Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Postcards from Lonnie ~ Lone Star Book Blog Tours Review & Giveaway!

Lisa Johnson
Biography / Photo Journal / Poverty
Publisher: Rand-Smith LLC
Date of Publication: January 14, 2020
Number of Pages: 200

Scroll down for the giveaway!

It all started on Christmas Day 1993. Lisa and Lonnie were sitting on their mom's rickety yard swing, when Lisa's curiosity took over. She asked Lonnie questions about his life on the street, about being homeless. To her surprise, he answered honestly, humorously, and thoughtfully.

That conversation continued throughout the next four years as Lisa wrote questions on postcards addressed to herself, then mailed them in packets to Lonnie at the flower shop on his corner. He wrote his answers and mailed them back. Lonnie answered a lot of questions and even asked a few, too. His detailed, matter-of-fact responses gave Lisa an unfettered view of a population living on the fringes of society and the issues they face every day.
Postcards from Lonnie is a dialogue between Lonnie, who speaks through the postcards, and his sister, who not only learns a lot about her brother but also about herself. Intimate and revealing, this is a unique family memoir and a universal story of love, respect, family, and ultimately hope.

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HALL WAYS REVIEW: When I first heard from author Lisa Johnson about her book, Postcards from Lonnie, I was intrigued by the premise – and who wouldn’t be? She and her homeless brother corresponded, via nearly a hundred postcards, over the course of four years. Wondering about the logistics alone is enough to pique anyone’s interest. But the immediate questions that arise from just the basic fact that the author’s brother was homeless, and my need for answers, made this book a must-read for me.

“Living on the street was not something he fell into, or slid into. He wanted to be clear: It was a decision he made.”

While it’s easy for a reader’s first, uninformed response to this situation to be judge-y, it’s impossible to stay that way for long. Lonnie’s story isn’t complicated; the bottom line is that he chose homelessness. The reasons for his choice are slightly more complex if viewed from a wide lens that encompasses his childhood and young adult years, and in reading Lonnie’s answers to the questions his sister Lisa poses, and in Lisa’s elaborations of each postcard, we get a better explanation. However, a real understanding of Lonnie’s deliberate decision eluded me – and I think it’s safe to say, it mostly eluded Lisa, too.

“Our lives, so intimately intertwined at the deepest levels, were almost completely severed at the day-to-day level.”

Lonnie’s love for his little sister Lisa shines through on every single postcard, but there is a juxtaposition of his adoration and his inaccessibility. Lisa never doubted how deeply Lonnie loved her, but she craved a sibling relationship where they could be present for each other. She couldn’t call and chat with him, or drop by his place for a cup of coffee, or ask for his help as their mother was dying. Lisa desperately wants Lonnie to want her help to get out of homelessness, but he doesn’t want out. This puzzles her – and will puzzle readers as well – but at the same time, there is almost an envy of the life Lonnie leads, free from responsibility to anyone and dependent upon no one but himself (in his mind, anyway).

“Lonnie’s story would have been a report not on how Jesus
helped him get off the street, but what it was like
to live on the streets with Jesus.”

There are many parallels between the young and older versions of Lonnie, and through reading Postcards from Lonnie I became rather fond of him, and by book’s end, I really miss him and am sorry he’s not a part of this world anymore. His answers to the questions Lisa poses often lead Lisa to having more questions and speculation as to what his answers may mean. She is able to add context to each postcard, which adds a rich layer to Lonnie’s story. He is mostly thoughtful and grateful and finds beauty in his world, and he rarely complains. His life, including the bad and the ugly, is what it is, and that’s fine with him.

Author Lisa Johnson’s observations are insightful, and her writing style is relaxed but intelligent. Lisa feels like a gracious host, ushering readers into her living room to hear the story. And she is a keen observer and interpreter of Lonnie’s life and actions and articulates her observations in a relatable way. While she exposes Lonnie’s life as best she can, Lisa and readers are left with unanswered questions, of course. Be prepared to also have unanswered questions about the author, who remains a bit guarded with her feelings. But this makes sense because this is Lonnie’s story, after all.

By including images of the actual postcards, where readers see the dramatic changes in Lonnie’s handwriting and tone (but the ever-present love for Lisa), readers feel connected to Lonnie and the homeless are humanized. Many of the cards are too faint for these middle-aged eyes to read, but Johnson does a good job with repeating the text in her reflections. The book could benefit from some light editing to eliminate repetition and clean up the very few typos. Regardless, Postcards from Lonnie is a gem of a book.  

Reading Postcards from Lonnie, for me, was a perspective-changing, belief-bending, eye-opening, enlightening experience that I won’t forget and that I highly recommend to others.

Thank you to the author and Lone Star Book Blog Tours for providing me a cherished print copy in exchange for my honest opinion – the only kind I give.

Lisa Johnson was born in Middletown, Ohio, at Middletown Hospital, where her brother, Lonnie, was born almost five years earlier. Two years after Lisa was born, they settled in Houston, Texas. In a couple more years, they moved to Baltimore, Maryland. Before Lisa started elementary school, they moved again, to Atlanta, Georgia. Lonnie was in fifth grade and was starting to misbehave in his classroom, not “applying himself.” A new first-grader, Lisa applied herself big time, and, once she got a taste of the praise and affirmation that came with high grades, she was hooked for life.

By the time Lisa was in junior high, they had moved again, to Topeka, Kansas, and as she started high school, they moved back to Houston.

Lisa went to college, Lonnie got married. Lisa got married, Lonnie’s daughter was born. Lonnie got divorced, Lisa got divorced. Lonnie’s daughter drowned in the bathtub. Lisa graduated from college, went to graduate school (where she got a good taste of misbehavior but lived through it). Lisa moved to Houston to mooch off their parents for a year or so. Lonnie remarried. Lisa moved to New York to teach at Queens College, CUNY, but soon found her dream job as a copywriter in a large New York ad agency.

Lonnie got divorced and disappeared onto the streets of Houston. Lisa moved to Atlanta. Their dad died. One Christmas Day, Lonnie and Lisa dreamed up an idea for a book. She started sending Lonnie questions on postcards, and he answered every one.

Lisa quit the advertising business to go to seminary — loved seminary, hated being a church-based chief executive officer. She returned to Houston, where their mom still lived. Lonnie died. Lisa found a job writing corporate stuff for a large oil-related company.

Then Lisa finished the book she and her brother had dreamed up: Postcards from Lonnie: How I Rediscovered My Brother on the Street Corner He Called Home. 

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Signed copy of Postcards from Lonnie 
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