Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter & Me by Lorilee Craker (Memoir)

anne of green gables my daughter and me

Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter & Me

Lorilee Craker (Adult Memoir)

“What’s an orphan?”  This spontaneous and innocent question from her seven-year old daughter stopped Lorilee Craker in her tracks.  Phoebe had asked it during their bedtime reading of Anne of Green Gables.  But as Craker explains, “The word orphan is six letters fraught with baggage.”  Just like Anne Shirley, Craker herself had been adopted, as was her daughter, Phoebe.  Three women (four if you count Anne’s creator, Lucy Maud Montgomery, who herself was adopted) sharing a bond of abandonment, loneliness, and exclusion, but discovering that just beyond the bend await friendship, joy, love, and a sense of belonging.

Craker describes Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter & Me as “part memoir and part Anne super-fan book”.  For ardent fans of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables’ series (myself included), this book serves as a fond (and perhaps long overdue) reunion with our beloved Anne Shirley, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, Gilbert Blythe, and the rest of our dear friends in Avonlea.  Craker uses excerpts from Anne of Green Gables and Anne of the Island to introduce chapters dealing with friendship, bullying, forgiveness, reconciliation, love, and loss.  Although society’s views on adoption, adoptees, and adoptive parents have changed over the decades, the feelings Anne Shirley experiences at the beginning of the twentieth century remain just as relevant today.  Who can’t relate to feeling not good enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, not tall enough…shall I go on?  Anne Shirley transcends time, region, and language to show that we all long to be accepted, respected, and loved.

Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter & Me is more than just a memoir.  It is a love letter to God, orphans, adoptive parents, Lucy Maud Montgomery, fans, and a little red-headed foundling who is all “spirit, fire, and dew”.  Craker writes, “There is a crack in everyone—that’s how the light gets in.”  A fracture that when the light hits it, allows us to show mercy, offer forgiveness, experience love, and accept grace.  Perhaps in that respect, there is a little orphan in each of us.

Craker reminded me of the thing that I most admire about Anne Shirley and that is her unfailing perseverance and unwavering optimism.  Even after falling off a roof, dyeing her hair green, and inadvertently intoxicating her bosom friend, it’s our Anne (with an “e”) that said, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”  Yes, Anne.  It is very nice.

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

 

 

Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos

Mr Ives Christmas

Mr. Ives’ Christmas    

Oscar Hijuelos (Adult Fiction)

It was around Christmas when a young foundling named Edward was given a home, a family, and a last name.  His adoptive father, Mr. Ives Senior (a foundling himself), managed a printing plant and gave his new son two brothers and a sister, provided him with a good amount of encouragement, and—most importantly—taught him how to pray.  While growing up, Edward basked in the cultural richness that surrounded him in New York during the 20s and 30s.  By the 1950s, his creativity landed him in a Madison Avenue ad agency where he worked, thrived, and would eventually retire.  His simple and humble life would involve marriage, children, delight and despair and through it all, Edward will come to realize that the life he imagined for himself is very different from the life that he’s been given.

Oscar Hijuelos delivers a beautifully written novel that is vividly detailed and rich in historical insights and context, yet I found myself disappointed and wishing that I had enjoyed this book more.  First, it was difficult connecting with the main character.  Hijuelos often interjects various characters’ backstories throughout the book.  This was helpful in creating history and perspective, but the constant interruptions ultimately sacrificed intimacy for insight and greatly hampered the flow of the story, which leads to the second point.  It was extremely challenging to stay immersed in the story.  Rather than focus on a central theme, this book read more like a series of random thoughts, insights, and memories.  Hijuelos simply went off on one tangent too many and the book becomes a regrettable product of information overload.

This book mainly centers on New York and spans over several decades.  In that respect, it was interesting to see a city in constant transformation and evolution during the cultural, political, and social movements of the 50s, 60s, and 70s.  I also appreciated the spiritual issues that Hijuelos covered without being overtly religious.  We see Edward’s struggle to reconcile his religion with his faith and the eventual effect it has on his physical and mental health.  But through life’s tragedies and triumphs, Mr. Edward Ives remains a sentimental, kind, and honorable man, father, husband, and friend who realizes that Christmas isn’t his story, but it’s His story—the babe born in a manger who would die on a cross.  Although Edward often finds himself grappling with a life full of uncertainty and anguish, through his faith and belief, Mr. Ives finds peace in knowing that his afterlife is secured and in good hands.  Merry Christmas, Mr. Ives.

Rating: 3/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

 

The Cradle by Patrick Somerville

The Cradle

The Cradle  

Patrick Somerville (Adult Fiction)

It’s 1997.  Matt and Marissa Bishop are expecting their first child.  In her eighth month of pregnancy, Marissa suddenly asks Matt to find her something.  Not a certain brand of pickles or obscure flavor of ice cream, but a cradle.  Her cradle.  The one that she used when she was a baby and that was stolen from her home many years ago.  Flash forward ten years and Renee Owen, a former children’s author, is preparing to send her son off to serve in the military in Iraq.  She counts down the days to his departure as she counts the white notecards on her bulletin board—cards that represent a book of poetry that longs for completion.  Both Matt and Renee are on a path where they will discover that secrets are powerful things and have the ability to either rip a family apart or make the shared fabric even stronger.

I’ve found that when books have two central characters with alternating story lines, there is always one that stands apart and tends to be more interesting and compelling.  The Cradle is no exception.  We follow the individual stories of Matt and Renee and from early on, Matt’s story is definitively the deeper and more developed of the two (out of fourteen chapters in the book, Matt is featured in ten).  Renee’s inclusion in the book seemed superfluous and the parts featuring her were a needless drag on the story’s pace.  Deciding to give Renee equal billing (or close to it) in this story was unfortunate.  Her inclusion didn’t add much to the story line and her contribution was more of a weak supporting character rather than a central, standalone figure.

The Cradle is clearly Matt’s story and the struggles he faces when dealing with his past while trying to understand his future.  Throughout the book, Matt is all about what matters.  Family matters.  Things matter.  His quest for his wife’s childhood heirloom not only puts him in direct contact with several strange and unforgettable people, but it also allows him the opportunity to begin realizing what a family is and what having a family really means.  And in the end, to Matt, those are the things that matter most.

Rating: 3/5

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