The rest of the gang is away at BEA so I thought I’d say a quick “hello” and share with you a great book I’ve recently read.
Lisa Grunwald’s new novel, The Irresistible Henry House began with a barebottomed baby. Says Grunwald of coming across Joan’s photo: “I clicked on the photograph and read that he had been a “practice baby,” an infant supplied by a local orphanage to Cornell’s home economics ‘practice house,’ where college students learned home-making, complete with a live baby…” Turns out the first baby in the Cornell University program was Joan Domecon (for Domestic Economics) who lived in the practice house for one year in 1919.
What must it have been like for these babies? And who did they turn out to be? These types of questions inspired Henry House, the title character who has had a way with the ladies his entire life. (I could practically see the dough eyes and gorgeous smile myself.) Brought into a university “practice house” at just a few months old, he is placed in the care of Martha Gaines, a no-nonsense expert who has been doing this for a long time thankyouverymuch. In the hey day of Dr. Spock and his childcare revolution, Martha struggles with her own maternal instincts while instructing her students not to spoil the baby. Eventually Henry becomes the one practice baby to stay.
The reader follows Henry through his odd childhood and into an adolescence filled with grim realizations and burning questions. Grunwald accurately captures the inner turmoil of resentment mixed with love and forges ahead as Henry attempts to reconcile his own complicated identity. Add to this a background that involves Disney’s California, a very Sixties New York, and the Beatles’ London and the result is a delightful mixture of fact and fiction, character and place. Grunwald seems to have hit a topical gold mine (I wanted to Google “practice baby” late into the night!) and fleshed it out with just the right amount of psychology, history, and narrative. Bravo!
If you do not yet have this on your shelves you must get it! Be sure to point your patrons in the direction of the baby photo in the back. You’re sure to hook a few that way!