Between the Covers: Stories from My Bookcase

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson (Newbery Honor 2008)

One rainy day, while having my hair done, I had the pleasure of reading a Newbery Honor book - Feathers, by Jacqueline Woodson. 

Hope is the thing with feathers... 

Frannie learned a new poem in school and it had got her thinking. What does it mean? I was stuck on that for awhile too - what does it mean?

This short story is set in 1971. There was a new boy in Frannie's 6th grade class and he was white. The kids took to calling him Jesus Boy and he has longer hair than the other boys. 

The school bully decided to pick on him, of course, but Jesus was not one to just let himself be bullied. 

You can tell that Frannie was torn about doing the right thing and making it easier for the new guy. She was after all, the new girl once too. She knew it was right to invite him to sit at lunch together - or during break. But she couldn't do it. Well, at least not right away. I don't remember the way I think when I was that young. Do kids really hesitate to approach the new boy or girl? Aren't kids normally curious?

Anyway. Frannie knew how to do hand signs because that's how she communicated with her older brother Sean. It looks like he is a handsome, and is really good at basketball. Girls always had smiles for him, but when they realize he couldn't hear them, they tend to walk away. Frannie hates that. She thinks they are stupid girls. But she knows it's just because they didn't know her brother the way she does. 

At a very young age, Frannie understood that we tend to look at people who are different from us a certain way - but that's just because we don't understand everything about them. She had a conversation with her brother about bridges across two worlds. A bridge from the African American side of the tracks to the other. A bridge between the hearing and non-hearing world. 

At first Frannie couldn't get that Sean sees her as already living in both worlds - the hearing, and the non-hearing world. Sean didn't want to be confined to just his side. He wants to be able to live the normal life too. 

Their mother got pregnant, and this worried them a lot. She had had miscarriages before, and those experiences took her away from her living kids because of how sad she was. But this time was different. Mom was getting better and the baby was thriving. Frannie learned that there is hope. 

Hope is the thing with feathers... It always comes. It flies around. Up and down. All it needs is the right timing, an upwind. And it soars again. Hope is like that. It is never truly lost. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Cancer is a Bitch by Gail Konop Baker

Cancer is such a bitch isn't it? This novel by Gail Konop Baker says just that. It shows us what goes on in a mother's mind as she struggles through the discovery of lumps in her breasts, a diagnosis, and the subsequent recovery. 

It isn't always easy - what do you say in front of a person with cancer? What do you say to her family? It doesn't matter what we say - unless it's about a cure. So I guess we shouldn't worry and just be there for them. 

In one of the chapters, the couple goes to a dinner party and she notices how different some people treat her now - after the diagnosis. And it can get overwhelming. She welcomed this one person who didn't know yet because he treated her exactly like he used to. And I guess that is important too. Although we make them feel special, or let them know that we care about them - it's also important that they feel normal. Some kind of normal. 

I have mixed feelings about this book. I tend to agree to other reviews that say it is more about the woman's midlife crisis, more than it was about the cancer. While I was reading, I kept thinking about the 5 year old girl from the book Notes Left Behind, another family's journey with childhood cancer. No two stories are alike, of course, and one's experience isn't more valid than another's. So it's not that I want to compare the two stories - but I can't help but recall Notes Left Behind because it so touched my heart. 

I really don't think there is any family out there that is completely untouched by Cancer. Somehow, each one of us is related to or knows someone who has been affected by any of its form. What else is similar among these experiences? That feeling that life is suspended - until recovery, or death. But that shouldn't be the case, no? No one means for it to be that way, it just happens. 

I guess when you set out to read a book that deals with a life-threatening illness, you expect to come out learning a lesson or two. About how we should live the life we are meant to live now, instead of waiting. And how our choices determine our future, but that ultimately, we aren't in control of everything. In it's own way, this book tells you that, and a bit more.