The Reunion

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Saving Toby by Suzanne Mckenna Link

One could build a library to house the romance novels in which a bad boy with a good heart is rescued from the darkness that surrounds him by a good girl who sees a diamond in the rough and who is willing to give up her dreams in the name of love. At first, it seems as if Saving Toby is simply the newest addition to this library.

Toby Faye is a stereotypical bad boy. The son of a dysfunctional family – his father took his own life and his brother is in prison upstate for murder – Toby has no direction in life. He likes beer, girls, and an occasional joint. His anger flares at the least provocation and fighting is always a possible response. He spent several months bumming around Florida, taking whatever job presented itself. He is at home as the book opens because his mother is recovering from recurrent cancer and needs assistance while she receives radiation and chemotherapy.

Claudia Chiametti is the opposite of Toby Faye. The daughter of a police officer, she studies hard, does well in school, is enrolled in college, and has direction to her life. She plans to study gerontology, perhaps at USC, and she is employed part-time at the local senior center. She knew Toby when they were in middle school, and they meet again when she accepts a second job, caring for his mother three afternoons each week.

In a typical story, Claudia would fall head over heels for Toby the day they met, and they would fall into bed together three pages later. Not in this book. One of the book’s strengths is Claudia’s character. She is not a starry-eyed little girl who is easily impressed by a cute smile and bulging biceps. Instead, she is assertive, self-confident, and she will not give up her dreams to please either boyfriend or her father. She knows what she wants from life, and she does not want guy like Toby Faye. She has standards, and even as she becomes attracted to him, sex is not a foregone conclusion.

Of course a romance develops, but it is so much more realistic than those we frequently encounter in novels. Their relationship moves from dislike, to thinking he is cute, to being attracted, to being willing to date him, and finally, to falling in love. It’s a sequence that most romantic relationships follow (perhaps omitting the very first step!). The reader can easily imagine that the story is based on fact.

The romantic scenes, too, are realistic. They grow out of the plot, and they advance the story. This is high praise for a romance, where such scenes are often seemed to be tossed into the story, almost at random, to maintain interest.

The plot is interesting, and the reader is never positive where it will go. I was surprised, even on the final page.The writing is excellent –the dialogue is believable, the descriptions are vivid. You will love this book. I’d give it a six out of five.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Other Side of the Window by S. Z. Berg

The Other Side of the Window tells the fascinating story of a young woman who battles the debilitating effects of a psychological disorder. It is an absorbing tale, very well-written, fast moving, and extremely enjoyable.

The story centers on Savannah, a reporter for a small-town newspaper who has an obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is told from her viewpoint, often in the first person.  It is difficult to write an entire book in this mode, but Berg succeeds. I cannot imagine that the story would have been nearly as effective nor as entertaining if told in any other way.

I wish that I could describe the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorders to my psychology students half as well as Berg presents them in her story. People today use “OCD” much too often and much too freely. They apply it to a person who wants the house to be in order or who wants some task to be performed in a certain way. Obsessive compulsive disorders are much more than this, and the author presents us with a vivid picture.

We watch Savannah, for example, as she repeatedly washes her hands, scrubs her body, opens doors with a paper towel, and consumes multiple glasses of wine, all to protect herself from germs. We see her perform actions in sets of threes. We see her standing in the ball field, repeatedly hitting the ball and running the bases because It insists that she do it. We see that Savannah is very aware that she has a disorder, and she desperately wishes that she could be different.

Toward the end of the book, the author makes it clear that she does not think highly of either psychotherapists or pharmaceutical companies, and she proposes an unconventional theory for the origin of at least some psychological disorders. While I do not necessarily accept her conclusions, she is quite right when she points out that we do not really understand the causes of disorders and that no form of therapy works for everyone.

Whether you are a psychologist, as I am, or whether you simply want a good, entertaining story, you will find it in The Other Side of the Window.