Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - November/December 2012 - (Page 38)

off the shelf The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel barbery review by Hannah overstreet Paloma is a 12-year-old genius, but she has learned to hide her intelligence well. Believing that most people would never be able to understand her, she is content to simply observe the people around her—people like her often-mistaken french teacher, her opinionated and overconfident older sister, or her well-off yet discontented parents. through these observations, she comes to the conclusion that life is meaningless and therefore not worth living. she decides to commit suicide on her 13th birthday and devises a plan to do so in the most painless way possible, reasoning that there would be no point in death as a release from suffering if suffering is involved. While Paloma is reasonably sure that she wants to escape a world in which wealth and status are prized over knowledge, she nonetheless decides to keep a record of beautiful things in the world that might give her a reason to stick around. this she does in two journals: one for profound thoughts and the other for beautiful things in the physical world. these records make up about half of the novel. the other half of the book is narrated by renée, the apparently ordinary but secretly cultured concierge who lives downstairs. though she is only an uneducated member of the lower class, in private she enjoys classic films, russian novels, and exotic foods, all of which she carefully hides from the apartment’s rich tenants. her chapters, written from a more mature perspective than Paloma’s, muse on art, philosophy, and the modern social class system. the seemingly strange title becomes clear once these remarkable characters are introduced, for both characters are rather like hedgehogs; they appear quite prickly and even commonplace, yet they are also both highly cultured and extraordinarily gifted. this theme of hidden personality is the central focus of the book. though the novel reads more like a collection of short essays than a narrative, it is not entirely without a plot. during the latter half of the book, an eccentric Japanese gentleman named ozu moves into the recently vacated apartment below Paloma’s. due to his foreign appearance and unusual behavior, he attracts a lot of attention from the more socially conforming residents. renée and Paloma, however, are both greatly interested in Japanese culture and quickly befriend him. this mutual friendship brings them together for the first time, and they realize that perhaps they are not alone in pretending to be something less than they are. the book comes abruptly to a surprising and poignant conclusion that nicely ties together the novel’s themes of modern social barriers, art, and the meaning of life. While these subjects may sound a little pretentious, Barbery does an excellent job of making her characters easily relatable and adding a little humor to such heavy topics. While some of the more complex philosophical ideas of the book do more to distract from the plot than to add to it, the book as a whole was an interesting and challenging read. The Elegance of the Hedgehog is perhaps not an especially exciting book, but it is certainly a very thought-provoking one. Hannah Overstreet, 14, is a sophomore at anderson Preparatory academy in indiana, where she participates in the school show choir and robotics team. she has a green belt in taekwondo and has played the piano for nine years. she likes books, physics, and musicals and is considering a career in museum curation. Also recommended Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin Winter’s Tale tells the story of Peter Lake, a burglar in new York who falls in love with the person he planned to rob. With elegant descriptions, helprin paints new York City in a beautiful light, changing anyone’s view of new York. Winter’s Tale is a unique fantasy with deep existential concepts and ideas embedded within. the engaging plot serves as a discourse on reality and existence. not a single page is dull, and it will really change the way one looks at the world. —norman greenberg, 16, nY Jane Eyre by Charlotte bronte orphaned at a young age, Jane eyre is raised by her heartless aunt and endures years of cruelty and loneliness. maturing into an independent and spirited rebel, Jane takes a position as governess and falls for her sardonic employer, rochester. despite their love, his grave secret forces her to make a decision. Will she abandon all to be with him, despite the terrible consequences? a powerful novel of a woman’s search for freedom, Jane Eyre is a masterpiece that will shock and intrigue you. —Ellen Freebern, 16, oH 38 imagine nov/dec 2012

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - November/December 2012

Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - November/december 2012
Big Picture
In My Own Words
Well of Dreams
Making History Personal
A World Full of Stories
The Month of Writing Dangerously
Japan Adventures
Storytelling 2.0
On the Frontline of Digital Journalism
Once Upon a Summer
Awakening the Storyteller
Selected Opportunities & Resources
On the Doorstep of Discovery
When You’re Ready to Do Research
Off the Shelf
Word Wise
Exploring Career Options
One Step Ahead
Planning Ahead for College
Students Review
Mark Your Calendar
Knossos Games

Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - November/December 2012