Review: Monday’s Not Coming

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Review for "Monday's Not Coming" by Tiffany D. Jackson (2018)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I’ll admit it: Monday’s Not Coming has been one of my most anticipated reads this year. I read this in a few days and I’m definitely giving this a solid 4 stars.

The story begins when Claudia, the main character, returns from a summer vacation to discover that her best friend Monday Charles has not show up for their first day of eighth grade. No one seems concerned. Claudia’s parents caution her not to worry, but she knows better. After several weeks pass, Claudia begins to ask around about her friend. The school says she hasn’t registered. Monday’s mom says that she’s with her father, Monday’s sister says she’s with an aunt. The police also dismiss her concerns, labeling Monday as a probable runaway. Despite the setbacks, Claudia is more and more determined to find her best friend as the novel progresses.

I loved the setting of this book, as well as Claudia’s character. Claudia resides in Washington, D.C., a city with predominantly Black residents. There are thoughtful explorations here of gentrification, the educational system, the child welfare system, as well as class tensions in Black communities. Go go music, the National Mall, and the Anacostia neighborhood are all very prominent “characters” here as well. I loved it all. Also memorable is Claudia herself, a very complex character. Monday is her only friend, but she represents way more than just a friend–she’s Claudia’s other half. Once Monday’s disappearance takes hold, Claudia’s dyslexia becomes more visible to those around her. She is compelled to take remedial tutoring, which she hates. Claudia also enjoys dance, but lacks the confidence to stand out.

The execution of this novel has some problems, though. This is definitely one of those “down the rabbit hole” kinda books, where nothing’s a given and you’re gonna go through some hoops before you get to the Big Reveal at the end. The hoops here are four timelines that run parallel throughout the book, labeled “Before” (events before Monday’s disappearance), “After” (events after we discover what happens to Monday), “Before the Before,” and “2 Years Before the Before.” It’s confusing. I understand Jackson’s use of ambiguity here, but all of the various timelines and events made this a muddled mess. There is a twist at the end, but by this time I was so lost in the mire of the timeline that I have to admit that the only reason I didn’t skip pages was because I genuinely wanted to find out what happened to Monday.

To tell you more about this book takes it dangerously into spoiler territory. It definitely shines for its fearlessness. It is one of the first YA books that I’ve read in which Black girl friendships are problematized and presented with the realness that they deserve. It is also one of the first YA books that speaks directly to the phenomenon of “Missing White Woman Syndrome,” the term first used by PBS News anchor Gwen Ifill to describe society’s tendency to treat the disappearances of young, affluent White women as media events with constant, around the clock national coverage, despite the fact that men, along with women and children of color, comprise the majority of missing persons cases. For Monday’s disappearance, no one joins a search party. Her picture is not in the newspaper. She’s not even on the nightly news.

4 stars. If you read nothing else in 2018, please read this. You don’t want to miss it.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Summer TBR

I have a confession to make, ya’ll. I typically don’t do TBR lists. The reason for this is simple: I have a horrible reading attention span. I simply cannot guarantee that the books I tell you I’m going to read will be read in the allotted time frame I give. I am literally always looking at books–online, in stores, at the library, through emails I get, through requests. I just can’t say I’ll read x, y, and z during this month when the truth is I will probably find something else while randomly browsing the library one afternoon that will catch my interest.

I find that it’s best for me to base my TBR-isms on what’s currently on my shelf and in my Kindle with an expiration date or on reserve from the library. So here goes:

Books I’ll More Than Likely Read this Summer

1. How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs (ARC, to be published on 24 July 2018). Short story collection from a debut author that promises to be really yummy.

2. Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson (currently reading). I am floored by this book so far. Review forthcoming.

3. There There by Tommy Orange (currently on reserve). Debut fiction about urban Native Americans headed to a powwow. It’s gotten some good reviews and I’m curious about it, so I’m going to give this one a peep.

4. The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner (own a copy of this). Fiction book about an incarcerated woman. I’m interested where this one goes.

5. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (currently in my Kindle). Kick ass Black girls and zombies. Sign me up and take my money…

6. A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising: A Novel by Raymond Villareal (currently on reserve). I told you: I love zombies, so this should be interesting.

7. The Terrible: A Storyteller’s Memoir by Yrsa Daley Ward (currently on my shelf; library copy). I loved her recent poetry volume, Bone, so this should be a great read.

8. Sick: A Memoir by Porochista Khakpour (currently on my shelf; library copy). A nonfiction account of the author’s long and expensive struggle to get a diagnosis for what is discovered to be late-stage Lyme disease. I have a sister-in-law with Lyme disease, and she nearly lost everything just to get a doctor to listen. I need to read this story.

9. Severance by Ling Ma (ARC, to be published on 14 Aug 2018). Interesting dystopian fiction read about a lady who loses her job while the end of the world is happening at the same time. Can’t wait to read this later this summer!

10. Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras (ARC, to be published on 31 July 2018). Fictional story set in Colombia at the time of Escobar’s violent hold on the country. Promises to be a great read by a debut author.

Ok, work in the morning folks.

xoxo, Kellan

 

Review: Heather, The Totality

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Review for "Heather, the Totality" by Matthew Weiner (2017)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
From what I’ve glanced through on Goodreads, this is a book that people either completely loved or absolutely hated. I’m in the first camp, I think this book is fantastic. And no, it’s not because the author was one of the writers on two of my favorite shows, Mad Men and The Sopranos (though being a fangirl sho’ does help). I liked this book because it’s a pretty decent work of fiction.

This is a short book (less than 150 pages), more novella-like than a novel. There is very little dialogue, the story is told through third person narration of one of four characters. I can see where this annoys people because it reads more like a storyboard summary than a fully fleshed out, traditional novel. Either way, the quirks in the style didn’t bother me. I really dug this story.

Mark Breakstone lives the life that people dream about. He works in finance and lives in Manhattan in a spacious, expensive apartment. He marries Karen, a pretty social climber who shares his dreams of the good life. Shortly after their marriage, Karen becomes pregnant and gives birth to Heather, their beautiful and gifted daughter. So beautiful is Heather that both of her parents become obsessed with her, seeking to one-up one other in competition for her affection.

Meanwhile, the reader is introduced to Bobby Klasky. He is not beautiful or gifted or wealthy. He grows up in New Jersey, the son of a heroin addicted mother. He drops out of school and dabbles in petty crimes until he eventually goes to prison for assaulting a woman in his neighborhood. All the while we get a window into Bobby’s thoughts, which become more and more disturbing and violent as the narrative progresses.

It becomes evident early on that the paths of Bobby and the Breakstone family will eventually meet, and that the result will be a violent one. There is a sense of dread that starts in the first quarter of the book that’s played up skillfully until these four characters collide at the end. It’s good that this is a short novel so you don’t have to wait that long to find out.

My only complaint about this book is that the ending was a little too clean and convenient for my tastes. As I said before, there is a tension that’s played up, only to get to the end and it’s like: hmmm, ok. That was easy. None of the scenarios that I envisioned while reading this came even remotely close to what actually happened. A minor complaint. But still, ugh.

Four stars. Read this in one sitting, like you’re supposed to.

Review: Another Day in the Death of America

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Review for "Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives" by Gary Younge (2016)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“Another Day in the Death of America” is a look at the effects of gun violence on children in the United States. Younge, a British reporter, picks a random day (November 23, 2013), and identifies 10 children who died of gunshot wounds around the country within that 24 hour period. He follows up with their families and acquaintances, interviewing them and seeking insight into the victim’s short lives.

All of Younge’s subjects are male. The youngest victim was 9 years old, the oldest, 18. They hailed from large cities and small towns, inner cities and suburbs. Seven of the victims were Black, one was White, and two were Hispanic. Some of their deaths were accidental and some were intentional. In at least four of the cases, the killer (or killers) is still unknown. What matters the most, however, is that all of them were loved by their family, the majority of which agreed to be interviewed for this book.

The author puts a very human face on the tragedy of gun violence. He also probes, quite extensively and justifiably, issues of race and social class, which play a part in the prevalence of violence in some communities more than others. While he says that this book is not a plea for gun control, I’m not sure how this book can be read by anyone as anything but. It is clear that the point the author is making is that Americans are not inherently more violent than the citizens of any other country, yet the availability of guns make deaths more likely and more prevalent.

This book was written in 2016, and yet, two years later, it is still a timely one. The author admits that he began the research and writing on this book shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting. I read this in 2018, and we’re only several months removed from yet another school shooting, this time in Parkland, Florida. The questions raised in this book two years ago are the same questions we face today over gun control, and we’ve done absolutely nothing since.

I try to refrain from getting overtly political on my site, because, well, it’s all about the books, right? However, I realize more and more that the books I choose are political, and that every time I post my thoughts about them it is clear where I stand on certain issues. I’m OK with that. I am not a Democrat or a Republican, but I am a mother who sends my 14-year-old son off to school every morning with a hug and a kiss, just like everyone else.

I pray every single day that he comes home without a bullet in his body.

Review: Barracoon

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Review for "Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston (2018)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Barracoon is the field work of legendary writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston. It is the story of the last known survivor of the African slave trade, Cudjo Lewis, in his very own words. In 1927, Hurston traveled to visit Cudjo to his home in Alabama, and over several weeks interviewed him directly, transcribing his account of how he was taken captive at the age of 19 in an area now known as the country of Benin and transported illegally to America in 1860. She completed a book containing Cudjo’s story in 1931. However, her book never found a publisher and remained locked away in her archives at Howard University for over 80 years.

The reasons why Barracoon was never published are quite obvious. For one, Hurston insisted that Cudjo’s voice be heard and he be allowed to speak in his own dialect. Second, it implicates Africans as profiteers within the nexus of the slave trade, a fact that many historians have long denied. Originally named Oluale Kossola, Cudjo was captured by a rival tribe and was sold into slavery, a common practice on the continent for hundreds of years. He spent three weeks in a stockade (called a barracoon) and was subsequently shipped to America on a ship named Clotilda. Once in America, Kossola is renamed Cudjo and lives as a slave for five years until he is freed by Union soldiers in 1865. He eventually marries and has six children, all of whom die before his own death in 1935.

If you are unfamiliar with rural Black Southern dialect, you will have a helluva time with this book. Hurston was right to insist on not changing Cudjo’s words, and as you read this book you will understand why. I am fairly familiar with the cadence and the speech patterns of Black dialect, yet I still found it helpful throughout this book to read Cudjo’s words aloud, his speech ‘as is’ is critical to the understanding of his story, along with Hurston’s prose. Also telling were the many times in the book where Cudjo refused to speak, preferring instead to sit on his porch and eat a peach or share a watermelon with Hurston in silence instead of talk about the horrific experiences he’d gone through.

I loved this book. I feel it is definitely a story that demands to be told, especially when there’s an open bigot in the White House and one ignorant public figure in particular who is dumb enough to actually open his mouth to suggest that “slavery was a choice.” This book seems timely and well-intentioned, in the climate of so much rhetoric that seeks to undermine the horrors of slavery and its present-day implications.

Highly recommended–don’t miss this one.

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Loves and Hates

Once again, this week’s designated Top Ten Tuesday doesn’t agree with me…so I’m making my own topic. I’ll pretend I’m in a speed dating situation and I’ve got about 15 minutes to tell you about what I like and don’t like as far as what I read.

(This is silly, but play along here, OK?)

Top Ten Book Loves/Book Hates

Loves

  1. YA, YA YA. I pity people that don’t read YA. Seriously. Like, what do you do in your boring ass life? Young adult books are the shit because it’s where all the action is. Want to know what’s hot in the streets? Read YA. YA is a cool litmus test for finding out what’s hip, what’s controversial, what will be talked about next. As an educator I dive into YA often, because I want to know what young people think about, what types of messages about life they receive from older people. I also like YA because it’s a safe place for nostalgia, make believe, and uncomplicated, raw emotion. Where else can you be angsty as fuck and get away with it? YA, of course.
  2. Diverse characters. Ever since I took a Multicultural Literature class as an undergrad student in 2001, I’ve strove to make my reading as representative of society as a whole as possible. Here on 29chapters.com, you will find that I review books about people of all races, ages, gender identities, sexual orientations, ethnicities, religions, ability levels, social classes, as well as inside and outside of the U.S. This is done purposefully, not only keep me in the loop of the human experience, but to shine a light on people with experiences unlike your own whose stories deserve your attention.
  3. Nonfiction about social issues. I love reading nonfiction, but I strive to make the reading of mine worthwhile by reading to educate myself on social issues that interest me–particularly issues of crime and the criminal justice system, race, feminism, immigration, and poverty. Oppression of one is essentially the oppression of all, and learning how all of these issues are connected in our every day lives is critical.
  4. Dystopian lit. Books on how jacked up the future will be are always a treat for me. Perhaps it is because I am deeply pessimistic on the future as well, and believe that the changes we don’t make now will revisit us in the future, only three times worse. Either way, it’s fun to read about how the world’s going to hell, and there’s very little we can do about it but wait. Weee…
  5. “Thinking” while reading. If I’m thinking while I’m reading it, that’s always a good thing. Books that engage me intellectually and challenge me are always books that I will finish, whether I like them or not. It just drives home (for me, at least) that reading will always be a thinking process, not just some passive activity where I’m sitting and absorbing info like a plant. It also means that we can still be friends and disagree.

Hates

  1. “Chick” lit. Ewww, I hate anything that resembles this genre of literature. Books where the main objective is finding love, catfights, figuring out silly friendship drama, or a good pair of heels is not for me. I turn down offers to review on these kinds of books all the time and will continue to do so unapologetically. No chick lit here ever, I’m convinced it causes brain shrinkage.
  2. Romance novels. Another genre I don’t touch with a ten foot pole. As a matter of fact, if I go to a book review site and it’s full of reviews on romance novels (even if they are YA) and chick lit, I immediately back up and make a note not to visit that site again. Brain shrinkage occurs with this one as well, only at a more rapid rate.
  3. Books from Western canons. I’m not saying there aren’t classics because there are, but surely one has noticed that 99% of the books in the humanities considered “classics” are written by White men. I love All Quiet on the Western Front, Grapes of Wrath, Aristotle’s Poetics, and Huckleberry Finn as much as the next gal, but if these kinds of books is all one reads, I question why your reading perspective is limited to that of straight White dudes only. As if Western perspectives and being cisgendered is the center of the moral universe. Not so, I say. I’ll stay on the left.
  4. Mainstream bestsellers. I could care less what’s on the Amazon or New York Times bestseller list. I also don’t care about who won what award, or what book “everybody” is reading right now. As a matter of fact, if I see a book on “the list” I will usually avoid it for that very reason because yes, millions of people can be wrong. Occasionally I do read pop fiction, but it is only because I am curious about that particular book. But nah, I’ve never gone to “the list” and scanned it for something to read. To this day I maintain that I’ve never read a Harry Potter book and don’t plan to. My son has read them all though. Bless his heart.
  5. “Major Motion Picture” covers. So Everything, Everything is a movie now. That doesn’t mean you have to change the paperback cover. I know you want to sell movie tickets, but urrrrgghh…this burns me up. Keep it the same, don’t change it.

Rock on, guys…

xoxo, Kellan

Review: We’ll Fly Away

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Review for "We'll Fly Away" by Bryan Bliss (2018)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A very well written, hard hitting YA book.

“We’ll Fly Away” is the story of two boys, Luke and Toby, who have been friends for most of their lives. Luke, the stronger of the two, is an athlete who dreams of college success through wrestling, while Toby, aimless and a victim of his father’s physical abuse, relies on Luke to protect him. Both boys long to escape their rural North Carolina town (ironically, the setting of which is only about an hour away from me) and bond over a broken down airplane they discover in the woods as kids. Interestingly, the theme of flight is all throughout this book, even though it is apparent early on that neither of these boys are going anywhere. Escape, it seems, is only possible through death and/or violence.

When the story opens, we discover that Luke is in prison, writing letters of apology to his friend Toby. We are not told why he is on death row, but it is obvious that he is there for a horrible crime. In his letters, Luke struggles with his morality, getting along with inmates, and other adjustments to prison life. The story switches between his letters to a third person narrative of the events leading up to Luke’s imprisonment. In the third person flashbacks, we learn that Luke’s life isn’t free of dysfunction either. When he isn’t wrestling, Luke is taking on way more responsibility than he should, watching over his younger twin brothers while his mother takes up with different men. Toby’s father, a local criminal, physically and emotionally abuses him, leaving him with a lack of social skills that lead him into conflicts at school. Luke, ever Toby’s rescuer, comes to his defense time and time again.

I won’t go into too many of the details of this story to avoid spoiling it. I will say, however, that this is a fairly solid book that examines male friendship, difficult choices, and the criminal justice system in a very meaningful way. Even though there was a bit of a lull in the middle of this, the ending was shocking enough to make up for everything it lacked in between.

Definitely recommended.