Neshama’s Choices for January 17th

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Fight Night

At first these over -the -top eccentric characters tired me out but something kept me reading and I’m so glad I persisted. Swiv, in Toronto, gets into trouble a lot. She’s 9. Her grandma, Elvira, may be physically wobbly but her spirit is fierce and very funny. The third member of the household is Elvira’s daughter, an actor, who’s hugely pregnant but still going to rehearsals. She’s pretty wobbly emotionally. We learn the necessity for all that combative energy from family history. A wild excursion to visit nephews in Fresno brings things to a slam-bang but predictable conclusion. Darkly funny. 

Invisible Child

Subtitled poverty, survival & hope in an american city. Dasani has 6 siblings and loving but chaotic, addicted parents. As the oldest child, she holds things together against all odds from one shelter to another. If she keeps her head down (hence the book’s title, which is doubled-edged because she’s often invisible to the agencies designed to help her) she can stay out of trouble, kind of. She’s very bright and talented which eventually gains her admittance to a prestigious institution in Hershey, PA. But then her siblings end up split up in foster care, and she experiences a growing gulf between her and her family. So she flunks out and returns to restore what she can. Elliott tracked Dasani for a decade, embedded whenever possible, and has produced a magnificent, heartbreaking piece of work. 600 pages and I had to steel myself each day to open up the book again, but so worth it.

An Observant Wife

Leah (once Lori) has married Yaakov and is determined to fit into the restrictive Ultra-Orthodox community in Boro Park, NY. His first wife committed suicide and Leah, a convert, wants to do right by his children; she was the babysitter. Her every move is observed and judged harshly by neighbors, and the deep love she and Yaakov share is soon put to the test.  Shaindel, his 17- year- old daughter, is snared by a flirtation and more scandal ensues. Can this marriage be saved?  Yes (whew) with the help of Yaakov’s well-respected and canny mother-in-law, but many hypocritical aspects of this enclave are exposed along the way. Yiddish and Hebrew words and phrases interspersed, but there’s a glossary. (This book is a sequel, I discovered afterwards, and I can’t wait to read An Unorthodox Match.) 

The Stolen Hours 

Lila is a driven lawyer with a troubled past. The case: an almost drowned woman, a dubious link with a creepy photographer, Gavin, but not enough evidence. After Lila embarrassed an influential prosecutor, she’s relegated to back-room duties.  Then, fortuitously, she’s reassigned to a tough, Black supervisor, Andi, who mentors her brilliantly. She takes Lila rock-climbing on a day off which demonstrates grit under pressure and serves Lila well when things get dire.  “Mild-mannered” Gavin is actually a monster full of schemes. The author, a lawyer, really knows how to tell a suspenseful, layered tale and here’s an excellent example of his craft. 

The Unheard

Tess’s 3-year-old daughter Poppy is already a spirited handful.  But when Poppy’s behavior and language take a dark turn and one of her drawings reveals a sinister scene, Tess is on the alert.  The men in her life: new lover Aiden who seems devoted; her ex, Jordan, a philander but devoted to Poppy; her intrusive, cheerful upstairs neighbor Bernie. Tess takes her suspicions to the police.  One officer, Kelly, seems sympathetic but most of them get tired of what seem like far-fetched, paranoid conjectures. Poppy perseveres despite. French (actually a pseudonymous married team) always comes through with fine psychological thrillers that satisfy me hugely.

Back next week.