Thalia Chaltas’ Because I am Furniture

I learned about Thalia Chaltas’ debut novel from our Featured Storyteller last November/December – Holly Thompson. When I found the book in our library, I had some reservations about borrowing it because it was quite thick – and I knew my limitations when it comes to reading, particularly as the semester is also starting in the university. However, I did manage to finish the book in three hours despite its being thick – it was that riveting. I also knew that I had to share this for our novels-in-verse/poetry theme.

I am always there.
But they don’t care if I am
because I am furniture.
 
I don’t get hit
I don’t get fondled
I don’t get love
because I am furniture.
 
Suits me fine. (p. 3)

A Survivor’s Voice in Verse. This is the story of ninth-grader Anke whose father is violent, abusive, and essentially unable to control his urges. Her eldest brother, Darren, is turned into their father’s punching bag:

As Darren came out
of the bathroom
this morning,
pulling shirt overhead,
the bruise
half his side
glared garish mauve
 
and I felt
my
       upholstery
                          rip
and bits of fluff
escape
to float away
 
before Darren
noticed me
and yanked
his shirt down. (p. 101)

her elder sister Yaicha (whose name means: “a candle in the falling rain/ shining amidst the pain”) is sexually molested by their father.

My Father
Who Art Not in Heaven,
and never will be,
sometimes
doesn’t come home
from work
until two a. m.
 
and for his own reasons
goes to my sister’s room
 
before he goes
to his own bed.
 
I don’t want to
hear
know
live here.
 
I am scared for her
but I am so glad
he doesn’t
 
come to my room. (pp. 39-40)

Anke has no choice but to bear witness to all these atrocities happening inside her home – uncertain how to behave, what to say, unable to articulate her anguish. Yet despite all this, Anke was never portrayed as a hapless, mewling victim. I call her a survivor – because this is who she is. As she gained acceptance in school, her esteem bolstered by her being part of the volleyball team – her voice grows louder each time she is trained to yell “MINE” out in the volleyball court. Her indecisiveness is reflected here:

Then
why don’t I tell on him?
 
If they don’t,
why don’t I?
 
Because.
 
Because I am safe this way,
silent
unnoticed.
 
Because my family would crack
snap
shatter
            like pine boughs in an ice storm
jagged pieces scattered,
irreparable,
 
and there would be no family
and I don’t want that on my head.
 
What we have is better than that.
Right? (pp. 240-241)

In Anke’s search for meaning, she analyzes her father’s anger – and how it has not always been that way in their home:

His Anger stands alone
stands erect
in the
middle of the room.
 
We step gently around it,
a terrifying totem pole
bristling beaks, pinions, talons.
 
I can’t remember
when it started
when firm hand
          became
          fisted liege
                     became
                     feral
                            tyrannical      
                                      rage
                  more important than
                  the rest of us,
                 but
it didn’t used to be this way
and that
keeps us tied to him
guessing,
teetering,
waiting,
while stepping around
his Anger
in the
middle of the room. (pp. 125-126)

Anke eventually realizes that she has a choice – whereas her siblings and mother are paralyzed by their father’s wrath – it is the furniture in the family – moth-eaten, cracked, its insides chewed by dread – who dared to lay the truth bare in snarling rage – truths spat out in defiance – unmindful of inevitable pain.

Why I find this book so significant. As a clinician, I find novels such as these very important. Unlike very grim, dark novels that gleefully take you into the abyss and leave you there to find your way out – this book provides a credible resolution – Anke’s strength building up gradually – her endurance amplified by her training as an athlete. I am aware how others may feel at odds about narrating this kind of story in verse – but I took comfort in it. I love how the codes, snapshots of memories are carved and sliced in neat verse. I also feel that it is important for adolescents who may be going through a similar experience to be able to take comfort in gritty novels that expose dark realities and bitter truths – reminding them that they are not alone, and that amidst seeming-helplessness, there is always hope.

While I also felt that there were a few loose ends that could have been more tightly-woven together – and that there were a few ruminations that seemed somewhat displaced – I still felt, as a whole, that this is a deeply-moving narrative – leaving the reader much fuller and more nuanced than when they had first started reading the novel.

Thalia Chaltas shared that bits and pieces of this novel were taken from her own life experiences. The jacketflap of the book indicated that she also wanted to do everything as a teenager – including being a kinesiologist, a helicopter pilot, a firefighter – and has at times been a bus driver, a ropes course instructor and a contralto in an a cappella group. As she was doing all this, she played lots of volleyball and written poetry, and collected children’s books. Because I am Furniture is Thalia Chaltas’ debut novel. If you want to know more about her, click here to be taken to her official website.

Because I Am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas. Viking, part of Penguin Group, 2009. Book borrowed from the community library.

2 Comments on Thalia Chaltas’ Because I am Furniture

  1. Sounds like a wonderful book with a great message.

    Like

    • Hi! It is gritty and I know that there may be a few people who are uncomfortable with this kind of theme/topic. But as I always say, not talking about it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

      Like

1 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. List of Novels in Verse and Poetry Books for Children and Round-up for January 2012 «

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 299 other followers

%d bloggers like this: