September Reviews

The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naiomi Jackson. Copyright 2015.

When I read a review of this author’s debut novel in the August 24th issue of The New Yorker, it sounded like an interesting read, and it was. During the summer of `1989, two girls from Brooklyn, Phaedra, 10, and Dion, 16, are sent by their mentally unstable mother to Barbados to live with their grandmother in a small community called Bird Hill. Accustomed to their mother being gone a lot and caring for her younger sister, Dion resists her grandmother’s regimen of attending vacation Bible school and church and doing chores. On the other hand, Phaedra embraces her new life and takes an interest in her grandmother’s career as a midwife. Both girls make friends and become involved in the community.

After their mother commits suicide, their estranged father comes to Barbados. Wealthy, with a woman, and a resident of Florida, he wants the girls to live with him. Phaedra doesn’t trust him and wants to stay with their grandmother. Dion wants to be with their father, but after he and others brutally beat someone she knows who is homosexual during a festival, she realizes he’s not the man she thought he was and returns to her grandmother’s house, more than willing to live her new life.

This book brought back pleasant memories of my own grandmothers who each cared for me for a short time when I was Phaedra’s age. It’s a coming of age novel, but I recommend it to anyone of any age.


My Home Away from Home: Life at Perkins School for the Blind by Robert T. Branco. Copyright 2013.

Years ago, I reviewed Deliverance from Jericho by Bruce Atchison, about this author’s mostly negative experiences at a school for the blind run by the Canadian government. Robert Branco gives a more positive account of the eight years he spent at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts, from 1969 to 1977. After spending five years in a public school sight-saving class, he started at Perkins when he was twelve and graduated at the age of nineteen.

Like many such institutions, Perkins had its darker side: sadistic housemothers, bullies, and policies and methods of instruction and discipline that didn’t make sense, but the author also shares more pleasant memories of field trips, singing in the chorus, learning to play the piano, taking classes in science, math, and Spanish, sports, and other events. He also shares how blind kids, like their sighted counterparts, got involved in sex, drugs, and other illicit activities. Closer to the end of the book, he touches on adaptive devices in the 1970’s such as the Perkins Brailler, Optacon, and abacus and explains how changes by a new administrator, who was also blind, made Perkins less institutional. He also describes his training in the use of the white cane and daily living skills.

One thing I didn’t like about My Home Away from Home is that it reads more like a textbook than a memoir. I would like to have seen more dialog and action punctuating the narrative. Nevertheless, the story held my attention, reminding me of my own experiences at the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind. I definitely recommend this book to parents and educators of blind children.


Family Life by Akhil Sharma. Copyright 2014.

In this novel, 40-year-old Ajay reminisces about life after his family’s immigration to the U.S. from India in the late 1970’s. Two years after they settle in New York, his older brother Birju, after diving into a swimming pool, suffers a serious head injury that leaves him brain dead. After Birju spends two years in a nursing home receiving unsatisfactory care, the family buys a house in New Jersey, and Ajay and his parents become full time caregivers with the help of aides who are hired when the family can afford them.

Despite his responsibilities, Ajay manages to get excellent grades in school but is isolated from other kids in elementary school and junior high. In high school, he acquires a girlfriend. The stress of caregiving drives his parents to fight and his father to drink and eventually check himself into a New York hospital for treatment and start attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings after he’s released.

Birju’s condition, Ajay’s grades, and the father’s alcoholism bring the family a lot of positive and negative attention from other Indians in their community who feel Birju could be healed, alcoholism is a dreaded disease, and intelligent people should be worshiped. Ajay’s acceptance to Princeton only makes matters worse. Nevertheless, he goes to college, graduates, and becomes a successful investment banker, eventually managing to pay for round-the-clock care at home for his brother. He then meets a girl and realizes he’s in trouble.

Having been a caregiver, I found myself relating to this story more than most people probably would. Fortunately, Bill could still talk and feed himself and was alert most of the time. Birju couldn’t do anything except breathe and perform other bodily functions. Although he received plenty of sensory stimulation at home, it was hard to tell how aware he was of what went on around him.

The ending left a lot to be desired. I would like to have known how much longer Birju lived after Ajay became a successful investment banker. What happened to his parents? Did they stay in the house in New Jersey or move elsewhere after Birju died? It’s a good idea to leave some things to the reader’s imagination, but I can only imagine so much.


Silver Linings by Debbie Macomber. Copyright 2015.

This is the fourth in the author’s Rose Harbor Inn series. Jo Marie, a widow and the owner of a bed and breakfast in Cedar Cove, Washington, has four guests: two women attending their 10th high school reunion, and a newlywed couple on their honeymoon. Her love/hate relationship with the handyman, ongoing throughout the series, takes an unexpected turn.

Kelly and Katie hope to settle the score with past high school flames at their reunion and end up getting more than they expect. If you read Starry Night, you may remember Finn and Carrie, the newlyweds. After traveling across the country on their honeymoon, they spend one night at Rose Harbor Inn before returning to their home in Alaska. Unlike previous books in the Rose Harbor Inn series where issues are resolved during one weekend, Silver Linings spans a longer period of time from September till January, leaving the reader wondering until the end.

I like the way Debbie Macomber introduces characters from past books. First of all, there’s Finn and Carrie, so much in love with each other, a stark contrast to Kelly and Katie’s love gone awry. Later, Jo Marie receives a postcard from Roy and Maggie. In Love Letters, they’re the couple who came to the inn to resolve their marital difficulties and are expecting their third child. As usual, the ending leaves us waiting with baited breath for the next installment.


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