Friday, June 21, 2013

"The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate" by Jacqueline Kelly

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Ever since I read "Heaven is Here..." by Stephanie Nielson, I've been checking in on her blog every now and then. In one of her posts, she mentioned this being one of her new favorite books. I was planning a 20 hour drive to see my parents and saw this in the audio books section at the library and thought it would be perfect for my trip.

Calpurnia Tate is 11 in 1899 and is the only girl in a family of all boys. Her mother is intent on making her more domestic in the arts of homemaking, but Calpurnia has much different interests. She is fascinated with the world around her and why things are the way they are. As she explores her world, she begins to also see her grandfather in a much different light.

I loved being able to listen to this book- especially when I was all alone in my car for hours at a time! :) It's a great book for girls that are more interested in things other than what the social norm expects of them. However, I felt like it smacked a little too much of feminist ideals. Calpurnia is constantly asking why: "Why can't girls be scientists? Why do girls have to stay home and cook and knit?". Questions that I'm sure girls had during that time period, but I don't know. Something about it just made me think the author may have been trying too hard to let girls know they can be anything they can.

Anyway, other than that little bit, it was a great book. I laughed out loud a couple of times at the wit and humor the author displays and loved the characters' development throughout the story.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt

A friend suggested this title to me because she knows I've been interested in biographies/memoirs lately.  I'm really glad she told me about "Angela's Ashes" because it was a gritty, honest story.  It took a little while to get used to McCourt's voice because the style of this book is completely different from the  majority of books I've read.  Once I got used to his cadence I felt I could hear his voice and see through his eyes as he recalled his childhood and adolescent anecdotes.

McCourt was born of Irish parents in New York in 1930.  When his infant sister died, the family returned to Ireland to be close to family.  But survival was a bigger challenge in Ireland than anything they had faced in New York.  McCourt accounts the challenges of growing up in Limerick, Ireland with a Yankee accent and having a father from the north and therefore distrusted in Limerick.  McCourt's father's alcoholism forced the family to live in ruin for years because he drank every rare penny that fell into his hands.

This was one of those books that made me ask myself where do I get off complaining about my insignificant problems when countless people like the McCourts had to endure inexpressible poverty, living life as the dregs of Irish society.  Similar to "Unbroken," this book made me ask myself how much can a man endure and survive and come out of it a decent, compassionate person. People are beautiful, as his is a genuine "diamond-in-the-rough" story.  His words and perceptions could be delicate and insightful despite the coarseness of his environment and upbringing.  Overall I appreciated how he was able to tell his story in a straightforward way, almost charging like a train, saying it how it happened and not thinking too much about it or what it meant.  It was what it was and then there was something new to share.  

One of the things I admire about McCourt's story is he didn't directly say he was hungry or he missed his father.  Just talking about the lack of food and his father's absence was enough for me to feel the keen aches and loneliness.

I'll confess it got a little too raw when he got to his puberty and adolescence and he divulged all the things boys experience during that phase.  I appreciate that it was a part of his development and story, but I wish it hadn't been so prominent the last third of the book.  And I was disappointed by the end.  It made sense to end when McCourt returned to America, but to wrap up the story with a romp with a married woman his first night off the boat's just to conclude with, "Isn't this a great country altogether?"  I mean, really?  I would have expected something with more sincerity and not so base to segue from the first 20-some-odd years of his Irish life to a new start in America.