Daily Archives: May 7, 2009

What I Call Life – Review

Last week, I slightly overdosed on the written word. I had been living so much through characters in books that I was starting to not live my own life. No, that’s completely true. I was getting jealous of all the adventures and new experiences the characters in books had been living, and I wanted to revive some of that sense of adventure into my own life. I took a few days off, shunned all books and focused on my knitting and socializing. It worked well. I mean, as well as it can considering I work in a library and am surrounded by books for roughly 75% of my day.

During a routine scan of the teen’s room to monitor for misbehavior, I came across this book called What I Call Life by Jill Wolfsson. This was pretty much the perfect book to bridge me back to the book world.  The first line of the book is Everyone is living her story.

It is a wonderfully told tale of a group of young girls in a foster home. Its subject heading in the library system is noted as storytelling – fiction and knitting – fiction.

Carolina Agnes London Indiana Florence Ohio Renee Namoi Ida Alabama Lavendar, she goes by Cal, does not live the average life of an 11 year old. Cal is swept away and placed in a group home affectionately called The Pumpkin House due to its bright orange coat of paint. The supervisor of the house goes unnamed for the most part, but is called The Knitting Lady, and she looks like she’s 111 years old. Cal finds herself with a group of girls taken away from their families, rummaging through foster homes and just trying to cope with the negatives and emotional issues of their lives by forming a sisterhood. To Cal, living in this group home is not her real life. Its only a “short, temporary detour from what I call life.” She is only there in passing, waiting for her mother Betty to come pick her up. The Knitting Lady tells the girls stories nearly each day.  One particular story spans the entire novel of a little orphan named Lillian. As the Knitting Lady tells her stories, the girls begin to let down their guards and learn from the stories. The Knitting Lady has a unique way of blending in the past and present of these girls in her stories, so that each girl can recognize her tale and understand her situation just a little bit better.

Cal reminds me of young Clare from Love Walked In. Very reserved, with a face prepared for every situation. The group home reminded me of Girl Interrupted, but on a lesser insanity scale. There is the queen bee, Whitney, who gives Cal the run-down of the house rules as well as how to deal with the social worker, always cracking her sunflower seeds. The other girls create a colorful supporting cast that helps highlight Cal’s transition through this new world.

This book is best for girls ages 11-13, but I think adults and some teens will enjoy it too. Its a well written, mature account of family life gone awry, and how young girls cope with dysfunction in their lives.


What I Call Life.

What I Call Life
by Jill Wolfson
Square Fish, 2005
ISBN 0312377525
270 pages


Find this book at your local library