Pregnancy, Adoption, Learning to Breathe, and Jane Austen with Magic

The Pregnancy ProjectThe Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a unique memoir of a high-schooler who faked teen pregnancy for her senior project. Gaby Rodriguez is a remarkable woman. Born into a low-income Hispanic family with three generations of unwed pregnancy, she was a high achiever determined to be the first in her family to go to college. So it was a shock to everyone in her school to find out that she was “pregnant.” During the course of her project, she experienced societal stereotypes and how they influence the feelings and behavior of unwed mothers. She also gained special empathy for her own mother. When she unveiled the project at the end of the school year, it suddenly became more influential than she ever imagined.

I ended up pretty much convinced of her conclusion that the way we treat pregnant teens has as big of an impact on where they go in life as the pregnancy itself. The perspective she shared about her (wonderfully loyal and long-suffering) boyfriend’s experience was also illuminating. As Rodriguez reminds us, empathy can be a powerful force for social change.

The Complete Book of International Adoption: A Step by Step Guide to Finding Your ChildThe Complete Book of International Adoption: A Step by Step Guide to Finding Your Child by Dawn Davenport

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yep, we’re thinking about adopting. And this is a witty and information-packed guide that does about what it promises. There’s a bit of hubris to the title, but as far as general information about every step of the process, the book actually is pretty complete. The author is obviously one of those super-organized people, so her readers benefit from comprehensive lists and charts of everything from what to pack for a transatlantic flight with kids to 50+ questions to ask when interviewing an adoption agency.

As well as her own experience as an adoptive mother, Davenport draws on dozens of stories from other adoptive parents about every aspect of the adoption process. The only caveat I would include is that the book was published in 2006, two years before the implementation of the Hague agreement. If you are adopting from a Hague country, there will be significant changes to the process that are not addressed in this book. That said, it’s still an extremely informative resource, and well worth a read for anyone contemplating adopting internationally.

Learning to Breathe: My Yearlong Quest to Bring Calm to My LifeLearning to Breathe: My Yearlong Quest to Bring Calm to My Life by Priscilla Warner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The past few years have been a little difficult on me. Things are getting better, but I have some residual anxiety that surfaces every so often. Like Priscilla Warner, I’ve been trying “to bring calm to my life.” The personal narrative format of this book really worked for me. I loved accompanying Warner as she met with people from different faith/spirituality traditions, learned their ways of finding peace, and incorporated them into her own journey of the soul.

She includes quite a few beautiful quotations worthy of posting on the bathroom mirror, as well as beginner’s instructions on meditation. I was fascinated to see the included CAT scans, showing that regular meditation actually produced physical changes in her brain chemistry. I would recommend this book to anyone struggling with anxiety, depression, panic attacks, or just finding that spot of calm in a hectic life.

Shades of Milk and Honey (Shades of Milk and Honey, #1)Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not familiar with the genre of Jane Austen imitations, but this one caught my eye at the library, because it was in the fantasy/scifi section. Plot and character-wise, it borrows very heavily indeed from Jane Austen. Unfortunately, Austen’s subtle, wry humor and sharp perceptiveness are conspicuously lacking, as is her effortless eloquence.

Despite these deficiencies, the novel worked well enough for me, especially since I’m also fond of fantasy. The “magic” that lands this novel in the fantasy genre is a cleverly conceived artistic pursuit called Glamour. In Kowal’s alternate-reality Regency period world, Glamour is just one more of the accomplishments demanded of well-bred young ladies. It’s a very clever premise, really, and a highlight of the book.

At times, I felt like I was truly reading a cut-and-pasted collection of Austen scenes, but I guess that’s kind of the intended effect. This is not a polished novel (even apart from the obvious errata that mark it as a first edition), but it’s a fun, light summer read, and as squeaky clean as Jane Austen herself.

Glamour in GlassGlamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

[Be advised, the last paragraph of this review does contain spoilers.] This sequel to Shades of Milk and Honey is an improvement on its predecessor. For one thing, Kowal is not particularly adept at nuance or witty dialogue, so a little more action is a welcome distraction. If she weren’t inviting me to constantly compare her to Jane Austen (to the point of using a reference list of all the words from Austen’s works while writing the novel), I would probably be able to judge her a little better on her own merits.

While the first book was for all intents and purposes an Austen knock-off, this one is more of a historical fiction, breaking Austen’s habit of never mentioning any of the interesting events going on in the world outside of rural England. As well as putting Jane into the thick of some exciting events in Belgium during the Napoleonic wars, Kowal also delves productively into marital relationships. I enjoyed reading about Jane’s progression from timid, insecure newlywed to equal partner in a healthy and beautiful relationship.

Jane’s inability to use Glamour during her pregnancy allows her to grow into the person she really is, and realize how much she had previously defined herself by her abilities. And how often do you get a pregnant woman in a book performing heroics like this? Go Jane! I really appreciated the way Kowal dealt with the themes of balancing marriage, career, and pregnancy. And kudos to her for including the subject of miscarriage, which I feel doesn’t come up in novels as much as it should. I’ll definitely be reading the next books in this series.

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2 thoughts on “Pregnancy, Adoption, Learning to Breathe, and Jane Austen with Magic

  • June 25, 2012 at 4:06 pm
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    Thanks for your book reviews in this post. There are a couple I plan to read after reading your reviews. Your blog is great, I hope you don’t have to go through the entire alphabet of tornados this year!

  • June 21, 2012 at 9:38 pm
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    Thanks for sharing! Oh, I’m excited you are thinking of adopting! (I do remember your comment on my blog, and it makes better sense now! :) ) A couple my sister graduated with from high school just brought home a darling boy from Ethiopia three weeks ago. I’ve enjoyed reading some of their story and seeing Samuel’s photos on Facebook and through their blog.

    The first book sounds really good! I’ll keep a look out for it.

    Glad to hear you are finding some help for your anxiety. I have struggled from time to time with fear, but maybe not to the same extent. I don’t know. Hope you are enjoying a lovely summer in Florida!

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