Tag Archives: broken families

Miles From Nowhere

Sliding on the Edge: A Novel by C. Lee McKenzie (WestSide Books, $16.95, 268 pages)

The rent is overdue and Jackie, a compulsive gambler, has skipped town with the latest in a long line of bad boyfriends.   She leaves a hundred dollars, a bus ticket to Sacramento, California, and a note telling her daughter to look up the grandmother she’s never met.   So when sixteen-year-old Shawna wakes up to find herself alone in their seedy rental, we expect a coming-of-age story set against the bright lights and gritty underbelly of Las Vegas.

But Sliding on the Edge by first-time novelist C. Lee McKenzie delivers something quite different.   It’s an interesting look at the lives of two women – grandmother Kay’s and Shawna’s – linked by blood and stained by tragedy.   They are each others’ last chance for happiness, as impossible as that seems to both when they first set eyes on each other.

McKenzie tells the story of their uneasy first months together, alternating chapters in Shawna’s words and in Kay’s and sometimes recounting the same scene from each character’s perspective.   It’s a technique that deftly lets the reader in on Kay’s past and on Shawna’s self-destructive present.   But it falls short of making Shawna a likeable character.   When Kay’s teenaged stable hand develops a crush on Shawna; and Marta, a classmate, pursues her friendship, this reader wondered why?

Kay is a far more sympathetic character, which is brilliant:  It lets the reader, likely a teen, see that authority figures are people, too.   At times, however, it seemed to have been edited too tightly at the expense of details that might have developed the characters further.   Who is the redhead with the ice cream about whom Shawna thinks?

Sliding on the Edge tackles the difficult issues of depression, cutting, and attempted suicide in an unflinching manner and ends on a hopeful note.   Recommended.

By Kimberly Caldwell

A review copy was provided by the author.   “Sliding on the Edge is the compelling, courageous chronicle of one girl – destined to be a no-one – who fights back against her secret grief and pain and finds her life.”   Judy Gregerson, author of Bad Girls Club.

C. Lee McKenzie has released her second novel, The Princess of Las Pulgas.

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The Other Wes Moore

other wes moore

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore (Spiegel & Grau)

“The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine.   The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”

This uniquely titled nonfiction book was written by Wes Moore, the Rhodes Scholar, U.S. Army paratrooper and White House Fellow.   He is the successful Wes Moore.   His namesake from the same town on the east coast is serving a life sentence in the Jessup State Correctional Institution.   The crime was murder and there is no possibility of parole.

The author’s recent appearance on the Oprah Show gave this reviewer the opportunity to observe him in the spotlight.   He came off as poised, charming and amazingly confident.   I wondered if this was an act, perhaps a well-polished persona that wins friends and influences people?   There are plenty of hucksters who achieve fame.   The book would provide the answer.

Within the first couple of chapters it was obvious that Wes Moore is beautifully literate, yet without pretentiousness.   What you see is definitely what you get.   His unfaltering curiosity about the other Wes Moore has resulted in a book that explores the outcomes for both these men and how they arrived at adulthood.

The story revolves around two young men with all-too-familiar life circumstances that include being an African American male raised by a single parent living in a poor, or declining, urban neighborhood.   The narrative is set forth in three major phases concerning their coming of age.   The fellows and their life experiences are differentiated as the author uses the first person for himself and the third person for the other Wes Moore.

The story is filled with painful realities – it’s easy to fall into the gang life; defensiveness and alienation are part of each day; and escaping the neighborhood (Baltimore or the Bronx) requires courage, determination and sacrifice.   The author began his life with two parents raising him; however, due to a tragic medical condition his father died of a rare but treatable virus.   The other Wes Moore only met his father once, accidentally in passing.

Each man encountered challenges as well as opportunities.   The opportunities were provided by family and friends.   Always there is balance in the presentation of each man’s life including photographs that illustrate the text.   They both tried and failed more than once when attempting to change the course of their lives.   The difference in the outcome can be characterized by the expectations placed upon the author and his willingness to keep trying regardless of how hard the challenge might be.   He was also immensely fortunate to have family who were willing to make financial sacrifices to obtain some of the opportunities.

Wes Moore, the author, has included a comprehensive resource guide at the back of this book.   The nationwide listing features organizations focused on assisting youth.   Because this list is a point-in-time snapshot of resources, this reviewer was pleasantly surprised to see that a continually updated version is available on the internet.

A reader who is interested in learning more about success and how it can be achieved would be well served to read The Genius in All of Us by David Shenk.   Both books explore the impact of environment on personal success and the role hard work plays in achieving it.

The Other Wes Moore:  One Name, Two Fates will alert a reader to the possibilities for a better future for our youth, especially children who face undeniably tough circumstances.   Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

The Other Wes Moore was released by Spiegel & Grau on April 27, 2010.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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