Backseat Saints

I was taken in by the cover – curvy young woman in a red dress holding a long black braid in her hand.  I was taken in by the book flap – mother runs away; daughter follows. I was taken in by the sweet Southern references.  I was deceived.  This was not the light summer read I had expected.  Joshilyn Jackson exposes abuse and all its consequences on personal and family lives in Backseat Saints, and left me feeling a little raw after reading it.

After her mother leaves, when Rose was eight years old, Rose becomes the substitute target for her father’s beatings.  She grows up feisty, able to shoot a gun, and looking for love in all the wrong places.  After running away at eighteen, and suffering through a series of bad men, she marries Thom, a jealous Texan, who continues the battering and mental abuse she has come to expect.

Jackson exposes the secret side of abuse through the mental negotiations that Rose has with herself – her sweet submissive Southern belle vs. her tough Alabama street-wise handler.  The saints offer another perspective.  Growing up Catholic, Rose has a litany of saints connected to various missions: pray to St. Bartholomew for sports, St. Rita for marriage, St. Roch for dogs  – a saint for every challenge.  The saints, though not very effective, appear beside her in moments of extreme stress to offer support.

After a dire warning from a gypsy in an airport terminal, Rose decides to kill her husband.  She shoots her dog by mistake instead; he survives  – sad but the strange comic relief that Jackson offers throughout the story.  Rose’s wry comments and her quick wit sprinkle the horror.  Eventually, after an almost fatal beating that lands her in the hospital, Rose plans her escape.

But running away from an abusive, vindictive husband is not easy, and Jackson focuses on abused women’s lack of money and means to get away as well as the vacillating emotions that draw them back again and again.  Even the saints can’t help Rose, and all seems lost – until she decides to find her mother.

Rose’s pilgrimage for peace has her looking for her high school boyfriend and her father in a desperate attempt for protection from her husband.  When she is reunited with her mother, it would seem a relief, but Jackson has more to say – this time on mother/daughter relationships.

The ending is a surprise, so I will not spoil it for you.  I read Backseat Saints quickly, happy to get to the end.  One of those books that’s good for you to read; my rating ✓✓✓.
But now I really need some summer fluff to read.

Rating System:

  • ✓✓✓✓✓ -Don’t miss it!  Hope you like it as much as I did.

  • ✓✓✓✓ – You should read it (my opinion anyway)
  • ✓✓✓ – Worth a try – at least to the first 50 pages

  • ✓✓ –  You might need some chocolate to get you through

  • – Watch TV instead

The Confession – John Grisham

A prisoner’s mantra is always – “I didn’t do it.”   In the case of Donté Drumm, a young black man on death row, convicted of  killing a fellow high school classmate, it’s true – he didn’t do it.  In The Confession, John Grisham had me from the beginning, and I read straight through to the end.

It’s days before the execution and the real killer, Travis Boyette, a psychopathic killer, dying of a brain tumor, but reluctant to reveal the truth, seeks out a Lutheran minister to confess.

As Grisham neatly stereotypes the players – both villains and heroes – it was like watching episodes on a really good made-for-TV murder mystery.  I cringed when the bad guys were ahead, and cheered when Kevin, the Pastor, and Robbie Flak, Drumm’s attorney, scored.

Throughout the narrative, Grisham’s opinion on the death penalty is clear.  The bumbling authorities, the greed for death-by-injection at any cost, the blatant ignorance, and criminal denial of due process – all to insure that someone pays for a crime – no matter who.  DNA enters as a new tool for identification, but it’s people seeking the truth, not forensic science that Grisham uses in the process to exonerate an innocent man.  In reality, thirty-five states now have the death penalty; Illinois legislature just voted to abolish it, sending the bill to the governor.

Will Donté’s defense attorney who has been appealing the forced confession and sham trial for nine years in the Texas courts be able to use the information to save Donté?

You’ll need to read the book to find out – it won’t take long.   The Confession is Grisham at his best.

The Evolution of Calpernia Tate

Remember being eleven and a half – almost twelve?  Today, girls that age could be dating, wearing make-up, drooling over the Jonas brothers – but in The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly’s Newbery Award Honor Book –  you’ll travel back to the turn of the twentieth century when girls received grades on deportment and practiced walking around with books on their heads to improve posture…

“I find that actually reading the book is a much more effective way of absorbing it…”

In 1899, living  on a pecan farm in Texas with 6 brothers, parents, assorted dogs, cats, and a grandfather who was a Civil War veteran and a founding member of the National Geographic Society, Calpurnia discovers she’s “a regular naturalist in the making.” Her grandfather awakens and nurtures her interest in science, cultivating Calpurnia’s curiosity and supplementing her education with scientific experiments and observations that would make the AAUW advocates for young women in science  proud.

hairy vetch

Each chapter opens with a quotation from Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species – a book banned from her local library – but hidden away in her grandfather’s home collection.  The two become happy conspirators and adventurers studying Nature, even discovering a new species of the hairy vetch plant.

The story follows A Little House on the Prairie style, with colorful historical notes, and some Walton family flavor.  Although targeted to a young audience, Kelly’s message is clear – and adults may appreciate the nuances…

“It was too bad, but sometimes a little knowledge could ruin your whole day…”