A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding

Jackie Copleton (Adult Historical Fiction)

On August 9, 1945 a new word entered the Japanese vernacular:  pikadon.  PIKA meaning brilliant light and DON meaning boom.  It aptly described what Amaterasu Takahashi and thousands of others saw and heard in Nagasaki at 11:02 am.  A brilliant light and then a boom.  Ama lost her daughter and grandson on that fateful morning.  They were everything to her.  Pushing past the dead or dying and sifting through the ashes, she knew she would never see Yuko or little Hideo again.  But nearly forty years later, a man—badly scarred and disfigured—knocked on her door bringing good news.  “Please don’t be alarmed,” the stranger said.  “My name is Hideo Wantanabe.  It is good to see you Grandmother.”  He left her a letter to read to get their journey started.  A journey that would take Ama back to a tragic past and a man who would be the common thread to everyone she has ever loved and lost.

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding is Jackie Copleton’s first novel and it truly is a hauntingly beautiful story.  Using Ama as our narrator, we experience the horror when the second of two atomic bombs hit the city of Nagasaki on August 9th (the first hit Hiroshima three days prior on August 6th).  Through Ama’s eyes, we witness the carnage, fear, destruction, chaos, and terror as survivors desperately searched for loved ones while the injured begged for water or aid.  As our story progresses, we begin to learn more about Ama, her husband, Kenzo, and her daughter.  Through Ama’s memories, as well as a series of entries in Yuko’s diary, we begin to understand the reasons behind Ama’s feelings of guilt and bitterness.  She is a woman living a life of “What ifs” and “If onlys” and is constantly questioning her own maternal motives.  Any parent will be able to relate to Ama and her need to shield her child from harm and heartache, but as the saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” and Ama quickly realizes that protection often comes with a price.

Copleton gives readers a multi-layered story that is brimming with pain, loss, regret, and love.  But the singular theme that runs throughout the story is hope.  Whether you are extended it, enticed by it, or desperately hold onto it, hope has many faces: a grandmother looking for comfort, a scarred man searching for healing, a young wife waiting for her husband’s return from war, a lover wanting a second chance, or a city emerging from the rubble.  Copleton gives us a poignant and touching story of hope and reminds us that it is when things are at their darkest that hope often comes knocking on our door.

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.penguinrandomhouse.com

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War & Watermelon by Rich Wallace (YA Historical Fiction)

It’s Tween & Teen Tuesday when we review either a Juvenile (J) or Young Adult (YA) book.

War and Watermelon

War & Watermelon    

Rich Wallace (Young Adult Historical Fiction)

If you were to rank boys based on “coolness”, Brody Winslow would be near the bottom…low-middle at best.  But things could be worse.  It’s August 1969 and his brother Ryan could STILL avoid the draft (if he just got off his butt), the New York Mets COULD win a game (if they just got off their butt), and Brody MIGHT be a starter on his football team (if he could just stay off his butt).  All in all, things are looking pretty good.  In less than a month, Brody will be starting junior high school and his brother has promised to take him to a farm in upstate New York for some hippie concert protesting the war in Vietnam.  That might be fun.  Big changes are coming and Brody is about to tackle them all…whether he’s ready or not.

Rich Wallace started his early writing career as a sports editor for various New Jersey newspapers and his talent shows in War & Watermelon where the football and baseball references abound.  But what’s really at the core of this tender and sentimental book is the special bond shared by brothers Ryan and Brody.  Unlike the competitive or jealous sibling relationships you find in some books, the Winslow boys are fiercely supportive, loyal, and kind to one another.  As Ryan’s 18th birthday approaches—along with his draft status—Brody senses his brother’s increasing anxiety and is not sure how to comfort him: “I should get to bed; we’ve got another game tomorrow night.  But I wouldn’t be sleeping anyway, so I’d rather stay here with Ryan.  He’d been there for me.  Teaching me how to shoot a basketball or cook a hot dog.  Taking me to the movies, even when he goes to the drive-in with Jenny.  Giving me things like a Giants jersey he got too big for, or a flashlight when I was four and scared that there was a monster in my closet.  Now he’s scared.  I’m scared, too.  We might as well sit here together.”  There’s also a tight-knit relationship between Ryan, Brody, and their father.  Nights sitting up cheering on their Mets while eating olives and saltines or laughing out loud to re-reruns of The Honeymooners are clearly enjoyed and treasured by all three.

War & Watermelon is a humorous and delightful book about one young man trying to make a difference and one boy trying to make it through the day.  It’s a little slice of Americana served with grape soda pop and a bag of pretzels in front of a black and white TV.  It isn’t dramatic, suspenseful, thrilling, or riddled with angst.  Some may even go so far as to call it trite or boring.  But as Brody Winslow once said, “We wander around for an hour, shoot some baskets, then go home.  Yeah, it was boring, but that’s life.  Boring isn’t always so bad”.  I would even venture to say that boring can be great…now pass the olives and turn on the TV!

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com 

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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