27 January 2011

Tell Us We're Home and Hush

I have a stack of library books sitting in my kitchen, waiting to be returned. I'll try to catch up on writing some brief reviews today so I can take those back.

Tell Us We're Home by Marina Budhos tells the stories of three young girls from different parts of the world who are brought together by their immigrant status and form a close friendship. Jaya, Maria and Lola are all immigrants whose mother's work as maids and nannies as they strive to create a better life for their families in an upscale suburb of New York. These eighth-grade girls from the West Indies, Mexico and Slovakia forge a relationship based on friendship and similarity of circumstance. They are loyal to each other and to their families, even while they sometimes struggle knowing that some of their classmates look down on them for being the children of "the help." Each of the girl's faces a dilemma related to their status as a part of the "servant class" - Jaya's mother is accused of stealing valuable jewelry from an elderly client; Maria's cousin is harrassed by entitled white athletes; Lola's father struggles with a crippling depression and unemployment. Each girl - and each family - tries to find their piece of the American Dream, despite the challenges:
"Lola began to weep. This was it, the steely truth of her life. What she had been fighting ever since they'd come to America. This was a lonely land of firsts, where no one, not even your parents, could help you cross over. And she had no choice but to do it by herself . . . You pushed ahead, in the chilling rain, hoping you didn't die from being first."
Tell Us We're Home is a touching, enlightening book, appropriate for middle-schoolers through adult readers.

Eishes Chayil, which translates to "woman of valor," is the pseudonym used by the author of the stunning debut novel, Hush. As a member of an ultra-orthodox Chassidic community, Gittel is used to following certain guidelines and to having much of her life planned for her. As she approaches her eighteenth birthday, Gittel knows her family will find her an appropriate mate, someone she will meet alone with for 20 minutes and not see again until her wedding day months later. Within the confines of her community, there are some things that have no place. One of those things is sexual abuse. Even as she prepares for her new life as a wife, Gittel is haunted by the suicide of her childhood best friend, Devory. Gittel remembers that Devory's brother forced her under the covers and made her do something, but she doesn't understand what that might be. The first half of the book alternates between Gittel's preparations to begin her adult life and childhood encounters with Devory. As Gittel begins to realize what happened and how it was covered up, she struggles to cope with the memories and her decision to tell others what happened. based on actual events, this novel portrays a world that few of us know in a compassionate manner, even while revealing that this closed, close community is susceptible to some of the same horrors regretably faced by children the world over. HIghly recommended for high school students and adults.

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