Book Review: The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

Book Review: The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante 5 Stars ***** (Book 2 of The Neapolitan Novel Series)

An excellent source book for women’s studies and sociological patterns.

Intelligent. Insightful. Thought Provoking.
Elena Ferrante will be remembered as one of the greatest novelists of all time.

Reviewing a book without giving away too much is always a challenge. Set in the outskirts of Naples, Italy in the 1960s—a place beset by poverty, domestic violence, and male domination— Lenu, our narrator, and Lila, her best friend,  are now sixteen and seventeen years old. Their conflicted but dependent relationship continues—supportive/competitive, admiring/contemptuous.

The girls’ lives have taken a more divergent path. Lenu earns her college degree on a full scholarship, is greatly admired and respected, and has published her first book. She has a number of unsatisfactory but convenient relationships with men but continues to pine for Nino. Lenu is still secretive about her sexuality and still has not learned to share her true feelings. Lila is the mother of a small boy. Her marriage is in a shambles with her shrewish, destructive, self-centered, combative, blatantly sexual nature, i.e., sexual with everyone except her husband. With a ruined reputation, still, there are no shortage of men to pick up Lila’s pieces.

Lenu is once more forced to question Lila’s motives when Lila’s decisions put her at odds with Lenu’s deepest, but still carefully hidden, desires.

Some thought-provoking images:

Lina refers to her wedding ring, ” …what is this gold circle, this glittering zero I’ve stuck my finger …”

Lenu is complimented by Armando, Professor Galiani’s son and the rare center of attention when she attends a party with Lila at the professor’s  home, ” He was absolutely the first person to show me in a practical sense how comfortable it is to arrive in a strange, potentially hostile environment, and discover that you have been preceded by your reputation, that you don’t have to do anything to be accepted, that your name is known, that everyone knows about you, and it’s the others, the strangers, who must strive to win your favor and not you theirs.”

After the party, Armando shows a romantic interest in Lenu, but her confidence has eroded, “I was pleased because he obviously liked me, and I was polite, but not available. Lila’s words had indeed done damage. My clothes were wrong, my hair was wrong, my tone of voice was false, I was ignorant…”

After Lenu has broken Antonio’s heart, his sister, Ada, captures the truth as she tells Lenu, “You have no feelings, just look how you treated my brother.” I reminded her with an angry snap that it was her brother who had left me, and she replied, “Yes, anyone who believes that is lucky: there are people who leave and people who know how to be left.”

An amazing character study, we witness the push and pull of everyday life, some more obvious than others, as characters attempt to jockey into position to realize their desired end result, some successful, some always behind the eight ball. Why? Because there’s always another bigger, badder character without scruples or loyalty, who will stop at nothing to attain what they want, and to keep everyone else from getting theirs. One- upmanship always at work.

Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym for an author who wishes to remain invisible. As a matter of fact, writing is not her full-time job. She writes these wonderful books in her spare time—when she’s not at her day job. Is she even really a woman? No one knows. In any event, her Neapolitan Novels series contains four books: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name7, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child.  My Brilliant Friend has already aired on HBO. The Story of a New Name is now airing on HBO. Although I do not know the time frame, book three is scheduled to be made into mini-series to give us closure on Lenu and Lila’s story. Hopefully, the fourth book will be added to this list.

Ciao bella!

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2019, 2020

Book Review: Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Book Review: Educated : A Memoir by Tara Westover (2018) 5 Stars *****

Told from a heart broken by wretched memories, the story begins with seven year old Tara and takes us through adulthood. Born and raised in the remote mountains of Idaho in an extreme Mormon fundamentalist/survivalist family, Tara learns to hate herself as she and her family wait for the End of Days. Even after all of her successes, it takes her many years until she can accept herself as deserving of the opportunities and accomplishments afforded her. Carrying emotional and physical scars throughout her life, we see once again that when a child is abused by a loved one, they do not grow up to hate that person, they grown up to hate themselves. The truth is: We never truly escape our upbringing, no matter how far or how fast we run.

The family does not believe in birth certificates, hospitals, doctors, insurance, public education, western medicines, supermarkets, cleaning, organizing, or questioning patriarchal authority. The children are primarily home-schooled to a point, but the education stops before they are reading, writing and doing basic math problems at a level of literacy. Tara is seventeen years old until she attends a school full time. The siblings are divided in their desire to be educated. Three of them, including Tara, desire higher education and life’s work outside of their parents’ closed world. Tara’s father is more accepting of this decision for his sons, but believes Tara’s aspirations are the work of the devil and an abomination against the Mormon religion. Tara is called a whore by her father whenever she expresses a desire to attend school. He does not understand or accept her desire for more than marriage and motherhood.

Tara and her six siblings are expected to work in the family businesses. Living under the thumb and in the shadow of their father’s junkyard/scrap metal and gasoline siphoning businesses occupies their existence. The main problem with Tara’s father? He is bi-polar and unconcerned about the unsafe conditions under which he forces even his young children to work. He refuses to allow protective helmets, heavy gloves, proven-safe equipment, or methodical procedures. He forces them to work with flammables as he unconcernedly uses acetylene torches and other igniters nearby. He even forces ten year old Tara to ride on top of a pile of junk as he dumps it and Tara into a container, impaling her leg with a metal spike. As a result, his children suffer broken bones, burned bodies, brain damage, scarred and disfigured faces and body parts, and loss of limbs and fingers. Name calling destroys self-esteem. Threats of physical violence, not only from Tara’s father but also from one of her bi-polar further brain- damaged- from- accidents brothers, destroys aspirations.

Tara’s father’s stubborn decisions resulted in two serious car accidents while returning to Idaho from a family visit to Arizona. He decided twice to make the long journey by driving through the night. Tara’s father forced one of his sons to drive despite protestations of fatigue. Tara’s mother was seriously brain damaged during this first accident. Even after the tragic events of this first time decision, Tara’s father demanded the same departure from their second trip even though they would be driving into dangerous white-out blizzard conditions. Their car went off the road and the family received serious injuries once again. His reaction? Not his fault. Not a bad decision at all. Things happen.

The main problem with Tara’s mother? Tara’s mother is a celebrated mid-wife and herbalist/healer which serves to bring in most of the family income. Self-centered. No backbone. Untrustworthy. Manipulative. Although she sees the cruel exploitation her husband imposes on her children, she does little to stop him. To add insult to injury, she has a different story for each person she speaks with. She promises her children to back them up, then recants and plays a bait and switch and presents the opposite of the truth to extended family members. She backs up her husband, no matter what.

Somehow, Tara works her way to success by part-time jobs, independent study, self-teaching, attending classes and schools of higher education. Tara receives a lot of help from college professors—guidance, advice, scholarships, grants, and other financial aid, opportunities to study abroad and eventually is graduated from Cambridge in England as a brilliant scholar, and goes on to Harvard for a PH.D. Tara also has an exceptionally beautiful singing voice which she recognizes as a gift. You would think a highly acclaimed scholar with an angelic singing voice would be able to shed her past for a sense of pride. and happiness. But, no. On paper, Tara notes her accomplishments and talents, but this intellectual assessment never makes it to her heart.

Tara is a loner and does not make friends easily. She is unsophisticated in social graces. She wears black pants and a black blouse at a black tie dinner at Cambridge, having no idea how a woman should dress for such an occasion. For many years, she bathed once or twice a week, never using soap. She became a pariah for openly not washing her hands after using the restroom. She never cleaned up after herself, threw out rotted food, washed her dishes, wore anything other than men’s oversized jeans and shirts. She smelled bad. Her home smelled bad. Although Tara knew she did not fit in, she hardly asked for guidance and persisted in being herself, believing that it was her prerogative.

Despite the emotional pain and physical threats she endures during her visits, Tara continues to visit her family periodically, attending funerals and family holiday dinners. Her parents sometimes visit her at school but it always ends badly. She often gives up hope and vacillates between achieving her goals and giving in to her father’s demands of mediocrity and conformity within his extreme belief system. Eventually, Tara walks away and does not look back until she has achieved her highest honors. The price she pays is high. She gains herself but loses her family. In time, Tara reconnects with her two education-minded brothers and an aunt. Her parents have spread the rumor that Tara is demonically possessed and that they fear for their safety. Many of the relatives accept this, so she is permanently ostracized from that group.

This is an amazing story. Hard to imagine that someone in this situation can accomplish so much. It demonstrates how outside help from powerful, well-placed people can turn a person’s life around and put them on a path to success and accomplishment. The sad thing is that Tara tells her story as a robot, lacking emotional connection to her diary entries. It reads like a newspaper account, devoid of feelings. The words are there, but the pain is buried so deep, that Tara must disassociate herself from the events. Although Tara is aware of her amazing accomplishments, she is not happy inside. The book ends as it begins with facts, not feelings. What of Tara’s personal life? It would seem she does not have one.

What was the result of Tara’s education? She now knows that discovery and knowledge do not lead to brainwashing. It’s possible to read and learn, then analyze and dismiss. Exposure does not mean acceptance. This is something Tara wishes her father could accept.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2020

Book Review: Ghost by Jason Reynolds (Middle Grade)

Book Review: Ghost by Jason Reynolds (2016) (Middle Grade) 5 Stars *****

Finally! A kids book award finalist that truly deserves serious consideration. A book that excels in its story, messages, characterizations, relatable experiences, and … ta da…is well-written! Seventh-grader Castle Cranshaw, has nicknamed himself Ghost because of his now you see him, now you don’t ability to run away from danger. With a school file folder filled with examples of Ghost’s bad behavior, we have a perfect example of a kid gone wrong who has no idea how to fix himself. Two local, upstanding men serve as role models when they  literally and figuratively, save Ghost’s life.

Raised in poor, rundown Glass Manor by a loving, striving mother, lonely, troubled Ghost suffers from the memory of his now imprisoned drug-addicted father shooting at him and his terrified mother three years earlier.  Seeking refuge at the local convenience store owned by elderly, hard of hearing Mr. Charles, Ghost and his mother are hidden in the back storeroom while Mr. Charles calls the police. Ever since that horrific day, Ghost stops in daily to see Mr. Charles and to buy a small bag of his favorite sunflower seeds.

Ghost tricks the school track coach into allowing him to do a test run even though try-outs had passed. True to his name, Ghost impresses the coach with his run and, with his mother’s permission, is invited to join the track team. Mrs. Cranshaw is skeptical at first, but acquiesces after Coach Brody promises to kick Ghost off the team at the first sign of trouble in school or if his grades are negatively impacted. The daily structure and strict rules of conduct imposed on the team members turn Ghost’s life around.

This improvement in behavior comes slowly since Ghost does not know how to ignore a fight. The victim of constant teasing because of his ill-fitting clothing, cheap sneakers, bad haircut (done by his well-meaning, broke mom), lack of friends, cringe-worthy butt of jokes neighborhood, jailed attempted murderer of wife and child imprisoned druggie father, Ghost has to deal with more than he can bear. He loves his mother and knows she’s doing all she can. As a matter of fact, this hospital cafeteria lady is studying to become a nurse with online courses. This makes Ghost very proud.

Let’s get back to Ghost and his poor choices. Immediately after being allowed on the track team, Ghost manages to stay out of trouble for seventeen hours and two minutes. Ghost knows there’s a lot at stake but he can’t seem to help himself. Knowing Ghost’s background, the school principal cuts him some slack involving an altercation between Ghost and a school bully who pushes all of ghost’s buttons by reciting a list of Ghost’s most embarrassing family secrets and throwing a piece of greasy chicken at him during lunch. Coach Brody also decides to go easy on Ghost after hearing the details.

Ghost’s sneakers are old, ill-fitting and an improper choice for running track. Ghost’s shoelaces become untied during a race, causing him to trip and fall. He can barely contain his embarrassment and decides to cut down his high-tops with scissors to make it easier to run. Needless to say, this plan backfires since running is not easier and the insults and teasings come in by the truckload. In Ghost’s desperate, misguided way of thinking, now the only solution is to steal a pair of beautiful running sneakers. He manages to leave the store unaccosted, but no one is buying the story about the gift from his mother explanation.

When Coach Brody goes to the local sporting goods store to purchase new team uniforms, he is shocked to see a still photo shot from the store surveillance camera on a bulletin board showing Ghost escaping with his stolen merchandise. The coach confronts Ghost and takes him back to the store in shame and pays for the sneakers with his own credit card, a string of warnings, and much-needed lectures.

Ghost, who has not had too many people to count on in his life, begins to trust the adult males around him and to seek their counsel. He has friends, belongs to a team, and is admired by his classmates. His attitude and expectations have changed.

At the end, Ghost proudly runs a race in his new uniform and new sneakers, with his mother, aunt and cousin cheering him on from the bleachers. Who wins? No one knows. The author does not tell us. I believe the goal is to improve Ghost’s self-esteem to a point where it doesn’t matter whether or not he wins this time, because he can win in the future. Ghost is an all-around winner and we can only hope he will now follow that path through life.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at elainewrites@earthlink.net

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2020

Book Review: The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez (MG)

Book Review: The First Rule of Punk (2017) by Celia C. Perez (Middle Grade) 4 Stars ****

The first rule of punk? Always remember to be yourself. Seventh-grader Malu (Maria Luisa O’Neill-Morales) is suddenly moving from Gainesville, Florida to Chicago, Illinois. Her mom has snagged a two year position as a professor of English at an Illinois university. Leaving her much beloved cool dad, friends, and old room, Malu begrudgingly shows up at her new school and meets the requisite mean girl, Selena Ramirez, who belittles Malu’s lack of fluent Spanish, labels her a coconut (brown on the outside, white on the inside), and pokes fun at her punk rock attire. Malu has little use for her Mexican heritage as promoted by her highly educated, cultured Mexican mother, but strongly identifies with her American record store owner father as a punk rocker with a contrary attitude to the status quo.

On the first day of school, Malu unknowingly breaks the school’s dress code with her punk style of dress and is sent to the auditorium for a list of school rules, which she still manages to break in the next few weeks. Malu now has a group of friends, the requisite outcasts, who decide to form a band for the school talent show at the Fall Fiesta. When the school principal deems their punk rock too loud and inappropriate for a cultured school performance, Malu and the Co-Co’s organize an Alterna-Fiesta show outside on the school grounds where they, and other talent show rejects, will perform. Before long, the inside show is disrupted, and the crowd moves to the outside to see what the ruckus is all about. With her hair cut short, shaved on the sides and bangs dyed green, Malu is the new rebel leader.

The author includes many Mexican phrases and customs in the story. She utilizes graphic art with cartoon characters and different fonts to enhance the action and to deepen communication of Malu’s feelings and concerns. Both techniques add a lot to the book.

Malu’s mother accepts her as more punk rock and less senorita. Malu’s father surprises everyone by showing up without warning at Malu’s performance. Needless to say, he applauds her contrariness and is proud of how she is stepping into her true identity. The principal realizes the error of her ways. The students and their parents all agree with Malu’s stand. This unrealistic portrayal  of adult attitude change diminishes the reality of negative reactions from adults and classmates that any noncomformist is likely to encounter. This is not a responsible message to young readers.

I’m not sure about this ending with the happily ever after message. Should children be encouraged to break rules, not accept limits, create their own worlds with their own realities and rules? I’m not comfortable with this message that if you don’t like it, disregard it and interfere with and disrupt the main event. This message might be appropriate for older teenagers and adults, but I don’t like this message for children.

Malu gradually comes to respect and value the Mexican culture and no longer believes she must choose between the two sides of her heritage. This is a good thing because we know that people have more in common than their obvious differences would suggest.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2019

Book Review: Fish In A Tree (MG) by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Book Review: Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt  (2015) (MG) 3.5 Stars ***1/2

“Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.” This is the message of the book. Sixth-grader Ally Nickerson is dyslexic which means she has difficulty in learning to read which carries over to difficulty in writing words. Words may be seen as backwards or moving on the page. This book purports that Ally’s teachers, parents, and friends are not aware of her limitations. According to the story, Ally acts out or charms her way out of assignments to cover up her problem. Really? She made it to sixth grade and everyone in her life is none the wiser? At the end of the book, we discover that Ally’s seventeen year old hard-working, focused, responsible brother Travis suffers from the same problem and has hidden it also. It’s this unrealistic portrayal combined with other unrealistic events that warrants fewer stars for an otherwise charming story.

Ally receives a lot of snide remarks from the class mean girls. Characters are stereotypical. Rich bitches, weak geeks, poor paragons. Ally is sent to the principal’s office for sending a sympathy card to her teacher who is going on maternity leave. Ally sees the pretty yellow flowers on the card and believes it to be a happy card. Supposedly, she cannot read the words that express sympathy and is unaware that the card is inappropriate. Again, very unrealistic that a non-reader such as this can hide her problems, and who would be sent to the principal for sending the wrong kind of card?

Ally’s father is deployed in the army as a tank commander. As an army brat, Ally has been in seven schools in seven years. It is my understanding that families of service people generally congregate in the same areas near army bases, so this depiction of Ally being the only one in school in this situation may not be accurate. While this bit of back story  might serve to explain how Ally has not been diagnosed, it doesn’t explain how Ally’s mother misses the mark on her daughter’s and her son’s situations.

The new teacher, Mr. Daniels, suspects Ally’s problems with reading and writing and gently allows her to complete her assignments in different modalities which allow her to use her other itelligences. In time, he tutors her in reading and raises her self-esteem. This changes her behavior and Ally is voted class president. Ally makes two new friends, Keisha and Albert, who encourage and support her.

Ally now deduces that Travis shares her reading and writing problems and engages Mr. Daniels to tutor her brother.

A happy ending for all.

 

Author’s Note: Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence. This reading/writing disability is a visual perception problem.  Dyslexic students may spell the same word different ways on the same page, reverse letters in writing words, and be sensitive to the contrast between a white page and dark print. Headaches are common because of eye strain in forcing the eyes to focus. Special help is generally recommended. It’s also a good idea to use an index card under each line of print to reduce the number of words seen at one time and to help keep a straight line of vision.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2019

Book Review: Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina (Middle Grade)

Book Review: Merci Suarez Changes Gears (2019) by Meg Medina (Middle Grade)
3 Stars ***

So, here we have a 2019 Newberry Medal winner that is, at best, a mediocre story with mediocre plot advancement, little character development, poor transitions, choppy writing, lack of focus, too many characters and situations with way too much telling and not enough showing, and too many details in all the wrong places. I found myself reading and re-reading paragraphs many times. What was the author talking about? I didn’t figure out the point of the story until I was 3/4 through when she finally wrote a few sentences in a row that followed a thread that continued until the ending. Finally! This book did not win the medal for its literary excellence. This book came at the right time in history, when what you’re writing about, rather than how you write it, wins awards.

Lots of Spanish words and phrases make this book particularly relatable and more easily comprehended by English language learners.

We start out with our main character, Mercedes Suarez (Merci), a sixth-grader at the elite Florida Seaward Pines Academy located in what the author hints to be Palm Beach County. Merci’s family is working class Cuban American. Her family is tightly knit and always in each other’s business, while offering unwavering support and help without hesitation. This multi-generational family live on the same block in three casitas, one after the other. Marci lives with her hardworking, responsible parents and seventeen year old brother, Roli. Loving grandparents Abuela and Lolo are next, with the third house occupied by bakery owner, overworked Tia Ines and her twin five year old out-of-control sons. Merci and her brother are required to help with responsibilities in all three households—babysitting the twin terrors, accompanying Abuela and Lolo when they leave the house, working in Tia Ines’ bakery on weekends, and various other obligations.

Merci is in her second year of Seaward Pines Academy, an elite school frequented by wealthy, serious, well-behaved students. Merci ‘s family cannot pay tuition, so she must perform community service for the privilege. Merci’s father tells her, “Do a good job, so they know we’re serious people.” Sixth-graders are required to mentor new students by showing them the ropes. Merci is assigned as a Sunshine Buddy to the very white, very nice, very handsome, very popular Michael. Yuck He’s a boy! Not everyone shares these feelings. This pairing causes passive-aggressive revenge tactics from wealthy, assertive, in-your-face Edna, who torments everyone but now leaves extra room to undermine Merci every chance she gets.

Don’t get the idea that Merci is a victim or a shrinking violet. Not true. In all fairness, Merci’s quick temper and lack of critical thinking skills are the culprits that land her in the principal’s office. For example, Merci accidentally hits a fast ball into Michael’s mouth, sending him to the hospital. Then, oblivious to the consequences, Merci cuts Edna out of the plastered mummy costume which encases Edna’s head, not realizing she cut off Edna’s eyebrows in the process. Not intentionally, of course, but she’s generally unmindful of consequences.

Merci has a special bond with her grandparents. When Lolo shows signs of Alzheimer’s Disease, Merci is furious with her family for not telling her about her grandfather’s condition. This is where the story was headed! In this coming of age story, the title takes on a special significance as Merci is given a beautiful, grown-up bike while gaining perception and appreciation of her family, their flaws, strengths, and natural life cycles. Merci demonstrates this by making a family photo album for her grandfather, capturing family members in every day activities, hair uncombed, crumbs on their chins, in the middle of doing chores and caring for their family. Until now, not thought of as special, but Merci now understands the gift of love they all share.

Merci realizes, “But there are other things I wished for even harder than this bike, and I know I won’t get them, no matter what. Important things, like wishing that Lolo wasn’t sick and that everything could stay the same.

“Then again, staying the same means that Tia Ines might not have the chance to love Simon. It means Roli wouldn’t go to college and get even smarter. It means that I wouldn’t grow up at all. Staying the same could be just as sad as Lolo changing.

“I don’t know what is going to happen next year, no one does. But that’s OK.

“I can handle it, I decide. It’s just a harder gear, and I am ready. All I have to do is take a deep breath and ride.”

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2019

Book Review: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

Book Review: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (2016)  (MG) 4 Stars ****( Middle Grade Book)

We meet our main character, ten year-old Raymie Clark, on June 5, 1975, as she attempts to take baton twirling lessons from eccentric Ms. Ida Nee. Louisiana and Beverly, also in Raymie’s group, meet each other for the first time as they all decide to make baton twirling their talent so each one can enter and win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest. Events conspire to prevent any actual baton twirling from taking place. Unforgiving Ms. Nee looks at any delay as an excuse to refuse to teach the girls. No one learns baton twirling, but the trio establish a much-needed supportive friendship which quite literally saves lives.

Initial impressions are dispelled as the girls slowly reveal the truth about their situations. Sunny Raymie, living with her kind, responsible mother, is heartbroken since her insurance agency owner father ran away on June 3 with the town dental hygienist without saying good-bye. Fragile Louisiana, prone to fainting spells, is being raised by her eccentric grandmother since the supposed death of her flying trapeze act parents in a drowning accident. Feisty Beverly lives with an alcoholic, physically abusive mother since her father left Florida to become a cop in New York City. The girls are desperate for loving attention, answers, and support. They give it to each other as they also receive it from responsive adults in the community.

At first, competitors for the crown, the girls judge Louisiana to be the most needy and deserving of the $1,975 prize money and encourage her to use her beautiful singing voice as her talent. The Three Rancheros, as Louisiana names the group, support Raymie through the death of a beloved neighbor, save a pitiful howling dog from the dog shelter, and help Raymie retrieve her book about Florence Nightingale from the senior nursing home. Beverly, always the independent, unconventional voice of reason, picks locks to illegally enter premises to achieve what they set out to do.

In the end, Raymie literally saves Louisiana from certain death by drowning and is eternally grateful to her swimming instructor who taught her how to save Louisiana before he went away, and also remembered to say good-bye before he left. Raymie is now known as Raymie Nightingale. “It was the easiest thing in the world to save somebody. For the first time, she understood Florence Nightingale and her lantern and the bright and shining path. She understood why Edward Option, the librarian, had given her the book. For just a minute, she understood everything in the whole world … She was Ramie Nightingale, coming to the rescue.”

This is a simple, charming book, low key but increasingly powerful near the end. To be honest, I found it boring and uneventful in the beginning and almost stopped reading. The pace picked up and the events and characters became more complex. Reading this book is like spending a lazy day where nothing seems to happen but suddenly it does. I’m happy I continued with this sweet, emotionally satisfying story.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2019

Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (2017) 3 Stars  ***

I decided to read this book when I discovered that Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington of Scandal fame collaborated to produce this book as a mini-series on Cable TV in 2020. This book is true to Reese Witherspoon’s preoccupation with struggling mother-child relationships and women’s insecurities about how they are perceived by other women and members of the closed, competitive societies in which they live. This book reminded me so much of the dialogue in Big Little Lies, a Reese Witherspoon HBO production, that confusion ensued and I was half-way through the book before I realized that I was in fact reading a different book, although a not so very different concept. How could I confuse the two? That’s exactly my point.

The story is set in wealthy, planned, idealistically Utopian striving Shaker Heights, Ohio between 1997-1998. There were so many characters and intersecting, overlapping sub-plots that I was never sure if there was actually ever a main character. Everyone’s life, every decision, every action impacted so many others it was hard to determine who the biggest bad wolf was. Everyone had a secret. Everyone was betrayed. Everyone hid behind lies, evasions, denials. Everyone used someone to cover up or uncover things they had no business knowing or doing. Everyone made decisions and stuck their noses in other people’s business, oblivious and uncaring, creating a chain reaction that ruined people’s lives, destroyed relationships, magnified instability, encouraged chaos, and exemplified self-serving, uncommunicative, dishonest, traitorous behavior.

The significance of the title? Yes, there are little fires deliberately set at the beginning. Perhaps symbolic, little fires might also describe the characters lack of commitment for any period of time. Sparks fly initially, then die out. What doesn’t come easily is abandoned.

The ending? Three people leave town and the ones that remain continue along their merry way. Anything that was extreme and supposedly earth-shattering and heart-breaking was ignored, swept under the rug, so life went on as if nothing happened that shouldn’t have. Lose a baby? We’ll buy another one. Lose a daughter? Maybe I’ll look for her in the future when I have some time. My secret’s out? Let’s skip town and go hide somewhere else.

Nobody is accountable. No one pays the piper. Too busy running, hiding, lying, covering up, laying blame on someone else.

Is this supposed to be a learn-from- negative- events book? I don’t think so. Stereotypical characters, lacking depth and dimension. It’s way too shallow for my taste. I’m pretty sure I won’t be watching the mini-series. I resent people and characters who are careless with other people’s lives. That’s just me.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2019

 

Book Review: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

Book Review: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See (2017) 4 Stars ****

Beautifully written. Engaging. Often heartbreaking. A treasury of culture and traditions.

We first meet our main character Li-Yan in 1988 when she is six years old and follow her story until 2016. Li-Yan’s people are Akha, one of the fifty-five ethnic minorities of China, where the Han are in the majority. Li-Yan lives in Yunnan, the remote mountain village in southwest China, where snow-capped mountains, rice terraces, lakes and deep gorges surround one of the most perfect tea-growing regions of the world. As the tea industry suddenly booms, this most coveted tea category and prized product called Pu’er, impacts Li-Yan and the lives of her family, friends, and neighbors in ways never imagined.

Although set in modern day China, the characters we meet live without electricity, running water, modern bathrooms or kitchens, cars, TV, radio, computers. People are poor. Life is harsh. And harsher if you’re a female. Superstitions and strict cultural norms dictate actions and influence thinking. In such a world, if people fall on hard times, they stay there. People concentrate on their own empty stomachs and those of their hapless children. Behind the scenes, there are people who are slightly better off and who might create opportunities for the most hard- working, intelligent, and receptive. And in time, interrupted by bumps and bruises, detours and brick walls, unimaginable heartache and disappointment, the life of Li-Yan moves from abject poverty to education and experience to happiness and accomplishment as Li-Yan, now Tina of Los Angeles, California, takes her place in the modern world.

Competition for wealth from the tea industry brings treachery, betrayal, and mistrust to the once simple lives of the tea growers of Yunnan.

The ending of the book is way too abrupt, especially when almost every waking hour is filled with longing for this event for the two tea girls of this story.

This is no fairy tale. The government ruled the number of children a couple could raise. Educated people were forced into demeaning jobs. Men could be kidnapped off the street to serve as sailors or in the army at the government’s whim. Rights were trampled as the Chinese government evolved into today’s militaristic society.

Lisa See writes primarily about the Chinese culture. Although an American, the author has a Chinese ancestor and spends many hours in California’s Chinatown, absorbing culture, customs, traditions, mannerisms, and beliefs. A great amount of research has gone into this book, making this fictitious story read like a biography.

I admire the many immigrants who are able to assimilate into different culture, learn new ways, speak a new language, educate themselves and their children, and strive to improve their lives, especially when they often come from places so different from the land they now call home.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2019

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (2019) 5 Stars *****

Delia Owens, a wildlife scientist in Africa, has astounded the world with her first novel Where the Crawdads Sing. Set in the Outer Banks marshes of North Carolina in the 1950s and 1960s, we meet six year old Kya, who has been abandoned one by one as her mother and siblings escape a drunken, abusive, irresponsible, neglectful father and literally leave her to fend for herself, each deciding to heal their emotional turmoil and physical pain in some other place, leaving the baby of the family as someone else’s responsibility.

By the time she is ten years old, Kya’s father also just walks away without explanation, leaving Kya without money, resources or hope. An outcast living in isolation and shame, Kya draws on her inner strength to find ways to generate income so she can eat and buy gasoline for her little boat that is her lifeline to the rest of the world. The Marsh Girl, as she is derisively called, grows up to be a beautiful, self-educated woman, loved and abandoned by two very different men, leaving emotional scars never to be healed, and embroiling her in scandal that haunts her for a lifetime. The ending of this book might surprise you, but then again, maybe not. Any reader understanding Kya’s innate intelligence and inner turmoil would never expect anything different from her.

Being an industrious, resourceful child, Kya generates income by selling mussels and smoked fish which enables her to subsist mostly on grits and whatever root vegetables she can grow in her marshy garden. Tate, a kind neighbor boy, teaches Kya to read, brings her books, and quietly looks after her from afar as they grow into adulthood. Kya is also befriended by Jumpin’ and his wife Mabel, an African-American couple in the rural south, who unobtrusively help and protect the proud and independent Kya. Kya’s accomplishments surpass all expectations. Living in the modern world is not an option. Kya’s beloved marsh offers a place of comfort and safety and a pathway to critical acclaim.

This book is filled with beautiful sensory images, metaphors, and similes.
Some examples:
*A floating mat of duckweed colored the water as green as the leafy ceiling, creating an emerald tunnel.
*Suddenly the ocean’s face—gray, stern, pulsing—frowned at her.
*Egrets took flight, a line of white flags against the mounting gray clouds.
*…Kya eased alone through the sea toward the village, the sky in a frumpy sweater of gray clouds.
*As evening fell, she took her blanket and slept in the marsh, close to a gully full of moon and mussels, and had two tow bags filled by dawn. Gas money.

Where do the crawdads sing? “Just means far in the bush where critters are wild, still behaving like critters.” The author emphasizes the differences between marsh and swamp. Its symbolism extends to Kia’s life journey. Keep this in mind while you enjoy the book.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2019

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