Tag Archives: child abuse

“MOON WATER,” BY PAM WEBBER

She Writes Press. 280 pages. Trade paperback $16,95.

Pam Webber

This tantalizing and sometimes frightening coming-of-age story centers on a strong-minded girl of sixteen, Nettie, and her battles with faith, sexuality, and a near-apocalyptic storm. Set in mountainous Central Virginia in 1969, the novel vividly captures the time and place with authority and respectful understanding. An intriguing extra ingredient is the influence of a native Monacan Indian leader, the grandmother of Nettie’s friend Win, who is an important force in the cultural and spiritual life of her community. This woman, Nibi, can read changes in the weather and restore health through the use of natural medicines. She is in tune with her environment, both a healer and a seer.

Nettie had been friends with Andy since they were in grade school, and now, in their teens, the relationship is maturing in a troublesome way. It’s not clear if they are ready for deep commitments to one another. Nettie is perplexed about “forever love.” She needs to explore what that means much further. How can she – or Andy – know what forever will bring?

Andy is hurt by Nettie’s inability to speak the familiar words of commitment without knowing herself better. He withdraws to give her the room she needs, but before long she finds him too often in the presence of Anne, who has been Nettie’s nemesis since they were young kids. Nettie cannot fathom what Andy sees in Anne, but it’s clear that Anne wants to lord it over the girl she sees as her rival.

For adult readers, such conflicts and uncertainties are long familiar. However, Ms. Webber probes these matters with sensitivity and nuance. Young Adult readers at the threshold Nettie is reaching (high school graduation and the unfathomable “then what?”) are likely to find Webber’s treatment of this theme particularly engaging and useful.

Commitment is a problem for Nettie in other ways as well. It is time for her to be baptized, but the priest at her church is dismayed by Nettie’s unwillingness to accept and voice traditional religious formulas. She is an independent thinker who wants to make her own decisions, not merely mouth platitudes that she hasn’t tested and explored for herself. When the priest observes that Nettie is not yet ready, Nettie is in agreement. However, she and Pastor Williams don’t mean the same thing. He means subservient, she means convinced.

As with her feelings for Andy, this young woman does not want to testify to feelings and beliefs that she isn’t sure are true to her sense of herself.

Pastor Williams sets up an intermediary, an associate pastor named Danes, to guide Nettie in the right direction. While Mr. Danes is a smooth operator and helpful in some ways, he turns out to be a sexual predator. Pastor Williams has put Nettie in harm’s way. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the Southern Literary Review, click here:  Moon Water

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Florida series premier focuses on predators who kidnap and sell children

Cooper’s Moon, by Richard Conrath. Gulf Shore Press. 400 pages. Trade Paperback $14.99.

This gripping debut novel is the first in a projected Cooper series. Timely issues, elaborately painted South Florida settings, a strong protagonist, and haunting horrors will keep readers engaged and on edge.  

Cooper is a driven man. Seven years before the story’s point of attack, Cooper and his wife Jillie suffered a marriage-destroying tragedy. Their young son Maxie was inexplicably gone from their lives, probably kidnapped from the neighborhood of their rural Ohio home. Their local searches go nowhere. The marriage collapses under the weight of mutual recriminations.

Seeking a fresh angle on finding his son, Cooper leaves his college teaching job and moves to Miami, where he has connections. He becomes a homicide detective in the Miami Police Department, and he lives in a community called Oceanside.

Readers meet him seven years into his second career, working a case involving the shooting of a twelve- year-old boy. Soon after, he gets involved in a case about a teenage girl, Tamara Thompson, whose corpse was found in a cemetery. It’s easy for Cooper to be sympathetic with Tamara’s parents.

Cooper’s lack of progress on the hunt for his son’s fate and his frustration with police bureaucracy leads him to leave the police department and become a private investigator. He manages to hold onto some of his police friends, including his former partner Detective Tony DeFelice, but they never let him forget that he “copped out” on them.

Conrath

Soon enough, Cooper learns that there are several unsolved child murders in or near his Oceanside community. And other children are missing. Even though leads are scarce, the road to information leads to a seminary whose candidates for priesthood are also trying to save area youths from lives of crime or from other kinds of danger. Cooper’s first case as a PI leads him there. Cooper finds the leaders to be either closed-mouthed or speaking with false, forced sincerity.

Mr. Conrath has taken us into the hideous world of human trafficking. These innocent kids are for sale via an international marketplace where their abductors compete for goods for which there is an insatiable demand. Is the seminary a cover operation? Who’s ultimately pulling the strings?

. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the April 11, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Cooper’s Moon

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“The Education of Dixie Dupree” by Donna Everhart

  • Kensington. 352 pages. Trade paperback $15.00.

A harrowing story of domestic trauma with Southern Gothic flair.

In this intense narrative, set in a small Alabama town in 1969, 11-year-old Dixie is having what is no doubt the most difficult time of her childhood. Her coping mechanism has been her diary, given to her as a birthday present three years earlier by her mother. Among the many things recorded in the diary is material to be used in the New Hampshire trial of her Uncle Ray. With this information laid out, author Donna Everhart baits the hook and starts reeling her readers in. theeducationofdixiedupree

The Dupree family is ready to explode. The tension between Dixie’s mother and father is unbearable. Dixie and her older brother, AJ, are caught in the emotional maelstrom that surrounds their mother, Evie’s, wish to return to New Hampshire. Never being able to make a socially comfortable life for herself in the South, she talks endlessly about her idyllic upbringing in Concord — though she is silent about her brother, Ray.

Evie’s misery has made her husband miserable, too. It has torn them apart and sent him to drown his feelings in alcohol. Evie is often unstable, and Dixie never knows how “Mama” is going to react. She is often impatient, cruel, and physically abusive. Then Evie is apologetic, but soon doubly cruel. More and more out of control, Evie blames her husband for her unfortunate situation as an outcast in Alabama.

Dixie can be hotheaded, too. She feels the need to strike back. She fights any feelings of being intimidated. She is also a chronic liar whose lies serve many purposes beyond protecting herself. However, it is Evie who has the deeper secrets, secrets that drive the characters’ destinies long before those destinies are fully revealed.

Donna Everhart credit Gina Warren

Donna Everhart credit Gina Warren

Dixie is also our narrator. Her voice is clear and strong, though perhaps author Everhart has made her too articulate for a person so young. Dixie processes what is going on around her with a high degree of sophistication. Moreover, she is an unrepentant questioner. Often, her troubles with Evie stem from asking a fairly innocent question that sends Evie into a rage. Dixie has pushed a button without knowing it, opening up Evie’s fears and threatening her secrets. . .

 

To read the complete review, click here:  The Education of Dixie Dupree | Washington Independent Review of Books

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A powerful emotional journey from victimhood toward forgiveness

The Wooden Chair, by Rayne E. Golay. Untreed Reads. 307 pages (estimated). E-book $4.99.

I can’t remember a book dragging me into such a state of despondency. Paradoxically, that is its strength in the early going. As readers witness the psychological pain visited upon poor Leini Bauman, a young Finnish girl growing up during and after WWII and the simultaneous “Continuation War” between Finland and Russia, they have a lot to process. From the beginning, readers hope for her escape from suffering. Golay Cover

The threat of war leads Leini’s family to move from Helsinki to a rural area until things settle down. This relocation is disorienting, though it offers some positive new experiences for the five year old. When she comes back home, she needs to adapt all over again to the city and to what went on during her absence.

Leini’s troubles, however, are far more deeply rooted in her physical handicap, her odd appearance, and her heart-wrenching relationship with her mother, Mira. For reasons we come to understand, Mira cannot show love to her daughter. She regularly belittles, threatens, and otherwise mistreats Leini, who is clearly an abused child.

Mira makes Leini’s ocular deformity the target of her hostility. She presses the frightened girl into an operation with the promise of loving her once her deformity is corrected so that she is beautiful. The surgery backfires. Leini loses sight in her wandering eye altogether. Odd-looking Leini remains the victim of schoolmates’ taunts, though she does make a few friends.

And she does find love in her relationships with her father, her father’s parents, and her mother’s brother, Uncle Karl. However, none of these parental figures are able to protect her from Mira’s cruelty. Nor can they make any headway in helping Mira control her dependence on alcohol and her body image problems. She habitually refuses food, worrying that she is too fat.

Leini’s teen years are a cold war with Mira. Eventually, her grandfather arranges for her to have an operation in Vienna. Though her eyesight cannot be restored, major cosmetic improvement results. With careful makeup, Leini looks much more normal – certainly no longer freakish.

Rayne E. Golay

Rayne E. Golay

In 1957, a confident Leini graduates from high school. She has already taken her future into her own hands by applying to Geneva University’s psychology program. Her father pleads with her to stay in Helsinki, but Leini makes it clear that life with Mira (she hasn’t called her “mother” for some time) is unbearable. Always, Leini tries to understand why her father stays with Mira. Essentially, he has given up fighting with her, and he cannot break the hideous pattern of their relationship. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the October 9, 2013 Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the October 10 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, and the October 17 Charlotte County edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Rayne Golay

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