“The Newcomers” by Helen Thorpe

book coverSubtitle: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom

Recommended to me by: My friend Linda K.

Helen Thorpe spent a year and a half observing and helping in an ELA (English Language Acquisition) class at South High School in Denver Colorado. Her journalist’s eye is both clear and compassionate as she watches a classroom of newly arrived teen refugees from around the world learn English basics.

I remember when ELA used to be called ESL, English as a Second Language, but it is an apt name change since some of these kids already speak three or four languages, and maybe read and write in three or four alphabets.

Both the school as a whole and the beginning ELA teacher Mr. Williams in particular are dedicated to welcoming kids from around the world and helping them succeed.

I was worried that the book would focus on the tragedy of young refugee lives, or look down on the kids, but the book celebrates them as strong, determined, resilient young people. Difficult circumstances and traumatic stories are described with a light touch, clearly and with compassion.

Helen Thorpe gets to know the kids by interacting with them in class (with the help of Google translate on their phones), interviewing them with hired translators, and visiting a few of them at home to talk with their parents. She also learns about the history of war and oppression that has caused these families (and some unaccompanied minors) to flee their homes, sometimes multiple times.

After the school year, she visits the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is still in crisis, and meets some relatives of one of the families she got to know.

The book was written in 2016. It shows both the dedication of the people who help refugees get oriented and settled in the US, and the worsening effect of Trump’s rhetoric on students who are harassed on city buses for wearing hijab or having dark skin. It ends with Trump’s election and the shock of knowing that refugees need help more than ever, but not having an incoming caseload because of Trump’s Muslim Ban.

Highly recommended! Learn about what refugees’ lives are really like, and how hard the lucky ones who make it into the US work to become established here, while enjoying getting to know this group of teens and the people around them.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Nurturing Resilience” by Kathy L. Kain and Stephen J. Terrell

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Subtitle: Helping Clients Move Forward from Developmental Trauma, An Integrative Somatic Approach

Recommended to me by: Taking a class from Kathy Kain

I took a 3 day class from Kathy Kain last year and learned techniques that I use every day in my practice, so I was excited about this book. It turned out to be dry to read and only talked about a couple of techniques at the end, which I had already learned in the class. On the positive side, the extensive client examples include gay parents and genderqueer clients.

The first part introduces attachment, polyvagal theory, and neurological development. Interoception is perception of our internal state. Exteroception is perception of the external environment through vision, hearing, touch, etc. Neuroception is the perception of safety and threat. Interactions with parents and other caregivers help an infant make sense of incoming stimuli and assess safety vs. threat. Without playful and caring interactions, the infant develops a strong sense of what is a threat, but does not develop a sense of what feels safe.

They discuss the ACE study and the health effects of early trauma. The Window of Tolerance is the nervous system’s comfortable, functional, social state. Threats result in hyperarousal (fight or flight) and hypoarousal (freeze, immobility). Someone with a dysregulated nervous system has a very small window of tolerance. They may have a faux window of tolerance, where they manage to function despite being under physiological stress.

The second half of the book more directly discusses clinician interventions for clients with developmental trauma. The emphasis is on teaching the nervous system how to stay more regulated, and to offer co-regulation, where the client’s nervous system is steadied by the clinician’s regulation. The authors emphasize that developmental trauma is largely non-verbal, patterned in the body, so interventions need to address the body directly.

Interventions they discuss: gentle touch on the kidney area of the lower back, and helping the client practice noticing same/different around their triggers.

Recommended if you want a lot of information about developmental trauma, and don’t mind a somewhat uneven presentation.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“My Brother’s Husband Volume 2” by Gengoroh Tagame

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Recommended to me by: Reading Volume 1

This graphic novel is the second half of Mike’s visit to his dead husband’s brother’s family in Japan. It’s a quick read, and at the same time touches on a lot of emotionally powerful themes. The meaning of “family.” Making things right after a family member has died suddenly. Being in the closet, and out of it, as a gay man in Japan. Politeness, and its difference from kindness and courage.

For example, young Kana and her friends openly welcome her gay uncle Mike, in contrast to the more guarded welcome of the adults. Yaichi (Kana’s father) does come around in the end.

Recommended for learning more about Japanese culture, and for seeing how hidden homophobia can change under gentle pressure.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Belonging” by Toko-pa Turner

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Subtitle: Remembering Ourselves Home

The gorgeous, inclusive cover and introduction/dedication to this book grabbed me.

For the rebels and the misfits, the black sheep and the outsiders. For the refugees, the orphans, the scapegoats, and the weirdos. For the uprooted, the abandoned, the shunned and invisible ones.

May you recognize with increasing vividness that you know what you know.

May you give up your allegiances to self-doubt, meekness, and hesitation.

May you be willing to be unlikeable, and in the process be utterly loved.

May you be impervious to the wrongful projections of others, and may you deliver your disagreements with precision and grace.

May you see, with the consummate clarity of nature moving through you, that your voice is not only necessary, but desperately needed to sing us out of this muddle.

May you feel shored up, supported, entwined, and reassured as you offer yourself and your gifts to the world.

May you know for certain that even as you stand by yourself, you are not alone.

With poetic language and myths and Jungian dreamwork, Toko-pa Turner tells her own story of not-belonging and weaves a wider net of strategies to belong better. There is an Outcast archetype who can visit our dreams, and whose patterns we can follow. We can open our hearts to our own pain, and be willing to be more vulnerable (“woundable”) to others.

Her Black Sheep Gospel resonated for me. Adopt your rejected qualities. Venerate your too-muchness. Send out your signals of originality. Go it alone until you are alone with others.

In a lot of this book, I heard, “Try harder! Work harder! Get out of your own way!” While that may be valid advice, I’ve tried a lot of things it advises. It does also touch on fallow time and letting go of connections that no longer work well.

The author is writing from a place when things are going well for her, so she describes her steps in that direction and then prescribes them for others. While I’m glad she landed where she did, I’m not sure it’s so deterministic as all that. She talks both about divine guidance and about taking action on your own behalf. Yes, when things go well, it looks like a mix of those things led you there. A mix of those things can lead people to any number of places, not all of them positive.

The book was published in 2017, so she does acknowledge increasing environmental and political disaster throughout the book. She advises living closer to the earth, returning to more indigenous ways, without noting that all 7.6 billion of us can’t do that at the same time.

Her description of the problem resonated with me. Her solutions, not as much. Recommended especially if you already do dreamwork.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Fated Sky” by Mary Robinette Kowal

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Recommended to me by: Sequel to The Calculating Stars

Elma York goes to Mars. Like in The Calculating Stars, the characters in this book do not flinch from talking about racism and sexism in a system and society they can’t fight or escape.

The plot is more action-driven than the first book. Some characters grow and change in surprising ways. Grief is included as a major emotional force, rather than being glossed over as happens in many books.

The subject is brought up directly in the book, but there is still a big hand-wave on the impracticality of evacuating even a small percentage of the earth’s population to another planet, and how the resources required for that would take away from resources to address problems on earth. Of course the usual biases would affect who stays, who goes, who gets help and who doesn’t.

I still love that Elma’s Judaism weaves through the book with an ongoing cascade of familiar details. I love the conscious inclusiveness of Black characters, a Muslim character, a relationship between men, (minor) characters with disabilities.

I can’t imagine that an organization would put people with known major relational stresses on a 3 year mission together in a small ship. I can’t imagine that people would be able to manage that. Makes me wonder how sailors handle it on long trips.

My suspension of disbelief wobbled on this book. The contrast between doing calculations by hand and making a colonizing mission to Mars was too big. Still a fun read!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Choosing Gentleness” by Robyn L. Posin, Ph.D.

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Subtitle: Opening Our Hearts to All the Ways We Feel and Are in Every Moment

Recommended to me by: reading Robyn Posin’s website for the last 15+ years. Also I was an advance reviewer for this book.

This is a collection of line drawings and wise words that have appeared on Robyn Posin’s website over the years, along with some more recent essays. It was lovely to see the vibrant drawings of dancing, struggling, resting women and the encouraging words gathered in one place.

Robyn Posin’s work has been a big inspiration and support over the years. Most of her messages resonate powerfully for me. At the same time, I’m still arguing with a few of them.

The idea that our love-starved little ones inside can only get love from us, not from anyone outside us now that we are no longer children makes a lot of sense, and I still have a “Yes, but…” response. What about adult attachment? What about friendship, and care? I’m not saying she’s wrong, but something in me is still hoping.

I love the parts about accepting all our feelings, not just the warm fuzzy ones, and the firm rejection of the idea that acknowledging our anger just brings more of the same into our lives. Feelings are meant to live and move through, not be shoved down and frozen in place.

In this book, I found a message that I had remembered all this time, but not been able to find again on her website: “It does not matter whether how we are in the moment is born from our woundings or our wholeness.” What a revolutionary, liberating message! Even if we are “broken” in some way because of abuse or trauma, that’s how it is. We still have to exist in the world, with both our damage and our wholeness.

Living in the thinnest slice of now and trusting that my future self will be able to handle my future circumstances has also been a liberating idea.

Another idea I struggle with is that the Grandmothers (or other higher/deeper powers) are guiding my life. I’d love to feel so cherished and protected, but life seems too random, and too catastrophic for a lot of people, to believe that someone is in charge of what happens to each individual.

Highly recommended as a comforting and thought-provoking compilation of Robyn Posin’s many years of healing and helping others heal.

Available at Amazon.

“The Tightrope Walker” by Dorothy Gilman

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Recommended to me by: Rachel Manija

A well-plotted murder mystery story plus a quickly developing romance plus a young woman main character who is healing from childhood trauma. It’s not nearly as grim as all that makes it sound. I like the way the main character, Amelia Jones, observes the world and herself from slightly outside it all, and moves from conversation to conversation as she unravels the mystery.

Highly recommended as an entertaining read with an underlying understanding of the effects of neglect on children.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Calculating Stars” by Mary Robinette Kowal

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Recommended to me by: Marissa Lingen

Elma York is a math whiz with a Ph.D. in math and physics now working as a computer (as in, one who computes) for the space program in the US in the 1950’s. She deals with run-of-the-mill, life-is-just-like-that sexism, and also I’m-out-to-get-you intentional harassment. By the way she’s also a crack pilot who can land a plane after the motor goes out.

She’s also married to the lead engineer of the program, and they have a lovely supportive passionate relationship. She has a supportive relationship with her brother, too. I find myself reading for supportive relationships these days.

Also they are both Jewish, and the book addresses both the positive details and the negative anti-semitism that arises from that. Also they stay with an African-American couple, and they learn to recognize their racist biases and notice when a group “just happens” to be all white.

This book is both old-time spaceflight science fiction, and modern inclusive science fiction, which means it grapples with all the ways that women and people of color are kept out, and still manage to succeed despite that. It addresses global warming and the lack of political will to do something about it. It addresses anxiety as an illness that deserves compassion and treatment. The world-building details are satisfyingly solid.

I was also a Jewish younger female student who was really good at math. (Not as good as Elma!) It feels good to see myself reflected in a book like this, even if I responded differently to the stresses of the situation and took a different turning in my life.

Recommended as a quick, exciting read that’s both heart-warming and heart-rending in the ways it reflects minority and marginalized experiences.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Unlocked” by Gerald Zaltman

book coverRecommended to me by: Received a copy from Asakiyume who edited it

Gerald Zaltman is a marketing consultant for corporate executives and a professor emeritus of business administration at Harvard. The idea for this book came out of interactions with his young grandchildren. I do not belong to these target audiences, and the book did not resonate with me. I realized as I read the first few sections that the author had not won my trust, so I was engaging with the thought exercises warily, waiting to be tricked and tripped up.

The book starts off with a couple of ethical dilemmas, and then the rest is about many ways our thinking can be influenced that we might be unaware of, and unconscious assumptions we might be making. There was no mention of racism, sexism, or any other -isms that lead to unconscious biases affecting our thinking and responses.

While there is a section on embodied cognition, it is more about how, for example, holding a warm drink can make us perceive a person more warmly, rather than about how our bodies and minds are integrated. The rest of the book is very much disembodied, based on the premise that, “You are how you think.”

There were links to a couple of interesting related videos:

Selective Attention Test: Count the number of passes between players dressed in white.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo

A Portrait Session with a Twist: 6 photographers, one subject, 6 different stories.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-TyPfYMDK8

The ebook contains live links and color illustrations. In one exercise, color names are printed in non-matching colors and the instruction is to say the color of the text rather than read the word. The gray-scale illustration in the printed book does not do the exercise justice.

Available at Amazon.

“So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo

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Recommended to me by: Ijeoma Oluo’s twitter feed

Ijeomo Oluo is a writer, speaker, and editor at large at The Establishment. She is also a queer Black woman, the single mother of two boys. Her writing is kind, direct, and clear, with practical suggestions on how to talk about race and dismantle racism.

Through both personal anecdotes and statistics from research studies, she lays out what racism is, how it affects people of color, and what we can do about it.

First, she addresses some of the objections white people have to discussing racism at all. Just because white people don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. No, it’s not just about class. Yes, race affects how people are treated in a long-term targeted effort to use Black people’s labor and keep them from competing with white people. Racism is prejudice + systemic power. Calling a white person a cracker does not have the far reaching effects and historic resonance that calling a Black person the n-word does.

With care and clarity, she addresses privilege, intersectionality (don’t leave more marginalized groups behind), police brutality, affirmative action (yes it works, no it’s not a panacea, and sadly it’s being dismantled), school-to-prison pipeline (all kids deserve to be seen in a positive light), cultural appropriation, using the n-word (if you’re not Black, DON’T), touching Black people’s hair (DON’T), microaggressions (when and how to address them), model minorities (still racism), and taking action.

Carefully, at the end of the book, she addresses that we’re all racist (yes me, yes you) because we are all immersed in a racist culture. We can do our best to become aware of our racist thoughts and habits and change them. We are better prepared to have conversations about race with our friends of all races with Ijeoma Oluo’s explanations and detailed advice.

Highly recommended as a no-nonsense, compassionate guide to what white people need to know about racism. I imagine Black people would find it validating as well. Please read this book!

Available at Powell’s Books.