Signs of Life by Natalie Taylor
As I returned to school this past week, everyone seemed to be asking...how was your summer, where did you go? My technically correct answer should have been "No where - just my yard." However, if I am being really philosophical and 'English-teacher corny,' I could say...Victorian England, the murder room in Stockholm, Porto Vergona in Italy, Arkansas in 1951, a creepy English village, and even North Korea! My summer was spent reading 23 books - oh, what joy. And yes, I can still feel my brain expanding.
Sign of Life was our latest book club pick and it was not my normal fare. I'm usually a sucker for pure fiction, or at least non-fiction historical books. Natalie Taylor writes a memoir of her life as a 24 year old wife whose husband dies suddenly, and leaves her to deliver and raise a son on her own. It is Natalie's walk through grief, fear, and a sense of recovery. It could have been a total trudge through the depths of her despair, but surprisingly it is not. Her hilarious conversations of what she'd actually like to say to a variety of people are laugh-out-loud funny, as are her conversations with her pretend Fairy Mom Godmother. Admittedly, I first had to get past the truly terrible writing. As an English teacher, the repetitive sentence patterns and sentences that start with the same word, in the same paragraph, drove me nuts! (And yes, I understand I may be the only one who notices these things but I had to point it out) However, by about 30 pages in, I no longer noticed. I was so drawn into her story and was pushed through the story by my own questions...how would I survive this? Would I be any different? I also started to wonder if the poor writing was a manifestation of her shock and grief, as the writing got better as her life moved on. Taylor is also, God love her, a high school English teacher. She will talk about a novel she's teaching and how it connects with her life, and yes, I highlighted these parts just to show my students how literature helps us to connect with the world. In fact, I don't think I've ever highlighted a pleasure book this much. There were so many raw truths that just made sense, and I don't mean the 'how-to' type of books. Signs of Life is a very real story, with a genuine voice of a young woman who is just trying to survive the crap that life has thrown in her path. I won't forget this book quickly; it's a powerful, moving story.