Reality Done Right

Date: 6 August 2013

Books Completed: 152

Books Left: 48

I am so not a fan of “reality” TV. I’ve been known to watch a competition (Food Network Star) or makeover (Clean House) show or two, but I positively detest the shows that have camera crews just following people around. I guess this is primarily for two reasons. One, the people on those types of shows behave so badly that I can’t stomach their escapades, and two, I’m so not convinced that there is much reality going on. I strongly suspect that the producers of the shows give the “performers” a situation and encourage them to work through that situation, behaving as outlandishly and poorly as possible.

My disdain of this “faux” reality comes from the same place that admires the real thing.  I absolutely love non-fiction. Last year alone I read 9 royal histories, 2 European histories, 1 American history, 1 compilation history, 6 biographies, 2 true crime books, 1 literary commentary, and 4 books about Jane Austen (again, we don’t question the crazy). What can I say? I just love learning and knowing things.

I’m finding myself increasingly enjoying realistic fiction as well. I’ve always liked it, but until recently I would have classified myself primarily as an historical fiction kind of girl. However, some of my favorite books over the last few years have actually been realistic fiction, so I may have to change my affiliation. My love of realistic fiction doesn’t come from learning and knowing, as in the “real” (i.e. non-fiction) books I admire, but from the authenticity of characters and story—something that is greatly lacking in “reality” TV. I recently read an RF children’s book that was so genuine I still find myself spending quite a bit of time thinking about it. (Spoilers below!)

The book in question is called One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. After an incredibly violent night at the hands of her stepfather, Carley is placed in foster care with the Murphy family while her mom is hospitalized. The story follows Carley as she navigates a new family (with some members who welcome her and some who do not), a new school situation, and dealing with her mother’s role during that violent night. Carley is, of course, at first wary of the Murphys, but she finds herself loving them, almost against her will, as she inches toward reunification with her mother.

Although I’ve never been in conditions remotely similar, I found myself identifying so strongly with Carley. I fell in love with the Murphys (and no, they are not perfect) right along with her, and like Carley, I couldn’t decide where I wanted her to end up. Mrs. Murphy is the mom that Carley truly seems to need and any kid deserves, but Ms. Connors is the mom she has. Carley loves them both and they both love her. The Murphys represent a kind of life that would be good for Carley in many ways, but Ms. Connors is her mom. Well before the climax of the story I knew that my heart was going to break, no matter how the story resolved.

And there is no easy resolution. Keep Carley with the Murphys and she has the potential for a great life she never dreamed was possible, but she would be separated from her own mother, who loves Carley the best way she can. Keep Carley with her mother and the two of them will continue to better understand each other and grow up together, but her life will likely always be a struggle.

What makes this story so genuine is that Carley decides to stay with her mom (who, it turns out, was actually fighting for her daughter that night). While I wanted her to have the Murphy life, choosing to return to her mother was the right thing to do—the thing most middle-schoolers would do. My heart indeed broke as I cried at what she gave up. But, some of those tears were also for happiness for what she gained—a strengthening of the mother-daughter bond. This story does not have a pat “happy” ending, but it does have a “good” one.

So there you have it. No histrionics. No attention-getting-at-all-costs.  No “look at me” attitude. Realistic characters dealing with realistic situations working toward realistic outcomes. That’s reality as I like it.

Indeed. It’s reality as it really is.

One thought on “Reality Done Right

  1. You SO need a LIKE button. This review, besides being incredibly well-written, is so genuine & heart-felt. Although I contributed nothing, I felt like we were having a conversation about the book, not that I was reading a dry, stuffy review. Excellent, 2 thumbs up!

    But why do you classify this book as “realistic fiction” as opposed to just fiction, which by definition is just stories that are imaginary. Would you also put Miss Austen’s or Mrs. Wilder’s novels in this same category? After all, they both wrote about what they knew, their times, etc. None of these authors wrote fantasy-, or science-, or crime-fiction. Does RF mean that the story is based on, or inspired by, true events? I’m asking because I’m curious.

    The 26 books you mention in pp2 – do you mind popping me an email with the titles? In those categories, we tend to have the same tastes. :-)

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