No matter what you do, it’s hard to free yourself completely from your past, and that’s especially true when you’re talking about your earliest past, your relationship with your parents. This must be why books about parents and children are so numerous and so varied: it’s not true that every happy family is alike but every crazy family has its own particular kind of craziness to explore. With that in mind, let’s turn to a couple of new books at the Field Library which explore the somewhat difficult and complicated relationships between mothers and daughters.
On the humorous side, we have The Book of Polly, by Kathy Hepinstall. Ten year old Willow, our narrator and protagonist, is terrified that her 60 year old mother, Polly, is going to drop dead on her. Not because Polly is in a decline or in delicate health in any way. Far from it! From Willow’s point of view, Polly is a force of nature, a difficult woman who doesn’t suffer fools, who shoots varmints, drinks margaritas and is nothing at all like the young mothers of Willow’s contemporaries in the small Texas town in which she grows up. Willow’s father died before she was born, and Polly had other children before Willow, but they’re grown up and gone, so it’s just Willow and her irrepressible mother. Willow tries to understand her larger than life mother, to find out why Polly left her original home in Louisiana fifty years ago and vowed never to return, what’s the story with Polly’s long ago suitor who, it’s rumored, once killed a man, and what makes Polly tick in general. There’s a clash of personalities here, and a character who’s almost a tall tale in real life, but there’s also much love between Willow and Polly, and a wild ride before the questions all get answered.
Every Wild Heart by Meg Donohue is also about a powerful, vibrant mother and a daughter who’s trying to figure out her place in her mother’s shadow. In this case, the mother is Gail Gideon, the host of a radio show in which she gives advice to single women on how to restart their lives, a program that started when she let loose with an on-air rant about her husband’s decision to file for divorce years before. She’s got fame and fortune but also some of the problems that go along with those things: the embarrassment of being seen as a staunch advocate for single women who’s starting to fall in love again herself, and a possible stalker who might be just a fan or might be dangerous to her and her daughter. That daughter, Nic, has been shy all her life, happier when she’s around horses than when she’s with people, until the accident that sends her into a coma and changes her personality dramatically when she emerges from the coma. Now reckless and risk-taking, Nic could be capable of anything, and the new Nic adds more stress to her mother’s life and the bonds that pull them together.
Lisa See, author of the incredibly popular Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (among other books), has a somewhat different angle to look at mothers and daughters. In her newest book, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, the story starts in the Yunan province of China, where the lives of the Akha people have revolved around their farming of a particular kind of tea for generations, until one day a stranger arrives from the outside world, searching for that tea. Li-Yan, one of the only educated girls in the village, first acts as a liaison between her people and the stranger, and then starts pushing against the traditions that have bound everyone else in her world. She becomes pregnant out of wedlock and abandons her baby daughter in the nearest city. Time goes by, the daughter, Hayley, grows up privileged and loved in California, while Li-Yan leaves her previous life and comes into contact (and conflict) with the modern world. Both of them yearn for the other, and it’s the village’s unique tea that finally makes it possible for them to reach out and discover each other at last.