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Book Bag

I’LL TAKE WHAT SHE HAS

By Samantha Wilde

Bantam Books

samanthawilde.com

Belchertown writer Samantha Wilde, who has worked as a yoga teacher as well as a minister, is also the mother of two small children, who were the inspiration for her novel “This Little Mommy Stayed Home,” a comic tale of the ups and downs of becoming a mother.

In her new novel, “I’ll Take What She Has,” Wilde revisits that theme, though from a slightly different angle. Nora and Annie are longtime friends in a New England town, where both have a bit of “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence” view of the other’s life. Nora, who teaches at a local boarding school, is 34 and desperate to have a baby, while stay-at-home mom Annie longs for some peace and private time.

Their friendship is severely tested when a new teacher arrives on campus: Cynthia Cypress, a blonde goddess with perfect looks and style, a beautiful singing voice and a handsome husband, David, the head of the school’s history department — who happens to be Nora’s ex. Cynthia, who is also pregnant, soon befriends Nora, which begins to drive a wedge between Nora and Annie as well as feed their mutual inferiority complexes.

When Nora apologizes at one point for being preoccupied, Annie brushes her remarks aside: “Don’t be sorry. You’re providing me with a great opportunity to get in better touch with my anger.” The two friends are forced to look hard at their lives and what’s making them unhappy, which includes some weird family history and unresolved issues.

But that material is mostly presented with a light touch and comic tone, such as when Annie asks Nora early in the novel if she’s upset about not being pregnant. “Yes and no,” says Nora. “Come on, Socrates,” responds Annie. “Don’t make this a riddle.” There’s also Nora’s observation that her ex, David, is “the only attractive man [on campus] without a prescription for Viagra.”

Eventually the two friends — the story is told in first-person chapters alternately narrated by Nora and Annie — will have to navigate the strains of marriage, parenthood and friendship to realize what’s most important to them.

YOUR CHILD’S PATH: UNLOCKING
THE MYSTERIES OF WHO YOUR
CHILD WILL BECOME

By Susan Engel

Atria Paperback/Simon & Schuster

Developmental psychologist Susan Engel, a former Smith College professor, has also taught at several levels, from preschool to graduate school. In “Your Child’s Path,” she draws on her experience with elementary-school children in particular to help parents learn to distinguish between real problems their kids may have — the kind that might require intervention — and quirky behaviors they’ll likely outgrow.

The book, previously published in hardcover as “Red Flags of Red Herrings,” is divided into six chapters, each examining an important quality that will ultimately be important for all children: intelligence, friendship, goodness, success, romance and happiness. Yet those factors may not be immediately apparent or observable to parents when their children are young, so Engel, using cases studies and stories of real kids, lays out patterns of behavior that adults can look for.

There’s the story of Andy, for instance, who didn’t seem to have a lot of friends as a child, but who wasn’t a social outcast, either. Raised by easygoing parents who didn’t have a lot of time for him and his four siblings, Andy began showing signs of somewhat anti-social behavior as he got older that went largely unobserved — until as a teen and young man he began having run-ins with the police.

Engel links this and other tales of kids who struggle with lack of social acceptance with strategy tips for parents, such as finding unobtrusive ways to help children navigate the social maze. “You don’t have to hover and pepper your child with questions to find out if she feels connected to other kids. But if you have any reason to be concerned, watch and listen ... the goal is to get a rich picture of your child’s friendships, fights and quandaries, not to become an investigator or take a deposition.”

Engel, who currently teaches at Williams College, also relates a story of how she dealt with the anger of one of her own sons when he was growing up. It’s the kind of accessible, engaging information that prompted Publisher’s Weekly to say of her book, “Parents will come away from this insightful book more with a sense of how to proceed rather than specific directions, but the author knows her stuff and is a wonderful storyteller.”

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