The Bookworm: Substance abuse and family; kids and politics

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“If You Love Me”

  • By Maureen Cavanagh
  • c. 2018, Henry Holt & Co.
  • $26 U.S. and Canada; 224 pages

First tooth, first step. Every milestone your baby passed was reason for celebration. First day of school, first home run, you were there, cheerleading. First crush, first job. Big hopes, even if, as in the new book “If You Love Me” by Maureen Cavanagh, your baby doesn’t want them.

Maureen Cavanagh isn’t the violent sort. A mother, sweetheart, and manager of a non-profit company, Cavanagh is not the kind of person to kill, but that’s exactly what she was on her way to do last winter.

"If You Love Me" by Maureen Cavanagh.

It all started three years ago, when Cavanagh noticed that jewelry was missing from her home, gone from a secret location about which just one other person knew. She quickly confronted her daughter, Katie, who tearfully admitted that she’d stolen the jewelry to buy drugs.

It wasn’t the first time Katie had troubles – but this was definitely the worst. When she was a teenager, she dealt with anorexia and depression. Later, she left college because of alcohol and drugs. Once again, Cavanagh was beside herself.

Leaping into action, she and her ex-husband, Mike, worked to get Katie into detox but Katie bolted – just as she would 38 other times. There would be days, weeks, when she would be sober, seemingly happy, and safe in an expensive hospital, and then she’d suddenly relapse. Glimpses of the old Katie would surface and disappear behind a haze of substance abuse; Cavanagh learned to tell when Katie was high and when it was time to back off from talking about it.

"If You Love Me" author Maureen Cavanagh.

Most of all, though, Cavanagh learned to get the help she needed, in addition to what she needed for Katie. Finding strength in knowing that she isn’t alone then spurred her to make changes in her own life, and to create the perfect job: today, Cavanagh helps substance-abusing young adults find the intervention they need, and she guides their worried, terrified parents through the storm.

Needless to say, author Maureen Cavanagh didn’t murder anyone, but a disturbing end to that part of the story is inside “If You Love Me.”

There’s more, too, of course, and it’s harrowing – especially when you note that nearly the entirety of Cavanagh’s tale – from discovery to a leave-us-hanging resolution – takes place in a short three-year period. That can result in a story-pace that may leave a reader wrung out although, because it’s a lot of in-and-out-of-rehab rehashing, it can also seem repetitive.

Kindred spirits, however, will fully appreciate Cavanagh’s stellar job in reassuring parents via her narrative that there is no shame in reaching out for help or support. She advocates Facebook pages for venting, also offering subtle, in-story advice and rueful observations that make this book valuable for (grand)parent, friend, and politician.

This book deserves its spot on a growing list of books on addiction, just as it deserves to be on your bookshelf if you have a loved one with substance abuse problems. In that case, and if you need the comfort, you may want to reach for “If You Love Me” first.

“What Can a Citizen Do?”

  • By Dave Eggers, illustrated by Shawn Harris
  • c. 2018, Chronicle Kids
  • $17.99, $24.25 Canada; 40 pages

“If You’re Going to a March”

  • By Martha Freeman, illustrated by Violet Kim
  • c. 2018, Sterling Children’s Books
  • $16.95, $22.95 Canada; 32 pages

“We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices”

  • Edited by Wade Hudson & Cheryl Willis Hudson, foreword by Ashley Bryan
  • c. 2018, Crown Books for Young Readers
  • $18.99, $24.99 Canada; 88 pages

Someone you know went to a march this summer. It was a pretty big deal, but it sounded like fun: it was a time for people to gather and take advantage of their rights. That’s something you’d like to do, too, someday, and with these three books, you’ll see how you can start getting involved.

First of all, never say you’re “just” a kid. Kids can make a difference, as you’ll see in “What Can a Citizen Do?” by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Shawn Harris.

"What Can a Citizen Do?" by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Shawn Harris; "If You're Going to a March"
by Martha Freeman, illustrated by Violet Kim; and "We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices," edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson, foreword by Ashley Bryan.

No matter who you are or what you look like, there are lots of things you can do for change: you can plant a tree, help a neighbor, or write letters. You can save a bear, be a bear, or make life better for bears. And yes, you can even march.

If that’s the plan, there are things you’ll need and “If You’re Going to a March” by Martha Freeman, illustrated by Violet Kim has ideas. You’ll want a sign, for instance, and this book tells you how to make one. You’ll learn what to wear, what to carry in a backpack, and how to stay safe on the march. It also reminds young readers to be polite because “democracy looks like disagreement, too.”

And finally, if you’ve been putting a lot of thought into how you feel, “We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices,” edited by Wade Hudson & Cheryl Willis Hudson, will help you think deeper about what you can do through essays, poems, stories, art, and memories. This book offers different ways of looking at dissent and how to know what’s right for you. It also helps readers to feel a connection with history, and protestors from generations past.

This fall, you and your child are going to see a pretty big election occur. You’re also going to see a lot of books about citizenship, getting involved, and First Amendment rights. These are three that are worth a look.

Five-to-seven-year-olds who don’t have access to a city-wide march will appreciate what’s inside “What Can a Citizen Do?”  This book offers plenty of ideas for action that don’t necessarily involve organizations – things like helping neighbors or keeping the environment clean. Children who crave simplicity will like this book.

“If You’re Going to a March” is for roughly the same age group, but it lists tips and hints for more hands-on kids who really want to get into the thick of things.

For older children – ages roughly 8 to 14 – “We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices” offers more of a chance for introspection on activism. It also doubles as a bit of history and strength for kids whose values may clash with friends, family, or classmates.

Your child knows what’s going on in the world. If she wants to participate, these books can help both of you to get started. “If You’re Going to a March,” “We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices,” and “What Can a Citizen Do?” are books to march out and get.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.