This installment: an unusual family and their challenges (f); issues of immigration, identity, and adoption (f); dementia and heartbreak with a light touch (f); a talented, tough old broad in NYC (f); and a blood-spattered Scandinavian mystery (f).
The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz
A teen book which I listened to on CD. Sally (aka Salvador) and Sammy (aka Samantha) are best friends and ultimately sort of siblings. Dad is Vicente, an artist, of Mexican heritage. He’s gay and a very good father. (Sal’s mother arranged the adoption before she died when Sal was three.) So there are lots of cultural and societal challenges here as high school bullies taunt Sal as a “pinche gringo” with a faggot for a father and Sal’s latent aggression starts to emerge. Beloved Mima, the grandma, dies, as does Sammy’s alcoholic mom. Yeasty material for sure. Very short chapters, with some texting and dialog that features lots of “yeps” and “nopes.” El Paso setting. Warm and touching.
The Leavers by Lisa Ko
Deming was born in America but shipped to China very young to live with his grandpa and then shipped back at age 7 when his grandpa dies. His beleaguered mother Polly struggles with bad jobs and then disappears. What now? An academic couple take him in, rename him Daniel, and thus starts another round of incongruity. Daniel doesn’t seem to fit anywhere. School is a struggle. Only music speaks to him, in colors via synesthesia. Eventually we discover what happened to Polly and mother and grown son finally reunite. Issues of immigration, adoption, and identity all come into play in a rich, complicated stew. Enlightening.
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
Dementia and heartbreak—what else could you ask for in a novel (at least in my book)? Ruth’s father, a smart cookie now crumbling, is acting more and more erratic. Ruth’s mother is trying vitamins since nothing else seems to help. She’s also doing a slow burn over his affair a while ago. Ruth herself is suffering from a big breakup and has come home to help her parents and regroup. Her father’s loyal colleagues arrange a mock class for him so he thinks he’s still employed. The book’s charm is its gentle humor and sly wit over themes that are usually as funny as a crutch.
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
At first I didn’t cozy up to the milieu and tone: pre-Depression NYC where our protagonist is living the high life as an advertising copywriter for Macy’s and a creator of light verse. She seems chilly and greedy. But there’s nothing like ongoing life to bring depth, and as Lillian faces challenges she grows more dimensional and sympathetic. A tough old bird at 85, it’s New Year’s Eve and she’s covering her old and present stomping grounds on foot and bringing us along. Evocative, and based on a real-life character. (Must admit her poetry made me cringe a bit. Dorothy Parker she was not.)
The Thirst by Jo Nesbo
Oh those dark Scandinavian mysteries—I love ‘em even when they’re somewhat over the top. Harry Hole is supposedly retired but he’s brought back in when a serial killer with “vampirist” tendencies is making a political candidate look bad. Lots of blood splashed about and lots of manipulation and corruption among his colleagues. Halfway through they zero in on the killer, but is he acting solo? A psychologist who specializes in the subject is a slippery figure. Complications: Hole’s wife’s mysterious illness and his always threatening alcoholism. Intense.
Back next week.