Thursday, 12 July 2018


By Matthew Desmond

Although Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond introduces us to a number of families living on the edge of poverty in Milwaukee, the stories he tells us can be true of any city. Whether we are reading about Arleen, the single mother, Scott, the caring nurse with a drug addiction, Lamar who looks after the neighbourhood kids or Vanetta, a young woman with an upcoming first offence trial, they are all connected by their housing situation. 

One of their connections is a common landlord, either Sherrena, a
former teacher turned real estate investor or Tobin, owner of a Milwaukee trailer park with a questionable reputation.

Each of these families lives in one of the buildings or trailers owned by Sherrena or Tobin, and each struggles to pay the rent on their meager income. For example, 88 percent of Arleen’s income goes towards rent, leaving little left over for anything else like food, clothing, transportation, heat, or medication for her son’s asthma.  Each of the families we meet is in a similar situation which leaves little wiggle room for anything. 

These individuals live in fear of eviction. A person with an eviction on their rental record can find it difficult to impossible to find other housing of any kind. Despite being evicted for failure to pay rent, any complaint to the housing board, too many calls to 9-1-1, too many people in a unit, can all lead to an eviction.  Each of these reasons serves to perpetuate the unsafe living conditions of the tenancies. Eviction is so common that the landlords plan their vacations to ensure they are back in town by the first of the month, as rent collection is a face to face affair, as most tenants don’t have bank accounts and eviction notices are handed out in person. 

Reading these non-fiction accounts, we can see how a lack of stable, safe housing overshadows the lives of these families, making it near to impossible to find a job, attend school, or care for one’s children. This Pulitzer Prize winner is not necessarily a happy story, but it is one that needs to be told. 

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Friday, 29 June 2018

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore
The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore
By Kim Fu

Located on the wild coast of British Columbia, Camp Forevermore is a place that girls dream of going.  A week away from parents while hiking, swimming, doing archery and kayaking is a thrilling experience for most.  No one imagines what can go wrong.

Nita, Andee, Dina, Siobhan and Isabel are an average group of pre-teen girls.  Nita and Andee bond immediately. They are tough girls, quick to make the others feel small.  Dina is beautiful and popular – a coveted friend.  Siobhan senses her own deficits and is desperate not to be the outcast.  Tiny Isabel says almost nothing.  As the other girls go about their business, she is not even a consideration.

The five girls are assigned to Jan for their overnight trek to a nearby island.  Jan is older than the average counselor – more like a grandmother.  But she’s tough, no-nonsense and knowledgeable.  Jan deftly leads the girls, each in her own kayak, across the coastal waters to a nearby island.  Each girl worries about this trip but Jan’s take-charge attitude assuages their fears.

Away from the main camp, the unthinkable happens.  Nita, Andee, Dina, Siobhan and Isabel must make some decisions.  On the surface, they come together as a team.  Underneath, their individual survival instincts are bubbling up.  With little food and water, can the girls keep each other alive?  Or will survival of the fittest win the day?

The unfolding tragedy at Forevermore and its aftermath is interspersed with the lives of the girls as they become women.  They are all very different, but all are deeply affected by their terrifying ordeal on a lonely island.  Loves gained and lost, family complications, career triumphs and disappointments, all lie in the future but give us insight into the girls that exist on that fateful outing from Forevermore.

Kim Fu’s novel explores the darkness that lies beneath the surface of every human being.  Lying in wait, the darkness appears when one is torn away from the day to day niceties of civilization.  Each girl experiences her own darkness and learns what she is capable of.

Fu also skillfully examines the way that one incident can weave its way into future lives, forever informing one’s choices.

Readable and absorbing, The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore is a must-read.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

The Geography of Bliss

Image result for geography of bliss

The Geography of Bliss: One grump’s search for the happiest place on earth. The title says it all really. Using data from the Happiness Research Institute, Eric Weiner travels the globe to explore the world’s happiest and least happy places. His mission? To find out conclusively what makes people happy! 

He explores a variety of different countries that are a bit off the beaten path including Qatar, Bhutan, Iceland, and Moldova. On his global tour, Weiner explores a number of common themes we associate with happiness: sunshine, money, freedom, sense of community.  Interestingly, these factors don't always lead to a perfect utopia. How can it be that one of the poorer nations of the world, Bhutan, ranks so high on the happiness scale, while Qatar, one of the wealthiest nations, scores relatively low? As Weiner travels from country to country, the characteristics that encourage happiness take shape in often surprising ways.

Weiner (pronounced whiner), a self-proclaimed grump, is a relatively tongue in cheek narrator sprinkling his writing liberally with witticisms that are often laugh out loud funny. Both introspective and fun, the book gives readers the opportunity to think about their own experiences while also not taking the process too seriously. The book flows rather seamlessly from country to country and gives the reader something new to chew on every step of the way.

My only complaint about this book is that there were some dated remarks about the threat of terrorism that are very reminiscent of George W. Bush's time in office. That said, the Geography of Bliss was written in 2008 by a journalist working as a foreign correspondent throughout the hay day of the war on terrorism. This point aside, I loved reading about how people from around the world approach their own happiness and how their nation and culture impact the ever sought after happiness equation! Fun, thoughtful, and informative, this is a wonderful summer read for people who enjoy a bit of armchair travel.