Worth a read

Bookworms unite! Ms. Pommer shares thoughts on life, reading, and a popular new book called Halo: Battle Born.

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Christina Pommer

Ms. Pommer uses Goodreads, a popular literary site to review, browse, and share book titles.

If you’re interested in books (or you want to be because you’re dying of boredom in quarantine), we’ve been seeking out hardcore Falcon readers too share fresh reviews on popular books.

Last month’s book review featured Cate Mulqueen’s Book Blog C8’s Rad Reads. Today, Ms. Pommer shares both her valuable thinking on reading in general, and a review on a sci-fi read called Halo: Battle Born by Cassandra Rose Clarke.

*The following is a review by US Media Specialist Ms. Pommer*

As long as I’ve worked at Saint Stephen’s, students have told me that they would read more if they had more time. It’s the same conversation every year.

“I liked to read when I was younger (cue specific memory of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Warrior Cats, Among the Hidden, etc.) but now I have AP classes, track, SAT prep, a job scooping ice cream, TikTok, bus rides, babysitting duties for a younger brother…”  I’ve heard every way high schoolers jam 27 hours into each 24 hour day.

I get that. Even when I was in high school, I was way too overscheduled to read much except on school breaks, and I didn’t really get back into the habit (thanks, Mr. Yanelli) until two years after I graduated from college when I moved to an island with only 2000 people. The neat thing about books is they’ll wait for just this kind of occurrence, and you can rekindle your childhood relationship with them anytime.

For much of the world, that time is now! You might still have AP classes and TikTok, but most everything outside your house is on pause.  Personally, (and I might be alone in this) when I learned school was closing through spring break, I brought home a bag of 14 books from the school library that I had wanted to read but hadn’t had time for. After the closure was extended and faculty were permitted to return to pick up additional needed items, my haul included eight more books. In full disclosure, I might have already had three books checked out that I had been in the middle of reading for the past month. (And which I still haven’t touched in favor of my brand new bags of books.)

I have currently read eight titles since social distancing, and I’m in the middle of four others, scattered in three rooms around the house. If I was more of a math person, I could figure out how I’m doing in terms of rationing myself for the coming weeks, but I’ll leave that to you. Just don’t tell me that I’m going to run out because in addition to our phenomenal shared MISBO collection, Overdrive has also provided access to hundreds more electronic and audio books for as long as we are out of school. Everyone at Saint Stephen’s has an Overdrive account for this collection, and the Manatee County Public Library is also registering people for library cards so we can access their extensive electronic collections.

It’s a common refrain (or compliment. or criticism) that adults tend to become less and less adventurous overall as they age. I used to be much more omnivorous in my reading, but in recent years I’ve read more narrowly in genres that I’m more likely to rate highly. I’ll probably have greater personal enjoyment, but it’s less helpful as a librarian offering you suggestions for books that you’ll enjoy. When Mrs. Revard brings her classes to the library each month to choose books for book talks, I need to be able to speak knowledgeably about everything from biographies to fantasy, horror to humor.

In that vein, the second set of eight books that I grabbed are ones that I wouldn’t normally settle in with on a Saturday morning but ones that I thought would be of higher interest to students. I just finished the first of these this weekend, and it was a surprisingly interesting page-turner that left me curious not only for the sequel, but also for the source material.

But before I introduce that book, I want to keep the focus on me for just a few more sentences. How, you’ve been wondering, do I find the time to read while running the Saint Stephen’s library, leading a professional organization of librarians, playing with my cats, and biking a ton? We all are given the same amount of time each day, so let me share my secret. I don’t play video games, I can barely name a professional sports team, and I’m pretty terrible at paying attention while watching tv shows. I’m not sure this is applicable for any of you, but it’s relevant here.

The book series that I’m recommending to you is Halo: Battle Born by Cassandra Rose Clarke. So, if you’ve been following along, you should see where we’re heading. Stay with me, and you’re a reader already! We’re all good on page one when Evie is asking her professor dad if she can go to a concert on a school night because nothing interesting ever happens in the small town of Brume-sur-Mer. Got it. I was in that position senior year of high school.

By page nine, Clare has introduced comm pads, credit chips, United Nations Space Command, Sundered Legion, Insurrection, a holo-projector, and The Covenant. I know some of those words, but not as proper nouns, and it was distinctively entertaining to try to build the Halo universe and mythos in my head from the context clues in the text. Up until Friday, I knew Halo was a video game, but I couldn’t have identified a single enemy on a multiple choice test or even told you that it’s played on an Xbox. Or sometimes played on an Xbox? Wikipedia gets overwhelmingly detailed sometimes.

Because our four humans in Halo: Battle Born are ordinary teens, this is actually a good starter choice for the science fiction novice. Chapters alternate between Evie, Saskia, Victor, and Dorian’s perspectives, which helps with quick pacing. After The Covenant attack a concert, the town is locked down. All citizens are directed to an ancient underground bunker for protection. Our heroes are caught outside and find that The Covenant has jammed communication with the good forces that are supposed to protect them. It’s up to our teens to figure out why The Covenant has chosen to attack their town and to develop a plan to save their world.

Conveniently, the only other being locked out of the bunker is a Spartan on a covert mission. (Ahh, I see your confusion. Wikipedia tells me that Halo Spartans are elite super-soldiers, while the Greek Spartans of history were, hmmm, also considered elite super-soldiers. What a surprising coincidence, or are allusions everywhere if you know to look for them?) The structure is fairly standard, with characters who need to learn to trust each other as well as their own abilities. It’s a thriller because they need to find weapons, learn to fire them (and not have them used against them by a trained army), hack technology, and figure out an escape plan that won’t kill them or their neighbors.  I’ve already shared that this is the beginning of a series, but exactly how they become heroes will remain a surprise until you read the book.

Might I have understood more if I could picture a “Sangheili” or an “Unggoy?” Absolutely. But it was fun to spend a few days in territory not yet explored, and not all books aim to be the “next great American novel.” There can be room in our lives for Citizen Kane and The Avengers, for Beethoven and Drake, for spinach and popcorn. So whether you want to use these weeks at home to read The Count of Monte Cristo (available for free through the public domain and highly recommended by me) or Halo: Battle Born, just find something you’ll like and read. And not in a “20 minutes a night” or a “one chapter before block period” kind of way, but in a hide under the covers and binge way. And if you need a recommendation for a book (or your Overdrive number) my horizons are broadening day by day, and it would totally make my day to know that Saint Stephen’s students finally have time to read!

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