This installment: a beautiful kid’s book about identity (f); a haunting Japanese DVD; a book on CD, also with issues of identity (f);another CD, this time Ireland in the ear (CD); a bizarre memoir with a musical theme (nf); and a cautionary tale about a medical mishap (nf).
The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu
A beautiful kid’s book about similarities and differences, as played out by identical twins Iris and Lark. They’ve been inseparable until 5th grade and panic when they end up in different classrooms. Lark is very sensitive and imaginative; Iris has served as her protector and her rock, rational and somewhat stolid. Lark is convinced her teacher is an ogre; she gets sick during owl pellet dissection. Iris is forced to participate in Camp Awesome, not at all her style, and is drawn to a strange antique shop across from the library. As it turns out, there are sinister doings in said shop, which reflects the theme of obsession and possession. (Both girls need to release each other to grow and thrive.) Crows play a big role. So magical realism here but also it feels very real emotionally. Very satisfying for me, a grown-up kid, I guess.
A surprising movie from Japan about a kind of family, all piled into a very small house. A young kid with his “father” is an adept thief; the rationale: if it hasn’t been sold yet, it doesn’t belong to anybody and is fair game. They acquire another kid who’s been left out in the cold. There’s a funny, grumpy grandma whose pension often seems to keep this leaky boat afloat. More is revealed about the nature of this family, but the primary experience for me was how to find joy in the skimpiest of circumstances.
When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica
Two separate seeming stories initially. Jessie’s mother has died and she discovers her social security number is that of a dead girl’s and she has no idea of her origins or her future. And Eden in coastal New England is struggling with fertility issues and going increasingly crazy despite her sweet set-up and devoted husband. Eden’s story dates from ’96; Jessie’s is contemporary. It takes quite a while to figure out how these two are connected. (I had an inkling.) I listened to this on CD and appreciated the different voices of the two women. Suspenseful and moving.
The Good People by Hannah Kent
I like to catch a book I’ve enjoyed between covers on CD and this one was especially effective because of the brogue and the occasional Gaelic. It’s a fascinating story of a child who might be a changeling, his anguished and desperate widowed grandmother, a serving girl whose heart goes out to the afflicted child, and the old woman who has “the knowledge” and tries to bring about a cure, i.e. a swap with the fairies for the original child. With disastrous consequences. Superstition vs. the church and gossiping village mentality all play a role. Powerful!
Sounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman
A bizarre and fascinating memoir by a young woman who got to tour with the God Bless America ensemble around 2004. The unnamed Composer, a very eccentric fellow, churns out inspirational tunes that, yes, like the book’s title, evoke that soundtrack. The hitch: she’s not an accomplished violinist, to say the least, but that’s not a problem. She just has to look like one; what comes out is canned music. I tried to google the identity of her boss but she’s hidden it cleverly. (He’s known for PBS performances, which gave me pause.) Jessica’s an excellent writer and there’s lx`ots of juicy, thoughtful material here.
Together by Judy Goldman
Subtitled A Memoir of a Marriage and a Medical Mishap. More than a mishap, I’d say. He went in for what was supposed to be a simple procedure to lessen his back pain and ended up quite impaired. Scary to realize how much can go wrong, even with fierce wife Judy advocating for him. But there’s another dimension: what constitutes a marriage and how roles can change out of necessity. She’d taken a back seat previously but had to step into leadership. Goldman’s a novelist and poet, but I liked the direct quality of the narrative, like a friend taking you into her confidence. A cautionary tale as well as a love letter of sorts.
Back next week.