Quote for the day: "... those who have never seen Superior get an inadequate idea, by hearing it spoken of as a 'lake,' and to those who have sailed over its vast extent the word sounds ludicrous." Reverend George Grant, the diarist of an 1872 expedition on the lake.
Lucy Greene by Richard VanDeWeghe
This is the author's second novel in a planned trilogy on the Traverse City State Hospital. VanDeWeghe clearly intends the series to both cover the history of the institution in addition to reviewing and portraying the care given to patients in mental asylums through the years. The novel is set in 1963 and the heart of the story revolves around the embrace of new wonder drugs and their unchecked overmedication by physicians caring for mentally ill patients.
Sister Lucy Greene and her dear friend Sister Anna belonged to the religious order the Society of Saint Joseph. The Sisters of St. Joseph were committed to fighting social injustice. The two friends took teaching jobs in Black schools in the South and joined the Freedom Riders who attempted to integrate inter-state buses. Their first Freedom Ride resulted in Sister Anna being raped and nearly beaten to death.
Sister Anna never mentally recovered from her ordeal. She suffered horrible headaches, and by turns was near comatose then suffered fits of raving madness. Sister Lucy arranged for her friend to enter the Traverse City State Hospital and Lucy became a patient advocate there. Sister Lucy quickly becomes concerned with the use of drugs that left her friend in a vegetative state. She becomes more concerned when she learns the drug prescribed for Sister Anna was created to treat schizophrenia. The result is a growing argument and difference in philosophy of treatment between Sister Lucy and the hospital's head doctor. The hospital's head nurse encourages the Sister's inquiry into over medication. She tells Sister Lucy the hospital in the past relied on human interaction, art, music, and giving the patients meaningful work and handicrafts as a significant part of their therapeutic care. The head nurse laments that humanistic care has become chemical care.
The bulk of the book focuses on the argument between Sister Lucy and the head doctor over the use of drugs that leave Sister Anna free of symptoms as well as any connection to the conscious world. The author does a good job of fully exploring and explaining the growth in the 1960s of the use of new drugs in the treatment of psychiatric patients. The novel is full of footnotes that further highlight the conflict over different treatments. They also contain surprising historical footnotes such as it wasn't until 1951 that a federal law gave only doctors the power to prescribe medicine. The only minor complaint found in this novel is that some of the characters serve as not much more than mouthpieces for one or the other side of the argument. The book reflects the current issues concerning over prescription of painkillers and Big Pharma's questionable promotion practices and encouragement of doctors to push painkillers.
Lucy Greene by Richard VanDeWeghe. Mission Point Press, 2020, $16.76
Cady and the Bear Necklace by Ann Dallman
As her name suggests, thirteen-year-old Cady Whirlwind Thunder is of Native American descent and she has experienced a tumultuous past twelve months. Her father at 55 married a 24-year-old woman. Cady has a new baby brother, the family moved back to the U.P. from Minnesota, and dad enrolled her, for the first time ever, in a reservation school. The move and the new school take Cady, and the reader lucky enough to open this book, into a fascinating deep dive into Native American culture and a perplexing mystery.
One day at school Cady finds an eagle feather dropped by someone in the hall. She takes the feather to the school principal who tells her she has just performed an act of honor by picking up the eagle feather and it signifies she may soon stumble across a mystery. Within days Cady discovers a beautiful necklace someone hid under her bedroom floor. She is very curious why and how the necklace was hidden in her bedroom but every time she asks a elder of the tribe about the necklace they are reluctant to talk about it. On a trip back to Minnesota she discovers her grandmother is part of the mystery when Cady is shown an old photograph in which her grandma is standing next to a young woman wearing the necklace. Her grandmother tells her she didn't find the necklace, the necklace found her and sends Cady back to the U.P. with even more desire to find the truth.
Cady is a beautifully drawn and very likeable character. Readers will feel lucky to have found Cady and accompanied her on a journey of self-discovery. Cady grows to appreciate how her people are much more in touch with the natural world, possess an ingrained sense of wonder, and a firm belief that nature in all its myriad forms communicates with them. Best of all they live in harmony with the natural world.
It is also a pleasure to watch Cady grow, mature, become more in tune with her family. The author taught for 15 years at the Hannahville Indian School in the U.P. and wrote this book for her students. The novel has won awards from the Midwest Independent Publishing Association and the Historical Society of Michigan to name only two. And oh yes, this is a YA novel, but I defy anyone of any age to read a few pages and not become totally absorbed in Cady's life.
Cady and the Bear Necklace by Ann Dallman. Three Towers Press, 2019, $14.95.
Detroit's Lost Poletown: A Little Neighborhood that Touched a Nation by Brianne Turczynski
The destruction of a unique and very livable Detroit neighborhood in 1981 by GM, with the aid of Detroit's city council and mayor, is a familiar story to many in southeastern Michigan. But many the of details and issues raised by its destruction have become less than common knowledge after 40 years. The author's short, readable, and authoritative account of Poletown's demise is a sad and an enduring reminder of how powerless people can be when a city turns on its own residents.
The author begins with a short history of the neighborhood located in east Detroit that abuts Hamtramck. By post-WWII, Poletown's population had climbed to 4,000 and contained 1,400 homes, 140 businesses with stores on nearly every block, and a handful of churches and cemeteries. It had a strong Polish population but was known for its many ethnic minorities who all got along in this melting pot of a neighborhood that was called "beautifully diverse." The people of Poletown created a community identity, a place they called home. The first blow was the construction of I-94 that split the neighborhood in two.
The end came in 1981when GM approached the city with the proposition of buying 463 acres of Poletown to build a GM plant. The company promised 6,000 jobs, in exchange for municipal tax breaks, and legal help in turning people out of their houses and destroying the neighbor. The bulk of the book covers the heartfelt opposition to removal and the impact of the loss of home and neighborhood on its residents. Detroit used the law of eminent domain to force people out of their homes. The inhabitants held protests, and one inhabitant even built a wall around their home and armed himself with a shotgun.
The people of Poletown would answer a knock on the door and learn they no longer owned their home nor held the deed, and then were offered below market buyouts. City employees turned off water and gas on those who still legally occupied their homes. It was especially bitter to many that of the 463-acres, a 100 were devoted to parking lots. A Detroit reporter thought it amiss when, "we destroy homes people live in to create spaces for cars to sit in." GM said it would create 6,000 jobs but hired 3,000. Two decades too late the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the taking of Poletown via eminent domain was illegal. This is an illuminating, vitally interesting, and an important contribution to Michigan history. A great deal of this success is due to the author letting the people of Poletown tell their story of losing a home or business and a neighborhood they thought of as home. The book abounds with photographs that enhance the narrative.
Detroit's Lost Poletown: The Little Neighborhood that Touched a Nation by Brianne Turczynski. History Press, 2021, $21.95.
Secret Societies in Detroit by Bill Loomis
This succinct and always interesting book presents a short history of two dozen secret societies that rose and fell in Detroit from pre Civil War to post WWII. The groups were often Detroit chapters of national organizations, but some were Detroit born and bred and stayed local. The secret societies were religious, social, political, criminal, mystical, gang related, and fraternal in nature. Sad to say, but a great many of them were dedicated to opposing the ideals and principals on which our country was founded.
The Know-Nothing Party professed that only white people born of parents who were born in this country were true Americans which sounds alarmingly current. The organization also openly hated Catholics and the Pope. A half century later The American Protective Association (APA) marked the rebirth of the Know-Nothing creed. The APA believed the purpose of the World's Columbian Exhibition was to promote Catholicism and the Pope. The group claimed Catholic churches collected and hid guns and ammo with which Catholics would take over the country. That may be almost laughable, but the Detroit chapter of the Klu Klux Klan was so powerful they ran a write-in candidate for mayor that polled more votes than anyone on the ballot. The Klan candidate was disqualified because thousands of write-in votes misspelled his name.
On the positive side there was the African American Mysteries also called the Order of the Men of Oppression that was founded by a prominent Detroit African American in opposition to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law. The secret society helped runaway slaves across the Detroit River to freedom and sent men with large wagons into the South. The wagons had false bottoms that could hold three adult slaves they smuggled North. The book is heavily illustrated and filled with surprising and sometimes disturbing historical facts.
Secret Societies in Detroit by Bill Loomis. The History Press, 2021, $21.99.
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