Thoughts on a Complicated Kindness and the Bone Cage

I managed to polish two more books off this week in my quest for just the right book to present to my school reads committee. The first one I’d been meaning to read  for a while, the second I thought would be a good fit due to its subject matter.
A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
            The cracking of my heart seems to be happening all too frequently when I read these days. I would make an effort to avoid the damage (my heart is beginning to look like a crumpled piece of paper left out in the rain) but the unlikeliest books keep scrunching it up in their cardboard fists.
            A Complicated Kindness did this for me. If you haven’t already read it (I think I might be the only one my age who hadn’t) it is told through the witty/despairing/smart voice of sixteen year old Nomi Nickels. She lives with her father in the Mennonite community of East Village, Manitoba  after Nomi’s mom and her sister skipped town. Nomi tries to deal with the loss, as well as her own crumbling religious faith and her emotionally distant and distracted father in the months that follow.
            I don’t know why exactly this book spoke to me- perhaps it was the strong-willed, yet hopelessly lost voice of Nomi. Perhaps it was because she listened to Keith Jarret (the Koln concert of course) on her record player just like I did when I was a teenager and she loved how he made noises when he played, just like I did. Mostly I think I loved Nomi because she is one of the undisputed heirs of Holden Caulfield: just as perceptive and smart with observations about the world that break your heart to make it bigger. And she is just as screwed up by the hyprocrisy of the world she lives in and the loss of everything she holds dear. Just like Mr. Caulfield.
 Yeah. That was what got me.
            As for the Community Reads, as much as I would love to put that call into Miriam Toews’ agent, begging her to come visit us in Montreal (hey! we have bagels and smoked meat! Offer still stands) I worry that the language is a little to sophisticated for the younger of our girls- that they would read this book before they are fully equipped emotionally and intellectually to appreciate its nuances.
            So no. Can’t use this book. Perhaps the Flying Troutmans? I doubt I will be able to get to that this weekend as I have a whole list of books on my plate that I need to read but maybe next year? I’m not giving up on you Miriam…
The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou
            I put this one on my list last year when it was nominated for Canada Reads as I thought it might be fun to read a sports book this year- we have never done one and it might catch the attention of a certain population of students.
            The Bone Cage follows Sadie, a swimmer and Digger a wrestler. They have just qualified for the 2000 Olympics. The book takes place between the time they qualify up until the actual Olympics.
            This book is educational in many ways. For instance, I learned how hard athletes work for very little hope of any kind of reward. They are usually poor. If not living with their parents, they reside in crappy apartments, trying to make it on the small income of a carded athlete.
            I also learned that they train for about six hours a day. That there are a lot of consequences to your body when you work it that hard and a lot of consequence to your mind when you are one of the majority who do not make it.
             I learned that relationships are messy and best avoided. That wrestling is kind of gross (there is a lot of trying to hold on to sweat-slick limbs). That if you spend four hours a day in a swimming pool your sweat starts to smell chlorinated (I actually knew that last one).
            But can I recommend a book just because of its subject matter? I’m not sure. There were some potentially heart-rending moments that  fell a little flat for me (for instance, when Digger makes it to the Olympics but his friend doesn’t and has a nervous breakdown). My heart did not break on this one.
            As for a community reads, I don’t think I can recommend it and I hesitate to say why (though I will because I like to put myself in the stocks and have people throw tomatoes at my blog). There is a small part of the book where Sadie hooks up with one of the athletes and it is treated by both parties as unabashed, no commitment, casual sex. Now, as an adult reading this book, I have no problem with that. In fact, I like the honesty. Athletes have needs just like everybody else.
            BUT. And yes, it is a big BUT (no, I’m not calling you fat) I am not sure I want twelve year olds to read a book about people our society puts on the role model pedestal (yes, pun intended) and think that this is a perfectly acceptable way for them to think about sex. And here is where my librarian hat merges seamlessly with my parent hat. I have no problem talking to my kids about sex. Watching movies or TV with teenagers having sex (see the Buffy post for more information). But I definitely have a MESSAGE to impart to them.

 I know, I know. So terribly didactic of me.

            If they listen to anything I say at all (which is debatable), I hope they are listening to this: as they creep toward the age of their first sexual encounter (and yes, that thought shoots large icicles of horror along my spine), sex is something people do out of love. That it is a natural thing, but also a very intimate thing.  In fact, I would just play them that scene in Glee where Kurt’s dad gives him the talk.

I can’t find a youtube clip of this talk (Ok. I didn’t look that hard), but I did find a transcript of it from the NYTimes blogger Tara Parker-Pope:

But the moving father-son talk should be required watching for any parent. The father, Burt Hummel (played by Mike O’Malley), talks to his gay son, Kurt (Chris Colfer), about the emotional side of sex.
After offering his son some pamphlets on the “mechanics” of sex, he launches into The Talk.

For most guys, sex is just this thing we always want to do. It’s fun. It feels great. But we’re not really thinking too much about how it makes us feel on the inside or how the other person feels about it.

He goes on to caution his son not to think that “sex is just sex.”

You’ve got to know that it means something. It’s doing something to you, to your heart, to your self-esteem, even though it feels like you’re just having fun…. When you’re ready, I want you to be able to do everything, but when you’re ready, I want you to use it as a way to connect to another person. Don’t throw yourself around like you don’t matter. Because you matter, Kurt.

What he said.

            So two more books off my own personal long list. Next we have True Confessions of aHeartless Girl by Martha Brooks, If I stay by Gayle Foreman and Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter by Carmen Aguirre and a graphic novel, Stitches by David Small. Will I finish even one of them before the weekend? Probably not, but I always like a challenge.

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on a Complicated Kindness and the Bone Cage

  1. As usual, I just spent way too much time figuring out how to ask you a question about what you've written here without coming across as a total asshat (see what I did there, with the hat thing…. ha…. ?)

    And I've determined it's impossible for me not to sound like I am wearing my ass hat.

    So I'll just say that I really liked A Complicated Kindness, too. And I think it's cool that you were considering it for high schoolers.

  2. and by leaving that cryptic thing above, I am still wearing my ass hat. Jeez.

    My question, which I do not expect an answer to, especially in blog land, is “why are parents so horrified at the idea of their children having sexual experiences?”

    and then I sort of answered it with “maybe they are scared the kids have already had a sexual experience and there was none of that love stuff involved with it.”

    Your blog posts often make me think of large issues that I would really like to talk to you about, and then I get to thinking about why I moved so far away from Montreal, and then I get sad, and then I want to hurt myself for going to the internet for some sort of semblance of community when I should just go find a human somewhere and talk to them about the weather or something.

  3. I also loved A Complicated Kindness, which MY mamma told me I MUST read. So I did.
    I have never watched Glee, but that sounds about perfect for a sex talk.
    I think parents (I am not one, but I am going out on a limb here) worry that something fundemental will be lost in their child. I don't mean Virginity (notice the capital V!), necessarily, but what it stands for. An intact sense of self, maybe? One that hasn't been all messed up with the strange social expectations that come with sex? So odd, though, that an intact sense of self is connected to a mere “shudder of the loins.”


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