Review: A Better Place

“I didn’t feel safe in crowds near my home because the person ringing up my groceries could be the person who shot my son.” page 140

A Better Place: A Memoir of Peace in the Face of Tragedy by Pati Navalta Poblete.
Nothing But the Truth, LLC, San Francisco, California.
Memoir, 255 pages.
Not leveled.
NOTE: I received a free copy of this book.  See review for more details.

The story of one mother’s life after her son was a victim of gun violence.

A Better Place cover resized

When I get interested in a topic, one of the things I like to do is to read a variety of books that talk about the same subject from different angles.  This past winter I wanted to look at incarceration, gun violence, and forgiveness (as well as several other topics that aren’t related).  Among the books I’d purchased or put on hold at the library there were several friends gave to me or recommended.

However, this was mailed to me and I originally thought my prison volunteer friend sent it, but it came with a mug and he knew nothing about it.  Looking back through my emails I didn’t find any that mentioned this book either, so if I’ve accidentally deleted or missed one then my apologies!

I took some time before reading, since it seemed pretty intense emotionally.  Indeed, this title walks you through Poblete’s experiences, starting at the joyous moment when she and her fiance of several years finally booked a venue for their wedding… only to receive the call her son was murdered.

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Review: Left in America

“I guess associating with Black culture felt safer to me. They weren’t in danger of being told to go back where they came from or of anyone saying they didn’t belong.” page 110

Left in America: The Story of Juan Terrazas by Sally Salas.
Left in America Organization, Dallas, Texas, 2015.
Biography, 219 pages.
Not leveled.

The story of an undocumented child who was left behind when his parents were deported at 14 years old, including his struggles with homelessness and journey to Christianity.

Left in America cover resized

The book is clearly self-published but a good effort was made to make it standard.  My copy had a few formatting errors, and some photos were blurred or pixelated, including the back cover.  The back matter consists of one quote which might be about the book (it isn’t quite clear) and lacks a standard blurb.

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Review: In a Rocket Made of Ice

“And I think, what must it be like to be raised by well-meaning strangers who may love you but who do not speak your language, or know who you are, or have anything but an outsider’s intellectualized and generalized understanding of your culture and people, and of your life for that matter.” page 76

In a Rocket Made of Ice: the Story of Wat Opot, a Visionary Community for Children Growing Up with AIDS by Gail Gutradt.
My edition Vintage Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2015 (originally published 2013).
Nonfiction/memoir, 322 pages.
Not leveled.

Traveling retiree Gail Gutradt made a chance connection that sent her to volunteer in this community with an initial five-month commitment.  The experience was so moving that she returns again and again, finding a deep love for Cambodia and a personal passion for improving the lives of children affected by HIV/AIDs.

In a Rocket Made of Ice cover resized
In a Rocket Made of Ice by Gail Gutradt.

Notice I say “children affected by”, not “children with”, because that’s one of the interesting parts about Wat Opot – the community is open to any children and many adults whose lives have been affected, whether they themselves are positive, a sibling or parent is, or if one or both parents have died from AIDs.  That’s an important aspect of this community surviving in Cambodia, where family connections are crucial – families can stay together, dying parents can know that their children are well cared for and gently transition them, and siblings are not separated based on HIV status.

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Review: Down Came the Rain

“Chris and I were suddenly alone with a brand-new baby, and we weren’t sure what to do. We stared at each other for a while and then tried to settle in.” page 61

Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression by Brooke Shields.
Hyperion, New York, 2005.
Memoir, 226 pages.
Not leveled.

Actress and model Brooke Shields writes a very personal story about her experiences with infertility, postpartum depression, and more.

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This is not your typical celebrity memoir.  The few references to famous people or media are because they are directly relevant to Shields’ life and her theme.  The book actually does not start with postpartum depression.  It starts with her long and difficult journey through infertility and miscarriage and her father’s death.

After chasing the dream of motherhood for so many years, Shields was originally loath to admit that anything was wrong, even as she was spiraling into darkness.  She also doesn’t seem to have had the best support or encouragement from the medical team – some members were good but her birthing experience was scary and discouraging.

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Review: Yes, Chef

“When I had my own restaurant someday, I thought, I would never rule out someone based on race or sex or nationality. I wouldn’t do it because it was egalitarian, I’d do it because cutting people out meant cutting off talent and opportunity, people who could bring more to the table than I could ever imagine.” page 160

Yes, Chef: a memoir by Marcus Samuelsson.
Random House, New York, 2012.
Autobiography, 326 pages.
Not leveled.

The life story of Marcus Samuelsson, a chef across three continents.

Yes Chef cover resized

This was a random find that was enchanting.  I’ll admit that I was first drawn in by the appealing cover, and then after the generosity of the friend who gave this to me, I had to at least start reading it.  What I found between the covers kept me up all night until the book was finished.

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Review: The Lost Boy

“Leaving Duinsmoore was one of the hardest decisions I had to make. In a matter of months, in the tiniest fraction of my life, Duinsmoore had given me so much.” page 278

The Lost Boy: A Foster Child’s Search for the Love of a Family by Dave Pelzer.
Health Communications, Inc. Deerfield Beach, Florida, 1997.
Memoir, 340 pages.
Lexile:  720L  .
AR Level:  5.1 (worth 9.0 points)  .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, this is an adult book, not suggested for MG readers.

Peltzer’s first book is all about the inhumane treatment he suffered at the hands of his mother.  The second, after a brief recap of the abuse, focuses on his life in the foster care system.

Pelzer - The Lost Boy

I believe this was the first book that I ever read about foster care.  Many years later, I found some of the series in a thrift store and decided to read through it again.  After the sensational story of the first book, this one is significantly milder.  Peltzer’s mother still has a lot of power over him – mentally, emotionally, and legally.  But her physical control of his body is limited and he starts to heal in some ways.

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Review: A Child Called “It”

“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.

Pelzer - A Child Called It

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.

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