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Friday, November 17, 2017

A Parent's Guide to Teen Addiction



by Laurence M. Westreich, MD
Skyhorse Publishing     2017
226 pages      Nonfiction
The Shortlist

Dr. Laurence Westreich is an addiction psychiatrist and an expert in teen addictions. Every parent should have access to this book or a similar book as they try to negotiate the world of teen addiction.
Divided into three sections, his book guides parents from the moment they suspect their teen has a substance abuse problem to the steps families must take after intensive treatment. Dr. Westreich: 

• Lays out the facts of teen addiction and explains how to recognize a problem with a teen 
• Details what parents need to know about the substances that teenagers commonly use 
• Provides information on what to do about the substance abuse, including how to find good one-on-one addiction therapy, how to encourage a teen to enter an outpatient program or inpatient facility, and how to line up aftercare treatment 

Best of all, he includes “tough talk” dialogues that parents can tailor to their specific situation with their teen. 

There are several particular things that I appreciated about this book: Westreich has created probing dialogues to begin conversations with teenagers about symptoms of addiction problems. While a parent might not have the exact conversation from the text with their teen, the examples are very good and can help parents frame their dialogue. I also liked that he touches on other types of addiction, including food, sex, and gambling. The casual reader doesn't immediately connect those three addictions with drugs and alcohol, but the symptoms are similar. Finally, I appreciated the glossary of terminology at the end of the book. The vernacular changes all the time.

As the grandmother of teenagers, I appreciated the thoughtfulness with which this book was created. I want the best for them and hope that they can negotiate the teen landscape and come out as stronger adults. "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times."

Be sure to also look up my review of Born to Be Wild by Jess Shatkin. It is a terrific look at why teens take risks. Highly praised.


Friday, November 3, 2017

Seven Days of Us



by Francesca Hornak
Berkley      2017
368 pages     Fiction

It's everyone's worst nightmare—to be stuck with your immediate family in the family vacation house for seven days. Worse: to be stuck over the Christmas holiday quarantined because of a deadly virus. Olivia, a doctor, was treating a ebola-like virus in Liberia. When her term of duty ended, she returned home for the holidays for the first time in several years. But, oh, by the way,  she has to be quarantined. Consequently, everyone will have to be quarantined,  including her mother Emma, father Andrew, and younger sister Phoebe.  Each has a story to tell, secrets to keep, and relationship issues with family members. All is going as well as could be expected until a surprise guest arrives. At that point, the dynamics of the week take an enormous turn.

The story is measured in days—day 1, day 2, etc., and then the chapter is divided by character, so we learn the activities and thoughts of each of them on each of the days. The character's likeability is only just so-so at the outset, and as we learn their shortcomings, their likeability doesn't improve much. One reviewer says: "Each character fell into some cliché, the fix it all mom, the opinionated activist, the favorite, and the pompous and self-righteous." Luckily, because of the introspective moments in the narration, we at least begin to understand where they are coming from. 

Is the book funny? Just margionally, and certainly not at the end. I smiled a couple of times, and was intrigued by the irony of some of the events. Is it poignant? Ultimately, it is very poignant as each of the characters struggle to live with the reality with which they are presented. Do we see growth? Yes, there is considerable growth in each of the characters, but it's speedy growth because it all has to happen in seven days.

Ultimately, Seven Days of Us reads like a soap opera. So, why did I keep reading? Not sure. The story is skillfully told, for one thing.  It moves quickly, and even as I was saying "Oh for God's Sake," I continued to turn the pages. Sometimes a soap opera is just what a reader needs. The Kirkus reviewer says that Hornak "skillfully juggles each character's distinct point of view."  That was the main reason that I finished the book and closed it, satisfied.

I was reminded of a family reunion I attended this summer at our family's vacation homes on Lake Michigan. One evening we sat around telling family story after family story. My sisters, brother, and I were regaling everyone with stories that we had kept close to us or just hadn't told before. One niece commented over one particularly poignant story, "Why haven't I heard this story before?" Sometimes, family relationships need to be kept superficial so that everyone's dignity can be maintained. Sometimes, the stories need to be told. This was one of those times. The reader of Seven Days of Us wishes that the Birch family would be so forthcoming.

Here is the Kirkus review. Also a review by the Caffeinated Reviewer that was particularly good.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Integrity Advantage



by Kelley Kosow
Sounds True     2017
193 pages     Self Help
The Shortlist

Kelley Kosow is the CEO and Program Leader of the Ford Institute, a personal and professional training company. She is an integrative life coach, and her book, The Integrity Advantage is the compilation of her understandings of leadership and integrity.

"Every time you bite your tongue," she says, "you swallow your integrity."

Before Kelley Kosow was a renowned life coach and CEO, she constantly second-guessed herself, let her "to-do" lists and others steer her dreams and passions, and played it "small and safe." Inspired by the groundbreaking principles of her renowned mentor Debbie Ford, who hand-picked Kosow to be her successor, The Integrity Advantage is Kosow’s step-by-step guide for facing the fear, shame, and false beliefs that cause us to lose our way.

Through life-changing insights, true stories, and proven strategies, this book shows how to live on your own terms—according to you—from the inside out.
The book discusses how to:
  • Connect with your inner truth and keep it growing stronger day by day
  • Level up your self-love and self-trust to get where you want to go
  • Embrace the totality of who you are
  • Turn the tide on mediocrity
  • Break free of the "gravitational pull" of your past
  • Get fearless and excited about moving outside of your comfort zone
  • Stop living from your “to-do” list and start living from your “bucket” list
  • Become the person you want to be

One of the things I liked the most is how Kosow weaves her own story into her lessons on integrity. It makes her appear very human, and sometimes very vulnerable. I find that people often learn best with story, and that proves true with this book. She talks about how often we live with the story of our past, but we must step into the reality of our present. In story after story, she shows her readers how to live with integrity.

A friend told me recently how she pushed down her grief after the death of her husband for almost ten years. Just recently, however, she realized that she had not faced her life as a single person but kept living in the story of her past. She said that she was just now stepping into the reality of her present. And she was finding that she was learning to like herself and her life as it is now. She had chosen to live with integrity.

The Integrity Advantage resonated with me. I know it will with you as well.

Kelley Kosow's website.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Manhattan Beach



by Jennifer Egan
Scribner     2017
448 pages     Historical Fiction

Wow! I just wrote "historical fiction" for a book in which much of the plot happened during my lifetime. That was a rude awakening!

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan is a New York story, but not the kind of New York story that we are used to reading. It is an extremely well-researched novel based at the harbor and navy yard in Brooklyn in the 1930s and then, again, during World War II. (Just for clarification sake, I wasn't alive during the 1930s, but I was born during WW II.) 

There are three main characters, with others on the periphery. The primary character, Anna Kerrigan grows up during this time frame. Her father, Ed Kerrigan, appears, disappears, and then reappears in her life. Dexter Sykes, a wealthy nightclub owner with mob connections, plays a pivotal role in the Kerrigans' lives. They all appear together in the book's  first scene, on a wintry day on Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn when Anna is 11 and her father has business with Sykes. While other characters have influence in the plot, the book is not about them. Although you don't connect the dots right away, the pivotal scenes happen in Dexter Sykes boathouse at his beachfront home on Manhattan Beach.

Anna grows up before our eyes. As happened to many young women coming of age during the war years, she gets an industrial job at the boatyard. She counts and packages parts for the warships that are being constructed at the naval yard, but what she really wants to do is to be a naval diver. Through the help of her boss, she has a successful tryout with a diving company, and because many of the former divers have joined the navy, she gets a job working underwater on ships being repaired.
She finds her identity in her work, and Egan emphasizes how all the characters' identities are wrapped up in their work. We understand this, because for many, if not most, of us, our identities are our work. Much of the narrative focuses on the work, and we learn in detail the work of the diver, including all the mechanisms that go into the 1940's diving outfit.

Family relationships are relatively meaningless to the plot of Manhattan Beach. Family members wander in and out of the plotline, because family is not the story that Egan wants to tell. Ed Kerrigan's reaction to his multiply-handicapped younger daughter is extremely complicated, and he can't deal with his emotional reaction to her. When the daughter dies, Anna's mother leaves Anna on her own in the city and moves back to her family in Minnesota. When her mother leaves, she thinks of Anna: "It was hard to imagine her lonely; she was so self-contained." She hugs her fiercely "trying through sheer force to open the folded part of Anna, so deeply recessed." Dexter Sykes barely knows his wife and children, so caught up he is with his work. Anna's aunt, a minor character, returns to prominence in Anna's life at the end of the novel as Anna deftly solves the major secret in her life. 

Another prominent aspect of the novel concerns the secrets that people keep. More than once, a character says to another: "We will never speak of this again." Here is another example of text about keeping secrets. Anna is thinking of her work friend Nell. "Nell was not a good girl. Her secrets weren't for Anna to know, and this made her feel easy in Nell's presence—released from a scaffolding of pretense she'd been unaware of maintaining with other girls." We also realize that it is the secrets we keep that hold us back, and only when we release the secret are we able to move forward. Anna's secret is potentially devastating and crippling, but she and her aunt solve it in a forward-moving, life affirming way. 


The sea is central to everything that happens in the novel—from Anna's career as a diver, her father's second career as a seaman, to Dexter Sykes' boathouse. "Eddie had never noticed how much of his own speech derived from the sea, from 'keeled over' to 'learning the ropes' to 'catching the drift' to 'freeloader' to 'gripe' to 'brace up' to 'taken aback' to 'leeway' to 'low profile' to 'the bitter end' or the very last link on a chain." The naval yards and the bars and restaurants that surround the docks are areas that we have seen in novels of other cities, but seldom seen in a novel about New York. At the end of the book, Egan discusses her research and the amount of time she spent learning about the war, boats, naval yards, and diving. It is impressive.

Egan won a Pulitzer Prize for her quirky and innovative novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, which I adored, but I was not expecting to read a similar novel when I picked up Manhattan Beach. because I had read that she had returned to a more conventional novel format. At the same time, I can report that the novel is powerful and effective, a classic in structure and subject. Both reviews in the New York Times are immensely complementary. One reviewer called it "a dreadnought of a World War II-era historical novel, bristling with armaments yet intimate in tone." He calls Egan a "witty and sophisticated writer." A review was also on the front page of the Times Book Review. That reviewer says that "this is a novel that deserves to join the canon of New York stories."

I also read a great Egan interview in The Wall Street Journal. Here's what I love the most about this novel. By returning to a classic genre, Jennifer Egan has again been innovative. What will she do next?