Everything You Ever Wanted

Lauren, Jillian. Everything You Ever Wanted: a Memoir. New York: Penguin, 2015.

Reason read: As a member of the Early Review program for LibraryThing I occasionally review uncorrected proofs. This is my book for March/April.

It is safe to say I devoured Everything You Ever Wanted. In the midst of reading four other books I made time for Everything every single day. But, here’s the thing – her writing is so clear, so honest, so raw that I didn’t want to rush it. I wanted to savor every page, every sentence, every word (much like I did when I reviewed her earlier work, Pretty).
Lauren wrote Everything You Ever Wanted for her adopted son, Tariku; how she came to be his forever mom, his real mom. But, here’s the beautiful thing about this book – if you know anything about Jillian Lauren you know she has had a colorful past. She is a self proclaimed former addict and slut.  With her tattoos and rocker attitude she doesn’t look like the perfect candidate to adopt a child, much less one with special needs. But Everything You Ever Wanted doesn’t sugarcoat any of her experiences, past or present. It wasn’t enough to say, “hey – I have a rough history but here’s how I got beyond it.” No, she let her past struggles give her strength to deal with new ones. This is a great read for anyone who thinks they “blew it” earlier in life and can’t start over. Even the end of Everything You Ever Wanted has shafts of sunlit hope. Despite her sex & drugs former lifestyle, Lauren and her husband want to adopt for a second time to give Tariku a sibling. By now all the agencies know her story. SPOILER ALERT: she doesn’t tell you if they are successful, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t trying.

Confessional: it is so frustrating to review an uncorrected proof! There are so many great sentences I wanted to pull out of Everything You Ever Wanted if nothing more than to say, look at how beautiful this writing is!

Long Way From Home

Busch, Frederick. Long Way From Home.New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1993.

How to describe Long Way From Home? Part dark fairytale, part family drama, part commentary on mothers and adoption? All of the above. Each section of the book is separated by a familiar drawing of Mother Goose, looking quite witchy. It sets a subliminal tone. But, onto the plot: Pennsylvanian Sarah has been wanting to reach out to her biological mother for some time. An ad promising a possible reunion prompts her to abandon all common sense as well as her husband and son. Husband, Barrett, convinced he knows where she went, dumps five year old Stephen with his New York in-laws and sets off for the southwest. Meanwhile, biological mom Gloria is cooking up home remedy concoctions and getting ready to kidnap her new-found grandson. Each character is obviously searching for something other than the obvious. Each are on a self destructive path.
My one complaint? You don’t really get to know the characters well enough to understand their motives or really care. Except Stephen. Little five year old Stephen is exactly how you would expect a boy with a mentally unstable mother and a neutered father. Only grandmother Lizzie remains a solid, reliable presence in his life.

Line I liked, “You think you don’t leave a trace, she thought, and then you’re found” (p 42).

Reason read: August is Busch’s birth month. Nothing fancier than that.

Author fact: Frederick Busch was a New York man through and through. He was born there and died there.

Book trivia: Grandmother Lizzie Bean appears in two other Busch tales, Rounds (1979) and Sometimes I Live in the Country (1986).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Frederick Busch: Too Good To Miss” (p 48).

Breakfast With Scot

Downing, Michael. Breakfast With Scot. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1999.

Less than 200 pages long this was a quick, in-one-sitting read. At first blush I would call this story “quirky” for the simple fact that all of the characters have their issues. What makes this fun to read is how they deal with those issues as well as each other. This is a story about relationships and relating to people around you. The point of view is told from Italian art magazine editor, Ed. Ed and his chiropractor partner, Sam, have become guardians to eleven year old Scot. Scot doesn’t fit in for a multitude of reasons. For one, Ed and Sam have never wanted children. For another, Scot is the child of Sam’s brother’s girlfriend, only the brother is not the biological father. Topping it all of is Scot’s unique personality; his affinity for hand soaps and charm bracelets. While Ed and Sam are homosexuals they are not sure how to deal with Scot on any of these levels. As the reader you want them to not only work it out but work it out as a happy ending.

Poignant line: “But Scot’s the kind of kid other kids push down and kick simply because of the way he puts his hand on his hip” (p 50). This line sums up the entire book.

Reason read: November is national adoption month and while Ed and Sam don’t “adopt” Scot, per se, they are legal guardians.

Author fact: Michael Downing is a local boy, growing up to the west of me and working to the east.

Book trivia: Breakfast with Scot was made into a movie in 2007.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Adapting to Adoption” (p 1).

Nov ’10 was…

More head in the sand, tail between my legs reading for the month. While it wasn’t an easy month I am happy to say it was better than October by a long shot!

  • The Harmless People by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas ~ in honor of November being the best time to visit Africa. This was an eye opener. I will never look at people the same way again.
  • The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Karen Elizabeth Gordon ~ in honor of Writing month. Information I will keep in mind but, because I’m a rebel, probably ignore. Case in point – this sentence!
  • Balsamroot: A Memoir by Mary Clearman Blew ~ in honor of Montana becoming a state in November. This was more about a favorite aunt’s slow decline than about Blew’s own personal life.
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac ~ in honor of November being National Travel month. This was, I think, my favorite book of the month.
  • The Healing by Gayl Jones ~ in honor of November being Jones’s birth month. This was the hardest one of the bunch to read. I’ve decided I don’t care for stream of consciousness!
  • Ruby by Ann Hood ~ in honor of November being National Adoption month. This was a psychological book that had me pondering life’s bigger questions. It took me a weekend to read.
  • Brothers and Sisters by Bebe Moore Campbell ~ in honor of November being the month of Campbell’s passing. Once I got passed the stereotypical characters this was a great book!

For LibraryThing and the Early Review program: Final Flight: The Mystery of a WWII Plane Crash and the Frozen Airmen in the High Sierra by Peter Stekel. This book had everything I could want in a nonfiction: truth and mystery embedded in a well told tale. It was great!

Ruby

Hood, Ann. Ruby. New York: Picador, 1998.

Olivia has lost her husband, David, to a reckless driver, killed while jogging along a country road. Olivia, only 37, is faced with immeasurable grief and the nagging guilt that she had something to do with his death. In an effort to move on with her life she resolves to sell their summer cottage and put the past behind her. Only she can’t. A pregnant, defiant, wayward teen has made herself at home in Olivia and David’s seemingly abandoned house. Within a few minutes of confronting her, Olivia begins to bond with Ruby, seeing more of herself in the teenager than she would like to admit. What Ruby and Olivia can admit to is the fact they need each other. From this point forward Ann Hood’s storytelling is a psychological dance between the needy yet tough Olivia and the tough yet needy Ruby. Both of them want something from the other. Both are willing to manipulate the other to get it. The story becomes a page turner because you want to know who wins.

I like books that make me wander off topic. I enjoy small tangents every now and again. Olivia mentions her plan of stenciling the words to “a William Carlos Williams poem about plums” on her cottage wall. After surfacing from the instant sadness of lost dreams the image made me want to reread the poem in question, ‘This is Just to Say.’ Of course after rereading ‘This is Just to Say’ I had to find and reread Flossie Williams’s reply to “Bill.” Together they are a poetic commentary on marriage; communication between husband and wife.

Favorite line-, “Better to share the blame than to carry it all alone” (p 19). I found this interesting because most people want to put the blame 100% on someone else, never mind sharing it.

Some nitpicking. The reader is first introduced to Olivia’s world after Olivia’s husband has been killed by a reckless driver. Because the tragedy has already occurred the reader is anticipating the demise. You never get a chance to fall in love with Olivia and David as a couple. As a result the impact of Olivia’s grief is diminished. You don’t end up feeling as sorry for her situation as you could if you had been confronted with the shock of loss at the same time.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the very first chapter called Adapting to Adoption (p 2). Nancy Pearl calls Olivia ‘Livia.’ Interesting. It must be a (another) typo because nowhere in the book does anyone call Olivia ‘Livia.’

PS~ A Review in Library Journal called Ann Hood “Barbara Kingsolver without the whimsy.” I think it’s the other way around. Barbara Kingsolver is Ann Hood without the whimsy. I don’t see Kingsolver as whimsy at all. The Lacuna and The Poisonwood Bible are far from whimsy!

“The Welcoming”

Hirsch, Edward. “The Welcoming.” Earthly Measures. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994. p 54.

This was one of my favorite poems of the month. It’s not complicated in a tangle of words meter or rhyme, but rather complicated in a tangle of emotions. The pain of not being able to have children. The frustration over the red tape of adoption. the anticipation of bringing a newborn home. The hope of parenthood and perfection. The poem spans the duration of agony and heartbreak to excitement and hope. The travel is worth reading about.

My favorite line, “jet lag instead of labor” (p 54).

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter “Poetry Pleasers” (p 188).

Lucky Girl, Dumb Me

Yes, this will be a book review – eventually. But first, first it is a confession. Lucky Girl: a Memoir by Mei-Ling Hopgood came to me as an Early Review book last spring. I remember its arrival clearly because its the first early review I finished in the new house. I also remember reading it just as clearly because I finished while I was lying in bed sick, just hours before I was to head to Bolton for a 60 mile cancer walk. What I don’t remember doing is writing a review for Lucky Girl. Somehow, after getting sick, walking 60 miles, having my mother as a house guest and going home to Maine I missed writing a LibraryThing review. Even though I don’t remember writing it, I never for a second thought that I didn’t. Imagine my surprise, no – my shock when I was gently reminded I am missing one Lucky Girl review! LibraryThing now has a way to track books someone has received as an Early Review. The database tracks when you receive a book and when you review it. It was on this page that I learned I failed to review not one, but TWO books. I knew about one – the one I didn’t finish, but Lucky Girl??? Lucky Girl!? I could have sworn I wrote something. I finished it on May 15th, 2009.

Better late than never, here it is. The review for Lucky Girl: a Memoir by Mei-Ling Hopgood.

Hopgood, Mei-Ling. Lucky Girl: a Memoir. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2009.

One of the best things about reading a memoir is when it is a happy one. When the author has had a reasonably good life and has an even better attitude about it. It was refreshing to read a story about an adopted individual who a) knew all along she had been adopted as an infant,  b) was actually okay with it, and c) had no desire to hunt down her birth family if only to ask “why did you give me up?” There was no malice, no repressed feelings of abandonment or resentment. Hopgood had adjusted well to life with midwest American parents and bore no hard feelings toward the Taiwan family who couldn’t keep her. Hopgood’s memoir instead focuses on how her life changes when her Chinese family not only seeks her, but pulls her into their world. As she reconnects with her heritage the core of who she is culturally comes to the surface. She gains a deeper understanding of what it means to be American, to have Chinese roots, to have more family than she knows what to do with. In the end there is an element of forgiveness as well..even though she didn’t know she needed it. The honesty and humor that Hopgood writes with is delightful and the photographs are the perfect addition to an already enjoyable story.

Crossley Baby (with spoiler)

Crossley BabyCarey, Jacqueline. The Crossley Baby. New York: Ballantine, 2003.

November is National Adoption Month. Out of everything I am currently reading, I thought this would be my favorite. I’m sorry to say I was a little disappointed. The Crossley Baby is the story of two sisters (Sunny & Jean) battling for their dead sister (Bridget)’s baby. Well, that’s what it’s supposed to be about. Instead, it’s more of a commentary on wealth (Jean has it, Sunny does not), parenting (Sunny is a mother of two, Jean is not) and manipulation (they both do it, for one reason or another). More time is spent setting up where Jean, Sunny and Bridget came from than the actual adoption process. More time is spent on describing the vast financial differences between Sunny and Jean than on their personalities. By the end of the book I didn’t know Jean or Sunny any better so I didn’t care who got the baby. I was completely indifferent to their struggle for baby Jade. Probably what bothered me most was the lack of real grief shown by either sister over the death of their elder sister. Crossley adds flickers of sadness, glimpses of sorrow, but for the most part Bridget’s death goes mostly unmourned. Possibly that is because they never got along. If there is one thing the three sisters did really well it was avoiding closeness.
In the end, Sunny wins custody. Everything points in the direction of Jean winning – money, power, people in her corner – while Sunny’s husband is filing for bankruptcy, old favors aren’t worth cashing in, and they have to sell their home. In a last minute surprise ending Jean withdraws her application for adoption and doesn’t contest the award going to Sunny. No one from Bridget’s life is there to put in a word edgewise.
Ironically enough, it was Bridget who was my favorite character because of this one line, “Bridget tasted her words before she spoke…” (p 112).

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust and the very first chapter called “Adapting to Adoption” (p 1).