Angela Amman

Not Without My Father – A review

Not Without My Father I ran gently the day after my half-marathon this fall, testing and stretching sore muscles. The previous day’s thirteen (point one) mile run weighed heavily on my joints, and even as my slow run loosened the kinks, I looked forward to stretching, to resting, and I haven’t come close to that thirteen (point one) mile distance since the sunny Sunday at the end of September.

In March, Andra Watkins published a book, a feat I admire in and of itself. To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis is haunting and hopeful, and the Natchez Trace played a huge part in the story. With the novel’s release, Watkins made the decision to walk the entire Natchez Trace — a walk, she’s reminded several times during her undertaking, “no one does.”

I loved To Live Forever, and I was thrilled to hear Watkins would be publishing a memoir about her journey up the Natchez Trace — all 444 miles of a walk that started in Mississippi and ended in Tennessee. Her trek wasn’t something she could do alone. In order to walk the Trace in six weeks, she needed someone to hold down the virtual fort for her — someone to help check in at bed and breakfasts, someone to meet her at mile markers at the end of her walk each day.

That person was her father.

Not Without My Father isn’t simply a tale of Watkins’ walk.

Of course, the trek up the Trace is a central focus of the book. From the unexpected sleet — remember 2013 – 2014 was the winter that never, ever wanted to end — and the perfect beauty of a hopping robin to the ravaged blisters from the repetitive motion of the walk, Watkins’ accomplishment shouldn’t be reduced to the emotional journey of her six-week undertaking. Walking fifteen miles a day, for six straight days, then resting a day and starting again, is a physical feat requiring tenacity and utter obstinance.

Despite the aches and pains of the physical trial, those aren’t the details that will echo through my thoughts when I remember Not Without My Father.

Watkins confronts many things during her walk. Mental, physical, and emotional obstacles are impossible to ignore when you meet them on your own two feet. Family dynamics play an enormous part in the memoir. Roy Watkins is out of shape and ornery, ready to verbally spar with his daughter over everything from climbing stairs to signing books with her swollen fingers. Yet he is the one who sells her book to anyone who will listen to his pitch, the one person who sees her each day, the one who sees in her eyes that she isn’t going to quit.

The book itself is a lovely read, each section named with a song. There’s something about a playlist that makes a road trip all the more appealing, though most of us will make our next 400 plus mile trip in a car and not on our tired, sore legs. Roy Watkins’ own words can be found in sections, and his impressions of the trip — and of his daughter — add depth, perspective, tenderness, and quiet wit to the tale. One of the threads that weaves through Not Without My Father is that Roy Watkins is a storyteller, and his voice is an expected harmony to Andra Watkins’ own storytelling.

I started Not Without My Father while Dylan was getting a haircut, and I knew within pages, that I was reading something I absolutely needed to read right now. I dog-eared many pages while I read, but Watkins’ line, “Because I was where I needed to be,” resonated with me. It resonates with me still.

I will not walk the Natchez Trace. But I hope to channel the strength and spirit Watkins gathers as she makes her way north. I want to recognize the things I fear and face them anyway, on feet that are tired and sore and still walking until they take me where I need to be.

What has inspired you lately?

Not Without My Father will be available on January 15, 2015. Add it to your Goodreads reading list. While you’re waiting, you can read To Live Forever or follow Andra Watkins on her blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

 

NaBloPoMo November 2014

The Virgin Suicides – A review

The Virgin Suicides In 2012, I did a little “Read it, then watch it” post, and — of course — included The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. The book is one of my favorites, which is simple and so complicated for someone who loves more and more books each year. I’ve been writing more lately, so I’ve been thinking about writing — what I want to do, what it can do for the reader, and my favorite books are always on my mind when I’m juggling those sorts of questions in my head.

The Virgin Suicides is one of those books that settled into my soul the first time I read it. I’d say I wish I would have written it, but I love the Jeffrey Eugenides did. Reading it means it appeared to me whole, without the sweat and editing and tears that belong to the writer during the creation of a novel. I will say that, one day, I hope to have something as luminous in my own catalog. I hope to have the ability to capture beauty and darkness the way Eugenides does — because that combination is the lifeblood of so many of my story ideas.

A few weeks ago, my friend Galit asked me to recommend my favorite book in a single sentence. My brain could barely process the idea, but I came up with one, and I’m thrilled to have it included in an article she wrote — find 7 more amazing book recommendations from readers.

In The Virgin Suicides, Jeffery Eugenides uses evocative, hazy prose to explore the suicides of the Lisbon sisters, outsiders who become the object of brooding, pubescent obsession, morphing into a single entity of feminine mystery.

Could you describe your favorite book in a single sentence? Humor me and try it?

Of course, I have much more to say about The Virgin Suicides, so I thought I’d re-post a review I originally shared with my friend, Katie, at Sluiter Nation

***

Jeffrey Eugenides lyrically weaves the voyeuristic nature of teenage fascination with the adult yearning to make sense of tragic acts in The Virgin Suicides, his first novel.

The demise of the Lisbon sisters is never in doubt.  Their deaths introduce the novel, and the reader is left to follow the narrator through the thirteen months that link the first and seventh suicide attempts of the doomed blonde girls obsessed over by a gaggle of neighborhood boys.

Narrated by an unnamed classmate of the five sisters, The Virgin Suicides probes at an idyllic, lazily complacent suburban neighborhood in the seventies, trying to brush aside the blanket of fallen autumn leaves to find the girls’ motivation, intent on ending their lives.

Fiercely sheltered by their parents, the girls are outsiders, the object of brooding, childish obsession, morphing into a single entity of feminine mystery.

As I fell into Eugenides’ lyrical prose, I searched for understanding alongside the narrator, studying the clues offered, descriptions of photographs and interviews and sparse personal memories that the adult narrator clings to in order to identify what really happened with the girls so many years before.

It’s not a surprise that the only sister to assert an identity separate from her sisters is Lux, the rebellious, promiscuous sister, smoking at school and sneaking out of her house with nameless, faceless one-night stands.

Always watching the girls from a distance, it becomes clear that the narrator has been shaped forever by his infatuation with the Lisbon girls, more affected by his ideas about them than his actual, extremely limited interaction with them.

At the end, I didn’t know much more about the sisters’ reasons for suicide than the narrator, which didn’t detract from my fierce enjoyment of the novel.  The haunting prose, alone, is enough to compel me to read this book time after time.

Dark humor pervades the story, from an aside mention of a cast-iron doorstop that eventually aids one sister’s suicide to worried specialists trying to find a message from the girls in their favorite record albums.  That subtle humor provides texture to the tale, distancing me from the overtly tragic nature of five girls in one family killing themselves in just over one calendar year.

The compelling power of male, teenage desire is at the heart of this story, the girls simply pawns in the fantasies of their neighbors, their death a satirically cautionary tale about believing too deeply in the first stirrings of teenage lust.

NaBloPoMo November 2014

What I’m reading while I’m writing

Raggedy Ann and Andy book Years ago, I used to read a single book at a time, flipping through the pages as quickly as possible. Now, we’re on a steady rotation of kids’ books, and I find that I’m reading more than one thing at a time, too.

Picking books for the kids never works the way I expect. I get recommendations — and make them! — and comb library shelves and bookstores for titles that seem to suit their interests. Inevitably, they end up adoring something that ended up on our bookshelves by accident, like this Raggedy Ann and Andy: The Pirates of Outgo Inlet, a book the kids retrieved from Grandma Sue and Grandpa Ray’s house. Dylan giggles every time he traces his fingers over Ryan’s name, written in childish block printing.

We read about Captain Sniggle, who eventually decides to join the navy and takes off his peg leg to reveal a fully-functional leg. Raggedy Ann and Andy go on an adventure in a pelican’s beak, a beak lined with cookie crumbs and advice about the pirates. It’s goofy and silly, and the kids adore it.

I’ve been reading that, Abbey has taken an interest in the Ivy and Bean series, and Dylan is continually amused by anything Dr. Seuss-related.

I steal reading time for my own books. Some days I’m able to implement silent reading time for all of us after Abbey gets home from school, but some afternoons I need to run interference between the kids while Abbey tries to read and and Dylan tries to get her attention in the noisiest ways possible.

Other times, I read with my book flat on the island, a quarter of my mind on the meal I’m putting together at the same time.

With my reading happening in spurts, I tend to have a few books in rotation most of the time. I’m currently reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, a book I need to have more than a few minutes at a time to read; The Things We Set on Fire by Deborah Reed, a book about family pain and healing; and Not Without My Father by Andra Watkins, a memoir combining a 444-mile walk, an elderly father, and one woman’s determination to turn a goal into an accomplishment.

I may also have the latest issue of In Style, a magazine that actually comes in the mail, courtesy of points we earned through the recycling program in our city. I feel a little guilty each month when I think about recycling paying for something else that needs to be recycled, but I just can’t quit fashion magazines…

What are you reading right now? What about your kids?

NaBloPoMo November 2014

The 24th Letter – A review

Monica Sholar books

Though he prefers his hot dogs without the trappings of a Coney, Dylan would happily eat at Coney Island restaurants at least once a week. Growing up in Michigan, he will learn that there’s some version of a Coney Island every couple of miles, and when he’s old enough to drink it, he will likely order a pop with his meal. There’s something that makes a local book a little more fun, the landmarks and local language peppering the pages.

Monica R. Sholar’s The 24th Letter takes place in the fictional Belle Isle Heights, and Michigan residents — particularly residents of the Detroit area — will recognize hospitals, universities, and shopping locations that pay homage to places in the Metro Detroit area. Reading a book set in a familiar place makes the setting feel even more real, more urgent, which worked so well in the suspense novel.

The eerie obsession Kevin Dennison has for the wife of CIA Agent Malone is at the heart of this story, and it leads to several twists and thrills throughout The 24th Letter. There are kidnappings and exposed secrets, fear and those moments in suspense stories that the reader just knows the character is going to get herself in trouble and knows there’s nothing in the world that can stop her.

Of course, my favorite parts of the book deal with the relationships between the characters. Even without the intrigue and suspense in the novel, Sholar writes the type of relationship issues many couples face. If you strip away the heightened issues of the plot, readers will relate to relationship issues like a severe betrayal of a friendship, whether omission of truth is another sort of lie, and the baggage each individual brings to a relationship. The characters and their motivation are what really drove my interest in The 24th Letter — I truly felt myself rooting for them as I flipped furiously through the pages.

Michigan readers and fans of suspense novels will find themselves speeding through The 24th Letter to find out what happens to Robin Malone.

 

Keep up with Monica R. Sholar

  • Check out a sneak peek of Sholar’s next novel in the Belle Isle Heights Series — Esoteric Truth — coming in spring of 2015.
  • Michigan friends, see if you can catch one of her appearances. I was lucky enough to hear her speak at The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers this September, and she is fabulous!
  • Like her on Facebook
  • Follow her on Twitter

Do you enjoy reading books where you recognize the setting?

Juliet’s Nurse – A Review

Juliet's Nurse review

We giggled a little when our teacher explained the bawdier lines in Romeo and Juliet, our junior high selves shocked that someone as hallowed as Shakespeare used dirtier jokes than we did. Those lines come to life when read by people other than ninth graders stumbling over iambic pentameter for the first time, and I finally understood how funny Romeo and Juliet could be when I saw the Baz Luhrmann version. Mercutio has always been my favorite character, but Juliet’s nurse matches his quick tongue barb for barb.

Lois Leveen deepens the story of the nurse in Juliet’s Nurse. The historical fiction novel is superbly rendered with sensual details that allow readers to delve into the life of the nurse as she moves between her world of poverty and the lavish world into which she is thrust when she becomes a wet nurse for Juliet Cappelletti.

The reader meets Angelica, the nurse, in the days before she becomes Juliet’s wet nurse, and the story is truly hers. Her visceral, emotional tie to Juliet is immediate, and it deepens throughout the novel, the tentacles of their connection twisting the two of them together for far longer than the typical relationship of a child and a wet nurse.

To be truthful, I don’t know enough about the practice of wet nurses to know why the wet nurse wouldn’t translate to a normal nanny-like position, because Lady Cappelletti definitely doesn’t invoke much confidence as a mother. That was one of the questions I had as Angelica schemes to keep her position near Juliet.

I’ve read similar types of historical fiction, where the story in question is almost a prequel to an established work of fiction. Romeo and Juliet has the sort of recognition that I don’t think I’m dropping spoilers when I mention I was curious to see how the ending of Juliet’s Nurse would compare to the tragic, Shakespearean ending. It’s impossible for me to read this type of book without the eventual end in mind.

One of the things I adore about the Luhrmann version is the way the original language is retained, with the setting modernized. I thought Leveen did a wonderful job of keeping her prose in the same tone as the original work without feeling contrived.

The heart of this tale is the relationship between Juliet and Angelica, and the way their bond twists — and sometimes strangles — the relationships they have with other people in their lives. Shakespeare’s nurse is obviously devoted to her charge, but Juliet’s Nurse really deepens the influence the nurse has on Juliet and the entire household.

I also really appreciated Leveen’s take on Friar Lorenzo, the man who plays such an important role in the marriage of the young lovers and Juliet’s misguided plan to trick her family into believing she’s dead. Tybalt is another character who is really transformed in this book, where he becomes so much more than a vengeful, sword-happy plot device.

A little complaint I have with the book comes after the story’s conclusion. The Author’s Note calls Romeo and Juliet “the world’s most cherished love story,” and I can’t help but cringe at the idea that the world’s most cherished love story is basically immediate infatuation, all sorts of missed communication, and death. (I made sure to have conversations about this when teaching.) Let’s find better romantic inspiration.

Overall, I think Juliet’s Nurse is interesting and beautifully written, and it will appeal to historical fiction fans and anyone who loves — or hates — the original Romeo and Juliet. After all, the two emotions are eternally entwined, both in Shakespeare’s version and in Leveen’s.

Do you consider Romeo and Juliet a full-blown love story?

Sisterland – A Review

Sisterland

 

“Mommy?” she asked, exasperated, “Why didn’t you just have two girls?”

I teased her a bit that a little sister might not be nearly as accommodating as her brother. I don’t doubt how much she adores him, but there is a part of me that understands that desire to experience sisterhood. But as Pinkalicious reminds us, “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.” (quote by Victoria Kann in one of the several Pinkalicious books we read again and again.

Vi and Daisy, the sisters of Sisterland, get to experience sisterhood in the most intense way possible — or so I imagine. They’re identical twins, and they happen to have what they call “senses,” a sort of extrasensory perception that lets them sense spirits and what will happen in the future, at least in bits and pieces. Yet, how they use their abilities diverges as they grow older.

Daisy sheds her name, embracing Kate as an abbreviated version of her middle name, throws herself into life at college, and spends years striving for a facade of normalcy that doesn’t involve ESP. Vi, on the other hand, flows into eccentricity, crafting a career as a medium, and eschewing the family life to which Kate tends so carefully.

When Vi publicly predicts an “earthquake season,” Kate privately senses the precise date, and the story careens forward from there.

Whether or not you believe in the sisters’ ESP is relatively unimportant. Sittenfeld explores so much more than psychic predictions. At the heart of the story, Sisterland addresses the way different beliefs can divide people who love each other, and how varying perceptions of an event can have a ripple effect far beyond the event itself. As the earthquake’s predicted date grows closer, Kate is forced to confront more than her desire to cleanse herself of her senses.

I related a lot to Kate as she struggled to find a rhythm that melded all of the different relationships in her life. As a wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend, she is pulled in several different directions, and at times it seems like she isn’t being completely honest with anyone about how she feels or what she needs from them. She’s spent so many years striving for “normal,” the cracks in her life are more obvious to the reader than they are to her.

Sisterland delves into the powerful question addressed in much women’s fiction: how far will we truly go for the people we love? What relationships can be sacrificed when our actions threaten the very ground on which we walk?

Sittenfeld’s questions don’t have simple answers, and I applaud Sisterland for not smoothing over the aftershocks of Vi’s prediction. It’s a strong novel that leaves much to think about or to discuss, and it would be a solid book club pick. (Bonus for me? It takes place in St. Louis, and I recognized some of the locations and local landmarks from our visit this summer. I love when that happens in books!)

Would you believe a psychic about an impending natural disaster in your neighborhood?

Get the Behavior You Want… – A Review

Ask Doc G Book

I spent the afternoon volunteering at my daughter’s school, a fundraiser that focuses on outdoor activity. I spent my hours with one eye on Dylan becoming the dirtiest preschooler in the world in the sandbox and the other on the obstacle course. I cheered and clapped, reminded kids about what to do at each station and straightened obstacles when they were toppled beyond use. When kids stumbled on the balance beam, I reassured, “You’ve got this!” as they climbed back onto the close-to-the-ground beam.

I’ve always been proud of not rushing to help up my children when they fall. I let them try handstands, climb trees, and ride their bikes faster down hills than might be prudent. They fall. They scrape their knees and request bandaids I apply again and again. I try to balance my worry about their well-being with my desire to let them trust their own instincts about what they can do, to brush off small scrapes themselves, to realize stumbling is an important part of learning.

In this regard, I think I’m doing a fantastic job raising resilient kids.

But they’re getting older, and some of the scrapes they’re experiencing aren’t happening because of a misstep while barreling down an asphalt path. The scrapes are from words from their friends that sting or struggles with not doing things perfectly right the first time.

These scrapes? I have a harder time letting them fix themselves.

“Find Resilience Opportunities” was one of the first chapters I read in Get the Behavior You Want… Without Being the Parent You Hate by Deborah Gilboa, MD. I know it’s one I’ll read again and again as I force myself to put aside my desperate desire to soothe their hurt feelings in order to teach them to solve their problems themselves. After reading Dr. Gilboa’s chapter on the importance of resilience — and how we can help our kids develop it — I know that I can be a sounding board and a comforting hug without swooping in to solve their emotional hurts.

Get the Behavior You Want… Without Being the Parent You Hate is a parenting book by one of the most practical and loving doctors — and mothers — I know. You may have seen her online or on television as Ask Doc G, and her advice always makes me feel better. Her book is an extension of her media presence — check out her YouTube series of advice — and it’s the type of parenting book you’ll reference for years.

One of the greatest elements of the book is the straightforward, no-nonsense way she delivers her message. She offers reasons for her advice, and all of it centers around parenting in a way that will raise healthy, independent adults, which is something I think can be lost in the grind of daily parenting. Many of her chapters offer concrete examples and advice broken down by age group. It gives tired parents a quick frame of reference and is a great reminder that we can be mindful of parenting the children we have today, in order to build a foundation for the children we’ll be parenting in the future.

Get the Behavior You Want… Without Being the Parent You Hate will help parents tackle everything from picky eating and playdates to technology, relationship issues, and extracurricular activities. You’ll keep this one on your shelves until you look into your child’s eyes and realize he’s become the fantastic adult you’ve been watching take shape for years.

Follow Ask Doc G on Facebook / YouTube / Twitter / Google+

Have your parenting rough spots changed as your children have grown?

Disclosure: I received a copy of Get the Behavior You Want… Without Being the Parent You Hate for consideration for review. All opinions are my own.

 

The Fever – A review

The FeverHigh school relationships are intense — a combination of hoarded emotions and over-analyzed moments, envy and the projection of feelings. A desperation hides beneath the surface of the shiny newness of the connections, unspoken worries about how far is too far and wondering exactly how much you’re willing to do for the person you love.

And those are the friendships — not the romantic relationships.

For teen girls, even the most visceral, passionate attractions to boys are overshadowed by friendships. Those connections weave together in unexpected ways: girls who have known each other forever, girls who participate in the same activities, girls whose other-ness is the very thing that attracts them to each other. When placed into the pressure-filled walls of high school, walls that extend all the way home in the middle of the night thanks to smartphones and YouTube, those threads cross and tangle, and Megan Abbott tautly pulls apart the sticky curtains to peer into the complicated world of teenage girls.

The Fever explores a mysterious affliction that targets female high school students. The girls experience seizures and tics that are unexplained by medical tests and sensationalized by news outlets and the wildfire speed of Internet connectivity, including You Tube clips of the seizures in action.

Deenie Nash is the central figure in The Fever: a student with a vaguely absent mother, a teacher father and a reluctant-heartthrob-hockey-player brother. Her two closest friends are the first two girls affected by the terrifying and mysterious illness, and Deenie vacillates between feeling inexorably connected to the events and oddly invisible because she remains seizure and tic-free.

Like her role in the events unfolding around her, Deenie is firmly in the middle of her friendships. Lise has been a fixture in her life forever, but Lise’s newfound beauty has impacted their friendship. Deenie’s reaction to the underlying shift in their relationship is revealed slowly as the story progresses to its climax. Her friendship with Gabby is different. Gabby is exotic and damaged, and Deenie clings to Gabby’s friendship with quiet desperation, even as it’s threatened by Gabby’s closeness to the elusive Skye.

Sound complicated? Imagine what it’s like to deal with those push-pull relationships while juggling school, parental expectations, and creeping attraction to boys. It’s no wonder teen girls struggle to grasp their own identities, and Abbott expounds on that without objectifying them.

At the heart of the social commentary is a riveting, noir tale of a community held hostage by the above-mentioned illness, and interwoven with parental worry, a gorgeous — and possibly toxic — phosphorous lake, and even a look at the HPV vaccine offered to young women.

The Fever offers an astute look into the psyche of teen girls and the struggle to explore their own personalities under the piercing gaze of public opinion, the dichotomy between the value society places on appearing sexually desirable while harshly judging girls who explore that same sexuality, and the cutting edge of friendships whose loyalty can shatter in an instant.

I was fortunate enough to hear Abbott read from The Fever this summer. While talking about the story, her research — the idea arose when she saw a similar, unexplained incident that occurred in New York — and her writing, she said, “Creeping dread is the thing I love most.” She works that sense of creeping dread to perfection in The Fever. It’s not a horror story, but her words hook the reader almost immediately, and she expertly wades in those teenage waters that look so beautiful on the surface while concealing hidden dangers.

Readers, add this one to your must-read list.

What was your favorite book of the summer?

Rare Bird – A review

Rare Bird

The countdown to school is ticking loudly. Months have dwindled to weeks, and now days are becoming hours. Soon, the house will be quieter, at least for several hours a week.

They’ve become little puppies lately: running, yelling, tumbling together in piggyback-ride-dance-move-cartwheels that inevitably turn to squabbling and elbow throwing and tears. I attempt separation, but they’re gravitationally connected right now. Within minutes, they’re giggling and fighting and laughing and tumbling again.

With their energy — their togetherness — filling our rooms, it seems fitting that the passages about the sibling relationship between Jack and Margaret in Rare Bird bubble at the surface when I think about this portrait of grief and hope.

Rare Bird by Anna Whitson-Donaldson is a story no mother should have to tell — that of the loss of her son, Jack, to a flooded creek that rose from a trickle to a dangerous hazard in a horrifying afternoon.

Jack was twelve and a brother, a friend, an actor, a LEGO lover, and through reading Anna’s blog and Rare Bird, I feel like I know him a little bit. When Anna describes how Jack chose to share a room with his best-friend-younger-sister while on vacation, I can’t help but think of my own children, who often fall asleep head-to-toe in Abbey’s top bunk.

I won’t pretend I didn’t sob when I read this line:

“I wonder, is Margaret still a sister if her brother is gone?”

– Anna Whitson-Donaldson, Rare Bird

My heart broke when I read Rare Bird, though I knew Anna’s story, and it broke when I read through my underlined passages and dog-eared pages, and it will break again when I revisit this beautiful journey of hope through pain. And I will revisit it. Through her anguish, Anna threads love, faith, and the promise that there is a way to live a life after an unthinkable loss.

Jack lives through Anna’s words and through Anna’s faith, a part of Anna she questions and affirms in countless ways as she moves around the grief spiral. As someone who struggles — who is struggling — with faith and religion and spirituality, I wasn’t sure I would be able to relate to that part of Rare Bird, though I know Anna’s faith is an integral part of who she is.

I needn’t have worried. Faith and God are a part of Anna, and they are a part of her story and of Rare Bird, but she’s not dictating how others should grieve — or live.

Her story is found in Bible verses, yes, but it’s also in blue jays and boxes of LEGO sets, a dedication in a school play program and two Thomas the Train engines. Her story is found in a mother-daughter trip to Target — Jack’s mother and Jack’s sister finding a little bit of grace and hope in a discovered gift card.

Anna’s words will help those who are grieving, I’m sure, but they’ll also help those who love people in the midst of grief. She shatters the worry that grief should be solitary; I have a passage highlighted with, “Be this for people,” in the margins. Anna’s prose is lovely and real; she doesn’t shrink from the pain of Jack’s loss, but there’s a sense of comfort in the way she weaves her story, her family’s story, together.

No mother should have had to write Rare Bird, but I can unequivocally suggest that everyone I know read this poignant, unforgettable book.

Please consider pre-ordering Rare Bird or making a note to purchase it when it’s available next month.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home – A review

fiction book recommendations
I finished Tell the Wolves I’m Home at my kitchen table, pizza cooking in the oven and my kids working together to craft “Pony Land” out of LEGO pieces. They worked with the oversized duple blocks instead of the tiny pieces I step on at least once a day. I’d like to think it’s because she knows they’re easier for him to maneuver, but I’m fairly certain it’s because towering structures arise more quickly from their thicker foundation. As usual, her words pieced together the story of the ponies tucked into the pony apartments, and he filled in minute details when allowed.

Their closeness is similar to the childhood relationships of the siblings in Tell the Wolves I’m Home, a comparison that became a contrast as the story built. Two sibling relationships are integral cogs — though not necessarily the main focus — in Carol Rifka Brunt’s first novel, siblings whose intensely close childhood relationships are splintered by time and misplaced blame for the directions in which their lives diverged.

At fourteen, June’s relationship with her sixteen year old sister has crumbled from the days when they waited at the bus stop as the Elbus girls, sisters who weren’t even distinguished by their individual names. Her closest friend is her uncle Finn, a quirky, cultured artist whose lavender and orange-scented apartment and city adventures are an enclave in which June can finally feel special, away from her talented, acerbic sister and overworked parents.

From the howling of wolves, to the growing largeness of Toby’s eyes, to June’s costume-like wardrobe of an ill-fitting Gunne Sax dress and medieval boots, Brunt’s prose sets a hazy, fairy tale scene.

As is par for the course in many fairy tales, she relegates the parents of her main character to the sidelines, this time in the quintessential 80s job of tax accountants during tax season. June and her sister, Greta, are orphans in only the most convenient of ways, in order to let the plot unfold with little parental interference, though their mother’s background and motivation plays a pivotal role in June’s discovering the chasm between her perception of her relationship her beloved uncle and the reality he lived when June closed the door to his Manhattan apartment and retreated to Westchester.

Finn’s portrait of June and Greta becomes one of the only ways the family communicates after Finn’s death, when June’s secret, unlikely friendship threatens to unravel her relationship with her family even further. Changes to the painting threaten its value, while Finn’s deliberate use of negative space may reveal more to June about her own motivation and her heart than she’s ready to admit.

As Tell the Wolves I’m Home unfolds, readers will fall in love with the achingly flawed characters who are all searching for the type of connections and relationships that will make their existences seem a little more meaningful. Set in the 1980s, in the days when AIDS might be transferred through a kiss and AZT was a collection of letters only heard on TV, Brunt addresses the complicated landscape of first loves, exceptional talent, blind promises and how all of those things intersect with the ordinary landscape of most of our lives.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is the type of book I will tuck into my heart for a long time. I hope to one day share it with Abbey and Dylan, as both a cautionary tale about the ripple effect of family secrets and a testament to the possibility of healing, even when it seems all is lost.

What’s the last book you’ve read that reminds you of your own family?

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