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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Paper Things

by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Normally when books are about elementary school children, they show how stupid some people think these children are.  Even when these characters are supposed to be "smart" the book portrays them as stupid and overly proud of dumb achievements.  This book was different.  Ari, the main character, is a smart, thoughtful fifth grader.  Ari's brother, Gage, is 19 years old and he doesn't get along with their guardian Janna.  Gage decides to move out and Ari moves with him.  Janna was their mother's friend from high school and when both of their mom dies four years previously, their last living parent, they had to move in with Janna.  Gage tells Janna that he has an apartment set up for him and Ari, but it isn't until after they leave that Ari finds out this isn't true.  Ari's mom's dying wish was that Gage and Ari stay together always and that Ari go to Carter Middle School, a competitive school to get into.  Ari is just 11 years old, yet she learns what it is like to be homeless.  However, she never thinks of herself that way because her brother takes good care of her.  Unfortunately, it is hard for her to keep up her grades when she doesn't have a place to do her homework and she doesn't know where she'll have dinner or sleep each night.  Her best friend ditches her, but she makes friends in other surprising places.  She has paper dolls, which she cuts out of magazines, and she takes them everywhere she goes.  She carries around everything with her because she has no home to leave her stuff at.  Her paper dolls, for a while, seem to be the only thing grounding her.  They have a home, so she has a home.  This story was beautifully written, and I'm certain I didn't quite get across what it was about.  It's not a search for a home, but a search for a place to put her home.

What I really loved about this book was how realistic it was.  When she brings up the paper dolls she used to play with with her best friend, Sasha, Sasha starts out thinking about them in a positive way.  And as the reader, I was right there with Ari being proud that she liked them still.  And then Sasha turns around and says "God, we were such dorks."   While Sasha had no intention of hurting Ari, Ari still feels the bite, and I could too because I had already come to appreciate and love her paper things.  Small incidences like this build up the entire book.  Everything was entirely natural and Ari was such a beautiful person.  She was grateful for what she had and always tried to help those around her.  I also really liked Daniel, one of the friends Ari makes during her experiences.  He was such a great person and, like Ari, was believable.  He pushed  her to be brave in ways that she wasn't already and supported her when she needed it even though he had no reason to.

There was one teeny tiny flaw: Sasha's ending.  This might give a little bit away so if you don't want to read it, you can just skip this paragraph.  Sasha is quite mean to Ari.  I just can't believe at the end that Sasha was so willing to go back to Ari without a real apology.  I understand why Ari took her back, it just speaks to how great of a person Ari is.  I just don't like that Sasha didn't take responsibility.  She didn't know what Ari was going through, but she should have been able to see that Ari needed help, and yet she did nothing.  Well, that's not true.  She ditched her and found new more popular friends.  I guess I was sort of justice that Sasha was waitlisted at Carter, especially after she told Ari they would be going to different middle schools (implying at the time Sasha would be going to Carter and Ari would not be).  I think that Sasha should have been a little bit more responsible for what she did.

Also, just a quick note.  What a beautiful cover! I just love it and it matches the simplicity and beauty of the Paper Things in the book.  The paper things's meaning is hard to get across without reading the book, but the cover does a nice job of portraying what they mean.

This book was sort of like french onion soup.  The characters are the crouton on top, that really absorbs the rest of the plot, setting, and writing style.  They pull everything together so that you can take a bite of everything at once.  The combination is rich and almost creamy so that it makes your mouth water, or tears run down your cheeks.  The spices and herbs that help flavor the onions are the small incidences that make up the characters history.  The onions and other main ingredients are the plot and major events that make up Ari.  I would give this book a 4.75 because it was so beautifully written and extraordinarily heart warming.  The warm soup, just like the plot and characters, warms you up from the inside.  Both french onion soup and Paper Things are real treats.  A surprisingly good experience no matter when you take a bite.  I couldn't get everything across in this review, but I could suggest this book to everyone because it isn't a typical realistic fiction book.  I don't want to give away the ending, but Ari's journey is beautiful and comes to a fulfilling conclusion.

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