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Review: Brickbats And Tutus

Brickbats and Tutus

by John Plimmer

” To be born to dance is true. It’s a condition. It’s in the cells; the tissues and in the essence of who you are.

Selfishness then becomes selflessness. “

There are very few people who are born with the type of natural musicality and rhythm that ballet requires. Those that are born with the talent often cannot endure the rigorous rehearsal schedules, the unmitigated discipline, nor the forever battered and bloody feet that are all part of ballet’s territory. There are even fewer who are willing to sacrifice relationships, having children, and sometimes even their own health to devote themselves to this special craft of dance that only a select few can survive and thrive in.

For Julie Felix, she had the talent — and an abundance of it. She had the fervent want and intense desire. She had the heart and she could withstand the pain with nothing more than a quiet wince. Julie was quite all right not having romantic entanglements because, if she was being honest, no love of a man could compete with the love she had for the ballet. She had every characteristic required of a prima ballerina.

But while Julie possessed everything critical to the making of a principal dancer, she had one thing working against her that she had absolutely no control over — the color of her skin. Born to a black father and a white mother, Julie was of mixed race and a rarity in the world of classical ballet during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Schools shut their doors in her faces, companies refused to give her work, and teachers turned their backs on her. Unfairly and unjustly, it did not matter her talents or accolades within the small dancing world; all that mattered was that she could not be a black swan in a sea of white ones.

” Julie didn’t have to wait long after returning the necessary documents and an invitation for an audition quickly landed on the floor of her parents’ hallway. Of course she was pleased with the result of her plan thus far, but some of those earlier doubts were still there, hiding the black faceless carrion crows in the depths of her mind, armed with only bad news. She became convinced the photographs of the ballet poses she had sent to Rambert with her application form, had been responsible for getting her the audition, which they had. But Julie believed the reason they had made their mark was only because, in the colorless snaps, she had resembled a white girl. “

In 2015, the beautifully graceful and incredibly elegant and staggeringly beautiful Misty Copeland made headlines across the nation when she was named as American Ballet Theatre’s first African American principal dancer in their 75 year history. Since her promotion to the most coveted spot held in any reputable dance company, Copeland has gone to be named a “most influential person” by Time Magazine, has written two successful books of her own, and has been a part of a documentary entitled “A Ballerina’s Tale”, which chronicles the working lives of several prominent black ballet dancers. One of the dancers featured in the documentary, Arthur Mitchell, was not only the first African American ballet dancer in a major ballet company, he was also the first principal dancer of color (in 1956, via the New York City Ballet). Mitchell eventually opened his own company, the renowned Dance Theatre of Harlem, where Julie Felix would eventually find her dancing home.

But before she danced to an audience of people like King of Pop Michael Jackson, 80’s icon Prince, or the President of the United States and his First Lady, Julie was a young girl living in meager means in Ealing, West London, in England. At the tender age of 7, Julie was introduced to dance and was told she possessed a rare talent; the kind words laced with promises of how far she could go on her pointed toes. But as Julie was turned down by dance schools and eventually having to turn down a few in turn due to the lack of funds her family had, she became discouraged. Fortunately for her, her skill on the dance floor paired with tenacity and a scholarship landed her a place in the Rambert Ballet School, where she would spend several years carefully honing her craft on tiptoe.

” ‘What do you think you’re doing, English girl, your legs are too low, not turning out enough,’ and so on. 

The criticisms never seemed to stop throughout her dance executions, but this was the new sustained Julie and she knew he was testing her, expecting her to evaporate beneath his throw away insults. Each time he spoke in the negative, Julie gave some more, she won every battle by showing Arthur Mitchell she did have what it takes and some more. This was a donkey ride at a seaside compared with what she’d been through. If only her father had been there to witness first-hand the level of resolve his youngest daughter possessed. The fire in those black eyes, thanks to Dame Beryl Gray, hadn’t left her, adding pulsating drama to the dancer’s story, leaving the other members of the company watching, flabbergasted and teased into the desire to see more.

The class finally came to an end and applause filled the studio, Julie never heard anything except her own frantic breathing, having given her all to that one performance, that one class. ” 

Her biggest and brightest dream was to dance onstage as part of the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, where the masters of her chosen passion awed their audience and took their bows to sold-out seats. But for Julie, she wasn’t sure this would ever become a reality, as there had never before been a black dancer for the most revered company in England. After trying to apply for several jobs in her home country, Julie took a chance and a job with the famed Arthur Mitchell and his dance troupe, all the way across The Pond in the heart of Harlem, New York. She left behind her mother and father, a sister and a casual boyfriend, packing her life into a suitcase and struggling to make her way around a city larger than life. Julie saw things she never thought she’d ever witness — a man gunned down in the streets before her, a stranger holding on for dear life to a window ledge as their apartment was engulfed in flames before them, a blizzard that shut down a city, and a city-wide blackout that resulted in riots and theft.

But at Dance Theatre of Harlem, Julie “The English Girl” was taken under Arthur Mitchell’s cantankerous wing and pressed to push harder and work longer. He rewarded her passionate and tireless perseverance by allowing her to naturally progress within the company, and she did her best to never let him down. As a member of his team, Julie traveled the world and saw war zones in Israel with her own eyes, felt earthquakes in California with her own two feet, and felt the stab of a production being shut down by rallying KKK members with every facet of her heart. For Julie, DTH gave her a home away from home and allowed her to grow as a dancer, but her heart always remained in England. Luckily for Julie, she eventually had a chance to go back home and grace the very stage that captured her spirit as a young girl.

” She stood alone on one of the biggest stages in the world, her back as straight as a rod with her head held high, in a phoenix like posture Her shiny shoulder length black hair reflected the subdued light sprinkling down from the overheads, resembling moonlight serenading the black Caspian Sea. The house lights in the auditorium were up, but the silence strangely portrayed a void which can only be experienced in an empty theatre. At that moment, her only companions were those of tingling nerve ends, apprehension, hopes and dreams, most of which had followed her throughout her young career. The young lady’s large glistening black eyes feasted on the fascinating grandeur of the huge theatre’s layers of balconies, stretching from ceiling to floor, supporting red and gold trimmed cushioned seats. The whole scene reminded her of a large multi-tiered birthday cake and she wondered whether all of its four thousand seats would be filled for that night’s Gala Performance. “

Brickbats and Tutus is a very easy and engaging novel by British author, John Plimmer. A departure from his previous career in police investigations and security consultations, the multi-faceted writer captured a glimpse into what it was like for a young black dancer struggling to find her place among the white swans in an era that was racially unjust and complicated. Readers ages 13 and up will enjoy gliding and leaping through the years with Julie Felix as she makes a journey led by her heart and spirit.

I give the novel 4.5 out of 5 stars and encourage readers of all backgrounds to check this book out. I was fascinated by everything Julie saw and went through as she met goal after goal. She lived her professional life as a dancer in a time where things were certainly not easy, but there was always a shimmer of magic on the outskirts of things. Her persistence and determination is awe-inspiring and admirable, and my only regret about this novel is that it ended without telling us what became of Julie in her years after her dancing career ended. I would have loved to have learned more about the years after dance, with her husband Joe, and if she ever got that family of her own that she wanted.

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Review: Orange Is The New Black

Orange Is The New Black

My Year In A Women’s Prison

by Piper Kerman

” As Nina headed down the hill to the FCI, I felt a real sense of loss. She was the first real friend I had made, and I wouldn’t have any contact with her at all. Prison is so much about the people who are missing from your life and who fill your imagination. Some of the missing were just across the prison grounds — I knew a half-dozen women who had sisters or cousins down the hill in the high-security prison. One day while walking back to work after lunch, I glimpsed Nina through the back gate of the FCI and went crazy jumping up and down and waving. She saw me and waved too. The truck that patrolled the prison perimeter screeched to a halt between us.

“Cut that shit out!” came sharply from the guard inside. “

If you are a subscriber to the multi-faceted and revolutionary streaming site Netflix, then the odds are that you’ve seen Orange is the New Black. The popular show chronicling the lives of women in the prison system is currently the most watched show on the pay-for-play programming service and it’s not hard to understand why. The lives of the women involved are richly woven together, their stories unique and sometimes heartbreaking, and viewers binge watch season after season with impending hope, fear, and optimism.

Orange is the New Black was adapted for television via a book, as most good programs and movies are. The lead character in the show is based upon the real-life author of the memoir, Piper Kerman.

As a freshly graduated 20-something in the early 1990’s, Piper was living in New York and trying to figure out what to do with herself. As all of her friends begin to bundle themselves off into professional jobs in the city or head out of the country for backpacking expeditions, she finds herself prowling around with a group of stylish and laid-back lesbians, one of which catches her eye. Piper falls into step with playful, wisecracking, and older Nora Jansen, (based on the real life Cleary Wolters) and begins to follow her around the world like the proverbial puppy dog. They take exotic vacations to sandy and sunny destinations, all on Nora’s dime. . . and the dimes, they are a’plenty.

Soon enough, Piper learns where Nora is getting all of her money. She’s a drug smuggler, running a game for a drug lord who is flying under the radar somewhere in Africa, and Piper is completely swept up in the intrigue, eventually running a few loads of cash herself. But once the novelty and adrenaline burns off,  it doesn’t take long for the whole scene to make Piper uncomfortable and she hightails it out of there, finding her stomach is just not made for the criminal lifestyle.

It is nearly a decade later when Piper receives a visit from the FBI, learning that she has been indicted on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering, having been named in the case by prior witnesses and other criminals involved, and after another six years of waiting, she is finally sentenced to fifteen months in Danbury, a federal prison in Connecticut. The hip and adventurous girl of 22 grew up to become a mature and law-abiding citizen, engaged to a Jew, and a freelance producer living in New York, but Piper must do the time for her crimes of her youth. She self-surrenders to the prison after weeks of binge eating her favorite foods and drinking as much good coffee as she can, and becomes Prisoner #11187-424 in a place full of women from all walks of life.

Prison is not what Piper was expecting – but it’s not as bad as movies made it out to be either. She’s not in a place with murderers or hardened and seasoned criminals. Most of her dorm and bunk mates are drug offenders like herself, and mostly for the same offenses she carried out. She meets women from multiple avenues of life and in a variety of stages in age, and she is surprised at the camaraderie and heavily maintained levels of respect the women all share for one another. There are strict guidelines to follow – newbies are not allowed to make their own beds, don’t ever get caught out of your dorm during count, never, ever go into the shower without shoes on, negative opinions about the food are forbidden, cleaning on cleaning day is not an option – and Piper is able to navigate her time with integrity, making unexpected friends a long the way.

” Larry came to see me every week, and I lived for those visits — they were the highlight of my life in Danbury, a chest-filling affirmation of how much I loved him. My mother drove six hours round-trip until I begged her to come every other week. I saw more of her during the eleven months I was at Danbury than I had in all my previous adult years. 

Yoga Janet and Sister Platte always had lots of visitors, aging counterculture hipsters and rosy-cheeked lefties in homespun Guatemalan cottons, respectively. Sister Platte was frustrated by the BOP’s effective censorship of her visiting list — international peace figures had tried to gain permission to visit her and had been denied. 

Some women never got visits because they had effectively said goodbye to the outside world. No children, no parents, no friends, nobody. Some of them were halfway around the world from home, and some of them didn’t have a home. Some women stated flatly that they did not want their people to se them in a place like this. In general, the longer you were down, the fewer and farther between were your visits. I worried about my bunkie, Natalie, finishing her eight-year bid; she spoke to her young son on the phone every night and received many letters but didn’t have a single visit in the year we lived together. I observed the unspoken privacy wall we erected between us in our seven-by-ten-foot space, and never asked.  “

Orange is the New Black, the memoir, is not nearly as interesting as the show. The author tends to bog the reader down with statistics and insists upon pushing her agenda –  proclaiming that prisoners are not treated as well as they should be (although why she is complaining I have no idea. She had everything she needed and almost all of what she wanted during her 15 month stint) and most prisoners do not deserve to be locked away in prison in the first place. I found that part of her agenda to be a bit hypocritical, as she was a drug trafficker (albeit, a minor one) and helped put drugs on the streets, and she was locked up with several addicts of whom she felt sorry for. I don’t think that the author really thought about the effects she had on society by her actions in the drug arena, and how drugs being available on the streets creates a ripple that effects not only the user but also their families and friends. It’s ironic that she did not see the connection, seeing as how many families she saw in Danbury – not only as inmates but also in the visiting room. She complained over and over about having to serve her time for crimes that were long since in the past, and I think she completely missed the point as to why she was in prison in the first place. She tended to believe that since she was now a “good person” and a law abiding citizen, her crimes of the past should somehow be absolved and that putting her into the system was a waste of time and tax payers money. I’m not sure I agree with that. The only time Piper truly seems to understand and regret her crimes is when she is denied a furlough to visit her dying grandmother. And even then, she focuses more on how unfair it is that she cannot leave and have her visit, and less on the reason WHY she is there in the first place.

” Southern-proper and birdlike but possessing a stern, formidable personality, my grandmother had been a constant figure in my life A child of West Virginia who grew up in the Depression with two brothers and then raised four sons, she had little idea what to do with a young girl, her eldest grandchild, and I was scared of her. I remained in awe of her, although as I got older, we developed an easier rapport. She spoke frankly to me in private about sex, feminism, and power. She and my grandfather were dumbstruck and horrified by my criminal misadventures, and yet they never let me forget that they loved me and worried about me. The one thing that I feared most about prison was that one of them would die while I was in here. 

I pleaded with my father on the pay phone — she would be fine, she would get better, she would be there when I came home He didn’t argue back, just said, “Write her.” I was on a regular schedule of writing short, cheery updates to my grandparents, reassuring them that I was fine and couldn’t wait to see them when I got home. Now I sat down to write a different kind of letter, one that tried to convey how much she meant to me, how much she had taught me, how I wanted to emulate her rigor and rectitude, how much I loved and missed her. I couldn’t believe I had screwed up so badly, to be in this place when she needed me, when she was sick and maybe dying. 

Immediately after posting the letter, I asked the Camp secretary for a furlough request form. “Were you raised by your grandma?” she asked brusquely. When I said no, she told me there was no point in giving me the form — I would never be granted a furlough for a grandparent. I sharply said that I was furlough-eligible and would make the request anyway.

“Suit yourself,” she snapped. “

Kerman also complains a lot about the exit strategy for prisoners, and how they are not set up to succeed. They are not taught the skills of obtaining a job, a home, health insurance, or at the very least – a stable environment after leaving the confines of the prison.  This is something I can agree with, unlike Kerman’s stance on drug offenders and/or minor crime offenders not having to serve real time. Piper also apparently does not agree with the stoic and cold way that guards treat the prisoners, although I cannot think of how else a guard could treat someone in their care. Being kind can be seen as a weakness and be taken advantage of and the people incarcerated are in fact, proven criminals, no matter what for. I’m not sure what Piper was expecting from her handlers when she was locked up, but the prison guards can’t very well spend their time playing dominos or checkers with their wards. In fact, guards are forbidden from asking anything personal to the inmates under their care, and as this is a women’s prison and most of the guards are male, being overly friendly also opens the door for inappropriate relationships. Kerman spent pages and pages going on and on about one guard in particular who made a crude comment towards her and I had to wonder why she just couldn’t let it go – if the same comment had been said to her on a New York street or subway, she would have laughed it off and moved on with her life.

All in all, I give Orange is the New Black, the memoir, 3 out of 5 stars. While I know that it is critically acclaimed, I got tired of her diatribes on the unfairness of prison, especially as she had an endless supply of money on her tab for commissary,  had multiple visits each week the entire time she was an inmate (oh, sorry, she did complain at length about the time her fiancee did not come and visit her because he had a job interview), had more books and mail than she could read, and pretty much got her way any time she actually tried. Prison isn’t a vacation, after all – maybe someone should have told Piper that before she went away to “camp.”

I’d recommend it if you’ve got 48 hours to plow through this short book (its only 300 pages) and are curious about the real Piper and her real story, but if you’re reading it to gain insight into anything else you will be disappointed. A few notable characters from the television series do make an appearance, but they are far and few between and are not elaborated upon.

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Recommendation: What Remains

What Remains

by Carole Radziwill

“He was handsome and serious, bent over scripts in a hotel room, and then he stood and reached for my hand.” 

I know what you’re thinking.

Why would you want to read a book about death? And not just about death, but about the painful losses of both a soulmate and of a best friend?

Sometimes books are difficult to read. The subject matter is too tricky and makes you have too many *feels*. We avoid them out of pure instinct, not willing to lose ourselves in a story that doesn’t have a happy ending. But sometimes reading those books can help you appreciate the things and people you have in your life, and have empathy and understanding in areas you never considered before. All books are written to help you grow, but it is up to you to find which way you will flourish.

Carole Radziwill is best known in this day and age as a Real Housewife of New York. That’s certainly how I knew her before I picked up this book. I’d heard that she was married to someone famous or special, won a few awards, but I was sure it was all nothing of consequence. I mean really, why would a woman with any real accomplishments or quite frankly, substance,  subject herself to being a Real Housewife?

Real Housewives are my guilty pleasure(s), and I watch them religiously. I curl up with my Ben & Jerry’s (Mint Cookie), a soft blanket, and lose myself in the ridiculous and entertaining lives of women from all over the world who are so over the top that you just cannot take them seriously. They are fun because they are so insane – extravagant parties, mind-blowing closets, wild vacations. It’s just not real life, no matter what it says in the title. Carole is a Housewife in New York, but during her first few seasons on the show, she wasn’t technically a housewife to anyone. Instead, the audience followed her path as an author,  laughed at her witty remarks about the other ladies, and smirked right along with her as she found humor in the ostentatious lifestyles portrayed on the show. Funnily enough, if any of the women could be living a gilded and sensational lifestyle, it could be Carole.

In addition to being a Housewife and an author of several books, including The Widow’s Guide to Sex and Dating (a novel that follows one woman’s path of  trying to make lemonade out of lemons in a frankly told tale of fiction), Carole is a  Peabody and 3x Emmy award winning journalist… and a real life princess.

Yes, a princess.

What Remains is the story of Carole’s life,  a series of life events that begin by traveling through her non-traditional and adventurous childhood into her trek to New York as an adult to begin a career as an on-the-scene journalist. She saw the world during some of it’s worst times and in some of it’s worst ways, and helped produce amazing and awe inspiring pieces of news. During this point of her career, she met her prince, Anthony Radziwill, son of Jacqueline Kennedy’s younger sister and a Polish prince.

“By this measure, we weren’t ordinary. My father worked as a cook. I was my mother who dressed up to go to work in the city, my mother who got a college degree. Her mother, Grandma Binder, came to live with us when I was sic, after she retired from the cafeteria at New York Telephone & C., and was put in charge of a loose arrangement. My parents popped in at odd hours, around various jobs and my mother’s school. Grandma tried to impose a sort of structure, but she was no match for five slippery grandkids, and we ran as unchecked as the dandelions and black-eyed Susan that grew wild in our backyard. In a sense it was a life every kid dreams about – unruly, wild, unhampered. We had a baseball diamond worn into the side yard, where you could always find a game. We ran through the woods that edged our backyard at all hours of the day and into the night. We were dressed and fed and pointed toward school and the rest was more or less up to us.”

Carole takes us through her time at ABC, starting as an intern in the basement where she worked on transcription and various other paperwork. She cleaned, sorted office supplies, made infinite labels, and did everything in her power to make the producers as happy as possible, with an almost obsessive approach. She is ambitious and jumps at a chance to get on location, working with the famous Peter Jennings, as a production assistant. It is here that she meets what will become her soul mate, Anthony.

Anthony is subsequently diagnosed with cancer in the time leading up to their wedding and consequentially, their entire five year marriage is centered around his debilitating and life-sucking disease. Carole’s attempts to combat cancer with all of her skills as a journalist (copious notes, meticulously organized appointments, vats of information) is at times difficult to understand, but it truly appears to be the only way she is able to get herself – and her husband – through the ordeal.

“We create narratives for people, because they are simpler than the complexities of real lives. Everyone wants a good story, with a prince and a princess and a villain. When narratives change, it’s unsettling, because whether or not they’re our own, they help to define us, and we don’t want to let go of them. In my own narrative my husband was brave and I was selfless, the two of us dancing a tragic dance of love. Cancer was our villain. It wasn’t so simple, of course, but this was our story.

We all picked roles at the beginning. His mother picked one; Anthony picked on. I was the good wife. This was my thing. I was going to do this, handle it. Leave it to me. At first, I was emboldened with the idea that I could, that if I managed it and researched it, I could direct it. And by the time I realized it wasn’t the role I wanted to have, it was too late. I was too afraid of disappointing them. Hadn’t they trusted me, hadn’t they said how courageous I was? Didn’t I know all the medical words, the latest clinical studies, and where to find an extra blanket in the supply closet?”

During her marriage to Anthony she meets and falls head over heels into best-friend-dom with Carolyn Bessette, future wife of Anthony’s cousin, the strikingly handsome John Kennedy Jr. Carolyn is a wispy blonde with a quirky sense of humor and a shy smile. The friendship between the two women is birthed on one striking similarity – they are both commoners who are married/marrying into royalty. John and Anthony grew up as brothers, one the son of a prince and the other an offspring of America’s Camelot. The resulting tales revolving around their relationship as a foursome is so fun and heartwarming to read. Carole finds solace in her relationship with Carolyn, and she finds someone who is completely on her side and there for her as she goes through the pain of watching her husband as he wilts away before her very eyes. One thing about this book is that it really humanizes Carolyn Bessette. I have read multiple things about her that were not flattering; the general public was unfortunately not pleased with an outsider coming in and winning the heart of America’s Prince and handsome bachelor, John Jr. Carole paints a very different picture of Carolyn than what is available to read elsewhere and the insight is so very warm and sweet. Everyone has seen the photos of John Jr. and Carolyn coming out of the chapel, his gentle mouth pressed to her soft hand in a gesture of pure love. Reading about that day from the perspective of her best friend was like peeking into a slice of something very private and secret.

“We are running late to chapel, because John can’t find his shirt and Effie takes the Jeep back to the cottages to look for it. By the time we get to the church, the sun is setting and it’s dark inside. There is no electricity, so Effie collects candles for light. The chapel is shabby, but the candles make it look elegant. There is a steady whine of mosquitos outside, and we pick our way carefully through little piles of pig muck to get to the church. Somewhere along the way the flowers got lost, so Effie gathers fresh bunches of wildflowers for the flower girls. It is a warm evening and we leave the door of the chapel open to catch a breeze. Father Charles takes his place at the altar, wearing a white deacon’s stole. He reads from the Gospel, by flashlight. He speaks of the love that John and Carolyn share and how this small private ceremony reflects the open space they have created for themselves and their family. We take open-topped Jeeps back to the inn for the reception. It starts to rain, and we laugh as we get soaked.”

John and Carolyn are due to meet with Anthony and Carole for a long weekend to spend some of Anthony’s final days wrapped up in friendship at their home on the beach together. Everyone knows that the end is nearer than they would like, and they just want to be together, creating memories that will be left behind for those who so desperately need them. Instead, tragedy strikes in a cruel twist and John and Carolyn’s plane goes down during the middle of the night on the way to their meeting place, killing all passengers on board. Carole is the one who has to make the calls to the family, letting the know that John and Carolyn are gone. Just three weeks later, she has to bury her husband.

“We are in the kitchen not talking. Anthony and I are not looking at each other. It makes me sick, in fact, to look at someone who knows. I am horrible. I am thinking, It was supposed to be you. The phone rings constantly. I call her cell phone to hear her voice. “Hi, it’s Carolyn, leave a message.” Beep. She can’t be gone. Not now. This is not, cannot be, happening. And then I call again, and again. Talking and hanging up and then calling back. “Hi, it’s Carolyn, leave a message.” Beep. I have a vague sense of slipping. Of time closing in. Of everything I have vanishing – like a fire sweeping through a house, losing everything. I have a sense of having nothing left of her at all.”

What Remains is an honest and calculated account of Carole’s life. I found it rather telling that the first half of the book, which is centered around her childhood and career at ABC is very full of life and overflowing with random memories and vivacious tales. After she meets Anthony, the writing style becomes very to the point, documenting doctor appointments and not elaborating on a lot of things. I’m sure it was a difficult thing to revisit, no matter how much time has passed. I was thankful to have read this book as it gave me a lot of insight into how others may deal with grief, and it was a beautiful story about a girl who grew up to follow her dreams and to fall in love, in sickness and in health.

At times, Carole’s recounting of her days with Anthony may sound cold, but on reflection I truly believe that having a very structured and compartmentalized way of dealing with their life, his medical issues, and her emotions was the only way she was able to get through the pain and be strong. How do you deal with watching the person you love fade away, right before your eyes, before you’ve even truly begun to have a life together? What is the right way to deal with those feelings? We can never know unless we are personally in that position.

“I crawl back into bed with him. My head is resting on his chest, and I am listening to heart. His breathing is shallow, but I can hear it. His heartbeat is strong. Then, as the house pass, it beats fainter. Slower, like a song fading out. It beats and then I count and it beats again. Friends and nurses come and go. An entire day passes. The clock on the wall says 7 p.m. when Dr. Ruggierio taps my shoulder. I have forgotten there are people in the room. “Carole,” he says softly. “I’m sorry.” But I can still hear his heartbeat, so I wave him off. “Don’t touch me.” He apologizes and sits down. I listen to Anthony’s heartbeat until it is so faint I can barely hear it and then it’s gone. I don’t know who is in the room, I can’t look. I can’t look at Anthony. I don’t move. It is quiet, and I’m lying next to him, tears streaming down my face, and that’s how they know his heart has stopped.” 

I highly recommend What Remains, and I promise it is not as depressing as it sounds. It’s a love story, ripe with loyalty and grace. I’ve always held a bit of a fascination with the Kennedy family and reading about how real and down to earth John Jr. and Carolyn were, written by someone who loved and knew them deeply; it was really wonderful. They sounded like amazing friends, and it is a shame that their lives were cut so soon, doubly a shame that Carole had to lose the three most important people in her life in the matter of a month. But how lucky she was to have them, even for a little while. It makes you really take a moment and be thankful for the time you have with the people you love, because tomorrow is never guaranteed.

I give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars, and I hope you enjoy it and it’s raw telling of fate, friendship, and timeless love.