The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
All the men enjoyed reading the book and some had seen the film previously. K, G and J thought it was beautifully written and although set in America it was not the usual American schmaltzy high school love story. All liked the fact that the characters were unusual misfits. K liked the way Augustus had a great friendship with Isaac and he treated him like he was normal. Most of the group struggled to understand what the non- smoking of the cigarette was about. G thought it was a symbol that cigarettes caused cancer and Augustus was showing the cancer that he was boss.
E couldn’t understand the part where Augustus and Hazel went to visit the author. J said that it was about wanting to know how things end. She wanted to know how the book she had read ended. She wanted it to end well. If she died she wanted things to end well and her parent’s lives to continue.
All thought that it would be Hazel that died first and were surprised that Augustus did. We all liked the eulogy that Augustus wrote for himself.
Alone on the Wide Sea by Michael Morpurgo
Stepping Stones Group
A good session. They are all reading the punctuation well, and making a lot of sense of the story. A few hiccups over ‘harangue’ and ‘verandah’, and ‘Aborigine’. I’m always pleased to find fresh and unfamiliar vocabulary when we read. I…will look for stories that we might finish in one sitting when we’re through with this. And time, I think, to stop more often now and ask what they’ve understood of the last few paragraphs, rather than just ploughing on with the reading, which is what they want to do. With a straightforward story it is difficult to gauge whether this approach just breaks the narrative up too much. We did a lot of stopping with the Steinbeck, which had a mixed reception, but the Steinbeck lent itself to that approach.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The book divided the group, and in general they were much more reticent to discuss details than in previous books. This might be as the group is reduced in number, that two had not completed the book, but seemed more that they found discussing the subject of slavery uncomfortable. Theo did enjoy the novel though it was “very grim”. M and G were wrong-footed by book being simultaneously realistic and fantastical. “I found this frustrating, to be honest” – G.
“It was odd, because once you thought about it the whole thing was impossible. This railroad. And that stopped me enjoying the story. I kept thinking but you couldn’t have these underground trains. They would have been found.” – M
“I think books like this, and I haven’t read it all. I’m about 100 pages in. Books like this can be a turnoff if they labour a point. Slavery was bad we know that.” – G
Others in the group though it was fine to have a book that could be read on different levels and allowed it to show a wider truth than just historical.
“I thought some of the characters shrugged off the hideousness very casually.” – G
“But if that level of violence was every day. It wouldn’t have taken much to shrug it off. We’ve all seen troubling things in here but we accept them because they happen. It would be different outside.” – T
“It’s just barbaric and that’s all you can say.” – J
And so most of the group didn’t get beyond condemning slavery, and were reluctant to engage and discuss the various facets of racism shown. That some characters could think they were doing a good deed even while perpetuating racist actions. The character of Ridgeway (linked by his name to a different road) appealed more because of the straightforward nature of his desire. “He knows what his job is.” Yet the ending left most of the group cold, and a little perplexed. Only T really enjoyed the novel, and only Ttook meaning from the ending. The others either hadn’t got there, or felt it “petered out”.