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So Big by Edna Ferber

20th February 2012

Orphaned at age 19 in the late 1800’s, Selina accepts a job as a school teacher in the community of New Holland. Even though New Holland is only a few hours drive by wagon to her former life in Chicago, Selina is not prepared for the shock of living in the tiny, conservative truck-farming community. The grinding work and poverty take a toll on even the hardiest of souls. Determined to continue finding beauty in life and learning, Selina throws herself into her teaching, and later into her family farm. When her son, Dirk, “SoBig” DeJong is born, Selina promises herself that he will not be bound to the farm, and that he will have every opportunity that she herself lost. This is a rich novel, with much to discuss and analyze. I was most struck by how Selina lost every privilege, and yet didn’t lose hope, either for herself or her child. Dirk’s response at being given every opportunity would also be worthy of discussing.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read some good high school fiction. Artichoke’s Heart was just what I needed. Rosemary Goode is just trying to survive high school. She tries not to get noticed, and comforts herself with food. When one of her mom’s beauty shop clients draws attention to Rosemary’s growing weight, Rosemary knows she needs to make a change, and for the first time in her life, she wants to make a change too.

Artichoke’s Heart has everything–underdog heroine to cheer for, perky cheerleaders to hate, cute “boy next door,” a little drama, a little romance, and a plot that makes you believe that if you had to do high school all over again, just maybe, it could be better.

Evie and her family abruptly leave their New York home for an unexpected Florida vacation. While at first Evie believes that the family is merely celebrating her father’s safe return home from World War II Europe, she soon realizes that something is wrong. Secrets and lies are swirling all around her. But does Evie really want to know the truth, or will she allow herself to be blinded by her love of Peter, the handsome soldier who served with her father, followed her family to Florida, and is hiding a secret that can destroy them all?

I can’t say enough good things about this book.  It has so much going for it–accurate and interesting historical setting, real mother-daughter interactions, suspense, love, betrayal, moral dilemmas.  This is a quality and timeless historical fiction novel, and its themes of truth and betrayal will appeal to readers of all ages.

After committing an unspeakable crime one rainy night, Allison is sent to prison. Her sister Brynn is left to deal with their parents, their high school friends, and her guilt at being the only one who knows what really happened that evening. I’d categorize Gudenkauf’s books as “chick lit suspense.” Fans of Jodi Piccoult and Kristin Hannah will appreciate it. I also very much enjoyed her first novel, The Weight of Silence.

It’s always nice to read a book in praise of something that you’re already doing.  So this was a nice “pat on the back” for our family.  A few things Dr. Laura said also challenged me.  First, she addresses the loneliness and feelings of drudgery that a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) can feel feel.  She says

The “Is that all there is?” feeling isn’t there because you are a SAHM.  It is a natural phase of life when the planning and hoping has largely come to fruition: you are married, settled, have children, responsibilities, challenges, problems, and disappointments, with the “sameness” that goes along with those.    p. 53

I confess that in the day in and day out of being a SAHM, there are many times when I wonder, “Is this all there is?  Diaper changing, endless dishes and meal prep, wiping sticky faces, potty training and whining children?”  It’s nice to be reminded that this is normal for me to be feeling, not so much because I’m a SAHM, but because of the phase of life that I’m in.

The second challenge I discovered was that as a SAHM, I should learn to think about my job as bringing The Good, The Bad and The Unforgettable. While The Good is nice, and The Bad makes me want to quit, The Unforgettable makes it all worthwhile.

The Good– sometimes goes unnoticed:  Time to play with my kids everyday; eating breakfast, lunch and dinner together; lots of hugs and kisses whenever needed; seeing my kids first thing in the morning and last thing at night; not having to worry whether they’re being well cared for and safe during the day; less stress on our marriage.

The Bad–I tend to focus on:  Potty training, temper tantrums, whining, long days without talking to another adult, potty training, endless tasks that are never complete, potty training

The Unforgettable–Hearing my son say repeatedly, “Mommy, I had so much fun at the park with you.”  Watching my daughter (only 11 mos old!) develop an absolute passion for books and hearing her say “moon” as she points to her favorite, Goodnight Moon.  Going outside on a beautiful summer evening together as a family to say goodnight to the full moon, the stars, the sky and the noises everywhere.

Thanks for the reminder Dr. Laura that I have the best job ever!

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