Sunday, September 25, 2016

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste NG

For a debut novel, this was fantastic with a hook right from the start: a teenage girl is missing and her family doesn't know about it, there's a lake involved and a bad boy neighbor. And it's 1977, and the girl is biracial - her father is Japanese and her mother is white - which adds an element to the whole thing.

Lydia Lee is the missing girl and the middle child - what is unusual is that she's the favorite and a biracial Asian/white girl with Asian features and blue eyes. She seems so driven that she's the least likely of the three children in her family to go missing. The police are called and ask questions of Lydia's parents - how was she doing at school, who were her friends, was she depressed - and her parents find themselves unable to answer with any degree of certainty or honesty. The question in this novel is why are they unable to answer the questions.

Marilyn, Lydia's mother, has her own demons - she's estranged from her mother.  James, a Japanese man that became a citizen, hasn't ever felt that he has belonged anywhere. He was the only Asian student at a private boarding school and one of the first Asians to attend Harvard in the 1960's. He's grown up and is growing old with a sense of loneliness that can't be shaken. While Marilyn and James aren't cruel to their children, it is painfully obvious that they are living their dreams through their children and, by extension, putting a lot of pressure on their children to do what they always wanted to do.

While Ng did a masterful job in addressing the issues that arise with racial issues and family issues, she was less sure on police procedural issues. She could do to brush up on those. The scenes of mourning aren't the best either but hey, if these are the only complaints that I have about a first novel, then I'll take it.  Ng is a wonderful storyteller whose powerful message is conveyed in brilliantly simple text. Definitely a must read.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

I'm generally not a reader of celebrity memoirs.  I find that generally, celebrities don't write very well and don't necessarily have a voice that I want to hear, which is fine because their skill set may be elsewhere - acting, singing, whatever. But I heard positive things about this particular memoir so I picked it up.

For those of you that don't know, Carrie Brownstein was one of the founders of Sleater-Kinney, a Riot Grrl band in the early to mid nineties. That's not how I first became familiar with her - I became familiar with her through her absolutely brilliant and funny performances with Fred Armisen in Portlandia, on IFC. This book talks about Brownstein's life and her desire to be noticed and held in high esteem for her first love: music. She and her family lived in Redmond, WA and her proximity to Olympia and Seattle - the state's music centers - definitely had an impact on her. Music, after all, became her escape when her mother was hospitalized for struggles with anorexia and her father came out to her as homosexual.

The funnier, more endearing, and for me, more interesting moments, were at the beginning part of the book when I learned a lot about Brownstein's life growing up.  I live for and love those moments in books because I firmly believe that those moments give you insight into the type of person the narrator is NOW. One of my most favorite moments is when Carrie is doing a mock trial in school and she is assigned the role of the suspect's mother. Instead of sticking to script, Brownstein admits to being the killer in a moment of absolute drama that upsets both the teacher and the other players in the class, but which now gives me understanding as to how and why she's so wonderful in Portlandia.

I liked learning about the band but it wasn't the most interesting part of the book. It was interesting to learn how the band's main topic for their music was sexism - raising awareness of it and fighting it. She, for example, talked a lot about the double standards that existed in being covered by reporters - how they consistently asked about what it was like to be a female rock star band or what they were wearing on stage at a concert as opposed to the content of their music.  I respect that because those are still conversations that exist today - people talk more about Hilary's pantsuits then they do about Donald's suits (even though his suits are more of a political topic, considering that they were made overseas by people in jobs that were sent overseas by Mr. Trump himself).

Generally, a decent read especially if you are interested in the Riot Grrl movement.  

Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti

Many know Jessica Valenti as the founder of Feministing , a feminist blog and website.  However, she's also a successful author. This b...