Thursday, January 14, 2010

Say You're One of Them

I dropped by my local library last week as I was in the mood for the comfort of a traditional book. I found several (like finding a great deal shopping, I have to have it!) that were not titles in my electronic collection.
The first that I read was "Say You're One of Them" by first time author Uwem Akpan. This collection of short stories are each told from the perspective of an African child, and is an Oprah's Pick.

This was a difficult read for me on many levels. First, there were language and cultural barriers. Many unfamiliar phrases and terms that I had to try to glean meaning from the surrounding story. Then, there was the complete lack of schema that I have for the lives these children led. It was overwhelming to read these stories and I found that I was glad at times for their short length because the situations were so foreign, so sad, so unbearable. Yet, I don't think that Akpan wrote the stories to intentionally tug on one's heart strings (although you'd have to be a rock not to be affected by them). The young narrator's were simply relating the events of their lives, recalling their known experiences and sharing their appreciation for what they had in life and the hope that their futures held promise.
I find myself haunted by one particular story, Fattening for Gabon, in which an uncle caring for his orphaned niece and nephew sells them into slavery. The children believe that they are being fostered out and feel fortunate to have such generous sponsors who wish to give them a better life across the sea. I keep thinking about these children, what happened to them? Did they survive? Did the quality of their lives change? Did they lose their innocence, their hope?
I think that's the sign of a great author. One who writes characters so compelling that the reader starts to blur fiction with reality. I'm concerned about the welfare of fictional siblings. Maybe that's Akpan's intent. Because there are living, breathing counterparts to these fictional characters suffering similar torments today. And I should be concerned.

On a lighter note, I also thought that Beezus and Ramona Quimby were real siblings and the only reason they didn't go to my school was because they lived in the United States and I lived in Canada. Beezus was such a Jan Brady! Ramona was adorable, a rascal, and always held everyone's attention. She was the "Junie B. Jones" of my childhood. So, thank-you Beverly Cleary for Beezus, Ramona, Henry Huggins, and Ribsy.

So, it was time to indulge in some light hearted reads. I like balance in my reading. I wanted something to make me laugh and just take away the weight of injustice in our world. I read Wally Lamb's Wishin' and Hopin': A Christmas Story and then Marian Keyes' The Brightest Star in the Sky. I adored Wishin' and Hopin'. It was a hilarious romp through the 1964 world of young Felix Funicello, a fifth grader attending a Catholic parochial school. How I loved this nostalgic story (ok, '64 was a few years before I was born, but just). If you enjoyed the movie, A Christmas Story, then this book is for you. Many memorable laughs, and a great little joke about women being like ovens which goes horribly wrong when told by an 11 yr old.

The Brightest Star in the Sky is about 600 pages long, but I devoured this one in a few days. Like shopping and eating, I just can't savour things. Its all devour,devour -- finish, finish. So, I have to wonder if this is a some repressed memory thing of when I was a young girl. I was sent to bed each night around 8pm and allowed to read for about 30 mins. This was never enough for me though. I had a little white nightlight that hung from the top of my bed's headboard, and my Mom would see the glow of the nightlight in the hallway and I'd be forced to turn it off before I could read "just a few more pages/just to the end of the chapter." One night, I devised a plan to fool Mom and I made a little reading tent by placing my pillow over the light. Boy, did I think I was clever. Well, she didn't see the glowing light, but she could sure smell the smoldering pillow! Immediate end of nightly reading. Immediate loss of my beloved white rectangular metal with fancy starburst cut-outs nightlight.

Ok, enough digressing. I thought at the beginning of this book, "Oh, its another ghost story... why are all the popular authors these days so intent on telling a ghost story?" But it's not a ghost story. The twist, when revealed is very charming. This is a love story that involves the residents of Dublin's 66 Star Street, and many of the characters are in their 40's! Yeah!

I still have a nightlight, but it's a true lamp and it sits on the dresser beside my bed. I can turn it on and off whenever I want. (Again, not necessarily so, my husband calls it a spotlight and grumbles and groans incessantly about this "bloody, blinding floodlight that blinds him in his sleep", and then moves on to many unnecessary remarks about my love for scented candles that will eventually lead to the house catching fire.. and I swear I've never told him the nightlight story.) What's a girl, uhm, what's a slightly middle-aged girl to do?
Read on, of course!


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