Monday, October 3, 2016

A Tale of Two Books

Two books. Vastly different flavors. 

One book is light, refreshing, funny. The other is dark, disturbing, haunting. The books do happen to share this in common: both true stories, both take place in the Midwest.

Sweetness, honesty, and self-deprecation: great characteristics for a lovable protagonist. We’re Not Sixteen Anymore by Becky Andersen is an amusing memoir of a widow’s calculated leap into online dating. Her conversational style and witty demeanor gives off a real gal-pal essence. Imagine sitting on a deck, drinking sangria with your girlfriends, and being heartily amused by a Becky Andersen story. (What beats an anecdote about a date who makes a sport out of fishing coin out of a public toilet?) She’s a funny girl with a flair for storytelling. When a friend haughtily says to Becky, "If something happened to my husband, I'd never date or marry again. I would never let anyone else see me naked!" Becky didn't hesitate to respond. "Oh, no! I'm all for beautifying America...That means no one sees me au naturel! Ever! I just want to find someone who can come over if I need my mousetrap emptied."

Touche.

Not only is this book funny, but it offers suspense! Does Becky meet "the one?" If so, who is it? The hip grandmother doesn't just dabble in online dating. She rallies to become an expert. The subtitle “A Baby Boomer's Adventures with Online Dating" could have been modified to "A Baby Boomer's Guide to Online Dating." But I think 'Adventure' is a more apt description. 

As a member of Gen X, I didn't catch every Boomer reference. However, I was easily pulled into the author's nostalgia. Who can't love the spirit of the Baby Boomers? So youthful. Charismatic. Who can't love the generation that brought us The Beatles?

While the stories are entertaining and Becky writes with a particular flourish, the book isn’t just a fluff piece. She writes with purpose and by the end of the book you realize why you’re so drawn in. At some level, we all want to connect. This is a story about connecting. Connecting with each other. Connecting the past and the future. The story ends happily-ever-after. I'm looking forward to a sequel to find out how happily-ever-after is working out.

On the other side of lighthearted, is a book I read for book club: Gitchie Girl by Phil Hamman and Sandy Hamman. My mother warned me about reading it before I went to bed. I didn’t heed her advice, but managed to stave off nightmares. The book is a horror story--a horror story about a true event.

In 1973 four teenage boys were murdered at a campsite by Sioux Falls at Gitchie Manitou State Park. Unbelievably, one girl survived. This is her insider's story. More than a factual chronology, the authors integrate the characters' histories with the events that occurred on that fateful night–making for an incredibly suspenseful read. We get to know a pretty, tender-hearted thirteen-year girl named Sandra Cheske, while reliving the details of the night, which are intricately painted with sensory detail and foreshadowing.

An excerpt:

November 17, 1973 10:30 PM

"Hey," Roger yelled. But there was no answer, and the sounds of cracking twigs ceased...Minutes passed before the soothing sounds of the flowing river and raccoons emerging from their daytime hideouts to scour for food fell into a peaceful rhythm.

The Hamman's take us back to the night. It's impossible not to read the story without developing a huge knot in your stomach. Powerful and engrossing writing.

Stuff like this can't happen in small town Iowa. But it did. It's what makes the story fascinating and immensely disturbing. While the book superbly depicts the evil act, more importantly it heralds the heros and the survivor. Sheriff Craig Vinson exudes patience, vision, and compassion. Thirteen-
year-old Sandra helps crack the case with maturity beyond her years. But a person can't live through something like that without scars. The story after her horrifying experience is as heartbreaking as the experience itself. The teenage girl who witnessed four gruesome deaths and was tortured herself didn't receive any counseling. And she was ostracized by a community who didn't want to be reminded of the terrible act.

Eventually, Sandra Cheske finds a way to make a purposeful and admiral life by raising a family and running an animal rescue organization–overcoming the evil she has witnessed. Gitchie Girl is an incredible story of survival which might leave you feeling wary of the world. But it will also leave you feeling inspired by courageous acts of tender souls.

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