“Nursing homes have come a long way from the firetrap warehouses of neglect they used to be. But it seems we’ve succumbed to a belief that, once you lose your physical independence, a life of worth and freedom is simply not possible.” p. 75
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande.
Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt & Co, New York, 2014.
Nonfiction, 282 pages.
Because his parents both immigrated to America from India, Gawande didn’t have much first-hand experience with aging or mortality – the elderly members of his family were a continent away, being cared for by others. He certainly didn’t learn much about it from his medical school classes. Then he came face-to-face with the reality of American aging through his grandmother-in-law and patients, and decided to raise some questions about end of life-care and the meaning of life, and death.
Gawande has an interesting perspective on mortality and his second-generation-immigrant perspective gave him an insight into other methods of dealing with age that helped him turn a critical eye on how we deal with it here in America. This book reminded me of Another Day in the Death of America in that way – it takes a subject that most Americans wouldn’t even think twice about, and presents it to everyday readers.
“Even here things are pretty divided. Except that the breakdown is different. The aunties hang out with the aunties and the uncles hand out with the uncles.” page 53
Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap, illustrated by Mari Araki.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2011.
Illuminated realistic fiction, 247 pages.
Lexile: not leveled
AR Level: 4.7 (worth 3.0 points) .
NOTE: This is a YA book, not intended for younger children.
Tina Malhotra is the youngest in a family of five and a sophomore at the mostly white Yarborough Academy. She’s taking an Honors English elective course in existential philosophy, and has taken on an assignment to write letters to Jean-Paul Satre about the process of discovering who she is and who she is becoming.
The format of this book was different to any I’ve read before. I hesitate to call it a graphic novel (although the dust jacket does so) because large portions of the story were carried through text only. Neither was it an illuminated work because whole pages at a time would be done in a comic style relying on both text and illustrations.
“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.
“My dad was always curious about humans, how we react in different situations. He asked us hard questions at a young age, and even better, he listened carefully and respectfully when we answered.” p. 39
Yes, My Accent is Real: and Some Other Things I Haven’t Told You by Kunal Nayyar.
Atria Paperback, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, New York, 2015 (my edition 2016).
Personal essays, 245 pages.
At only 34, Nayyar is best known for playing the role of Rajesh, an Indian immigrant and astrophysicist with selective mutism, on the American sitcom The Big Bang Theory.
I have a soft spot for diverse celebrity memoirs, especially if I happen to actually know who the celebrity is. This was one of those guilty pleasure books that you know won’t be very filling but want to read anyway.
The format was unusual – more like short essays punctuated by “A Thought Recorded on an Aeroplane Cocktail Napkin” every so often. They are roughly chronological (although this isn’t an autobiography) and roughly written, so I believe Nayyar wrote this himself (or if not, his ghostwriter owes him a big refund).
“All his life in Vietnam my father had been a farmer. Here our apartment house had no yard. But in that vacant lot he would see me.” page 3
Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Judy Pedersen.
Scholastic, New York, 1999 (first published HarperCollins 1997).
Adult realistic fiction, 69 pages.
Lexile: 710L .
AR Level: 4.3 (worth 2.0 points) .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, I would not recommend this to middle grade readers.
Seedfolks is a collection of 13 short stories by different first-person narrators, all revolving around the first year of a community garden in Cleveland, Ohio.
Normally with short story collections, I comment on each story and then give thoughts on the whole. Because these stories are so short, I’m going to write two or three sentences about each one and then give my general thoughts at the end.
“I stand and cringe at the sucking sound as my swimsuit sticks to me, all four yards of the spandex-Lycra blend of it.” page 2
Saints and Misfits: a novel by S.K. Ali.
Salaam Read, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2017.
YA contemporary, 328 pages.
Not yet leveled.
Janna just wants to live her life – hang out with her friends, study, work her very part-time jobs, pray, and maybe dream a little about her secret haram crush. But something has changed her world, something unthinkable, horrible, and so big she doesn’t know what to do.
For some reason I thought this was a light and fluffy read. However, I completely misunderstood, because by chapter two we’re reliving one of the worst moments of Janna’s life, when she is assaulted by a man who is supposedly holy, the man she calls the Monster.
Indeed, the title of each short chapter (Saints, Misfits, or Monsters) relates to how she sees the main people she’s interacting with in that chapter. Some chapters contain more than one category, or a comment as she begins to realize that some of those she sees as Saints are really Misfits, etc.
“There are no dancers / on this temple’s walls. / Here, even Shiva / stands still.” page 99
A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman.
Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Group, New York, 2014.
Novel in verse, 307 pages.
Lexile: 720L .
AR Level: 4.8 (worth 5.0 points) .
Veda is a classical dance prodigy starting out on a glorious career in Bharatanatyam when her leg has to be amputated. But dance is her life and the center of her being. Can she forge a new life? Can dance be part of it?
Pretty sure this is going on my favorite 2017 reads list although the competition will be steep this year. Not what you expected me to say about a novel in verse, right?
My biggest problem with novels in verse is that they are incredibly difficult to balance. I love novels, and I love poetry, but inevitably most novels in verse lose out either in plot or in poetry. This book has ample plot and appropriate narrative arc, while still having generally gorgeous poetry. I’m in awe of how Venkatraman pulled this off, because it is very, very difficult to do.