The True Gift: A Christmas Story
Patricia MacLachlan (Juvenile Fiction)
Lily and Liam are off to Grandpa and Gran’s farm for Christmas. They always go in December and then wait for Mama and Papa to join them on Christmas Day. Lily likes the sameness that this time of year brings: the walks into town, the trip to the lilac library, and helping Gran make cookies. But when her brother spots a white cow standing alone in a snowy meadow, Lily’s predictable holiday is suddenly threatened. “Do we know if she’s lonely?” Liam asks his sister. “She’s a cow,” replies Lily. “Cows don’t care.” But Liam cares and because of this, Lily knows that White Cow is bound to ruin everything…especially Christmas.
From the author who delighted us with Sarah, Plain and Tall, Patricia MacLachlan gives readers another book filled with compassion, love, and family. She introduces us to Lily, a young girl who finds herself angered by her brother’s selfless desire to help a creature that finds itself quite alone on Christmas. Fortunately, Liam’s determined desire to bring comfort to this lonely creature is enough to eventually whittle down Lily’s stubborn defenses until at last, she surprises herself by whispering to White Cow one night, “Don’t worry. We’ll take care of you.” Those few words set in motion a turning of Lily’s heart, as well as the fate of another soul in need of rescuing.
The True Gift shows us that any small act of kindness isn’t truly small at all. By giving us a simple story of a young girl, a small boy, and a lonely white cow, MacLachlan reminds us that Christmas is about giving from the heart and that the act of bestowing even the slightest bit of charity to another being is perhaps one of the truest gifts of all.
* Book cover image attributed to www.barnesandnoble.com
The Story of Arthur Truluv
Elizabeth Berg (Adult Fiction)
Arthur Moses has had lunch with his wife Nola every day for the past six months (missing only just one day, which is not bad for an octogenarian with no car and bad knees). He departs the bus with his folding chair and bagged lunch, sits beside her headstone (she’s passed away you see, but “a promise is a promise”), and tells Nola about the day’s events or complains about their neighbor, Lucille (who considers the world to be her classroom, BUT happens to make THE most wonderful desserts). While Arthur gains comfort through his daily cemetery visits, 18-year old Maddy Harris seeks escape. Maddy is a budding photographer and artist (who is rather pretty despite that awful nose ring), but she is viewed as an outsider by her high school classmates and therefore endures relentless ridicule and abuse. At the graveyard, she finds peace, and it is here where she and Arthur meet and begin a very unlikely friendship.
Berg delivers an endearing, amusing, and pleasant story about three flawed individuals who, like most of us, merely want to be accepted, useful, and loved. Each one of them holds a piece to the others’ happiness and when they are placed together, they fit to form a quirky yet beautiful puzzle. This is a delightful read that is surprisingly uplifting and inspirational, despite the underlying themes of death and loss.
Early in the book, Maddy mentions that her English teacher taught her one of her favorite words: hiraeth, a Welsh word meaning yearning and grief for lost places. The Story of Arthur Truluv provides the reader with some glimmer of promise and hope that grief is never permanent and what is lost will once again be found.
* Book cover image attributed to www.penguinrandomhouse.com
The Year We Were Famous
Carole Estby Dagg (Young Adult Historical Fiction)
It’s 1896 and the Estby family is just one auction away from losing their family farm. They must either raise more than $1,000 or lose everything. Inspired by her daughter Clara’s story of Nellie Bly, the American journalist who traveled around the world in 72 days, family matriarch Helga begins writing letters seeking a financial sponsor who will pay them to walk from Washington to New York. When a publisher in New York City offers them $10,000 to make the cross-country trek, the game is officially…so to speak…afoot.
Based on the true story of 17-year old Clara Estby’s walk across America, Carole Estby Dagg gives us the ultimate mother-daughter road trip story. Using newspaper articles and journal entries, Dagg reconstructs the 4,600-mile journey made by her great-grandmother and great-aunt. Since the story is based on actual events, the author does take several artistic liberties when presenting us with Helga’s and Clara’s adventures. I really loved this book until I read the Author’s Note at the end, where I learned exactly what embellishments were made. I was disappointed when fact and fiction were revealed, but understand how these particular fabrications gave Clara a little more depth of character. However, the incredible journey these two women embarked upon made these particular elaborations unnecessary. Helga and Clara survived highwaymen, lava fields, floods, heat, snowstorms, near starvation, personal injuries, and dehydration. Along the way, they also met Indians, political dignitaries, and managed to make a positive impact toward the advancement of women’s suffrage.
Early in the book, Clara mentions that the only thing she has in common with her mother is the gap between their front teeth. By the end of their multi-million step journey, Clara realizes that despite their differences, the bond between mother and daughter may be pulled, flexed, and twisted, but will never be broken.
The Summer of the Swans
Betsy Byars (Juvenile Fiction)
Fourteen-year old Sara Godfrey is having the worst summer of her life. She hates her orange sneakers, she has the biggest feet in school, and don’t even mention her nose. “I just feel like nothing,” she tells her sister. But all that changes when her ten-year old brother, Charlie, goes missing. Suddenly, Sara realizes what is truly important and what really matters.
Sara not only struggles with her own adolescent issues, but is dealing with an absentee father, meddling aunt, and a brother suffering from a mental impairment. Byars accurately captures and conveys the angst, anger, and anxiety that most teens endure and provides readers with a realistic sense of Sara’s desperate desire to fit in, to be liked, and to be accepted. More than just a coming-of-age book, The Summer of the Swans also provides an insight into Charlie’s mind and reveals his own desire for stability and security. Byars shows us how love requires no words and perhaps is more accurately spoken not through the mouth, but by the heart.
Tween & Teen Tuesday
Every Tuesday, we review either a juvenile (J) or young adult (YA) book
Homeless Bird (YA)
Thirteen-year old Koly is arranged to be married and must leave everything and everyone she loves behind. When fate intervenes, she finds herself alone in a strange city. Her favorite poem tells about a flock of birds that fly day and night, except the homeless bird. It always flies to somewhere else. With no money and no hope for the future, where does this homeless bird fly now?
Written in the first-person narrative, Homeless Bird gives us a story of courage, hope, determination, and love. In Koly’s own words, the reader experiences and feels firsthand her sense of loss, betrayal, heartache, and despair. Whelan’s love for Koly shows through her compassionate writing and wonderful storytelling. In the end, she gives us a heroine that not only flies, she soars.
The Wednesday Letters (Adult Fiction)
Jason F. Wright
Jack and Laurel have been married for 39 years and every Wednesday, Jack has written a letter to his beloved…starting on their wedding night and ending on the night of his death. When their children discover these letters, everything they thought they knew about their parents will be changed forever.
I found this to be two books in one. The first half is a love story told through weekly love letters, while the second half abruptly turns quite religious and spiritual—touching upon themes of redemption, faith, and forgiveness. While the story was laid out slowly and tenderly by Wright, I found the ending to be rushed and forced. The author’s desire to wrap up every loose end in a nice, pretty bow felt awkward and sloppy and didn’t provide the satisfying conclusion that the author perhaps intended.