A Walk To Remember – by Nicholas Sparks (1999)

A Walk To Remember

The story is told by Landon Carter when he is 57 years old, recalling a time forty years earlier. It was the 1950s in the small town of Beaufort, North Carolina. Landon and his buddies would sneak out at night to get into mischief, and often pull pranks on folks around town. Although it was a very religious community, the local minister, Hegbert Sullivan, and his daughter Jamie were frequently subjects of their off-color jokes. Jamie dressed modestly, wore a plain brown sweater, always carried her Bible, and was unfailingly kind.

Landon found himself thrown together with Jamie, first in desperation as a date for the school dance, and later as a fellow actor in the church’s annual Christmas play. For the first time, he saw how beautiful Jamie was, both inside and out. They began doing things together, like visiting kids at the local orphanage, and raising money for them. Landon’s old friends ridiculed him for hanging around Jamie, but after a while that really didn’t matter. About the time Landon realized that he had fallen in love with Jamie, she told him that she was dying.

The things that kept this book from being a sappy, shallow love story are: 1 – it was based on the author’s own sister, who was dying as he wrote the story; and 2 – it portrayed a kind of love based on devotion to God and others. As Landon and Jamie looked outward and tried to meet the needs of people around them, they formed a close bond to each other. While the book was a tear-jerker, it also showed how anyone, no matter how young or old, can make the world a better place just by loving others.

The book was made into a movie in 2002. While the book was set in the 1950s, the producers of the movie changed it to the late 1990s. They felt young people would be more drawn to a current-day story instead of one from the mid-century. Whether you read the book or watch the movie, you are sure to be moved by this story of deep love.

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A Treasure Deep – by Alton Gansky (2003)

a treasure deep

Perry Sachs didn’t have any plans to go on a treasure hunt. He was just following his conscience, trying to help an old man in an alley who was being beaten. The old man clutched a satchel tightly, and would rather die than give it to his attacker. Later, the old man and his family entrusted the contents of the satchel to Perry, and the treasure hunt was on.

What I enjoyed about this book was the tight-knit camaraderie and decency of the small group that worked on the excavation project. More than once, the small crew turned to God in prayer. Praying when they were about to begin, and praying when they ran into trouble. It was refreshing to have a story where people did their jobs with excellence and great care. I also liked the local mayor, Anne, who seemed like an adversary at first, but became an ally. There was enough action and suspense to keep this story moving right through to the end.

Body Battles – by Rita Golden Gelman (1992)

Body Battles a

This is a great little science book for elementary-age kids. It explains some of the inner workings of our bodies. Stuff like viruses and bacteria, earwax, mucous, stomach acid, and the immune system. The book is written with humor and colorful illustrations, so kids won’t find it boring.

Body Battles c

It isn’t overly long, and parents will find this book to be a good introduction to the science of the human body.

Necessary Lies – by Diane Chamberlain (2013)

necessary lies

It’s 1960, and newly-married Jane Forrester has just gotten a job as a social worker for Grace County in North Carolina. She wants to help disadvantaged families, so this seems like a good fit. The work is harder than she thought it would be. Her clients live in tiny, primitive shacks in the middle of nowhere. They need so many basic things – food, clothes, shoes, indoor plumbing, and medical care. They are all on welfare, and it’s up to Jane to monitor them for signs of unreported income, or neglect or abuse of their children.

Jane quickly becomes attached to the Harts – grandmother Nonnie, 17-year-old Mary Ella, her 2-year-old son Baby William, and 15-year-old Ivy. They live in an old cabin on a tobacco farm, and are given free rent in exchange for working on the farm. The little family doesn’t function well. The grandmother has diabetes that she does not manage well, Mary Ella has a low IQ, William is mentally underdeveloped, and Ivy is sneaking out at night to meet a boy.

The job quickly becomes unpleasant. Jane’s husband disapproves of her working. Her co-workers complain that she is getting too emotionally attached her clients. And worst of all, she finds out it’s her job to order the sterilization of Ivy. At that time, social workers in North Carolina could petition to have a person – man or woman – sterilized if they had serious medical conditions, a low IQ, or were simply sleeping around. These folks were all on welfare assistance, and more babies meant more cost to the taxpayers.

Jane finds out that Mary Ella has been lied to by the previous social worker, who had her surgically sterilized, while saying her appendix was removed. Now it’s Ivy’s turn. But Jane has a hard time believing that it’s necessary to lie and manipulate her client into doing something she may not want to do.

Although this book is fictional, the background of the story is true. In their attempt to “help” people that they deemed inferior, the Eugenics Sterilization Program in North Carolina sterilized more than 7,000 people. The program began in 1929, continued through the Great Depression and World War II, and was not closed down until 1975. It began mostly with people who were institutionalized, then shifted over to people collecting welfare. It was often done without the patient being told the truth about what was happening, supposed for their own good. Is it ever necessary to lie? That is the question of this book.

The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks – by Rebecca Skloot (2010)

The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks

When I read this book years ago, it seemed too strange to believe. As I re-read it, it had the same effect. A poor black woman living in rural Virginia named Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She went to Johns Hopkins hospital, which was one of the few hospitals in those days that would care for black patients. Instead of doing a hysterectomy to remove the entire tumor, the doctor gave her an internal radium treatment. Although her condition temporarily improved, the cancer spread to the rest of her body.  Henrietta died in October of 1951, leaving behind five children, the youngest one a baby.

While treating her, the doctor had saved a sample of her tumor, which he sent to his cancer research lab. All the tissue samples from other patients had died in his lab within days, but Henrietta’s cells divided and multiplied and continued to live. Eventually there was so much tissue that the doctor shared it with other ¬†labs that wanted a sample. It ended up all over the world, and is still being used by medical researchers today.

Until this biography was written in 2010, there was very little information about the woman behind the HeLa cells, as they came to be known. The author spent a lot of time with Henrietta’s children so that she could properly document Henrietta’s life, both before the cancer struck, and while she was in treatment. Her childhood was one of poverty, abuse, and inappropriate family relations. To say the family was dysfunctional would be an understatement. It was hard to read those chapters.

The book describes in great detail how Henrietta’s cells were used. Some of the research was good and gave good progress to cures for various diseases. But along the way, there were many things that were immoral, such as injecting living people with the cancer cells to see if they would develop cancer or build up an immunity to it. This was done, once again, without informed consent. And as time went by, Henrietta’s medical history was revealed to the world, something that is considered illegal today.

Although there were many medical benefits from the HeLa cells, this book reveals the shady side of cancer research history. Everyone wants to find a cure for debilitatng illnesses and diseases, but it needs to be done in a way that is open and honest while protecting privacy, and that does not put innocent people at risk.

The Relatives Came – by Cynthia Rylant (1985)

The Relatives Came

It’s summertime, and that means it’s time to be visited by the relatives! Aunts, uncles, cousins, and piles of suitcases arrive. Every foot of the house is filled with people, but no one seems to mind the overcrowding. After a few weeks, the relatives and their belongings are stuffed into their car again, and off they go. The house now seems too quiet and empty.

For me, this book brought back memories of long road trips to relatives’ homes (although we never stayed for weeks). The illustrations in the book exude the joy and craziness of family gatherings. This is a great book to read aloud to the whole family, as it is certain to bring out many of your own “I remember-when” stories.

 

The Great Wide World Over There – by Ray Bradbury (1953)

The Golden Apples Of The Sun

In addition to his full-length novels, Ray Bradbury wrote many short stories. “The Golden Apples Of The Sun” is a compilation of 22 stories that were originally published from 1945 to 1957. One story that falls right in the middle of this time is “The Great Wide World Over There”.

Cora is a woman whose life is a monotonous routine. She cooks, cleans, and takes care of her husband Tom. She rarely leaves home. Their nephew Benji comes to visit them for the summer. Cora is in awe of Benji, as he knows how to read and write, unlike herself and Tom. She spends a glorious summer with Benji, listening to him read aloud and watching him write. They send off letters, and start receiving letters in the new mailbox that Tom builds. The story starts off so well, but ends oh so sadly.

I listened to this book on the “Levar Burton Reads” podcast. For many years, Mr. Burton brought children’s books to life by reading them aloud on PBS’s television program “Reading Rainbow”. In June of 2017, he again began reading aloud, this time to an adult audience through his podcast. There was some musical accompaniment in the background that enriched the experience, but honestly, Mr. Burton is such a fine narrator that he didn’t really need anything extra.

“The Great Wild World Over There” is the story of ordinary people like Cora, who are given the opportunity to explore more of their world, but somehow manage to miss the boat.