“There is a whole series of events, along with some poor choices, that lead a person to Sing Sing. In some cases they never had a chance at a normal life from day one.” page 3
Refuge in Hell: Finding God in Sing Sing by Ronald D. Lemmert.
Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2018.
Nonfiction/memoir, 186 pages.
The story of a chaplain at Sing Sing, New York’s infamous prison, over the 16 years he worked there.
I debated quite a bit over whether to review this one. Our church library has been getting quite a few of these Orbis books with the little red dots. They’re Christian, but cover a lot of social justice topics, which it’s nice to see people getting interested in locally.
Lemmert himself is not diverse within his own context. But the people he works with definitely are, and can be counted among the most disenfranchised in America. So in the end that tipped the scales in favor of reviewing this book, especially since I had several other books on imprisonment to read and review. Continue reading “Review: Refuge in Hell”
“Though the distance from cabin to gangplank wasn’t more than twenty feet, I was protective of the ship. Slate had told me from a very young age not to talk to strangers about Navigation.” page 168
The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig.
Greenwillow Books, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2016.
Speculative fiction, 454 pages.
Lexile: 750L .
AR Level: 5.2 (worth 13.0 points) .
NOTE: This book is not suggested for MG readers despite the reading level.
Nix’s father is a Navigator who can travel to any place, real or imagined as long as he has a map for it, but he’s only obsessed with getting back to the one place he cannot reach – 1868 Honolulu, where Nix’s mother died.
Now having read this book, I can finally fully appreciate why all of the reviews were so maddeningly vague. This is, unfortunately, the type of book that you can’t discuss with any real depth unless you’ve read it, because to discuss anything interesting is to give away part of the action.
So I apologize in advance that you might find this review to also be maddeningly vague. In a book where the majority of the setting and even the time frequently changes (and further changes amongst real and imagined places), the focus is rather on both the characterization and the action. Both are fast-paced!
“The story has two objectives: the first is to inform the reader how a loving, caring parent can change to a cold, abusive monster venting frustrations on a helpless child; the second is the eventual survival and triumph of the human spirit over seemingly insurmountable odds.” page 164
A Child Called “It”: One Child’s Courage to Survive by Dave Pelzer.
Health Communications, Inc. Deerfield Beach, Florida, 1993.
Adult memoir, 184 pages.
Lexile: 850L .
AR Level: 5.8 (worth 5.0 points) .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, these are books written for adults, not MG readers.
The early childhood of a severely abused boy.
This is the first, and most well-known, book in an autobiographical trilogy. Dave Pelzer was one of the most severely abused children in California. His father kept his mother from murdering him, but otherwise he was routinely tortured, starved, beaten, and otherwise maltreated.
The entire book should probably not be read by anyone who might find these events triggering. His parents also rely heavily on alcohol and his mother occasionally turns her rage from him to his father or others. It’s interesting that few reviews remark on this being an example of domestic abuse from a woman to a man. Male perpetrators are certainly more common, but it’s important to recognize that women can be abusers as well and to validate and hold a mirror up for male victims of abuse.
While the book is intense, it’s not overly emotional (although it can feel overwrought at times). Pelzer narrates with a steady, precise flow, documenting what it felt like for him to be a child in the total control of a sociopathic parent. I remember crying and crying on my first read through. However, after hearing or reading the stories of other children, this book is not so affecting on the second readthrough.
“We wrote this book so that young readers who are facing these same problems today don’t feel ashamed like we did. When someone in a family struggles with substance abuse, the whole family struggles.” p. 219
Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, coloring by Lark Pien.
Graphix, Scholastic, New York, 2015.
MG historical fiction, 220 pages.
Lexile: GN490L .
AR Level: 2.4 (worth 0.5 points) .
Sunshine Lewin is spending the summer in Florida visiting her grandfather, who lives in a retirement community there. But that wasn’t the plan for this summer, and there’s something going on that she isn’t talking about.
This series gotten a lot of buzz, both positive and negative. The Holm duo are already well-known for their Babymouse series, but this is aimed at a slightly older crowd. There will be some spoilers for this book discussed in my review, if you want to avoid them please scroll down to the final paragraph for my general opinion.
It’s historical fiction set in 1976, but some parents take issue with the fact that drug addiction and smoking are portrayed. It’s difficult to tell from online hysteria whether or not a book is actually suitable for a certain age range or group of students, so I decided to see for myself.
“She didn’t think she’d ever be capable of hurting her children,and she couldn’t get over the fact that she’d gotten to a point where people felt they needed protection from her.” p. 72
Everything She Lost by Alessandra Harris.
Red Adept Publishing, Garner, North Carolina, 2017.
Adult thriller, 309 pages.
NOTE: I received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Nina Taylor is in recovery from a mental breakdown, and honestly, still suffering from an unexpected loss almost a decade ago. Her best friend is single mom Deja Johnson, a woman with a tragic past of her own. While Nina is wondering if a full recovery is even possible, Deja is wondering where her own life will go next.
I don’t review many thrillers, mainly because I haven’t found many good diverse ones yet. The description of this one immediately sucked me in, especially since I’m always looking for new books about people of color with disabilities.
This book has alternating viewpoints, with one chapter from Nina’s point of view, and the next telling Deja’s part of the story. Normally I’m not a fan of alternating viewpoints, but it worked well here. The narration is from a third person limited point of view rather than first person, and the action moves so quickly that the back-and-forth worked. This book takes place over only a few weeks.
“By now the name of the cafe was written on the walls of hundreds of boxcars, from Seattle to Florida.” page 30
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg.
Random House, 1987. My edition McGraw-Hill, New York, 1988.
Adult fiction, 403 pages including recipes.
Lexile: 940L .
AR Level: 5.6 (worth 15.0 points) .
NOTE: Although the reading level is low, this is an adult novel.
This is going to be a complicated review. There are two main threads to the storyline, which covers events in the fictional town of Whistle Stop, Alabama (just outside of Birmingham) between the early 1920s and the late 1980s.
The story is told through four different elements. Evelyn Couch is struggling with her weight, her marriage, menopause, and an inevitable feeling of doom. She accompanies her husband on visits to his mother’s nursing home every Sunday, but can’t stand to sit and watch TV, so she finds herself in the visitor’s room with Ninny Threadgoode. At first she just wishes the old lady would shut up so she can eat her candy bars in peace, but then she gets interested in the stories and they forge an unlikely friendship. When the novel was first published, these scenes would have been roughly contemporary – it’s now historical fiction.
“Children of the most privileged group in the wealthiest country in the history of the world were getting hooked and dying in almost epidemic numbers from substances meant to, of all things, numb pain.” p. 8
Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones.
Bloomsbury Press, New York, my edition 2016, first published 2015.
Adult nonfiction, 374 pages including index and notes.
Dreamland is the far-reaching narrative of America’s unprecedented struggle with opiate addition. It looks inside doctor’s offices and pharmacutical marketing, studies villagers from Xalisco, Nayarit in Mexico, and interviews street addicts, rehabilitation workers, and more to form a comprehensive picture of how this situation developed.
This book doesn’t entirely fit my usual review criteria. After all, the author and the majority of people in it are white, although there is a substantial Mexican and Mexican-American element present. However, I decided it was close enough to my usual topics (since addicts are generally not a privileged group, even if they are white or privileged in other areas) to discuss here.
America’s opiate epidemic has been getting a lot of attention because it’s affected a lot of people that those in power don’t usually think of as potential addicts – middle class Midwestern white suburbians. Another, lesser known, oddity of the problem is that nearly all of the black tar heroin dealers in American’s smaller cities are from small towns in the tiny Mexican state of Nayarit.
Quinones interviews addicts, dealers, medical professionals, reformers, and law enforcement to provide as accurate a picture as possible of how this came to be. Most of the people he talks to are white, Mexican, or Mexican-American, although he does talk to some people of color, and he brings up the disparity between political response to this ‘epidemic’ and previous reactions such as the ‘war on drugs’.
“I started spending time in the library, researching books on religion and philosophy.” page 56
Un-Ashamed by Lecrae Moore, with Jonathan Merritt.
B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee, 2016.
Autobiography, 204 pages including notes (211 pages including blank note space).
The autobiography of a “Christian rapper” who successfully transitioned to general rap spaces and overcame many personal challenges.
This one is from the library. I knew it was somewhat religious, but didn’t realize just how Christian it was. There definitely were points that could apply to everyone, but it also was very heavy on religion. For example, his conversion experience takes up most of a chapter, while other aspects of his life are given much less detail. Lecrae sees his life through the filter of Christianity and views everything with God’s purpose in mind.
“Bill Bradley was not afraid to show his goodwill toward black people. His father raised him that way.” page 143
The Kids Got It Right: How the Texas All-Stars Kicked Down Racial Walls by Jim Dent.
Thomas Dunne Books, Saint Martin’s Press, New York, 2013.
Sports nonfiction, 288 pages including index.
NOTE: For international readers. As an American, I use the word football for American football, the team sport with helmets and tackling. For books involving the team sport with cleats and goals with nets, see the tag soccer.
This is a story of small-town Texas football, particularly those involved in the 1965 Big 33 game. It’s the story of high school stars Jerry LeVias and Bill Bradley, an unstoppable duo who changed football at that game in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
It’s pretty clear within the first ten pages that this was written by a white man. The subtitle notwithstanding, this book is not about race. This book is about football, and specifically one football game in which an All-Star team began to be slightly integrated.
I picked up this book at the dollar store and after reading and reviewing, will be passing it along. Elsewhere I’ve seen this recommended to fans of the TV show Friday Night Lights and high school football fans. I am neither. Sports in general are not my thing, but in particular high school football holds little interest to me unless I personally know the participants.
“In February of 1987 when I went on Nightline to discuss Gallaudet University’s controversial Deaf President Now movement, the show was captioned for the first time. Anchor Ted Koppel used most of the intro to explain to the audience about the captioning they would see – technically open captioning, since anyone could see it – interpreters they would hear, signing they would also see.” page 182
I’ll Scream Later by Marlee Matlin, with Betsy Sharkey.
Originally published 2009 Handjive Productions, my edition Gallery Books, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2010.
Autobiography/memoir, 327 pages.
Marlee Matlin is one of the few Deaf performers well-known to hearing audiences, but there are also many other aspects of her life and self. She was catapulted to fame with a Best Actress Oscar on Children of a Lesser God. Now twenty years later, she’s written a tell-all memoir about drug addiction, abusive relationships, and more.
This was a book full of surprises. I was moved by what an important part her Jewish faith has played in her life, especially how her childhood synagogue was fully inclusive as a hearing/Deaf worship space, with a signing rabbi. How beautiful that her early use of language included a rich religious environment where she was able to learn about God through her own language, ASL.