BOOK REVIEW: Shelterwood, by Lisa Wingate

It’s been a long time since I’ve reviewed one of the books I read. In depth I mean, as of course I did talk a bit about the sci-fi series I’m enjoying. Anyhow, one of my truly favorite authors has just released her much-anticipated book. It’s called Shelterwood, and it’s by Lisa Wingate. I made a valiant effort to stay away from any chatter about the book prior to picking it up, so that I could have the pleasure of diving in and being immersed as I trust Wingate’s work to be excellent. So I think you can trust me not to give anything significant away, as I only wish to make you interested enough to check out this title for yourself.

This book deals with children and the mistreatment/orphanage of them throughout the years; abuse, lack of proper care from adult figures, and a forced growing up far too early. We see this impact both white and Chocktaw children in Oklahoma. The fact that it takes place there is enough to interest me, as I have read few if any books set in that state. One can’t help but feel sad that people were and are still faced with such hardships based solely on where and how they happen to exist in the world.

The story unfolds over two timelines: 1909, 11-year-old Olive Agusta escapes her stepfather as he becomes increasingly more dangerous, with Nessa, a younger child whom they’ve taken in in tow. They set off for what they hope is safety in the Winding Stair Mountains, and along the way they encounter a rich cast of characters speaking English and Chocktaw, accented and not. The imagery as they hike through southeastern Oklahoma really make you feel like you’re roaming that newly-admitted (at the time) state as well.

1990: Valerie moves to the region to become a park ranger after losing her husband in a horrible accident (not a spoiler as it happens prior to the story and is revealed sort of offstage). As she struggles with sexism and small-town life, she makes some discoveries with which some are clearly not happy.

I’m not sure how the stories are going to connect in the end, as I’m still making my way through it. That’s good though, as I would probably not tell you if I knew. I do know that the audio especially is very well narrated, primarily by Christine Lakin and Jenna Lamia. Other books i’ve read by Wingate that I would also recommend are:

  • Before We Were Yours
  • The Seakeeper’s Daughters
  • The Storykeeper
  • The Book of Lost Friends

I love all of her historical fiction, as I always learn about some new place or aspect. Or, she just causes me to see something I thought I knew plenty about in a different way. So I would recommend checking this out. I plucked up the audio on the first day it came out, which as a blind person for whom books were not always so accessible I still find exciting.

Book Review: Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

So as I hope is readily apparent, I’ve learned more about how and where to enter posts on my new site. I feel kind of silly too, because I could have been doing this all along. It’s definitely a lot more convenient than the mad dash I’d done before of composing it in notepad, pasting into an email, sending it to my iPhone, yadda, yadda, yadda.

I guess I really am investing in this thing now, as I pour a bit into it financially to get this stuff going. Doubtless, that will get me into writing more and hopefully better entries whenever interesting things happen. Now onto your regularly scheduled post, already in progress.

I’ve just completed an excellent novel entitled Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Spanning about 15 years, the story largely centers on the interactions between a Nigerian couple, and specifically what the female of that couple encounters when she chooses to venture to the US to pursue education.

This book actually starts near the end, as she has begun contemplating a return to her homeland from Princeton New Jersey, where she has completed a fellowship. She makes a trip to a Trenton hair salon, marveling at the difference between those two cities in terms of racial and class composition. In this salon, she meets other Nigerians, an individual from the Caribbean, and a diverse group of people from different backgrounds.

In fact, one of my favorite things about this book is that she creates a blog chronicling her thoughts about interactions of race and society in this country. This blog goes viral, landing her speaking engagements and causing some rankling of nerves among black Americans, who feel that they couldn’t get away with pointing out some of the same things she does. It is interesting watching her build a following and even reading some of the entries that had been posted therein, and perhaps it might give me some ideas about ways I can create more engagement here. I should probably read it again.

Adichie does some interesting things with reflection within this story, revealing that things have happened, then going onto another time and subject, and finally coming back to explain how that thing had happened. It sometimes creates the feeling that one has missed something, but I think it also causes the reader to focus and pay more attention to what’s going on.

I’ve heard Adichie speak on this book, and recall her saying that one of its aims was to show us that many in Africa actually live in the middle class, a fact that seems obvious to me but I guess isn’t very widely realized in the West. It also seems that she wanted to show Americans what our culture looks like to people not born into it, which I found fascinating. The main female character becomes interested in and works during the election of president Obama, noting the effect that had on people from Africa as well.

My final observation would be that the character’s adjustment to American life, frought with difficulty, was so real that I almost had to put it down for a bit. I’ve never adjusted to life in another country of course, but her challenges reminded me too much of my own adjustments to graduate school in 2009/10. That part was very well written, though.

So overall, I would say that this was a good, inspirational read. You might enjoy it more if you read the audio version, as there are parts written in Ibo, which I think is one of the main languages in Nigeria. The narrator does a pretty good job at demonstrating the accents, though amusingly she still inserts the R sound between words that start with vowels, as the British do. I imagine that’s hard to avoid. If you can though, grab a copy and be ready to be transported all over time and space.