All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

all the light

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

What if you couldn’t see war happening around you, but you could hear it, smell it, taste it, and feel it?

What if everything you believed to be wrong, suddenly became right?

Does morality still exist in wartime?

Can kindness survive?

Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See explores these poignant questions and more by telling the parallel stories of Marie-Laure and Werner, a blind French girl and young German soldier, respectively, as each struggles to survive the immense horrors of WWII.

After fleeing war-torn Paris, Marie-Laure and her beloved father find refuge at the seaside home of an allusive great-uncle. Marie-Laure can hear the waves crashing just outside the window, and excitedly awaits the day when her father will bring her to feel the sand beneath her toes. After her father leaves town for what is promised to be a short trip and never returns, however, Marie-Laure must for the first time in her life, navigate the world on her own, and in the meantime, discovers she is harboring a dangerous secret.

While Marie-Laure is confined to the walls of Saint-Malo, Werner’s career as a member of Hitler Youth and later, as a Nazi soldier, takes him from a German orphanage across Europe and eventually, to the home of Marie-Laure’s great uncle. As their two journeys collide, Werner faces the moral dilemma of following his heart or obeying his training, leaving the fate of Marie-Laure – and her secret – in his hands.

A masterfully written tale of perseverance, All The Light We Cannot See will have adolescent and adult readers alike considering questions of morality, loyalty, and love, in a truly powerful way that transcends time and space. Oscillating between the perspectives of Marie-Laure and Werner, All The Light We Cannot See would likely fall between the Middle High to High Classification of text complexity within the YA genre from both quantitative and qualitative standpoints. Similar to Glaus’ description of Glimpse in her article, “Text Complexity and YA Literature,” All The Light We Cannot See presents “Mature issues and themes most likely different from those of the common reader… establish[ing] a higher knowledge demand. Because this text displays a complex narrative structure, mature issues… and shifts in chronology, I place it on the ‘high’ level of qualitative text complexity for structure” (412). Unlike Glimpse, however, All The Light We Cannot See does make use of more traditional text features, perhaps making it a slightly more accessible read. While some historical context about WWII and the political climates of France and Germany in the 1940s may be beneficial, extensive background knowledge is by no means required, and a brief overview would adequately equip students as they prepare to begin the novel.

Furthermore, by including the disparate perspectives of Marie-Laure and Werner, All The Light We Cannot See provides students with an array of possible windows and mirrors in which they can see their experiences and others’ represented (Bishop). Specifically, the novel includes representations of the following, among others: male and female leads; persons with disabilities; oppressors and the oppressed; single-parent families; and orphans. In so doing, this excellent piece of historical fiction sheds light on a myriad of situations with authenticity and accuracy, allowing for a diverse and dynamic reader experience.

In conjunction with the several Essential Questions listed at the beginning of this post, All The Light We Cannot See invites the use of many supplemental texts that also pertain to such issues of morality and humanity in the face of conflict. For instance, educators could incorporate additional historical context to provide students with greater background knowledge about WII. Possible resources include documents about the Hitler Youth Movement and maps of Europe in the 1940s. A specific article, originally published in the March 10, 1907 issues of the Washington Times, that may be of interest when teaching All The Light We Cannot See as a whole class text has recently been made available online. It documents the Eiffel Tower’s early use as a wireless broadcasting system, providing details that would likely enhance readers’ understanding of and appreciation for the novel’s repeated discussion of radios. More contemporary additions could be made possible through the use of poetry (for example, Billy Collins’ The History Teacher, which deals with issues of authority and the ways in which history is presented) as well as a variety of current events articles (Marie-Laure’s escape from Paris and the current Syrian refugee crisis offer ample opportunity for comparison).

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr would be an excellent choice for a whole class text at Brown Summer High School because it presents students with gripping storylines that would appeal to an array of reader preferences. Whether interested in romance, war, or suspense, the novel is complex in its structure and content yet approachable, and is sure to engender meaningful dialogue within the classroom and beyond it. Though a fairly long text (530 pages, to be exact), the short nature of its chapters seems to expedite the reading process, and thus need not be viewed as a deterrent. First published in 2014, Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See has quickly proven an important and effective addition to the YA genre, and is sure to influence developing readers for many years to come.

By: Mia Rotondi

Full publishing citation: Doerr, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See. New York, NY: Scribner, 2017. Print.

The Terrorist’s Son: A Story Of Choice by Zak Ebrahim

terrorists son.jpg

“I’m so sick of hating people.”

These six words, spoken by his mother, changed Zak Ebrahim’s life forever. The son of an infamous terrorist, Zak’s childhood and adolescence were filled with images of violence and utterances of hatred. By the time Zak turned eighteen, his mother, brother, and sister and he had more than twenty times, and the only relationship he shared with his incarcerated father was through prison visits and recorded collect calls. Whether being beaten by his stepfather at home or bullied at school, an escape seemed nowhere to be found. Rather than turning to violence himself, however, Zak discovered that he had the power to decide his own path, and has since committed his life to speaking out publicly against terrorism and promoting peace.

A story of perseverance and resilience, Zak Ebrahim shows readers that the past need not define the future, and even in the face of extreme hatred, tolerance can prevail. A fluid read that presents the facts of Zak’s reality growing up with an extremist father, The Terrorist’s Son: A Story Of Choice is best suited for the mature YA audience. It is an excellent addition to the genre as it is sure to inspire meaningful dialogue about facing opposition of any kind with openness and nonviolence.

By Mia Rotondi

Ebrahim, Zak, and Jeff Giles. The Terrorist’s Son: A Story Of Choice. New York: Ted Books, 2014. Print.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

all the light

What if you couldn’t see war happening around you, but you could hear it, smell it, taste it, feel it?

What if everything you believed to be wrong, suddenly became right?

Does morality still exist in wartime? Can kindness survive?

Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See explores these poignant questions and more by telling the parallel stories of Marie-Laure and Werner, a blind French girl and young German soldier, respectively, as each struggle to survive the immense horrors of WWII.

After fleeing war-torn Paris, Marie-Laure and her beloved father find refuge at the seaside home of an allusive great-uncle. She can hear the waves crashing just outside the window, and excitedly awaits the day when her father will bring her to feel the sand beneath her toes. After her father leaves town for what is promised to be a short trip and never returns, however, Marie-Laure must for the first time in her life, navigate the world on her own, and in the meantime, discovers she is harboring a dangerous secret.

While Marie-Laure is confined to the walls of Saint-Malo, Werner’s career as a member of Hitler Youth and later, as a Nazi soldier, takes him from a German orphanage across Europe and eventually, to the home of Marie-Laure’s great uncle. As their two journeys collide, Werner faces the moral dilemma of following his heart or his training, leaving the fate of Marie-Laure – and her secret – in his hands.

A masterfully written tale of perseverance, All the Light We Cannot See will have adolescent and adult readers alike considering questions of morality, loyalty, and love, in a truly powerful way that transcends time and space.

By: Mia Rotondi

Full publishing citation: Doerr, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See. New York, NY: Scribner, 2017. Print.

 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

9780399546440Imagine if Death were a person.

What might Death sound like?

What might Death have to say?

Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief tells the story of thirteen-year-old Liesel Meminger, a German girl searching for the right words to capture the horrors of WWII that she witnesses. Narrated from the perspective of Death, The Book Thief explores themes of friendship, war, the resilience of the human spirit, and the capacity for compassion.

After finding an ominous book left behind at her brother’s funeral, Liesel embarks on a journey full of secrets that eventually leads her to discovering the indestructible power of words. With her childhood best friend, Rudy, by her side, Liesel’s penchant for mischief gradually transforms into a means for survival, and with the help of her foster father and a dangerous visitor in the basement, Liesel begins to find her own voice in the piercing silence of 1939 Nazi Germany. From breaking into the mayor’s house to feeding passing by Jews as they parade towards Death, Liesel is just as fearless a book thief as she is a friend and daughter.

The Book Thief reveals a community utterly destroyed by incessant fear, even before the first bomb is dropped. With its crude yet captivating illustrations, the novel depicts the war’s true devastation, as Death leaves no side untouched. Though at times a distressing read, The Book Thief serves as an invaluable addition to the genre of Adolescent Literature, as it uncovers the uncontainable devastation of violence, the importance of story-telling, as well as the incredible bonds that can form between parents and their children, friends, and even enemies.

By: Mia Rotondi

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. Anniversary ed. Sydney: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. Print.