Wednesday, June 20, 2012

            In a time where women are not considered citizens according to the law, Lyddie Berry is a widow who struggles to maintain a modicum of autonomy after her husband dies in a whaling accident. This is how “The Widow’s War” by Sally Gunning begins.
            According to the law in 1761, Widow Berry is entitled to one-third of her husband’s property. This means she may use one-third of her house. She also has use of the cow, the chickens, and part of the land to plant a garden.
            Lyddie is expected by her son-in-law to turn all of her property over to him so that he can sell it off for a profit. She is expected to move in with his family and live the remainder of her days in his debt. This is what society dictates, and it is what her friends and daughter expect her to do.
            Lyddie has other plans, however. She has lived many lonely years as a fisherman’s wife, taking care of her home and her property on her own while her husband was out to sea. She doesn’t see why things have to change.
            So through the help of a dear old friend who happens to be a lawyer, Lyddie tries to change how things have always been. She determines to make full use of that one-third of the property that is rightfully hers.
            She makes friends with an Indian man who hires her to keep his house so that she has a little bit of money to buy necessities. But he is the only friend she makes in this endeavor. She has lost her friends. Her community has shunned her. Her own daughter has even turned her back on Lyddie. She has only her own will to go on.
            But her son-in-law does not make things easy. He does everything in his power to make her life more difficult. He wants the money that the sale of the house would bring and will stop at nothing to get it.
            This is an inspiring fictional story about a woman who is determined to take her freedom from those who refuse to give it.
            I was rooting for Widow Berry from the very beginning. She is a heroine who tries to do what society expects of her, but in the end, has to follow her heart. She challenges the political, the religious, and the societal views around her in order to be happy.
June 19 marks the anniversary of the day in 1873 that Susan B. Anthony was  fined $100 for the federal crime of voting (in the 1872 presidential election) without the right to vote. She is a great woman that stood up for women’s rights in the history of this great country. “The Widow’s War,” although fictional, helped me appreciate the many heroines who have made my life, as a woman, a little easier.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I finally got around to reading this YA dystopian book. So many people have told me how great it was. And while I was reading it, I could not pick it up without someone saying how amazing it was.
To be honest, I was a little under-whelmed. It did not grab me much at all. I really had a hard time relating to the characters in the first half of the book. And when the author described the "Pretties," I just could not wrap my head around how they could be at all attractive.

But I kept reading. I thought there had to be something to all of the hype that everyone was creating around this series. After about 150 pages, I kinda got it. Once Tally, the lead character who is an, "Ugly," leaves her comfortable home, I really started to identify with her and I started to root for her.

I also really liked the description of "the ruins." This is supposed to be our current world about 300 years into the future. It fascinates me to think about what people will think of us in the future. I think Westerfeld really made this come alive for me. I get a kick out of picturing our dystopian future.

I like even more when he starts to describe how it all happened. I want to know more about how our civilization came to destroy itself. I watched "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" last night and I got the same thrill. The thrill of knowing how an entire civilization can come to ruin.

Basically that is what this book is about. It is about how we, the human race, are so centered on what people look like that we took ourselves out. We ended up creating a world where everyone looks the same and thinks the same and acts the same. This is to take out any chance of ruining ourselves ever again.

So, while I was a little disenchanted at first by this book, by the middle, I was hooked. And now I can't wait to read the next one. I really hope it goes more in depth about the fall of our civilization. I look forward to seeing what the next book in the series has to offer. I am not committed to the characters quite yet, but I do look forward to seeing what they will be up to in the next installment, "Pretties."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Column 20 How to be an American Housewife

            “How to Be an American Housewife,” by Margaret Dilloway, is a glimpse into the life of Shoko, a Japanese woman who marries an American soldier after World War II in an attempt to escape her bleak prospects: a life of manual labor and near-starvation patterned after the fate of her mother and the Japanese women before her.
            The book begins at the end of Shoko’s life and flashes back to the past, beginning with her dream of being a housewife to an American GI. She knows it will be a challenge to raise children in America and still incorporate traditional Japanese customs, but Shoko is an intelligent woman who feels that if anyone can make good on this dream she can. So she finds an American soldier to marry and brings two children into the world in the United States.
            The title of the book refers to a fictitious book that Shoko’s husband, Charlie, gives her to help her assimilate into American culture. There are snippets from this “book” at the beginning of each chapter. Dilloway explains in the author’s note that her own mother received a similar book that was a guide for Japanese brides marrying American men.
I found myself very interested in the customs of the Japanese while reading this book. I was interested in their religions and the way they eat. I thought it was interesting how they revere their male children more than their female children. They let their sons get away with everything and ask them to do nothing, while the girls are stuck with all of the work and are expected to be perfect.
 Somehow, the boys who are raised this way still have some kind of a work ethic. The daughters grow up pleasing their parents and becoming submissive wives.
But Shoko does not experience this with her children. She tries raising her son and daughter in this traditional Japanese manner in America and finds that she ends up with a lazy, full-grown man who lives with his parents well into his forties. Her daughter becomes a bitter, disenchanted single mother who wants nothing to do with the Japanese way of life.
Before she dies, Shoko wants to reconcile with her brother, who disowned her years before when she married an American. With her failing health, it is impossible for Shoko to travel to Japan for a reunion, so she sends her daughter, Sue, in her place. This trip reveals family secrets that change the way Sue views her mother and the world around her.
Told from the points of view of Shoko and her daughter, “How to Be an American Housewife” offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of this Japanese-American family. It is engaging and entertaining, and I did not want to put it down.
In particular, the story made me want to know more about the women who came over from Japan seeking a better life in America. Were they happy with their choice to come here? Is America what they expected? Would they have chosen to go back to Japan if they could?
I am also curious to know how much Japan has changed since that post-World-War-II era. Are there women in Japan who still want to leave their country to come to America to seek “a better life?” I would definitely like to read more about this subject and seek out other books by this author.

Friday, June 1, 2012

column 19

            One day you are volunteering at your child’s school as the cafeteria mom. It is the end of lunch and almost all of the children are outside on the playground except for three little girls who have been teasing your daughter and your daughter who has run into the bathroom. There is a sudden explosion from the kitchen. When you come to, you find the three children crying, covered in soot and ash. You know that you have to get the children out of the building, but your daughter is still in the bathroom across the cafeteria. What do you do?
            This is the beginning of the book “Save Me” by Lisa Scottoline. The decision this mother makes and how she executes her decision affect her life dramatically over the next few months and beyond.
            I know, it sounds intense. It is really intense, but so good! But the book doesn’t stop there. There is also a mystery involved, as there is with all of Scottoline’s books. We find out what caused the fire and why all of this affects the main character, Rose, so deeply.
            This book is an accurate portrait of just how far a mother will go to save the ones she loves. It is emotional, heartbreaking, and a thrill to read. Let me be honest, it is not some great intellectual piece of literature. But it was a quick, fun read.
            I have read all of Scottoline’s books. Most of them are law mysteries. They are about a lawyer who lives in Philadelphia who is constantly getting into trouble by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I love these books. They are easy, fast, no-brainers. I started reading them because they all take place in Philadelphia, where I spent my elementary and junior high years. I love to read about the places that I am familiar with.
            I never expect more out of these books than to be entertained. They are entertaining. They grab me from the first chapter and make me want to read until I have finished the last page.
            But this book surprised me. It actually made me think a little. I was confronted with the “what would I do?” scenario. And I was curious, as well, as to how I would react if I had been the parent of one of the other children. How would I feel if there was a disaster at the school of my child? How would I react if my child had been seriously injured at school? Would I blame the school? There are also the legal ramifications. Would I want to sue someone?
            While this book might not be an American classic, it is a great way to escape your daily duties. It is a fun read—a wonderful “beach read.” (Does Rigby Lake count as “the beach?”)