Thursday, November 30, 2017

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson

What a treat to be reading a new Katherine Paterson book. She has always been a favorite with Jacob Have I Loved up there on my top books for children list. She will be speaking on 3 December for the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures children's program and focusing on My Brigadista Year. 
While I was about the main character, Lora Llera's, age in 1961, I was totally unaware of the political upheaval in the island nation just south of the United States. Paterson addresses the fall of the Batista regime and the rise of Castro and his communist agenda in this novel. It is told through the first person of Lora who, against her parent's objection, joins the Literacy Campaign as a brigadista. They were a group of school age students, ages 10-19, who would travel to the remote countrysides to educate those persons who could not read or write. It was Castro's belief that
"in order to become a strong nation, we needed strong citizens. And to be a responsible citizen, you must know how to read and write."
 After she is accepted into the program, Lora heads out with thousands of other "teachers" to the country, a far cry from the life she lives in Havana. With her hammock, gas lantern, and 2 sets of uniforms, she is placed at the farm of the Santanas where Luis and his family are desirous of attaining literacy so that they could sign their names instead of just making a mark or affixing a thumbprint. She also convinces a neighboring family to join in on the lessons. She also develops a friendship with fellow brigadistas, Marie and Enrico. Part of the program is that the brigadistas will live with the family and work side by side with them. Of course there are dangers in this situation, also, as not all of those associated with the Batista regime have given up. There are still some hidden in the mountains and country that had no compunction about murdering the young teachers. 

The novel is enlightening and Lora endearing. It is told in Paterson's captivating style with strong character development. The diary format keeps the reader engaged until the end with an epilogue about Lora's adult life. Without entering a political foray, My Brigadista Year, provides some insight into the nascent days of the Castro rule. This is a wonderful read and could be used in a middle school setting to further understand the events of the early 1960s. Paterson never disappoints.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

A few years ago the Gables Book Club read The Husband's Secret, which I enjoyed. Other members of the club did not feel the same way. The hostess felt this was a good follow-up and worth of some discussion.

Alice Love is at a spin class and falls off the cycle, hits her head, and in the process loses her memory of the last 10 years. She cannot remember having children, where she lives, and even that she is in the midst of a nasty divorce from her husband, Nick. This realization happens when she tries to call Nick and he is cold and antagonistic toward her. Her sister, Elizabeth, meets her at the hospital and cannot believe that Alice is totally clueless about the last 10 years. Elizabeth has had her own problems, (infertility and unable to conceive) that Alice knows nothing about and, consequently, cannot understand why their relationship is so icy. 

As the characters parade in and out of Alice's life, she tries to understand how she has lived the last 10 years. Each of her children try to understand her predicament in different ways. Madison, the youngest gives her a run for her money in the way that she has so much pent up anger over the issue of her parents' divorce. To complicate matters even more, it seems that Alice has been seeing or having an affair with Dominick, the principal at her children's school. She has no idea of how far the relationship has gone and can only guess from some of the gossip that she hears. 

Interspersed among the chapters of the narrative are private thoughts of Elizabeth as she confides in her psychologist and gives him homework for their next sessions. Also, Frannie, Alice and Elizabeth's surrogate grandmother, writes to her deceased fiancĂ©e, about beginning a new relationship. Each brings to the forefront the theme of moving on with life. At times these missives seem to interrupt the flow of the novel, but do illustrate the prominent theme. 

What seemed to be the pivotal event in Alice's life revolves around a friend, Gina. As she tries to find out why everyone is sidestepping what happened. Did Gina have an affair with Nick? Why is she not at the hospital with Alice? The reveal for such a climatic event, doesn't seem to match the anticipation leading to it. 

Throughout What Alice Forgot the reader wonders whether she will regain her memory and whether she will return to the young Alice's personality or the older Alice. Will she reconcile with Nick or continue a relationship with Dominick. Without giving any of the ending away, Moriarty does provide a few twists as she plots toward the culmination of the book. 

It was an easy read and did provide for some discussion, but seemed to plod along toward the middle and end.