Dogears: The Power of Symbolism and Storytelling

Mama's Nightingale, Edwidge Danticat, Leslie Staub, DIal Books, 2015
Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and SeparationMama's Nightingale, Edwidge Danticat, Leslie Staub, DIal Books, 2015
Edwidge Danticat & Leslie Staub
Dial Books
September 1, 2015

The complexity of immigration policy may be difficult to explain to a child, but many are affected by it. Saya’s mother is an undocumented Haitian immigrant who has been detained by ICE. To ease Saya’s suffering, her mother records bedtime stories from prison, and sends them home. These tales empower Saya to write a letter to a newspaper, and she learns that her own voice can call others to action.

Illustrator Leslie Staub uses cloud shaped bubbles filled with obvious symbols, such as locks that represent imprisonment, to convey Saya’s emotions and fantasies. The bright, complementary colors and visual metaphors within these bubbles spill out into the real world as Saya begins to craft her feelings into the story that saves her mother. Saya wears a dress covered in keys because she will unlock her mother’s prison, and at the trial her mother wears a blue suit that mirrors Saya’s earlier, vibrantly blue vision of freedom. Color and symbolism also expose the power of creativity and expression. While Saya plans out her letter the backgrounds are uncharacteristically white, but the following page fills with color, including a cloud of imagery that communicates the heartfelt content of the letter. No brush stroke goes to waste; every visual component reveals more about a characters’ inner world. This picture book is a must-have not only because it tells the often-ignored story of families separated by ICE, but because it is a cleverly crafted introduction to the power of symbolism and storytelling.


I Am No OneI am no one, Patrick Flanery, Tim DUggan Books, 2016
Patrick Flanery
Tim Duggan Books
July 5 2016

If there’s one particular type of story that’s never worked for me, it’s a story about about a sad sack middle-aged man moaning about his poor life choices. Unfortunately, the literary world is filled with such stories. I’ve read so many I feel as though I could instruct others on how to write one of their very own – just combine the aforementioned middle-aged men, add a divorce, a child or two he wishes he was closer to, and some sort of intellectually-minded job like professor or writer. Mix it all together with a rather long and drawn out plot and viola! You’ve create a work of “Literature.” Bonus points if it’s set in London, New York, or New England.

Unfortunately, almost all of the above describes I Am No One. It’s not that Flanery is untalented. It’s just the protagonist, Jeremy O’Keefe, is a rehash of so many characters that have come before. What kept me reading, however, was how Jeremy O’Keefe fit into a larger narrative on the very topical issue of security vs. privacy. It’s not unusual in this day and age to hear people say something along the lines of “I don’t care if the government reads my email – I have nothing to hide!” as though the very idea of wanting privacy suggests you could be a traitor. But even though Jeremy O’Keefe is someone with “nothing to hide” he soon finds his life turned inside out by overly suspicious, hyper-vigilant, government agencies.

I Am No One provides some interesting commentary on the way our public and private lives has changed in the wake of 9/11. I think it would be a solid book club pick and could easily lead to some compelling discussions on how much we might be willing to sacrifice in order to feel safe. It’s just rather unfortunate that Flanery decided to build this commentary around a character I think few readers are going to like or relate to.


I Remember YouI Remember You Yrsa Sigurđardóttir Minotaur Books March 25, 2014
Yrsa Sigurđardóttir
Minotaur Books
March 25, 2014

I Remember You does a superb job of building up dread, and it develops this unease through two separate storylines. The book develops the two plotlines with equal attention as the narrative alternates back-and-forth between each chapter. On one side of the story, a group of three people travel to a remote Icelandic island to renovate an old house. With serious financial problems, their investment in a plan to rent rooms to tourists during the summer season has them in dire circumstances. They arrive prior to the start of winter, and as the chill gains force, so do the paranormal phenomenon.

Meanwhile, a psychiatrist on the mainland grapples with the disappearance of his son while treating his patients, some of whom begin to express insights on his missing child that are too accurate to be dismissed. He is eventually drawn to investigate what is happening to his patients in connection to the disappearance, despite his belief it is all a matter of coincidence. Each story slowly revs into increasingly disturbing territory, with a number of surprises to tease you along the way to a dark climax. I had trouble sleeping after reading this, and hugged my cat a little closer at night. Well done, Sigurđardóttir. Well done.


Christa Seeley

Christa Seeley

Books Editor. Maple Flavoured Darth Vader Fangirl.