Alice Pelland

Ashley Rhodes-Courter was three years old when police came to arrest her birth mother and place Ashley and her brother Luke in foster care. Nearly nine years later, shortly before her 12th birthday, Ashley finally moved in with Gail and Phil Courter, who would become her adoptive parents. At age 21, a recent college graduate, she decided to tell her story in a memoir to ensure that the voices of children in foster care would be heard. The result, Three Little Words, is a remarkable tribute to the strength of the human spirit.

Ashley's mother, who was abandoned by her own teenage mother, was 17 when she gave birth to Ashley. During Ashley's nine years in foster care, which included 14 placements, she moved from home to home, sometimes taking all her clothing and possessions stuffed in garbage bags and sometimes having to leave everything behind. The only things that were consistent in her life for all of those years were wondering when she would move again and feeling that she was special to no one. Most of her foster homes were overcrowded; in one she was exposed to pornography; and in another she was cruelly abused, beaten, forced to spend the days outside in the hot Florida sun and squat under a counter for hours. The turning point for Ashley was at age nine when Mary Miller was assigned as her volunteer court-appointed advocate. Mary rescued Ashley from being lost in the foster care system and promised to find her a forever family, but moving in with Gail and Phil was not simply a happy ending to her story. Ashley still feared that the Courters would send her back, leading her to test them in many ways. The couple saw things differently and only time and their unfailing commitment finally led Ashley to realize that she was home, surrounded by the love that had so long been missing from her life.

Teens can glean many lessons from Ashley's story the risk of adolescent pregnancies, the value of family connections, the importance of telling the truth and those who work as advocates for children and seek to understand their voices will find this memoir captivating.

 

Alice Pelland, an adoptive mother, guardian ad litem and foster parent, writes from Hillsborough, North Carolina.

Ashley Rhodes-Courter was three years old when police came to arrest her birth mother and place Ashley and her brother Luke in foster care. Nearly nine years later, shortly before her 12th birthday, Ashley finally moved in with Gail and Phil Courter, who would become her adoptive parents. At age 21, a recent college graduate, […]

Twelve-year-old Garnet Hubbard knew that her mother Melanie was not good mother material, no matter how badly Garnet and her sister Opal needed her to be. Melanie Hubbard looked at her precious gems and saw everything that was wrong in her life. So in the hot, humid August of Mirabeau, Texas, in the early 1960s, as Garnet prepared for seventh grade and her popular sister Opal prepared to enter high school, their mother awakened them early one morning, loaded them into the pickup truck and left everything behind to follow her dream of becoming a famous country singer in Nashville. Melanie couldn't wait to get to Willow Flats, Oklahoma, to drop off the girls with their Aunt Julia, like a pair of stray kittens. She told them there was a price to be paid for dreams, but as Garnet explains, She had neglected to tell me who all would be paying it. Garnet and Opal find their Aunt Julia's house to be at the edge of the livable world, with no phone, no TV and no car. Further compounding the loss of their mother, their friends and their home, days after they arrive in Oklahoma, their beloved father is seriously injured at his job on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and hospitalized for many months. Garnet's account of the next 10 months is filled with poignant insight and the pain of abandonment and poverty, as well as a seventh grader's longing for acceptance from friends, teachers and family. Garnet and Opal find that acceptance and love from an unlikely group: Aunt Julia, an old maid who carves whirligigs; a native American and octogenarian named Charlie Twelvetrees; an eccentric widow chicken farmer and school bus driver; and one another. Christmas that year brings unexpected kindness to Garnet from those she had not realized were so important to her. As in her other novels, D. Anne Love's target audience is adolescents, but plenty of mothers will also be staying up past bedtime to enjoy this timeless and beautifully told story. Alice Pelland writes from Hillsborough, North Carolina.

Twelve-year-old Garnet Hubbard knew that her mother Melanie was not good mother material, no matter how badly Garnet and her sister Opal needed her to be. Melanie Hubbard looked at her precious gems and saw everything that was wrong in her life. So in the hot, humid August of Mirabeau, Texas, in the early 1960s, […]

In her first novel, Dana Reinhardt has created an exquisite story about teenage choices, goodness, grace and unexpected blessings. Over the course of her junior year in high school, narrator Simone and her friends deal with such issues as teen sexuality, drinking and the need to balance school, family life and activities that will look good on their college applications. (Joining the Atheist Student Association is not exactly what her high school counselor had in mind!) Simone is a bright, loving teen who has a strong relationship with her younger brother and her parents, Elsie and Vince. Though she has always been aware that she was adopted as an infant, she suddenly faces the difficult choice of whether to contact her birth mother. Providing her with a telephone number to a home in Cape Cod and leaving the choice of contact up to her, Simone's parents encourage her and never feel threatened by this possible reconnection with her past. We learn that Simone's birth mother, Rivka, was the daughter of a Hasidic Jewish rabbi. She gave birth to Simone at age 16, the same age Simone is now. While seeking the right of Rivka's father's congregation to meet in his suburban home, Rivka's family meets Elsie, a young ACLU lawyer (and atheist) who will become Simone's adoptive mother. Now living alone in Cape Cod, Rivka earns her living as a photographer. An illness prompts her to contact Simone's parents, asking to meet Simone. Rivka, who no longer lives as a Hasidic Jew but still practices many traditions of her faith, establishes a fulfilling relationship with Simone that serves to bolster Simone's love for her adoptive family while satisfying her long-suppressed curiosity about her family tree. Reinhardt demonstrates an unerring ability to capture the voice of an idealistic teen sorting through questions about family, religion and her place in the world. Turning the last page left me immensely proud of Simone, longing to congratulate Elsie and Vince for a job well done, and wishing I could thank Rivka for her compassion and sensitivity. Alice Pelland is an adoptive mother who lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina.

In her first novel, Dana Reinhardt has created an exquisite story about teenage choices, goodness, grace and unexpected blessings. Over the course of her junior year in high school, narrator Simone and her friends deal with such issues as teen sexuality, drinking and the need to balance school, family life and activities that will look […]

Max Tivoli, the character at the center of Andrew Sean Greer's remarkable new novel, starts life with a bang. Max is conceived in Golden Gate Park in 1870 at the moment when Blossom Rock is dynamited in San Francisco Bay, creating the largest explosion in the city's history. This, his mother thinks, is what jolts Max's cells into backward growth, the reason that he ages in reverse.

As Max himself explains in The Confessions of Max Tivoli, his real age and the age he appears to be always total 70 years. As an infant, he has the wrinkles and white hair of a man in his late 60s and, in his old age, he looks like his 11-year-old son, Sammy. Resembling a 70-year-old in the year of his birth, Max knows exactly the year he will die: 1941. He forever wears this number, the mark of his fate, on a gold chain.

Love is a difficult and heartbreaking experience for Max. At 17, he is attracted to 14-year-old Alice, but, since he appears to be 53, it is Alice's widowed mother who throws herself at him. Pursuing the beautiful Alice becomes an obsession for Max throughout his life.

In his early years, Max's parents implore him, "Be what they think you are." Max lives by this rule with only two exceptions, telling his secret to his lifelong friend Hughie and to Alice, the love of his life.

A gifted storyteller who has written one previous novel (The Path of Minor Planets), Greer divides his tale into three parts: Max's childhood as an old man, the middle years when he is close to the age he appears to be, and his later years in the body of a young boy. The account of Max's growing young while Hughie and Alice grow old is particularly intriguing, and Greer skillfully explores the different reactions of these two complex confidantes.

With its evocative turn-of-the-century San Francisco setting, The Confessions of Max Tivoli is a strikingly original and beautifully told story that offers a fresh perspective on questions of love and age.

 

Alice Pelland writes from Hillsborough, North Carolina.

Max Tivoli, the character at the center of Andrew Sean Greer's remarkable new novel, starts life with a bang. Max is conceived in Golden Gate Park in 1870 at the moment when Blossom Rock is dynamited in San Francisco Bay, creating the largest explosion in the city's history. This, his mother thinks, is what jolts […]

Noah Locke is blessed with the gift of fishing. Just by placing his hand on the surface of the water, he can recognize a good place to fish. People like to say that fish are “so eager to get on Noah's hook that they lined up in the water like tractors in a Fourth of July parade.” A troubled World War II vet who returns home to find his parents dead, his brother in jail and a new family settled on the land where he spent his youth, Noah now spends his days rambling, doing odd jobs and fishing. Although he has always thought of himself as dumb because he can't read well or do math, Noah is gradually revealed to be a wise man in many ways.

In an author's note for his new novel, The Valley of Light, Terry Kay tells readers that his story is about “the mysticism of being gifted,” the rare, mysterious ability to do one thing extremely well. As Noah's mother explains it, when God shortchanges you in one area, he overpays you somewhere else. Noah's special talent for fishing leads him to a small North Carolina community in an area known as the Valley of Light. There, in the Lake of Grief, a huge bass is said to lurk beneath the waters.

After his appearance in the valley, Noah's gift draws the attention of the locals who urge him to stay around for the town's annual fishing contest. Kay's small-town Southerners are a likable bunch, as innocent and unspoiled as the valley. While fishing and painting the general store, Noah begins to shed light on a number of the town's mysteries, old and new. Before a week has passed, he has become a legend as a fisherman and a friend who will be long remembered.

Like his classic To Dance With the White Dog, Kay's lyrical novel has the feel of a fable. This moving story, set in a simpler time, is so skillfully written that images of the valley and its people will remain in the mind's eye long after the final page is turned. Alice Pelland writes from Hillsborough, North Carolina.

Noah Locke is blessed with the gift of fishing. Just by placing his hand on the surface of the water, he can recognize a good place to fish. People like to say that fish are “so eager to get on Noah's hook that they lined up in the water like tractors in a Fourth of […]

In The Book of Dead Birds, Gayle Brandeis tells a captivating story that explores the effect of a mother's past on her relationship with her daughter and her daughter's transition to adulthood. Through carefully juxtaposed chapters, Brandeis skillfully and sensitively develops the stories of Ava Sing Lo and her Korean mother, Hye-yang.

Ava, the daughter of an unknown African-American GI, accidentally kills a number of her mother's pet birds over the years. Hye-yang memorializes the birds along with some of her memories of her life as a prostitute forced to serve black American servicemen in Korea. Searching for her own identity and some form of approval from her mother, Ava volunteers to help in a massive effort to save dying birds at the Salton Sea near their home in San Diego. Nurtured by new friends she meets along the way, Ava comes to terms with the fact that she is the product of her mother's days as a prostitute and begins to negotiate her own way along the path to falling in love.

The Book of Dead Birds, Brandeis' first novel, was awarded the 2002 Bellwether Prize established by the writer Barbara Kingsolver to encourage literature of social responsibility. Through this prize, Kingsolver advocates serious literary fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships. Describing The Book of Dead Birds, Kingsolver notes, “It's lyrical, imaginative, beautifully crafted and deeply intelligent. Before anything else, its characters take you by the heart.” In addition to drawing the readers into the characters and their personal pain, Brandeis educates readers on a fascinating variety of topics, including the ecology of southern California's Salton Sea and a biracial woman's search for racial identity. In a glimpse into Korean culture, Hye-yang reveals her past life to Ava through pansori, a traditional Korean epical song. In her singing, she chronicles the rejection she suffered from her own mother and grandmother, and describes how, chasing promises of fame, she was deceived into the brutal life of a Korean prostitute in the DMZ following the Korean War. Brandeis highlights the struggle of mother and daughter to understand each other and themselves, noting the intriguing similarities between the two. Through the parallel stories of Hye-yang and Ava, Brandeis underscores the importance of mothers being available to their daughters and providing loving surroundings in which they can learn to love themselves. Alice Pelland lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina.

In The Book of Dead Birds, Gayle Brandeis tells a captivating story that explores the effect of a mother's past on her relationship with her daughter and her daughter's transition to adulthood. Through carefully juxtaposed chapters, Brandeis skillfully and sensitively develops the stories of Ava Sing Lo and her Korean mother, Hye-yang. Ava, the daughter […]

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