Books in the Park

suggestions from the Barbara S. Ponce Public Library at Pinellas Park


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Medicine Walk, by Richard Wagamese

medicine wagameseA deep book needs plain language, and the beauty of Medicine Walk is the measured manner in which the events of this book are related. While his protagonist works his way through his walk with his father, the power of family history and feelings are made that much more intense by the unfettered tone of the prose. In the end, you feel like you were a fellow traveler.

The book begins when Frank’s father, Eldon calls for him. Frank is a young Indian boy who was abandoned by his father, leaving Frank with a local farmer named Bunky. Bunky is white, and does his best with Frank, but recognizes the difference in cultural heritage and how Bunky’s mentoring lacks Native American knowledge. But the faithful day comes when Eldon comes calling for his son. Bunky encourages Frank to find out what his father wants, despite the abandonment.

It turns out that Eldon is dying, and he asks Frank to take him on a days-long journey so he can die as a warrior. What follows is as much a journey as a meditation on family, life, history, and what it means to be a man. While they travel, Eldon fills in Frank on what he missed: Eldon’s history, his mother, the tragedy that forced Eldon away, and the details of his life, ruined by drink. The journey takes them through both the sparse back country and the past. Frank’s skills, learned at Bunky’s knee, overcome obstacle after obstacle as they approach what will be Eldon’s final resting place.

Author Richard Wagamese is no stranger to Native American issues, both current and past. What Eldon has had inflicted on him gets, heartbreakingly, passed through his son through tales of love, tragedy, and neglect. Frank’s quiet stoicism and steady competence point the way to a kind of reconciliation between father and son, past and future. The neat, blunt prose is Wagamese’s gift to the reader.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Medicine Walk.


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Fifth Business, by Robertson Davies

fifth business deptford trilogy davies

It’s Canada Day, and we’re celebrating with our neighbors to the north by recommending this distinctly Canadian masterpiece.

Robertson Davies is one of Canada’s best writers, and any book of his you read will be amazing. Fifth Business is the about how a child’s carelessness leads to the ruin of multiple lives and begins a middle-aged obsession.

It opens with the event—Dunstan Ramsay is a young boy in a Canadian town. His best friend and sparring partner in childhood, Percy Staunton, throws a snowball it him while quarreling. Dunstan ducks, and the snowball hits Mary Dempster, the pregnant wife of the local minister. The shock causes her to give birth to a premature child and unhinges her mind.

The book follows Dunstan’s life from there. As a young boy, Dunstan experiences both fascination and pity for the wife, as well as guilt about the premature child and immerses himself in his study of the saints.

Later, Dunstan fights in World War I and spends an extensive time as an invalid. He begins to believe that Mary may be a fool-saint. He returns home to find that Percy has prospered in the war, and the two become friends.

The guilt Dunstan feels is exacerbated by Percy’s successes, and comes to a horrible climax where all the events from the past swirl around like angry ghosts.

Robertson Davies is a writer of amazing depth and lyrical language. His layered storytelling invokes Jungian archetypes and synchronicity, in addition to religious and societal themes. This is not an easy read, but a very rewarding one.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Fifth Business.


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Chasing Death by K.E. Lamont

chasing death lamontJust in time for Halloween and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I recommend this spooky and inspiring debut novel by K.E. Lamont.

Maree Russo has problems. Not only is she dealing with the mountains of homework, exams, and college applications that come with being a high school senior, she must also somehow convince her mother that the voices Maree hears aren’t symptoms of schizophrenia; she can actually hear the dead. And as if that weren’t enough to deal with, one day Maree’s best friend, Andie, mysteriously disappears. Finding Andie quickly becomes Maree’s only concern, even as Maree’s mother ramps up her determination to have her daughter committed. As the voices of the dead begin to drown out the living, Maree must face her own demons and find Andie before she ends up in a straitjacket.

I was really impressed with the novel, especially after learning that the author was around eighteen years old at the time of publication. The plot progression was interesting with each chapter alternating between the present and the past. It allowed for great character development, and by the end I was fully invested in Maree’s story. I look forward to reading more from this author.

According to the author’s note, the first draft of this book was written in 30 days for NaNoWriMo. I’m totally inspired by the author’s determination.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Chasing Death.


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Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King

green grass running water coverLionel Red Dog, Latisha Morningstar, Charlie Looking Bear, Alberta Frank, and Eli Stands Alone are Blackfoot Indians from the city of Blossom in Alberta, Canada. As the Blackfoot Community gathers for the annual Sun Dance, mysterious forces conspire to force all five of these Indians to take part in their cultural heritage. Elsewhere, four other Indians escape from a mental hospital in order to “fix the world”. Woven into this narrative is a completely different story starring the trickster Coyote.

This book is not for everyone; it is admittedly weird. There are no chapters, and the point of view changes between characters a lot—sometimes from page to page. However, readers brave enough pick up this book will be deeply satisfied. The story is full of religious and cultural references, but one does not need to understand each reference in order to enjoy the story. There are two different narratives: one set in reality about the Sun Dance, and another structured like a myth set firmly outside anything real. As the novel progresses, King weaves both plots together beautifully.

One thing I really enjoyed about this novel is that it relentlessly pokes fun at white people and white culture. Green Grass, Running Water serves as a gentle reminder that my cultural worldview is not universal.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Green Grass, Running Water.