Sunday, January 29, 2012

Moon Over Manifest

Juvenile historical fiction
"The movement of the train rocked me like a lullaby. I closed
my eyes to the dusty countryside and imagined the sign I knew only
from stories. The one just outside of town with big blue letters:
I was shelving in the Orono Public Library children's wing. I
was working slowly and in the dreamy state being in proximity to so
many fine books induces in me. I read the first paragraph of Moon
Over Manifest. I just had to dive into the fictional world Clare
Vanderpool had created. It was all I could do to not give in to
temptation right then and there.
Moon Over Manifest is sort of like a cross between American
Girls historical fiction and Nancy Drew mysteries with language as
rich as homemade peach ice cream. Abilene Tucker has never had a
permanent home. Like many other folks in the 1930's, she's drifted
from place. Always before, though, she's been in the company of her
father, Gideon. Fir some reason she can't quite fathom he's sent her
alone to the town where he grew up.
Gideon has told her so many stories about Manifest she has
images of a prospering town full of well off people. Reality doesn't
quite live up to her expectations. The sign is badly weathered and
chipped. The stores are dingy with only a few weary people in
evidence. The minister she's been sent to live with seems to be quite
well captured by his unusual name, Shady.
Fortunately Abilene doesn't have much time to indulge in self
pity. Her first night in Manifest she discovers a cigar box full of a
map, letters, and mysterious objects. A letter written in 1918
alludes to a spy, The Rattler. She and new friends, Lettie and
Ruthanne, inquire around town about The Rattler. No one seems to have
heard of him. In fact they're tiring of the spy hunt when they
receive an omenous note: "Leave Well Enough Alone."
That night Abilene realizes she's lost her most prized
possession, the compass Gideon gave her. Retracing her steps in the
spooky moonlight, she hears the sound of wind chimes coming from Miss
Sadie's Divining Parlor, a "den of iniquity" with a metal gate with
the word perdition welded on. Hanging among the wind chimes is her
Trying to retrieve her compass the next day, Abilene runs into
Miss Sadie herself. She also breaks a pot the diviner highly prizes.
They work out an agreement that she will do chores as restitution.
But with the chores come stories--stories that involve the cigar box's
mysterious objects--stories of Manifest in a time when young men went
from high school to war, bootleggers defied Prohibition laws, a town
newcomer tries to escape his past, the KKK persecutes foreigners
relentlessly, and townspeople strive to escape the cruel tyranny of
the Devlin Coal Mine. Abilene believes these stories may hold clues
to who Gideon was and why he chose to send her away so abruptly.
Adults as well as children will find this spellbinding novel
impossible to put down. What a gem for a history fair or a mother-
daughter book club!
On a personal side: I very much enjoyed the first snow day of the
year and my Adam's 15th birthday.
A great big shout out goes out to my chum Lauren from Glenburn. She's
a very gutsy woman, not afraid to speak her mind, proud to be rough
around the edges, loyal, warm hearted, and caring--the kind of woman,
with any luck, Abilene would grow up to be.
Julia Emily Hathaway
January 29, 2012
Sent from my iPod

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Broke Is Beautiful

All during my first pregnancy I assumed I'd have an outside
job. Why? That's what people do. Why? Well you need two incomes to
support a family. During my whole pregnancy no one asked me if I'd
stay home. Everyone asked how many months
--months mind you--I'd take to bond with my baby before I returned to
the work world.
That was before I went through sixteen hours of labor and an
emergency c section. All bets were off. I fell head over heels in
love more absolutely, breathtakingly, and totally than I'd ever
thought possible. I said to my husband, "I don't want to leave her."
He said, "I don't want you to."
At about the same time a friend gave birth to her first child.
She, too, wanted to stay home. Her husband said that wasn't an
option. He needed to keep experiencing the life style he'd grown used
to--one that required two incomes.
Laura Lee, author of Broke Is Beautiful: Living and Loving The
Cash-Strapped Life, would be with Gene on this. She begins her book
with a Bible quote, "For the love of money is the root of all evil:
which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and
pierced themselves through with many sorrows." Her premise flows from
this. America's media enabled, unabated materialism has left many
pierced with many sorrows and those of us not swept up by the current
more well off than popular opinion would have you believe.
Early in our nation's history we prided ourselves on social
equality and class mobility--a break from older nations' social
stratification. Ironically, while we still pay lip service to this
ideal, we have veered drastically from it in practice. When we
measure income equality America comes in dead last. And obstacles
ranging from lack of prenatal care to the high cost of college keep
the children of the poorest in the 'hood.
We are still taught the myth. We still buy into it. "Yet even
if they are on the wrong side of an economic boom, most Americans
don't mind too much, because they plan to move up the social ladder."
This idea that economic mobility is still viable has a very dark
side. If you aren't participating in this social mobility--don't
blame anyone but yourself.
America has changed its definition of responsibility. Kennedy
asked those with means to ask what they could do for their nation.
LBJ was all about the Great Society. There was a model of
interdependence, of the more fortunate lending a hand to those in
need. Now responsibility means taking taking care of yourself, no
matter how meager your resources are, rather than asking for help.
All isn't peaches and cream for those at the top, living the new
American dream. Their possessions may own them rather than the other
way around. Think working so hard to own a mansion in an upscale neigh-
borhood you don't have time to enjoy your home. There's always
something newer and better. Keeping up with the Jonses may deprive
those able to tread economic water of the sweeter intangibles like
chances to relax and enjoy life, real friendships, and time with their
children in those all too short growing up years.
Lee points out in her last chapter that we aren't as badly off
as we tend to think we are. If you were able to use a flush toilet
this morning you're doing better than one million of your fellow world
citizens. America's poverty line income puts one in the top 13% money
wise globally.
If you're having trouble keeping afloat and feeling good about
yourself in today's economy, if you wonder whether the new American
consumer dream is all it's cracked up to be, or if you want to look at
money in a new way, Broke Is Beautiful is a must read. Get your
library to buy it. You'll be doing a mitzvah for many of your fellow
On a personal note: I'm starting my new year with a resolution for
writing more, finishing my first book length manuscript.
A great big shout out goes out to all who know what's really important
in life and all who are willing to fight for economic justice.

Sent from my iPod

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Two American Girl mysteries

I first encountered American Girl books when Amber was three and
Katie was a baby. We were at the Bangor Public Library. When Amber
added the first Addie book to the pile of picture books she'd chosen I
was skeptical. I thought toddlers required pictures on every page.
Amber insisted. I conceded.
That night as I was reading to Amber I was overcome with a wave
of tiredness. I finished the paragraph I was on and shut the book.
"Mom, how could you? At least get Addie out of the river," Amber
demanded. I was amazed that without the abundance of pictures she was
following along just fine.
As Amber and Katie grew up we spent a lot of our reading times
in the worlds of Addie, Samantha, Molly... Molly, I remember, was our
favorite. The girls, sadly, outgrew the books. I never did. One
Saturday, shelving at Orono Public Library, I saw two new Rebecca
mysteries and snapped them up. It was the literary equivalent of "You
had me at hello." Everything about these books--the front cover
pictures, the back cover blurbs, the perfect take along size--was
I read the books curled up on a sofa in the cozy home of my
friends, John and Shelley. The delicious aroma of soup simmering on
their stove helped lure me into the stories. It was an odor Rebecca
would have been very familiar with. I'm sure clever soup concocting
from odds and ends and butcher shop bones was a way her mom, just like
mine, made food resources stretch to feed a growing family.
The Rebecca books are set in New York City in the nineteen
teens. Our heroine is the fourth oldest in a family of seven. Twin
sisters, Sophie and Sadie, help with much of the household work.
Older brother Victor often worries the family with his escapades. But
he's little brother Benny's hero.
In A Bundle of Trouble, Rebecca's family gets new down stairs
neighbors: Morris and Naomi Brodsky and their daughter, Norah. They
have moved from a squalid tenement so Naomi can be cured of a serious
eye infection. Rebecca and her mom start helping with Norah so Naomi
can get some rest. One day, coming home from the park, Renecca
suspects that Rebecca and another baby girl have been switched. How
can she return the babies to their rightful families? What can she do
about Victor who seems to be falling in with a very bad crowd?
In Secrets at Camp Nokomis, Rebecca is getting out of New York
where an epidemic of polio is endangering young people to go to a free
fresh air camp. She hopes for new friends who will be as close as
sisters. Unfortunately things don't go as smoothly as she'd like.
And her bunkmate, Tina, may be hiding dangerous secrets.
Some people might criticize my decision to review American Girl
books. We all know there is this whole consumerist other side to the
company with those oh so expensive dolls and their outfits and
accessories. I take the stand I do because of the literary merit of
the books. The plots are solid. Historical aspects are well
researched. The heroines ate spunky, smart, resourceful,
my mind, all that one could ask for in role models for our daughters.
As my own girls can attest, it is easy enough to savor the reading
experience, be inspired by the related crafts books, and never buy the
more pricey merchandise.
On a personal note: I had a wonderful Christmas and New Years Eve. I
must be on Santa's nice list. I found time with family to be priceless.
A great big shout out goes out to the women's studies department at
the University of Maine and its wonderful, bold, empowered women.

Sent from my iPod