Archive for the ‘Abuse’ Category

DeathOfSantiniGosh, what to say about The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy. I could and will say that if you read The Great Santini, you’ve read some of this Conroy biography, but certainly not all of it. I could say I liked the book but it’s not a book you ‘like’, it’s a book you get sucked into because there’s so much raw emotion going on…love, hate, racism, abuse, family, sorrow, joy. When I first started reading The Death of Santini, I was appalled at Don Conroy’s treatment of his wife and children and no one would have faulted me for putting the book down. But on I went, to the very last page.GreatSantini

The Death of Santini is a raw book, not filled with flowery language. It is the factual recounting of Pat Conroy’s life as the son of Don and Peg Conroy, the union of an Irish Catholic from Chicago and a poor southern girl from the Appalachian mountains whose mother abandoned her family at the height of the depression, leaving them with nothing. Pat and his six siblings moved around a lot, the life of a Marine family, were the recipients of beatings from an abusive father and the fallout from this was everlasting and widespread and powerful.

I’m not sure why Conroy felt compelled to write this book since it’s predecessor, though fiction, pretty well recounted many incidents in the current book. It felt like he had to purge himself of his demons, his guilt at standing idly by while siblings were abused, his hatred, or more accurately love-hate emotion towards his father, his adoration of his beautiful but surely imperfect mother, his dives into the depths of depression, his distance from his sister.

But as you read, you see Conroy’s problem. Children love their parents, typically, yet both his parents, to some extent, were abusive. What is a boy and then a man supposed to feel? Two of his siblings were spiraling towards mental illness, yet his parents refused to acknowledge it and Pat was powerless.

As Conroy introduces you to his northern and southern relatives you learn so many things: (1) abuse, while maybe not genetically transferred, certainly runs in families and is transferred to following generations, nor is it limited to liberally or conservatively thinking people, (2) racism is not only a Southern emotion, (3) the impact of dysfunctional families is widespread and deep.

I’ll conclude by telling you, as I did in the beginning, I’m not sure I ‘liked” The Death of Santini. I’m glad I read it and will highly recommend it to others, but did I like it? Hmmmm. No. If you’re looking for a literary masterpiece with flowery language, I suggest you look elsewhere. The Death of Santini is, at times, disjointed (as is this review) and repetitious within itself. However, it has a cast of interesting, unimaginable characters that some of the most able fiction writers could never conceive. It didn’t make me laugh. It didn’t make me cry. Coming from a ‘relatively’ normal family, I think it made me sit there in disbelief.

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OneAndOnlyIvanIvan is a gorilla at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. His domain is a cage with a tire swing, a pool of dirty water and a wall painted to resemble a jungle with a waterfall. His main friends are Stella, an elephant and Bob, a dog who likes to sleep on Ivan’s stomach.

Ivan recounts his life in this unique book, The One and Only Ivan, the Newbery Award winner by Katherine Applegate. Ivan’s life is a sad one, his parents killed, losing his twin sister, Tag, en route from Africa, and being confined to a cage after losing his baby gorilla attractiveness.

Stella’s life is no better with her leg tied to a spike on the floor of her cage, limiting her mobility. Their only true human friend is Julie, the young daughter of the mall’s janitor, George. Through Applegate’s imagination, Ivan and Julie have one thing in common, they’re both artists.

Based on the true story of a gorilla named Ivan (known as the Shopping Mall Gorilla) who spent 3 decades in a solitary cage, never seeing another gorilla, Applegate ably brings to light the desolation of being separated from your own species and living in a bland environment. She describes but doesn’t dwell on the atrocities that man manages to enact against animals.

I will tell you that I could visualize Ivan and Stella and Bob and Julie. I could see their living conditions. I could feel their pain, their longing to go home. It takes quite a talent to do that.

I won’t tell you the ending, although you could find out quite easily without reading The One and Only Ivan–Ms. Applegate gives you a short bio of Ivan in the back of her book. However, that would be sheer silliness because the book is addicting. And I assure you, you’ll like the ending. Plus I love the opening quote: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” by George Eliot. It is true for Ivan and for us.

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According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, each day an estimated 160,000 students in the US refuse to go to school because they dread the physical and verbal aggression of their peers.  Many more attend school in a chronic state of anxiety and depression. It’s reported that 6 out of 10 American youth witness bullying at least once a day.

The results of another study indicate that bullying begins in elementary school, peaks in middle school, and falls off in high school. It does not, however, disappear altogether.

So, Eric Kahn Gale’s new book, The Bully Book, is a timely work. Sixth grader, Eric Hastsings is The Grunt. In bullying terms, it means he’s the guy that will get picked on repeatedly. He’s the guy that will be singled out, ostracized, ridiculed and tormented, not only in sixth grade, but throughout his school career. Eric has no idea why he was chosen.

Jason Crazinsky is the king of the hill, the leader of the triumvirate that will make Eric’s life miserable. Unfortunately, this trio includes Eric’s (former) best friend, Donovan, who over the summer transformed himself from nerd to cool guy.

Are Jason and crew following the Bully Book, allegedly handed down year after year to a new six grader or are they winging it? Does it really matter? However they are doing it, Eric’s life will suck.

But when Eric learns about the book’s existence by mistake, he wants to find it and learn what characteristics make him the perfect Grunt and he devotes sixth grade to this endeavor.

There is no reader who won’t relate to the events in The Bully Book, either as the recipient of or witness to Jason and his friend’s torment of Eric. There is no reader who won’t feel Eric’s pain (except maybe a bully). While some of the action that takes place may force the reader to stretch his or her imagination, that’s not the important part of this book. The important part is that you recognize school bullying for what it is…the systematic physical or emotional torture of an individual by one or more classmates.

I urge parents of elementary and middle schoolers and students themselves to read The Bully Book. It is a good and eye-opening read.

For a female perspective on bullying, try Amy Goldman Koss’ Poison Ivy. Another excellent read by a great YA author.

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Having not been a fan of Gary D. Schmit’s Wednesday Wars (going against the masses), he wasn’t on my radar screen for a new book. However, Beth Kephart raved about Okay For Now, and I value her opinion, so I thought I’d take a chance. And it was a worthwhile chance I took. It’s a marvelous book.

No matter how you look at it, Doug Swieteck is an abused child, and I’m not lying. There’s both physical and verbal abuse from his father, and sometimes even his older brother. When his father is fired from his job on Long Island, the family is forced to relocate upstate to stupid Marysville, NY. It’s 1968 and the Apollo space missions are under way and Joe Pepitone, Doug’s idol, is a major NY Yankee. But in stupid Marysville, life goes on as usual. And you know, that whenever something good happens, there’s always something bad right around the corner and I’m not lying.

However, as Doug wanders around the local library (after he followed a cute girl, Lil Spicer, into it), he is amazed by pictures of birds drawn by John James Audobon. Can his salvation be the recreation of these drawings?

Schmidt doesn’t spare us in Okay For Now. You get a clear picture of Doug’s life, and Doug’s not lying when he says good is usually followed by bad. And you can understand how Doug wavers in his attempts to overcome his hardships. You can certainly relate to the adage that acorns don’t fall far from the tree, as his brother’s actions impact him, especially in a small town such as stupid Marysville.

But Doug is a wonderful character and his story and demeanor as he narrates is well worth reading. Schmidt’s writing is perfect for the story and the setting. Okay For Now is a new favorite of mine. Schmidt’s next book will be on my radar screen.

By the way, this week is Children’s Book week and Okay For Now was voted the Children’s Choice Book Award winner for Fifth Grade to Sixth Grade Book of the Year by readers. That’s got to tell you something.

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