Hunchback, Strays reviewed, meet with approval

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The immense popularity of “Les Miserables,” by Victor Hugo, led me to read “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame,” or “Notre-Dame de Paris,” as the author preferred to call it. I was happy to find lengthy descriptions of Paris and its buildings along with descriptions of its culture and inhabitants. Although the story is sad, the author includes touches of humor when he makes fun of some of the city’s odd characters.

The principal character is, of course, Quasimodo, the bell-ringer, whose name means “as if newborn,” because besides being hunchbacked, he is crooked-legged. Later, from being the bell-ringer, he becomes deaf. When people ask him questions, he doesn’t hear, making them think he is stubborn or stupid.

The other major character is Esmeralda, a beautiful gypsy dancer and singer. She falls in love with a dashing captain who falsely says he loves her. When a villain stabs him, she is accused.

Quasimodo, who has become devoted to her, steals her from the police to take her to sanctuary in the cathedral. The same villain steals her away with mistaken good intentions. Intrigue back and forth!

The most amusing character is a “philosopher,” Pierre Gringoire, who writes tragedies and eventually performs magic tricks when he must to earn money to eat. He turns out to be the villain’s nephew, causing trouble instead of helping. At one desperate point, he says he would drown himself, only the water is so cold.

Although the reader knows the end will be tragic, the suspense is still effective. You will enjoy this classic.

“Strays,” by Ron Koertge, is the perfect title for a book about, not dogs or cats, but boys in a foster home. The foster parents are odd, the man very fussy, “not a pushover,” he says, “like the wife.” The woman is a frustrated mother who pretends to breastfeed a doll in front of a very uncomfortable boy.

The foster home already has one boy, so the two new ones are a challenge. Ted, the principal boy in the story, will live in the attic till one boy “ages out.” Ted is an orphan whose parents just died in an automobile crash.

Since his parents ran a pet store, Ted is good with animals. They talk to him.

The author has a clever trick: when Ted finally makes some friends, one even a girl, after having been a loner, the animals back off. With humans at last, he doesn’t need the animals anymore to support him.

The author uses humor throughout. The school authorities never learn students’ names: Ted is Tom or Tim or anything that starts with T. His roommate, Astin, is Tex, because his name sounds like Austin.

The students all have funny dialog. Wanda says if she doesn’t finish Leaves of Grass soon, she’ll take a lawn mower to it. She says her touring parents won’t be home for a while because Arizona has a saguaro they haven’t photographed yet. Fun.