Monday, July 27, 2015

What World is Left

What World is Left

YA novel
"...He said children are disposed of in death camps. 'Disposed
of' Those are words people use to talk about garbage, not human
beings. Not children. Can it be true? It must be true. What would
this man stand to gain by lying?"
When Monique Polak's mother was only fourteen, an age in which
we think of girls as making the transition to high school, she was
making a transition of a whole different kind. She and her family
were shipped off to Theresienstadt, a Nazi concentration camp. Like
many other survivers, most of her life she did not share her
experiences...until 2007 when her writer daughter, Polak, was give a
grant to write a book based on them. What World is Left is a poignant
and gritty work of event based fiction.
Anneke, her parents, and her little brother, Theo, are taken by
train to Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, a place that was originally
built in 1780 as a garrison town by Emperor Joseph II and named after
his mother, Emperor Maria Theresa. Meant to house 7,000 it holds
nearly 10 times that many, quartered in squalor and filth. Meals
consist of watery soup. Labor is hard and unending. Nazi guards can
abuse and kill on whim. And there is a constant fear. "The one goal--
the only goal at Theresienstadt--is to keep your name, and the names
of those you love, off the transport lists. But transports are as
much a part of life here as bedbugs and latrines."
As bad as conditions are in Theresienstadt, it is not a death
camp like Sobibor or Auschwitz-Birkenau. In fact it is touted as a
model camp--a gift from Hitler to the Jews. The Nazis use it as
evidence that the rumors the rest of the world has heard are just not
true. Cosmetic embellishments like flower pots and fake store fronts
installed before the arrival of the Danish Red Cross and a movie with
the most healthy inhabitants drafted as extras have Anneke facing a
moral issue no young person should have to. Her father, a well known
artist, has been compelled to lend his talents to those projects. She
knows that his refusal would have doomed the family to suffering and
quite possibly death. But if the world is successfully deceived, no
one will come to their rescue.
What World is Left is an excellent read for the mature YA or
adult adult reader. The context of the quote I started the review
with is a conversation between two doctors Anneke overhears. One is
wondering why they are told to cure children who are doomed to be
killed. Later on she is groped by a Nazi. No matter how filthy and
degraded she feels, she knows it is best for her not to tell anyone.
On a personal note, it sometimes seems to me that humanity never
learns from history how wrong it is to dehumanize and mistreat those
we label "other." We may not do this on the scale of the Nazis. But
it happens all over the world. I am very much troubled right now by
Governor LePage's fight to deny basic assistance to immigrants. He
portrays them as lazy bums who come to Maine to take advantage of our
generosity. Really those families would be in grave peril in their
native lands. Also the whitest, oldest state in America is badly in
need of their energy and talents.
A great big shout goes out to all who advocate on behalf of those who
experience prejudice and hatred.
Julia Emily Hathaway


Sent from my iPod

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Written in the Stars

Written in the Stars

YA novel
Imagine that you are young, just out of high school. A family
vacation trip to your parents' homeland, Pakistan, goes horribly
wrong. You are trapped in your worst nightmare with no hope of
escape. Worse, it is your own parents, the people you love and trust
the most, who have put you in this predicament. That is the plight of
Naila, narrator of Aisha Saeed's Written in the Stars.
As the story opens Naila is finishing her senior year in her
Florida high school. Unlike her peers, she has to be very secretive
about having a boyfriend, Saif. She is not even allowed to go to
school sporting events. Her parents, particularly her mother, are
very conservative and concerned with their reputation and status in
the Pakistani community. She must do her part by being the perfect
daughter, even accepting her parents' right to marry her off to
whomever they find suitable.
All through the year that she has been in this relationship
Naila has been nothing but circumspect. After all soon they will have
the freedom of being away at college. But she does let her friends
talk her into going to her prom where her parents catch her dancing
with Saif.
Naila's parents are beyond furious. She has disgraced them in
the eyes of their friends, ruined their reputation. She must never
see Saif again. And she is not to return to school--not even for her
graduation. In fact on the day of her graduation she, her parents,
and her little brother are on a plane to Pakistan, headed for a visit
with extended family. Little does she know they will return to the
States without her.
What makes this story truly poignant is that, although these
particular characters are fictitious, forced arranged marriages are
still trapping girls in foreclosed futures. As Saeed points out in
her author's note, this abusive situation happens all over the world,
including the United States. It is only possible within a world in
which girls and women are seen as property to be traded and sold
rather than as sentient beings. Naila's sister-in-law describes this
dehuminization poignantly.
"Life is full of sadness. It's part of being a woman. Our
lives are lived for the sake of others. Our happiness is never
factored in..."
Written in the Stars is a must read for all feminists between
the ages of 16 and 96.
On a personal note, I have two daughters in their twenties. From
their earliest infancies I have only wanted them to grow up to live
their dreams. I can't imagine forcing them into marriages with people
they scarcely know.
A great big shout out goes out to all who raise awareness of and work
to end this cruel tradition.
Julia Emily Hathaway


Sent from my iPod

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Little Man

Little Man

Juvenile novel
Starting middle school can be a challenging and frustrating
experience, especially for kids who are different enough to draw the
attention of mean peers. Elizabeth Mann's Little Man is a gem of this
subgenre. What distinguishes it most from the rest is its locale, a
Caribbean island called Little Scrub, and the characters who inhabit
it. We aren't in Kansas anymore.
Albert, the younger brother of two locally well known school
athletes, is the runt of the litter. Dressing for school on the first
day of dreaded middle school, he feels pitifully inadequate as he
fails to fill out his hand-me-down school uniform. "...He still
hadn't grown big like Ashanti, and looking cool like him was out of
the question..." Sure enough, when he gets on the school bus the local
bullies, members of a sprawling clan, chant "Little Man, Little Man,
you so small, didn't hardly see you at all."
Complicating matters, Albert's long time best friend, Linden,
who had a knack for defusing situations is not around. He's in the
States where his college professor father has a new job. In school
and at home Albert drags around lost and alone.
Then one night while helping his musician father at a barbeque,
Albert beholds an amazing sight--Mocko Jumbies, colorful characters
who dance and perform all kinds of tricks on 8' tall stilts. Much to
his surprise, one of them turns put to be Peachy, his school bus
driver. In addition to being a performer in a popular group, Peachie
is teaching a group of high school stiltwalking. He's willing to let
Albert join the group.
Could this be at least part of the answer to his problems?
Any kid who would enjoy an action packed coming of age story in
a colorful setting will find Little Man impossible to put down.
On a personal note, my mother-in-law had a 75th birthday party last
weekend. It was a very nice event with a lovely cake. Today is her
actual birthday. So...
...a great big shout out and wishes for a happy birthday go out to my
mother-in-law, Arlene Hathaway of Winterport, Maine.
Julia Emily Hathaway


Sent from my iPod

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Bootleg

Bootleg

Juvenile nonfiction
The year was 1758. A Virginian running for the House of
Burgess, a gentleman by the name of George Washington, provided
"brandy, rum, cider, beer, and wine" for the citizens who voted.
Could those liquid refreshments have contributed to his win.
The above information about one of our founding fathers comes
from a fascinating little volume: Karen Blumenthal's Bootleg:
Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition. It gives an
eye opening look at the years when Prohibition was in full swing as
well as the decades leading up to it. Prohibition was well
intentioned. Proponants believed that banning the demon rum and all
related beverages would clear up all society's ills. When they got
their wish, however, things played out way differently than they'd
anticipated with gangsters taking over turf, adulterated illegal booze
sickening and killing thousands, and children involved in dangerous
law breaking.
Why does this remind me of the marijuana situation today?
How one felt on prohibition related issues often had to do with
demographics as well as ethics. The rich who could afford to buy
alcohol for home consumption thought saloons were dens on iniquity
that needed to be shut down; immigrants workers saw them as places
for unwinding and relaxing. Conservative Christians questioned
Catholic and Jewish use of wine. Southern whites tried to keep
alcohol away from blacks. Some people who wanted alcohol legal tried
to keep women from voting, fearing that they were all fans of Carrie
Nation, the prohibitionist who spoke strongly and carried an axe.
Literally.
Even as prohibition was the law of the land the Harding White
House was, in Blumenthal's words, "as wet as the Potomac River."
Politics!
On a personal note, I had a perfect Bastille Day. I went with Amy and
Cecille (two of my book club chums) to see the arrival of the grand
ship Hermione. It had crossed the ocean from France. It was
magnificent. We ate supper out near Hermione while listening to
wonderful music. My favorite part was the authentic small town
parade. Everyone from vintage citizens to babes in strollers danced
and skipped down the street. Women's costumes made me very grateful
to live now rather than back in the day. :)
A great big shout out goes out to everyone who worked to make this
very special event happen, especially the sailors.
Julia Emily Hathaway


Sent from my iPod

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Seed

Seed

YA novel
In the subgenre I call religious cult dystopia I have not yet
met the novel I don't fall in love with. I think this is because they
tend to be authentic both plausibly and emotionally. The authors
create worlds that are just a little beyond what one sees in cults and
even some churches. The feelings of the protagonists as they inhabit
and then are pushed out of their comfort zones are ones we can all
relate to despite differences in circumstances. Lisa Heathfield's
Seed is a real gem in this category.
Pearl (15) has spent all her life in a self contained
agricultural community called Seed. The group is centered around the
worship of Nature, a being that will provide them with all they need.
There are many rules and rituals, all overseen by patriarch Papa S who
punishes anyone who dares disobey. Children are raised communally and
relationships are anything but monogamous. Pearl very much enjoys her
life, abundant in simple pleasures. Of course she has known nothing
else.
Pearl's contact with non Seed people has been limited to selling
them vegetables and crafts at a market. All she sees there enforces
her fear of the outside world and her conviction that she is only
truly safe at Seed. But all that is about to change. A family of
outsiders is accepted into the community, a family that includes an
intriguing boy close to her in age.
I consider Seed an enchanting and thought provoking summer read
for both young adults and adult adults.
On a personal note, recently Eugene and I went to his uncle and
aunt's 40th anniversary party. It was a very nice event and quite an
interesting mix of people. Eugene and I are only days away from our
26th. But I have a 40th anniversary coming up--me and the Red Cross.
Four decades of donating blood. My mother tried to talk me out of my
first time. She went with me and was so stressed she almost fainted.
A nurse told me, "You did just fine. But next time could you leave
your mother at home?". Now my son is a regular donor. How cool is that?
A great big shout goes out to the Red Cross and all my fellow blood
donors.
Julia Emily Hathaway


Sent from my iPod

Boys Don't Knit (In Public)

Boys Don't Knit (In Public)

YA novel
During my life time there has been much debate about what
interests and activities are appropriate for girls and boys. Girls
have had to fight very hard to take their rightful places in hockey
rinks and science labs. We now know that we're much more complex than
the Barbie and Ken stereotypes of the 1950s, for example, homecoming
queen and football captain. However, a lot of people who have come to
accept girls playing with toy trucks and scoring touchdowns get a
little spleeny when it comes to boys playing dress up or sewing. I
didn't understand this until I read that transgender females face more
prejudice than transgender males. As long as activities and traits
considered masculine are more highly valued that those considered
feminine (say competing over nurturing) taking on "male" interests and
identity will be moving on up while incorporating those considered
"female" will be anything but.
T. S. Easton's Boys Don't Knit (In Public) takes a perceptive
look at this issue. Ben Fletcher (17) is on probation for an incident
involving shoplifted alcohol and a lollipop lady (school crossing
guard). One of the terms of his probation is the keeping of a
journal. This becomes the delightful format through which we get to
see the world through his eyes.
A second term is "giving something back" to the victim of his
actions: the lollipop lady, Mrs. Frensham. This turns out to be much
easier said than done. The person who was supposed to cue her in
failed to do so. On his first visit she throws household items at him
through an upstairs window.
A third term is "involvement in some suitable extracurricular
activity." He is sent a list of open community college offerings. The
only one he doesn't have a reason to avoid is knitting. Much to his
surprise he has a lot of natural talent. Even more surprisingly, he
really enjoys it and soon goes way beyond class in his new found
interest. It helps him cope with the stresses in his life, ranging
from his family life to the friends who have a propensity to get him
in trouble.
There's a major problem though. The kids who go to school with
Ben, especially the bullies who keep starting incidents, will think
there's somethhing very wrong with him if news of his new hobby gets
out. His father thinks anything sewing related is what no real man
would ever do.
On a personal note, there's one way in which I'm very much like Ben.
In the book he gets to the point where he designs his own patterns. I
knit and crochet with yarn from thrift shops and yard sales, projects
other people gave up on, and damaged items. I see what I can do with
what I have. My favorite piece is a rainbow afghan I crocheted. I
carry around a crafts bag and pull out my creation du jour whenever I
have a few minutes. This year I designed my very first counted cross
stitch piece and I hope to do a lot more.
A great big shout out goes out to my fellow needle artists. Long may
you craft!
Julia Emily Hathaway



Sent from my iPod

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Listen, Slowly

Listen, Slowly

Juvenile fiction
Mai, narrator of Thanhha Lai's Listen, Slowly, was sure that the
summer after sixth grade would be the one she's waited for all her
life, full of California sun and fun. She's old enough to go to the
beach without an adult. She and her best friend have new highlights
and bathing suits. There is a certain boy she'd like to know better.
Her parents, however, have a mission to send her on. Her
grandmother who had to flee Vietnam with seven children including
Mae's father, never learned what happened to her husband. She has
wanted to know for decades. Now a detective may have the information
to help her get closure. With her lawyer mother, her doctor father,
and all other family members too busy, Mai must escort her frail
grandmother back and stay with her until she learns what she needs to.
Wanting only to get back home to her normal life, Mai is
immersed in a culture that is very different and sometimes scary. Her
coping with and learning to value it make for a very poignant coming
of age story.
On a personal note, I can relate. When I was 18 I was one of a group
of exchange students in Mexico. The adult (26) who was in charge was
having a nervous breakdown. As the next oldest, I had taken over
before we even took the train through Mexico. So the months we were
away I had to handle everything from solving student/host family
conflict to helping a kid larger than me come down from illegal drugs.
At the same time I was dating a Mexican law student to whom I became
engaged. By some miracle everyone got back fine.
A great big shout out goes out to all people challenged with making
their way in unfamiliar places.
Julia Emily Hathaway


Sent from my iPod