Saturday, October 1, 2016

Did You Like Still Alice? Yes? Well, Then, You're Going to Love Splinters of Light

Wow!  The last time I read a book this good was back in July of last year! It was Goodnight June, and you all know what I thought about that one. Now I'm adding Splinters of Light by Rachael Herron to that rarified air. This is the 3rd of 3 books that Rachael has written in the mis lit genre (remember? that's where something tragic happens).  I really liked the 1st 2 - Pack Up the Moon and The Ones Who Matter Most - a lot.  But this one stands out.

So what tragic event happens in SoL?  It's actually a tragic event that is in process.  I'm not giving anything away by quoting the back page:

Ten years ago, Nora Glass started writing essays about being a single mother of a six-year old daughter.  Her weekly column made her a household name, and over the years, her fans have watched Ellie grow from a toddler to a teenager.
But now Nora is facing a problem that can't be overcome.  Diagnosed with a devastating disease that will eventually take away who she is, she is scared for herself, but even more frightened about what this will mean for her sixteen-year old daughter.
Now Nora has no choice but to let go of her hard-won image as a competent, self-assured woman and turn to the one person who has always relied on her: her twin sister, Mariana.  Nora and Mariana couldn't be more different from each other, and they've always had a complicated relationship.  But the two sisters will have to summon the strength to help them all get through a future none of them could have ever imagined, while uncovering the joy and beauty that was always underneath.

You can see that this is very Still Alice-like.  And I liked that one a lot (5/14/15 review).  I gave it a 3.25/4 and might have given it a 3.5/4 if I had read the book before I saw the movie.  Either way, it was very good. It gave us a pretty good idea of what it must be like to have this kind of disease.  But here's the thing - Rachael makes it even clearer.  I really felt like I was living inside Nora's head.  And it was an extremely uncomfortable place to be.

There is so much good stuff about this book that I don't even really know that I can get it all in.  I think I'll fall back on my itemized list.  This will not only let you know what to look for.  But it will also help me get a handle on my feelings.

1.   The writing is terrific.  I felt like every word, sentence, and paragraph flowed into one another.  And the latter part of the book was extremely Pat Conroy-like.  That is to say, something literary but still easy to read.
2.   There are plenty of tears, OMGs, and Wows (including one some time after I finished the book!).  In fact, at one point I actually had to stop reading in order to get myself under control.  We all know I'm a big baby, but I normally can at least keep reading.  Not so much this time.
3.   We get a good description of the neurological testing that goes into determining whether or not somebody has an early form of dementia.
4.   Rachael gives a great definition of flirting.  It's too long to quote her, but you can find it on the bottom of 135, top of 136.
5.   I absolutely love how the narrator goes back and forth among Nora, Mariana, and Ellie.  What Rachael makes us understand is how each of them is feeling.  And for us oldies (but goodies? - not sure), it's fun to get inside the head of a 16-year old.
6.   Rachael also sprinkles in essays about Ellie's childhood from the book that Nora published and that was very successful commercially. She knows just when to give us one of those.  And they are very cool.
7.   I like the parts that both Luke and Harrison play as boyfriend and next door neighbor for Mariana and Nora.
8.   The ending may be one of my favorite endings of all time.  And I'm not just saying that.
9.   I am blown away by how Rachael can use one word and have it just explode with impact.  I won't tell you what it is (but it's on page 141, 3rd line from the bottom).
10. And, finally, how about making you feel that you are right there with Nora?
a.  "Nora didn't know when the knowledge that she wouldn't escape her diagnosis had shifted inside her, but it felt, somehow, okay.  It felt all right.  Not Ideal.  But all right."  Or
b.  "Where did the knowledge go when it left her mind?"
See what I mean?

Lest you think there is only doom and gloom in this book, you are very wrong.  Much of it is uplifting with funny and, yes, poignant moments. And I even had a couple of personal connections (you know how much I like pointing those out!):

1.   Mariana remembers taking turns reading books when they were kids.  One of those books was The Giving Tree.  I know I've told you this before, but that is the very 1st children's book I bought for my kids - and it was 2 years before my oldest (who's now 40! - can that be?) was even born!
2.   Nora, in one of her magazine articles, talks about a Thanksgiving where they ate everything with their hands, including mashed potatoes. When my 3 kids were all living at home, Joni had a "no manners" dinner where we used no silverware.  One of our dishes was mashed potatoes! And Joni scooped portions onto everybody's plate with her hands. Needless to say, that meal was a big hit.

I think I've gone on long enough.  But I obviously have a lot to say about this fantastic book.  My last comment is:  PLEASE READ SPLINTERS OF LIGHT!

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