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April — Sing You Home

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We had about 26 ladies at the Ladies Book Club on Thursday, April 4th. We were there to discuss Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult. It was time to catch up with ladies we hadn't seen for awhile, with some of us getting ready to go up north again (poor souls... LOL). We also checked out the book-share table to see if something tickled our fancy. Peg Tabor welcomed everyone and started with some sad news. Betty Scanlon, who just lost her husband, has lost her brother, as well. Peg circulated a card for her.

Peg then noted that we had some new faces and welcomed them, then asked Joyce Tisovec how much the club has in its Books for Children fund? Joyce reported that as of last month, $237.50 had been contributed. Very nice. Peg continued, saying that next month, we'll be discussing Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. She reminded us that there was no meeting in July, but in August, we'll be reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, the lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative and is responsible for the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which remembers more than 4,400 documented victims of lynching. There is also an article in Southern Living about the museum, "The New National Memorial You Must See In Montgomery, Alabama." A couple of our members have already visited it and highly recommended it. Peg suggested that we don't leave reading it to the last minute.

With announcements out of the way, Peg turned the meeting over to Anne Russell, our discussion leader for Sing You Home. Anne started with the author's account of how she came to write the book. Picoult's first crush was on a boy named Kal when she was in second grade. He had an iguana and a jungle gym in his basement. She never chose to be attracted to him; it just happened, naturally and instinctively. After college, she had a friend who was also naturally, instinctually, and whole-heartedly attracted to boys. His name was Jeff. My roommate and I spent many Friday nights with Jeff and his partner Darryl, catching the latest movies and dissecting them over dinner afterward. He was funny, smart, and a techy whiz. The least interesting thing about him was that he was gay. Gays are often bullied and called immoral by churches, causing a bitter division between gays and straights. She's observed that most people who oppose gay rights don’t have a personal connection to anyone who is gay. Those who have had a gay friend or family member seem to understand that it is no big deal.

Gay rights isn't something that most of us think about because most of us are born straight, but imagine if you couldn't fall in love to a person of another sex, not allowed to be with the person you truly love, not allowed to marry the one person you want to spend your life with? This is the case for lesbian, gay, transgender, and transsexual people. They are accused of trying to redefine marriage, which some politicians and religious leaders claim can only be between one man and one woman. They rally others against those who are different. As it turns out, those who are different are really pretty normal, mowing their lawns, watching American Idol and videotaping their children’s dance recitals, having the same hopes and dreams that their straight counterparts do. Jodi Picoult wanted to address what it means to be gay in America and how we define a family.

In her research for the book, Picoult interviewed several same-sex couples about their relationships, sex lives, and struggles, some having known their sex orientation from a young age and others who had heterosexual relations before. She also interviewed representatives from Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group that supports the Defense of Marriage Act, opposes gay adoption, and offers seminars to "cure" gay people of same-sex attraction. They cite biblical snippets from Leviticus and other Bible verses to form the foundation of their anti-gay platform, even though similar literal readings should require that they not play football (touching pigskin) or eat shrimp scampi (no shellfish).

When she asked Focus on the Family if the Bible needs to be taken in a more historical context, she was told absolutely not — the word of God is the word of God. But when asked where a list of appropriate sexual practices was in the Bible, she was told that it’s not a sex manual — just a guideline. Picoult was heartbroken by their circular logic when she brought up the topic of hate crimes. Focus on the Family insists that they love the sinner, just not the sin, and only try to help homosexuals who are unhappy being gay. The author worried aloud that this message might be misinterpreted by those who commit acts of violence against gays in the name of religion. The woman she was interviewing burst burst into tears. "Thank goodness," she said, "that’s never happened." This would be news to the parents of Matthew Shepherd, Brandon Teena, Ryan Keith Skipper, or August Provost — just a few of those murdered due to their sexual orientation — or the FBI, which reports that 17.6 percent of all hate crimes are motivated by sexual orientation, a number that is steadily rising.

While writing the book, her son Kyle brought her his college entrance essay about being gay. Did she know he was gay before he came out in his essay? She'd had her suspicions since he was five, but it was his discovery to make and share. She wasn’t surprised, but was happy for him, for being brave enough to be true to himself, and to admit that truth to his family. Her husband gave him a huge hug; Kyle’s little sister shrugged and said, "So?" And his younger brother stands up for him. Since then, she's seen him blossom, finally comfortable in his own skin, no longer living a lie. Yet, as a mom she still worries that he will have a more difficult life or be hurt, that life will be more complicated for him just because of the way his brain is wired. She feels sorry for teenagers who can't come out to their parents due to their deep-seated prejudice, too often cloaked in the religion. Gay teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than straight teens. The author wishes wish they knew that there’s nothing wrong with their child... they are just a different shade of normal. She wishes everyone would follow the bible's second greatest commandment, "love thy neighbor as thyself." Picoult adds that homosexuality is not a choice, homophobia is.... Why not opt for kindness and tolerance instead?

Anne reminded us that she had emphatically told us at last month's discussion that we should NOT expect a beautiful chart from her like Linda Goodman made. Yet, "I have a chart", holding it up to us. She then proceeded to point out and review the many characters in the story, their issues, dilemmas and interrelationships, reviewing them all for us at record speed. Coming up for air, she declared, "So there's my chart!" We all applauded at how she was able to remember all that and summarize it in such a short span of time. Whew! Of course, she inserted some of her own impressions along the way so we had a bit of stand-up comedy, too.

So, what did we take away from this book? What was most critical to the story? Kathy said it was the person that you love, not their sex. Peg was struck by the concept of the embryo narrative, pre-born children versus property rights. Some of us were taken back by use of the term of "pre-born children," some of us never thinking in those terms. Someone added that they liked that Picoult showed both sides of the issue. Peg and others voiced that of all the Jodi Picoult books they've read, this was their least favorite. Do we think there were too many issues? Most everyone thought there were and wished the author would have settled on just two or three. This sentiment was repeated throughout the morning.

Joyce said she didn't like any of these characters, but thought there were aspects of Max that she did like. She thought the book was dated, as well (book released March 1st, 2011). Linda was impressed with the religious interpretation of the bible and Zoe & Vanessa's lawyer putting the quoted excerpts into context and found it very interesting (#MeToo). Joan, who is an ex-nun, had mixed emotions about the story and was frustrated by the use of bible passages to justify unchristian behavior. She said there are only two commandments that matter — to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. If everyone would do that, there shouldn't be a problem. Someone brought up how homosexuality is treated differently in different churches. One church was in the news recently because it announced that no homosexuals could serve in the church in any capacity. Peg said that her church, New Covenant, does not share that view and didn't think most Americans voted to do that, but the decision was made by the world-wide organization. Mary Ann, Mary Jo and others shared that they also didn't think most Americans would go along with that, citing stories of homosexuals in their own families and among their friends. And that once they got used to the idea, it was no big deal and they accepted those family members and friends for who they were. One member shared that her ex-husband was gay. They had divorced and she remarried a man with 4 children, and Jay continued to be included in many family celebrations and brought his partner. Her step-daughter was puzzled by this and asked her if Jay was gay? She explained that he was, but he was still part of their family. Oh, okay. That was it.

After Zoe's latest miscarriage, Max said that there was no room in his marriage for him any more, except as genetic material. She wanted to try yet again and he just walked out. Did we feel it was callous or justified? Someone commented that they couldn't imagine going through those treatments in the first place; it sure would take the romance out of your marriage. One person knew someone who went through it and confirmed that it IS grueling. Some of us were shocked that he just walked out, but most of us could understand how he felt. Zoe was so obsessed with having a baby that he got pushed aside. Someone else brought up that Max didn't really want children; he was doing it for Zoe. Some of us were more sympathetic later when we found out that he had exhausted all their money going through those fertility treatments and that he had gone to his brother and borrowed $10,000 for the latest pregnancy. He couldn't go back and ask his brother for more money, especially since his brother was having similar fertility problems. Others couldn't imagine how Zoe could not have known their financial situation, but being so obsessed, she was probably in denial and didn't want to know how bad off they were. Some of us thought he was irresponsible, missing job and other appointments to go surfing. Someone else pointed out that he was an alcoholic before he and Zoe met and he immediately went back to drinking.

We thought that music therapy was very interesting and many of us had never heard of it. Reading that Zoe was going into hospitals and playing to cancer patients to help calm them as they went through treatments or soothing them as they were passing. It made sense. Joyce brought up that art therapy has a similar effect. And music isn't just for people. Dairy farmers pipe music into their milking barns; the more the cows like the music, more milk they give. We've also heard that music piped into barns also calms animals during a storm. Playing classical music in dog kennels also helps relax them so they can sleep. Someone joked, I guess music does calm the savage beast. And we all know how music effects us. One of our member's husband joined the Threshold Singers, who bring ease and comfort to those at the thresholds of living and dying and he loves it

Pastor Clide seems to embody the essence of fundamentalist religion. What were our thoughts? Kathy thought he probably had a good heart, but there is no excuse for using religion in the way that he did. Someone else thought he and his lawyer friend were full of themselves and would do anything for publicity or to further their reputations and careers. Joan thought he preached one thing, but acted another way. That reminded someone of when Pastor Clide had people picket the school, thrusting signs and shouting at the kids as they got off the school bus, and he did nothing to rein in their mob behavior. His step daughter pushed him, shocking him. Was that another indication that he didn't practice what he preached? No one liked that he cherry picked his bible passages to suit the point he was espousing. Peg thought he was a stereotype.

Were we surprised about Lucy's relationship to Pastor Clive? Some of us suspected there was a relationship between them, but were surprised when it came out that she was his stepdaughter. Then we recalled that it was said that he had four children; three who sat up front appearing as the perfect family, but the fourth sullenly sat in the back and left as soon as she could. Did we think that Lucy outed Zoe? Some thought she had when she had been so shocked when Zoe told her that she was gay that she ran out of the room. Others thought it was the teacher who walked in while Zoe was trying to comfort Lucy, who was a member of Pastor Clive's church. She prattled about what she walked in on, and when Lucy tried to talk to him, he jumped to the conclusion that Zoe was making advances toward Lucy and ran off to the lawyer. Zoe was the one who cared more about Lucy and didn't want her dragged into court, so conceded the case, giving the embryos to Max.

What was the relationship between Max and his brother Reid? Max idolized his brother and Reid took advantage of it. Lending Max $10,000 fit into the image he wanted to project, of being such a good person and brother. It also kept Max dependent on him, when in fact, it was another way to control Max and keep him indebted. We recalled how controlled and regimented he was about everything. We laughed about he and Liddy having sex scheduled for Thursday nights. Liddy also admitted that Reid was a bully. Were we surprised at what happens between Max and Liddy? I guess we were, but he was in love with her from the first time he saw her, while Zoe criticized Liddy, he defended her. With Reid being so structured and controlling, some of us thought it was predictable. It was also Liddy who would search for Max and cover for him when he got drunk again. Mutual caring caught up with them.

Zoe's mother, Dara, was a favorite among many of us. Someone said she was fun and made them laugh, thinking of her talking to water. Someone else described her as being a free spirit; someone else called her delightful. Dara also gave Zoe unconditional love, and even though she was surprised to learn that Zoe and Vanessa were a couple, once she got over the shock, she accepted them both. All she wanted was for her daughter to be happy and she could see that Vanessa made her happy.

As always, much more was discussed. It was not everyone's favorite book, but it gave us food for thought... and discussion. We all agreed that there was too much, too many issues presented. We think we would have preferred that the author focused on two or three major issues and didn't stuff so much into the story. Discussion was even more fun with Anne's comedic wit and side comments. Great job, Anne!

For next month, we'll be reading Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Mary Ann Hume will lead our discussion. To get a head start on your other reading, see Books for 2019 for what books will be discussed at each meeting. Peg recommends that you get a head start on August's book, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. It's an excellent read, but it may take you a bit more time to finish it.

See you next month, and keep on reading....

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult

This story explores what it means to be gay in today’s world and how reproductive science has outstripped the legal system. What happens when religion and sexual orientation — two issues that are supposedly justice-blind — enter the courtroom?

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