The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler

If you have preconceived notions of adoption and the young birth mothers forced to relinquish their children during the post World War II years in America, you’ll not have them when you finish The Girls Who Went Away.  This book grew from an audio and video installation project that Ann Fessler began in order to interview women who surrendered their children for adoption.  An adoptee herself, Ms. Fessler begins and ends her book with her own successful search for her mother, which she chronicles with painful honesty and clarity.  Each section is devoted to a different aspect of being the invisible birth mother: “Breaking the Silence” / “Good Girls v. Bad Girls” / “Discovery and Shame” / “The Family’s Fears” / “Going Away” / “Birth and Surrender” / “The Aftermath” / “Search and Reunion” / “Talking and Listening” and within each section are the stories of two different birth mothers.  Over and over, these women speak of the anguish of parting with their newborn infants and the purgatory of living in society’s imposed silence of their ordeal.  Each birth mother expresses in her own way her rage, terror, and feelings of abandonment by her family and society in addition to the intense love she experiences for the child she is forced to give away.

 

Some of these women find peace, others are still angry, and others reunite with their lost children, but all of them will live in your heart long after you put this book down.  The Girls Who Went Away is so terrifying because the comfortable lies we have told ourselves over the years are shattered by nineteen women and their courageous stories.

 

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The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss

It’s 1917 in the waning years of the romantic old west, when farmers and ranchers still used horses for work and transportation and automobiles and tractors were only just becoming commonplace.  19 year old Martha Lessen arrives in Elwha County in eastern Oregon looking for work breaking horses for families whose sons have left to fight the first World War in Europe.  Soon she’s living with George and Louise Bliss and “riding a circle” around Elwha County using her own style of horse whispering to break horses for different families.  Along the way, the shy tomboy starts to feel like part of the community and we learn about the joys and sorrows faced by the folks of Elwha County during the war years.  I’m a horse lover so I ate up the details about the horses, their different personalities and Martha’s ways of training them.  Her budding romance with a ranch hand on a neighboring ranch was also charming.  For me, the book was uneven, satisfying in parts and dragging a bit in others but still recommended.

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Duma Key by Stephen King

Before I begin, I must unequivocally state that I’M YOUR NUMBER ONE FAN, MR. KING — yeah, that’s right, I was reading Stephen King novels while some of you were still struggling to comprehend the plot developments of Goodnight Moon, so no matter what I write next, just remember I’M YOUR HARDCORE NUMBER ONE FAN, MR. KING, and with that said, I’ll move to Duma Key.  Most of Stephen King’s Number One Fans already know that our hero Edgar Freemantle was in a horrible construction accident that severed his arm, damaged his brain, and destroyed his marriage.  On the plus side, Edgar happens to be filthy rich and can afford to get away from his demons by renting a beach house on a little isle called Duma Key where he discovers his hitherto unknown artistic talent.  Enter weirdness through the paint canvas as the ether world and a host of memorable characters begin to play their roles.  However (ah, but for the inevitable “but”) something was missing for me.

Mr. King’s earlier novels were written with the stacatto beat of heavy metal but now move with the fluidity of a symphony, and though I love the way he’s always seeking new ways to work with words, Duma Key was a little too neat.  I never felt the tenseness or the terror in Duma Key that I loved in his earlier novels, ‘Salem’s Lot, for example, which I still read with one eye gauging the shadows of my room.  Everyone in Duma Key knows something strange is happening, and they’re all just a little too agreeable to help curb the evil.  (Well, gosh darn, Willie, I reckon there’s a ghost out there.  Well, by golly, Bob, let’s go out and kick some spectral tushy; you get the flashlight and I’ll grab the thermos!)  A good contrast would be ‘Salem’s Lot, which was so horrific because no one in the town wanted to admit there was something wicked in their way; they were all too busy hiding under their beds.  I found Duma Key to be very well written, albeit a little too long for my tastes, but like all of Stephen King’s novels, great comfort food for the brain!

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Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea

The girls of Riyadh are much like girls anywhere else in the world.  They go to school, shop, wear makeup and designer clothes, and spend a lot of time talking and thinking about boys.  The difference is, these girls can’t drive a car, vote, or even go out of the house alone.  Originally published in Arabic in 2005, The Girls of Riyadh was immediately banned in Saudi Arabia (although black market copies were around and it is now apparently legally available).  In 2007 it became available in English.  It follows the story of four girlfriends from Riyadh named Sadeem, Michelle, Gamrah and Lamees.  The book follows each girl by way of emails which are sent each Friday to members of an online list-serv by the unnamed narrator.  The details of the oppressive culture are interesting, especially the marriage traditions, though the writing is somewhat pedestrian and even overwrought in places, such as when Sadeem and Firas reunite after his engagement to a more “suitable” woman.   “The two lovers lost the last of their reservations … now fate, with the tender love of a father who cannot bear to see his children in torment, gripped their hands and led each to the other.”  The author, Rajaa Alsanea is herself a 20-something girl from Riyadh now studying endodontics in Chicago.  Recommended.

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Lady Macbeth by Susan Fraser King

Many of us are familiar with the treacherous and somewhat maniacal Lady Macbeth portrayed by Shakespeare in his classic play.  Forget all that!  This book is a novel based on the scanty historical details of the wife of Macbeth, whose true name is even a mystery.  When I say scanty, I really mean it. There is only one line in one historical document that refers to Lady Macbeth.  The rest of this story was pieced together by King, a writer and student of Medieval history, based on recent research into the historical Macbeth and his queen. 

Gruadh (GROO-ath) is a teenager when her noble father, Bodhe, marries her off to Gilcomgan, a middle aged lord.  Bodhe and Gruadh are descended from one of Scotland’s most royal lines.  Soon Gruadh is pregnant, but Gilcomgan is murdered by Macbeth in retaliation for the murder of Macbeth’s father by Gilcomgan.  Macbeth immediately claims Gruadh as his wife in the tradition of the the Scottish warriors.

Resentful at first, Gruadh gives birth to a son, Lulach, and gradually begins to see that Macbeth is a good, if ambitious, man whose destiny it is to become King of Scots.  Gruadh has queenly ambitions of her own and together they plot to overthrow Duncan, the inept King who is bringing Scotland to ruin.

You might be put off by this book if you assume it’s just another historical romance, but it is much more.  Although there is a bit of romance, the focus is on intrigue, politics, daily life in Medieval Scotland, mysticism and the history of the Scottish warrior society.  Highly recommended.

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