Category Archives: YA fiction

The Monday Book: MAKE WAY FOR THE DUCKLINGS by Robert McCloskey

I grew up on this book. It’s the story of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard, and since it was written in the 1940s, of course Mrs. Mallard took her husband’s last name. They set up house on an island in a lagoon off Boston Gardens. There, they are befriended by a policeman named Michael.

When Mr. Mallard flies off to visit upriver sites, he and Mrs. Mallard agree to meet in the gardens a week later, but to her surprise, Mrs. Mallard finds a huge stream of traffic between her and reuniting the children with their Egg Daddy.

Enter Michael, who sees the dilemma and radios for help. Soon four policeman, a patrol car, and numerous passersby form a cordon for the family, who are escorted in peace to the reunion. The family settles in the gardens so they don’t have to call out the city’s resources for future forays. You know, spending taxpayer money on journeys to recreational locations, that kind of thing.

I’m writing about this book today because it’s peaceful. Because Nancy Reagan gave Raisa Gorbachev a copy of the Boston Gardens bronze statue commemorating McCloskey’s ducklings to take back to the Soviet Union in the 1980s–another time when we were all afraid of each other. And because so many generations of children learned to read, learned to look after defenseless animals, and learned to value the small things because of this book.

If you’ve never read it, now’s a good time. If you have read it, now’s a good time to re-read it. Two wings up for Make Way for the Ducklings.

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Filed under book reviews, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing, YA fiction

The Monday Book: THE PEARL THAT BROKE ITS SHELL by Nadia Hashimi

pearlIt’s been awhile since I devoured a novel so thoroughly as this one. Hashimi writes in a simple, straightforward way. (And be warned, a couple of times the point of view shifts because the copy editor didn’t catch it.)

The book follows two women, Rahima the young daughter of a drug addict, and her great-aunt Shekiba (maybe a few greats in there) a century earlier. Rahima has only sisters, so by Afghani law she can be turned into a son until she is “too old.” That time comes all too quickly for Rahima, who like two of her sisters is married off to sons of the warlord her father serves (and owes for his opium).

Rahima tries to draw strength from Shekiba’s story, told by her unmarried aunt, who grows increasingly impation with Rahima’s mother when she follows her husband into opium despair. But that’s after several more tragedies pretty much rip out her heart.

Told with not as much sentiment as one might expect, and showing the unique ways in which women can find power in the strangest places, the story parallels Rahima’s brief life as a schoolboy and Shekiba’s man-guarding of the palace harem. (The king couldn’t trust men there, so he got ugly women to do it. Shekiba had been harmed by a fire, before the plague carried off her family. She managed to live independently for a bit, too, before her father’s brothers figured out the land was available. Nothing goes too well after that.)

Although the book is intense in its depictions of violence and toxic masculinity, it also shows the ways in which women work together or gang up against each other to work their will. And it is a gripping read, moving quickly through the action with just the right amount of characterization. Dressed in period clothing and speaking Afghani to one another, you still feel like you know these people. Nothing new here, just the usual family jealousy and economic troubles revealing what’s in people’s hearts.

Hashimi combines words in an interesting way, unique almost. Prosaic yet lyrical, as in this quote: “The human spirit, you know what they say about the human spirit? Is is harder than a rock and more delicate than a flower petal.” And for all the cultural awareness of the work, there are some lovely character moments that transcend setting, as in when someone tells Rashima she must accept her destiny, or naseeb: “The hell with naseeb. Naseeb is what people blame for every thing they can’t fix.”

Heartily recommended.

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