Books Read in December

“The Newlyweds”  a novel by Nell Freudenberger

She hadn’t heard the mailman, but Amina decided to go out and check.

Amina and George meet on-line. She lives in Bangledesh while he lives in Rochester, New York. Amina moves to the states to marry George but also to provide a better life for her and, hopefully, her parents. Not only does Amina need to adjust to a whole new culture but she and George are both learning to navigate the often bewildering geography of marriage. They both have secrets and only when they are separated by an entire ocean again are they able to discover if they can actually build a life together or not.

What I learned: To always respond to people and situations that resonate with you in real life. Freudenberger met a woman on a plane who became the catalyst for this beautiful novel.

“The Opposite of Hallelujah” a YA novel by Anna Jarzab

When I was twelve, I started telling people at school that my older sister, Hannah, was dead.

I love a strong first sentence that just pulls you in immediately to a plot and voice. This does both for me.  Caro feels like an only child. Her older sister, Hannah, left home years ago and has had very little contact with them since. So when Hannah is suddenly coming home, Caro is confused, angry and unwilling to cut her sister the amount of incredible slack that her parents are willing to do.  This is a story of  the complicated ties that bind family, the complicated issues of faith and ultimately redemption.

What I learned: To nail that first sentence.

 “Revived” a YA novel by Cat Patrick

I’m flattened and thrashing on the sun-warmed track next to the football field, lying on what looks like asphalt but what I realize now that I’m down here is actually that fake spongy stuff.

What if you died when you were a little girl in a bus accident and were brought back to life? What if you then became part of covert government program designed to test the possible miracle drug, Revive? That is the story of Daisy who has died and been revived five separate times, each time causing her and her “family” to change locations and names. When she lands in a new town and school and meets Audrey and her brother, Matt, for once Daisy feels a part of something beyond the program. How far will she go to stay and try to have a normal life?

What  I learned: How fun it would be to come up with a premise like that and follow it through the lives of characters.

 “Fingerprints of You” a YA novel by Kristen-Paige Madonia

My mother got her third tattoo on my seventeenth birthday, a small navy hummingbird she had inked above her left shoulder blade, and though she said she picked it to mark my flight from childhood, it mostly had to do with her wanting to sleep with Johnny Drinko, the tattoo artist who worked in the shop outside town.

Yet another great first sentence. You get a sense of Lemon’s voice, her mother and their entire relationship in just one sentence. Lemon’s mother, Stella, has moved them often in her seventeen years, usually away from a bad situation in hopes of making a better life. When Lemon finds herself pregnant and about to follow in her mother’s footsteps, she decides it’s time to make some of her own decisions. She embarks on a road trip to San Francisco with her best friend Emmy in hopes of connecting with the father she never knew.  A road trip is the ultimate metaphor for change and this one fulfills its task as Lemon discovers more and grows in ways she never expected.

What I learned: How important it is to have your character keep bumping into people. That’s where stuff happens. So often I have them in a room alone or I am stuck in their head.

“Wife 22” a novel by Melanie Gideon

I stare into the bathroom mirror and wonder why nobody has told me my left eyelid has grown a little hood.

Alice and William have been married for almost twenty years. Things are…fine. A little distant, maybe disconnected but that’s to be expected, right? When she is invited to participate in an online study about marriage, Alice jumps at the chance. She becomes Wife 22 and is partnered with Researcher  101. Soon she finds herself confiding in this stranger more than her own husband. That can’t be good, right? Gideon explores the energy of a marriage within the confines of our tech savvy lifestyle. One night I was telling my husband about the book and he guessed at the outcome and I said, “No, that would be cheesy.” I got home that night and read through to the end and he had called it! At first I did think it was cheesy. A little too convenient. But then the ending grew on me. I’m curious to hear what anyone else thinks.

What I learned: Unique chapter structures really intrigue me. I should try using them in my own work.

“Ask the Passengers” a YA novel by A.S. King

Every airplane, no matter how far it is up there, I send love to it.

Sending love to airplanes, to the passengers in those airplanes is Astrid’s hobby. It’s a way of controlling what is uncontrollable in her life. It steadies her. It connects her at a time when she is feeling very disconnected from herself, her family, her friends and community. Interspersed between chapters revealing Astrid’s life are glimpses into the lives of the passengers who happen to be on the receiving end of her messages of love. It’s a novel about identity. Labels, love, prejudice over who we choose to love.

What I learned: That it’s okay to weave in bits of magical realism into a realistic story.

“Thrive- Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way” by Dan Buettner

It’s ten o’clock on a Sunday morning in Hojancha, a small town in rural Costa Rica, and I’m on a mission.

Buettner’s mission is to discover why certain pockets of our worldwide population are so much happier than others.  He visits Denmark, Singapore, northeastern Mexico and San Luis Obispo, California. Along the way he meets with residents of these place along with politicians, sociologists, economists, psychologists and other experts trying to discern what is at work that makes these people so much happier than the average person. The research is fascinating and rarely what you might guess.

What I learned: A strong social network and feeling safe are two of the biggest contributors to happiness.