Category Archives: Fiction

Book Review: The Rooms Are Filled

Ever since I found out in October that Jessica Null Vealitzek, author of the blog True Stories, would be releasing a book this April, I couldn’t wait to read it. If the writing on her blog is that good, what could she do with a book? When I got the chance to get an advance reading copy of her novel, The Rooms Are Filled, I jumped at it—and book reviews are not my specialty. Her blog has always inspired me, made me stop and think, and even caused me to grab the tissues, which to me is a sure sign of good writing. I hoped her book would do the same.

It didn’t disappoint.

The Rooms Are Filled begins in Minnesota at the scene of nine-year-old Michael’s suddenly shattered life. As his father lies dying on the ground, Michael thinks the paramedics aren’t careful enough. And he doesn’t want those strangers around his father. And from there, I didn’t want Michael to come to any harm or pain again.vealitzek

When he and his mother, Anne, move to Illinois to make ends meet, Michael struggles to fit in with classmates. There his only friends are Tina, who lives across the street and comes with her own set of problems, and his teacher, Julia Parnell, new to town and trying to fit in by not standing out.

When introduced to Julia for the first time, I immediately fell in love with her too. And how could I not? She drives into the story “gripping the steering wheel as though it kept her from falling out of the car and rolling down the highway.” Struggling with her sexual identity and running away from her past, Julia encounters her own set of bullies.

Vealitzek wrote these characters with such care, you’d swear they were people she knew all her life. I rooted for them and hoped others didn’t get their way. You have to see for yourself whether everything is tied up nicely in the end.

As with all good books I’ve read, I wanted to know the inspiration behind this story. This time I could ask.

Vealitzek said the book is loosely based on a childhood experience of her father, who moved from a Minnesota farm to working-class Franklin Park, Illinois, in the early 1950s. Neighborhood kids and classmates teased him for his slight lisp and said he sounded like a “hick.” His teacher was a rumored lesbian and the kids made fun of her too. She helped Vealitzek’s father build confidence by encouraging him to read aloud. It worked.

I love it when a good story and good writing come together. The two don’t always come hand in hand, but Vealitzek weaves a heartfelt story with imagery and characters that stayed with me long after I read the last page.

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A Bedtime Story for the Ill-Behaved: Mad Toys

Many of you liked the story ideas I had in Bedtime Books I Wish I Could Read to My Kids. Here, I took my favorite idea and fleshed it out. Hope you enjoy. (Just know I’m not responsible for what happens if you do read this story to your kids, unless it’s good.)

Sunlight spread across the floor like spilled paint. Molly started to stretch. She smacked her lips as if her mouth were full of bits of sticky cotton. She tried to roll over and felt her scalp being tugged violently back. She tried to soothe her burning head, but her arms wouldn’t move. She tested each limb but it bounced back like a yo-yo.

Molly opened her eyes and saw the bizarre crime scene she was starring in.

Her feet were tied to her bed with hair elastics and they were turning blue. She tried to lift her head to make out the shadowy figure moving near them, but her hair felt tightly wound. Twisted braids formed knotted ropes to her headboard. Her wrists were bound with something, tiny pants? Doll clothes!

Getting ready to carry out an evil plan

Getting ready to carry out an evil plan

“Mom,” whispered Molly through the dryness of her mouth. “MOOOOOOOOM!”

“Oh good,” a voice answered. “She’s awake.”

Molly’s favorite Barbie doll took quick, tiny steps toward her. Molly knew she must have been dreaming. She would have pinched herself if she could get her hands to her face.

Her toys had gone nuts. The 200 inch-high Tiny Tots she owned marched toward her with straight pins. Robots aimed slingshots of Legos at her face. And her closet door rattled as if something were trying to escape. Where had she left Suzie Walks-a-Lot? Where? In the playroom like usual? No. Think, think. In a feeble attempt to clean, she threw her in her closet last night. Dear God. If that three-foot doll got loose, she would for sure be a King Kong monster that Molly couldn’t fight off.

Barbie waltzed toward her. “I see you’ve taken in the situation, Molly.” She couldn’t get over the snip in Barbie’s voice and the sneer on her face. She was all business even though she wasn’t Professional Barbie. Surprising. “Barbie, haven’t I always treated you well?” Molly thought.

“I can read minds, Molly. And no, your other toys and I, we don’t think you’ve treated us well,” she said. She sat on Molly’s waist, long, rubbery legs extended over her side. “You leave us out on your floor for days. When you run into your room, you step on our faces with your hard shoes. Some of us are missing pieces. Sure, you hug us from time to time. But we want to be with our families at night, in our warm cases, our beds. It’s cold out there half naked on the carpet. Your brother laughs at us, Molly.”

Molly understood. Dolls would get cold. But Legos? Robots? They’re just plastic and metal.

“Legos want to be built with, Molly. When they’re strewn all over your floor, they feel as if they’re drifting in the ocean and they’ll never get each other back. Don’t you kids see that?”

Molly nodded. She kind of did. She guessed she was the shark in their ocean some days.

“And robots, well, they don’t have brains,” Barbie whispered, “but they just feel left out if we don’t include them. Mmmkay?”

Barbie got up. Molly waited to be untied but Barbie just smiled and waved her hand, a signal and the army of toys moved in. Molly screamed. She fought against the restraints.

Mom came running in. “I’m sorry! I’ll keep my room clean!” Molly cried.

When Mom saw the mess, she didn’t seem surprised. “When it’s gone this far,” Mom said, “the only way to stop it is to get rid of everything.”

For once Molly didn’t argue. Mom untied her and they quickly stuffed Barbie and her entourage of Tiny Tots, robots, Legos, fairies, and more into pillowcases. No toy went down without a fight and they had pinprick and Lego block battle wounds to prove it.

It took both of them to wrestle Suzie Walks-a-Lot to the ground. They tied her up with doll clothes and hair ribbon.

“If you can keep your room clean for a month, maybe you can get some new toys,” Mom finally said, wiping her brow with Barbie’s dress.

Molly thought about it. “I think I’ll stick with books.” They were far less dangerous.

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