Alphabet Challenge Update, READING WITH PATRICK

A friend gave me Reading with Patrick, a memoir by Michelle Kuo, a few months ago. I have been saving it for the “R” in the Alphabet Challenge a fellow blogger and I have taken on. Describing the “remarkable literary and political awakening” of Patrick Browning, Kuo’s student, the book makes the reader think about race and the lack of justice for a large portion of America’s population.

Kuo met Patrick when she was a volunteer with “Teach for America”( in 2004) in his home town, Helena, Arkansas, located in what was then one of the poorest counties in the U.S. She led Patrick through his journey of discovery as his high school English teacher. She “saw” him and saw his potential. The descriptions of their interactions and the building of their relationship were familiar to any teacher who has “been there” and cared.  As Patrick grows in his understanding of poetry, the book becomes “a love letter to literature.” It is also a “riveting,” “inspiring testimony to the transformative power of reading.” What about this premise would not make my teacher’s heart go “pitty-pat”?

After going on to law school, Kuo returned to Helena to find that Patrick was in jail, serving an “undetermined” length of years for murder.  Patrick describes the murder as “an accident,” and Kuo finds his case has been constantly mishandled, delayed, overlooked and tightly bound up in bureaucracy and red tape. While waiting for hearings and various delays, Kuo begins to teach Patrick again, only to find he had reverted to the pathetically poor reader he was when she first met him years ago. Visiting Patrick in jail as often as permitted for over seven months, Kuo helps Patrick make progress, both in his awareness of literature and of himself as well.

The story does not have a “happily-ever-after-ending,” but a satisfactory one, and the “read” was definitely worth investing my valuable reading time in. I highly recommend this book.





The A-Z Challenge, one I resumed in January, starting with the letter “N,” continues. In January, I read Nightbird, a YA novel with Hoffman’s touch of the supernatural, and The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jamisin, described by Brainfluff’s blogger as a “mashup of both fantasy and sci-fi. Jamisin’s novel is the second in the “Broken Earth” series, which describes the “way the world ends …for the last time.”  The book begins with the ash falling, the sky darkening as the cold and darkness approach. “Essun–once Damaya, once Syenite, now avenger–has found shelter” inside the earth. She has not, however, found her daughter Nassun, who was taken away by her father after he had bludgeoned to death her younger brother. The book alternates between mother and daughter, as each grows in power, each in her own setting. Alabaster’s life/spirit finally comes to an end, and Essun seeks revenge on those who take him away from her. Hoa is still faithful but hides secrets to his identity, which were hinted at in The Fifth Season, Book One.

February brought “P,” a short inspiring book The Prayer of Jesus by Hank Hanegraff with an introduction by Lee Strobel, author of The Case for Christ. It is a description of Jesus’s prayer life. One of the most interesting points, which was new to me, was that the verse often translated, “Lord teach us how to pray” more accurately translated is “Lord teach us now to pray”, adding urgency to Peter’s request.

Also in February, I used a Christmas Barnes and Noble gift certificate to buy a paperback copy of John Burley’s psychological thriller, The Quiet Child. It started out a bit slow, but in the last three or four chapters made up for that with several rapid-fire twists and turns. The author describes the book as “a story about the complexities of family…” and it also has a surprise ending that will curl your hair.”

In three days March will roar in, and I will begin Reading with Patrick, a non-fiction book by Michelle Kuo, which has been sitting on my TBR shelf for at least a year. I do not know if I will make it by year’s end, but I am sure I will enjoy every moment of reading through the alphabet!


My teaser today comes from The Quiet Child, a suspense novel by John Burley, which I am reading as my “Q” title in my Alphabet Challenge.

Both of his sons, Sean, and Danny, the younger child who does not speak and is referred to by people in his small town as “the quiet child,” were stolen/kidnapped (?) when a man stole Michael’s car when he walked into a store to pick up ice cream. Michael tells the police that he has not heard from the “kidnapper,” but borrows his sister-in-law’s car and takes off for parts unknown. As Michael, the boys’ father, takes things into his own hands, he approaches a freeway exit at the beginning of chapter 18:

“It was eight-thirty in the morning when Michael exited the highway, turned right onto NF-742, and then left onto Butcherknife Road.  He’d spent the night in the car in Grants Pass, and drove the twenty minutes to Wilderville, as soon as he woke. He should’ve eaten and picked up supplies–a canteen and a hunting knife at least– before starting out. It would’ve been wiser.”

Does the quiet, younger brother Danny bring on sickness and bad happenings as the rumour about town goes? Will the townspeople “do something” about the threat from the child? Who has taken the two boys, and why? Will MIchael, their father, kill whoever has abducted his sons? Will their frail mother, who has been cursed with a “wasting disease” since Danny’s birth survive this most recent ordeal?

I am anxious to read more to answer these questions.


In January I agreed to return to the Alphabet Challenge abandoned last summer with the completion of Joyce Carol Oats, The Man Without a Shadow. So far I have read “N,” “O,” and “P.”

Letter “O” was my favorite of the three and definitely the best book I have read so far this year.  It appealed to me as a literature major, but also as an original writing technique, for Ian McEwan wrote from the viewpoint of a fetus in its mother’s womb. Not just any unborn child, mind you, but Hamlet, Shakespeare’s Prince of Denmark.  In tMcEwan’s novel, Hamlet’s mother, Trudy, is close to her delivery date when she and Claude, her husband’s brother and her lover, plot to kill the king and usurp his throne. Hamlet, from the womb is privy to this information and veers between faithful love and  venomous hate for both his biological father and his mother. It is “the classic tale of murder and deceit,” but as you may have guessed from the modern names, it is set in modern (around 60’s) times.

There is a marvelous twist to the decision to go ahead with the murder plot that only McEwan could have invented. It is not in Shakespeare’s version (as far as I know), but it torments both Trudy and her unborn son.

The writing is the best thing about the book. Here is just a sample:

Chapter One      “So here I am, upside down in a woman. Arms patiently crossed, waiting, and waiting and wondering who I’m in, what I’m in for. My eyes close nostalgically when I remember how I once drifted in my translucent body bag, floated dreamily in the bubble of my thoughts through my private ocean in slow-motion somersaults, colliding gently against the transparent bounds of my confinement, the confiding membrane that vibrated with, even as it muffled, the voices of conspirators in a vile enterprise.”  MAGNIFICENT! But, what else could one expect from the author of Atonement?