Book Review: A Funny Kind of Paradise

Though I’m a loyal library patron and rarely spend money on books, when I spotted the Bookbub feature deal for this, I had to scoop it up!

A Funny Kind of Paradise by Jo Owens

Though I’m a loyal library patron and rarely spend money on books, when I spotted the Bookbub feature deal for this, I had to scoop it up!

Description

After a lifetime of single motherhood and entrepreneurship, Francesca has earned a peaceful retirement, but when a massive stroke leaves her totally dependent on others, her freedom seems lost.

Though unable to speak and partially paralyzed, Francesca maintains her sharp wit and sharper opinions. Unable to communicate with the living, she speaks her mind to her long-lost friend, Anna. Amidst the indignities of sponge baths and diaper changes, Francesca is surprised to discover that she wants to live. The magnificent magnolia tree outside her window and the dramas of the rotating crew of personal care attendants keep her invested in life. Within the misery of the dying, she finds flashes of hilarity and joy.

As she reflects on her experiences to Anna, she can’t help drawing connections to her past choices, her past mistakes. For once, she can’t hide in work. She must reconcile with herself, her son, and with the daughter who never listened.

Character

Francesca is a fantastically deep character whose responses to life’s challenges shaped her life in ways she could only recognize once her stroke forced her to slow down. At once sharp and caring, bitter and remorseful, stubborn and compassionate, Francesca captures the entire range of the human experience, all while remaining consistent with her own personality.

The other characters—her children, her care aides, the other patients—make for a delightfully quirky and diverse cast. Since Francesca cannot speak, her care aides confide in her, and she learns to care for them as much as they do her.

Plot

This book is about as far from a plot-driven storyline as possible. Some may argue it has no plot, but the story melds Francesca’s reflections on her past with her investment in her care aides’ lives. If you’re looking for a goal-driven, action-packed story, look elsewhere, but I felt the drama and gradually revealed backstory was enough to pull me through the book.

Writing Style

Owens writes with the same pragmatism as her character—no lofty descriptions, but not blunt either. Overall, the prose flows well and the book is well edited.

Miscellaneous

The author worked in an extended care facility, and her experience shines through the story. She acknowledges the slight inaccuracies in her portrayal, and as someone who has worked in such a facility, I concur. For example, most modern facilities are trending toward private rooms, and the care aides wouldn’t discuss other patients around Francesca. What inaccuracies there are, however, serve the story well. I think they were necessary, and I will happily allow the author creative license in this case.

Conclusion

A Funny Kind of Paradise is a heart-warming and heart-breaking story of one woman’s coming terms with her past as she prepares for the end of life. Owens provides readers with an inside look into life in an extended care facility—the good, the bad, the ugly, and the hilarious. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and heartily recommend it.

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A Funny Kind of Paradise

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Book Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory

For those who seek a deeply emotional and inspiring experience, I highly recommend.

Cover Description

For the past five years, Hayley Kincaid and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own. Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over?” — Amazon Description *

Characters and Plot

As a Minnesota-nice, passive-aggressive people pleaser, I find it difficult to empathize with rebel protagonists. The love story subplot—bitter girl surrounds her heart with walls as thick as they are high; persistent nice guy breaks through them—is one I’ve seen before, most recently in A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi**.

However, Laurie Halse Anderson (LHA) creates empathy for Hayley more effectively than Mafi does for Shirin. While I initially found Hayley’s attitude off-putting, she and Finn were so “adorkable” I couldn’t help rooting for them.

As part of my graduate schooling, I had the privilege to train in the Minneapolis VA Hospital. The VA provided counseling for PTSD along with occupational, physical, and speech therapy. The experience gave me a profound respect for the men and women who serve our country, and a deeper understanding of the effects of that service on the body and the mind. If you would like to learn more, I recommend reading Once a Warrior—Always a Warrior by Charles Hoge.

LHA depicts PTSD with heart-wrenching realism. Hayley constantly evaluates her dad for signs of flashbacks. The story line dives into dark moments of violence, but pops up for a breath of hope often enough to make the reader cry out when it doesn’t last. Between the “adorkable” love story and the progressive intensity of the PTSD, the story is more than an emotional rollercoaster; it’s a race through a zero-gravity obstacle course where the reader is the passenger and the pilot is blindfolded.

More than an emotional rollercoaster; it’s a race through a zero-gravity obstacle course at Warp 9, where the reader is the passenger and the pilot is blindfolded. #TheImpossibleKnifeofMemory

My only critique is that the author explains Hayley’s fear of water, but doesn’t divulge the history behind her hatred of the mall. One scene suggests she’s claustrophobic, but I would like to know more.

Writing Style

LHA’s writing style is the opposite of my own. I gravitate towards long sentences that flow across the page. Her prose is punchy and precise. No word joins the others without first proving its worth.

Her unique descriptions characterize her protagonist well. For example, she describes one of Hayley’s classmates as “the same size and shape as a porta potty.” The witty repartee between Hayley in Finn is what won me to Hayley’s side. It was as though they belonged to a linguistic genre all their own.

In short, LHA’s writing is masterful. She could write about people watching paint dry, and I would read 1,000 pages.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s writing is masterful. She could write about people watching paint dry, and I would read 1,000 pages. @halseanderson

Conclusion

Given the subject, this book is not for readers who want to curl up on the couch with a mug of hot chocolate and eat Christmas cookies. For those who seek a deeply emotional and inspiring experience, I highly recommend.

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The Impossible Knife of Memory


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**A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a good depiction of the fickleness of high school and the arbitrariness of popularity.