Friday, December 30, 2016

A Friend Like Henry by Nuala Gardner and The Whole Town's Talking by Fannie Flagg

I thought I had finished my book review for 2016 but the after-Christmas reading bug bit me, so I may as well share my thoughts on them.  First, Fannie Flagg's new book THE WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING shows again that she is a queen bee at creating a sense of setting.  Her creation of Elmwood Springs, MO is so delightful that I kept thinking I should check on GOOGLEMAPS to see how far it was from Branson! LOL  Then her storylines, brief little connecting stories from every decade from the town founding in 1889 until 2020 (that's right the book dips into the future), manage to capture the essence of what was happening historically, socially, and culturally.  Always told with a mix of wit, humor, and heart, Flagg's stories kept me wanting to both stop and soak in the time period, while at the same time wanting to rush ahead and see who/what would appear next.  When the author introduced the readers to Still Meadows, the lovely cemetery on the hills and its every growing community of residents, I felt like I was reading a newer version of OUR TOWN. I see from the book's cover blurb that others have been making the same comparison.  While the book sounds all nostalgic and cuddly, I must set things straight.  Like every real village and town, there are misfits, villains, and people who have just plain messed up their lives. And true fans of Fannie Flagg know she is always going to have some quirkiness to her tales or should I say something outlandish? Can't and won't share, except to say it IS a surprise ending!! Maybe the biggest surprise ending I encountered in a very, very long time!!

american_coverFinishing THE WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING in a day and a half was a major read-fest, so I could have easily skipped reading yesterday.  But with not much of interest on television last night, I started A FRIEND LIKE HENRY by Nuala Gardner, a book my daughter gave me several months ago.  This book documents Gardner's autistic son's childhood through the 1990's and early 2000's in Scotland.  Fearing that their son Dale will never communicate or connect with them, Nuala and her husband decide to buy a golden retriever puppy after seeing that Dale responded a tiny bit to playing fetch with a cousin's dog.  How the puppy Henry begins to positively affect Dale's life and how the family uses the dog as a conduit to making Dale's world bigger is a wonderful story.  I was a mix of joy over their accomplishments and deep sorrow over the labels, red tape, and educational challenges his diagnosis brought.  Add in Nuala's struggle to have a second child, and this true life memoir is densely packed with emotional highs and lows.  To think that every parent of an autistic child faces similar day by day struggles and I realize that my parenting was really just a vacation with kids.   I highly recommend this book.  While we remain a petless couple since our children have grown, this books joins several others I have recently read that reminds that pets can be lifesavers in so many ways.  Here is a link to http://nualagardnerautism.com/
so you can learn more about the author, her family, and autism.

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