Review: The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life

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Review for "The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life" by Lauren Markham (2017)
 
Rating: 4.75 stars

I tend to be attracted to books that showcase timely social issues in a readable, narrative format. This is just such a book.

This is the true story of Ernesto and Raul Flores, identical twins who left their home in El Salvador in 2013 and illegally came to America without their parents at the age of 17. In their small rural town, the twins live with seven other siblings and their parents in crippling poverty and in constant fear of violent criminal gangs, which rule the countries of the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) with a iron fist. For $7000 each, Ernesto and Raul’s parents seek out a loan shark to pay for the services of a coyote, a smuggler who moves people through Central America and Mexico and finally through the desolate desert interior of the U.S. The story goes into detail of their capture in the desert by border patrol, detainment in a facility for unaccompanied minors (mostly from Central America), and their reunion with an older brother who also came north in the same fashion several years before.

The story, however, doesn’t stop there. Markham follows her subjects through the myriad of challenges that make up the twins’ new American life: entering school, finding legal representation to fight deportation, learning English, paying down their accumulating $19,000 coyote debt, the struggle to send money home, family problems, and of course, the struggles that simply come with being teenagers. Interspersed throughout the book are snippets of ‘boots on the ground’ research done by the author of the various aspects of the Central American immigrant experience–their journey, frequent capture, detainment, and (almost always) deportation.

I really loved this story because it was told in an easy to follow narrative style that completely humanizes the “illegal aliens” that the current president would love to build a wall to keep out. You learn about the high, very human cost of these efforts and how, despite what laws or wall is erected, many are still willing to risk it all to live the American dream, even if it means death.

Loved this book. Get it right away!

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Review: We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy

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Review for "We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy" by Ta-Nehisi Coates (to be published on 3 October 2017)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Great book, I tell ya…

When I heard that Ta-Nehisi Coates was writing another book, I signed up to read it on NetGalley with lightning quickness. I also read his writings elsewhere such as The Atlantic, Twitter. Matter of fact, I’ll usually drop everything I’m doing to read Mr. Coates because his perspective and words on the most pressing issues of our time are impeccable.

If you aren’t reading Ta-Nehisi Coates then you probably should be. Like “Between the World and Me,” “We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy” is a searing testimony to the ongoing quagmire of race in the United States: to high hopes, to failed promises, to the uncertainty of what lies ahead. These are a collection of eight essays that appeared in The Atlantic (one for each of the eight years that President Obama was in office) with a short preface added by Coates before each, which give the reading more perspective and insight.

Do read this. It should be required reading in all schools and universities.

[Note: A free digital copy of this book was provided by the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing

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Review for "Sing, Unburied, Sing" by Jesmyn Ward (2017)

Rating: none

DNF, right around 54%.

I simply couldn’t get into this book. Not that it wasn’t good, or that Jesmyn Ward isn’t a sensational writer (she is), but I just don’t think that this book is quite for me at this time. I go through phases with my reading, sometimes I can endure what I’m not into and sometimes I find it so unbearable I can’t finish. This one of those times.

Despite what the reviews say, I found this to be a very depressing novel from the outset. Preteen Jojo and his sister are from an impoverished family near the Mississippi border, living with (and pardon my French) the most fucked-up parents imaginable. Michael, his father, is a former convict, and Leonie, his mother, is a drug addict who gets high on the regular and talks to her dead brother. Despite his parents’ waywardness, Jojo is a good kid who manages to take on a parental role to his sister Kayla. He is wise beyond his years in a way that a child should not have to be, which made my anger toward his parents all the more apparent. Pop, Jojo’s grandfather, is also a kind man, who seemed to add a bit of tenderness to the story.

There is a lot of magical realism in this novel (ghosts that are very much real, etc.) and even though I’ve read plenty of stories with it, I found this element to be kind of confusing. As the story went on, I felt farther and farther away from it, which is pretty much why I stopped reading it.

I see myself coming back to this book, probably in the near future. For now though, I won’t rate it, other than to say that it wasn’t quite for me.

[Thanks to NetGalley and Scribner for a free digital copy of this book.]

Review: Black Mad Wheel

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Review for "Black Mad Wheel" by Josh Malerman (2017)
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Oooh, no. Just…no. HELL NO.

Maybe my hopes were a little too high for this one, especially after the success of Josh Malerman’s first novel, Bird Box. My reaction to this one was: WTF? And not in a good way, either.

The U.S military hires a rock band of former WWII soldiers for a top secret mission in the Namibian desert, to search for the source of a mysterious sound that incapacitates people who hear it and makes their weapons useless. The band hesitates, but finally accepts the offer to go to the desert in search of the sound after the promise of a large salary.

There are a few moments early on that manage to pull you in and give you just enough hope that this book would be creepy, much like Bird Box. But this one just ended up being weird, boring, and just plain silly. Plus, I just didn’t get it. We also see the Big Bad Guy, which is a psychological thriller no-no.

Skip this one.

Review: All the Dirty Parts

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Review for "All the Dirty Parts" by Daniel Handler (2017)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Well, this is umm, interesting…

Daniel Handler’s (aka Lemony Snicket) latest novel is a look inside the mind of Cole, a teenage boy with one of the most intense obsessions with sex in the history of literature. At the beginning of the novel Cole tells us that so far he’s had sex with 11 girls and has even developed quite a reputation at his school for sleeping around. He also watches porn endlessly, masturbates, trades dirty stories with his friend Alec. Things continue in much of the same manner for the first 50-60 pages until Cole eventually meets a girl he likes, whose sexual appetite appear to closely match his. I won’t give the rest away, other than to say that I found this book really disappointing.

Of the 134 pages of this book, there is no blank space that does not focus on the character’s thoughts of sex or detail some aspect of him engaging in it. While the highly sexualized subject matter didn’t really offend me, the lack of a plot did. This novel is a stream-of-conscious, helter skelter jumble of thoughts that seemingly go nowhere. There is some vague idea of a ‘lesson’ that the main character learns in the end, though it could have been executed much, much better. In the meantime there’s nothing here that really keeps you going, other than a need to finish.

I also take issue with the description of this book by the publisher as ‘an exciting novel that looks honestly at the erotic impulses of an all too typical young man.’ OMG…there is nothing about Cole’s all consuming obsession with sex here that suggests that his behavior is ‘typical’ of a teenage boy. To me, he came off as a raging sex addict in need of some serious psychological help. While Cole’s actions and thoughts may indeed be normal teenage impulse and logic, the ways in which he used sex to act on those his emotions was not, in my opinion, ‘typical.’

This certainly is not a YA book, and some adults may question why they are reading such a pornographically detailed account of the life of a teenage boy. The whole time I’m reading this I’m wondering who the real audience of this book is. Not that it matters so much, but just a consideration. Hmm.

2 stars. Blech.