Thursday, November 13, 2014

FREE SPIRIT: growing up on the road and off the grid - Long Title, Excellent Book

I'm going to start this review by talking about the very beginning of the book and the very end of the book.  To begin with - on page one I issued a very loud "Holy Mackerel!" When you think of The Glass Castle (one of my top 12 all-time), you certainly think about a dysfunctional family.  Well, when you read FREE SPIRIT, you might think that Jeanette Walls had a normal childhood.  Really.

As for the end of the book, literally the last 10 pages, Joshua Safran has given us an epilogue that truly means something.  Many books, both fiction and non-, have epilogues. And, oftentimes, they neatly wrap up the book.  In this case, I was absolutely fascinated by what Josh says in these 10 pages.  It not only talks about Josh today, but it also tells us how he transitioned from then to now.  I'm having a little bit of trouble saying what I mean, but, trust me, you will be blown away by the book and maybe even more blown away by the epilogue.

Between the beginning and end, there is, of course, a whole bunch of stuff about Josh's childhood.  And I have to admit being a little bit smug that my own son, Josh, did not go through what Josh Safran went through (I think that's true - you'll have to ask my Josh for verification).  It's amazing that Josh Safran got through it and became the family man and crusader for women's rights that he is today.

You want a Goodreads plot?  Fugetaboutit.  This is a book you just have to read.  There are no spoiler alerts here.  But I want to point out, and then emphasize, that this is a very well-written book.  Because of the nature of the story, maybe Josh could have gotten away with less skilled prose.  But, instead, his writing is excellent.  A couple of examples:

In his 1st experience with a popsicle, or any food that is not all-natural, he says:  "No, the genuine artificial article, glowing in unnatural colors and brimming with ingredients like FD&C Yellow No. 5 and enough preservatives to embalm a mammoth."

When Josh's mom, Claudia, gets a phone call that Leopoldo (her husband) is in jail, Josh says:  "The phone went limp in my mother's hand.  She rolled her head back and exhaled like she was giving birth to a nightmare."

The book is not all shock & awe and gloom & doom.  There is a segment where a Canadian border agent tries to get Josh's last name.  This is a scene right out of the famous Abbott and Costello routine, Who's on First."  Very well done.

Besides a few humorous moments, there are also (not surprisingly) some very poignant ones.  Josh realizes that with so much dysfunction, there has to be a few spots where his readers can take a breath.  I give him strong kudos for that.

And, finally, because some of this book takes place in the Bay Area, I get to relate to people and places that Josh talks about.  One is the Hare Krishnas (look them up).  They were big at Cal Berkeley when I was there in the late '60's-early '70's.  Josh encountered them in the late '70's, when they were still prominent in the Bay Area.  And Josh mentions Gilman Avenue, in Berkeley.  I grew up in Albany, a couple of blocks from Gilman.  I was on that street all the time.  Very cool.

That's it.  Read this book.  You will thank me - and curse me - for it.

PERSONAL APPEARANCE:  Josh will be coming to Recycle Books in Campbell next Tuesday night, November 18, for the RBC (Recycle Book Club) meeting.  Our book club will be getting together at 6:30 to talk about the book and get some questions ready for Josh.  Then Josh will arrive at 7:15 and stay for about an hour, answering those (and many more) questions and signing books.  Whether you have read the book or not, you are welcome to come to our meeting or just stop by when Josh is there.  I guarantee you a fascinating experience.

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