The Lost Mother
Mary McGarry Morris (Adult Fiction)
It’s the Great Depression, and everything that Henry Talcott owns or is most precious to him is contained in a single tent—his knives, saws, and cleavers as well as his two young children, Thomas (12) and Margaret (8). Henry slaughters animals for a living, but work is scarce and money is getting harder to come by. His wife, Irene, abandoned the family years earlier and now Henry finds himself having to leave his children alone more often as he travels to find work. When his wealthy neighbor, Phyllis Farley, begins to lure his children to her home as a means of providing companionship for her wheelchair-bound son, Henry’s firm hold on his family slowly begins to loosen.
The Lost Mother is an aching, somber, and dark novel about a father’s desperate attempt to keep his family together while two young siblings grapple with their own feelings of loyalty, love, and loathing toward one another. Morris’s book overflows with passion and her multi-dimensional characters evoke myriad emotions from her readers: pity for a single father doing his best under the most hopeless of circumstances; disdain for the crooked shopkeeper who swindles an honest boy; sympathy for a little sister enduring endless verbal and emotional assaults from her brother; contempt for a wealthy neighbor and her disingenuous benevolence; and disgust for a beautiful mother who callously abandons her children for a better life. Morris is able to successfully rein in all of our feelings while maintaining the story’s momentum by centering every action around a recurring theme of home, family, and togetherness.
In the song “You Always Hurt the One You Love”, there are lyrics that accurately describe several characters in this book: You always hurt the one you love/ The one you shouldn’t hurt at all/ You always take the sweetest rose/ And crush it till the petals fall. These characters love so deeply and wholly that they simply cannot recognize the negative impact that their behavior is having on those closest to them. But despite these flawed characters, Morris gives us a ray of hope through Henry and his children. Together, the three of them manage to rise above their circumstances and prove that they are much more than society has labeled them. Henry, Thomas, and Margaret Talcott remind us that worth and security are not something that you hold in a wallet. Instead, the greatest treasure is sometimes found in a pair of arms that are opened and are waiting for you…just for you.
*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
The Canning Season
Polly Horvath (Young Adult Fiction)
Thirteen-year old Ratchet Clark (her father wanted to name her Stinko) lives with her mother, Henriette, who dreams of belonging to the Pensacola Hunt Club (“Thank God for the Hunt Club” is the mantra in their household). Henriette works two jobs, sustains the family on Cheerios, and constantly reminds her daughter to cover up That Thing on her shoulder (it is unsightly). Life moves along at a predictable pace until the day that Henriette sends Ratchet to live with her two great aunts in Maine. Tilly and Penpen Menuto (DON’T call them the Blueberry Ladies!) are twins, but as different as chalk and cheese. Tilly is tiny and thin and Penpen is round and jolly, but both are as devoted to canning as they are to one another. Between blueberries, bears, a one-way phone, an unexpected orphan, and countless stories of a headless mother, Ratchet’s summer will prove to be anything but predictable.
The Canning Season is a delightful, entertaining, and hilarious romp. Fans of Philip Gulley or Ann B. Ross will find equal enjoyment in the Menuto sisters and their tales of loggers, love, and the lure of the woods. Some of the language in this book is a bit salty, but is appropriate to the targeted age (13 and older) and shouldn’t shock anyone who watches PG-13 films or hangs out at the local mall.
Throughout the book, we see Henriette placing an unhealthy importance on belonging to the Pensacola Hunt Club, which remains an elusive aspiration. We find out that the club really isn’t as exclusive as first thought and, in reality, is open to anyone wanting to join. Drawing a nice parallel with Tilly and Penpen’s home, we see that the ominous house on the hill surrounded by bear-infested woods isn’t really what it appears to be either. It is actually warm, welcoming, and inclusive; all who enter are taken care of and treated with respect, kindness, and love (except Myrtle Trout…Heaven help her). The Canning Season reminds us that things are not often what they seem and that love is often found in the least likely of places. Thank God for the Hunt Club, indeed.
* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com
I Love You, Michael Collins
Lauren Baratz-Logsted (Juvenile Fiction)
It’s 1969 and the day before the last day before summer vacation. Ten-year old Mamie Anderson and her class have to write a letter to one of the astronauts of Apollo 11. Mamie chooses Michael Collins because, quite simply, no one else did. After all, where is the glory for the one who gets left behind?
Through a series of letters written to Michael Collins, Mamie shares details about her life, her family, and her best friend, Buster. We even get to learn more about Michael Collins, the Apollo 11 Mission, and the dangers of space travel. As the time for the moon landing draws closer and as Mamie’s world pulls apart, she’s left asking, “Doesn’t anyone stay with the ship anymore?”
This is an enchanting and absolutely delectable book to read. Was it sentimental and nostalgic? You bet! I couldn’t get enough of Mamie’s references to Magnavox color TVs, Erector Sets, TV dinners served in compartmentalized metal trays, and doing research at the library by pulling periodicals. And despite the racial riots and Vietnam War, for one rare moment in time, the world united in witnessing a truly extraordinary event. Everyone came together not as multiple races, but as one race—the human race—to watch a man from the planet Earth set foot on the moon for the very first time.
I loved experiencing the awe and thrill of the lunar landing through the eyes of a 10-year old girl who decided to write to the astronaut who she considered to be “the best one”, not because he walked on the moon, but because he stayed with the ship so that he could bring everyone safely back home again.