The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
Selected by Rachel Maughan
Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police. How, then, did one grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence? Wes Moore, the author of this fascinating book, sets out to answer this profound question. In alternating narratives that take readers from heart-wrenching losses to moments of surprising redemption, The Other Wes Moore tells the story of a generation of boys trying to find their way in a hostile world.
“The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”
This book was selected because:
I picked this book because it makes me think about how lucky I am and how my life could be so different through circumstances completely beyond my control. It reminds me that before I can judge anyone else for their life choices, their beliefs or how they may do something, I need to remember that I have no idea where they came from or what their life has really been like. Stories like this remind me why I need to have compassion and why I can’t be complacent in my life.
Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende and Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder (optional)
Selected by Rachel Maughan
Please note: I forgot about one part at the beginning of Island Beneath the Sea that is more descriptive than I remembered. You may want to skip pages 19 – 20 and the first paragraph of page 21. I think this is the only place where it she goes into more graphic detail… Sorry!
From Amazon.com (Island Beneath the Sea):
Born a slave on the island of Saint-Domingue—the daughter of an African mother she never knew and a white sailor who brought her into bondage—Zarité, known as Tété, survives a childhood of brutality and fear, finding solace in the traditional rhythms of African drums and in her exhilarating initiation into the mysteries of voodoo.
When twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the island in 1770, he discovers that running his father’s plantation is neither glamorous nor easy. Marriage also proves problematic when, eight years later, he brings home a bride. But it is his teenaged slave, Tété, upon whom Valmorain becomes most dependent, as their lives intertwine across four tumultuous decades.
In Island Beneath the Sea, internationally acclaimed author Isabel Allende spins the unforgettable saga of an extraordinary woman determined to find love amid loss and forge her own identity under the cruelest of circumstances.
From Amazon.com (Mountains Beyond Mountains):
This compelling and inspiring book, now in a deluxe paperback edition, shows how one person can work wonders. In Mountains Beyond Mountains, Pulitzer Prize—winning author Tracy Kidder tells the true story of a gifted man who loves the world and has set out to do all he can to cure it.
In medical school, Paul Farmer found his life’s calling: to cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. Kidder’s magnificent account takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that “the only real nation is humanity.” At the heart of this book is the example of a life based on hope and on an understanding of the truth of the Haitian proverb “Beyond mountains there are mountains”–as you solve one problem, another problem presents itself, and so you go on and try to solve that one too.
“Mountains Beyond Mountains unfolds with a force of gathering revelation,” says Annie Dillard, and Jonathan Harr notes, “[Paul Farmer] wants to change the world. Certainly this luminous and powerful book will change the way you see it.”
These books were selected because:
I picked these books because I have been researching disaster recovery in Haiti for my thesis project for school and I believe that when we understand the historical perspective of a country we can begin to find solutions that will not only solve the immediate problems but lead to lasting change. Haiti is a country that has been used by other countries as a pawn throughout history and the problems that Haiti is facing today are a direct result of the actions taken by the French and US governments, in addition to a few others, over the last three centuries. These books illustrate how the people of Haiti were set up to fail, but also provide solutions and hope for a better future and show the enduring strength of a beautiful people.
I think that Isabel Allende does a really good job of telling the history of Haiti in a very understandable and interesting way, and when it is about one person it is easier to grasp the impact on the whole than reading a dry history book – although I can suggest a few of those, too!
I love the Mountains Beyond Mountains book because Paul Farmer is one of my heroes and I want to be like him when I grow up! He is a perfect example for me of one of my personal mottoes: “Everybody counts or nobody counts” (stolen from Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch character – if anyone is looking for a really good mystery / thriller / police series). Partners in Health, Paul Farmer’s organization, offers an anthropological approach to solving medical problems, which I think is critical to changing the health problems faced by societies everywhere today, and I believe that we have to have a healthy society in order to have a functioning society.
If you do read both books, I would suggest reading Island Beneath the Sea first as it will give you a historical perspective of Haiti that will help explain some of the problems that are faced by Haitians in Mountains Beyond Mountains.
When your son can’t look you in the eye . . . does that mean he’s guilty?
Jacob Hunt is a teen with Asperger’s syndrome. He’s hopeless at reading social cues or expressing himself well to others, though he is brilliant in many ways. But he has a special focus on one subject—forensic analysis. A police scanner in his room clues him in to crime scenes, and he’s always showing up and telling the cops what to do. And he’s usually right.
But when Jacob’s small hometown is rocked by a terrible murder, law enforcement comes to him. Jacob’s behaviors are hallmark Asperger’s, but they look a lot like guilt to the local police. Suddenly the Hunt family, who only want to fit in, are directly in the spotlight. For Jacob’s mother, Emma, it’s a brutal reminder of the intolerance and misunderstanding that always threaten her family. For his brother, Theo, it’s another indication why nothing is normal because of Jacob.
And over this small family, the soul-searing question looms: Did Jacob commit murder?
This book was selected because:
I used to do a lot of work with autistic kids, and am very familiar with the affect (or lack of) that these kids display, so I was intrigued by this book. I also have several friends with autistic kids, so I have seen how hard it is for the parents of kids who, from the outside, look like any other kid, yet they are not. These kids (and adults) are some of the sweetest kids you will ever meet, and they are incredibly smart, yet they are not able to communicate with others in the way we are used to communicating, so many people either don’t have the knowledge and skills to get to know them, or are intimidated by the idea of trying to communicate with someone if they can’t have a typical conversation.
I’m also very scared for people with disabilities during any encounter with law enforcement because what may seem suspicious behavior to a police officer may just be the way that a person communicates or copes with stress. Too many people with disabilities (physical, emotional or learning) are held to a different standard than others, which makes them extremely vulnerable when they encounter the US legal system. People with disabilities make up the majority of convicted criminals in the US, far more than any other country in the world. Unfortunately, this vulnerable population isn’t able to advocate for themselves the way that others can, and their families, caregivers and support circles are often overburdened and poorly equipped, as well. This is one of the biggest reasons that I am drawn to the legal world, and why social justice is a passion of mine.
The Appeal by John Grisham and Not On Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond by Don Cheadle and John Prendergast
Selected by Rachel Maughan
From Amazon.com (The Appeal):
In a crowded courtroom in Mississippi, a jury returns a shocking verdict against a chemical company accused of dumping toxic waste into a small town’s water supply, causing the worst “cancer cluster” in history. The company appeals to the Mississippi Supreme Court, whose nine justices will one day either approve the verdict—or reverse it.
The chemical company is owned by a Wall Street predator named Carl Trudeau, and Mr. Trudeau is convinced the Court is not friendly enough to his interests. With judicial elections looming, he decides to try to purchase himself a seat on the Court. The cost is a few million dollars, a drop in the bucket for a billionaire like Mr. Trudeau. Through an intricate web of conspiracy and deceit, his political operatives recruit a young, unsuspecting candidate. They finance him, manipulate him, market him, and mold him into a potential Supreme Court justice. Their Supreme Court justice.
From Amazon.com (Not On Our Watch):
An Academy Award-nominated actor and a renowned human rights activist team up to change the tragic course of history in the Sudan — with readers’ help.
While Don Cheadle was filming Hotel Rwanda, a new crisis had already erupted in Darfur, in nearby Sudan. In September 2004, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell termed the atrocities being committed there “genocide” — and yet two years later things have only gotten worse. 3.5 million Sudanese are going hungry, 2.5 million have been displaced by violence, and 400,000 have died in Darfur to date.
Both shocked and energized by this ongoing tragedy, Cheadle teamed up with leading activist John Prendergast to focus the world’s attention. Not on Our Watch, their empowering book, offers six strategies readers themselves can implement: Raise Awareness, Raise Funds, Write a Letter, Call for Divestment, Start an Organization, and Lobby the Government. Each of these small actions can make a huge difference in the fate of a nation, and a people — not only in Darfur, but in other crisis zones such as Somalia, Congo, and northern Uganda.
These books were selected because:
I choose this book because of the Citizen’s United case, as well as several others, including the Caperton v Massey case (Massey lost a $50 million verdict and then contributed millions to elect the appeals court judge that would hear the appeal, “buying his reversal”) that Grisham loosely based his idea on, that were making their way through the courts at the time. I am horrified at the thought that someone can game the system if they have enough money, and am cynical enough to recognize that it happens all too often. I strongly believe that the judicial appointments and elections process is in serious need of overhaul to prevent these types of situations. I believe that the current process disenfranchises the individual citizenry and allows those with power and wealth to buy verdicts.
For anyone who doesn’t know what the Citizen’s United case is: it is a controversial case that reached the Supreme Court in January, 2010, where the Court ruled that the government cannot limit the speech of corporations and unions. The impact of this can be seen in the political process where individual candidates are still limited in accepting large donations, but political action committees (PACs) are not limited. This will change politics as we know it going forward and will virtually guarantee the candidate with the most money, and wealthy friends, the election. I’m not happy about it, yet on it’s merits, I have to agree with the Courts that the Constitution doesn’t specify anyone with regards to speech or limit it only to individuals, it just states that speech cannot be restricted. At the time, I was wondering what would happen if you could stack the courts to get you the verdict you want. Writing this now, in 2012, the very verdict I was afraid of came down from the Court, and it could be argued that the Court was stacked with the addition of Roberts and Alito… but that can always be argued both ways!
I also choose this book because it illustrates why women need to take a more active role in US politics. I don’t want to spoil the book, so I won’t go into more detail, but it is critical that women become more informed and involved.
Not On Our Watch:
I selected this book because we often say: “It can never happen again” or “We would never let the Holocaust happen if we had been there.” However, atrocities very similar to the Holocaust are still happening every day, and people are looking away every day, and I’m not okay with that. I try to never miss an opportunity to educate myself on what I can personally do to make sure that no one is harmed either by my actions or, more importantly, by my inaction. While I realize that I can’t change the world by myself, together we can accomplish a lot, and if I only change myself, at least I’ve changed the life of one person.
Police chief of a small Massachusetts town, Cameron McDonald makes the toughest arrest of his life when his own cousin Jamie comes to him and confesses outright that he has killed his terminally ill wife out of mercy.
Now, a heated murder trial plunges the town into upheaval, and drives a wedge into a contented marriage: Cameron, aiding the prosecution in their case against Jamie, is suddenly at odds with his devoted wife, Allie — seduced by the idea of a man so in love with his wife that he’d grant all her wishes, even her wish to end her life. And when an inexplicable attraction leads to a shocking betrayal, Allie faces the hardest questions of the heart: when does love cross the line of moral obligation? And what does it mean to truly love another?
Praised for her “personal, detail-rich style” (Glamour), Jodi Picoult infuses this page-turning novel with heart, warmth, and startling candor, taking readers on an unforgettable emotional journey.
This book was selected because:
I choose this book for several reasons:
There is a quote in the book about relationships: “You know it’s never fifty-fifty in a marriage. It’s always seventy-thirty, or sixty-forty. Someone falls in love first. Someone puts someone else up on a pedestal. Someone works very hard to keep things rolling smoothly; someone else sails along for the ride.” I was curious to find out what others thought about this, because I have found this be true in every relationship that I have been in – that sometimes you give more and sometimes you get more, but it’s never equal and usually one person does the majority of the giving and one person does the majority of the getting. At the time I read this book, I was in a relationship that felt like it was seventy-thirty and he was just along for the ride, and one of my good friends was struggling with his marriage because he felt like it was eighty-twenty and that his wife never contributed to the marriage. He was trying to decide whether it was best to stay married for his kids, even though he and his wife barely spoke and he did the majority of the parenting (she only worked two days a week, yet still took the kids to daycare if he wasn’t home because she didn’t feel comfortable with them by herself) or if an unhappy marriage, with parents who didn’t talk and a mom who was more concerned with herself than her own children, would damage their kids more than divorcing and raising his kids on his own.
I was also still not sure where I personally stood on euthanasia, and I liked that this book explored the topic from every perspective. I do believe that everyone should have the right to choose for themselves, but I don’t know if I would ever be able to make that choice for myself or ever love someone to the extent that Jamie loved his wife to be able to make the choices he did. (Although this book was not really about euthanasia – it’s about the different ways that people love each other in relationships.)
One of my friends was involved with someone who was married, and it made me realize that while everyone says that they would never have an affair, it’s never as easy as everyone makes it seem. Sometimes one small, insignificant choice can put you in a place you never expected to be in and lead to consequences you could never have predicted.
And finally, I absolutely love Jodi Picoult and her writing style. I love reading books that are well-written and take me to a completely different world and challenge me to really think about why I think the way I do.