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.

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 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.

 

Shooting The Moon – by Frances O’Roark Dowell (2008)

Shooting The Moon

Jamie Dexter is a 12-year-old girl living on a military base with her father (the Colonel), mother, and older brother T.J. During summer break from school, she volunteers at the base’s rec center in the morning, when there’s not much happening. Private Hollister, who works there, plays endless card games with Jamie, and they become good friends.

The Dexters have always been a patriotic family. But when T.J. breaks the news to the family that he has enlisted in the army, the Colonel does everything he can to convince him to change his mind in the 30 days before boot camp. But T.J. insists on going, and is quickly shipped out to Vietnam, taking his trusty camera with him.

Letters to the family come from T.J., but they don’t really seem to say much about the war. T.J. also starts sending his sister Jamie rolls of black-and-white camera film to be developed. Instead of taking it to the store to be developed, Private Hollister shows her how to use the darkroom to develop the prints. Jamie soon becomes quite expert at film printing. In each batch of pictures, there is always one of the moon. It is a reminder to Jamie that even though they are on opposite sides of the world, they are still looking at the same moon. The other pictures T.J. takes give Jamie a more realistic understanding of what the war is like. And it’s not a pretty picture.

This novel does a good job of showing what it was like to be the younger sibling of a soldier during the Vietnam War. It shows the love, patriotism, and pride that so many families felt, but also the fear that their loved one might not come home. This novel is suitable for anyone 5th grade or older, and is a good summer read, as the book covers Jamie’s summer.

 

The Falling Away – by T.L. Hines (2010)

The Falling Away

This was a strange read. I spotted the book at a local thrift store, and liked its unique cover. The back cover listed the book as “Christian/suspense”. Ok, that’s good, I thought. I won’t have to dodge nasty language or sexual content. But diving into the book, it did not read like any other Christian fiction novel I’d tried.

The main character is Dylan Runs Ahead, a Native American living in Montana. He is ex-military, and has chronic pain in his leg, thanks to a roadside bomb incident. He is addicted to prescription pain killers, and will resort to all sorts of ways to get them. His buddy Webb, who isn’t terribly smart, helps him get what he wants. Then you have the other main character, Quinn, a young woman who cuts herself and shoves metal things like paperclips under her skin. She is an exorcist, and goes around trying to expel demonic viruses from people. She is constantly chasing Dylan. And then there is a commune with a wind turbine farm where life seems idyllic, but of course really isn’t.

The whole book is based around the idea that in the end times, people are falling away from belief in God, which makes the time ripe for the “man of sin” (the Anti-Christ, although that word is not used in the book) to infect the minds of humans and control them. The book spent at least half of the book on Dylan and Webb running around trying to find drugs, Dylan talking to the voice of his dead sister in his head, and Quinn self-mutilating. It was hard to figure out what the plot was, and who was good or bad. It also portrayed the Native Americans living in Montana in a rather negative light. Although it could have been a great novel, God was barely mentioned and the demon/Anti-Christ was portrayed as having all the power. This is a rather poor book about spiritual warfare.