Verbena lives a fairly simple life, but it’s evident she’s a little different from everyone else. She’s small for her age and seems to enjoy things that the children around her are starting to leave behind.
One summer Verbena’s best friend Alice goes to camp and Verbena is left behind at home. Her mother and father aren’t a whole lot of fun as her father is seventy and her mother is almost fifty. Things are pretty boring until Verbena finds a letter in her mother’s pocket to a woman it doesn’t know.
Verbena’s mother is pretty easy to break down due to her caring nature. The truth comes out. Verbena is adopted, but not unrelated. Her father has a brother who led a hard life. Verbena is the child of his wife. Her real father is in prison for killing a man and her real mother is an alcoholic. Verbena had fetal alcohol syndrome. It’s why she wears glasses. It’s why she seems a little slower than other children her age. It’s why she has certain physical characteristics.
Verbena is upset about the news, but something interesting does happen. Someone moves into the Allen house. It’s been empty for years because the little girl who used to live there drowned. A woman gets out and calls her son Pooch. They live in the house for a few weeks.
One day Verbena goes to the pond to go fishing. There she meets Pooch face to face. The whole strange thing about it is that he thinks Verbena is the ghost of the Allen girl who died. Instead of telling him the truth, Verbena goes with it. She tells him that she is really a ghost, but that they’re going to work on a project together. They decide to fix up an old boat. The truth does eventually come out, as it tends to do, but Verbena finds it’s not so bad as all of that.
What I liked
I’ve known a couple of children with fetal alcohol syndrome over the years. They’re sweet kids, but still have the delays associated with the condition. Sometimes a woman just doesn’t care enough about the baby growing inside of her to quit drinking when she’s pregnant and we end up with babies with fetal alcohol syndrome, largely not cared for by the mother because she’s generally not fit to do so. Someone else ends up taking in these FAS babies.
This is completely preventable. Verbena’s story isn’t that terrible. She found a family who loves her. She doesn’t have to suffer as much as other children might, but she still suffers the completely preventable condition of FAS. Look here, you may think it’s ok to toss back some beers if you’re pregnant, but think again.
I liked that this book is kind of a small warning about the condition. Don’t drink a bunch of alcohol while you’re pregnant. Attitudes are changing a bit. Doctors in Italy and a few other countries believe it’s ok to drink a glass of wine each day while pregnant, but wine is not exactly terribly high on the alcohol content. Even if doctors say it’s ok to drink a glass of wine a day, they’re talking about a few ounces of an alcohol that doesn’t have a very high alcohol content in it. No one is ever going to say it’s ok to down a big bottle of vodka while you’re pregnant and for a good reason. It harms the baby. So don’t drink and gestate babies.
You know what else I like about this story? I like the fact that Verbena has an unconventional family. She has an older father with a much younger wife. There are people who think that’s weird, but clearly Verbena’s father and mother have pulled it off. They have a relationship just as loving as any other despite the large age gap. It just goes to show you that you don’t have to be with someone close to your age in life.
What I didn’t like
I did like this story, but Verbena has a lot of growing up to do. She does learn some responsibility as the story progresses, but she’s definitely still very much a child. Maybe that was the point of this whole book. Maybe the point was that someone suffering from FAS would still be extremely childlike when they should be turning into a miniature adult. She puts herself in danger and she puts this little boy in danger and she never really thinks any of it through.
Pooch’s mom…come on. Three boyfriends named Richard in a row? Plastic surgery on your face? First of all, if you’ve dated at least two guys named Richard and hasn’t worked out, don’t go for third helpings. You and Richards apparently don’t get along well enough to make a functioning relationship. Names can play a big part in who we are, even though we don’t pay a whole lot of attention to it. Scientists have actually studied this to an extent. Sometimes society perceives our names to mean certain things and we kind of go along with it because that’s what society expects.
Let’s move onto my second point–this woman drags her son everywhere and through all these terrible relationships for her own reasons, but I will hand it to her, she does love her son. She gets plastic surgery on her face, her face. Let me tell you something, no surgeon is ever touching my face unless it’s necessary. If I get into some terrible accident and my face is all screwed up, so be it, fix my face, but otherwise, don’t you touch it. Then of course, she goes out into the country to hide her face while it’s recovering. If you’re going to get plastic surgery on your face, people might as well know about it. It’s not something you could potentially cover up like a tummy tuck or breast implants. It’s out there in the open. She should just go ahead and accept that she’s the kind of person who changes her face and people are going to know about it.
I’m glad Verbena found a friend and I’m glad she is able to live a somewhat normal life despite FAS.
Do you think that parents of FAS children should get to keep their babies?
If someone thought you were a ghost, would you go along with it?