Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sabrina and Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Who says that Young Adult books aren't good and shouldn't be read by actual adults?  If anyone, then they are flat out wrong and this is one of the books that proves that.

This is a debut short story collection about Hispanic or Native American Women, or both, living in Denver, Colorado (which is a character of each story in and of itself!) - 11 stories in all. All of these women seemed so real that I honestly thought, initially, that these short stories were memoir based and were about real experiences that Fajardo-Anstine had herself!  I also think that, in large part, many of the plots are so real life that we've either lived some version ourselves or know someone that has lived it. 

For instance, in the title story, we learn about the close relationship and then falling out of two cousins: Sabrina and Corina and the struggles that one of them has with alcohol and substances. We all know or have experienced this: “By our mid-twenties, I saw Sabrina less and less. She worked nights. I worked days. She moved a few times and I lost track of her addresses, the names of her friends, the men she dated, the bars she tended. She rarely went to family dinners, but when she did, she was puffy-eyed and sallow-skinned, her slinky tops always falling off her shoulders."   But we haven't experienced was having to do that same cousin's makeup for her wake. 

I loved how Ms. Fajardo-Anstine takes on and writes about such hard things in such a matter of fact and yet beautifully delicate way that you can't help but just sigh even when the experiences are so bleak. I grew to admire the women that she wrote about because they prevailed in spite of or simply because of it all and had an inner strength, a grit, that most people don't have. Definitely well worth the time to read this book - the multiple times I read this book 

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Nickel Boys By Colson Whitehead

The first book I read by Colson Whitehead was Sag Harbor and it was because I too spent loads of time in Sag Harbor, but not the area that Colson did. Even way back then, when he was brand new, I was intoxicated by his writing and I still am. I was so proud of him when he was winning prizes for The Underground Railroad, but I honestly liked earlier novels by him better (although his foray into the Zombie apocalypse was surprising).

Nickel Boys is h is most recent book and it's making waves, exactly as it should. It is based on a school that actually existed in Florida called the Dozier School and the novel itself focuses on acts of abuse that occurs at the fictionalized version of the school, the Nickel School. The Dozier School was operated for about a century before it closed after it had been exposed as a den of torture for the young boys that went there. Whitehead's novel opens with an announcement similar to one that occurred in real life with regards to the Dozier School: that the State of Florida was going to excavate the school grounds for more bodies buried in unmarked graves. In Nickel Boys, students have found numerous bodies with caved in skulls, buckshot marks and other severe injuries that lead to much suspicion and more heartache, particularly for the boys that survived the torture meted out at the school.

The hero of the novel is a boy named Elwood Curtis, a teenager who lives alone with his mother and is one of the most earnest characters that I have ever come across. He is smart and hard working and (of course) has his future brightly before him.  Elwood is a very earnest student of the Civil Rights Movement and MLK, Jr. in particular. He loves the Civil Rights movement so much that a record of a speech given by MLK, Jr. is his most prized possession and he plays it repeatedly much like another boy his age would play music records.

But Elwood is also really naive.  He's so naive that he almost can't see what is in front of him and why a Civil Rights Movement is so necessary in the first place.  He can't seem to figure out that his moral compass is not shared by the vast majority of people living in the South at this time. Nowhere is this naivete more present then when Elwood is arrested on very flimsy evidence, he's sentenced to the Elwood School and he clings to the belief that the law is going to prevail and his white lawyer will help him.

Elwood's reactions to the systemically horrific abuse is actually more of a focus than the actual abuse itself (although these acts play major roles as well, if just to cause Elwood's reaction). I don't feel that I can get into too much more here without revealing spoilers but I really liked it.

I liked this book much more than Whitehead's other novels, even The Underground Railroad.  It feels more real world and is something that I think people can envision more since the Civil Rights Movement and the abuses that it dealt with are still relatively new in our history.  It also is more scary and difficult in that same vein.  It systematically takes apart not only our hopes about changing the future but really challenges MLK and his theory of love.

You have to read this book. Hands down one of the best books of the year.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Why I Like Happy Valley (Even Though it Isn't Happy)

I started watching Happy Valley because I loved Broadchurch so much and because it had somewhat of a similarity it was recommended to me to watch.  It's a BBC show and many of the actors will be familiar, as they tend to be in the BBC. 

I don't want to give anything away, so I won't get too much into the plotlines but I think it's safe to say that Happy Valley is anything but happy.  It follows the story of a British police Sergeant in a small town in Northern England. What I love about it is how it keeps everything real.  It doesn't pull any punches. The characters aren't unreal in the sense that their reactions to situations aren't contrived.  You can easily see real people in those situations having those exact same reactions. It doesn't shy away from real and difficult and often very, very ugly and traumatic events.  There is a main character this is struggling to keep it all together in a way that normal, everyday people struggle tokeep it together, having normal, everyday reactions.  And while it isn't a touchy, fuzzy or warm rendition of things that ends up tied up nicely with a bow, it's well worth watching and you should be watching it.


Saturday, July 27, 2019

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

I love that I 'm tearing up my reviews.  At this rate, I will surpass my expected reading goal of 50 books this year.

My Sister the Serial Killer is the first novel written by Nigerian author Oyinkin Braithwaite and reminds me in many ways of Americanah, also by a fellow Nigerian. One sister, Korede, is a nurse and knows all about blood - its smell, its feel and how to clean it up in large part because she is a nurse but also because her sister, Ayoola is a serial killer that she has had to cover up for in many cases. We learn at the very first that Korede is in a position that she has to cover up for Ayoola's third murder - which she claims was the result of acts of self-defense.

This isn't a crime thriller, like a Tana French novel, but instead takes a critical and analytical eye towards the relationship between Korede and Ayoola and really attempts to pull back layers as to what it means to maintain familial loyalty. She attempts to answer questions such as does loyalty to family members supersede every other moral compass? Are there other principles that are more important? In every instance, their relationship is tested by things such as resentment and jealousy and competition.  Korede is a successful nurse who is competent and "good," in that she has met all of the cultural expectations that have been placed upon her (with the exception of finding a husband). She is diligent and hardworking. Ayoola is seemingly her opposite: flamboyant, beautiful and spontaneous, careless and chronically underemployed or unemployed.  There are no shortage of men that flock to her and during the novel, it became increasingly obvious that Korede felt put upon and resentful of having received no credit where Ayoola received it all, in spite of Korede's achievements.

I loved this book - it was short and quick but felt very appropriate and somewhat Austenian in some circumstances.  I loved the social commentary and questioning that it engaged in and the tone it took - darkly comic and dry.  It made me really think and question the degrees and lengths that people will go to protect family.  Buy this one!

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Scar by Mary Cregan, a review

Unwittingly, I've taken to alternating fiction with non-fiction.  For me, non-fiction is oftentimes easier (depending upon the circumstances - but that is another blog post in and of itself!). I don't quite remember where I got the idea to read this book but in all likelihood it was either NPR or BookRiot or one of the myriad of book review websites that I follow and blogs that I read. 

The Scar by Mary Cregan is part an attempt at recollecting how Mary Cregan came to be depressed and how she dealt with a severe depression but also a history of depression and its treatment itself. Mary's story begins with one of the most, perhaps, tragic events a person can deal with - the death of a newborn child that was completely and utterly unexpected. Mary's daughter, Anna, is born with a congenital heart defect that in all likelihood would be known about now (it was the early 80's when this occurred - a time period in which ultrasound wasn't routine maternal/fetal health care) that is essentially an underdeveloped heart valve. Anna dies within a day of her birth. Many months later, Ms. Cregan attempts suicide, during hospitalization.  I won't go into details here in part because I believe that the rest is Cregan's story to tell but also in part because it is horrific and likely triggering to a reader. After treatment during hospitalization, including ECT, Cregan is ready to work towards a non pathological acceptance of her mental illness.

Cregan uses her memoir to explore depression, its social status (if any), the pathological self-hatred and questioning they feel, their acceptance (or lack of acceptance) by society, the evolution of ECT and SSRI's and more. I really loved Cregan's ability and her courage not only in telling her story but also in publishing it in such an expansive way. I enjoyed how she demonstrates the practicality that someone that is battling mental illness has and that she does it in a completely unabashed way. She confronts topics, like Electro Convulsive Therapy head on and in a way that demonstrates not that she is proud of it, but in a way that shows that she has accepted its usefulness to her and that it isn't a big deal.I loved how she took the fears that society had about ECT and turns them on their heads. 

Crear's use of things like literary and mythological methods of dealing with depression were also quite interesting. I am a person that likes to read about people having similar experiences with things and about they have handled it as well as learning about the things that I'm experiencing so this particular part of Crear's memoir appealed to me on many levels. It felt like I was reading about myself and not only learning about someone who experienced feelings, but also learned about certain topics in their historic context. This was a magnificent book that I would recommend for all.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

I'm Back and a Review

Things have been quite hectic in my life so I haven't been blogging lately even though I've been doing a ton of reading.  I started a new job that I enjoy but it takes a lot of time.  That being said, I'm now committed to re-starting review blogging again.  Please enjoy my review below!

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I just finished reading The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu - it's her latest book but not her first, although it is the first book of hers that I have read.  This book takes place at an all girls' camp and focuses on the pre-teen girl perspective. All of the voices that you hear and experience are that of girls as they experience the camp and then age. The girls all come from different socio-economic backgrounds and different ethnic backgrounds, which is a great touch. On an overnight kayaking trip to an island, true personalities come out and alliances constantly shift, Survivor style before Survivor was a thing.

The book opens with a narrative setting the girls at the camp and introducing us to them.  The book then switches between the girls' experiences at camp and chapters that tell us about the campers themselves - where they are from and where they are going. It's hard to switch between the narratives - to me it was VERY jarring.  I enjoyed the chapters about the individual campers the best because Fu gave me perspective as to why the girls acted the way that they did in the situations that they were presented. Fu's character development is NOTHING short of masterful and I found myself enjoying the chapters about the characters much more enjoyable than the chapters that describe camp events.

I enjoyed Fu's style - it was deceptively simple. You have to pay attention to it because she dropped tidbits that were so easy to miss if you weren't paying attention and her wry voice gave rise to many snorts in the privacy of my home (and sometimes other places as well). I found myself really feeling for the characters and empathizing with some of the scenarios that they found themselves in.  It is also an adept survey of human nature that you don't find many places.

Get this one out of your library!

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Power by Naomi Alderman

If you liked The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, you will want to read this dystopian novel, which has won a number of awards in the past year, including the Bailey's Prize for Women's Fiction.  This book was particularly terrifying and enlightening at the same time.

The most basic premise is that teenage girls everywhere find out that they can produce a deadly electrical shock. There's a strip of muscle across their collarbones that enables them to produce this electrical charge, which they call a skein. As a result, society is turned on its head with boys being told not to go out alone or at certain hours for fear that they will be shocked. The book combines a number of storylines - there is an American girl that runs away, a British daughter of a notorious gang leader, a reporter, politicians - and yet, the overarching premise is what the impact this has on governments, economic systems, societies.

I loved the questions that this raised - what happens when the tables are turned and men have to worry about being raped? Being threatened with violence that is either overt or implied or both?  And the ways that Alderman makes these points ranges from the light (there is a female newscaster that teases her co anchor and all I could think about was how newscasters faux joke on the air while they're interacting) to the descriptions of the chilling and often violent crimes that are committed by gangs of women.

There are also glimpses of other social issues that are impacted by this - theology and religion play a tremendous role in this novel.  The gospels and the religious texts have to be completely reimagined and iconography has to be changed. New leaders have to rise. Sexuality is also a major theme in this novel, with Alderman redefining courtship and the intersection of pain and pleasure. There is also items that are found in an archeologic dig that describes curbing - male genital mutilation. 

This book is a daring new look at a complete and utter change in gender roles by implementing a shift in the power dynamics.  It is so good in its terror. 

Sabrina and Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Who says that Young Adult books aren't good and shouldn't be read by actual adults?  If anyone, then they are flat out wrong and th...