Black Elk Speaks as told to John G. Neihardt

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Genre: Autobiography/History

Page Count: 334

Publication Date: Originally 1932 but revised 2008

Summary: Black Elk, a Lakota warrior and medicine man, shares the visions that he experienced that predicted the destruction of his people’s culture and way of life.  He recounts the history he lived through as Wasichus (white men) forced the Native Americans to fight for their land and eventually move onto reservations.

Recommended: Yes!  I really enjoyed this book and felt it to be both incredibly powerful and sad.  However, many of my friends who have read this book said that they found it hard to understand and cumbersome to get through.  I think I had a leg up on them for at least two reasons: I have previously read Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas by Mari Sandoz and so I already knew a lot of the history that the book talks about AND I read the premier edition of Black Elk Speaks, which included helpful side notes and authentic drawings.

If You’re Offended: No problems here.

Noteworthy Excerpts: “Dead men and horses and wounded Indians were scattered all the way up the hill, and their blood was frozen, for a storm had come up and it was very cold and getting colder all the time.”     “I went on helping the sick, and there were many, for the measles had come among the people who were already weak because of hunger. There were more sick people that winter when the whooping cough came and killed little children who did not have enough to eat.”

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A Man Named Dave by Dave Pelzer

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Genre: Auto-Biography

Page Count: 290

Publication Date: 1999

Summary: The final book in the trilogy (“A Child Called It” and “The Lost Boy”), this book recounts Dave’s entry into the Air Force, the rocky relationship that led to the birth of his son, and Dave’s coming to terms with what happened to him as a child as a result of the relationships with both of his parents.

Recommended: Yes. This book offers a glimpse into why things turned out the way they did in Dave’s life, but more importantly, how he was able to overcome so much and become successful in his own right.

If You’re Offended: You might want to steer clear of this book. There is a LOT of swearing throughout the book, including 6 instances of GD.

Noteworthy Excerpts: “Every day in the late afternoon our squadron received mail call, and every day my heart pounded with excitement. But the only letters I received regularly were crumpled ones addressed to my father with RETURN TO SENDER stamped on the envelope.”      “I had the self-esteem of an ant. I was deathly afraid of women. I felt unworthy even of looking at them for more than a few quick seconds, let alone talking with one. That’s why I was so overwhelmed, confused, and yet enchanted by Patsy’s interest in me.”

The Lost Boy by Dave Pelzer

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Genre: Autobiography

Page Count: 340

Publication Date: 1997

Summary: The sequel to “A Child Called It,” this book continues the author’s story of overcoming an abusive childhood.  In this book, the author goes through the foster care system, juvenile detention, and numerous foster homes. He realizes that when he turns 18, he will need to be self-sufficient so he begins to work and learn how to survive on his own.

Recommended: Yes. The author makes bad choices along the way, but he meets people who care about him and want to help him succeed. You’ll be surprised by which parent visits him and under what circumstances.

If You’re Offended: There is a handful of foul language in the book, including the word “retard.”

Noteworthy Excerpts: “David, this is not the time to act funny. You have to understand something: You’re a foster child. A foster child! And because of that, you’ve got two strikes against you. You have to be careful of everything you say and everything you do. If you get into trouble, we… we could lose you.”          “I was fully aware that a cold change was taking place inside of me. I did not care. I told myself that in order to survive, I had to become so hard so that I would never allow anyone to hurt me again.”

A Child Called “It” by Dave Pelzer

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Genre: Auto-Biography

Page Count: 184

Publication Date: 1993

Summary: The author tells his story of growing up with an emotionally and physically abusive alcoholic mother.  He was abused for many years before his teachers and school staff turned his case into the authorities.  Though he had brothers, his mother directed  most of the abuse at him.

Recommended: No.  As a reader, you are left with many unanswered questions – Why does his mother change so dramatically from a caring, loving mother to a monster? Why does the father allow the mother to continue the abuse? Why is Dave singled out? This is the first book in a trilogy so perhaps those questions will be answered in the next two books (which I plan to read next).

If You’re Offended: The author refers to his mother as “The Bitch” numerous times and there are a few other swear words mentioned in the book.  The child abuse described is severe and troubling.

Noteworthy Excerpts: “Although Mother never made me swallow ammonia again, she did make me drink spoonfuls of Clorox a few times.”       “As the year passed and the beatings became more intense, I thought about Mother’s age and tried to calculate when she might die.”

The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

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Genre: Auto-biography

Page Count: 138

Publication Date: 2007

Summary: You might be able to imagine yourself as a thirteen-year-old boy, but what do you think it’s like to be a thirteen-year-old boy with autism?  Why do people with autism behave the way they do? How do they communicate with the world if they cannot speak? By pointing to letters on an alphabet grid, the author, through a series of questions and answers, explains what it is like to view the world from an autistic perspective. He explores the trauma of sensory overload as well as the peace he finds in nature.  He explains why he does things that other people find hard to understand.

Recommended: Yes.  The author is incredibly perceptive about the world around him and conveys his message with thoughtfulness and honesty. Make sure you read the story (written by the author) included at the end of the book.

If You’re Offended: No problems here.

Noteworthy Excerpts: “We cry, we scream, we hit out and break things. But still, we don’t want you to give up on us. Please, keep battling alongside us. We are the ones who are suffering the most in these scenes, and badly, badly want to free ourselves from our own chains.”      “But I don’t always know what my arms and legs are up to, not exactly. For me, I have no clear sensation of where my arms and legs are attached, or how to make them do what I’m telling them to do. It’s as if my limbs are a mermaid’s rubbery tail.”