Tag Archives: Love

BOY ERASED: a memoir of identity, faith, and family

[T]he American Psychiatric Association [in 1973] had removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [as a mental disorder] . . .

[Frank] Worthen disagreed, and started Love in Action [after hearing the voice of God] . . . “It was God’s answer to the APA saying homosexuality was normal. And God is saying, ‘not really.’”

I have now lived geographically in the heart of the Bible Belt for thirty-three years. I was permanently transplanted here quite by accident from northern New York State. The very first question I was asked by the very first person I met was, “Are you saved?” It was news to me that I was in danger and my immediate reply was – From What?

Now that I have been here over a quarter of a century, I still don’t understand how my upbringing as a member of a large Roman Catholic community who believes in the Holy Trinity -Father, Son and Holy Spirit should be considered a non-Christian cult. How does it differ so radically from my evangelical neighbors? My only hope, I’ve been told, is to accept Jesus as my personal Savior. Since I thought I have all along, I still can’t figure out what I am doing wrong.

My book club selected Boy Erased for last month’s discussion. As I read the book and smashed into the inner struggles of Garrard Conley’s life, I felt like I was dropped from 35,000 feet into Dante’s inferno.

Garrard was raised, much like myself, in a religious vacuum. There is comfort in a community that sees themselves as the one true religion. Everyone knows the rules and the dangers of violating them. Rule by fear. For me, there was weekly confession where I could profess my dastardly sins. For Garrard, there was no one to  help him understand his unsettling nature. There was no one to help him see deep into his troubled soul to see that a loving God accepts you just as you are; not as you are judged by men.

Garrard knew at an early age he was a miss-matched fork in the silverware drawer. Different, somehow. He knew his parents loved him dearly and he knew that what ever made him different inside, if exposed, would threaten his relationship with them and, more importantly, his salvation. As he matured, he realized that he preferred boys to girls and his internal conflicts accelerated; he had a name now for his disquiet – gay.

At age 19, Garrard broke tradition within his family and left for a secular education at a “liberal” college. Although his parents were concerned that his relationship with God would be affected by exposure to secular education, they paid his tuition.

At this time, his father, a successful businessman in his work life, decided that it was time for him to become a fundamentalist preacher and like, Jesus, become a fisher of men. While Garrard struggled with his identity, his father was asked by the elders responsible for approving his ordination if he would advocate for intolerance of the LGBTQ community; sinners living this lifestyle by choice – a giving in to the Devil.

Garrard was raped by a male college classmate; someone he considered a friend. For whatever evil purpose, this “friend” revealed to Garrard’s mother that her son was gay. This information began a cataclysm within his family and within himself.

After consulting their church pastor, Garrard’s parents were convinced to send him to a strict gay conversion therapy group known as Love in Action. Nip things in the bud, so to speak. As I read the horrors that occurred in the name of God by the counselors in this reclusive organization, I became furious and physically sick forcing me to put the book down now and then and step outside for a breath of fresh air.

Garrard hasn’t lost his parents’ love but their relationship has forever been altered by the conflicts between their vision of God and sexuality. As he feared, exposure of his secret affected his parents within their religious community. His father became tainted for having a gay son. Along the way, he lost God’s voice in his life. He affirms it may be irretrievable.

As the step-mother to a gay man and enjoying friendships with several members of the LGBTQ community, I needed this book. Please be patient as you read Garrard’s story. Within the chapters, his story flips erratically from past, present and future showing his inner struggle. Anyone wanting a glimpse of what it is like, at the individual level, to feel different.  To live in the shadows. Always fearful of losing your job or even your life because society disapproves of you and who you choose to love. Read this book.

As I write this today, our national leaders are pushing hard to remove safe-guards to eliminate discrimination and actually condoning outright violence against the LGBTQ community. My heart breaks at the cruelty done in the name of religion.

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NIGHT OF MIRACLES: Arthur Truluv #2

Thank you, Netgalley for the copy of The Story of Arthur Truluv and thank you to my local library for a copy of Night of Miracles.

Lucille Howard, the baking matriarch of idyllic Mason, Missouri, insists that the success of any baking endeavor requires assembling the ingredients in advance. Following Lucille’s lead, I recommend reading Elizabeth Berg’s The Story of Arthur Truluv to fully enjoy Night of Miracles. The Story of Arthur Truluv is the cake’s basic layer and Night of Miracles is the frosting. If you liked watching the Andy Griffith Show with Andy, Opie and Aunt Bea, you will like both books.

The Story of Arthur Truluv is a tender story of love, loss, friendship, and acceptance. Arthur Moses, an elderly widower, mourns the loss of his wife, Nola and spends each day eating lunch at her grave-site. Tucked away from view in the same graveyard sits a young troubled teen, Maddy, spending her lonely lunch hours observing Arthur and his one-sided conversations with Nola. In time, they meet and form an enduring friendship. Lucille Howard, Arthur’s crotchety yet kind-hearted next door neighbor and friend, suffers the loss of her childhood true love, Frank, shortly after they are reunited in old age. Arthur’s kind heart draws the sorrowful and depressed Lucille into the circle of love he shares with Maddy. The trio becomes an unconventional family. Arthur, with one leg in the afterlife and the other seeded to the living world is the heart and soul of the book. Maddy, not without flaws, finds Arthur to be more than a surrogate grandfather. When she stumbles, she finds him to be a loyal and accepting friend. She calls him Truluv. Lucille finds a new purpose in life guided by Arthur and his eternal optimism and kindness. The ending is as it should be; Arthur gracefully slips into the next world and joins his beloved Nola.

Night of Miracles feels like a trip back to the old neighborhood. Life has moved things along. Maddy inherited Arthur’s house. When she and her daughter, Nola, (named for Arthur’s wife) left town to attend college, Lucille holds down the fort and continues to host her infamous baking classes to an ever growing number of students.

Maddy and Nola return to visit Grandma Lucille and you can feel the love and smell the fresh baked cookies in the cookie jar.

Our view of Mason, MO has widened and we meet more townsfolk and learn their personal stories. It seems that the good folks of Mason really like to eat. The story is primarily set in Lucille’s kitchen but a lot goes on at Polly’s Henhouse Diner.

Monika Mayhew, a waitress at the Henhouse has her eye on Tiny, a long-distance trucker and a giant of a man with heart of gold. Tiny is infatuated with Monika but extremely shy and fears rejection.

A new character, Iris escaping the aftereffects of her decision to divorce her husband, Ed, was heading for California from the East Coast and became charmed by a stop-over in Mason, MO. Her new neighbor is none other than Tiny. They enjoy each other’s company and soon become good friends. Tiny reveals his interest in Monika and Iris sets out to break the impasse between these two gun-shy lovers.

Meanwhile back in Lucille’s kitchen, Iris, in need of a job, and being more of a consumer than a baker, is hired to help with the odds and ends chores. Lucille, now 88, is well aware that her life’s journey will end soon. Lately her dreams have been filled with repetitive visits from a heavenly spirit wearing of all things, a flannel shirt. Despite his insistence that her time is up, Lucille banishes the thought and tells him to go away. She has more to do before she joins her friend, Arthur.

Our reading journey takes us through other homes where we experience sorrow, joy, love, fear, and hope. We cheer as Monika exhibits courage. We hug Tiny when his big heart is breaking. We share in Maddy’s joy at finding the man of her dreams. We are there to witness Lucille’s transition to the afterlife in a manner totally fitting her personality. The final chapter will make you laugh and cry and hope you get another chance to visit Mason, MO.

My one complaint? Why didn’t Lucille give us some of her recipes! I was constantly drooling. Maybe Elisabeth Berg will put out a cookbook of Lucille’s favorites!

Great books with a touch of spirituality, fantasy, and small town ambiance.

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THE LAST WOMEN IN THE FOREST: a novel

It’s a terrible thing to have loved someone and not know the extent to which you have been deceived… – Marian Engström

Marian Engström scanned the seasonal conservation job listings for her next position. Her latest job had taken her to South Padre Island, Texas to rescue sea turtles but the contract ended and time to move along.

As a dog lover, she was pleased to find a position with Conservation Canines through the University of Washington. The study would be in the bitter sub-zero cold of the snowy mountains near Alberta where oil exploration in oil sands was taking place. The team of dog handlers and trip orienteers would be based out of Whitefish, Montana in a place the group called “The Den”.  Marian, and the other orienteers, would assist the dog handlers setting up trip navigation in designated zones locating wolf, caribou and moose scat, bagging each detected specimen, and charting the waypoints. The purpose of the study is to examine the effects of the oil drilling on the wildlife in the area. This aspect of the novel is well researched and reads a little bit clinical but very interesting.

The book opens with the vividly described murder of a trusting young woman charmed by someone she perceived to be a good Samaritan. Labeling the murdered girl, (Stillwater) Victim #1, alerts the reader to watch for clues. One of the primary or secondary characters is a serial killer!

We meet Marian six months after she has moved to the Whitefish base camp. She is wading into Bull Creek sprinkling the ashes of her boyfriend and dog handler, Tate, and watching them flow downstream. The accident that caused his death unknown to the reader.

It was a beautiful spot…Tate had chosen this location…had pressed the river rock against her palm and asked her to remember.

Marian stands in the cold stream reflecting on their brief relationship with its sweet and sour tones. Heading back to camp, she’s left with an edgy feeling that something was off.  Did he really loved her as much as she loved him? Where to begin to unravel her contradictory feelings?

Tate would share life stories with her making her cry in sympathy for him. One tear-jerker described a stray dog he adopted as a child that died after falling into a swift stream.  Another time, out of the blue, he tells her he found the body of one of the four Stillwater murders. She decides to confirm the accuracy of this story to ease her mind.

She contacts Nick Shepard, a retired forensic profiler, known to be intimately involved in the Stillwater murder investigations. Although he is dying of cancer, a fact he tries to keep from her, he agrees to help confirm or dispel the facts of Tate’s story.

With Marian and Nick narrating, the story gymnastically flips back and forth in time beginning when Tate picked her up at the airport and ultimately reaches present day where we learn about Tate’s fate. Juxtaposed between Marian and Nick’s chapters are vivid tales of the other three unsolved Stillwater murders that may be a bit disturbing to some people. The final chapters pull together loose threads leading to a dramatic conclusion.

The isolation and loneliness of the job were palpable. As one person said, “It a way of life – not a job”; someone comfortable with themselves alone or someone running from life and reaching the end of the line. It’s do or die time. Survival is not so much the result of luck as it is of skill and training. The overarching themes of observation and situational awareness crisscrossed Marian’s job as well as her personal life.

The job was never a problem for Marian. She was well-suited for the conditions and the work. The issue was emotional and her insecurity with humans. Was she as gullible as it seemed or was she out maneuvered by a mastermind of evil? Surrounded by macho mountain men with personalities like Jeremiah Johnson, was it easy for a young woman to be drawn to a man seemingly devoted to her? Did Nick find peace for the families of the murdered girls?

A good solid book worthy of a read. There’s something for everyone -love, friendship, trust and distrust, murder, dogs, freezing cold and stark wilderness settings.

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ONE IN A MILLION BOY : a novel

 

Monica Wood
Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt | 2017
Review source : Personal copy

★★★★☆

I was married to Howard for twenty-eight years and yet he made only a piddling dent in my memory… certain others … move in and make themselves at home…

Ona Vitkus, 104 years old. The One-In-A-Million Boy

The eleven-year-old boy scout, never named, is dropped at 104 year-old Ona Vitkus’ door by his scoutmaster for the purpose of “doing a good turn” for a couple of months. Other scouts have been here before; each sent packing on day one after failing to meet Miss Vitkus’ idea of what Sir Baden-Powell intended in his first boy-scout directive  – provide assistance to the elderly. Ona took a look at this boy and sensed he needed her as much as she needed him.

Saturday after Saturday, the boy arrived without fail, to fill the bird feeders, mow the lawn, and empty the trash. Something about the boy enchanted Ona; perhaps it was his sincerity, his enthusiasm and his precocious observation skills. The boy’s mind was a sponge for facts and compiling lists of everything; always in groups of 10. Unable to make friends and bullied in school, he found a friend in Ona.

On one of his visits, he asked Ona to help him with a homework assignment. He needed to gather information from an older person about their life. At first, Ona flinched. She had never discussed her past with anyone, including her husband, and 104 years has a lot of suppressed memories. But she soon agreed to be taped, of course, in 10 separate parts.

This is Miss Ona Vitkus. This is her life story on tape. By the time they reached the ninth Saturday, the pair had plotted a way to enter Miss Vitkus in the Guinness Book of World Records for the oldest licensed driver, taped ten sessions of her life history, identified birds, and shared more in those nine weeks than words – they found they had become the most unlikely of friends. You will fall in love with these two as they look beyond age and see inside each other.

On the tenth week, the boy never showed up. And the week after. He had dropped dead, from an undetected heart problem, while riding his bicycle at 5 am, waiting for sunrise, and listening for the morning chorus.

The twelveth week, his father arrived to complete the boy’s contract with Ona; goaded to do so by his ex-wife for his failures as an absentee father. He didn’t explain his punctual boy’s absence to a puzzled Ona but it doesn’t take a wizard to know when someone is grieving.

When Ona calls him on his silence about the boy, Quinn Porter begins a journey to examine his relationship with his son and the loss of his marriages and two divorces to the boy’s mother, Belle. As the family heals, new love blooms, futures look bright for Quinn in his life as a professional musician, and Ona faces her past head-on with their help. The boy’s presence seems to live at Ona’s house; drawing all these imperfect people together as if his spirit is directing things.

The stories of the boy’s parents and their struggles to deal with the death of the boy is alternated with the boy’s visits to Ona prior to his death. The boy’s story is never told from his viewpoint but reflected in his interactions with others; the exception is the ending of the book. An ending that will have you love the boy even more.

Don’t think it is a sad story. There is sadness but there are so many more smiles than tears. The message I took away? You don’t have to be born into a family, to form one. You don’t have to accept that you can’t improve your life. And people are remembered by the tracks they leave in life. One of my top 10 books this year.

My absolute favorite sections of the book are Ona’s taping sessions with the boy; his voice depicted by an ellipsis. His absent voice as clear as if the text was there on the page. Reminiscence of the parents’ absent voices in the Peanuts cartoons.

If you want a real treat, listen to the book. Ona’s voice and mannerisms reminded me of Estelle Getty’s feisty character, Sophia “Ma” Petrillo, on Golden Girls.

Highly recommended.

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Still Waters

STILL WATERS

by LINDSEY P. BRACKETT

easystreet DEBUT AUTHOR

 

Firefly Southern Fiction (Sept, 2017)
Paperback: 274 pages
ISBN: 978-1946016232
Genre: WOMEN’S FICTION/CHRISTIAN FAITH
Review Source: Purchase

★★★★☆

I am a Yankee transplant who has lived over 30 years in the South – long enough to appreciate that religion is wrapped around everything and prayer is served with every meal. On the night of September 11, 2017, Hurricane Irma was screaming around my mountainside home. She had already cut the power to the house and I found myself reaching for something to read. I remembered I had a debut novel written by a local author on my Kindle. I lit my oil lamp and I read Still Waters while monster trees were crashing all around my home and I feared for my life. It proved to be a good choice on a bad night.

I was thrown off-guard by the cover of Still Waters – the image of a loving couple embracing on a beach. I was right to assume the book has the central love story – the typical story filled with conflict and tension that ends with happily ever after. But there is so much more – family dysfunction, friends, healing faith in God, forgiveness, and the final mystery – death.

Still Waters depicts humanity in all its imperfections and insecurities. We mere mortal humans are gifted with free will and will freely make both good and bad life decisions; but we do not have to be defined by our mistakes. The free will that allowed us to falter also allows us to pick ourselves up and begin again.

Cora Anne, now an adult, was scarred by a terrible decision she made as a child that resulted in the drowning death of a family friend. Unable to forgive herself, she now lives an unfulfilled life always running from the memory that follows her like a shadow. Choosing to see herself as unworthy of love and attention, she shields herself from the affection and joys of life by deflecting and rejecting the things in life that would make her whole. Looking inward, has also kept her from seeing the humanity and needs of those that love her.

Cor has just graduated from college and has been wait-listed for her graduate program in the fall. Her grandmother, Annie (Nan) has requested she spend the summer on Edisto Island helping her restore the family’s ocean-front cottage in preparation for an upcoming family reunion.  Edisto Island, the scene of her worst nightmare. The last place on earth she wants to spend the summer. Reluctantly she agrees to return to the island to help.

ghost on beach frameMy favorite character is Grandma Nan. This feisty lady is dying but no one knows it. She has set the stage to reunite the fractured family and to bring them home in time to spend her final days surrounded by those she loves. The gruesome scenes of facing cancer head-on are tempered with Nan’s acceptance and readiness to join her beloved Thornton in the afterlife.

The setting of Edisto Island and the ocean are key to the novel. The ocean within each person, the rolling emotions, are calmed by the healing nature of the slow paced life on the island and the unencumbered solitude of Botany Bay. In Still Waters, Ms. Brackett hits the bulls-eye describing the restorative and spiritual nature of the natural world.

I encourage all lovers of Clean Reads and Christian Fiction to take the long slow ride onto Edisto Island where life travels on “island time”.

She closed her eyes and let the wind and the salt and the gray-green surf loosen the burdens she’d carried so long. Here, on this haunted strip of beach, she listened for forgiveness, and she let the surety that her life was bigger than one choice made twelve years ago settle into her soul.

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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry / The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey

Harold and queenie Collage

St. Bernadine’s Hospice
Berwick-upon Tweed
Monday, 11 April

Dear Harold,

This may come to you as some surprise. I know it is a long time since we last met, but recently I have been thinking about the past. Last year I had an operation on a tumor, but the cancer has spread and there is nothing left to be done. I am at peace, and comfortable, but I would like to thank you for the friendship you showed me all those years ago. Please send my regards to your wife. I still think of David with fondness.

With my best wishes,
Queenie Hennessy

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, published in 2012 in the US, quickly reached international success. Harold Fry, a dapper Brit from a tiny town of Kingsbridge, finds himself unable to post a letter to a dying friend. Each time he reached a post box, he walked on to another, until he found himself on an unintended walk across England. As he walked on, Harold believed that as long as he walked, Queenie would stay alive waiting for him.

Twenty years earlier, Harold and Maureen Fry were rocked by the suicide of their only child, David. The Fry marriage, already on fragile ground as David slipped further from them emotionally, became a shadow relationship after his death. Maureen became caustic and unlovable.  Harold, unable to express his grief, put his life on remote control, living each day as a robot.

As Harold walked on in his yachting shoes, inadequate footwear for a 600+ mile trek,  he meets many side characters that provide levity, sorrow, inspiration and friendship. Memories of better times become loosened from a locked place his mind and by the time he reaches St. Bernadine’s Hospice in Berwick-upon Tweed he has learned much about himself and has hope for his future. 

After finishing Henry Fry’s pilgrimage,  I wanted more! What was Queenie Hennessy’s backstory? More details please! I wanted to hear things from Queenie’s point of view.

So, I was thrilled when the author deftly crafted Queenie’s story in 2014. This second book, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, is written from Queenie’s perspective as Harold walks across England. It is the perfect companion book.

When my book club chose The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy for our March (2017) selection, I thought I would skim The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry to refresh my memory. In the end I found myself re-reading both books in quick succession.

Both books begin with Queenie’s letter to Harold; Love Song includes the entire text of the letter while Pilgrimage hits the high points. It has been 20 years since Queenie suddenly left her job at the brewery. Her recent letter catches Harold off-guard as she writes that she has terminal cancer and wants to tell him, ” Thank you for the friendship you showed me all those years ago.”

As Queenie learns that Harold is walking across England to see her, she is encouraged to write a letter about her life. We learn her side of their relationship through these letters.

Queenie’s unrequited love for Harold, a secret social relationship with Harold’s son, David, and her willingness to sacrifice herself for Harold drove her to leave Kingsbridge in sorrow and grief. With no destination in mind, she simply heads away until she reaches the end of land and faces the ocean. As she walks into the water to drown herself, she stops herself when she discovers the mysterious life beneath the water. She finds an abandoned house on the shore and begins creating a massive sea garden with representations of persons and events from her past. Along the way she finds she is able to make friendships and to live a simple quiet life.

Like the first book, Queenie’s story is filled with hospice patients that show all of us that life isn’t over until the last breath.

As much as I loved Harold’s book, I think seeing their story through Queenie’s eyes was a deeper and richer experience. Describing Queenie’s hospice life and her interactions with the staff and fellow residents is heartwarming and heart wrenching at the same time.

If I go into more detail about either book, I will spoil it for the reader! The stories touched my heart strings. Please do the author the honor of reading both of these books. I highly recommend them.

Sources:
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (personal copy)

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy (Advance e-book provided by the publisher and Netgalley in exchange of my honest review.)

 

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Looking For Alaska

banned-books-image

# 1 Challenged Book In 2015

looking-for-alaska
Looking For Alaska

Author | John Green
Dutton Bks | 2005
Hardcover: 256 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-245660-1

click-on-me-to-find-out-more-q1ztrj-clipart
Genre: Fiction/Interpersonal Relations
Audience: High School

PRESS RELEASE – 2005

Before.
Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . .
After. Nothing is ever the same.

Challenge History
Looking for Alaska, first published in 2005, was John Green’s debut young adult novel. The American Library Association awarded the book the  Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature in 2006. Visit the link Awards and Challenges for more information about this book and book challenges in general.

The first challenge to the book occurred in 2008 when the book was used as course material in an 11th-grade English class in a high school near Buffalo, N.Y. Some parents challenged its usage in class because of its liberal portrayal of students drinking, smoking, using explicit language and having sex. The school board ultimately voted to keep the book in the school curriculum

Following the phenomenal success of John Green’s A Fault In Our Stars in 2012, Looking for Alaska received a second look by many and soon appeared on the NYT children’s paperback bestseller list at #10.

The American Library Association received  270+ different titles challenged in 2015 but the most challenged book was Looking for Alaska. The ALA has summarized the challenges as offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group. Other challenges to the book focused on religious objections.

John Green’s Youtube defense of challenges

My Review

First off I was disappointed (tongue-in-cheek) to learn that the story wasn’t about the cold northern state, Alaska; I had hoped. Alaska is a “gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating classmate” (according to the publisher) not an Alaskan musher.

Having gotten over my disappointment, I looked at the bones of the book. Unlike most novels, the book is uniquely arranged in one continuous story-line. No separate chapters.  Breaks in the timeline are spliced into the story by bold headlines – a countdown to some unknown event beginning with one hundred thirty-six days before. This layout did keep me reading page after page always looking for clues, ever aware that something significant is going to happen. A very useful tactic if encouraging a reluctant reader.

My overall impression was positive. I thought the book was age-appropriate for senior high school students. Parents of younger children should probably read the book in advance and make their own decision if their child is mature enough or prepared for some of the themes. The sex scenes and underage drinking reflect the mind of the intended audience as they transition from youth toward adulthood; even if as a parent, you would like to keep your child innocent and close to home. It is my opinion the book could provide a medium through which a parent and child can discuss sensitive topics at a time when it is hard to talk about anything with your child without sulking or surly rebellion.

I particularly liked that Miles’ father, an alumnus of Culver Creek, having been a mischief make himself, advises Miles, “Don’t do anything stupid…No drugs, No drinking, No cigarettes.” While Miles had no initial interest in these activities he was so anxious to belong that he was willing to suspend his better judgement at times.

The heaviest topic, suicide, threads through the story, often disguised as bluster and bravado. Again, with teenage suicides the third-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24, the book provides an avenue for discussion about the symptoms and signals of teenage depression.

I was struck by the deliberate absence of parental contact and limited supervision by school staff during the school year; parents and teachers for the most part seemed to speak in the Peanuts cartoon “wah wah wah” voice as background noise. The “Eagle”, Mr. Starnes, dean of students, appears as a nocturnal guard against late night mischief with little interest in the life of students exhibiting social problems.

By and large, one of the best themes of the book was the world religions class. Miles was not raised in a deeply religious setting but he is intrigued by the metaphysical nature of the class. It speaks to why he reads biographies to learn people’s last words and to his reason for attending this school- searching for the Great Perhaps. The topic of death and the meaning of life is central to the story. As Miles “Pudge” Halter absorbs his thoughts about the meaning of life, the reader follows Alaska’s personal torments toward tragedy.

Mr. Hyde posts Simón Bolívar’s last words, often quoted by Alaska, on the chalkboard as a source for class discussion and reflection.

“Damn it. How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?”

The author places each character in a myriad of labyrinths. Each labyrinth, whether Miles’ efforts at developing friendships, Chips disapproval of the wealthy day students, or Alaska’s deep history of family tragedy and sorrow, lends itself to self-reflection and/or shared dialogue.

When the unexpected event happens and “the before” ends and “the after” begins, life is altered for each character. As in life itself, the characters learn how tenuous the future really is and their self-discovery in response to the “event” casts a bright light on friendship, loyalty, trust, love, religion and reality.

Despite the dark overtones, the book has many positive messages.

The world religion class receives their final exam question two months in advance and the characters’ reflections and discussions on the topic are thought provoking.

What is the most important question human beings must answer?
Choose your answer wisely, and then examine how “Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity attempt to answer it.

Pudge’s final exam begins…

Before I got here, I thought for a long time that the way out of the labyrinth was to pretend it doesn’t exist, to build a small, self-sufficient world in the back corner of the endless maze and to pretend that I was not lost, but home. But that only led to a lonely life accompanied by the last words of the already-dead, so I came here looking for the Great Perhaps, for real friends and a more-than-minor life.

And ends with…

Thomas Edison’s last words were: ‘It’s very beautiful over there.’ I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.”

I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking and writing what has turned out to be a lengthy discussion of this “banned book.” If this book has such a lasting impression on me personally, I hope it is helpful and enlightening to others as well.

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Love That Boy

fournier book cover

LOVE THAT BOY: 

WHAT TWO PRESIDENTS, EIGHT ROAD TRIPS, AND MY SON TAUGHT ME ABOUT A PARENT’S EXPECTATIONS

Ron Fournier, Author

Harmony Books, April 2016
Paperback: 219 pages (978-0804140485)
Genre: Non- Fiction/Family & Relationships/Parenting 

agt_family_offWformat_quotehen a woman is pregnant, we say she is expecting. Expecting a baby and filling with expectations…Parenthood is the last chance to be the person we hoped to be. We want to get it right. We want it to be perfect, and that’s the problem. It’s a hard slog between aspiration and realization. Ron Fournier

Several weeks after I finished Love That Boy I was unsure of how I felt about the book.  Since I laid down my paperback ARC copy, and began reflecting on the impact the book had on me, Ron Fournier has appeared on several TV programs promoting the book often with short video clips with his son, Tyler.

My first impression of the book was mixed.  I had expected a straight forward biography based on the subtitle…What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About A Parent’s Expectations. I am glad I gave myself time to let my thoughts marinate because I have grown deeply affected by the book.

Ron Fournier was a successful White House correspondent caught up, in his words, “an ego-inflating career that I often put ahead of my wife and kids“. His youngest child, Tyler, arrived with a bright, loving and funny disposition.  His precocious vocabulary and professorial demeanor left no doubt that he would have a bright and successful life.  But there was another side to Tyler.  Publicly Tyler would exhibit an “inappropriate” social awkwardness that made Ron uncomfortable and embarrassed.

As time went on it became obvious the idealized image and expectations for Tyler’s life didn’t match up against reality.  Tyler’s awkward social behavior had only increased much to his parents’ dismay which led to frustration and family disharmony.

The turning point for all their lives began the night that Lori Fournier discovered, while watching a TV Series entitled Parenthood, that Tyler shared the same characteristics as the child on the program.  She was immediately knew Tyler “would not outgrow it.”  Shortly thereafter Tyler, at age 12, was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

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Ron and Tyler Fournier

Ron takes the reader on his journey of discovery to understand Asperger’s.  Utilizing Tyler’s love of history and the need for father and son to spend time in each other’s company, they visit historic settings across the country.

Ron fills in the spaces of his family’s story with information and knowledge meant to enhance the lives every family; not just those challenged with a special needs child.

When I stopped trying to figure out why Ron skipped back and forth between Tyler, the medical professionals, and the personal stories of the community, I realized that story wasn’t as disjointed as it first appeared.  Ron was sharing his own story as it unfolded for him.   Step by step we are drawn into heart of this fabulous Fournier family.   You can’t help yourself… you WILL love that boy.

Highly recommended.

Thank you, Ron Fournier and Harmony Books for the ARC paperback through Shelf Awareness.  The receipt of this paperback in no way influenced my review.  Around the same time I received the ARC I was granted an e-galley version by Harmony books via Edelweiss.

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HIDE cover

 HIDE

by Matthew Griffin
Bloomsbury/Macmillan  | 2016
e-Reader (978-1-63286-339-3)
Hardback: 272 pages (978-1-63286-338-6)

★★★★

Debut Author
Genre: Adult/Fiction/LBGT

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ARC was provided free of charge by Bloomsbury/Macmillan in exchange for my honest opinion.

I was on my way to the window to flip my notice from OPEN to CLOSED…and there he was, standing on the train tracks…

“Excuse me”, I yelled. “Were you looking for something?”  

“Naw,”  “Nothing in particular.”  “Frank Clifton.”

“Wendell Wilson.”  “Pleased to meet you,”

he said, smiling wide and earnest, and I thought I’d be struck down by it, the way it struck down mortals to behold Zeus in his full, blazing divinity.

A war-weary veteran of World War II arrives home by train, unsure what the future holds for him in his small southern hometown.  Frank Clifton has battled more than the recent enemy aboard; he has had a lifelong battle to suppress his inner emotional and physical needs.

Wendell Wilson, then 23 and a self-trained taxidermist, stands in the window, looking at his yet undiscovered future. Reviled by his parents as a teen, aware at the tender age of 14 as his “friend Paul pulled his sweaty, dirt-streaked shirt over his head” and plunged into the water off the bridge that from that moment his life would be in some way…alone.

It’s the 1940s.  Homosexuality, always abhorred, has suddenly become negatively visible in public discourse. Preachers pound the pulpit and rail against its sinful and immoral nature.  Psychiatrists and medical staff consider it a serious mental disorder. And civil authorities have laws criminalizing homosexual behavior.

“Love at first sight”, that deeply felt and openly displayed reaction between two people is not permitted outside of traditional relationships. Wendell and Frank dance around each other when they meet, afraid to hope, praying to find someone they can love.  And they do.  But their love comes at a tremendous cost.

Frank, the apple of his mother’s eye, cannot break ties with her.  He is well known in the town and he has so carefully avoided any suspicion that he knows that he must continue to maintain that false identity in public. Wendell and Frank are never seen in public together. They must always be on guard against discovery.

After Frank’s mother dies, the two men purchase a secluded home far from town where they live and love openly in their refuge.  Frank, college trained, gives up the promise of a well-paying career, to work as a mill worker. His decision to isolate himself from his old friends and family is painful for everyone.

Until. Frank, now 83, is found laying in his garden, the victim of a stroke. The like-wise elderly Warren,  must open their lives for help and yet maintain their cover becoming Frank’s brother to the world.

Through Warren’s voice, we learn about their feelings, their personalities and their weaknesses.  Most importantly we learn about their years of painful sacrifices endured for the most human of all emotions…the right to love. Could most of us deny ourselves 50+ years of publicly expressing our love for our partners?  Openly, unashamed?

Frank’s curmudgeonly personality is at times amusing and at times cruel.  As his mind slips back and forth in time, Warren must adapt and hold on tight.  To do otherwise, would again leave him alone…

The story has harsh elements that might be too strong for some readers.  Warren’s avocation, taxidermy, plays a graphic central role and in one instance is hard to stomach. At times the reader is left wondering in Warren’s case…why did you stay and put up with Frank for all these years.

But ah.  Who are we to understand the depths of another’s love relationship?  Who can deny that these two men lived a true marriage in name only if not in fact?

Recommended reading.

 

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