Secret Words

Secret Words, a novel, was published by Zoland Books in 2003.

From Library Journal:

“A classic late bloomer who moves out of her sheltered home at age 29, Barbara Orsini seems like an unlikely heroine. But her job at a community mental health center, love for a black graduate student from the West Indies, acceptance of a troubled nephew, and work on a community opera open her up to a wider world than she had ever imagined. Over time, she shows in simple words and acts how love and compassion can overcome bias and fear. The tale is told in a first-person conversational tone, so readers feel that they are having a long coffee break with Barbara. Although many “feel good” books lack substance and those with political messages may be simplistic or overly didactic, this example is realistic, subtly artistic, and inspirational. It shows that even in an increasingly intolerant age, one person can make a difference. Strongly recommended for all adult readers and mature teens.
– Jim Dwyer, California State Univ. at Chico

From Kirkus Reviews:

In this gentle tale, Strong (Ourselves, 1971) inhabits the mind and body of a working-class Italian-American woman from the slums of Boston to tell of her awakening to the realities of politics, poverty, and child abuse–as well as to the transformative power of love. Nearly 30 years old, Barbara Orsini finally moves out of her parents’ house and into her own apartment in the working-class Boston district of Stinted Common. She is just a few shabby blocks from the street where she grew up as the fat, endearing baby of a close-knit Italian-American family, yet she finds herself in a turbulent new world. First, there is Paul, a chubby black man from “Saint something in the West Indies” who talks like an Oxford don. Paul fills Barbara with a sense of familiarity yet mystery, and she records the way he talks in an offbeat running journal: “Yesterday morning going to work I wrote on the corner of the shelter of my bus stop but on purpose one of his sentences which he said on my way out the door: It’s not likely to be a terribly pleasant day I fear.” In addition to her budding relationship with Paul, Barbara works as the receptionist at the local counseling center, a job that thrusts her into contact with troubled people from impoverished and oppressed countries around the world. Here, she learns that troubled people–even her own nephew, a battered child–don’t change much. In the end, Barbara’s simple but truthful observations enhance her confidence enough to let her take to the streets to save the counseling center. Finally, too, she finds the inner freedom it takes to describe her great love for Paul to her bigoted Italian mother. Strong’s warmhearted heroine and her family wobble in and out of focus, but her slow blossoming is nonetheless as true and satisfying as fresh bread.

You can find the book on Amazon here: Secret Words.


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