Contemporary

Book Review: Burden of Breath by Ann Minnett

If you read my review for “A Sudden Light” by Garth Stein you will remember that I had trouble with the characters. While I enjoyed the story, most of the characters drove me up the wall. “Burden of Breath” by Ann Minnett is another one of those stories. For this book, it is important to throw the themes up right here in the beginning of the review, because these are harsh themes to deal with. This is a story about recovering from sexual and metal child abuse told both from the point of view of the abuser who is trying to redeem herself, and the abused who is forced to live with the scars, literally and figuratively. On a scale from 0 to “Push” by Sapphire (The movie was titled “Precious”), it is not nearly as graphic and horrifying, but that is like comparing the bite of a rabid wolf to the bite of an angry shark. This story is hangs on you like a weighted blanket and it is hard to get rid of.

Without summarizing too much, Hannah Dyer receives the news that her manipulative, controlling, sexually and mentally abusive mother has died. Not of suicide as Hannah would have expected, but a natural heart attack. Her mother, true to her nature, has arranged everything. Her entire funeral planned, and Hannah, who has carved out a very lonely life for herself feels the chains latching themselves around her once more, especially when she discovers that her mother has adopted another child, and she is expected to care for it.

This is where the story gets truly interested, and where it kept me turning the pages despite my feelings of anger and frustration both at the abuse that is described, and the characters being so disagreeable to me. When Hannah arrives at her mother’s home, she is confronted with people who have a completely different view of her mother. People who love her mother, and see her as an angry, bitter, woman filled with unnecessary hatred, who barely has her own life together. The dichotomy between what she knows of the woman they revere, and her mother’s public appearance creates an engrossing story. The problem I have is that Hannah is angry, bitter, and filled with hate. She is so wrapped up in herself that she pushes everyone who is trying to help her away and places her young charge in danger because she is so blind to anything but her hatred. I understand it, but it was incredibly difficult to read.

And the other part of this story, her mother’s point of view… even worse. I could not sympathize with the flashback scenes of her mother’s feelings, her mother’s actions, and her mother’s hurt at Hannah’s rejection and her desire to make things better. Even more frustrating was that even after learning about what her mother did to her, other characters still defended or accepted the woman they had known, marginalizing Hannah’s feelings.

I don’t think these were bad choices on behalf of the author, either. It is, sadly, a realistic view, and it is very well written. This an amazing piece for a debut novel. What I, personally and emotionally, was hoping for was for Hannah to break the mold, to come out on top, but her scars were simply too deep. I wanted a hopeful story, and what I got was a dark glimpse into the human psyche and a realistic view of the cycle of abuse. A story that shows that sometimes you fight becoming the monster you fear and one day look into the mirror to see that you have become, at least in part, that monster.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading “Burden of Breath”. I just want those who are sensitive to be prepared. It is not an easy story to digest, and that is why it lost stars. I felt the need to finish, but emotionally could not enjoy it.

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P.S. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for “The Human Forged” by Anthony Melchiorri

Book Review: A Thread Unbroken by Kay Bratt

4 Out of 5 Stars

I just laid my eleven month old son down to sleep. His moist little breaths gently brushed my skin. His tiny hand had a hold on my shirt, his fingers toying with the button on my blouse. I rocked him slowly back and forth, listening to the quite snorts that pass for snores most nights. Looking down on his peaceful little face, with chubby cheeks, full pouty lips, and eyelashes any grown woman would pay for, my heart was filled with so much love that it felt tight in my chest, as it does every day and  night when I have a quite moment alone with my son. It is with that feeling still so fresh, and my heart still so full, that I sit down to write this review.

The topics and themes presented in “A Thread Unbroken” are not easy ones to digest. There is almost nothing in my privileged American middle  class life that could help me understand the mindset that leads to human trafficking. I know that were my son to be a daughter I would still feel the same about her. Were he to be physically deformed, mentally disabled, or otherwise imperfect in the eyes of society, I would still love him and care for him with all my heart. I was raised in a world where children are cherished treasures rather than economic boons or burdens. Many Americans, and in fact, many of the reviewers that I have read, come from a similar background and feel that “A Thread Unbroken” is unbelievable. Unfortunately, while the larger Chinese cities have become increasingly more progressive, life in rural China marches on much as it always has with little regard to technological innovation. It is ruled by traditional values, those that see strong sons as a priceless economic treasure, and daughters as a burden until they are married and gone to produce strong sons of their own for the husbands that rule the household.

In “A Thread Unbroken” we have three families affected by the girls’ abduction. father Jun adores his daughter. He has never seen his two little girls as anything but strong and capable individuals. He encourages their education and is unwilling to allow the search for a husband to decide his daughters’ futures. Josie on the other hand, physically disabled and not fit to be a bride, is responsible for caring for her father’s pigs, taking care of her young siblings, and helping her mother care for the house. The third family is a traditional fishing family living in near seclusion from the modern world. The people of their village openly purchase girls stolen from other parts of China to become brides for their sons, as there are few women around.

Through each family we get a glimpse of how China feels about their girls, and the economic and social reasons behind why human trafficking exists,  and what can be done to stop it. Chai is strong because her father has empowered her to be so.  Her father never stops searching for her, and she never stops searching for a way to get back to him. Josie relies on Chai to find the answers, to rescue them. She is timid and emotionally immature. Her father gives up the search quickly, merely lamenting that there is no one there to care for the pigs and help take care of the small children. The family the girls find themselves forced to become a part of is ruled by their father and the eldest son. Nothing is done without their permission.

Despite such a heavy topic, the story is not dark. I would go so far as to say it is sugar coated. The girls are not beaten, and for the most part are not abused. There are many girls, and boys, around the world who have it worst. The general smoothness and ease of the story, and the narration makes it an excellent introduction to trafficking for mature middle grade students (eighth grade) and younger high school students, though it is also a good read for adults. Be warned, though, that there is one graphic scene late in the book. It reads well for an adult as well. If the prose are simple, and the ending a fairy tale, it can be forgiven. “A Thread Unbroken” shows a gentler version of a dark and violent world making it more accessible for younger readers, and those who don’t often read dark fiction. The story opens up the floor for conversation, but leaves the reader feeling like there is hope, like things can change.

Kay Bratt lived in China for nearly five years and advocates for Chinese children and girls. Her passion shows in her writing. She has penned several novels around these subjects and I look forward to circling back and reading some more of them in the future. I can recommend one other book if you read this and found the story interesting. Sold by Patricia McCormick is the story of 13-year-old Lakshmi who is sold into prostitution to pay off her family’s debts. Please feel free to write you suggestions or thoughts in the comments. Human trafficking is an important issue, and the more literature can do to help get the message out, the better.

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