THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS by Laurie Frankel

Wooh boy. I am behind!

I finished a book last week but haven’t reviewed it yet (that’s what this post is for). And I am in the middle of four other books. (This is what happens to me with non-fiction… I get a little mired.) I’m doing the Bruce Springsteen memoir on audio, and it’s a bit slow and meandering (although I love commuting to work with The Boss every morning). I’m savoring The War Bride’s Scrapbook, which is really fun. I’m reading an overdue (gasp!) library book called Too Slutty, Too Fat, Too Loud and it’s a week overdue, which is stressing me out. And I am also reading The Leavers, which I said was going to be my first book of 2018,  but which still isn’t done.

AND I am leaving on an international trip next week and have to pick books for the trip, which is going to be a challenge because there are Just. So. Many. Books.

Whew.

So let’s get to the way overdue review. My book club read This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel over the break and we discussed it last week. It’s about a family (parents Rosie and Penn) who have four sons and then a fifth one. But their fifth son is a girl inside a boy’s body. From an early age, Claude wears dresses and insists that he is a girl. How should parents react when their son insists he’s their daughter? If they support his dressing like a girl , how much should they intervene at school? Who should they tell, and at what age?

This Is How It Always Is explores the tough decisions faced by Rosie and Penn, who want nothing more than to support Claude – then Poppy – and make her as comfortable and happy as possible, while still tending to the needs of their four other children. They move from Madison to Seattle when Poppy is 6 to give her a fresh start where she isn’t known as “the transgender child”, but that decision proves fateful too. Without giving it much thought, Rosie and Penn decide to keep Poppy’s birth gender a secret when they arrive in Seattle, so while Poppy settles in well with a group of girls and is happy in her new home and school, there is a constant undercurrent of fear and tension while the family waits for the secret to get out. And of course, it does.

Reading has made me a better parent, or at least a more understanding parent, in that it has introduced me to a lot of situations and parenting challenges that I haven’t faced and shown me how complicated they can be. It’s so easy to judge from the outside. But when you get inside the house and get to know the kids and see the uniqueness of every situation, you really start to understand what it’s like. This Is How It Always Is is one of those books that makes you ask yourself, over and over again, how you’d handle the same situation.

Like in Goodbye For Now, Frankel’s writing is smart, funny and full of empathy. My book club loved this book – they found it very moving and compelling. It’s not preachy… it’s human. Totally realistic. Messy at times, but well-intentioned and full of love. Recommended!

GOING INTO TOWN by Roz Chast

So I am in the middle of four books right now – The Leavers, This Is How It Always Is, Born To Run and The War Bride’s Scrapbook. (Don’t ask – it just worked out that way.) As a result, I don’t have a review to post tonight. Instead, I am watching the Golden Globes, and it’s a good night for fiction. The Handmaid’s Tale and Big Little Lies have already won a bunch of awards, and the list of other movies and shows nominated tonight that are adaptations of books is a long one. Yay for good fiction!

I did finish one short book that I have to recommend: Going Into Town: A Love Letter To New York by Roz Chast. Chast created the book as a guide for her daughter, who was moving to NYC for college and didn’t have a lay of the land. Chast wrote a very entertaining “graphic memoir” about her beloved city, with sections about The Met, the New York street grid, eating in NY, how to hail a taxi, how the subway is laid out, and more. I lived in NYC for a few years, long enough that the city still feels if not like home, then at least like somewhere very familiar to me. Chast perfectly captured the idiosyncrasies of the city and its devotees. I laughed out loud several times while reading Going Into Town. Chast’s cartoons are hilarious, as always, as is her wry, pithy writing. If you too ❤️ NY, then I recommend picking up Going Into Town or at least buying it for someone who does.

Reviews coming soon!

 

First Book 2018

Every year on January 1, Sheila at Book Journey hosts First Book at her blog. She posts photos of readers from around the world and the books that they are starting off reading in the new year. Check out her blog today to see the photos that people have sent in and what everyone else is excited to read.

Here is my first book of 2018: The Leavers by Lisa Ko. It has been on my TBR since it came out and I’ve moved it up to the top of the list.

To all of my EDIWTB readers: Happy new year!! I hope it’s a happy and healthy one, filled with lots of books and time to read them.

2017 Reading Year In Review

I made it! I read 52 books this year, same as last year. That was my goal, and despite falling way behind in March, I managed to catch up. Here is my 2017 Reading Year in Review.

I did stick to my resolution of reading only books I wanted to read this year. They weren’t always great, but I chose them for no reason other than that I wanted to read that particular book at that time. My mother-daughter book club ended after 7 years, but I started a new adult book club this fall, and we’ve gotten two books under our belt so far.

Next year, my goal is to read more non-fiction. I read only 3 this year. Next year I am going to try to get to 10.

Here are my standout reads from 2017:

Best audiobooks were What Happened (read by Hillary Rodham Clinton), Stay With Me (read by Adjoa Andoh), Our Short History (read by Karen White) and Perfect Little World (read by Therese Plummer).

Most disappointing book: The Turner House by Angela Flournoy.

Most creative read goes to Every Day by David Levithan.

For the last several years, I have tracked the Depressing Themes of the books I read. Here are some of the depressing subjects covered by the books I read in 2017: WWII, orphans, cults, killing a lover, high school, giving up children, incarceration (especially when wrongly accused), terminal cancer, Indian reservation, death of sibling, horrible husband, drug addiction by parent, wife beaten into coma, the whole book 1984, horribly abusive mother, children lost in South America, racism, infertility, technology run amok, THE 2016 ELECTION, dead spouses, communicating with dead people, dog maiming, middle school. (This list seems actually less depressing than in previous years!)

The breakdown:

  • 49 fiction, 3 non-fiction (ugh!)
  • 14 repeat authors during 2017: Sarah Dunn, Jami Attenberg, Lauren Grodstein, Anita Shreve, Curtis Sittenfeld, Carolyn Parkhurst, Caroline Leavitt, Ann Hood, Catherine Heiny, Tom Perotta, Siobhan Fallon, Celeste Ng, Michelle Richmond, Sarah Pekkanen
  • 19 audiobooks
  • 13 male authors, 39 female authors

How was your 2017 in reading? What were the highlights?

FATHER’S DAY by Simon Van Booy

I stumbled upon Father’s Day by Simon Van Booy on the remainder shelf at the bookstore. It caught my eye, I made note of it, and ended up picking it up at the library last week. It was (probably) my last book of 2017, and it ended my reading year on a very high note.

Father’s Day is about a girl named Harvey (yes, weird name choice) whose parents died when she was a little girl. With no other family around, she ends up living with her uncle Jason, a violent ex-con who served time for beating up another man and blinding him. At first, Jason is reluctant to take Harvey, but a persistent social worker wears him down until he can’t bear the thought of her going into foster care. Harvey and Jason form a little family, with him learning how to be a father and her helping him learn how to love. It sounds corny, but Van Booy shies away from sentimentality here. Jason is a damaged man, and Harvey has her own bursts of anger and frustration. They don’t have a lot of money, but they get by. Jason sells his beloved homemade motorcycle to pay for Harvey’s orthodontia, but it isn’t until Harvey is grown up that she truly understands his sacrifice.

The book goes back and forth between flashes from Harvey’s childhood (and even earlier) and the present, where Harvey is now living in Paris and Jason has come out to visit for Father’s Day. There is one plot gimmick that I didn’t love – Harvey presents him with little gifts throughout his visit that have meaning to the two of them and trigger more flashbacks and explanation. I don’t think Van Booy needed those presents to tell his story and the whole construct ends up feeling contrived. Because Jason is so flawed, but such a decent man, the story is realistic and very compelling on its own without those triggers.

I really, really enjoyed Father’s Day. It’s a gentle but not saccharine, suspenseful but not stressful, and very well-written. Excellent way to end the year of reading.

THE WIFE BETWEEN US by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen is what I call a popcorn novel – a psychological thriller that keeps you reading but doesn’t necessarily leave much behind when you finish. It’s about a woman named Vanessa who has recently divorced her husband Richard and is now stalking his fiancee (her “replacement”). It appears that Vanessa – short on money, living with her aunt in Manhattan – is the typical cast-off first wife who wants her rich husband and her old life in Westchester back, while her husband heads toward the aisle with a younger version of herself.

But, as you discover as you read The Wife Between Us, little is as it seems.

It is very difficult to review this book without giving too much away, so I will keep this short. There are a lot of twists and turns that kept me reading. At first Vanessa seems sad and pathetic, but then you start to realize that there is more to her than a spurned woman. And then things get interesting.

The Wife Between Us is a tense thriller that keeps the pages turning and the reader interested. I put it a notch above the typical popcorn novel because of the twists and surprises, and also because it ends up being a pretty sympathetic portrayal of a woman who has faced challenges in her life. But in the end, it’s a thriller. If you’re in the mood for that kind of book, I recommend picking it up.

 

GREEN by Sam Graham-Felsen

Green by Sam Graham-Felsen is a novel about David Greenfeld, a sixth grade boy growing up in Boston in the 90s who doesn’t fit in at school. He’s white and Jewish, and while he’d like to go to private school, his hippie parents who “believe in public school” send him to “the King”, a predominantly African-American middle school in Jamaica Plain. David is a frequent target of bullying and teasing by his classmates, and he unsuccessfully he tries to fit in with his black classmates as he navigates the hierarchy of middle school and the complicated world of race relations.

Unexpectedly, David becomes friends with Marlon, a boy from the nearby projects who stands up for him at lunch one day. They share a love of the Celtics and a desire to test into Boston Latin, a public magnet school that would provide an escape from the King and the promise of success and riches down the road. It’s clear that Marlon has a difficult home life, with a mentally unstable mother, but to a naive David, Marlon is just the best friend he never had.

Green is a memorable coming-of-age story that feels authentic and accurate. Graham-Felson grew up in Boston and, like his main character, attended a school in which he was one of the only white kids. (Graham-Felson later served as President Obama’s chief blogger during the 2008 election, so he knows a little something about race in America.) There are so many little details here that lend the story relatability and immediacy – the rants from David’s cranky, Holocaust-survivor grandfather; his father’s Birkenstocks with socks; the bean sprout sandwich that his father packs him for lunch. But the book goes deeper with an insightful look at what it’s like to be in the minority and yet be favored and treated better than most people around you. The principal looks out for David, storekeepers let him loiter in their stores, and he enjoys a home with luxuries around him that many of his classmates can’t afford. And yet Dave’s life is stressful, especially when he is taunted on the bus or mugged on the basketball court. And when his relationship with Marlon becomes distant and awkward, Dave is more alone than ever.

There is a lot of 90s slang in here – did white kids ever talk like that?

Overall I liked Green and am glad I read it. It can get a little slow, but Graham-Felsen expertly captures those awkward years, especially as lived by someone who had a hard time fitting in.

I listened to Green on audio and I have one major complaint. The narrator, Prentice Onayemi, is very good, but he’s African-American, which seemed like a weird choice for a book about the one white kid in a black school. Why not go with a white narrator? The whole point is that David isn’t black and feels like an outsider. I enjoyed the audio but this bothered me throughout.