In this thoughtful middle grade/young adult novel, young Danny struggles to cope with the death of his older brother, Eli, in Iraq. He's not getting much help from his angry father and vacant mother, who grew much more distant after Eli died. Eli had filled the gap of his parents' attention, and now not only was Eli gone, but his parents were even more far away.
Over the summer he befriends two unusual young people: the decidedly "uncool" but extremely smart Walter, and the beautiful, exotic Isabelle, who has quirky and creative younger twin siblings.
I actually found Isabelle to be annoying and pretentious. One Goodreads reviewer described her well as an irrelevant Manic Pixie Dream Girl (defined as "a fantasy figure who 'exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.'” Walter and the twins offered more of an appeal for me.
My favorite parts of the book were Danny's memories of Eli, who was sarcastic and mischievous but loving, and Danny's friendship with Eli's high school friend and purple potato farmer and his girlfriend, who come to be like a family for him.
Rebecca Rupp approaches grief with a quiet, sensitive touch, and even though Danny chronicles the death of various people in his "Book of the Dead," the book was redemptive in the end....more
Twelve-year-old Ambrose is a glass-half-full kind of guy. A self-described “friendless nerd,” he moves from place to place every couple of years with his overprotective mother, Irene. When some bullies at his new school almost kill him by slipping a peanut into his sandwich — even though they know he has a deathly allergy — Ambrose is philosophical. Irene, however, is not and decides that Ambrose will be home-schooled.
Alone in the evenings when Irene goes to work, Ambrose pesters Cosmo, the twenty-five-year-old son of the Greek landlords who live upstairs. Cosmo has just been released from jail for breaking and entering to support a drug habit. Quite by accident, Ambrose discovers that they share a love of Scrabble and coerces Cosmo into taking him to the West Side Scrabble Club, where Cosmo falls for Amanda, the club director. Posing as Ambrose’s Big Brother to impress her, Cosmo is motivated to take Ambrose to the weekly meetings and to give him lessons in self-defense. Cosmo, Amanda, and Ambrose soon form an unlikely alliance and, for the first time in his life, Ambrose blossoms. The characters at the Scrabble Club come to embrace Ambrose for who he is and for their shared love of words. There’s only one problem: Irene has no idea what Ambrose is up to.
In this brilliantly observed novel, author Susin Nielsen transports the reader to the world of competitive Scrabble as seen from the honest yet funny viewpoint of a boy who’s searching for acceptance and for a place to call home....more
Wow--two five-star books in a row. It's been awhile since I've been able to say that! On the heels of the wonderful 600+-page The Invisible Bridge, I jumped into Marcelo in the Real World, a young adult novel about a young man named Marcelo who has high-functioning Autism (akin to Asperger's).
After attending a nurturing, private school for kids with special needs through his junior year, his father (Arturo) springs two surprises on him. He wants Marcelo to attend the public high school for his senior year. When Marcelo balks at this suggestion, he offers a deal: he can work at his law firm for the summer ("in the real world") and if he "succeeds" (under Arturo's terms), he can continue at his private school.
Marcelo is not happy about this, but he agrees. He begins helping Jasmine in the mailroom. Jasmine is initially grumpy about Marcelo's presence but eventually the two form a wonderful bond. Things seem to be proceeding well until Marcelo is recruited to work with Wendell, another intern who works for his father (the other partner in the law firm). Wendell is a bad egg and tries to manipulate Marcelo into arranging a private meeting with Jasmine where he can pursue her in close quarters.
While working for Wendell (unwillingly), he discovers a photo of a girl who was disfigured by a windshield breakage--the windshield is manufactured by the law firm's largest client. Deeply touched by this photo, Marcelo searches for more information with the help of Jasmine. He is faced with a major ethical decision that can have major repercussions throughout his family, Jasmine's situation, and the future of the law firm.
Stork, inspired to write this book after working with non-neurotypical young people at the Larche Center 30+ years ago, sensitively portrays this young man who hears music in his head. Marcelo is obsessed with religion, and although he is Catholic he has a particularly close relationship with a female rabbi who serves as a sort of spiritual director/counselor. Marcelo has close relationships with his mom and sister, as well. Stork illustrates the difficulties that people on the Autism spectrum can have with disrupted routine, a lack of choices, and the lonely feeling that people do not understand him.
I highly recommend this book. It's wonderful. ...more
I loved Peggy Orenstein's Waiting for Daisy: A Tale of Two Continents, Three Religions, Five Infertility Doctors, an Oscar, an Atomic Bomb, a Romantic Night, and One Woman's Quest to Become a Mother, so as soon as I heard about this book, I knew I would read it. Even though I do not have daughters, I am greatly concerned about the heightened stereotypes both genders face while they are growing up.
I must admit that I enjoyed playing dress-up with my sister and friends when I was a child. We had a dress-up trunk with cast-off long dresses with full skirts, and we made up a game where we imagined we were princesses with the power to do magic when we waved our antique hankerchiefs. But nowadays girls do not need to improvise: with the accessibility of inexpensive toys, most young girls have far more pink princess items than anyone would have dreamed of when I was a girl. In fact, anyone with a girl must feel like pink princesses are exploding all over. I actually have an active dislike of the color pink for this reason.
Orenstein, whose writing style reminds me a bit of Anne Lamott, begins by telling us how she really did not expect or want a daughter...she wanted a son. I could relate in a way, because in my case, I always thought I would have a daughter. Of course, my husband often teased me that if I were to have a daughter, I'd be force-feeding her copies of Ms. while she hid her Seventeen and Glamour mags under her mattress. He's probably right. I'd probably have had a prissy princess and would have been dumbstruck.
Orenstein decided to write this book when, to her horror, her own daughter became princess obsessed. What harm does a little pink princess love do? Well, "according to the American Psychological Association, the girlie-girl culture's emphasis on beauty and play-sexiness can increase girls' vulnerability to the pitfalls that most concern parents: depression, eating disorders, distorted body image, risky sexual behavior." We've all read the studies showing how many young girls are overly concerned with their weight and their appearance and how that affects their self-esteem. Orenstein struggled to see these risks in her own capable, self-confident daughter, but study after study show that "girls can be derailed by stereotypes."
I learned why it seemed that Disney princesses began popping up everywhere I looked: they were created by a Disney executive who attended a "Disney on Ice" show and saw all the little girls in their cheap, handmade Disney princess costume. Eureka: a marketing extravaganza is born!
She looks at the transformation of Barbie, who in the beginning not only had unrealistic proportions but also was a career woman, into the cute, princess Barbie she has become today.
"The astronauts, surgeons, and presidents of her glory days have been largely replaced by fairies, butterflies, ballerinas, mermaids, and princesses whose wardrobes are almost exclusively pink and lavender...Original Barbie would have been appalled: her palette was never so narrow--even her tutu was silver lame."
Now girls can choose from pink ouija boards, pink cell phones, pink laptops, Monopoly Pink Boutique edition, Pink Yahtzee, and ad nauseum. When Orenstein visits a toy fair, she is told that pink is the way to sell toys. How many girls do you know who do not profess to have pink as their favorite color (and are brave enough to admit it)?
Orenstein shares many of her internal battles, such as how to handle her daughter Daisy's request for a blue Fairytopia Barbie or a pink gun. She is noncommittal about the gun (leaning toward purchasing it) until discussing it with her husband, who reminds her, "No war toys." She visits the American Girl palace, but sans Daisy, trying to postpone her daughter's immersion in the need for expensive, unnecessary doll toys that are completely inaccessible to anyone without scads of money.
She explores the history of fairy tales (actually reading the original ones unedited to her daughter) and decides she doesn't like the modern version of some of those fairy tales much better. For example, she doesn't like The Paper Bag Princess (a story I rather like) because the prince rejects the princess for wearing a paper bag. She doesn't like the end (in fact compares it to "Thelma & Louise"), in which the princess dumps the prince and skips off into the sunset. Is that such a bad thing, teaching our daughters that they don't have to have a man to be happy? Sometimes I think she's being a bit too picky. She realizes, when she shares some stories from Free to Be You and Me that she's actually introducing some stereotypes to her daughter rather than teaching her lessons (for example, her daughter asks her what the word "sissy" means). I think it's good for children to be aware of how people do have the tendency to stereotype, but I understand her concern.
Then she takes on Twilight, and you all know what I think about Twilight (http://mariesbookgarden.blogspot.com/...). "Compared with Stephenie Meyer, the Grimms come off like Andrea Dworkin." Good line. "It is Bella, not the supernaturals she falls in love with, who is the true horror show here, at least as a female role model. She lives solely for her man; when he leaves her in New Moon...she is willing to die for him as well...Oh yeah, I want my daughter to be that girl." And that, my friends, is also why you will not find this voracious reader diving into 50 Shades of Grey, which started out as Twilight fan fiction! No thank you.
Orenstein also explores the trajectories of various girl celebrities--Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, etc.--and their bizarre virgin/whore dances. Later she discusses the Scholastic Publishers' tendency to publish books full of sexist stereotypes, which I recently wrote about in my other blog: http://marie-everydaymiracle.blogspot....
Similar to The Mama Boy's Myth (http://mariesbookgarden.blogspot.com/...), this is an important book about what we are exposing our girls to and the risks they face by being pressured to be princesses instead of heroes. Yes, they all grow out of the princess phase, but what fallout remains as they move into adolescence?...more
I discovered this book when I read a review for one of Denise Roy's more recent books (Momfulness)...and being a chronological-type reader, I decided to start with this one. Plus as a new (initially reluctant) minivan parent, I liked the title, which comes from Roy's childhood desire to become a nun.
As you might guess, she didn't become a nun--instead she became a mom to three sons and one daughter. She also has an M.Div. and is a psychotherapist and spiritual director. This book is all about finding the divine in our everyday lives.
Roy begins her series of essays with a quote from Frederick Buechner, "There is no telling where God may turn up next--around what sudden bend of the path if you happen to have your eyes and ears open, your wits about you, in what odd, small moments almost too foolish to tell."
Each short essay in this collection is a gem and makes me think more mindfully about my own life and family. She uses wonderful quotes and poems to enhance her points, such as this one by Margaret L. Mitchell:
"Sometimes When it is all, finally, Too much, I climb into my car, Roll the windows up, And somewhere between backing out the driveway And rounding the first corner I let out a yell That would topple Manhattan How do you pray?"
Or this one, another by Frederick Buechner:
"The sacred moments, the moments of miracle, are often the everyday moments."
And this one by Bapuji:
"Those who do not know how to sing and dance will never reach God."
In one of my favorite essays, "Potato Stories," Roy shares four stories about potatoes...one was about the Korean custom for washing potatoes. When they want to wash a lot of dirty potatoes, they don't wash them one by one...instead they put them all in a tub of water, put a stick in the water, and move it up and down, and the potatoes bump into each other, helping to clean them. She compares this potato bumping/cleaning exercise to being in a community of faith, "When we join hands, our prayers and our lives bump up against one another, and something holy is made in the process."
One of the other potato stories can be found all over the Internet:
"One of my teachers had each one of us bring a clear plastic bag and a sack of potatoes. For every person we’d refuse to forgive in our life, we were told to choose a potato, write on it the name and date, and put it in the plastic bag. Some of our bags, as you can imagine, were quite heavy.
We were then told to carry this bag with us everywhere for one week, putting it beside our bed at night, on the car seat when driving, next to our desk at work.
The hassle of lugging this around with us made it clear what a weight we were carrying spiritually, and how we had to pay attention to it all the time to not forget, and keep leaving it in embarrassing places.
Naturally, the condition of the potatoes deteriorated to a nasty slime. This was a great metaphor for the price we pay for keeping our pain and heavy negativity!
Too often we think of forgiveness as a gift to the other person, and while that’s true, it clearly is also a gift for ourselves!
So the next time you decide you can’t forgive someone, ask yourself… Isn’t MY bag heavy enough?"
In "Night," she writes about her neighbor Debbie, whose aging mother has become very ill. She asked her neighbor about the hardest part, and she said, "The middle of the night. Getting up at three in the morning to change Mom's diapers and having her look me in the eyes and ask "Where's Debbie?'" This resonated for me, as I was thinking about my cousin who has been caring for her ill mother (my aunt, who recently died of cancer) and father with Alzheimer's. I remember those night times when my sons would wake me up to nurse, and he and I were the only ones awake in the house. Roy shares this passage from Jane Ellen Mauldin, which I love:
"As I trudged alone through the night hallways, I staggered to a call as old as humankind. That night and every night, mothers and fathers around the world awaken to reassure restless children. That night and every night, grown children arise to calm fitful, aging parents. Those night hours are long and lonely. Our burdens and tired bones are ours alone to bear. There are, however, other people out there who are waking even as we are. There are other people who bear similar burdens--whether it is simply to reassure a child for one night, or to help a dying loved one be at peace, week after week, until the end.
We who rise do so because we choose to do it. It is an intense, physical demand; it is also an honor as ancient as human love. We are part of the circle of families and friends who nurture Life from its earthly beginning until its earthly conclusion."
In "Blessing One Another," she shares a story about shopping with her daughter and observing a horrible interaction between an assistant manager and a delightful young child, who had been twirling around and dancing with a butterfly on a stick, much to the assistant manager's horror. Roy is able to intervene on the mother's behalf (the mother is Hispanic, didn't see what happened, and is cowed by the situation) and share the story with the manager, since she observed the interaction. She starts out this chapter with this poem by Galway Kinnell:
"The bud stands for all things, even for those things that don't flower, for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing; though sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness, to put a hand on its brow of the flower and retell it in words and in touch it is lovely until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing.
She knows with certainty that the same incident would not have occurred with her own daughter because of the color of her skin. She discusses the effect of prejudice on a small child's ego, and how the mother was "saying words of kindness in the hopes of restoring to the child a sense of her goodness. But I also thought of how different it would be if she had help. What if she had all of us doing this with her, reminding her daughter of her beauty? How different this girl's life would be." She concludes the story by saying that this is how we help God out: "by telling one another in words and in touch that we are lovely and whole and worthy of blessing."
In "Hiding Places," Roy writes about the pain of miscarriage, and her own experiences of having three miscarriages...of which the cause was never determined. Then after letting go of their dream of having another child, suddenly she became pregnant again. In our case, my four miscarriages occurred between our oldest and middle child, and as much as we wanted another child, it was so heart-achingly painful to keep trying. Then finally, it worked--and I had Kieran, my middle son. Roy talks about people's tendency to hide away their pain and grief, deepening their sense of isolation, but "It is only when we have the courage to open the door to the hidden parts of our lives that our suffering can be transformed into wisdom and compassion." This I know is true. Without grieving for each baby I had lost, I never would have been able to be happy in the world.
Another gem I found in this book is a ritual that Denise Roy has in her family. When a boy reaches the age of 13, he goes on a camping trip with other men in the family as a rite of passage. In her appendix, Roy shares some of the questions they discuss:
"Who are my heroes? What is my philosophy of life? What do I feel about work? What gives meaning to my life? What are the qualities of my mother I admire? Of my father? What qualities do I value in a relationship? What does intimacy mean? What are my dreams for myself? What does success mean for me? What brings me joy? For what, or whom, would I sacrifice my time, energy, health, or life? What is my idea of power? What is the source of my power? What are my gifts? What do I fear? What is sacred? Who are my people? How do I most enjoy life?"
This is the best thing I got out of this book: as a family full of male children, I want to start this ritual in my family. My oldest son (and the oldest grandson) turns 16 this summer, and I've asked my husband, dad, and brother-in-law if they would be willing to take him on such a trip. I love the idea of rites of passage, and this could be a truly meaningful one. They might even take some drums! :)
I really enjoyed this book and it gave me a lot to think about...good reminders of finding the sacred in everyday life, not taking things for granted, and remembering that prayer and meditation comes in many forms. ...more
My middle-grade-writer husband read this amazing debut middle-grade novel last week, and he cried and cried and cried. While in the middle of reading the book, he asked me whether people stared at me or made fun of me for the way I looked when I was a child. (I had a cleft lip and palate, in addition to a severe overbite and horribly crooked teeth.) The answer was yes, they did...and sometimes I still find people staring at my cleft lip scar. Sometimes children ask me about it. But what I faced was nothing like what the main character in this book faced.
August (Auggie) had a series of birth defects that resulted in a face that is mashed up and unlike any other. The book starts with Auggie saying "I know I'm not an ordinary ten-year-old kid...I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse."
Auggie has been homeschooled for the first ten years of his life because of all the surgeries he had to endure. (Like Auggie, I also had to have jaw surgery and an implant in my chin.) Finally, as he is entering fifth grade, his parents decide to send him to school. And so begins the story. We hear the story from Auggie's perspective, as well as from his older sister Via and a few of his friends.
The first part that had me crying was on page 7. When Auggie was born, he was immediately rushed out of the room, and his mom got very upset. Finally, "She says that when she looked down into my tiny mushed-up face for the first time, all she could see was how pretty my eyes were." A similar thing happened at my birth: the nurse would not show me to my mom until she had braced herself...because of my cleft lip and palate. But my mom, too, thought I was beautiful and was just relieved that I was there and my defects could be repaired. I could live a normal life. Auggie's mom, too, only saw the beauty in him, and not the ugliness like the rest of the world did.
Auggie makes friends at school, eventually, and he also makes some enemies. People are horribly mean to him everywhere he goes...especially when they see him for the first time. He's a bright, funny, and sensitive kid, as people discover once they get past his face.
I loved this story of a boy who finds his place in the world, helped along by people who show him kindness.
"Shall we make a new rule of life...always to try to be a little kinder than necessary?" --J.M. Barrie...more
This is SUCH an important and desperately needed book.
New York Times contributor Kate Stone Lombardi makes the fascinating point that of all the possible parent-child relationships (e.g., father-son, father-daughter, mother-daughter), the most circumspect and maligned is that of the mother and son. This was an illuminating beginning to this book.
Close mother-son relationships are abundant, but they are kept in the closet. While fathers are lauded for teaching their daughters traditionally masculine tasks or skills, mothers are shamed for doing the same thing (for example, teaching a son to knit or just talk more openly about his feelings).
Lombardi interviewed over 1,000 moms online and in person. She found that nearly nine in ten moms described themselves as "extremely close" or "very close" to their sons. And the result of these close relationships is that we are creating a generation of boys who will become strong, loving spouses and partners, with a higher level of sensitivity and emotional intelligence. As Lombardi notes, "A new and growing body of scientific literature shows that sons who are close to their mothers are emotionally and physically healthier than those who are not."
She writes of stereotypes about boys and girls and how some mothers long for daughters so they can develop close relationships with them. In some cases (like mine), feminists look forward to raising strong women who have opportunities they or their mothers did not have. As one mom said, "When it came time to have children, what I had in mind were daughters. All of my feminist friends laughed, 'Look at the hand you were dealt.' I had to process that loss. I had daughter envy." Why do women assume that girls will be more emotionally available than boys? We make assumptions that boys will grow apart from their mothers, based on culturally acceptable mother-son norms.
Mothers battle not only cultural expectations of how they relate to their sons, but also sometimes their own husbands or family members. Some women shared examples of their husbands accusing them of babying their sons if they showed any affection, even at very young ages, and one woman told a story about a power struggle with her husband about her nearly-two-year-old son's curly hair. She told him she'd cut his curls when he turned two, but a month before he turned two, her husband cut off all the boy's curls while he was taking a bath. "He thought I was turning his boy into a girl." Mothers are criticized for hugging their teen sons or touching them at all. Then there's the nosy strangers who think they know best and think that mothers are scarring their boys for life if they allow them to wear a "girl's" Halloween costume. She cites the work of artist JeongMee Yoon, who has a project with side-by-side images of actual girls' and boys' rooms, entirely in pink and blue. It's incredibly sad (and also another good example of why it's good I have boys--I am no fan of pink!).
Lombardi delves into the origin of Freud's Oedipal theories and the hidden fears of homophobia inherent in this bullying of moms and sons. Mothers involved in their sons' lives are made into the villains in popular culture, at best (think "Psycho"!), and at worst are thought to create "sissys," "Mama's boys," or overly dependent and feminine. She talks about the "boy crisis" and some prominent authors' views that boys need to disconnect from their mothers and instead form stronger relationships with their fathers, instead of recognizing the need for both father and mother bonds. Well-known author Michael Gurian "argues that mothers' apron strings are strangling the manhood out of boys." It's all the mother's fault, of course!
In a fairly well-known parenting book, Get Out of My Life, but Please Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall? by Anthony E. Wolf, the author talks about the "problem of mommy," which he defines as the theory that adolescent boys' strong feelings for their mother might be "tinged with sexuality and might therefore become really unacceptable." Why is that mothers' close relationships with their sons are often described as sexual? Thank you, Mr. Freud!
Since when do people say that teen girls have crushes on their fathers if they feel close to them? Lombardi points out that we never see "mother-son dances," but only "father-daughter" ones...because no one ascribes anything sinister to that relationship. However, as a brochure for a North Carolina father-daughter dance said, "Every father needs to 'date' their daughter, and every daughter needs an example of how a young lady is to be treated by a man." This dating analogy is creepy because sexual abuse in families is much more likely to occur between a father and a daughter. Incest between mother and son is exceedingly rare (female perpetrators are between 1 and 4 percent of all sex abuse cases). So why is that relationship such taboo?
When boys reach a certain age, they are often embarassed to be seen alone in public with their mom or to talk about close relationships with their mothers. It's really only the big, tough football players or otherwise macho men who are allowed to get away with close relationships with their mothers.
Then there are the men and women who play into the idea that feminism or stronger women's roles are creating weak men. Lombardi mentions the book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys. Although author Kay Hymowitz notes that it's important for young men to have strong relationships with both their moms and dads, the title makes it sound like weak men are all the women's fault. Lombardi notes that she agrees that this can be a confusing time to be a young man, but "mothers play an important role in helping their sons through this transition by giving them the skills they need to help them mature and succeed in school and in the workplace." As she concludes, "Why on earth would (women) want to do anything to harm men? We are the mothers of sons."
Gradually, our culture will find mother-son relationships more acceptable. The younger generation will see that this changes. In 2011, many of the Academy award nominated films featured difficult mothers (The Fighter, Black Swan, and The King's Speech). In the acceptance speeches, however, many of the winners thanked and paid tribute to their moms. Tom Hooper, who won best director for "The King's Speech," thanked his mother for giving him the idea for the movie. "The moral of the story is," he said, "Listen to your mother."
I confess that I always imagined having a daughter, but I am so thankful to have sons. Although many women idealize mother-daughter relationships, I've observed that in many cases, these relationships can be strained or not meet expectations. Daughters can be very hard on their mothers.
This book affirms that I can have truly deep relationships with my sons, and they will be better prepared for adulthood because of our strong mother-son relationships. It also made me feel incredibly grateful to be a parenting partner with a man who affirms my close relationships with my sons and (1) is not afraid to share his sensitive, emotional side, and is just as likely as I am to be brought to tears during a touching moment, and (2) never tells me I need to toughen the boys up or worries about them not acting manly enough! It also made me feel thankful for all the wonderful men I know, including my dad, brother, brother-in-law, and many male friends, who build strong relationships with boys and support women in doing the same.
I strongly recommend this book for anyone who has a son or works with boys. ...more
I just finished reading Book 2 with 8-year-old Kieran. We are going to visit the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City over spring break, and I wanted Kieran to have some historical context for the museum. I had tried to interest him in Little House on the Prairie, but either he was too young at the time or he was better able to relate to the male narrator. (Or perhaps it was the idea of traveling to Oregon that interested him.)
These books are very easy to read--he could have easily read them himself but instead I read to him while he was in bed. They depict the trail and homesteading from the perspective of a 10-year-old boy.
The only difficult thing about the books was the high number of deaths and tragedies. And it doesn't end when they finally arrive in Oregon. One of the deaths at the end of Book 2 (of Joshua's grandfather) really took the wind out of our sails, and at that point Kieran did not want me to read any more! A few days later, though, he wanted me to finish.
The books served their purpose: I know that Kieran will be able to relate more to what we see at the interpretive center...and 5-year-old Nicholas, too! ...more
I finally got around to reading Second Fiddle, the middle-grade novel written by a long-time friend from our church, Rosanne Parry. Years ago Rosanne invited Mike to join her children's writers' group (which has been a great boost and encouragement for him), so she's been a great help to Mike in his own writing career.
Second Fiddle's focus on orchestral music and girls' friendship drew me in and kept me hooked through the novel. Jody is an army kid in Berlin, Germany, right after the fall of the Berlin Wall. She plays second violin in a string trio with her more sophisticated friends Giselle and Vivian; however, Giselle and Jody are due to return to the U.S. soon and Jody is feeling sad that their trio collaborations are about to come to an end.
Their last big hurrah is meant to be a solo and ensemble competition in Paris, but their music teacher falls ill and cannot accompany them. Just as they are nursing their disappointment about the thwarted Parisian trip, they venture into East Berlin to have gelato...and inadvertently witness an attempted murder of a Soviet Union soldier.
They rescue Arvo (who is actually Estonian) out of the river and revive him. In the ensuing days, they nurse him back to health as he hides under the bridge in East Berlin. Then they come up with a plan: why not go to Paris with Arvo disguised as their music teacher? Then he can meet other Estonians and return to his country.
They get into all sorts of adventures in Paris, and girls especially will enjoy reading about the friendship among the three young musicians. Rosanne has a special knack about writing about military families, because of her experience as part of a military family herself. (She lived in Berlin around the time the novel was set with her soldier husband and baby.) She also illustrated this knack and sensitivity in her first published novel, Heart of a Shepherd. Her web site has some great resources and tips for military families--and for supporting friends in military families.
Second Fiddle made me want to pick up my violin again! Check back on my blog for an interview with Rosanne and a book giveaway in March, in time for the paperback release of Second Fiddle. ...more
Young professionals India and Jeremy are struggling with infertility. After several IVF and other infertility treatments, they have finally given up tYoung professionals India and Jeremy are struggling with infertility. After several IVF and other infertility treatments, they have finally given up their hopes of having their own natural-born child. They begin to consider adoption as a viable alternative.
Enter Lainey, a shallow, selfish, and damaged 20-year-old who is the daughter of an alcoholic mom and runaway father. She gets pregnant by her dumb jock boyfriend and decides to give her baby up for adoption so she can land a fortune to fund her trip to Los Angeles (to star in a reality show).
Being a generous, magnanimous soul, India invites Lainey to move into their guest house because Lainey doesn't have a place to live. (Her boyfriend has kicked her out.) This awkward, unconventional arrangement inevitably has its hiccups, but India and Lainey form a tenuous friendship of sorts.
My favorite scene was when Jeremy's clueless, insensitive brother and his wife--who are pregnant--come for dinner. Stacey (and Jeremy's mother) represent all the completely self-obsessed pregnant women I have ever known. She not only blathers on about being pregnant, but she also constantly pokes digs at the fact that India could not possibly understand what it is to be pregnant and makes insensitive comments such as "I wish I could pay someone else to be pregnant for me." And it gave me great satisfaction when they got their comeuppance!
Gaskell sensitively portrayed the desperation of infertility and the hopelessness of being young, single, and pregnant, combined with the great difficulty of giving up a child for adoption. She treats each of her characters with great respect and gives them depth and character. I enjoyed this book....more
Yes, it was outdated (written in 2001), but this book hasn't been updated since then. I found it to be a great help on our recent trip to Vancouver. IYes, it was outdated (written in 2001), but this book hasn't been updated since then. I found it to be a great help on our recent trip to Vancouver. I love Frommer's guide books, and the ones with a focus on family trips are especially helpful. ...more
As the mother of three sons, I've always been interested in learning more about what is hardwired into males and females, and what is influenced by enAs the mother of three sons, I've always been interested in learning more about what is hardwired into males and females, and what is influenced by environment. So when I heard about this book, I immediately put it on hold at the library.
Eliot is a neuroscientist, a graduate from Harvard and Columbia, an associate professor of neuroscience, and mother of two sons and a daughter. The basic premise of the book is that although yes, males and females have biologically based differences, many of our differences are due to environment and childrearing (or in other words, nurture).
She painstakingly analyzes the studies about male-female differences and helps the reader decipher what's been proven and what's been simply extrapolated (and exaggerated).
Here's what's been proven:
*Boys are as much as four times more likely to experience learning and developmental disorders, including autism, ADD, and dyslexia. They are 73% more likely to die in accidents and more than twice as likely to be the victims of voilent crimes.
*Girls are at least twice as likely to experience depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. They are twice as likely as boys to attempt suicide (but boys are three times more likely to succeed at it).
*Girls get better grades, but boys get higher SAT scores.
*Males have bigger brains, but they are also less likely to survive at birth and through the first year of life. They are also more likely to be miscarried.
*Girls develop more quickly in the womb and in the first few years of life. Yes, there's proof that females mature more quickly than boys.
Along with these, Eliot refutes a lot of gender-related myths out there as well. Many scientific studies showing differences between males and females were later refuted, but those findings were not published in the popular press.
Contrary to the 1970s, "Free to Be You and Me" era, now with the proliferation of boy and girl experts and John Gray types, parents seem to jump all over supposed gender differences, using them to excuse behavior and indulge in stereotypes. (Don't get me started on the pink/princess craze...or conversely, the fact that nearly all boy clothing features sports or action figures!)
Eliot tackles several phases in a person's life (including gestation) and describes the scientific data and environmental influences on shaping a person's personality. She gives excellent recommendations for fighting against stereotypes and helping children achieve their full potential, no matter their gender.
I strongly recommend this book for parents of boys and girls, teachers, and anyone who deals regularly with children....more
I read this to my six-year-old. He really enjoyed it; me, not so much. I should have known, because I bought it remaindered at Powell's Books for KierI read this to my six-year-old. He really enjoyed it; me, not so much. I should have known, because I bought it remaindered at Powell's Books for Kieran's Epiphany gift (my husband's family tradition is that the three kings leave a small gift in your shoes on Epiphany Day), and my oldest son, aged 13, said he'd read it and it wasn't very good. Chris tends to be not a very critical person, so the fact he didn't like it should have warned me.
We were in the midst of reading about four books at once, and Kieran seemed to be the most interested in this one, to my chagrin. I found it to be overwritten and boring. I vastly preferred Roald Dahl's Matilda, which was another one of the books we've been reading. ...more
The first time I read this book, it made me cry. I love stories about people who are told they can't do something...yet they surmount obstacles and suThe first time I read this book, it made me cry. I love stories about people who are told they can't do something...yet they surmount obstacles and succeed. ...more
My 6-year-old nephew is obsessed with this book recently (he has memorized the song in the book and performs it with the claps!), so I read it to my oMy 6-year-old nephew is obsessed with this book recently (he has memorized the song in the book and performs it with the claps!), so I read it to my own 6-year-old last night. It's adorable and very clever!...more
My 6-year-old son and I really enjoyed reading this book, which we recently checked out of the library. Owen is "OCL" or "official candle lighter" forMy 6-year-old son and I really enjoyed reading this book, which we recently checked out of the library. Owen is "OCL" or "official candle lighter" for the first time during Hanukkah, and every evening as he gets ready for bed, his Grandma Karen tells him a wonderful story...about different members of his family.
I was surprised to learn that my 6-year-old knew the story behind Hanukkah (we are not Jewish) better than I did. (He learned about it at school.)
This is a wonderful book to introduce children to Jewish traditions and the wonder of family, whether they are Jewish or Gentile. We loved it!...more
I checked out three Christmas books from the library today, and this was the one my sons and I liked best. Santa is a slacker, and his dog Rodney hasI checked out three Christmas books from the library today, and this was the one my sons and I liked best. Santa is a slacker, and his dog Rodney has to whip him into shape! ...more
This was a great introduction the Beatles for my six-year-old son. We both cried, though, when I read the part about John Lennon dying to him. Now thaThis was a great introduction the Beatles for my six-year-old son. We both cried, though, when I read the part about John Lennon dying to him. Now that the Beatles are making a big comeback (and we enjoy playing Beatles Rockband on the Wii), it was a great way to teach him all about the band...and I learned quite a few things too....more