The Handmaid’s Tale

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I was very apprehensive to read this book. People rave about it, and the injustices about women. They talk of feminism, a lot. But that’s not what I got from this book. The Handmaid’s Tale didn’t anger me like I thought it would, it reminded me of when I read The Bell Jar and I just didn’t quite get what shook people so much. It’s a weird sensation having feelings toward a book that are not common ones. And while I am against what it had to say about Christianity and the way it would twist scripture around to fit the agenda, I preferred to read it as dystopian and leave it at that.

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, takes place in a futuristic time in the country of Gilead (which seems to be the “new” America). Babies are scarce and as a result, husbands and wives who have not reproduced bring a “handmaid” into their home for the husband to try and impregnate in order to grow their family and the human population.

Let’s go a little deeper and add some details, like that the wife lays with the handmaid when she’s intimate with the husband, and again when the handmaid is birthing the baby, or that the handmaids don’t have any rights to their baby aside from breastfeeding and once that’s over they are moved to a different home to try and have a baby for another family.

Aside from the sexual part of the story, there are mass hangings of people who break the law,  handmaids have to wear hats that have bowed out wings so they are nearly forced to look ahead and not in other directions, an analogy for their life. Don’t look back. Only look forward. Because, after all, becoming a handmaid was their “choice.” And how can I forget, they do not allow women to learn to read. Brutal.

Another hot topic for The Handmaid’s Tale is that of religion. Christianity is the only faith mentioned in this text, (but it’s not the only faith that’s been distorted) because this book is a blatant attack on the faith using the Old Testament. Personally I feel that additionally the Mormon faith was attacked for their past with polygamy and Islam with respect to Sharia law.

How I actually feel about the book as a whole? If you can separate from your faith while you read, go ahead. If not then I would pass on this one, there are other dystopian books that do not attack the faith that fill the same shoes.

This is Really Happening

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A few times in my life a book has come along that was a game changer. Back when I first went back to school and didn’t know anything about publishing or the industry, I came across The Storied Life of A.J. Fickry, by Gabrielle Zevin and became introduced to a plethora of careers I’d never heard of, but sounded amazing. Or when I first read The Help, by Kathryn Stockett- I read that one in a weekend, all these issues that were never talked about opened up worlds for me. Or when I read The Great Gatsby and realized that the “classics” weren’t so bad. Those books affected me in ways I never could have dreamed. Encouraged me to step out of my little bubble and use books not just for entertainment, but for information too.

This is Really Happening, by Erin Chack was one of those books. And I can see how, by looking at the cover, you might think it’s just some comedian trying to make light of their experiences but this book shook me. Made me crack up at times and ugly-cry (for real) at others. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Erin Chack, she is a writer for Buzzfeed, the popular site known for list making. So many times during this book I had to pause and just breathe, because Erin has been through some heavy stuff. Like battling cancer. And some less heavy stuff, like road tripping across the U.S. with her friends.

Chack is able to take her experiences and write about them as if she is talking to her best friend. She puts her personality in the spot light. This alone gave me strength. As someone who has tried for her entire life to fit in, it was reassuring to read these stories. They help show that we are all trying to figure life out. And while there are many times in the book she seems to feel like the odd one out, she is in fact completely relatable. Writing that brings weirdness front and center, you can see that in this passage where she says:

“It felt a little like saying something aggressively nice about a kid in class you don’t know very well, like, ‘When Jim reads from the textbook out loud, his voice is like warm chocolate and I want to bathe in it,’ and then turning around to find Jim standing right there” (Chack, 62).

That is the kind of writing (and experience) I can relate to. Showing one’s weirdness and refusing to apologize for it is just what this book does. This book shares stories from her life that tell of vulnerability, teen angst, determination and love. A person who doesn’t hide behind what is popular and conform to what everyone else is doing, but instead makes her quirks work for her. This is a person to look up to. And that is why this book will never leave my shelf. So thanks Erin Chack, for baring your soul, apparently I needed this book.

Good Girls Marry Doctors

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This book isn’t normally something I would pick up. I was strolling through the Bay Area book festival a few weekends ago, taking a break from helping with the Creston booth, when the title caught my eye. I love to learn about other cultures and compare and contrast our differences, but being a southerner (now transplanted to the west coast), I had heard about girls who were “expected” to marry doctors or “marry well,” back home. I just never knew other cultures had this expectation too.

Good Girls Marry Doctors was different than I was expecting. This is a book of individual essays telling the experiences of young girls who are born in the United States, but are expected to adhere to their parents rules and restrictions that may or may not conform to those of Americans. I was expecting to read a book with tales of helicopter parenting, instead, essay’s full of questioning and truth revealed that I as a white American have never experienced, are what I got.

Girls talking about the pressure put on them to either become a doctor, or to marry one may be the primary focus, but there are other details that are unseen from an outward appearance that these girls have had to face, such as, telling their parents they are bisexual/gay and having their parents completely disregard the statement and act like it’s not true, or worse telling them to keep it a secret and marry a man anyways. This was a big topic that shocked me. I had to read paragraphs several times to understand just what was going on with these families. Another shocking issue was that of girls who marry past the age of 25, parents and families practically beg men to marry them, because all of their lives they have “groomed” their daughter for marriage and “prepared” her, only to have her refuse and then the age of 25 comes and they are looked at as an “old maid.” Families get so desperate that if the “older” girl marries outside her culture, the families start to support her. Anything to get her married seems to be a running theme.

But then, there are stories of love. Parents and families who break free from expectations and support their daughters in every way possible. Dream parents. There are girls who are accepted for being gay or for marrying outside their religion or race, girls who go on to be in the arts not the sciences, and girls who marry for love. These stories lift you up, they show that everyone is different and parents are doing the best they can with the resources they have. These stories break the stereotypes that cultures put onto one another. They show strength and determination in a world full of followers, to break out and be the person you were made to be.

I loved this book. For opening my eyes to problems that are hidden from most, and teaching me things I never thought about. Not once did I want to put it down. If you have the desire to learn of another culture from true stories and not just a history book, I encourage you to give this one a try, and if you do, drop me a line and let me know what you think 😉

The Whole Thing Together

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From the talented writer of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, comes the new book from Ann Brashares. True to her writing style, Brashares takes cringeworthy situations and makes them bearable. The Whole Thing Together is another story that causes readers to question boundaries and put themselves into the story and consider what they would do.

Ray and Sasha are “fresh starts” for their parents. Two should-be-siblings who share a room but never see each other and start to wonder “what-if.” See, Ray’s mom and Sasha’s dad were once married, together they had three beautiful girls- Quinn, Mattie and Emma. Then the relationship went sour and the couple parted ways, each remarried and had one more child- Ray and Sasha. Making them half-siblings to the girls, but not to each other. The two families have nothing to do with each other except of course, custody of the three girls and strangely enough, a house that was Ray’s maternal grandfathers, now in the ownership of Ray’s mother and her ex-husband.

Complicated enough yet?
Well, the two families would not give up the house, so they alternate weeks of ownership- making Ray and Sasha roommates even though they’ve never met. The two share a bedroom, thoughts, secrets and even a job. What they want more than anything though? Read and find out 😉

A tale of divorce and the angst of teenagers and twenty-somethings, this is a story that will leave readers scratching their head and considering their stance on the situation. This book further explores flirtation and temptation, life and death, in ways never imagined. A great read for those who like exploring life’s complexities and heavier story lines.

Last Things

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I read this book in one sitting. It was written (and drawn) with such raw emotion, that when it got to be too much I had to lie to myself and say it was fiction. I’m sure the family wishes it were. This is the story of Harvey Stahl, his wife Marissa Moss, and their three sons. And Harvey’s untimely battle with ALS.

Nothing about this book is easy, or fun, but it’s a story worth telling. How do you deal when your best friend/partner/spouse is diagnosed with a life altering disease? How do you tell your children, family and friends? There is no simple way. It’s an ugly process, and even with it being rare, it’s one that too many people face.
What Moss is able to convey through her art and words, within the graphic novel, are the absolute and real emotions she and her family went through with Harvey’s diagnosis. Allowing herself to be open with the world, Moss poured out her soul into Last Things. She doesn’t make herself out to be a saint, and she doesn’t put a band-aid over her husbands short-comings, instead Moss has woven together pictures and words full of love and loss. From the day of the diagnosis until days after Harvey’s passing, Moss takes us through times of anger and resentment and then acceptance and healing. This is not a glossed over pamphlet from the hospital containing words of encouragement, this is a true story and sometimes the truth isn’t always pretty.
In between the days of ALS, Moss talks of her family’s past. The beautiful life they had together, traveling, learning and the closeness they share. It’s those moments where the effects of the disease really take hold. You see how a loving family on top of the world can come crashing down like a building on fire. And later, how they pick up the remains and help one another cope and grow. This is where love comes in.
A vivid telling of living and breathing a non-treatable disease, this book contains no secrets, no promises of survival, instead there is a story of family and how people deal with adversity as a unit and also individually.
I encourage you to read this book, if only to see a glimpse of what others go through, and if you or someone you know is experiencing a life altering disease such as ALS, perhaps this book will show that you are not alone.

The Wedding Gift

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Can I start by saying this title is misleading? Not misleading in that it isn’t true, but in the way that upon reading it you immediately think of this book as “chick lit.” Not, that there is anything wrong with “chick lit.” This book is just so much more. More than its title, more than the description on the back cover, more even than the story itself. Because this is a book based on deceit, bondage, slavery, hatred, love…and on and on. It is also a book based on a true story.

The author, Marlen Suyapa Bodden, started her career as a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society, and from her experiences there and through her life and academic career to write her first novel, The Wedding Gift.  After you turn the first page, you leave this world of public defenders, OSHA, and workman’s comp. Bodden writes as if she has been doing so all her life. The research she put into her story and of the time period was obviously high on her list of priorities.

Told from the point of view from Sarah, a slave, and Theodora Allen- her masters wife, this story is the tale of illegitimate children of slave owners- the unloved, uncared for children who never asked to be born, but in doing so, take on the status of their mother. For that is the law within slavery.

Sarah is six years old when she realizes that she is a slave, but even at six, she has her wits about her. Intelligent, cunning and creative, Sarah is determined to make the most of her life and she’s going to die trying to escape the bonds of slavery.

Theodora, the mother of the Allen household, is a kind soul whose heart is broken and rather than letting that destroy her life, like so many other women, she has decided to rise above. She decides that being the wife of a slave owner gives her some authority, though not over her husband and his decisions.

Bodden’s choice of telling the story from Sarah and her mistress’ mother was a thought out plan that unfolds beautifully. Telling parts of the story from two perspectives show the parallel lives these people live, and how one man can rule his world and negatively affect one aspect but not the other. Sarah and Theodora are two heroines trying to escape injustice in their lives, and fighting like hell to flee from the bondage that binds them to the Allen estate.

 

The Young Wives Club

theyoungwivesclubBeing that I am a transplanted southerner, I suppose it makes sense that I love books based in the south. There is something about a story that is able to take me back home where I can picture the town where I grew up, and the surrounding ones that fill me with heartache and nostalgia. Books like The Help, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Georgia Bottoms are among some of my favorites. I honestly cannot resist southern fiction. Matter of fact, I think it deserves its own section in Barnes and Noble. While browsing, I’ve been known to search for titles that I know have to be based in the south. Perhaps it’s because I live in California where there isn’t much of a southern influence (if any), or perhaps because it’s where I grew up and therefore what I know; whatever the reason may be, southern fiction holds a place in my heart that no matter what folks say, I will always read.

The Young Wives Club, by Julie Pennell, is a book with a bit of a double-edged sword. Yes it’s about southern women who have married young, which I know is cliche’, but it’s also about their triumph. Recounting four young women and their search for love and purpose in life. The Young Wives Club, shares the nitty-gritty about what happens when folks marry young, whatever the reason, and the good and bad that can stem from there. Told in modern day and, alternating between narrators these “young wives” are anything but damsels in distress.

Chronicling the lives of Laura who has dropped out of high school to follow her new husband to LSU and hopefully the NFL, Madison whose bad boy, Cash, won’t commit, Claire who faces problems with infidelity, and Gabby who wants to keep her past out of the equation, these women are coming to terms with their lot in life and cheering for one another the whole way.

The adversities these young women face are not the stories you’ll be expecting. This is no “girl got knocked up at 16” story that will leave you shaking your head. Rather this is a story of four situations vastly different from one another, tied together by friendship.

If you’re a fan of characters with deep rooted secrets, scenerios that leave you wondering what you would do, and books you can’t put down perhaps you should give this one a try!