by David S.
Man’s Search for Meaning is a provocative autobiography written by Viktor Frankl, a former inmate of a Nazi death camp. First published in 1956, the book is a case study of Logotherapy, an innovative form of psychotherapy, and how it allowed Frankl to maintain his humanity under horrific circumstances.
The main point of the story, which Frankl repeatedly conveys, is that “It is not how you avoid suffering but rather how you cope with it that keeps your spirit intact or shatters it altogether.” This is demonstrated in many cases, most powerfully as Frankl is being transferred from one camp to another. As he rode in a cramped filthy train, he was unaware of where he was going. The only two possibilities were Mauthausen or Dachau. Although Frankl was supposed to have stayed in Auschwitz with his friends, he did not despair when the SS rounded him up. Rather he rejoiced, as the train headed toward Dachau rather than the certain death of Mauthausen.
In addition, he focused not on how bad things were in the camps, or how good things used to be, but rather he set goals for the future, such as becoming a professor of psychology, and completing his book. This gave his life a purpose, and motivated him to keep on living.
Although the book was unpleasant to me, I learned valuable lessons from it. I learned how best to persevere through my sufferings in life without losing my humanity. I also learned how important a person’s state of mind and outlook on life are to achieving a meaningful existence.
1984 by George Orwell
Reviewed by Katy K.
In George Orwell’s classic novel, 1984, a dictatorship controls society by controlling its ability to think and perceive reality.
The reader is introduced to The Party and learns of its methods through the eyes of Winston Smith, as he works at his job at The Ministry of Truth. There, he re-writes history to match whatever present claim The Party is making, while simultaneously destroying all evidence that the past has ever been anything but its present version. Orwell makes the point that if history is a lie, than truth cannot exist in the present, and the population will accept whatever it is told. Another character at the Ministry of Truth is systematically altering how people think by eliminating words from the dictionary. If people cannot know the truth, and also lack the ability to find words to express their thoughts, they simply give up.
When we first meet Winston, he has already decided to go against The Party. He has committed a “thought-crime” by buying a diary, and beginning to record his thoughts and the events of his life. This is not allowed, because private citizens are not allowed to record a version of events other than that of The Party. With this act, Winston begins a series of infractions, including entering into a romantic relationship (also forbidden) and finally contacting a member of what he believed to be the opposition.
1984 is not about a revolutionary, it is about a simple man who is distressed by the world in which he lives, and just wants to believe that there is absolute truth in something. When I began reading 1984, I expected it to be sort of like a Will Smith film: a futuristic story of rebellion and technology, but what I realized is that Winston’s life is actually happening to us. Many of us do not look beneath the surface of what we are told, and even more of us lack the words to express our own ideas. How could a government exist that dictates how and what I should think? It may already be here. This book was disturbing while at the same time enlightening.
We the Living by Ayn Rand
Reviewed by Jacob C.
We the Living, by Ayn Rand examines the survival of the individual spirit in a world that demands allegiance to a collective mentality.
The novel, set in Russia in 1922, immediately after the revolution, portrays the struggle of three young people to hold to their ideals in the face of the bleak new Soviet reality. Kira Arguonova, the 18-year-old main character dreams of a world in which she can realize her dreams. Her lover, Leo Kovalesky rages against a system which systematically chips away at his spirit. Andrei Taganov, a young leader in the Communist party struggles when his faith in the revolution is tested by the venality of the party leadership.
Hunger, fear, and creeping apathy plague all three. Kira, in a struggle to survive, agrees to be Andrei’s mistress in exchange for money to keep herself and Leo alive. As Leo sinks further into cynicism and compromise, his spirit begins to bow to the pressure of a system which demands allegiance to a collective, while turning a blind eye to it’s inequities. Even as everything Kira once loved about Leo disintegrates, she finds herself unable to see the truth, and clings to him with increasing desperation; a desperation which will not allow her to see that it is in fact Andrei who is emerging as a stronger example of the human spirit. Her blindness ultimately puts all three on a tragic course.
We the Living was Ayn Rand’s first novel, preceding the more well known novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, however its powerful portrayal of the magnificence of the human spirit, shines just as clearly.
April Morning by Howard Fast
Reviewed by Valarie P.
A boy’s journey to recognizing the requirements of manhood and learning to make his own choices is the underlying message woven through Howard Fast’s novel April Morning.
In this action filled novel, 15-year-old Adam and his father Moses join the militia of their town against the British army on April 19, 1775. While many died, including Adam’s father, they still succeeded in what would become the first battle of the Revolutionary War.
Adam, who has struggled with his father, lies awake the night before the conflict, listening to his parents argue over whether he should be allowed to join the militia.
“I can keep my son out of it, he’s just a boy.”
“Yesterday he was a boy,” father replied, his voice dull and troubled. “Tonight he is not…”
“I don’t understand that kind of talk, a boy does not become a man overnight. It takes learning, growing, hurting and most of all it takes time.”
“We don’t always have time.”
In this moving story, Adam Cooper, under the pressure of life and death situations, acquires the strength he needs to know his beliefs and to take responsibility for his actions, and in doing so is transformed overnight from a boy to a man. His attachment to childish things, while struggling to be seen as an adult is over, and his life is changed forever.
“Then, falling asleep, I said goodbye to childhood. A world, a secure and sun warmed existence, a past that was over, and done with, and gone away for all time.”
Adam became a man, knowing his father thought he was ready.