“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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
Actress and model Brooke Shields writes a very personal story about her experiences with infertility, postpartum depression, and more.
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.
Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi.
Dutton Children’s Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2016.
MG fantasy, 404 pages.
Lexile: 840L .
AR Level: 5.5 (worth 12.0 points) .
Alice Alexis Queensmeadow lives in the rather dull (at least by her standards) town of Ferenwood. She doesn’t quite fit in, partly because she is nearly colorless, and partly because of her quirky, temperamental personality.
Mafi has an unusual writing style – you are likely to either love or hate it, and it’s difficult to describe, so I’d highly suggest reading an excerpt from this book to see if her method will be a good fit for you. Much like her unique setting and eccentric protagonist, she writes with a blend of humor, sarcasm, drama, and pragmatic melancholy. Even on the chapters that proceed the main adventure and are mostly worldbuilding, really, everything moves at a breakneck pace.
In the hands of another writer, any one of the many places and magics that Mafi describes could be its own story, but much like Alice in Wonderland, this Alice is focused on meeting her goals. Her beloved Father is missing, former classmate Oliver is a thorn in her side, and her mother is cold and dismissive.
“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.
“I know this, but honestly, part of me still feels like I could end up homeless again at any point in time, and then all I’m going to have is a bag with a dog on it. ” page 265
The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Hadish.
Gallery books, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2017.
Memoir/autobiography, 276 pages.
The life of comedian Tiffany Hadish from foster care to Hollywood stardom.
Yet another Target pick. I’ve been finding some gems (and a few duds) randomly choosing books at Target that have POC on the cover. Before reading this book, I didn’t think Hadish was familiar to me, but then realized I’d seen her before. I’m not very informed on pop culture so the name wasn’t as recognizable to me as it might be for others.
Although the cover isn’t particularly fantasy-ish, the unicorn of the title interested me. Alas, it’s a comedian’s memoir, not a fantasy novel. But the last comedy memoir I read from Target was excellent, so I decided to give this one a try. This is the story of Hadish’s life from high school until her more recent Hollywood success.
The twelve chapters are topical, arranged in roughly chronological order. Some of her stories are laugh-out-loud funny, while others, particularly the chapter about her ex-husband, are much more serious. Hadish has been through a lot, and she’s open about her experiences both negative and positive.
“His patients believed they were being treated for blood ailments. The tonics the hospital administered, however, were merely sugar water.” p. 124
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.
Anchor Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2016.
Adult fiction, 313 pages.
Lexile: 890L .
AR Level: not yet leveled
Cora is a young woman on a Georgia plantation when a new arrival asks her to run away with him. Only one slave has ever successfully escaped the Randall plantation, but Caesar believes that if they run together, they’ll make it to the elusive Underground Railroad.
It took me a good while to get to this one. I’d seen a lot of mixed reviews, and in general I’m not a fan of magical realism (which is what most people were calling this). Finally I saw this at Target and decided to use it as one of my targetpicks selections.
Going into the read with low expectations definitely helped this novel blow me away. It’s a very difficult book to classify. Whitehead uses elements of many different genres, including historical fiction, adventure, science fiction, magical realism, and realistic fiction.