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Infinite Country by Patricia Engel | Thoughts

   Published : 2021   ||    Format : print   ||    Location : Colombia ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆   What was it about the country that kept everyone hostage to its fantasy? The previous month, on its own soil, an American man went to his job at a plant and gunned down fourteen coworkers, and last spring alone there were four different school shootings. A nation at war with itself, yet people still spoke of it as some kind of paradise.. Thoughts : Infinite Country follows two characters - young Talia, who at the beginning of this book, escapes a girl’s reform school in North Colombia so that she can make her previously booked flight to the US. Before she can do that, she needs to travel many miles to reach her father and get her ticket to the rest of her family. As we follow Talia’s treacherous journey south, we learn about how she ended up in the reform school in the first place and why half her family resides in the US. Infinite Country tells the story of her family through the other protagonist, El

Book n Movie Review: The Freedom Writers' Diary by Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writers

The Freedom Writers DiaryThe Freedom Writers Diary

I'm sure one of these days she's going to go to principal and ask for her leave, but then again, what else is new?

"These kids are going to make this lady quit the first week," my friends were saying. Someone else said, "She'll only last a day."

I give her a month.
I first heard of this book in Sheila's blog when she reviewed this during the Banned Books week last year. At that point, I wasn't too keen on reading the book, but when I saw the movie pop up in my Netflix recommendations list, I decided to check it out. I didn't have too many expectations from it, but by the end of the movie, I loved it. Who doesn't love a rebel? And I mean a good rebel -- someone who succeeds in something when everyone else expected him/her to fail. The movie was everything about changing your destiny, and all through my life, I've never tolerated the 'fate' and 'destiny' philosophies that anyone dished out to me. I like to believe that I'm the only person who can control my life -- of course there's the butterfly effect and then there is the case where someone else's actions can affect what happens to you, but they are usually single events, and most times, one can always decide one's reactions to such events. Would you rather wallow in depression because you are going through a life-changing mess or would you rather change the way you respond to that mess?

The Freedom Writers' Diary is the strongest proof I've seen about how you can make a difference to your life and to those around you. All the kids in Erin Gruwell's class have already been written off as failures, by other teachers, other students, and even their own parents. Worse, none of the kids could identify with Erin -- a white woman staying in a safe suburban residence, with no teaching experience and who had no idea of life in the violent gang-controlled streets of LA. Since even their previous teachers had given up on them, they gave Erin just a month before they believed she would move on.

The following 300-odd pages of this book shows so well how every single student has been transformed by Erin's teaching methods, the students' life experiences, their choices and willingness to perhaps hope that maybe they'll come through it all fine. So many stories in the book are moving. There's the student who's the sole caretaker of the family and is on the verge of eviction because he/she has to pay 800 bucks in rent and the car payment is also due. Then the girl who had a really wonderful family life at one point and within a few years, the mother left, the father remarried to a woman she and her siblings couldn't adjust to; soon they moved to an aunt's place who loved her a lot until her lover returned from the jail and the kids were back to square one -- homeless and family-less. There's the boy whose family doesn't have a home to stay in because they are so poor. There's the girl whose parents stole her stuff so that they can fund their drug addiction. There's also the girl who had to bring herself up because her mother was tired of being a mother. There's the boy whose father doesn't think his son will succeed and offers no hope or encouragement. 

So many of the diary entries make you really sad, but by the end of each entry, I still smiled because the kids weren't writing with despair, they were writing with hope. They made promises to themselves and expressed their gratitude that they at least still had the Freedom Writers. Erin Gruwell and her class were a symbol of hope for all these kids. It's beautiful reading about how these kids change and how they do and wish good for others too. Their hostility is very evident in the initial diary entries, but as I read, I could vividly see the changes happening. It's also a reminder that just because a kid walks around with a gun or a knife, it doesn't mean that they are bad. It means they need help and there are no adults offering them that.

I've never had a teacher like Erin Gruwell, but then I've never been in a challenged class like Erin's. Still, every school needs someone like her -- if not to help those 'written-off' kids, then to at least empathize with the kids in their class. All kids have problems -- maybe not as tragic as the circumstances of the kids in this book, but certainly important problems that can have far-reaching consequences later on in life.
If four years ago someone would have told me that Ms. G was going to last more than a month, I would have laughed straight in their face. She wasn't supposed to make it, we weren't supposed to make it. But look at us now, the sure-to-drop-out kids are sure to reach higher education. No one would have thought of the "bad-asses" as high school graduates -- as any kind of graduates. Yet, in four years we will be college graduates. Our names will be on the alumni lists of Columbia, Princeton, Stanford, and even Harvard.
I loved both the movie and the book -- both are remarkably similar in plotline, but the book is just a bunch of numbered diary entries (you never know the identity of most kids and that lends a poignant innocent feel to the book). In the movie, there are some characters that are more central to the storyline. I loved all the actors who portrayed the students. They really got well into the skin of their characters. The movie also gives a personal look into Erin's life, which is not present in the book. As I understand it, the movie also used Erin's memoir to put together the various threads. I will recommend both the movie and the book to you -- they are both well-done. If like me, you aren't feeling motivated to read the book, you should certainly watch the movie then. I promise that you'll be checking out the book the very next day.

I borrowed this book from the library and rented the movie from Netflix.


Mindy Herbert said…
I found your blog through BookBlogs and I am now a follower! Will you follow me at
I love this format! Very cool to read a review about the book and the movie. I saw the movie a couple of years ago and enjoyed it. Another rec for you: Mark Salzman's True Notebooks: A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall. Sounds like Freedom Writers' Diary is pretty similar, but True Notebooks is a quick read and I love the way Salzman writes. He's a novelist and I'm hoping to get to one of his fiction works soon. Great post
hcmurdoch said…
Great review of an awesome book-movie combination! Our students love reading this book; I think it inspires them and shows them that they are not alone in their struggles. Great teachers come in all sorts of packages, I just hope we each get at least one in our lifetimes.
I so admire teachers who can inspire like that. I remember when that movie was out and thought it looked interesting. I need to look into this one!
Misha said…
Fantastic review! I have only seen the movie, but I really want to read the book too. What a sad but inspiring story!
Athira / Aths said…
Thanks so much for those recommendations!! I can't wait to check those out. I really enjoyed this book, so it's nice to see similar works!
Athira / Aths said…
I agree. We should all have at least one great teacher in our lives - doesn't have to be in a classroom, can be a friend, a mentor, relative, family, etc. I'm glad that your students love this book. It is certainly inspiring!
Athira / Aths said…
You should check out the movie, Kathy. I was curious about the movie more and am so glad I watched it!
Athira / Aths said…
You should check out the book! I hope you enjoy that too!
Sandy @ Scribing Shadows said…
The movie looked interesting when I first saw the trailer but I never got to see it. I'll have to rent it next time I head to the store :)
Athira / Aths said…
I can't wait to hear what you think of the movie! I hope you enjoy it. I really loved it!
Suitejuju said…
Wow. Sounds like something every teacher should read.
Athira / Aths said…
It sure is. I think every student should also read this, because it really leaves you inspired!
Patti Smith said…
We added a movie related writing assignment to our syllabus a few semesters ago and we've been watching the same movie (Dead Poets Society) over and over again in each class...I was just thinking about changing this assignment the other day when I ran across this book/movie on someone else's blog. After your review I think I'll definitely give it a preview to see if we can substitute :) Thanks!
Athira / Aths said…
Thanks for following, Mindy!
Athira / Aths said…
Woohoo! I hope the movie meets the expectations! It's certainly a very inspiring book/movie, something I believe every student should read/watch. So I hope you'll be able to feature this one in your class.
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