Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

"My compulsion to be always on the move began to fade. 
But I liked to go for long walks at night. 
I often walked west toward the river. 
The city lights obscured the stars, 
but on clear nights, 
I could see Venus on the horizon, 
up over the dark water, 
glowing steadily."

Apparently I'm making a habit out of starting books with a completely incorrect impression of what they're about. Jen read this book forever ago and told me then that I had to read it. That must have been in the midst of one of her Holocaust-related reading binges, because I thought this book was about the Holocaust. And yes, that error would have been easily corrected by reading anything about the book, but I make it a point to not read the summaries on the backs of books because I think they give away too much.

Anyway, this book is NOT about the Holocaust. That's particularly interesting because the book has been sitting on the shelf for nearly a year, and the reason I put off reading it is because I was never in the right mood for the heaviness of a WWII book. Turns out, it was better that I read it when I did. While I cannot relate to any of the details of this book, the story seemed to have this theme of moving on. I do not mean to minimize the suffering of Walls' life by drawing a parallel to my own, but this book did a lot to bolster my spirit. In just over two months, I'll move away from my home and family to attend law school. I had a hard enough time when I moved an hour away for my undergraduate education, and I've really worried about my ability to make a new life for myself. But reading how the Walls siblings each, at their own time, moved to New York with little more than the bus ticket that got them there and successfully created their futures, I couldn't help but grow slightly more confident about my ability to do the same.

However, there is much more to this book than the relatively happy ending that most of the children find. In short, the book is the author's story of her nomadic childhood with two parents who were selfish at their best and even, at times, entirely negligent. Her father's alcoholism combined with a sincere disdain for authority kept him frequently jobless, traveling throughout the deserts of the west and, eventually, back to his childhood home in West Virginia. Reading about all that the kids were up against--not only the horrible living conditions. the long spells with little or no food, or the inability to make friends and fit in but also the irresponsibility of the parents and apparent disregard for their children's welfare--it is remarkable that the children were able to so efficiently achieve their goals. 

As I read this book, I was so angry with Jeannette's parents. And I'm ashamed to admit I was, at times, even angry with Jeannette when she would forgive her father after he exhibited particularly devastating behavior. But now that I think back, I realize that frustration was probably because of my ignorance regarding the true meaning of unconditional love. On a very basic level, I can understand Jeannette's relationship with her father, because I too have always believed in my dad, have always seen in him my hero. Growing up, I was happiest when he was telling us bedtime stories. My dad and I have many similar interests, and I seek his approval. But if I'm being honest, it's so easy to love my dad. That love has never been tested. I've never had to forgive my dad. He has always been stable, reliable, and a perfect example of hard work and morality. Considering all of this, I am truly amazed at Jeannette's love for her father. 

I could keep going on about this book, because there's so much to digest. I recommend reading this to anyone. It is bound to change your life or at least how you view it.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Stuck in the Middle (Sister-to-Sister, Book 1) by Virginia Smith

"Her life was no longer stuck. Her Father had plans for her."

This book was free on my Kindle and I bought it awhile ago because it was a story about sisters. My sisters are the most important people in the world to me, and I always like books that rely on that special relationship.

At first, I didn't like Joan. While she is self-admittedly quiet and reserved she came across more timid and insecure than anything. I recognize that there are 25 year-olds that still live at home for a variety of reasons, but when they do so with no plans to venture into their own new phase of life at some point, it seems weird to me. For this reason, I didn't like Joan. I'm a fan of strong, independent female characters, and I didn't see that in her. However, I soon realized that this book was about the journey of self-discovery and by the end of the book I liked Joan more. Sure, she was still shy and quiet but no longer in an annoying way.

With that said, I think the bulk of my review is about the idea of this book. I started reading it without knowing it was what the author calls "God-honoring fiction." Had I known that, I'm sad to say that I probably would not have read the book. I'm a very religious person, my own beliefs shape the way I live life each day, but I don't often read religious books. Maybe that's bad to admit, but it's the truth. But that truth speaks to what this book is about. During the course of this book, Joan comes to understand religion and her relationship with God. Reading it helped me do the same. I'm grateful that I have always known the power of prayer, where Joan had to learn as an adult the ways in which God communicates with His children. In that regard, the book didn't teach me anything I didn't already know.

However, I saw a lot of myself in Joan (mainly the aspects of her personality I didn't like haha) like how she had been hurt before, how she was reluctant to let herself get close to people. I laughed out loud when I read, "With relief, she realized she had managed to mention Roger the Rat without wanting to spit. Maybe she was starting to get over her anger," having recently had a similar realization myself. I loved watching Joan's relationship with her mother improve, not recognizing until she was an adult that her mother's love had always been sincere and lasting, waiting for her to recognize and accept it. "New tears sprang to Joan's eyes. How many times had Mom said those words? At least a million. But never before had they fallen like absolution on Joan's aching heart."
And of course, I love Ken. What's not to love about a religious, young, handsome doctor with a dog that's as disobedient as my own? :)

This book isn't for everyone. There are a few eye-rolling moments when the sisters' interactions are a bit cliche or when things fall perfectly into place. But if you're looking for a feel-good book to lighten your spirit and reaffirm your faith, this is a good book for you.