I watched this series recently on Prime Video. I really enjoyed it. I knew it was first a book, and so I had to backtrack and read it. The book was better. And the series was pretty awesome.
The story is set in Shaker Heights, a planned community near Cleveland, Ohio. Everything in this community is planned out– the heighth of your grass, the colours of your home… and when Elena Rochardson rents to Mia Warren, we realize that the house is built to conceal the fact that is a duplex, separate entrances are within the front door, but from the outside the house on Winslow Avenue looks just like the rest. Appearance is everything in Shaker Heights.
Elena and Mia have a strained relationship through the course of the novel that intersects with their differing parenting styles; the relationships formed between their children; and the court case regarding the custody of a baby with whom each woman is differently connected.
Ng is a beautiful writer and many passages stood out as compelling. This one caught my attention in both the TV adaptation and while reading.
“Parents, she thought, learned to survive touching their children less and less. As a baby Pearl had clung to her; she’d worn Pearl in a sling because whenever she’d set her down, Pearl would cry. There’d scarcely been a moment in the day when they had not been pressed together. As she got older, Pearl would still cling to her mother’s leg, then her waist, then her hand, as if there was something in her mother she needed to absorb through the skin. Even when she had her own bed, she would often crawl into Mia’s in the middle of the night and burrow under the old patchwork quilt, and in the morning they would wake up tangled, Mia’s arm pinned beneath Pearl’s head, or Pearl’s legs thrown across Mia’s belly. Now, as a teenager, Pearl’s caresses had become rare—a peck on the cheek, a one-armed, half-hearted hug—and all the more precious because of that. It was the way of things, Mia thought to herself, but how hard it was. The occasional embrace, a head leaned for just a moment on your shoulder, when what you really wanted more than anything was to press them to you and hold them so tight you fused together and could never be taken apart. It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core, and all.”
A really fun read! Jenkins Reid explores a unique format for storytelling in this fictional oral history that reads like the transcript for a rock band biopic.
Set in Los Angeles in the 1970s– we are taken backstage, on the bus, and in the studio with the characters who fuel the band: Daisy Jones & the Six. There are two founding brothers, handsome and talented Billy (lead singer and song writer) and the shy, dutiful Graham (lead guitar); Warren the surly drummer; Karen the feminist keyboardist; Eddie (rhythm guitar) and his brother, Pete (guitar). The Six get their start as a blues-rock band called the Dunne Brothers in the mid-sixties. As they grow in fame, they pick up Daisy Jones and the real roller coaster ride begins.
As they are interviewed, we begin to understand that memory is not always reliable; many characters outright contradict the recollections of their bandmates. Searching back over decades makes it difficult to remember the events clearly– but so does the haze of hard living in a rock and roll band on tour in the 70s– when many of them indulged widely in drugs and booze. But we come to understand the bandmates as fallible humans; more fleshed out than the flat characters known by their fans.
Dasiy Jones & The Six is an examination of fame, addiction, love, family, and friendship. The narratives of these fictional bandmates echo lyrics you have heard before and they thread throughout the story. Eric Clapton wrote about cocaine; David Bowie wrote about fame; Sister Sledge wrote about family– and everybody writes about love; it hurts, it scars, it lifts us up, it’s a battlefield, it’s a drug… But it is also all we need.
Get on the bus with Daisy Jones & the Six. You’ll have fun, promise.
Title: Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
Author: Brene Brown
Date Read: June 26, 2020
You have likely heard of Brene Brown from her powerful TED Talk on the power of vulnerability. Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston who studies and writes about courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. This book picks up on the vulnerability thread.
While vulnerability is the birthplace of many of the fulfilling expereinces we long for– love, belonging, joy, creativity, and trust, to name a few — the process of regaining our emotional footing in the midst of struggle is where our courage is tested and our values are forged.
Brown, p. xviii
In each of our lives we face situations where we need to rumble with our emotions, and the enivitable stories we make up as we work to handle them. The emotions we feel in response to the shame, guilt, anger, and heartbreaks in our lives require that we address our thinking about the situation, how we feel and how we are behaving– and know that all of these are connected.
Brown writes that our desire to make up stories is a primitive survival wiring. In the absence of data, we make up stories. Meaning-making is our biology. This struck a chord for me. I don’t know about you, but I have (on more than one occasion) written the screenplay dialogue between myself and a person with whom I was in disagreement with. I could tell you why my boyfriend acted a certain way; the response my roommate would give to my complaints; the story behind a co-worker’s behaviour; and on and on. Truthfully, I wasn’t often very good at it. The second thing that seized my attention was her own row with an idea given to her by her psychiatrist in response to a situation she had been in. Instead of taking sides (as Brene had hoped she would) she instead asked her if she believed that people are really just doing the best they can. Brene shirked this explanation with fury but set out to test the theory. The best summation came from her own husband: “I don’t know. I really don’t. All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.” (p.113). I love that thinking, and it was a true take away from this book.
As Brown notes, “We make up hidden stories that tell us who is against us and who is with us. Whom we can trust and who is not to be trusted. Conspiracy thinking is all about fear-based self-protection and our intolerance for uncertainty.” Problem is, these stories distort how we relate to others.
But it isn’t that we should not capture these first stories– we should. But we need to interrogate them more closely and look at what’s really there. We need to be honest about the stories we make up about our struggles, to revisist, challenge and reality check them. This is rumbling with a problem– owning it, looking at the stories we are making up, and getting curious about why we are thinking and feeling that way. This spoke to me. I had written lots of “shitty first drafts” (Brown, p.85) about all kinds of things– but many of them did little capture the real essence of the situations I found myself in. In fact, they often distorted reality and caused further damage.
The Rising Strong Process is really quite simple, but transformative. The goal is to rise when we fall, overcome our mistakes and face our hurt in a way that brings more wisdom and wholeheartedness to our lives. First, we need to recognize our emotions and get curious to figure our how they connect with how we think and behave. Second, we need to get honest about the stories we make up and challenge confabulations and assumptions. Last, write a new end to the story based on what we learned from our rumble. Then, use this new story to transform how we live, love, parent, and lead. (Brown, p.37).
This book came highly recommended to me, and I highly recommend it to you.
I think I would like to be friends with Glennon Doyle. She is thoughtful, intelligent, and fierce. She reminds me of many women I am lucky to call friends.
She also has a unique back story that make her all the more interesting to listen to. She suffered with bulimia, alcoholism and drug addicition. She became pregnant and vowed to overcome her addicitons and be the best mother she could. What followed was a prescribed Chrsitian path; she married, had more children and then became a Christian mommy blogger and successful writer.
But, after her husband cheated on her and threw her marriage in to closer inspection , she fell in love with Abby. She is now in a loving marriage with a woman and sharing the raising of her children with her ex and her new partner, whom the children refer to as a bonus mom. I love this picture of Abby’s sweatshirt proclaiming her status.
Untamed begins with an explanation of a metaphor that she weaves throughout several of the essays contained in her book; about Tabitha the Cheetah. She talks about visiting the Cheetah Run at a zoo. The zookeeper explained the training they gave Tabitha, and Glennon felt sick to her stomach as she thought of how Tabitha had been tamed– and that she must miss the wild.
“I knew what she’d tell me. She’d say, “Something’s off about my life. I feel restless and frustrated. I have this hunch that everything was supposed to be more beautiful than this. I imagine fenceless, wide-open savannahs. I want to run and hunt and kill. I want to sleep under an ink-black sky filled with stars. It’s all so real I can taste it.
Then she’d look back at the cage, the only home she’s ever known. She’d look at the smiling zookeeepers, the bored spectators, and her panting, bouncing, begging best friend, the Lab.
She’d sigh and say, “I should be grateful. I have a good enough life here. It’s crazy to long for what doesn’t even exist.
Tabitha. You are not crazy. You are a goddamn cheetah.” (Doyle, xv-xvi).
It is in this spirit that Doyle uncovers what tames us– what keeps us from what we are longing for. Our work to be good mothers, partners, daughers, employees, friends– we strive so hard to be good, and deny that this work actually makes us feel weary, stuck and overwhelmed. Doyle offers her insights in a series of short essays where she unpacks the thinking that blocks women– the cultural conditioning and institutional allegiances– they are cages, and we don’t have to stay in them. Untamed is a feminist manifesto; a parenting handbook; an introspection; a love story; marriage counselling; and thoughtfully and beautifully written. It should be on every woman’s to be read pile.
Glennon Doyle is also the founder of Together Rising. Together Rising exists to transform collective heartbreak into effective action. It has raised over $20 million for people in need with a most frequent donation of $25. They have taken on projects such as pulling children out of the sea outside of refugee camps in Greece, providing a single mother access to breast cancer treatment, or reuniting families at the U.S. border. She speaks of the foundation’s work in her book, but you can also find and follow on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Title: From the Ashes: My Story of Being Metis, Homeless and Finding My Way
Author: Jesse Thistle
Date Read: May 19, 2020
Some of the best stories are the ones lived and not made up. From the Ashes was heart-wrenching and traumatic– but also honest, poetic and hopeful.
Jesse Thistle’s memoir was a short list contender for this year’s (pandemic post-poned) Canada Reads competition. This year sought the one book all Canada should read. I think they found it.
I try to select titles from the annual Canada Reads short-list. I have reviewed a few in the last two years: Marrow Thieves (short-listed in 2018 as a book to open your eyes); Brother and The Woo Woo (both on the 2019 short list as a book to move you); and We Have Always Been Here (short listed this year alongside From the Ashes).
Why should you read this book? Because Thistle’s lived experience reveals the consequence of trauma. Children who experience disconnect in childhood, inevitably seek to numb in adulthood. Thistle and his brothers experienced severe physical and emotional neglect from their father, a drug addict, who was frequently incarcerated or on the run. As much as relatives did step in to look after the boys, much of the enduring damage was done.
His memoir is divided in to four sections: Lost and Alone; Falling Apart; The Stolen Streets; and Reconciliation. His dedication speaks to the damage done not only to himself and his family, but to so many Indigenous families. He writes: “The pages of this book speak to the damage colonialism can do to Indigenous families, and how, when one’s Indigeneity is stripped away, people can make poor choices informed by pain, loneliness, and heartbreak, choices that see them eventually cast upon the streets, in jail, or wandering with no place to be.”
The Homeless Hub, (part of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness) suggests that many of the personal issues (including familial dysfunction, substance use, addictions, health issues, community violence) faced by Indigenous Peoples and that act as contributors to homelessness can be directly linked to various types of historical trauma. Research has also shown that Indigenous Peoples experience lower levels of education, poorer health, higher rates of unemployment and lower income levels compared to non-Indigenous people. You can research this and more about the trauma and injustices faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada, but if you need one book that Canada needs to read, to really understand— it should be Thistle’s story.
There is power in story. We live our stories everyday– we show up and face our truth. Our stories make us who we are; the torment that breaks us and the mettle that builds us up. And, in sharing our stories we give voice and power to our ways of seeing the world and living in it.
As Maya Angelou writes, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Let Thistle’s catharsis be your invation to see Canada in a whole new way. From the Ashes is my (unofficial) choice for the book Canadians should read.
This. This is the history book, that’s not a history book– but a narrative about race interspersed with the history of why black people have been oppressed in the United States; needed by every child of this generation who might have a chance to change it.
You have heard my rally cry about why Jason Reynolds is the best Young Adult writer writing for teenagers right now. And if you haven’t, read here, here and here. This partnership with Ibram X. Kendi is no exception.
Award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi wrote Stamped from the Beginning, in it, he argues that racist ideas in America have a long and lingering history, one in which nearly every great American thinker is complicit. As Kendi provocatively illustrated, racist thinking did not arise from ignorance or hatred. Racist ideas were created and popularized in an effort to defend deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and to rationalize the nation’s racial inequities in everything from wealth to health. This is a remix of Kendi’s book. A book written especially for young people.
In the first chapter, Reynolds invites his readers in (in his usual, laid-back, ultra hip way) by explaining: “Before we begin, let’s get something straight. This is not a history book. I repeat, this is not a history book. At least not like the ones you’re used to reading in school. The ones that feel more like a list of dates (there will be some), with an occasional war here and there, a declaration (definitely gotta mention that), a constitiution (that too), a court case or two, and of course, the paragraph that’s read during Black History Month (Harriet! Rosa! Martin!) This isn’t that. This isn’t a history book. Instead, what this is, is a book that contains history. A history directly connected to our lives as we live them right this minute. A book about the here and now. A book that hopefully will help us better understand why we are where we are as Americans, specifically as our identity pertains to race.” (Reynolds & Kendi, p.1-2). Reynolds has a way of engaging young readers, and that’s exactly why he was chosen to remix Kendi’s book.
Reynolds delivers on his promises. Stamped presents the history of America’s racial inequities spanning the period from 1415 to the present. In his unique style, Reynolds offers historical facts alongside the narratives of the people, the politics, and the popular culture that shaped the racist beliefs that have endured. He also recounts the courageous battles fought by those who eschewed simply ‘fitting in’ and assimilating in favour of an antiracist future that would embrace Black people as fully human and equals in their country. He does it, all the while speaking directly to his readers: “But whenever people rise up against bad things, bad things tend to get worse. You know the old saying, When the going gets tough, the tough get… racist. Or something like that.” (p. 24); “People like Benjamin Rush, a physician from Philadelphia who wrote a pamphlet saying that Black people weren’t born savages but instead were made savages by slavery. Record scratch. Pause.” (p.45-6); “And the president at the time, Woodrow Wilson, feared that beig treated decently overseas would embolden Black soldiers. Make them too big for their britches. Make them expect fair treatment at home, the home for which they’d just risked their lives. Let that sink in.” (p. 142). Reynolds never forgets his audience.
If you think we don’t need another book that explores what it is like to be the target of racism in America, then you are not paying attention. As I put this book down, a black man was shot in Georgia by two white men– while he was out jogging. A Georgia prosecutor said a grand jury should review the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed in February after being chased by two armed men who told police he looked like a burglary suspect. They have since been charged.
Parker Rhodes writes to give voice to the young black men who have suffered violence at the hands of racists. Jerome Rogers is 12 years old, and shot dead by a Chicago Police officer in an abandoned lot. He believed he had a gun. It was a toy, a plastic gun.
Parker Rhodes moves the narrative back and forth through sections labelled Dead and Alive. She tells stories of Jerome, his family; his middle school bullies; and his friendship with Carlos while alive. Then reverts to the present, Dead, as he watches his own trial unravel; has heart-to-heart talks with his shooter’s daughter, and learns the history of his fellow Ghost Boy, Emmett Till.
The prose is simple and straight-forward– it is written for young readers (12-15) to consume and understand. It explores the current police violence and discrimination against African Americans in an age-appropriate fashion, but it also explores past historical events that connect to the present.
This is an excellent narrative to explore with young students (or struggling mature readers) to help them make sense of the racist attitudes and present context of racist violence in which they live. It would make an excellent springboard for discussion.
Title: Kids These Days: A Game Plan for (Re)Connecting with Those We Teach, Lead & Love
Author: Jodi Carrington PhD
Date Read: April 1, 2020
This was a staff book club pick– and a real winner! When we came together (on Zoom) to discuss it — it had our unanimous praise.
If you have not heard of Dr. Jodi Carrington, you are in for a treat. Carrington hails from Alberta, bringing a classic Canadian-girl charm and warm kindness to her philosophy and approach to child psychology. A mom to her own three “babes”, Carrington proposes that the most integral step in helping kids who experience grief and trauma is to assist the people who hold them– their parents, educators, and counsellors.
She speaks with a humbling reverence for teachers and the challenging work they do in assisting all of the kids in their care. Above and beyond all else, she posits that it is connection that we all crave– and that many of the kids we serve are terribly disconnected. There was a time when families lived close to and with extended family. They weren’t so distracted and busy– there was connection. In fact, she writes: “… every time you hear yourself say, that kid is attention seeking or lying,” try to replace that phrase with, that kid is “connection seeking,” and see what happens” (p.63).
In teaching, in parenting, in coaching– in any capacity in which we look to help kids learn and become better at something; our job, first and foremost, must be to develop a relationship with the person we want to teach. Kids do not learn from people they think don’t like them. I have taught for over 20 years, and I know nothing to be more true. Teaching is about relationships. I think that is why online teaching during a pandemic is so difficult; we miss out on the face-to-face interactions that help us to form strong relationships. In fact, Carrington outlines five keys to (re)connecting with people in our life; and one of those keys is eye contact. She writes, “I talk to educators about doing this every day so they can connect with their students: Meet your students in the morning and greet them with their name and notice if they give you their eyes. The ones who do make contact easily concern me far less than the ones who don’t” (p.122). What I wouldn’t do to be in the hallway to check in with my students right now!
Another key to reconnection is to “get down on their level.” She says that meeting someone face to face is where the magic lies. I know this all too well from parenting. (Have you ever seen a mom kneeling in front of a toddler in the candy aisle? Turns out she knows her stuff. Been there. Done that.) She writes: “Being on the same level as the other person allows for easier access to their eyes. It slows you down too because you’re consciously thinking about creating an optimal environment.” She notes that fear based techniques certainly have their proponents and do garner some success in times of significant distress; you can threaten or inflict pain and likely get a response– but where do these approaches leave the relationship? Without a relationship, you cannot teach. And I love this, “When compliance from people we love or teach is predicated on what they stand to lose, they will never be motivated by respect. They will be motivated by fear. And fear is very different from respect” (28). You don’t learn to get better or to self-regulate when you are fearful of the person holding you.
When kids are dysregulated (or have “flipped their lids”) they are in a primitive state of fight, flight or freeze— and they need us, the adult, to offer them soothing connection. Carrington explains the Circle of Security, and our job as regualtor is: “Always be bigger, stronger, kinder and wiser. Whenever possible follow a need. Whenever necessary, take charge” (p.48). Which means, she says, “when your kid is losing their freaking mind, you need to dig deep into the core of yourself and figure it out with them” (p. 49).
Carrington describes so many of the kids we meet in our work: regular lid-flippers; Caillou kids; Flat Stanley kids; attention-seeking; manipulative liars (you need to read her book to get her great descriptions of each of them)… but, as she says, “these babes all have the exact same needs. How they pull for us to meet those needs makes all the difference” (p.71). Carrington is on the mark throughout this book. She spoke to me as a teacher, as a parent, and as a leader in my school. Carrington’s experience as a child psychologist allows her to build narratives around each of these kids, suggesting strategies to repair and rebuild relationships. You will see many of the kids you have taught, or coached, or cared for– and you will understand them better. And, hopefully, after reading her book, be in a better place to help them in the future.
She even seemed to narrow in on my own marriage. She explains that “[We] often tell people what to do, rather than showing them. We say to kids, “That’s not a good choice” or “Just calm down!” Here’s the thing: Never in the history of telling someone to “calm down” has “calm down” ever worked. Telling someone how to behave is never, ever, as powerful and transformative as showing them what you want from them. Think about the last time your partner told you to “Just calm down!” How effective was that? What was your response? The hope, when we yell or hiss “Calm down!” at someone we love is they will, indeed, calm down. The hope is they might even look at us and say, “Oh you’re right babe, I didn’t realize that I was losing my mind. You always know just how to get me to calm down. I’m just so glad that I married you” (p.29). If, like Carrington, you can agree that never in the history of my spouse telling me to “calm down” (or “relax!”) has “calm down” ever worked, then why do we keep trying to make it so, with everyone, including kids, all the time?
Really, Jodi says it best: “The kids are the least of our worries. Seriously. If that sounds blasphemous in a book for concerned parents and educators (and anyone, really, who worries about “kids these days”), then I am so glad you’re here. If you own a kid, work with a kid, or love a kid, you will find something inspiring in these pages” (XIX). She is not wrong. If you care about the kids these days… read Jodi Carrington’s book!
You can also find Jodi on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram. She does great Facebook Live chats (usually over a glass of wine…) dropping the occasional f-bomb(which I also kind of love) as she wades through the weeds of raising, loving and connecting with kids.
If you are one of my students, then you have already heard how much I love Jason Reynolds. Right after reading and loving his novel co-authored with Brendan Kiely, All American Boys, I was lucky to attend the National Council of Teachers of English conference in Atlanta.
All American Boys is a 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor book, and recipient of the Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature. In it, two teens—one black, one white—grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension. This novel went on to be a class novel I studied with a group, and a title that is always on loan to students.
Following that read, I was quick to pick up The Boy in the Black Suit, for which Reynolds won yet another Coretta Scott King Award. Matt wears a black suit. First, beacuse his mother has died. Second, because he got a job at the funeral home to help pay the bills. Life is rough, and then he meets Lovey– someone who understands his loneliness and tries to to ease its burden as well. Then I read the story of Ali and his friends, Noodles and Needles in When I Was The Greatest. I loved the story of these boys and how they end up exactly where they shouldn’t be and how they manage it somehow just the same.
Reynolds captivated me in Long Way Down, which I reviewed here; and in his letter to teens everywhere in For Everyone, which I talk about here.
Simply, I love everything he writes.
He writes young middle grade novels too (which I haven’t yet read or reviewed, but plan to get at…) titles include, Ghost, Patina, Sunny and Lu.
I even taught a lesson on writing a bio, using Reynolds’ bio as a mentor text for my writers, because he is irreverent, honest and funny. Check it out here.
Currently, Reynolds is also hosting the Write. Right. Rite. Series a GRAB THE MIC: Tell Your Story video series. Throughout the series, he shares his passion for storytelling while discussing topics like creativity, connection, and imagination. At the end of each video, Reynolds will share a prompt that encourages young people to work toward a specific idea. The activities are fun-filled and some are more challenging than others, but Reynolds always makes sure to include brainstorming “get-you-going” questions.
If you have teenagers in your life, get them reading Jason Reynolds! Or, writing with Jason Reynolds!
I wasn’t expecting much from this one. The central idea of the novel clings to the pretense of a dinner in which you could select five guests, living or dead, to attend your birthday dinner. The main character invites her former college professer, Conrad; her estranged best friend, Jessica; the father who abandoned she and her mother, Robert; her long-time boyfriend and fiance, Tobias; and … Audrey Hepburn.
I guess I could swallow the use of a plotline in which a character would want to meet with the four people with whom she had unanswered questions and a desire to settle the score with, but I got hung up on the addition of Audrey Hepburn. Serle surprised me however, and handled all of the guests in a way that made it seem remotely plausible and moderately likable as a hook.
I was most interested in the revelations about her relationship with Tobias– which does land the novel solidly in the chicklit category– but still made for entertaining reading: complete with an unexpected twist.
If you find this one on your To Be Read pile during a pandemic– give it a read!