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Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels

Grief and Loss Affect Everyone Differently

Grief impacts individually uniquely. A sudden death in an accident or suicide affects the survivors differently than a slow death from cancer or dementia. A violent death is different than a natural peaceful one.  The type of loss often affects how survivors will respond. So do the beliefs of the dying person and their family about an afterlife. Grief has many faces, depending on the person grieving. Only one character in these three novels seems to value religion.

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels

Luke, the protagonist of When I’m Gone, a widower with young children, has watched his wife die of cancer.  In The High Cost of Flowers, an already dysfunctional family with adult children deals with a mother who has dementia.  In The Storied Life of A.J Fikry, a widowed bookseller discovers a toddler a mother has left in his store’s stacks with a note, and it changes his life.

When I’m Gone, by Emily Bleeker

Luke, arrives home from his wife Natalie’s funeral with his children — Will, 14, May, 9, and Clayton, 3. Will’s eyes are red and wet. May says she’s hungry. Clayton is still sleeping in the car seat.  Natalie’s mother, Grandma Terry, has left food for the family before making her escape. She has never liked Luke and had never wanted Natalie to marry him because Luke’s father was an alcoholic wife-beater.

Natalie had planned the perfect funeral for herself and took care of all the details before she died. She knew that Luke would have trouble coping with the house and children after her death so she planned that, too.  When Luke walks into the house he finds the first of many almost daily letters from Natalie on the floor in front of the mail slot. They were definitely from Natalie, but who was delivering them?

The continuing letters help Luke cope with his life as a widower. Natalie’s best friend Annie helps out a lot, but she has her own secret.

Natalie knew Luke would need more help with the children than Annie could provide, so in one of her letters, she urged him to hire 21-year-old Jessie to watch the children after school. Why was it so important to her that Luke hire Jessie?

Luke also keeps running into a Dr. Neal in Natalie’s letters and as a contact on her phone. He doesn’t like the jealous feelings and suspicions that rise up in him. Who is this Dr. Neal? Why was he so important to Natalie?

Follow Luke and Annie’s grief journey as they get to know each other better. Find out Annie’s secret and who has been putting Natalie’s letters through the mail slot. Discover the secrets only Dr. Neal can reveal. Don’t miss When I’m Gone.

The High Cost of Flowers by Cynthia Kraack

Dementia is hard enough to for a family to deal with when there is an abundance of love between family members. When siblings alienate each other and fight constantly, it’s almost impossible to share the care and decision making.

 

Family matriarch Katherine Kemper and her neighborhood friend Janie had done everything together before Katherine had a stroke. The stroke left Katherine with dementia. Her husband Art tries to care for her at home with some help from Janie and his children Todd and Carrie.

As the book opens, Art reflects on the old pre-stroke Katherine he loved and wishes she were back. His old life of puttering in the garden and seeing friends is gone. He feels the pain and frustration of all who care for loved ones with dementia.

Art’s Life as Katherine’s Caregiver

Janie tries to help out, but the demented Katherine berates her and accuses her of stealing her diamond and trying to poison her with the food she often brings over.  In the first chapter, Janie has brought over some chili, and Katherine refuses to eat it. She often has tantrums now.

As Art prepares to heat the chili, Katherine says: ‘That’s not one of our containers. Did that woman make that food? Are you going to eat out of it or is it poisoned just for me?’ Katherine is itching for a fight Art doesn’t want.

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels
Janie tries to help by bringing chili for Art and Katherine

 

She crashes a soup bowl on the end of the granite counter sending shards flying everywhere. Then she stomps on the bowls, cuts her feet, and attacks Art with a piece of the glass. She then smashes another dish and picks up pieces of it to throw in Art’s face.  One piece connects with Art’s forehead. When he demands to know what she’s doing, she replies:

I’m trying to make you ugly so women won’t  want you. So you won’t put me away. I want you to bleed. like me.

Then she cries and reaches out for him. He gets a sharp pain in his chest and calls 911.

Rachel

Meanwhile, their estranged older daughter Rachel is running along the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago. She fights loneliness after her separation from her husband David since he had an affair. She is a trained therapist who has written family self-help books.

Later that evening she sits pondering the changes in her life as she eats dinner and works at home.  Her parents’ physician, Dr. Wagner calls to inform her that both her parents are in the hospital and her siblings are both out of town. He asks Rachel to come to Minnesota and help out. He wants to place Katherine in a care facility for patients with dementia. Katherine, as well as Rachel’s siblings, have always opposed this, so Rachel anticipates a family fight.

A Portrait of a Dysfunctional Family

Katherine has always been domineering and abusive. Both her husband and children have been her victims. Rachel’s siblings Todd and Carrie are already alcoholics when we meet them in the book. Catherine has told Rachel not to call her “Mom” and doesn’t want her around. At family functions, Catherine has tantrums mixed with episodes of dementia.

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels
Todd and Carrie are already alcoholics

It’s evident to the reader that Catherine is too sick for  Art to be able to continue to care for her at home. Art, Todd, and Carrie try to pretend this isn’t true. After Catherine attacks Art with the broken glass, he realizes she needs more care than he can give and Art and Rachel move her to a care facility. Rachel supports him, but her siblings still resist.

They blame Rachel for moving to Chicago where she’s not close enough to help. She has really moved to keep herself and her son Dylan away from the Kemper family dysfunction. Except for Rachel, all of the adult Kempers drink too much. That’s how they deal with the family problems.

Families in Crisis, Hurting People

Author Cynthia Kraack offers us a window into the unhappy lives of the characters. We see their family dysfunction clearly whenever the family or siblings gather. It’s one thing to know about dementia and abuse intellectually. It’s another to see it happening as family members push each other’s buttons and use words to manipulate and hurt each other. Sibling rivalry hangs over all family interactions.

We watch as Katherine goes in and out of the real world within seconds. One minute she’s lucid and the next she’s wondering who that stranger in her room is or seeing long-dead family members around the dinner table. She may become suddenly violent, then wonder how her victim got hurt, and then cry like a baby.  An observer might see all these behaviors within an hour. We see Katherine’s pain and confusion and her family’s pain as they watch.

Learn to recognize early signs of dementia in the video below.

My Personal Response to the Book

This book grabbed my attention from the first pages. The characters were so well developed you could almost predict what they would say or do by the middle of the book. The plot, though, had some twists I didn’t expect. I won’t give any spoilers.

The focal point of the book was Katherine and her dominance in the family. Everyone had to focus on her when in her presence. She was the elephant in the room when she wasn’t present. Ironically, at the end of the book, when Katherine finally dies, what’s left of the family is celebrating July 4 together, and no one was answering their phones when the nursing home called to notify them of her death. They had started a new tradition of turning them off when together.

I would recommend this book to those who have grown up in dysfunctional families or who give or have given care to those with dementia. Those who have alcoholics in their families or are grieving lost loved ones will probably identify with characters in this book, too. The book may also help those who need to make a decision about getting institutional care for a loved one unable to continue living at home.

Of all the main characters, the only ones I might have enjoyed spending time with were Rachel and Art. The others would tend to suck away my energy.

The book is well-written except for a couple of typos in the eBook that weren’t caught by an editor.  The plot moves swiftly and many of the characters become more functional as the book progresses. Those who depend on alcohol and or drugs find that they aren’t a lasting cure for pain. Those who are willing to forgive hurts and face their problems honestly discover there is hope.

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels

Get The High Cost of Flowers at Amazon for a revealing peek into the lives of a dysfunctional family caring for their mother who is no longer herself.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel

No bookseller or bibliophile should miss this book by Gabrielle Zevin. Every chapter is prefaced with A. J. Fikry’s thoughts on specific stories which turn out to be significant in the plot. And who is A .J. Fikry?

 

A. J. Fikry is a grieving bookseller who lost his wife less than two years prior. She died in an accident driving an author home from a signing. He’s become a grumpy 39-year-old man who tries to drown his grief in drink, and he’s lost interest in his life and his bookstore Island Books on Alice Island. He has a very rare copy of Poe’s Tamerlane which he plans to sell someday to finance his retirement. Meanwhile, he keeps it in a locked glass case in the store below the apartment where he now lives alone. He has few real friends but very specific book tastes.

A Bad Start for a Relationship

Amelia Loman, a new sales rep with Knightley Press in the Boston area, is about to call on Fikry for the first time. She is the replacement for former rep, Harvey Rhodes. Although she has made an appointment to see Fikry, he doesn’t seem to be aware of it. She gets off to a bad start on the way to his office when her sleeve catches on a stack of books and knocks down about a hundred of them.  Fikry hears the commotion, approaches her, and asks, ‘Who the hell are you?’ He tells her to leave.

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels

A.J. says they have no meeting. He’d never gotten word of Harvey’s death. He reluctantly does let her in so she can pitch Knightley’s winter list. She doesn’t expect to get an order. She begins to tell him about her favorite book, Late Bloomer, but he says it’s not for him. He said Harvey knew what he liked and Amelia challenges him to share his likes and dislikes with her. He does.

Grief Leads to the Loss of Tamerlane

Later that night A.J. regrets treating Amelia so badly. He goes up to his apartment and reminisces about past book discussions with Harvey. He puts a frozen dinner in the microwave to heat, as usual, and while waiting he goes to the basement to flatten book boxes.

By the time he gets upstairs again his dinner is ruined. He throws it against the wall as he realizes that although Harvey meant a lot to him, he probably meant nothing to Harvey. On further reflection, he realizes that one problem of living alone is that no one even cares if you throw your dinner against the wall.

He pours a glass of wine, puts a cloth on the table, and retrieves Tamerlane from its climate-controlled case. Then he places it across the table from his chair and leans it against the chair where his wife Nic used to sit. Then he proposes a toast to it:

‘Cheers, you piece of crap,’ he says to the slim volume.

Then he gets drunk and passes out at the table. He “hears” his wife telling him to go to bed. One reason he drinks is to get to this state where he can talk to Nic again. `

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels

When he wakes the next morning he finds a clean kitchen, a wine bottle in the trash, and no Tamerlane. The bookcase is still open. He hadn’t insured the book because he had acquired it a couple of months after Nic had died. In his grief, he forgot to insure it.

He runs to the police station and reports the theft to recently divorced Chief Lambiase. He admits everyone he knows is aware that he had the book. The police find no prints and the investigation goes nowhere. A.J. knows he’ll never see the book again.

Maya

After news of the theft gets out,  Island Bookstore’s business picks up. After a day of rather difficult customers, A.J. closes the store and goes running. He doesn’t bother to lock the door. He doesn’t have anything worth locking up anymore.

J.J.’s review of Bret Harte’s Story “The Luck of Roaring Camp” introduces this chapter.  In his review, he calls it an “Overly sentimental tale of a mining camp that adopts an ‘Ingin baby’ whom they dub Luck.” He admits not liking it much in college, but that it had brought him to tears as an adult.

When A.J. returns from his run, he hears cries coming from the children’s section. As he investigates the source, he sees a toddler holding the store’s only copy of Where the Wild Things Are.  As A. J. asks her where her mother is, she cries and holds out her arms to him. Of course, he picks her up. Then he sees the Elmo doll on the floor with a note attached.  The child is two-year-old Maya and the mother wants her to be raised in the bookstore.

A.J. reports the abandoned child to Chief Lambiase. Lambiase and A. J. decide that A.J. will keep the child until Monday when social services will arrive. The next day, the mother’s body washes to shore.

Are you wondering

  • What will happen to Maya?
  • Who is Maya’s father?
  • What happened to Tamerlane?

It’s fairly easy to guess the answers to the first two questions. The clues are there. As to the last, I don’t want to be a spoiler.

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels

My Critique

I will admit I loved the book, but I didn’t love all the characters.   The author introduces Maya’s father early in the book. I didn’t like him then and didn’t change my opinion. He appeared in the book long before A.J. found Maya.

Grief and loss appear in many forms: bereavement, infidelity, suicide, terminal illness, and material loss. Yet there is also love. We watch as love for Maya transforms A. J. Fikry as surely as “Luck” transformed a mining camp’s residents.

Bibliophiles, writers,  and booksellers will relate to A. J.’s constant references to and opinions of well-known books.  He also describes events in his own life in terms of writing techniques and plots. Booksellers will be quite familiar with the problem customers Fikry deals with. They may or may not share his opinion of book signing parties.

All parents of toddlers will relate to the challenge that faces A.J. as he learns to care for Maya.  Foster and adoptive parents will enjoy watching A. J. interact with Jenny, the young social worker who is stuck with Maya’s complicated case. By this time Maya and A.J. had developed a relationship. He was not ready to put her in the system unless he had a say in her placement. You can imagine how that went.


There is too much gold in the book to display in this small space. The characters are very well-developed. Several subplots and characters I have not described will also captivate readers. I loved the book even more the second time I read it. Please don’t miss this treasure if you love people or books.

Don’t miss our other reviews that also deal with how people face grief and loss.

 

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels
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Who Pays the Price of an Affair? A Review of Out of the Blue by Gretta Mulrooney

I doubt if people ever forget the first person who steals their heart – that precious first love. Few people forget losing that love, either. When Aiden tells his significant other Liv over dinner one night that he wants to break off their relationship so he can find himself and explore the world without being tied down, etc., she is crushed and unable to understand why she wasn’t adventure enough for him after they had been soul mates for a year. This review of Out of the Blue by Gretta Mulrooney explores some of the complications of the many emotions we call love.

The relationship with Aiden is past history when Liv Caleghan marries Douglas Hood, a surgeon she met when he tended to her tonsils during an emergency room visit. It was only later, after they were married, she realized he was an alcoholic. As the book opens Liv is just planning on a quiet evening in, waiting for Doug to get home from a business trip when the phone rings.

She already knows the caller will tell her that Douglas is drunk again somewhere and she will need to come get him. This time he fell asleep on the train ride home and missed his station. She goes to pick him up, all the time thinking about the letter her father gave her with the keys to her Nanna’s home in Ireland, which she had just inherited. They represent freedom to her – a chance to get away for a breather to decide what to do about Douglas, her, marriage, and her life.

She has always wanted to be a mother, but Douglas had denied her that. Instead she has had to mother him and enable him, and she constantly wonders how long he can keep his job if he doesn’t get help. He has made half-hearted attempts to stop drinking, but they never succeed. She loves him, but she is tired of living this way. He has promised to make one very serious attempt at a live-in rehab spa while Liv is in Ireland, deciding what she will do with Glenkeen, her grandmother’s house. Her hopes aren’t very high that Douglas will succeed this time. She is not sure they can fix their broken marriage. ‘How is it she, wonders, that I love him but I can’t wait to get away from him?”

Who Pays the Price of an Affair? A Review of Out of the Blue by Gretta Mulrooney

Meanwhile, Aiden also married. His wife Maeve is a reliable, faithful woman and a wonderful mother to their children, whom he also loves very much. He had just left a successful computer career because he hated the job and had moved his family from Manchester, over Maeve’s protests, to Castlegray to sell vegetables in the market. He also supplies his his mother in-law, Eileen O’Donovan’s grocery store at Redden’s Cross, the closest place to Glenkeen to buy provisions. By now you have probably guessed that Aiden has discovered Liv is now in the area.

Aiden loves his wife, but has never felt the same way about her as he did about Liv. He doesn’t like the way she decorates the house and doesn’t feel comfortable there, but doesn’t say anything because she sees to feel he owes it to her to let her make decisions about the house since he uprooted her life when they moved. He now regrets breaking off the relationship with Liv, and especially the cowardly way he did it. Now that he has seen her again, he can’t stop thinking about her and he also dwells more on the ways he and Maeve are different. The reader will soon pick up on his selfish streak. He can’t resist going to pay Liv a call at Glenkeen.

Liv is vulnerable, and although she knows it’s not right, she allows Aiden back into her life and Glenkeen to become their love nest, feeling confident they won’t be found out. When they are, Aiden moves in with Liv and the two plan to continue the repairs on Glenkeen, grow a garden for Aiden’s vegetables, and spend the rest of their lives together there. That’s when things get really complicated.

The author does a great job in developing the characters enough so that you will feel for all of them as the plot works itself out. The author has injected enough realism into this novel to make a happily ever after ending impossible. Aiden’s rash decision to dump Liv years ago has limited his options once they find each other again. When married people who have affairs also have children, there are consequences beyond one’s own feelings.

Who Pays the Price of an Affair? A Review of Out of the Blue by Gretta Mulrooney

As I read this book, I bled in my heart with each character who was hurt. The characters had to deal with love, responsibility, lust, and selfishness as they lived out their lives in the book. The love nest at Glenkeen was invaded and Liv and Aiden could not ignore making hard decisions that would affect more lives than their own. It is only after Liv makes one of those hard decisions that her Great Uncle Owen reveals an old family secret that explains much that Liv had wondered about.

This book raises many questions about the nature of love. When the chemistry is right between two people, does it justify their following their feelings when doing so will break up one or two families? Who is to know if this kind of love will last any longer than the love for the previous partner lasted? Should people in love expect to always love everything about their marriage? If they have differences does it justify looking elsewhere for happiness? And what about the cases where people fall in love accidentally without ever really wanting to find someone else? Is an affair ever right? What can one do to affair-proof a marriage?

 OUT OF THE BLUE a gripping novel of love lost and found How to Help Your Spouse Heal From Your Affair: A Compact Manual for the Unfaithful How to Grow Affair Proof Hedges Around Your Marriage Intimacy After Infidelity: How to Rebuild and Affair-Proof Your Marriage Recovering Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity

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Books for Aspiring Young Ballerinas

Many little girls want to learn to dance. Many start out with ballet when they are very young. As they see others dance in recitals and ballets, some yearn to go on and become professional ballerinas. Very few get that far. Still, though, many remain ballerinas in their hearts.

When I was young , my cousins were taking ballet, and I wanted to join them. The teacher was Russian and the classes were half an hour from my home, since my cousins lived in a different city than we did. Like many young girls, I dreamed of being a ballerina. My mother let me take classes to help me develop graceful movements and good posture, but it began to get hard for Mom to keep taking me for classes. We’d miss a few classes and then I would have to start over again each time. I knew I’d never get good enough to perform, and finally I quit. Mom was tired of taking me.

My college roommate had gotten much farther along than I ever did. When we met at UCLA she was no longer dancing. Right after graduation she had foot surgery to correct damage to her feet caused by her earlier toe dancing. She had talent, but her injuries had forced her to quit. The characters in the books I review below, had other hindrances.

 

In Dancing on the Inside by Glen Strathy, Jenny Spark dreams of being a ballerina. She had never seen a live ballet or met a ballerina in person, but her grandparents had given her a DVD of Swan Lake for Christmas, and she had watched it over and over. She could envision herself as one of the dancers.

Jenny’s parents are concerned because she has no friends. Jenny had been home schooled for the first three grades because the family had lived in an isolated area, and, unlike all the home schoolers I have known, including my own children, she hadn’t had outside activities where she could get to know other children. She gets panic attacks when she is having to relate to people she doesn’t know or do things in front of them. Jenny’s parents want her to make friends by getting into some group with girls who share common interests. Jenny wants to learn ballet, even though her mother is pushing her toward Girl Guides Pathfinders.  Jenny vigorously resists this. It doesn’t interest her at all.

We first meet Jenny and her mother, Marilyn Spark, in the car on the way for Jenny’s first ballet lesson. Jenny’s mother reminds her that if Jenny doesn’t want to continue with ballet, she has to drop out after the first lesson. After the second, her mother’s money would not be refunded. Jenny’s family has to watch their pennies. They have already bought Jenny’s shoes and her white leotard and tights. She already has her shoes on, even though it’s a rainy day. In the office of the Kingston Ballet School, Marilyn fills out papers and Jenny and her Mom meet the teacher, Madame Beaufort. She tells Jenny that her leotard and tights are the wrong color and she needs to wear her hair up off her neck. She also should have waited to be inside before changing into her ballet slippers. This made Jenny feel that she’d gotten off to a bad start.

Jenny immediately felt she didn’t belong there. She was about to leave and tell her mother to get the refund when the other girls started to arrive. In the studio where her class for twelve-year-olds was about to start, she looked for a place to hide and found it under the cloth covering the piano in one corner. She could just peek out to see and hear the other students, most of whom were returning from last year. Then Ara, the most awkward girl, but the one appearing to have the most fun, discovered her hiding, pulled the cloth up from over her hiding place, and asked ‘Who are you?’

About this time Madame Beaufort called the class to order and asked the girls to gather round, but Jenny just couldn’t move. She was getting light-headed and a bit dizzy. Madame Beaufort realized something was wrong and gave her permission to just sit on the piano bench and watch. She pays careful attention to everything the class does planning to practice later at home. After making sure she was the first to leave, Jenny goes to the car and when asked how it went tells her mother the class had been fine. That night Jenny quietly went into her father’s office where she could practice everything she had observed in class. Then she moved to the bathroom because it had a mirror where she could watch herself, and her dad walked in as she was standing on the toilet seat trying to use the towel rack as a barre. Her dad talked with her and told her she should probably leave that sort of practice for class. They talk about the class a bit and Jenny’s dad asks if she would like to be a dancer. She affirms it but expresses her doubts about ever being to dance like the others in her class. He dad says if she really wants to dance, she will find a way. She realizes he has faith in her.

Later she overhears a conversation between her mother and father about her. Marilyn expresses her fears that Jenny might convince herself she wants to be a professional dancer someday and not be good enough to make it and they would have wasted their money. Her father replies that they should just let her have fun for a while and make some friends. Jenny remembers how paralyzed with fear she was at the beginning of the class. She wonders if it will keep happening. She is scared to death to let anyone see her dance, and she cannot participate in the class without other people seeing her. All she really wanted to do was to continue to observe, take notes, and practice on her own at home, away from the others, but she knew her mother would consider that a waste of money. Then she had an idea – an idea that made her feel guilty. She put it into practice, and she did make a friend in the class. By the end of the book she and her teachers discovered she had a special talent.

Dancing on the Inside held my attention, even though it’s aimed at upper elementary and middle school students. Although I found the plot unrealistic, few fiction plots for this age group are realistic. The characters were fairly well-developed. The girls in the dance class act just the way I saw my students and my children and their friends act, but the author doesn’t stoop to using language in narration or dialogue that imitates current teen slang the way some authors for this audience have. I appreciate that. I would recommend this for girls interested in ballet, for there is a lot of dance method and talk in it. It might also be good for children who are shy, since they will discover that self-consciousness can fade away when attention is focused on helping others.

Disclosure: I received Dancing on the Inside free and requested to honesty review it. I have done that here.  It is available in both eBook and paperback format.

 

Ribbons by Laurence Yep

I just reread this book by award-winning author Laurence Yep for purposes of this blog because I remembered its ballet theme. It has been years since the first time I read Ribbons, and I enjoyed he second reading as much as the first. Like Dancing on the Inside, it’s about much more than dancing. Ribbons is just as much about the clash between generations in American Chinese families as it is about ballet.

Robin is a talented dancer whom we first meet during a performance of a shortened version of The Nutcracker, where she stars in a solo Morning Butterfly role. She appears to be recognized by the others in the recital and her teacher as the most gifted student. She was the first in toe shoes. But after the performance, as the group is breaking up and the Christmas break approaches, Robin is surprised to hear her teacher, Madame Oblamov say to her, ‘How I shall miss you.’ Robin couldn’t understand what she meant.

Later she found out from her parents that they could no longer afford to pay for her lessons. Instead, the money is having to go to help bring Robin’s maternal grandmother from Hong Kong to their San Francisco home to live with them. Hong Kong was about to be returned to Communist China, and Robin’s mother wanted to get her out before that happened. It was an expensive process and Robin’s parents did not have much money. Robin’s mother had already brought her two younger brothers to live with her, paid for their college educations, and finally they started their own families, and became successful in their own careers. In fact, they were now wealthier than Robin’s family, and their homes were much bigger.

There was no guest room in Robin’s home, so when her grandmother finally came, she had to give her own room to Grandmother and share a room with her five-year-old brother Ian. That was hard for an eleven-year-old girl to swallow, especially when he started defacing her prized dolls and then said Grandmother had given him permission. It was also obvious that Grandmother favored Ian, giving him special treats, and even telling him he could eat the ice cream bar with her name on it she had been saving and looking forward to all day. When she came home that day, it was gone, and she found the wrapper with her name on it in the trash.

 

She missed her ballet and her ballet friends with whom she practiced. They didn’t understand why Robin couldn’t dance with them, and Robin was not allowed to tell anyone, especially her grandmother, the truth.  She felt as though something inside her was dying when she couldn’t dance. She was determined to keep up with her practicing, even though she had to do it on the concrete floor of the garage. Meanwhile, she could not get her parents to commit to when she might be able to start lessons again.

Up until this time, Robin had lived a normal American life. Her mother was Chinese and had come from Hong Kong. Her father was a Caucasian American. Her friends at ballet were from many races. She had not been exposed much to Chinese culture outside the United States. She gradually learned that culture was responsible for the decisions her mother was making. Men were favored in Chinese culture. That’s why her mother did not ask her brothers to assist with Grandmother’s support  and made excuses for their lack of help, even though they were in a better financial situation to provide it. Robin and Ian were cut to one small Christmas present each that year, but at the family celebration their cousins were announcing all the expensive presents they had gotten. It just didn’t seem fair to Ian and Robin. Robin’s resentment against Grandmother (and her uncles and cousins) just kept building.

Then one day, she accidentally discovers a secret Grandmother never wanted her to know. The discovery changes how she feels and her life begins to change for the better. You will have to read the book to see what happened to get Robin dancing again.

Although both books are written for the same age group and share the ballet theme, they are very different in style and vocabulary. Dancing on the Inside was a well-told story. It had a message, but one had to suspend one’s knowledge of the real world to accept the plot. The Ribbons plot is consistent with reality. I have spent a great deal of time with Chinese Americans from the first, second, and third generations. I have very close Chinese friends who have discussed their family problems with me. I have seen some of these same themes of inter-generational misunderstanding and conflict as we’ve talked. I’ve met both parents and their children.

Probably the first thing I noticed when I opened Ribbons again after just finishing Dancing on the Inside was the difference in style. Dancing on the Inside is a well-written story. Ribbons is literature. Ribbons has a more extensive vocabulary and more complex characters. It also has a more universal theme. Wannabe ballerinas will probably enjoy both books, but teachers will probably find more discussion topics in Ribbons
.

 

Lili at Ballet by Rachel Isadora

Very young children who take ballet or want to know what happens in a beginning ballet class will enjoy Lili at Ballet by Rachel Isadora. It’s picture book story about Lili, who takes ballet lessons four afternoons a week. The story is a loose framework for a visual presentation of ballet positions, steps, and terms. It illustrates everything beginning students do and wear . It’s a great introduction to give a young child who wants to take ballet so she will know what to expect. Both male and female students are shown in the pictures. Note: The cover illustration for this book is more vivid than it looks on the Amazon page, and the tutu shows up much better.