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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: grief, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 93
1. Love Letters to the Dead - Review


Publication date: 1 April 2014 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux BFYR
ISBN 10/13: 0374346674 | 9780374346676


Category: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: Contemporary, Realistic, Abuse, Grief, Epistolary
Format: Hardcover, eBook
Source: ARC from Publisher


Synopsis:

It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May did. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more; though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating new friendships, falling in love for the first time, learning to live with her splintering family. And, finally, about the abuse she suffered while May was supposed to be looking out for her. Only then, once Laurel has written down the truth about what happened to herself, can she truly begin to accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was; lovely and amazing and deeply flawed; can she begin to discover her own path.

Alethea's Review:

Part school assignment, part confessional, Love Letters to the Dead introduces the reader to Laurel, a pensive girl whose older sister May, her de facto role model and idol, is dead; her family life has shattered in the wake of tragedy. For much of the book, the reader can only guess at how May died; we get the impression that Laurel witnessed the incident. But was it murder, suicide, or an accident?

Dellaria's writing style hovers on the edges of magical realism as Laurel struggles with memories she can't or won't recall. On the surface, it's the voice of a young girl with major emotional issues trying to cope with the already baffling struggles of puberty and the social lives of high schoolers. She lives part time with her aunt so that she doesn't have to attend the school that May did. She tries on parts of May's wardrobe and personality, but cannot move forward without examining her own guilt over her sister's death. She writes to the celebrities that May held in high esteem and tells them what she cannot bring herself to tell the the parents and teachers who have tried to reach out to her (some of these people even seem to have given up). The writing exercise forces her to get to the dark heart of her sadness, and the secrets she reveals are painful both to herself and the reader.

I found this novel deeply moving and well-written. At one point I felt the story begin to unravel with so many different sub-plots tugging at the seams: Laurel's crush and his connection to the world she was trying to leave behind, her two best girl friends exploring their sexuality--sometimes with each other, and her adult family members too busy dealing with their own baggage to take much care of Laurel. Ultimately Dellaria pulls it all together, threading the stories back through each other in a pensive tale of grief and hope. This lyrical coming-of-age novel melds family drama with historical and pop culture references to create a story that is touching, melancholy, and bittersweet.

*Please note that this post contains affiliate links. For more details, please see our full disclosure policy here.

**I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.


Find out more about the author at www.avadellaria.com and follow her on Twitter @avadellaria.

0 Comments on Love Letters to the Dead - Review as of 4/7/2014 3:39:00 AM
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2. Apparition, by Gail Gallant | Book Review

This YA paranormal mystery/romance is a page-turner all the way. Told in the present tense, the action always feels immediate. The author captures Amelia’s grief over her mother, self-doubt over her paranormal abilities, and conflicting pulls of love for both the dead Matthew and the living Kip.

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3. Dreaming of Someone’s Death: What Can Be Done?

Dream of Someone Dy8ing

The Knight’s Death by Antonio de Pereda

Having recorded my dreams for over 35 years, I can refer to a number of dreams that made me aware beforehand someone was going to die. Recently, I had another one of those dreams and they are unsettling—no matter how long or well you have worked with dreams. It is a fairly common phenomenon so I have decided to share some reflections on my experience:

The Dream Could be Symbolic

Take heart in that not every dream about someone dying means that person is going to die in the near future. It may be suggesting your relationship with that person is undergoing a change and will not remain the same. It may also mean that a part of you, which that person symbolizes, is dying. For example, you dream about your young 20-something neighbor dying might mean your relationship with that person is going through a death and rebirth or that the 20-something in you is dying as you see the first gray hairs in the mirror. Your gut instinct will tell you if your dream means any of these two things.

When the Dream is Prophetic of a Real Death

However, some dreams are literal, and one such dream could really mean the 20-something will die. Since every dream is a gift even when we would rather not get the information contained in these letters from the Unconscious; remember that a dream about someone dying was given for the reason such as to help you to prepare for the event or better appreciate the person while he or she is still alive. For example, I dreamed of my father’s and mother’s deaths long before these events happened. I even saw in a dream how my mother would die—in the arms of my father. The sadness in my heart told me these dreams where prophetic. Here is how I responded to the dreams:

  • I made it a point to visit my parents and spend quality time with them.
  • I tried to do little and big things that meant something to them.
  • I told them I loved them and communicated other important things I needed to say.

When they did pass, I felt no regrets and the inner critic saying, “You should have done…” As a result my grief was clean, viewing it as a privilege to mourn and honor these two amazing people who brought me into the world.

So when I had the dream of a close friend dying, and felt in my gut that this dream indicated she might really die at some point in the future, I now focus on spending quality time with this person, doing fun things we like to do. I try to show appreciation for what she does for me. I have not told her about my dream because I think it would be pointless. Since in my dream she died of natural causes and not from a plane or car accident, there is nothing I can do to prevent her possible death other than offer the usual friend’s advice (when appropriate) about eating well, exercising and getting a good night’s rest.

In Dead Men Do Tell Tales, teen detective Ashlynn has learned to work with dreams about someone dying. In this case, she is able to see the dream as a messenger to help her police father solve a crime.


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4. Your Friend is Grieving. What Should You Say? How Do You Comfort Them?

So many of us are grieving the death of someone close to us.

Grief comes in waves, receding, then roaring back to engulf us and batter us till we feel the tide might take us out and we will never return. It's not wrong to grieve. When recounting the scene of Jesus approaching the burial site of his good friend Lazarus, John tells us simply, "Jesus wept" (11:35). Jesus wept. It's the shortest verse in the Bible and it needs no explanation. I'm thinking today of my family and the family of John Wilbanks. I'm thinking of Rodney Wilbanks and his sister and brothers. I'm thinking of my daughter, Brooke Haworth, for whom the loss has hit hard. My mom, whose grief is a weight pressing down on her.

I am thinking of my close friend, Sima Taylor, her wonderful brother, Mohammad Mojdehi, whom she was so close to. I'm thinking of her daughter and her husband, Peter.

I am thinking of my own brother who died too early, and whose death brings daily grief to me.

I am thinking of Shannon Hitchcock and all the friends of Cynthia Chapman Willis, who recently succumbed to lung cancer.

God knows your grief and he cares about you.

This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you (2 Kings 20:5).

You have kept record of my days of wandering. You have stored my tears in your bottle and counted each of them (David, writing in anguish. Psalm 56:8, Contemporary English Version).

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain (Revelation 21:4).

Some of our friends who didn't know the one we grieve don't know how to handle the new, sorrowful version of us. If you are one of our friends, here is what you should say: "I'm sorry." or "I'm so very sorry." or "I'm sorry and I am thinking and praying for you." You can even say, "I don't know what to say."

Send a card to your friend's home. Write some version of the words above. Send flowers to the funeral home, if you are moved to do so. If not, that's okay, but the very least you can do is send a card. Your friend is in a very hard place right now, and though a card seems an impossibly frail comfort, it actually lends a great deal of comfort.

If you live near your friend, bring a meal or two over. Make cookies or banana bread or muffins--breakfast and easy snack items are generally overlooked but would be welcomed by the family.

If you can alleviate your friend of certain chores, do so. Can you pick up the kids? Take them to practice? Mow the lawn? Babysit while your friend conducts death errands?

Kids are in pain, too. Offer comfort to them as well.

Hug your friend.

If you have sweet or funny anecdotes about the person they're grieving, share those stories. They mean so much. Hand write the story even if you've told them, and send it to them in the mail. They will keep it forever.

Let your friend talk about that person when they need to. If they suddenly need a topic change, allow it. Don't be hurt. Grief works in swells; your friend needs to talk but also to be free to escape the swell. Let them.

Acknowledging your friend's pain tells them that you care about them; their pain is valid; you care that they are in pain; the person they are grieving for was valuable. I encourage you to not be afraid of your friend who is hurting. If you don't know what to say or do, I hope you find the words above helpful. Your friend is in an extremely vulnerable place right now. Rise above your discomfort and help them; however, a few things can actually hurt your friend, so be wise, choose your words and actions carefully:

Do not avoid your friend. Their sorrow makes you uncomfortable; your avoidance makes them feel that you do not care about them; you don't think their grief is important; you don't recognize the value of the person they grieve.

Do not offer platitudes. "It was God's timing," "You can still talk to him; he's watching you from heaven!" "He's in a better place now." These are throwaway lines. They have no power and they do not help.

Do not interrogate your friend on the details of the death. If your friend doesn't mention the cause of death, you don't need that information. When or if your friend wants to share that with you they will.

Do not mention and then launch into your own grief story. Your friend is suffering NOW. Be selfless and pay attention to their grief. This is not the time for you to claim your crown of grief. This is your friend's time. Let them have it.

 I hope anyone grieving has found some words of comfort in this post. And if you are a friend of someone grieving, I really do hope you've found this post helpful. Many people don't know what to do when their friend suffers a loss; the best thing you can do is to be there in simple, quiet ways.

0 Comments on Your Friend is Grieving. What Should You Say? How Do You Comfort Them? as of 3/4/2014 2:00:00 PM
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5. Where’d she go?

courtroom_xs_25248150

She got summoned for jury duty and never came back . . . well, it felt like that for a while at least. I got called in for jury selection on the morning of September 18 and wasn’t released until the afternoon of October 3rd. Would you believe I was juror 46 out of 51 and I still ended up sitting as an alternate for the trial? I think by the time they got to me, they were desperate.

And what a trial. 1st degree murder. I won’t go into the details because honestly, the people involved don’t need any more publicity. AND the sooner this event fades from my own memory the better. Let’s just say I know more about deciphering blood splatter evidence than your average citizen. For all you fans of trigonometry, this is your field!

So, I’m back going through the motions of my normal routine, thirteen dollars a day richer, with the thanks of the county, worn out and weepy, trying to catch up on the mountains of grading that piled up unattended while I was attending to my civic duty.

You see, substitute teachers teach, they don’t grade, so tests, reports and assignments waited patiently for me to get back and NOW THEY ALL NEED TO GET DONE. Yikes! 112 hours got sucked out of my life; it’s already two weeks later, and still I haven’t figured out how to squeeze them back in.

Photo © Aleksandar Radovanovic

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6. Surfacing




Dear friends - I have not felt able to return to this blog for a long time, despite the many, many good wishes and messages. The first month without Andy was an agonising madness, through which I was propped up by dear friends. I tried to sort out as many practical matters as I could, though each one took hours to work up to and recover from. There are still ongoing things, because death, especially an unexpected one, is a complicated business. So I wanted to come back and say hello when my head was in a slightly better place.  

My life was centred around two things; work and my darling Andy and the greater of these was Andy. Without him, creativity has little interest for me. Art, my life long friend, has deserted me for the first time. And yet I must work and so I do. Gradually, more and more each day.




I have been overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of you all. Without the support you gave me of your thoughts, good wishes and prayers, heart felt letters and loving gifts,  I do not think I would be here now to write this. I have had some very dark moments indeed and desperate thoughts which I would not normally have. I held that goodwill close to me, lonely as I have been and that, combined with the wonderful love of my friends, brought me through it. Little did I know when I started this blog - over seven years ago - that one day it would literally be my life line. So thank you, everyone, for being there.



All photos taken from a train, Cambridgeshire 

70 Comments on Surfacing, last added: 4/20/2013
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7. The “Don’t Feel Thats”

Screen Shot 2013-02-09 at 8.26.15 PMI grew up with the “don’t feel thats.”

To this day, I can see my mom on her death bed — her frail, ill body and her turbaned head, sitting next to me as we chatted. And it was the memory that still stands out of that one vulnerable moment when I courageously told her, “I don’t want you to die.” In which she answered back very angrily, “Don’t say that. You’re upsetting me,” and the talking stopped. I never did get to discuss those feelings with her, which looking back, would have probably really eased my grief process that lasted a very long time, but she wasn’t able to. Instead, I felt shame that day for bringing up my feelings.

where do they come from?

Whether it’s childhood beliefs, religious upbringing or acquired thoughts the “don’t feel thats” aren’t about you. You’ve hit a nerve with your expression of pain, that someone else doesn’t want to see or maybe isn’t ready to see.

Many “new age” beliefs tout only feeling positive thoughts to attract positive experiences, but where then, do the negative thoughts go? I know where they go.

I had learned the “don’t feel thats” early on in my life way before that day with my mom. It was safer not to feel, so a stomach or a head ache would have to express it for me instead. I was the queen of repression until I was fourteen years old and the wave of tears couldn’t be held back, erupting, when I saw my beagle dog brother collapse on the floor from kidney disease. But don’t worry, after that, I neatly put all those emotional ducks back in a row inside of me again and it wasn’t until early adulthood they reemerged as panic attacks. Those waves of ducks turned into full-blown hurricanes at that point who wanted freedom.

what you need now

Now, I am not an advocate for getting stuck in emotional states and living there. My beloved grandmother loved to live in resentment. If you slighted her, you were crossed off her list for most of eternity. But from my own experience lately, I’ve noticed that traumatic experiences do have leftover symptoms. Those stubborn feelings can’t be neatly packed away, and they reemerge at odd times like a bad case of hiccups. Thought you were over that big loss but here you are standing in Aisle 3 in Walmart crying over the frozen pancakes because they remind you of family morning breakfasts that are now gone. These wounds are still in there like little annoying paper cuts that poke and prod and they hold messages of what you need now.

I’ll be honest, I still hate emotions. I’d rather hang out in my analytic brain where there’s set order. But if I want to feel good and balanced, I need to “FEEL THAT.” Those emotions and expression may come out as petty, selfish, messy, or socially incorrect, but that’s not my problem to solve, as long as I’m not hurting anyone else. They are MINE to experience and to get to know so I CAN get to the other side. The alternative is that panic attack or the stomach ache that grows into something much, much louder, which is very possible, what my mom experienced.


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8. Free Books About Death & Grief for Families

As families around the country cope with the unfathomable tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, Beacon Press is sharing free copies of books about grief and death.

Here’s more from the publisher: “To help families, teachers, counselors, and others who are having conversations about death and grief in the wake of this tragedy, Beacon Press is offering free copies of Talking About Death: A Dialogue between Parent and Child and Living When a Loved One Has Died both by Dr. Earl A. Grollman. We hope these resources will help everyone affected begin to heal. Simply choose one or both books and submit your shipping information by Wednesday, December 19, 2012. Books can be shipped within the US only.”

We’ve also collected a list of library books to help kids talk about the tragedy and linked to online resources for parents and caregivers.

 

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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9. Grieving

On Sunday when I was interviewed by Jojoebi she asked me what advice I had for parents who want their kids to become more engaged with reading and books. I don’t know that I’m the best person to turn to for such advice, but what I did suggest was that kids could be taken to see authors and illustrators live as a way of enthusing them about their books. I’ve seen this work both for kids, and for me.

I’m not Judith Kerr‘s biggest fan – I’ve always loved The Tiger Who Came to Tea, but the Mog stories have rather annoyed me – yet when I heard her interviewed over Christmas she came across as such an amazing, graceful, thoughtful person I was inspired to see out her books again and read them afresh. Ok, so it wasn’t quite seeing her “live”, but the point is, hearing her speak as a person, not words on a page… well it made me feel excited and interested and curious.

My Henry by Judith Kerr is a eulogy on a loved one, who has died. An old lady sits in her comfy care-home chair and imagines all the trips she can still take, albeit in her dreams, with her husband who has passed away. He may be physically gone, but she is still able to enjoy adventures with him whether they be riding dinosaurs or unicorns, hunting for lions or climbing Everest.

This heartbreakingly tender love letter, dedicated to Kerr’s deceased husband Tom, is told in lilting rhyme, making it an enjoyable book to read aloud. Kerr’s pastel pencil illustrations are soft and gentle, matching the tone of the text perfectly. Whilst tinged with sadness, it’s actually so full of love and imagination the book feels optimistic. I can’t help but wonder if, when I am old and alone, I will remember it and find solace in Kerr’s passion and poetry.

I think My Henry would be a great book for talking about people’s inner lives, and building up an awareness that we all have so much going on in our heads that other people never find out about, or even consider is happening. A book that can help develop skills of empathy is one to be valued!

This also might be the right book to read before going to visit old relatives – especially if the kids consider it “boring” or unpleasant. M has actually rather taken to this book – I think this is because the dream adventures undertaken are exactly the sort of adventures M would like to set off on!


………………………….

4 Comments on Grieving, last added: 1/24/2012

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10. Dying to Meet You by Aidan Chambers




Karl is in incurable love with Fiorella, a girl in love with the written word, especially her favorite author. This all-about-me girl insists that Karl unveil his soul to her in letters. It appears that Fiorella has not noticed that Karl is a shy plumber’s assistant with a perchance for fishing and visual art. Karl shows up on the doorstep of the favorite author from whose viewpoint we witness the unfolding of this Cyrano de Bergerac-ish story. The author (Aidan?) and Karl seem to be kindred spirits and before he knows it, the author is assisting Karl, hanging out and fishing together. The unexpected friendship results in surprising pathos, tradegy and some kinks in Fiorella’s grand plan. Chambers switch-ups in writing styles were fun to read. Does the young man get the girl?

ENDERS' Rating: *****
Aiden's Website

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11. Under the Mesquite (YA)

 Under the Mesquite. Guadalupe Garcia McCall. 2011. Lee & Low. 225 pages.

I am standing just inside
the doorway, watching Mami talk
to the television screen.
As the latest episode
of her favorite telenovela unfolds,
the soap opera drawing her in,
the skins from the potatoes
she is peeling
drop into her apron
like old maple leaves...

Lupita is the heroine of Guadalupe Garcia McCall's verse novel Under the Mesquite. It's an emotional coming of age story. Lupita struggles with the ordinary things of growing up, it's true, but she does it all the while watching her mother die of cancer. She does it while trying to be both mother and father to her younger sisters and brothers. She becomes an adult all too soon as she tries to cope with the devastating news--the diagnosis, the treatment, and the cure that just didn't last long enough. Where does she find the strength to face the day? How does she hold it all together? How does she keep things together enough with her family? Well, it's a mystery to her too. But taking those drama classes sure does seem to be helping. And her coach wonders why she can cry on demand...

If you're looking for an emotional 'cancer' book that is more than just a cancer book, then Under the Mesquite may be just what you're looking for.

Read Under the Mesquite
  • If you're looking for a good multicultural read
  • If you're looking for an emotional book with very human characters
  • If you're looking for a good verse novel

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. The Survival Kit (YA)

The Survival Kit. Donna Freitas. 2011. FSG. 368 pages.

I found it on the day of my mother's funeral, tucked in a place she knew I would look. There it was, hanging with her favorite dress, the one I'd always wanted to wear. "Someday when you are old enough," she used to say. Is sixteen old enough?

I LOVED this one. I just LOVED it. I don't always love realistic fiction, I tend to prefer other genres. But. The Survival Kit is a must-read. It's a beautifully bittersweet novel about the grieving process.

Rose Madison is grieving the death of her mom, the cancer came back, the miraculous recovery just didn't last. Her older brother is away at college, for the most part, and her dad is losing it. Though perhaps the distinction is obviously losing it. Her dad has become a drunk, he's losing the ability to function, to take care of himself and his daughter. He's become more than an embarrassment, he needs help, more help than she can provide. But. Rose is losing it in a different way. Her way might not be obvious, but the pain, in a way, is the same. Rose, for example, has shut music out of her life. She will not tolerate music playing in her life. She knows that music will invite emotions and feelings and memories. Music will unwrap the pain. With music comes reminders of life, of love, of loss. She's not ready to feel anything yet which makes her relationship with her boyfriend an impossibility. He's patient, to a point; understanding, to a point. But he's not perfect. He is tired of Rose being the new-and-unfeeling Rose. The Rose that will not respond to his kisses, to his touch. The Rose that doesn't care about his football games. The Rose that doesn't seem to care about anything anymore. The Rose that doesn't laugh or smile.

Truth be told, Rose is tired of the new Rose too. But she's just not sure when she'll be ready to start letting go, to start feeling again, to start living again. She knows that it would be good for her to surrender to her mother's "survival kit" a kit prepared just for this occasion, a loving gift from mother to child. But is she brave enough to start the process?

In her loss, Rose notices someone for the first time...someone that DOES understand her loss, her pain, because he's lost a parent himself...

The Survival Kit is a book about family, friendship, life, love, loss, grief, and pain. It's an emotional read, very compelling, and impossible to put down!

Read The Survival Kit
  • If you are looking for a bittersweet yet compelling read about grief
  • If you are looking for an authentic story about how cancer can effect a family
  • If you are looking for a sweet-yet-not-too-perfect romance

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Stepping Through

How do you talk about death with your kids, especially if their mother--mommy--died?

I've wrestled with this quite a bit lately. The boys are doing okay, but I don't want to completely shelter them from their feelings. I don't want to hide my grieving, either, because they need to know it's okay to cry and be angry and sad and...

Aunt Heather loaned me a few books about death/children the other day, one of them being a parable about water bugs and dragonflies. You can find a copy on Amazon or simply read the parable for free online. It's a nice story, and one which I hope reflects how the universe really works. Of course, I have no idea how the universe really works. I wish I did.

Those of you who know me well know how much "existential questioning" I do. Now that Aimee is gone, those questions are heavier. They really pull at me, especially at night when I'm trying to go to sleep or wake up at four AM expecting to hear Elliot (and don't--that kid is a world-champ sleeper).

Last night, I thought of a story I'd written several years ago, "The World in Rubber, Soft and Malleable". It's still one of my favorite stories, originally published at A Fly in Amber and reprinted (in slightly different form) in Triangulation: End of the Rainbow--

I like the way it reads at A Fly in Amber... No explanation of what is beyond the doors. That's where I am right now: on one side of the door. Aimee has stepped through and I can't follow. Not yet. I've got more murals to paint before I join her... Too many to count.

And yes, that is a metaphor from the story.

I frame my world with metaphors. 

When I wrote the "The World in Rubber..." I wasn't thinking about death. But it works. It fits perfectly how I feel right now.

I miss you, Ziggs.  

(a woodcut of a dragonfly from UK artist Christine Howes)

9 Comments on Stepping Through, last added: 4/28/2012
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14. Ask Augusten Burroughs: What If Your Husband’s Always Late and Your Best Friend Dumps You?

Augusten-Head-LargeToday on Omnivoracious, we're delighted to launch a month-long weekly advice column by Augusten Burroughs, who makes his move from memoirist to self-help strategist with This Is How (available May 8). He starts by answering a frustrated plea from a mom whose husband's foot-dragging makes the whole family cranky. Then he digs into the deeper reasons a "well known, happy, funny, kind, 25 year old" may have been dumped by their best friend. 

My husband, the father of our two teenaged sons, works from home as a project manager for a large international corporation. During any given day, our lives will require that someone make a foray out of the house for band practice, food, lessons, doctors appointments, etc. Most of our outings are appointments where we are paying someone money for an actual unit of their time to be dispensed at an agreed up time.

Augusten-coverThis is the problem. My husband many, maybe even most times, in full knowledge of the rapidly looming time commitment, fires up a phone call, starts an email, sits down for a long personal moment in the bathroom. The rest of us are left seething until he presents himself ready to go. We now leave at the last possible minute, all cranky and out of sorts. If cars and traffic and every other variable aren't perfect, my husband's choices have left us NO wiggle room.

 It's simply awful. I have tried to talk to him about it just because it angers me, but also because I don't think it sets the greatest example for our teens. Just the miasma of furor and unsaid words is poor parenting, I think.

What do we do? He has to be involved—so we need a way to get through to him. It's enough to drive me back to drink, which is a country I'm not welcome in any longer. Help. -- Cate

Dear Cate,

I wish I knew even more. Does your husband’s differing degree of respect for punctuality result in real-world problems? Do you end up being late frequently and missing scheduled appointments you’ve already paid for? Or do you pretty much always make it, but it was just so close you aged like a month from the stress of it? 

 If the answer is the former, I have more questions. Is your relationship healthy and strong and good in other areas? If you’re talking to him about this, that at least tells me the two of you do communicate to some degree, right? Because if you and your husband are a good pair and the family is working, this might be like when you buy something you truly, deeply love at the store and when you get home, you realize there are extra hidden costs: it doesn’t come with batteries, you need a subscription, you can’t wear it until you have electrolysis, whatever. And as annoying as this can be, if you’re otherwise happy, sometimes you just have to fork over the extra. 

 It could also be that you and your husband are equally matc

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15. Hope is the Thing with Feathers; It's Also a Verb

I'm not a huge Emily Dickinson fan, but I do like image from "Hope is the Thing with Feathers"--hope brought to life as a bird. Hope is also an action, something we, as humans, can do. Something we should do.

In graduate school, I was fortunate enough to enroll in a course titled "Positive Psychology". The first lesson: most of the historical study of psychology has been focused on finding what's wrong with a person rather than what is right. Positive psychology turns the focus to what is right with a person--protective factors and strengths one might possess, just as a physically healthy person might be able to run several miles or compete at a high level in a given sport. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses--positive psychology attempts to recognize strengths. Hope is one of those strengths.

Research studies have shown hope can help you lead a healthy, fulfilled life. Hopeful college students are more likely to obtain degrees. Hopeful public school students are more likely to score high marks and graduate at the top of their classes.  I didn't need a class to explain what I knew at the core of my being--hope can pull you through some hard times.

Hope consists of agency and pathways, the willpower and the waypower to make something happen. Hopeful people have the energy--agency--and can find ways--pathways--to make their dreams real.

Aimee's death has knocked me down, hard. Once, I hoped for a family and a long, happy life with the vibrant young woman I met in front of the post office. When Aimee was sick, that same hope pulled me through, helped me do what I could to take care of her. She lived life with hope--hope for me, for the boys, for her friends and family. I'd like to think she never gave up hope. I proud of the way we fought together, and no illness can tarnish my cherished memories.

I'm slowly building hope again--hope for my boys, our future, our family, my future... Things I never imagined putting together without Aimee. I also have hope for her legacy and memory. She spread so much hope and love, it can't help but continue.

Hope is a special kind of inoculation; it can't take away Aimee's death or her illness, but it can help with the way forward.  I know Aimee would want us all to continue with as much hope as we can muster.

9 Comments on Hope is the Thing with Feathers; It's Also a Verb, last added: 5/17/2012
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16. So what do we think? Heaven in her Arms

Hickem, Catherine. (2012). Heaven in Her Arms: Why God Chose Mary to Raise His Son and What It Means for You. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson. ISBN 978-1-4002-0036-8.

What do we know of Mary?

 What we know of Mary’s family is that she is of the house of David; it is from her lineage Jesus fulfilled the prophecy. Given the archeological ruins of the various places thought to have been living quarters for their family, it is likely the home was a room out from which sleeping quarters (cells) branched. As Mary and her mother Anne would be busy maintaining the household, with young Mary working at her mother’s command, it is likely Anne would be nearby or in the same room during the Annunciation. Thus Mary would not have had a scandalous secret to later share with her parents but, rather, a miraculous supernatural experience, the salvific meaning of which her Holy parents would understand and possibly even witnessed.

 Mary and Joseph were betrothed, not engaged. They were already married, likely in the form of a marriage contract, but the marriage had not yet been “consummated”. This is why he was going to divorce her when he learned of the pregnancy. If it were a mere engagement, he would have broken it off without too much scandal.

 Married but not yet joined with her husband, her mother would prepare her by teaching her all that she needed to know. This is further reason to assume that Mary would be working diligently under her mother’s eye when the Annunciation took place.

 We know that her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy was kept in secret for five months, and not made known until the sixth month when the Angel Gabriel proclaimed it to Mary. We know Mary then rushed to be at her elderly cousin’s side for three months (the remaining duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy), and that this rushing appeared to be in response to Elizabeth’s pregnancy (to congratulate her), not an attempt to hide Mary’s pregnancy. Note how all of this is connected to Elizabeth’s pregnancy rather than Mary’s circumstances. As Mary was married to Joseph, he likely would have been informed of the trip. Had the intent been to hide Mary, she would have remained with Elizabeth until Jesus was born, not returned to her family after the first trimester, which is just about the time that her pregnancy was visible and obvious.

 So we these misconceptions clarified, we can put Mary’s example within an even deeper context and more fully relate to her experience. We can imagine living in a faith-filled family who raises their child in strict accordance of God’s word. The extended family members may not understand, and certainly their community will not, so Mary, Anne and Joachim, and Joseph face extreme scandal as well as possible action from Jewish authorities. But they faced this together steep in conversation with God, providing a model for today’s family.

 Although sometimes scriptural interpretations are flavored with modern-day eye, overall this book will be more than just a quick read for a young mother (or new bride, or teen aspiring to overcome the challenges of American culture, or single parent losing her mind). It is a heartwarming reflection with many examples that open up conversation with God. As an experienced psychotherapist, the author’s examples are spot on and easy to relate to. We do not need to have had the same experiences to empathize, reflect, and pursue meaning; we see it around us in everyday life. As such, a reflective look upon these examples can help one overcome an impasse in their own relationship with God and also open the reader up to self-knowledge as Hi

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17. Irises (YA)

Irises. Francisco X. Stork. 2012. Scholastic. 304 pages.

From the prologue: Kate had finally agreed to pose under the willow tree.
From chapter one: Kate and her father sat in the shade of the willow tree, side by side in two wooden chairs. It was unusually hot for an April day in El Paso. 

Kate and Mary are sisters. Kate, 18, dreams of being a doctor, dreams of going away to Stanford for her college education. Mary, 16, is an artist, an artist struggling to recapture her initial joy perhaps, but a very talented, very dedicated artist nonetheless. In the first chapter of Irises, both girls receive a bit of a shock: their father, a pastor, dies. Arguably he knew the end was near for he has a great heart-to-heart with his daughter, Kate, urging her to look to her soul, mend her faith, take care of the family, etc. He tells her: "Love makes everything that is heavy light" (4). Kate, of course, not realizing the gravity of the situation, perhaps just thinking that her oh-so-strict father is just in an odd mood, quickly leaves the house and goes to study with her boyfriend, Simon. It is Mary, ever-sacrificing Mary, who is left behind to care for their Mom, who is in a vegetative state going on two years now, who discovers that her Dad has died in his sleep. While the two sisters have an aunt who lives in California, both girls know that more than likely they'll be on their own. Aunt Julia isn't exactly the most-nurturing type, after all. And Kate and Aunt Julia are like oil and water. The girls are facing at least half-a-dozen BIG, BIG decisions. And coming to agreement may not be easy...

The facts:
  • Mary and Kate have very limited funds, in part because their father's insurance is being denied; the insurance company will not make good with his insurance policy after his death.
  • Kate is having to make a decision about college; she's received a scholarship to Stanford, but taking it  will mean leaving her mother and sister behind. Is it fair to leave the care and to some extent the expense of caring for a mother in a vegetative state to a sixteen year old girl? A job that is emotionally, psychologically, financially, physically challenging for anyone.
  • Mary secretly wishes that there was a way for the family to stay together but she's afraid to disappoint Kate. 
Irises may not appeal to every reader, but, I liked it all the same. Was it too heavy or too heavy-handed? I'm not sure there is a right answer to that. Some might feel it was in-your-face with a somewhat potentially controversial (at least in some circles perhaps?) issue. The issue of when is it "right" or "ethical" to take someone off of life support. Some might feel there was too much God-talk. A few might feel there is not enough God-talk.

Irises is almost by necessity a serious-minded novel. It explores many questions while not necessarily giving ready-made answers to those questions. At least not ready-made-answers for every-single-person. What does it mean to be in a family? Who is in your family? Can you walk away from family without looking back? Is it right to ever turn your back on your family and put yourself first? What is love? How do you know you love someone? Does love always mean making sacrifices? Can you love someone and by your choices cause them hardship? Can you love someone and still love yourself more? By always putting yourself and your needs and wants first are you selfish? Is it always wrong to be selfish? What's the difference between being true to yourself and following your dreams and ambitions and being a horribly selfish self-centered person? Does being honest about how selfish yo

2 Comments on Irises (YA), last added: 6/9/2012
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18. See You At Harry's

Many people have been telling me to read this one for quite some time now, but it just never came across my desk.  I put matters into my own hands, downloaded a copy, and read it in virtually one gulp.

Fern feels a bit invisible in her busy family. They own Harry's, a casual restaurant and ice cream joint that takes up most of her parents' energy.  All of the kids are expected to pitch in, and Fern's after-school time is usually spent in a booth doing homework and trying to keep an eye on her sticky ball of energy little brother Charlie.  But things in Fern's world are beginning to shift.

First off, she is starting middle school.  Now she is going to school with big brother Holden since the high school and middle school share a building.  After a somewhat cryptic warning about bus etiquette from Holden, Fern is distressed to realize just what goes on during the bus ride.  She has always been closest to Holden, and now he wants her to pretend she doesn't know him...all for her own good.  Her big sister Sara has been teasing Holden about his J-Crew sense of style and has been egging him to address who he really is, but Fern had never considered how this might translate on the bus and at school.

Then there are her father's crazy schemes to get more business into their restaurant.  Just before school started, he had the family shoot a basic cable style commercial, and now everywhere she goes she hears little brother Charlie's tagline - "See you at Hawwy's!".  She tries to channel her best-friend Ran's zen nature and starts thinking of his mantra - all will be well.

But suddenly, all is decidedly not well.  After a tragic turn of events, Fern's busy family is broken.  At this time when she needs her parents and brother and sister more than ever, Fern finds herself feeling incredibly misunderstood and guilty. 

Jo Knowles has written a powerful story about family and self that packs a punch.  Readers will be able to see themselves in each character turn by turn for better and for worse.  The idea that families really are sets of individuals who fulfill different roles at different times is explored gracefully.  Knowles also gets the voice of the kids and the adults down perfectly.  From Holden's excitement and distance in his first relationship, to Fern's concern for Charlie to her mother's need to get away rather than argue, each character feels authentic and whole. See You At Harry's is a definite must-read for the tween set.

Just a word of warning...make sure to have some tissues handy!

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19. Sunday sadness and peapods

I don't really know why I haven't blogged lately.  The garden, housework, writing, all of that has suffered, too.  It's as if anything I wasn't being "paid" to do just wasn't important enough.  Doldrums?

Today, I stayed home from Meeting.  Allergies gave me a headache and I had a restless night coughing and blowing my nose.  I wanted to go to Barnes and Noble with Hub and look at books. 

I should have gone to Meeting.  On Friday, a family there suffered an enormous tragedy - something so sad, I don't want to share it here.  An email went out last night to ask us all to come to Meeting to hold that family in the Light.  I didn't open my email until after Meeting.

Not my peas, but pretty darn close!
The tragedy has put my "doldrums" and my aches and pains in perspective.  What right have I to put off chores that must be done?  How did I become so "special"?  So I cleaned today and dug in my weed and rabbit infested garden.  Miracles of miracles!  I even have peas.  Rabbits and too much rain cannot keep seeds from sprouting.

And I hold all those who grieve in the Light.   I wish them peace and hope. 

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20. Laurie Anderson imagines her dog’s life after death

Laurie Anderson imagined terrier’s adventures in the Tibetan Buddhist afterworld and committed them to paper in “Lolabelle in the Bardo,” a series of enormous drawings showing at the Vito Schnabel Gallery in SoHo through Saturday. Earlier in the year, Anderson talked with Amanda Stern for The Believer about the very specific kind of grief she felt when the dog, her constant physical companion, died.

She was my best friend. When you’re very physically attached to something — not so much mentally, but physically, something that is always at your knee, you know — it’s very different when they evaporate. So in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, for forty-nine days you’re in the Bardo, and it describes in a really fascinating way how you lose your senses and how your mind dissolves as you prepare for another cycle. At the end of that forty-nine-day period, you are born in another form, and, in my dog’s case, what was at the end of that forty-ninth day was my birthday. I’m kind of a believer in magic numbers, in a way. So I wanted to study that particular Bardo, and then I found that that’s only one of the many Bardos. The other Bardo that is happening is the Bardo that we’re in right now — in which we both believe we’re having a conversation in a studio by the river when, in fact, we’re not.

What attracts her to Buddhism, she said, “is probably what attracts every artist to being an artist — that it’s a godlike thing. You are the ultimate authority. There is no other ultimate authority.”

Max took this photo at the gallery yesterday.

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21. Part II – Journey of a Book – setting up, hanging in there

The set up, which I thought would only take an hour, stretched to all morning. Coordinating the set up of an exhibition this size with so many ‘exhibitors’ had Michelle Richards, the Brisbane Central Library’s exhibition coordinator, running a million directions at once, advising as to ‘how [it was something new to a lot of us], finding stands and  suggesting modes of  display, and generally guiding us all through to ‘VOILA!’ – one  fascinating and very varied exhibition!

But there was more – not just the glass cases to set up, but hanging around to do the hanging!  this was not as straightforward as it sounds. We had to somehow attach our paintings to fine dangling wires and – here’s the worst part GET THEM TO SIT $#@*# STRAIGHT!

Click to view slideshow.

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22. A triumphant trio of boy-friendly books

One of the truly great discoveries for me this summer has been the Swedish author Ulf Stark. Last week I couldn’t resist telling you about his bittersweet exploration of identity, Fruitloops and Dipsticks, likely to be enjoyed most by kids in their early years at secondary school or there abouts.


Today, however, I want to tell you about a trio of books that will delight slightly younger children, all of them about a young boy, Ulf, his friendships, school and family life. Each is packed with humour and acute observations about relationships, between friends and enemies, and children and adults. They share an unpatronising approach to their readers, mirroring aspects of their own lives in a honest and yet thoughtful, nearly always funny, and sometimes heartbreaking manner. They struck me as the next step up from the naughty and adorable Nicholas books by Goscinny and Sempe – perfect for slightly older kids, who still love getting in to trouble but who can also appreciate meatier issues.

When we’re first introduced to Ulf, in My friend Percy’s Magical Gym Shoes, we soon discover he is chubby and poor at sports. But when a new boy, Percy, arrives at his school, Ulf finds someone he looks up to, someone he wants to emulate; Percy seems suave and full of self assurance, powers which apparently stem from his magical gym shoes. Ulf is determined to buy Percy’s shoes from him, so he too can be cool and confident. And indeed, once Ulf has the shoes, his life does become much more exciting as he and his new best friend get into all sorts of scrapes and japes. But these adventures are not appreciated by the adults around and Ulf starts to get a bad reputation. Does Ulf want to be known as a bad boy? Does he need to be so wild to gain the respect he wishes for from his peers? Will he and Percy manage to stay friends?

In My friend Percy & The Sheik we learn that Ulf’s father is a ham radio buff, and through his hobby has made contact with a sheik (True Fact: former King Hussein of Jordan was an amateur radio hobbyist and often chatted with ‘regular’ people all around the world). The sheik promises to visit Ulf’s father but will the trip come off? Will Ulf be the laughing stock amongst his friends? This second volume sees Ulf and Percy’s friendship cemented as they deal with bullying, a first crush, and the threat that Percy’s family will have to move away.

By the time we reach My friend Percy & Buffalo Bill the boys are 10, and 3 years into their friendship. They spend one summer together on a Swedish island at Ulf’s grandparents home and it turns out to be an amazing summer, the summer you dream of as a kid, building dens, taming wild horses, fishing and swimming around the island. But at the heart of this story is Percy and Ulf’s relationship with Ulf’s heartbroken grandfather. A curmudgeonly old so-and-so, Percy gains the grandfather’s respect by standing up to him, and gradually a friendship develops that in the end will bring tears to your eyes. I haven’t read many books which focus on male friendships that manage to be laugh out loud funny and also profoundly moving.

My friend Percy’s M

3 Comments on A triumphant trio of boy-friendly books, last added: 8/8/2012
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23. “The Sea Cat Dreams” has a Face Book Page

Muza Ulasowski, my wonderful collaborator, has created a fabulous FB page for our picture book, “The Sea Cat Dreams”! Muza’s wonderfully life like illustrations have perfectly captured  the story in a way I could never have envisaged! She has truly captured the story’s essence!  Here are some samples:

The story is about coping with life impacting change something that can happen planned [as in a house move] or completely unplanned [as with a natural disaster, accident, death etc]. Coping with change, as child/family psychologists and counselors all say, is something that has a profound impact, especially on the young. As with grief, adults are often too preoccupied with the change and its ramifications to be able to take in how the children, who are being impacted by change, are managing or not managing in the new setting/situation.

The cat in the story moves, accidently, from one environment & family on a farm, to another very different one, aboard a fishing boat.  He is then impacted further by the loss of a master he has come to love. But this is not the end. He moves through his life’s dramatic changes; firstly, by grieving, something we need to encourage each other and especially children, to do. He then reaches out to, shares with and cares for others also affected by loss, in this case, the fisherman’s widow. He gradually accepts his new life situation, not for a moment forgetting what has happened, but treasuring the wonderful memories he has.

The process of grieving must be acknowledged and the grieving child/adult be allowed to express their grief or sense of loss at the change in their lives and encouraged to do so.  Let them talk, let them share as much as they need to. Highlight the  constructive aspects, positive elements, e.g, wonderful memories of a dead friend, relative or pet. If the impacting change has involved a move – be it to a different school, to another suburb, another state, another country – encourage  the keeping of contacts where possible, assist with the making of new contacts and the sharing of the process of moving and resettling, especially any humorous incidents.

The hope in writing this book, was to help children talk about their own stories of life changing events and to recognise, that whilst change is not always pleasant, we can become stronger for it and be better able to reach out and empathise with others experiencing its many faceted impact on their own lives.

See it here: http://utales.com/books/the-sea-cat-dreams


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24. What Came From the Stars (MG)

What Came From the Stars. Gary D. Schmidt. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 304 pages.

I wanted to love this one, but I'm not sure I can even say I liked it. I found the fantasy sections to be confusing, in an unnecessary way. (I think he could have written it to be more accessible and enjoyable.) YET at the same time, these sections reminded me of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion. (I would have preferred to be reminded of The Hobbit!) The realistic sections were interesting. A grieving boy finds an out-of-this-world necklace that changes him in small ways--foreign ways; and since this necklace is highly sought after by evil aliens from a far away planet, bad stuff starts happening in the boy's community. This one had a handful of scenes that I really enjoyed. For example, when Tommy Pepper (our hero) is "fixing" the painting of his principal, I believe. There were a few scenes with delightful details that just worked. And some of the dialogue was great. But I had a hard time connecting with this one for the most part.

Read What Came From The Stars
  • If you're a fan of Gary D. Schmidt
  • If you enjoy children's fantasy OR science fiction
  • If you're looking for a unique book on grief and guilt

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Week-end Book Review: Ladder to the Moon by Maya Soetoro-Ng, illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Maya Soetoro-Ng, illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Ladder to the Moon
Candlewick Press, 2011

Ages 4 and up

“What was Grandma Annie like?” young Suhaila asks her mother about the grandmother she never met.  “Full, soft, and curious,” her mother replies.  “Your grandma would wrap her arms around the whole world if she could.”

For children who never had the opportunity to meet a cherished grandparent, the absence of that influential figure becomes a presence in their lives, intensifying the feelings their own parents have about their loss.  “Becoming a parent made me think of my own mother with both intense grief and profound gratitude,” writes Maya Soetoro-Ng in a note following the text of Ladder to the Moon. “I wished that my mother and my daughter could have known and loved each other. I hoped that I could teach Suhaila some of the many things I learned as I grew up witnessing my mother’s extraordinary compassion and empathy.”  In the case of Soetoro-Ng and her daughters, the grandmother in question has intrigued many people around the world as she is also the mother of U.S. President Barack Obama, Soetero-Ng’s older half-brother.

Since the beginning of the Obama campaign, journalists and politicians have wondered and written about this mysterious and unconventional woman, Stanley Ann Dunham, who died in 1995.  There is no question that she, a noted anthropologist and often single mother, had an enormous influence on the lives of her children and thus on history itself.  Her daughter’s dream story about the young Suhaila meeting her grandmother comes from a personal, family perspective that will resonate with any child in such a situation, as well as giving adult readers a new insight into this enigmatic figure.

Grandma Annie encourages Suhaila to use each of her five senses to reach out to the rest of the world. Together they find people in trouble: trembling in earthquakes, trying to outswim Tsunamis, and praying for peace.  Annie and Suhaila reach down from the moon to offer their solace and comfort as they bring these people up, making the moon brighter for all to see.

Yuyi Morales’ stunning illustrations bring diverse people together to share and connect on the moon.  In one scene, they tell stories around a campfire, each with a glowing circle of words around her head.  These lines, pulled from traditional narratives and the personal stories of Morales’ friends, represent six languages and four different alphabets.

Above all, Soetoro-Ng says of her mother, she was a storyteller.  Those stories have been the inspiration for much of the author’s own life; and with a story, she and Morales honor this posthumously famous woman in a deeply personal yet universal way.

Abigail Sawyer
December 2011

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