The Deepest Well by Nadine Burke Harris

deepest wellThere are many facets to stories of childhood trauma, and many layers. As we see in Nadine Burke Harris book, The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, trauma is no stranger to anyone: if we haven’t experienced ourselves, we know a loved one who has had experience with or witnessed it. When I read this book, I could not help but think of the children who are now separated from their parents at the borders and of children fleeing Syria. There are many places where trauma is a fact of life, and the inner city can be one of them.  WHO recognizes that social conditions are important factors in health, and the all contribute to our total health. Nadine Burke Harris’ in The Deepest Well, gives a gripping account of her exploration of the link between adverse childhood experience or (ACE) and toxic stress. She is a social innovator in public health and serves a vibrant community, in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point (BHP). She describes the challenges she faced personally and professionally when she opened the Center for Youth Wellness (CYW) as well as her attempts to have ACE and toxic stress, recognized as serious issue in children’s health, which included getting pediatricians to use screening protocols for ACE in pediatric assessments.

Burke Harris, a pediatrician with a Master’s in Public Health, writes with compassion and balance about connecting the stress of her patients with their emotional and physical well-being. When offering free pediatric care to children via her clinic, CYW, in BHP, an area that is on the extreme end of San Francisco’s social and economic inequality, Burke Harris saw clear relationships between the trauma that the community’s children experienced and their emotional and physical health. Toxic stress can, and often does, manifest itself in disease and poor health. Her examination discusses how poverty in the inner city can result in greater incidence of poor health with difficult living conditions, more exposure to violence, and untreated mental illness. While San Francisco’s median income was above $100,000 in 2016, City-Data shows that 31% of residents of Bayview Hunters Point live below the poverty line as of the last U.S. Census.

Poverty contributes to trauma, but Burke Harris reminds her audiences that trauma crosses all socio-economic boundaries. She tells us not only the stories of the children that she treated, and still treats, at the BHP Center, but also about her personal journey of trauma. Trauma does not stop in the wealthier neighborhoods. Helping overcome childhood trauma depends on your caregiver. There are engaged and nurturing caregivers in every community, just as there are neglectful caregivers in any community; however, if you live in inner city poverty, your chance of seeing violence randomly outside the home is likely. In one of Burke Harris’ case studies, a teenage boy, recovering well from childhood abuse, sees his best friend is killed on the street in front of him. Understandably, this incident is a setback for his health. The children Burke-Harris treated suffer from multiple adverse reactions, and have debilitating physical and psychological challenges ranging from asthma, obesity, failure to thrive, to stunted growth.

Although Burke-Harris’ accounts of traumatic experience can be shattering, such as the boy who stopped growing at age four when he trauma is exclusive to inner city poverty.  Burke Harris reminds her audience repeatedly that toxic stress is an issue in any income bracket. Bringing this to a wider audience, Burke Harris shows us that society suffers when it ignores childhood trauma.

Thankfully, something can be done to help children (and adults) suffering from toxic stress. In fact, according to Burke Harris, part of the antidote to toxic stress is truly integrated health treatment including a combination of healthy relationships, counselling, meditation, exercise, and nutrition. The  caregiver and their response to trauma play a huge role, but, sadly for those in underserved areas, so do  the resources available to the child.

Though the subject matter is tough, the book and its author are inspiring, positive and passionate. This title comes as a hardcopy, eBook and is also available as an audiobook narrated by the author, which I highly recommend.

Watch Dr. Nadine Burke Harris here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95ovIJ3dsNk or find her book at your local library in audio, eBook or hardcopy: Burke Harris, Nadine. (2018) The deepest well: Dealing with the long-term effects of childhood adversity. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

(Submitted by J.Wile)

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The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

 

 immortalistsHow would your life change if you knew the date on which you will die?  This is the premise of Chloe Benjamin’s novel, The Immortalists.  It follows the lives of the Gold Family from 1960’s New York City to San Francisco in the 1980’s, Vegas in the ‘90s, to the present day in Upstate New York, and everything in between.  The trajectory of the lives of the Gold siblings is permanently altered when they meet a psychic who reveals to each of them the date they will die.  Benjamin takes us along for the ride as they grow from curious and innocent children in the summer of 1969, to adults with full and complex lives.  One by one, we discover how their lives unfold, and how knowing when the end will come both burdens and frees them in unimaginable ways.  Benjamin tackles the question of fate with clarity and heart, and I highly recommend The Immortalists for fans of thought-provoking, sweeping family sagas. (Submitted by Sarah J.)

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Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

molokaiIf you’ve ever been a member of a book club, you would know that it’s rare when everyone gets to like the same book. Usually,  there are opposing opinions. Not with this book! A dozen of people gave it 4 stars out of 5. Impressive! We thought it was well written, easy to read, interesting, based on historical facts which allowed us all to learn something new or expand what bits and pieces we already knew.

The novel focuses on the leprosy epidemic of late 19th and early 20th century  in Hawaii. The disease was little understood at the time and was spreading so much that the government naturally decided to quarantine the sick. However, the quarantine part was rather radical. People with disease were sent away to an island and that was their doomed, last destination since there were no effective treatments available. Even more disheartening is that children were treated the same as adults – they were sent away too, torn away from their families. The main character in the book is Rachel Kalama. She gets to be sent away when she is 6 years old. The story follows her life, as she grows up, and faces various challenges. The ending is not all ‘cakes and roses’, but it’s not bad at all and you are left in a positive mood regardless of a heavy subject. (Submitted by Mariya)

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Mink River by Brian Doyle

mink-river

Sadly, I only learned of author Brian Doyle, when reading his obituary recently. A writer of adult and young adult fiction, of novels, short stories, poetry and essays, Doyle lived in Portland, Oregon, where he was also the editor of Portland Magazine. Finding out that Surrey Libraries owns a number of his books, I checked out the novel Mink River.

I loved his writing style – he brings the lyricism of a poet to his fiction. His trademark is long flowing sentences without punctuation. This takes some getting used to at first, but I came to love the style and his use of words.

Normally the magic realism genre is associated with Latin American writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and many others, but Doyle’s style is a kind of magic realism set in the Pacific Northwest. There are many great characters that you fall in love with, from a crow who talks (and philosophizes), to two old guys who make up the local Department of Public Works (which doesn’t limit itself to roads and drains, but haircuts and counting insects and generally watching out for the welfare of everyone in their little community). Doyle weaves in aboriginal lore, as well as Irish language and myth (one character is a transplanted Irishman). While Mink River has a large assortment of fascinating characters, really the main character of this book is the town of Neawanaka, with Doyle weaving various storylines together in his portrayal of this fictional town on the Oregon coast.

The affection and off-beat humour of Doyle’s writing reminds me of classic writers that I’ve enjoyed such as Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, and Tom Robbins. I’d recommend reading this book, and other fiction, essays and writing from this author. (Submitted by David)

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Christodora by Timothy Murphy

christodora

I confess that I am in love with New York City, which is why this book initially appealed to me, as it revolves around NYC’s Lower East Side and more specifically, at the Christodora, a historic apartment building that still stands today in the heart of Alphabet City. We are introduced chapter by chapter to a core group of residents that call the Christodora home, jumping from the 70s, 80s, 90s, right through until the present and into the near future as their lives and stories intertwine in an epic tale of fate and circumstance.

We meet a new couple deep in love, a doctor dealing with depression, and an AIDS activist coming into his own. The themes take us from the AIDS crisis to drug addiction to the art world and beyond. The characters in Tim Murphy’s Christodora will win you over and have you rooting for them all the way to the final page. This was my favourite book of 2017! (Submitted by Alan)

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The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

smekday

Gratuity, or Tip for short, is a terrified, angry, badass eleven-year-old. Ordinarily, Tip is used to handling all sorts of situations, having grown up managing her absent-minded mother. But these aren’t ordinary circumstances. The main reason she’s terrified is because an alien race, the Boov, have taken control of Earth and are forcing all humans in the United States to relocate to Florida, and no one knows what fate awaits them there. The main reason she’s angry is because her mother was abducted by the Boov last Christmas Eve, and Tip hasn’t seen or heard from her since.

And as for the badass part? Tip has decided that instead of boarding the Boov rocketpods to Florida along with everyone else, she is going to drive the family car across the country herself.

Adam Rex creates that great mixture of page-turning, immersive action and wry, self-aware humour that I loved so much in Douglas Adams’ writing. (When I finished, I felt like I needed to read it over again to catch all the satire and social commentary that I missed while I was barreling through to find out what would happen to Tip.) The True Meaning of Smekday is peppered with laugh-out-loud scenes and earworm phrases that I found myself chuckling at days after I had finished reading. Whether you read the book, which has accompanying illustrations by Adam Rex, or – like I did – listen to the audiobook narrated by the incomparable Bahni Turpin (you will be thinking in a Boov accent for weeks), you really cannot go wrong with this quirky, irreverent, giddy romp of a book. (Submitted by T. Thomas)

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50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple’s Extraordinary Rescue Mission Into the Heart of Nazi Germany by Steven Pressman

50children

This is a true story about a very small group of people who decided to rescue 50 Jewish children from Nazi Germany in 1939-legally. The idea came from someone who was the head of a Jewish fraternal society in Philadelphia. He proposed that this society could rescue 50 children from Nazi occupied Germany and escort them to the USA where they could be fostered (both physically and financially) by other Jewish families until the rest of the children’s family could immigrate to the USA.  This size of group, coming from Germany, all children, had never been done before. The enormity of this quest was not fully realized as political (both German and American), religious, and emotional barriers all had to be overcome. Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus were the people to head up the American Calvary to rescue 50 children, and in doing so, potentially rescue 50 German families as well.  Constant worries about visas, health concerns, language differences, as well as taking these children from living parents and other siblings, weighed heavily on the Kraus couple’s mind. This book reads like a suspense novel where time is ticking away and you never know when things are going to change.  Take a read and find out if there was a happy ending! (Submitted by Jamie)

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