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We start in Antarctica where Elsa, Korean, is studying particle physics. She’s haunted by the ghost of a mysterious younger sister and by the folktales her crazy mother has told her. Back to Sweden where she’s pursuing a Ph.D and then on to the States where her mother is moribund, her brother Chris cycles in and out of schizophrenia, and her father is holed up in his auto-body shop. Oskar from Sweden, a poet and folklorist as well as a Korean adoptee, becomes an ally and lover. She pursues family secrets and ends up on a tiny Swedish island where she and Oskar find the clues that lay the mysteries —and the ghosts—to rest. Amazing layering of science, story, and social commentary. Sometimes a little much for me, but glad I persevered.
The eponymous protagonist, 14, gets a job as a summer nanny working for a doctor and his wife. Her parents have no idea that this “doctor” is an unconventional psychiatrist whose patient, a rock star battling addiction, is moving in for treatment along with his movie star wife. The household is chaotic but Mary Jane puts things in order as she witnesses and experiences wild interactions. She also has a fabulous singing voice which gets tapped in this new milieu. When her parents finally find out what’s going on there, they yank her out but she’s gotten a glimpse of possibilities that will serve her well. Set in the ‘70s in Baltimore. Heady stuff.
Miggy is a wild child, friendless until meek Emma comes along. Miggy’s parents were too young when they had her and they’re not doing well 10 years later—no surprise. Emma’s mother is deep in postpartum depression from the recent birth of Louie. A fatal accident upends these already strained families, causing further instability. Silver really gets into the mysteries of childhood—the transgressive games, the intense emotions—as well as the way fate shapes and deforms familial relationships. Subtle and powerful.
Subtitled A 4,000 Journey into the Alaskan Wilds. I love adventures between covers, as it were. The author, who grew up in Alaska, wants out of the lab and back into nature; she’s a biologist. She and her husband Patrick set out in hand-built rowboats and move through the arctic seasons on skies or packrafts, battling mosquitos, bears, extremely challenging terrain, hunger (the resupply helicopter was grounded by weather), and the like. Van Hemert describes wonders and difficulties both big-scale and interpersonal. It’s a love story in both realms. Inspiring.
Kerry roars back home on her purloined Harley for a brief visit because her dad is on the way out. But another development keeps her there: the threat to build a prison on ancestral lands. She’s Bunjalung (Australian Aboriginal) and this is an outrage. There’s a curse hanging over her family, too. Kerry is wonderfully profane and the book is studded with Bunjalung words that add vivid color and are easy enough to figure out in context. I welcomed Kerry’s too much lip because her story—and that of her people—is one we all need to hear.
Back next week.