Sunday, May 28, 2017

Theft By Finding by David Sedaris

"In the U.K., if you discover something of value and keep it, that's theft by finding."
I kept a diary for long periods in my life. So, I like to read diaries. I read Samuel Pepys' diary. It took me two years. I read it in bed so every night the last line I read was usually, "And so to bed."

I thought it would be great to read David Sedaris's diaries. I have read several books by Sedaris and I've heard him on the radio. The first book I read was on recommendation by a library staff person.

I was living in a teeny rural town where the police chief had his own untrained militia and was armed with ex-military weapons, including a Hummer. I heard the KKK left flyers on driveways. The local church was splitting because the denomination was not strongly anti-abortion and anti-gay and anti-anything else progressive liberal. I went to the library and asked for funny books to raise my spirits, and I was given Holidays on Ice.

Its no wonder funding to libraries has been on the cutting block under the current administration.

Consquently, I should have known what I was getting into when I requested Theft by Finding, excerpts from his 156 volume diary kept between 1977 and 2002.

I had no idea.

"What I prefer recording at the end...of my day are remarkable events I have observed.."

And he has observed some pretty strange events.

At times I thought, what did I get myself into? Other times I laughed out loud, but no way was I going to tell anyone what was so funny. It's  embarrassing to laugh at something so incorrect.

And yet, I realized, Sedaris's stories were, well, pretty believable for all their bizarreness. I lived in Philadelphia and seen some pretty weird stuff myself. But that's another story.

Also, Sedaris has some pretty spot-on insights.

One of my favorites is from November 17, 1987, Chicago. The police had caught a man who had smashed windows and painted swastikas on Jewish businesses. He was a skinhead with tattoos, Sedaris writes,"which is strange, I think, because Jews in concentrations camps had shaved heads and tattoos. you'd think that anti-Semites would go for a different look."

His self-knowledge is also commendable. On January 26, 1999, in Paris, he is called a misogynist. "No," I corrected her, "I'm not a misogynist. I'm a misanthrope. I hate everyone equally."

Sedaris is thoughtful. On December 31, 1998, he wrote that his dad, visiting him in Paris, had the evening before leaned near a candle and set his hair on fire. He wrote, "This morning we went to buy him a hat." Such a good son. Helping Dad keep his dignity by covering up the scorched hair.

In his forward, Sederis suggests readers peruse the book, sampling here and there, now and then. Good luck with that. Frankly, it's hard to put down.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

"Raw glimpses of the humorist's personal life as he clambered from starving artist to household name... though the mood is usually light, the book is also a more serious look into his travails as an artist and person... A surprisingly poignant portrait of the artist as a young to middle-aged man." —Kirkus (starred review)

Theft By Finding
David Sedaris
Little, Brown & Co.
Publication May 30, 2017
$28 hardcover
ISBN: 9780316154727

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Summer 1971: Endings and Beginnings

The summer of 1971 brought huge changes in my life, beginning with a family death and ending with love.

Gary and I, July 4, 1971
Early in the summer I went to Adrian to visit for a few days, seeing several friends who were in summer school--including Gary. At the Pub the guys flipped the pressed metal ashtrays for fun. I had a midnight curfew to get back to the dorm; until then, Gary and I walked around campus and sat on the hill in front of Peale Hall.
A bit flattened, but this is an ashtray
from the Pub which the guys liked to flip.
On July 1 a Kimball friend visited me, struggling with personal issues. I did not know how to help and I did not want to get sucked into the drama. I was burned out from trying to keep Adrian friends away from drugs. Now I just wanted to be happy with Gary. I never called her back. I felt guilty for a long time, feeling I had let her down. Thirty years later she said she did not recall I had ever let her down.

On July 3 Gary took me to meet his family. I wrote that they were nice. They grilled and we ate outside. His Grandmother Bekofske was there. She was a character with a glint in her eye. She told me how she became "emancipated" from the "tyrant tea."
Gary and I at his parent's home
On July 4 Gary joined my family for BBQ in the back yard. My Ramer Grandparents and Uncle Dave and his family were there.
I am on the right, dad across from me.
Grandpa Ramer is at the far end on the right.

Grandma and Grandpa Ramer, July 4 1971
When Gramps learned that Gary had never seen The Shrine of the Little Flower he had to take him for a ride to see it right then. Learning that Gary was considering seminary, Gramps offered him his sermons.

My Grandfather Ramer, my mother's father, was born to an unwed mother in 1905. They lived with his maternal grandmother in Milroy, PA. Before Gramp's tenth birthday, both his mother and his grandmother had died. He went to live with his mother's sister's families.

My grandfather Lynne O. Ramer with his mother
Gramps was a good student and a quick learner. His Uncle Charlie Smithers would reward him for memorizing the state capitals or Pennsylvania county seats. Gramps was accepted to Susquehanna University, working in the kitchen to pay his tuition. After earning his BA, he stayed to earn a Master of Divinity.
Grandpa Ramer on the Susquehanna College kitchen staff
Gramps was Evangelical Lutheran. When he did not get a call, he and his college friend Roger Blough attended Columbia University Teacher's College in New York City. Gramps was hired to teach mathematics and history at Hartwick Seminary, near Cooperstown, NY.  He fell in love a student. After working his way across the country during his summer break, he returned and asked her parents for her hand in marriage.
Grandpa Ramer in the Kane High School yearbook
They moved to Kane, PA where my grandfather taught high school math. My mother and her siblings quickly arrived so that by age 21 my grandmother had four children. During WWII Gramps worked as an engineer at the Tonawanda, NY aviation factory testing airplane struts and his family lived in war housing in Sheridan Parkside.

Gramps at the Tonawanda, NY plant
In 1955 my grandparents moved to Royal Oak, MI. Gramps was an engineer at Chevrolet, taught at trig and calculus at Lawrence Tech, and was a deacon at an Episcopal Church in Ferndale.
Granpa Ramer in the Lawrence Tech yearbooks
Gramps, far left, as a deacon
Somehow he found time to write hundreds of articles for his hometown newspaper and hundreds of letters to people all over the country. In the late 1950s he became interested in research out of Columbia University's Lamont Observatory and obtained funding for the project through his old friend Roger Blough, who was then head of U.S. Steel.
On June 7 I got a job at Burger King on Main Street. I bought a uniform and shoes and studied for the job. A lot of us had been hired and we crowded the kitchen. I was not proactive and waited to be told what to do. The job lasted one day. I didn't make the cut.

On Friday, July 10, Gary arrived for the weekend. He almost stopped by to see Gramps first. On Saturday, July 11 my family and my Ramer grandparents had dinner at the Wigwam.

After my grandfather's first heart attack he gave up smoking, walked more, and lost weight. But on Sunday morning, July 12, I wrote, "Last night around 6:00 pm Grandpa died. I loved Grandpa much. He was a wonderful man. "

I was devastated. "I cannot word the sorrow, I cannot pen the knowledge and burden of truth, I cannot spell the doubt of what actions to perform. I can only feel and wait for enlightenment."

I hated going to the funeral home. I wrote, "I bit my lip and hung to the back of the family, with Gary at my hand. I wouldn't go up and look at Grandpa because it wasn't natural, it wasn't really him." Gary reminds me that I said "that isn't Grandpa; it is only the house he used for a while."

Someone was finally taking care of me. I wrote that I never had thought about marriage before, especially before I had completed college. And I was only 18. And Gary was still deciding about seminary or teaching. But, "I needed him so much and he lent me strength."

I continued, "I saw the family that Gramps began, raised, loved, and I knew his ideas were in us, and his memory--the memories of his actions, an example to follow. I knew he would never be gone because he left himself behind--I knew it was not a sad funeral because he lived a full life, accomplished much, found happiness, and created love--what more could a person want from life? Even Gary had been touched by Gramps." Tom and I and our cousin Mark came home about 7:30 pm. We ate and watched TV until everyone returned around 11:30 pm.

"Grandma called this morning. She found a letter in Gramps' desk, [which] he wrote it in '69. He said he wanted a simple, closed casket funeral. I was to get all of his writing and correspondence and the family tree information. I always said I wanted them."

On July 12 my college roommate Marti and her boyfriend Sam came to the funeral parlor. That evening I cried listening to Limelight [Charles Chaplin's theme song from the movie by that name]. I wrote I was "filled with joy for the love Gramps bore for me, the ideas and help he gave me. I thought of the family he made when he had none, and how we loved him."

July 13 was my grandfather's funeral. I wrote that "it was not a sad funeral because he had accomplished much, found happiness, and created love. What more could a person ask? A sad funeral would be for the man who never loved, never was loved, but forever dwelt on his own pleasures." I noted that I was rereading Thomas Wolfe's chapters about Ben's death.

Gramps was interred at White Chapel cemetery, near a Blue Spruce like the one in his Berkley back yard, and not far from a giant cross.

Mom stayed with Grandma that evening. I contemplated the future and life. I wrote, "the sky was blue and the trees were green and the wind blew down strong--The stars against the evening sky shone brilliantly. Grampa said, "sentimental bunk--but what make us tick?" I realized it was at Gardenia the summer we moved when I found Gramp's 101 Famous Poems and discovered poetry. And now he's got me into the Maryland Anthology."

Grandpa Ramer had shared my poems with Maryland poet Vincent Godfrey Burns who edited an anthology and had accepted my poem. I don't know how Gramps knew Burns, but he had a copy of the book he wrote, I Was A Fugitive From A Chain Gang and I had read it.

Gramps had shared his books with me. He had taken me to visit a professor whose son had a large telescope for summer studies and I saw Jupiter's rings. He gave me mimeographed educational materials on nature and science prepared by one of his friends. On a trip to New York State, Gramps took me to see his Hartwick Seminary student Pastor John Kisselburgh who wrote Shadow of the Half Moon. When a girl, he took me to see a Tarzan movie and The Story of Ruth. And I had met his friends and family in his hometown of Milroy, PA and in Tonawanda, NY.

When I went to college he sent me a weekly letter full of family news, and always included coins taped to a paper in the shape of a smiley face.
Grandpa Ramer taped coins to index cards to
include in his weekly letters to me when I was at college
I wrote, "I feel him in me-- his strength, ambition, ideas. I believe I inherited a lot from him."

Over the years I tried to be like him. He never met a stranger, always finding some mutual ground to build a relationship upon. Many years later, on the morning of my Grandmother Ramer's funeral, I was outside of a store waiting for it to open, chatting with a man who was also waiting. It turned out he had been one of my grandfather's students in Kane, Pennsylvania! He had ended up working in Detroit also. He told me that my grandfather was a wonderful man.

Grandma Ramer asked me to write to Ben Meyers, the Lewiston Sentinel columnist who shared hundreds of Gramp's letters recalling Milroy in the early 1900s. I wrote that Gramps passed away in his backyard among his 'posies' and trees.

Gary had to study for his psych exam the weekend after the funeral. I played my records and looked over my scrapbooks.

July 14 I was working in telephone sales for a real estate office. I hated the job. I had to take a bus and transfer to another bus, costing 45 cents. "I always get lost and the drivers are never helpful, and everyone on the bus sits unsmiling and alone so all the seats are full and I have to go to the back of the bus for a four block ride because no one wants you to sit with them, except violin players."  I had sat with a girl with a violin who took lessons at Wayne State. I ran into her several times.

"I wish I could read and write and play piano and read Gramp's books and letters and visit the cemetery--no time with this stupid job. I'd rather be active, or outside, but no, and every day a dress and stockings--I hate it."

On July 17 I wrote, "The only thing that kept me sane was selling raffle tickets for church, the rocks in the parking lot where I ate lunch, and walking to Save-On in the evening." I always liked rocks. I hated the windowless room and my boss and the commute.

The next day I went to Swanton, OH, to attend the birthday party of my Adrian friend George. He and his girlfriend Nancy took me on a tour of their hometown. From there I went to Adrian to see Gary. I left Adrian at 9 pm and ran out of gas coming home and had to walk to a Texaco station!

June 21 Gary was visiting and we went to Great Scott where I saw a Kimball friend. Gary had brought his Jesus Christ Superstar album to lend me and I gave him Clair de Lune piano music and my copy of Voltaire's Candide. The boy I used to date now and then called. I expect I told him I was seeing someone from college. I always knew he was in love with someone else anyway. I lost my telephone soliciting job.
I was in contact with Kimball friends, including Peggy who told me Shirley and Lynn were camping with their boyfriends. Margie from Herald staff brought her 1971 Lancer to show to me. I felt sad hearing Margie talk about Kimball and I wondered if "tomorrow will measure up to yesterday." Margie was going to Albion in the fall. We 'rapped' about college. A girl called me to update me on Kimball kids gossip. Somehow she knew all about who was dating who.

I watched Love Story and The Sterile Cuckoo on tv at Grandma Ramer's house.

Sunday, July 26  Gary and I went to see my roommate Marti, and with her boyfriend, we went to the Detroit Institute of Art. For my birthday on July 28, Mom made hot dogs and cake. Gary gave me a bronze incense burner.

Gary announced that he had decided to go to seminary after college. He was deciding between Garrett in Chigaco and METHESCO in Ohio. I was supportive of Gary's decision.

In August I picked up my Grandfather's papers and books, which my parents would store for me. Gramps' sermons, stoles, and surplice were also put into storage for Gary to use in the future.

It was coming up to a year from when I met Jim, and over a month since I let him know about Gary. I said I was finally "getting over my hate, I mean, defensive dislike to override my guilt complex. Looking back he [Jim] was really ok." Earlier in the summer, on June 5, I wrote that I had broken up with Jim because I "am a creep with a guilt/doubt complex" who was unable to find it "seriously possible to really love" since my heart was broken by my old high school boyfriend. Gary was the first to make me feel love again.

Over the summer, Dad took Tom and me fishing. I went to K-Mart to buy records, had dinner at Arby's and ice cream at Ray's, visited my Aunt Nancy, Uncle Don, and Uncle Dave and their families. Mom, Dad, Grama Ramer, and Aunt Nancy and my brother Tom all had birthday parties.

Gary and I had joined my folks and the McNabs at the Galaxy Drive-In, all in separate cars. The McNabs, my family, Gary and I went to Algonac and on the St. Clair River. Gary took me to picnic at Bloomer Sate Park and we went swimming. I mentioned going to the cottage of a boy from my church who was also at Adrian.

On August 30 Gary and I went to the Michigan State Fair for the Sunrise Service, which was televised. The Youth Revival sang hymns and a song by Peter, Paul, and Mary. Grandma Ramer joined my family for pizza that night.

I was preparing my shopping list for college: contact solution, Ten-O-Six, Dew Kiss lotion, toothpaste, instant coffee, new slacks, nylons.

Summer was over. It was time to return to Adrian. Several of my freshman friends were not returning including Elaine and Jim. I was considering changing colleges to be nearer to Gary. Western if he went to Garrett? Kenyon if he went to METHESCO? But I would loose my state scholarship. Gary even talked about renting a room from Grandma Ramer and commuting to METHESCO.

I looked forward to a semester together at school with Gary, but I knew that come December he would be leaving for seminary and I did not know what that meant for our relationship.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

I have been privileged and protected in my small life. I came from a working class family with no significant problems. I was able to find a college to accept my less than stellar grades. I married a man who went into the ministry. We had challenges but we had what we needed. No one in my family was ever in jail, no one was targeted because of color or religion.

I knew about the great faults in American society and my heart was in the right place. I spoke out when I could, boycotted, tried to be educated, tried to pattern the right behavior. But I had no idea of the depth of my ignorance until reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.

The stories Stevenson shared crushed me, like a pressure on my chest. I read a chapter at a time, then had to step away and let the horror and despair subside. For Stevenson reveals an American justice system not only without mercy but that was corrupted on the local level for political gain.

In the 1980s, fear of rising crime was used by politicians who proposed stricter and harsher prison sentences, three-strike laws, and treating children as adults. As prisons filled to overcapacity, for-profit prisons arose and they lobbied for harsher sentences to keep their business profitable. The death penalty was reinvigorated, even if the methods employed were cruel and unreliable.

Caught in the cycle are innocent men and women, children relegated to life in prison where they are sexually abused, the mentally handicapped, and women who raped by men unpunished for their abuse of power.

Bryan Stevenson was drawn to seek justice for those on death row, especially the innocent without legal counsel. He started the Equal Justice Initiative and Just Mercy is the story of his work and the people he tried to help. It is a cry for reform of the justice and prison system. And a cry for mercy.

The book has won numerous awards and prizes. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times called it, "Searing, moving." It is a disturbing book to read, especially because upright citizens who demand punishment have little idea of who they are condemning and what they are condemning them to. We have instituted "vengeful and cruel punishments" justified by our own suffering. "But simply punishing the broken--walking away from them or hiding them from sight--only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity," Stevenson writes.

There is one story that brings hope. A prison guard who showed extreme racial prejudice learns more about the prisoner he has treated with contempt, and he could connect his experiences to the prisoner's. It changed the guard's mind and his life.

Stevenson is the mouthpiece for the stories of unjustly imprisoned men and women, allowing readers to understand their walk. May we learn compassion and press for a just system, showing mercy to those broken by racism, mental illness, poverty, addiction, abuse, and trauma.

As Stevenson reminds us, we are all broken people.

I received a free book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Just Mercy
Bryan Stevenson
Spiegel & Grau
$16 paperback
ISN: 978-0-8129-8496-5

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Dinner Party and Other Stories by Joshua Ferris

I was in the car with my husband listening to NPR when we heard an interview with Joshua Ferris on his new book The Dinner Party and Other Stories. My husband is no fan of short stories but he said to me, "I'd read that book." I smirked because I knew I COULD read it. Being pre-approved by Little, Brown & Co. on NetGalley has its perks!

I downloaded the book and started reading.

These twelve stories are about how good people can make really bad decisions. The stories have humor, ironic twists, and chillingly bad choices. I was mesmerized.

In More Abandon, or What Ever Happened to Joe Pope? a man trashes and rearranges the offices of his coworkers, then turns the lights off. He thinks, "An odd scruple. But it's not the world that needs destroying, just his world."

The Stepchild concerns a man who is brooding over his failed marriage. He shows up at the apartment of a married woman he met once. He tells his sad story, and they talk, and 'fall in love'. At the end of the day, he returns to his ever suffering wife.

In The Dinner Party, a couple argues about friends who are late for dinner. The husband can't endure another meal with them, but his wife insists on keeping contact with one of her oldest friends. Finally, the wife retreats to bed leaving the food to spoil while the husband goes to see if their friends are ok. He arrives to find a party going on. His wife's friend knows their friendship is a sham, but he unable to tell his wife the truth.

In The Valetudinarian, Arty and his wife retire to Florida, then his wife dies leaving him alone in a strange place. He withdraws from life and nurses his unhappiness.When his children call for his birthday, he tries to engage their attention with complaints about his health. Then a prostitute shows up at his door, a birthday gift from a friend.

The Pilot concerns a scriptwriter who can't believe he has been invited to a party hosted by a famous director/actor. He wonders, was it a mistake? Should he go? He's been sober for sixteen months but the party unnerves him and he slips.

In The Fragments, a man's wife works later and later until one night she does not come home at all. He is sure she is having an affair. He broods over dividing their things. As he dismantles their life, his wife returns home.

Life in the Heart of the Dead takes place in Prague. A businessman goes on a historical tour of the city. He realizes his whole life has been 'a tour' without a destination.

In A Night Out, Tom and Sophie are reconciling after being estranged over his affair. When Tom speaks to a woman, Sophie is sure she was his mistress and disappears to follow her. Tom searches the city for his wife, finding he is too broke for subway fare. At a bar, he discovers his credit card has been canceled. Sophie's jealousy spurs her into an extreme act of revenge that could cause harm to herself. Meantime, Tom's real ex-mistress shows up at an inopportune time.

In one of the most disturbing stories, A Fair Price, Jack, asks what are we here for? Do we have some greater purpose in life as men? He has been a disappointment to his father, always making 'a hash' of things. He hires a man to help him move some things and unsuccessfully tries to engage him in human contact. In frustration, Jack vents his anger and is left to consider what a 'good' man does when he has done something wrong.

A fatherless son watches his mother throw out one more man in Ghost Town Choir. The man understands the child longs for a father. "Hell, who couldn't use a daddy?" he thinks, apologizing that he couldn't help. His mother responds by changing things around her instead of herself.

I loved the writing, descriptions like "his mustache moved up and down like a centipede." And lyric passages like this from The Breeze: "The children's voices carried in the blue air. Then the breeze came. It cut through the branches of trees, turning up the silver undersides of the young leaves."

My favorite story was The Breeze. On a perfect day, Sarah imagines a perfect time with her husband. She feels under pressure to do something memorable. She feels her husband is dull and her life is passing by without having really lived. Plans are made and go awry as she imagines possible outcomes.

There is a desperation in Sarah, "thinking her options were either a picnic or death." There is a longing for a fuller, more authentic life. "She wanted to be a different person, a better person, but he was perfectly happy being his limited self." Sarah is wise enough to realize that happiness is something she must find for herself for no person can give it to you.

In the end, she makes the right decision, finally understanding how they can both enjoy this one and perfect day in a beautiful and simple act of invitation.

These are stories I want to read again.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Read The Dinner Party at

The Dinner Party and Other Stories
Joshua Ferris
Little, Brown & Company
$26 hardcover
ISBN: 9780316467973

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

An Evening with Elizabeth Berg

This week I saw Elizabeth Berg at the Troy Public Library in Troy, Michigan. The TPL hosts authors several times a year and was very excited to have Berg, the best-selling author whose book Durable Goods was picked for Oprah's Book Club.

I was fortunate to have read and reviewed her last book, The Dream Lover about George Sand, and also her upcoming novel The Story of Arthur Truluv, coming out in November. I had also read several of her early books when they came out.

My friend Theresa took a writing workshop with Berg and praised her sensitivity and encouragement.

Berg shared the history of her interest in writing, her varied career, and her experience in publishing. Read an article about at

Berg's novel Durable Goods, published in 1993, was inspired by her experience as an 'army brat' with frequent moves and an adored but abusive father. The book led to a better relationship with her own father. And it ensured financial success as an Ophrah Book Club pick, selling 500,000 copies. She used some of her royalties to buy her father his dream car.

Berg's decision to be a nurse was a sudden revelation based on her desire to care for and love others. Of special interest was how her training as a nurse impacted her ability to create characters. Nurses are instructed to see the whole person and to leave all presumptions and prejudices behind.

I could definitely see how Berg's values and experience resulted in The Story of Arthur Trulov. Arthur has the ability to love wholly, even his difficult neighbor and a runaway teenage girl with a nose ring. I expect the book to be a huge hit, and I hope that the message of the story resonates with readers and changes lives.

The audience was interested in how Berg approaches writing. Berg does not follow a strict routine or schedule but waits for the story and characters to be ready.

I had the opportunity to ask Berg a question. After remarking on her upcoming novel I asked how she came to write The Dream Lover, a historical fiction/biographical fiction novel so unlike her other books.

Her answer was an old one: she became interested in Sand and wanted to read a fictional account of her life but found no one had written one. She first suggested the idea to fellow author Nancy Horan, who wrote Loving Frank about Frank Lloyd Wright and Mame Borthwick (which I have read twice) and Under the Wide and Starry Sky about Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife (which I can't wait to take off my TBR bookshelf). Horan replied that she was too tired, so Berg decided to write the book that she wanted to read.

It was a difficult process and she nearly gave the novel up several times. Then there were the rewrites suggested by her editor. In her career, Berg's editors rarely asked for a word changed. Lucky for us readers, she persisted and the book was completed.

Berg had considered a fictional account of the life of Carson McCullers but realized she did not want to live in that dark world. Instead, she has dedicated to writing books of inclusion and inspiration.

It was exciting for me to hear Berg mention that 'someone compared' The Story of  Arthur Truluv to a parable. Because that is just what I had written in my review to NetGalley and on Goodreads a few weeks previous! I can dream it was my review she was referencing. If not, at least I am not alone in my connection!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Friend In Need: Allie and Bea by Catherine Ryan Hyde

When I have been reading a lot of 'heavy' books and need to lift my spirit to remember that good things can happen in this world of trials and conflict, I am glad to have Catherine Ryan Hyde to turn to. Her newest book, Allie and Bea, did not disappoint.

Hyde's books have a common thread: imperfect people with real life problems, often mired in anger or despair, are lifted through an empowering, healthy relationship.

This novel begins with Bea, a widow in her senior years, living on Social Security that can not cover her basic needs. Scammed out of her meagre savings, she has reached rock bottom and becomes a homeless vagrant living out of a panel van.

Enter Allie, a fifteen year old on the run for her life. When Allie's upper class parents opted for lifestyle over paying the IRS they ended up in jail. Allie is taken under Child Protective Service and placed in a group home for delinquents until a foster home opened up.

Allie has high standards for herself and holds others to them. It brings her into conflict with a violent girl, and fearing for her life, Allie joins a runaway girl only to find herself faced with a human trafficker.

Allie flags down Bea's van and forces her way into Bea's life, and in nine days together on the lam, Bea is brought to reevaluate her entire life and Allie finds someone who will stand by her when her family has failed her.

I enjoy how Hyde takes contemporary social issues and through likeable characters elicits an emotional understanding from readers. Yes, her endings are neat and sweet, but that is why I turn to her books. Sometimes we all need a wish fulfillment tale.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Allie and Bea
Catherine Ryan Hyde
Lake Union Publishing
Publication Date: May 23 2017
$14.95 paperback
ISBN: 9781477819715

Monday, May 22, 2017

New Boy by Tracey Chevalier: Othello on the Playground

I looked forward to reading the Hogarth Shakespeare update of Othello by one of my favorite historical fiction authors, Tracey Chevalier.

Set in the 1970s, New Boy is the story of Osei Kokote, son of a diplomat from Ghana, newly arrived on the suburban Washington D.C. schoolyard. O, as he is called, soon finds that Dee, the most popular girl in school, chooses him to be her boyfriend. But Ian, the playground bully, sees his entire social hierarchy threatened by O's love conquest and kickball ability.

Racial stereotyping and prejudice simmers, unspoken but obvious in the teacher's attitudes. When teachers observe Dee and O touching each other's hair it only confirms their worst fears about the black boy.

Ian sets up a series of events to make O suspect his good fortune, bringing misery and physical harm.

Chevalier's playground society rings true to the character's age and time, and the Othello story becomes more chilling and disturbing played out by characters in an America divided by racism.

New Boy is a powerful book. It can stand on its own, but I hope it will be used to introduce young adult readers to Shakespeare's tragic play. I recommended it to my book club.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

New Boy
Tracey Chevalier
Publication May 16, 2017
$25 hardcover
ISBN: 9780553447637