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Bookworm: Her secret life and other historical events

Also, grab "The Wonder of Wildflowers," plant yourself, and see what grows

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

"The Lost Diary of M: A Novel"

  • By Paul Wolfe
  • c. 2020, Harper
  • $26.99, higher in Canada; 304 pages

You know what you did two summers ago. That's because you took notes: where you were, your thoughts and hopes, observations and desires. Someday, those words could set someone on a new path in life because journals have meaning. In "The Lost Diary of M" by Paul Wolfe, in fact, one woman's diary could have world-wide impacts.

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Mary Pinchot Meyer met Jack at a college dance in 1936, and she never forgot him. But, of course, she was just Mary Pinchot then. She wasn't yet married, wasn't divorced, wasn't the mother of three sons, or a painter, or a Washington socialite. And he wasn't the President of the United States.

"The Lost Diary of M: A Novel" by Paul Wolfe.

She wasn't in his bed then, either, but that changed in 1961 when they reconnected at a White House function. There he was, that big grin, trying to seduce her, his wife just across the room. Mary always wondered if Jackie knew when she joined Jackie's husband in the Lincoln Bedroom. She wondered if anyone knew but mostly, she didn't care.

She painted in her studio, went to lunch with her small circle of friends, and took up the Pinchot mantle by working toward a peaceful world. When she had a chance to meet Timothy Leary and try some LSD, she did that, too, and it meshed nicely with her quiet activism. She began to think that perhaps LSD was the way to peace.

She'd need to talk to Jack about that, maybe some time when he wasn't dealing with pain, illness, the Bay of Pigs, nuclear war, Khrushchev, public speaking events, and a hundred other things he discussed with her after their trysts. One day, she'd make him see how important a peaceful world was, because too many people had already lost loved ones. Mary herself lost her sister, and a son already in her short life. And though she didn't know it, she was about to lose much more ...

Don't be surprised if several different emotions go through your mind as you're reading "The Lost Diary of M."

Surely, there's a certain voyeuristic feeling to this novel and it starts in the first sentence, in which we're warned that a death has occurred. That's compelling enough, until we're plunged into a romance that we see is somewhat one-sided, but author Paul Wolfe's Mary can't. She can't confide in anyone, either, and her emotions run from school girlish to introspective as she dreams of a life with JFK beyond politics and ponders the current events that consumed Washington in 1963.

Even the mundane is noted, which may or may not affect the story itself, but which belong to balance out this novel about a life.

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Indeed, Mary Pinchot Meyer existed and was murdered some months after the Kennedy assassination. "The Lost Diary of M" is loosely based on her secret life and other historical events, and its blithely upper-crust mien, its elegance, its gossipy flair, and its shocking end perfectly match those truths. If you might remember Camelot and its aftermath (or wish you did), take note ...

"The Wonder of Wildflowers"

  • By Anna Staniszewski
  • c. 2020, Simon & Schuster Books for Young People
  • $17.99, $23.99 Canada; 192 pages

Stick a seed in the ground, cover it and keep it wet, and you know what happens. In a few days, you might find something green sprout from the dirt. In a matter of weeks, you could be sniffing a flower or munching a vegetable. But first, you need to take care of the things you plant, even if – as in the new book "The Wonder of Wildflowers" by Anna Staniszewski – a little water isn't going to be enough.

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Mira was not like the other girls in her class.

Someday, she would be, but the paperwork wasn't approved yet, though Mira's mom had filled it out the second they got to Amberland. As soon as their papers came through, then Mira's family would get their allotment of Amber, Mira would be like the popular girls, and everything would be fine.

"The Wonder of Wildflowers" by Anna Staniszewski.

In the meantime, she just had to hang on and hope that Krysta never stopped being her best friend. Without Krysta, who kept all the mean kids away and kept her from being teased too much, Mira didn't know what she'd do.

Obviously, Krysta's family had Amber – her father, after all, was the mayor of Amberland, and he was responsible for ensuring that rationing was followed. Amber was like magic, it could heal, it could strengthen a body and prolong life, but nobody knew what would happen if it ran out.

Even if it did, it wouldn't run out for Krysta's family.

That was a secret Mira accidentally learned one afternoon: Krysta's father had a hidden Amber well in a shed behind their house, which was not exactly legal. Even when Amber rationing became stricter and stricter, she knew she couldn't tell because it would mean getting Krysta's dad in trouble and the whole family would suffer.

But then she learned that a little boy near her house was suffering in a different way and Mira had to make a decision: the boy's brother was in her class and he was weird ... but was that reason to withhold a life-saving liquid from a preschooler?

Looking at the big picture, "The Wonder of Wildflowers" is a great introduction to futuristic novels for your middle-schooler. This book has everything: good characters, a great setting, even a substance that artificially enhances humanity, to the consternation of some and the detriment of others.

What it doesn't have is a lot of quick clarity.

It takes more than a dozen pages to make sense of what's going on in the story here, and more than twenty pages are needed to totally grasp everything completely. That's a slog for an adult and it causes lots of let's-get-to-the-point mouth-twisting, but it might cause young readers to toss the book aside – which would be too bad.

Author Anna Staniszewski has a good story here, so if you bring this book home for your 8-to-13-year-old, be sure to remind them that patience is needed for best results. Like any good garden, grab "The Wonder of Wildflowers," plant yourself, and see what grows.

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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.