This installment: a kids’ novel about dyslexia (f); Pollan on psychedelics—mind-blowing! (nf); an immigrant in France (f); a chronicle of Lyme disease (nf); and a teen novel about ADHD.
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Ally is dyslexic and it’s rough. She’s smart and creates distractions as a cover but gets characterized as stupid or lazy. Two fellow misfits become her friends: Albert, a science nerd who won’t shut up, and Keisha who has a fierce sense of justice. At last the right teacher comes along and she gradually drops her defenses and everything shifts. He introduces her to chess—she’s a whiz—and convinces her it’s okay to ask for help. (I want to be a “Fantastico” in his classroom too.) So this J book about a problem is also about the exuberance and flexibility of the human spirit with the right nurturance. A delight.
How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
Subtitled (take a deep breath): What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence. This book is absolutely mind-blowing. (Couldn’t resist…) Part history–fascinating, part chemistry–challenging, part exploration—for me the richest aspect. First his “travelogues,” descriptions of his own trips with various substances. Then intelligent questioning of the precepts, the experiments, and what the future might bring. God knows, we need help in all those areas, and it certainly sounds promising. But with anti-drug stances and lack of support (Big Pharma wants to keep us pill-popping) it’s an uphill battle. Many surprising discoveries here, as in attempts to treat alcoholism with LSD in the‘70s . Pollan’s style is very accessible and entertaining, like describing one of the early pioneers as having “raucous teeth.” A gem!
Waiting for Tomorrow by Nathacha Appanah-Mouriquand
We know from the beginning that something awful has happened. Adele has drowned and Adam is in jail. Anita, his wife, is from Mauritius and seems fully assimilated but racism and xenophobia shadow their life in a small French village. He’s an architect, she’s a writer but has been thwarted tending their child. Now with Adele as nanny, she can pursue stories for the local newspaper. As domestic tensions build there’s a serious indiscretion, panic, and Adele’s death. We discover she’s tried to live under the radar after fleeing her own tragedy in Mauritius. Thoughtful and atmospheric.
Sick by Porochista Khakpour
It’s late-stage Lyme disease but Khakpour doesn’t get a definitive diagnosis for many years. Meanwhile she suffers cyclically but manages a career as writer and teacher and a number of lovers as well. So many misdiagnoses, so much money spent on fruitless therapies, and addiction to prescribed medications and street drugs. Plus serious accidents that left her scarred. Somehow her intelligence, beauty, and accomplishments prevail but what a long, hard road. There were times I got overwhelmed by all this pain but kept on reading. Will this book help the many who currently struggle with the disease? So far there are still few functional protocols and controversy over diagnosis and treatment hamper progress.
A List of Cages by Robin Roe
I’m drawn to books about challenged teens because I was one and I think adolescence is very hard so good light on the subject is much needed. Here we have Adam who’s doing well despite his ADHD. But then through a school program he reconnects with a younger foster brother, Julian, who was summarily removed to the custody of a distant uncle. Julian is very troubled and we gradually find out why (pretty horrendous). Adam becomes his advocate as circumstances get extremely dicey. Julian’s dead mother’s journal lists name of towns but he never finds out what that meant to her. However his “cages” refer to the fears which trap him. Suspenseful, insightful and even funny at times because they’re kids and absurdities abound.
Back next week.