Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon is now, perhaps, my favorite of her novels due to its simultaneous accessibility and complexity. Morrison has crafted this novel with painstaking care, and yet, it does not feel over-worked. Everything seems to act on multiple levels: the names, the Biblical allusions, and even the ending of the novel which sparked debate at our book club discussion. Morrison tackles issues of race in America, with characters who are former black slaves and Native Americans; class and social status, especially when complicated with race; coming of age; gender; community; and family. And the fact that she so carefully and purposefully deals with these issues is one reason that the novel is accessible: the book seems to work for everyone on some level, even if read in a non-political light as the story of a young man's hero's journey into the abyss and redemption. I find that I would like to read this book again, perhaps in a class, and perhaps in conjunction with a study of the Song of Solomon and the Book of Ruth and certain other texts from the Bible.
John Connolly's fantastical narrative takes a young boy during WWII into parallel life and world. As I was reading this novel, the 9th grade lit. teacher in me kept thinking: Hero's Journey. That's what this is; the classic tale retold. The protagonist must go on a journey and fight literal demons and his own demons and flaws before he can return home, changed for the better and better prepared for the worst. Connolly seems to be quite intentionally using the structure of the hero's journey as a metaphor for life and mortality; as the character faces challenges and fights for things beyond his own wants and needs, he learns to forgive, to heal, to grow, and to accept death as a painful but natural part of life. This novel reminded me a bit of Neil Gaiman's Coraline and Pan's Labyrinth.

Another book that I've read recently was The Coming Home Cafe by Gayle Pearson. This is a sweet story that I would gladly give to young readers about the Great Depression and a girl with an adventurous and altruistic spirit who decides to jump on a train and live the life of a hobo, traveling from city to city across the country in search of work. One of my freshmen gave it to me, still feverish from how much she loved it, and as I read it, I rather wished I was young enough to be captured by its magic. Am I too old? Or was the fire just not in the writing? I am not sure. Perhaps this is why I recommend the book for young readers only.

Next up for book club: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.

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