Whatcha reading? Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson

The nature/nurture debate fascinates me: are we more our genes or our environment? Some people even believe we are exclusively one or the other, that we are born as is, without possibility of true change, or born a blank slate, everything ahead. Though I fall somewhere in between, I do feel that we skew more toward genes, that we come out an entire person who can be encouraged or pointed in certain directions, not to become entirely other people. Perhaps that goes some way toward explaining schizophrenia for me, that someone pushed that person to become so different that s/he became two? 

In Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson, her main character Nonny has resided all day every day in the literal between, a nothing town between Athens and Atlanta—between two families, between two mothers, between two warring camps, between her genes and her upbringing—and if you ask me, it’s making her more than a touch schizophrenic. Between itself is between, both a literal place and a fictional place, a barest place on a map and a dead-end state of mind. Nonny both straddles the two and pings back and forth to extremes, some days more successfully than others. Her adoptive Mama is a deaf, blind, artistic, and articulate Frett; her birth mother is a teenage, raging, careless, and absent Crabtree. Their two families each love fiercely but violently, and so often a child or another innocent gets caught in their war. 

Nonny, now an adult in name, is only one in a long line of casualties, but the state of her life reflects this chaos in her unfinished degree, her languishing and toxic marriage, her childlessness, her inability to make clear decisions, and even her fear of true commitment to anyone or anything but her adoptive Mama. I have my fingers crossed for her, but it’s going to be a struggle to come out the other side, and if it’s like Jackson’s other books, my true sorrow will be when the struggle resolves , leaving me with a book hangover of the best kind.

If you want to see my rating once I finish, you can follow me on Goodreads. I rate every book I read.



Whatcha reading? The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Boy meets girl, and it's love, except that the boy doesn't know it. His dating experience has been negligible and unsuccessful, perhaps owing to his difficulties with social and emotional cues. The "boy" in question is almost forty-year-old Don Tillman, a genetics researcher who appears to be well along on the autism spectrum, buy he may or may not know that either. Don is also not good at friends, but he is game to keep trying. Don has a project, the Wife Project, and then he meets Rosie, who has a project, the Father Project, so then Don has two projects. Don is happy about this because he is good at projects, because he can look at them logically and scientifically, even though love and families don't often proceed along logical and scientific lines.

What I like best about this book so far is how funny it is. I wasn't expecting that. It's like a screwball romantic comedy of old, where you are pretty sure how it's all going to turn out, and both projects really, but the journey is a lot of fun along the way. I think one of the reasons it's funny is that it isn't possible socially, at least as an adult, to laugh at someone actually on the autism spectrum. I know two boys, one with Asperger's and one with autism, and it would be horrible to laugh at them when they make a common social faux pas, though I have seen kids do it and then cut an eye at the teacher or other adult to see if s/he caught it. I have pitied these boys, marveled at, learned from, and widened my eyes at them, but I have never ever felt like laughing. Somehow, in this book when Don gives a lecture on Asperger's to a room full of boys with that diagnosis, and they decide together, rationally, that the best theoretical course of action to produce life-preserving silence is to kill the crying baby, I could laugh—and did, many times.

Rosie has her own issues, as we all do, but I appreciate how she treats Don as "normal," as friend and maybe more material, because I like Don, and while she may shake her head at his foibles, she doesn't denigrate him for them. We should all be so lucky. Maybe they will be, too. I think it's likely.

If you want to see my rating once I finish, you can follow me on Goodreads. I rate every book I read.



Whatcha reading? Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt

A train friend asks me this with no preliminary every time she sees me. What is a train friend? Someone that you see only in the context of your daily commute to work or school or wherever, but at that intersection of your lives you have a certain habitual banter. Ours is books. This is not a surprise since I am always reading, and so is she. Honestly the only surprise is that either of us ever looked up simultaneously in order to engage that first time. Anyway, it occurred to me yesterday that book blogs are often reviews of books once the reader has finished and assessed. I think it's interesting to hear what people think about books as they are going along (without spoilers, of course!). So without further adieu, here's what I'm reading. I'm halfway through.

Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt tells the story of Ava and Lewis,  a tiny family living in Waltham, Massachusetts in the 1950s. Ava's husband left her, left them, for reasons neither of them understands, and the fact that Ava is also beautiful and Jewish with a string of boyfriends does not help their cause to fit into their new neighborhood. Lewis befriends the only other fatherless children in the area, or they befriend him, and he and Rose and Jimmy spend most of their childhood hours together, until Jimmy disappears. This loss rips the fabric of friendship and of the neighborhood, revealing over time the superficialities and petty jealousies and deeper traumas. My quick descriptions of these character dynamics miss the essential truth that I see at the heart of this novel though, which is that we are all essentially alone, and it is impossible to ever truly know another person. Is is in the trying to know one another that grace an happen. This might sound depressing, but it isn't, because it's beautifully written and also true. Each character has his or her own goals and self-delusions, successes and failures, as we all do, and so I care for them.

My favorite books usually have an adolescent point of view, an element of exploration of what it means to be a teen or a young adult, wanting desperately to be older, to understand the secrets of life as an adult. I like the rawness and honesty of this; adults generally camouflage themselves much better. In this book we get to see deep into Lewis's mind and into Rose's; Jimmy's we see only from others' points of view but learn so much about him as well, even in absence. As a side note I read plenty of young adult, but coming of age is what most speaks to me. I don't really think books should have labels at all, whether for so-called genre or for age or for reading level, because I think labels pigeon-hole both books and readers as least as much as they can help guide. I read all over the place, as you'll see.

And if you want to know what I thought of the book once I finish, and I read about a book a week, then you can check out my rating and sometimes my review by following me on Goodreads. I rate every book that I read, even those rare ones that I don't finish. I read from my own TBR list, from reviews and reader-friend recommendations, and don't take review requests. My comments are strictly my own opinion, unpaid and solicited. But if you are an author and see your book on my TBR list, know that I will get there sooner or later. I generally read books next that have been on my list the longest, but sometimes I jump around, for fun. You know those crazy book people...the life of every party :)



Harder to Be a Girl

A girl I know only by association, three degrees removed, was murdered. She haunts me nonetheless. At first she was classified as missing, with much information about where she was last seen and with whom, but after that first week, I asked myself where could she possibly be besides dead? There is the occasional case like Elizabeth Smart, where she was taken and held, but the great majority of girls taken either never resurface or are found, as Hannah Graham was, within a few miles of where she was last seen, abandoned, flung aside like so much rubbish. In fact with recycling now so prevalent, trash is probably treated better than this lovely, bright, vibrant college student in her final moments.

This story hurts my heart. Every day that she was gone, I thought of her, her mother, her family, her community, and her newly adopted community of the University of Virginia and Charlottesville. I prayed for her, for them, and for all of us, because what happens to the least of us, happens to us all. And when I say least, I mean most powerless. Why do I say that Hannah Graham was powerless? I say it because after thousands of years of human history, of development and progress and some might say regression as well, it is no more safe and possible for a pretty nineteen-year-old girl wearing party clothes to be walking alone at 1:30 am than it is for me to attempt to fly under my own power. 

There has been a great deal of media coverage of this story, and the usual people have said the usual things about poor judgment and poor apparel choices and poor choice of companions. But why should any of those things matter? Why shouldn't she or any girl be able to do as she likes, so long as she is not hurting anyone else?

It is not fair that a girl in our world cannot go where she likes when she likes dressed as she likes. It is not fair that a boy can do much more of what he likes without consequences, without predators often stalking him, without horrible harm a likely result. That is not to say that bad things don't happen to boys, of course they do, and that is also regrettable, but the overwhelming majority of them happen to girls. Predators primarily target girls. While I also understand that no one ever said life would be fair, why is it still so much harder to be a girl?

With the suspect in custody and the case tied now to several other missing and abused girls' cases, I wish every kind of peace and justice for the families and communities involved, but above all I wish that peace and justice for girls everywhere, anytime, any place.