Women Writers Wednesday 2/4/15

This week’s installment in the Women Writers Wednesday series, a review of Sorrow by Catherine Gammon, comes to us from Geri Lipschultz. (Her bio appears later in this post.)


A Feminine Raskolnikov

This book is a deep cut into the human condition that was simmering in the 90s and is still simmering now, although now, we are letting some of the heat out. The timing of Catherine Gammon’s Sorrow could not be more perfect. Early on, the reader realizes just how dark the world of this book will be. Early on, we wonder where relief will come, what will justify this journey. What come to mind are such books as Lidia Yuknavitch’s memoir, Chronology of Water, Leslie Marmon’s Silko’s Almanac of the Dead, along with the obvious Crime and Punishment—cruel, disturbing, harrowing stories that do not fail to offer redemption. This book stays with you because of manner in which the sorrow is investigated, the way the main character acts out and acts in, how she implodes, how she relives in her words what the reader takes in and must relive along with her.


We meet Anita in her twenties, a young woman living in an apartment in NYC with her mother, having done so for more than fifteen years. The two of them have left the others of the nuclear family who still reside in L.A. For fifteen years the sorrow has been mounting for Anita. Little by little we hear about her history, a history of sexual abuse that begins to explain why she has casual sex, why her super Cruz Garcia seems to have this need to protect her, why Cruz Garcia’s nephew, Tomas, who arrives from war-stricken El Salvador, takes an interest, why the violence and the disturbance within Anita cannot be abated by her visits with Sister Monica, why the suggestion of holding babies just won’t cut it. I begin with a spoiler alert, because this book is not so much about what happens as it is about the why and how of it. Of course one confronts the “what” first, which might be considered the path of story’s concern with a crime and its resolution. The reader knows who done it, but it takes the suspicious detective a long time to come around. The details I will reserve for the reader, as the details are what Nabokov says must be “caressed,” and they are very much caressed in this book.

One reads Sorrow the way one reads and re-reads any book of literature, intuiting, dreading, possibly even knowing what will happen and wishing that it wouldn’t—wishing that somehow, something within this reading, the second or third, even, will morph, and the character will make a different choice. As if it were possible, as if there were language, as if she could speak.

The reader engages with the characters—all of them here deeply, fully, beautifully rendered, but it is primarily through Anita that we experience the action. We meet Anita at a time when she’s compelled to act. Something must be done. We see this, not knowing exactly, but there are clues. There is a knife, there are her meanderings, there is the general time that is a pre-war time in New York City, that becomes the first Gulf War, a depressing time. The story is as grounded in place as it is in character and the general circumstances of her life, a history that we will come to know as it reasserts itself, a history of profound abuse, more than even the reader can bear.

It might not appear that any one thing has precipitated this need of hers “to leave,” as she says on page two, and it will appear that this leaving is euphemistic for the ultimate leaving. A few words later, we find out that she’s thinking “she might even kill” this man she invariably meets in the elevator where she works. “He was a little blond-haired blue-eyed beetle of a man”—who, we are told, reminds her of a “flat toy man.” He is twice flattened, so to speak—the man, the first man of the book—there will be many, too many. The image of an insect, lowered to that of a one-dimensional thing—a toy, no less. As if this character could nullify the abuser, disparage the actual men, the men—one of whom we will also follow—who also preceded this man who is simply someone whose gaze she doesn’t appreciate. It’s a small moment, but it prepares us, it show us where she stands—as she sees herself, having just two options, between the choices of murder and suicide. We see an almost pitiless, unsentimental, articulate, desperate woman. She is not easy to place when this book opens, where we see her unthinkable plight clearly spelled out for us. It’s a book about a young woman trying to find an identity, a self, from within the projection cast upon her that she has had no choice but to interiorize. This is a book about a mother-daughter relationship. It’s a book about a disenfranchised mother, along with the significantly more disenfranchised daughter, along with a neighborhood filled with disenfranchised immigrants, along with Anita’s childhood friend Jimmy Rivers, an African American man held in custody for a crime of passion, who speaks of a police department not too different from the one that exists now, twenty years hence.

What Gammon has managed to do in this book, which was written twenty years ago, revised for its publication last year, is to give voice to the silenced, the disempowered, the disenfranchised. She has listened to their cries, and she has aired them, and she has been, as Eve Ensler has declared on the back cover, unflinching in her portrayal of the details. She has been generous in her depiction of character, one after the other, fully rounded, with rich backstories that paint the human condition in not so easily dismissed colors. One grows fond of this bunch gravitating around Anita: the bodyguard-like loyalty of Cruz Garcia, the would-be assassin Tomas, the self-deprecating Sister Monica. Gammon writes with prose that sings—calling attention to itself in the passion of the martyr Jimmy Rivers, and in the breakdown of language experienced by Anita, herself—and the effect is brilliantly, disturbingly stunning.

Gammon, Catherine. Sorrow. Braddock, PA: Braddock Avenue Books (2013).


Geri Lipschultz has a Ph.D. from Ohio University and an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her work has appeared or will appear in New York Times, College English, Kalliope, Black Warrior Review, The Toast, Helen and 5X5, as well as in Pearson’s Literature: Introduction to Reading and Writing, Spuyten Duyvil’s The Wreckage of Reason II, and Up, Do (Spider Road Press). She was awarded a Creative Artists in Public Service (CAPS) grant from New York State, and won the fiction 2012 award from So to Speak. Her one-woman show was produced in NYC by Woodie King, Jr. You may find her on Twitter here: @alicebluegown1.


To see more kinds of reviews like the ones in this series, check out these blogs by Melanie Page and Lynn Kanter. And of course go to the Sappho’s Torque Books page here to see other reviews by me and by other contributors to the Women Writers Wednesday series.

The Women Writers Wednesday series seeks to highlight the contributions of women in literature by featuring excellent literature written by women authors via reviews/responses written by other women authors. If you’d like to be a contributor, wonderful! Leave a comment below or send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message with your idea.

Women Writers Wednesday 1/21/15

For this week’s Women Writers Wednesday, we have an interview between Rita Arens (the interviewer) and Margaret Dilloway (the interviewee).

photo of Margaret Dilloway by Saflower Photography
photo of Margaret Dilloway by Saflower Photography


1) How has your writing process changed (or not changed) since your first book?
I had no idea what I was doing with my first book and kind of felt my way through it. Now I’m more aware of key elements that need to go in as far as plot and character development, pacing, etc. But every time I write a book, there’s still a long stretch of time where I feel like the thoughts are trickling down through solid stone and I’m staring glassy-eyed out the window. Writing is kind of like having a baby — you cry and eat a lot and feel sick and you don’t sleep and then you hold your book and forget all the bad things that ever happened. And then you do it again, on purpose.
2) How long does it take you to write a book?
That depends on the book. I wrote THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS in about six weeks, and it was pretty solid. SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW took a couple of years to get right. I worked on my middle grade book (tentatively titled XANDER MIYAMOTO AND THE LOST ISLAND OF MONSTERS) for two years or so, off and on.
3) Do you discuss your ideas with your agent before writing? 
Yes. I like to bounce ideas off him.
4) Which of your books is your favorite?
Why don’t you ask me which of my children is my favorite?! Gosh, Rita! Um, um, um. Okay. My most current one, SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW, is actually my favorite. I feel like all the skills I’ve learned from writing came together in one giant blaze of awesome. I think it’s fun and interesting and, if I don’t say so myself, kind of deep. It’s the most entertaining, for sure. There are sharks and swords and hot librarians and deeply difficult relatives and failure and family secrets. It’s pretty much everything you could want for your reading pleasure.
5) How is children’s publishing different from adult publishing?
I think children’s publishing is actually much harder to break into. Not only do you have to impress the kids and write the awesome story they want to read (as opposed to some moral story you think they OUGHT to be reading), you have to impress all the gatekeepers: the parents and the teachers and the librarians, the folks who actually buy the books. The publishers are very mindful of this.
6) How involved are you with book marketing?
I do the social media thing and I contribute ideas to marketing and publicity, and when I have independent opportunities to promote I take ’em — but for the most part the publisher has one of the most awesome teams in the business.
7) How many books do you work on at once?
Two. I like to write one, let it sit, and work on the other as a sort of palate cleanser. That way I get some mental distance from my work and can look at it more objectively.
8) Plotter or pantser?
Kind of both. I do a not-detailed outline and then follow it and fill in the gaps. Sometimes you need to write the whole first draft to figure out what the story’s about and who the characters are.
Rita Arens is the author of contemporary young adult novel The Obvious Game (InkSpell, 2013); the co-editor of Roots: Where Food Comes From and Where It Takes Us (Open Road, 2013); and the editor of Sleep Is for the Weak (Chicago Review Press, 2013). She is also the deputy editor for www.blogher.com. Connect with Rita on Twitter @ritaarens or check out her website: www.ritaarens.com.
Margaret Dilloway’s upcoming books include Sisters of Heart and Snow (due out April 2015 from Putnam Books) and Momotaro (due out June 2016 from Disney-Hyperion Books for Children). She is the author of The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns and How to Be an American Housewife (both from Putnam Books), and her awards include Winner of the American Library Literary Tastes Award for Best Women’s Fiction (2013), Winner of the Bonus Book of the Year, Pulpwood Queens International Book Clubs (2013), and a Finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Award (2011). Check out her website at www.margaretdilloway.com.

To see more kinds of reviews like the ones in this series, check out these blogs by Melanie Page and Lynn Kanter. And of course go to the Sappho’s Torque Books page here to see other reviews by me and by other contributors to the Women Writers Wednesday series.

The Women Writers Wednesday series seeks to highlight the contributions of women in literature by featuring excellent literature written by women authors via reviews/responses written by other women authors. If you’d like to be a contributor, wonderful! Leave a comment below or send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message with your idea.

Women Writers Wednesday 1/7/15

The Women Writers Wednesday series is back after a long holiday hiatus! This week I’m featuring a review of Jung Chang’s memoir Wild Swans, presented by Niva Dorell Smith. Her short bio follows the review, as does information on how to see more of this series and how to be a part of it. I’m always interested in new voices!


The next time you think or say, “This country sucks” (it’s okay, we’ve all felt this way at some point), please do yourself a favor and read Jung Chang’s debut memoir Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (Simon & Schuster, 1991). I guarantee you’ll feel differently when you finish it.


Wild Swans


In Wild Swans, Chang recalls the trajectory of her family and country from 1909 to 1978, expertly weaving the stories of three generations of Chang women with China’s historical struggle to redefine itself from feudal society to Communist super power. The result is part history lesson, part family soap opera, and entirely epic in both breadth and depth. I couldn’t put it down.

Chang begins the story with her fifteen-year-old grandmother Yu-Fang being given by her father to General Xue Zhi-Heng as a concubine. Seven years later, Yu has her one and only child, a daughter, Bao Quin, with whom she escapes from the General’s palace when Bao is a baby. Together, they live in exile for over a year until General Xue dies. His last words are that Yu be given her freedom. A short time later, Yu remarries Dr. Xia, a respected local doctor forty years her senior, who raises Bao as his own daughter and nurtures both her independent spirit and quest for knowledge.

During this time, China transitions from an empire to a republic/warlord society; the Japanese invade in the 1930s; a Communist-Kuomintang alliance leads to Japanese surrender in the mid-1940s; and a political struggle between the two victors results in the brutal Kuomintang-Communist Civil War. Chang’s mother, Bao, becomes a student leader, joins the Communist underground, and falls in love with Wang Yu, a Communist rebel leader. They marry right before the Communists prevail and General Mao Zedong establishes the People’s Republic of China.

Despite being a young couple in love, Wang Yu and Bao immediately butt heads on how to approach life, the Communist Party, and the raising of their own young family, including the author, Jung Chang, and her three siblings. Her father, Wang Yu, is a hardcore Communist who believes that being a Communist leader requires the strictest adherence to Party rules and values; in other words, no special treatment for himself or anyone in his family. Her mother, Bao, believes that a man in a position of authority should do everything he can to protect and provide for his family, even if it means making exceptions to Party rule and occasionally, secretly, questioning Party values. This conflict, which continues throughout their marriage, results in serious repercussions as both become senior officials in the Communist Party, and life becomes increasingly harsh under General Mao.

Chang writes with both emotional restraint and painstaking detail about growing up within the highest ranks of the Communist party, from walled communities to school beatings, to joining the Red Guards and watching her parents be denounced, tortured, and eventually sent to labor camps during the ten-year-long, ultra-violent Cultural Revolution. She chronicles the gradual transformation of her own psychological and emotional attachment to the almost mythical figure of General Mao, whom she loves, respects, and adores as a child and begins to question only as a young adult. Her father, though strict, earns the respect of even his fiercest enemies for remaining faithful to his principles, even when they eventually conflict with the radical Communist agenda. Her mother remains fiercely determined to fight for her loved ones, pulling every string and calling on every favor possible to protect not only her children, but also people who come to her for help.

Despite everything the family endures­­––starvation, torture, separation, forced labor, and prison camps––they manage to prevail and remain close. When Jung Chang leaves China in 1978 for London, one cannot help but share in her relief and joy at the miracle of freedom.

Whatever your thoughts about our government’s––or any government’s––being flawed, Jung Chang’s Wild Swans will illuminate unequivocally how Communist China was a thousand times worse. Families were torn apart by the regime, with neighbors turning on neighbors, children turning on parents, and parents turning on each other. Almost all symbols of Chinese history, including the majority of China’s vast art collection, were destroyed. Somewhere between fifteen and seventy million people died under Mao Zedong.

But the most painful aspect of Wild Swans is the psychological effect of living in constant fear. Jung describes a political and social environment that discourages any form of independent thinking, to the point where she no longer trusts her own thoughts. Breaking free of this psychological manipulation is not only extremely difficult but also dangerous. In Communist China your thoughts could get you arrested, tortured, and killed, and ruin your entire family for generations to come.

It is no wonder that this book is taught in colleges worldwide. Wild Swans is an unprecedented, intimate view of what it’s like to grow up in one of the most secretive and oppressive societies in the world. Only someone who experienced it first hand could have written it. Be grateful you did not.


Niva Dorell Smith is a filmmaker and freelance writer currently working on a memoir titled The History of Us. She writes regularly about grief and writing at www.ridingbitchblog.com. Follow her on Twitter @nivaladiva.

To see more kinds of reviews like the ones in this series, check out these blogs by Melanie Page and Lynn Kanter. And of course go to the Sappho’s Torque Books page here to see other reviews by me and by other contributors to the Women Writers Wednesday series.

The Women Writers Wednesday series seeks to highlight the contributions of women in literature by featuring excellent literature written by women authors via reviews/responses written by other women authors. If you’d like to be a contributor, wonderful! Leave a comment below or send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message with your idea.

Women Writers Wednesday 12/10/14

This week’s review comes to us from Terri Nixon, who has chosen to respond to Saskia Sarginson’s novel The Twins.

Terri’s bio and more information about the Women Writers Wednesday series can be found at the end of this post.


I won a copy of this book in a Twitter contest. I had no knowledge of the writer or her work, so went into the story with no expectations whatsoever, and emerged some considerable time later blinking and, it’s fair to say, a little bit not-of-this-world, for a while.

The Twins cover
Click on the image to be taken to the book’s listing on Amazon UK.

It’s hard to describe, or to pare down, what it was about The Twins that had such an impact on me, especially without giving away any spoilers. The writing itself is first-class, so we can dispense with that question, and I was reading it, as I tend to do these days, as a writer rather than as a reader, so I was being annoyingly picky – still couldn’t fault it.

We know these girls share a terrible secret from their childhood, and all the way through it seems to point one way … until it suddenly doesn’t. It’s either a master-class in misdirection, or I just went right up to the wrong tree and started barking. Either way, it’s not in any way predictable; it’s pacy, complex, dark and satisfying.

I think what really struck me in the beginning was the depth of detail. I’ve recently read some reviews for this book on Amazon, and I was astonished by the number of people who not only didn’t enjoy it, but also found the level of detail an irritant rather than an anchor to the story and the characters. For me it was these touches that brought my own childhood so vividly back to life; these girls, brought up in almost feral conditions by their flighty but well-meaning mother, running wild in the countryside during the 1970s and ’80s, taking their enjoyment where they found it. I grew up at the same time, in the same era, and spent an awful lot of time running around the moors in Cornwall, doing exactly the same kind of things (to a point!). I usually have little patience and tend to skip paragraphs that are description-heavy, but there was something about the way it was done in this book that kept me there. It was probably the senses that Sarginson uses to describe: some of it visual, but more to do with smell and touch. It awakens the memories of youth and connects you to the girls in a way nothing else could do.

The characters themselves are introduced in the present day; problems and conflicts are hinted at, their two vastly different lives highlighted, and then we are taken back to find the sources of those conflicts. We meet their mother; we quickly come to understand that she is not a bad person, she just lives her life in a kind of haze, still happily locked into the Hippie era, where she herself had flourished, and wanting the same for her daughters. It would have been easy to paint the mother as the villain, and the twins as victims, but that is not the case here; none of the characters can be labelled as wholly good or wholly wicked.

The girls are not unloved or mis-treated, but as they’re left to their own devices we see them begin to take on the personalities we’ve seen hinted at from the present-day segments. The storyline starts to smooth out, and we learn the secret that they have kept and begin to understand why they dealt with it in different ways.

As far as the ending goes, it seems to be quite a divisive topic, but I come down firmly on the ‘perfect’ side. I don’t want to give anything away, but having raced, breathless, through the final pages, I was left thinking, “Well, that was the only way it could have ended.” Many readers were left unsatisfied, but I closed the book with a real sense of inevitability realised.

This is a book I would recommend without hesitation, and I would recommend the paperback version as there do seem (from the reviews) to be some formatting errors in the Kindle edition. Not the author’s fault, and not in her control to correct, but it does seem that some of the lower-starred reviews have taken these errors into consideration, which is a shame.


Terri Nixon was born in Plymouth in 1965. At the age of nine she moved with her family to Cornwall, to a small village on the edge of Bodmin Moor, where she discovered a love of writing that has stayed with her ever since. She also discovered apple-scrumping, and how to jump out of a hayloft without breaking any bones, but no-one’s ever offered to pay her for doing those.

Terri lives in Plymouth with her youngest son and works at Plymouth University, where she is constantly baffled by the number of students who don’t possess pens. You can visit her UK Amazon page by clicking here.


To see more kinds of reviews like the ones in this series, check out these blogs by Melanie Page and Lynn Kanter. And of course go to the Sappho’s Torque Books page here to see other reviews by me and by other contributors to the Women Writers Wednesday series.

The Women Writers Wednesday series seeks to highlight the contributions of women in literature by featuring excellent literature written by women authors via reviews/responses written by other women authors. If you’d like to be a contributor, wonderful! Leave a comment below or send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message with your idea.

Women Writers Wednesday 12/3/14

Yes, I know it’s not Wednesday anymore, but some wretched flu has been trying all week to lay waste to my household, so I’m a bit behind schedule.

This week’s review by a female author of a book written by a different female author is Marie Marshall’s response to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.


cover of the 1st edition of REBECCA
cover of the 1st edition of REBECCA

I was first turned on to Rebecca by my agent, Paul at Bookseeker Agency, who enthused about it, discussed it with me, and gave me some of the insights into it that I’m about to describe. Rebecca is one of those remarkable books that has always been a modest seller but has never been out of print. Probably more of the potential contemporary Continue reading “Women Writers Wednesday 12/3/14”

Women Writers Wednesday 11/19/14

In this series, I’m showcasing books written by women authors through reviews of and responses to them written by other women authors. The idea? To better highlight some of the many contributions women have made to literature in our history and now. If you’d like to contribute to this series, leave a comment below, and I’ll be in touch with the details. To see the first post in this series, click here.

Today’s book response is by, well, me. It’s about a series of books by Patricia Coombs which were really important to me when I was a child about a character named Dorrie the Little Witch. For information about this series and how to get these books, click here.


Dorrie the Little Witch’s First Library Card


Certain periods in my life have been marked by things other than time. In my childhood, I divided the years by how many siblings I had, or whether my godfather was still living in Texas or my cousin Chuck was still alive. In college, I could always remember which semester something happened in by the classes I was taking or whom (if anyone) I was dating.

One constant throughout my life has been my reading habits––that I had some, and they were voracious. My young childhood was flavored by fairy tales; I think the first book I ever read on my own was Grimms’ common canon. In my early adolescence I discovered and devoured the classics by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Lewis Carroll, Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott. Then came novels from the 1950s and 1960s aimed at teenage girls and focused on solving mysteries (I preferred Trixie Belden to Nancy Drew) or dating; books like Love Is A Four-Letter Word and Johnny and Janie are still vivid in my mind. My high school and college years were all about fantasy and science fiction (but mostly fantasy). At university, I was introduced to magic realism, the more academically acceptable cousin of fantasy, and Gothic literature, and I eagerly invited those genres to join the party too.

A few characters have stayed with me over the years. Alice in Wonderland, Batman, Sleeping Beauty, Lizzie Bennet, the vampire Lestat, the Twelve Dancing Princesses. And then, Dorrie.

Dorrie the Little Witch has been one of my favorite literary characters since I was seven years old for a lot of reasons––but most especially because it was over Dorrie that my mother performed one of the most awesome feats I’ve ever seen her do, when she came to my defense at the public library.

Turning seven was a big deal for me. Seven years old was considered the age of reason in my family’s faith (Catholicism), and so in second grade at my parochial school, we got treated to a slew of new experiences and obligations. First Penance, First Communion, really being held accountable for understanding our moral choices. And those were all fine and good, I supposed, and somewhat interesting, I guessed, but the really exciting thing I’d been looking forward to was that at seven years old, I could apply for my own library card.

My mother took me to the Walter Branch Public Library down the road from our house so I could eagerly fill out the application, but when I turned it in to the crusty librarian at the circulation desk, she told me I would have to wait for my card in the mail. My mom checked out a Harlequin novel for herself and let me pick out a couple of Dorrie books, marvelous stories by Patricia Coombs about a little witch who didn’t quite have herself all together and whose mother, Big Witch, was usually a little too busy with her job (as an important witch in their town) to be the most effective and involved single parent. But Dorrie had Cook (the somewhat surly domestic help) and Gink (her black cat) and her friends, so she was okay.


Dorrie, Gink, and Big Witch


Dorrie had messy hair and a black dress. She had elf-like black shoes and a black hat whose point was crinkled. Her room was as messy as my closet, and her long striped socks were always mismatched. She got herself into little episodes of trouble, like protagonists are wont to do, and she often had to escape it without any help from the absent or otherwise incapacitated or ineffectual grown-ups, like the protagonists in children’s books must.


Dorrie in her messy room


I wanted to be Dorrie. I pushed the couches in our den together to make a fort and stood on top of the piled cushions and blankets, intoning the spells Dorrie recited in her stories, anxious and thrilled and waiting for something to happen. Whatever befell Dorrie never happened to me, but something important was imprinting on my brain. I didn’t know yet what was happening, but I could feel my affection for literature growing and warming me in ways that little else did.

I loved Dorrie the Little Witch like I loved fairy tales; I adored her like I adored my Yorkshire terrier, Wizard; I cherished her like I cherished the activity of reading itself. Dorrie, a character unknown to most of my classmates and cousins and every babysitter who set foot in our house, was my witch.

I checked the mail daily, waiting for my library card to arrive. The mailbox, on the wall next to our front door, was too high up for me to reach when I stood on the porch, so I had to bring a dining room chair over to stand on. I leaned across the threshold each day to peer into the box, but each day was another chapter of disappointment and despair. When my card finally showed up about a week and a half after I’d made my application, I tore open the white and taupe envelope and stared at my name in beautiful dot-matrix printing and squealed. I made my mother take me to Walter Branch that day.

I marched into that library like I owned the place. I waved at the other patrons sitting on beanbags and in chairs to my right and turned my nose up at my formerly favorite section, the “audiobooks” (plastic snap-handled bags containing children’s books and the vinyl records on which their text had been recorded). I reached the stacks and then raced to the children’s fiction section, plopped myself down in front of the C’s and went to town.


Dorrie reading


I pulled out all the Dorrie books I could find. Dorrie and the Blue Witch, Dorrie and the Wizard’s Spell, Dorrie and the Haunted House, Dorrie and the Magic Elixir, Dorrie and the Witch’s Imp, Dorrie and the Halloween Plot. The list went on. I stacked up ten Dorrie books, all the ones I hadn’t read yet, and hefted the impressive collection across the library to the circulation desk, through an obstacle course of bookshelves and other children, of tables and chairs and rolling carts filled with books. I heaved my treasure onto the dark brown laminate counter and reached my little hands out to keep them from tumbling all over the place.

The librarian, looking like an extra out of some children’s movie whose underlying theme was the inability of grown-ups to relate to kids, peered down at me over, no joke, half-moon glasses. I was so short and my stack of books so tall on the counter, she had to lean over far enough to see me that her glasses slipped down to the tip of her nose and threatened to slide off.

“Where is your mother?” she asked.

I pointed across the room to my mom, browsing the adult fiction section for a murder mystery novel. I called to her, and she walked over.

“Are you all ready?” she asked me, smiling.

I nodded.

“Did you find enough books?” she teased me good-naturedly.

I giggled. “It’s a start!” I said.

The librarian wasn’t nearly as amused as we were. She half-sighed, half-snorted. “Do you have a library card?” she asked me.

I proudly produced my new card from my pocket and held it up for her to see. She reached over and took it from my fingers. I couldn’t stop grinning. She peered at the card, then at me, then at the card again.

“Is this your first time to check out any books on your own?” she asked me.


“Then you may check out only two books.”

As her meaning washed over me, I thought I might cry.

“You may check out only two books the first time you use your card.” She pushed the card back at me and settled into her chair, finality in her posture.

“But I’ve picked out ten,” I said, hoping she would understand the importance of my needing to take those books home right then. I couldn’t articulate how much these books meant to me, how much reading meant to me. I couldn’t express the plain and simple truth that Dorrie the Little Witch was my friend, and in choosing to take all her books home, it was as if I’d invited her to a party at my house, and by leaving her books at the library, I was shunning her, telling her she couldn’t come play with me after all. So I just repeated, “I picked out ten.”

“You can have two,” the librarian repeated. She turned around to the other side of the desk and began shuffling papers.

I didn’t know what to do, what else to say. I’d pled my case. I looked at the lopsided stack of books on the counter and realized I wasn’t even tall enough to pull them all down without scattering them on the floor, and I sure didn’t want to make a mess now in front of this librarian, for fear she would tear up my library card and not let me check out any books, ever. I couldn’t even move.

My mother cleared her throat. “Okay, then,” she said in the stridently cheerful voice she used when making lemonade out of the disappointing lemons of circumstance. She picked up the books and held them down to me. “Go ahead and pick two.” I stared at the stack. Two? “Go ahead, Angélique, just pick your two favorites.” Her voice was clipped, efficient.

How could I possibly choose? Of course I couldn’t, so I glumly slid the top two into my hands. My mother replaced the rest on the circulation desk, just off to the side, and put my slim selection and the book she’d chosen for herself on the counter. She put her library card on top of her book and my library card on top of mine, and cleared her throat again, more forcefully. When the librarian turned around to look at my mother, she gave the woman a tight smile. “We’re ready,” she said.

Checking out the books was a quick process. The glowing enthusiasm I had expected everyone in the room would share as they congratulated me on my first library card was absent, the muffled sounds of people whispering and pages turning and books being shelved and selected echoing the silence of my muted joy.

“There now,” my mother said, trying to cheer me, “you’ve just checked out your first books! Isn’t that exciting? Good job!”

I nodded, clutching my two Dorrie books, my gaze lingering on the eight I had abandoned. She gently ushered me out the door, and as we walked back to the car, she replaced her sternly chipper voice for a more sympathetic tone.

“I know that was disappointing, honey,” she said. “I’m sorry.” I just nodded. We got to the car, and as my mother unlocked it and I climbed in, she said, “Let’s go home, and you can read your books, and when you’re done with them, we’ll come back and get the others.”

This did cheer me up some, and I started reading one book as soon as we pulled out of the parking lot. By the time we’d been home half an hour, I’d devoured both of them, and although I was sad to take them back to the library so soon, I knew I had to relinquish them to get the rest of my stack. I thought of it as a hostage negotiation.

I walked into the living room where my mother was reading. “I’ve finished them,” I said.

“So soon?” she asked. “All right then.”

And true to her word, my mother took me back to the library right then. I walked up to the circulation desk where the librarian still sat and launched the books onto the counter. The other eight were still sitting there.

“I’ve finished,” I told her. “May I please have the other books now?”

She looked skeptical. “That was fast,” she said.

“She’s a quick reader,” my mother said, all the friendliness in her voice gone. “Now let her have those other books and stop giving her a hard time, or I’m going to report you to the main branch for harassing a seven-year-old.”

The librarian looked stunned. My mother’s face was resolute. I held my breath.

No one said another word as the librarian checked out the other eight books to my now-veteran library card. She pushed them across the desk to me. I tried to pull them down and nearly dropped them, but I managed. Once I had them secure in my arms, I beamed at my mother.

“All set?” she asked me. I nodded, smiling. “Good.” She held the door open. “Now let’s get out of here.”

Dorrie the Little Witch, like so many little witches, has been relegated, when remembered at all, to the season of October, but she’s always there in my subconscious, drinking tea with the Mad Hatter and wondering when Big Witch will come home. Hallowe’en always brings out that childlike spirit in me, and I channel my inner Dorrie. Part of me wants to return to the Hallowe’ens of my youth, before my cousin died, when we and all the kids we were friends with in our neighborhood went on trick-or-treating hayrides. When dressing up in costume was normal and fun and exciting and didn’t have to be confined to something other people did. When a holiday couldn’t be ruined for everybody in the parish because one ignorant and uptight family decided the holiday was all about devil worship.

I can’t bring back the past. But what I can do is share Dorrie with everyone else. Her books are coming back into print; you can find them here. And when you do, you might find something of yourself––a charming independence, a domestic flexibility¾in them as well.

Even after so many years, I still do.


All images obtained from a search for free images of the character.

To see more kinds of reviews like the ones in this series, check out these blogs by Melanie Page and Lynn Kanter. And of course go to the Sappho’s Torque Books page here to see other reviews by me and by other contributors to the Women Writers Wednesday series.

The Women Writers Wednesday series seeks to highlight the contributions of women in literature by featuring excellent literature written by women authors via reviews/responses written by other women authors. If you’d like to be a contributor, wonderful! Leave a comment below or send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message with your idea.