Book Review: Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell

Book Review: Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell (2020) (Psychological Thriller) 4 Stars ****

Somewhere in England, seventeen-year-old Saffyre Maddox is a very troubled girl haunted by a childhood sexual trauma, orphaned, but lovingly raised by her uncle and a grandfather who has recently passed away. Saffyre stands at the middle of this story—the catalyst for most of the action and the eyes for what is mostly hidden from view. The action comes to a head on Valentine’s night when all the characters are pulled into a complex scenario that unknowingly involves all the players in this small community. Saffyre has suddenly disappeared. There is a sexual predator on the loose. Is Saffyre a victim or just a self-centered, immature teenager indifferent to the suffering she causes? What is the significance of the ever-present, always watching fox with its glowing night eyes and hesitant friendships?

Focus is on thirty-three-year old Owen Pick, a science teacher who has recently been suspended from his job for reported sexual misconduct with female students. Categorically denying all charges, Owen lacks self-awareness as to his psychological profile and how his fractured past has carried over into his present actions, of which he has little memory, especially after a few drinks for which his body has no tolerance. Owen unwisely aligns himself for a very short time with an incel group, i.e., involuntary celibate men who harbor thoughts of extreme hatred and violence against women. Innocent or pervert? At the very least, Owen is creepy and inappropriate, but …?

Across the street from Owen live the Four family: child psychologist Roan, his mostly stay at home wife Cate, their snippy teenage daughter Georgia, and their angelic son Josh. This family is at odds with one another. Mistrust, lying, covering up, a lack of communication are the norms. Something is definitely wrong.  Cate begins to suspect that her husband and son might be the sexual predators roaming the dark streets to molest unsuspecting women and girls. Hmmm.

The attention of the police is focused on the block where Owen and the Four family live. Investigations prove to be fruitful as each interview reveals another layer of complex relationships. Oh, what a tangled web we weave …. Is the dark shadow figure following me, or am I imagining things? Am I guilty of the accusations or am I being railroaded into a confession? Are my recollections reliable or am I blocking unpleasant facts? Is that a shadow or is someone actually there? Should I report this or keep it to myself?

The story is told from alternating viewpoints. Saffyre in the first person; Owen and Cate in the third person. The story is tightly told with all plot points neatly threaded and resolved. A thoroughly enjoyable story that sometimes seems a little slow. Surprisingly, the story lacks suspense. The characters are unlikable because they cannot be trusted in their assessments of the situation. Like real people, the characters are flawed and running a game to protect their little worlds.

Significance of title? Saffyre tells us, “It was like I was Superman or something, with my two different personas. By day I was Saffyre Maddox, aloof but popular, mild-mannered A-grade student. By night i was a kind of nocturnal animal, like the human equivalent of a fox. My superpower was invisibility. There in the playground at school, or in the sixth-form common room, all eyes were on me, but at night I did not exist. I was the Invisible Girl. Invisibility was my favorite state of existence.”

Can we ever completely recover from character defamation? Are we to be judged by the actions of our family members? Do we have a moral obligation to reveal what we know even if it might implicate those we love? Should serving our own needs come first? Are we ever justified in exacting revenge on those who have hurt us? Can we always tell the saviors from the predators? So many questions, so few answers.

 

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 2021

 

Book Review: Mary Underwater by Shannon Doleski

Book Review: Mary Underwater by Shannon Doleski (2020) (Middle Grade) (Teen) 4 Stars ****

Thirteen-year-old eighth grader Mary Murphy has a problem. Her father leaves her scarred and black-and-blue whenever he decides he doesn’t like what she’s doing. Her mother doesn’t stand up to him to protect her daughter or herself. Although he’s often imprisoned for his abusive behavior, whenever he returns, Mary lives in fear for her well-being and most often sleeps at a neighbor’s house. She doesn’t want to admit to her friends, teachers or social worker what’s going on at home. She fears they will perceive her as a loser—that somehow, it’s her fault that her father physically abuses her. To find strength to get through the hard times, Mary carries a photo of Joan of Arc, the young girl who led the French army in a victory against the British, as inspiration. She looks to Joan and repeats her affirmation, “I am not afraid. I am not afraid. I am not afraid.”

With help and encouragement from her Aunt Betty, love interest Kip, and best friend Lydia, Mary is determined to build a submersible craft to journey the seven miles across Chesapeake Bay. A submarine scientist agrees to guide her, hands her the book he’s written on the subject, and tells her to get to it. With the money Mary makes at her summer job at the public library, she’s able to purchase the parts and material necessary to complete her project.

With her new found success, Mary feels her inner strength and remembering Joan of Arc, stands up to her father, leaves home with her mother’s blessing to live with her loving Aunt Betty and her wife, and reports the abuse to the social worker and the authorities.

Mary is bolstered by the love and support of those around her. Instead of contempt, they feel admiration for Mary’s desire to change her abusive situation and do everything they can to help her experience loving surroundings.

This book makes the point without being preachy or melodramatic. The author encourages Mary and other abused children to find an adult they can trust, and allow them to help improve the situation or, if need be, remove them from the destructive home environment.

Need help? Call Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-422-4453 (1-800-4-A-Child)

Interested in building an immersible craft? Remember, lack of oxygen has serious consequences. Don’t go it alone. Be safe with help from professional organizations: Seaperch.org, Psubs.org, facebook.com/piscessub. Play video games Subnautica and Subnautica: Below Zero. Read Manned Submersibles by R. Frank Busby.

 

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: Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary Trump

Book Review: Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary Trump (2020) (Nonfiction) 4 Stars ****

Is turning into your parents one of your greatest fears? That’s exactly what happens to Donald Trump, President of the United States. This diatribe by the president’s niece should more correctly have a photo of her grandfather Fred Trump Sr. and all of his children on the cover—except the author’s father. Fred Jr., the hapless victim of his father’s and younger brother Donald’s merciless criticism and public insults. Fred wanted his kids to be killers, i.e. always the winner in any situation by any means necessary. Anyone who is not a winner, is a loser. Period. The dirtier the deal and the conduct, the louder and bigger the lies, the more people stepped on, the more praise is deserved. If you can’t use them to attain your goals and better your deal, get rid of them—just useless trash not worthy of your time. Ill-fated Fred Jr. lacked the killer instinct—out he went with his younger brother Donald, an apt and eager student for his father’s warped ideals, ready to take his coveted place in the Trump Empire. Look out New York City!

Fred Sr. was a force to be reckoned with. His sons longed for his approval. With an unreasonably condemnatory and demanding father and an aloof, sickly, uninvolved mother, the five Trump siblings struggled for approval, attention, and love. Taught to be hypercrtical of one another, suppress feelings and vulnerabilities, and always put themselves before all others, this dysfunctional family became a war zone at the family and holiday dinner table. Drowning? Too bad for you. You should have learned to swim. Your baby is critically ill and near death? So, what do you want me to do about that? Your brother lies dying in his hospital bed at 42 years old from a heart attack brought on by years of alcoholism and depression? What’s that got to do with me? I’m going to the movies.

The Trump family is portrayed as greedy, spiteful, cold, merciless, deceitful manipulating lawbreakers by Mary Trump who holds a MS in Literature and a PhD in Clinical Psychology. She labels her grandfather Fred Sr. and her uncle Donald as two peas in a pod. She attributes the following to Donald Trump: anti-social personality disorder, dependent personality, narcissism, learning disabled, and socopathy to name a few, which is all exacerbated by his poor diet, lack of exercise and sleep, and his protected environment (body guards, Oval Office, military school, private schools, colleges where his parents donated millions of dollars) whereby people outside of his coterie cannot get near him. Mary Trump concludes, “We can’t evaluate his day-to-day functioning because he is, in the West Wing, essentially institutionalized. Donald has been institutionalized for most of his adult life, so there is no way to know how he would thrive, or even survive, on his own in the real world.”

Wow! Wow! and Wow!

It’s obvious that Mary Trump has an ax to grind. If what she says is true, the Trump family intentionally went out of their way to cheat her and her brother out of the fortunes due them. Fred Sr. had only contempt for his oldest son Fred Jr., loathed his weak, purposeless wife, hated their two children for blatant disrespect such as not wearing a tie or or in Mary’s case, wearing a baggy sweater to the dinner table. Fred Jr. is dead. He was a useless, weak disappointment. He’s not around to receive his share of the family fortune. Why should his lazy widow and equally lazy kids get the money that would have been his? He’s not here, but we are. (BTW, the kids aren’t at all lazy and their mother was a stay at home mom, as was the custom of the day.)

Mary Trump is now exacting revenge on the whole clan by using her uncle Donald as a pawn in her scheme to topple the Trump family right off their pedestals. By now you’ve heard of the major tax fraud investigation being brought against Donald Trump? Guess who supplied the New York Times with boxes and boxes of family financial statements, records and receipts?  It seems Mary inherited the family thirst for revenge, “When I finally realized that my grandfather didn’t care what I accomplished or contributed and that my own unrealistic expectations were paralyzing me, I still felt that only a grand gesture would set it right. It wasn’t enough for me to volunteer at an organization helping Syrian refugees; I had to take Donald down.”

Regardless of your politics and whether you believe Donald Trump is a great president or a total disaster, we can’t ignore that this books airs dirty Trump family laundry. Who knows what is true, false or that vast gray area in between? As I have said many times: When a parent abuses a child physically, mentally or emotionally, the child does not grow up to hate the parent; they grow up to hate themselves.

 

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: Luster by Raven Leilani

Book Review: Luster by Raven Leilani (2020) (Psychological Fiction)  3 Stars ***

We meet messed up, careless Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York resident Edie. All of Edie’s one-night-stands end in disaster. “I have not had much success with men. This is not a statement of self-pity. This is just a statement of the facts. Here’s a fact: I have great breasts, which have warped my spine. More facts: My salary is very low. I have trouble making friends, and men lose interest in me when I talk. It always goes well initially, but then I talk too explicitly about my ovarian torsion or my rent.”

Twenty-something Edie barely works at her job as managing editorial coordinator for a publishing company’s children’s imprint. Known as the office slut, Edie never practices impulse control, but her need to be validated, seen, and held in high esteem by someone, anyone actually, drives her conduct right into the trash bin. Her newest affair with a boring co-worker Eric leads Edie into another dimension. Having gone too far with her ladies’ room, men’s room, under the desk, in the elevator office romps, HR has had enough sexual harrassment complaints against Edie and witness complaints against her debauchery, and fires her forthwith.

Edie uses her blackness as an excuse for her failures and disappointments. When a new, very attractive, appropriately dressed also black employee usurps Edie’s position, Edie resents her for her willingness to work hard and to conduct herself with dignity. “You think because you slack and express no impulse control that you’re like black power. Sticking it to the white man or whatever.” Edie starts to wonder if she’s actually the one to blame for her problems.

Edie looks to Eric for consolation. Twenty-three years Edie’s senior, she is surprised this white man finds anything appealing in her. Aloof and elusive, married, living in suburban New Jersey with his wife and adopted black daughter, Eric is anything but available. Fate intervenes as Edie becomes friends with Eric’s wife who then invites the out of work, out of food, out of luck Edie to live in their house. Edie witnesses the dysfunction of the family and the coldness of the marriage. In time, she ignites an affair with Eric, an interdependent friendship with Eric’s wife, and a mentorship for being black for Eric’s young daughter.

When Edie’s unprotected sexual activity results in an expected situation, it is Eric’s wife who saves Edie during a very rough time. The bond between the women is strengthened. It is Edie who manages to have a relationship with Eric, his wife, and his daughter although these three cannot seem to have a loving relationship with one another within the nuclear family.

The story suddenly stops, leaving the reader wondering as to what will happen next. Will the saga continue in a sequel? Or, will readers be left without a resolution while only imagining which path Edie’s future will take?

Often hard to read, the author uses stream of consciousness without quotation marks to attribute dialogue. Insight into the main character’s thoughts and motives demonstrates the close relationship between the author and this character she has created. The author understands Edie very well and actions are always true to Edie’s nature.

I need to say the writing is on a higher level than the plot. The story line is improbable. One of my college professors used to say, “If the rocks in your head fit the holes in someone else’s, that’s all you need.” Maybe that’s what’s happening here?

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 War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Book Review: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (2015) (Middle Grade) (Historical Fiction/Fiction) 5 Stars *****

Set in the WWII era in London, England and its surroundings, siblings Ada and Jamie are taken from their London hovel into the English countryside as a precaution against the anticipated blitz by Hitler’s forces. Both children step into a world they never knew existed: clean sheets, warm beds, full bellies, daily bathing, laundered clothing, nonexistent vermin, kind and loving words, absence of corporal punishment, and a feeling of community and acceptance. Their abusive, neglectful mother is happy to be rid of her cheldren—especially Ada, afflicted with an untreated, infected club foot, who cannot walk without agonizing pain and who is not allowed out of the house because her mother is ashamed of her disgusting daughter. Physical deformities are punishment for bad deeds, and Ada’s mother fears people will look upon her with disdain.

Six-year-old Jamie is allowed to attend school, but not Ada. Jaime is learning to read and write, but Ada, who is believed to be nine years old, has never been taught. Their mother is sure of Jamie’s age, but doesn’t know and doesn’t care to remember Ada’s date of birth. Ada is smacked constantly, especially if she tries to walk or tries to engage in conversation. Ada is often punished by being imprisoned in the too-small under-sink cabinet overnight, muscles aching, roaches crawling over her body and in her ears. The children’s evacuee train into safety gives Ada an opportunity to escape from the horror that is her life. With her beloved little brother in tow, the children are taken in by the kind and loving Miss Smith.

The children thrive in their new environment. In a few short months, they gain weight, grow in stature, attend to their education, have friends, learn to take responsibility within the household and with needy neighbors, increase their self-esteem, learn to give and accept affection and love. A more mature Ada learns to walk on crutches, ride a horse, help with the war effort, identify a spy, and stick up for herself. Jamie is a happy kid who takes comfort from those around him and no longer wets the bed.

When the children’s mother suddenly appears to take them back to London, Ada and Jamie do not want to go, but are forced, kicking and screaming. Ada finds their birth certificates and now knows she is eleven years old. Miss Smith goes after them, narrowly avoiding tragedy for all involved, except for one person whose number comes up. Karma can be a b-tch!

I loved this book. The characters are flawed, but so many of them do the right thing when called upon to help. It’s not easy being any one of them, but they persevere and through it all, live with love in their hearts. Ada’s lesson learned is that she is not a monster because of her club foot. She can be helped and will be. As long as the evil Mam cannot interfere, her kids will live happily ever after.

 

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 Girl From Widow Hills by Megan Miranda

Book Review: The Girl From Widow Hills by Megan Miranda (Psychological Thriller) (2020) 3 Stars ***

Six-year-old sleepwalker Arden Maynard is thankfully rescued from an underground storm drain three days after being swept away during a violent rain storm. Well, anyway, that’s how the story goes. Arden becomes the unrelenting focus of national attention leading to a name change and a move to a new town for the now adult girl from Widow Hills. At twenty-six-years old, Arden is now known as Olivia and goes to great lengths to hide her celebrity. Unfortunately for Olivia, a media circus ensues at the twentieth anniversary of Olivia’s ordeal and rescue. Her cover is blown. Strange things happen: People from the past appear and disappear, bodies are discovered. Who is responsible? Could it be the nightmare-plagued Olivia herself?
Olivia is not a reliable narrator. Incomplete memories and facts often conflict. Her troubled sleep and paranoia suggests psychological stresses not associated with the experience. Lacking deep familial and social relationships, Olivia does not know whom to trust. A newly found box of memorabilia from Olivia’s mother triggers a chain of events, flashbacks, and possible clues. Someone in Olivia’s inner circle is a predator.
Olivia is screwed up. Her memories are disjointed. She can’t distinguish reality from her night terrors. Her time frame is off. Olivia cannot remember much of what was told to her to be the truth of her experience. Why can’t she fill in the blanks?
The author does not give enough clues to support the ending. Specific important events and people are presented in the same tone of voice as a weather report. This story needs more suspense, more excitement. The premise is more exciting than the execution. Instead of being sympathetic to Olivia during her travails, I found myself losing patience. Maybe this is the result of poor editing, rather than poor writing?
The first third of the book was s-l-o-w and rambling. It got better, but that’s not saying much. I kept reading because I wanted to know the big secret of the story so I decided not to skip to the last three chapters as I usually do when I’m bored and can’t  wait to get to the end.
But, still, it’s a popular book. Who knows? You might like it, especially if you like being inside a confused person’s head.

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: Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

Book Review: Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner (2019) (Fiction)
3 Stars ***

This is one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read and/or reviewed. Maybe it’s a generational thing, or a life-style choice thing, but this is one depressing book. No one is happy for more than five minutes. We follow this multi-generational saga from the 1950s to 2022. The story is told in alternating chapters from the points of view of sisters Jo and Bethie, who should act like two nice Jewish girls in the Detroit of their era. Instead, we’ve got two miserable, entitled brats, who rebel against everything and everyone, trying to find personal fulfillment. Uhmm, good luck with that one. Chaos theory at work here.

The girls battle with their mother, each other, and their roles in society. Being a traditional wife and mother is a sentence into oblivion and life imprisonment. They each experiment with a number of crazy, self-destructive behaviors they can find: same sex relationships, hallucinogenic drugs, sexual promiscuity, lack of commitment to education and steady employment, backpacking around the world, bartering sexual favors for food and money, leaning on other people to supply their basic necessities, living in all female communes, hanging with the worst possible in-your-face-loser-men, becoming complicit victims of sexual exploitation, making relationship choices that invite friction for a lifetime, yada, yada, yada.

Needless to say, nothing works in their favor until near the very end when things look rosy., however short-lived. By the way, you’d be surprised at how easy it is to amass a fortune when allowed to follow one’s dream. Hmmm.

The book is boring. You can’t imagine how many recipes and dinner menus we are subjected to. Oh, and let’s not forget the explicit sex scenes between Jo and her lovers. Very surprising since this is not a book of erotica or a how-to book on sexual arousal for women. Or is it?  Who cares? At about 18% into my Kindle edition, I already looked to see how much of the book was left to read. That’s how tedious this experience was for me.

The author’s message? Marriage and children can never bring fulfillment. Significance of title? Mrs. Everything = Misses Everything. This means the traditional roles of wife and mother insure that women will miss out on personal fulfillment, will be unable to travel freely, will be relegated to serving food and drink to their husbands and children, and must speak and act as expected rather than how they truly feel. There’s no room for discussion here: This choice can only bring misery. If the role of homemaker appeals to you, then you are brainwashed by societal and familial expectations. You’re not happy. You only think you are.

So depressing. In a million years, I would not want to be any of these women or call one of them a friend. They’re miserable, calculating, and strategic. No spontaneity here. They’re only kind if you agree to do it their way. If you embrace the idea of life as a merry-go-round, adding and discarding people until you find the one that will solve all your problems and make you happy to be you, then you’ll like this book.

 

 

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 Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Book Review: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (2020) (Fiction) (YA) (Adult)

4 Stars****

The story begins in 1968 in the sleepy, insignificant town of Mallard, Louisiana. This town is not even noted on a map, so what makes this town unique? Just about all of the residents are mixed race white or light-skinned blacks. Most could pass for white by appearance, but don’t want to, that is until one attractive woman serves as a successful example that is followed by one of our main characters. We meet the beautifully striking, lustrous black-haired, violet-eyed, identical Vignes twins: Stella and Desiree who, at sixteen years old, decide to run off together to New Orleans in search of opportunities that are nonexistent in their hometown.

As much as these two women look the same, they do not think the same. Stella, the adventurous, confident one, eventually leaves behind her much shyer, less secure sister. Stella realizes an opportunity, grabs on to it, and lives her life far away as a white woman as if she never was Stella Vignes from Mallard, LA. Desiree eventually finds her way back to Mallard, now embracing the destiny she tried so hard to avoid.

The issue of race is constant. The lighter the skin, the more easily accepted. Barriers seem temporary. Opportunities abound. Hard work and diligence always pay off. The sisters marry men who are polar opposites of each other. One marriage thrives with the lies. The other ends badly with the truth, but destiny steps in to turn the tide. Both sisters have ambitious, self-motivated daughters who look nothing alike. Very often, the truth is an obstacle to realization of goals, so it must be avoided at all costs. If you thought the truth of any situation would devastate someone you loved, would you choose to reveal or hide it at all costs?

The ending was abrupt, like a door being slammed in my face. I wanted more. Transitions were often lacking whereby we were suddenly transported. I often found myself confused as to which character was actually speaking. The story is told in alternating chapter updates about each character highlighting how their paths diverge from what is shared to the veiling and denial of their roots.

Significance of the title? Anything the characters don’t want to admit about their families is erased from memory and from everyday life. Lie when necessary to protect the illusion’ so the dots of the truth cannot be connected.

This book is beautifully written with rich vocabulary and clearly defined characters. This book is an excellent example of literature, rather than the prevailing commercial successes of psychological manipulations. Optioned by HBO, we can expect a mini-series soon. I can’t wait!

 

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: Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by M & M Moulite

Book Review: Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika and Maritza Moulite (Teen, YA Fiction) (2019) 3 Stars ***

Seventeen-year-old sassy, sarcastic, rebellious Alaine Beauparlant manages to get herself suspended in senior year of her Miami, Florida high school for one prank too many. Her ever-patient psychologist father saves the day by cutting a deal with the school to have Alaine do a cultural/ political study for school credit in Haiti, the family homeland. Alaine brings her snippy, immature self to the home of her wealthy Aunt Estelle, Haiti’s Minister of Tourism and lauded founder of Patron Pal, an organization that pairs needy children face-to-face with their benefactors.
Alaine’s estranged too-busy-for-family-life mother, popular Washington DC based political TV show host also finds herself in her native Haiti, living with her twin sister Estelle after being fired from her job for an unprecedented on-air meltdown. This coincidence eventually serves to heal the relationship between mother and daughter.
Alaine’s father decides to join his daughter and ex-wife in Haiti, but why? His arrival on the scene brings nothing to the plot. As with most characters in this story, they serve no purpose.
Alaine learns about the people and culture of Haiti: strong family ties, family secrets, family curses, rivalries, guilt, poverty, voudou, political corruption, embezzlement, hidden love affairs, physical attractions, manipulations, sexual abuse, etc. — everything including the kitchen sink. What all of this has to do with the point of the story is not always clear. The plot rambles, starts but doesn’t continue, presents a disconnect of seemingly random information which hardly brings the reader to a cohesive resolution. For example, Alaine thinks a young man is cute, ignores him for many chapters, then suddenly rests her head on his chest, kisses him, but this action does not lead to anything. No follow-through.
In the end, Alaine looks at her Aunt Estelle in a new light, understands her mother’s neurological decline, and sees how her selfish motives have impacted the lives of others.
The story is told in epistolary format: text messages, letters, journal entries, newspaper accounts. The tone of voice is too too cute, light and breezy with way too many strike-throughs, parenthetical asides, italics, yada, yada, yada. I found these techniques exhausting and could not emotionally relate or connect with any of the characters. Alaine, in particular, is shallow, self-centered and self-serving and I had little patience for her or her situation. Definitely modeled on the glib, over-simplistic Valley Girl stereotype. Unfortunately, this is another one of those books that’s lauded for its subject matter and setting rather than its literary merit.
If you’re looking for a book set in Haiti featuring a spoiled teenage girl and don’t want any insight into real life in the poorest country of the Western Hemisphere, then you’ll like this book. If you want substance, look elsewhere.

 

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 Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

Book Review: The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden (Middle Grade) (2018) 4 Stars ****

Intelligent, responsible, loving seventh grader Zoe patiently takes on responsibilities most adults would find overwhelming. Living in a trailer owned by her mother’s current boyfriend Lenny in Peru, Vermont, Zoe must take on the care of her much younger two half-brothers and half-sister after school. Zoe rushes from school to pick up the baby from her mother’s place of work at the pizzeria, then races to the school bus stop with the baby boy in her arms to meet the other two little ones. Sometimes her mother comes home at dinner time, sometimes not until 11:00pm.
It’s not that Lenny is physically abusive, but he constantly berates and insults Zoe’s mother and forces all of them to live in fear lest they disrupt his orderly household. Everything that goes wrong in Lenny’s life is Zoe’s mother’s fault. Lenny is parsimonious to a fault: (1)Checks the mileage on the car for unnecessary trips and quickly calculates the cost of the gasoline. (2) Small yogurts break the budget since it’s an individual serving whereas ground beef can be stretched.
The family depends on food stamps since the low-paying jobs of the adults barely cover the rent and utility bills. Zoe is distressed over her mother’s descent into depression and low self-esteem. The children are neglected: poorly fed, unbathed, hair uncombed, clothing unwashed.
When Zoe joins the debate club at school, her eyes are opened to the severity of their lives under Lenny’s roof. Zoe encourages and helps her mother to take a dramatic stand against this situation and to take control,  giving up the victim mentality.
What are the advantages of being an octopus?
1. Having eight arms to be able to hold and comfort the little ones who crave Zoe’s attention while cooking them dinner and cleaning up their messes all at the same time, therefore protecting them from Lenny’s wrath.
2. Camouflaging to become invisible when in danger or afraid.
3. Shooting black ink at enemies.
4. Exercising their superior intelligence when the above mentioned assets are not enough.
5. Clear, focused vision.
This book reminds us that many children live in neglect and in dire circumstances. Other children will often torment these hapless victims, not understanding the impact of their torments or their inability to change their situations. This book would be an excellent source for teaching empathy, discouraging teasing and bullying, and warning against judgmental ostracism especially when the truth of another person’s life is unknown.
This book is very good at making its points but many plot threads are unrealistically disposed of and tied in neat little bows for a happy ending. It’s naive to believe the problems end when the book does.

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

 

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