Ain’t No River by Sharon Ewell Foster

Ain’t No River  

Sharon Ewell Foster

Everyone and everything in Garvin Daniels’ life seem to be going wrong: her 70-something Meemaw is hanging out with a young and handsome fitness instructor named GoGo, her friend Ramona is embarking on a bicycling fundraiser with a pastor that she just met, and her high-powered law firm has given her a case that will surely mean the end of her career. Has the world gone crazy? After an involuntary leave of absence, Garvin decides to leave Washington, D.C. and head back to her hometown of Jacks Creek where she is determined to set things right…no matter what it takes.

If you were to search Google and look for ideal character traits of lawyers, you’d get things like compassion, willingness to listen, good judgement, and great emotional balance. GARVIN DANIELS HAS NONE OF THESE! Instead, Sharon Ewell Foster gives us a whiny, insensitive, self-absorbed, inconsiderate, spoiled, selfish, petulant…well, the list goes on and on. I understand why an author would make their main character absolutely insufferable because their end goal is for that character to finally realize the error of their ways and be redeemed. They clearly realize the hell they are putting their readers through by having to deal with this horror of an individual, but we remain loyal because we know—we just know—that all of this emotional turmoil will be worth it because the character’s ultimate salvation will be our reward, too. Not so with Garvin Daniels. Nope. Even when she begins to understand that maybe she isn’t her best possible self, it doesn’t take long before she’s back to slinging insults, scorn, and contempt. And by the way, complaining about life in your tailored suit while standing in a gleaming marble restroom of a prestigious law firm to a woman who is currently busy cleaning the toilets is NOT a good look.  

I would have enjoyed this book so much more had Foster instead focused on the complex, quirky, and beautifully damaged residents of Jacks Creek: Monique, the teenager forced to give up her child and then has live with the shame and stigma afterwards; Big Esther who runs her own salon and dispenses truth and wisdom in never ending supplies; Smitty, the seller of snowballs who basks in the glow from the attention of the women at the hair salon but is looking for something more; GoGo, retired pro-football player who can’t seem to outrun his past; and Meemaw, the town matriarch who always seems to know just what a heart and stomach needs and is ready to graciously fill both. I wanted to know more about these people and spend a few more nights on the front porch with them to understand their pain and share in their journey towards healing. But those opportunities didn’t come often enough and instead I was sent back to Garvin where I counted the pages until I might be rewarded with Meemaw’s words of wisdom or one of Smitty’s deluxe snowballs with marshmallow on top.

At the end of one of her poor-me pity parties, Garvin wondered to herself why everybody around her expected her to fix everything for them. If only she had searched Google and used one of those ideal lawyer character traits. If she had, she would have quickly discovered that nobody does.

Rating: 2/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com 

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (J Historical Fiction)

A Year Down Yonder

A Year Down Yonder

Richard Peck (Juvenile Historical Fiction)

 It was 1937 and the country was in the midst of what people were calling the Roosevelt recession.  The Dowdel family, like so many others, had hit upon hard times and Mary Alice was to be sent to live with her grandmother until the family got back on their feet.  She and her brother, Joey, had spent many summers with Grandma Dowdel in her sleepy Illinois town, but Mary Alice was fifteen now and this visit was going to be a full twelve months!  With no telephone, an outdoor privy, a spooky attic, and everything being as old as Grandma…if not older…how was a city girl from Chicago going to survive in this hick town for one whole year?

A Year Down Yonder received the Newbery Medal in 2001 and was the sequel to Peck’s A Long Way from Chicago, recipient of a Newbery Honor in 1999.  In this wildly amusing and heartfelt book, Peck delivers one of the most outrageous, audacious, outlandish, and unforgettable characters when he gave us Grandma Dowdel.  She’s trigger-happy (and the whole town knows it) and not afraid to speak her mind.  But behind that gruff and crusty exterior lies a woman who’s generous to a fault and genuinely cares about her neighbors…although she would be the first to deny it.  Peck gives us small-town life and everything that comes with it.  From turkey shoots and Halloween hijinks to Burdicks (you’ll know one when you see ‘em) and burgoo, Grandma Dowdel handles everything with humor and candor and might even treat you to a glass of buttermilk and a square of corn bread in the process.

A Year Down Yonder takes readers to rural America and back to a time where folks learned how to make the most with what little they had and considered themselves blessed if they had their health, their family, and one or two people that could be counted on when it mattered most.  It’s a delightful and amusing book that extolls the virtues of kindness and the importance of family.  It also reminds us not to judge a book by its cover for it is often the tartest apples that make the best pies.  Just ask Grandma Dowdel.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

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