Jill Murray has been able to cobble together a pretty good life for herself and her daughter – by working a collection of part time jobs and by scrimping and saving she has managed as a single Mom to her daughter Anastasia for seven years, ever since her husband Seth abandoned them. It hasn’t been easy – he took all of their money and disappeared, forcing Jill and Anastasia to spend several months living in her car and, while they now have a small house and plenty to eat, they bypass even small luxuries. Still, Jill feels she’s making progress and that they’re happy. And then Seth shows up unannounced, wanting to be a father to Anastasia and to try again with Jill.

In Seven Year Switch by Claire Cook, Jill must deal with her own anger, with her daughter’s desperate desire for her father, with opening her heart to someone again, to letting go. Written with humor and grace, all of the characters are complex and real and it’s easy to put yourself in their shoes and understand their actions. You’ll be moved to tears sometimes, but you’ll also laugh out loud with this charming and heartwarming read.

Let’s face it.  What most graduates want (and get) is money.  Hard, cold cash.  Not microwaves, techno gadgets or pillows for the dorm, but dollars with which they can select their own microwaves, techno gadgets and pillows for the dorm.

Still, if you’re looking for something a little more meaningful or sentimental, there’s plenty of inspirational, faith-based guides available.  Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life comes to mind.  It’s subtitle is, “What on Earth am I Here for?” so it’s appropriate for any age group, not just graduates.

If you’d rather pick a more secular title, something that has credible advice, but with a short enough format that most teens will still actually read it, try Maria Shriver’s And One More thing Before You Go.  It’s only 61 pages long and has 10 quick chapters, including these topics:

  • Learn from your mistakes
  • Have a little gratitude
  • Keep a childlike quality

Interestingly enough, it ends with advice from teenage girls to their moms.  Hmmm, perhaps that’s really the intended audience all along!

A final suggestion is What I Know: Uncommon Wisdom and Universal Truths from 10-year olds and 100-year olds. by Roger Emerson Fishman.  This small, square gift book has lots of photos and could be enjoyed by both young and old.

June is the month of transitions – graduations, weddings, the end of the school year. It’s a pretty good bet that someone in your life – or you yourself – is going through one of those big life changing events right now. This week our blogging librarians offer some ideas for helping to send these people (or anyone!) onto the next stage of their life a little wiser.

I’ll start things off with, of all things, a tv show. Friday Night Lights is easily the best show on television with superb acting, graceful writing and story lines that are both heartbreaking and inspiring. This show is not about football – it’s about people – the mistakes they make, the hardships they overcome, the love and support they get from each other.

Many of the characters are in high school, struggling to find their place in the world. At the end of the third season, Tyra applies for college, a goal she never thought she’d achieve. Her essay on why she wants to go to college provide words for anyone to live by.

“Two years ago, I was afraid of wanting anything. I figured wanting would lead to trying and trying would lead to failure. But now I find that I can’t stop wanting. I want to fly somewhere in first class. I want to travel to Europe on a business trip. I want to get invited to the White House. I want to learn about the world. I want to surprise myself. I want to be important. I want to be the best person that I can be. I want to define myself instead of having others define me. I want to win, and have people be happy for me. I want to lose and get over it. I want to not be afraid of the unknown. I want to grow up to be generous and big hearted, the way that people have been with me. I want an interesting and surprising life.

It’s not that I think I’m going to get all of these things. I just want the possibility of getting them. College represents possibility. The possibility that things are going to change. I can’t wait…..”

What happens when that gang of friends you’ve run around with since your college days – your drinking buddies, your partners-in-mischief, your closest confidants – begin to grow up, pair off, start families? And you suddenly realize that, while you’re godmother to several charming children that you love dearly, the prospect of having your own children still seems distant, maybe even unreachable? These are some of  the questions that Tessa King must wrestle with in The Godmother, a look at growing up that is by turns poignant, funny, dark and heartwarming.

Tessa seems to have it all – youth, beauty, fabulous friends. Everything except a family of her own. After a crisis at work she takes a closer look at her life choices and those of her friends and realizes that seemingly perfect arrangements are often cracking under stress, that the fairy tale doesn’t always come true and that hard choices have to be made. Tackling infertility, difficult teenage children, single-parenthood and infidelity,  The Godmother doesn’t sugarcoat modern life, but it also celebrates the joys – friendship, family, love.

Set in an urbane, modern London, this book brims with both sophistication and warmth; Tessa and her friends are funny and smart and sharply observant of the world around them. They also genuinely care for each other, just as you’ll soon care about each of them.

In Velva Jean Learns to Drive, ten-year-old Velva Jean dreams of someday singing at the Grand Ole Opry.  Her plans change suddenly, though, when her daddy disappears on one of his frequent adventures and her mama falls ill and dies.  This leaves her and her brother, Johnny Clay, in the care of a resentful older sister, with plenty of time on their hands for mischief.  As soon as she turns 16, Velva Jean marries the charismatic evangelist, the Rev. Harley Bright, a moonshiner’s son and former fellow mischief-maker.  All this takes place in the beautiful Appalachians in North Carolina during the 1930’s, just as the Civilian Conservation Corps is carving out the Blue Ridge Parkway right through their mountainous backyard.  At a time when most of her friends and neighbors had never even seen an automobile, Velva Jean somehow finds the strength to defy the social expectations of the day and follow her own dreams.

The author, Jennifer Niven, brings an authenticity to Velva Jean’s voice.  Her own grandparents, the McJunkin’s, grew up near Asheville, and the summers she spent visiting them. plus her own research into her family’s history, seem to have paid off with this delightful coming-of-age novel.

Sarah Silverman has found herself in some fairly high-profile tussles over the years regarding ironic portrayals of discriminatory language in a comedic setting.  Instead of more of the same, Silverman’s first book recounts these public drubbings over taboo subjects, as well as showing some of her more vulnerable and hurtful formative experiences.  It is refreshing to see what shaped the comedienne so often portrayed as the cruel bully.  But, fans of her show might find the ribaldry stops with the book’s off-color title.

catcher-in-the-rye-coverCatcher in the Rye was a pivotal book  for me. It was one of the first books that I read that seemed to speak the Truth… about phoniness and superficiality and adult hypocrisy.

As a preteen, I didn’t probe into the actual copyright date; I thought it had just been written about my generation –  actually about ME specifically.

Up until that point, I’d mostly read series like Trixie Beldon and Nancy Drew, both admirable but neither of whom were very introspective.

I remember sprawling on my bed for an entire Sunday afternoon – not being able to put the book down, yet not wanting to let my new soulmate, Holden Caulfield, out of my life, either.

David Ulin says in the LA Times, “We possess the books we read, animating the waiting stillness of their language, but they possess us also, filling us with thoughts and observations, asking us to make them part of ourselves.”

A story of growing up and searching for one’s identity, Eddie’s Bastard by William Kowalski is bound to grab you from the first sentence and not let go until the end.

Abandoned on his grandfather’s doorstep with the note “Eddie’s Bastard” pinned to the basket, Billy Mann grows up without parents but surrounded by the love and family stories of his grandfather Thomas Mann. Living mostly in isolation on the decaying family homestead (Thomas lost the family fortune when he invested it in ostriches in the 1940s), Billy faces the ups and downs, tragedies and joys of growing up with humor and a positive outlook. There are lively subplots about the family curse, the identity of Billy’s mother, and the diary of Billy’s great-great-grandfather but the relationship between Thomas and Billy remains central to the story.

Beautifully written – you will feel as if you are part of the Mann family – Eddie’s Bastard is bittersweet yet surprisingly uplifting. This is one book you’ll wish would never end.