Review: Eat the Apple

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Review for "Eat the Apple" by Matt Young (to be published on 27 February 2018)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

“It’s important to understand bullets don’t stop just because they hit something.”

Matt Young enlists in the Marines in the early 00’s and eventually lives through three deployments to Iraq. It’s a very dark war story with all of the typical ‘no atheists in foxholes’ kind of nihilism, but this is definitely not your typical memoir. There are medical diagnosis charts, screenplay scripts, second person narration, drawings, letters, and other formats that made this book darkly funny, and at times, extremely serious.

I don’t know, though. Even though I liked this memoir, the variety of formats presented weren’t enough to keep me from skimming through multiple sections that held little interest to me. Perhaps because I am not well-schooled in the ways of combat, deployment, the Marines, or any branch of the Armed Services, for that matter.

I give this book 3.5 stars for originality.

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

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Review: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

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Review for "I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter" by Erika L. Sanchez (2017)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Before I begin, lemme say that I hope that everyone is having a wonderful winter holiday, whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or just a few days of physical rest from work.
Now, onto my review. Kinda spoiler-y, so beware…

Julia is a Mexican American teenager living in inner-city Chicago. In the first 25 pages we learn that her life really sucks: her older, “perfect” sister Olga has just been run over by a bus, her dad stays drunk and emotionally unavailable, and her overly domineering mother projects all of the expectations that she had for her older daughter onto Julia. As a result, Julia stays depressed and angry, transferring her rage back onto her family and the people around her.

While it’s an understandable anger that this character has, man…I’ve never read a YA book with a character this unbelievably gross. Julia is truly a monster that is equal parts cruel and arrogant, with a haughty demeanor to match. I can understand sarcasm, dark humor, or even a whip-smart kinda protagonist, but this character is just a plain jerk. All throughout the novel she internally mocks and belittles the people around her, even her own sister in her casket. When she speaks she is not nice either, cursing at folks, whining, and talking down to people unless it involves something she enjoys. It seems that the author wants us to empathize with Julia’s plight, but this was not possible for me. There was really nothing redeeming about her character here at all. Nothing.

There are plot problems too. Very early on in the novel Julia discovers a possible secret that her deceased sister kept from everyone, but then this story line is abruptly dropped. It’s picked up again and we learn a little more about it, but then it’s dropped again, picked up a little later on, then dropped again. This goes on for 250 pages or so. By the time the “secret” is revealed, it’s not really a secret anymore and you already know what happens, nor do you care. Also a problem was the multitude of issues in this book being juggled around in a maddening circle–abortion, teen sex, rape, mental illness, suicide, class issues, racism, being an undocumented immigrant, LGBTQ issues–with such minimal focus devoted to each that you’d rather the author had just chosen two or three issues and written accordingly. For this reason ending seemed terribly rushed to me.

Lastly, at about 60% in, there is a romance in this novel. Julia meets a wealthy young white man in a book store and within 10 pages, they’re kissing. In another 15 pages, they’re meeting up over at his place and having sex. The too-instant nature of their supposed attraction makes no sense to me, given just how plain evil Julia is toward everyone else in the book. I realize it’s YA and romance is practically a requirement in this genre, but I dunno…I just didn’t like it.

While I didn’t like this book, I do recommend you read it. It appears to be quite popular on Goodreads and with online reviewers, so everyone’s bound to have an opinion on it some way or another. My advice to the author: not terrible for a first time writer, but if you’re going to go the unlikable main character route, there has to be something else, that oompf factor to compel the reader to want to like reading forward. This wasn’t it.

Review: Theft By Finding: Diaries 1977-2002

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Review for "Theft by Finding: Diaries, 1977-2002" by David Sedaris (2017)

Rating: none

DNF around page 200 or so, hence no rating.

I like David Sedaris. I’ve read numerous books he’s written over the years (When You Are Engulfed in Flames, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Naked) but this one I just didn’t care for. Perhaps I am just the wrong audience for the kind of minutiae that makes up his journals. I simply don’t find details about insects from 1982 or diatribes on an unpaid phone bill the least bit entertaining. I’ll still read Sedaris, but I realize now that I’m one of the rare people on this earth who is not at all interested in how his mind works.

Review: Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House

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Review for "Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House" by Donna Brazile (2017)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

On the surface, this is an interesting book, particularly if you’re into ‘inside’ information on the recent political campaign that sent everyone into a tailspin. Donna Brazile, a DC insider with years of political campaign experience, tells the story of everything that went wrong with the Democratic National Convention’s (DNC) game plan, from Russian hackers to not getting any funding and inept leadership.

While I like Donna Brazile, I think she overplays her significance to this story. For one, she knew what she was up for as the interim chair of the DNC, especially after the mess the last chairperson left it in. Also, while it’s obvious that she likes to makes a big thing of her political achievements, the truth is that she hasn’t won much. She was manager of Al Gore’s campaign back in 2000, which was also a raging hot dumpster fire. She also conveniently dodges giving a real answer on whether or not she gave Hillary debate questions ahead of time, among other things.

Other than that, this book is mostly Brazile releasing a lot of angst. Maybe she talked to a therapist and they told her to write this book. She talks for pages and pages about being snubbed by “Brooklyn” (Hillary’s people), about how she was denied money that could have led to victories in certain states, how much money the DNC leadership wasted on trivial matters (personal assistants, etc), and how she had to tell certain people multiple times to fuck off. All seriousness aside, it’s a endearing story, and Brazile’s accounts of drinking liquor, gardening, and praying with holy water are certainly not to be missed.

Three and a half stars.

Review: Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America

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Review for "Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America" by Jill Leovy (2015)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Before I begin this review I have to commend the author, because there really is no easy way to write about the subject of Black on Black crime. How do you talk about the very real issue of Black homicide rates without pathologizing an entire race? At the same time, one has to recognize that Black homicide is indeed a problem and even though poverty, racism, and decades of neglect by law enforcement play a consistent role in its existence, you can’t “excuse” it either. Even though crime rates have dropped in recent years, the murder rates among Black men remain relatively high. Violent homicide still remains the number 1 cause of death among Black males ages 15-34 in America.

Jill Leovy starts off great in this book. For her setting, she chooses inner city Los Angeles, a city long plagued by Black homicides. She describes a crippling bureaucracy, as well as homicide detectives struggling for resources–lack of computers and cars, even buying their own “murder books” (binders in which to keep case files). They didn’t even get tape recorders, many detectives had to buy their own. Leovy argues that the LAPD and the entire criminal justice system has not placed a high priority on solving Black murders. This has created a lack of trust in the police among Black citizens, tendencies toward vigilante-style justice, witnesses afraid to talk, and a “no-snitching” culture that makes closing murder cases notoriously difficult. Names go in files to be forgotten, detectives get bogged down with even more cases.

“Ghettoside” is a broad narrative, though it focuses on the specific case of an LAPD homicide detective’s son who was gunned down in 2007 while walking down the street. A long chapter is dedicated to describing his family life and how much of a “good” boy he was (not a gangster, followed rules, etc). You almost have to wonder if the author is following the same kind of rationale that many people feel toward murder victims: an unspoken sentiment that a person’s morally questionable behavior in some way should “justify” what happened to them. Another problem is the large amount of biographical information on not just one but several LA detectives and their careers, which, honestly, I just didn’t care about. It was hard to remember who was who and after several chapters of this I started skipping pages.

Another problem with this book is that, through the case of the detective’s son, Leovy seems to make an argument that if all cases were solved by dedicated detectives like the one who solved this one, there wouldn’t be any unsolved Black homicides. Well, not really. For one, the circumstances of every case is different and second, you have to revisit the idea that (perhaps) one of the main reasons why this particular case continued to stay visible was because of who the victim’s father was. You can’t take socioeconomic status, which governs so much of our lives, out of the death equation here.

Overall, a clunky but ok book for me. 3.5 stars.

Review: Long Way Down

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Review for "Long Way Down" by Jason Reynolds (2017)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Not the first novel in verse I’ve read but certainly one of the best.

Will is a teenager who has just lost his older brother in a shocking act of violence. The morning after, he finds his brother’s loaded gun and gets on his building’s elevator, going down, in pursuit of his brother’s murderer to kill him. At each floor, the elevator stops and a different person from Will’s past “gets” on, imploring him to think about his choices before it’s too late. It’s a fascinatingly interesting story, one that I think I actually respected more for the fact that it was written in verse–extraneous details skipped, only the bare bones here. It’s 300 pages or so but only took a couple of hours to read. The ending was a bit confusing, but after several reads I came to appreciate it for what it was–completely and superbly ambiguous to the reader.

As a former teacher I can see this being used in middle or high school classrooms, because there’s so many dialogue and discussion possibilities present with this book. It takes place during anytime and anyplace and anywhere and doesn’t offer any easy answers. Despite inevitable criticism to the contrary, I don’t see why this book should make the problem of violence a simple one, as everyone knows that it’s a complicated cycle that repeats itself over and over again. It’s also great reading for adults like me, I loved this book immensely.

This novel sets a pretty high bar for all other YA poetry books, which is good because I am starting to feel that this form of story-telling is becoming somewhat over saturated. Definitely recommended.

Review: Peach

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Review for "Peach" by Emma Glass (to be published on 23 January 2018)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Thick stick sticky sticking wet ragged wool winding round the wounds, stitching the sliced skin together as I walk, scraping my mittened hand against the wool.

“Peach” is a very short, very violent, and very dark little book. It’s more novella than a novel at less than 150 pages, with a highly artistic, experimental writing style. Some sentences are short, while other sentences run on and on. Some character’s names aren’t capitalized. There’s no punctuation when anyone speaks. And when there’s emphasis (for instance, a character is shouting or thinking aloud), the author uses sTiCkY cApS (uhhh, yeah). Eimear McBride’s “A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing” quickly comes to mind in comparison (the style of which I didn’t care for either) but this book sounded interesting enough to try, so I did.

The beginning of this book is a very visceral one–you’re immediately thrust into the aftermath of a young girl’s brutal sexual assault. Shocked and horrified, Peach manages to compose herself enough to walk home and clean herself up. Her parents, way too occupied with one another and a new baby, do not seem to notice at all that she has come home bloody and bruised. The imagery in this section is physically painful and absolutely heartbreaking.

In response, Peach chooses to keep her ordeal a secret. She attempts to retain a sense of normalcy by going to school and finding comfort in her boyfriend, Green. It’s all too much, though. Her attacker begins to stalk her and the memories and smells of that night become deeply unsettling for Peach, who begins to have violent fantasies.

At about 60% in, the narration became so muddled (stream of consciousness, other goobledegook) that I honestly can’t tell you what happened. The writing style of this book was so confusing that I couldn’t tell between Peach’s thoughts and reality or what was even really happening in the story. And the end (or, let’s say, what I interpreted as the events that occurred at end) was just plain weird. Ewww.

I’m going to give this book 3 stars. In the end, the writing style just wasn’t my cup of tea. I’d recommend this to readers who aren’t afraid of experimental writing, artistic slants, surrealist material.

[A free digital copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher, Bloomsbury USA, and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]