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EMOTIONALLY REWARDING

It’s hard to think of a mother who plans to kill herself as a heroine.
Sometimes, reading simply provides appreciation for the problems we own by escaping into someone else’s, but readers want a heroine, despite insurmountable odds, to triumph. With FIVE DAYS LEFT, some readers struggle with the “Brittany Maynard” premise. Because there’s a child involved. Because, they think, what if the daughter finds her? What if? What if? All these questions are propel readers forward.
FIVE DAYS LEFT is structured around Mara’s problem: loss of control. A universal fear – being completely dependent on those around us for our every need. We’ve all thought, “Please, not like that!”
Mara has one thing in her corner. She “knows” how she will die, if Huntington’s takes her.

It will be progressive. And it won’t be pretty.

But, she’s decided to take that back. The how she dies part. Because it’s all Mara has. And if you want something done properly, you have to do it yourself, damnit. Under the banner of protecting her family’s memories, sparing them “seeing her like that”, Mara has made a pact with herself to end her life on her own terms, when the time is right.

THE TICKING CLOCK

All stories have them, so the audience knows when they get to turn out the light, get a snack or… pee…
Many readers wrestled with Mara’s decision to end her life based on peeing in her yoga pants. There’s several ways this opening scene would function better, revealing more without continual flashbacks to push the plot along.
Sure, untimely pee is embarrassing, but public humiliation is only truly PUBLIC when some you KNOW sees something you’re trying to hide. If Mara had been with her daughter, whom she’s trying to give a “normal” childhood or had she been approached by a colleague from her law firm, well… readers would have squirmed more during the market scene.

A way to make it better?  Include references to the existing scene with rude little boy, but let this be the SECOND peeing incident. The public humiliation is worsened, revealing the thing Mara’s been denying/trying to hide due to her birthday’s approach. Even a workaholic, driven lawyer would have second thoughts about her “plan.”
The decision on the first-pants-wet makes her seem suicide-happy because Mara’s degenerative health profile has not been explained at this point in the novel. The decision to end her own life based on wetting her pants ONCE, coupled with remarks about her “sexy” kitchen and replacing herself with a car as a gift for her husband (This is no moment of humanity. It tells the audience she believes her worth is equal to a vehicle: replaceable, shiny, only good in top condition) are misplaced. Maybe Mara doesn’t get this because she’s an adoptive mother, but bladder issues during and after carrying a child are part of the way life works. TRANSLATION: It doesn’t just happen to the elderly. These combined assumptions make Mara seem shallow, not simply depressed. This conflicts greatly with the love shown by the people surrounding her. If Mara had one moment of internal reference to jumping the gun emotionally in a previous situation, based on viewing herself this way, readers would see this as an internal, universal flaw, making her more relateable.

PROBLEM, PROBLEM, WHO SOLVES THE PROBLEM?

The heroine, naturally. Mara’s ironic problem is that her gift to herself, her gift to family is seen by some as robbery. Robbing her family of time to pour love on her and learn things about one another before the final end. But there are always what-ifs in retrospect, right? Everyone wants MORE TIME. And Mara, she wants time the way she wants it. Readers can identify with this desire, can say, well at the very least, she deserves THAT. Because of these desires we have, wills are written, letters to open on landmark birthdays, weddings, videos about our pride in accomplishments for graduations … All methods to comfort, to control what happens after we’re gone, so things don’t fall apart. Control when life is chaos.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Bring tissues

15818107ORPHAN TRAIN, Christina Baker Kline

Paperback, 288 pages
Published April 2nd 2013 by William Morrow Paperbacks
ISBN
0061950726 (ISBN13: 9780061950728)
edition language
English

Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from “aging out” of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse. Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance. The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both. Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of second chances, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

What I Think:

FRESH DYNAMIC: That depends. Many readers say ORPHAN TRAIN reads like young adult fiction because Kline did such a superb job with Molly’s character. I think there’s more to that claim. Consider this: 1) By leafing through a wealthy old lady’s attic and 2) forming a bond with said mysterious old lady, (who is more interested in the main character’s well-being than her own mother) 3) a young girl with a difficult past grows/heals 4) and fills a maternal void. 5) Meanwhile, she contributes to the old lady’s quality of life. Old lady feels less isolated and more encouraged to embrace her future. WOW –  -Discovering secrets in an attic was every girl’s dream (at least, before the digital age…) : BEHIND THE ATTIC WALL, any NANCY DREW. I could go on and on. Discovering a crone had a past life and making her happy? POLLYANNA, and several episodes of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. This may feel like YA because that was what you read when you were ten. If not, it is a fresh dynamic.

EMOTIONALLY REWARDING:  Absolutely, but Kline sets up expectations well in advance. Mrs. Byrne is cold-hearted. Mr. Grote is gross. When “Dorothy” sees The Wizard of Oz, readers know her life is about to go TECHNICOLOR. Maybe these overt cues contribute to the YA idea as well.

Once Molly and Vivian share truths about tragedy in their early lives, Vivian reflects: “And so your personality is shaped. You know too much and this knowledge makes you wary…The expression of emotion does not come naturally, so you learn to fake it. To pretend. To display an empathy you don’t actually feel. And so it is that you learn how to pass, if you’re lucky, to look like everyone else, even though you’re broken inside.”  p.170. These are the passages where Kline’s writing shines – making extreme circumstances emotionally transferable.

DUAL HEROINES … OR NOT?: Another reason this story could be seen as a YA read is the struggle to determine “heroineship”.

Throughout Niamh/Dorothy/Vivian’s experience she remains a good-hearted survivor who prospers, but she doesn’t do anything extraordinary. Nothing heroic or self-sacrificing. She makes her money, sits in her mansion and becomes a hoarder. She’s not particularly happy or contributor to the community. In short, not heroine material. When Molly’s school project requires an interview, Vivian doesn’t seem to fret over the decision to discuss her life after decades of silence. *SPOILER ALERT (SORT OF)*  Vivian supplies answers and out of her past tumbles an out-of-character plot twist that made me groan.

This leaves Molly, the character who changes most IN REAL TIME. The novel opens with her in full goth attire, but frustrated by the effort it takes. With each visit, her social worker comments on Molly losing some of her “armor”. The way Molly succeeds as a heroine is by finding inner strength to move beyond her sarcastic shell and help others.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I liked this story a great deal. I enjoyed learning about the historical significance of the orphan trains. Kline does a fantastic job weaving the two voices in the simplest, clearest way possible.  There will be plenty for book clubs to discuss.

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow

Rita LeganskiBONimages (1)

Fiction

On Sale Date:2/26/2013

Imprint:Harper PaperbacksPrint  Run:75K

Format:PB Pages:384

Price:$14.99 ISBN:62113763

ISBN 13:9780062113764

Other Formats

Ebook 9780062113771

Conceived in love and possibility, Bonaventure Arrow didn’t make a peep when he was born, and the doctor nearly took him for dead. No one knows that Bonaventure’s silence is filled with resonance—a miraculous gift of rarified hearing that encompasses the Universe of Every Single Sound. Growing up in the big house on Christopher Street in Bayou Cymbaline, Bonaventure can hear flowers grow, a thousand shades of blue, and the miniature tempests that rage inside raindrops. He can also hear the gentle voice of his father, William Arrow, shot dead before Bonaventure was born by a mysterious stranger known only as the Wanderer.

Bonaventure’s remarkable gift of listening promises salvation to the souls who love him: his beautiful young mother, Dancy, haunted by the death of her husband; his Grand-mère Letice, plagued by grief and a long-buried guilt she locks away in a chapel; and his father, William, whose roaming spirit must fix the wreckage of the past. With the help of Trinidad Prefontaine, a Creole housekeeper endowed with her own special gifts, Bonaventure will find the key to long-buried mysteries and soothe a chorus of family secrets clamoring to be healed.

What I think:

In THE SILENCE OF BONAVENTURE ARROW, Rita Leganski enchants readers with the story of a mute boy who hears extremely well and has no trouble communicating. Her description is beautiful, but the sheer abundance of it sometimes distracts from the plot. If you are looking for a faster paced read that quickly gets to the point, this is not it. BONAVENTURE is more about character development – the characters will be hard to say goodbye to – and setting. Oh, what a setting.

Once settled into the dream-like world of the story, I thoroughly enjoyed visiting New Orleans through Leganski’s conflicted characters. There are enough twists to keep things interesting and book clubs will enjoy plenty of insightful discussion.

CMHimages (1)Calling Me Home
Author: Julie Kibler
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (February 12, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1250014522
ISBN-13: 978-1250014528

Eighty-nine-year-old Isabelle McAllister has a favor to ask her hairdresser Dorrie Curtis. It’s a big one. Isabelle wants Dorrie, a black single mom in her thirties, to drop everything to drive her from her home in Arlington, Texas, to a funeral in Cincinnati. With no clear explanation why. Tomorrow.

Dorrie, fleeing problems of her own and curious whether she can unlock the secrets of Isabelle’s guarded past, scarcely hesitates before agreeing, not knowing it will be a journey that changes both their lives.

Over the years, Dorrie and Isabelle have developed more than just a business relationship. They are friends. But Dorrie, fretting over the new man in her life and her teenage son’s irresponsible choices, still wonders why Isabelle chose her.

Isabelle confesses that, as a willful teen in 1930’s Kentucky, she fell deeply in love with Robert Prewitt, a would-be doctor and the black son of her family’s housekeeper–in a town where blacks weren’t allowed after dark. The tale of their forbidden relationship and its tragic consequences makes it clear Dorrie and Isabelle are headed for a gathering of the utmost importance and that the history of Isabelle’s first and greatest love just might help Dorrie find her own way.

What I Think:

FRESH DYNAMIC~

Several reviews compare CALLING ME HOME to THE HELP, so let me address how it stands apart. The main relationship in CALLING ME HOME is between an elderly, widowed white woman (Isabelle) and a middle-aged, single black woman (Dorrie). Many authors agree there are no new characters in any genre, just new relationships. In novels such as THE HELP and THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES a character dynamic that is often presented is The Wise Black Woman. CALLING ME HOME offers a fresh dynamic as Isabelle shares her bitter losses and past mistakes in hopes of helping Dorrie through her present-day struggles. The story is about race, but with a different approach.

EMOTIONALLY REWARDING~

Get some tissues, they said. Block out some time, they said. Tragic love story.  Apologies authors, but my reading is done in the carpool line. No leisurely tub reading in this LIFE PHASE – sorry! To be fair, my car is the same place I write fiction, articles and blog posts.

If I’m hungry, I hit this country meat & three with internet. (Don’t worry. I have headphones.) For future reference, when you CRY at a meat & three, the *Nice Guy with a Walker* (whose wife is in a wheelchair & connected to an OXYGEN TANK) will come over and tell you, “Honey, now, it’s just a little ‘ol book.”

You will feel like you’ve been visited by ANDY GRIFFITH.

So, thank you, Julie Kibler. CALLING ME HOME an emotional, rewarding visit. Plus, there was *Nice Guy with a Walker*.

Though the circumstances of the story are extreme – few of us have dealt with Isabelle’s troubles – being controlled by authority figures, feeling powerless, and the intensity of first love, are all universal emotions. Kibler guides readers through these with ease.

ONE FUNNY THING~

Emotional moments during Isabelle’s storytelling are emphasized by a seemingly all-knowing crystal-ball type crossword puzzle book Dorrie picks up at a convenience store on their way out of town.  I wanted the characters to not only note the crossword book’s eerie abilities to perceive/predict the conversation, but to also fling it out the car’s window in terror.

INTERESTING~

Isabelle only states that Dorrie is “African-American”, but Dorrie describes Isabelle’s appearance at length. This bothered me because I thought Kibler had made a white-author-writing-black-people mistake until I reached Isabelle’s description of Robert.

NICE TWISTS~

You think you know, but you don’t. Repeat.

DUAL HEROINES~

I don’t like to compare movies and books, but this novel reminded me of BRAVE in a small way. It took both Dorrie and Isabelle to tell the story, with the small difference being the greater change was in Dorrie.

FINAL THOUGHTS~

A great debut filled with historical suspense. Will she or won’t she? Did she or didn’t she? You can even recommend CALLING ME HOME to your mother. Totally worth it, but not in public. You see, I’m not the crying type. On another note, I searched both Goodreads and Amazon for reviews from readers who aren’t white girls. I only found ONE. I would love to hear reviews from a different point of view.