22 September 2007

7. Four Perfect Pebbles

Four Perfect Pebbles: A Holocaust Story
Lila Perl and Marion Blumenthal Lazan

This is the story of Marion whose family fled from Germany during WWII. While waiting for immigration to the United States, the family was held at Westerbork, Auschwitz, sent on the death train, finally rescued, and spent time in a refuge camp. Marion was only 4 when this nightmare began. She hoped that her magical thinking about always finding four perfect pebbles, which represented her family members, would keep them safe. This book is intended for middle school readers and would serve as an excellent Holocaust narrative if students want to read beyond some of the classics.
The author maintains her website at Four Perfect Pebbles.

17 August 2007

6. The Guardians

The Guardians: A Novel by Ana Castillo

As a member of LibraryThing I was fortunate to be selected as an Early Reviewer for this book!

In this compelling exploration of illegal immigration and life on the Mexican-American border, Ann Castillo introduces the reader to four characters and their musings on their life and culture. The story, which develops in rather brief sections narrated alternately by each character, revolves around one family's search for a brother and father. The author brings the reader into this world of chaos and mistrust through the language and descriptions of everyday life on the border.

Regina, a legal immigrant through marriage to an American soldier who died before consummating the marriage, tried desperately to leave behind the migrant life of many illegal immigrants. Her brother Rafa could not as he needed the work to support his son and new wife. Regina has the strongest voice in the book and the sporadic use of Spanish words mid-sentence illustrate how she is straddling two cultures, both perhaps broken. Regina is devoted to her family and seems to have lost herself in the difficulties of her life. Through her search for her missing brother, she begins to find herself again.

Regina takes in her nephew Gabo and helps him to stay in school and out of the gangs that roam the border stealing from their own people and anyone else. It is when talking about Gabo that Regina utters my favorite line in the book: She says, "One day I am going to take him to Washington, DC. To see where the Devil makes his deals." These deals with the Devil continue to make poverty and desperation a constant in the lives of many legal and illegal immigrants. Unfortunately, the people who are trying to live a good and simple life in the border towns are beset with more than one devil. The scavengers, or coyotes, who traffic in human desperation have become another Devil to deal with and one which perhaps would exist with or without the Devil's deals in Washington.

Gabo lost his mother, who was murdered when trying to cross the border, when he was young and lives with the fear that he has also lost his father. He is consumed with love for the Lord and hopes to become a Catholic priest. He is also consumed with finding his father and often finds himself pulled between the two.

Regina seeks assistance in finding her brother, bringing in the other two main characters - Miguel and el abuelo Milton, who is Miguel's grandfather. These two men play a role in the final resolution of the story and serve to remind the reader of the importance of heros and political activism. While the resolution of the story is rather surprising, I think it shows the anguish of the characters and hopefulness in the face of extreme adversity.

I was in a unique position to like this book because I speak Spanish rather fluently, am Catholic, and share the author's political leanings about "our" immigration problem. I would recommend this book to anyone who was interested in this culture or societal problem - or maybe just for an interesting and thought provoking read.

15 August 2007

5. Missing May

Missing May -1993 Newberry Winner
I finished reading this book quite some time ago - ummm, about two months ago. At the time, I was reading Torey Hayden's book One Child as well. Strangely, the books both revolve around a child who for one reason or another had been moved from one home to another after the loss of their mother. In Hayden's book, which is a true story, the young six year old girl was abused by her family and showed her distaste for the world by setting a neighborhood toddler on fire. The story told by Hayden, the little girl's teacher, is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. Slowly, Hayden was able to break through the barriers the little girl had surrounding herself to protect from all the horribleness in the world. She did not know love until she met this teacher.

Missing May by Cynthia Rylant is nothing like One Child because the young child in this story was able to pull from the inner love she remembered from her own mother (who died) while she was passed from family to family. Then, a miracle happened, and Summer went to live with May and Ob. The story unfolds after May has died and both Summer and Ob are trying to come to terms with May's absence. Like so many children in stressful situations, young Summer is worried that she has to put her grief on hold to help Ob cope with his. With the assitance Summer's quirky classmate Cletus, Summer and Ob find peace without May - knowing that she remains a part of their lives. Seen through the eyes of the young girl, the author helps us to realize that love does not have to come in shiny big boxes or cost any money - it can be in the form of an old trailer filled with whirlygigs and whatnots!

After finishing both books, I wondered what in the world made me think they were related at all. So I reread Missing May and found myself weeping at the fictional comments of young Summer, who had everything that Hayden's real-life child did not. Here are two paragraphs that show you what I mean:

I know I must have been loved like that, even if I can't remember it. I must have; otherwise, how could I even recognize love when I saw it that night between Ob and May? Before she dies, I know my mother must have loved to comb my shiny hair and rub that Johnson's baby lotion up and down my arms and wrap me up and hold me all night long. She must have know she wasn't going to live and she must have held me longer than any other mother might, so I'd have enough love in me to know what love was when I saw it or felt it again.
When she died and all her brothers and sisters passed me from house to house, nobody ever wanting to take care of me for long, I still had that lesson in love deep inside me and I didn't grow mean or hateful when nobody cared enough to make me their own little girl. My poor mother had left me enough love to go on until somebody did come along who'd want me. (p. 4)

Torey Hayden's child must not have had that reserve - or maybe when awful, awful things happen to you it is difficult to remember the good. At any rate, these books made me want to thank everyone who loves and cares for children who might not otherwise have love in their lives.

Also, just to set this post straight - this book was not depressing in the least - it was really very uplifting and funny.

Flusi Cat

31 July 2007

4. The Newbery Project

The Newbery Project: The Whipping Boy

Please click on the link above to see the review of Newbery Award winner, The Whipping Boy

Flusi Cat

28 July 2007

3. The Girls Who Went Away

The Girls Who Went Away

Ann Fessler interviewed over 100 birth mothers who were forced to give up their babies for adoption during the post-WWII years. The stories were related by the mothers themselves and were heartbreaking. Through these stories, the despair and long-lasting emotional effects of giving up one's child were clearly portrayed. The work is somewhat repetitive, but perhaps it was the author's intent to lead the reader to understand the widespread societal norms of the times. I feel that the author would have completed the work with some indication of how these practices have been replaced with today's solution to unwed pregnancies. She, of course, indicates that post Roe v. Wade, young women have had the option for abortion. I think perhaps the same social stigmas are intact, at least in the Deep South. But certainly, the options are greater. However, the pain may be the same.

The most interesting outcome, for me, while reading this book was to remember my own teen years during the 60s and 70s. My best friend "went away" and there were rumors that she was pregnant. I never believed it because I could not believe that I, as her best friend, would not know. When she came back, we were no longer friends and I could not understand what had changed. Now I think I understand. Because she could not share this intimate secret with me, she must have felt it was difficult to continue our friendship. We continued to know one another through high school graduation and I know that she is now married with three children because I sometimes see her mother-in-law. I hope that she is happy and I am sorry that she had to experience what the women interviewed by Fessler described.


19 July 2007

2. Eat, Pray, Love

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

Elizabeth Gilbert details her year long search for peace, self-love, and balance after a very nasty divorce which left her less than centered and searching for something (God, by whichever name you choose) to bring her back to a joy filled life. She spends 1/3 of her year traveling all over Italy, enjoying the food and friends with great exuberance. Her next four months are spent in an ashram - Indian retreat, where she sheds the lifestyle she enjoyed in Italy for a more temperate existence where meditation allows her to truly find her way back to God. Finally, she seeks balance in Bali and finds that balance includes a new understanding of love, both intimate and sexual love, and love between friends.

I loved this book and found her writing style to be both informative and with an easy flow. I have seen some criticisms of this work and one that stuck with me was that she frequently uses cliches for intense situations or feelings. But the book felt very authentic to me and perhaps that was how she really felt. My only criticism is that the author leaves you hanging regarding events that took place in Bali. I mean, she tied up loose ends and you know how things were at the point of her departure. I guess, like most good books, it left me wanting to know more.

Library Cat

10 July 2007

1. Trans-Sister Radio

This 2000 novel by Chris Bohjalian was quite good - the story of a male college professor who falls into a romantic relationship with a divorced female teacher only months before his scheduled sex change operation. In chapters told in different voices, inclcuding the ex-husband of the teacher and her daughter, you follow the story set in a very small and prejudiced town.

I found it very interesting that the author provided considerable detail about the surgery itself and the emotional life of someone faced with growing up with the wrong body. Because I essentially agree that this is a possibility that is often dismissed by those less open to issues on sexuality, I really found these parts of the book compelling.

Because I don't like to find spoilers in posts - even when warned - I will not be adding anything other than the statement that you should make sure to read the whole book because I have heard there is going to be a sequel from this very successful author.