Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘school’

Whatever It Takes

Love Feld by Virginia Alanís.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

61eBvpsjijLA high school sweetheart, who becomes as possessive as hell, a patriarchal Mexican father, and a prejudiced school counselor, can’t stop Laura Cano from following her dream to be a lawyer and gain independence. She also learns when, and how, to connect with family, and to appreciate all those who help her along the way. Love Field, by Virginia Alanís, gives readers’ insight into growing up in a Mexican-American family in Texas, and if it isn’t told from her personal experience, reads like it is. Her parents, sisters, and grandmother, all sound familiar, comforting, and often controlling.

At age 17, Laura is looking forward to graduating from high school, and applying to college. Since she was young, she thought about being a lawyer to help others. Especially after she witnessed a tragic event from a next door neighbor’s abusive husband when she was a child. Lucky to get a job at a law office, with Vanessa Hamilton, and support from her Godmother, Toni, the narrator of this tale fights to find her way in spite of a father that believes women are only meant to be wives, and her newly married husband, Edward, who does not trust her and threatens to ruin everything.

If you (or someone you know) has ever been in a possessive, and/or abusive, relationship, what transpires between this young couple (Laura and Edward), may feel uncomfortably familiar. What first appears to be support, love, and care, slowly gets twisted and subverted, until Laura must make a choice and risk leaving the young man she once loved, without being harmed (or killed) in the process. She does everything she can legally, and gets help from her retired English teacher, Elisabeth, her mentor at work, Vanessa, and Godmother Toni.

This story encompasses a number of themes. What is family? How much does one owe family, and what parts do you leave behind? Are there any signs that someone will turn out to be abusive when you first meet, and if so, what are they? How does one safely escape from a violent, or threatening situation, without jeopardizing themselves or others? Is family history something that should be respected at all costs, or left behind when it becomes overbearing? If you like the recent memoir of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomeyer (My Beloved World), you’ll enjoy Love Field by Virginia Alanís.

A Midwife’s Joys & Sorrows

Born for Life: A Midwife’s Story by Julie Watson.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

41H1LHEanXL._SY346_Being that Call the Midwife, based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, is my favorite series on television, I was excited to discover this autobiography by New Zealand nurse-midwife Julie Watson. Born for Life is an intimate and honest portrait of the life Ms. Watson has led (so far), and her interest in nursing, which was inflamed when she first read about Florence Nightengale as a schoolgirl. The effects of birth, and having children, have an overwhelming impact on the author, in her own family, as well as her chosen profession.

Julie meets her future husband, Barry, at a young age (in 1968) and is married at 17. Four years later she has her first child (Kelvin). During the pregnancy she develops preeclampsia and must be on bedrest. “Preeclampsia is a condition that occur during pregnancy when a woman’s blood pressure rises sharply.” She first comes across the condition at work when it has devastating effects on a patient. “All these thoughts were going on in my mind. I never thought something like this could happen when having a baby. It never occurred to me that sometimes things can go wrong. Little did I know that preeclampsia was going to have a devastating effect on my own life that would impact me for years.” The impact she is referring to is the death of her second child, Shelley Anne Watson, who lived only a short time after her birth.

After having more children, and going back to school to become a licensed nurse, Ms. Watson had several other children (Angela Mary) and much later, another daughter (Elizabeth Jane). Not only does she have to deal with preeclampsia and bedrest once again, for both these pregnancies, but she also discovers that both her daughter’s have Albinism, which is a congenital disorder that results in the partial or complete absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes. It can also effect sight, which it does with her children.

The author speaks candidly about her periods of “depression, loneliness, and self-doubt”, which she struggled with after the death of Shelley Ann, and at other periods in her life. She describes the wonderful support she had (and has) from her spouse, family, and friends, and how they all came through to help, especially when she has a stroke in mid-life (from which she recovers). She also talks about starting to attend church, and the comfort prayer, and belief begins to give her. It is this faith that sustains her.

Though this review may sound as if this memoir is just about struggles, and sadness, Born for Life is anything but. Along with the writer’s personal ups and downs, she provides an abundance of details and tales, about different mothers, families, and situations in which she played a vital role in assisting in joyful and healthy deliveries. By far, the majority of this autobiography tells the stories of brave women giving birth, who are surrounded with caring and knowledgable midwives, such as Ms. Watson. It was an honor to read.

After School Class

51DkXJGlttL._SY346_Ninja School Mum by Lizzie Chantree
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

Skye is not an ordinary mother in a small town, and it turns out not everyone else is either. Reluctantly, Skye (and her son Leo), allows herself to become friends with Thea (and her daughter Florence, and niece, Allie). She also becomes “very close” to the landowner (Zack). Nobody knows Skye’s work history (or so she thinks), and she wants to keep it that way.

Ninja School Mum isn’t strictly a romance, suspense novel, or mystery, but more of a delicious stew with all three mixed in. Told from different points of view by the main characters (Skye, Thea, and Zack), it feels like you’re being taken into their confidence. It is impossible to not like them all, and understand their motivations for what they do, and how they interact with others.

The writing is pragmatic, with thoughts, feelings, and situations, clearly defined and explained. There is lots of drama, tension, emotion, and humor within these pages. Soon after Thea has met Skye, and they are in a bakery with her infant daughter (“Flo”), Thea thinks, “Im lusting after a slice of cake while my breasts have a mind of their own and are ready to combust with enough milk to flood this shop.”

If you think you know who did what when, and whether someone is tracking down Skye because of her previous job, you should be forewarned to not make any bets on your conclusions. Ms. Chantree has taken several genres and story lines and converted them into something familiar, yet also entirely different. Ninja School Mum is entertaining, romantic, suspenseful, and well worth the money and time.

Your Son Can’t Hear

61Q3NRycOJLA Mother’s Heart: Memoir of a Special Needs Parent by Eichin Chang-Lim. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

A clear-sighted, perfectly weighted memoir with balance of experience, insight, and observation. A Mother’s Heart doesn’t stray into un-associated material, and stays right on track, as Ms. Chang-Lim explores what it was like raising their son, Teddy, who is severely hearing-impaired. From his first days as a baby, up through the present (with Teddy now in his 20s), the author conveys the joys, frustrations, and what she has learned being the parent to her son, and her daughter (Victoria).

Upon hearing that her son couldn’t hear, the author writes, “Although the diagnoses was not a surprise, I was still sad and angry. I was angry that the whole universe did not show a shred of remorse for my son’s deafness. I was angry that my husband seemed so calm and in control. I was angry that I blamed myself for my son’s disability.” What she discovers is that her son’s hearing loss was a result of a disease called Waaredenberg Syndrome, though didn’t help much knowing when it came to his educational and social adjustments.

Most everything a parent of a hearing-impaired, or deaf, child needs to know, is either discussed, or mentioned in these pages. Chapter include headings such as, It’s Okay to Cry; A Support System Is Crucial; Early Intervention; Spouse Communication; Motherhood vs. Career; and Choosing the Right Special Education Placement. None of these issues are over-dramatized, or indulged in, nor are they skimmed or minimized. There is just the right amount of honesty, information, and personal frustration shared for readers to easily relate.

Each chapter begins with a perfect quote, such as E.M. Foster’s, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, to have the life that is waiting for us.” Ms. Chang-Lim didn’t plan on having to confront the realities of having a hearing-impaired child, but she has done so with grit and grace. An especially helpful portion is a segment her daughter writes about growing up with her brother Teddy, and how the attention he got effected her, and their relationship as siblings. Whether you have s child with special needs, or not, A Mother’s Heart speaks volumes for mothers and fathers everywhere.

Be A Brave Girl

downloadBrave Sophia: A Children’s Book sbout Bravery and Courage by Tamala Johnson, J.D. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

This story reminded me of the tale about a man who fell asleep under a tree and dreamed that he was a butterfly. When he awoke, he didn’t know if he was now a butterfly dreaming he was a man, or a man who had dreamed of being a butterfly.

Brave Sophia is about a little girl who is scared to talk in front of her class. Her mother tells her she must be brave and do it anyway. Sophia goes into the backyard, dozes off, and dreams that she is a butterfly. In the dream she discovers that she must be brave in order to survive. She awakes with newfound strength and insight.

Be a brave girl,” Sophia’s mother said. “You have to go to school and give your best speech even if you are afraid.”

Sophia spread her arms wide and flapped them like they were butterfly wings. “Mom, don’t worry. I have decided to be brave. I know how to fly now. I am brave Sophia!”

This children’s story is simple, enjoyable, and shares one of life’s truths in a way that young and old can understand and put into practice. The illustrations match the words perfectly. It is a picture book that can be read to a child, or read by a child, the older they become. Let yourself fly and pick up a copy of Brave Sophia.

YA At Its Best

41w-kjfxSrL._UY250_Charla Visits Earth by Dianne Astle
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

Charla Visits Earth is a wonderful short story that is almost believable, if it weren’t for the dragon and mermaid, and for all we know maybe they’re real too. Just having returned from a trip to Vancouver, it was the perfect time to read this tale by Ms. Astle, as it takes place in the same region of Canada, and includes places I visited.

Ben is a student at Fairhaven boarding school, a private school whose principal, Miss Templeton, is also the Earth’s Watcher, though only a few students are aware of such. Ben is one of those who knows, because of a previous visit he made to another world where he met Charla, a mermaid. It is quite an adventure when Charla turns up on earth to see Ben and wants to explore the city and see what life is like on this planet.

“Everywhere Charla looked there were things she never, in her wildest dreams, imagined, and humans came in so many different colors and shapes, and wore such a wild variety of clothes. It made her own world seem so plain and ordinary and drab. Mer all had the same color hair, the same dark eyes, and they dressed alike.”

This story is an off-shoot from the author’s novel Ben the Dragon. I haven’t yet read her other stories, but after reading Charla Visits Earth surely will. Her writing is to the point, descriptive, and endearing.

Nothing But the Best

SecondBestSecond Best by Charmaine Pauls
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

The story is a beautiful work of art that alternates between the first person account of Molly von Aswegen as a teen, and her later life in Johannesburg, South Africa, as told in the third person. The tale takes place between 1981 and 1984 with 17-year-old Molly fighting for her life in an industrial school (similar to reform school), and the foster homes, jobs, and people she encounters once she gets out. The pacing, and timing, between her past, and present, are done seamlessly and to great effect.

Having most every horrible thing possible happen to her before she turns twenty-one, it is not surprising that Molly has little trust in others, and no self regard for herself. There are only two people that stay with her, and whom she trusts. Malcolm (Mal) meets her at school just before he goes off into the army and to fight in Angola. Neill Mckenzie, who owns the Opera Bakery, is the second person who sees something more in Molly than her life circumstances and reputation. Neill sees potential and a passion for baking. The story is reminiscent of the 2015 film Dough (without the comedic elements), which has an old Jewish baker struggling to keep his business alive in London, and the teenage Muslim boy he hires, who is “nothing but trouble”.

All of the character’s in Second Best are played well. Molly and Neill’s families are from different sides of town, and each member comes to life. Molly’s friend and foes at school, Berta, Mr. de Jonge, and Jessica, are like people you may know, or have known. The Opera Bakery’s obnoxious and self-centered patron, Judge William Brooks, who has power, prestige, and a sense of entitlement, can also be found in cities across the world. Realism, with dialogue, character, and action, run rampant throughout the story.

Second Best is a well crafted, insightful, and entertaining story, that takes you into the heart and soul of a young woman finding her way through a hellish childhood, and discovering if anything reminiscent of self-love, respect, and love, is remotely possible.

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