Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop (A Fiction)

Letter to My Daughter

George Bishop (Adult Fiction)

Arguments. Mothers and daughters have them often, but this argument was different. This one ended with a mother’s slap and a daughter’s angry exodus into the night. As worry and regret floods her brain, Laura sits down in her quiet kitchen and begins writing a letter to her daughter, Elizabeth. A letter that she hopes will give Elizabeth some insight into her upbringing and past in order to help bridge the divide that has grown between the two of them. Simple and honest words on paper that might heal both of their souls and perhaps lead to understanding and forgiveness.
Anyone who automatically dismisses this book because the author is a man will be depriving themselves of a thoughtful, reflective, and meaningful read. I quickly became lost in this story and often found myself thinking it a memoir rather than a work of fiction as the emotional details are strikingly vivid and the writing is genuine and immersive. Although it’s a quick read, it instantly draws you in and will either make you wish that you had received a letter like this from your own parent or that you had taken the time to write a letter like this to your own child.  
Through Letter to My Daughter, George Bishop reminds those of us fortunate enough to be a parent, that our children really don’t realize that we had an actual life before their grand entrance into the world. That whenever they utter, “You don’t get it” and “You just don’t understand” that we truly do get it because we also dreamed big dreams and had our heart broken and were disappointed by those people that we thought we could trust. We also laughed and cried and had horrible (and sometimes humorous) lapses in judgement and so yes, we really do understand because at one time, we were just like them—young, overly confident, woefully unprepared, and ready to take on the world…whatever that meant. And while we beat our heads against the wall trying to impart our hard-earned wisdom into their beautifully thick skulls, we find ourselves saying, “You don’t get it” and “You just don’t understand” and then we realize that just like that, the circle is now complete.  

Throughout the book, I kept being drawn to the character of Sister Mary Margaret, a kind and compassionate nun who taught at Sacred Heart Academy where Laura was sent. Laura quoted several of her sayings in her letter and every one of them is a gem in its own right: Never be afraid of the truth; Begin at the beginning; Avoid sentimentality at all costs; and my personal favorite, Be good, and if you can’t be good, at least be sensible. With advice like this, maybe Sister Mary Margaret should consider writing a letter, too?

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.amazon.com

The Gypsy Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (J Fiction)

The Gypsy Game

Zilpha Keatley Snyder (J Fiction)

Melanie didn’t know much about Gypsies, but if her best friend April could make Egypt into a fun and exciting game, she knew that The Gypsy Game was sure to be a hit as well…even though Marshall might be harder to convince. But soon after the Professor’s backyard began transforming into The Gypsy Camp, things began taking an unexpected turn. Between a found bear, a missing friend, hit men, detectives, and kidnappers, maybe a game about Gypsies wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Thirty years after her Newbery Honor-winning novel The Egypt Game was published, Zilpha Keatley Snyder brings April, Melanie, Marshall, Elizabeth, Toby, and Ken back into a new game filled with adventure, suspense, and danger. Don’t expect Snyder to waste her opening pages rehashing events from her last book. Instead, she picks up right where she left off and instantly plunges readers into the action (so if you’re a little fuzzy about the Casa Rosada, who Security is, or why parents don’t want their kids wandering around outside alone, be sure to re-read The Egypt Game first). It’s clear that time has not weakened the strong and unique bond that her main characters have formed with one another and although they may occasionally bicker and disagree, theirs is a camaraderie that might be stretched thin, but will never be broken.  

Unlike her first book which presented the reader with plenty of interesting facts about Egyptian history, culture, and traditions, The Gypsy Game gives us just the scantest peek into Gypsy life while unintentionally giving readers the impression that Gypsies can boiled down to nothing more than headscarves, jewelry, and bright clothing. It seems a grave disservice, but Snyder eventually does delve into the more gritty and dark aspects of Gypsy life when she exposes their persecutions throughout history. Although I would have liked for Snyder to dig a little deeper into Gypsy culture, her sequel has enough twists and intrigue to keep fans of her first book engaged and satisfied.

Like her first book, Snyder’s sequel reminds us of the downsides of judging a book by its cover and how much we stand to lose when we jump to false conclusions. Just as the Gypsies were outcasts, Toby himself meets three outcasts and discovers just how far a simple act of kindness and generosity can go. American financier Bernard Baruch put it best when he said, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” Although April, Melanie and the others didn’t realize it at the time, perhaps The Gypsy Game wasn’t about the clothes or the jewelry or the brightly painted caravan, but rather it was about watching out for your friends, staying true to your word, and offering a little bit of humanity and dignity to the most vulnerable around you.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.amazon.com

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

Housekeeping

Marilynne Robinson (Adult Fiction)

Marilynne Robinson’s book about two orphaned sisters (Ruth and Lucille) raised by their eccentric Aunt Sylvie in the dank and judgmental town of Fingerbone is a reminder that verbosity and detail are not the same thing and that more is not always better. Robinson clearly is on the “more” side as every character, mood, and setting in Housekeeping is described ad nauseum. She goes so far into the weeds in noting and detailing every memory, smell, glance, gasp, twitch, rustle, and shiver that when she finally finishes her thought, we’ve totally forgotten the point she was trying to make or where she was taking us. Worse…we no longer care.

I’ve read and reviewed hundreds of books and Housekeeping is the only book—the ONLY one—that I knew right from the very first page that I wasn’t going like it. Here is the fifth sentence where Ruth (our narrator) is describing her grandfather’s upbringing: He had grown up in the Middle West, in a house dug out of the ground, with windows just at earth level and just at eye level, so that from without, the house was a mere mound, no more a human stronghold than a grave, and from within, the perfect horizontality of the world in that place foreshortened the view so severely that the horizon seemed to circumscribe the sod house and nothing more. This level of detail and imagery succeeds in allowing the reader to better understand why Ruth’s grandfather was so motivated to travel, but there are so many layers that you have to dig through that by the time you’ve reached the pearl, you’re so exhausted that you’re unable to enjoy its luster and beauty. Further along in the book, Robinson dedicates seven pages (I counted) describing the sisters’ fishing trip and their having to spend the night alone in the woods. Seven. Pages. It doesn’t take long before you realize that Housekeeping isn’t a cohesive story, but rather a series of lengthy paragraphs that you might find in the Reading section of the SAT: “In line 64, the word simulacra most likely means…”

The story is at its strongest and most interesting when it centers on Ruth and Lucille and their complicated relationship, but these moments are few before we are left with just Sylvie and Ruth and wondering who we should rally behind while we venture down yet another word rabbit hole and pray for daylight. Housekeeping does present several important themes—the illusion of permanence, the cost that comes with conforming to expectations, and how family doesn’t shield you from feeling alone and isolated—but after enduring so many mental gymnastics, we’ve neither the energy nor the interest to fully appreciate these revelations.  

I wish I had enjoyed this book more because slogging through a two-hundred-plus-page book only because you’re hoping that everything will come together in the end is a miserable relationship to have with an author and their story. Reading should be a joy, not a chore. However, I am glad that I did finish it for no other reason than to provide an honest review. Besides, I did manage to increase my vocabulary with a few interesting words so not all bad.

If I had to sum up my final thoughts, it would be that more isn’t necessarily a good thing or, as Leonardo da Vinci said so eloquently in just five little words, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Rating: 2/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.amazon.com

My Louisiana Sky by Kimberly Willis Holt (J Fiction)

My Louisiana Sky

Kimberly Willis Holt (J Fiction)

Tiger Ann Parker was six when she realized that her momma wasn’t like other mothers—acting more like a younger sibling than a parent—and her father was no better, often described as “slow” by the men he worked with at the nursery. Tiger hated to admit it, but she felt embarrassed by her parents and often wished that her mother was more like her stylish and independent Aunt Dorie Kay. If she was, then maybe Tiger could make friends with the girls in her class. Maybe Tiger could finally fit in. Tiger’s wish may be coming true when she’s given the chance to leave her small town of Saitter and begin a new life in Baton Rouge. But is starting over really the answer that Tiger is looking for?

This is the second book by Kimberly Willis Holt that I’ve read, the first being When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, and Holt again delighted me with a cast of unforgettable characters and an immersive story. My Louisiana Sky is another period book, but this one takes place during the 1950s when the country was divided by segregation and people with developmental disorders were often institutionalized. Mirroring Zachary, Holt’s down-home and folksy writing is front and center and instantly draws the reader to her characters and pulls you into their quaint and intimate world. The story is told from twelve-year-old Tiger’s point of view and what really compelled me—apart from its strong themes of acceptance and family—was how the script was flipped a bit. Most books that deal with the subject of developmental disabilities for this age often afflicts either a sibling or a friend of the main character. For Holt to strip Tiger’s familial stability by having not one but both of her parents dealing with varying degrees of mental challenges gives the story an entirely unique perspective and instills an overall sense of aloneness for Tiger. Combine that with her having to deal with the common adolescent fare of self-esteem, body issues, and self-confidence and you can’t really fault Tiger for wanting to leave everything she knows and loves behind for a chance to simply be a twelve-year old girl for a while.

There are so many positive lessons to be learned from this book, but the reader who is fighting against circumstances beyond their control and struggling to be accepted by their peers is going to feel the deep connection to Tiger Ann Parker. Most of us can remember wanting to be part of a clique and recalling the sting when confronted with rejection. We feel Tiger’s anguish when she cries out, “It’s not fair. I didn’t do anything to them,” and appreciate the wisdom of Granny’s words when she tells Tiger, “Perhaps those girls don’t deserve your friendship.” It’s true when they say that it’s not what we have in life, but who we have in our life that matters. For Tiger, all she needed was a best friend who loved baseball, a father who had a talent for listening to the earth, and a mother who loved to dance in between the sheets drying on the clothesline under a bright, blue Louisiana sky.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.goodreads.com

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (Play)

A Raisin in the Sun

Lorraine Hansberry (Play)

In his poem “Harlem”, Langston Hughes wrote: What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun?

As far as dreams go, the Younger family has plenty: Walter Lee wants to leave his life as a chauffeur and become a businessman; his sister, Beneatha, has aspirations of becoming a doctor; Ruth, his wife, wants to escape their roach-infested apartment and give her son a bed of his own; and Mama dreams of having a bit of ground—just enough to plant some flowers. But dreams are for other people until Mama receives an insurance check in the mail. A check that might finally be the answer to everything the Younger family ever dared to dream.

This review is based on the play with a forward written by Robert Nemiroff. This edition is the most complete ever published—restoring two scenes that were before unknown to the public. I can’t imagine anything being removed from this classic work. Each scene is a masterpiece in storytelling—carefully developing each character to expose their vulnerabilities and insecurities and examining their struggle to break free from ties that bind them economically, socially, and culturally.

Hansberry’s opening words allow us to feel the weight and heaviness that this family shoulders. They epitomize the words “poor, but proud” and it’s clear that every-day life has taken a toll on them. Hansberry even makes the furniture tired as it too seems to realize the futility of hope: The Younger living room would be a comfortable and well-ordered room if it were not for a number of indestructible contradictions to this state of being. Its furnishings are typical and undistinguished and their primary feature now is that they have clearly had to accommodate the living of too many people for too many years—and they are tired. Still, we can see that at some time, a time probably no longer remembered by the family (except perhaps for Mama), the furnishings of this room were actually selected with care and love and even hope—and brought to this apartment and arranged with taste and pride.

A Raisin in the Sun is an homage to the African-American family struggling for something better and wanting nothing more than to be treated with respect and dignity. It tackles the women’s movement and civil rights head-on through a pair of siblings who are naïve, headstrong, likeable, and well-meaning: one trying to find her place in the world and the other attempting to find his place within the family. Although this play was first produced in 1959, it is still relevant today as millions of Americans live at or below the federal poverty line and minorities continue to struggle with social and economic inequities.

Throughout the play, Hansberry has Mama nurturing a small plant that she places outside the sole window of the family’s apartment. Like her own family, the plant struggles to thrive despite the constant care given it. The plant is dear to Mama as it represents the closest thing to a garden that she would likely ever have. Unlike her children, she doesn’t need a business or a career or a house to make her happy. All she wants is a small patch of dirt so that she could watch something grow. It seems that Minne Aumonier, an 18th century poet, had the same idea in mind when she wrote, “When the world wearies and society fails to satisfy, there is always the garden.” Like we always suspected, Mama really does know best.   

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.amazon.com

Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick (YA Fiction)

Freak the Mighty

Rodman Philbrick (YA Fiction)

They were known as Freak and Kicker. Kevin Avery and Maxwell Kane had known each other since daycare and you’d think that given Kevin’s abnormal smallness, he would have been a pretty kickable target for Kicker. But maybe it was Kevin’s crutches or perhaps it was the shiny braces holding up his crooked legs. Whatever it was, he quickly captured Maxwell’s imagination…and possibly even his respect. When Kevin suddenly re-enters Maxwell’s life during the summer before eighth grade, the two form an unlikely friendship. Separately, they are Midget and Butthead, but together they’re Freak the Mighty and soon everyone would realize that you can’t always judge a book by its cover.

Rodman Philbrick warms your heart and then breaks it with this story of friendship, acceptance, and courage. Told from Maxwell’s point of view, Freak the Mighty shows us how two fractured halves come together to form one implausibly wonderful whole. Kevin is the yin to Maxwell’s yang and they prove that opposites not only attract, but they bond and strengthen. Through Kevin, Maxwell begins to realize his academic potential and starts to free himself from past ties that hold him back. In turn, Maxwell gives Kevin the ability to look for castles, hunt for buried treasure, help damsels in distress, and realize his dream of having a seat at the roundtable.

There seems to be a lot of disparity online regarding the appropriate reader age for this book. Freak the Mighty is recommended for sixth graders and up—although some websites suggest a reader age as young as ten. While it is an easy and fast read—which would clearly appeal to younger readers—there are many instances of violence and disturbing behavior throughout the book, not to mention that Maxwell’s father is far from Father-of-the-Year material. And while the themes of anti-bullying and pro-acceptance are important, there are more age-appropriate options available for younger readers (R. J. Palacio’s Wonder is just one example). All in all, I really loved this story, but it fell just a little short of completely winning me over. With the two main characters being such polar opposites, I feel the story could have benefitted from having alternating narrators—switching between Maxwell and Kevin. Having the opportunity to learn more about Kevin and being able to see the world through his eyes would have added another layer of depth and emotion to this story. Having Mighty without the Freak seems like a sadly missed opportunity.

They say that a friend is someone who looks beyond your broken fence and instead admires the flowers in your garden. Maxwell and Kevin certainly exemplify this through their quirky and unlikely friendship and demonstrate how brains and brawn are not competitors, but rather a wonderful symbiosis. Maxwell gave Kevin legs and Kevin gave Maxwell heart—their own mental and physical challenges replaced by adventure, possibility, and hope. Rare is the friendship that not only opens the door to life’s opportunities, but also lifts you up so that you won’t miss them when they finally arrive.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.amazon.com

Rabbit Stew and a Penny or Two: A Gypsy family’s hard and happy times in the 1950s by Maggie Smith-Bendell

Rabbit Stew and a Penny or Two: A Gypsy family’s hard and happy times on the road in the 1950s

Maggie Smith-Bendell (Adult Biography)

Many of us were born out on the pea fields. I was born on the pea field at Thurloxton, just up the road towards Bridgwater, so I felt right at home in the peas. Me dad always said that the best pickers were born in the fields, but I knew that was a load of bull to get me to pick faster. He must have thought me daft.

Born the second of eight children, Maggie was a Traveller—where working was a mainstay, where horses were treated better than family, and the seasons determined where you parked your wagon and for how long. It was a life of traditions, culture, and family, but being Romani also meant a way of life met with resistance, discrimination, and abuse. As a child, Maggie flourished in her surroundings. As an adult, she would spend every waking hour fighting to protect and maintain a culture and a people that were under never-ending assault.   

Maggie Smith-Bendell’s biography is a fascinating and rare look into the lives of the Romani Gypsy. Maggie lived within an incredibly tightknit community that valued tradition and thrived on the open road. Their nomadic lifestyle brought plenty of adventure, danger, uncertainty, and joy, but also its share of mistrust and mistreatment from the gorgies (non-Romani people) living in the towns where the Romani came to trade, shop, and sell their goods. Maggie’s words are so mesmerizing and poignant, that we somehow become immersed in her wonderful Gypsy world: smelling the smoke from the family’s campfire; feeling the blackberry brambles tear at our flesh; and weeping as we follow a casket moving slowly to its final resting place. It’s quite an accomplishment given what little formal education she received.

Perhaps the most inspirational part of Maggie’s story was her tireless advocacy work on behalf of the Romani people and her commitment to preserving their culture. Although she could have settled for a quiet, married life raising her children, she chose to dedicate her adult life to fighting for the Romani’s right to own and live upon their own land and to help them acquire homes, an education for their children, and healthcare. Maggie mentions the obstacles, defeats, and setbacks in her work, but she knows that it’s the victories that matter. The chance for another Romani to be able to claim a little piece of this planet as their own. As Maggie put it, “There is no feeling like the peace that comes with having a base to live from, to have a gate of your own to shut at night. The settled community take this security for granted, having known no other way of living. This is right and proper, but for us to share that security is really something else. It’s like catching up with the rest of the world.”

At eighty years of age, Maggie continues to fight for the rights of Gypsies and their way of life. Some have branded her a “land grabber” while she—on her Linkedin page—refers to herself as a “trouble maker”. Regardless of titles, she seems to take it in stride. After all, she knew from quite early on that the world was made up of different kinds of people—those who would accept her people and those who would curse their very existence. Maggie describes an encounter her father had with a police officer and wrote, “Some people did stop to have a word with us, and we enjoyed it when they took the time to speak. Others would pass us by, keeping their eyes on the road or in the hedge, not even glancing at the side of the road where we were stopped. Me dad always said that it took all sorts to make the world. It wouldn’t do for us all to be the same, would it?” Perhaps not all the same, Maggie, but a few more Gypsies might not be so bad.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.amazon.com

Turn Homeward, Hannalee (J Historical Fiction)

Turn Homeward, Hannalee

Patricia Beatty (J Historical Fiction)

The Civil War has been raging for three years now. Twelve-year-old Hannalee Reed’s father died in an Army hospital last winter and her older brother was currently in Virginia fighting for the Confederacy. She and her little brother, Jem, spend their days working in the mill making cloth for the soldiers while her mother awaits the birth of her fourth child. When Union soldiers arrive in her hometown of Roswell, Georgia, they burn down the mill and gather all of the millworkers—charging each one with treason and sending them to Tennessee and Kentucky by train. Before Hannalee is taken away, her mother pulls a button from her blouse and tells her daughter, “Wherever you go, keep this to remind yourself to come home. Turn your heart to me. Turn homeward, Hannalee!” Despite the miles between them and the impossible odds that lie ahead of her, Hannalee made her mother a promise that she would find a way home again and that is what she intended to do.

Precious is the book that not only entertains the soul of a young reader, but also enlightens their mind as well. Patricia Beatty’s Turn Homeward, Hannalee is such a book. The first half of Beatty’s book is based on actual events that occurred in July 1864 when the Yankee cavalry arrived in Roswell, Marietta, and New Manchester, Georgia, rounded up nearly two thousand mill workers, and put them all on trains heading north to either work in Union mills or to provide household or farm help to northern families. Like most of the soldiers before them, most of these workers were never heard from again—their futures forever remaining a mystery. Although Beatty targets her book for readers aged ten and older, she doesn’t shy away from depicting the cruelty, ugliness, and inhumanity that comes with war. Hannalee and Jem get to witness first-hand the horrors of the battle of Franklin, which lasted only six hours but was a terrible defeat for the Confederacy. Hannalee described the bloody scene before her by uttering, “I reckoned it was like looking into hell, and I felt sick inside.”

Although Beatty provides readers with a lot of facts and details surrounding the war, her book reads less like a history lesson and more like a thrilling action and adventure story where a new danger or challenge awaits our fearless heroine at every turn of the page. And even though Hannalee Reed sprang from Beatty’s wonderful imagination, it would be nice to think that among the eighteen hundred Georgian mill workers that simply vanished from government records, that there were a few girls—like Hannalee Reed—who traveled hundreds of miles through battlefields and blood and who survived hunger and the elements to make their way back home. That they did all of this because they had made a promise to their mothers and that was a promise worth keeping.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.amazon.com

The Ghost of Grey Gardens: Lois Wright’s Life Story by Lois Wright & Tania Hagan

The Ghost of Grey Gardens: Lois Wright’s Life Story

Lois Wright and Tania Hagan (Adult Biography)

She didn’t mind being a ghost, as she had come to think of herself. She seemed to be in the background at Grey Gardens, in the film and in real life. No one knew she was there, and no one cared to look for her.

For decades, an eccentric mother/daughter duo captivated the attention and imagination of the world. Voluntarily confined to their deteriorating twenty-eight room mansion in East Hampton, New York, Edith Bouvier Beale (paternal aunt of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis) and daughter Edie Beale lived a reclusive existence that was detailed in numerous documentaries, films, books, and even an award-winning musical. Theirs was a complex life with only a few allowed to enter it. One of those few was Lois Erdmann Wright and her story spans over ninety years.

This review may seem a little cold-hearted and harsh and should by no means be a reflection on Lois Wright personally or the life that she led and continues to do so (she will celebrate her 94th birthday in July 2022 and I wish her all the best). Every life is precious, but not every life is worthy of a book. This is one of those instances.

Lois Wright led a remarkable life, but to describe it as “improbable”—as she does so on the book’s cover—may be a bit of a stretch. She was a palmist, painter, and TV personality born into a well-off family that was loving and supportive. Her mother became friends with Edith Beale and so it was natural for the women’s daughters (Edie and Lois) to become tight as well. Their friendship was more like family and lasted decades. The Beale women hobnobbed with the best that society had to offer, but their status received an unexpected bounce when Jacqueline not only married the handsome John Kennedy, but became First Lady when her husband was elected the 35th President of the United States. Although Lois exhaustively described herself as “shy” and “introverted”, the added glare of the spotlight and its effects were surely not lost on her. While reading this book, I was reminded numerous times of the quote, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

Out of all the media pertaining to Grey Gardens, only two were exclusively about Lois Wright: My Life at Grey Gardens: 13 Months and Beyond and The Ghost of Grey Gardens: Lois Wright’s Life Story. Both were written (or co-written) by Wright herself and both were independently published. Why? Simply—and respectfully—put, Lois Wright is NOT the story. She is merely a woman who knew two women who were related to a woman who married a man who later became president. No matter what Lois Wright accomplished or regardless of her maybe/possible/perhaps lineage that she professes in the book, the simple fact is that her life, no matter how interesting, is not what captivated the curiosity of the world.

Another problem I had with the book is the layout and the occasional sloppy editing. Hagan does thank her editor for her “speedy and accurate work” although I’m not sure about accurate and perhaps a little less speedy might have been helpful. There are tons of photos that Wright provides for this book (several being the same photo just taken at a different angle) that are placed haphazardly amongst the text and having little or nothing to do with the subject at hand. There are photos of people that we haven’t been introduced to yet along with a confusing image of Wright’s driver’s license and a copy of a certified mail receipt from a letter sent to Jacqueline Onassis. If these last two are the “never-before-seen documents” mentioned in the synopsis, maybe there’s a good reason that they remained unseen. Also, if you are going to include the names of your more famous clientele, it’s important to ensure that their names are spelled correctly. Liza Manelli (sic) and Mathew (sic) Broderick would probably appreciate it.

Lois Wright seems like an interesting woman, but she clearly is a woman full of contradictions: she complained of loneliness, but was determined not to marry or truly devote herself to a relationship; she claimed to be devoted to family, but moved away from her severely ailing brother after less than a month away from home; and she asserted time and time again of loathing attention while bemoaning her absence in one documentary while celebrating her inclusion in another. In the words of Salman Rushdie, “Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that’s what.” If Lois Wright does indeed consider herself to be the ghost of Grey Gardens, I hope that this book will finally put her business to rest and that whatever she is seeking—relevance, notoriety, validation, or peace—is eventually found.

Rating: 2/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.amazon.com

Spirit’s Key by Edith Cohn (J Mystery)

Spirit’s Key

Edith Cohn (J Mystery)

They get quiet. I’ve come outside, so they reward me with their silence. But it’s only because they want me to follow them. They lead me across the island to the edge of the woods, where they wait. Their eyes are filled with that intense urgency that says Follow me. It’s hard not to be taken in by it. There’s something in the woods they want to show me, but I don’t think it’s as harmless as a horse. I think it’s something actually dangerous.

Twelve. That’s the age where a Holderness receives their gift to be able to see into a person’s future. But Spirit hasn’t received her gift yet and her father’s gift has started to become more and more unreliable—causing business and the community’s confidence to wane. Her dad says that she must reconcile with her present before she can see the future, but her beloved baldie, Sky, is dead and she somehow can’t seem to get over her loss. Worse, other baldies—the wild dogs that roam Bald Island—are dying and a mysterious illness is starting to affect the townspeople…including her father. Could the baldies be the cause? When Spirit’s beloved Sky reappears, he keeps drawing her into the woods and toward the baldie cave. Could the answer to everything plaguing the island lie within that darkened entryway?

Cohn delivers an age-appropriate and suspenseful mystery whose underlying theme is the importance of protecting and respecting life. She communicates the necessity of preservation without being overly preachy and does so through the wonderful relationship between a girl and her dog. Any child who has ever loved and lost a pet will immediately be connected to Spirit and will understand the unique bond she shares with Sky, as well as the profound emptiness she feels upon his death. She also provides so many other valuable lessons: the value of friendship (Everyone needs a friend to watch their back.); the reluctance to accept things that are different (Why do people fear things they don’t understand?); and the importance of living in the now (The present isn’t something we can squander.).

Books for young readers that have a principled and strong female protagonist are my favorites. Spirit is loyal, kind, passionate, and is not afraid to stand up for her convictions. She’s the kind of girl that you would be proud to call daughter and lucky to have as a friend. Most of all, she says the two most courageous and powerful words that anyone can speak: I care. When others around her falter and surrender to fear, Spirit stands up for those unable to defend themselves. She gives a voice to those unfairly targeted and hunted and reminds everyone that outsiders have a place in the world, too. Spirit is not extraordinary because she can hold a key and see into the future or that she can communicate with animals. She’s exemplary because she cares, and the world could use a lot more people like Spirit in it.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.amazon.com