Tag Archives: survivors

Full of Grace

Pictures of You: A Novel by Caroline Leavitt (Algonquin Books, $13.94, 336 pages)

There was no cause and effect.   There was no karma.   The truth was that he wasn’t so sure he understood how the world worked anymore.

At the start of Pictures of You, two women – April and Isabelle – are literally driving away from their marriages when they collide on a foggy highway.   Only Isabelle survives.   And she’s joined in the role of survivor by her husband Charlie, April’s husband Sam and his needy 9-year-old son, Sam.   In his neediness, Sam comes to view Isabelle as an angel placed on earth to rescue him.

It’s quite an amazing set-up for an extremely well written novel by Caroline Leavitt.   Leavitt writes in a calm, methodical, factual style that calls to mind both Michelle Richmond and Diane Hammond; and like those authors (and Elizabeth Berg), she intends to impart a few of life’s lessons in the process of telling a story.   One lesson has to do with powerlessness:  “You could think you understood things, but the truth was that you could never see the full picture of someone else’s life.”

Then there’s the fact that we look for something more than human in times of grief and trouble:  “Maybe tomorrow, the angel might be the one to come for him.”   “People believed in angels when they were most in trouble.”

…he had somehow photographed her so that her shoulders were dark and burly, as if she had wings under her dress…  (as if) she might spread them to lift off the ground and fly away.

Sam’s desire to make something sacred out of the very human Isabelle is a representation of the notion that everyone seeks comfort and safety in life.   When Sam’s father reads the obituaries in the newspaper, “He (doesn’t) bother to brush away his tears…  each one said the same thing:  Come home.  Come home.”

Isabelle, however, is the one who has the clear chance to re-start her life, and the reader will be intrigued to see what choices she makes.   The beauty of Leavitt’s telling is that what the reader thinks is going to happen does not.   And this, in itself, makes it a very special book.

Pictures of You concludes with a perfect ending in which everything is fully and satisfactorily resolved.   There’s also a Hollywood-style postscript, a look back from 21 years later, that adds a nice cinematic touch to the account.   All in all, this is an amazing second novel.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Magically written, heartbreakingly honest.”   Jodi Picoult

The reader who enjoys this book may also want to read American Music: A Novel by Jane Mendelsohn.  

  You can find our review of American Music here:  https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/late-for-the-sky/

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The Big Cat Book

Leo the Snow Leopard: The True Story of an Amazing Rescue, told by Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, and Craig Hatkoff (Scholastic Press; $17.99; 40 pages)

“Snow leopards by nature are survivors.   They withstand almost impossible conditions – frigid snow, harsh winds, unsteady ground.”

As a very young cat (my humans call me a kitten), I was anxious to read this book about one of my big cat distant cousins.   I look like a small gray-blue-black leopard, and this book’s about Leo, a cool spotted snow leopard.   Like me, Leo was found wandering around without his mother, an orphan.   But unlike me, Leo was located mewing and hungry in the snowy Karakoram mountains of northern Pakistan.   That’s a lot higher place than I’ve ever been!

Leo happened to be found by a goat herder, a nice man who gave Leo a new, safe home with lots of goat’s milk to drink.   (I don’t know if goat’s milk is tasty or not.)   Sadly, Leo wound up getting sick when he was just a baby cub – all of seven weeks old – so he was turned over to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) offices in Pakistan.

The WWF veterinarians (ooh, those white-coated doctors scare me) fixed him up, then got the idea of sending Leo to a zoo in the U. S. that was the first to exhibit a snow leopard.   And that was?   Yes, you guessed it, the Bronx Zoo!

Finally, Leo got lucky ’cause he was put in a big natural forest setting at the zoo where he, naturally, chose to stay high up on a man-made cliff.   That is, until he got an enclosure mate – the gorgeous female snow leopard named Shelby.   Leo and Shelby have a  lot of fun together, and they might be thinking about producing some snow leopard cubs.   (I have no idea what the process is for this…)

Anyway, this is a neat-o book for anyone who likes cats, especially the small humans in your household.   A  librarian told me that this book is recommended for young humanoids between the ages of four and eight and/or for those in Kindergarten through grade five.   What does grade five mean?

This book’s filled with four extra pages of information on endangered animals and zoos for the older kids and adults to read.   I read them and found out that I’m not endangered – whew!; but, snow leopards are.   There are only a few thousand of them left on this planet.   Anyone reading this book, human or animal, will realize that we need to save the snow leopards, especially the loveable big ones like Leo.

I’ll see you at the Bronx Zoo sometime, my furry cousin!

I loved this book as much as a bowl of Tillamook cheddar cheese.

Highly recommended.

Sasha the kitten

This children’s book was purchased by Sasha’s dad of the human persuasion.   One of the books in this series, Winter’s Tale: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again, has been made into a motion picture (Dolphin Tale).   Another, Owen & Mzee, was a #1 New York Times bestselling book.

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