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Brigid's Charge

Lamb, Cynthia

Last Updated: Dec-14-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Based on historical records, family archives, and established New Jersey folklore, this story about Deborah Leeds, 18th century midwife and healer, reconstructs the events that led to her being identified as the bearer of the "Jersey devil." An English immigrant brought to Burlington County to marry, "Mother Leeds" worked as herbalist and caregiver in a largely Quaker--and therefore unusually tolerant--community while bearing her own thirteen children. Her extraordinary skill seemed to bespeak not only careful study but powers that some associated with witchcraft.

After 30 years of faithful service, during which time she shared her work with two other women and with her daughter, her position was challenged by a newly arrived Edinburgh-educated physician who undertook to discredit her work and breed distrust among her neighbors by implications of witchcraft. His efforts came to a head when, at the birth of her thirteenth child--who died shortly after birth--he claimed to have seen the child turned to a flying demon, grow scales, and escape into the night. The story is told with great sympathy for the woman's predicament and a lively imagination for the situation of powerful women healers whose mysterious gifts both blessed and threatened their communities.

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My Sister's Bones

Hanauer, Cathi

Last Updated: Dec-14-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Something is wrong with Billie Weinstein's older sister, Cassie, now in her first year at Cornell. She has given away all her clothes except an old sweatsuit and blue jeans. She studies obsessively, convinced she's failing despite a stellar academic record. She rescues food and paper products from the garbage, unable to bear seeing anything wasted. And she's losing weight dramatically.

Even though their father is a doctor, it takes the family several months to recognize and acknowledge all the classic symptoms of anorexia and get Cassie to a psychiatric hospital. In the meantime Billie, still in high school, divides her energies between worrying about her sister, coping with an overbearing father, and finding her way in a relationship confused by sexual pressures and ethnic differences.

Her best friend's large, close, messy, jovial Italian family offers her a refuge from her own much less expressive one, but she discovers they have their own stresses, mostly financial, which drive them suddenly out of town in a moment of crisis. So it's a year of loss, transition, and rapid maturing for Billie, who finds, when her sister comes home with an uncertain prognosis, that she can no longer be the "baby," but has assumed a new, more responsible place in the family system and a new authority over her own life, defined in terms that have less to do with her sister, and more with her own desires and purposes.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

For months, Junior Brown, an obese adolescent, has been meeting secretly with his friend Buddy, a street-wise homeless boy who lives in an abandoned building, and a former teacher, now janitor, Mr. Pool. In the basement of the school building, Mr. Pool has rigged up a model of the solar system that rotates, illuminated in the dark. He and the boys discuss astronomy, math, and a vision of worlds to come while the boys skip classes and take refuge in their basement hideaway.

Junior is mentally disturbed; both Buddy and Mr. Pool know this and take care of him as they can. Junior's fiercely controlling mother exacerbates his obesity by serving him excessive helpings of food and feeding his fantasy that his father will return. She herself has asthma, which ties Junior to her as intermittent caretaker.

Junior has a musical gift, but his mother has removed the strings from the piano, so he practices on keys that produce no sound. Fridays he finds his way to the home of a demented old piano teacher who won't allow him to play her piano because of her delusion that a dangerous relative is hiding in her apartment. Ultimately the boys and Mr. Pool are caught in their marginal existence below the school.

They retreat to Buddy's urban hideaway where he cares for two other boys, teaching them how to survive. Buddy is convinced he can help Junior survive as well, with Mr. Pool's help. He knows that if he allows Junior to be retrieved by his mother or school officials, he'll be locked up in an institution where no one will recognize his gifts or his worth.

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Bless Me, Ultima

Anaya, Rudolfo

Last Updated: Dec-14-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this lyrical tale, Ultima, an old curandera or healer, comes to live with the family of a young New Mexican boy who learns from her about the healing powers of the natural environment and the human spirit. Antonio's family respects her wisdom and legendary power, though some in the community believe she is a witch. Antonio finds himself drawn to her and under her tutelage develops an awareness of the primal energies of earth and sky that affect human lives and fate.

He goes with her to gather herbs and to visit the sick and comes to understand a connection between healing powers and knowledge of nature. Though he never receives a rational explanation of how Ultima foresees events, cures illnesses, blesses or curses, or why and when she chooses not to intervene, he learns that the knowledge healing requires is threefold: knowledge of the patient, the healing substance, and one's own limitations. He learns that healing requires making oneself vulnerable to sickness and to the spiritual as well as physical needs of the sick.

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Park's Quest

Paterson, Katherine

Last Updated: Dec-14-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Park's full name is Parkington Waddell Broughton V. He knows he has ancestors who have distinguished themselves and the name he shares with four generations of them. But his father died in Vietnam and he has never met his father's family. Though he is nearly twelve, his mother still avoids answering any questions about his father. Finally, to satisfy his curiosity, Park gets on a bus for the short ride from his home to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. There he finds his father's name. There he also resolves to get some of his questions answered.

After a painful conversation, his mother puts him on a bus for south-western Virginia where his grandfather and uncle maintain the farm on which his father grew up. His grandfather has had a stroke and is now inarticulate, able to communicate in only the most rudimentary ways. His uncle has a Vietnamese wife, and shares his home with a Vietnamese girl about Park's age whose origin and status is not clear to Park until he discovers, after a number of uncomfortable encounters, that she is his half-sister, and that because of his father's infidelity, his mother divorced him before his second, and fatal, term in Vietnam. Park, whose fantasies about his father's past and his own future have been highly romanticized, does some important growing up in the short visit that puts him in touch with a more complex idea of family, grief, forgiveness, and acceptance than he has ever before had to develop.

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The Giver

Lowry, Lois

Last Updated: Dec-14-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Set in a future in which communities are entirely regulated, all life patterns ordered for maximum security, uniformity, painless existence, and pleasant, if uneventful family life, this novel unfolds the story of Jonas, a promising boy who, with all his age peers, will receive his adult assignment from the elders on the yearly day of advancement celebrated for all children going through carefully calibrated developmental stages. Jonas's assignment, however, sets him apart from his peers, and ultimately from the whole community.

He is selected as the next Receiver of Memories, a post that allows him access to knowledge of the past carefully guarded from all but one Receiver in each generation. His lot will be to bear the pain of bearing, not only in his mind and imagination, but in his body, feelings and sensations suppressed in others by lifelong administration of biochemical regulators.

Besides the old Receiver of Memories, whom Jonas calls The Giver, he becomes the only one able to see colors, feel pain, desire, loss, hunger, and to remember a world in which people felt something deeper than superficial stirrings. Among other things, he discovers what it is to feel love. Horrified at the blankness in which his people live, he chooses, with the Giver's blessing, and at great risk, to escape the community, and thus to release into it the memories he will not keep to himself.

Rescuing a child destined for "release" for nonstandard development, Jonas embarks on a journey that leads him to a faraway place where the old life survives, leaving behind him a community that will emerge from their anaesthetized condition into the costly terms on which the gifts of ecstasy, joy, awareness, grief, and pain give life its value.

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Love in the Driest Season

Tucker, Neely

Last Updated: Dec-14-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Neely Tucker, a white journalist from Mississippi on assignment to Zimbabwe, and his wife, Vita, an African American from Detroit, volunteer to spend time with orphaned and abandoned children, many victims of the desperation caused by AIDS. In the orphanage, where a distressing number of children die due to lack of medicines or basic materials, or lack of adequate staff training, they come upon and find themselves deeply drawn to a particularly tiny, sick, vulnerable baby, abandoned in the desert. The director of the orphanage picks a name for her as she does for the other orphans: Chipo.

The Tuckers arrange to take her home, first for weekend care visits, hoping thereafter to do a more permanent foster care arrangement and then adopt her. A long story of struggle with Zimbabwean bureaucracy ensues, through which one learns much about suspicion of white Americans who want children, the ways in which child care becomes one more issue in partisan politics, and how abandoned children are caught in adults’ power struggles. Interspersed with this moving story are brief accounts of sometimes harrowing trips to other parts of Africa, including sites of major warfare in Rwanda and Uganda.

Tucker also intersperses memories of encounters with families in Bosnia during his work there. Ultimately, and only after much persistence, empathetic individuals in the system, and some newly learned under-the-table skills, the adoption papers come through and the family makes its way back to American where Tucker begins his ongoing assignment at the Washington Post.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Summary:

The editor solicited this collection of thirteen stories on the theme of entrapment from experienced young adult fiction writers. They represent a variety of kinds of entrapment: in a relationship too serious too early; in an abusive relationship; in a body distorted through the psychological lens of anorexia; in a dream world; in a canyon fire; in a web of secrets woven in an abused childhood; in a maze with a minotaur; in a habit of perfectionism; in the sites of urban violence; in dementia induced by post-traumatic stress (long remembered by a Viet Nam vet); in an unsought relationship with a lost and disturbed brother; in poverty. In each of the stories an adolescent protagonist encounters some challenge either to find his or her way out of a trap, or to understand others’ entrapments. The stories vary widely in setting and style, but held together by this theme, they serve to enlarge understanding of the ways in which any of us may find ourselves entrapped, and how “liberation” may require both imagination and compassion.

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The Gifts of the Body

Brown, Rebecca

Last Updated: Dec-14-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

The narrator in each of the stories in this unusual collection is a home-care worker who helps people with AIDS. Each story focuses on a "gift," i.e. "The Gift of Sweat"; "The Gift of Tears"; "The Gift of Mobility" and so on. In each, we see scenes in the weeks or months shared by caregiver and patient. The patients vary widely in age, life situation, stage of illness, and attitude toward both the illness and the caregiver.

The caregiver/narrator also changes somewhat from one story to another, giving the reader some sense of the different stresses and rewards that come in the course of such work. The details of caregiving are elaborated in ways that are sometimes mundane, sometimes surprising, sometimes funny, sometimes harsh, often touching, and always straightforward.

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Antonia Saw the Oryx First

Thomas, Maria

Last Updated: Dec-14-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Antonia Redmond is a young Harvard-trained doctor who has returned to the East African village where she was raised by American parents to establish a medical practice. Her efforts are frustrated by inadequate supplies and funding, an under-trained staff, and patients whose superstitions and mistrust make diagnosis and treatment difficult. She deals daily with a conflict of cultures, trying to maintain her medical methods and standards in an environment where she competes with the authority of native healers.

Esther, daughter of a native healer who has some familiarity with and respect for Western medicine, envies and longs for Antonia’s Western training and attaches herself to her as a disciple. In her encounters with patients, Esther finds that she has an inexplicable gift for healing which baffles her as well as Antonia and complicates their already tenuous relationship. Esther’s gift forces Antonia to reexamine some of her most basic assumptions about what constitutes healing.

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