middle grade · nonfiction

Resist: 35 Profiles of Ordinary People Who Rose Up Against Tyranny and Injustice- Veronica Chambers

I went to the library (I’m sure you’re shocked) a few weeks ago with a list of books for my daughter. As I was passing through the nonfiction shelves, I came upon a copy of Resist: 35 Profiles of Ordinary People Who Rose Up Against Tyranny and Injustice by Veronica Chambers (Harper Collins, 2018). Curiosity piqued, I grabbed it off the shelf and flipped through it. It looked right up my alley, so into the pile of 37482374983289 books for my daughter it went!

(I’m sure you’ll also be super surprised that the bag actually ripped as I was walking out to the car. 100% serious here! Whoops.)

Resist begins with an inspiring foreword by Senator Cory Booker, about how one person’s resistance to injustice made his entire life possible. Ms. Chambers then serves up short profiles of 35 historical and modern figures, each who fought or are fighting for the rights of those who have been oppressed. There are blasts from the distant past, including Joan of Arc and Martin Luther, the more recent past, like Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X, and current rainmakers such as Malala Yousafzai and (much to my delight) Janet Mock. Civil rights, women’s rights, religious rights, migrant rights and more are covered in this stirring, yet easy-to-digest middle grade nonfiction book.

This is a cool little book that would make for a fabulous parent-child read, especially for when your kids overhear some of the terrible things on the news these days and they come to you, worried and scared about their futures. Ms. Chambers has chosen an excellent motley batch of people who have struggled and fought to bring justice to the masses, with little victories and big, with small losses, along with those who lost their lives fighting. Reading Resist, it’s possible to show your child that throughout history, there have always been brave people willing to step forward and do what’s right, even when it’s difficult, and there are still people working hard for the sake of justice today. These profiles of courageous people- adults and kids!- might help kids have a little hope for what seems like an increasingly uncertain future.

This is something I’ll head back to in a few years when my daughter is older. It’s something we can read together, either with me reading out loud to her, or with us sharing the reading-out-loud duties. There’s a lot of fodder for great parent-child discussions here too, so I’m looking forward to the day that she’s old enough to take part in discussing these stories about the lives of such brave people and what their actions meant to both the people in their lifetimes and to us today. Maybe she’ll even be inspired by them. I hope so.

Resist is a great biographical overview of what courage means and looks like, and for me, it was not only inspiring, it’s a good reminder that the middle grade section has a lot of hidden gems that I need to dig up more often. 😉

Visit Veronica Chamber’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Story of Those Who Survived- Andrew Wilson

Another book on the Titanic, added to my list after our trip to the Titanic Museum in Branson, Missouri, this past summer (and the museum is mentioned in the book!). I’m the type of person who, when I get interested in a subject, I often tend to read about that subject until I’m sick of it, so I’m trying to pace myself more with the Titanic; I think I only added two books to my TBR when I went searching post-vacation. Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraodinary Stories of Those Who Survived by Andrew Wilson (Simon & Schuster, 2011), however, was exactly what I was looking for in a book. I’ll explain.

Almost every book on the Titanic disaster recaps the early days of the ship and the dreadfulness of the iceberg crash and subsequent sinking, and Shadow of the Titanic is no different in that regard. It begins, in fact, with an absolutely terrifying description of the sounds survivors heard as the ship itself went down, the crashing and banging of pianos and tables and dishes as they tumbled through the ship or fell overboard, the groan of the ship as it broke apart, and the terrible screaming of people as they jumped or fell to certain death in twenty-eight degree water. One survivor admitted to never being able to take his sons to a baseball game, because the roar of the crowd reminded him too much of what he heard as the Ship of Dreams sank. Where this book diverges, though, is by following select survivors throughout their lives and pinpointing how their experiences as Titanic survivors affected them. This isn’t a book about the ship, it’s a book about the people who, against the odds, lived through this disaster.

And Mr. Wilson doesn’t just follow their lives immediately after their return to dry land; for the survivors profiled in this book, he devotes entire sections that cover their whole lives, including how they ended up on the Titanic in the first place, and then recounting their lives, the highlights and the lowest of lows, until their deaths. Spread throughout is more information about the Titanic, and how its aftermath affected culture and history around the world.

I found this book deeply fascinating, both in its presentation of information that I previously hadn’t known, and in how varied survivors’ reactions to what they’d been through could be. It seemed as though most of them suffered from what we know today as PTSD, but for which there was really no term for back then, and anyway, society didn’t much allow for anyone to talk about those kinds of things. People were just expected to pick up and move on with their lives fairly immediately, and some did this with more grace than others (for lack of a better term; I would’ve been an entire mess, and quite a few people were, including at least one woman who spent the rest of her life in a sanitarium). There were a handful of suicides, some terrible stories of widows arriving back to land to find that their husbands had left them deeply in debt, women who had lost both husband and sons, and people who never seemed to be able to get their lives back on track afterwards. There were people who wound up making a living off of being a survivor and others who couldn’t bear to talk about it (and who forbid others around them to talk about it as well). It really runs the gamut, and there’s no singular profile of a Titanic survivor; Shadow of the Titanic makes that very clear.

If you’re interested in the Titanic, I highly recommend this book. It’s not exactly uplifting reading, but it’s an intriguing study in survivor psychology in the years after the Titanic sank and shouldn’t be missed if this is one of your pet subjects.

Visit Andrew Wilson’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

nonfiction

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster- Sarah Krasnostein

A book read just because I wanted to read it? Nearly unheard of around these parts! A friend of mine read The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein (St. Martin’s Press, 2017) earlier this year, and although it was different from what she expected it to be, I was still intrigued by her review. Since then, I’ve seen it on numerous blogs, and so this Saturday morning, I downloaded a copy from my library- before the library was even open (!!!). For those of us who are old enough to remember the days when the library closed its doors at 4 pm on Saturday and didn’t reopen again until Monday morning at 9 am, being able to get new reading material in this way will never stop being utterly miraculous. 🙂 (For the record, I feel the same way about the internet when I wake up at 2 am Sunday morning, wondering what the capital of Liechtenstein is.)

The Trauma Cleaner is a biography of Sandra Pankhurst, an Australian woman who is and has been many things during her time here on earth. These days, she’s head of her own business that cleans after grisly death scenes, hoarding situations, and fires and weather-related disasters, but Sandra hasn’t always been Sandra. Her assigned gender at birth was male, and in order to differentiate between her past and present, Ms. Krasnostein gives Sandra’s past self the name of Peter (which is not her actual deadname, but that name is something Sandra prefers to keep private). Peter was adopted by a family that had recently lost a child; he was that child’s replacement (I have NO idea how people think this is a good idea), but instead of providing him with a loving home, that family abused him horrifically. They beat him, starved him, forced him to sleep in a shed out back, refused him entry into the house past 4:30 pm, and he wasn’t allowed to use the bathing facilities or the toilet. All his teeth had to be removed by age 17 due to malnutrition, which was the same year the family threw him out for good. Desperate for love, Peter married at 19, but almost immediately, it was clear this was a terrible decision. Nevertheless, Peter fathered two children with his wife before leaving to live a more authentic life under a variety of aliases, eventually settling on Sandra (the Pankhurst came after another marriage which was later voided by the state).

Sandra’s life is chaos, broken up by brief periods of stability. Like many transgender people, she engages in various forms of sex work in order to earn money (there’s a content warning here for a fairly graphic description of rape and assault). Her attempts at more mainstream employment sometimes work out and occasionally end in disaster, but Sandra eventually finds her niche and opens her own business dealing with the clean-ups that others refuse to do. It’s here that she thrives, but even with that success, her future is uncertain: Sandra lives with terminal lung and liver disease.

The details of each clean-up scene are fascinating, horrifying, and grotesque, and Sandra has the amazing gift of being able to work with hoarders with the goal of restoring order to their homes and lives with the least amount of mental anguish possible. Gently and respectfully, she engages each occupant and meets them at whatever place they’re coming from and helps them move forward. She can tolerate abominable conditions and has no qualms about walking into houses piled high with urine and feces-soaked furniture, bugs, rats, mold, all the hideous detritus that signifies a deeply distressed inhabitant, or the blood, decay, and rot that stems from a tragic and/or unnoticed death. These are remarkable qualities, but my biggest takeaway from this book is how very, very complex humanity is. Sandra has suffered massive trauma herself, from her adoptive parents, through her sex work, from the society that declared her very existence a perversion and attempted to force her out of every viable means of both labor and human connection, and the upshot of this is that at many times in her life, Sandra has been kind of a terrible person. As Peter, she cheated on her first wife and left her two sons without a further word; as Sandra, she cheated for years on the husband who gave her the last name of Pankhurst. She’s made terrible decisions, done terrible things, and still she exhibits remarkable qualities in her work as a trauma cleaner. Her friends and neighbors seem to adore her.

We’re quick to write people off for doing or being certain things- I know I’m guilty of this, I think we all are- and at times, it’s necessary to create distance in order to protect ourselves. But The Trauma Cleaner is a wonderful example of how we grow and change, of how many people we can be throughout our lives. Who we are and how we’re seen by one group of people may be entirely different than the person we are and the way we’re seen by another group later on. And that’s not a bad thing, I think.

What a fascinating book about a complex woman. I’m definitely glad I read this.

Learn more about Sandra Pankhurst at her website here.

Visit Sarah Krasnostein’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.