Saturday, March 18, 2017

Piece of Mind, Michelle Adelman

Sometimes it is all about the voice. In Piece of Mind by Michelle Adelman (W.W. Norton, 2016) we are charmed by the clear, unique voice of Lucy, a young woman who has grown up with a traumatic brain injury. Because of her disabilities, she lives with her aging father, both of them finding comfort in the daily routines they share. When Lucy's father dies suddenly, her younger brother moves her from their quiet, suburban childhood home to his tiny apartment in bustling New York City. In these new surroundings, and unmoored from her father's protection and support, Lucy finds her way to greater independence, and forges a new, more equal relationship with her sibling.

The novel immerses us in Lucy's world. Because her disabilities are not necessarily visible to others, we must understand the tiny obstacles of her daily life - confusing interactions, decision making, forgetfulness, easily becoming overwhelmed, fatigue. In some hands, these details could be heavy, or the tone didactic, but Adelman takes us there lovingly with Lucy's appealing personality, sensitivity and humor. We gain insight into a life we might easily overlook otherwise, and learn to appreciate Lucy for both her gifts and her flaws.

The plot, too, is charming. Lucy finds friends, romance, and purpose, especially through her art. The book includes lovely sketches by the author's own sister, who also has a brain injury. They are lovely discoveries as you read and give the book a very personal feel. While the story may feel a bit familiar, the point of view was engaging and refreshing. I thoroughly enjoyed this glimpse of the world through Lucy's eyes.

I received a complimentary copy of Piece of Mind from the publisher.

Happy reading!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Book Pairing: Lost and Found

Don't you love finding unexpected connections in your reading? Two novels, two writers I greatly admire. While they could not be more different in tone, style, and the lives their characters lead, both explore grief and personal revelation in touching and insightful ways.

In Courtney Elizabeth Mauk's The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things (Little a, 2016), a vibrant, beautiful young woman goes missing, and her parents and brother struggle, alone and together, with her absence, their grief, and what it means for their identities and their family as a whole.

As in previous novels, the author writes powerfully about the complicated relationships in families, especially between mothers and daughters. In The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things, the lost girl's brother seeks out her old friends and tries on his sister's lifestyle. Her mother, devastated and consumed, embarks on a dangerous mission of revenge. Her father, the designated-by-default handler of the practical and procedural transactions of their lives, must find a way to reel his son and wife back in. The novel is heart-wrenching - the heartbreak of loss and the family's unraveling ring so true - but also riveting as the mother follows her grief deeper and deeper into perilous delusion.

In Marcy Dermansky's funny but poignant The Red Car (Liveright, 2016), a thirty-ish-something, unhappily married writer learns that an estranged friend and mentor has died, leaving her a very expensive red sports car. Leah returns to San Francisco, mourning a friendship that had fallen by the wayside, only to discover that their connection is stronger than ever - and the car is quite possibly possessed. As she did so brilliantly in her earlier novel Bad Marie, the author once again gives us an irreverent and unconventional woman to love and laugh with. Our Leah is a hot mess, making questionable choices and getting into untenable situations, usually as a way of not dealing with her issues, all the while carrying on a conversation with her dead friend. I shook my head, laughed out loud and rooted for Leah, enjoying every moment.

What surprising book connections have you found recently?

Happy reading!

I received my copy of The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things as a gift and The Red Car from my public library.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

8th Street Power & Light - Eric Shonkwiler

"There are a lot of secrets that go into making a world, Sam."

In Eric Shonkwiler's cool and gritty 8th Street Power and Light (MG Press, 2016) the author of the moving novel Above All Men once again explores the impact of apocalyptic events on the human soul. In 8th Street, the devastating aurora is in the recent past and rebuilding has begun. A small but determined group have reclaimed a city grid, working with whatever they have to restore a sense of order, give people jobs and housing, and keep the power on. It is a bleak and spare world, but these square blocks offer considerably more promise than the wasteland beyond.

Samuel Parrish returns to the city after a time away, exiled after a confrontation gone wrong ended in violence. He is welcomed back to the team as a security agent of sorts. He walks the city, street by street, policing for drug use and other criminal activity. But as he comes to know his city again, he also uncovers profound corruption that calls the morality of his community and its leaders into question. Parrish, anguished by what he discovers and who he finds responsible, embarks on a lone quest to set things right.

8th Street has aptly been described as noir, describing well the precision of Shonkwiler's writing, the setting of the novel, and the core of Parrish's character. Parrish is tough yet tender, righteous but violent. There are bars, fights and stand-offs, and Parrish never once loses his composure. It's a good read for style alone, but as in his last novel, the author also immerses the reader into a world and situations that compel her to consider larger questions of the human condition. Is corruption inevitable in every society? What trade-offs are acceptable in pursuing the greater good? It has been a few weeks since I finished reading, and have been letting my thoughts perk as - between hurricanes and elections - the real world is feeling a bit apocalyptic itself.  A good reading companion for uncertain times.

I received a complimentary copy of 8th Street Power & Light from the publisher. Happy reading!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Blood at the Root - Patrick Phillips

"All over the county, beneath the ground on which black churches stood, the soil is rich with ashes."

In Blood at the Root (W.W. Norton and Company, 2016), award-winning poet and author Patrick Phillips returns to the rural community of Forsyth County, Georgia - home in his teenage years - to shed desperately-needed light upon an extraordinarily dark and grim period of collective racial violence. Over the course of a few months in the fall of 1912, in response to two alleged crimes against white women, the facts and perpetrators of which were never proven, white night riders embarked on a systematic and relentless terror campaign against African American residents, driving them out of the county, forcing them to abandon property and belongings in fear for their lives, never to return.

While acts of brutality against African American people were, unfortunately, not uncommon in Georgia or other places throughout the south following the Civil War and the Jim Crow era, the fact that the white residents of Forsyth County not only forced all of its black residents from the community, but also vigilantly enforced its exclusive whiteness for another 80 years, was exceptional. Forsyth County became well known throughout the state as a place where black people were not only unwelcome to take up residence, they could not even safely set foot in the county.

I found Blood at the Root both riveting and wrenching. While the broader history of the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and civil rights in the south is familiar to me, this specific history was not, and the book made that history very real.  Phillips not only takes us deep into the details of the violent events of 1912, but also into the lives and characters of the actors and the deeply-held principles that shaped their actions or failures to act. One cannot fail to be dismayed by the many ways in which the court proceedings and executions played out as theater, and the extent to which collusion and corruption made the injustice possible. The author also helps us understand how, by allowing the farce of a trial and failing to hold the night riders accountable, these long-ago incidents created a local norm of denial and collective silence that persisted and manifested itself in acts of hate up through the late 1980s. Above all, I found Blood at the Root very relevant to us today: When you watch the news, heartbroken and baffled about the existence of violence and hatred in this modern day, and you wonder how it can still be, this book offers context and perspective.

I received my complimentary copy of Blood at the Root from the publisher.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Harry Potter and our Epic Summer (re)Readaloud

One stormy evening early in June the power went out, and plunged into darkness, the kids and I grabbed a flashlight and our old copy of J.K. Rowling's The Philosopher's Stone. Enchanted all over again, and discovering that by some appalling parental oversight child #2 had never before read the Harry Potter books, we embarked on what would become our Epic Summer Harry Potter (re)Readaloud. 

Summer is now long over for us (school began nearly 2 months ago) but we are still reading, albeit a little more slowly with the school year routine. We're almost halfway through The Half-Blood Prince, the sixth book in the series. As is so often true on a second read, they are magic in new and different ways. Whereas once upon a time I was reading to our oldest, she is now doing most of the reading, and the youngest and I are being read to. And in addition to rediscovering the sheer wonderment of the stories, with children now about the same ages as the characters, I appreciate so much more how Rowling captures the range and depth of children's emotions and experiences and makes them relatable - even to Muggles. Most magical of all have been the hours of joy spent cuddled up on the sofa, laughing, crying, marveling, and cheering with Harry and his friends.

Which books have you revisited and maybe seen in new light?   

Happy reading!