Below are the books that have been read and discussed by our Adult Book Club members:
Orphan Train By Christina Baker Kline
Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran from the East Coast to the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor? Orphan Train is a powerful tale of upheaval and resilience, second chances, and unexpected friendship.
Grandparents as Parents: A Survival Guide for Raising a Second Family
By Sylvie de Toledo and Deborah Elder Brown
If you're among the millions of grandparents raising grandchildren today, you need information, support, and practical guidance you can count on to keep your family strong. This is the book for you. Learn effective strategies to help you cope with the stresses of parenting the second time around, care for vulnerable grandkids and set boundaries with their often-troubled parents, and navigate the maze of government aid, court proceedings, and special education.
Wise, honest, moving stories show how numerous other grandparents are surviving and thriving in their new roles. Updated throughout, and reflecting current laws and policies affecting families, the second edition features new discussions of kids' technology use and other timely issues. Amazon Review
Look Me in The Eye: My Life with Asperger's By John Elder Robison
Ever since he was young, John Robison longed to connect with other people, but by the time he was a teenager, his odd habits—an inclination to blurt out non sequiturs, avoid eye contact, dismantle radios, and dig five-foot holes (and stick his younger brother, Augusten Burroughs, in them)—had earned him the label “social deviant.” It was not until he was forty that he was diagnosed with a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome. That understanding transformed the way he saw himself—and the world. A born storyteller, Robison has written a moving, darkly funny memoir about a life that has taken him from developing exploding guitars for KISS to building a family of his own. It’s a strange, sly, indelible account—sometimes alien yet always deeply human. Synopsis from back cover of book
January First By Michael Schofield
A New York Times bestseller, January First captures Michael and his family's remarkable story in a narrative that forges new territory within books about mental illness. In the beginning, readers see Janni’s incredible early potential: her brilliance, and savant-like ability to learn extremely abstract concepts. Next, they witnesses early warning signs that something is not right, Michael’s attempts to rationalize what’s happening, and his descent alongside his daughter into the abyss of schizophrenia. Their battle has included a two-year search for answers, countless medications and hospitalizations, allegations of abuse, despair that almost broke their family apart and, finally, victories against the illness and a new faith that they can create a life for Janni filled with moments of happiness. Amazon Review
Thinking in Pictures By Temple Grandin
Temple Grandin, Ph.D., is a gifted animal scientist who has designed one third of all the livestock-handling facilities in the United States. She also lectures widely on autism—because Temple Grandin is autistic, a woman who thinks, feels, and experiences the world in ways that are incomprehensible to the rest of us. In this unprecedented book, Grandin delivers a report from the country of autism. Writing from the dual perspectives of a scientist and an autistic person, she tells us how that country is experienced by its inhabitants and how she managed to breach its boundaries to function in the outside world. What emerges in Thinking in Pictures is the document of an extraordinary human being, one who, in gracefully and lucidly bridging the gulf between her condition and our own, sheds light on the riddle of our common identity.
Jewel By Bret Lott
Oprah Book Club® Selection, January 1999 The year is 1943 and life is good…. Although there's a war on, the Mississippi economy is booming, providing plenty of business for the hardworking family. Jewel..., now pushing 40, is pregnant with one last child. Her joy is slightly clouded, however, when her childhood friend Cathedral arrives at the door with a troubling prophecy: "I say unto you that the baby you be carrying be yo' hardship, be yo' test in this world. This be my prophesying unto you, Miss Jewel."
When the child is finally born, it seems that Cathedral's prediction was empty: the baby appears normal in every way. As the months go by, however, Jewel becomes increasingly afraid that something is wrong with little Brenda Kay--she doesn't cry, she doesn't roll over, she's hardly ever awake. Eventually husband and wife take the baby to the doctor and are informed that she is a "Mongolian Idiot," not expected to live past the age of 2. Jewel angrily rebuffs the doctor's suggestion that they institutionalize Brenda Kay. Instead the Hilburns shoulder the burdens--and discover the unexpected joys--of living with a Down's syndrome child…. Margaret Prior
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape By Peter Hedges
Just about everything in Endora, Iowa (pop. 1,091 and dwindling) is eating Gilbert Grape, a twenty-four-year-old grocery clerk who dreams only of leaving. His enormous mother, once the town sweetheart, has been eating nonstop ever since her husband's suicide, and the floor beneath her TV chair is threatening to cave in. Gilbert's long-suffering older sister, Amy, still mourns the death of Elvis, and his knockout younger sister has become hooked on makeup, boys, and Jesus -- in that order. But the biggest event on the horizon for all the Grapes is the eighteenth birthday of Gilbert's younger brother, Arnie, who is a living miracle just for having survived so long. As the Grapes gather in Endora, a mysterious beauty glides through town on a bicycle and rides circles around Gilbert, until he begins to see a new vision of his family and himself....
With this wry portrait of small-town Iowa -- and a young man's life at the crossroads -- Peter Hedges created a classic American novel "charged with sardonic intelligence." Washington Post Book World
The Memory Keeper's Daughter By Kim Edwards
Kim Edwards’s stunning family drama evokes the spirit of Sue Miller and Alice Sebold, articulating every mother’s silent fear: what would happen if you lost your child and she grew up without you? In 1964, when a blizzard forces Dr. David Henry to deliver his own twins, he immediately recognizes that one of them has Down Syndrome and makes a split-second decision that will haunt all their lives forever. He asks his nurse to take the baby away to an institution and to keep her birth a secret. Instead, she disappears into another city to raise the child as her own. Compulsively readable and deeply moving, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter is an astonishing tale of redemptive love. Chicago Tribune
Myths About Suicide By Thomas Joiner
Around the world, more than a million people die by suicide each year. Yet many of us know very little about a tragedy that may strike our own loved ones—and much of what we think we know is wrong. This clear and powerful book dismantles myth after myth to bring compassionate and accurate understanding of a massive international killer.
Drawing on a fascinating array of clinical cases, media reports, literary works, and scientific studies, Thomas Joiner demolishes both moralistic and psychotherapeutic clichés. He shows that suicide is not easy, cowardly, vengeful, or selfish. It is not a manifestation of "suppressed rage" or a side effect of medication. Threats of suicide, far from being idle, are often followed by serious attempts. People who are prevented once from killing themselves will not necessarily try again.
The risk for suicide, Joiner argues, is partly genetic and is influenced by often agonizing mental disorders. Vulnerability to suicide may be anticipated and treated. Most important, suicide can be prevented.
An eminent expert whose own father's death by suicide changed his life, Joiner is relentless in his pursuit of the truth about suicide and deeply sympathetic to such tragic waste of life and the pain it causes those left behind. Amazon Review
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time By Mark Haddon
Mark Haddon's bitterly funny debut novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, is a murder mystery of sorts--one told by an autistic version of Adrian Mole. Fifteen-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone is mathematically gifted and socially hopeless, raised in a working-class home by parents who can barely cope with their child's quirks. He takes everything that he sees (or is told) at face value, and is unable to sort out the strange behavior of his elders and peers.
Late one night, Christopher comes across his neighbor's poodle, Wellington, impaled on a garden fork. Wellington's owner finds him cradling her dead dog in his arms, and has him arrested. After spending a night in jail, Christopher resolves--against the objection of his father and neighbors--to discover just who has murdered Wellington. He is encouraged by Siobhan, a social worker at his school, to write a book about his investigations, and the result--quirkily illustrated, with each chapter given its own prime number--is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Jack Illingworth, Amazon
The Rules of the Tunnel by Ned Zeman
A journalist faces his toughest assignment yet: profiling himself. Zeman recounts his struggle with clinical depression in this mood disorders,memory, shock treatment therapy and the quest to get back to normal.
Thirty-five million Americans suffer from clinical depression. But Ned Zeman never thought he’d be one of them. He came from a happy Midwestern family. He had great friends and a busy social life. His career was thriving at Vanity Fair where he profiled adventurers and eccentrics who pushed the limits and died young.
Then, at age thirty-two, anxiety and depression gripped Zeman with increasing violence and consequences. He experimented with therapist after therapist, medication after medication, hospital after hospital. Zeman eventually went further, by trying electroconvulsive therapy, aka shock treatment, aka "the treatment of last resort." By the time it was over, Zeman had lost nearly two years’ worth of memory. He was a reporter with amnesia. He had no choice but to start from scratch, to reassemble the pieces of a life he didn’t remember and, increasingly, didn’t want to. His life lay in ruins. And the biggest question remained, "What the hell did I do?"
By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, profane and hopeful, The Rules of the Tunnel is a blistering account of Zeman’s twisted ride to hell and back-a return made possible by friends real and less so, among them the dead "eccentrics" he once profiled. It’s a guttural shout of a book, one that defies conventional notions about those with mood disorders, unlocks mysteries within mysteries, and proves that sometimes everything you’re looking for is right in front of you. Amazon Review
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Jeannette Walls's father always called her "Mountain Goat" and there's perhaps no more apt nickname for a girl who navigated a sheer and towering cliff of childhood both daily and stoically. In The Glass Castle, Walls chronicles her upbringing at the hands of eccentric, nomadic parents--Rose Mary, her frustrated-artist mother, and Rex, her brilliant, alcoholic father. To call the elder Walls's childrearing style laissez faire would be putting it mildly. As Rose Mary and Rex, motivated by whims and paranoia, uprooted their kids time and again, the youngsters (Walls, her brother and two sisters) were left largely to their own devices. But while Rex and Rose Mary firmly believed children learned best from their own mistakes, they themselves never seemed to do so, repeating the same disastrous patterns that eventually landed them on the streets. Walls describes in fascinating detail what it was to be a child in this family, from the embarrassing…to the horrific.... Though Walls has well earned the right to complain, at no point does she play the victim. In fact, Walls' removed, nonjudgmental stance is initially startling, since many of the circumstances she describes could be categorized as abusive (and unquestioningly neglectful). But on the contrary, Walls respects her parents' knack for making hardships feel like adventures, and her love for them--despite their overwhelming self-absorption--resonates from cover to cover. Brangien Davis, Amazon Review
The Powder Necklace by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond
To protect her daughter from the fast life and bad influences of London, her mother sent her to school in rural Ghana. The move was for the girl’s own good, in her mother’s mind, but for the daughter, the reality of being the new girl, the foreigner-among-your-own-people, was even worse than the idea.
During her time at school, she would learn that Ghana was much more complicated than her fellow ex-pats had ever told her, including how much a London-raised child takes something like water for granted. In Ghana, water “became a symbol of who had and who didn’t, who believed in God and who didn’t. If you didn’t have water to bathe, you were poor because no one had sent you some.”
After six years in Ghana, her mother summons her home to London to meet the new man in her mother’s life—and his daughter. The reunion is bittersweet and short-lived as her parents decide it’s time that she get to know her father. So once again, she’s sent off, this time to live with her father, his new wife, and their young children in New York—but not before a family trip to Disney World. Amazon Review
Next to Nothing: A Firsthand Account of One Teenager's Experience with an Eating Disorder by Carrie Arnold
More than simple cases of dieting gone awry, eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are among the most fatal of mental illnesses, responsible for more deaths each year than any other psychiatric disorder. These illnesses afflict millions of young people, especially women, all over the world.
Carrie Arnold developed anorexia as an adolescent and nearly lost her life to the disease. In Next to Nothing, she tells the story of her descent into anorexia, how and why she fell victim to this mysterious illness, and how she was able to seek help and recover after years of therapy and hard work. Now an adult, Arnold uses her own experiences to offer practical advice and guidance to young adults who have recently been diagnosed with an eating disorder, or who are at risk for developing one. Drawing on the expertise of B. Timothy Walsh, M.D., one of America's leading authorities on eating disorders, she reveals in easy-to-understand terms what is known and not known medically about anorexia and bulimia. The book covers such difficult topics as how to make sense of a diagnosis, the various psychotherapies available to those struggling with an eating disorder, psychiatric hospitalization, and how to talk about these illnesses to family and friends. The result is both a compelling memoir and a practical guide that will help to ease the isolation that an eating disorder can impose, showing young people how to manage and maintain their recovery on a daily basis. -Oxford University Press
Part of the Adolescent Mental Health Initiative series of books written specifically for teens and young adults, Next to Nothing will also be a valuable resource to the friends and family of those with eating disorders. It offers much-needed hope to young people, helping them to overcome these illnesses and lead productive and healthy lives. Amazon Review
Say You’re One of Them by Uwen Akpan
Each story in this jubilantly acclaimed collection pays testament to the wisdom and resilience of children, even in the face of the most agonizing circumstances.
A family living in a makeshift shanty in urban Kenya scurries to find gifts of any kind for the impending Christmas holiday. A Rwandan girl relates her family’s struggles to maintain a facade of normalcy amid unspeakable acts. A young brother and sister cope with their uncle’s attempt to sell them into slavery. Aboard a bus filled with refugees—a microcosm of today’s Africa—a Muslim boy summons his faith to bear a treacherous ride across Nigeria. Through the eyes of childhood friends the emotional toll of religious conflict in Ethiopia becomes viscerally clear. Hachette Book Group
Why People Die by Suicide by Thomas Joiner
In the wake of a suicide, the most troubling questions are invariably the most difficult to answer: How could we have known? What could we have done? And always, unremittingly: Why? Written by a clinical psychologist whose own life has been touched by suicide, this book offers the clearest account ever given of why some people choose to die.
Drawing on extensive clinical and epidemiological evidence, as well as personal experience, Thomas Joiner brings a comprehensive understanding to seemingly incomprehensible behavior. Among the many people who have considered, attempted, or died by suicide, he finds three factors that mark those most at risk of death: the feeling of being a burden on loved ones; the sense of isolation; and, chillingly, the learned ability to hurt oneself. Joiner tests his theory against diverse facts taken from clinical anecdotes, history, literature, popular culture, anthropology, epidemiology, genetics, and neurobiology--facts about suicide rates among men and women; white and African-American men; anorexics, athletes, prostitutes, and physicians; members of cults, sports fans, and citizens of nations in crisis.
The result is the most coherent and persuasive explanation ever given of why and how people overcome life's strongest instinct, self-preservation. Joiner's is a work that makes sense of the bewildering array of statistics and stories surrounding suicidal behavior; at the same time, it offers insight, guidance, and essential information to clinicians, scientists, and health practitioners, and to anyone whose life has been affected by suicide. Publisher’s Weekly
Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama
From All men live in the shadow of their fathers -- the more distant the father, the deeper the shadow. Barack Obama describes his confrontation with this shadow in his provocative autobiography, Dreams From My Father, and he also persuasively describes the phenomenon of belonging to two different worlds, and thus belonging to neither.
What would he have us learn? That people of mixed backgrounds must choose only one culture in which to make a spiritual home? That it is not possible to be both black and white, Old World and New? If this is indeed true, as Mr. Obama tells it, then the idea of America taking pride in itself as a nation derived of many different races seems strangely mocked. America will always be part of the Old World and part of the New, part dream and part reality -- that truth is integral to the greatness and the possibility from which Mr. Obama has so richly profited. Publisher’s Weekly
Hope’s Boy by Andrew Bridge
From the moment he was born, Andrew Bridge and his mother Hope shared a love so deep that it felt like nothing else mattered. Trapped in desperate poverty and confronted with unthinkable tragedies, all Andrew ever wanted was to be with his mom. But as her mental health steadily declined, and with no one else left to care for him, authorities arrived and tore Andrew from his screaming mother's arms. In that moment, the life he knew came crashing down around him. He was only seven years old. Hope was institutionalized, and Andrew was placed in what would be his devastating reality for the next eleven years – foster care. After surviving one of our country's most notorious children's facilities, Andrew was thrust into a savagely loveless foster family that refused to accept him as one of their own. Deprived of the nurturing he needed, Andrew clung to academics and the kindness of teachers. All the while, he refused to surrender the love he held for his mother in his heart.Ultimately, Andrew earned a scholarship to Wesleyan, went on to Harvard Law School, and became a Fulbright Scholar. Andrew has dedicated his life's work to helping children living in poverty and in the foster care system. He defied the staggering odds set against him, and here in this heart wrenching, brutally honest, and inspirational memoir, he reveals who Hope's boy really is. Publisher’s Weekly
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
When two divergent cultures collide, unbridgeable gaps of language, religion, social customs may remain between them. This poignant account by Fadiman, editor of The American Scholar, of the clash between a Hmong family and the American medical community reveals that among the gaps yawns the attitude toward medicine and healing. The story focuses on Lia Lee, whose family immigrated to Merced, Calif., from Laos in 1980. At three months of age, Lia was diagnosed with what American doctors called epilepsy, and what her family called quag dab peg or, 'the spirit catches you and you fall down.' Fadiman traces the treatments for Lia's illness, observing the sharp differences between Eastern and Western healing methods. Whereas the doctors prescribed Depakene and Valium to control her seizures, Lia's family believed that her soul was lost but could be found by sacrificing animals and hiring shamans to intervene. While some of Lia's doctors attempted to understand the Hmong beliefs, many interpreted the cultural difference as ignorance on the part of Lia's parents. Fadiman shows how the American ideal of assimilation was challenged by a headstrong Hmong ethnicity. She discloses the unilateralness of Western medicine, and divulges its potential failings. In Lia's case, the two cultures never melded and, after a massive seizure, she was declared brain dead. This book is a moving cautionary tale about the importance of practicing 'cross-cultural medicine,' and of acknowledging, without condemning, differences in medical attitudes of various cultures. Publisher’s Weekly
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Set in the American South in 1964, the year of the Civil Rights Act and intensifying racial unrest, Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees is a powerful story of coming-of-age, of the ability of love to transform our lives, and the often unacknowledged longing for the universal feminine divine. Addressing the wounds of loss, betrayal, and the scarcity of love, Kidd demonstrates the power of women coming together to heal those wounds, to mother each other and themselves, and to create a sanctuary of true family and home.
Isolated on a South Carolina peach farm with a neglectful and harsh father, fourteen-year-old Lily Owens has spent much of her life longing for her mother, Deborah, who died amid mysterious circumstances when Lily was four years old. To make matters worse, her father, T. Ray, tells Lily that she accidentally killed her mother.
Lily is raised by Rosaleen, her proud and outspoken African-American nanny. When Rosaleen attempts to exercise her newly won right to vote, she is attacked by the three worst racists in town and is thrown into jail. Lily is determined to save Rosaleen and finally escape her own father as well. Seizing the moment, she springs Rosaleen from jail, and the two set out across South Carolina in search of a new life.
Their destination is Tiburon, South Carolina—a town they know nothing about except that in a box of Lily's mother's belongings there is a cryptic picture of a black Virgin Mary with the words "Tiburon, South Carolina" written on the back. There they are taken in by three black beekeeping sisters who worship the Black Madonna. It is here, surrounded by the strength of the Madonna, the hum of bees, and a circle of wise and colorful women, that Lily makes her passage to wholeness and a new life.
Captured by the voice of this Southern adolescent, one becomes enveloped in the hot South Carolina summer and one of most tumultuous times the country has ever seen. A story of mothers lost and found, love, conviction, and forgiveness, The Secret Life of Bees boldly explores life's wounds and reveals the deeper meaning of home and the redemptive simplicity of "choosing what matters."
In the end, though she cannot find the mother she lost, Lily discovers and comes to terms with her mother's past, finds a hive of new mothers, and falls in love with the great universal mother. As told through Bobby's poignant journal entries and his mother's reminiscences, Prayers for Bobby is at once a moving personal story, a true profile in courage, and a call to arms to parents everywhere. readinggroupguides.com
Prayers for Bobby: A Mother's Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son by Leroy Aarons
Bobby Griffith was an all-American boy….and he was gay. Faced with an irresolvable conflict—for both his family and his religion taught him that being gay was "wrong"—Bobby chose to take his own life.
Prayers for Bobby, nominated for a 1996 Lambda Literary Award, is the story of the emotional journey that led Bobby to this tragic conclusion. But it is also the story of Bobby's mother, a fearful churchgoer who first prayed that her son would be "healed," then anguished over his suicide, and ultimately transformed herself into a national crusader for gay and lesbian youth.
As told through Bobby's poignant journal entries and his mother's reminiscences, Prayers for Bobby is at once a moving personal story, a true profile in courage, and a call to arms to parents everywhere. HarperCollins Publishing
The Tortilla Curtain by T. C. Boyle
In this explosive and timely novel, T. Coraghessan Boyle explores an issue that is at the forefront of the political arena. He confronts the controversy over illegal immigration head-on, illuminating through a poignant, gripping story the people on both sides of the issue, the haves and the have-nots. In Southern California's Topanga Canyon, two couples live in close proximity and yet are worlds apart. High atop a hill overlooking the canyon, nature writer Delaney Mossbacher and his wife, real estate agent Kyra Menaker-Mossbacher, reside in an exclusive, secluded housing development with their son, Jordan. The Mossbachers are agnostic liberals with a passion for recycling and fitness. Camped out in a ravine at the bottom of the canyon are Cándido and América Rincón, a Mexican couple who have crossed the border illegally. On the edge of starvation, they search desperately for work in the hope of moving into an apartment before their baby is born. They cling to their vision of the American dream, which, no matter how hard they try to achieve it, manages to elude their grasp at every turn.
A chance, violent encounter brings together Delaney and Cándido, instigating a chain of events that eventually culminates in a harrowing confrontation. The novel shifts back and forth between the two couples, giving voice to each of the four main characters as their lives become inextricably intertwined and their worlds collide. The Rincóns' search for the American dream, and the Mossbachers' attempts to protect it, comprise the heart of the story. In scenes that are alternately comic, frightening, and satirical, but always all "too real," Boyle confronts not only immigration but social consciousness, environmental awareness, crime, and unemployment in a tale that raises the curtain on the dark side of the American dream.
The United States and Immigration
The debate over immigration continues to escalate across the nation, particularly in California, and this sampling of quotations and statistics from various newspapers. History suggests that those who truly yearn to come to America and stay will find a way to do it. (Newsweek, August 9, 1993)
In November 1994, California passed by a 59% to 41% vote Proposition 187, a bill that denies certain social privileges, mainly welfare, public schooling, and non-emergency medical care, to illegal immigrants. (The New York Times, November 11, 1994)
California hosts about 40% of the nation's estimated 3.4 million illegal immigrants. (Time, November 21, 1994)
"All Americans...are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country.... We are a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws. It is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws we have seen in recent years, and we must do more to stop it." (President Clinton, "We Heard America Shouting," Address to Joint Session of Congress, January 25, 1995)
"Our immigration policy is a measure of who we are as a people. I believe we are a people who draw strength from our diversity and meet our challenges head on. I believe we want and deserve immigration laws that favor those who play by the rules." (Bill Bradley, former U.S. Senator, New Jersey, The New Jersey Record, June 8, 1995)
About 800,000 people follow the rules and enter the United States legally as immigrants each year. An additional 200,000 to 300,000 come to the country illegally. (San Francisco Chronicle, December 5, 1995)
Half of illegal immigrants do not cross the borders unlawfully--they enter legally and overstay their visas. (San Francisco Chronicle, March 18, 1996) readinggroupguides.com
And This too Shall Pass by E. Lynn Harris
In Harris's entertaining new work, the issues of sexual orientation that dominated his first two novels (Invisible Life and its sequel, Just How I Am) take a back seat to universal questions of justice, love and career. The melodrama here centers around three African Americans. Zurich Robinson, the starting quarterback for Chicago's new NFL team, shields his personal dilemmas behind an aloof manner that puzzles those who know him. Elsewhere in Chicago, Tamela Coleman, a frustrated corporate attorney considering opening her own office, has sworn off relationships with men until she meets police officer Caliph Taylor. And in Manhattan, loneliness drives freelance journalist Sean Elliott to a series of unfulfilling sexual liaisons with other men. When Sean, a fan of Zurich's, is assigned to profile the quarterback, the two become friends. While accepting Sean's companionship, however, Zurich rejects another admirer, alcoholic TV sports anchor Mia Miller. But after Mia is raped and beaten, she points a finger at Zurich, who then hires Tamela to clear his name. Sean, meanwhile, aware of his growing attraction to Zurich, considers sharing his feelings, even as Tamela must decide about her future with Caliph. Harris's characters face problems including domestic abuse, alcoholism and sexual confusion, but the redemptive powers of family, faith and love embodied in Zurich's grandmother MamaCee help guide them to understanding. Despite some stilted dialogue, this novel should broaden the author's readership and reinforce his growing reputation as an accessible, younger voice in African American literature. Publishers Weekly
Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario
In this astonishing true story, award-winning journalist Sonia Nazario recounts the unforgettable odyssey of a Honduran boy who braves unimaginable hardship and peril to reach his mother in the United States.
When Enrique is five years old, his mother, Lourdes, too poor to feed her children, leaves Honduras to work in the United States. The move allows her to send money back home to Enrique so he can eat better and go to school past the third grade.
Lourdes promises Enrique she will return quickly. But she struggles in America. Years pass. He begs for his mother to come back. Without her, he becomes lonely and troubled. When she calls, Lourdes tells him to be patient. Enrique despairs of ever seeing her again. After eleven years apart, he decides he will go find her.
Enrique sets off alone from Tegucigalpa, with little more than a slip of paper bearing his mother’s North Carolina telephone number. Without money, he will make the dangerous and illegal trek up the length of Mexico the only way he can–clinging to the sides and tops of freight trains.
With gritty determination and a deep longing to be by his mother’s side, Enrique travels through hostile, unknown worlds. Each step of the way through Mexico, he and other migrants, many of them children, are hunted like animals. Gangsters control the tops of the trains. Bandits rob and kill migrants up and down the tracks. Corrupt cops all along the route are out to fleece and deport them. To evade Mexican police and immigration authorities, they must jump onto and off the moving boxcars they call El Tren de la Muerte–The Train of Death. Enrique pushes forward using his wit, courage, and hope—and the kindness of strangers. It is an epic journey, one thousands of immigrant children make each year to find their mothers in the United States.
Based on the Los Angeles Times newspaper series that won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for feature writing and another for feature photography, Enrique’s Journey is the timeless story of families torn apart, the yearning to be together again, and a boy who will risk his life to find the mother he loves. Amazon Review
The Faith Club by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner
In the wake of 9/11, Idliby, an American Muslim of Palestinian descent, sought out fellow mothers of the Jewish and Christian faiths to write a children's book on the commonalities among their respective traditions. In their first meeting, however, the women realized they would have to address their differences first. Oliver, an Episcopalian who was raised Catholic, irked Warner, a Jewish woman and children's author, with her description of the Crucifixion story, which sounded too much like "Jews killed Jesus" for Warner's taste. Idliby's efforts to join in on the usual "Judeo-Christian" debate tap into a sense of alienation she already feels in the larger Muslim community, where she is unable to find a progressive mosque that reflects her non–veil-wearing, spiritual Islam. The ladies come to call their group a "faith club" and, over time, midwife each other into stronger belief in their own respective religions. More Fight Club than book club, the coauthors pull no punches; their outstanding honesty makes for a page-turning read, rare for a religion nonfiction book. From Idliby's graphic defense of the Palestinian cause, Oliver's vacillations between faith and doubt, and Warner's struggles to acknowledge God's existence, almost every taboo topic is explored on this engaging spiritual ride. Publishers Weekly
Beautiful Boy by David Sheff
Amazon Best of the Month, February 2008:
From as early as grade school, the world seemed to be on Nic Sheff's string. Bright and athletic, he excelled in any setting and appeared destined for greatness. Yet as childhood exuberance faded into teenage angst, the precocious boy found himself going down a much different path. Seduced by the illicit world of drugs and alcohol, he quickly found himself caught in the clutches of addiction. Beautiful Boy is Nic's story, but from the perspective of his father, David. Achingly honest, it chronicles the betrayal, pain, and terrifying question marks that haunt the loved ones of an addict. Many respond to addiction with a painful oath of silence, but David Sheff opens up personal wounds to reinforce that it is a disease, and must be treated as such. Most importantly, his journey provides those in similar situations with a commodity that they can never lose: hope. Dave Callanan
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Hosseini's stunning debut novel starts as an eloquent Afghan version of the American immigrant experience in the late 20th century, but betrayal and redemption come to the forefront when the narrator, a writer, returns to his ravaged homeland to rescue the son of his childhood friend after the boy's parents are shot during the Taliban takeover in the mid '90s. Amir, the son of a well-to-do Kabul merchant, is the first-person narrator, who marries, moves to California and becomes a successful novelist. But he remains haunted by a childhood incident in which he betrayed the trust of his best friend, a Hazara boy named Hassan, who receives a brutal beating from some local bullies. After establishing himself in America, Amir learns that the Taliban have murdered Hassan and his wife, raising questions about the fate of his son, Sohrab. Spurred on by childhood guilt, Amir makes the difficult journey to Kabul, only to learn the boy has been enslaved by a former childhood bully who has become a prominent Taliban official. The price Amir must pay to recover the boy is just one of several brilliant, startling plot twists that make this book memorable both as a political chronicle and a deeply personal tale about how childhood choices affect our adult lives. The character studies alone would make this a noteworthy debut, from the portrait of the sensitive, insecure Amir to the multilayered development of his father, Baba, whose sacrifices and scandalous behavior are fully revealed only when Amir returns to Afghanistan and learns the true nature of his relationship to Hassan. Add an incisive, perceptive examination of recent Afghan history and its ramifications in both America and the Middle East, and the result is a complete work of literature that succeeds in exploring the culture of a previously obscure nation that has become a pivot point in the global politics of the new millennium. Publishers Weekly
Sister of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (Anchor Books, 1999)
Like the old tales of India that are filled with emotional filigree and flowery prose, Divakaruni's (The Mistress of Spices) latest work is a masterful allegory of unfulfilled desire and sacrificial love. It is also an intricate modern drama in which generations and castes struggle over old and new mores. Anju and Sudha are cousins, born in the same household in Calcutta on the same day, which is also the day on which their mothers learn that both their husbands have been killed in a reckless quest for a cave full of rubies. Sudha grows up believing her father was a no-good schemer who brought ruin on his cousin, Anju's upper-class father. As they mature, Anju dreams of college, Sudha of children, but arranged marriages divide and thwart them. Anju adjusts to life in California with a man who lusts after Sudha; Sudha grapples with a mother-in-law who turns to the goddess Shasti to fill Sudha's barren womb rather than to a doctor for her sterile son. Ultimately, the tie between Anju and Sudha supersedes all other love, as each sustains painful loss to save the other. When Sudha learns the truth about her father and no longer needs to right his wrongs, she sees that all along her affection for Anju has not been dictated by necessity. Publishers Weekly
The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter (University of New Mexico Press, 1976)
This startlingly wise and beautiful bestseller has captured the world's imagination with its unique blend of American simplicity and spiritual profundity. This award-winning novel is the heartwarming story of a young boy in the 1930s who is orphaned and goes to live with his Cherokee Grandmother and Grandfather in an Appalachian Mountain cove. Here, Little Tree receives his education from the earth, nature and simple traditions of the mountain people and the Cherokee.
"If you don't know the past, then you will not have a future. If you don't know where your people have been, then you won't know where your people are going. ... from "The Education of Little Tree" www.petercoyote.com