Ladies on Literature
Ladies on Literature: A Kelowna book club
Raindrops might be gently falling on your head as you breeze through this spring issue in your hands, but take heart: sunny skies and beautiful blossoms are just a whisper away.
Like most of you, the LOL are happy to bid adieu to winter, but we did relish some heart-warming reads during the cold season.
And we’re excited to delve into a survival story and some historical fiction this spring. Stay tuned for all the juicy details in the next issue of Okanagan Woman. For recipes and more, check us out at shannonlinden.ca.
Meanwhile, here’s a look at two outstanding novels, worthy of enjoyment any time of the year.
News of the World
by Paulette Jiles
The year is 1870 and the Old West is as wild and unwelcoming as the Devil with horns on. This is especially true for a ten-year old girl raised by the Kiowa who killed her family and the 71-year old war veteran and widower charged with transporting her across Texas.
It’s a state in turmoil thanks to a corrupt Union-appointed government, mandated to rule former Confederates. Danger lurks down the barrel of every gun toting, trigger-happy, citizen, but Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Kep-dun to his charge) is undeterred. Accepting gold for payment, he takes on the weightier moral responsibility of ensuring Johanna Leonberger’s safety.
The two must cover 400 unrelenting miles in a patched-up wagon, pulled by a faithful horse, traveling from Wichita Falls to San Antonio. Through inclement weather and over unforgiving landscape, threatened by human predators, hungry as wolves, the Kep-dun must deliver Johanna to the only family she has left: an aunt and uncle she cannot remember.
Journeying through tiny towns, the Kep-dun makes a living reading from newspapers, giving the eager ears who’ve paid a dime to hear him, updates of what’s happening outside their small and dusty corners of the world. His talent is delivering hard news softened with fascinating, scientific discoveries and strange and entertaining stories originating from exotic places his audience will never see.
Along the way, he teaches Johanna English, desperately trying to reintroduce her to a life of civility, including lady-like manners and cumbersome dresses, all of which the corn-haired captive fiercely rebukes. Industrious, stoic, and brave beyond belief, thanks to her Kiowa upbringing, Johanna becomes quite indispensable to the Kep-dun, Likewise he, father of two grown daughters, earns the trust of the innocent child, sold for some dinnerware and a stack of Hudson’s Bay blankets (the author is an American-born Canadian).
While I’m rather reluctant when it comes to Westerns, this is a historical fiction-styled story with a different feel. For one thing, Jiles is a poet and it shows in her lovely writing, laced with humor as dry as the Texas landscape she so beautifully describes. You can’t help but gun for the pair.
With magnificently rich characters, this book has been described as one about truth and honor. A National Book Award finalist, I highly recommend this read.
by R.J. Palacio
August Pullman (Auggie for short) is just an ordinary kid—except for his extraordinary face. Born with a facial deformity, he’s been homeschooled, but when he’s ten-years old, his mom decides Auggie needs more than she can provide. That’s why Auggie is enrolled in the fifth grade at Beecher Prep private school.
While his father thinks it’s like sending the lamb to slaughter, Auggie is bravely on board, and thus begins a charming, funny, frank, and poignant story you won’t soon forget.
Told mostly from Auggie’s perspective, the short chapters shift in narrative and include perspectives from characters like a kind-hearted classmate named Summer, and Auggie’s new best friend, Jack Will.
Despite initial reluctance, Jack comes to genuinely enjoy Auggie’s company because Auggie is funny and smart and shares so many of the same interests. Jack forgets all about Auggie’s face—until a bully named Julian convinces Jack he can’t be part of the popular group if he hangs with Auggie. Jack learns the hard way what loyalty looks like as the pair’s endearing friendship evolves.
Via is Auggie’s older sister and his fiercest protector, but she secretly struggles with resentment toward her brother. Since Auggie’s birth, his doting parents have been consumed with attending to his many needs, trusting Via to take care of herself. She does so splendidly, but her parents miss a lot. When Via’s best friend betrays her, she feels totally alone, until she meets a special young man, joins the theater, and steps out onto her own center stage.
One of the strengths of this beautifully told book is the realistic struggles, not only of August, but those who love him, live with him, parent him, and become his friend.
For Auggie, fully aware of how uncomfortable his face makes people, the ignorance and sometimes the cruelty he endures, is heartbreaking. Halloween is his favorite time of year, as he says:
"I wish every day could be Halloween. We could all wear masks all the time. Then we could walk around and get to know each other before we got to see what we looked like under the masks."
And herein lies the greatest message of the book. It’s about empathy and understanding, what makes people who they really are—deep down—how courage, honor, and loyalty define us; how love and kindness truly make the world go-round in the most beautiful way.
I saw the movie before I read the book and it is equally outstanding. Highly recommended for kids—and adults—of all ages.