Friday, 17 February 2017

After The Bloom by Leslie Shimatakahara

It was bad enough being Japanese. It was the 60s and as one of the only two girls of Asian descent in her school, Rita sensed the discrimination. She felt everything a new immigrant kid feels living in a racially skewed city. Embarrassment. Fear of rejection. A heightened sense of being perceived as different. Rita lived in constant fear that her friends would find out that there was something funny about her mom. The last thing she wanted was to be seen as both the Japanese girl and the girl with the crazy mother.

Rita’s dad left when she was less than a year old. How do you get over someone you can’t remember? The mother-daughter relationship has continued to evolve,  but the baggage and pain of the past have stayed, and the tight rope between them feels like it could snap at the touch of a finger.  

Perhaps if she had been a bit older when her dad ran off, Rita may have seen her mom's aloneness as a distinctive change from an earlier, happier state. For Lily, struggling to get by, was simply the norm that she had become accustomed to as a way of survival. She was a non-nonsense, non-sentimental type of person. Like the song originally written by Billy Ocean in 1995, When the going gets tough, the tough get going, Lily simply rolled up her sleeves and set off to do whatever needed to be done to ensure her family's survival. 

While Rita’s grandfather told stories of an internment camp, where all people of
Japanese descent had been imprisoned on suspicion of being traitors throughout the war, Rita’s mom Lily always insisted that she never set foot in a place like that. Was that just one of the many memories her mom was suppressing?
Growing up Rita recounts a few times when her mom suddenly became confused and dissociated. Perhaps something from her past seeped its way into the present, sending her into a state of partial mental paralysis. 

Cut back to the present, and Lily has gone missing. Despite their differences over the last few years, Rita is genuinely concerned. She only hopes that her mother's acute survival skills will serve her well and bring back home safely. 

On the surface, After The Bloom may be seen as a story about the struggles of an immigrant family, but at the core is the relationship of a mother and a daughter. The emotions are intimate and raw, and a reminder that the secrets of the past inevitably catch up with us. And only in confronting these roadblocks can we put them behind us. 

The story moves seamlessly from the past and the present, from Lily's story as a young girl, to present day, where Rita is haunted by her own issues of her childhood, dealing with the challenges of her current situations as a single parent, while balancing family and the demons of her past. 

The book also takes us into a dark period of history where people were placed in internment camps in the California desert during the Second World War. Juxtaposed between politics and the more simpler side of life in Canada, After The Bloom takes a human approach, telling a story of one family's struggle to forget and adapt to a new life in a foreign country. Well-written and engaging, Leslie Shimotakahara has a gem on her hands. Giving readers a snapshot of life at the internment camps and the repercussions after, it gives us a history lesson that is intimate and moving. 

Friday, 10 February 2017

Valentine's Books for the kids

I Want To Be An Astronaut by Ruby Brown & Alisa Coburn, is a picture book for kids. Starting with the common thought, "When I grow up, I want to be..." the book goes through a serious of options for kids to ponder upon. Written from a child's point of view, the career options explore a race car driver, a stuntman, an archaeologist, a fighter pilot, a spy, a deep-sea diver, an adventurer, a submarine commander, and of course, an astronaut. But in all good spirit, the kid decides that she's in no rush to decide, and will continue dreaming of big adventures. Love the adventurous options for the career choices as the choice to use a girl to be the narrator. A lovely inspirational and motivational book for the young ones, regardless of their gender.  

Astronaut Academy by Steve Martin and Jennifer Farley is an information-packed activity book for older kids. It includes every insight from working in space with gloves to growing their own space food. Such a wonderful book that will keep the kids occupied for hours, and giving you some much needed me time. 

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Canada Reads 2017 -- The Noms Are In

5 Books. 5 Contenders. 
Who will win in the battle of the books. 
This year's contenders are just as diverse as ever.

The Break by Katherena Vermette is set in Winnipeg's North End. One fateful night a crime occurs witnessed by a young Métis mother. This heartbreaking profound novel is defended by comedian Candy Palmater.

M.G. Vassanji's Nostalgia is set in the indeterminate future in an unnamed city. Defended by Canadian Armed Forces veteran Jody Mitic
Company Town by Madeline Ashby features a mystery surrounding a family that owns an city-sized oil rig, and an elite bodyguard at the centre of it all. Defended by actress Tamara Taylor.
André Alexis won the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction for his book Fifteen Dogs in 2015. In the debates it will be defended by author and rapper Humble The Poet. It follows a group of dogs who are given human consciousness by the gods Hermes and Apollo. 
And finally, The Right to Be Cold: One Woman's Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet by acclaimed Inuk activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier will be defended by singer-songwriter, Chantal Kreviazuk
Looking forward to getting up to speed on all these books, and watching the debates  March 27-30, 2017. 

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Take The Journey To Somewhere Filled With Roadblocks

In the aftermath of a devastating executive order put forth by U.S. President Trump this week, I felt it was time to revisit this book once again.

What is it like to leave everything behind and travel many miles to somewhere unfamiliar and strange? A mother and her two children set out on such a journey; one filled with fear of the unknown, but also great hope. 

Based on a true story - the author met two girls in a refugee centre in Italy - The Journey is told from the perspective of a young child. It's the journey of escape from a war-stricken home, in search of a better, safer life. It's the journey of hope and optimism. It's a journey that's laden with thousands of roadblocks. 

The refugee crisis is real. Thousands flee from their hometown, not on a whim, but out of necessity. 

The decision to move -- to uproot and leave everything familiar -- is hard, but necessary, if they and their families are to survive. 

Leaving everything you have ever known, is scary enough for an adult. How do you face your fears and set out on a unknown journey that undeniably will be paved with hardship and rejection? How do you convince yourself that this journey will inevitably yield beauty and a hope for you and your family? A hope to live. Francesca Sanna takes us through this turmoil and hope, through the eyes of an innocent girl. 

This week, Donald Trump signed the executive order to halt travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. With just one pen stroke, he took away hope from thousands of people. Did he think of what this may do to hundreds of families? Imagine if he took the time to put himself in the shoes of one girl displaced by war, who used to live in a city close to the sea. 

"I hope one day, like these birds, we will find a new home. 
A home where we can be safe and begin our story again." 

The Journey by Francesca Sanna is not just a beautiful book, it is an important one. In an age, where we are trying to teach our children right from wrong, while grappling with with the political events in the world, The Journey is probably one of the most poignant books we should read. And read over and over and over again. Until, we finally get it! 

The Journey by Francesca Sanna is published by Flying Eye Books and distributed in Canada by Publishers Group Canada