In this delightful young adult novel, a 14-year-old girl who has just moved to Martha’s Vineyard gets involved in the environmental movement of the 1970s. Although Clem is already reading Silent Spring on her father’s suggestion, her immediate motivation is her interest in a shy boy who’s involved in restoring the osprey population of Martha’s Vineyard after they’ve been nearly wiped out from pesticide use.
I really loved how Washashore weaves in a real-life environmental message with realistic teenage problems—fitting in, feeling isolated, being bullied, watching her parents’ marriage dissolve, growing up before she’s quite ready, feeling like she needs to save the world, dealing with her first romantic relationship… whew! Really, there’s a lot packed into here.
Washashore’s characters feel very real. They all have their own lives and concerns happening outside of Clem’s point of view, and that influences how they act toward one another. The pacing is steady throughout, building up to tension in several key scenes. And I especially liked that not everything works out perfectly for Clem. She’s at an age where she has to deal with adult issues without really having the experience and skills she needs to handle them. She does her very best at everything she tries, and still there are wins and losses. So she has to learn how to move on from those.
The author has pulled together a story that incorporates so many important themes in such a subtle way that it’s easy just to follow the characters along without noticing it. Instead, you grow along with them as they battle forces in their own lives. I would definitely recommend this both for young teenagers looking for a reflection of themselves and for their parents.
Before reading Destiny of the Republic, I knew roughly three things about James A. Garfield: 1. He’d been president once, a long time ago; 2. He shared his name with a cartoon cat; 3. Wasn’t he one of the ones who was shot? I didn’t have any particular interest in learning any more about him, but a friend recommended this book when I said that I enjoyed Devil in the White City.
Since I started reading this, I’ve found ways to work interesting facts about Garfield--as well as Alexander Graham Bell, metal detectors, the New York Customs House, Abraham Lincoln, mental health and medical history, and so much other stuff–into many other conversations. My friends know more about Garfield now than before I started reading this! If my American History classes in high school had been this engaging, I would have remembered a lot more of the details.
I got this from the library as an audio book that I listened to in the car. The writing is so personal and close that I found myself crying some mornings on the way to work. Sometimes just in utter frustration at how many tiny things could have gone differently, which would have allowed Garfield to live. Candice Millard does such an amazing job of convincing you that Garfield would have been a fantastic president, and he was certainly well loved at the time he died. I used to live in DC, and I always wondered why there was a big monument of him right in front of the Capitol. Now I know why he was so incredibly popular, but he died before he was able to affect much direct and lasting change.
I could go on and on about how much I learned from this engaging book (and, if you know me personally, you’ve heard me do so), but it would be better if you just read it yourself. Seriously, just give it a shot. You’ll be amazed at how much you find yourself caring about this almost-forgotten president and his life before you finish the first chapter.
This book provides a first-hand account of living in a house haunted by the spirits of three children. After reading the whole thing, I still don’t have an opinion about whether Don’t Call Them Ghosts should be considered fiction or non-fiction, and it probably shouldn’t matter. The author/narrator seems convinced, and presents her story the way she remembers it.
The author has a very different lifestyle than I do--she was raised in a different time, in a different part of the country, with very different values. I found myself rolling my eyes when the narrative paused so she could gush about how perfect her husband is or how beautiful her baby is, but maybe that says more about me than her.
However, the narrator does take some actions that I didn’t think were explained very well and that hurt the story. For example, it takes her weeks to come up with the idea to go to the library, which is directly next door, to figure out who the spirit children in her house are. Once she finally does–and the narrative goes into great detail about the trip–she spends her time reading about an old amusement park instead of the family that built her house. She never mentions going back to that library again, but she does go to the main branch to get some more information several months later. What she finds isn’t really satisfactory–nothing about children dying or even anything from the era the children would have lived–but she doesn’t make any other effort to find out who they are, despite telling them that she will. She doesn’t call the previous owners to ask about the box of stuff she found in the attic. And in the epilogue, she mentions that she made another half-hearted research attempt at her publisher’s urging, but didn’t come up with anything.
This comes across as a lack of curiosity at best and willful ignorance at worst. When she decides after only 5 years to sell “the house of her dreams,” the reader really starts to wonder. And since she is able to help the spirits move on, no one who lives in the house after her will have an opportunity to confirm or deny the story.
But really, this is all probably beside the point. If you can take the author at her word, you’ll enjoy a touching story about family life in a house where living people care for their spirit housemates and vice versa. They protect each other, tease each other, argue sometimes, pout, and generally live together the way a family does. They accept each other as they are, and what more can you ask family to do?
Don’t Call Them Ghosts isn’t going to convince a skeptic that ghosts really exist. But if you’re not looking to be convinced--if you’re looking for a story about what it’s like to live and interact with friendly spirits in your house–then you’ll likely enjoy this family story.
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