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The Healing by Jonathan Odell

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As I sit to write a review on this book, I’m still not sure how I feel about it exactly. And I suppose that’s ok with me.

imagesThe Healing begins with Gran Gran helping Violet, a young girl who’s mother has just passed away. Gran Gran fears that Violet’s body will heal, but her mind will remain broken. The only thing that seems to calm her is hearing the old stories. So Gran Gran tells her story to the girl, beginning around the time of her birth as a slave. The book jumps backwards and forwards between the two time periods, always in a manner that is easily followed. The story captured me. The characters and I didn’t really speak the same language, but they made themselves understood nonetheless.

I’ve said before that I don’t like being told how to think about something, and I felt that way about this book. That I was being coached in the ways of Polly’s religion. Polly is a slave that bursts onto the scene when a doctor is needed for the slaves. The master buys her and then basically does whatever she tells him to do. In return, she heals a group of slaves that previously had no hope of survival. She takes Granada on as an apprentice and proceeds to teach her how to be herself. There are so many pearls of wisdom woven through this book; about being who you were created to be, not who you’ve been told you are; about freedom being something you find in your mind before it is realized physically; about family and belonging and healing. But, there was too much “my god is better than your god” for me to be completely comfortable.

Another thing that I often wonder with historical fiction is how much of people’s attitudes and thoughts are shaped by current standards and thoughts. There were so many times that I thought the slaves acted like servants rather than slaves. As if they had freedoms that I didn’t understand slaves to have.

But always I go back to the parts that I loved, and this line at the end when Gran Gran is describing a group of boys is one of my favorite things of all, “…self assured yet with faces fixed in innocent wonder. The Lord could show Himself at any second and they would see Him first, for He was already in their eyes.” Lines like this kept me reading in expectation. That Jonathan Odell would understand everyday things, while approaching them in a way that highlights something new and amazing.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

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Immortal Life HLI was pretty excited to read this book. I had heard about it a couple times so when I found it at a book fair, I grabbed it right up. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected to.

When Henrietta Lacks died of cancer in 1951, some of the cancerous cells were sent to a lab where they became the first human cells to be kept alive and reproduce on their own. They were called the first immortal human cells. Using the first two letters of her first and last names, they were named HeLa. Because of their incredible growth rate, they were used in medical research around the globe. HeLa cells have been in some way involved in just about every medical advance since 1951.

The rest of this story comes decades later when Henrietta’s family hears that their mother/wife’s cells have been used in all this research. They spend much time and energy worrying if their mother is actually being kept alive somewhere, and also how they can get compensated for the use of her cells after all this time.

So many people have enjoyed this book that if you have planned to read it, you still should! You may enjoy it. But alas, I did not.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

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stripedpyjamasBruno is nine years old when his father is transferred to a new job. The German family packs up their belongings and moves to Out-With. The first time Bruno looks out his new bedroom window and sees the low huts with so many people all milling about in striped pyjamas, you realize that his childlike mind has changed Auschwitz into Out-With; and that his father is the commandante of a concentration camp and that he has no idea what any of it means.

I loved the innocence that a child’s vocabulary brought to such a dark part of history. Listen to his description of Hitler, “The Fury was far shorter than Father and not, Bruno supposed, quite as strong. He had dark hair, which was cut quite short, and a tiny moustache- so tiny in fact that Bruno wondered why he bothered with it at all or whether he had simply forgotten a piece when he was shaving.” His little thoughts were enchanting and I found myself smiling and giggling along with him.

There were times that his ignorance broke my heart, and times when I was glad he had no idea what was going on around him.

Overall it was a good book. It made you think differently about things, and wonder what life was like on both sides of the fence. The only thing I disagreed with a bit was that it seemed to me that the majority of the people wished they weren’t Nazis. There was one particularly unkind guard at the camp, but other than that, most of the adults disagreed with Bruno’s father. Or were not proud of what they were doing. And it seemed to me that if the Nazis were anything, it was proud. It seems unlikely to me that the 9 year old son of a commandante would be so ignorant of the Nazi ideals. Maybe I’m wrong, but the book seems apologetically Nazi and in my mind, that is an oxymoron. The Nazis did not apologize. They thought they were right.

I would recommend “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” to anybody. It was sad, as you’d expect a book about Auschwitz to be, but the sadness was tempered a bit by the imagination and thoughts of a little boy trying to figure life out.

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

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The Wild Girl” is a dark and beautiful book that reminds me of King Solomon’s words:Image

“What has been will be again,

what has been done will be done again;

there is nothing new under the sun.”

Dortchen Wild grew up next door to Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm and is one of their main sources for the fables and tales that were rewritten and published to make sure the world didn’t forget the old stories that had been told from generation to generation before them.

The story begins as any good fairy tale does, with young love and adventure and excitement. But, soon, the dark realities of life in the early 1800s in the German kingdom of Hessen-Cassel set in. With war in the background and hunger and poverty in the foreground, we read the story of Dortchen who has to battle evil even in her own home.

Near the beginning of the book, Dortchen and Wilhelm are talking about the power that words have. “He said that words have a remarkable power. The word “God” is only three letters, yet how much meaning is in those three letters? It’s vast, unimaginable. Think of the word “liberty”. Only seven letters, yet it changed a whole country and looks like it might change the world.” This sort of thinking sets up the whole premise of the book. How often do we speak or read words and stories without really examining the meaning behind them. We accept them at face value without delving into the depths that are contained inside. Kate Forsyth does that sort of digging for us, though, and this book is a possible insight into the lives of Wilhelm and Dortchen. She never says that this is their story. But, she lets you know that it could have been. Just as it is the story of so many before and after them.

The book left me with a heavy heart, but it’s the kind of heaviness that reminds me that people are broken and hurting and we need to hear their cries for help, no matter how they are disguised. I didn’t want to put it down. I read it every chance I got hoping for redemption and a happily ever after. I won’t tell you if those come or not. You’ll have to read it for yourself, and you will be glad you did. Enjoy your foray into the tales of your childhood. See how they have changed through the years, and the circumstances that created them, and what may have changed them.

A Pledge of Silence by Flora J. Solomon

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pledgeofsilenceIf you’re anything like me, there are times you are completely unprepared for a book you read. You may have read the description or even a couple reviews to see if it was something that would interest you. But somehow, you manage to gloss over the emotional and traumatic events contained inside. That is, if you’re anything like me.

That’s how it was with A Pledge of Silence. Even with statements such as this in the first chapter: “Margie stepped back into the shadows, wishing she could guide the choices of her young self, but sadly she knew she could not change her fate.” What follows is a journey back in time. We see Margie and her childhood sweetheart, Abe make their college choices. We follow them through the fun times of job seeking and young love. But then, WWII begins, and Abe joins up to be a fighter pilot and Margie is called up in the Army Nursing Reserve and sent to the Philippines to care for our fighting boys over there. The war rages and finally catches up with her. So we watch as she and her fellow nurses become the first U.S. military women to be taken as Prisoners of War by a foreign enemy.

The book is a work of fiction, but the author, Flora J Solomon did her research well, so that it could very closely mirror true events. In fictional novels, you expect a happy ending. However, we all know that real life offers us no such guarantees. Throughout the book, that tension of fiction vs. reality is ever present.

I recommend that you step out of what you know and read this book. It is heartbreaking and hopeful and I think you’ll like it. If you’re anything like me.

Sparkly Green Earrings: Catching the Light at Every Turn by Melanie Shankle

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9781414371719_p0_v1_s260x420 (1)“Every mother knows the reason Robert Frost took the road less traveled is because he wasn’t traveling with children who needed to go to the bathroom every thirty minutes. Otherwise he would have taken the road paved with McDonald’s and truck stops with restrooms, covered by antibacterial hand soap and prayer. And that would have made all the difference.” –Melanie Shankle

The thing about parenting is that it is simultaneously the same and drastically different for everybody. Whether you have boys or girls or both. Lots of children or only one. There are things that are the same straight across the board. There are difficulties and joys, and we as Moms love to share both. We want to tell you all about our experiences, and in turn we want to hear just how you have handled the situations you have found yourself in. Reading Sparkly Green Earrings feels like you are just sitting down with Melanie and having a conversation about your day. Of course you don’t get to say anything, and the day in question actually lasts a few years. But it’s the kind of conversation we all need to have every now and then. The kind that makes you laugh. Not the mean kind where you’re  laughing at someone, but fun kind where you shake your head and say, “Oh man, I remember that!”

This is my favorite kind of parenting book. It’s not a list of rules and how to’s. There is no magic formula for having perfect children. It is just a simple story of one woman’s journey. She is willing to sit down with you (ok… she sat down a while ago… now it’s your turn to sit) and share the things she has learned as she parented her daughter through her first eight years of life. It is full of the honesty we expect and appreciate these days. Then, while you’re still holding your sides, and trying not to laugh so loud you wake the baby next to you, she drops a little revelation on you. Something about looking at your children through the eyes of their creator, or seeing yourself as you really are, or finding the meaning of grace and love and mercy simply by holding your newly born baby that very first time.

“We like to believe they are better versions of us, but the truth is, they are us. They are full of our selfishness and impulsiveness and pettiness. They want things to go their way just like we do, and they scream and yell and throw things when it doesn’t work out. The only difference between them and us is what my grandma would refer to as ‘home training.’

God gives us these raw little people, and we have to form them and mold them and teach them how to operate in society. And if we get a glimpse of all the ugliness that lies right beneath our own polished surface? Well, then, there’s a humbling lesson too. It’s those moments when I realize I have to extend grace to Caroline as she figures these things out by trial and error in the same way God lavishes me with mercy, even as I make the same mistakes over and over again.”

Until I Say Goodbye: My Year of Living With Joy by Susan Spencer-Wendel and Bret Witter

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“We are born alone and die alone, but all my favorite moments of life had been spent with someone else.” –Susan Spencer-Wendel

Until-I-Say-Goodbye_custom-234c902cc18a9db2bd48b9c9f4f7aa29af7856b7-s6-c10I have had this book sitting on my Kindle waiting to be reviewed for a long time now. I can’t quite figure out how to explain to you that you should read it. Because you will love it. Because you will be challenged by it. Because you will see that it is possible to live with joy. In any circumstance.

In 2011, Susan Spencer-Wendel is diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. She knows that this diagnosis means a loss of her career, her mobility, her freedom, and ultimately her life. And her life is not simply the breath in her lungs, it is also a husband and children, friends and family. Once she receives this diagnosis, she decides to live these last days fully. To give her children and her husband memories to help them through the hard days ahead. She says this, “I thought of my new uncertainty: How long can I live with ALS? I thought, ‘Don’t search for answers. Live the question.’ Enjoy life more because of the uncertainty, not less.” She takes trips with her children, and her husband, and her best friend Nancy. She lives her life while she still can. And when she is incapable of the outward, physical side of life, these same people step in and perform each and every task for her.

I remember describing Until I Say Goodbye: My Year of Living with Joy to someone while I was reading it. I started crying, and I know they were thinking, “Why are you reading that book if it’s so sad?” But the thing is, it’s not sad while you’re reading it. It really is filled with joy. Somehow, Susan manages to truly live with joy. She pulls her mind out of the funk as often as she has to and reminds herself of the joy to be found. And in doing so, she will remind you too. The story is sad. But the telling is incredible. It offers hope. Susan reminds us to live our own lives no matter what the circumstances. To love your children and husband with everything you’ve got.

I’ll leave you with this thought of Susan’s. It may show you a little bit of why I enjoyed this book so much.

“I said I felt like the luckiest person in the world.

And I did.

I might have been dying, but that night- on that terrace, after that meal, with those people- I was experiencing the full wonder of life.

I had arrived a stranger, but I was leaving with a new family.

I was unafraid.

Fearless.”