I read two books this week, and I highly recommend both of them to anyone who enjoys a look back in time. They weren’t good times, but you will find glimpses of goodness in them. They certainly weren’t easy times, at least, not for the kids who played the leads. But they are amazing stories that will touch your heart, bring a tear to your eye, and give you an insight into the souls of some remarkable characters.
The first book I read was City of Orphans by AVI. It’s a mystery that takes us to 1940’s era New York City, to the poverty of the tenements and the opulence of the new Waldorf hotel. It centers on an immigrant family and their struggles to survive the harsh realities of their new life in a new country. Their optimism and generosity abound, even when faced with the fear of their daughter’s imprisonment and their concerns for survival. The family’s hope lies in their young son, a newsie who hawks his wares in the crime-laden streets where gangs rule, and a young orphan girl who makes her home in a filthy alley.
The second book I read is Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt. This is another coming-of-age story, and is also boy-centric. I didn’t plan to read these books together; I simply managed to pick both of them up during a regular run to the library.
Okay For Now takes place in a small New England town during the 1960s. The family moves there after the father loses his job. The father is an abusive, loud-mouthed jerk, who has taught his sons to follow in his footsteps, and has soured them to any hope of reaching beyond the miserable existence they call life. The story centers around the youngest son, who has been hardened not only by the fists and verbal abuse of his father, but has also become the easy prey of his older brothers. Everything in life is stupid, according to him, except for the soft spot he has for his mother, and his love for his favorite baseball player.
Then the boy begins exploring his new small town, and slowly begins to find glimpses of what life could be. There is still some beauty left in the world, and with the help of a full cast of characters who are rich and vibrant in a wide array of colorful insights, he begins to discover a beauty in himself, a beauty that his brothers and father had all but destroyed.
I don’t want to give away any more of the stories, because I can’t do justice to them, and you should read them for yourselves. These authors have captured such heart wrenching pain, and mixed it with the perfect dose of stunning beauty, to create works that touched my heart deeply. As a reader, these are the stories that remain with me forever, for the stories could be those of my neighbors, or for anyone I meet on the street. As a writer, they are the stories I dream of finding in myself, but despair of ever reaching such levels of insight.
If you have read either of these books, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them. Sharing books is a great way to get to know others. If you haven’t read them, what are you waiting for? They are totally awesome.