Category Archives: Joe

The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)

giverMany of the recent popular dystopian series like Divergent, The Hunger Games, and Legend (by Marie Lu) can trace their storylines back to The Giver, the book which started it all. In a distant future, people live in a utopian society where everything is controlled—what people say, and think, and do. At age 12, Jonas will go through “the ceremony” to find out what he will do for the rest of his life, but what he soon learns about the past will change his whole world.

Check out the classic by Lois Lowry today.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (1963)

catscradleKurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle is a funny and dark satire on government, religion, and life. John is a writer who is writing a book about what important Americans were doing the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. He quickly becomes entangled with the children of one of the bomb’s creators who are in possession of another, dangerous invention that portends doom to the entire world. It is an “out of the frying pan and into the fire” kind of story, where each absurd situation leads into the next. This is a fun read.

Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale (1980)

catchmeThis true life adventure is almost too over the top to be believed. The movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio pales in comparison to the book. At a very young age, Frank Abagnale set out on a life of crime that took him all over the world as he impersonated a Pan Am pilot, masqueraded as a supervising resident of a hospital, and practiced law without a license. He cashed over $2.5 million in forged checks and was known by the police of 26 foreign countries and all fifty states as “The Skywayman.” His descriptions of narrowly escaping capture will make your jaw drop. When he is ultimately captured, he pays a heavy price. Catch Me If You Can is an exciting real story which will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937)

micemenJohn Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is a powerful story about two day laborers during the Great Depression who dream of owning an acre of land. George is small, but smart, and he worries over and tries to protect his friend Lennie, who is big and strong, but has the mind of a child. Their prospects look promising until a flirtatious woman enters the picture, and George must act quickly to do what he feels is best for his friend. You won’t be able to put this book down.

For other classics that make great choices for reading and discussing, check out our book list.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (2004)

jonathanstrangeSusanna Clarke writes a historical fantasy novel full of curious characters and thousands of rich details that are woven together masterfully. Set in the age of Napoleon, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell follows two English gentlemen determined to bring magic back to England. While old Mr. Norrell wishes to hoard the magic for himself and is overly cautious, Jonathan Strange daringly forges ahead producing new and exciting magic despite the risks. Many of the scenes are comical, but there is an ominous cloud of dark magic which hangs over the entire story creating a feeling of foreboding and suspense. (The book was made into a BBC miniseries in 2015.)

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (2012)

dogstarsAfter a pandemic flu has wiped out all but a few people, a pilot named Hig finds himself teamed up, for better or for worse, with Bangley, who is armed to the teeth and would rather shoot first and ask questions later. They have staked out a valley with a small suburban airport, with Hig warning people from the air that they should stay away. While Bangley is ruthless, Hig has a gentle nature, so they keep to themselves with Hig’s dog Jasper being his only real friend. It is a lonely and violent existence. When Hig hears a radio transmission from his plane, he must decide whether or not to risk everything to see if there is still some civilization out there.

Fans of dystopian literature will enjoy Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars. It is not nearly as bleak as The Road by Cormac McCarthy, but still has plenty of desperate, exciting moments and ultimately conveys a message of hope. Check out other tales of dystopia here.

Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher (2001)

This young adult title will make you cry both tears of joy and anguish as it explores the themes of racism, child abuse, and high school bullying. T. J. Jones, an adopted high school senior of mixed race, takes it upon himself to stop the quarterback of the football team from bullying a mentally challenged student. His plan, which involves creating a new sports team full of misfits, has wonderful highs and stunning lows. It is edgy, but rewarding.

I listened to Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk on CD (read by Brian Corrigan).

Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde (2009)

Shades of Grey is science fiction, suspense, and comedy rolled into one. It is set in a dystopian future in which everyone is color blind and one’s class status is determined by the amount of color that he or she can see, with the greys toiling at the bottom, the purples at the top, and several other hues in constant conflict.

Jasper Fforde has a vivid imagination, an eye for detail, and a gift for writing. I especially enjoy the clever dialogue, and each comically absurd scene outdoes the last. John Lee is excellent as the narrator of the book on CD. I would highly recommend listening to this book.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown (2013)

Daniel James Brown captures the essence not only of this story but also of the sport of crew—the physical strength of the rowers, the strategy of the coxswain, the design of the boat. The author’s eye for detail is reminiscent of the writing of Laura Hillenbrand.

The Boys in the Boat focuses on the life of Joe Rantz, who, like his teammates, grows up during the Depression and struggles just to survive. These eight young, powerful rowers guided by a brilliant coxswain rose from humble beginning to win the gold at the 1936 Olympics. You will be cheering them on all the way to the finish.