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Reading Across the USA: Georgia

Bailey White, a long-time NPR commentator, is best known for her funny short stories about the folks in her family and in her small Georgia hometown. My personal favorite is Computer School–an essay featured in her collection Sleeping at the Starlite Motel. For the state of Georgia today I’ve chosen her novel, Quite a Year for Plums.

Roger, a local peanut pathologist and Della, a local bird artist trying to save an endangered breed of chickens, are the main folks in this story. But small town life is about everyone and this book has a wide-ranging and eccentric cast of characters–just like you’d find in a Bailey White essay.  You can read the New York Times review here.

What matters most to reading this story is the hear the author’s real voice. It’s combination of southern magnolias, sweet tea and…well, gravel. Once you catch the sound of her voice, her writing is electric. Take a listen to this NPR story:

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Reading Across American–Alaska: The Snow Child–Novel and Fairy Tale

The Novel

Last Friday I posted in the Friday 56 with a few lines from The Snow Child.  You can read that post here. Today it’s time for my review.

“I don’t want to be warm and safe–I want to live.”

I understood the child’s reluctance to come inside, to be warm and safe…and controlled. While the point of this story was not to discuss the emotional struggles of older adopted children, that one line summed it up beautifully. I no longer write about my children–they are both adults now–but this line could have been uttered by one of them. Today I understand it. Back then, not so much as they say now.

Mabel and Jack fulfill a long-time fantasy of mine, to homestead in Alaska. Fantasy for me due to the hard work and, today, the cost of living in Alaska, but it’s always held a strong appeal to me. I’m an introvert and quite happy alone–most of the time. While Jack was made of the stern stuff necessary to homesteading, Mable wasn’t….or so it seemed. It seemed too that Cabin Fever had taken root over a long, dark winter. Or did it….?

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Esther and George and their three boys live nearby. Esther keeps a friendly eye on Mabel and her youngest son becomes a sort of nephew to Jack and Mabel. But none of them have seen the mysterious girl that Jack and Mabel say has visited them–a girl with a pet fox. A girl who lives alone in the vast wilderness. Garrett is Esther and George’s youngest son. Overshadowed by two older brothers, he finds peace and sanctuary in the wilderness.

[Photo is of the scenery that was used in the book as being around the fictional Wolverine River–photo from Letters From Alaska, the author’s blog]

Mabel has a beautiful story book from childhood–a story written in Russian that tells of an elderly couple who long for a child. They make one out of snow. Is this girl their Snow Child?  Can the heat of love and the warmth and safety of home stifle, even “melt” a person?

This is an amazing well-written book, with a story as amazing as the land in which it is set. There is hunting and trapping in this story as is normal in such a setting, but could upset some people not familiar with the life. I enjoyed the many amazing descriptions of nature–of the vastness of Alaska. Mabel’s nature drawings and her descriptions of the scenes written to her sister back East will entice nature study enthusiasts to read this book. The sweetness in this book is the right kind–not cloying, never precious. Book clubs will love this too for the theme of infertility, of motherhood and marriage and how both change lives. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

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Did you know that The Snow Child was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2013?

For more on Alaska and the locations in this book and in Eowyn Ivey’s new book, visit her blog, Letters from Alaska.

The Fairy Tale

Here are a few picture book versions of the fable of The Snow Child  to share with children or just to enjoy on your own.

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The Snow Child by Freya Littledale

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Little Daughter of the Snow by Arthur Ransome

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The Snow Child retold by Harriet Ziefert

Here is the very lovely book trailer for The Snow Child

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Reading Across the USA: Kansas

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Today’s book is set in Kansas, land of Dorothy, Toto and the Wizard of Oz.  I read the Persian Pickle Club not long after it was published, but the mood of the story has stayed with me to this day. A group of ladies in Harveyville, Kansas, called themselves the Persian Pickle Club–part homemaker’s group, part sorority, they pulled together except when they didn’t! The Great Depression wasn’t bad enough–Kansas and surrounding states also got what is today called the Dust Bowl. Yes, the Dust Bowl of Grapes of Wrath–that one. This book has some unexpected twists. It’s not just a happy quilting society enduring the depression by mending and making due and standing by their men. If your book club hasn’t read this one in the past, now is a good time to suggest it.

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The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas.

 

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Reading Across the USA meets Reading Around the World: A Coming Of Age Story in Puerto Rico

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Young women in traditional cultures often see their dreams evaporate as they hit puberty and their teen years. Traditional rites of passage focus on womanhood, or more specifically, wife- and motherhood. At a certain age girls are presented to society as potential brides. The girls themselves often go thru both poignant and painful floods of emotion.

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Verdita’s story, now being compared to House on Mango Street, is one such coming of age tale. This time the traditional culture is that of Puerto Rico. Puberty, a loss of innocence, and a threat to an only child’s self-centered world all make this a tremendous story.  The Time It Snowed In Puerto Rico by Sarah McCoy.

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Reading Across the USA: Oregon

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Previously I’ve written about tracking the books I’ve finished in Reading Around the World. (And here, too.)Today I’m beginning a look at those I’ve finished in Reading Across the USA–with a caveat. I’m skipping those books in New York City and Los Angeles. America needs more books set in other locations and more published writers who have never lived in either place. I gag on the phrase “the heartland,” and sick-to-death of “the Bible belt,” and want to gag the person who coined the oh-so-precious “Red State” and “Blue State” moniker, because how a state votes doesn’t really tell all.

IfIstayTo start us off I’ve picked one of the hippest places on Earth–Oregon and a genre I don’t often read: Young Adult. But, let me tell you, this is a novel to savor. That it has a sequel is even better. And, did I mention? It is zombie- and vampire-free? No one eats their young. There are no dystopian elements–at least not by my definition.

Gayle Foreman is a master storyteller! The world of music and teens–superb canvas. Characters? Completely believeable. Dialog? Real LIfe. I loved this. Loved the sequel. Just read it!

 

If I Stay and the sequel, Where She Went, by Gayle Foreman.