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Short-Listed Titles for RARI's 2005 read

In the Time of Butterflies
by Julia Alvarez
in the time of the butterflies     During the last days of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, three young women, members of a conservative, pious Catholic family, who had become committed to the revolutionary overthrow of the regime, were ambushed and assassinated as they drove back from visiting their jailed husbands. Thus martyred, the Mirabal sisters have become mythical figures in their country, where they are known as las mariposas (the butterflies), from their underground code names.

Ella Minnow Pea
by Mark Dunn
ella minnow pea     Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
by Mark Haddon
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time     This novel, which won the 2003 Whitbread Prize in England, is an engaging tale with appeal for both teenagers and adults. Coping with the extreme stimulus overload resulting from Asberger's syndrome has not been easy for Christopher Boone, the only child of middle class parents. He's mathematically gifted, exceedingly observant, and very likeable, but he is also autistic, unemotional and obsessive. Tied up in a small, phobia-filled, predictable and well-ordered world, Christopher is a narrator the reader can trust never to distort the facts.

We meet Christopher the morning after the mysterious nocturnal murder by pitchfork of his next door neighbor's standard poodle, Wellington. Christopher takes the risk of following in the footsteps of his hero, Sherlock Holmes, who he admires for his logical thought processes. He ventures outside of his routine life of home and school to interview his neighbors and search for clues. - Sarah Weed

Plainsong
by Kent Haruf
plainsong     Plainsong is an engaging look at people’s effects on each other’s lives: We see how two elderly bachelor brothers have their predictable lives changed when they take in a pregnant teenage girl. A middle-aged teacher struggles to raise two sons while dealing with his failing marriage. The two boys try to understand a mother who cares about them but cannot seem to muster the stability to care for them.

It is a wise and enjoyable book that I think it would appeal to both men and women. It has strong and likeable characters of both sexes, universal themes such as “What constitutes a family?” and language that should be accessible to good ninth- or tenth-grade readers. - Maxine Williams

Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine
by Ann Hood
somewhere off the coast of maine     The debut novel from a Rhode Island author. This novel begins in 1969 as Peter, Paul and Mary croon on the radio and poster paints are splashing the latest anti-war slogans. Suzanne, a poet, lives in a Maine beach house awaiting the birth of a love child she will name Sparrow. Claudia, who weds a farmer during college, plans to raise three strong sons. And Elizabeth and Howard marry, organize protest marches, and try to raise their two children with their own earthy, hippie values. By 1985, things have changed. Suzanne, now with a M.B.A., has taken to calling Sparrow "Susan." After personal tragedy, Claudia spirals backward into her sixties world—and into madness. And Elizabeth, fatally ill, watches despairingly as her children yearn for a split-level house and a gleaming station wagon.

The Known World
by Edward P. Jones
known world     When Henry Townsend, free black slave owner dies, the world he created and ruled falls apart…rending forever the fabric of Manchester County. In sparse and straightforward language, Jones forces the reader to infer much of the brutality and injustice of the pre-civil war years, and the dichotomous lives of all the residents of Manchester County.

Into the Wild
by John Krakower
    In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter. How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.

The Art of Keeping Cool
by Janet Taylor Lisle
art of keeping cool     Fear permeates the Rhode Island coastal town where Robert, his mother, and sister are living out the war with his paternal grandparents: fear of Nazi submarines offshore, fear of Abel Hoffman, a German artist living reclusively outside of town. And for Robert, a more personal fear, of his hot-tempered, controlling grandfather.

As Robert watches the townspeople's hostility toward Hoffman build, he worries about his sensitive cousin Elliot's friendship with the artist. And he wonders more and more about the family secret everyone seems to be keeping from him -- a secret involving Robert's father, a bomber pilot in Europe. Will Elliot's ability to detach himself from the turmoil around him be enough to sustain him when prejudice and suspicions erupt into violence? And can Robert find his own way to deal with the shocking truth about his family's past?

Life of Pi
by Yann Martel
life of pi     Piscine Moiltar Patel, named for a swimming pool in Paris (and known to all as Pi), tells the story of his life beginning with his teenage years living in a small French town in India. As the son of the owner of the town zoo, Pi developed a keen interest in animals and dreamed of studying zoology in college. When he was sixteen, his father decided to move the family, and some of the zoo animals, to Canada. After only a few days their Japanese cargo ship sinks in the middle of the Pacific Ocean during a storm and Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat. However, he is accompanied by four of the zoo animals - a wounded zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and a 450 pound Bengal tiger. Pi ingeniously uses supplies found in a locker on the lifeboat, food from the ocean and his own wit to survive. Pi's story of his ordeal of 227 days on the ocean is horrifying, beautiful, mystical, and ultimately an inspiring and thrilling adventure.

The Things They Carried
by Tim O'Brien
things they carried     The Things They Carried depicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and of course, the character Tim O'Brien who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three. They battle the enemy (or maybe more the idea of the enemy), and occasionally each other. In their relationships we see their isolation and loneliness, their rage and fear. They miss their families, their girlfriends and buddies; they miss the lives they left back home. Yet they find sympathy and kindness for strangers (the old man who leads them unscathed through the mine field, the girl who grieves while she dances), and love for each other, because in Vietnam they are the only family they have. We hear the voices of the men and build images upon their dialogue. The way they tell stories about others, we hear them telling stories about themselves.

When the Emperor was Divine
by Julie Otsuka
when the emperor was divine     Julie Otsuka’s commanding debut novel paints a portrait of the Japanese internment camps unlike any we have ever seen. With crystalline intensity and precision, Otsuka uses a single family to evoke the deracination—both physical and emotional—of a generation of Japanese Americans. In five chapters, each flawlessly executed from a different point of view—the mother receiving the order to evacuate; the daughter on the long train ride to the camp; the son in the desert encampment; the family’s return to their home; and the bitter release of the father after more than four years in captivity—she has created a small tour de force, a novel of unrelenting economy and suppressed emotion.

The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud
by Ben Sherwood
    The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud is the story of two brothers – one who survives a car accident and one who does not. The survivor, Charlie, gives up his young ambitions to work in the town cemetery to remain close to his dead brother who is “alive” to him there. A young woman ultimately helps steer Charlie from life to death to life again. Described as “dreamy” and “whimsical” by readers, this novel may stretch your thinking on death and loss.