11.03.2016

Books I Read in October

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
This was a wonderful novel - you can read my review here!

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
I felt like this was a bit of a bait and switch: I thought I was going to read a story about the relationship between a precocious boy and a centenarian. Flashbacks of conversations between the two do make up the framework of the narrative, but it becomes a story about the boy's parents and the way the he gives them redemption and peace they might not have reached if he had lived. And, no, that's not really a spoiler. It is clear from the get-go that that this is a story about how his death changes the lives of those around him in surprising and profound ways. We hear his voice only through recordings of his scouts assignment to spend time with 104 year old Ona. She is a fantastic character and watching her rediscover herself was the greatest joy of this book, which on the whole was more depressing than I had anticipated, but ultimately hopeful. 

The Mothers by Brit Bennett 
This book was so accessible and powerful. It touches on several heavy topics, including abortion, but never gets didactic. Bennett tells the story of two unlikely friends who meet while helping out at church one summer, each without a mother and each carrying the heavy burden of a terrible secret. The chapters open from the viewpoint of the church elders (or 'mothers') in all of their years of wisdom that these poor girls do not yet possess. It was so hard to watch the girls make mistakes, and live with the consequences that changed their lives, and the lives of those around them. The plot moves along quickly (I learned at the author reading that Bennett loves plot! Yes!) AND it is beautifully written, so many perfect turn of phrases. I marked so many passages.

"At home, loss was everywhere; she could barely see past it, like trying to look out a windowpane covered in fingerprints. She would always feel trapped behind that window, between her and the rest of the world, but at least in Ann Arbor, the glass was clearer."
"But she hasn't yet learned the mathematics of grief. The weight of what has been lost is always heavier than what remains."
And this passage at the beginning, when Nadia thinks that Luke must love her at least a 'little bit' - the refrain from the church mothers is a revelation:
"Oh girl, we have known littlebit love. That littlebit of honey left in an empty jar that traps the sweetness in your mouth long enough to mask your hunger. We have run tongues over teeth ot savor that last littlebit as long as we could, and in all our living, nothing has starved us more."
Bennet conveys the complex relationships of mothers and daughters, and of female friendships so exquisitely. The story of these two women as they grow, and grow apart, was riveting stuff. (And I couldn't help but think about it as a polar opposite of Rich and Pretty.)  

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
Man, this was an eye opening read. It was like learning about a completely foreign civilization, which I suppose Hillbillies are in our country. I even had a tough time at the beginning with the author's family tree and family names, as if they were written in a foreign language. Once I got into the swing of things, though, it was very compelling and readable. Vance's family is hilarious and heartbreaking. They paint a full portrait of a culture I knew very little about. Although it was informative, I came away feeling helpless and angry. As a person of Scots-Irish descent, I find this notion of excessive pride that supposedly drives the pig-headed nature of Hillbillies, infuriating. It feels like an excuse for the terrible cycle of violence and abuse. I had hoped for a more optimistic ending, or Vance's thoughts on solutions to the problems that face the poor working class. Alas, it's seems like more of a jumping off point to at least get the conversation started, and an important one for the health of our country.

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
Another book by this author was enjoyed by all in our household! I even read it with my six year old. Kat and her younger sister Maya, who has cystic fibrosis, move to a coastal town in Northern California and learn of the locals belief and celebration of ghosts. It was a perfect read for late October as, of course, it centers around Day of the Dead festivities and weaving Kat's thoughts and fears about her sister's potential death with those that have gone before. Much like her other books, Telgemeier has an uncanny way of imparting the emotions of youth with such precision. It's beautiful and heart wrenching. I can't say I know too much about Mexican traditions and the Day of the Dead, but it made us all want to learn more. It also shifted my kids perspective on ghosts in a new and positive way, as a way to remember and honor family. Good stuff.





2 comments:

  1. My problem with many non-fiction reads is that I want more ideas on what to DO once I understand a problem better. I get why not every book provides that, but I appreciated your thoughts on Hillbilly Elegy. Thanks for the reviews!

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  2. I felt the same thing about One In A Million Boy. I really like Oma's character and wish things were different for the boy but I guess the redemption his dad in particular needed may not have been possible otherwise. It was still pretty depressing.

    Here are my October reads: https://elle-alice.blogspot.ca/2016/10/october-book-reviews.html

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