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As a former foster child, my passion is advocating for and with foster care youth, publicizing the challenges that they face and addressing their developmental and emotional needs through workshops.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Kathleen Mallory and Eve Duncan

"Call Me Mallory"
Carol O'Connell's series begins with the murder of NYPD detective Louis Markowitz, Kathleen Mallory's adoptive father. He caught Mallory stealing one afternoon when she was about 10 years old and took her home with him instead of to Juvenile Hall.

Kathleen Mallory has grown from a feral child into a formidable adult, both beautiful and cold. As a police officer, Mallory responds to her adoptive father's murder by pursuing his killer.

While some of the other characters view Mallory as a sociopath, it is obvious that she has deep loyalty and feelings for her adoptive family and her closest friends.

Mallory's childhood experiences have deeply damaged her, but the time that she spent with Markowitz and his late wife has had an equally powerful effect. It is their investment into Mallory that has made her a cop rather than a criminal.

My favorite book in the series is "Stone Angel," in which many of the mysteries surrounding Mallory's first appearance as a homeless orphan are revealed. It also reveals some of the vulnerability that Mallory usually keeps well-hidden.

List of Carol O'Connell's "Kathleen Mallory" series
1.) Mallory's Oracle (1994)
2.) Man Who Cast Two Shadows (1995)
3.) Killing Critics (1996)
4.) Stone Angel (1997)
5.) Shell Game (1999)
6.) Crime School (2002)
7.) Dead Famous (2003)
8.) Winter House (2004)
9.) Find Me (2006)

One of the best reviews that I have read about the development of Kathleen Mallory's character, called "Mallory Grows A Soul" can be found at this site:

Eve Dallas
Lietenant Eve Dallas of the NYPD suffered isolation, neglect and severe abuse in her childhood. As an adult, Eve tries to suppress these memories. She is slow to trust and awkward in giving or receiving affection. Often, in her homocide investigations, she finds her past resurfacing to haunt her.

The series is set in 21st century New York. It's marketed as a romantic thriller, which might be why it sometimes includes lengthy bedroom scenes between Eve and her similarly wounded romantic partner Roarke. (Personally, I find the sex scenes tedious and boring, and also raise my eyebrows at some of the goofy words that characters use for slang).

The strength in this series is in the development of Eve's character. Eve Dallas has emerged from her dark past with a strong sense of integrity, loyalty and protectiveness. Growing up in an atmosphere of lawlessness has made Eve into a responsible (sometimes over-responsible to the point of being controlling) adult.

The book that won me over to this series was "Survivor in Death." Eve can't help but see herself in Nixie, a young girl whose family has recently been murdered. Eve Dallas goes into overdrive to protect the child and find the killers as soon as possible. It's difficult for her to spend time with the child, with whom she empathizes too deeply.

Yet, the people around Eve, like the people around Mallory, continue to make emotional demands on her... They challenge her to grow into a person who can emote, rather than hide in her comfort zone as a workaholic. Like Mallory, Eve Dallas is forced by her cases to reexamine the skeletons in her closet, and is gradually pushed toward wholeness and healing.

List of J.D. Robb's "In Death" series*
1.) Naked in Death (1995)
2.) Glory in Death (1995)
3.) Immortal in Death (1996)
4.) Rapture in Death (1996)
5.) Vengeance in Death (1997)
6.) Ceremony in Death (1997)
7.) Holiday in Death (1998)
8.) Conspiracy in Death (1999)
9.) Loyalty in Death (1999)
10.) Judgment in Death (2000)
11.) Witness in Death (2000)
12.) Betrayal in Death (2001)
13.) Seduction in Death (2001)
14.) Reunion in Death (2002)
15.) Purity in Death (2002)
16.) Portrait in Death (2003)
17.) Imitation in Death (2003)
18.) Divided in Death (2004)
19.) Visions in Death (2004)
20.) Survivor in Death
21.) Origins in Death
22.) Memory in Death (2006)
23.) Born in Death (2006)

*Note: J.D. Robb is a pseudonym for best-selling author Nora Roberts.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Two Foster Books From the 80's

Sometimes it's hard to top certain books! Two juvenile fiction books published in the 1980's on the subject of foster care were written exceptionally well...

Pinballs by Betsy Byers
The book begins, "One summer, two boys and a girl went to a foster home to live together." Thomas J was abandoned as a child and raised by two elderly women whose failing health makes it difficult for them to shelter him anymore. Harvey's drunken father ran over him with the car and broke both of his son's legs. Carlie's stepfather is abusive.

And so, the three of them take up residence together in the Mason's household. The children are initially suspicious of one another at first. Thomas J is accustomed to yelling in order to be heard by his eldery caretakers. Harvey is an introvert. Ultimately, it is Carly whose tough and tender response to life ends up bringing the trio closer together.

The book is simply written, and accessible to readers between eight and eleven years old. The dialogue is realistic and often funny. The foster parents are neither stereotyped as saints or sinners, but shown to be adults with good intentions toward the children they care for in their home.

Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
Gilly is an eleven year old girl who has been in the foster care system all her life. Her experiences have been disillusioning, and she demonstrates an understandable amount of cynicism about her latest foster care placement with the Trotters.

What Gilly desires most is to be reunited with her biological mother. She has built up a fantasy about how wonderful living with her beautiful, absent mother would be...

Gilly's efforts to reunite with her mother threaten her relationship with the Trotters, a family that on the surface seems strange, but who might prove to be the most loving, healthy foster placement that Gilly has ever experienced.

The primary strength in this book is characterization. All of the characters ring true to life, especially Gilly. Her suspicion and defense mechanisms make perfect sense. Her reactions are often humorous. Ultimately, Gilly is endearing, despite her thorns and thistles, and the reader hopes that she will give the Trotters a chance and not sabotage her chances.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Who is Cynthia Voigt?

Cynthia Voigt has described herself as a woman with three jobs. After her first marriage ended in divorce, Cynthia Voigt remarried and became a wife and mother. After vowing in college never to teach, she fell in love with teaching the minute she entered a classroom. Her "third job," of course, is as a writer.

While working as a full-time English teacher, Voigt displined herself to devote one hour of time to her writing each day. During her first year of teaching, she also made frequent trips to the library to familiarize herself with juvenile literature. Voigt's greatest strength as a writer is in her realistic characterization.

What to expect from Cynthia Voigt's writing:
- Well-developed characters
- Complex plots
- Authentic dialogue
- Skillful writing
- Detailed descriptions
- True-to-life emotions

Voigt's writing process begins with a question. She often mulls over thoughts and ideas for over a year before sitting down to write. The question that gave birth to the Tillerman series occured when Voigt saw a mother leaving her children in a parking lot. She wondered, What if their mother never returned?

The Tillerman Family Series
-Homecoming (1981)
-Dicey's Song (1982)
-A Solitary Blue (1983)
-The Runner (1985)
-Come A Stranger (1986)
-Sons From Afar (1987)
-Seventeen Against the Dealer (1989)

The first book in the Tillerman series introduces a group of children who have been abandoned by their mother in a mall parking lot. Dicey, the oldest, is concerned that she and her siblings might be separated and placed in separate foster homes.

Thirteen-year-old Dicey decides that the best course of action is to travel across the country and find a family member. She strong-arms her sister and two brothers into accompanying her on foot from Massachusetts to Connecticut.

The personalities of the Tillerman siblings ring true to life:
-Sammy, the youngest, is stubborn and headstrong
-Maybeth is quiet and has a learning disability
-James is intelligent, angry and overanalytical
-Dicey is strong-willed and protective

Three Books, One Scene
My favorite books from the Tillerman series are intertwined. Each of the three books I like best show the same scene from a different point of view:

-In Dicey's Song, Dicey faces down a teacher who has wrongfully accused her of plagiarism. Although Dicey has established a new home for herself and her siblings, there are many challenges to face. Her teacher's accusation is one of them.

-In A Solitary Blue, Jeff is startled out of his introverted silence by the courage that Dicey displays. Jeff is no stranger to abandonment. His mother is irresponsible, and her manipulative behavior has caused Jeff to distrust women.

-In Come a Stranger, the story that Dicey has written resonates with her classmate Mina. Mina had written an essay of her own, but knew in her heart that it was geared more toward entertainment than vulnerability. Dicey's raw honesty inspires Mina to come to her defense.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Who is Torey Hayden?
-An educational psychologist
-A former special education teacher
-A university professor
-A writer of nonfiction books based on her work with special needs children

Torey's areas of expertise include selective mutism, fetal alcohol syndrome, autism, Tourette syndrome and sexual abuse.

List of Torey's Nonfiction Books
-One Child (1980)
-Somebody Else's Kids (1981)
-Murphy's Boy (1983)
-Just Another Kid (1988)
-Ghost Girl (1991)
-Tiger's Child (1995)
-Beautiful Child (2002)
-Twilight Children (2005)

Two Books to Begin With...
If I were to recommend one of Torey Hayden's books to a first-time reader of her work, my top two picks would be "Somebody Else's Kids" and "Just Another Kid."

1.) Somebody Else's Kids:
This book charts a year in the life of a special education classroom as Torey attempts to positively impact a group of loveable and severely challenged students.

Children assigned to Torey's resource room include:
-Claudia, a pregnant 12-year-old girl
-Tomaso, an 11-year-old boy who witnessed the murder of his father
- Lori, a 7-year-old girl who prior to her adoption had been physically abused by her biological father to the point of causing severe brain damage
-Boo, a 7-year-old boy displaying autistic behavior

My favorite character was Lori:
"Her brain did not function well, yet there was nothing wrong with Lori's heart. She was full of an innate belief in the goodness of people. Despite her own experiences, evil did not exist for Lori. She embraced us all, good and bad alike, with a sort of droll acceptance. And she cared. The welfare of all the world mattered to her... She involved herself so intimately in a world so hard on those who care that I often caught my breath with fear for her. Yet Lori remained undaunted." - Torey Hayden, "Somebody Else's Kids."

2.) Just Another Kid:
This time, Torey is assigned to teach a class of emotionally disturbed children.

Her class consists of:
-Three refugees from Northern Ireland: Geraldine, Shamie and Shemona
-Dirkie, an elective mute
-Miriana, who exhibits precocious sexual behavior
-Leslie, who is autistic

The most powerful breakthrough that Torey is able to make is with Leslie's mother, Ladbrooke, who becomes the classroom aide. Ladbrooke herself is revealed to be "just another kid;" exhibiting the same vulnerability, shame and self-destructive behavior as the children in Torey's classroom.