“Wide awake” David Levithan

Rated 5 stars ***** 2006. Knopf Books. 221 p.

WideAwakeDuncan and his boyfriend Jimmy, along with their friends, have been working hard on the campaign of Abraham Stein hoping he will become the first gay, Jewish President of the United States. Stein wins by 1000 votes, and everyone is ecstatic – except for the governor of Kansas who insists there was election tampering and hopes to have him defeated. With his opponent refusing to concede the election, hoping to have Stein lose votes in the recount, Stein invites Americans to join him in Kansas to protest the behind-the-scenes politics working to take away the people’s vote.

Jimmy fiercely believes in action when he spots wrongdoing, while Duncan hopes silence will make bad things disappear. Their differences of opinion begin to rise to the surface with Stein’s election issues, and the trip to Kansas seems to be the match that could set them off in different directions. With a strong belief in America’s founding principles of “liberty and justice for all,” the two embark on a trip that will forever change the views they hold of their country, its citizens and themselves.

Levithan mixes politics, romance, relationships and history to give readers a dystopian story that, though written in 2006, is eerily prescient of the 2016 elections. His descriptions of the Kansas rally reminded me of the Atlanta Women’s March, where I joined millions of other women across the nation to march in solidarity for civil rights and liberties. It’s impossible to not compare the hateful vitriol spewed forth from the opposition party in “Wide awake” to that emitted by supporters of our current administration.

Eleven years have passed since Levithan took pen to paper, and many things have happened politically – including the election of our nation’s first Black president. One can only hope America will have its own Abraham Stein to elect in the years to come. Thank you David for opening our eyes to its possibility.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“From where I watch you” Shannon Grogan

Rated 2 stars ** 2015. Soho Teen. 291 p.

FromWhereIWatchYouSixteen-year-old Kara is angry with her dead sister and with her mother. When Kellen died, her father left home and her mother retreated into a shell until she found religion. Her newfound faith changed her into a Holy Roller, offering advice and words of hope to strangers in her new cafe, while ignoring her own daughter. Kara doesn’t mourn Kellen because she hated her, hinting at something Kellen did which was unforgivable.

Kara bakes all sorts of baked goods to forget her problems, spending time alternately hurting and loving Charlie, the only boy who’s ever been nice to her, and trying to ignore scary notes randomly left on a daily basis by a stalker. Despite numerous opportunities to take others into her confidence, she continually assures herself she could handle the situation. By the time she realizes she’s in over her head, it’s almost too late.

In alternating chapters readers take a very slow ride through Kara’s memories growing up with Kellen, leading up to the unveiling of her stalker. However, I was not impressed. I found Kara to be annoying because of the countless excuses she gave for not seeking help as the notes got progressively worse. Always second-guessing herself, she also didn’t have any self-confidence. The most interesting character in the book was Charlie.

Thus I will leave it up to you readers ages 14 and older to decide if you want to read it or not. I seem to be on a bad roll, as this is the fourth book in a row that didn’t thrill me.

“Mercy’s Rain: An Appalachian Novel” Cindy K. Sproles

Rated 3 stars *** 2015. Kregel Publications. 263 pp.

MercysRainMercy lives on the side of a mountain in rural Tennessee with her father, the local Pastor, and mother. She and her mother have spent their lives being physically, mentally and emotionally abused by her father. Demons reside in his soul, which encourage him to kill, torture, and beat anyone who crosses his will without a morsel of regret.

Mercy is 19 years old when she witnesses her father kill an innocent man, and participates in his death through the mountain’s code of justice. After her mother sends her away, Mercy wanders the mountain in search of redemption and finding a purpose for her life. As she struggles to understand her role in God’s plan, Mercy continually hardens her heart as she seeks forgiveness for her role in her father’s death.

As I read, I was aghast at the many awful ways the Pastor abused his wife and daughter in the name of God and religion. It is with deep shame that I note this type of behavior is probably happening all over the world. I found it quite unfortunate that Pastor’s flock allowed his spiritual leadership over them to close their eyes to his behavior, leaving Mercy and her mother completely under his thumb of control.

What really annoyed me about “Mercy’s Rain” was Mercy. It seemed as if every single chapter she begged the Lord to show her what to do or how to act, filling the pages with a litany of complaints and questions. When God answered, Mercy spent time thanking him for helping her to “get it” then spent the next chapter complaining about the exact same thing she’d been thanking Him for doing for her in the last chapter. She was a ridiculous merry-go-round of grievances, and quickly grew tiresome. I think Sproles could have gotten her point across about Mercy needing mercy and forgiveness in half of the 263 pages it took to drag us through her whining.

Despite Mercy’s inability to make a decision with her life, I will recommend “Mercy’s Rain” only because it shows the importance of knowing you are not alone when facing trials and tribulations, and that abused women need to seek help immediately.

Recommended for Adults.

I received a complimentary copy of “Mercy’s Rain” from LibraryThing.com in exchange for an honest review.

“Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility” Mary McManus

Rated 4 stars **** 2014. Createspace. 236 pp.

ComingHomeMary McManus incorporates memories, as well as present-time events, to tell the story of her life after contracting polio at the age of five. Despite recovering from this disease she faced years of physical, mental and emotional abuse from her parents and grandmother.

Over the years the stresses brought on by these abuses accumulated in her body causing severe physical problems, and resulting in a diagnosis of post-polio syndrome when Mary was just a few years away from retirement. Physicians and therapists at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, as well as other health caregivers, worked together to give Mary the spiritual, physical and emotional strength she needed to heal her body from its trauma.

Determined to do something meaningful with her newfound feeling of mental and physical strength, Mary decided to run the 2009 Boston Marathon to raise money for Spaulding Rehab. Triumphantly crossing the finish line of the marathon was just one of Mary’s many accomplishments described in “Coming Home,” as she valiantly worked to regain the person she had lost at the age of five and rewrite her past.

Mary is a fellow member of my running club, the L Street Running Club in South Boston. After reading her self-published life story, I have to salute the courage and strength she displayed in working through extreme trials which a young girl should have never had to endure, and which led to the beautiful and generous person she has become today. Mary, you are a survivor and I salute you!

Those of you who are regular readers of my blog know I try not to read self-published books because of the amount of grammatical errors usually contained within them. However, since Mary was generous enough to donate part of the proceeds of her book to a reputable charity, and is a fellow club member, I felt I should read her book and learn about her story. I was able to put aside my editing hat and read Mary’s story for its rawness and truthfulness. I gave it a 4 star rating for its content, and trust you will agree when you read it.

Recommended for Adult readers.

“The Drowned Forest” Kristopher Reisz

Rated 3 stars *** 2014. Flux. (229 pp.)

TheDrownedForestJane misses her best friend Holly, who drowned while they were horsing around on the tire swing by the river. They’d played with the swing thousands of times, but no one expected Holly to drown doing an easy back flip. Unable to contain her grief, Jane talks to Holly in her mind and spends all her time praying. She is sure God will help but, as time passes and no answer comes, she finds her faith falling away.

She and Tyler, Holly’s boyfriend, spot Holly’s promise ring after a giant catfish spits it onto the shore. However, no one will believe that Holly is the one who wrote “Help!” on it, neither will they believe that her soul is trapped in the river in the body of a mud person.

Angry because neither her Pastor nor parents will believe her, Jane runs away from home. She and Tyler decide to do their own investigative work to find out how to free Holly’s spirit, while Holly keeps returning to haunt, and kill, anything she touches. As Jane’s faith in God disappears she gains new faith in the power of music, hoping it will be the key to setting Holly free.

Recommended for ages 12-16.