The Witches Are Coming

48589607._sx318_The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West (Website, Insta)

Genre: nonfiction/ essays

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Lindy West

Source: my own TBR

Length: 06:27:00 

Published by: Hachette Audio (5 Nov 2019)

Her Grace’s rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars

The Witches Are Coming is a collection of essays dealing with various aspects of feminism, mostly, with other topics such as white nationalism and climate change added as well. West is a terrific writer, making her arguments succinctly, pointedly, and with a lot of humor. I had not read any of her work before, nor have I watched Shrill on Hulu. So I don’t know how much of this collection is repetitive from anything she’s written previously, but it was all new to me. 

Well, the topics themselves were not new, and I’m not really sure West added any new points to them that haven’t already been said. But her own take on them was new for me, and I enjoyed her writing voice a great deal. 

She wrote about some things I’ve said for years, among which is we need to stop praising people, especially mediocre white men, for doing things normal adults are supposed to do anyway. You went to work! You do not get a ‘yay for you!’ for that. Adults are supposed to go to work. No, you cannot babysit your own children. Taking care of your own children is called parenting. Babysitting is what you pay the teenager across the street to do. Praising mediocre white men for doing things normal people are supposed to do is partly why we are stuck with Trump in the White House and his troglodyte followers in positions of power they are in no way qualified to hold. 

Also, stop talking about how charming and handsome Ted Bundy was. He murdered women and everyone is still hung up on how nice he was. No he fucking wasn’t! He liked to kill people. Murderers by definition are not nice. If it takes a while to catch them, it’s not because they are so nice or blend in so well with society, it’s because they snowed everyone around them and used their gullibility to get away, literally, with murder. That’s not charming, that is creepy.

Also, abortions are health care and modern day fucked up rape culture needs to stop. 

So yeah, I guess a lot of it is preaching to the choir and all, but I still think most of the essays included are excellent and this is yet another book that should be required reading.

 

 

The Power

29751398._sy475_The Power by Naomi Alderman (Website, Twitter)

Genre: speculative fiction

Setting: everywhere, possibly in the near future

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 341 pp

Published by: Viking (27 Oct 2017)

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

TL;DR version: girls are now born with the ability to conduct electricity (specifically, they can electrocute people) because of a weird skein under their collar bones, and the menz are scared shitless.

In an unspecified time which feels like the near future, girls are suddenly born with a ‘skein’ under their collar bones which allows them to electrocute people. They can turn on this ability in older women as well. The Power follows four young people through their initial discovery of these skeins and the ways in which they adapt to them. One is Roxy, a tough girl from London whose family is feared for running an organized crime operation. Allie/Mother Eve is an abused foster child from the east coast who takes the power from her skein to escape and set up a new life for herself. Jocelyn is the daughter of an up and coming political superstar in the midwest, and her skein seems to be broken. Tunde is an aimless young man from Nigeria who finds his path as a reporter. The ways each of their lives intermingle relay the genesis of the skeins and their impact upon all of human society.

First, things I liked.

If I had a skein that let me zap people, I can’t honestly say I would use it for good. I can think of a fair few men who could use a good electrocution. But you know? If (mainly white) men overall, and throughout history, weren’t such rapey, abusive dicks bent on systematic oppression of women and minorities (see plot line with Roxy’s brother and dad), I wouldn’t even think about what I could do with the ability to electrocute people. Do better, menz. 

I liked that the book touched on beneficial ways women could use their skeins. It was clear that some women were more skilled than others in how they could use their power – some could only use it to hurt, but others could use it to try to help or heal people. Some girls were skilled and powerful enough to awaken the power in older women who had not been born with a skein. Others healed the sick or injured. 

I thought it was interesting, though not at all surprising, to consider that religious exploitation was a thing regardless of whether it was women in charge or men. It seems that religion will always find a way to take advantage of people who are afraid or feel lost or whatever it is that makes them flock in their thousands to weird evangelical circus-like performances and throw their money at it. Faith healers are such a crock, whether in reality or in spec fic, and they prey upon people who are desperate in some way or other. And really, religion is a crock as well. Logic is better than magical thinking, and taking active steps to fix a problem in society is more effective than trying to pray it away. 

Also, I did like that this dystopian novel gave something to women rather than taking something away and exploring the fallout from that. In The Handmaid’s Tale and Red Clocks, women no longer have any reproductive rights. In The Unit, older people are sent to a nursing home type of setting to await the days when their organs will be needed for people who are considered young and relevant still. In Vox, women’s voices are taken away in that they are only permitted to speak 100 words a day. So many other examples portray a world in which something vital is taken away from women. So it is interesting to read a book where something is given to them for once. 

Now, things I didn’t care for.

The novel at times felt more like a research project than a book. It should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that power and authority in the world tends to come from the ability to hurt other people. Ask any woman and I can almost guarantee that she has at least once in her life been afraid of a man and what he would do to her. So kind of the whole premise, while an interesting thought experiment, it also doesn’t really ask any new or profound questions. It seems to be trying to answer questions that have been posed and explored forever in other speculative fiction novels, movies, TV shows… 

The book eventually got around to Men’s Rights movements. I found myself snorting at these scenes every time they came up. Of course, my reading is influenced by actual history and I couldn’t quite separate that from the book, which is no fault of Alderman’s. But a Men’s Rights movement was as ridiculous to me as a Straight Pride parade – do men think women’s rights are as preposterous as I felt the men’s rights were in this? Again, if the menfolk would quit trying to control and suppress everyone, there would be no need for men’s OR women’s rights movements. We could all just be equal. Which seems to scare men like Moscow Mitch absolutely shitless. 

The biggest drawback for me was that the plot and character development were really…not great. Most of the characters were flat, had little actual development, and I didn’t give a crap about any single one of them. Well, I kind of cared what happened to Jocelyn a little bit, and Tunde was an interesting perspective. But in general, even they were mostly static, and I don’t think the novel needed ALL of the POV characters to be POV characters. Most of them weren’t really all that interesting, or at least I didn’t think so. I think it would have been more interesting if the novel had been told from the POV of just one person. All the international politics and women going insane seemed like it was contrived and hard for Alderman to pull off convincingly. 

I actually quite liked this book and don’t mean to sound as if I didn’t, but I think it had a lot of problems.

Outgrowing God

Outgrowing GodOutgrowing God by Richard Dawkins (Website, Twitter, Insta, Facebook)

Genre: nonfiction/atheism/YA?

Setting: n/a

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 294 pp

Published by: Random House (8 Oct 2019)

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a terrific, brief book that addresses religion from a scientific perspective, as do all of Dawkins’s books. In it, he lays out many arguments people use for believing in a god (it teaches you morality, you can’t be good without God, etc) and then he goes on to point out the fallacies involved in thinking that. Such is the first part of the book. The second deals more directly with actual science and evidence for how we know what we know. 

I love this logical approach. Even as a child, religion never made sense to me. When I asked questions in Sunday School, I was rarely satisfied with the answers I was given – you just have to have faith (why, though? That’s not good enough), we can’t see God but we can’t see the wind either and so that’s the same thing (honestly, what the actual fuck?). Now, of course, I know a lot more about logic and reasoning than I did as a child, and the kinds of arguments and fallacies that are involved. But not everyone does. Nor would I try to change, say, my granny’s mind about her beliefs. It doesn’t hurt me and it is a comfort to her, so I’m not here for that. But I do think a ton of people need to read this book, and all of Dawkins’s other books, and then move on to writers like Sam Harris, AC Grayling, Daniel Dennett, Dan Barker, and the late, greatly missed Christopher Hitchens. It will be an eye opener for many, in the best way, I promise.

I felt like this book was written for a slightly younger audience. I don’t know if Dawkins did that intentionally but this would be easy for most teens to grasp, as well as adults who are not as scientifically literate as some of his other readers. I appreciate Dawkins’s ability to write science in a way that is easy for a layperson to understand but that doesn’t dumb it down so much it is essentially inaccurate. Some people say he is condescending, but I don’t really think it’s that so much as he is breaking down complex issues and tells his readers if an upcoming section is particularly challenging. He’s just being a typical professor – ok, class, time to take careful notes. I think too that maybe some of the ‘he’s really condescending’ crowd might just feel a little defensive about their beliefs that he is disassembling. Just a thought. 

I highly recommend this book to everyone, especially those who might still cling to certain beliefs, religious or otherwise, without good evidence to support it.

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

  • Arguing over whether angels are demigods is rather like arguing whether fairies are the same as pixies. 
  • …if I’d been born to Viking parents I’d firmly believe in Odin and Thor. If I’d been born in ancient Greece I’d worship Zeus and Aphrodite. In modern times, if I’d been born in Pakistan or Egypt I’d believe that Jesus was only a prophet, not the Son of God as the Christian priests teach.
  • We can’t prove there are not fairies but that doesn’t mean we think there’s a 50:50 chance fairies exist. 
  • ‘Jesus’ is the Roman form of the Hebrew name Joshua or Yeshua. It was a common name and wandering preachers were common. So it’s not unlikely there was a preacher called Yeshua. There could have been many.
  • We tend to think the United States is an advanced, well-educated country. And so it is in part. Yet it is an astonishing fact that nearly half the people in that great country believe literally in the story of Adam and Eve. 
  • You get the impression from him that God i far more interested in the sins of one species, living on one little planet, than he is in the vast expanding universe he had created. 
  • The whole bit in chapter 11 about patterns and how human brains are evolutionarily hard wired to seek them, and how false positives and false negatives may have started superstitions and religions. 
  • Science regularly upsets common sense. It serves up surprises which can be perplexing or even shocking; and we need a kind of courage to follow reason where it leads, even if where it leads is very surprising indeed. The truth can be more than surprising, it can even be frightening. 
  • Courage isn’t enough. You have to go on and prove your idea right.
  • Isn’t science wonderful? If you think you’ve found a gap in our understanding, which you hope might be filled by God, my advice is: ‘Look back through history and never bet against science.’
  • I think we should take our courage in both hands, grow up and give up on all gods. Don’t you? 

 

Jonny Appleseed

Jonny AppleseedJonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead (Twitter, Insta)

Genre: contemporary/literary fiction

Setting: Manitoba/Peguis First Nation

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 224 pp

Published by: Arsenal Press (15 May 2018)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Jonny Appleseed is about a First Nations boy who is gay and trying to figure out how to be his best self. His mother wants him to come back to the Reservation for his stepfather’s funeral. Getting there requires more cash than he has on hand and so he works extra at his job, which is as an online sex worker. During the few days it takes him to save enough cash to get home, Jonny reflects on the experiences from his past that have helped to make him who he is right now, with a fever-dream kind of feel to the memories.

I am honestly not sure how to write a review of this book that really encompasses my thoughts without making me sound like either an idiot or an asshole. I loved this book, though, and loved learning more about the Cree Nation, where Jonny as well as author Joshua Whitehead are from. Truly, it isn’t possible for me to have known less about the Cree before beginning this book, so it was an interesting reading and learning experience. 

I enjoyed learning some Cree words, though I absolutely have no idea how to say them. At first, I wanted a glossary because not all of the words used in the book were explained by context (or maybe I just didn’t get it), but then I decided that I liked that there was no glossary. It felt more real for the words just to be there, slipped into the narrative as they probably would be in normal conversation, and it is my job as a reader to figure them out. I always like learning about a culture that isn’t familiar to me and I appreciated the richness that was imparted through this story.

Many parts of this were heartbreaking. Not just because of how people treated Jonny as a Two-Spirit indigiqueer person, as he calls himself. But also because of how poor he and most of his acquaintances are, how hard they have to work to scrape together enough to buy something like a six-pack, or that they work hard just SO they can buy a six-pack or spirits. 

I think this is a book everyone should read. It will make you laugh, cry, and most importantly, think and empathise. 

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

  • Home isn’t a space, it’s a feeling. … And it isn’t always comfortable – at least, not an NDN home. In fact, quite often, it’s uncomfortable. But it’s home because the bannock is still browning in the oven and your kokum is still making tea and eating Arrowroot biscuits. … And, given time, it becomes mobile – you can take those rituals with you, uproot your home as if it were a flower.
  • But I just laughed and I think he got mad – I wish he knew that when an NDN laughs, it’s because they’re applying a fresh layer of medicine on an open wound.
  • Don’t be thinking I don’t know who this is for – you like that Walker boy. I’m fine with that, son, Creator, he made you for a reason – you girl and you boy and that’s fine with me, but what’s not fine is you selling yourself short. You gotta leave if you wanna survive, and when you do you’re gonna need the steadiness of those hands, m’boy. You’re gonna need a rock and a whole lotta medicine. 
  • I am my own best medicine.
  • But the way he told stories was so sincere that I couldn’t help but become enamoured. That was when I learned just how much power there is in stories …
  • “Howa, he’s just snapped,” someone said, which made Jordan laugh. “Oh heck, that guy’s feeling no pain,” she said. That saying is weird, “feeling no pain.” I used to laugh at it too, but nowadays I think that they’re drunk because they’re feeling all kinds of pain.
  • My kokum had always told me that sleep was not a waste of time, that it was a time for healing, so I slept long and hard, waiting for my blood to leech out its memories and for my body to rejuvenate.
  • “But you – you my everything, m’boy, all this time you been my rock.”  “No, Momma,” I replied, “you’re my rock. I’m just the one who broke you.”  “Maybe,” she said, biting her lip. “But then you also the one who ground me. Ground me up into a medicine.”
  • …a good story is always a healing ceremony, we recuperate, re-member, and rejuvenate those we storytell into the world…

 

The Testament of Mary

The Testament of Mary

 

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin (Website)

Genre: literary/historical fiction

Setting: 1st century Ephesus

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Meryl Streep

Source: my own collection

Length: 03:07:00

Published by: Simon and Schuster Audio (10 Sept 2013)

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A first person narrative of some of the events of the alleged life of Jesus, told from his mother Mary’s point of view. The premise is that she is now an old woman waiting to die, and so is writing down her recollections in a factual manner. She is not amused by her son’s choice of friends, who she says are mostly men who can’t even look a woman in the eye. Nor is she impressed with the people who believe her son is the son of God. She definitely has no time for that. She has no interest in collaborating with the authors of the Gospels, who are her keepers as well. She doesn’t think they are ‘holy disciples’ or that her son’s death was ‘worth it.’

I dig this Mary. This Mary has absolutely zero fucks left to give, and she’s not shy about telling you so. She points out the many times she was dismissed or treated badly by her son or others. She is not the gentle, meek, retiring woman portrayed over the centuries in so much art and literature. This Mary has Things to Say™ and she is not happy about the way events played out, nor with the players involved. Here, she is a grieving, bitter old woman, and I don’t blame her. If someone killed my child in any way, let alone in a horrifically brutal way, I’d be bitter and pissed off about it, too. And would likely have a whole lot more to say about it than she did here. Or else I’d be dead because I would attack the people and get it over so they’d kill me. 

I am as atheist as they come and find this a refreshing and realistic portrayal of Mary, totally divorced from centuries of veneration that has been heaped on her. Not that I believe she existed any more than Jesus did. But if she did, I can see her ending up like this. This Mary obviously loves her son but she doesn’t spare him any criticism, either. She doesn’t think he is divine or that he is the son of God. She thinks he didn’t treat her all that well once he was grown. She didn’t like his friends and thought they were a bunch of misfits. She felt that her son’s preaching was dangerous, bizarre, and delusional. She will not tell her keepers stories about her son that weren’t true just so they could fit them in with the narrative they created about him. She simply refuses to play. I loved her, and I felt horrible for her.

Meryl Streep, of course, did an exceptional job narrating this story. She imbues her voice with age, fatigue, bitterness, grief, everything you might expect to find in a woman who has lived far longer than she really wants to, burdened as she is with sorrow and anger. 

I loved this book (novella, really) and recommend it highly. However, if a reader is really religious and isn’t inclined to view Mary or her son in any way other than how they are represented in the Wholly Babble, then it might be better to skip this one. It is NOT an irreverent or heretical book, but it pulls no punches and undermines the whole point of Christianity. Which is why I loved it, naturally. 

Guest Post: The Book of Gutsy Women

The Book of Gutsy Women

The Book of Gutsy Women by Hilary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton

Reviewed by Cathy Smith

Although I wanted to speak to my friend from 50 years ago, I was not looking forward to the phone call. I mostly did not want to speak with him because I knew the conversation would be pushed into opposing political views or religious views, regardless of how many times I would ask that we “not go there”. After much thought, I set my concerns aside, told my inside mind to be kind and stay nice, and returned my friend’s calls.

It started out well but less than three minutes into the call, he said (without taking a breath), “You live in Oregon. Right? My oldest son lived in Portland for a year. He hated it. He mostly didn’t like living there because he said people in Oregon let women speak their minds and what’s worse is that they listen to them…”

My inside mind lost all its filters, triggering my voice, and what followed was a five-hour conversation about women, their rights, and all the major political and religious issues facing the nation today. At the end of the phone call, which required both of us having to charge our phones in midstream, we were still friends (I think). He tried to convince me to go to the next class reunion, and I ended with a maybe. We hung up, and I returned to listening to The Book of Gutsy Women by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton.

The Book of Gutsy Women is more than just the biographies of some of the most courageous women in the world. It is about the issues faced by humanity in the past and in the present. The book discusses issues from all aspects of life and talks about how individual woman have had the courage to step out of their comfort zones to take a stand.

After finishing the book, the one fact that really stayed with me is the issue of women and their reproductive rights. When reading the chapter about Venus and Serena Williams, I learned that the maternal mortality rate is rising in the United States. According to Delbanco, Lehan, Montalvo, and Levin-Scherz (2019) “Over 700 women a year die of complications related to pregnancy each year in the United States, and two-thirds of those deaths are preventable” (para. 2).

The estimated maternal mortality rate (per 100,000 live births) for 48 states and Washington, DC (excluding California and Texas, analyzed separately) increased by 26.6%, from 18.8 in 2000 to 23.8 in 2014. California showed a declining trend, whereas Texas had a sudden increase in 2011-2012. (MacDorman, et al., 2016, p. 447)

This information is mind-boggling, especially as it relates to Serena Williams and why she needed to wear a specially designed catsuit during the French Open in 2018. Williams knew that she had several blood clots in both her lungs, and after giving birth to her daughter in 2017, she had a pulmonary embolism (Friedman, 2018). The catsuit was a compression suit that would prevent blood clots (Clinton, H. R, & Clinton, C., 2019). Unfortunately, Williams was told by the French Tennis Federation that she could not wear a black catsuit during a match. It is interesting how women have been and are regulated regarding the clothes they are expected to wear or not wear personally and professionally.

Unlike Williams, another athlete featured in The Book of Gutsy Women is Ibtihaj Muhammad who chose fencing as a sport because “fencers wear full-body suits and masks, the uniforms wouldn’t need to be altered” (Clinton & Clinton, 2019, Chapter Athletes, Section Ibtihaj Muhammad, para. 1). Although what Muhammad wore was not an issue for the sport she excelled in, many tried to use her religious and personal beliefs to dissuade her from following through with her dreams and her goals. Throughout her career, Muhammad was told she could not succeed because she was a Muslim woman and even received life threats. None of this has stopped this gutsy woman.

Living in harm’s way, being threatened and abused, and being the victims of bullying is not uncommon for gutsy women. The Book of Gutsy Women shares the short bios of women that have advocated for education, the environment, and politics. The Clintons share stories about activists, writers, and women groundbreakers. Each bio provides readers and listeners with insightful information about the lives and work of some of the most remarkable women who have changed and are changing the world.

Recently, I had the opportunity to read The Tubman Command by Elizabeth Cobbs. Although fiction, the book inspired me to learn more about Harriet Tubman, so when Tubman was the first gutsy woman that the Clintons wrote about, I was hooked. As I read about and listened to each story, I discovered tidbits of information that I, as a woman, could relate to. For example, when reading about Margaret Bourke-White, I found a new hero in my life. She is known as a fearless photojournalist for Life magazine and the first female war correspondent (Clinton & Clinton, 2019). Throughout my younger years, my dream job was to be a writer and a war correspondent, much to my parents’ dismay. Of course, this did not happen since my Dad’s dying wish was that I finish college and become a teacher.

As it turned out, teaching was a perfect career for me, especially since I was able to work with multicultural and bilingual education, reading, and writing. My first teaching positions were with Migrant education. The stories and the journeys of migrant children and families were both heart-wrenching and inspirational. Before working in migrant education, I previously worked as a migrant farm worker and was aware of the work done by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers so when I read and listened to the Clintons’ bio of Dolores Huerta, I continued to embrace their book. In the 1940s, Huerta completed college and became a teacher, and soon after starting her teaching career, she discovered her purpose in life (Clinton & Clinton, 2019). Huerta (as cited in Clinton & Clinton, 2016) stated, “I couldn’t tolerate seeing kids come to class hungry and needing shoes” and continued to say, “I thought I could do more by organizing farmworkers than by trying to teach their hungry children” (Chapter Advocates and Activists Section Dolores Huerta para. 4). Huerta worked side by side with Cesar Chavez to cofound the United Farm Workers.

The stories of the amazing women in The Book of Gutsy Women are all unique and inspiring. Many of the women featured were my personal heroes growing up, and others are new heroes who now give me the courage to step outside of my comfort zone to do more work for the different communities that I have come to call my own. The Book of Gutsy Women by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton is a book that I recommend everyone read. In fact, I sent a print copy to my daughter and granddaughter so they will realize that it is important for all women to find their voice and share their passions with the world.

References

Clinton, H. R. & Clinton, C. (2019). The Book of Gutsy Women [Kindle Fire 10 version] Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Delbanco, S., Lehan, M. Montalvo, T., and Levin-Scherz, J. (2019) The rising U.S. material mortality rate demands action from employers. Harvard Law Review. Retrieved on February 24, 2020 from https://hbr.org/2019/06/the-rising-u-s-maternal-mortality-rate-demands-action-from-employers

Friedman, M. (2018) French Open bans Serena Williams from wearing her life-saving catsuit -Even though it helped her with a major health issue. Elle. Retrieved on February 24, 2020 from https://www.elle.com/culture/celebrities/a22826732/serena-williams-catsuit-french-open-dress-code/

MacDorman, M.F., Declercq, E. Cabral, H. & Morton, C. (2016). Recent increases in the U.S. maternal mortality rate: Disentangling trends from measurement issues. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 128(3), 447–455. https://doi.org/10.1097/AOG.0000000000001556

 

 

 

 

 

On the Come Up

On the Come UpOn the Come Up by Angie Thomas (Website, Twitter, Insta, Facebook)

Genre: YA/contemporary literature

Setting: Garden Heights, a fictional neighborhood

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Bahni Turpin

Source: my own collection

Length: 11:43:00

Published by: HarperAudio (5 Feb 2019)

Her Grace’s rating:  out of 5 stars

Bri Jackson is a 16 year old who wants nothing more than to be a rapper like her father was before he died. People call her Lil Law, an homage to her father’s stage name Lawless. But Bri is very much her own person with her own style and ideas, not a copy of her father. When she wins a rap battle in the ring, Bri finds herself suddenly in the spotlight, and not always in a good way. Navigating her way through a fledgling career in the music industry and helping/worrying about her mother’s unexpected job loss, Bri has to figure out how to be on the come up in a way that is true to herself.

Initially, I was hesitant to read this because how could it possibly be as good as The Hate U Give? I went ahead and bought it when it was an Audible daily deal, but I didn’t work up the nerve to listen until now. Am I ever glad I did! This was a fantastic novel! Thomas does such a good job of bringing readers inside the heads of her characters. You can really feel the anger, disillusionment, disappointment, and fear of the characters. Frankly, anyone who reads a book like this and doesn’t feel rage at all the injustice must have something wrong with them. Bri is angry, yes. She’s got an attitude and can be rude. But she was doing nothing wrong and got thrown to the ground by two grown male security guards at her school. That’s a whole lot of bullshit. I’d be furious if that happened to me, too. I’m furious just reading about it happening to a fictional character. 

I felt Bri’s pain and worry when she saw her mother and older brother trying to scrape together enough money to pay the utility bill AND also buy food; her shame when her shoes fell apart and she couldn’t afford new ones; her embarrassment at having to go with her mother to the food bank. Children shouldn’t have to worry about things like this, and it hurts and is shameful that children anywhere, let alone one of the richest countries in the world, deal with food insecurity and poverty daily. 

The references to various rap and hip-hop artists throughout the book made me want to listen. I’ve never been much of a fan of rap, but I know that some artists use it to highlight social injustice. This story made me want to educate myself better. 

I listened to this on audio and Bahni Turpin’s performance is fire. She is one of my favorite narrators anyway, but she really went above and beyond in bringing these characters to life, especially Bri and her music. Also, here is Angie Thomas rapping one of Bri’s songs. 

I can’t wait to see what Angie Thomas writes next, and I hope Bahni Turpin narrates it. 

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

  • Jay’s a people person. I’m more of a “yes, people exist, but that doesn’t mean I need to talk to them” person.
  • There’s only so much you can take being described as somebody you’re not.
  • That’s when I learned that when people die, they sometimes take the living with them.
  • But it’s kinda like saying one side of the Death Star is safer than the other. It’s still the goddamn Death Star.
  • Not everything deserves your energy.
  • All these flavors out here, and you choose to be salty.

 

Boy, Snow, Bird

Boy Snow BirdBoy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi (Website)

Genre: literary fiction/ magical realism

Setting: Flax Hill, CT (fictional)

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 308 pp

Published by: Riverhead Books (27 Aug 2013)

Her Grace’s rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

 

**Major spoilers below**

In mid-century Massachusetts, Boy Novak marries Arturo Whitman, a widower with a young daughter, Snow. Eventually, Boy has a daughter of her own, which is when it becomes clear that Arturo and Snow are light-skinned Blacks and they are ‘passing’ as white. 

Boy, Snow, Bird is touted as a Snow White retelling, but if that is true, I fucking missed the point. Yes, there was a bit of an obsession with mirrors throughout and a sense of competitiveness about ‘who is the fairest’ between Boy and Snow. Beyond that, I guess I missed the similarities to the fairy tale. This isn’t a real problem for me because I generally felt this novel was more a discussion on race relations and racism than anything else. 

I thought the first part of the book worked well, told from Boy’s point of view. She was raised in an abusive household by a single father and traumatized by his penchant for rat catching. When she turns 20, Boy flees from her father’s home in NYC to the small town of Flax Hill, MA, outside Boston. There, she begins her new life, finds new friends, and marries Arturo. She feels there is something weird or not trustworthy about Snow, which is about all I could suss out regarding the Snow White plot. The ‘evil stepmother’ sends away the child everyone loves and fawns over. This confused me because I wanted to know why Arturo didn’t object to his new wife sending his first daughter away. As a parent, I would never stand for someone wanting to send my kid somewhere else. 

The second part was from Bird’s POV. This didn’t work as well, partly because of the epistolary element. Why not just give Snow her own section if you want her voice to be heard? Also, this was the section that seemed to have the most magical realism, such as how Bird says she doesn’t always appear in mirrors. These elements were later dropped entirely in the third part and we never got a resolution to them. 

In the third part, which goes back to Boy’s POV, the novel just loses the plot. There is a lot of discovery and revelation but it felt contrived and not that connected to the story. It is here where it becomes the most apparent that the characters are also really flat and have been throughout. It was in this last part, about 25 or so pages from the end, where Boy learns that her father, Frank, was actually her mother. Frank had been Frances and she was a lesbian, but began living as a man after she was sexually assaulted in grad school. There was a really gross implication that transpeople become trans because of sexual assault and that they then proceed to become abusive sociopaths. Um, no. Just no. I am sure that’s not what Oyeyemi meant to imply, but the message is there nonetheless. I know that there are plenty of examples of people, especially women, living as men in the earlier parts of the 20th century (for example, Trenton Makes) and passing as men, similar to how some Black people passed as white. However, WHY? Why was the transgender thing even here? I don’t  understand what it was supposed to add to the story; the story wouldn’t have changed one bit if Frank really was Boy’s father and her mother really had died in childbirth. Unless it is just to highlight to Boy that Arturo and Snow passing as white shouldn’t be the shock it was since her own mother had passed as something she wasn’t for Boy’s whole life, whether she knew it or not. 

This was the first novel by Helen Oyeyemi that I’ve read and I do plan to read more by her. I liked her writing and the hidden bits of humor. Some of it was pure poetry on the page. I just didn’t care for this story or the way she handled trans issues. 

Favorite part/ lines:

  • The first coffee of the morning is never, ever, ready quickly enough. You die before it’s ready and then your ghost pours the resurrection potion out of the moka pot.
  • For reasons of my own I take note of the way people act when they’re around mirrors.
  • The general advice is always be yourself, be yourself, which only makes sense if you haven’t got an attitude problem.
  • If you wish to be truly free, you must love no one.
  • I told her that magic spells only work until the person under the spell is really and honestly tired of it. It ends when continuing becomes simply too ghastly a prospect.
  • She was only fifteen. At that age embarrassment is something you can actually die of.
  • People underestimate the freckled.
  • I’d have liked for him to say my name again, though. You know how it is when someone says your name really well, like it means something that makes the world a better place.
  • Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy. I’d hide myself away in them, setting two mirrors to face each other so that when I stood between them I was infinitely reflected in either direction. Many, many me’s. When I stood on tiptoe, we all stood on tiptoe, trying to see the first of us, and the last. The effect was dizzying, a vast pulse, not quite alive, more like the working of an automaton.

 

Such a Fun Age

Such a Fun AgeSuch a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (Website, Twitter, Insta, Facebook)

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: literary fiction

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 310 pp

Published by: Putnam (pub date)

 

Emira Tucker is a 25 year old black woman who is struggling to find her path in life. She’s about to get kicked off her parents’ insurance and is juggling two jobs, having a hard time paying rent, and really wants to find a full time job with benefits. In the meantime, she is a part-time babysitter to Alix Chamberlain’s eldest daughter, Briar. Alix is a blogger and something of a social media influencer, and she thinks she knows what is best for Emira. When an incident occurs at a local fancypants grocery store and Emira is accused of kidnapping Briar, events transpire to alter the course Emira thought she was on. The confrontation at the grocery is caught on video and the man who filmed it, called Kelley, also thinks he knows what is best for Emira. Eventually, the various relationships and power dynamics shift and Emira does what is best for herself.

This was a really fast and easy read, though I think it fell apart at the end. It was too easy and wrapped up all the loose threads too neatly. The characters, except for Emira and Briar, seemed kind of like they were being pushed into a stereotype. But this was a novel making a social commentary about ‘woke’ culture and how so many people are trying so hard to be woke and not racist that they end up being racist for lack of self-awareness. It was a commentary on the white savior mentality and how what one person thinks is best may not actually be best for another person. 

Reid did a good job making Alix and Kelley into unreliable narrators. I really didn’t know who was telling the truth and who wasn’t, or what their motives were for a while. Emira’s voice is strong throughout and she develops a lot as a woman throughout the story. Everyone thinks people who have finished college and are in their mid-20s must know what they want to do in life, but so often that is not the case. I thought it was nicely done to show some of the real life struggles new adults face in their daily lives. 

The part that I felt was the most well written was the actual event at the grocery store. Yes, I know things like this happen all the time and it is awful. But Reid is adept at making readers feel the anger, fear, and humiliation that goes along with someone else assuming you are breaking the law simply because of the color of your skin or what you are wearing. That’s a bunch of racist fuckery and it should have no place in civilized society. It infuriates me when I see news reports of incidents like this, and books like Reid’s that make you more strongly empathize with victims of racism are vitally important. I am not a black woman; I will never know what it feels like to have someone assume I’m breaking the law just by being there. But hopefully, one day soon, racism won’t happen and it will be viewed with the disgust and contempt it deserves from everyone. 

Though I thought there were some plot holes and structural flaws, Such a Fun Age was a terrific read and I strongly recommend it. 

The Cuckoo’s Calling

The Cuckoo's CallingThe Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (Website)

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Genre: mystery

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Robert Glenister

Source: my own collection

Length: 15:54:00

Published by: Hachette Audio (30 Dec 2012)

Cormoran Strike is a private detective living in London. Typically, he investigates missing people, extramarital affairs, and the like. But when Lula Landry, a supermodel, falls to her death in an apparent suicide, her brother begs for Cormoran’s help to investigate. He is convinced his sister didn’t jump but was pushed, that her death was a murder. Cormoran takes the case and is rapidly enmeshed in the world of high fashion and the ruthless, greedy people Landry had surrounded herself with.

Robert Galbraith (AKA JK Rowling for anyone who’s been living under a rock) delivers a thoroughly tepid story that really drags in spots. I truly don’t know what all the hype was about. The plot was actually quite boring and predictable, despite being overly convoluted at parts. My opinion has nothing to do with wanting her to write more like Harry Potter. It is an adult mystery, so I don’t really know why so many people gave her negative reviews because it wasn’t written like Harry Potter. Helloooo, it’s a totally different genre! Even so, it was deadly dull in general. I only kept listening because it ticks a box for a reading challenge task.

Strike seems in many ways like the opposite of the usual private detective. He’s described as kind of short and really hairy. He is not handsome, and frankly, even if he were, his excess hair, described as a pelt or like a coconut mat, would take care of that. Yuck. I don’t really get why Rowling would want her protagonist to be kind of gross, unless it is just to make readers (and characters) focus on his skills rather than his looks. Which, if so, well done on the social commentary about the shallowness of modern society! If not, then just why? I did like that he is a protagonist with a disability, and that the disability wasn’t a constant focus of the narrative. It just was the way he was. The occasional reference to his aching stump or badly-fitting prosthesis was about it; Strike isn’t defined by his disability. 

In other ways, Strike is entirely typical – down on his luck, broke, difficult relationships with all the women in his life, ex-soldier, more competent than the cops or than anyone gives him credit for, with a sassy but highly competent assistant who kind of has a flame for him. It is very cliched.

I wanted to like this one, I really did. I wanted to see Rowling write an adult novel that grabbed my attention and was pleasingly complex. But I was disappointed. This was the first adult novel of hers I’ve read and it doesn’t inspire me to read any more. The narrator did a good job on this, but that was probably the best part of the book for me.