Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ghellow Road by T.H. Waters - review

I read the most amazing book the other day. I usually read urban fantasy or horror, but once in a while I like to read somthing else to kind of cleanse the "reading palate". Now at first, to be honest, the writing style was little frustrating for me at first. In fact, normally I would have put any other book down that frustrates me while reading and I'll tell you why. One, I might be a lazy reader. I'm fairly intelligent, and when I was 11 and 12 I was reading at a college level, and reading books like Hawaii (James Michener). But as I've gotten older, and developed some health issues that make me feel like NOT using my time up in frustrating endeavors (if I can at all avoid it) I usually go for the books that keep my interest AND flow easily from book to eye to brain. Lazy. Okay, Yes I am a lazy reader.

BUT - for a few reasons, I kept reading. First of all because I did promise to read it. And Secondly, though not less importantly, I wanted to see what was going to happen to the characters in the book. The main character (first person narrative) was born five years after me, so of course that stuck with me. Then it seems that the mother is severely depressed. Now I've grown up with a (at times extremely) depressed father.

(odd memory follows - read at your own risk)By no means did I have quite the experience that this young girl had, but it's not easy having a depressed parent, never knowing if one day you're going to find him/her dead or what ever. In fact, this book brought home a memory of my father picking up my sister and me for one of our vacation visits. We were driving over a bridge, I was dozing off in the back seat and my sister was riding shot gun....suddenly I hear my father yelling "goddamnit" over and over, sobbing and hitting his head against the side of the car. My sister was crying in the front seat, and so far - incredibly - my father was still in the lane he was supposed to be in - but we were in the middle of a f=**ing BRIDGE! High over the water, traveling at fifty miles an hour. I remember feeling a rush of anger and I yelled as loud as I could (I might have even smacked my dad upside the back of his head, probably not a good move) " Damnit Dad - KNOCK IT OFF AND DRIVE!" He suddenly snapped out of it and apologised to us, and the rest of the trip went fine. Weirdly, my sister and I never talked about this afterward. We just...let it go, sort of. Never again did I doze off while my father was driving though, LOL. He had a hard childhood (crazy mother who beat the shit out of him regularly, and starved the kids) and was on his second marriage. Life was never easy for him. Thankfully now, he's with a great woman who keeps him grounded. In fact, he got with her after having a bypass surgery and valve replacement. Something about coming through that must have given him a renewed sense of being glad to be alive. What a difference from hearing over and over again as I grew up how he wasn't sure if his life was worthwhile. Now to give a bit of understanding here - not only was he beaten many times during his childhood, but he almost died quite a few times before he was eighteen. Then he's had a back broken by a patient in a mental ward (where he worked) and also was in a very severe car accident which left him with many many broken bones. So he's lived with quite a bit of pain for almost his whole life. Now that I'm also dealing with chronic pain, I can totally appreciate how hard it must have been for him to keep going - and he didn't even have his own kids with him (divorced and separated since I was a baby) except for summers and holidays. I have my grandchildren with me every weekend and they help to keep me happy with life. So the man has done the best he could with his situation. Even so, it's not easy being the child of a depressed father and angry mother. Ever since I can remember, I've been a listener for him - at a young age listening to thoughts on world destruction, women who disappointed him (they hurt him, and he was already an insecure man, living with a mom who raged at him daily) the dangers of government getting too much power, earthquakes, disasters, doom and gloom, etc. He wasn't a very happy man and had a lot to worry about. I'm just so happy that now he seems to be at last getting joy out of his life, even though he still suffers from pretty intense pain on a daily basis...On my mother's side, I became for a while difficult for her and many times had to hear her tell me she was going to send me to jail for kids. I believed her, but it didn't make me behave. Now that I've seen and heard some of what our government has been up to (phone taps, the loss of some of our rights, etc....I realize he was right about a lot of what he was talking about. We don't want to admit it, but things aren't like they used to be)

But I meant to review a book here. This is why I kept reading Ghellow Road. On some level, I felt like I had somethings in common with the kids in the story, and so I kept reading, rooting for the characters, and by the time I was further into the book, I wasn't thinking so much about the things that frustrated me with writing style - and to be clear, I feel the same way about many books that other people love, so this might be just one of my weird pet peeves.

So. Back to the book. Ghellow Road is a book written in fiction form, but very strongly based on true events of the writer's childhood. Ms Waters has taken her very stressful childhood memories and created a book that possibly has helped her to process her childhood.

If you read the blurbs about the book, it mentions demons and paranormal - This is referring to some of what the mother was going through. Hearing voices and talking to them. I mention this, because at first I thought it was going to have paranormal events going on, I was picturing ghosts, or poltergeists, maybe exorcisms. I was actually picturing a paranormal story, written diary style, especially after reading a short excerpt with an explosion in it. But the mother is dealing with schizophrenia, which is pretty intense. So this is not a paranormal story, but rather the story of how a young girl survives a stressful, unstable childhood. This young girl, Theresa from early on, witnesses her mother's extreme mood changes and her father's journey from hopeful father and husband to a man who has gone through so much, who apparently had some hidden issues of his own, that he takes his own life. Imagine - dealing with that, and a mother who needs frequent hospitalizations.

Even though these two kids had relatives, these relatives didn't always step up. There was help at times from family, but not often enough. The children ended up in a bad foster care situation once, and other times they were taken in by family members - sleeping on couches, sharing bedrooms, never knowing for how long or when they were going to be booted out of the family's home. Life was pretty unstable for most of their childhood and the two kids ended up separated when the mother kicks the oldest (brother) out of her home. Reading this was hard, because I could never think of a situation where I would ever send one of my kids...even at an adult age, out into the unknown to make do. No Way. But unfortunately not every one has help when they need it, whenever they need it. Even though the boy stays at first with a friend, that situation doesn't last and he ends up in an even worse situation. Heartbreaking.

Even with all they went through, Theresa learned how to push her feelings aside and put up a happy front, so that she could try to fit in with other students -spending so much time at her friend's houses, putting off going home. If you ever have a kid who seems to be happier at your house, and doesn't ever seem to want to leave - there might be a very good reason. And ultimately Theresa does find happiness with a relative, even though it comes a little late, she finally finds a great situation with one of her aunts.

One of the things that I was impressed with, is that the author wasn't afraid to show Theresa's temper tantrums or some of her not so great decision making. I'm sure some would be tempted to make the main character into a very well behaved victim, but I found the times Theresa acted out to be honest. I also thought she did a great job with the dialogue between the characters, making them sound pretty real (well, they WERE real characters).

I found Ghellow Road to be a very powerful book. The main character went through so much that she shouldn't have had to deal with, and yet managed to find friends and what I call second families- those people that take the place of your real toxic relatives. We might all have at least one or two....a mother figure perhaps that we work with, or a friend that you feel like could be a sister....sometimes family is found outside your biological family, even if it's a temporary situation. Sometimes people are able to even mend brokent relationships later in life, or at least to come to an understanding and a new type or relationship with their estranged relatives. Not always though. And yet, everything that you deal with growing up stays with you one way or another. Makes you stronger or breaks you.

I would recommend Ghellow Road - there are so many people growing up and living in unstable homes, in foster care, or with relatives. For as many people who seem to be in great family situations there are just as many who are having a very difficult time, and reading a book like Ghellow Road can shed some light on what it's like living with mental illness or remind some of us others what we've been able to overcome.

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