Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Man Who Loved Clowns

By June Rae Wood,
Putnam, 1992

13-year-old Delrita loves the uncle who shares her parents' home, but chooses to avoid developing friendships out of fear that people will make fun of him. Uncle Punky, you see, has Down Syndrome. As a result, his appearance is different from that of "normal" people, and he has some behaviours that are unusual for a 35-year-old man. For one thing, he absolutely adores clowns. He is also extremely patriotic, has a habit of chucking chicken bones behind the television set, and shouts "bang!" when anyone says "amen."

Delrita's parents have moved the family from a more rural setting to a larger town in hopes that Delrita will be able to connect with more young people her age, but Delrita is still reluctant to make friends with anyone. A budding friendship with Avanelle, who has her own secrets, is thwarted by misunderstanding.

When a tragic accident orphans Delrita, she and Uncle Punky go to live with another Aunt and Uncle. Already experiencing the anger that comes from grief, Delrita is further enraged by Aunt Queenie's strict clean-freak ways, and by Queenie's desire that Punky get a job at the local warehouse, where other people with Down have found meaningful employment. Another blow strikes when Punky is hospitalized due to a congenital heart condition. Will Delrita's life be beset by another tragedy?

This book gives a realistic glimpse into the lives of families where one person has Down Syndrome. Wood's brother had Down, so she brings real insight to the subject, allowing the reader to see that such people have much to teach us. She also tells a compelling story of friendship and loss.

Make sure you have tissues close at hand.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Best Laid Plans: a Novel

by Terry Fallis
McClelland & Stewart, 2007

When no publisher would take this book, Fallis published it himself. In 2008 it won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and this year it was named the One Book One Community read for the Waterloo Region. While I'd heard of the author's "overnight success" story earlier, it was only when the novel was chosen for the OBOC that I decided it was time to read the book.

As the story opens, its main character, Daniel Addison, is about to embark on life in academia, leaving his post as an aide in the Liberal leader's office on Parliament Hill to become an English professor at the University of Ottawa. Since he will be moving to the riding of Cumberland, a traditional Tory stronghold, he is charged with one last task: to find a candidate to run for the Liberal party in the upcoming fall federal election.

And so the games begin. Unable to convince Muriel Parkinson, a staunch Liberal supporter, to go for a sixth unsuccessful run, Daniel is almost out of time when an unexpected stroke of luck hits. His landlord, Angus McClintock, wants to get out of teaching first year English to Engineering students, and is willing to campaign for the Liberal party in order to get out of it. Of course, that's only because the Conservatives have the riding sewn up and there's no way he can win.

Written with liberal splashes of humour, this political satire is sure to enlighten and entertain. I laughed frequently, and often had to stop to read parts aloud to my husband.

The author's personal experience in the political arena served him well in penning this fantastic tale. I had hoped that a sequel was forthcoming and am delighted to inform you that The High Road will be available this September. I look forward to reading this follow-up to the highly enjoyable original.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Diarmaid MacCulloch's A History of Christianity, the First Three Thousand Years (DVD)

Episode 1: The First Christianity
Ambrose Video Publishing, BBC, 2010

From the cover: "When he was a small boy Diarmaid MacCulloch's parents used to drive him round historic churches. Little did they know that they had created a monster - the history of the Christian Church became his life's work... In the first of a six part series sweeping across four continents, Professor MacCulloch goes in search of Christianity's forgotten origins. He overturns the familiar story that it all began when the apostle Paul took Christianity from Jerusalem to Rome. Instead, he shows that the true origins of Christianity lie east, and that at one point it was poised to triumph in Asia, maybe even in China. The headquarters of Christianity may well have been Baghdad not Rome. And if that had happened Western Christianity would have been very different."

Please check back periodically for the upcoming review.