Thursday, November 3, 2016

Monthly Recommendations: Family Focus

Monthly Recommendations is a monthly meme created by Kayla Rayne and Trina. Each month features a different topic for us to recommend our favorite books for that month. Please stop by the Goodreads group to share your recommendations, check out other links, etc.

There are so many interpretations available for this month's topic for monthly recommendations: families as they are in the book, a family that the character creates themselves, etc. I'm not going to stick with any one topic, per se, and instead I'll tell you with each selection how I believe that title has a focus on family.

The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

This is, I think, obvious, but it bears repeating because not only do I love Harry Potter along with a great many people in my generation, now my son's generation is getting to the age when they're ready to read this story for themselves or have it read to them. I'm meeting children and their parents in bookshops now and realizing that there are a whole lot of people that are finally able to read it for the first time and I am so envious.

How does this series relate to family? That can be answered a couple different ways. The primary way is, I think, how Harry comes to find a family after his is taken from him as an infant. He is raised by his aunt and uncle, but they never treat him like real family so we won't count them at the moment. Once Harry is old enough to start attending Hogwarts, he is introduced to not just a whole new wizarding world, but also to people that appreciate and love him for who he is. These people, Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, they all become family that he chooses. This type of family is often the most important because blood family is family we're often stuck with no matter how badly we're treated, but family we choose is family we honor with our choice. They're are dear enough to us that we consider them our heart's family despite not being blood related.

The second example of family is the Weasley family who embodies everything that a family ought to be. Sure they have their difficulties, especially with Percy once Goblet of Fire starts through the end of the series, but they support one another despite financial difficulties, despite having to struggle to get seven children through school, etc. Even with all of their problems, they never, not for one second, hesitate to welcome Harry into their family once he becomes a friend of Ron's. I wish we had seen more of the children's friends become as close as Harry did, but the benefit of their love towards Harry can't be discounted. He eventually does become a legal member of their family, but that's semantics.

The Blossom Street Series by Debbie Macomber

This series starts out with The Shop on Blossom Street and continues for at least ten books. Lydia, the proprietor of A Good Yarn (the titular shop), opens her knitting shop with the hope of making friends and as an affirmation of life after having beaten cancer for a second time recently. She manages to open a successful business on a street under construction and builds it from there. Starting out with a class for a baby blanket and featuring a new project every couple of months, she routinely meets new people and welcomes them into her new family of Blossom Street residents and visitors. 

If you take a class with Lydia, you're sure to become family, whether you start out like punk rock Alix, snooty Jacqueline, or despondent Carol in the first book or any of the other women and men in following books. Lydia doesn't judge anyone, always giving them a chance, and she mediates differences well. Her influence ensures that not only does she make her own family, but the different customers come to see each other as family as well (Jacqueline, for example, becomes something of a surrogate mother for Alix). A Good Yarn is a safe zone, a safe haven, and Lydia never makes any claims but she welcomes people regardless.

The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati

This book does not have the happiest of atmospheres because it deals with the very real and serious topic of bipolar disorder, particularly among teenagers. Catherine, the main character, lives in anticipation of the day when Zero (aka rock bottom on the depression chart) will catch up with her and she'll finally complete the suicide attempt she tried two years ago.

The reason I'm including this book on this list among "happier" titles is Catherine's mother. She understands her daughter's illness, in a manner of speaking, from the beginning. She knows that it's serious and doesn't try to brush it under the rug. She goes to the doctors, the therapists, anyone that can help her daughter. She raised Catherine as a single mother with help from her own mother, she worked two jobs often with double shifts to pay for Catherine's medications and appointments. There is nothing this woman would not do for her child.

I find that a lot of the parents in fiction regarding mental illness tend not to be this kind or understanding. They either ignore the problem to begin with or expect it to go away with a sunny disposition (which anyone with half a brain could tell you is NOT how it works with bipolar disorder). I hate books like that, so The Weight of Zero was amazing in that it gave an honest portrayal of the disease and it gave me an example of a brilliant mother struggling to do what she can to support her daughter through her recovery and maintenance. 

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