#45 ~ The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn

November 7, 2007 at 2:21 pm | Posted in Books, Family, Reading, Religion | Leave a comment
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The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn by Janis Hallowell

The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn tells the story of Francesca, a young teenager from a broken home, who comes to believe the hype when a local homeless man makes his belief that she is the holy mother of a new savior. This is an interesting story that explores the nature of fantastical spiritual beliefs on a girl, her friend, her family, her neighbors, and her town.

There are many different themes that could be discussed here:

  • Single mothers and the struggle to raise children without losing oneself
  • Religious/spiritual fanatics
  • Schizophrenia and the homeless
  • Young girls cutting themselves
  • Phantom pregnancies

What I am choosing to discuss is the role of the parent when a teenage daughter becomes pregnant. Francesca believes that she is pregnant and her body is showing the physical signs, including morning sickness. Francesca lives at first with the fear of being pregnant, but this fear soon skews as she grows to believe that she has spiritual powers and that the life she is nurturing inside her womb is someone special.

Francesca’s mother, an atheist, at first overlooks the changes in her daughter’s body because she is shocked and overwhelmed at the role that religious fanatics are playing in her life. When Anne finally asks her and learns that Francesca is pregnant, she is doubly shocked. She immediately makes arrangements for a pregnancy test and abortion with her gynecologist. Francesca knows that her mother plans on getting her an abortion, but she has no intentions of letting that happen.

Had Anne forced her child to keep her child or even place the child for an adoption, she would have been portrayed as a villain. Although I did like her character, I found it equally wrong to push an abortion upon your child – even more so when you do so under the guise of “taking care of everything.” Yes, women have fought for the legal right to have an abortion, but does that mean that this should always be the plan of action when an unplanned pregnancy occurs? How is a forced abortion any better for women than forcing a woman to raise or place a baby for adoption?

So, what are the rights of pregnant teens or any other expectant mother who is suffering from a mental illness? Should the wishes of these mothers to abort or to carry a child to term be honored or should a parent or guardian be able to determine what is best? As the mother of two young daughters, this book gave me a lot to think about.

Although elements of the story line are not probable and seemingly dictated by the author’s agenda (gynecologist ends up getting shot by religious fanatic who turns against Francesca after he/she believes that an abortion has taken place), it was an enjoyable book with interesting characters.

#31 ~ Falling Angels

July 6, 2007 at 3:31 pm | Posted in Amazing Narrator, Books, Historical Fiction, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 4 Comments
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Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier

This novel is setup in a compelling way. The story is told through the point of view of eleven (+/-) narrators. You have to delve into the agenda of each character in order to determine what really is happening and why Those agendas are prone to change as the character matures or makes life altering decisions. It took no time to get engrossed in the story and I can’t tell you how many times I skimmed through the pages to come in search of the next entry by one narrator or another.

The story revolves around two families roughly in the same socio-economic class, but with Maude’s family slightly higher than Lavinia’s. It is the shared love of the cemetery that brings these young girls together in friendship, much to the chagrin of their mothers. Maude’s mother, Kitty Coleman, is an educated woman who is disappointed in what life has to hold for her has caused her to neglect those in her life who love her. She feels that her life would be so much more had she not been required to get married. Lavinia’s mother, Gertrude Waterhouse, invests all too much of herself in her role as wife and mother. She would be no one if she did not have a husband, child, or house to care for. As time goes on, each mother is secretly grateful for the presence of the other child in their daughter’s life. Lavinia has all the flare and lust for life that Kitty wishes Maude had. Maude is down to earth and more reserved, the way that Gertrude wishes Lavinia was.

As they move toward adolescence, the cemetery is no longer enough to maintain the friendship. In fact, even the reasons why each girl enjoys going there separates them. Lavinia is ecstatic when an aunt passes away because it gives her the opportunity to practice and embrace the societal standards for mourning. Maude has no interest whatsoever in mourning traditions. Her interest in visiting the cemetery is practical. She wants to learn the ins and outs of burial and, most controversially, cremation. Maude becomes weary of Lavinia’s drama and conversely, Lavinia becomes bored with Maude’s practicality. As the girls’ friendship comes to a cross roads, Kitty becomes fully involved in the women’s suffrage movement, pulling the girls and both families in with her. Their involvement in the historic suffrage march in London changes all of their forever.

In the end, I found the build up much more intense and interesting than the conclusion. Still, I enjoyed reading it. Even the most beautiful jigsaw puzzle is far more fun to put together than it is to look at.

#14 ~ The Cider House Rules

April 4, 2007 at 6:48 pm | Posted in Adoption, Books, Culture, My Life with Books, Reading | 2 Comments
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The Cider House Rules by John Irving

Of the 13 books that have preceded this, The Cider House Rules has been by far the hardest to read. The first 100 pages were more difficult than I had imagined. I never wanted to know what the inside of a uterus feels/sounds like when a D&C is completed successfully. I would imagine no one really does. At one point during Dr. Wilbur Larch’s journey from OB/GYN to OB/GYN and abortionist, I wanted to stop reading it. I decided that to honestly meet the challenge I had to finish every book I start. This isn’t about reading 52 books I will enjoy. For me, as a fast reader, there’s no challenge in that. So, I finished it. It’s a sad, sad book.

The protagonist, Homer Wells, begins life as an orphan as St. Cloud’s in Maine in the early mid-1900s. This is the orphanage in which Dr. Larch practices medicine. Attempts to adopt Homer failed. Homer preferred to be at St. Cloud’s. In order to be “of use,” Dr. Larch makes Homer his apprentice. Homer has a natural talent for medicine and successfully delivers a women suffering from sever eclampsia. During the course of his studies of Grey’s Anatomy and through dissecting adult female and infant cadavers, Homer comes to believe that the unborn have souls. He confronts Dr. Larch and refuses to be “of use” to him when he’s performing those procedures. Shortly thereafter, he leaves St. Cloud’s with Wally and Candy, a rich couple who traveled from the coast to get an abortion.

While living at Ocean View Orchards, Homer quickly falls in love with Candy and becomes an expert in farming an apple orchard. Dr. Larch, on the other hand, planned for the day that Homer would return and take over all aspects of “the Lord’s work.” St. Cloud’s Board of Directors was increasingly unhappy with him and as he grows older, the pressure to add staff to oversee all aspects of the orphanage continues to strengthen. He took the name of a deceased orphan and manipulated college and medical school records to make him a doctor. It’s is Dr. Larch’s hope that life experience will lead him back to St. Cloud’s and, if his beliefs cannot be changed, he will feel compelled to provide abortion services in a day and age when it is illegal.

This book is decidedly pro-choice. Still, there is no glorification of the procedure or those who perform them. Abortion is a consequence of the human condition and those who provide those services have their own weaknesses and crosses to bear. Irving took great effort to describe the procedures and its affects accurately. Women carrying the burden of an unplanned pregnancy do not leave the orphanage relieved of their burdens. In fact, Homer observes that their posture makes them look more weighted down. Dr. Larch uses the phrase “products of conception.” Eventually, Homer confronts him about this oversimplification. There is no sugar coating.

I believe that this story took place during World War II purposefully. It illustrated that there are forms of murder deemed as necessary and good by American society. There is no shame in killing the enemy or in losing a child to war. In fact, both may even be considered a duty and an honor. Many states in this country support the death penalty as a means for punishing its most heinous criminals. In both situations, keeping our society safe is found more important than the lives of individuals. Both sides of the abortion debate oversimplify or sugar coat the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy. Why are we afraid to address this issue head on and decide, as a society, whether abortion serves the greater good?

Although I believe that Irving intended to end this book with hope, I felt quite the opposite. It seems sad that the best our society has to offer women experiencing an unwanted pregnancy is an abortion, an adoption, or a life as a single parent. Ensuring that all three of those options are available to women does not change the fact that – apparent rewards aside – they all bring about their own pain, feelings of loss, and heartache for everyone involved.

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