Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Review: Somebody's Daughter: A Memoir by Ashley C. Ford

 Dear Lit Loves,

Most recently I read Somebody's Daughter:  A Memoir by Ashley C. Ford and it was a story so well-voiced, it took me about a week to process all that happened to this young black female.  Have you ever read what you know to be a true story and afterward wanted to reach through the book and hug the person who not only survived in the book, but also took the opportunity to write their truth?  That is where I found myself with this particular book.  Profoundly stunning.  And it takes a book of deafening significance to shake me to my soul, particularly when it comes to the memoir genre.

The core of the book revolves around Ashley, a four-year-old black girl living with her mom in Indiana.  Her dad has been sent to prison and she only knows of him through his sporadic letters to her.  The reader witnesses how Ashley and her mom and brother live without him.  Most of her family lives within four miles of each other.  Ashley grows up in a household with quite a bit of drama.  Her mom works several jobs, has various boyfriends, and attempts to do right by her children but often causes Ashley to live in fear of her mother.  She wonders if she can ever do or be right in the eyes of her mom.  Puberty brings a feeling of isolation for Ashley and a whole mountain of uncertainty about who she is and where she belongs.  Ashley's grandmother is the one pillar of strength and stability in Ashley's life.  I think the one person who Ashley knew loved her was her grandmother.  She lived with her grandmother for a portion of her life and they have an unshakeable bond.  The remainder of the story revolves around what happens when Ashley learns of the crime her dad committed, what she will do with her life beyond high school, her tension-filled relationship with her mom, and confronting reality when her grandmother is hospitalized and her father is released from prison.  

The most riveting moments in this book for me are when Ashley decides to go visit her father in prison and when she is called to return home to Indiana by her mom due to her grandmother's illness.  I have always believed throughout life that our life experiences give shape to our character.  Whether it is noticing you are one of the only people in your class that has no computer or wondering if you are ever going to be loved and understood by your mom, we are all marked in life by our highs and our lows.  Whatever you have experienced in life whether it be a health crisis, a relative being imprisoned, life as a single mom, losing someone you love, or just trying to put one foot in front of the other when you are staggering due to the weight of life itself, we are all changed in some way by our experiences.  Experiences matter whether they be peaks or valleys, including the way we are treated, how we treat others, who we love and who loves us as well as those people who were the light in the midst of a hurricane that may have engulfed us.  These all combine to make us the individuals we are from birth till death.  Ashley Ford's book is her truth, her experiences, and what we can and should learn from both as she relates them to the reader in such a realistic, brilliant manner.

If there were one central message that I could say I walked away with after reading this moving memoir, it is the importance of remembering we often do not know what realities other people are facing so tread carefully when interacting with others.  Be mindful of how your words and actions could impact others.  And never forget when rearing a child, teaching a child, or just being a relative to a child to always communicate what the nanny in the book, The Help, communicated to the little ones she cared for and that is:  You are good. You are loved.  You are important.  

This book is incredibly thought-provoking and without a doubt well-written.  Thank you, Ms. Ford for pulling back the curtain on your life, your survival, and your truths.  May we finish your book and find ourselves with a little more hope for our world and the people in it.  

A highly recommended book and one I give a five star rating.

Best,

Grace (Amy)

P.S.  I will be away over the next couple of weeks due to the need to have surgery to help heal a new glaucoma discovered in my left eye.  I shall and intend to return.  And I am always with my readers in spirit.  Truly, Grace (Amy)


 

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Review: Dear Life: A doctor's story of love, loss and consolation by Rachel Clarke

 Dear Lit Loves,

In the latter portion of the month of May, I opted to read a memoir written by Rachel Clarke, a palliative care physician in England.  The book's title is Dear Life:  A doctor's story of love, loss and consolation. Dr. Clarke was educated at Oxford and originally studied documentary journalism specializing in current events.  In her late twenties, she decided to return to college to retrain as a doctor, particularly one specializing in how to care for individuals staring down the end of their life journey.  I was especially drawn to this book as the author discusses how she coped with the loss of her father who was also a physician.  

Initially, Rachel Clarke begins her training in medicine by studying cadavers.  I think this is the portion of medical school that readily causes many students to drop the whole notion of going into medicine or at least that is what I have heard among many people over the years who began their career study in the field of medicine and then abruptly ended that endeavor when faced with dissecting a cadaver.  Ms. Clarke is most definitely up for the task.  The professor overseeing her group of medical students ensures that people who donated their bodies to science are treated with reverence and dignity.  Upon working in a hospital for the first time, the reader sees Ms. Clarke observe a patient requiring resuscitation even though the patient has suffered through a grueling illness and enjoyed a rather long life.  The whole process appears cruel to Ms. Clarke as this patient does not have an official Advance Directive, a document outlining whether you wish to be resuscitated in the event of a cardiac arrest, stroke, etc.  Interestingly, most of the population does not have an advance directive.  Without this important document, should you suddenly find yourself in cardiac arrest, medical staff will take all measures to attempt to resuscitate you.  And resuscitation can be loud, chaotic, traumatic, and bone-crushing, etc.  Oftentimes, resuscitation does not offer the most peaceful way to die, but it often happens because most individuals do not wish to think about much less directly document how they wish to transition from life to death.

For Ms. Clarke, it became readily apparent to her that end of life care was of special importance when she began to notice individuals dying in hospitals where the noise levels are astounding, pain management may not be important to the attending physician, and families of the deceased are often exhausted, unnerved, and traumatized by their loved one's death.  Bluntly, it can be horrific to witness a loved one's death not being handled with dignity and reverence inside the corridors of a hospital.  

When Dr. Clarke observes palliative or end of life care, she sees that people transition from undergoing more relentless treatment options for life extension to just focusing on enjoying the remaining time they have left in their life journey.  In palliative care there should be a focus on a patient coming to terms with mortality, acceptance of the reality of death, and deciding to live their final days with a sense of peace, comfort, and more compassionate care.  Death takes on a whole new quality when Dr. Clarke learns that her father has cancer.  Her father spends the last year of his life opting for several forms of cancer treatment, but finally accepts that the variety of treatments are not working and opting to cease treating his cancer and live his final weeks with as little distress as possible.  The author and her mom along with a palliative care team assist Dr. Clarke's father in a transition to death with as much reverence, joy, comfort, and compassion as is humanly possible.  The reader sees that how a person exits life is just as significant and impactful as how and when that same individual entered life.   This was quite a thought-provoking and insightful book.   Any patient would be lucky to have Dr. Clarke overseeing their final days of life in a palliative care environment.

Till my next review,

Grace (Amy)  


Thursday, April 28, 2022

Review: Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

 Dear Lit Loves,

Greetings!  For the last half of April 2022, I have been reading a book selection from the list generated by the book club I attend regularly in Cary, N.C.  It is a book that the club will discuss later in the summer, but I thought it sounded intriguing so I decided to jump ahead and read it.  The title of the book is Dear Edward and its author is Ann Napolitano.  I had never read any books by this author, but she received her MFA from New York University and teaches writing at Brooklyn College's MFA program, NYU's Continuing and Professional Studies, and Gotham Writers Workshop.

The premise of the story is that a middle school age son named Eddie boards a flight with his family intended for a destination of Los Angeles as his mother has taken a position as a screenwriter on a television show and this leads to a family decision to relocate to California.  Eddie sits with his older brother, Jordan, and his dad, Bruce, in economy class while mom takes a seat in first class so she can continue to write dialogue for the television show.  Throughout the flight the reader is introduced to a variety of passengers on the plane - a flight attendant, a soldier, a woman fleeing her marriage, etc.  And then suddenly the plane crashes in a field in Colorado and Eddie is the sole survivor.  While recovering in a hospital, Eddie's maternal aunt and her husband are called and decide to essentially raise Eddie.  They refer to him as Edward.  Edward returns home with the aunt and uncle and must learn how to move forward with his life without his mom, dad, and brother.  The remainder of the book explores how Edward is slowly able to process the tragedy, pick up the pieces of his life, and also how he handles being at the center of the country's fascination that he was the only one on board the plane who survived.

There were a variety of issues addressed in the book and one of utmost importance is that Edward essentially has to rebuild his life and his identity after losing his entire family.  Obviously, cognitive behavioral therapy helps, but so does befriending a girl his age who lives next door to his aunt and uncle.  Edward had previously been home-schooled by his dad and now he must attend a public middle and high school which is completely foreign to him.  Thankfully, his new friend Shay attends the same school and helps him adjust.  Additionally, the principal takes an interest in Edward and gives him the responsibility of helping to keep the ferns in his office alive by regularly coming by the office to water the plants.  Eddie's aunt and uncle were never able to have kids, but had been trying.  There only available bedroom is one that has been outfitted as a nursery which Edward for the most part rejects.  Later, he is given his own bedroom in the basement of the house.  

Interestingly, no matter who we lose in life whether it is a mom, dad, or sibling, most of us have to inevitably face what to do with our deceased relatives' belongings.  In this case, a lot of the boxes of clothes are shipped to Edward's aunt and uncle's home where they reside in the room outfitted as a nursery.  Edward notices his aunt begin wearing one of his mother's blouses which the aunt hopes will possibly help instill in her some of her sister's bravery.  Next, Edward begins wearing his brother's bright orange parka.  Everyone deals with grief differently, but I know when my own father died, I claimed three Atlanta Braves' caps that he wore everywhere along with his watch.  There was something about those items that to this day continue to help me feel that my dad is still with me and this brings me some peace.

When Edward discovers that the family members of people who died on the flight have been writing to him asking him to do various tasks in memory of their loved one, he and his friend Shay begin keeping track of all the requests and both try to complete as many as they deem important and possible.  To me, this is where the reader sees other people coping with grief through writing and trying to stay in touch with the last person who might have seen or spoken to their loved one.  It made me grateful that I was with my father when he passed away because in many respects it gives me peace to know he was not by himself when he died.  

Finally, I think there was the theme of just the sheer randomness of life events and the idea that we often live as if we are guaranteed to be here tomorrow when really no one knows where they will be or what will have happened to them five minutes, five hours, or five years from now.  Thus, many of the people who write to Edward urge him to not waste time and seize the day.  The best part of the book for me was the ending.  I will not give it away, but it left me feeling like Edward had come full circle after the crash and was on his way to bigger and better things.

An absolute joy of a book to read.  I highly recommend you read it for yourself and think about how you would handle this same situation.  See for yourself what themes prick your interest.  A job well-done Ms. Napolitano!

Best,

Grace (Amy)