RAISING ABEL

A woman of remarkable resourcefulness single-handedly raises a troubled child all the way to manhood in this intimate and inspiring blog-to-book memoir.

At 38, Carolyn Nash had a good job, no apparent struggles and few conscious regrets—save, perhaps, her weight and her childlessness. She remedies the latter by fostering and then adopting 3-year-old Abel, a victim of unspeakable parental abuse, most of it sexual. The consequences are predictable and agonizing. Abel is charmingly innocent yet uncontrollably violent, and as he grows, so do his PTSD symptoms. He refuses to bathe, he fails in school. Thrown toys become thrown punches, then smashed windshields. Psychiatrists are consulted, police called. Special education, home-schooling, hospitalizations, meds—all resources are tried and exhausted. Yet Nash remains indefatigable, wrestling with her son (literally) and with her inner demons and repressed memories, haltingly revealed in sessions with her therapist. Through the lens of Abel’s trauma, Nash peers into her own nightmares—she too feels deformed and unlovable—and learns their sick source. The book is structured almost entirely in short, dramatic episodes, a technique Nash uses skillfully, though the dialogue at times grows repetitive and similar scenes tend to pile up. A bit of condensing and narrative summarizing would have propelled events more quickly and provided perspective on this 18-year saga. And although Nash faithfully records Abel’s words and behavior, for much of the book he remains a cipher. Only late in the story, when the troubled teen turns violently on Nash herself, do we get a penetrating glimpse into Abel’s beating heart, where his triggers, his alienation and his lifelong struggle come into searing focus. Here Nash gives us Abel in full, and we see with our own eyes how the measure of this young man is also the measure of the woman who raised him—with pure, dogged, unrelenting, overwhelming, at times selfish, often desperate, boundless, evergreen love. This was her treatment and her cure. We know it by its common term—mothering. A sobering but uplifting tale of love that never gives up; dramatically told, ultimately rewarding.

 

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-1466499263

Page Count: 332

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

DAD'S MAYBE BOOK

Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Mostly conservative in its stance and choices but common-sensical and current.

HOW TO RAISE A READER

Savvy counsel and starter lists for fretting parents.

New York Times Book Review editor Paul (My Life With Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues, 2017, etc.) and Russo, the children’s book editor for that publication, provide standard-issue but deftly noninvasive strategies for making books and reading integral elements in children’s lives. Some of it is easier said than done, but all is intended to promote “the natural, timeless, time-stopping joys of reading” for pleasure. Mediumwise, print reigns supreme, with mild approval for audio and video books but discouraging words about reading apps and the hazards of children becoming “slaves to the screen.” In a series of chapters keyed to stages of childhood, infancy to the teen years, the authors supplement their advice with short lists of developmentally appropriate titles—by their lights, anyway: Ellen Raskin’s Westing Game on a list for teens?—all kitted out with enticing annotations. The authors enlarge their offerings with thematic lists, from “Books That Made Us Laugh” to “Historical Fiction.” In each set, the authors go for a mix of recent and perennially popular favorites, leaving off mention of publication dates so that hoary classics like Janice May Udry’s A Tree Is Nice seem as fresh as David Wiesner’s Flotsam and Carson Ellis’ Du Iz Tak? and sidestepping controversial titles and themes in the sections for younger and middle-grade readers—with a few exceptions, such as a cautionary note that some grown-ups see “relentless overparenting” in Margaret Wise Brown’s Runaway Bunny. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series doesn’t make the cut except for a passing reference to its “troubling treatment of Indians.” The teen lists tend to be edgier, salted with the provocative likes of Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, and a nod to current demands for more LGBTQ and other #ownvoices books casts at least a glance beyond the mainstream. Yaccarino leads a quartet of illustrators who supplement the occasional book cover thumbnails with vignettes and larger views of children happily absorbed in reading.

Mostly conservative in its stance and choices but common-sensical and current.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5235-0530-2

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Workman

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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