Thursday, March 29, 2018

Annie's Lists :: Kristin Mahoney :: blog & review

Annie /Andromeda

Annie's Life in Lists by Kristin Mahoney on Amazon

Annie's Life in Lists book cover
Usually my blog post replicates my Amazon book review; this time my blog is longer and includes material not appropriate {I consider inappropriate} for a review.

I chose Annie's Life in Lists the book because:

1. I love middle school novels
2. I like the name Annie
3. I can be quite the list-maker

In Annie's story I discovered:

1. complex, real-life family dynamics
2. real and ideal
3. lack of human control over many aspects of life
4. making the best of circumstances
5. friendship anxieties
6. friendship resolutions
7. uncertain futures


Not long into the narrative, Annie – whose full name is the star-struck Andromeda – and her family move seven hours' drive north of Brooklyn to the town of Clover Gap, population around 8,000. Annie's highway engineer dad lost his job because of lack of contracts mostly caused by the fed's diminishing funding for all aspects of transportation, so they relocated because of lack of nearby jobs in his professional field. Although I do my best severely to limit my use of the word "should," in an ideal world, highway engineers should be constantly hired rather than frequently fired; as conduits of communication and connection, streets and roads should be expanding and improving, with older freeways and thoroughfares getting repairs and environmental impact enhancements as often as needed. None of those "shoulds" have been happening! I often ponder how roads in my Previous City of San Diego never freeze or thaw, yet statistically their condition ranks among the worst in all first world countries combined (only slight exaggeration). The trouble's their extreme age and near-total lack of maintenance.

Some Backstory

How much information can anyone of any age handle? By not telling Annie and her brother Ted their dad had lost his job, their parents made a major mistake. Due to Annie's exceptional memory of his brother the dry cleaner and his cat, her school principal discovers Annie's family had moved out of that school district but continued getting mail elsewhere than their new apartment so she and her brother could remain at that school. Brooklyn's tightly circumscribed school boundaries meant she'd need to attend a different school for her last year of elementary; after that, Annie began obsessively imagining they were moving to another part of the state because of her innocent revelation to the principal. Almost without a doubt the kids had attained enough years and (especially as a girl Annie had insight and sensitivity) could have understood and compensated with their own behaviors to help the entire family deal with circumstances and move onto the next phase.


As soon as I began to read Annie's Life in Lists I felt anxiety and expectation. I'm a city lover and city dweller; I love that I need to Mind the Gap between door and platform when I ride the subway or light rail. I wouldn't have life any other way than amongst LA's truly incredible ethnic and cultural panorama—by many estimates the most diverse human settlement that ever has existed anywhere. Except for its unfortunate east coast weather, Brooklyn borough sounds every bit as wonderful as LA in terms of culture, diversity, and opportunities—maybe more exciting in terms of allover energy and excitement. In Southern California, the second-largest USA city knows how to doze off and snooze whenever it feels convenient. Because of my passion for the city and cities, I didn't want Annie to leave Brooklyn, or if she had to, I wanted her to go back there to live, or at least to another densely populated urban place. I completely agree with my late mom that cities in general are the best places to raise kids, which also partly accounts for my desire to have Annie and family return to Brooklyn or some major metropolitan area. But especially in a compromised economy, our desires often cannot happen, at least not right now at this very moment.


"Lack of human control over many aspects of life" is #3 in my second numbered list at the beginning of this post. Lack of human control, yet there still are many things a person can do to increase their chances of achieving a desired outcome: get as much education as possible; become friends with kind people, even if they're not in high places; schedule at least a little time for recreation and working out; follow your dreams, however remote they may appear from here.

Annie's fam arrives in Clover Gap, where Dad will be working on a road construction project of uncertain length and they'll be living in an older house with lots more space than they had in their city apartment had. Almost from the start everyone begins rationalizing why Clover Gap will be a good place; a big kitchen where they have room to creatively cook will be especially great for engineer dad who loves claiming his creative side as a chef—mom will like the kitchen, too. Mom the graphic designer now will have her own dedicated workspace that's so much better than staking out a small corner in their Brooklyn flat. She grew up in a less urban place, though Dad's pretty much city to the core—just as I am. The tension and expectation I felt when I started reading quickly radiated into concern for Annie's friendship with Brooklyn classmate and very close friend Millie. Upstate in Clover Gap, Annie wondered if lack of communication meant lack of continuing friendship will Millie. Close to the book's conclusion I learned it was anything but, yet real life friendships fade, change, and sometimes end, and real people need to deal with and grieve those realities.

No one reaches any age at all before realizing we need to put the best construction on people's behavior along with making the best of our own circumstances. "Bloom where you're planted" the adage reminds us; scripture counsels us to contribute to the well-being of wherever we find ourselves, because the welfare of our neighbors becomes our health and bounty, too. By book's end that's exactly what Annie's family does, even fancying themselves true residents of Clover Gap, at least for a while.

And Now?

Brooklyn to Clover Gap is my story; is it your story, too? I've spent incalculable energy, time, hope, and sorrow affirming what's okay; current kitchen doesn't have enough space for comfortable dicing and slicing, but this month's weather happens to be perfect for walking from here to there and getting a necessary dose of sunshine. This is not a hunter-gatherer society, nor is it a third world country, yet part of my plans and desires remain stuck because it's not what you know, it's not who you know, it's who knows you. This next thing will work, this next thing, this next... yet none of them have. I've done my best to acknowledge the tangled circumstance that got me to the year 2018 and Current City, with a few humanly necessary "if only" and "no one knows what might have happened" observations thrown into my analysis every so often. Current overall everything may not excel at providing opportunities to teach art I crave and need, but like Annie's mom {who, like me, works from wherever she is at the moment as a graphic designer with physical location not a major consideration, and {like myself} may have been working in industry before the crash of the economy and housing market sent jobs overseas, with internet growth contributing to the situation}, I've gradually been getting design gigs not only online, but also because of Current City. When does rationalization stop? Where do excuses end? When do dreams reawaken? Hope rebound? I need to write contextual liturgy again, yet no one is stopping me from putting together a few more prayers that may never be heard in public. No one is stopping me, but like most of this blog except for my recent monthly "What I Learned," writing prayers and liturgy pieces just for the exercise would be more of the talking to myself that pervades this blog. I tell myself that's no longer enough; in fact it never was, but like practicing music in private, like hours spent sketching into results that never will see light of day or screened online, the practice remains essential.

The doors only can be opened from the other side. How do I find face-to-face direct service opps I expected always would be there?

More Review Notes

Annie's Life in Lists is Kristin Mahoney's first ever published book. She develops the story's characters and describes physical settings extremely well. Illustrator Rebecca Crane's cover portrait of Annie could be a fifth grader in almost Any Town or Any City in North America. I wish Crane's black and white sketches scattered throughout the book could have been full color, but production and selling costs likely made that not realistically possible. BTW, Rebecca Crane illustrated My Very Own Space a young kids' book I ordered from Amazon Vine because of the wonderful art! This chronologically mature adult who loves middle school novels will be on the lookout for Mahoney's next book.

My Amazon Review: Annie, Family, Friends

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