Book Spotlight: All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg.

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This is a fantastic author and I am lucky to be able to spotlight her book for you. It was an Editor’s Pick by the Historical Novel Society and it was named THE BEST BOOK EVER SET IN VERMONT by Travel & Leisure magazine. The author tackles the very difficult subject of Schizophrenia, and in 1972. It is an intricately crafted story of mental illness, magic and misfortune across three generations.

“I’m asked often why so many writers live in a state as small as Vermont, and why so many books are set here. The answer is partly the landscape, but mostly it’s the people. And in All the Best People, Sonja Yoerg has captured the magic and the madness that makes the Green Mountains a microcosm for so much of rural America. Her people are real people, authentic and quirky and troubled. I cared for them all.” — Chris Bohjalian, NYT bestselling author of The Flight Attendant

Vermont, 1972. Carole LaPorte has a satisfying, ordinary life. She cares for her children, balances the books for the family’s auto shop and laughs when her husband slow dances her across the kitchen floor. Her tragic childhood might have happened to someone else.
But now her mind is playing tricks on her. The accounts won’t reconcile and the murmuring she hears isn’t the television. She ought to seek help, but she’s terrified of being locked away in a mental hospital like her mother, Solange. So Carole hides her symptoms, withdraws from her family and unwittingly sets her eleven-year-old daughter Alison on a desperate search for meaning and power: in Tarot cards, in omens from a nearby river and in a mysterious blue glass box belonging to her grandmother.

An exploration of the power of courage and love to overcome a damning legacy,  “All the Best People” celebrates the search for identity and grace in the most ordinary lives.

Buy this book here

Book Spotlight: Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

Mira T. Lee’s debut novel, EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL, is a complex and engrossing cross-cultural family drama that tackles big issues: in addition to themes of immigration, identity, and parenthood, it takes a 360-degree look at mental illness. The story follows the life of Lucia, a vibrant young Chinese-American woman with schizophrenia, as well as the lives of Lucia’s protective older sister, her Swiss doctor husband, a charismatic Israeli shopkeeper, and the young, undocumented Ecuadorian immigrant who fathers Lucia’s child. 
The author was gracious to participate in a Q&A with me.
Q: Your novel deals with what it’s like to have a mental illness, as well as what it’s like to love someone with a mental illness. Why this approach?
A: An illness like schizophrenia affects everyone in its wake. In recent years, we’ve seen more and more narratives about these illnesses, but they are usually memoirs told from one person’s point of view, and most often in the context of white, middle-class families. I wanted to portray mental illness from several different perspectives, and to place the illness squarely in the context of people’s lives. Lives are chaotic and messy, and I wanted to explore the conflicts these illnesses can amplify in families – in this case, a cobbled-together, unconventional family of immigrants from diverse ethnic/cultural backgrounds, but a family that is trying its hardest to love each other nonetheless.
 
Q: Have you had personal experience with mental illness?
A: Yes, I’ve seen members of my own family struggle with this illness. I’ve seen psychotic episodes up close, those breaks from reality where people may become convinced the TV is sending them secret messages, or the FBI has planted a bug in their head. It sounds silly, almost, but when it’s someone you love, and they can’t be swayed, and you’re watching them transform before your eyes into someone you don’t understand anymore — it feels both terrifying and incomprehensible. It can also be extremely difficult to know what to do – if your loved one lacks insight (the clinical term is “anosognosia”) and doesn’t acknowledge that they’re ill, it’s almost impossible to find help for them. 
 I’ve also dealt with the mental health care system, and am familiar with how frustrating it can be to finally get your loved one to a hospital, only to have them turned away because they’re not “an imminent danger.” So often, in dealing with these illnesses, family members end up feeling powerless and paralyzed.
 
Q: Lucia, the protagonist, is a fascinating character. She’s radiant, impulsive, quirky, yearning. What was writing her character like?
A: Lucia was tricky to write – yes, she has an illness, which surfaces from time to time, but she’s also still so much herself, brilliant and perceptive and full of dreams and passions. I wanted readers to relate to her as a modern woman – someone yearning for love, family, career, a sense of belonging – and to also learn something about her illness, and be able to sympathize. But at the same time her illness could not entirely let her off the hook for her actions and choices. She had to be a nuanced, fully three-dimensional character, with both strengths and flaws. And the reader would have to decide for themselves what they might’ve done in her position, or in the position of one of her family members. That was my goal for her, and the book – to have readers disagree over what each character should’ve done. 
 
Q: What do you hope readers will take away from the book?  
A: I hope they’ll gain a sense of the issues surrounding schizophrenia, which is perhaps still the most severe and stigmatized of all the mental illnesses, but one deserving of just as much compassion. We shouldn’t need celebrities to tell us it’s okay to struggle before we accept that as the truth. I also hope people see that these illnesses are only one component of a person’s life, and can relate to the humanity at the core of each of my many characters – as sisters, mothers, husbands, lovers, as modern women, as flawed human beings who yearn for love and belonging. Finding empathy for people in situations unlike our own – I think that’s a hugely important reason to read fiction.
You can buy this incredible book at a bookstore near you or on Amazon

Holiday Gift Guide For Parents

I always encourage parents to create Christmas for their own current family and not to allow it to be influenced as much by their childhood Christmases. By all means—keep your family traditions. Those may be wonderful and special. But don’t let these hold you back from making new ones with your spouse and children. For example, if your parents opened one gift on Christmas Eve and your kids love that, keep that tradition. And then, maybe add a new tradition of something your children would like to do on Christmas Eve that you’ve never done as a child.

The best thing a parent can teach their child is never to compare their family to other families in terms of material goods. These comparisons tend to start at an early age and not just at Christmas. Kids will talk about electronics, clothes, sporting goods they have or don’t have but other family does. By the time they reach teen years, this kind of talk is highly damaging to self-esteem and can cause anxiety and depression.

I very much encourage parents to teach kids that material goods don’t define a human being’s worth and that anyone who compares material goods is not a good friend to keep. According to Psychology Today, studies have shown that children who have FEWER material possessions but positive relationships with parents and peers demonstrate HIGHER self-esteem, LESS behavioral problems and can cope with stress better.

A good way to reinforce this concept around Christmas is to shop for presents for others and to donate clothes and toys to Goodwill, Salvation Army, and any other charity in your local area which is collecting new or used toys or items. Studies have found that people value gifts they buy for others more than gifts they receive and feel happier giving rather than receiving gifts.

Another good way to teach kids gratitude is by expressing appreciation for the things you have as a family rather than talking about things you don’t have. Teach your children that giving meaningful gifts is more important than expensive gifts.

Here are top 5 ways to give your children great gifts but make sure not to spoil them:

  1. Don’t fall into the trap of buying toys from “The Top 10 Hottest Holiday Toys.” Your child doesn’t need the latest electronic gadget. It will be forgotten by the end of January and replaced with their old favorite stuffed animal. You’ll just be stuck paying that credit card bill.
  2. Don’t teach your child that she gets all the things she asks from Santa for Christmas. I taught my children that Santa brings one toy from their list and the rest are surprises. Now that they no longer believe in Santa, they still know they can expect one of the items they ask for. And it’s usually something small but special. They value this one gift a great deal.
  3. Don’t overdo it with a number of gifts. Any parent who has done Christmas a few times can tell you that a kid’s eyes glaze over after about 2 gifts and then you have to beg them to open more. They don’t want more. That first gift they open is the only special one. So, buy 2-3 gifts and then maybe wrap a few items to put under the tree that are not toys but may be fun to open later, after some rest: some candy, stickers, a coloring book, a pack of crayons, playdough, treats to give to a pet.
  4. Make sure to buy gifts that have your child’s interests in mind. Don’t buy a musical instrument in the hope of turning your child into a musical prodigy. Don’t buy a bicycle if the street is covered in snow, just because you got one as a kid. Don’t buy dolls for a girl who loves to build with Legos or buy action figures for a boy who would rather have art supplies.
  5. Teach kids the lesson of giving at Christmas. Shop with them for gifts for others, teach them to wrap and make gifts special. Get them excited about keeping those gifts secret.