Tag Archive | Coming of Age Fiction

Tupelo Honey

by Lis Anna-Langston

Coming from a very dysfunctional childhood, at 52 both my parents and my brothers are now gone and I find myself drawn to novels which deal with childhoods filled with hardship.  If I was Oprah or Dr. Phil I’d probably say I’m using fictional works to help myself reflect on my past and mourn the imperfect world in which I lived until marriage.  Whatever the reason, I can definitely say that when I find a gem like “Tupelo Honey” and when the tears fall over that character, I feel a cleansing of my own pain.  And it is good.

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Set in Mississippi in the 1970s, author Lis Anna-Langston has penned a story which is touching and insightful. Main character Tupelo Honey is an 11 year old with an absentee junkie-mom, a loving grandma called Marmalade and slightly ‘off’ uncle Randall.  She is a smart, savvy child who faces more challenges at her young age than most will see in a lifetime.  As all of us do, Tupelo Honey craves a feeling of being wanted.  Loved.  This is a need which is supposed to be lavished on us as youngster by our parents, but never knowing her dad and a mom not interested in parenting leaves a void in her young life.

Interestingly, mom introduces a boyfriend into the picture who ends up being a blessing.  Nash, a low level drug dealer initially made my own mom-hairs on the arm rise, but Anna-Langston uses him to show normalcy and love the way a parent should behave.  I enjoyed this unexpected character twist and appreciated the fact that the author shows the reader appearances can be deceiving.

My other favorite thing about this novel is the feeling of nostalgia it offers.  I found myself smiling at my own childhood fondness for bologna sandwiches with mayonnaise.  Our world of gluten free ancient grain whole wheat bread with organic mustard and sprouts is just not the same as Wonder Bread and Kraft Mayo.  Anna-Langston does not punch us in the face with the fact this is set in the 70s, but there are enough mentions to bring that time period to life.

This is a can’t-put-it-down page turner. Despite my feelings of guilt that the author likely spent thousands of hours writing, and I’m whipping through it like a tornado, I read this in two days. And my emo was high through most of it. I cannot praise enough a book which makes the reader feel all range of emotions – sadness, laughter, joy, relief….  To be completely honest it took three days to finish the book. I had just 20 or so pages left to go at 2am, but I forced myself to stop. I knew my heart needed to see the end during the light of day and not while I laid awake processing the ache of this character.

I don’t keep every book I read because I don’t have shelf space and I won’t waste precious reading time going back to re-read something which was not wonderful.  “Tupelo Honey” gets my highest recommendation when I tell you this one sits in pride of place on my bookshelf to be picked up again and again in the years to come.

 

 

Into the Land of Snows

by Ellis Nelson

I read young adult novels.

At almost 52.

There, I’ve said it.

A book worth reading must make the reader feel a connection to the characters. When reading a legal or medical thriller, or contemporary women’s fiction, I relate to those characters in a way reflective of my current life.  I can commiserate with the struggling mom, worry for the cancer patient, feel anger for the victim in a lawsuit.  And that is good.  Empathy and understanding are traits which are necessary in our world.

What I enjoy most about YA fiction is returning to my younger self.  Not identifying with the middle aged mom but, instead, seeing the world through the eyes of the angst ridden teen; reflecting on my own childhood and feeling the pain and rooting for this younger soul at the start of their journey.  blog

“Into the Land of Snows” by Ellis Nelson is not your typical YA book.  One clear distinction is the lack of young adults in the novel.  Sixteen year old Blake, a child of divorce, runs into some trouble with drugs and is sent to spend time with Dad, a doctor with a climbing expedition at Mount Everest.  Blake talks about a friend from home, and one of the Sherpas seems to be young, but otherwise the novel is filled with (don’t be offended) old people, or at least older people than you’d expect in a YA book.

This is actually crucial to the growth Blake experiences during his travel.  The use of marijuana is the least of the issues with which he struggles. He is angry. His entire world collapsed when his parents divorced. And the icing on the cake was Mom moving him from his hometown to her childhood hometown.  She immersed herself in her own depression. Dad escaped to the Himalayas. Blake was left alone with his own sadness and no way to process his grief.

The trip to Everest was supposed to be an opportunity for father and son to reconnect, but after an unexpected climbing tragedy, and potential further danger, Blake is instead sent on a hike with Sherpa Ang, across the mountains to safety.  Opportunity for introspection, long discussions with wise Ang, encounters with Buddhist Monks, a truth which had been kept from him, all provide Blake with the tools he needs to move forward.

Nelson created a world which also allowed the reader to grow.  As a Christian, I admit to ignorance of Buddhism, and probably also an inability to accept a lot of their beliefs, but I did appreciate the opportunity to hear of their religion and culture and to think.  What struck me most about Blake’s travel in a world so completely different from the United States, was the civility he encountered.  Spend some time on social media reading the vitriol spewed right now about our presidential election and see that rich, first world, is not kind to one another.  I enjoyed the kindness shown by those who welcomed a stranger.  It was a respite of peace.

“Into the Land of Snows” is a journey worth taking.

 

Book #34 – Me and You

by Niccolo Ammaniti book

Before suffering damage to my brain and central nervous system, I was much pickier about what I chose to read. I was, in fact, limiting myself to the well known authors – King, Crichton, Cook, Patterson, and Baldacci. I also stuck to the same genres – medical thrillers, courtroom drama, post apocalyptic anything. Spending the last 7 months in bed has changed me as both a person and a reader. Early in my recovery, reading anything for more than a few minutes was difficult. As that symptom has faded, I find myself wanting not to just read, but to explore. To pick things the old Sue would not have chosen, to discover new worlds and expand my mind.

I will walk the library shelves and pick up a book, and with only a brief scan, check it out and take my chances. I am so glad I stumbled upon “Me and You” waiting quietly for me to select it from among the thousands of other choices before me. This is a small book, only 153 pages, and even sized differently from the standard book dimensions. Much smaller and unique. The same as the story inside – short, concise and powerfully different.

I never like to give away too much plot specifics in these reviews because I feel that cheats the reader from learning details themselves when reading the book. So, in the briefest possible way – “Me and You” is a coming of age story for a young 14 year old boy who doesn’t fit into society and is abnormally attached to his overbearing Mom. Trapped in a lie he doesn’t understand why he told, he ends up hiding out for a week where he then becomes deeply connected (not in a weirdo kinda way) with his barely known 23 year old half-sister.

Ammaniti tells a good story – the picture of what happens during this time is well crafted and becomes life like for the reader. One thing I often do not like is an adult author attempting to voice a teenager. Ammaniti writes his characters voice very accurately and believably.

Being such a well written short novel, I was able to read this in one day. When I closed the book for the last time, there was literally a moment of quiet. I was affected. This is a story worth reading and I highly recommend an afternoon spent between its covers.

5/5 Stars