BOOK REVIEWS

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AttachmentsThe last two novels I’ve read have similar plot points: The protagonist falls in love with someone within the 1s and 0s, online via e-mail or social media while said protagonist is going through a rough patch in life. Lincoln O’Neill takes a job as an Internet Security Officer on the cusp of the Y2K hype in Rosemary Rowell’s Attachments. He soon realizes that his job mostly involves being Big Brother, reading employees’ email messages, and issuing them warnings for sending personal e-mails, using profanity, or other such infractions. Lincoln can’t stop reading the messages between co-workers, Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder, who frequently operate outside of accepted e-mail policy. He develops a fondness for their messages and he finds himself falling in love with Beth. He makes the conscious decision not to give them a citation and reasons that he should stop reading their e-mail. He does not stop. That’s where it gets deliciously good. This problem and the mess it creates helps Lincoln push through his rough patch. After a breakup in college, he never quite recovered and has been a perpetual wanderer since then. This novel will make you long for the days of e-mailing your best friend instead of spitting out those choppy text messages. You won’t get enough of reading Beth’s and Jennifer’s correspondences or rooting for Lincoln to make a move…in person! I can’t say more. Spoilers. This is a highly engaging novel with smart and witty dialogue.

wife22In Melanie Gideon’s Wife 22, elementary school drama teacher, Alice Buckle is a married mother of two and not quite happy with many things, that extra 5 pound, that she never recovered from a failed play debut, that her daughter might be anorexic, and her son, gay. Most of all, the spark in her marriage is barely there. In search of something, Alice decides to participate in a “Marriage in the 21st Century” research survey via e-mail. In the interest of anonymity, she is assigned the alias, Wife 22. She begins to receive batches of questions from, Researcher 101, which she answers enthusiastically. As she intimates, who knew that confession could be such a powerful aphrodisiac? The twist in the story had me talking out loud to the book. I knew it just before it was revealed.

There was an e-mail exchange between Researcher 101 and Wife 22 that resonated with me:

Researcher 101,

Sometimes when I log on to my computer I feel like I’m in a casino sitting in front of a slot machine. I have the same shivery feeling of anticipation—that anything is possible and anything can happen, i.e. press Send.
The rewards are immediate. I hear the machine churning. I hear all the lovely chimes and whooshes and pings. And when the symbols come up “Kate O’Halloran likes your comment”; “Kelly Cho wants to be your friend”; “You have been tagged in a photo”—I am a winner.
What I’m trying to say is thanks for such a quick response. 
Best, 
Wife 22

 

Wife 22,

I understand what you are saying completely, and often feel the same way, although I have to admit it worries me. It seems like we’ve gotten to the point where our experiences, our memories—our entire lives, actually—aren’t real unless we post about them online. I wonder if we might miss the days of being unreachable.
All the best,
Researcher 101

The equating of “winning” with the chatter one receives from others on line, the likes, reblogs, friending, etc and the tendency to post our lives on line (often the best parts) as a sort of validation really got me to thinking. Hmm… I highly recommend these two novels. Honestly, I hated for them to end. On to the next book.


Terms and ConditionsThere are no new stories*

*The same stories are told in different ways.

This is surely the case with Robert Glancy’s, Terms and Conditions. Man is disenchanted with life so he grasps at a second chance.

His novel kept me turning pages because of the form in which he told this story very familiar story.* Every page is like a contract (The Terms and Conditions of X) with copious amounts of illuminating fine print in the form of hilarious and at times poignant footnotes.

The story is not a new one. In fact, it is reminiscent of the movie version of James Thurber’s, Walter Mitty, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”. Frankly Shaw is definitely a Walter Mitty type of guy whose life comes in dribs and drabs because of his loveless marriage and meaningless job as a lawyer who writes the terms and conditions (fine print). Apologies in advance for any spoilers. When we meet Franklyn, he has amnesia as a result of a terrible accident the cause of which is a mystery. We don’t know that his job is meaningless or his marriage is loveless because he doesn’t. The journey to his “hypermnesia” and how he resolves his blah life is suspenseful, funny, and filled with enough poignant ‘aha’ moments to catapult the reader into his or her own sort of self-actualization, I think.

I enjoyed the time jumping which helped to enhance the suspense. It gave me a fuller view of Frank and his relationship to his wife, family, and co-workers. We get to know Malcolm, his brother, primarily through e-mails, but he looms large. The villains are even likable to a point, but I cheered when Frank triumphed in the end. I must admit wanting to read the scene where he confronted Sandra, his wife’s estranged best friend.

Read this book. The only terms and conditions are that you should prepare to be entertained with a keen desire to read every footnote.


 

exclamationmarkBook review of  Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld

Pair self-actualization with punctuation and you can’t go wrong, right? Right!

I absolutely loved this coming of age story for the punctuation mark, exclamation mark, who doesn’t quite fit in with his family full of periods. He sticks out–literally–except when he is sleeping. He tries to hide what makes him different but it just doesn’t work. He even contemplates running away. Then out of nowhere this other strange looking thing appears–a question mark who knows its purpose–and starts asking the exclamation mark a plethora of questions. After it asks the 17th question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, exclamation mark screams as only he can, “STOP!” And then…it happens, the exclamation mark realizes his exclamatory gift! He starts to try it out. He shares it with others.  “It was like he broke free from a life sentence,” said the narrator. This is one of many clever instances of word play in the book. And thus the story ends, happily.  It goes off to “make his mark.”

This is an excellent choice for a mini lesson during grammar and writing time when teaching punctuation marks and the affect different ones have on sentences. Of course, there are many other ways to use this book in addition to reading it for the fun of it.  I’d love to read sequels with the other punctuation marks. The sky is the limit!

 


Path of Righteous

Book review of S. T. Rucker’s Path of the Righteous by Myesha D. Jenkins

Purchase Path of the Righteous

Read more about the author, S. T. Rucker, on her website and blog.

***

It is the job of the writer to latch the reader to the story he or she has weaved together. Some readers latch on to characters while others may latch on to the plot. Ideally, I want readers to latch on to both. The latching is effortless–the reader has no idea what is going on–and before the reader knows it they are along for the ride and invested in the narrative. In Rucker’s Path of the Righteous, I latched on to the protagonist, Dahlia En’te, but it was hard to stay invested and maintain focus on some aspects of the plot and other characters.

Grail Holden is the name of this place where it all begins. It is composed of Town Major in the north, Stem Town in the middle, and Town Minor in the south. The story opens with a prologue that shows what I assume is a younger Dahlia giving Selma a lesson on how to handle herself in a precarious place for a young girl. I was ready for more about their lives then, but the first chapter begins and switches to the lives of the children of Town Major. The people of Town Major are about to host a Baptismal, the ritual by which its children are ushered into adulthood. Before this ceremony, they are instructed in the ways of obedience to their God, their elders, and their way of life. We learn about the ways of Stem and Creme Towns from some of its children, Phoebe, Leah, Rebecca, Alex, Cain, Darien, and Gideon. Since this is the rite of passage ceremony, I assume they are adolescent age. They are pretty naive to carnal things and are questioning the validity of the legends that are revered by their elders. Are they fact or fiction? This part drags and slows the narrative down.

Things heat up when Dahlia En’te from Town Minor shows up. Actually she is brought there by the Cleric under the guise of getting a better education and access to all that Town Major has to offer someone less fortunate like Dahlia. She has a difficult time fitting in because she is distinctly “other.” All people from Town Minor are because it is the wrong side of the tracks. This southern town and the people in it are snubbed by their neighbors in the north. The citizens of Town Major are mostly indifferent towards those people. When they do consider them, it’s with disgrace and disdain. Town Minor is not on the maps and isn’t included in the history books. The children of Town Minor can be taken forcibly from their homes and made to labor for free so that the people of Town Major can have their finery and servants.

When Dahlia arrives, she immediately catches everyone’s attention. The adults cast aspersions at her. Once she is wrongly accused of stealing a classmate’s broach. The instructor immediately takes the accuser’s side without investigating. Of course the girl from Town Minor is the thief! The girls are unimpressed with her drab, threadbare attire, but mostly with her rejection of their constant attempts to change her into a more presentable girl. On the contrary, those supposed detriments intrigue Alex–her inferior clothes, voluptuous body, curiosity, unfamiliar ways–to the point of mild stalking. Gideon is taken with her also. Dahlia is smart, and she likes books. She also likes cats–she keeps feline friend, Sox, hidden in her bosom–who are just as accursed and hated as the people of Town Minor. Alex and Gideon aren’t the only ones enamored with Dahlia. There’s the Cleric and Adam XXXVII who want Dahlia for a more sinister reason–they do more than mild stalking. Their reason for bringing her to Town Major is especially creepy.

This is the point in the story where I latched on to Dahlia and the imminent conflict between her and these powerful men. She is a worthy protagonist, courageous, thoughtful, unique, and strong, reminiscent of Cinderella, but without a need for Prince Charming. She is a hidden jewel of meager birth. She is ripe and ready for her rise to the challenge of what she has to conquer: catty girls, lecherous men, and demons, oh my! I was drawn to her strength and courage in the face of those who want to control her body and destiny.

In addition to the Baptismal, there is also the Wedding of Adam XXXVII and Eve. When Dahlia escapes certain rape and bondage and is then catapulted into the human sacrifice to the Demon Knight, the narrative becomes unwieldy for me. Dahlia begins her journey to try to get back home to her mother, but she has to contend with demons, faeries, and doxies. The leader of the demon realm, Master Diamond, wants her too, albeit reluctantly.

Rucker paints a vibrant visual world rich with verdant landscapes, vivid colors, fantastical beings, and reimagined religious myths. She knows her world well, but there are a few times when the characters speak in colloquialisms that are this worldly. When Dahlia characterizes her hair as a “hot mess” and Jayce speaks of “random shit,” I am taken out out of the fantasy. After the wedding and at the start of the sacrifice, I get a little lost in all that happens, making it difficult to stay latched on and invested. The narrative has a lot of pearls, but I think it lacks a strong enough string to pull them together. There are a lot of characters, but they lack the development to warrant their existence so they became distracting.

I want to know more about aspects of the narrative that don’t get as much treatment as other parts. What was it like for Selma and Dahlia growing up in Town Minor? Were they friends? Perhaps that’s the purpose of the prologue, but it wasn’t enough. The ritual of the Wedding is intriguing. What role does it play in the society? Is the Adam figure a religious leader, political leader, or both? What of Adam’s guy friend who is in love with him? I’m still trying to work out what Gideon’s role will be. I have a prediction that Alex will figure prominently in the next book. I’m still trying to figure out Hell’s Kitchen. Perhaps my questions will be addressed in the sequel due out June 2015.

Path of the Righteous has a world of potential. There are elements that I latched on to, Dahlia, the evil machinations of the Cleric and Adam, and to a lesser extent, Diamond. Some of the characters, the faeries, and Alex’s time in Hell’s Kitchen were distracting and had me working hard in ways a reader shouldn’t have to.  I give the author points for creativity, but a tighter, more polished narrative, would have made it soar.

Purchase Path of the Righteous

Read more about the author, S. T. Rucker, on her website and blog.


 

Needful Things

by Stephen King

Needful thingsAre you for sale? Probably not if someone comes right out and asks you for your price. Suppose you enter a quaint little shop full of wares?  You behold that object…that thing…that needful thing that piques your interest. After inquiring about the price–none of the items are marked–the merchant lets you name your price. You are shocked and pleasantly surprised at your good fortune. That needful thing can be yours for the low, low price of…whatever you can afford. You think the sale is done until the kindly merchant asks you to play a harmless prank on someone. It is just a favor to the merchant–all in good fun–and the second installment of payment to solidify the purchase.

“Everyone loves a bargain. Everyone loves something for nothing…even if it costs everything.”

Leland Gaunt, that kindly stranger, sets up this business model for the new shop he opens in Castle Rock, Maine. Castle Rock is the quintessential small town peopled with the usual characters. There’s the Andy Griffithesque sheriff, smart and wily. There are the religious folk. In this case, two factions: the Catholics and the Baptists. There are the healthy batch of ne’er-do-wells. There are the Opieseque little boy characters. They become pawns in Leland Gaunt’s sinister, bedlam inducing game. And oh, he is the master of it as if he’s been doing it since the word was formed.

At a whopping 736 pages, King’s novel is not for the faint of heart. You have to persevere. There are a plethora of characters to keep up with, but that’s okay. It serves to illustrate the unwieldy scenario King sets up. Leland Gaunt is sowing seeds of evil, hate, obsession, greed, perversion, jealousy–a veritable seed bed or cesspool–and he needs a large,  fertile soil and many seedlings. It all becomes one tangled mess. I was drawn in by King’s layering and character development. I gave myself over to it. That’s what you have to do.

The story begins with the adolescent Brian Rusk who enters the shop first. He is charmed into “purchasing” a 1956 Sandy Koufax baseball card for a nominal price and the promise to play a prank. Leland Gaunt places Brain under a trance that makes his acceptance easier. Once Brian leaves the shop, Leland Gaunt becomes a sort of inner voice that reminds him of his obligation and the penalty for not keeping the promise. Unfortunately, Brian is filled with both an insatiable need for the baseball card and an intense fear of loosing it. He can’t even share it with his friends so consumed he is by paranoia of it being taken. He obsessively checks on and admires it in the solitude of his room. It becomes a secret that gains more power in proportion to the depth it is buried as secrets are won’t to do. In effect, Brian becomes a slave to Leland Gaunt. The baseball card is the chain.

This scenario replays countless times with each person ensnared by the merchandise. The chaos ensues when the pranks are played. The prankster is ignorant of why he or she is playing the prank. In most cases the person has no close relationship to the person on whom the prank is played. However, that person, the “victim”, is sure of the prankster’s identity. Without any investigation, they assume the prankster is their nemesis. For example, Brain Rusk plays a prank on hot tempered social pariah Wilma Jerzyck who incidentally has been embroiled in a dispute with another woman, Nettie Cobb. When Brian soils Wilma’s freshly cleaned sheets with mud, she immediately assumes it is the work of Nettie Cobb. Leland Gaunt is so smug about human nature. He uses a simple calculation: hubris + anger + suspicion — compassion = chaos.

Soon you know where this is going. Everything becomes tangled and twisted at the hands of, well the ultimate evil one. Leland Gaunt is no amateur at this. He is the CEO and the townspeople are his workforce. You want to believe that someone will resist or at least listen to the better angels of their nature to see what Leland Gaunt is up to. You, the reader, are screaming out for godly intervention. Sheriff Alex Pangborn begins to sense the presence of something untoward, but Gaunt steers clear of him for fear of being found out. This is not because the sheriff is law enforcement. Apparently, Gaunt can sense that Pangborn has some special evil filtering sight. Neither of the clergymen from either major religious faction venture into the shop. It’s not necessary. It seems that Leland knows he already has them on his team. There is a dispute brewing between the Catholics and the Baptists over an upcoming Casino Nite. The religious folk–the primary fighters of the devil one would argue–self-destruct with little stoking from Gaunt. They are far more concerned with the dogmatics surrounding gambling than with the evil right under their noses.

I wish more characters would have possessed the strength to fight Leland Gaunt. However only three of them fight against him in the end. It’s obvious that he knows human nature far too well. But these three do fight despite their brokenness. Had this book been set in the 2000s instead of the early 1990s, Gaunt would only have to stock our electronic (de)vices However, it’s not really about the needful thing. The bondage comes in what the thing masks as Polly Chalmers says, “He makes you buy back your own sickness, and he makes you pay double.” Which brings me back to that question. Are you for sale? According to Needful Things, we all are. “The devil’s voice is sweet to hear.” Does good triumph in the end? You’ll have to read it for yourself.

This book is highly entertaining. The drama builds to a fever pitch. The violence is extra grisly. There are many secrets. I remember seeing the movie version, but I don’t recall much about it other than the shopkeeper as a stand in for Satan. I looked at the movie reviews and they were lackluster. It would probably do better as a made for TV movie because of all the characters. Read it and prepare to steer clear of shopping for awhile.


Rosemary's Baby_bc

Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

What do you when you discover your baby daddy is the Prince of Darkness? This is not Rosemary Woodhouse’s quandary at the beginning of Ira Levin’s novel. There is a sense that Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse live in a glass house. They–mostly Rosemary–look out onto the world with the wide-eyed wonder of little children, their noses pressed to the glass. Guy seems jaded, brooding, and sensitive–all the hallmarks of a deep insecurity that is eating away at him. He is an actor seeking fame and fortune. Rosemary believes in him–she rattles off his productions with pride. It is obvious that something is eating away at him, but he masks it with sarcasm and faux enthusiasm.

When their number is up on the waiting list for the Bramford, Rosemary convinces Guy get out of the lease they’ve just signed for another apartment. They had been waiting on the Bramford for a long time. In that way of his, Guy is a convincing poser which will be the undoing of their family. He comes up with a convincing excuse to be let out of the lease. That’s the thing about Guy–the attributes Rosemary delights in, charm, wit, humor will be used to bamboozle her. Guy is a fitting name for Rosemary’s husband. Aside from his temperamental nature and deception, he lacks depth. This could be intentional on the part of the Levin. I tried to pinpoint the exact moment when Guy decides to offer up his wife as a surrogate for Satan’s baby in exchange for “getting so much in return.”  It is difficult. Once I realized he was in on the deception, it made sense. Guy is consumed with want without self-sacrifice or effort. Rosemary on the other hand is very sacrificial and self-doubting exacerbated by a lack of friends and family in close proximity who want nothing from her. She is estranged from her family because she married a non-Catholic Protestant. Her one close friend, Hutch, tries to warn them against moving into the Bram because of its nefarious history. His later attempts to warn Rosemary about the danger that surrounds her results in his untimely death. By the time girlfriends of hers try to intervene she is sucked further into obscurity–all but forced to stay at home.

Upon moving into the Bram, Rosemary and Guy meet and are immediately smothered by their neighbors–an elderly couple who live in a larger apartment unit adjoining their smaller apartment. Roman and Minnie Castevet take them under their wing. Rosemary and Guy indulge their constant invitations and bulldozing out of pity almost. This attention brings benefits–whatever they need, the Castevets just happen to know a friend or have access to it. Old age is surely the perfect disguise in this case along with Minnie Castevet’s eccentricities. Soon it is revealed that more people are in cahoots with the Castevets. Rosemary’s doctor orders her not to read books or listen to others’ advice about pregnancy, which is laughable and nonsensical as professional advice. Rosemary, like the reader, is skeptical but her desire to ensure the health of her unborn child quiets her suspicions for a while. Sometimes she searches for answers to her quandaries and other times she castigates herself:

“You’re going to have your baby in four days, Idiot Girl…So you’re all tense and nutty and you’ve  built up a whole lunatic persecution thing out of a bunch of completely unrelated coincidences. There are no real witches. There are no real spells…See, Idiot Girl? It all falls apart when you pick at it.”

But she never stops questioning the many inconsistencies and strange occurrences. I screamed at the pages several times when Rosemary seemed to deliberately ignore the clues. Recently I watched Roman Polanski’s film adaptation of Levin’s work and NBC’s mini-series remake of the film. The older version follows the book more closely than the recent one.

Rosemary’s Baby is suspenseful and just plain creepy. It casts evil and Satan in ways that are familiar.  For me, Satan is not the biggest evildoer in this work, thought. He is outdone by her husband, that Guy, who gives her body over to be used without her knowledge or permission.


Molly Bannaky by Alice McGill

mollybannaky_bcIn 18th century England, Molly Walsh is dairy maid accused of stealing milk from the lord of the manor. Molly is not the culprit. The obstinate cow she milks each morning kicks over the frothy pail most mornings. The harsh lord turns 17 year old Molly over to the authorities to face the penalty–certain death–she escapes because of a loophole in the law. Her ability to read the Bible prevents her from being executed for her “theft,” but recompense must be made. Molly’s sentence is seven years of labor in the New World where her American story begins.

Exhibiting true grit, determination, and sheer will–all the qualities of a frontier person–Molly forges a life for herself in this new land after working off her debt using the mule and the parcel of land given to newly freed debtors. In need of assistance to work her land, she navigates the peculiar institution–slavery–that provides human labor for purchase. Uncomfortable and unfamiliar with the act of buying a person, Molly does choose to purchase the African male whom she notices as a “tall, regal man who dared to look into the eyes of every bidder.” Instead of owner/slave, Molly and Bannaky develop a friendship, allowed during a time before slavery becomes an entrenched institution. It is Molly’s intention to set him free after the work is done. They later marry and start a family in a community that accepts their union. Molly Walsh becomes Molly Bannaky.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that their oldest daughter had a son with her husband–an African man– whom she names Benjamin Banneker, the famous scientist and mathematician. This puts Molly’s story into perspective.  She and Bannaky pass down their determination and persistence to their grandson. This story is so uniquely American.

Illustrator Chris Soenpiet is just as much the storyteller as author Alice McGill. His visually stunning depictions of Molly’s journey brings the story alive.  The detailed drawings are historically authentic–the tobacco leaves, the livestock. On first sight, the cover is arresting–Molly’s visage–communicating that she has a complex and multifaceted story to tell.

This book is a great choice for a lesson on the differences between indentured servitude and slavery in North America.


 

Fledgling: A Novel
by Octavia E. Butler

Grand Central Publishing: a division of Hachette Book Group, 2005

fledgling Octavia Butler

He raised a hand to stop me, then dropped the hand to his side. “What are you then?” he whispered. And I said the only thing I could: “I don’t know.” I drew back, held his face between my hands, liking him, glad that I had found him. “Help me find out.”

And thus the journey begins for Shori Matthews. By all outward appearances–something that is at once of great and little importance in the cosmology of Butler’s masterful work–Shori has the size of a young black girl of no more than 10 or 11. In this first person narrative, by Shori’s own description, the reader learns that she is distinctly other. Her body and mind has undergone a massive trauma, rendering her wounded and devoid of the memory of her trauma, who she is, or where she belongs. She feasts on the meat of animals to regain strength and then the blood of humans for daily nourishment. She encounters Wright, a twentysomething white male, who happens upon her bloody and battered on the road one night. Intent on saving this child–he thinks–Wright becomes ‘her first’. The first (since the amnesia induced trauma) one she binds to her in the symbiotic relationship humans share with with the Ina, an otherworldly community of vampirelike creatures who have walked the earth for thousands of years. With Wright’s sanguine succor and safety, Shori discovers that she is under attack because of the genetic experiments her eldermothers and elderfathers participated in to breed a stronger less vulnerable Ina–one that can exist when the sun shines–one with black skin inducing melanin. Shori is relearning everything: who she is, how to survive, how to love, and how to exist in a world in which some want her blotted out because of her black skin. Ironically, this ‘detriment’ is what gives her an advantage no other Ina has. It makes her a day walker, stronger, strategic, and crafty.

Fledging includes all the elements of compelling science fiction and any good story: suspense, romance, throughly delineated cosmogony for its creatures, interesting characters…and there’s sex too (though not a prerequisite for compelling science fiction or any good story…a bit helps though).

“He started to leave, then turned back, frowning. “Ordinary sun exposure burns your skin even though you’re black?” “I’m…” I stopped. I had been about to protest that I was brown, not black, but before I could speak, I understood what he meant.”

Shori learns the most about her existential being from others at first. She is actually 53 human years old–the Ina live hundreds of years but age very slowly. She is black by outward appearances in all the socially constructed ways set up by humans. As many (me at least) African Americans can attest, you don’t know you’re ‘black’ until your told by someone who is not. Then you learn that it is more than a color–it holds so many layered facets that are put upon you like a script where there is only one black role–one black way of being. Shori learns about the irrational nature of this ‘othering’  when the identity of those plotting to annihilate her is revealed.

“She’s with you, and you’re going to keep her with you. As far as she’s concerned, she’s died and gone to heaven. People keep falling in love with you, Shori–men, women, old, young–it doesn’t seem to matter.”

Butler’s work includes a veritable open love fest! Happily, I could read it and enjoy it without judgery…yes judgery (forming opinions and conclusions about the rightness of something based on my own experiences/beliefs)! I’ve had this book for a couple of years. It seems that I read it when I was ready for it…after writing my own work that explores sexuality in unbounded iterations.

Shori is an Ina female, but she is free to love whom she chooses regardless of gender. It is more about the serendipity of the connection and a mixture of other factors that determine the attraction, e.g. scent. When Shori bites a human her saliva elicits an intensely pleasurable experience within the human–the bitee will obey her every command. This is where the symbiosis begins–a bit of pleasure for a bit of blood. In the cases where Shori simply needs a meal, she tells the human to forget about her–to remember her as a dream–else they would search and search for her like an addict searches for another fix. If she bites them repeatedly, they become bound to her in a permanent symbiotic relationship–the human lives for hundreds of years disease and aging free. Binding to Shori comes at a price. The Ina needs multiple partners to keep them alive so any hopes of being in a sort of Edward/Bella (i.e. monogamous) paring are dashed. This seems to be offset by the symbiont’s (name for a human who has paired with an Ina) freedom to take on other partners–only human–within or outside the ‘harem’ as Wright (her first) calls it in a fit of anger at the arrangement. The symbionts can have careers or children with other humans if they choose. The love smorgasbord is not central to the plot, but it is fodder for a great discussion amongst a book club. I love a great discussion. The polyamory seems to work in the context of the Ina community as the Ina must give their symbionts the freedom to leaveseemingly laughable after being bitten–up to a certain point. Theodora, one of Shori’s symbiont’s, summed it up well when reflecting on the new life she chooses among Shori’s community, “I’ve moved to Mars…Now I’ve got to learn how to be a good Martian.”

As a reader, I can see how easy it would be to fall in love with Shori. She wields all this power, but chooses not to lord it over others. She is as fascinated with her symbionts’ want of her as they are with wanting her. One of my favorite quotes from the book is an exchange between Theodora and Shori:

“Why?” I asked her. I had no idea what she would say. She blinked at me, looked surprised, hurt.

“Why do you want me?”…You have a particularly good scent,” I said. “I mean, not only do you smell healthy, you smell…open, wanting, alone…

She frowned. “Do you mean that I smelled lonely?”

“I think so, yes, longing, needing…”

“I didn’t imagine that loneliness had a scent.”

I highly recommend Fledgling. Many readers are tired of the vampire meme, but this novel offers something different and refreshing. This is an intoxicating read. There is something for everybody! With the plethora of multi-book publications, I would bare my neck to read more about Shori and her symbionts after the dust settled. Butler is deceased, but she has left many other novels for me to sink my teeth into!


Coming on Home Soon by Jacqueline Woodson

Age Range: 5 – 8 years
Grade Level: Kindergarten – 3 (suggested, but a great picture book well into 5th grade)
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Puffin

Coming on Home Soon_bc

Ada Ruth struggles with the sadness brought on by her mother’s departure to Chicago where jobs are rumored to be available for black women. Times are doubly hard for these three generations—Ada Ruth, her mother and grandmother—struggling to subsist under one roof during World War II. Ada Ruth finds a semblance of comfort in her grandmother’s arms and a stray black kitten that grandma grudgingly agrees to let stay.

Woodson uses dialogue masterfully to convey the feelings and emotions of the characters. By the second page, the reader already has a clear sense of the strong bond between mother and daughter as well as the pain the separation will bring. Woodson uses italics to demonstrate dialogue instead of quotation marks. The italics provide extra emphasis that quotation marks lack and a sense that the words are more poetry than dialogue. Woodson’s use of vocabulary, e.g., clabber milk, lye soap, brings an authenticity to the story that makes it believable. The narrative has a certain timeless quality. I imagine readers relating to this sort of story across different time periods and ethnicities. The illustrations balance the story perfectly. The watercolors bring softness, while the choice of dark color and shadows convey the scarcity of resources. The art shows both barrenness and abundance. The illustrator pays close attention to detail, taking care that every part of the house is true to the 1940s. The author and illustrator have created a work with the elements of high quality literature. As the reader, I am drawn into the story, eager to see if Ada Ruth and her mother will be reunited. Even though the grandmother is in the role of nurturer and comforter, I get the sense that she is suffering too. Her efforts to comfort Ada Ruth bring solace to her as well. This mirrors the way Ada Ruth’s caretaking of the kitten helps her cope with the separation. These two parallel story elements  brings insightful depth to the story. Students with parents or relatives who live far from home due to war, divorce, etc., could relate to this story. Teachers could use this work as a literature integration with a social studies lesson on World War II.

 

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