Posted in book reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Home Girl by Alex Wheatle

BOOK REVIEW: Home Girl by Alex WheatleHome Girl by Alex Wheatle
Published by Black Sheep on September 3, 2019
Pages: 288
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program
Goodreads
four-stars
Synopsis

This isn’t my home. Haven’t had a proper home since . . . This is just somewhere I’ll be resting my bones for a week and maybe a bit. This time next year you’ll forget who I am. I haven’t got a diddly where I’ll be by then. But I’m used to it.
New from the UK-based best-selling black British author and winner of the Guardian Children’s Book Award, Home Girl is the story of Naomi, a teenage girl growing up fast in the foster care system. It is a wholly modern story which sheds a much-needed light on what can be an unsettling life—and the consequences that follow when children are treated like pawns on a family chessboard.
Home Girl is fast-paced and funny, tender, tragic, and full of courage—just like Naomi. It is Alex Wheatle’s most moving and personal novel to date.


I received this book for free from LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This book appealed to me on so many different levels. First, the description itself got me interested. But being a foster parent I’ve become more and more interested in stories telling the tale of both those in care and their carers. So when I got the notification I’d won a free ARC through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program, I was super pumped! I just wish I’d been able to read it sooner!

Well, sort of…

I can’t get Naomi out of my head and have cried twice since finishing the book. Which is silly ’cause…fictional character!?!

Oh, well. Such is life when you live in fictional worlds, I guess. But this one definitely hit a little too close to home and forced me to deal with some of my own prejudices and issues as well.

The Story:

We’re introduced to Naomi, a 14-year-old white girl, as she’s being moved from her current foster placement. Her worker is trying to find her a new home but it’s proving difficult. While it’s not specifically addressed in the book, finding placement would be hard for no other reason than her age. But add to that she’s got attitude, a thick file, and that she’s being removed for accusing yet another of her carers of being a “prick fiddler,” and you’re looking at a kid who’s more likely to end up in a group facility than in a foster home.

It’s not right, but there it is.

So Naomi is giving her social worker a hard time while she’s trying to find an emergency placement for her. As a last resort, Naomi is placed with a black family on a temporary basis. Surprising to all…this is the best “home” Naomi has ever had and is the best fit for her. (Side note: As far as I know, we don’t have limitations or special classes or forms that have to be completed when accepting placement of a different race here. I’m guessing this is only a thing where the book takes place but it’s central to the story so felt it needed to be said here in the review.)

Colleen, her foster mom, spends hours on Naomi’s hair. She bonds with the two younger children in the house, and even when she acts up, Tony and Colleen are understanding. They don’t overreact and help her work through her issues.

And boy does Naomi have some issues! Her mother committed suicide. She was the one to find her and Naomi blames herself for not stopping her mother’s death. Afterward, she ends up caring for her alcoholic father at a time she desperately needed to be cared for herself and she had to grow up way too fast.

While I deeply enjoyed this read, it does have me questioning some of my own “issues.” The biggest one? Race in foster care. While staying with Tony and Colleen, Naomi has to deal with some prejudices about Tony and Colleen accepting a white placement when there are so many black kids who need a good home. I’m bi-racial and all of our placements have been bi-racial. While I don’t consciously think “I’m gonna say yes to this kid because we’re the same race,” I’m sure it does play a part. When we were taking time off but still receiving requests, there were times I had the thought “they’re white, someone is going to take them.”

Again, it’s not right. But there it is. I live in WV. There are a lot of white people. (And definitely more white foster parents than non-white foster parents. 🤷‍♀️)

The Characters:

People in foster care are complicated.

And I’m not just talking about the kids. The foster parents, the bio parents, the workers from every agency involved with the kids – even the judges and GALs – they’re ALL complicated. No matter how uncomplicated a life a person lived before getting involved in the foster care system (no matter how they became involved or what role they play(ed) in the system), once you get sucked in… COMPLICATED!!!

Life is a great big messy ball of one conflicting emotion and trial after another. It’s never-ending and there’s always something!

So for a writer to tackle a book like Home Girl, where they’ve got characters in every level of the system – kids, bio parents, foster parents, workers, secretaries, teachers, etc. – they’ve got to create some insanely complicated characters to deal with the complicated issues.

And I think that for the most part, Wheatle managed to do this.

I say for the most part because there were times when things were just unbelievable and characters didn’t react in a way I expected them to. Now, I understand that this is a book and part of why I love reading is that the characters get to do and say things I never could… but these weren’t always my fav characters.

For instance, while I loved Naomi, she could come across as TOO whiney and too self-involved. And the majority of other teen foster kids in the book act this way too. I know this is something that can happen with kids in care, but the opposite also happens. These kids are more aware of the world and what it can throw at them than most. So while they definitely can come across as selfish or too self-involved, it’s been my experience that kids in care (or who have been in care) have more compassion for others than those shown in Home Girl. It was kind of like the author went overboard on the “bad” kids. (Hope that made sense.)

I loved the adult characters!! Naomi’s worker was fabulous and I thought Tony and Colleen were great foster parents.

Conclusion:

Overall, I enjoyed Home Girl. It’s definitely worth the time reading. The story was great and I liked the writing, although the characters irked me at times. It wasn’t so much that it took me out of the story though, so there’s that. Since I’m one of those people who love character-driven stories and usually think the characters “make” the book, for me to say I loved it even though I didn’t love the characters is really saying something!

What do you think? Have you read Home Girl or do you think it’s something you’ll enjoy? Leave a comment below and/or find me on Twitter!

four-stars
Posted in about me, family, foster care, Note to Self

And then there were EIGHT!?!?

This year has been FULL of surprises! Big ones, small ones, happy ones, sad ones, and even strange and almost unbelievable ones (possums in the toilet?). Now, here we are. It’s almost November and I have no idea where the year has gone. But when I look back, it seems like too much has happened for less than a year to have gone by. (Such is life, I guess.)

Unfortunately, I’m a super goal-oriented person. I LOVE setting both small and big goals for myself and the feeling I get when I meet or exceed those goals! So far this year, with all the unexpected happenings, I’ve failed to hit almost every goal I’ve had, especially blogging goals. 

I’ve tried so hard to keep up with blogging but it’s been nearly impossible. So my new goal (as far as blogging is concerned) is to get used to using my phone to write and post and get caught up on reviews. Using my phone, in theory,  I “should” be able to stitch together some posts in short bursts of free time throughout my days.  So say a prayer, wish me luck, and sacrifice a chicken under the light of a full moon that this is one goal I’ll be able to stick to!

Actually, maybe don’t do that last one?

No… Definitely don’t do the last one.

Seriously, DON’T DO IT! If you have a chicken, I need the eggs!!!

It takes a whole dozen eggs just to make enough for everyone at breakfast now because one of those unexpected happenings that’s occurred this year was a previous foster placement coming back into care and back into our home, bringing our current family size to eight!!! (Note to self: you need to Google when it becomes cheaper to just raise chickens and dairy cows.)

Having 6 kids, my studio time has been cut short, but I’m finally get a bit set aside most days to work. I should get my audiobook page updated this weekend so please be sure to check that out and use the links found there to view & purchase from Audible! (As always, reviewers can contact me for promo codes.)

I’m also getting some quilting and crochet time in so I’ll try to post about those projects soon.

And, of course, I’ll be posting reviews!

I pre-apologize for any funky fonts, misspellings, or other craziness that occurs as I figure out this whole WordPress phone posting thing and appreciate any suggestions on how to keep my blog going and staying connected with the blogging community with small children! Leave me a comment below or shoot me a message through the Contact Me page. Thanks for visiting!

~Jess

Posted in faith, foster care

What Jesus Feeding the 5,000 Taught Me About Fostering

We haven’t been fostering for very long. Our first placement came to stay with us in December 2017 and left the following November.

Of course, that’s the goal of foster care – to help keep families together by providing the guidance and resources necessary to make that happen…

But it doesn’t make life any easier or hurt any less when the children who’ve become a part of your family are no longer there. It almost killed me to say goodbye.

Time to grieve.

We decided to take some time to heal and mourn our loss after that first placement left.

Unfortunately, that didn’t stop workers from contacting us to take in another placement. I couldn’t get upset or blame them. In our state (and many others) there is a severe shortage of foster families willing to take in foster children.

As hard as it was to say no, we just couldn’t open up our hearts and our home to another set of kids. We were still too broken.

The emotional roller coaster I went through during that time is incredibly hard to describe…

I deeply desired to take in every child they asked us about.

I missed having a house full of children running around all the time. It was way too quiet and the silence sometimes felt as if it would swallow me whole. I’d heard that phrase before, but it was the first time I actually understood it.

At the same time, I couldn’t imagine other children sleeping in the kids’ beds, playing with their toys, wearing the clothes they’d outgrown. And I knew I’d be comparing the “new” kids to the “old” ones, which wouldn’t be fair to any of us.

So we continued to turn down placements, convinced we were “doing the right thing.” And that saying no was “for the best.”

WWJD?

Our logic seemed infallible.

But as I sat alone one day, having my quiet time and reading the account of Jesus feeding the 5,000 in Matthew, something changed. I saw something there I’d never noticed before…

If you’re not familiar with the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000, it goes as follows:

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Matthew 14:13-21
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® 

I’ve read this story more times than I can count. I’ve heard it preached on Sunday mornings, listened to podcasts, and watched videos on it.

To be honest, I’ve read and heard it so much I tend to gloss over the miracle part of it. Like, yeah, Jesus fed a bunch of people with just a little bit of food… it’s Jesus. He could do things like that.

But this story has never really hit me in a way that I could relate to. As a disciple, it’s not one I’ve drawn strength from or looked to for guidance — at least, not until now.

If you notice, the beginning of this story starts with “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” That’s important as to what took place in my heart that day reading this story and having it hit me like it was the first time I’d ever heard it…

What was it Jesus had heard happened? John the Baptist had just been killed. He was Jesus’ cousin and friend. He was the one who’d baptized him! Jesus loved him deeply and fiercely.

Jesus was in mourning.

He took a short time to grieve and pray, but he didn’t shut down or shut people out. He could’ve turned the crowd away. Everyone would’ve understood if he had.

But he didn’t.

He took care if them, providing for their physical and spiritual needs despite his grief. If it was me, I wouldn’t have had any desire to care for the twelve apostles, much less some huge crowd I knew was gonna turn on me soon!

I wasn’t doing the same. I was wallowing in my own pain and grief and not willing to be Jesus’s hands and feet here on earth in the way He called me to be.

But were we “ready”?

I was already feeling the urge to take in more kids despite my heartache by this time. I felt a little lost and incomplete. Fostering is the one thing I’ve known, without doubt, that God has called me to. I felt selfish taking a break before my “WWJD” revelation.

But my husband didn’t feel the same. Neither did our kids.

Each time a call or text would come through, I’d start preparing in my head for new arrivals. Then I’d talk with the rest of the family about it and realize…it’s just too soon. Not only were we still dealing with loss, we had other issues we were also dealing with and taking in more kids during this time just didn’t make sense.

I think there are certain moments that the Lord just puts everything in place and softens hearts to bring him glory. The day I had the above heart change, He did just that.

I talked to my husband when he got home from work about accepting the next foster placement…and he agreed! This might not sound significant to you, but believe me, it was!!!

And the rest, as they say, is history.

We’re currently blessed with a new foster child in our home. She’s been here for about 3 months now and we’re enjoying every minute of having her here (even during the late night screaming parties).

I wanted to share this because I found it funny when I thought about it later. Jesus providing for 5,000 over 2,000 years ago led me to see past my own pain and provide for someone in need now. And out of all the passages in the bible about caring for orphans, widows, the least of these, etc., the one that pierced my heart never mentions them.

What do you think? Have you ever been surprised by what you’ve gotten from a seemingly random piece of scripture? Let me know your thoughts below!

Posted in blogging

2019 Blogging Goals

Another Year Has Come and Gone…

Well, It’s officially 2019 and I’m both excited and a little sad to say goodbye to 2018.

The last part of the year was especially hard. To name a few of the most difficult…

1) We said goodbye to our foster kids, which just about killed me. 2) The pain in my neck spread to my arm, back and even caused problems with my head and vision. (I just realized I never actually posted about that.) And 3) My youngest went to live with her dad so I only see her on the weekends.

Some really great things happened during that time too, though…

1) I was able to interview my dad for StoryCorp. 2) I changed the name of the website and went self-hosted! and 3) I was blown away by the love my post received as the blog of the day via The Write Reads (go check them out!)

And with both the good and the bad of the entire past year now gone, it’s time to look forward to a new year and all it will bring with it!

Goodbye Jess Combs, Hello Combing Through the Pages!

So when I started blogging three years ago, it was a short-lived experience that revolved around me. It made sense for my blog to just be my name.

But I’m boring!

I quickly got tired of talking about myself and the Jess Combs blog died a quiet death.

One of the most exciting things about 2018 was combining the fun of blogging with my passion for reading and bookishness. Enter the name change and the birth of “Combing Through the Pages.”

Now that I have a new bookish name and it’s a new year, it’s time to start making some goals for 2019!

Blogging Goals for 2019

There’s a lot I want to do with Combing Through the Pages in 2019! Some of my goals are far-fetched dreaming, some are just practical things I should have been doing all along, and others are exciting ways to connect with other book lovers and bloggers.

Without further ado, I give you my goals list for 2019:

1. Catch Up on Review Posts!

My top priority for 2019 is to catch up on all the books I planned to have reviewed before the end of 2018. It’s no excuse, but with everything that happened from October-December, I got behind. There are some great books I’ve read that haven’t been written about yet, and a couple I didn’t get finished in 2018.

So my first goal is pretty simple… get caught up!

2. Finish Becoming “Combing Through the Pages”

So simply changing the site name from “Jess Combs” to “Combing Through the Pages” was pretty easy. But as I quickly learned, it takes a lot more than that to actually make the change!

A new logo, new about page, new headers, new social media banners, etc… There’s a lot that still has to be done to finish “re-branding.”

In a way, this one probably could go under catching up, but it’s a whole other beast to tackle and so it’s number 2 on my list!

Among the major things #2 requires, is settling on my logo. What do you guys think of the one I’m using currently? Do you have suggestions? I would absolutely LOVE any and all feedback on the site! I’m still learning so please leave your ideas, thoughts and opinions in the comments or send me a message through the Contact Me page!

3. Hit 1,000 WordPress and E-mail Subscribers

This is one of those far-fetched, if all my dreams came true goals.

I’m currently at 343 WordPress/E-mail followers. So I’d need 657 new people to subscribe to Combing Through the Pages before the end of the year. If I average 2 new followers a day, I’ll hit it, so even though it’s a “daydreaming” goal, I think it’s possible.

4. Spend 2+ Hours Every Week Supporting My Followers Blogs

This one is pretty self-explanatory. I want to be intentional in 2019 about supporting those who support me.

So my goal is to take at least 2 hours every week and just visit, comment and use affiliate links on my followers blogs. Those are all things I appreciate others doing for me, so I want to be sure to do the same for them!

5. Show More Love to Other Book Bloggers 

The book blogging community, as a whole, is amazingly supportive!

When I started reviewing book, I was lucky enough to stumble across two incredible ways to get connected, find support, and discover other great blogs!

The first was the New Bloggers support group run by Evelina at Avalinahsbooks. Whether you’re new to the book blogging thing or you’ve been at it for a while, she’s an invaluable resource! If you’re a book blogger and haven’t already, you should go check it out right now!

Again, with everything going on, I haven’t been able to participate a whole lot this past month or so on the app and I’ve missed it terribly! So part of this goal is to make full use of the community Evelina has made and retweet, reblog, and support in any way I can my fellow book bloggers!

The second great resource for me was The Write Reads on Twitter. The Write Reads makes it super easy to support other book bloggers! Every day, a different blog post is featured as the blog of the day. Others visit and retweet the post.

I’ve discovered a lot of new bloggers, new books, and great posts through The Write Reads. There have been days when the only other blogger I’ve been able to visit was the blog of the day so I’m super thankful to be a part of it and want to keep it going through 2019!

6. Create and Stick To an Editorial Calendar!

I am great at scheduling months in advance for my family, but I am horrible at it for my blog!!!

I tried to use a calendar to come up with ideas and a schedule for last year, but when I actually used it, I never followed through.

So… my goal is to actually make use of an editorial calendar. This should keep me from needing to play catch up in 2019!

7. Post 5+ Times a Week

This one kinda goes with #6, but I decided to give it it’s own number.

One of the great things about planning out posts for a month, is that I know what’s coming up! So I can write posts in advance and schedule them to post!

I’ve been getting better about this, but I want to do even better in 2019! If I stick to it, I won’t have any problem making sure I’ve got posts Monday-Friday.

8. Host 3+ Giveaways in 2019

I think I entered almost every bookish giveaway I saw at the end of 2018!

While I wasn’t fortunate enough to win any of them, I loved the idea and am really excited to do some myself! So stay tuned as I’ll be giving away books and gift cards soon!

9. Post more about Fostering.

While this blog is mostly about books, I’m also a foster parent and I want to talk more about that.

Fostering isn’t easy and people aren’t always supportive. There are things that people don’t talk about and there are some things that are just down right funny. I want to bring it all out in the open – the good, the bad, the funny, and the sad. I’m hoping to connect more with other foster parents and other bloggers who blog about their experiences.

10. HAVE FUN!

My last goal is just to have fun. Sometimes, blogging can feel like a chore instead of a hobby. So in 2019, I want to just keep enjoying what I’m doing and sharing with all of you!

So I’m looking forward to having fun as we comb through the pages of life together!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!