What a spectacular, tiny little book. Tim Tipene is a kiwi author who survived a childhood of devastating abuse at the hands of his parents. As the result of some truly exceptional teachers, he came to understand what love and kindness look like, and was able to make the choice as an adult to live a completely different life to the one he was born into. This short, incredibly easy to read novel delivers what could in another context be called horror stories, in a humourous, touching way. It’s so easy to read my daughter, who is 7, polished it off in one sitting; her takeaway was that life is hard, but it’s also funny, and you can overcome anything if you have kind people to show you how. Not a bad message…
I requested this magical book as a farewell gift from my students at HHT, and forced them all to sign it before I left. This meant I felt a bit emotional about starting it, so I’ve only just gotten to the end, but my god, what a storyteller! I’m not hugely into autobiographies, but the former FLOTUS can seriously spin a yarn – it is truly never, ever dull or long-winded. What a brilliant woman (as if though we didn’t already know!). There was one passage at the very end that really resonated with what we have tried to teach our students over the years, and it is this:
“So many of us go through life with our stories hidden, feeling ashamed or afraid when our whole truth doesn’t live up to some established ideal. We grow up with messages that tell us that there’s only one way to be American – that if our skin is dark or our hips are wide, if we don’t experience love in a particular way, if we speak another language or come from another country, then we don’t belong. That is, until someone dares to start telling that story differently.”
This delightful read came recommended from a variety of other websites, and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed. It’s the author’s tale of discovering her birth family, and the secrets and lies surrounding her adoption that had been buried for nearly 30 years. Chung was born to a Korean family living in America and had always known she was adopted out after a few months in hospital, as a result of being born prematurely. She knew little more than that though, and had always tried to please her (white, red-haired) adoptive parents by going along with the, “Your parents gave you up because they loved you so much and wanted a better life for you” story, which they certainly gave her. But her adoptive parents’ desire not to see race was not enough to protect Chung from the harsh realities of being the only Asian child in a pretty conservative American town, and she suffered badly from bullying. Once pregnant herself, she decided it was time to unravel the mystery of her birth and began to search for her family. What she finds is surprising and not at all what you typically see in adoption stories – I won’t ruin it, but I don’t think it’s too much to say that one delight is the discovery of a full biological sister, who quickly becomes family in a very real sense.
This is not a book you’re likely to forget once you’ve read it. It’s seriously intense, and the most incredible part about it is that it’s true. It’s about a 7 year old girl and her romantic relationship with a 51 year old man. That sentence just raises so many questions, none of which I can even begin to consider in this tiny space. It’s a hauntingly beautiful read and the students who’ve picked it up have enjoyed it (well, enjoyed isn’t quite the right word, but you get what I mean), but obviously it can be pretty affecting and even triggering, so be warned.
This story is Un. Be. Lievable. Having lived in India for a number of years, I just cannot fathom how anyone could find a family they lost there when they were 5 years old, despite not even knowing their real name. Saroo Brierley used Google Earth to do just that. He was lost from his family after begging his brother to take him to work on the train tracks one evening. He was told to wait on the platform but fell asleep, and when he awoke, assumed his brother must have gotten back on the train. He then climbed aboard himself and feel asleep again, only to wake up on a moving train, all alone, with no idea where he was going.
Somehow, this incredible little boy survived living for weeks at Kolkata train station. Unlike in NZ, a child alone would not necessarily inspire compassion in those passing by. There are so many children begging for money in Indian train stations, most people try their hardest to just ignore them. So it was for Saroo. But by some miracle he made it out alive and found himself adopted to a family in Australia. Twenty plus years later he began searching for home, obsessively scouring Google Earth for landmarks he had committed to memory in his many imagined walks through his home town. And somehow, he did it.
Aaah the phenomenal Maya Angelou. This book is a classic novel documenting (in truly poetic language) Angelou’s tumultuous childhood. There is so much in it that we can learn from, not least of all about resilience. But the language is definitely a challenge for some students and I suppose it can feel old-fashioned compared to some of the snappy YA titles we’ve got in the library. If you can push yourself into it the rewards are many. If you can’t, try the documentary about her life instead, And Still I Rise, available on Netflix; I promise you won’t regret it.
If you’re looking for a book to make you appreciate growing up in New Zealand, this is for you. Desert Flower tells the story of Waris Dirie, who escaped the poverty of Somalia in Africa to start a new life in London. As an adult she became both a supermodel and an advocate for the end of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). FGM is the removal of the external genitals from very young girls, in order to make sure they remain pure, essentially. Most of the time this is done without pain killers and a lot of girls die as a result. Yes, you should be crossing your legs and cringing right now! It’s a really easy read (well, other than the FGM part!) as well as incredibly eye opening.