This book review has been waiting to post but it's worth it. I gave A Place at the Table five stars because of the seamless interweaving of several different storylines into what I consider the main story, that of Bobby. Although a large chunk of the book focuses on Bobby, the opening pages introduce us to a little black girl named Alice and her family's hog farm. This is an important introduction as it establishes some of the cultural roots of the South that are major factors in the lives of the characters. One such character is Bobby, whom we meet as a little boy in '70s Georgia. A devoted Christian, he adores his mother, youth group, and sleepovers at his grandmother's house. As we watch Bobby develop into a young man, it becomes evident to the reader that Bobby is struggling with his sexual identity and has few outlets to not only explore this area of his life, but also to inform himself. His grandmother becomes an amazing, supportive influence in his life. She encourages him to go to New York City because that's where she feels a creative soul can develop and prosper.
Bobby's life in NYC helps him cultivate a life with good friends, outstanding food, and a rich history of stories. There he meets Alice, Amelia, his life partner, and many other outstanding characters. What truly binds the story together, and what makes it worth picking up, is that these stories interweave with one another as they reflect on some of the most traumatic points of our nation's history in a very real setting. It also has a very cozy feeling to it, as if you're at home in your kitchen, whipping up a family recipe. The cover, admittedly, made me think this was more of a light, airy beach read but it's far from that. The literary prowess is engaging, captivating, and I really loved the characters. I highly encourage folks to pick up this read.
I like to create visuals for stories that I review, almost like casting the characters for a movie. Above is Alice Stone, Bobby Banks, and then his partner.
Regina Calcaterra is an amazing woman and her life story is gruesome but also inspiring. Regina grew up with four siblings and an abusive mother. "Cookie" Calcaterra had varying social, emotional, and psychological problems and confronted these issues through drugs, alcohol, and sex. While combating these issues, she would leave here children at home for days, sometimes even weeks, to fend for themselves. The trauma these children faced is horrific and all the more inspires me everyday to work to be the best CASA volunteer that I can be. Although the abuse she and her siblings endured is almost unfathomable, what could be possibly be more shocking was the foster care system in the 80s. Reform and legislation is so important for children because they don't necessarily get a say in their lives. Throughout several of Regina's experiences, the system failed her or put her in completely inappropriate foster care situations where she was sexually abused or maltreated. It was such a failing system that the siblings made a pact where they would rather put up with their mother's abuse and neglect than be in the foster care system. Regina fought a system that let her down and grew up into an amazing lawyer who helped change the foster care system. I highly recommend this book, especially for CASA volunteers, because it puts into perspective how important children's legislation is and why we need to fight for these kids. I highly recommend picking this up!