Dark Horses–Books that will surprise you

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I am the Messenger | MarKus Zusak

Summary: Meet Ed Kennedy – underage cabdriver, pathetic card player, and useless at romance. He lives in a shack with his coffee-addicted dog, the Doorman, and he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first Ace arrives. That’s when Ed becomes the messenger. Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary), until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

Recommendation: A “Dark Horse” is a phrase that means “an unexpected winner”.  This story qualifies in that while many people have read “The Book Thief” (which was also made into a movie), most have not read “I am the Messenger”.  Get ready for a read that tugs at your heartstrings as young Ed Kennedy, a going-nowhere-in-life cab driver in Australia suddenly has a mission—one that costs him heartache, physical hardships, and yet, ultimately leads him to life answers and great joy.  Who was the sender of the messages?  Why Ed?  This book made me ponder—do I have a message that will help those in my immediate world?  If so, am I passing it on?
Note: there is some language and mild references to sex.

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The Chosen | Chaim Potok

Summary: In 1940s Brooklyn, New York, an accident throws Reuven Malther and Danny Saunders together. Despite their differences (Reuven is a Modern Orthodox Jew with an intellectual, Zionist father; Danny is the brilliant son and rightful heir to a Hasidic rebbe), the young men form a deep, if unlikely, friendship. Together they negotiate adolescence, family conflicts, the crisis of faith engendered when Holocaust stories begin to emerge in the U.S., loss, love, and the journey to adulthood. 

Recommendation: I call The Chosen a “dark horse” based on the above description—who would think a book published in the 1960s, about 2 Orthodox Jewish boys in 1940s Brooklyn would be other than dry, of limited interest, or totally unreadable?  The secret to The Chosen being very, very worth reading is that it is really about life and the value of a friendship that eventually transcends all obstacles—a friendship that helps each member understand and process his own situation.  I can’t even explain it.  Lovely, lovely book.  Just read it.

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Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project | Jack Mayer

Summary: During World War II, Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic social worker, organized a rescue network to save 2,500 Jewish children from certain death in the Warsaw ghetto. After the war, her heroism was suppressed by communist Poland and remained virtually unknown for 60 years– until three high school girls from a rural school district in southeast Kansas stumbled upon a tantalizing reference to Sendler’s rescues, which they fashioned into a history project.

Recommendation: Oh—this book!  On the surface, some high schoolers doing a history project stumble upon a story of a Polish woman during WWII who saved Jewish children from death.  Yes, a good story and worthwhile topic.  But this book sucked me in, chewed me up, and spit me out—not because of graphic descriptions of what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust, but because of what ONE person can do to change her world.  It made me ask myself: “What would I have done in her place?” and “Is there something I should be doing now?” This book still hasn’t let me go.

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Smithton Public Library

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