Monthly Archives: January 2019

The Book Whisperer Reviews Oklahoma’s Native Son’s Story: Will Rogers


In Will Rogers, Betty Rogers wrote a personal story chronicling Will Rogers’ early life and of their life together. Betty Blake met Will Rogers when she went to Oologah to visit her sister after recovering from typhoid fever. Betty lived in Rogers, AR, “a busy little town with considerable community and social life.” Betty’s sister wrote “the only young people in the town are the daughters of the hotel keeper, and there is one boy, Will Rogers, who lives out a few miles on a ranch.”

This offhand reference to the one boy in Oologah will become significant. Betty’s brother-in-law was the station agent at Oologah on the Missouri Pacific Railway between Fort Smith, AR, and Coffeyville, KS. Betty was in the station when Will Rogers got off a train and walked up to the window where Betty stood. Before she could ask him what he wanted, he turned and walked briskly away. A few minutes later, Betty’s brother-in-law discovered a package addressed to Will Rogers, a banjo. Clearly, that is what he wanted to ask for at the window, but became shy and walked away.

Betty and Will do officially meet while she is still in Oologah. She says of their meetings, “I don’t think you would call our meetings there in Oologah incidents in a courtship. We simply became good friends.”  When Betty returned to AR, Will wrote her letters which Betty saved over the years. The first one Will signed “Hoping you will take pity on this poor heart broken Cow pealer and having him rejoicing over these bald prairies on receipt of a few words from you I remain your True Friend and Injun Cowboy. W.P Rogers, Oologah, I.T.”

In another letter, Will tells Betty he will be in Rogers, AR, soon and would like to see her. He does meet her in Rogers, but then two years go by before she sees him again. During that time, Will had traveled around the world.

Betty describes Will as a man who could not be still. He needed to be busy all the time. She says of Will that he “had superb health, great physical energy and mental vitality; and along with this an inner serenity that was seldom ruffled. He was unhurried, and worry was unknown to him.”

Betty describes the many people she and Will met and the many places they went during their marriage. Will and Betty met famous people in show business, business, and politics. Will’s warm and engaging smile drew people to him. His wit was homespun and never malicious. Much of his humor did center on politics. Most people remember the famous lines Will spoke.

One of those is “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the Government and report the facts and I have never found it necessary to exaggerate.”

Will Rogers is truly an American treasure. Betty Rogers wrote a history of their life together. Regardless of how many famous people Will met, he remained “your True Friend and Injun Cowboy.”



The Book Whisperer Admires An American Marriage


Told through first-person narratives by Roy, Celestial, and Andre, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones stretches readers’ ideas of love, betrayal, truth, and heartbreak. Jones captured my attention immediately beginning with Roy’s narration. The first line is “there are two kinds of people in the world, those who leave home, and those who don’t. I am a proud member of the first category.”

We quickly learn that Roy has grown up in the small Louisiana town of Eloe. Roy tells us “home isn’t where you land; home is where you launch.” Having grown up in a small Arkansas town only ten miles north of Louisiana, I identify with Roy’s philosophy of leaving home and launching. Roy goes on to say, “I’m not talking bad about Eloe. For one, Eloe may be in Louisiana, not a state brimming with opportunity, but it is located in America, and if you’re going to be black and struggling, the United States is probably the best place to do it.”

Roy explains that he has been lucky; his parents are hardworking and have provided him with a home, clothing, food, and education. He describes his advantages this way: “I had my own bathroom. When I outgrew my shoes, I never waited for new ones. While I have received financial aid, my parents did their part to send me to college.”

Roy describes meeting Celestial when they were both college students. Andre, another of the narrators, in fact, introduces Celestial and Roy. However, the two do not cross paths again until they have both graduated from college and are in NYC. Celestial is in graduate school seeking an art degree; Roy is in NYC on a business trip. Often such meetings feel contrived; this one though is natural. Roy and his fellow business associates happen into a restaurant where Celestial is working as a waitress while she goes to graduate school.

Roy pursues Celestial and persuades her to marry him. They marry and live in Atlanta in the home where Celestial grew up. Her parents have moved to a much larger home. Interestingly enough, Celestial’s father deeds the house to Celestial alone, despite the fact that his daughter is married to Roy. Celestial tells Roy it doesn’t matter because the house is theirs together, not hers alone.

Roy’s job is going well. He encourages Celestial to quit her job and follow her dream of making fancy dolls to sell as art objects: poupées. Roy suggests the name. The two have a lovely home, a loving relationship, and a bright future. What could go wrong?

Readers quickly find that much can go wrong. As much as Roy and Celestial love one another, they also argue and disagree about a number of things. Celestial is mistrustful of Roy. Is her mistrust unfounded? Then Roy is accused of the unthinkable, of raping a stranger, a woman in the same motel where Roy and Celestial are staying when they go to Eloe to visit Roy’s parents.

Andre, the boy next door, also tells his version of the story. He and Celestial have known each other their whole lives; they are like brother and sister. Or are they?

Jones pulls readers into the story by telling it through three characters’ eyes, but also including details from Roy’s early life and his parents as well as Celestial’s early life and her parents. Roy and Celestial come from entirely different backgrounds. Roy has never wanted for anything, but he has not enjoyed the luxury that Celestial’s parents have given her. Andre, too, is like Celestial, a man of privilege.

I could pull many, many lines from the story. The three below give readers an idea of the beauty of the language that Jones conveys:

“My father has this alpha-omega way about him, like he was here before you showed up and he would be sitting in the same recliner after you left.”

“Olive brought me into this world and trained me up to be the man I recognized as myself. But Celestial was the portal to the rest of my life, the shiny door to the next level.”

“But that night in the Piney Woods, I believed that our marriage was a fine-spun tapestry, fragile but fixable. We tore it often and mended it, always with a silken thread, lovely but sure to give way.”

Tayari Jones has published three previous novels: Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling, and Silver Sparrow. She has also written for Tin House, The Believer, The New York Times, and Callaloo. Jones has received praise from a number of sources including Oprah Winfrey who chose An American Marriage as an Oprah Book Club selection in 2018.

Barack Obama wrote of An American Marriage that “one of my favorite parts of summer is deciding what to read when things slow down just a bit, whether it’s on a vacation with family or just a quiet afternoon . . . An American Marriage by Tayari Jones is a moving portrayal of the effects of a wrongful conviction on a young African-American couple.” Other reviewers use words like haunting, beautifully written, compelling, and tense.

Learn more about Tayari Jones and her work, visit her Web site:

The Book Whisperer Rediscovers David Levithan & a Sequel


Several years ago, I read Every Day by David Levithan. The premise is unusual: the main character, A, wakes up in different body every day and assumes the person’s life. The change occurs at midnight while the character is asleep. Intrigued by what I read about the YA book, I checked it out from the library and read it. Some readers might think following a character who changes bodies every day, sometimes male and sometimes female, would be difficult. Levithan, however, keeps A consistent despite the difference in looks and personalities each day.


A astutely recognizes that he should do no harm while he inhabits another person’s life. He accesses the other person’s memories and does his best to fit into that person’s life. In my mind, A is a male even though the character does inhabit both male and female bodies. A has no choice in the matter. Every Day has been made into a movie which was released in February 2018.

After reading Every Day, I thought no more about the book. Then I discovered a sequel: Another Day. In Another Day, Levithan takes A to a new level because he falls in love with Rhiannon when A inhabits her boyfriend Justin’s body for a day. The two skip school after lunch and go to the beach even though the weather is cool. They have a perfect afternoon, a rarity for the couple.

Readers quickly learn that Rhiannon is in a toxic relationship with Justin. Moody and verbally abusive, Justin keeps Rhiannon guessing how he will react to even the most innocuous of comments. For example, if she asks him whether they will go to a party given by friends on Saturday, he complains that she is boxing him in. Their afternoon at the beach turns out to be completely free of the usual tension between them.

That afternoon makes Rhiannon feel their relationship is right once again. The feeling is short-lived, though. Justin quickly reverts to his old self once A has left. Rhiannon tries to justify Justin’s behavior to her friends who all think she should drop Justin.

When A inhabits Justin’s body, he does the unthinkable, he falls for Rhiannon. For the first time, A wants to see Rhiannon again. Of course, he will be in a different body, perhaps a female’s body. How can he explain his changing bodies to Rhiannon?

In the body of Amy, A visits Rhiannon’s school and seeks her out. Rhiannon discovers that Amy’s family is moving to her school district soon so Amy is looking over the school. The two spend the day together with Amy shadowing Rhiannon at school.

On Saturday, Rhiannon and Justin go to a party at Steve’s house. Steve and Stephanie have a similarly toxic relationship, but continue to date. At the party, Justin gets drunk, hos purpose in attending the party, while Rhiannon stays sober to be the designated driver. Rhiannon meets Nathan who claims to be Steve’s cousin and also to be gay. While Justin drinks, Rhiannon and Nathan dance in the basement—with Justin’s permission since he thinks Nathan is gay.

Nathan and Rhiannon have a good time dancing and talking. At the end of the evening, Nathan asks, “Would it be weird for me to ask you for your email?” The two exchange email addresses. Now, with Rhiannon’s email address, A begins emailing her brief messages as Nathan.

Rhiannon discovers Steve does not have a gay cousin named Nathan, so Rhiannon tells Nathan that in an email. Nathan responds that he can explain if he and Rhiannon can meet in person again. Rhiannon agrees to meet Nathan at the bookstore cafe after school. Of course, readers know that Nathan will no longer be the person Rhiannon met at the party. Nathan emails, “I’ll be there. Although not in a way you might expect. Bear with me and hear me out.” He signs the email with A.

Rhiannon gets to the bookstore café first and takes a table by the window. Soon, a girl sits down at the table with Rhiannon. Rhiannon tells her the seat is taken. The girl replies, “it’s okay. Nathan sent me.” The girl explains, “I need to tell you something. It’s going to sound very, very strange. What I need is for you to listen to the whole story. You will probably want to leave. You might want to laugh. But I need you to take this seriously. I know it will sound unbelievable, but it’s the truth. Do you understand?”

Rhiannon agrees to listen. Then A tells her he wakes up in a different body every day. Today he is Megan Powell. To convince her that he is telling the truth, A reminds Rhiannon of the story she told him when he was in Justin’s body, about the time she and her mother were in a fashion show. Rhiannon knows she has not told the story to anyone else.

Clearly, such a story of switching bodies every day sounds preposterous. Rhiannon feels she is being the butt of a joke that is not very funny. Still, A continues talking and telling her she is remarkable and that he wants to meet her as himself.

A explains his interest in Rhiannon this way: “You’re kind to a random girl who just shows up at your school. Because you also want to be on the other side of the window, living life instead of just thinking about it. Because you’re beautiful. Because when I was dancing with you in Steve’s basement on Saturday night, it felt like fireworks. And when I was lying on the beach next to you, it felt like perfect calm. I know you think that Justin loved you deep down, but I love you through and through.”

Suanne B. Roush reviewed Another Day for School Library Journal. Roush describes Rhiannon as “a needy doormat who thinks that because Justin does not hit her or cheat on her that he is a good boyfriend.” After meeting A, Rhiannon becomes a different person herself, recognizing that she does not need the grief that Justin inflicts on her daily.

David Levithan has an impressive body of work of more than twenty novels including Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Another of Levithan’s novels that has an unusual premise is The Lover’s Dictionary which is written in the form of dictionary entries. The short entries “provide an intimate window into the great events and quotidian trifles of being within a couple, giving us an indelible and deeply moving portrait of love in our time.”

Read more about David Levithan and his work at this link:

His lover’s dictionary can also be found on Twitter at @loverdiction.



The Book Whisperer Reviews A Book For Book Lovers


My friend and fellow reader Theresa recommended that I locate and read Jane Mount’s Bibliophile. She gave good advice! Bibliophile is a book-lover’s dream. The advertising on Amazon calls Bibliophile “the perfect gift for book lovers, writers, and your book club.” I would agree.

To whet readers’ appetites, here are some topics from the table of contents: “Kids’ Picture Books,” “Striking Libraries,” “Bookstore Cats,” “Five-Word Synopsis Quiz,” and “Food Writing.”

In the chapter titled “Bookish People Recommend,” Mount quotes a variety of people who work with books from librarians to book buyers for book stores; they suggest books. For example, Julia Hobart who is a book buyer at Bookloft in Great Barrington, MA, recommends The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. She says, “I read it as a kid, and it has stuck with me.” Maris Kreizman, editorial director of Book of the Month, suggests Anagrams by Lorrie Moore because “Anagrams broke apart all my expectations about what a novel could do.”

Bibliophile is a book one needs to purchase and dip into often. The tidbits one finds throughout the book delight readers. In “Songs About Books,” Mount includes information about Sting who “worked literature into many of the songs he wrote for The Police and for himself.” She points out lines from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and from Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Not only are the topics interesting and varied, Bibliophile is also visually appealing. Mount has included numerous drawings to illustrate the chapters.

Discover more at


The Book Whisperer Discusses Up Lit


After my recent post on comfort reading, I’ve been researching Up Lit as a genre. Up Lit is “a newly recognized genre of literature; Up Lit focuses on human connections and life-affirming stories filled with joy, kindness, humor, heroism, hope, empathy, compassion and love.” That is not to say that the books emphasize sweetness and light; they are well-written, compelling stories with ups and downs. Up Lit reminds us of our humanity and our ability to withstand hard times and find ways to celebrate life despite the difficulties faced.

As it turns out, I have read several of the books mentioned as Up Lit. Here are a few of the books I have read that are often listed as Up Lit: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon, and The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick.

In all of the books above, the characters face difficulties in their lives. In Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Harold Fry starts out to his nearby postbox to send a card of encouragement to Queenie, a former co-worker, now battling cancer. At the first postbox. Harold decides to walk a bit further before posting the card. Then he decides, the readers may think, unrealistically, to walk all the way to Queenie’s nursing home to give her the card in person. As he walks, other people fall in with him, thinking he has some grand wisdom or plan. Some stay with him a day while others drop away after a few hours. As Harold walks, we learn his back story and sympathize with him about loss and pain.

Eleanor Oliphant is a functioning adult who survived a horrifying childhood trauma. Readers follow Eleanor as she goes to work and returns home, lonely and haunted. Then Raymond, the computer tech at his office, comes to repair her computer and they develop an unlikely friendship.  A story which begins about loneliness and being disconnected from others turns into a story of people who can connect with one another. That does not mean the story is a romance that ends with everyone living happily ever after. Still, Honeyman provides a story with a satisfying ending.


In the Keeper of Lost Things, several characters have suffered loss. The story becomes about the way they deal with that loss. Anthony Peardew, author of short stories, has lost the love his life. He blames himself for Therese’s death. As a result, he keeps lost items he finds whether it be a blue button, a single glove, or a teacup. He takes the items home and meticulously records where and when he found the items. He keeps his findings in a locked room no one else enters. He hires Laura as a housekeeper. At the time Laura goes to work for Anthony, she is at a low point in her life, having left an abusive husband and still feeling somewhat worthless. She has no idea what Anthony keeps in the locked room until Anthony’s unexpected death. Then Laura learns that Anthony has left her his home and all of its contents. Laura discovers the lost things and determines to find the owners by putting the items on the Internet and detailing where they were found and when. The story moves forward helping Laura heal from her emotional wounds and allowing her to find companionship with Sunshine, a lovely girl who has Down Syndrome, and with Freddy, Anthony’s gardener.

A Man Called Ove gives us the story of Ove, a very disciplined man who wants order in his life. After the death of his beloved wife, Ove no longer wishes to live either. However, his clumsy attempts at suicide are more laughable than frightening. Then a family moves in next door to Ove; they mother, father, and two children clearly need Ove’s help. Ove sees that the father is incompetent in fixing anything and therefore needs Ove’s help. The children invade Ove’s life as children do, unthinkingly, until they become like his grandchildren. The story is uplifting and heart wrenching at the same time.

The Trouble With Goats and Sheep features two ten-year-old girls who are best friends. They set about to solve a mystery and to bring their neighbor home safely. Told through ten-year-old Grace’s filter, The Trouble With Goats and Sheep offers a look into a closely knit community and the foibles of all the humans who live there.

Arthur Pepper’s wife has died and he is lonely. In clearing out her clothing at the behest of her friends, he discovers a charm bracelet wrapped in a handkerchief and tucked into the toe of a boot that his wife rarely wore. Upon looking at the bracelet, Arthur realizes his wife has kept secrets from him and those secrets are wound up in the charms on the bracelet. He sets out to discover where the charms came from and what they mean. In his odyssey, he learns about his wife. The story is charming!

I have not read all of these books, but the list below will lead readers to additional Up Lit books: Rise and Shine, Benedict Stone by Phaedra Patrick, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg, The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes by Ruth Hogan, The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie, The Temptation to Be Happy by Lorenzo Marone, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, How to Fall in Love With a Man Who Lives in a Bush by Emmy Abrahamson, and The Pretty Delicious Café by Danielle Hawkins.

No doubt, we can all add to this growing list. Perhaps a dip into Up Lit now and then will be good for us all. Read more about Up Lit at Harper Collins:

Danuta Kean who writes for The Guardian also tells us more about Up Lit:

The Book Whisperer Reviews The Gown


Because I belong to several book clubs and because I frequently search book reviews and other sites about books and authors, I will see books being advertised. Often, if a book keeps popping up in my feeds, I will check it out, reading about the author, the setting, and the plot. Occasionally, I reject a book if it receives too much hype! That’s probably perverseness on my part. The Gown by Jennifer Robson, an author I had not read previously, kept showing up on sites I checked looking for books to recommend or to choose for a book club.

At first, I dismissed the frequent sightings. Then I read a brief synopsis of The Gown and was hooked. Not willing to wait for the book at my local library because it is still on order and already has twenty holds on it, I purchased a copy at Costco. And I am glad I made the purchase!

I started reading The Gown as soon as I returned home from my shopping trip. I had a hard time putting the book down. It follows a format that I truly enjoy, dual stories from the past and present-day. On her Web site,, Robson tells readers that “when I write my books, I do so with my own book club in mind…. I ask myself if the book I’m creating is something my friends would enjoy and find memorable.” She goes on to praise those who choose books for book clubs because “choosing a book to share with your friends is no small task.” As one who chooses books for a book club, I appreciate this not to the difficulty of the task.

Robson has published five novels. Her background includes a lifelong interest in history. During her academic career, Robson earned a PhD in British economic and social history. She has worked as an editor, but now calls herself a full-time writer.

To prepare for writing The Gown, Robson conducted an extensive interview with Betty Foster who was a seamstress who worked on Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown in 1947. Like Ann Hughes, one of the main characters, Betty Foster began working at Hartnell in 1942 when she was only fourteen years old. Ann, too, was only fourteen when she began working at Hartnell.

Robson writes her own story, but she does use information Betty Foster supplied to add those realistic touches to the fiction. Those details make the novel real and truthful. For example, Betty Foster told Robson about going into to work early because the early trains from her home to Hartnell’s were cheaper than the later trains. Ann describes her getting to work early as well to pay the cheaper price for the train.

Although the story takes place in late 1947, England still faced rationing and many foods and goods were in short supply. Princess Elizabeth’s dress must be made of primarily of British goods; the public had to be assured that the silkworms which created the silk had come from China, not Japan.

Ann Hughes lives with her sister-in-law Milly. Milly’s husband had died in WWII. Ann and Milly are living in a council house intended for a family of five. They pay their rent on time and do not cause any trouble so they won’t be evicted since they are two women living there, not a family of five. Then Milly receives an invitation from her two brothers to join them in Canada. Ann, always thinking of others, insists that Milly must go to Canada and start a new life, one they hope will not be so harsh as the one where they now live. Paying the rent by herself will create additional difficulties for Ann along with the worry that she could be evicted.

Fortunately, for Ann, Miriam Dassin comes from France seeking employment at Hartnell as an embroiderer. Miss Duley, the manager of the sewing workroom, asks Ann to take Miriam under her wing. The two quickly become friends and Miriam, who has been lodging in a less than desirable rooming house gladly agrees to share Ann’s house and the bills.

The story begins with Ann living in London in 1947. Then the story shifts to 2016 Toronto. The story centers on Heather, a young woman working at a magazine. Heather’s mother calls to tell her that Nan, Heather’s grandmother has died. In Toronto, Nan had run a yarn shop, selling knitting supplies. She had never shared anything about her life in London.

The pictures below include Normal Hartnell, his sketch of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown, and the actual gown.

As Heather’s mom cleans out her mother’s apartment, she discovers a box with “For Heather” on the top of the box. When Heather opens it, she finds exquisitely embroidered flowers in silk and adorned with pearls and crystals. She soon discovers these flowers are on Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown, made in 1947 at Hartnell of London.

The beautiful flowers and a few pictures that depict Ann and other seamstresses at Hartnell lead Heather on a journey to London to find out about her Nan; readers soon learn, Nan is indeed Ann Hughes. Heather learns that Miriam Dassin has become known internationally as an embroiderer of beautiful and haunting panels of embroidery. Heather hopes to see some of the embroideries on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Sadly, Heather learns that the exhibition will not start until after she leaves London. The ticket seller does tell Heather that Daniel Friedman, history professor, could tell Heather more about Miriam Dassin. Heather contacts Professor Friedman, but is uncertain if he will reply to her.

To keep readers in suspense, I will not go further in the story except to say that Heather does learn a great deal about her grandmother and even about her grandfather, a man Nan never mentioned except to say he had died.

In 1977, the Queen Mother knighted Hartnell for “his services to the Royal Household.” “The First Fashion Knight” became his nickname. Hartnell is one of four British designers to receive knighthood: Norman Hartnell, Hardy Amies, Paul Smith, and Vivienne Westwood.

The Book Whisperer Examines a Debut Novel That Reads Like a Memoir


Yara Zgheib describes herself as a “bookworm, writer, and constant traveler and dreamer.” Born in Beirut, Zgheib has lived in Glasgow, Washington, Paris, St. Louis, and Boston. Her educational background is impressive: a Fulbright scholar and a PhD in international affairs and diplomacy. She maintains a blog at

Zgheib also writes for The Huffington Post, The Four Seasons Magazine, A Woman’s Paris, The Idea List, and Holiday Magazine. The topics for her blog and magazine articles are wide-ranging: culture, art, travel, and philosophy.

The Girls at 17 Swann Street is Zgheib’s debut novel. Kristin Pidgeon, Riverstone Books, said of The Girls at 17 Swann Street, “I had to keep reminding myself this was fiction and not a memoir.” The poignant story of a young woman struggling to overcome anorexia captivates readers because of the author’s honesty.

Anna who has lived in Paris and dreamed of becoming a ballerina now lives in St. Louis with her husband Matthias. Both Anna and Matthais have pointedly ignored the growing problem of Anna’s refusal to eat or to nibble only on lettuce. Anna is also obsessed with exercising. She was in reach of her goal to become a ballerina when she injured herself.

In trying to return to her love of dance, Anna begins eliminating foods from her diet. She describes herself to readers: “I am twenty-six years old. My body feels sixty-two. So does my brain. Both are tired, irritable, in pain. My hair was once wild lion thick, morning blond. It is now a nondescript, mousey beige that falls in thin wisps around my face and out in my hands. My eyes, green like my mother’s, are sunk so deep in their sockets that no makeup will fill the craters.” Her honesty in describing the horror her body has become leads readers into the rest of the story—the beginnings of recovery.

At 17 Swann Street, Anna meets other young women, all suffering from their own problems with food whether it be avoiding it or eating too much of it. Every day follows a routine. One must also follow RULES. Days begin at 5:30 AM with vitals and weights taken. Breakfast follows at 8:00 AM.

Each woman has “thirty minutes for breakfast and snacks, forty-five for lunch and dinner.” If the residents do not complete the meals and snacks within the allotted time, they receive a nutritional supplement. Each patient has three refusals of meals. After the patient refuses meals three times, the nurse inserts a feeding tube.

The bathroom doors are locked and patients must ask permission to use the bathroom.  Some patients must also submit to being monitored when they use the bathroom. Luckily for Anna, she is not one of those patients.

Most of the patients look forward to the morning walk. Infractions of the rules will mean being restricted from taking the coveted walks outside. Patients meet with therapists individually as well as participating in group therapy.

When Anna meets the other seven patients, she describes the five anorexics like her as “these patients are not women. They are missing breasts, curves, probably periods. Most are wearing children’s clothes.”

The women are wary of one another, especially when a new patient joins the group. They move slowly to form friendships or alliances. They are cautious and hesitant. Still, some do reach out to one another. Often, that’s in the form of passing notes to one another.

Zgheib intersperses the story of Anna’s stay at 17 Swann Street with her previous life, giving readers some insight into why Anna is so persistent about not eating. In those flashbacks, readers see many positive moments, especially with Matthais who continues to be supportive, visiting Anna every night.

As Anna’s story progresses, readers see the steps forward as well as the steps backward. Recovery from anorexia is not straightforward. It involves many steps back as the patient works to overcome the disease. Zgheib does not sugarcoat the story; she lays out the ups and downs that Anna and the others face, making the story personal and moving.

Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, much like 17 Swann Street, tells women who become patients there that “you are taking ownership of your life story. You are creating a new narrative. You are setting goals and achieving them. You are on your way to living your best life – a life that you love.” That may not be precisely the same motto as Anna encounters when she signs into 17 Swann Street, but Zgheib makes certain that readers understand that is the goal.

Zgheib tells her readers “I believe that abstract ideas like courage, kindness, and justice can change the world. I believe in dignity, and the good in people. And I believe in the power of words.” Those beliefs are evident in The Girls at 17 Swann Street.

I entered a contest on Bookmovement,, and won ten advance copies of The Girls at 17 Swann Street. Circle of Readers, my book club at Broken Arrow Senior Center, will discuss the book for our January meeting.