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Carmel Magazine Digital Edition SU16

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House Made of Stars Novel by Tawnysha Greene I t's rare when a writer is able to give us a story so believably through the eyes of a child. Kaye Gibbons did this with "Ellen Foster," a book that became an Oprah Pick. Greene's book is equally deserving—beautiful, skillful, and even more heartbreaking. Two girls, the 10-year-old narrator and her younger sister—one hard-of- hearing and one deaf—navigate the world of a mentally ill and abusive father, and an otherwise kind and loving mother whose complacency makes her complicit in the abuse. In the opening chapter we see the girls and their mother hiding in the bath- tub, as their father makes mysterious pounding noises elsewhere in the house. "Momma tells us it's a game… 'We're practicing,' she signs, 'for an earthquake.' Her sign for the last word is big as she makes the word for earth, then clenches both hands into fists and beats the air in front of her. My sister laughs. I want to laugh, too, but I am distracted by. . .the other fists at the end of the house where our earthquake is, where Daddy is. 'If we hide in the tub,' she signs, 'it will keep us safe if the walls come down.' We lie against her and try to fall asleep as she signs above us. She tells us how to hide if the earthquake lasts a long time, what to do if the house falls down around us." Eventually, metaphorically, the house does fall down. The father's condition worsens and the ramifications to his children are unthinkably hor- rific. The allegiance between the sisters is lovely, poignant and true; after a brutally violent pun- ishment, the narrator says to her younger sister, "I should have gone first." Greene's mastery of point-of-view and her steady focus on the objectivity and innocence of a child's perspective, balances out the horror and leaves the reader with a feeling of possibili- ty and hope. There are characters who bring brightness to the story—a sweet cousin, a semi- helpful aunt, and most importantly, a God-send of a grandma who briefly shows these two girls what "home" really means. The writing, without exception, is exquisite. I dare you to turn to the end of any chapter in this book, read the last sentence or last paragraph, and find it less than gorgeous. Other writers should study this book for the gloriously graceful and moving endings to every chapter. Oprah, are you listening? Crash Course: Essays from Where Writing and Life Collide Nonfiction by Robin Black R obin Black divides her book into two parts—I: LIFE (& Writing) and II: WRITING (& Life). More often than not, LIFE takes precedence as Writing waits for the writer's return. Writing goes away for long periods while LIFE is always in our faces. Yet, Black's clever titling of parts one and two points to what's inseparable about writing and life. It's the overlap between the two that this book explores and illuminates. It would be hard to determine if I love this author more for how smart she is, or how honest. One chapter looks at gender stereotypes and gender bias in publish- ing. There's a party celebrating the publication of her novel "Life Drawing," after which the author was signing books for friends. Men who bought the book inevitably asked her to inscribe it to their wives. Black says "…I was starting to feel unmistakably irked at the unspoken assumption 112 C A R M E L M A G A Z I N E • S U M M E R / F A L L 2 0 1 6 IN REVIEW B Y M E L A N I E B I S H O P A Novel, Essays and Memoir Tackle Life's Joy and Pain

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