Thursday, October 21, 2010


After by Amy Efaw

Fifteen year old Devon is a talented soccer player with "unlimited" potential. She is an honor student, has a 4.15 GPA and is well liked by the adults around her as well as her peers.

Devon has a very strict sense of the person she is and wants to become.  She pushes herself to excel at everything she does, and with an absent mom, she is the only one she is accountable to.

Devon has also been arrested for the attempted murder of her newborn baby.

This story starts out with the police canvasing the Tacoma area after a man walking his dog, finds a newborn baby in a dumpster.  When the police arrive at Devon's apartment, they find her nearly unconscious and covered in blood.  We move with her through the trip to the hospital, her arrest, her court proceedings, her time in juvenile detention and through her confusion in all of the chaos.  Through flashbacks we learn how Devon had allowed herself to fall for a boy slightly older than her, have one sexual encounter, and then deliver a baby all alone in her bathroom after denying the pregnancy for 9 months.

This book is labeled Children's Literature: 8th grade and up, and was recommended to me by my 18 year old daughter.  Quite honestly, I don't know that I would have gotten out of it at 13 or 14, what I did at 30-something.  The book is very well written and I didn't feel as if I were reading a Children's book at all. It was an easy read, though I found myself skipping some overly descriptive paragraphs to get to dialogue here and there (I swear I'm as impatient in reading as I am in real life).

While I admit the topic seems horrifying, the author focused more on the psychological aspects surrounding the event, than on the act of leaving a baby to die.  I worked for Social Services and with children who've been abused and neglected for a number of years, so I had a little coldness in my heart for Devon when I started reading the book.  I know there are two sides to every story, but when it comes to babies I tend to only take one side.  Imagine my surprise as I start to feel empathy for this girl despite the depravity of her crime.

I think the author says it best in her note at the end of the book ...

The "dumpster baby" phenomenon is an invisible American tragedy, poorly understood and rarely acknowledged.
Though most people would consider the behavior inexplicable and unusual, its occurrence is disturbingly common ...

...Texas was the first state to enact what would later be termed "safe haven" legislation.  that was in 1999, and since then, all forty-nine other states have passed similar legislation. Yet news outlets all over the United States are still reporting these "Dumpster baby" stories with alarming regularity.  So why is this still happening?  After attempts to answer that question.
In my own home, I would have no issues with my children reading After. I strongly recommend that a parent read it if their child shows an interest in this book.  The topic brings up issues that should definitely be a conversation piece between parent and child.

my book is up for grabs, if anyone is interested ... and yes, I am aware of my tendency for the morose story ;)

For You Mom, Finally (memoir)

For You Mom, Finally by Ruth Reichl

In this slim volume, the author, a former New York Times food critic, editor of Gourmet magazine, and author of several books, delves into the life of her mother, now deceased, trying to figure out what made this woman tick. Her mother's life was always fraught, and she succeeded in driving her daughter away with her eccentricities and deep unhappiness and dissatisfaction with her own life. After her death, the author sets out to locate a box of her mother's letters and diaries that was supposed to exist, and find the box she does. Inside she is is finally able to get inside her mother's head and get to know a woman she never really knew or understood when she was living. It ends up being a journey of self-discovery for the author, as well as an opportunity to finally begin to heal from old wounds. She wrote this book as a gift to her mother, believing that her mother would have liked her story to be told so that she could be understood, and to thank her for the lessons and gifts she now understands that her mother gave her.

I bought this book on a whim on a recent trip to the bookstore because (a) I'm a sucker for a memoir, and (b) I tend to be drawn to stories having to do with mother-daughter relationships because my own relationship with my mother has always been so volatile and unhealthy. There is a part of me that hopes, I guess, to find the key by reading other people's stories of their own mother-daughter relationships - not the key to reconciling with my mother, but to understanding where it all went so terribly wrong, and to preventing it from happening with my own daughters.

This was also a fascinating read to me because it came on the heels of having read When Everything Changed, and this is an actual, personal (though somewhat second-hand) account of one woman's experience of having lived in an era when even the brightest, most motivated and ambitious women were encouraged to squelch any dreams they may have had outside of getting married, raising children, and maintaining households.

I really enjoyed this book and found it moving and thought-provoking. It's a quick read, and mine's up for grabs.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Empress Orchid (novel)

Empress Orchid by Anchee Min

The book opens with the title character at seventeen years old, left in poverty with her mother, sister and brother after the death of their father, a political figure in nineteenth century China. Orchid is given a chance to interview to become an Imperial Concubine, as the current Emperor is looking for mates to produce an heir to the throne. After being selected as an Imperial Concubine, she is given the rank of Fourth Wife and ends up producing the Emperor's only male heir (who will become "The Last Emporer"). The Emperor dies when his son is only five years old, amid much political and social unrest in China, and Orchid manages to eventually become the most powerful woman in China, although the book doesn't take the reader that far.

Based on actual history and people, this is a fictionalized, first-person, and sympathetic account of Empress Dowager Cixi's early life in the Forbidden City. Although rich in details pertaining to customs, beliefs, landscape and history, I found that the story tended to drag for long periods. The characters all seemed shallow, and it was difficult to relate or feel sympathetic to any of them. The author tends to use some verbage which I think is probably historically incorrect (did anyone really say "potty" back in the mid-1800s, or even "retarded"?), which I found irritating. Without spoiling anything, the story ends with a weird surprise regarding Empress Orchid's sister, which is never developed or explained, and, of course, the predictable love interest, which I don't know is historically accurate or just part of the fiction of the novel, but seemed unlikely to me. It does show a fascinating glimpse of the lives of concubines and eunuchs (eunuchs: an excellent example of the totally effed-up things we humans do to one another), and life during the Second Opium War.

I think this book might appeal more to someone especially interested in Chinese history. I read it because it's the current selection for my book club; I was glad to finally be done with it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

book give-away

A short while back, my daughter won a Dr. Phil gift basket at a Dodger game.  It came with a stack of books written by Dr. Phil and his wife, Robin.

My daughter, the book lover that she is, proudly gathered them into her arms and whisked them off to her room.  More than once I've gone in to get her up for school and found her reading one of these new treasures.  I was impressed, a little shocked even.  But last night she brought them all into my room and asked if I could find a home for the books.  Turns out, they were just a tad over her head.

at least she tried Ü

I figured I would put them up for grabs here.
First replied, first served.
Leave me a comment with the title you'd like and your email address so I can get with you on the shipping address.  The offer is good til the end of the month and then I will figure out something else to do with them.  So, for anyone interested ... here is the list!

Self Matters: Creating Your Life from the Inside Out
(autographed, hard cover)

Real Life: Preparing for the 7 Most Challenging Days of Your Life
(autographed, hard cover)

Family First: Your Step-by-Step Guide for Creating a Phenomenal Family
(autographed, paperback)

Love Smart: find the One You Want - Fix the One You Got
(autographed, hard cover)

The Ultimate Weight Solution: the 7 Keys to Weight Loss Freedom
(autographed, paperback)

Christmas in my Home and Heart
(hard cover)

Inside My Heart: Choosing to Live with Passion and Purpose

From My Heart to Yours: Life Lessons on Faith, Family and Friendship
(hard cover)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Not Without My Sister

Not Without My Sister: The True Story of Three Girls Violated and Betrayed by Kristina Jones, Celeste Jones and Juliana Buhring

Kristina, Celeste and Juliana openly share the painfully disturbing memories of their life in a religious cult, The Children of God (also known as The Family International).  Each woman, born to the same man, discusses her own experience as a second generation member - being torn from her parents and siblings, being left in the care of strangers, having the very basic of freedoms being ripped away as she is abused by those expected to protect her.

These women take us through the teachings and practices of the followers of David Berg and through their own lives of being moved from one country to another, always trying to stay one step ahead of the authorities, and always defensive of their beliefs.  They show us the power of blind faith and how the desire to believe can overwhelm conscience and instinct, forcing one to believe they are weak simply because they doubt.

I just finished my second reading of this book.  My first reading was haunted by the realization that this is not a work of fiction based on a made up city, in a made up land.  The reading of the reviews on only made me see more clearly that this isn't even an isolated occurrence of abuse that happened in a tiny little nothing sort of town in a country few have ever heard of.  Many of these homes were set in the center of some of the biggest cities around the world.  The second reading made me associate the births and lives of these women with my own, them being raised in the same decades I was raised, having children within years of my own, and the reality that as of 2005, there were still active homes and members practicing the twisted teachings and beliefs of self proclaimed prophets.

I recommend this book to anyone who works with children, more so to those who work with children who have been abused and neglected.  These women effectively describe how one can remain in a hostile, abusive situation, that they know is wrong, because of the lies and fears they have been fed about life outside the only world they know.  It also accurately describes the resilience, the unconditional love and the ease of forgiveness these children have for their parents, despite their involvement, or lack of responsibility taken, in their abuse.

While working with abused and neglected children, it always amazed me at how readily children want for their abusers and how easily they let go of the memories in hope of change.  I was sad at how easily they seemed to forget, knowing they would be let down again, but I also felt hope for them, that their abuser would see the forgiveness given by the child as a gift - a chance to make things right.

It is never easy to read about situations like this, but pretending they don't happen is foolish.