Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts tells the story of a young woman who gives a baby girl birth alone in a Wal-Mart. Gaining the attention of the nation and then new friends in the small town of her temporary “home,” Novalee develops an unconventional family. The support she garners as she connects to the community help her raise her daughter, learn new skills for education and a career (appropriately rooted in the library), and grow personal strength. While the premise sounds odd, the characters welcome you right into their hearts. Their hospitality and support for each other makes you wish you could move into their town too. Novalee demonstrates we all have potential and that it may best come to realization with a support system.
Morgan Matson’s young adult book Save the Date makes a quiet yet humorous and heartfelt story surrounding a family gathering for an upcoming wedding. Charlie faces numerous common adjustments many readers may find familiar, and she faces them with an expected trepidation yet also with strength. It gets off to a slow start but becomes better as the events unfold and more of Charlie’s character gets revealed through her reconsidering how she views and engages in her relationships. The themes of family bonds, personal growth and reflection, making adjustments, accepting change, and moving forward all made positive messages.
This Medium article outlines how to stop someone gaslighting you.
The New Yorker shared some of Flannery O’Connor’s diary.
NPR highlights how creating art can improve mental and physical health. As professor and art therapy researcher Girija Kaimal describes, “This act of imagination is actually an act of survival.”
This article about family estrangement shares this more common than realized phenomenon’s causes and potential cures.
Book Riot shared a list of Harry Potter pick up lines. I laughed the entire time I read this. They suit my cheesy Valentine heart just fine. I’m here for the Valentine celebration already.
I read Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire for a book club, and it blew me away with its insight into culture, religion, politics, and family. Adapting the play Antigone to novel form, Shamsie adds even more depth to the storyline. The two sisters and their brother find their lives separating as they follow their adult paths, a shaky family background underneath them. A boy enters their lives, adding a clash in politics. The London setting provides a realistic and modern backdrop for engaging insight into our times. This novel makes a great book for discussion on accepting, assimilating, and adapting cultures.
The first day of summer coincidentally also begins the weekend. As another season starts, I recommend these fun stories that take place during the summer. They have an easygoing flow yet still have depth as the characters face new circumstances and face the heat.
The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen: This book came out this month, just in time for summer. Emma Saylor finds herself reuniting with a grandmother she hasn’t seen since early childhood. As she connects with cousins at North Lake, where her parents met, she discovers more of her deceased mother’s history. In turn, she learns how to root her identity to grow into her future.
The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen: With a character going by a similar name in a similar storyline (even the same state) to Sarah Dessen’s latest, this Sarah’s novel follows Emily Benedict as she ventures to her grandfather’s house in Mullaby, North Carolina. She too reconnects with the community of her mother’s past and finds a connection to another family. Learning about her mother’s past, she overcomes some generational obstacles in a magical setting.
The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks: Ronnie also returns to North Carolina, this time to stay with her dad for the summer. Having struggled since her parents’ divorce, she grows in her new scenery as she develops stronger roots with her father. Between the summer, the beach, and a love interest, Ronnie experiences the ocean’s beauty, waves, and tides.
How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara O’Neal: Baker Romola welcomes her stepdaughter-in-law to her home and develops a new relationship as she aims to save her bakery. As they grow closer, Romola examines her own roots. A summer she spent with her aunt as a teenager shapes her future familial relationships.
I read The Girl Who Chased the Moon, my first Sarah Addison Allen novel, and it may have made a sweeter treat than my funfetti cake with pink icing (my birthday fell on a Wednesday). The setting came to life enough to make me wonder if I’d rather move to a small town like Mullaby, North Carolina or back to a big city. I felt summer’s warm air as Emily gazed at the mysterious light in the trees outside her window and longed for some quiet reflection of my own. Then I wanted to go to Julia’s bakery to chat with Mullaby’s finest as each character had their own charm, making me want to belong to a community like that. This enchanting story floated as smoothly as the lights danced across the yard in the middle of the night, and with its fun came some depth in its female leads and their discoveries about their families’ pasts. It certainly only began my love for Allen’s magical stories and neat women.
Fun Note: I got this book at a meetup and book swap some of the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club members, including our leader Anne Bogel, had in Nashville last summer.
books, family, How to Walk Away, Katherine Center, Lock and Key, Maggie O'Farrell, middle grade March, relationships, RJ Palacio, Sarah Dessen, spring, strength, The Language of Flowers, This Must Be the Place, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, wonder, YA
Springtime makes a perfect setting for growth as the green returns to the land and love and floral scents fill the air. I have compiled a list of books that feature a lot of character growth, particularly within family dynamics. Let these stories inspire us to develop ourselves and to connect with our family on an authentic, deep level.
Lock & Key by Sarah Dessen: Ruby starts in a dysfunctional family situation. After her mother disappears, she finds herself in a more stable home with the sister she hasn’t seen in years. Ruby learns how to adjust to a healthy, structured life as she makes new friends and reconnects with her family. Trust serves as a focal theme.
Wonder by P.J. Palacio: August embarks on his first year at a public school, and he and his family brace for how the other students will respond to his differences. The entire story reminds us of the importance of kindness. August’s parents and sister learn how to support him while he gains some independence, and August learns how to connect with those around him who have genuine relationships with him.
How to Walk Away by Katherine Center: This story mostly revolves around resiliency as Margaret heals from a plane crash. As she adjusts to living her life in a new way and discovers new ways to achieve her goals. Her parents and sister support her physically and emotionally, even as Margaret and her sister reconcile after a prolonged disconnect. Margaret thrives as we see her emotional, mental and physical strength, and she makes it with the help of her family coming together for her.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh: This heartrending novel follows orphan Victoria as she goes through the foster care system her whole life and ultimately ages out. She sees what family means as she seeks familial connections. The characters have to conquer deep insecurities and learn how to trust as they navigate their relationships. The flowers and characters hold deep meaning and growth.
This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell: A sweeping family saga, this story follows Daniel as he develops, and sometimes fails, his familial relationships. Covering multiple time periods as well as multiple continents, it shows the long term effects of Daniel’s choices. He grows as a man, father and husband as he faces triumphs and disappointments in life. This shows an authentic look at the struggle and importance of keeping a supportive family together.
Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must Be the Place has a spot in my top 10 reads from last year and probably the top spot for book club selections last year and a spot on my all time favorites list. This novel covers so much territory in time, place, relationships, and more. Daniel Sullivan’s life saga brings infinite contemplations on life as he navigates personal and career triumphs and pitfalls. Each experience feels so real, and each character makes you wish you could meet them in some capacity. O’Farrell has such writing strength in style, depth, and intelligence, and that makes her an author whose work I want to complete.
After having Kristin Hannah on my radar a couple years, Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club finally got it to my currently reading stack, and boy did it take me for a trip through the wilderness both physically and emotionally. The story took place in 1970s Alaska, and she paints a vivid picture of surviving the harsh realities of a place with severe winters, periods of no sunlight and little connection to the mainland. While I enjoyed the detail, it made it crystal clear to me that I would not make it through my first season there. Not only did the Alaskan terrain prove difficult, but Leni’s home life did as well. Again, Hannah created a realistic aspect of her story in the Allbright family’s tension. She explored how the tumult affected all members of the family through different angles of pain. The wilderness of home added a whole new layer to the story as the characters formed relationships with their community and learned how to cope as well as survive. As Leni went from a happy child carrying her Winnie the Pooh lunchbox to school on her first day in Alaska to the adult who eventually started her own family, I felt gutted. She helplessly stood by her mother, staying silent about their situation, and the powerlessness of such trauma expanded well beyond them. Hannah made readers experience the darkness of such an Alaska frontier both outside and inside the home.
Harry Potter lives with his aunt, uncle and cousin after witnessing his parents’ deaths as an infant. The Dursleys provide the worst home environment imagination. Mostly ignored, Harry sleeps in the cupboard under the stairs with spiders, the other unwanted species in the house. He learns early that his adoptive family does not welcome questions. Early on, the book notes, “Don’t ask questions – that was the first rule for a quiet life with the Dursleys.” Harry first realizes this when he asks Aunt Petunia about the scar on his forehead and only finds out the truth later from a stranger. Though they may bring up uncomfortable conversations, questions play a crucial role in developing relationships as well as forming an identity and values.
Harry’s aunt and uncle deny him a lot more than his physical needs. They neglect him as a person, and provide him not only no familial bonds but no sense of himself either. Wondering what happened to his parents leaves a gap in Harry’s heart. The brush offs regarding his questions do not give him a route to learn about his own history, let alone forge his own identity. They also do not ask him questions, making it easy to gloss over the fact that they do not give Harry what he needs as a child. When they don’t ask if he got enough food after losing half his meal, they don’t have to acknowledge he may go hungry.
These scenarios play out in everyday life too. Rather than ask for more details, we assume someone can manage just fine. Not knowing someone could use help makes it easier to tell ourselves we don’t need to offer any. Guessing the answer to someone’s question or brushing it off as unimportant invites shame or distances trust because that person hears they struggle with a task simple to everyone else. Instead of pushing off the discomfort, let’s welcome the potential to grow from questions. Sorting through the answers can launch numerous positive aspects like a stronger sense of self, a deeper bond between the people discussing and a higher level of understanding.