It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme started by Sheila at Book Journeys and now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date.
I hope all of you had a wonderful week and have taken some time for personal care. I spent some time in the sunshine yesterday although it was edging the yard while my husband mowed. The weather helped to give me some perspective and to enjoy the small things in life.
Books I Read Last Week
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
Seventeen-year-old Emoni Santiago got pregnant her freshman year of high school, and now that she’s a senior, she has to juggle parenting her “Babygirl”, Emma, with passing her classes and holding down a fast-food job to help her grandmother, whom she calls ‘Buela, with finances. ‘Buela has raised Emoni since she was a baby as Emoni’s mother died during childbirth, and Julio, ‘Buela’s son and Emoni’s father, went back to Puerto Rico. And even though that is a lot for one person to handle, Emoni longs for something more.
Her true passion has always been cooking, a gift that ‘Buela says started when she was small. In her hands, ingredients transform into something magical, transporting anyone who eats her food deep into their most precious memories. She has a rare talent, and everyone can taste it. But while she once dreamed of attending culinary school to nurture her skills and eventually working in a professional kitchen, Babygirl changed all that. Now Emoni’s not sure that college is in the cards for her at all, let alone the fast-paced world of a professional chef — because how could anything be more important than being a good mother to her daughter?
It seems almost too good to be true when her high school announces a special cooking class. The students will get hands-on kitchen experience, culminating in a trip to Spain. Emoni probably doesn’t have the time for an extra class, and she certainly doesn’t have the money to go to Spain. But the thought of getting to learn from a real chef is too tempting to ignore, and Emoni decides to take a chance and invest in herself.
The striking cover may be what draws you to this novel in the first place, but Emoni’s heart-felt story will be what keeps you reading. The story was as vibrant as the cover and the passion Emoni has for cooking radiated from the pages. This novel was a departure from the novels written about teen mother’s used to promote abstinence. Acevedo doesn’t sugarcoat the struggle of being a teenager mother, but she shows that this life can be full of hope and promise. My one critique of this novel is a longing for more. The ingredients are there, but some moments never come to fruition. However, I would not hesitate to recommend this beautifully written novel to anyone who enjoys a story full of hope and magic.
The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters
The Cure for Dreaming takes place in 1900s Oregon set against the backdrop of the suffragist movement. On the night of her 17th birthday, Halloween, Olivia Mead is volunteered by her friend Kate to be hypnotized by the young and famous Henri Reverie. During this theatrical performance, modern yet repressed Olivia begins to take interest in the women’s suffrage movement. Just as her interest grows, her darkly conniving father, a dentist, becomes increasingly determined to keep her in what he has decided is her proper place—in the home. Olivia longs for freedom, attending college and having the right to vote. However, Dr. Mead hires Henri, after learning Olivia did everything she was told to do on stage, to give her a posthypnotic command: She will “see the world the way it truly is,” and when angry, she will only be able to respond by saying, “All is well”. This will ensure that Olivia lives the life that she is mean to, which means getting married, having children, and being submissive to her father and future husband. Due to troubles of his own, trying to raise money for his younger sister Genevieve’s needed surgery, Henri obliges. Olivia can now see each person’s true nature, which manifests in visions of darkness and light, good and evil. These supernatural challenges only make her more determined to speak her mind, drawing her into a dangerous relationship with the hypnotist while secretly fighting for the rights of women.
This is a coming of age story of a young girl and her dreams. Interestingly, the hypnotized blessing and curse that inhabits Olivia parallels the 1900s—the inability of women to truly speak their minds, the suffering they had to endure at the hands of men, and their very natures being snuffed out by their near subhuman status.
The historical background that the plot is set against was written beautifully, and the parallel between Olivia’s hypnotism and the women of the 1900s was nicely portrayed; “the inability of women to truly speak their minds, the suffering they had to endure at the hands of men, and their very natures being snuffed out by their near subhuman status” (Martinez). However, this beautiful story is eclipsed by the author’s inclusion of “horror” and romance elements. I felt that the “Dracula” references, which were never fully tied in, added little to the plot overall and caused confusion. Winters should have played up the fact that Olivia could see peoples’ true natures with them looking good or evil, but should have left the weird horror elements behind. Along with this, the writing itself is mediocre and the dialogue slightly awkward, especially between Olivia and her father. Why is there are romance? The story would have been more compelling if it centered around women empowerment and feminism, playing up the strength and determination the Suffragettes had without relying on a man. The Cure for Dreaming could use some heavy editing in order to tighten the prose and flow of the narrative.
Homeless Birds by Gloria Whelan
Leaving Home…forever. “
Like many girls her age in India, thirteen-year-old Koly is getting married. When she discovers that the husband her parents have chosen for her is sickly boy with wicked parents, Koly wishes she could flee. According to tradition, though, she has no choice. On her wedding day, Koly’s fate is sealed.
What Koly never dreams of is that she will be a widow in that very same year. When her sickly husband dies, Koly is left without any rights, sentenced to a life of hunger, loneliness, and servitude to her cruel mother-in-law.
Just as Koly begins to accept the hardships of her existence, her life once again takes a devastating turn. Young Koly is stranded in a city of unwanted widows who must wander the streets for hours begging for food. On the edge of starvation, Koly finds the strength and courage she needs to survive. Blending together the ancient traditions of her village life and a newfound independence, Koly learns to live for herself and pour her feelings into the beautiful art of embroidery. And a life, like a beautiful tapestry, comes together for Koly — one stitch at a time. (Summary from Scholastic)
With my husband being from India, I want to read and learn as much about his culture as possible. Homeless Bird does offer some connections to my husband’s homeland, but I wonder what research Gloria Whelan, a Caucasian woman from Detroit, Michigan, did to write this book as there are a few things that aren’t authentic. As for the connections, arranged marriage is still practiced, and even though a law was passed against child brides in 1929, it still happens in poorer regions and villages. (India’s Forgotten Child Brides). My husband’s parents marriage was arranged (his mother was not a child bride), and before he left to come to America, my husband was also to have an arranged marriage.
The way Whelan describes the disparity between the villages and the cities is also very accurate along with the religious importance of the Ganges. However, the use of Hindi is at times awkward and too formal. For instance, Koly, the main character, would never call her father baap as this is what we would use to talk about her father; it is not personal. To show that familiar, personal connection Whelan should have used daddy or dada. Overall, I did enjoy this book, but I wanted more. Since it was written for a younger audience, I feel that it was a romanticized to avoid some of the gritty reality that an adult novel would have portrayed. This book is perfect for grades 6th-8th and for those of you who like a quick read with a happy ending.