Flying on Broken Wings, Carrie Bailee
Bailee’s autobiography is not told chronologically. We’re piecing parts of her life together as she recalls the memories her brain has wiped out for her own protection. Horrific but not graphic, we learn that from the ages of 4-14 her father abused her in the most abhorrent ways including using her as part of a child pornography ring. From there she also gets wound up in prostitution. You’d think this is a story of sex slavery in eastern Europe or South East Asia but Bailee’s Canadian and it’s only while in Australia as a young adult that she starts to get some help – ironically being the victim of a rape is the catalyst for her to access police, medical, psychological and legal help. What makes this story so extraordinary is not just the abuse but that she can even tell the story and is willing to do so to inspire strength in others. She’s far from completely recovered but she’s also no longer limping through life. The title ‘flying on broken wings’ is totally appropriate. Nevertheless, very strong trigger warning on this one.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Mark Haddon
This is Christopher’s story, and Christopher lives in a world that is logical but which you can’t learn the rules to. At least, that’s how he describes it. He has Asperger’s which means that he has trouble picking up on social cues that seem natural and easy to others. He has a number of strategies to calm himself when he can’t filter out all the information coming his way and so becomes overwhelmed, but many of these would be thought of by others as anti-social. When his neighbour’s dog is killed, Christopher launches an investigation into the ‘murder’ and discovers that the incident is about far more than the dog, though because of the way his world is ordered, the dog remains his primary concern, much to the exasperation of his father. I taught a number of kids with Asperger’s back in my days as an English teacher and this book coheres with much of what I learnt about the syndrome then. Reading it in story form and from the point of view of Christopher provided me with a new degree of empathy. Christopher’s world is a fascinating, almost cross-cultural world as he lives by a different set of assumptions about the world and rules for behaviour.
Noughts and Crosses, Malorie Blackman
Sephy and Callum live in a world where black people, the crosses, are the dominant race. Though the noughts, the white people, were released from slavery several decades before, racism is entrenched in society and in attitudes on both sides of the divide. Sephy is a cross and Callum is a nought and they love each other but in secret. When noughts are allowed into the cross high school and Callum wins a place, the expectations of both nought and cross society threaten to choke their relationship. The chapters alternate between Callum and Sephy’s narration so we’re able to see all that is unsaid and misunderstood and how they read the same situation so completely differently, even when they’re trying to see things from the other’s point of view. The subversion of western race assumptions is utterly compelling in this young adult novel: the moment when Sephy realises a bandaid looks weird on Callum because his skin is light and all bandaids are dark brown; the characterisation of noughts as stupid because they’re blank – you can see that because their skin is so white without a hint of colour; the history class where those who have been written out of white history in the real-world west are front and centre while the white inventors and explorers are diminished and ignored. There’s so much that is clever about the world and endearing about these two star-crossed lovers.
The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing
Because this feminist classic is so long, it took me the best part of this month to read. Mostly I just felt depressed and bored. Set mainly in the 50s, there’s a frame narrative in 5 parts which is about two middle-aged women, Anna and Molly, formerly British communist activists now divorcees and mothers. Interspersed with that are 4 of Anna’s notebooks; the black is about her writing career; the red covers her thoughts on politics; the yellow one is some stories she’s written; and the blue one is a diary of sorts. I was quite interested in the frame narrative, but in between is some fairly monotonous analysis of the Communist Party and the disillusionment of its members, as well as long and cynical descriptions of men and their wives or mistresses. Some of the stories she writes in the yellow notebook are interesting but they draw so heavily on her own life which the reader already knows about from the frame narrative, that they come across as heavy-handed. Anna’s a conflicted woman which occasionally opens up some wonderful reflection on her femininity, motherhood, and interactions with men, but mostly she’s just confused. There’s a kind of wry postmodernism in the way the book’s written — a suspicion that words more often obscure than reveal the truth, and even though the reader’s met Anna in her own words and those of the third person narrator, by the time I got to the end of the novel, I wasn’t sure I knew her any better.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.