I should be working on my novel revisions and little books (yes, I'm on deadline) but I just finished one set of them, so decided to share my thoughts on a couple of historical fiction books I've been reading.
My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson. What a fascinating and troubling bit of history. The story is based upon the author's husband's life when he was a boy growing up in Alaska. Luke, the protagonist and his two younger brothers are sent to a Catholic boarding school to get an education. It chronicles their relationships with each other, with the nuns and priests, and their fellow students. The novel has multiple viewpoints and although at first I didn't like having to switch between the different characters, by a third of the way through, the shifts no longer mattered. Their stories did.
One thing that really struck me is how mean one of the priests was. It made the boys wonder if God was like that too, judgmental and waiting to punish all the times they disobeyed. It reminded me of the time I read Roald Dahl's autobiography Boy. He talks about the terrible punishment inflicted upon the boys at his Catholic boarding school and he lost his faith because of it. I don't understand how any priest or nun could be so cruel in the name of shaping little heathens.
My experience has been the opposite. Priests and nuns were people of refuge. You could run to them at any time because you knew they cared. Yes, I've been spanked for sliding down the banisters or running in the hallways, but it was not a sustained beating. There was always love. They wanted me to be a lady, not a junglee. The nuns I knew fostered my faith. And so I wonder, if a priest behaves in such a way so as to undermine a child's faith (even though it's inadvertent in the name of discipline) I wonder about the judgment of God upon that priest. Because yes, there is judgment after death. We are all accountable, and just as I am accountable for my responsibility towards my children, priests have an even greater responsibility as they shepherd their flock.
Lord, have mercy.
Sometimes that's all you can say, as Ann Fay muses in Blue by Joyce Moyer Hostetter. The author writes about local history. It chronicles the time when Ann Fay's daddy goes off to fight Hitler and she's the man of the house. She puts on overalls and helps Mama with the younger kids, working in the garden, until polio strikes the youngest in their family -- her brother Bobby. Mom goes off to the polio camp with Bobby and Ann Fay is left to do the work of her mama as well -- the washing, cleaning, scrubbing, cooking and burning of toys. Yes, to rid the house of polio germs.
The voice of Ann Fay is that of a sturdy girl, a girl with a heart after her daddy. From the first page, I was hoping and praying for her daddy. Bring him home. Lest you worry, he does, bringing home a piece of something I didn't quite expect. Brought tears to my eyes.
Both books are beautifully written, with distinctive voices, of love and loss and of finding love again. They are stories about survival, stories that I'm so thankful the authors chose to tell. I hope you will pick these up.
Happy reading and writing, all.