Who am I?

Isn’t that the eternal question? Who am I? What makes me ME? Is it my history? My ancestry? The sum of my actions? My thoughts? Fears? Aspirations? I think this is a fundamental human question, something people the world over ask themselves, regardless of their life circumstances.

For me, it’s less a question of who I am than of where I belong. Thanks be to God, I know where that is: right where I am. If there’s one thing this pandemic has made abundantly clear, it’s that I am one blessed woman. My husband and my children are MY LIFE. Last year, we packed up and moved across the country. I was scared, but I knew that as long as the six of us were doing this together, I’d be fine. I can adjust to a new location, make new friends. But the core of my life is here with me. Even more so, now that we’re staying-at-home-all-together-all-the-time. Is it easy? No. Do we get on each other’s nerves sometimes? Yes. But do I doubt that we will come through it together? Not at all. My husband, my children, and the Grace of God will carry me; we will carry each other.

I haven’t always felt this at home. I had a profound identity crisis after becoming a mother – who was I if I wasn’t the smart woman who walked into work every day and did “important” stuff? If I couldn’t engage in my regular hobbies with my husband anymore (um, no rock climbing or backpacking with a newborn baby)? If I wasn’t the perfect student and had to give up grad school? I wrestled. For years. I suffered from PPD – multiple times. I reached incredible low points that I don’t wish on anyone. But I found me, I found home.

Perhaps it’s because I endured that journey that I am so interested in others’ stories as they search for what makes them them. I’ve had a chance to read a lot of books over the past bunch of days (self-isolating from your family does that, dratted pandemic), and there’s been a common theme across many of them: search for self.

A Drop of Midnight: A Memoir by [Diakité, Jason]Jason “Timbuktu” Diakite, a biracial Swedish rapper born of American parents, recounts his search for his identity in his memoir, A Drop of Midnight. I picked it up for free as part of Amazon Prime’s “First Reads” in February. I’d never heard of him before, I don’t like rap music, and I certainly don’t know what it’s like to experience a racial identity crisis. I’m a white girl from NJ. Very simple. So in many ways this was not a typical read for me, but I found it fascinating – which was certainly helped by the incredibly beautiful writing (hats off to the author and the translator!). It was moving, and while I can’t identify with his particular experiences, I can identify with Jason’s search for himself. I rooted for him as I read, praying he’d find that comfort in his own skin, that home he was clearly searching for. (I also learned a whole lot along the way, which is always nice.)

The War I Finally Won by [Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker]Ada Smith is a fictional 11-year-old girl with a club foot in WWII England. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s The War I Finally Won, a sequel to the Newberry Honor recipient The War That Saved My Life, takes us along on Ada’s journey as she finds her place in the world, a world that is constantly changing around her and full of heartache. She perseveres. She finds people who love her, she learns to love, and in doing so she finds home. It’s beautiful.

Austenland: A Novel by [Hale, Shannon]

On a more lighthearted note, Shannon Hale’s Jane “Erstwhile” Hayes (Austenland) takes a vacation to nineteenth century England to figure out who she is. It’s easy to call it a romance and move on, but it’s really one woman’s effort to figure out and accept herself so that she is capable of loving and being loved in return.

 

Rightfully Ours by [Astfalk, Carolyn]Finally, I just finished Carolyn Astfalk’s Rightfully Ours, a young adult, Catholic love story. It is beautiful in so many ways. In it we see Paul struggle through the hard work of adolescence, with the added burden of great personal loss. He grows from rotely following along with his childhood faith to true personal conviction. He finds who he wants to be, the courage to try to live his ideals, and the family to support him in that effort. For many, many reasons, this is a book I hope my children will read when they are old enough.

So, there you have four very different books that all speak beautifully to the human question who am I? There’s a fifth, too, but it’s an ARC and I can’t share it yet — wait ’til May/June. Who knows? We might even be able to go out in public by then….

Thank you for reading along with my musings. I am grateful that, for now, I have that question answered. I have no doubt that I will face many more trials and life changes that will challenge this notion – but right now, it is such a pleasure to read these stories, and learn from them, but not to feel that yearning, that seeking.

I am home, and it is beautiful.

Emotionally mature and complex, one of the best short stories I’ve read! “Wings” by Kia Thomas (a review)

Last week, author Kia Thomas (@kiathomasedits) put out a call on Twitter: for her birthday, help get her short story, Wings, to #1 in Amazon’s Literary Short Story category. For $1.29, I bought the book, and I recommend you do, too! (Looks like she got to #11 that day, which is awesome!).

Wings: A Short Story by [Thomas, Kia]

The Hunters hunt.
The Elders rule.
The women care for the young.

Everyone knows their place. Except for one young woman. Every day, she sneaks away to a clearing in the forest. One morning, she finds an injured creature in her secret hideaway, and she decides to nurse it back to health.

But she is not where she should be, nor doing what she should be doing. And this will not be tolerated…

The power of the book lies in its depth of emotion and the complexity of the characters. The story’s short chapters are told in the first person, from the points of view of the woman, a hunter, and an elder. Thomas weaves so much content into such short chapters – I really felt like I knew the characters. I rooted for (or against) them; I felt connected to them; I saw and felt them learn and grow. Wings, in a completely non-pushy way, makes a statement about challenging societal limitations and allowing oneself the space to grow; about the ability to think for oneself and stand up for what’s right rather than what’s expected; about the willingness to show vulnerability. I particularly like how the characters process their emotions without necessarily being able to name what they’re feeling — they don’t need to, they just feel them, and assess them, and use them to make decisions about how they will act.

Overall, it’s a very emotionally mature story, capturing both male and female, young and old characters. I’m impressed by the depth of the writing and look forward to seeing more from Kia Thomas!

5 Stars! (PS – It’s worth your $1.29!)

Book Review: The Simple Soul of Susan by Noel Branham

The Simple Soul of SusanI was privileged to receive a free review copy of  The Simple Soul of Susan by Noel Branham in the fall of last year. At that point I already knew I was falling behind on reviews, but I said yes because I just loved the idea of the story. And I’m so very glad I did!

Susan Combs had long ago found the love of her life. The only problem was the other party still didn’t know he had been found.

Every day Susan saw Calder Hurtz, her next door neighbor and childhood best friend. They always enjoyed the short drive to school down the dusty streets of their small Texas town. She was happy in those perfect moments, for her life at home was most imperfect. The challenging homestead she inhabited was also the favorite subject of local gossip.

But one autumn day she overhears Calder and another boy having a conversation. This occasion of accidental audience sets Susan’s life on an unforeseen path. In the seasons to come, her future will be changed by two hospitalizations, two confessions of love, and one betrayal.

Compulsively readable, The Simple Soul of Susan is an engaging, soul-endearing romance and a mesmerizing debut.

The books spans a several-year time period, going season by season, which was a really interesting way to structure it. So many books focus on a much narrower time-frame, but this really enabled the author to develop the characters. The reader has the opportunity to see Susan and Calder grow up, and deal with the corresponding life transitions. Refreshingly, no character is perfect; even Susan has her faults and the author doesn’t hide them or rationalize them away. Rather, the book tells a real coming-of-age story as we watch Susan and Calder stumble along their respective paths as they discern where they’re headed in life.

I remember talking to a therapist years ago about something that had happened when I was 18 and her telling me to “forgive the children” who were involved in the incident. At the time, I was furious: how dare she call me a child?!? After all, I met my husband when I was 18 – I was a GROWN UP!!! We see Susan struggle with that dichotomy throughout the course of the book, and reading it helped me to judge my adolescent self a little less harshly and be more willing to see adolescence for what it is: a time of incredible growth and turmoil, with a lot of lessons to be learned along the way. (Of course, much of that holds true for adulthood as well…)

Despite enjoying the length of time the book spans, I did at times feel like the book was longer than it needed to be. I can’t tell you what I’d cut out because it all feels essential, it was more of just a feeling I had from time to time while I was reading it.

That said, I highly recommend the book and I think it’s a solid debut novel. I’d love to read more of Noel Branham’s work in the future.

Four stars!