Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin’s Press)

Reading a novel after several intense hours slogging through your casebooks is something many law students wouldn’t consider fun. Before law school, many of us enjoyed poring over the newest literary fiction or a hefty nonfiction book in our spare time. After reading for class became a chore, the thought-provoking and linguistically-challenging books we used to enjoy just seemed like more work. If you feel this way, let me make a suggestion – you need lighter reading material.

The Young Adult (“YA”) genre is particularly suited to the law student’s literary dilemma – they offer the same well-developed characters facing interesting challenges, but aren’t as thematically heavy as “adult” fiction. That’s not to say they don’t have themes or meaning – they do! And so much! These themes just aren’t as subtle and hidden as they might be in, say, “Infinite Jest.”

Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 10.01.28 PMWhich brings me to the topic of this review – last year, Rainbow Rowell took the YA world by storm with “Eleanor & Park.” It’s the simple tale of two lonely high school misfits who fall in love on a school bus in 1986, but it transcends this most cliché of premises. Even when raising complex issues of race and abuse, the novel maintains its accessibility. You know these characters. Many of us were these characters.

One of the most refreshing aspects of this book is that the characters know they’re young and display only an age-appropriate, and not-at-all-irritating, amount of angst and drama. Their circumstances are common and relatable – they don’t fall in love while terminally ill, or amidst saving their society from an oppressive government regime (though I am happy to recommend those stories, too). They’re just there for each other the way high school kids are – still subject to curfews and forced to steal kisses on the walk home, coping with problems that seem like the end of the world because they’re way too big for their teenage shoulders. The ending is a satisfyingly realistic resolution that manages to be heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time. Go read it, then come find me so I can finally talk about that ending.

Verdict: Affirmed. Whether you’re making a first foray into YA, want to have something to discuss with your younger cousins this summer, or are already a devoted YA reader, “Eleanor & Park” is a quick, worthy read.

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Waiting to Be Heard by Amanda Knox (Harper Collins) and “Cartwheelby Jennifer DuBois (Random House)

Amanda Knox first made headlines in 2007, when she was arrested, tried, and eventually found guilty, of murdering her roommate Meredith Kercher while studying abroad in Italy. The saga resurfaced last year as the case moved through appeals and with the publication of her memoir, “Waiting to Be Heard,” and Jennifer DuBois’s fictional interpretation of the Knox case, “Cartwheel.” Though each book stands up well on its own, the two work particularly well in concert.

“Waiting to Be Heard,” is a straightforward recounting of the events surrounding Kercher’s murder and Knox’s four-year ordeal with the Italian justice system. Knox used notes, journals from her time studying abroad and in prison, and court documents to inform her narration. The book goes into incredible detail, which can seem tedious at points throughout the book’s 460+ pages. Knox does take every opportunity to refute false claims made by the prosecutors and media during her trial, but I can’t blame her for that. This memoir, and the publicity tour surrounding its publication, is also the first time she has spoken at length about the case.

An added bonus that may only interest the legal community – Knox discusses the Italian judicial system and its differences with the American system. While these explanations primarily provide context for the larger narrative, I found they painted a fascinating, if narrow and possibly biased, portrait of how another country pursues justice.

If you prefer fiction to memoirs, Jennifer DuBois takes the facts of the case as a jumping off point in her novel “Cartwheel,” swapping Lily Hayes for Amanda Knox and Argentina for Italy. The story movies quickly, jumping between the events leading up to the murder, and the aftermath of Lily’s arrest. None of the actual events of the novel will surprise anyone familiar with Knox’s story, but the novel’s strength lies in how it plays with perception and the way characters relate to each other.

“Cartwheel” has no hero. Instead, the novel rotates between points of view – Lily, her father, her paramour, and the lawyer investigating the case.  Each character interprets specific moments differently, putting their own gloss on other characters’ actions, drawing out the theme of the novel. What informs our perceptions of others and their actions? Can you ever find an objective interpretation? The novel would suggest not, and DuBois expertly brings the reader to this conclusion.

Verdict: “Cartwheel” is Affirmed. Whether you’re looking for a quick, ripped-from-the-headlines thriller or want to contemplate deeper themes, this book has something for either reader. Jury’s Out on “Waiting to Be Heard” – pick it up if you’re interested in the case, want to see where DuBois’s tale diverges from Knox’s, or curious about the Italian legal system.

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Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospitalby Sheri Fink, audiobook narrated by Kristen Potter (Random House)

I heard some general buzz about this book, and flipped through a copy at a bookstore to see whether I was interested enough to read it myself. Fifteen minutes later, I’d finished the prologue and knew I had to read it. Two weeks later, I’d already finished the audiobook and remained blown away.

“Five Days at Memorial” is the non-fiction account of what happened at Baptist Memorial Hospital during, and in the days immediately following, Hurricane Katrina. Doctors had to make impossible decisions regarding patient care and evacuation, and after the storm subsided investigations began into the suspicious deaths of several patients. The first half of the book deals with the five days of the storm, and the second half explores the repercussions of the doctors’ and nurses’ actions during those five days.

You may remember the headlines regarding homicide charges against Dr. Anna Pou. “Five Days at Memorial” is the well-researched and fair account of what led to those charges and what happened after. It uses Katrina and Dr. Pou’s case to discuss larger problems with the American health care system and important themes in medical ethics during disaster situations.

Verdict: Affirmed. Especially for law students interested in medical ethics and malpractice law, and anyone interested in in-depth books exploring the stories and people behind national headlines. If you’re an audiobook fan, Kristen Potter does an excellent narration as well.
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