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See You at Harry'sSee You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

Going into this book, I knew it would be sad. It has the subject heading “grief – fiction” for crying out loud, plus I’d read several reviews before ordering it for the library and that gave me a heads up. But sometimes I’m just in the mood for a tear-jerker, so I picked it up and waited to see what would be so devastating.

The first half of the book is the story of a family dealing with the usual upsets of life, with the added hurdle of running a family restaurant. Narrator Fern feels like the invisible one, her older brother hasn’t come out but they all know he’s gay, oldest girl Sara is taking a year off before college, and three-year-old Charlie is, as always, dirty and sticky and looking for affection.

When things go wrong for the family, Knowles writing felt like it tightened up. Each person blames themselves for what happened, and they have to figure out how to go on. The sadness never felt maudlin – it was always sharp and painful and vivid. Although the sadness in the story is specific to this particular incident, I always think that good tear-jerkers evoke a universal sort of grief. This may not be your tragedy, but if the emotions ring true, you are put in the character’s shoes. Their grief and any grief you hold get mixed together.

This isn’t an easy book to read, but I think it fits well into that canon of children’s books that do this sort of thing well. It made me think of both Bridge to Terabithia and A Summer to Die – books with very different plots but a similar ability to call up emotion.

Source: my public library

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If I Stay (Audio CD) If I Stay by Gayle Forman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What’s the appeal of sad books, anyway? Why do some of us find it cathartic to have a nice weep over a story? Why is a teenager on the brink of choosing life or death after a terrible accident so compelling? Here, part of the appeal is that it’s tightly told. It’s heartbreaking but never maudlin, as Mia weaves reminiscences into the story of the accident. The flashbacks feel natural, connecting in small ways to what’s happening in the hospital without feeling too perfectly matched. There’s enough backstory to feel like you know Mia and her family, as well and her boyfriend and her best friend, but not so much that is distracts from the central question – will she stay? While I personally never doubted how it would end, the story of how she reaches that conclusion is compelling.

One relatively minor quibble with the story, which was probably made worse by the fact that I listened to the audio version. Kirsten Potter did an excellent job reading the story – she sounded like a teenager, and the quality of her voice matched what we know about Mia’s personality. Most of the story works well as a listening experience, especially the dramatic moments in the accident when you might be tempted to flip ahead a few pages in the print version. But the dialogue – oh, the poor dialogue! At first I blamed Kirsten, but then I realized that she was doing the best she could with what was on the page. The lines sometimes feel put into the characters’ mouths – especially Mia’s parents. They felt almost precocious, like Forman was trying too hard to make them hip and savvy and bright. Teddy suffered a bit, too, as well as some family friends. The teenagers, thankfully, felt more natural, but I’d be curious to hear if anyone else found the dialogue distracting.

On the whole, a moving story that avoids too much sentimentality, and recommended to high school girls, in particular, who like that sort of thing – although it’s not too girly, so I imagine it has a male audience, too.

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Linnea

Linnea

I can’t take any credit for her, but I’m awfully proud of her all the same – and proud of her parents for bringing such a darling baby into the world.  May I introduce Linnea Evelyn, my newest god daughter to-be?

The full scoop is over on Kate’s blog, of course.  I can’t wait to meet her myself – remind me why they put northern California so far away from Portland?

This weekend, I survived the Spanish Influenza,* cholera,** and the plague.***

It’s a miracle I’m here to tell the story. My dear roommate also survived untold horrors as she finished Octavian Nothing (dear, dear Octavian Nothing) and I laid it to rest, so to speak, in the spot waiting for it on my shelf, right inbetween Rose in Bloom and The Secret Garden. For some reason, that really cracked me up. I think Mary can handle Octavian, but Rose might be a bit of a prude about it. When, oh when shall we have Volume II in our hot little hands?

Earlier last week, I also survived a hail storm. That walk I went on with K & the girlies? Five minutes into it, the heavens opened and the trails of Tryon Creek became white with hail. K & M took shelter under a blanket, Q had her pink poodle coat (if you know Q and have never seen her in this coat, you’re really missing out), I had my raincoat, and we shuffled along merrily. Until the hail stopped and the sky became blue and we continued to wind our way around, dodging overly energetic runners.

I can’t think of the last time I went for a run. Sometimes I see people running and my legs want to join in (for about 2 seconds) and other times it exhausts me just to look at them. Especially when they come in youthful herds, running through all manner of hail and tempest.

In other news, February reading totals are in! Yeah, it was really difficult to tally it all up, people were really slow with getting their results back to me. What a pain.

  • Total: 15
  • Nonfiction: 2
  • Audio: 4
  • Children’s/YA: 11
  • Adult: 4
  • Rereads: 3
  • Newbery Winners: 2
  • Printz Honors: 2
  • Brand-spanking-new 2007 titles: 2

So far for March, I’ve read entirely historical fiction. Josephine, Hattie, and the plague. If I hadn’t just started Accidents of Nature, I suppose I could try to keep the trend up. Wait, it’s set in the 70s, right? Does that count? It’s before my time, at least.

Heretoafter, March shall be known as Historical Fiction Month. Let it be known.

And, since I like making resolutions and then breaking them, I shall promptly break it.

Listening to these days: The Thirteenth Tale, Three Men in a Boat.

*Hattie Big Sky, Kirby Larson

**The Painted Veil. Mmm, Edward Norton. Favorite line: Kitty: “I’m pregnant.” Walter: “A baby?” Me: “No, the other kind of pregnant.”

***Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks.

C is For Crying and Couches

I spent most of the day on the couch.  First this morning doing tech geeky assignments like learning html and mastering the art of listening to your own recorded voice without stuffing your ears full of cotton wool (what on earth is cotton wool anyway?  I always see that expression in books and wonder…a blend of cotton and wool?  Why not just one or the other if you’re only stuffing your ears?)  Then tonight after work, reading Saving Francesca.  Which is pretty much perfect for what it is.  The emotions are believeably complex, the plot is uncluttered, the characters grow & change & say shitty things to each other.  Okay, I confess, it had me in tears at the end.  In a happy way.  Which sounds so, so…not the person I like to pretend I am.  But, I am.  That person.  Who cries over novels aimed at teenagers.

Tomorrow I must move around.

jess & lily

Originally uploaded by jessmonster.

Yes. Yes! Another one! I suppose I can excuse Lily from my previous tirades since she had the decency to wait until September, but really. It’s an epidemic. Here are Lily & I back in the good ol’ days of 4-H camp. In an interesting turn of events, I ended up swimmy-dipping in the same water hole in college.

I’m not sure where to start with the wedding stories. It was certainly an, um, eventful weekend. There are the driving stories. The behind the scenes stories. The inside jokes. The time in the kitchen. The times we cried. The wedding itself.

I’ve known Lis for – is it really seven years? She and Tyler have been together for nine years. For those of you counting, that’s since the middle of high school. They went to separate colleges. They did the long-distance thing. Tyler has always been part of the equation for those of us who met Lis in college. And he’s always put up with us, God bless him. He can hang out with the girls, and he knows when to go stay with a friend and leave the apartment to us.

Tyler’s brother gave a toast at the wedding, saying that he’s known Lis and Tyler as a couple longer than he’s known Tyler by himself. That Lis has always been his example. That he’d meet a girl he liked and go home and tell his mom, “She’s just like Lis!”

So, you know, we pretty much started crying when Lis walked down the aisle.  We were out in the middle of nowhere north of Bellingham, at a place where they rent out an airplane hangar and let you do your food prep in the garage and get ready in the house.  The chairs were set up by a perfect Anne of Green Gables pond (at which Laurel and I later reenacted the “you may call me Cordelia” scene from Anne of Avonlea, complete with dancing.  We left Gil at home, though.)  Lis said that when she and her parents were leaving the house to walk down the aisle, she was afraid she was going to lose it.  Until her mom dropped something or lost a shoe and said, “oh shit.”  And then Lis laughed and knew she’d make it.

When they read their vows, Tyler had a lovely, eloquent statement that he carefully read.  And we all teared up (someone had to pass his mom a tissue).  Lis started out with, “Tyler, I’ve been wanting to marry you for a really long time.”  And we all laughed.

(Later, when I told Kate the story, she started crying.  “It’s just so wonderful…[sob] to hear about someone… [wipe eyes] getting married!”)

And then we ate and drank and danced and toasted our friends and sat in the sun.  And then, well, afterwards is a story for another time.

July 2014
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Flickr Photos

Dinner success - the rare occasion when we eat exactly the same thing (except no hot salsa on his rice & beans).

Trucks, always trucks (and the water tables).

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