“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.
“He looked at the note. Writing it had taken an eternity, and by all rights the words should have transformed into poetry somehow.” p. 284
The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, illustrated by Erin McGuire.
Walden Pond Press Imprint, HarperCollins, New York, 2013.
MG fantasy, 341 pages.
Lexile: 730L .
AR Level: 4.9 (worth 10.0 points) .
Oscar is content to mix up packages, serve the most powerful magician in the Barrow, avoid the cruel apprentice, and ignore the existence of the city of Asteri and the wealthy patrons who come to seek the magic his master makes. His world is orderly and known, his thoughts consumed with plants and trees and cats. Until disaster strikes and upends his life.
“The trick was in knowing how to dispose of people when you were through with them, and Gilly had plenty of practice performing that trick.” page 51
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson.
HarperTrophy, HarperCollins, New York, 1978.
Historical fiction, 178 pages.
Lexile: 800L .
AR Level: 4.6 (worth 5.0 points) .
At eleven years old, Gilly Hopkins already has a reputation for being unmanageable and a talent for moving homes. She has no interest in living with the Trotters and is determined to pull out all the stops to get out of this latest home.
I feel so conflicted about this book. On the one hand it seems to play into every old stereotype about foster care. The majority of Gilly’s homes are careless at best. But let’s start with some of the positives first.
Paterson must have had at least some knowledge of foster care, because there are some things she gets right. The difficulty of transitioning from one home to the next, the reluctance to love a new family, the battles over personal care and confusion over standards are all common. The dedication is to an adoptive child, so perhaps she learned about foster care through first-hand experience.
“Ever since I could remember, Ty’ree had sat with Mama at the table, the dim light from the floor lamp turning them both a soft golden brown. While Mama filled out the money order and figured out how to pay some of the other bills, Ty’ree made grocery lists and school supply lists and added and added the cost of everything.” pages 29 and 30
Miracle’s Boys by Jacqueline Woodson.
My edition Scholastic Read 180, originally published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, New York, 2000.
MG/YA realistic fiction, 133 pages.
Lexile: 660L .
AR Level: 4.3 (worth 3.0 points) .
Ever since Mama died, Lafayette and his brothers have been struggling to come together as a family. Oldest brother Ty’ree had to give up his dream to keep the family together, middle boy Charlie is consumed with guilt that he was away when she died, and Lafayette is engulfed by grief and trauma.
This was a free book choice I made a while ago, knowing nothing about the title (I didn’t even have time to read the blurb) but simply trusting Jacqueline Woodson as a consistently excellent author. She did not disappoint.
“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.
“Mollie was one of the last people to see Anna before she vanished.” p. 8
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann.
Vintage Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2017. Originally published Doubleday, 2016.
Nonfiction, 377 pages including notes and bibliography.
Lexile: 1160L .
AR Level: 8.8 (worth 14.0 points) .
Through an unusual turn of events, in the 1920s the Osage people became astonishingly rich. Unable to stomach an autonomous American Indian tribe, the United States government appointed “guardians” who would watch over their every purchase, and white settlers moved in to the area with ridiculously overpriced goods and services. And then came the murders. Many were focused around one family, and the FBI eventually got involved in their case.
Normally I read books about more Northern tribes because that’s where we live and travel most often, but after passing through Oklahoma, the Osage interested me. If you are looking for a book about the Osage, this one keeps coming up, so when I saw it at Target I decided to give it a try.
“Asha paused to flick the sweat from the crook of her elbow. Suddenly she caught sight of a face staring at her through the coconut leaves.” p. 31
Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins.
Delacorte Press, Random House Children’s Books, New York, 2009.
Historical fiction, 225 pages.
Lexile: 800L .
AR Level: 5.3 (worth 7.0) .
Asha’s father has gone to America to look for a new job, leaving his family in the care of his older brother’s family. Already saddened by the move from Delhi to Calcutta, Asha, her beautiful older sister Reet, and their mother wait and try to fend off marriage proposals, rebukes from the other women, and a life of servitude and confinement.
Asha’s mother suffers from depression and fits that her daughters describe as visits from the Jailer, when her face and mind go blank. She attempts methods of coping such as knitting or cooking, but as their life circumstances deteriorate, she’s unable to function, leaving Asha in charge of their physical safety and everyday needs.