Saturday, May 4, 2019

Review: A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy

A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bravo, Sue Klebold! This book was a huge undertaking. She did so many things right by writing this book. Sue Klebold’s son, Dylan, was one of the two boys that carried out a horrific school shooting in Columbine, Colorado. The book begins at the time the news broke that there was a school shooting. She began praying for her son’s safety. As she became aware of his culpability, she felt compelled to pray for his death.

The book is not about the Columbine tragedy, although that is a piece of the story. This is Sue Klebold’s journey. This is her own reckoning of what she could have or should have done differently to prevent the Columbine tragedy. She shared some amazing insights that she had afterward and with incredible candor and honesty, opens herself to those who want to use her and Tom’s parenting as a scapegoat. As a mother of grown and teenage children, I can not agree with her more. As a school counselor with 29 years of experience, I say, “Amen!” The child you know at home may not reflect the child that interacts at school. And neither of those children necessarily reflect the child in his or her brain.

Dylan was the second son of Tom and Sue Klebold. They were a typical upper middle class family that practiced both Christianity and honored Sue’s Jewish heritage. They attended baseball games together, watched movies together, and hung out with one another. Dylan was not a social recluse. He had a group of friends. He and Eric Harris were part of this friend group. Nobody had any idea what they had planned. They did not know the degree of different brain sicknesses these boys were carrying.

While never downplaying nor excusing her son’s behavior, her journey includes 6 months of simple survival while the media vilified the parents. She seemed to be in a state of denial of his role during this time. She didn’t know what he had done and assumed the other shooter had coerced him. Although Sue is careful to not tell the other boy’s story, the reader can infer that he was volatile and outwardly angry and hostile. His parents were aware and actively involved. As a parent and educator, I’ve seen parents who ache to help, not knowing where to turn and how to calm the brain. It is 6 months later that the facts and movements are objectively explained to the Klebolds. Their beautiful boy really had murdered his school mates of his own volition. They had carefully planned mass destruction and succeeded in killing 13 people, injuring others, and traumatizing a town and a nation.

Over the next 16 years, Sue looks for answers. What caused her son to snap? What she discovered is that easy, pat answers are what the ignorant (my word, not hers) use to falsely buffer ourselves from it ever happening to us. The reality is much more complex. Bullying, deep depression, suicidal ideation, access to guns (the Klebolds were and are pacifists), violent video games, the chemistry between these two boys all played a part. The answers aren’t in the book but some solutions are offered. Better brain health access is the big takeaway.

Although not a Marilyn Manson fan, I was impressed that he cancelled his concert to honor the victims in Colorado while the NRA did not cancel their gathering two weeks after the tragedy. At the time, I did not recognize the wisdom imparted when asked what he would tell the victims and their families Marilyn Manson said, “I wouldn’t tell them anything. I would listen.”

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Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Review: Normal People

Normal People Normal People by Sally Rooney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wondrous and wise coming-of-age love story from the celebrated author of Conversations with Friends

At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school football team, while she is lonely, proud and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers—one they are determined to conceal.

A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years at university, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. And as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.
Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.

I can’t say exactly why this novel had me so riveted. I think it is the way the author zeroes in on the character’s flaws and reveals motivation that the reader goes, “Ahhhhh. Of course!” Even readers who have psychology backgrounds and years of workplace experience will find the story and the historyilluminating.

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Review: Wilder Girls

Wilder Girls Wilder Girls by Rory Power
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don’t like writing bad reviews. I will say that the plot has a lot of potential. An isolated all girls school where things have gone really, really wonky. I think the author should have stuck with that and really developed it rather than taking detours about sexuality and partly written dialogue addressing sexuality. There was also something to do with estrogen and how the teachers didn’t get the mutation or whatever as heavily yet the male groundskeeper did. The logic never quite made it to conclusion.

So much potential and so many detours leaving me, the reader, irritated that I spent the time reading the book to the nonconclusion.

I received this ARC from Netgalley.

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Monday, March 25, 2019

Review: Ask Again, Yes

Ask Again, Yes Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book that I don't really know how to review. I think I will agree with another reviewer that it has a slow beginning but moves along after that. The catalyst that really moved the story happens about then. I think why this book is so appealing is that there is no clear beginning, middle, and end. The end of the book is satisfying but it also hints of a continuation of the characters and the echoes of parents' decisions, mistakes, and triumphs. The writing is so wonderful and so perfect and so exactly right about things that I've never been able to verbalize.

"For months, conversations were drowned out by static, and she found herself having to speak louder, listen harder. She lost track of what people were saying. She lost track of what she was saying and sometimes heard herself speaking as if from across a room. Physical movements were becoming more and more difficult, like trying to swim through a vat of wet cement. But these were symptoms she only noticed after the static quieted, after the cement drained away. “It’s mostly like that for everyone,” Dr. Abbasi said. Everyone like her, he meant. It was impossible to have sufficient detachment at the most dangerous times. This was his way of saying she had to forgive herself."

"They still walked the same routes around the house, doing the same things they’d always done, more or less, but lately she felt a poverty of something—happiness, she supposed—deep inside her ribs, the place were she used to feel her joy spill over. What they’d told each other when they got married was still true, at least for her. She wanted to work, come home to him, discuss their days, eat meals together, go to bed. She wanted to watch a movie on the weekend, maybe go for a long walk, maybe go out to dinner, maybe see friends. She wanted to be able to tell him anything and have him tell her everything. And there were some weeks, still, when they did just that. If they could do all those things and pay their bills and not dread going to work each morning, coming home each night, then that was a life. That was a great life, in Kate’s view. What else could there be? If they reminded themselves that these small things were enough, she believed, then they’d always be okay. So that was part of their vows, all those years ago when they climbed the steps of city hall on a Tuesday morning, the first appointment of the day. They vowed to live simply and honestly and to always be kind to each other. To be partners."

"Criminal arrogance. Just like his father. The father more than the mother, even. At least the mother had something wrong with her. A disease, maybe. But this was a crime of the ego, a person believing he could get away with things other people can’t."

"(Female character) thought about their wedding day as a conclusion to something, where he thought about it as a beginning. Rising action versus falling action. They were reading different books."

"They'd both learned that a memory is a fact that's been dyed and trimmed and rinsed so many times that it comes out looking almost unrecognizable to anyone else who was in that room, anyone else who was standing on the grass beneath that telephone pole."

"But those are my my things. You have your things. I'm not going to take away mine just because your list is long, too."

"It wasn't that she didn't love him, he knew. It was that she loved him so much that it frightened her, loved him so much that she worried she might have to protect herself from it."

"They were great kids. Funny and weird and smart."

"We repeat what we don't repair."

Really, really well written with so many aspects to discuss. Excellent.

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Review: The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love Kate Morton’s writing. This is an older book I found with a compelling story that had me guessing until the very end. I loved it.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Review: The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live

The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live by Heather B. Armstrong
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

I am so conflicted with this book.

The good is that the author is honest about her depression and describes it so very well. Her writing is compulsive and her relationship with words is enviable. I applauded anybody who is willing to write an honest memoir. But that is where my conflict comes in. It is certainly her choice to share what she wishes to share of her personal journey and I acknowledge that. What drove me crazy was the little tidbits that hinted of a much, much bigger story that is probably relevant to her journey but then, after one sentence, she drops it. Why mention it at all if it isn’t going to be fleshed out adequately for the reader? There are deep issues with her father and I respect her discretion as she has a continued relationship with him yet she intimates how very horrible he was to her in her childhood by making a reference to TV bombshell and then drops it.

I found the author very, very good at describing how it feels to be so depressed that she wanted to be dead but much of the book is a lot of description of the sounds of her mother’s shoes as she walks quickly a conversation about constipation. Her writing tends toward promising something deeper but leaves me wanting as it doesn’t deliver.

Apparently, there are also inside jokes or references that I didn’t get. I don’t like to feel stupid or excluded when I read a book. I enjoy an intellectually challenging read but the references were not that. They were inferences made within her mind, pop culture, or her blog. Truthfully, I’m not as trendy as she is.

I admire the author for who she is and what she has accomplished and continues to accomplish. Fans of her blog will probably understand a lot more than I did. My review is based on my frustration level and not on Ms. Armstrong’s writing style.

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