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Spotlight and Review: Pure Trash – The Story by Bette A. Stevens

In Book Reviews, Spotlights on September 11, 2013 at 9:46 pm

Bette Stevens is probably best known for her highly successful children’s book, Amazing Matilda. Now she has dipped her toes into the deep waters of young adult literature with her new book, Pure Trash – The Story.

Having already read Bette’s ‘Amazing Matilda’, I was delighted to be asked to read this one as well. Though aimed at an older audience, it is still written in the same generous and caring tone. Set in the 1950’s, Pure Trash highlights the sense of social injustice doled out when two children are condemned and forever tainted because of their father’s alcoholism and the family’s unmitigated poverty.

PURE TRASH book coverMy Review

Pure Trash is a short story focused on a day in the lives of two young boys, Shawn and Willie Daniels. They are extremely poor, have a drunken father, a long-suffering mother and live in a shack in 1950’s America; located near a small New England town in which bullying and prejudice is rife. They attend church every Sunday. This day (Saturday, and no school), having done their chores, is filled with gathering discarded empty bottles on their way into town, and collecting the returns money. The boys really look forward to this trip every week, as they are able to buy pop and sweets before returning home to fish with their father, who, by the time they get back, will have drunk enough beer to “catch his limit” and to, “’hold your (his) mouth just right’ or the fish wouldn’t bite”.

Despite the excitement of this weekly trip, Shawn is filled with dread at the thought of encountering the gossips, and other mean townsfolk, who call them names and laugh at them; all because of their poverty and their drunken parent.

On the way back from the trip, Willie falls off his bike and Shawn seeks help from someone he believes to be kind; someone who also attends the same church. But, he is surprised when he learns that cordially nodding to someone every Sunday in church is not the same as turning up on their doorstep and asking for help – at least not when your Shawn and Willie Daniels.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Told with great sensitivity, Ms. Stevens weaves a tale of intolerance and impassive bullying, the backlash of another’s alcoholism and the knock-on effects of abject poverty. The atmospheric descriptions set the scenes beautifully – I felt I was actually riding my own bike with the boys on their excursion. The whole timbre of the book, from the very first word, is that of compassion and understanding. I felt tinges of sadness, though. To the boys, this is all they know. They completely accept their father’s excessive drinking, and their mother’s frugality as she makes her house dresses out of “flowered chicken feed sacks”. There is no money to repair the house, but the boys’ father buys a brand new television set for himself, which sounds like an echo of so many households today. The boys do not envy others, instead they are grateful for what little they have. They find great joy in their natural surrounding; blue skies, hills and fields, and the simple things available to them. Such small treats as ice-cream and some pop are a thing pure delight.

This book is not just about poverty and making do, and being happy with what you have been given – albeit, through lack of knowledge. It is also about intimidation and small-mindedness, and the terrible indictment of the society that has risen from such behaviour, not just in the fifty’s, but of today as well. Such families do still exist and the intolerance continues as one generation begats the next and the tradition continues on both sides.  Perhaps it is all unavoidable, but it is sad how innocent children are made to suffer for the mistakes of their parents.

A sensitive and touching tale which is well-written, absorbing and entertaining. Highly recommended. 5 stars

Where to buy Pure Trash


About the Author

Bette A Stevens

Bette A. Stevens received her B.S. in Elementary Education from the University of Maine at Orono before embarking on graduate courses in Curriculum Studies at Chapman University in California. Stevens is a retired teacher and author of two children’s books: AMAZING MATILDA: A Monarch’s Tale, an award-winning picture book and The Tangram Zoo and Word Puzzles Too!, a children’s activity book. Stevens and her husband live on a 37-acre farmstead in Central Maine. PURE TRASH is a short story for the YA/Adult audience and a prequel to her upcoming début novel. 

Where to find Bette





Other Books by Bette A. Stevens

The Tangram Zoo and Word Puzzles Too!
Amazing Matilda book cover

Why Tolerance?

In Guest Blogger, LGBTQPA on September 2, 2012 at 12:01 am

I was very touched and impacted when I first read this post by my latest Guest Blogger, the very eloquent and perceptive Paulette Mahurin. Having published my own book for teens, Mungai and the Goa Constrictor, my greatest hope has been to convey a message of forbearance and acceptance, which is why I chose such a diversity of species across the globe, knowing we are all part of mixed and integrated societies. Paulette speaks of the universal intolerance, persecution and oppression which motivated her to write her book, and the beliefs and preferences of many who feel that if the persuasions and choices of others contradict their own ideas of what is right and acceptable, there is a reason to hate.

I’m delighted to have an opportunity to write an article for Amelia E. Curzon’s Blog. Being that I am a NurseGuest Blogger Paulette Mahurin on Amelia Curzon's Blog - Carte Blanche Practitioner, specializing in women’s health, and have just completed a novel, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, about a strong female protagonist, a lesbian who is persecuted and bullied all her life. The motivation for writing the story is what I want to talk about here, oppression of lesbians in history, and feminine energy suppression in general.

World renowned author, Riane Isler’s international bestseller, The Chalice and The Blade: Our History, Our Future (Harper Collins San Francisco, 1987), has been hailed as one of the most significant works since Darwin’s Origin of Species. In it she elaborates on androcracy, government by male rulers, and the influence this has on gender bias. So rare is women rule, gynecocracy, that it survives mainly in myth.

Isler’s work was not from research in a didactic vacuum; she lived and understood oppression from an early age, when as a child her family fled Nazi Austria to Cuba (she later moved to the United States). It is this aspect that I find most intriguing about her, how did this influence her life and work? How does any experience, especially in our formative years, condition us? The latter question rhetorical, brings me back to my own research while writing my book.

In doing the research, the masculine dominant energy was pervasive, between the lines one reads of a women’s place, the labeling of our friendships toward what was tolerable, what was conservatively acceptable, and what was meant for oppression.

Through the years this changes, the balance shifts, while the feminine is gaining more of a stronghold, but what remains are the labels, which are still dangerous depending on where one lives in the world.

Women friendships in history have always been acceptable, hugging, handholding, and displays of attention, not frowned upon. In the 1800s women who could afford to live together but never married were considered spinsters, still socially acceptable. Where the tide turns is if a partnership were suspected of being, or labeled lesbian, then they were considered to be insane. The treatment was institutionalization, the therapy, rape.

When I started writing my book, based on the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde and the impact his two year prison sentence had on a lesbian couple, living in a small Nevada ranching town, I had to figure out how to show the oppression, the fear, that the lesbian couple lived under. This was really difficult because how do I write about what I haven’t experienced? Or have I? I sat with this, meditated on this, went back to the books on oppression of self-expression, and found my answer, society.

A society that supports a relationship (including the family unit), in a loving way, molds one type of personality. A brutal abusive society, group, takes its toll. This I can relate to and have experienced, my world view—a box that surrounds my soul with the should and shouldn’t do this or that, be this or that—gave me the backstory to create the story’s antagonist, a woman filled with unmitigated hatred toward anything that doesn’t support her ego.

Just this last week, I received a review of my book, from a women, pleasant and decent to communicate with, who gave my book a thumbs up and a thumbs down and went on to explain that the thumbs up:  the best characterization I’ve seen in a book, and I’m big on characterization. Great details and emotional aspects in capturing the feelings and turbulence of that time period with all the different topics mentioned. It was so sad to see how horrible the gossip girls were about the Jewish man in France. And the African-American in the government. Josie is quiet a character. (sic)

She then went on to say: My Rating: I give this a thumbs down because I don’t like and don’t support the Lesbian standards, and prefer to just not have anything to do with those people: whether its books, movies, riots etc. But I give it a thumbs up for being so well written by a woman who is married to a man. For a Straight woman, this was well written. (sic)

I wrote her back thanking her for her honest review and that I was extremely appreciative of us dialoguing, for it is in communicating that issues, large and small, can start to be resolved. After I wrote to her, I sat silently and wondered what causes one to feel/think this way, foreign from my live-and-let-live-as-long-as-you-aren’t-hurting-anyone attitude? I have no answer, not really, and so once again I sat back quietly and contemplated, this time, tolerance, and pray that those whose hearts hold hatred learn what it is.

Bio: Paulette Mahurin is a Nurse Practitioner (NP), specializing in Women’s Health. She has also taught clinic preceptors in the NP programs for UCLA and USC. While at college she won awards for two non-fiction stories she wrote. When not writing or helping rescue dogs, she likes to hang with her husband, Terry (a retired NASA Attorney) and their two dogs, Max & Bella ( rescued from kill shelters).


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