"Truth is stranger than fiction,
but it is because Fiction it is obliged to stick to possibilities;
Small Great Things - Jodi Picoult
Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publishing Date: 10/2016
Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?
Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.
With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game.
Ruth Jackson grows up in New York with her mother, Adele, who works as a maid for a wealthy family in Manhattan, and her sister Rachel who later changes her name to Adisa. The Hallowell's daughter, Christina, is close in age with Ruth and they become friends. When Mrs. Hallowell was pregnant and Adele helped her deliver the baby it impacted all the girls differently into their adulthood - Rachel/Adisa had 5 children, Christina had a child through a surrogate and Ruth became a labor and delivery nurse. Ruth absolutely loves her job and has over 20 years of experience in her field. She was the nurse on duty when Brittany and Turk's son, Davis, is born. While doing a routine check-up on the Davis and Brittany, Ruth noticed that Brittany and Turk were acting strange and chalked it up to the nervousness of being new parents. Needless to say she was shocked when they requested her supervisor to remove her from their care. It turns out that Turk and Brittany are white supremacists and did not want a black nurse touching their child. Although she doesn't agree with the decision she abides by it. A few days later Davis is circumcised and Ruth is the only nurse available to watch him when the attending nurse has an emergency with another patient. Unfortunately, Davis stops breathing and Ruth is left with a tough definition, does she help the child even though she's not supposed to touch him or does she do nothing? When her supervisor returns to the room, Ruth assists her supervisor in reviving Davis but he dies. As expected Turk and Brittany are upset and blame Ruth for Davis's death and file a criminal complaint which leads to Ruth being arrested in her home. While being arraigned Ruth meets her public defender Kennedy McQuarrie. Kennedy, who is white, believes Ruth is innocent and wants to take on the case herself, although she doesn't have enough experience with murder cases. Kennedy did not think bringing race into the courtroom would benefit Ruth because she believes justice is blind and it wouldn't help Ruth to bring up race in court. However, Kennedy didn't take into account her own prejudices and biases while preparing for the case and it took a lot of . In the meantime, Ruth lost her job and had to find a way to take care of herself and her teenage son, Edison. Kennedy realized in order to gain Ruth's trust she has to let Ruth tell her own story. . . she did try to save Davis even though she wasn't supposed to touch him. Ruth told the court that essentially race and prejudices have affected her life, for example not getting promoted, although she's been working in the hospital longer than her younger and newly employed supervisor. During the trial, Kennedy presents evidence that there were complications in the pregnancy which caused Davis's death. After the trial the lives of Ruth, Turk, Brittany and Kennedy changed in many different ways.
“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”
Small Great Things title comes from a Dr. Martin Luther King quote during the Civil Rights Movement in which the goal is for people not to discount small acts of service because even small acts can mean big things and lead to big acts. Jodi Picoult understood that choosing Dr. King's words might cause some issues but she wanted the people who read her book, and in particular white people, to find not only find his words inspiring but as a guide to self-awareness. Keeping the topic in mind, this book is definitely a powerful read. It deals with so many topics that can be difficult for readers to read such as: race, prejudice, infant death, white supremacists, suicide and the legal system to name a few. I went through a spectrum of emotions while reading this book: anger, sadness, disbelief and reflection. Reading this book when racism seems to be prevalent and undisguised was hard. Picoult did a really good job making all the voices in the book believable whether you wanted to hear them or not. I would like to give Picoult credit because she did a lot of research and spoke to people that could help her understand the points of view that she was writing the characters about. She interviewed and sat down with women of color and two former skinheads to do the proper research for the book. She enrolled in social justice workshops and learned about what White Power groups believe in. While writing Small Great Things, Picoult could have easily pandered to one character or tried to make the whole book into a kumbaya moment but I think she thought through how she wanted each character to be portrayed and to make the reader think about their own views and how they contribute to racism. I often find that writers who write books outside of their culture don't take the time to understand the subjects and just write about their perceived truths.
Overall, I really can't do this book justice. It's definitely a page turner. There's no way you can read this book and not take stock of what your beliefs are, what, if any, prejudices you have toward a certain group of people and/or how those thoughts have influenced you in your day to day interactions with others. I would definitely recommend this book for others to read.
Did you read Small Great Things? What did you think? Did you like any of the characters? Can you identify with any of the characters? Have you ever encountered any sort of racism/prejudice? Have you displayed any racist behavior towards others? Did reading this book point a magnifying glass towards any thoughts/behaviors you've had in the past that you're not proud of? Would you recommend this book to someone? Why or Why not?
Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
Author: Ray Bradbury
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: June 2013
SIXTY YEARS AFTER ITS ORIGINAL PUBLICATION, RAY BRADBURY'S internationally acclaimed novel Fahrenheit 451 stands as a classic of world literature set in a bleak, dystopian future. Today its message has grown more relevant than ever before.
Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden. Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television "family". But when he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn't live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known.
This sixtieth-anniversary edition commemorates Ray Bradbury's masterpiece with a new introduction by Neil Gaiman; personal essays on the genesis of the novel by the author; a wealth of critical essays and reviews by Nelson Algren, Harold Bloom, Margaret Atwood, and others; rare manuscript pages and sketches from Ray Bradbury's personal archive; and much more. Here, at last, is the definitive edition of a classic of world literature.
MY THOUGHTS (w/spoilers):
In Fahrenheit 451, Guy Montag is a fireman who becomes disillusioned with his life and marriage. He begins to wonder why people would rather have their houses burned and lives ruined in order to hide, read, learn from the books he is supposed to destroy. Throughout Fahrenheit 451 you see Montag's internal struggle with what he's known and what he wants to know.
Fahrenheit 451 is made up of three parts - "The Hearth and the Salamander," "The Sieve and the Sand" and "Burning Bright". Each part shows Guy Montag's gradual journey to enlightenment. In "The Hearth and the Salamander", we meet Montag who is satisfied with his life, doesn't ask any questions and does the same things day in and day out. Until one night, on his way home from work, he meets a teenage girl named Clarisse McClellan, who engages him in conversation which plants a seed of doubt in the way Montag thinks and what he believes. When he reaches home he finds his wife, Mildred, is passed out and immediately calls for medical attention. He is taken aback and disturbed by the callousness of the EMT's while they were working on his wife. "You don't need an M.D., case like this; all you need is two handymen, clean up the problem in half an hour" said an operator to Montag. The next day Montag is rattled by a work situation which makes him start to question what he does for a living. After a few days, he realizes he hasn't seen Clarisse and is startled to find out her family has moved away after Clarisse died. Montag decides not to go to work because he doesn't think he can handle burning anything while Mildred is only concerned about losing her "family" and home. Unexpectedly Montag's boss, Captain Beatty, pays him a visit to find out how he's doing. Captain Beatty starts to recount to Montag when books became illegal and firemen no longer put out fires but created them. "With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word 'intellectual,' of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar. Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally 'bright,' did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn't it this bright boy you selected for beating and tortures after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man's mind. ...And so when houses were finally fireproofed completely, all over the world (you were correct in your assumption the other night) there was no longer need of firemen for the old purposes. They were given the new job as custodians of our peace of mind, the focus of our understandable and rightful dread of being inferior; official censors, judges, and executors. That's you, Montag, and that's me." Before leaving Montag's home Captain Beatty gives him a warning that if he has a book it would have to be burned within 24 hours. After Captain Beatty leaves Montag divulges his secret to Mildred, he has been collecting books for over a year and he wants to read to find out why people are willing to lose their lives to read them.
The second part, "The Sieve and the Sand", begins with Montag and Mildred reading books. Montag tries to have a conversation with Mildred about what they're reading but she's not interested and doesn't care to discuss anything about it. While figuring out who he can speak to about books he remembers an old English professor, Faber, and decides to go to his house. Faber thought it was a way to trap him and initially refused to help Montag, however, after Montag began ripping pages from a book he reconsidered helping him. After they came up with a plan Montag returned home to find Mildred had visitors, Mrs. Bowles and Mrs. Phelps. Montag tried to engage them in conversation but he found they were all petty, selfish and ignorant. Due to their indifference at discussing topics such as war, their children or losing loved ones, Montag decides to read a poem, Dover Beach, to them. It upset all of them and the women left. Montag decided to hide the rest of the books in his backyard. He went back to work that night with a book since he knew Beatty knew he had one. Beatty continued to engage Montag in a back and forth about books but Faber was instructing Montag, through an earpiece, to stay calm and he will help him reply when Beatty was done. Fortunately, or unfortunately, a call came in and they had to go out on a call. When the Salamander arrived at their destination, Montag realized the destination was his house.
The final part, "Burning Bright", starts with Beatty informing Montag that he sent the Hound to his house to check on him while simultaneously Mildred is seen leaving Montag and the house. Upon Beatty's orders he had to burn his house after being reported by Mildred and her friends. Beatty discovered Montag's earpiece and was planning to come after Faber when Montag turns on him and his coworkers. Before destroying the firehouse's Hound, the Hound was able to inject his leg with a tranquilizer. Montag makes his way to Faber and instructs him of how to get rid of any evidence he has been in his house. Faber directs Montag to the countryside where he can meet other exiled book lovers and he will try to meet up with him later. They watched on TV the manhunt for Montag. "He watched the scene, fascinated, not wanting to move. It seemed so remote and no part of him; it was a play apart and separate, wondrous to watch, not without its strange pleasure. That's all for me, you thought, that's all taking place just for me, by God." Montag was able to make his way to the countryside and meet up with a group of six exiled drifters led by a man named Granger. None of the men had any books but they all remembered one through memory and were hoping to find somewhere safe and start over again. They planned to recount the bits and pieces of books they remembered and pass it on to the younger generation. While they're all discussing a new world that involves literature, jets fly over to destroy the city. Montag thought of Mildred and most likely not being aware a bomb was dropped. They all became overwhelmed seeing another city destroyed and the lives gone. Eventually, they all walked on to the north trying to find refuge and find others.
I LOVE this book. I first read this book in high school and it made an impact on me. I decided to read it again as one of the options for a reading challenge I'm doing. I had forgotten how important this book is and how relatable it is in society right now. I've always loved reading and the thought of not being able to do it because it is illegal or someone made the decision for me is inconceivable to me. The main theme of Fahrenheit is censorship but there is so much more to this book. While this book can also be considered a dystopian book there are certain aspects of it that take place right now. There have been many books that have been banned for some reason or another because there's a word, thought, idea, character that a group of people don't think others should read. Why do we need other people to tell us what to think or what to read? Isn't the point of reading to fulfill a curiosity and for us to be able to make up our own minds or at least ask more questions? Shouldn't it be up to the person who picks up the book to decide for themselves? Or quite possibly show us a different way of thinking and/or can lead to further learning?
There is absolutely no way that I can do this book justice and quite honestly there's been other's who've done it superbly. All I can tell you is what it is about reading that I love? In a nutshell my answer is, every one has a different idea, experience or point of view and an author can take just one moment or thought and write a whole book about it. You can put a handful of people in a room and ask them to describe the same scenario and they will all say/see something different. A book can make someone happy, sad, angry, joyful, subdued, enlightened, contemplative, vengeful, etc. all in a span of a few pages. You never think you can feel all the emotions at one time but you can. Now, not all author's can do this but it's all a gamble as a reader. You never really know what you might think or feel when you read the first page and if you will feel the same when you get to the last page but it's such a great journey. Honestly, I'm very grateful for those who have this talent.
With all of that, I found Fahrenheit 451 to have so many great quotes but I will leave you with this one because it really resonated with me.
"Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there. It doesn't matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime." - Granger to Montag
Have you read Fahrenheit 451? Were there any parts of the book that made an impact on you? Do you have a favorite part? What do you think of Montag? Clarisse? Mildred? Faber? Captain Beatty? How would you feel living in a society where reading or having books is illegal? Would you take a chance having a book? Why or why not? Why do you love to read?
Author: Ayana Mathis
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday
Publishing Date: December 2012
A DEBUT OF EXTRAORDINARY DISTINCTION: through the trials of one unforgettable family, Ayana Mathis tells the story of the children of the Great Migration, a story of love and bitterness and the promise of a new America.
In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia, hoping for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with grit and mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. She vows to prepare them for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not love them, a world that will not be kind. Captured here in twelve luminous narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother's monumental courage and the journey of a nation.
Beautiful and devastating, Ayana Mathis's The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is wondrous from first to last--glorious, harrowing, unexpectedly uplifting, and blazing with life. An emotionally transfixing novel, a searing portrait of striving in the face of insurmountable adversity, an indelible encounter with the resilience of the human spirit and the driving force of the American dream.
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis is a story that takes place during the Great Migration, a time when millions of African Americans migrated from the rural south to the cities in the North, Midwest and West. Hattie, her mother and sisters, Marion and Pearl, left Georgia in 1923 to live in Philadelphia after their father was killed. Hattie vowed she would never return to Georgia after witnessing a white man apologize to a black woman which was something she had never witnessed in the South. Each chapter is dedicated to each one Hattie's twelve children which gives an account of their lives but also snippets of Hattie's life throughout the years. We hear in their voices about their childhood, the relationship with Hattie and August and the choices they've made in their adult lives.
It begins in 1925 with Hattie's twin children, Philadelphia and Jubilee, who are sick, however Hattie can't afford to get the necessary medicine, which would only cost a few cents to get but can't afford to buy. This already shows Hattie and August are struggling financially. Floyd's story begins in 1948, when he decides to leave home and become a jazz musician. He travels a lot trying to find the next gig all over the South. Oftentimes while on tour he reflects on his childhood when it was only Hattie and his sister, Cassie, at home alone. During that time Hattie was suffering from depression and he would often check to make sure she was still alive. "Though Hattie's grief suffocated, though Floyd and Cassie were untended as strays, the cold, cloistered rooms of Wayne Street took on a kind of beauty in Floyd's memory. . . .They were companions, mother and children, equally vulnerable and yearning, drifting through the days together." The more Floyd stayed away from Philadelphia and toured the more reckless his sexual behavior became. In 1950, Hattie and August sent their son Six with Reverend Grist on a revival circuit in the South after beating a classmate almost to death. Suffering due to an accident at nine years old, Six regularly spent his days in the house hiding from everyone specially Hattie. "His pain and weakness made him special--especially wronged and especially indignant--exceptional because he had suffered. His pain was his most precious and secret possession, and Six held on to it as fiercely as a jewel robbed from a corpse." The reason he was taken on the revival, aside to save his life, is because he has a gift of preaching, however, if it was at all possible Six "would have asked God to take his gift away." In 1951 Ruthie is born, Hattie leaves August and takes Ruthie with her to be with her boyfriend Lawrence. While they were on the way to Baltimore, August couldn't believe Hattie left him and he had no idea what to do or where anything was to take care of the children. August reflects how much he wanted to be with Hattie when he was a young man. When he was seventeen Hattie got pregnant and at the time he didn't imagine his life would have left him with a house full of kids and no wife. While sitting in his own misery August ponders what is lacking in his marriage. At the same time while on the road to Baltimore, Hattie tries to explain to Lawrence what she needs from him. "I couldn't stand to be a fool a second time. I couldn't stand it." Hattie said. "Helping me? It isn't help I need, Lawrence. It's a safe port in a storm." Hattie soon realizes that Lawrence was only feeding her pipe dreams.
"I couldn't stand to be a fool a second time. I couldn't stand it."- Hattie
In 1954 Hattie has another daughter, Ella. Hattie had to resort to getting benefits from the government due to always struggling financially . A social worker stops by every week to "ensure that Hattie continued to be a suitable candidate for the benefits she received each month." August thinks Ella would have a better life with Hattie's sister, Pearl, since they can't afford another mouth to feed but Hattie is upset he is trying to give their child away. Pearl lives in Georgia with her husband, Benny, and since they're unable to have children Pearl offered to take Ella. They drove in from Georgia but Hattie was starting to regret her decision to give Ella to them. When it came time to give up Ella, Hattie and August stood together and found it hard to do. August found the strength to finally tell Hattie how he felt about letting Ella go and what happened to their first two children. At that point Hattie and August decided to let Ella go with Pearl and Benny. By 1968 Hattie's daughter Alice is married to a black doctor and busy planning a lavish party. Out of all of her siblings she is very close to her little brother Billup. She feels responsible for him and takes care of him such as buying him clothes, finding him an apartment and paying his rent. They share a secret which tie them together but Billup is ready to move on from Alice's constant care so he got his own apartment and started dating her maid. Alice feels betrayed by both of them and fires her maid. During this timeframe Hattie has been constantly saving and is ready to buy a house because she believes "renting made them poor and common" unfortunately the sale fell through. Alice felt Hattie was too proud to take any money from her. In 1969, Franklin is fighting in the Vietnam war but he is also fighting to keep his marriage together. He fantasizes getting his wife back when he returns from war. Franklin met Sissy at the beach and they married six months later. Sissy left Franklin due to his alcoholism and gambling problem. Sissy is familiar with those vices because her father was the same way. When Franklin was trying to straighten up, he promised Hattie one thousand dollars to help her buy the house but he never came through with the money. It's 1975 and Hattie's daughter Bell is suffering from tuberculosis and is dying in the apartment she's getting evicted from. She hasn't spoken to Hattie in ten years. Ten years ago Bell runs into Lawrence and out of vengeance and jealousy she starts dating him. Bell knew about Hattie and Lawrence because she saw them walking together when she was seventeen years old. Lawrence introduced Hattie to Bell not knowing they are mother and daughter. Once Hattie and Lawrence realized what was going on, it was the last time Hattie and Lawrence spoke to Bell. Suddenly Hattie is there to save her from dying in the apartment alone. Bell was taken to a hospital to treat her tuberculosis. Hattie and August are buying a house New Jersey and Hattie invited Bell to go stay with them. In 1980 Hattie's oldest daughter Cassie suffers from mental illness. She lives with her ten year old daughter Sala in Hattie's house. August and Hattie decide to put her in a mental hospital after she destroys Hattie's garden and locks herself in her room with Sala. Now that Cassie is in the mental institution Sala is living with her grandparents. She saw them driving away and wanted them to stop but couldn't catch the car. Hattie felt to old and tired to try to raise another child but with Sala she didn't want her to live her life as a fraud.
"Half of what's wrong with people today is that they ain't got no place to go that makes them peaceful." - Willie
Reading The Twelve Tribes of Hattie brought forth a lot of emotions for me at the time. Having a sick child while reading the book and the main character having to deal with something similar made me put the book down a couple of times. There is no way you can read this book without feeling angry, frustrated, sad and shocked. This doesn't mean the book isn't any good but clearly it brings forth a lot of emotions while reading it. I just mean that it can be a rather difficult book to get through. I would definitely reread this book in order to possibly grasp a different understanding of the characters. Although we never hear from Hattie herself we definitely get a picture of what her life was like through her children's stories. None of her children have a close relationship with her or August. If anything they were all afraid of her and her temper. Can you really blame Hattie for being angry all the time though? Life seemed to have dealt her a difficult hand. August was always struggling to find work. He would often take his money to bars or spend it on other women, which meant Hattie constantly had to struggle to keep a roof over their heads, food in their stomachs and clothes on their backs. Any time she was able to save a little bit August would come along and pester her for it. If you were Hattie, wouldn't you try to find some peace in all the chaos? Yes, you probably would which is why she ended up with Lawrence. Even that didn't prove to be fruitful for her but it provided a moment of escapism from her real life or at least some hope of something better in the future. However, he was just as bad if not worse than August. Hattie at least knew what she had with August but Lawrence constantly fed her pipe dreams. Luckily Hattie realized it before it was too late. With all of this said I'm not entirely taking Hattie and August off the hook. While they were struggling in their marriage they were still producing a lot of children that needed to be taken care of financially as well as emotionally. There isn't one kid that isn't emotionally screwed up. Hattie didn't show any of the kids much love and affection while they were growing up since she was too busy trying to keep them all clothed and fed. August, on the other hand, loved their kids and would show them attention and affection but he couldn't provide them with financial stability. The kids struggled to find what was missing from their home life in others or in opportunities. I found myself angry with Hattie and August because her being angry at August/her life led her to be emotionally absent to her children and he didn't consider anyone else but his own needs and didn't take care of his home. What can I say about Floyd, Cassie, Bell, Six, Alice, Billup, Franklin, Ruthie and Ella? In a nut shell, they all needed there parents to be there for them. Towards the end it comes back full circle and Hattie is left having to take care of another child, her granddaughter Sala, but in this case I believe she realizes she can't let Sala make wrong decisions due to being hurt and wounded by the loss of her mother.
The reason I gave this book 4.25 rating is because I wanted to hear from Hattie. While we know what she's endured throughout the years, I wanted to hear how she felt about her children, husband and life. I can only speculate, as the reader, and I'm sure I wasn't too far off but only the person living the life can properly convey their feelings. I wanted to hear her say she loved her kids and regretted not being there for them. I didn't want to think of her as just being angry towards everything and everyone.
Did you read The Twelve Tribes of Hattie? What did you think? Did you like it? What did you think of Hattie? August? What did you think of the kids? Do you think they chose their lives or it was chosen for them by the way they grew up? Do you think Hattie could've changed after August finally told her he was suffering too? Do you think Hattie and August made the right decision giving Ella away? Is there anything you would've changed in the story? What would you rate the book?
Let me know what you think!
Commonwealth - Ann Patchett
Author: Ann Patchett
Publ Date: 5/2017
One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating's christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny's mother, Beverly--thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.
Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows among them.
When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.
Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.
All it took was one kiss for two marriages and the lives of their six children to be destroyed. Albert "Bert" Cousins is a deputy district attorney who is in a bored marriage to Theresa Cousins and together they have four children: Cal-12, Holly-10, Jeannette-8 and Albert Jr. "Albie"-6. While Fitz Keating, a detective, is married to the beautiful Beverly who have a daughter Caroline and have just welcomed their second daughter Franny. So where did it all go wrong?
The storyline was interesting, two families are rocked by infidelity and now the kids are the ones who suffer the consequences of neglect, loneliness and wreckless behavior. Although it would be common for the kids to dislike each other it was just the opposite. They actually rallied against Bert Cousins because they all blamed him for destroying their families. The book reflects on the lives of the adults and the kids and how they changed throughout the years. Throughout the book we get glimpses of what happened to the adult versions of the children. All the characters reflect on all the things that happened and whether anything could've been different. By the end they come to terms with all the decisions made and how they were handled.
I really wanted to like this book because I've heard good things of the author Ann Patchett. Maybe I walked into this with my expectations too high. However, I found Commonwealth to be slow paced and confusing at times. It wasn't until the middle of the book that you discover the tragic event that rocked the two families once again. It just seemed to drag on for me. Although it did have interesting plot points it wasn't anything that could steadily hold my interest and it took me forever to finish this book. When it got to the middle it inevitably picked up but then it started to wane again. There weren't enough high's in the story to keep it interesting to power through the low points. My other issue was the amount of characters. I had to make a list in order to keep track of who was who so it would make sense. There was definitely potential in the book but maybe I just missed it. I would consider reading the book again just to see if I would get a different perspective but I would have to give it enough time in order to forget I wasn't a fan of it.
What did you think of Commonwealth? Did you enjoy the book? What parts did you like or didn't like? Who was your favorite character? What did you think of Bert Cousins and Beverly Keating's role in what happened that summer? Do you blame either one or both? Why do you think the children lied? What do you think of Franny's role in the writing of the novel? What do you think of the adults the kids became? Would you recommend this book to someone?
Author: Lynda Cohen Loigman
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publishing Date: March 2016
Brooklyn, 1947: In the midst of a blizzard, in a two-family brownstone, two babies are born, minutes apart. The mothers are sisters by marriage: dutiful, quiet Rose, who wants nothing more than to please her difficult husband; and warm, generous Helen, the exhausted mother of four rambunctious boys who seem to need her less and less each day. Raising their families side by side, supporting one another, Rose and Helen share an impenetrable bond forged before and during that dramatic winter night.
When the storm passes, life seems to return to normal; but as the years progress, small cracks start to appear and the once deep friendship between the two women begins to unravel. No one knows why, and no one can stop it. One misguided choice; one moment of tragedy. Heartbreak wars with happiness and almost, but not quite, wins. Moving and evocative, Lynda Cohen Loigman's debut novel The Two-Family House is a heart-wrenching, gripping multigenerational story, woven around the deepest of secrets.
MY THOUGHTS (w/spoilers):
As a reader, after reading the Prologue, you can immediately guess what was going to happen, however, what you don't know is who made the decision and how it is going to impact everyone. Two brothers live with their respective families in a two family house. Pretty much that's about all they have in common. Mort lives with his wife Rose and their three daughters on the first floor and Abe, Helen and their four sons live on the second floor. Mort is a bitter, cantakerous and uninvolved father while Abe is friendly, good-natured and loving husband and father. Helen and Rose became very close friends, if not sisters, after Rose and Mort got married. They depended on each other for companionship, friendship, support and once they found out they were pregnant at the same time they couldn't be more excited but each had a secret wish---Rose wanted a boy whereas Helen wanted a girl. Mort was not an easy man to be with and Rose felt that if she could give him the one thing he wanted then maybe he would be less angry, less bitter. Helen on the other hand wanted a girl because she wanted someone who wasn't so rough and would want to spend time together. She knew once her boys grew up they would leave and she wouldn't have that friendship with their wives. So on a fateful night a decision is made, yet one was able to live with the choice, while the other regretted it then everything changed.
Even without Loigman telling you right away they switched children you knew that's what happened. What took me by surprise was Rose's reaction afterwards--she no longer cared about herself, her new son, Teddy, or what Mort thought. Where she was once a devoted and attentive mother she no longer took any interest. Sadly, due to Mort's ornery day-to-day behavior and now Rose's inattentiveness their children felt abandoned. She initially suffered from postpartum depression eventually she just became a very angry person. In a nutshell she became Mort. It was pretty clear she regretted the decision that was made but she never tried to correct it. It seemed like she blamed everyone else for the circumstances: Mort for wanting a boy and not being happy prior because of it, Helen for being able to go on as though everything was fine and herself for making the decision and not being okay with it. Rose took out her frustration and anger on the one person who was the closest to her, Helen. Time and time again Helen tried to recapture their friendship but Rose consistently and cruelly pushed her away.
In spite of all of this chaos between the adults the two youngest children, Teddy and Natalie were the best of buddies. They complimented each other beautifully. Teddy is quiet and unsure while Natalie is willful and confident. Consequently, their friendship along with Natalie's tenacity is what helped Mort finally become a father. Somehow Natalie found a way to engage Mort without being obstructive to Mort's way of being. Then tragedy struck and it rocked both households. By this point Rose and Helen's relationship is almost non-existent whereas Natalie and Mort's friendship grew. She became Mort's touchstone. He became a nicer man due to her generosity of spirit, just like her father.
I tried to give a very broad view without giving too much away. Yes, I know that the plot of the story was easy to tell right away but what I liked about this story was how things changed after both Rose and Helen got what they wanted. Rose's expectations of her home life depended on the gender of her child. She thought all of a sudden Mort would become father and husband of the year. Of course, she realized later this is who he was and she just didn't care anymore. Helen had the girl that she wanted and remained the same person. It didn't matter to her how she got Natalie she was just happy to have her and Teddy in her life. At first Mort was the same and he realized "having a boy is the same as having a girl" but with Natalie around, Teddy was able to shine a bit. Abe was always loving and kind man even to his brother who at times didn't deserve his kindness.
One of my issues was how didn't anyone guess why Rose and Helen weren't speaking. Even Judith, Rose's eldest daughter, kept trying to understand what happened and knew it started on the night the babies were born. I tried putting myself in their shoes but I kept going back to the same thought....HOW DON'T THEY KNOW? HOW HAVEN'T THEY BEEN ABLE TO FIGURE THIS OUT? The other issue is Rose. I didn't get why she behaved that way. Yes, she was fed up with Mort and how his behavior affected everything and his disinterest in the girls but she ended up losing the one person that was closest to her. I don't think what happened warranted her behaving that way. Yes, she regretted her decision but she also made a decision not to do anything about it too. The people I really feel bad for are Helen, Teddy and the daughters. Helen missed her friend, Teddy missed having a mother and the girls missed the mother they knew. What could've possibly been a happy situation turned out differently and the only good thing was that Mort became a kinder man.
What did you think of the book? Did you like or dislike it? How do you think the story would be different if the women didn't exchange babies? Do you think Rose would have taken the same course? What about Helen? Would the relationships between the two families remained? Would Mort and Rose's marriage survived? How do you think Natalie was able to get through to Mort? How do think their relationship changed afterwards? What do you think of what happened to the rest of the individuals in the families?
Brooklyn - Colm Toibin
Author: Colm Tóibín
Publishing Date: March 2010
It is Enniscorthy in the southeast of Ireland in the early 1950s. Eilis Lacey is one among many of her generation who cannot find work at home. Thus when a job is offered in America, it is clear to everyone that she must go. Leaving her family and country, Eilis heads for unfamiliar Brooklyn, and to a crowded boarding house where the landlady’s intense scrutiny and the small jealousies of her fellow residents only deepen her isolation.
Slowly, however, the pain of parting is buried beneath the rhythms of her new life — until she begins to realize that she has found a sort of happiness. As she falls in love, news comes from home that forces her back to Enniscorthy, not to the constrictions of her old life, but to new possibilities which conflict deeply with the life she has left behind in Brooklyn.
In the quiet character of Eilis Lacey, Colm Tóibín has created one of fiction’s most memorable heroines and in Brooklyn, a luminous novel of devastating power. Tóibín demonstrates once again his astonishing range and that he is a true master of nuanced prose, emotional depth, and narrative virtuosity.
MY THOUGHTS (w/spoilers):
I may be in the minority by saying that I thought this book was just okay. I felt empathy for Eilis's struggle of having to travel alone to a new country with no friends or family to await her arrival. Specially since the trip took longer by boat and she was very seasick. She had to learn how to survive living in a new place and try to make new friends. While reading the book you can tell she was young and naive and she did show some spirit at times but overall she just went with the flow.
I think that's what bothered me about it and it probably says more about me than the character. Eilis didn't make her own decisions throughout the book (e.g., her sister got her the trip to America, Father Flood found her a place to live, a job and in school for bookkeeping). Her life seemed to be run by everyone else. She didn't seem to have any opinion of what she wanted or she didn't say it to anybody. She was very passive aggressive with her roommates and her landlord. She clearly didn't like them because they would say things she didn't like but she didn't say anything to stop them. The reason she married Tony wasn't because she loved him but because she couldn't say no. Tony clearly loved her and wanted to start a family but she couldn't tell him that she wants to work instead of a family.
Eilis did have moments of character but they were rare and far in between. For instance, when she assisted the black customers at the department store she worked. She knew her supervisor was not pleased but she did it anyway. Also she was nice to her roommate Dolores even though everyone else made fun of her for being a scrubber (she cleaned the house for rent). It was in these instances that I found myself cheering for Eilis. I wanted her to do something for herself. Unfortunately, she continued to follow what everyone else told her to do.
I feel like I wanted to like the book because everyone was talking about what a good book it was. The more I tried to force the issue the more annoyed I became with her.
What did you think of the book? Did you like Eilis's character? Did you understand her perspective? Do you think you could move to another country by yourself? Would you have made the same decisions she did?
ROOM - Emma Donoghue
Author: Emma Donoghue
Publisher: First Back Bay/Little, Brown & Company
Publ. Date: May 2011
To five-year-old Jack, Room is the world. It's where he was born, it's where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. At night, Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where Jack is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it's the prison where she has been held for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in this eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But Jack's curiosity is building alongside Ma's own desperation--and she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer.
Room is a tale at once shocking, riveting, exhilarating--a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child.
MY THOUGHTS :
The story begins with Jack turning 5 years old. Jack eats, plays and watches only a little TV, his Ma says if you watch too much "it rots the brain", in a room. This is the only place Jack knows but to his mother there is a world outside the room she misses and where people miss her. For the past seven years Ma, as she is called by Jack, has been held captive by Old Nick but Jack doesn't realize it. The room is Jack's whole life and all he knows. He doesn't believe what he sees on TV is real. He thinks all the stories his mother tells him about the outside world are made up and just wants to stay where he is. As time passes by Ma is not only afraid for herself but for Jack too. She knows Jack is getting older and Old Nick will see him as a threat and may either take him away or harm him. She recognizes the fact that it's time for them to try to escape and she has to depend on Jack for help.
Room was a tough read for many reasons. First, it is written the way a 5 year old child speaks and thinks since it's written through Jack's point-of-view. It wasn't that he didn't know how to speak but his vocabulary is clearly very hindered due to his limited interaction with people other than his mother or watching television. Second, even though Jack's mother tried to instill some semblance of normal to what a normal boy his age would do, such as exercising on a homemade track, playing pretend and learning to read, after awhile you start to understand what difficulties Jack would face outside the room. Third, the subject matter is very, very difficult - abduction/kidnapping, captivity and rape.
Due to the topics of captivity, kidnapping and rape the book instilled a sense of fear right from the beginning. Initially I started to feel claustrophobic by the space they lived in. Jack's mother had no privacy and they had to make due with the space that they did have. Donoghue draws you in to their every day lives that it almost starts to feel normal and you hope the bad guy doesn't make an entrance into the small bubble Jack and his mother have created. When Old Nick makes an appearance I immediately got a sense of dread and anxiety because I never knew when he would come back and destroy the safe space again. I wanted to yell at the book/Old Nick to leave them alone. Although Donoghue brings him into their safe space but when he's not there he feels like a shadow that is always looming. When coming up to the parts of rape I had to put the book down. Although Donoghue didn't give to much detail the idea of it was horrendous. Plus the added fear of what can happen to Jack made it even worse.
I rated the book a 4 because I liked it and thought it is well written even though primarily it was difficult to read via a 5 year-old's perspective. I disliked it because of the subject matters of the book and I found one aspect to be unbelievable. I found it absurd that Jack's mother hatched a plan so quickly and implemented Jack into it. Jack was still the same 5 year old who thought his mother made believe all the things about Outside and now she's asking him to go on a harrowing task and be brave. Yes there was an element of speed in which the plan had to happen or else the opportunity would've been lost yet she expected a lot from Jack who never set foot outside. I'm glad and I cheered when the plan worked but my heart was in my throat the whole time. I was very scared for Ma and Jack. I couldn't imagine putting our lives in my child's hands and hoping they would be able to memorize a plan while being scared at the same time.
What did you think of Room? How did you cope reading through the difficult parts in the Room? What did you think of Jack? Ma? Did you have trouble reading Room? Have you seen the movie? If not, do you plan to? Is there anything you would change or think should be expanded on?
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