The Art of Losing by Lizzy Mason

Harley’s only wish is that she could unwind the clock, just reverse time to the moment before she made the impulsive decision to leave her best friend’s party before assuring her sister had a ride home with someone other than her own drunken boyfriend, Mike. Maybe then her sister, Audrey, would not be in the Neuro ICU in a coma, having just barely survived a near-fatal car accident. And although it was not Harley at the wheel, she feels so much responsibility for the whole mess, it may as well have been. Overwhelmed with anger and guilt, Harley muddles through Audrey’s recovery, all the while sorting out issues around her relationships, substance use, and how to manage and express her own very complicated feelings.

Written as a young adult novel by an author who has experienced addiction and rehab treatment herself, this novel seeks to provide a wake-up call for those who try to deny that those in their teens can be addicts, and/or that just alcohol alone can be a drug that can endanger lives. Many minimize the risks of teenage binge drinking that is seen both in high schools and on college campuses, but it in fact takes a huge toll on both the physical and the psychological health of those affected (and often those around them as well) – and alcohol intoxication is a cause of 30% of fatal car accidents in the US. Only when one takes treatment seriously, whether through residential or intensive outpatient rehab or through regular group meetings like AA, can one begin to find a path toward recovery.

Unfortunately, while the message here is crucial, the story itself is part after-school special, part soap opera. The characters are a bit flat and over-privileged (every teen has their own car, somehow), and the plot just misses the mark in plausibility. For example, we learn that somehow, just when Harley realizes her boyfriend is really a dick, she discovers that her literal “boy next door” is really the love of her life? Really? Way too pre-packaged, in my opinion. Why does she need another boyfriend anyway? I would have loved to see her come to an understanding of herself without another guy in the picture, all on her own. That was a bit disappointing…

In spite of my misgivings about the delivery, this novel still raises truly valuable messaging around addressing mental heath treatment, particularly addiction and substance use. If it can sway even one young person to confront their own issue, to turn to someone for help, then the author will have accomplished tremendous good.

 

 

 

The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar

The Map of Salt and Stars | Book by Zeyn Joukhadar | Official Publisher  Page | Simon & Schuster

Nour has already been uprooted with her family from New York to Syria, after the death of her beloved father.  It has been hard to feel grounded, not to feel out of place, as she’s struggled to learn the language that comes so easily to her older sisters who had the advantage of having been born there.  When disaster strikes, however, they must leave once again, and Nour must find the strength to search for the place she will ultimately call home, as well as determine who she really is.  What guides and inspires Nour is her memory of the fantastical legend of Rawiya, who sets out to study the art of mapmaking, facing her own challenges and adventures.  

 It is stories like this one that brings the migrant crisis to a human level.  We might read about thousands of people crossing deserts, oceans, and barbed-wired borders in search of freedom or safety,  and it might be hard for us to connect to these realities.  But when we come to know a 12-year-old girl, with 2 older sisters, who has painful memories of her deceased father, who feels out of place and awkward and is stuck in her own dreams and her father’s stories, we connect with her.  And when she travels we travel and when she is in danger, we are in danger.   And it’s hard and it hurts – and that makes it human.  And that is the power of fiction – it makes things real. 

What works in the novel is the simultaneous tale of Rawiya,.  It serves as an emotional release from the intensity of Nour’s journey- almost a literary breath, if you will.  More than that, though, it gives an opportunity to highlight the mystical and historic richness of the lands through which Nour is traversing.   These lands of Arabia are vibrant and full of legend, and the story brings this to light.  

Again, this is hard to read, but it is poetically written, colorful and imaginative.  A journey of its own.   

 

The Golden Child by Wendy James

The Golden Child: A Novel: James, Wendy: 9781510737914: Amazon.com: Books

Charlotte is what many would call a “queen bee.” She is always at the center of activity– pretty, smart, and sporty, with many friends who admire her — while her older, yet more sedate sister, Lucy, seems happy just to hang on the sidelines. Their mother, Beth, has been preoccupied with their upcoming return from New Jersey to Australia, so while there have been some signals of trouble, it hasn’t felt like much more than normal “girl stuff” to her. Could it be that she’s missed something enormous, even in her own daughter?

This is a disturbing and yet utterly engaging novel that anyone who’s ever known or ever been an adolescent girl can relate to. (And if you’ve ever been a mom of one, it tugs at your heart strings like few stories do.) It highlights the cruelty of the adolescent girl dynamic, the targeting of others for random imperfections, quirks, or non-conformities and the ostracizing of others for the least infraction of an ever-changing, “accepted” norm. In the age of social media, it is magnified a million-fold and it is irreversible. And horrifying.

The writing here is crisp and engaging and the characters, while somewhat stereotypical, are still extremely plausible. The author also utilizes the technique of incorporating blog posts from the characters to interject their innermost thoughts, which adds both a deeper dimension and a clever diversion to the plot. It’s an intriguing read that keeps you turning the pages – with a satisfying twist of events right up until the very end.

This is not a “MUST READ” but it’s quick, slightly disturbing, and yet intriguing one, if you have the time.

Waiting to Be Heard: A Memoir by Amanda Knox

Waiting to Be Heard: A Memoir by Amanda Knox

In the fall of 2007, Amanda Knox joined the many college juniors who left their campuses to study abroad, Amanda choosing a small town, Perugia, in Italy for her experience. Because her chosen university did not have a dorm for her to live in, she felt fortunate when she stumbled upon an apartment she would ultimately share with 3 other women. Life with the others began quite peacefully, and she formed a comfortable relationship with each of them. What she never imagined was that one of them would be brutally murdered by a stranger, and that she, Amanda, would be wrongfully accused of being the twisted ringleader of this murder.

I felt compelled to read this story, as I’d felt compelled, years before, to listen to this story every time it came on the news, in each of its permutations. When it first was announced in the media, the story was quite bizarre, filled with seedy details of sex and drugs that sounded questionable even back then. And the more it was discussed, the more bizarre and unlikely it sounded.

Reading the actual story was much more painful, however. It was no longer someone far away – it was now someone I was getting to know and empathize with. I hadn’t remembered so many of the actual details of the story – or probably never was given the true ones — nor learned about her personal life before the murder or during the trials. I also didn’t know how much time she served in prison, before she was finally found to be fully innocent. And I also didn’t how the prosecution obtained their evidence and how willfully they pursued a feeble motive/explanation for the events against the weight of the evidence for the defense. It was truly like watching a car wreck – you can’t look at it and at the same time, you can’t look away.

And honestly, even though I knew the ending, there was still a great degree of suspense. The ups and downs were wildly intense and I felt the ride right along with her. When she was trapped inside those walls of the prison, I felt almost as if I was inside there with her.  It was almost hard to breathe. At the same time, she showed a courage and hopefulness I’m not sure I would have had.

This was a very quick read that I’d definitely recommend!

 

 

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

As the Adler family proceeds to boarding for the flight to LA from NY, Jordan, Eddie’s brother, creates a scene. Feeling empowered by his newfound sense of being an almost-adult, he refuses to walk through the security scanner, holding up the line just enough to inspire annoyance in his parents. The others on the plane have taken notice as well, but proceed to contemplate their own lives, as one does on the “time out” that a flight offers. As the story progresses, and we learn about many of the colorful people on the flight, we also learn how it tragically ends – and how the lone survivor learns to cope.  

In this surprisingly moving story, the author deftly captures the mental paralysis, the constant feeling of being under water, that trauma can instill.  Edward, the teenager who survives, teeters on the verge of falling apart, but is held together by his aunt and uncle and his dear friend next door.  And while this might sound bleak, the story is kindly balanced with the lighter stories of the various passengers of the imperiled flight.  

The writing is quite poignant.  While there are a few moments that are a little unrealistic, we are drawn to Edward and suffer along with him.  But we also drawn to the kind folks who surround and bolster him as he muddles through.   I found myself particularly liking his principal, who, rather than forcing Edward to talk about what was going on inside, just allows Edward to come into his office and help him care for his treasured ferns.  In this quiet, kind act, he offers Edward an island of peace where he can escape the noise of the school he attends.   It is a place where Edward can just be, and not be alone, but just be.  Sometimes this is the most generous and sensitive way in which we can support someone who is in pain.  It is not always easy to do, but it might be the kindest path.

I found myself very choked up by the end of the story, as Edward seems to find his way.  I suspect you will be too.  

 

Becoming Eve by Abby Stein

Born to what was considered a royal Hasidic family —  a descendant of the Baal Shem Tov — Abby Stein was raised as a boy in one of the most gender-segregated societies on earth.  From an early age, she knew she was a girl and when she, at the age of 4 years, expressed this to her mother, she was given the very clear message that this was never to be spoken about again.  Throughout her childhood, she rebelled, against god, against her restrictive society, and against a world that did not allow her to be herself.

This memoir was so detailed and heartfelt – until it wasn’t.  We hear about every moment in Abby’s early life.  Her journey from one yeshiva to the next, from one rebellion to the next.  There are very intimate passages, revealing her first love for a young man who is obviously struggling with his own sexuality.  This episode is quite tenderly written and the reader feels such empathy for these two who cannot pursue their love in the restrictive society in which the two “boys” live.   We hear about the details of the study in which Abby immerses herself, how she advocated to learn about law and ultimately about mysticism.  And some of the details about Hasidic life are quite interesting.  And we hear about her marriage to Fraidy, which is actually quite sweet and hopeful, to some degree.

But suddenly, when she describes Fraidy giving birth to their son, and all of a sudden, it is as if she drops off a cliff and, POOF! she is a woman.  There is little to no mention of how she disengages from her prior life, with the exception of an epilogue, which tells only of how she tells her father she is a woman. We do not hear about her connection with her child, we do not hear about she experiences the transition from her insular world of Hasidism to the outer world, we do not hear about much of anything else.  This I find unbelievably disappointing and a sorely missed opportunity.  After hearing so much detail, the absence of detail is astounding.

I did learn from this book, but I was disappointed by the ending.  On the other hand, I do hope that Abby finds peace with her family and can connect with them.  She obviously loves them dearly and they do her.  I hope they can find a way to see that she is exactly who she always was.

 

 

How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas

Dory has not skipped multiple grades as have all of his older siblings.  He has not acquired any advanced academic degrees and he has not defended his PhD thesis.  He believes he is barely even noticed by anyone, even when he routinely runs away from home to test his theory.   The only one who does seem to see him is Denise, the only other person in his class with no friends.  Denise, who is known to be chronically depressed, even suicidal at times, and who shuns every other human being’s attention.  As Dory works hard to decipher just who he is in the context of his odd, cynical, intellectual family, he learns that one doesn’t need a PhD to be kind or to find justice.

This is a quirky coming-of-age novel that will no doubt wind up on your local indie foreign film screen one day soon. Simultaneously dark and sardonically comical, the story goes where you least expect it to go.  And the characters are wonderfully unconventional.  Dory himself is so painfully awkward and is so utterly endearing that the reader feels for him from the very first line.    Even his siblings, who are narcissistic and socially objectionable, are still quite funny and entertaining.  Even Denise, who is depressed, isolated, and cynical, offers her own brand of glib commentary on the world which is often sarcastic.

On the other hand, it is also a  quite serious commentary on the emotional crippling of the educational system.  While Dory finds himself surrounded by siblings who excel academically, he finds no one is able to mentor him in the area of emotional intelligence.  This he has to figure out on his own, and this is his greatest challenge.  His siblings are all emotionally suppressed, have no friends and have never learned to express or cope with emotions in any healthy way.   Ironically, it seems they look to the youngest of them all – Dory – as an example.

I actually really liked this book and I believe you will hear more about it and its author.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

For anyone who has ever loved rock music, in all its crazy glory, I give you Daisy Jones and the Six. Written, cleverly, like a Rolling Stone interview, the story chronicles the accidental marriage of Daisy Jones, a gorgeous, lonely, and gifted child of LA in the 60’s with the band, The Six, originally from the East Coast and starting to hit it big.  The personalities, the alliances, the drugs, the romance, the challenges and the drama – it’s all there in an exquisitely crafted story of their rise to fame, fortune and ultimately the realization of some painful truths.

This is just an incredibly fun book to read.  The characters are wonderfully portrayed, with such vulnerability and warmth that you fall in love with them every bit as much as they are falling in love with each other.  The band feels so real.  You almost remember the songs they sing, as if they are hidden somewhere in your brain and not something you’re reading for the first time.  And the ego clashes are reminiscent of every band that Rolling Stone has probably ever interviewed, but are still somehow interesting because we are meeting them behind stage, unplugged, often unmoored and raw.

The idea of writing this story as an interview is brilliant.  My first inclination toward it was, honestly, reluctant.  I thought it might actually get old quick.  But it works!  it actually feels so honest and somehow more powerful, with the narrative coming from each of the characters themselves.  It is quite an unusual technique.

You will laugh, you might cry – but you will absolutely love Daisy Jones and the Six!

Every Day by David Levithan

How would you feel if you woke up inhabiting the body of a different person each and every morning?  You awake and have to adjust to their world, access their memories, and go along with their life, relating to their families and friends, doing their homework, going to their parties, and then the next day, move on to the next person.  This is how A lives.  And A is fine with this, until A meets Rhiannon, who changes everything.  Because, for the first time, A has fallen in love. What this does to A and what this does to Rhiannon creates a very beautiful, if not difficult love story that is imaginative and a little insane all at once.

This young adult novel has been around for a bit of time (has already been made into a movie even), but I have only just had a chance to read it – and I’m happy I did.  The premise is so creative, and while you might think it would get “old” after a few times of switching, it does not because of how wildly varied each of the lives are that A inhabits .  It is, of course, implausible, but because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it is quite fun.  The author also creates a slight undercurrent of threat that adds a little suspense to the plot, which enhances the story and enables the twists that occur.  Along the way, too, there are many opportunities to wax poetic about the ways in which we are all fundamentally similar, whether it is with regard to gender, sexuality, religion, or culture, which the author never passes on – and which I appreciate.  This is the beauty of the story, I believe.  (I will say that because of this, I am quite surprised when A is quite stereotypically critical of the body A inhabits that is extremely overweight.  He shames him to no end, even lowering to accusing it as stemming from laziness –  so surprisingly pedestrian.  Amidst all the other open-mindedness, this is an utterly disappointing moment in the book.)

I think it’s a very cute story, with a very creative premise.  A quick, fun read.  Great for the young teen in your world!

 

Body Kindness by Rebecca Scritchfield AND Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole

These two complementary books are revolutionary in their importance.  Dieting and dieting culture has overtaken most developed countries and has become a billion dollar industry.  Most importantly, however, it has probably been what has contributed most to what is known today as the “obesity epidemic” among health care providers, and yet, what do most health care providers prescribe as an antidote?  More diets!

The newest and best science is pointing toward the fact that diets cause more harm than good, and just about every diet counts.  Whenever you tell someone not to eat something, what does that person then, instinctively crave?  Whatever it is you’ve forbidden them, of course!  And after restricting whatever it is you’re restricting – calories, carbs, fat – it doesn’t really matter – after losing weight, the body seeks to regain the weight, by doing whatever it takes.  So people tend to regain the weight, plus!  And yo-yoing is worse for you than just being a bit overweight, in terms of causing more inflammation and heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and the unwanted health consequences of the overweight in the first place.

Because let’s face it, if we’d just accept ourselves in the less-than-“Twiggy”-as-ideal-bodies, we’d not have to worry about the dieting.  Our priority should really be about health.  And if it’s really and truly about health, then we’d throw away the scales and talk about fruits and vegetables and whole foods and exercise and that would be that.  We’d not be supporting Weight Watchers, and NutriSystem, and Jenny Craig and all the others who are making millions and preying on those of us who have fallen for these very smart business models.

So what do these books say?  Basically, that we were born with the internal cues that tell us when we’re hungry and when we’re full and we have to try to reach back in to find those signals and respond again to them.  To do this, we must trust that our bodies are really good at this and it’s ok to respond to them, even if they sometimes tell us that it’s ok to have a slice of cake because it looks delicious and we love this kind of cake and even if they tell us not to finish everything on our plate because we’re actually full.  The books also encourage movement of any kind, not just punishing workouts at a gym and give guidance on how to avoid emotional eating which many find quite challenging.  And they also encourage one to dig deep and find a way to care for oneself – that is, to carve out time to really see to one’s own needs that are being superficially cared for by food but that if tended to more deeply, then food won’t need to serve as a pacifier.

I think that almost every woman I’ve met has dieted at some point in her life.  So many would find either of these interesting and helpful.

Let’s try to move our conversations away from how we look to what we can achieve!!