I mentioned in last weeks Sunday Salon post that I had gotten behind in sharing my book club reviews this past year. I've decided to highlight what we've read and discussed in a mini review format. I haven't done this before so we'll see how it works. I'd appreciate your feedback!
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Rebecca Skloot is a science journalist and has been fascinated by HeLa cells since she first heard about them in her high school biology class. Ms. Skloot does a fabulous job telling this true-to-life story that reads like a detective novel as she unravels the truth as to where the HeLa cells originated and shares the truth about Henrietta Lacks and her family. Her research is impeccable and she explains it in a way that a layman can understand. I am a health professional and never heard about HeLa cells in my college courses. I've since asked friends that I know that are nurses and doctors and they said that they may have heard mention of HeLa cells but not the significance of them or the background story. Ms. Skloot fairly looks at the historical process of the HeLa cells and lets the reader know how this has effected our own health care and medical care, research and medical ethics. As a reader, it makes you wonder what happens to those samples that we give so freely without questiong when we are at the doctors office and sign the HIPPA privacy act forms at every doctor visit. The story that centers around the uncovering of who Henrietta Lacks is, her children and family and interviewing them will touch your heart. Her story deserved to be told and Ms. Skloot has done an honor to her memory and her family in writing this book. This is an excellent book to discuss with a book club as there are many themes to talk about.
This is a wonderful book that weaves the past and present in alternating chapters and voices as it uncovers a mystery that effects grandmother and grandaughter. A little girl is abandoned on a ship headed to Australia in 1913 with only her little white suitcase filled with clothes and a book of fairy tales. She is taken in by a kind man and woman and believed that she was their own until she was told the truth by her father on her 21st birthday. Her life was never the same, her identity as "Nell" was shaken and she was determined to find the truth someday. Over time, Nell is able to uncover some truths but it is her granddaughter Cassandra who learns on Nell's deathbed the story of Nell's life. Cassandra is determined to unravel the mystery and is drawn into a story that has layers to reveal. The Forgotten Garden is a story told through fairy tales related to the book that Cassandra finds in the little white suitcase that Nell has kept for so many years. I truly enjoyed this story, the setting and the characters and look forward to reading more novels by Kate Morton. This was an interesting book to discuss as there were varied opinions on the style of the writing and the story itself. Some had issues with the foundation of the novel being based on many stories already told but for me that was not a factor. I highly recommend this novel for your reading pleasure and as a book club discussion.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Speak is a riveting novel written with prose that is unique and gripping. Laurie Halse Anderson has an amazing writing style that will grab your attention and won't let you go until you finish the last page. I felt the same way about this authors writing style when I read Wintergirls last year (read my review, here). In Speak, Melinda is an outcast after she calls the police at an end of summer party but wouldn't tell anyone why or what happened. When high school starts in the fall, nobody wants to speak to Melinda and she has chosen not to speak about it and she becomes sullen and withdrawn. Her parents know that something is wrong but for me, I couldn't relate to her parents who seemed very selfish and could have done more to help Melinda. An art teacher realizes something is wrong and tries to draw her out through her art assignments. Melinda has become self destructive as she keeps this secret inside and doesn't know how to handle the situation. Melinda is representative of so many young girls and young women who are affected by a traumatic event and don't know what to do. She must make a choice to let the sorrow destroy her or speak and get the help she so desperately deserves. Speak is an excellent book for teens, more likely a high school student who has the maturity to discuss and handle the themes shared in this novel. This would be a novel to read together and discuss with your teen daughter and son as well as a book club. We had a fascinating book club discussion about Speak and the reality of how this type of situation can occur and does occur more often than we realize.
This is a novel that brings to light the seldom mentioned, little known piece of French history the Vel d'Hiv round ups of the Jewish people in France in 1942. I've read many novels and non-fiction books about the Holocaust and this is one time period and event that I was unfamiliar with. This is a dark period of history when thousands of Jewish families were rounded up and held in the Velodrome d'Hiver and then transported to Auschwitz.This is a fictional account of this time period but reads as it could easily be a true-to-life story. The novel centers around a 10 year old girl Sarah, who is forced out of her home with her mother and father during these round ups and innocently leaves behind her 4 year old brother locked in a secret cupboard thinking that she would be back soon to let him out. The story alternates between Sarah's life starting at this time when she was 10 in 1942 and the life of Julia, an American journalist living in Paris starting and in 2002, is assigned to cover the 60th anniversary of the Vel d'Hiv round ups. She finds herself fascinated and drawn to this time period and the story of Sarah and the parallels to her own life. She is compelled to uncover Sarah's story in which she finds secrets and truth about her family, about France and herself. This is a riveting and emotional novel that I found hard to read at first as parts of the story are heartbreaking. As I read the book in chunks at first, I then couldn't put the novel down and found myself researching the historical background of the Vel d'Hiv round ups. This is a part of history that should not be forgotten as with the Holocaust it is a difficult topic to read about but one so important not to every forget. When my book club discussed this book, none of us had heard of the round ups in France and we were drawn into this novel. Some had difficulty getting past the initial part of the book but all but one persevered and read to the end. It is a book that we all agreed had an impact on us. There were parts of the story in the modern day sections with Julia that some felt were unnecessary or questionable and some had difficulty with the alternating chapters between past and present day. Overall, it is an excellent novel and one that I would highly recommend for anyone and is a good novel to discuss with a book club.
This month we will be discussing How To Be An American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway which I read and reviewed last year (read my review here), it will be another great book to discuss with my book club. In August, we will be going to the movies and plan to see The Help. I am looking forward to this, we discussed this book last year and it was a favorite. We are all excited about seeing this movie.