Happiness by Heather Harpham

Happiness by Heather Harpham

Happiness_s_selected.indd
Cover image provided with permission from Henry Holt & Co.

When I reflect on this book, I think of one word: Grace. It’s a story where many things go wrong, but then there are moments of miraculous blessings. Where people are given second chances after making poor decisions, and some are given the ultimate gift of life after looking death right in the eye. Unfortunately, it’s a story where the unthinkable happens, the death of children-innocents-and it reminds me of the lyrics from Hamilton, after Alexander’s son is killed:

There are moments that the words don’t reach

There is a Grace too powerful to name

We push away what we can never understand

We push away the unimaginable

Ultimately, I consider the grace with which Harpham weaves several stories that tell how she became the mother of a very sick little girl, how she fought for her with all her might, and how through a great deal of suffering and countless moments of despair, she found happiness, in spite of everything stacked against that outcome.

This book is a memoir in which Harpham deftly describes how she became pregnant with her daughter, Gracie, how this strained her relationship with Gracie’s father, Brian; a man who although loving her deeply, was terrified of parenthood and walked away from their relationship during the pregnancy (the worst I know, but Harpham tells the story so beautifully and with such clarity that you almost see where he’s coming from. Almost.) Once Gracie is born, it’s clear that she is sick, she must undergo regular blood transfusions to keep her alive. What follows is a beautiful story of hope, love, strength, heartbreak and resiliency as this little clan goes through setbacks and surprises to make Gracie well.

What I really loved about this story is Harpham’s ability to understand other people, to forgive and connect with them in a way many of us simply are not capable of.  She’s able to see her own pain, her own unlucky hand, and still find goodness and offer kindness to others. While the book’s title is Happiness, so hopefully it doesn’t spoil anything to say it has a happy ending, she points out that going through this experience doesn’t make her immune to future sadness. I find that a very brave way to look at the world.

This is a great book for someone looking for a very moving story, who is not afraid to cry a good deal while reading it. Harpham’s writing is seriously top-notch and she is a gifted story-teller, I could not put this one down because I had to know what was happening in this little world, to this family and the people who surrounded them. If you are looking for a book about family, grit, and love, this one is for you.

Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham

Published on: August 1, 2017

I read this as: a library book

 

That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam

That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam

Alam, Rumaan 2018.02This book was not what I thought it was going to be at all. It started almost as a superficial take on motherhood (it’s hard y’all!), but turns into this beautiful dissertation  on the happenstance of life, family, and race relations in America.

What I like about this book is that the characters are flawed in very real ways, weaknesses that we can see in ourselves if we really look closely. Rebecca, the protagonist, is an optimist, which sometimes prevents her from seeing the truth; she acts selfishly at times, yet she does so out of love; she tries not to see herself as a “White hero”, but she takes secret pride and shame from her role as one. It also speaks a lot of truth about race relations in America: some scenes were uncomfortable, yet were so real they took me back to moments when I realized a person of color was being treated differently that I was, a white female.

This is not a plot-driven novel, but I enjoyed every moment reading it as the characters were so well developed I kept reading to see if they came out okay. Alam does a brilliant job of writing about women, I don’t think I could describe breast-feeding as accurately as he writes, and I have actually breast-fed! I would recommend this novel to anyone interested in motherhood, family, adoption, and American race relations.

That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam

Publication date: May 8, 2018

I read this as: Edelweiss ARC

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Ng, Celeste 2018.03
Image included with permission from Penguin Press

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.

Izzy Richardson does not follow the rules, and this is a problem for her mother, Elena Richardson, born and raised in Shaker Heights, and life-long rule follower. The older three Richardson children have all fallen in line with the life prescribed by their mother and their community, but when single mother Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl move into the family rental property, the children begin to see all sorts of new possibilities.

Pearl quickly finds a place in the solidity of the Richardson household, where everything is planned, steady and organized, a life very different from the one she has lived with her artistic mother, who has moved them around the U.S. her entire life. Meanwhile Izzy latches onto Mia, who seems to recognize something in Izzy that her family has neither seen or understood. As their worlds begin to thread together, a local polarizing incident causes everyone to take sides, lines are drawn, and secrets begin to come out.

Today there are many set rules for how things should be done: do well in school, drink eight glasses of water a day, get regular haircuts, don’t have a child out-of-wedlock, don’t watch too much TV, the list goes on and on. Not that these are bad rules to follow, the problem lies with believing that anyone who doesn’t play along is wrong or has made a mistake, as Ng so eloquently summarizes:

One had followed the rules, and one had not. But the problem with rules… was that they implied a right way and a wrong way to do things. When, in fact, most of the time they were simply ways, none of them quite wrong or quite right, and nothing to tell you for sure what side of the line you stood on.”

The story also had some amazing insight on race, motherhood, and life as a minority in America. I would recommend this to someone looking for an insightful, deep, yet hopeful novel with a building pace, flawed characters who experience growth. If you were born in the early 80s you will probably enjoy the throwbacks to your youth as well, the novel is mostly set in the mid-late 90s.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Published on: September 12, 2017

I read this as: an eAudiobook from Audible

A Matter of Chance by Julie Maloney

A Matter of Chance by Julie Maloney

Maddy Stewart loses her child, eight year old Vinni, suddenly during a Maloney, Julie 2018.02day at the beach. The book progresses in exploring every emotion a mother would go through in the desperate search for her baby. Ultimately this book is about the pain of this loss, Maloney thoughtfully weaves the experience through stories and interactions as Maddy tries to find reason while enduring unspeakable heartbreak. The book really does explore what this experience would be like: would you even want to live? Could you stand looking at happy families together? Could you find the strength to use your experience to help others?

The characters in this novel are well developed, although this is not a plot-driven suspense story. I would compare this book to a TV mini-series as it has lots of interesting characters, but if it was going to be made into a movie, a lot of the story would need to be cut out. Ultimately this novel is for someone interested in the psychology of loss, motherhood, resliance, and maybe a little bit of a thrill.

A Matter of Chance by Julie Maloney

Publication date: April 10, 2018

I read this as: Edelweiss ARC