Tag Archives: memoir

Two by Lois Lowry: On the Horizon and Looking Back

books_looking1_m  9780358129400by Lois Lowry
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I am a big Lois Lowry fan and always pleased to dive into a previously unknown (to me) book by her. I know there are a few lesser-known works (ones that are among her favorites, as it happens) and I confess I’m sort of saving them, because I know one day she’ll stop writing (she’s 83 now!).

I was excited to see that she had a new book out, On the Horizon, about her childhood in Hawaii and Japan in the 1930s/40s. It’s a memoir in verse, beautifully illustrated by Kenard Pak. The black and white illustrations, done in pencil, are surprisingly complex in shading. Two in particular were back to back, of Lowry as a girl meeting illustrator Allen Say as a boy, a moment they both recalled when they met for real years later (which I just learned and can’t get over!). In one picture, Lowry is foregrounded and Say is behind a fence, far away with friends. In the other, Say is foregrounded and blond Lowry and her memorable green bike are behind the fence and far away. The different perspectives really help drive home her text which attempts to show both sides, a tension she must have been aware of as an American living in the post-war years in Japan. (If you can, I recommend looking at this in a physical book rather than e-book as I did; some of the formatting was a bit wonky and I’m betting that the layout helps with the impact of the illustrations as well as the flow.)

Lowry did a lot of research into the details of the historic events that she lived through as a child, especially the lives of the American sailors who died in the Pearl Harbor attack and the Japanese civilians who died in the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima. The verse is sometimes rhyming and sometimes not, even within the same poem, which is jarring and maybe partly the point – sometimes we can see the rhyme and reason in why things happen, and a lot of times, especially in troubling times, we can’t. I did learn a new style of poetry called a triolet, which Lowry does three times well and is moving in its repetition (and reminds me of a pantoum, but I digress).

Lowry had such a unique childhood experience and I’m glad she finally delved into it. While looking for On the Horizon I also found her 1998 memoir, Looking Back, which helped give more context to On the HorizonLooking Back got a much-needed update in 2016. I loved the way she connected in each chapter a book she wrote to an event from her life that helped inspire it, even the ones I haven’t read yet.

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar

9780399546457by Ruth Behar
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

When she was ten, Ruth Behar broke her leg in a bad car accident and was laid up for almost a year in a full body cast. This is a fictionalized account of that time, mostly made of her fuzzy memories and some embellishing to make it a slightly happier story than it was. (Reading the author’s note was very interesting!) Most interesting to me were how much she changed as a result – when she finally gets to go outside, she’s not soaking it in and begging to stay out, she is begging for the safety of her room and her bed. When she finally finally finally gets the cast off (after a couple of false starts that extend her time laid up by more than double), she is too scared to try to walk again. Her process of overcoming that fear was also fascinating.

Ruth describes her various friends, including Ramu (whose kid brother falls out of a window to his death and the rest of the family, overcome with grief, moves back to India) and Chicho, a lovely and possibly gay artist from Mexico, who is very kind to Ruth and her family. She describes Danielle from France who appears to be a fairweather friend but in the end comes through and they become quite close. Ruth’s mother sacrifices the most for her and bears the brunt of the emotional toll, which was also quite interesting to read (as an adult; I don’t think that would hold much interest for kids). Ruth and her brother Izzie (Isaac) are quite close as well and rarely fight, and she gets a teacher/tutor who not only helps her not fall behind, but with whom she advances to a 10th grade reading level after just graduating from the ELL class.

The other interesting thing to note is that Ruth and her family are Jewish and Cuban, the history of which plays a decent role in the story. I’m glad to encounter more books of Jewish people of color because theirs are narratives that outsiders don’t get to encounter too often and which are quite different from the white/Ashkenazi Judaism as most Americans probably think of it. Through Ruth’s healing, you can see the seeds of anthropology starting to grow; she is now an anthropology professor and has explored her own “Juban” roots through work like the documentary Adio Kerida and the book An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba.