Home > Books > Traditional crafts as a road to healing (or, a book report)

Traditional crafts as a road to healing (or, a book report)

I’ve recently read Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan, and Milagros: Girl From Away by Meg Medina.  Both are young adult novels with young female protagonists whose lives don’t quite go as planned.  The first takes place in India, the second in the Caribbean and then in Maine.  The style of the books and the personalities of the young woman at their center are quite different, but after reading them I became intrigued by a similarity in the way the authors brought their characters back to emotional health.

In Homeless Bird, Koly says that Mr. Das’s workroom “became the most important place in my life” and that “one thing after another in my life was captured and stitched to be saved.”  Through her embroidery job, Koly finds safety, companionship, and the space in which to process the many changes in her life.  She is able to reclaim pieces of herself – as when she embroiders her silver hoop earrings – and to honor the new friends in her life, as when she stitches the marigold garlands she and Hari had strung together for so long.  The traditional craft of embroidery provides Koly with a vehicle for self-expression, a circle of friends, and a way to begin healing.

Koly’s feelings about the embroidery work she does for Mr. Das reminded me of how Milagros in Milagros: Girl From Away feels about the quilting she does with Old Woman Perez.  In this story, the traditional craft of quilting provides the newly-motherless Milagros with a way to come to terms with the changes in her life.  Marooned far from the home she knows, quilting connects Milagros with traditions she left behind, helps her develop her friendship with Old Woman Perez, and allows her to take the first steps towards building a fulfilling life in her new home.

In each of these novels, the young female protagonists have their worlds turned upside down and face the prospect of building a new life among strangers.  I find it intriguing that despite the differences of culture, setting and style in these novels, in both cases the authors chose a traditional craft and the company of women as the tools that allowed their characters to reclaim their lives.  In my own life, I play games like Tetris or Bejeweled when I need space to sort out emotions and ideas – but I’ve never faced the kind of upheaval that Koly and Milagros had to deal with.  I am reading a lot of coming of age novels in my classes this semester (it’s a common theme in young adult literature), and I think I’m going to pay attention now to how the characters get through their tumult.  What coping mechanisms do the authors provide their characters?  How effective are they?  I’m interested to see how others handle similar challenges.

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