Winter Book Reviews: Part 2 of 3

What has been done to me? What am I going to do about it?
— Meg Jay, PhD

The next three winter books reviewed, two fiction, one non-fiction, all are thematically similar (which was not a planned reading objective). All three explore the resilience it takes to become an activist instead of a victim when facing adversity. The takeaway? Humans have the ability to rise above the bs if given a strong ladder. 

THE IMMORTALISTS by Chloe Benjamin

I picked this novel for our February book club discussion because of the question it asks:  If given the opportunity, would you want to know the date of your death? (All of us said no, we wouldn't want to know. Would you?) The first 50-75 pages of this novel were a slog for me, and I'm not sure why. Maybe I need to go back and reread them. But after the early slump the novel took off like a rocket into that universe of conflicted sibling love. Wow! Just wow! Narrated by the four siblings, Simon, Klara, Daniel, and Varya, each one of the Gold children has shaped their destinies after being given their end dates by a fortune teller. Themes are many: religion, beliefs, traditions, superstitions, love, and sacrifice. It's a powerful novel with a powerful story and interweaves the narrative like a fast growing vine. Reminiscent of Donna Tartt, the author explores how family history shapes succeeding generations. (Last week's discussion with the One Brainers was one of the best we've had in almost fifteen years!!!)

Favorite line(s): There were ties he thought of his siblings and felt love sing from him like a shofar, rich with joy and agony and eternal recognition: those three made from the same star stuff as he, those he'd known from the beginning of the beginning. But when he was with them, the smallest infraction made him irreversibly resentful. Sometimes, it was easier to think of them as characters--straitlaced Varya; Klara, dreamy and heedless--than to confront them in all of their off-putting, fully bloomed adulthood: their morning breath and foolish choices, their lives snaking into unfamiliar underbrush.

THE ICE HOUSE by Laura Lee Smith

I loved these characters. Every one of them. Including the messed up son, Corran. The Ice House centers around just that, an ice factory in Jacksonville, Florida, which Johnny MacKinnon inherited through marriage and runs it with his wife, Pauline. OSHA is ready to close the factory and slap fines to the tune of bankruptcy for the couple. In the midst of dealing with this crisis, Johnny finds out he has a brain tumor that needs to come out. Before surgery, Johnny makes a last-ditch effort to reconnect with his son, Corran, who is now a single father in Scotland and is doing everything he can to avoid the pitfalls of addiction. Smith's prose is clean, and the pacing of the novel is beautifully rendered. I'm not sure if the storyline would make for a good book discussion, but I loved the story, and the characters have stayed with me weeks after reading.

Favorite line(s): "What if you just kept flying east?" Chemal said. "You keep flying into earlier time zones. Pretty soon you fly into yesterday. You keep going. Fly into the day before. And the day before that. You're turning back time. Ever think of that, Ice? Like, you can go back and redo stuff you like to do. Or see people who are gone. Or do things differently than you did them the first time. Make new decisions. Reboot. Fuckin'A."

"That's very romantic. I bet you think you're the first person who's ever thought of that."

"Of course not. But I bet you never did."


I picked up this book because it related to a writing project I'm thinking of tackling next. There is so much to admire about Jay's writing--especially when it's a non-fiction book about the effects of childhood adversity. She never veered off into academia-speak--thank god! With her background in clinical psychology and education, the author breaks down into chapters the experiences some of her clients faced and what they did to overcome them. The child who watched his father walk out the door never to return. The young college student who lost both parents in a robbery. The sibling of a special needs child. Sexual, verbal and physical abuse by family and friends. What are the qualities that allow these children to move forward and flourish after such heartbreaking loss? And, yes, the resilient do have supernormal powers you can see--its in the lives they create for themselves. 

Favorite line(s): Michelle was not crazy. That I did know. And I knew that the majority of children and teens in this world--and in this country--encounter at least one adversity in early life, and that many overcome them, too, although not without their struggles and not without support. And I knew that caring relationships, good friends, loving partners are almost always what saves them in the end. I knew this because I have seen it happen again and again...