The Removed by Brandon Hobson
This is a book I borrowed from my neighbor. The author teaches writing at New Mexico State — I had no idea! Told from four different points of view (three family members and one ancestor), the story centers on a Cherokee family in the days before they plan to commemorate the anniversary of the death of one son, a date that corresponds with the Cherokee National Holiday (which marks the signing of the Cherokee Nation Constitution of 1839). Ernest, the father, has been suffering from Alzheimer’s, but his condition (miraculously? coincidentally?) improves as the family cares for a young man in foster care — a boy who uncannily reminds both parents of the son they lost.
What is real? What is imagined or hoped for? What is part of the physical world? What is part of the spiritual? I had no idea where this book was headed and found it really fascinating.
All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker
A week after Olympia’s dad disappears, her mom takes to her bed and doesn’t get out again. Ollie’s dad has left a mysterious note under the orange juice jug in the fridge, saying he has something important he needs to do and that Ollie should destroy the note immediately. Where has her father gone? What is the secret her dad’s art-restoring partner is keeping? Who is the mysterious man that keeps calling the studio? And what is Ollie supposed to do with a missing father and practically absent mother?
This book is written so beautifully, I tagged multiple pages of quotes to keep in my ongoing list of Good Writing Examples. It also deals compassionately with a parent’s depression. The 1981 New York setting tinged with mystery made me think of Harriet the Spy (probably because 1981 was around the time I would have read that book). The art restoration made me think of Robertson Davies’ What’s Bred in the Bone. I especially loved the tender relationship between Ollie and Apollo, her dad’s business partner. Recommended!
I put this book in my library’s Overdrive queue after listening to a podcast where psychologist Susan David spoke about “toxic positivity,” the push to avoid hard emotions that we sometimes place on ourselves and others. David believes we should examine our anger, fear, and sadness and try to understand what those emotions are telling us rather than pushing them away or getting stuck in an overwhelming brooding cycle (me!). It’s in facing our difficult emotions and experiences with curiosity and compassion that we can live most fully.
I appreciated the literary connections David made to our life experiences. She described some typical thought patterns as unreliable narrators (so helpful!) and paralleled facing our flaws and weaknesses to the journey any character must undergo for growth and change (and, let’s face it, for a story to really take place). This book should be required reading for every human being!
Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett
This intense, heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful, beautifully written memoir reminded me a lot of Educated. It opens at Synanon, a one-time rehab center turned cult where children are taken from their parents at six months to be raised as Children of the Universe. Mikel’s mother leaves Synanon when Mikel is five and his brother Tony is seven, taking the children with her. Much of the story is Mikel’s attempt to understand family and his place in the world. It’s not an easy read. There’s addiction and emotional abuse and family patterns that are hard to break, but there is triumph, too. Mikel finds his home and his healing through music. (Writers will appreciate how he talks about the creative process. I especially connected with the idea that music is given away to the audience and no longer belongs to the artist.) He’s a few months younger than I am, meaning all his cultural references were completely familiar. I’ve thought about this one for days after finishing.