From the Library: motherhood, family, girlhood, and wellness

Three of these books are by Nova Scotian authors and one is from Newfoundland. All focus mainly on female characters: mothers, daughters, sisters, neighbours, friends, and even a wellness guru.

The Remembering by Susan Sinnott (Nimbus Publishing)

The Remembering is about a family in St. John’s, Newfoundland. St. John’s takes a central place in their life as a family– no matter how much they go away they keep coming home–but it could take place anywhere. I love a family who continue to gravitate towards each other through all the ups and downs of their lives.

The narration begins with Liz, a woman who has raised her three daughters in St. John’s with her late husband and is now preparing to welcome her youngest home from Mexico where she has been vacationing with her husband. But as soon as Liz enters their house, she knows something is terribly wrong.

Michel was efficient and considerate, and Eve was politely grateful. Their house was like the pressurized cabin of a plane coming down from high altitude just before your ears pop…

Eve has been sexually assaulted and Michel doesn’t know how to help her. With the help of Eve’s two sisters, Liz does what she can to navigate this crisis while also suspecting the decline of her own faculties.

Eve’s assault is life-changing, the kind of event that divides a life into Before and After. But she has the advantage of home and family, a mother and sisters who are patient and supportive. In the midst of grief and trauma, she must decide whether to keep her baby, whether to keep her husband, and–later–whether and when to tell Rosie about her heritage. The kind of life-changing event for which the evidence lasts a lifetime, and that evidence is something she fiercely loves.

As the story moves forward, Rosie’s voice gradually takes over that of Liz’s as Liz gets increasingly forgetful. Rosie grows up happily surrounded by loving women, but spends a lot of time wondering why her father left and doesn’t want anything to do with her. She wonders about her mother’s “episodes”, and what is it that really happened all those years ago in Mexico.

Liz regrets her forgetful moments, suspecting they will continue to get worse and that she will soon be a burden to her daughters she would so much rather help. She knows she won’t be help to them much longer. And what is it anyway she’s supposed to be helping with? There’s something she’s supposed to be remembering about Mexico… she thinks it’s important.

Little bits of past still roll about, beads fallen off the thread. I have to live in the present now, in the moment. But the present leans on the past and the past is missing. Threadbare. No future. Just a present full of holes.

Despite the heavy topics–this book comes with a content note for sexual assault–it’s a pleasure to read. Each sister has their own personality traits that are played up; some of Liz’s thoughts are amusing before and after the onset of dementia; and Rosie is a fresh new person in awe of the world and how it works.

The ending? Perfect.

I also loved Susan Sinnott’s first novel Catching the Light.

Goddess by Deborah Hemming (House of Anansi Press)

Agnes Oliver is a somewhat reserved new author near the end of her first book tour when she meets Jack Verity, a well-known filmmaker and ex husband of Geia Stone, a famous actress turned wellness guru. Though it seems too good to be true, Jack seems interested in Agnes and invites her to his birthday celebration in the Hamptons. Once again, things seem too good to be true when Agnes meets Geia and they hit it off. Geia is welcoming and warm and generous, and at the end of the weekend, invites Agnes to her wellness retreat on a small island in Greece–where Geia is from–to write an article about it.

Despite the fact that Agnes is woefully behind on her second book, she accepts the invitation and finds herself on a beautiful island populated with beautiful people – most of whom have the same golden glow and long legs as Geia. Agnes joins in with the group of women who have been invited specially by Geia for their loyal following. (And their money.)

No one could ever look or feel or be as good as Geia Stone. Some people found that motivating. I found it depressing.

As the days go by, Agnes and the others participate in wellness activities during the day and wining and dining in the evenings. They are encouraged to drink the special Mastika drink of the island, made from the Mastika trees, for their health and well-being. It isn’t long before Agnes starts to notice some odd goings-on and is reminded of Jack’s warning to Agnes to be careful around Geia because she is persuasive and hard to resist. She wonders what he meant, but is unable to communicate freely with him as the retreat is phone-free. Oh, and did I mention Geia’s pet snake?

I enjoyed this book. It hooked me from the start and I read quickly to find out what was going to happen. I like that Agnes is a writer who wrote a book inspired by her childhood spent in the forest. And I find the wellness industry fascinating – it’s so huge now and constantly evolving. But I can’t help but feel like this is a book some readers will love and some will not. (What Susan likes to call a “marmite” book.)

I also enjoyed Deborah Hemming’s first novel Throw Down Your Shadows.

Hold My Girl by Charlene Carr (HarperCollins)

This book tells the story of a horrific mix-up at a fertility clinic in Halifax, resulting in the upheaval of several lives. Katherine and Patrick had been trying for years to get pregnant, as had Tess and her husband, both women turned to IVF treatment at the same clinic. A year later, right before the celebration of Rose’s first birthday, a nurse from the clinic confesses to switching Katherine and Tess’s eggs, meaning that Rose is actually the biological child of Tess and Patrick, rather than Katherine and Patrick.

Tess’s husband had long left her for another woman by then and she had been indulging too much in the night life, drinking and taking men home. When she learned that Rose was really hers, she was thrilled and felt she had every right to shared custody.

Katherine and Patrick felt differently. They were stricken by the news and want to do everything they can to keep Rose full time. After all, Katherine carried and gave birth to her, and the two of them have been raising her as theirs for the past year.

As you can imagine, things get messy and emotional and desperate on both sides of the equation. While Tess is advised to make her life more child-friendly (find a nicer apartment, cut back on work hours, and reach out to her estranged parents), the situation is putting a strain on Katherine and Patrick’s marriage. To make things even more complicated, Katherine is Black and Rose is clearly not. Once the public finds out what is going on, they have a lot to say about this as well as about biological mothers versus adopted mothers.

It was especially hard to watch Katherine trying to keep the news from everyone for as long as possible – trying to act normal on the outside while falling apart of the inside.

The shame she’d felt all those years about not being able to conceive flooded back whenever she thought of the switch. All those years of not just disappointing herself and disappointing Patrick, but disappointing their parents… And then there were their friends, who kept asking when their little bundles of joy would get more playmates. To admit the truth of Rose’s parentage to any of them, to say it aloud, would be like admitting all over again that she was a broken woman. It was her fault they’d never conceived naturally, and giving birth to a baby that wasn’t biologically hers felt like her fault, too.

All of these matters make an interesting story with a lot to think about. And the short chapters that alternate between Katherine and Tess fly by. As the book moves along, the characters learn new things about each other and themselves, resulting in a story that is hard to predict. What seems like an impossible situation has to be made to work, and the adults have to stop thinking of themselves and focus on the child. The hardest part about it, is this isn’t a good guy/bad guy situation – everyone is very human and there is no clear “winner”.

Nosy Parker by Lesley Crewe (Nimbus Publishing)

This book is like a great, big hug. It made me feel like I was a girl again, reading Harriet the Spy mixed with Nancy Drew mixed with Judy Blume. Except it’s for adults. Although Audrey is a twelve-year-old girl, she has a lot of grown-up concerns. She has no mother and is being raised by her loving but gruff father. Audrey wants to know more about her mother, but whenever she asks questions, her father and her Aunt Maureen clam up.

Audrey is inquisitive and forthright. Despite her “odd” qualities, she makes a few good friends and gets involved in Girl Guides and the school play. She also makes friends with all the neighbours, who dote on her all the more knowing she is motherless. Sometimes she loves it, but it can also feel overwhelming. She often takes refuge in her room, under the covers, with her cats.

In Audrey’s 1967 Montreal neighbourhood, there’s a delightful mix of religious and cultural backgrounds that come into play as she gets to know her friends and neighbours. As a “spy,” she diligently takes notes on what she sees and hears. She’s particularly interested in her friends’ (and play director’s) relationships with their mothers and observes “The need for mothers to feed their offspring seems to last a lifetime. This must be a genetic trait to save mankind.”

Let’s not forget the unsavoury things Audrey learns along the way. Some of them serious… some just unfortunate.

Don’t talk to me. And don’t ask me to like Lucie. I don’t care if you want to have a girlfriend, but don’t ever bring home someone who calls you a naughty boy. That’s disgusting. I have to go to sleep. I’ve had a long day. Goodnight.

At the heart of this book is the special bond between father and daughter. Their interactions are funny and endearing, tender and moving. I teared up so much near the end of the book that I couldn’t see the words.

I have my doubts about adults and their rules.

Last year, I wrote about Lesley Crewe’s The Spoon Stealer.

What have you been reading from the library lately?


16 thoughts on “From the Library: motherhood, family, girlhood, and wellness

  1. Sarah Emsley says:

    “I have my doubts about adults and their rules.” What a great line! I loved Hold My Girl. Haven’t read the others here and am glad to know more about them. Jack Verity and Geia Stone are great names!

  2. Laura says:

    I thought Hold My Girl was sweet, but I found it a bit disappointing – wanted a much deeper dive into the ethics of motherhood 🙂 That clearly wasn’t what the author was going for, though. I did like, as you say, that she made both characters sympathetic.

    • Naomi says:

      It would be good to get even more, wouldn’t it? There’s still so much to say about infertility and adoption. But I can see why someone wouldn’t want to write about it – it’s not an easy topic to navigate! I think the author did a terrific job with the story she wanted to tell.
      Thanks for reading, Laura! 🙂

  3. A Life in Books says:

    I’m not much of a fan of child narrators although Miriam Toews’ Swiv won my heart, but Nosy Parker sounds very appealing. And thanks for the attribution – I really should try and internationalise that expression which is instantly recognisable to British readers, probably not so much to others!

  4. Laila@BigReadingLife says:

    Nosy Parker sounds great!

    Right now from my library I am reading a fun mystery called The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray. Lots of Jane Austen’s characters get together for a month long holiday at the house of Emma and Mr. Knightley, and the dastardly Mr. Wickham turns up uninvited and everyone hates him for various reasons. I’m early in it so he hasn’t met his bad end yet, ha ha!

  5. annelogan17 says:

    These all sound so good!!! The one about the wellness retreat sounds fun especially, I can only assume its making fun of Gwyneth Paltrow and those like her? haha Also the first two have gorgeous covers!

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