Book review: ‘Calling Dr. Laura’ by Nicole Georges

Calling Dr. LauraNicole Georges grew up believing her father was dead. The youngest daughter of a woman who seemed to shuffle men faster than cards at a blackjack table, Nicole struggled with her mother’s whims as well as her changing identity. After her older sister comes out, it seems all the more important for Nicole to cling tightly to her own secret — and it’s slipped that her vanishing dad might not have disappeared in the way she thought. A fateful call to Dr. Laura Schlessinger realigns Nicole’s thinking — maybe just in time to confront her complicated past.

It’s been so long since I picked up a graphic novel. The ones I’ve enjoyed in the past — like Craig Thompson’s Blankets — blew me away . . . so I guess it’d be fair to say I had high expectations of Nicole Georges’ memoir-in-illustrations. Described as “part coming-of-age and part coming-out story,” Calling Dr. Laura was an interesting work.

You know, I have a ton of respect for Georges. She grows up in a home full of secrets and half-truths, and I think my favorite portions of the book were the moments she explores her childhood. As an artist, Georges’ style is fun and retro (check it out). I’m certainly no expert on these matters — art is a fuzzy area I studied one semester in college, like, eight years ago — but I appreciated her illustrations and the way she characterized her young self. As she suffers heartbreak and finds solace in life with her dogs in Portland, Ore., it’s impossible not to feel the confusion and hurt stemming from a break-up.

But as a narrative? Calling Dr. Laura didn’t captivate me. The central mystery in Georges’ work is, of course, that of the missing father. Who is he? Where is he? Why did he walk out on the family? Is he still alive? And I get that, through the course of the memoir, we’re led to understand why Georges’ dad is of less importance than, say, her mother: the person who, for better or worse, was there through it all. But I couldn’t help feeling unsatisfied. By the book’s close, I knew I should feel something — especially after the bombshell epilogue. But though heartbreaking, I didn’t feel as emotionally connected to Georges as I wish I had.

Still, Georges’ story will appeal to fans of graphic memoirs and GLBT-themed stories. Though Georges’ orientation is not the story’s focus, it’s an important part of how she relates to her family — and why she doesn’t just confront her mom about the past. It seems crazy that a lie so big would stretch between a group for so long, but Georges does a remarkable job of probing her family’s history while still leaving a little mystery intact. I enjoyed it and wouldn’t hesitate to read more of her story later on.

3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0547615590 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor website
Review copy provided by Amazon Vine in exchange for my honest review

Book review: ‘Girl Unmoored’ by Jennifer Gooch Hummer

Sometimes a novel hops into your lap, looks into your weary eyes and wraps its little paper arms around you. The hug from this book feels so real, so good that you never want to part with it — and that’s exactly how I feel about Girl Unmoored. And Apron Bramhall, a redheaded teen heroine unique enough to match her name.

It’s 1985 in small-town Maine, and seventh-grader Apron Bramhall is grappling with many competing forces: the aftermath of the unexpected loss of her mother; her father’s sudden remarriage to Marguerite, a woman Apron stubbornly refers to only as “M”; the betrayal of her best friend and its accompanying loneliness; and the appearance of Mike and Chad, two florists who form an unlikely alliance with our young heroine.

In a story brimming with love, warmth, loss, grief and everything in between, Apron must come to grips with her changed family — and the changing world.

It’s almost impossible to summarize Jennifer Gooch Hummer’s Girl Unmoored — mostly because this story was so much more than I ever thought it would be, and caused me to feel So Many Emotions I can barely articulate them all. Knowing it deals with loss and grief, I wasn’t sure how maudlin the story would become . . . but in Hummer’s very talented hands, what could have ventured into sad-sack territory somehow left me feeling enlightened and uplifted.

Reflecting on the book, that’s the word that keeps coming back to me: uplifted. Because even a book about death, homophobia, pain and ignorance somehow left me feeling good. And yes, I’m serious — I think it would be nearly impossible to finish Girl Unmoored without some sort of smile on your face. Because Apron? She’s amazing. And I’m feeling amazed by how much I adored this book.

Where was sassy, bright, hilarious, brave and klutzy Apron when I was 13? Because really, girl knows what’s what. Partly because her mother’s terminal illness robbed her of a childhood, I know, but she’s incredible all the same. After all these changes, Apron feels . . . well, unmoored. At least until she meets Mike, a handsome actor portraying the title role in a local theatre’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Apron attends with her judgmental friend Rennie, a simple girl who comes from a deeply religious family. When word gets around that Mike is a little more than “friends” with Chad, and that Chad is has a mysterious illness, proverbial — and literal — stones are cast at them. And Apron — amazing Apron — is somehow the link that holds everyone together.

I can’t tell you why I loved this story so much, but I read parts with my hands shaking and tears streaming down my face. One particularly incredible moment — which I won’t spoil for you — comes near the close of the novel . . . when Apron retrieves a photo of her mother to give to someone in need. When she passes it over and explains why she’s sharing it, I actually felt like my heart was breaking. Like, cracked open on a broken mirror. And it’s been a long time since I felt like a book was breaking through that harsh Meg exterior.

I loved Hummer’s writing and Apron’s unique turns of phrase, especially when she was embarrassed or scared or angry (“My hair is melting,” for instance). I loved Mike and Chad and the pure devotion they had to one another; I even loved Dennis, Apron’s screwed-up, grief-stricken father, because I can’t fault him for what he does and somehow wound up caring deeply for him. Even “M,” Apron’s mother’s nurse-cum-wifely-replacement, had her endearing moments . . . until she said something that made me want to punch her. And then? Then I was glad things worked out as they did. I also loved Dennis’ obsession with Latin and how he instills a passion for it in Apron, and how each chapter opens with a telling phrase that had me wanting to read them all aloud.

Despite all my crying fits, I finished Girl Unmoored feeling like I could spend another 1,000 pages with Apron. Like I wanted to meet up with her a decade later for coffee, chatting about what she’d done with all that curiosity, courage and intellect. Though our narrator is a kid, absolutely nothing about this book is child-like — and I’m not sure how it’s being marketed. Young adult fiction? Coming-of-age drama? Contemporary fiction?

Regardless, readers, lend me your ears (eyes?): read this book. You will feel human and alive. It’s the one I’m going to be touting all year, declaring to others that this is the book we should all be trying to write. And the one we should all want to read.

5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1936558300 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review

Book review: ‘The Sky Always Hears Me: And The Hills Don’t Mind’ by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

Morgan’s teenage life in Central Nowhere, Nebraska is in upheaval. As she whiles away the hours as a grocery store clerk alongside Rob, her delectable coworker, she has her ho-hum relationship with Derek to deal with after hours. When her alcoholic father isn’t holed up in the family basement, he’s shouting at Morgan and her two little brothers, left to fend for themselves while their stepmother, Anne, wanders out of the fray.

And when Morgan isn’t battling her feelings for the two very different boys in her life, she’s fantasizing about someone else entirely. Tessa, her neighbor, took one summer evening as an opportunity to find Morgan camped out in her yard — and kiss her. Romantic, delicious and totally confusing, Morgan has lived in the shadow of that kiss since it happened . . . and can’t decide what it means. Or where to go from here — other than out of Central Nowhere.

With wit, warmth and dark humor, Kirstin Cronn-Mills weaves a powerful story in The Sky Always Hears Me: And The Hills Don’t Mind. Narrator Morgan is an intelligent teen who dreams of writing the Great American Novel, like many of us, but gets by on penning cryptic “fortunes” on Post-Its, napkins and register tape — anything she can find, basically, and leaving them strewn about like edicts from a higher power. When life gets too overwhelming, Morgan escapes to visit her grandmother, Elsie, and borrows her car to go and vent her frustrations in the wide-open hills of Nebraska.

Morgan carries The Sky Always Hears Me, letting us into her private world as she grapples with issues as large as sexuality, abuse and a stifling sense of being sequestered in a tiny place she’s long outgrown. Though the “I have to get out of this God forsakin’ town!” trope is definitely nothing new in fiction, Morgan was a fresh character with whom I could relate — someone whose dream is to write and do something more, but can’t immediately find the tools to do so.

While the book centers largely around the three love interests in the story, creating a complicated romantic triangle, it’s also about family dynamics and the long reach of grief. Morgan’s mother died when she and Martin were small, leaving them alone with a distant father and one guilty, saddened grandmother. Elsie, Morgan’s grandma, has done everything she can to provide a loving female role model for her granddaughter — but that hasn’t necessarily been enough.

Interspersed with Cronn-Mills’ narrative are snippets of fortunes from Chinese restaurants all over the world, collected by Elsie when she was a traveling concert pianist. In addition to penning her own, Morgan takes these fortunes to heart — and I liked the way we were introduced to each chapter with another quote or piece of advice. It provided credence to the sense that anything can change at any time — and that, for better or worse, we can all shape our destinies. And Morgan can shape hers.

In addition to being entertaining and very readable, The Sky Always Hears Me does an admirable job of exploring teen sexuality. As a young woman, Morgan isn’t expected to have everything figured out — and the path towards discovery can be messy. Central Nowhere is a small town, of course, and few are accepting of the idea of gay or lesbian people in their community. Fear and disapproval of an “immoral” lifestyle permeate Morgan and Tessa’s high school. I liked that Cronn-Mills didn’t take the easy way out, showing Morgan’s “repulsion” at being kissed by Tessa and failing to stick up for her friend. Instead, the author let her characters work out their feelings on their own terms.

Fans of quirky young adult fiction featuring memorable, dimensional characters would enjoy Kirstin Cronn-Mills’ debut novel — and I know this isn’t one I’ll soon forget. At just over 270 pages, too, it’s easily devoured in an afternoon or two.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0738715042 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Blog
Personal copy purchased by Meg