A sequel, some links and lots of perspective

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I’ve got a little hodge podge of reviews and links for you today:

Nita and friends
First, let me introduce my guest book reviewer for today. Juanita Laush is my 89 year old neighbor in the Bridge Meadows Community, a community in North Portland, Oregon, set up to serve the needs of families adopting 3 or more children out of the foster care system.  We are both part of the elder housing and serve as sort of surrogate grandparents and mentors for the 25 children that live here. 
Juanita is a vibrant member of our community and an inspiration to us all.  She is a poet and writer who has served with the Willamette Writers organization.  She has been a community activist and supporter of the arts all her life. 
I asked her to review this book because of her poetic nature but also because I believe literature written for young people can resonate with all ages.  One of the things we have discovered among our elders here is that the puzzles of childhood are still fresh in everyone’s minds and heart.  I think reading about children helps us revisit our young selves and gives great opportunity for growth, even as we enter our twilight years.  Both Juanita and I loved Summer of the Mariposasby Guadalupe Garcia McCall. 
I was resistant to the idea of a novel told in poetry, but found under the mesquite immediately compelling.  It is lyrical but plotted and unfolds like a great story.  The depth of feeling expressed is subtle and rooted in love of family.  Even as Lupita’s mother gets increasingly sick and the inevitable takes place, there is a place for hope and for family unity in this lovely story.
Here, then,  is Juanita’s review of under the mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall. 
Mesquite:  a sturdy tree or shrub with sweet bean like pods, sharp thorns and extraordinarily long roots, native to the southwestern United State and northern Mexico.”
          From the beginning of Guadalupe Garcia McCalls’s book under the mesquite, (2011, Lee & Low Books) I wanted to join her.  The poetry of McCall’s writing about 15 year-old Lupita let me word by word.  Imagine, an entire novel composed in poetry!  The weight of her words flowed lightly like the laughing waters of the Rio Grande near her Texas home.
          I stopped expecting paragraphs and fell into the rhythm of her simple poetry.  Her big family with its mix of Spanish and English languages, cultures, and food recalls for me the memories of the smells of warm tortillas and simmering pinto beans.  The account of the morning murmur of conversations from the kitchen startles me with sensations of the summers I spent in Mesquite, New Mexico, which began in my 15thyear.
          There was a tall cottonwood tree a short walk from my father’s small adobe house on the outskirts of the tiny town.  While the children of his new family napped, I escaped the heat under the shade of the tree.
          Lupita’s story as eldest of seven children, tells of responsibilities heaped upon her by her mother’s illness, compelling her to put her dreams on hold.  She and the tiny twig of mesquite grow together until she finds comfort in the shade of its branches as she pours her feelings into a notebook there.  The writing reveals her curiosity, her mother’s wisdom and love.
          Lupita juggles her life between two countries and cultures on the border between northern Mexico and southern Texas.  When loneliness for their Mexican familia compels, her family visits relatives in Mexico.
          under the mesquite speaks to all ages and especially to immigrants courageous enough to seek better lives in another place.  A great book for teens and parents to read and share.
          –Juanita Laush
Yesterday, a friend sent me a link to the American Public Radio show On Being with Krista Tippet.  I hadn’t listened to it for a long time, so I’m really glad I have good friends looking out for me.  This last show was on a storyteller and writer I’d never heard of, Kevin Kling, and I immediately became enchanted with him and his way of telling and creating stories.  

“The Losses and Laughter We Grow Into

Kevin Kling is part funny guy, part poet and playwright, part wise man. Born with a disabled left arm, he lost the use of his right one after a motorcycle accident nearly killed him. He shares his special angle on life’s humor and its ruptures — and why we turn loss into story.”

I don’t want to sound melodramatic here, but I think this interview and listening to his stories changed the way I think about my own stories.  
I have long taught and practiced the art of “change your story, change your life.”  In retelling my own story to myself, I have come to appreciate the value of having a disability and growing up in a fractured family.  Still, I often get bogged down in my need to tell stories with light at their center, and my need to report the facts, which are more like dark matter, bleak suck-holes that silence me.
Last week I put aside a bleak story I was trying to lighten, and tried not to think about it. But then this interview came into my life and I’m once again encouraged about my own dark matter and the whole concept of not having to fix it, only to tell a story that lets me sleep at night. 
Deep thoughts are here in this interview, as well as the humor that helps us cope with what we lose and how we change, grow and resurrect ourselves.  I actually am a bit alarmed that I never heard of the guy before, but I do believe a proper mentor comes along when you can see him or her most clearly and maybe that’s why I heard of him now.  I’ve got his books on hold at the library and look forward to learning more from this fascinating and joyful man.
Let me know what you think.  Listen here:
Also, I want to mention Danny Gregory’s blog again.  I reviewed his book A Kiss Before You Go some weeks ago on this blog, and talked about how his books helped me create new ways of interpreting life.  His new anthology “An Illustrated Journey: Inspiration From the Private Art Journals of Traveling Artists, Illustrators and Designers,” is a total delight and gives a lot of insight into how we can make art a part of our everyday life, even if we are only traveling through our own small neighborhoods, even if we don’t draw so well.  Of course, this book goes wonderful exotic places and we get the pleasure of seeing those places interpreted by a variety of talented artists.  From tightly rendered representations to scribbly and washy impressions, this book makes one want to put aside the camera, slow down, and really look at what we’re seeing.  His blog is featuring interviews with contributors to the book, plus posts from his own travel adventures.  Be sure to scroll through the blog and find the wealth of inspiration that he has posted.  
Then go out and draw something!  Everybody had to start somewhere and nobody ever really masters drawing. Have fun with it!  It’s your life — make your mark.
a sloppy but fun journal entry inspired by an artist in Gregory’s book an Illustrated Life,

Review: Summer of the Mariposas

I was a little skeptical about the premise of this book.  It was hard to believe that a group of girls would plot to transport the corpse of a stranger from their home in Texas to his home in Mexico.  However, the story is based on the Odyssey, and promised magic and divine encounters, so I gave it a try.  I was hooked from the first page.

The Summer of the Mariposas, by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, (Tu Books, 2012) tells the story of 5 sisters set adrift one summer after their father has abandoned the family and their mother is always at work.  Odilia, the eldest at 16, is responsible for the supervision of the sisters, but the story gives each sister a distinct voice and personality.  One of the many things I liked about this book was how well McCall handled the personality of the sisterhood.  It’s easy to have one main character, and Odilia is that, but her personality and character can’t be separated from those of her sisters.  McCall integrates the multiple views seamlessly.   

The town itself has entered a kind of enchantment, beset by a plague of butterflies.  There are echos of One Hundred Years of Solitude, but the butterflies here are a symbol of metamorphosis for the Garza girls.

Their life takes on a macabre turn when they are at their favorite forbidden swimming hole and the body of a dead man floats into their lives.  Hurting from the loss of their father, they devise a scheme to take the body back to his home in Mexico.  Odilia is visited by La Llorna, the weeping woman, who is said to have drown her children.  She encourages Odilia to take the journey and gives her a gift to help her along the way.

The story just zooms along from there.  The real journey is one of the heart to get back to the place of family, but the physical and metaphorical journey of returning a body, finding a grandmother, and getting back home, is the adventure of the book.  McCall is a colorful and poetic writer with a keen sense of plot.  She is quite sly and adept at replacing Greek gods with Aztec and Mexican ones. 

But where Greek mythology often has a sense of fated doom, this book is shot through with hope and merriment. That is not to say the girls don’t encounter real danger, terrifying beasts and bouts of immaturity.  The girls bicker, they forget the lesson they just learned, they yearn for candy.  The twin sisters have a private bond and want to be television stars.  One of the reasons they don’t call the cops is a fear they’ll look terrible on camera — they want to go home and change clothes first.  Little bits of humor like this kept the characters real even in their most surreal circumstances. 

This book also portrays a deep respect and love for the blending of cultures, the strength of families and the tenacity of women, young and old. The girls learn the power of kindness and forgiveness, as much as they learn to trust their own strengths.  It’s marketed as a Young Adult novel, but I recommend for any age.  In fact, an 89 year old friend is reading it now.  I hope you get to, too.

McCall won the Pura Belpre Award for her first  novel, Under The Mequite, which I’ll be reading soon.  She is also a published poet and school teacher.  

Here is a link to the publishers site with a great interview with Guadalupe Garcia McCall.