Those seeking Chicken Soup for the Soul homilies or tidy endings—or standard English usage and grammar—should look...

AT A LOSS

Nine short stories depict characters coping with various forms of loss, from a grieving teen boyfriend-turned-funeral-crasher to an alcoholic academic.

Short story writer Jung, here anthologized for the second time, circles themes of loss, regret and bereavement in tales—primarily set in the Great Lakes region—ranging from vignettes to longer narratives. All, however, are in the writer’s idiosyncratic prose, which includes rich imagery delivered (and sometimes obscured) in run-on sentences and interior monologues that read like poetry. In “Footfalls on the Stairway,” a former drunk marks 10 years of sobriety by pining for his fondly remembered ex-wife. Alcoholism also figures into “A Rainy Day for Daffodils”; three kids goofing off meet a well-educated bum who threw away his life for an existence of boozy vagrancy and who leaves the trio with a dubious gift of self-revelation before moving on. “The Sacred Cave,” one of the most successful shorts, invites readers to solve the riddle of Jamie Barrett, a high school footballer on a desperate mission to mourn at a funeral for a girl he actually doesn’t know; complications arise when the deceased turns out to be black, and the white teenager must come up with a plausible explanation (for us as well as the family) for his anomalous presence. “The Moping Man” is a seemingly harmless small-town recluse who indulges an implacable hatred for his imprisoned wife by obsessively collecting and contemplating bloody Crucifixion icons. The Rod Serling-esque “A Zoo Parting,” follows separate characters at a zoo who reach the climax of their lifelong personal torment at the hands of a mysterious, demonic bully. Happy endings are not Jung’s stock in trade, but “Professor Pearl’s Yelloweyed Dog” uplifts, as a jaded academic gets a boost out of rescuing an animal in peril, a sensation he well knows is purely temporary. For a collection that’s all about pain, Jung’s uneven batch still shows that people take diverse paths in reacting to anguish, including the deliberate avoidance of closure.

Those seeking Chicken Soup for the Soul homilies or tidy endings—or standard English usage and grammar—should look elsewhere, as author Jung explores depths of inner pain.

Pub Date: April 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-1936243334

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Chapbook Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2012

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A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.

BROTHERS IN ARMS

BLUFORD HIGH SERIES #9

In the ninth book in the Bluford young-adult series, a young Latino man walks away from violence—but at great personal cost.

In a large Southern California city, 16-year-old Martin Luna hangs out on the fringes of gang life. He’s disaffected, fatherless and increasingly drawn into the orbit of the older, rougher Frankie. When a stray bullet kills Martin’s adored 8-year-old brother, Huero, Martin seems to be heading into a life of crime. But Martin’s mother, determined not to lose another son, moves him to another neighborhood—the fictional town of Bluford, where he attends the racially diverse Bluford High. At his new school, the still-grieving Martin quickly makes enemies and gets into trouble. But he also makes friends with a kind English teacher and catches the eye of Vicky, a smart, pretty and outgoing Bluford student. Martin’s first-person narration supplies much of the book’s power. His dialogue is plain, but realistic and believable, and the authors wisely avoid the temptation to lard his speech with dated and potentially embarrassing slang. The author draws a vivid and affecting picture of Martin’s pain and confusion, bringing a tight-lipped teenager to life. In fact, Martin’s character is so well drawn that when he realizes the truth about his friend Frankie, readers won’t feel as if they are watching an after-school special, but as though they are observing the natural progression of Martin’s personal growth. This short novel appears to be aimed at urban teens who don’t often see their neighborhoods portrayed in young-adult fiction, but its sophisticated characters and affecting story will likely have much wider appeal.

A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 978-1591940173

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Townsend Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2013

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A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

Mary's Song

From the Dream Horse Adventure Series series , Vol. 1

A novel tells the story of two spirited girls who set out to save a lame foal in 1952.

Mary, age 12, lacks muscle control of her legs and must use a wheelchair. Her life is constantly interrupted by trips with her widower father to assorted doctors, all of whom have failed to help her. Mary tolerates the treatments, hoping to one day walk unassisted, but her true passion involves horses. Possessing a library filled with horse books, she loves watching and drawing the animals at a neighboring farm. She longs to own one herself. But her father, overprotective due to her disability and his own lingering grief over Mary’s dead mother, makes her keep her distance. Mary befriends Laura, the emotionally neglected daughter of the wealthy neighboring farm owners, and the two share secret buggy rides. Both girls are attracted to Illusion, a beautiful red bay filly on the farm. Mary learns that Illusion is to be put down by a veterinarian because of a lame leg. Horrified, she decides to talk to the barn manager about the horse (“Isn’t it okay for her to live even if she’s not perfect? I think she deserves a chance”). Soon, Mary and Laura attempt to raise money to save Illusion. At the same time, Mary begins to gain control of her legs thanks to water therapy and secret therapeutic riding with Laura. There is indeed a great deal of poignancy in a story of a girl with a disability fighting to defend the intrinsic value of a lame animal. But this book, the first installment of the Dream Horse Adventure Series, would be twice as touching if Mary interacted with Illusion more. In the tale’s opening, she watches the foal from afar, but she actually spends very little time with the filly she tries so hard to protect. This turns out to be a strange development given the degree to which the narrative relies on her devotion. Count (Selah’s Sweet Dream, 2015) draws Mary and Laura in broad but believable strokes, defined mainly by their unrelenting pluckiness in the face of adversity. While the work tackles disability, death, and grief, Mary’s and Laura’s environments are so idyllic and their optimism and perseverance so remarkable that the story retains an aura of uncomplicated gentleness throughout.

A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Hastings Creations Group

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2016

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