Making Manna

Libby Thompson is just fourteen years old when she flees her abusive home with her newborn son, Angel. Now they must build a life for themselves on hard work and low wages, dealing with police who are sometimes helpful-but not always-and a drug dealer who is full of surprises. As Angel gets older, he begins asking questions about his family, and Libby's tenuous peace threatens to crumble. Can a son without a father and a young woman without a past make something beautiful out of a lifetime of secrets? Making Manna explores the depths of betrayal, and the human capacity to love, flourish, and forgive in the face of heartbreaking odds.

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My Review

To be honest, I really could not remember why I wanted to read this book after I got it. In fact, I put it aside with lackluster interest. Yet, when I picked it up I again had my mind made up instantly that I was not going to like this book at all. Wow, you really can not judge a book by its cover.

From the beginning I was drawn into the story and Libby. She is a fighter. She proves it over and over again. There was never a moment where she sat in sorrow and had people going "poor Libby". In fact, people were coming to her for advice and strength. The band of friends that Libby formed in Sheila, Monet, and Zeb was nice. Each one on their own was alright but together they were stronger. You could feel the love between them all. Then there is Libby's son, Angel. A perfect name. It was great to see him grow from a little baby to a mature young man.  The ending was a good one. This is a book worth checking out.

1.      Who is your favorite author? Favorite book?
I don’t really have favorites. My tastes are diverse and changing. I enjoy biographies by Doris Kearns Goodwin and political science by Jacob Hacker.
The best novel I read lately was The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich. It’s copyright 2002 but the setting is America post WWI and the characters are timeless. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward was a highlight of 2015 and I expect it to last a while. It’s the memoir of an African American woman in low-income America. All of the men important in her life disappear over a couple of years — shot, drugged, suicide or jailed. But
somehow the police who happily patrol the neighborhood every night with searchlights can’t manage even to arrest the drunk white driver who kills her brother.
I’ve also been delighted to re-read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. The first time was on my daughter’s recommendation. The second time was voluntary after seeing the movie.

2.      What book are you reading now?

I just started Viral by Emily Mitchell. It’s a collection of short stories and I’ve only read a few so I don’t have an opinion yet. But it came highly recommended and the first story is terrific.
It’s about a small business where the staff are measured, marked, ranked and made miserable because they aren’t smiling enough. 

3.      What inspired you to write Making


Trigger warning. This story has a really bad beginning.
Twenty years ago I was working on a death penalty case. The young man on death row was the product of an incestuous rape. I wrote those words in his social history —“product of an incestuous rape.” The phrase was so distasteful that I horrified even myself. The case came and went but those words stuck with me.

Years later, I wanted to write something hopeful and uplifting. The world is a mess.
I wanted to say something nice. So I went back to that kid. I started there but gave him a different ending. I took the worst beginning I could imagine and turned it into something positive.
4.      What was your particular process in terms of outlining, plot and

I had a beginning in mind, from that death penalty case. And I had an end in mind.
But I wasn’t sure how to get there.

I found that I could always and only see a few chapters in advance. So I would tell the story that far, then taking that as the baseline, outline what happens next – with the endpoint in mind. The characters and internal details developed as they went.

5.      Where is your favorite place to write?

I am opportunistic in time and space. I work full time and I have two kids. I drive them to practices, lessons and activities – and have an hour or two to write while I wait. When I was lucky, I’d have a whole half-day at home on a weekend. It mattered that I wasn’t on deadline. If I needed time to figure
something out or went a month without a free minute, that was okay. I always keep a notebook handy. My creativity is better than my memory.

10. How else did your career influence the book?
Can you tell that I once earned my living as a chef?
More importantly, my life as a parent influenced the book. It would have been a different book if I weren’t a dad.
13. Do you plan to write a sequel?
I hadn’t planned to, but people have asked and now I’m tempted. A plot is starting to take shape. I have another book in mind, too. It depends, of course, on how this book is received.
Making Manna by Eric Lotke
The kindergarten
classroom is bright with color. Sunny windows with rainbow curtains look over a
grassy playground. The floor is carpeted in blue, scattered with yellow throw
rugs and purple pillows. In the center is a cluster of red tables with little
green chairs; on each table sits a stack of paper, and jars with pencils,
crayons, and little scissors with rounded points.
Angel stands by
himself in the corner. His clothes are all new to him, but every one of them
came used from Goodwill and the Salvation Army. The room is filled with kids,
but nobody seems to notice Angel standing quietly.
Two girls in matching red Elmo sweaters greet each other with a hug, and chatter excitedly about a playgroup called LittleKinz. Two boys in Redskins jerseys dare each other to jump into the deep end of the pool when they get home. One tells the other that his parents can’t use their opera tickets on Saturday. “My mom said to tell your mom that you can have them if you want.”
The only African
American child is in the center of a little crowd, dressed in bright pink from
top to bottom. She wears a pink shirt covered by a pink vest, pink pants with
pink socks and shoes, and a pink hat with a pink feather. “We made the biggest
dog fort!” she is telling the other kids. She and her sister found “every
blanket and towel in the house” and hung them over the sofas and chairs in the
living room until the “the whole room was full.” They crawled around in the
space underneath and made space for all their “stuffy dogs” so each one had a
room of her own.
“We played in it
all day,” she says. “But then the maids cleaned it up. That ruined it.”
Eventually the
teacher moves to the front of the room. “Come on up, boys and girls. Welcome to
kindergarten. I’m Ms. Milton and I’ll be your teacher. We’re going to spend the
whole year together!” Ms. Milton is wearing blue jeans and a green blouse with
flowers, and her hair is entirely silver-gray.
“Who here knows
how to write his name?”
Almost every hand
in the class goes up. Angel’s doesn’t.
“That’s wonderful!”
Ms. Milton cries. “I thought you looked smart!” She ushers them toward the
tables and sets them to work making name tags for themselves. “There are
stickers and crayons,” she explains. “You can decorate them anyway you like.”
Angel stays where
he is, rooted in place at the edge of the hurly-burly, while Ms. Milton bustles
around setting the kids up and passing out the supplies.
“Done already?”
she says to the African American girl in pink. She peels the back of the
sticker that now says Veronica West
and places it in the center of her shirt. “Everyone else do like Veronica,” she
says. “Peel off your sticker and put it on when you’re done. You can keep
drawing until everyone is finished.”
Another girl
raises her hand. “I’m done,” she says.
“Peel your sticker
and put it on,” Ms. Milton replies.
She turns and all
but stumbles on Angel, standing silently in his space. “What have we here?” she
Angel straightens
his back and stands tall. “My name is Angel Thompson,” he says. “I don’t know
how to write my name.”
Ms. Milton seems
almost embarrassed that she hadn’t seen him earlier. “Then we’ll teach you,”
she says with a smile. “That’s what we’re here for.” She waves toward a
teachers’ aide who Angel only now notices, also standing quietly to one side of
the room. She brings Angel to a special table by himself, not far from the
others, but clearly separate.
By the end of the
morning, Angel is pretty good at writing his name and knows a lot of other
letters besides. The teachers’ aide, Miss Stephanie, spends most of her time
with Angel, though occasionally another child comes over for a few minutes’
attention. For lunch he eats the sandwich his mom made for him, peanut butter and
jelly, with two Hershey’s kisses on the side. “That’s what my mom always made
for me,” she’d said.
The activity after
lunch is drawing. The children are again shown to the desks with the papers and
crayons, and invited to draw pictures of their families.
“Can I draw my
dog?” asks Veronica West.
“Your dog, your
cat, your house. Anything you want,” says Ms. Milton. “But start with your
Angel is placed
into the tables with the other children, but near an edge, and Miss Stephanie
gives him special attention.
This at least is
familiar to Angel. Miss Josephine’s day care had crayons and papers—though not
as many colors—and Monet loves to draw at home. With encouragement from Miss
Stephanie, Angel draws three stick figures in a row.
“Who’s the tall
one?” Miss Stephanie asks. She’s pretty tall herself, with long black hair and
eyeglasses in a big round circle. She wears blue overalls over a yellow
“That’s my mom.”
“Which one is you?”
Angel points to
the smallest stick figure, drawn in the same pink crayon as his mother. “That’s
me,” he says. “My name is Angel.” He points to his nametag and his face lights
up in a smile. Then he reaches back for the crayons and for a minute it’s as if
Miss Stephanie doesn’t exist. He leans close over his drawing, all his
attention on the little figure at the end of the row. Carefully, deliberately,
he retraces the lines and redraws the figure. Then letter by letter, he spells
out his name under the drawing. He looks back up at Miss Stephanie, and points
back and forth between the picture and the word. “Angel,” he says. “That’s me!”
“That’s you, all
right,” Miss Stephanie cheers. She reaches down for a hug and a pat. “You’re
the Angel.” The she points to the third figure, midway in height between Angel
and his mom. “Is that your dad?” she asks.
Angel looks at her
like she asked which one is the elephant. The question makes no sense. “I don’t
have a dad,” he says.
“Surely, you have
a dad somewhere,” protests Miss Stephanie. “Are your parents divorced?”
Angel stays
“Does he live in a
different state?”
“Mom says he died
in a car accident,” Angel explains at last. “With my mom’s parents too. It’s
just the three of us that’s left.” He pauses as if he’s going to have more to
say, but then nothing follows, and he looks blankly down to the page.
“So who is this?”
Miss Stephanie asks, her finger is still on the third figure. “Your older
“She’s my sister.”
“Why is she drawn
in brown?” Angel and his mom are stick figures drawn in pink crayon, but his
sister is brown.
“Because she looks
like her.” He points toward Veronica West. “She says to tell the truth when I
Lights are
starting to go off in Miss Stephanie’s eyes, as if she is starting to
understand. She looks carefully at Angel, who clearly has no African blood in
his veins. “Do you and your sister have the same mom?” she asks.
“No,” says Angel. “She
has her own separate mommy.”
“The same dad?”
“Nope,” Angel
replies. “She has her own daddy too. His name is Zeb. She tells me that I met
him once. But I was a baby. I don’t remember it.”
Now Miss Stephanie
is again looking confused. “If you have a different mom and a different dad,
what makes her your sister?”
“She’s not legally my sister,” with an emphasis
that suggests he’s heard it said this way before. “She’s in a different foster
family but she lives with us.”
“Why’s that?”
“She likes us
better. We’re nicer than the foster family. I met them a couple of times. They
have lots of foster kids and my mom—my real
mom—says they only do it for the money.”
All this time Miss
Stephanie had been standing up over Angel, and leaning down toward him. Now she
gets down on her knees so she’s nearer his height. “What’s your sister’s name?”
“Monet. Like the
Miss Stephanie
smiles. “Does she like to draw?”
“She loves it!
Especially with colors. We draw all the time.” He leans in close, takes
advantage of her proximity to whisper confidentially in her ear, “She’s in
sixth grade.” Then he gathers himself to say something difficult, and minding
his diction, he concludes, “She’s in Sidney Lanier Middle School.”
“Good work,” says
Miss Stephanie, beaming. “That’s great. I was an intern at Sidney Lanier.”
Angel looks
brightly back at her. “Her bus leaves at 7:10, a whole hour before mine.”
“Thanks for
telling me,” says Miss Stephanie. “Do you know where Monet’s parents are? Her real parents?” She smiles as she echoes
his way of saying it.
“Where are they?”
Angel slows down
and straightens up to tackle something difficult again. “The Virginia
Department of Corrections,” he says. He pauses to make sure he got it right.
Miss Stephanie
stands up and steps away.
“Mom is in
Fluvanna and Dad’s in Nottoway,” Angel concludes with a triumphant smile,
naming the prison where each is held. He got it all right.
And just in time,
too. Because at that moment, Ms. Milton calls everyone’s attention back to the
center of the room. “Time to pack up,” she says. “All done drawing. Now it’s
quiet time.”
Miss Stephanie and
Ms. Milton shepherd the kids to a giant double-door closet, filled with rolled-up
soft mats, one for each kid. The two boys in Redskins jerseys have a little
push scuffle about who goes first, but it is quickly broken up, and soon enough
each child has unrolled a mat and is lying quietly on the floor. Angel picks a
spot on the edge, between Miss Stephanie’s desk and the window. He doesn’t
sleep, but he lies quietly listening to the sounds. Some kids are reading, and
turning pages in their books. Other kids are breathing in a way that makes
Angel think they’re asleep. Outside he hears birds. They sound like the same
ones he has at home, sometimes singing at random, and sometimes in response as
if they’re talking to each other. A teacher quickly hushes any children who
What seems like a
few minutes later, a church in the distance chimes one o’clock. Ms. Milton
starts to circle the room. “Wakey, wakey,” she says. “Time to roll.” She and
Miss Stephanie supervise the kids standing up to roll their mats and use the
bathroom. Angel is the first one with his mat rolled and returned to the
closet. He helps some other kids roll their mats and work out the tricky
elastic bands that hold them shut.
“Thank you very
much,” says a blonde haired girl in a blue tank top.
“You’re welcome,”
Angel replies.
Veronica West has
her mat rolled but can’t get the elastics to stay in place. “Want a hand?” says
Angel, scooting in beside her.
She looks at him
like he’s holding a gun to her head. “I can do it,” she declares. The elastic
snaps loose again and the mat starts to unroll. She scowls at him. “Look what
you made me do!”
Angel reaches down
to arrest the mat. “Hold it like this,” he suggests.
“Like as if you
know,” says Veronica West, as she rips the mat away from him and sets it down
to start anew a few steps away.
Angel leaves her
be and stands quietly to the side until all the mats have been put away.
Veronica West is last, until Miss Stephanie takes her mat away, fixes the
elastics and replaces it gently into the closet.
“Story time,” says
Ms. Milton. “Goldilocks and the Three
.” She holds in the air a giant book, with a picture of a little blond
girl and a family of bears on the cover.
Some children
shout out in enthusiasm. “Hooray!” Angel hears, and from behind him, “My
Other kids aren’t
so happy. “Not again,” says one of the boys in a Redskins jersey. His friend
grumbles but Angel can’t make out the words.
Angel himself
doesn’t know the story of Goldilocks and
the Three Bears
. Indeed, he doesn’t know many stories at all . . . though
he knows he likes them. The other kids all push around Ms. Milton, and she
directs them to sit around her in a loose circle. Angel soon finds himself on
the outside edge.
Ms. Milton opens
the book so it stretches across her lap. He’s never seen a book so large in his
life. Miss Josephine had a scattering of books, though none nearly so big, and
she rarely read them.
“Once upon a time,
there was a little girl named Goldilocks,” begins Ms. Milton. She holds up the
book so everyone can see the giant picture of the pretty blond girl.
“She went for a
walk in the forest.” Again she holds up the book to show the pictures. Trees in
the sunshine, a deer in the shade and birds flying above.
“Pretty soon, she
came upon a house.” Ms. Milton holds up the picture of a wooden cottage. “She
knocked and, when no one answered, she walked right in.”
The audience
murmurs in anticipation. Angel, too, senses the possibilities.
Showing the
pictures as she goes, Ms. Milton tells the class how Goldilocks explores the
house. One bowl of porridge is too hot and one too cold, but the third is
perfect so she eats it all up. One chair is too big and one is too small, and
the small one breaks when she tries to squeeze in. Then at last Goldilocks
comes to the beds. One is too hard and one is too soft. But the third bed is
just right. She lies down to take a nap.
“Don’t do it!”
cries one of the Redskins boys. Other kids laugh.
“Stay awake,”
warns another.
But Goldilocks can’t
hear them. Soon she falls asleep in the bed.
Angel leans
forward in anticipation.
Soon the owners of
the home come back, and they’re bears! Ms. Milton holds up the pictures for all
to see. A big scary papa bear, a friendly momma bear, and a cute little baby
bear. A family of bears who live in the woods. Before long they find the chairs
that didn’t fit and the smallest one that broke. They find the porridge that
Goldilocks tasted and the perfect one she’d finished off. Each discovery makes
them angrier than the last. Eventually, they find her upstairs in their bed.
Goldilocks wakes
up in horror at the three hairy beasts . . . “and runs straight out the door
and into the forest, crying mommy, mommy, mommy all the way home.”
The kids all
cheer. Ms. Milton holds the giant book aloft, pages open to Goldilocks tearing
through the woods with the bears chasing behind.
One girl echoes, “Mommy,
mommy, mommy all the way home.”
Another cries out,
“Run faster!”
Ms. Milton lets
them celebrate awhile, then encourages them onwards. “How’d you like it?” she
asks the class.
The children
respond with more cheers.
“Do you think she
made it home?”
Again more cheers.
“Does anyone have
any questions?”
At first the room
is silent. The children don’t seem to know quite what to say. Eventually Veronica
West raises her hand.
“What’s on your mind,
Miss Veronica West?” Ms. Milton inquires.
“I want to know if
bears can have dogs.”
“I didn’t see any
in the story . . . but yes, I suppose they can. I don’t see why not.”
The blonde girl in
the blue tank top who Angel helped with her mat raises her hand.
Ms. Milton singles
her out. “What’s your name?”
“Tammy Atford.”
“What’s your
question, Tammy Atford?”
“Does she get in
“What do you
“I bet she does.”
“Then I bet you’re
right. Seems like she didn’t even make the bed!”
All the kids
laugh. Ms. Milton keeps the conversation moving on along those lines, calling
on every child by name and sometimes asking them to repeat their names for all
to hear. Some kids are worried about the broken chair and want her to say she’s
sorry. All of them hope she gets home safely. Angel doesn’t say a word. But he’s
sitting in a place with a good view of the book and he studies the artwork on
the cover, especially the red cardinal in the tree.
“Is there anything
else?” Ms. Milton asks at last. Does anyone have anything else to say or ask?”
The room is silent while she looks around.
Finally, Angel
sits up straight and raises his hand. Ms. Milton sees him immediately and leans
his way in encouragement. “What’s on your mind, little Angel?”
“My name is Angel
Thompson,” he says.
“Thank you, Angel.
What’s on your mind?”
He gathers himself
to speak deliberately. “It’s about the porridge,” he says. “That’s like
oatmeal, right?”
“Yes, porridge is
like oatmeal.” She makes a gesture as if stirring and eating from a bowl in her
hand. “Is there something you’d like to say about the porridge?”
“Why doesn’t she
mix it?”
Ms. Milton looks
at him in confusion. “Mix it?”
“One bowl is too
hot. One is too cold. She could mix them. Put too hot and too cold together.
Then she’d have more porridge that’s all just right.”
Ms. Milton’s eyes
open wide in comprehension. Mix the porridge, of course!
Angel forges ahead
boldly. “She could still eat the bowl that’s just right. But if she’s hungry
she can eat even more.”
Now all of the
kids seemed to understand. A positive murmur fills the room. He catches some
words behind him. “Mix the porridge, mix the temperature!” Someone else says “hot
and cold together” while a different voice says “more to eat!”
Veronica West’s
voice rises above the hubbub. “She’d get fat.”
“Not from one bowl
of oatmeal,” protests Angel. “And she seems to be hungry.” He finishes with
words he’s heard many times around the house. “You never know where your next
meal is coming from.”
The kids fall silent
and look at him in surprise. They don’t seem to have heard that before.
“But she still
needs to pay for it,” he concludes. He looks deeply troubled, like he’s solved
one problem but raised another. “I don’t know how she can do that.” He turns to
Ms. Milton for answers. “Does she have any money? Does her mom work at night?”
Still Angel is the
only one talking. The room is silent while Angel waits for an answer, but at
that moment the school bell rings. The kids all jump up like they know what it
means, though Angel waits for Ms. Milton to make the announcement. “All done
for the day. See you tomorrow!”





















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