Review: Brave

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Review for "Brave" by Rose McGowan (2018)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Oh dear, three stars here. And that’s being generous.

I’ve always been a fan of Rose McGowan–I loved her in the films “Scream,” “Jawbreaker,” the tv show “Charmed,” and when I saw that she had written a book I decided to take a peep. Overall, it’s not a horrible book, it’s just one that espouses an obnoxious brand of feminism that I find problematic. I’ll get to this later though.

Rose gives a lot of details into her early life. She grew up in a commune with the Children of God, a religious cult that would be later known for its physical and sexual abuse of women and children. She manages to escape with her father and move to America, where she moves around often. She eventually reunites with her mother, whose boyfriends were abusive to Rose. She later auditions for an extra in a movie and her career as a Hollywood actress begins.

About midway through the book, McGowan details a meeting with a well-known movie industry executive who sexually abuses her. She never names the exec but we know she’s obviously talking about Harvey Weinstein. She also talks about her relationship with Marilyn Manson, whom she started dating because, in her words, he was a really “sweet” guy. Fair enough, I thought. I never fell for his contrived, shock-rock bs either.

Anyway, toward the last quarter of the book, McGowan spends a great deal of time dishing on her relationship with another famous film director known as “RR” (obviously Robert Rodriguez). She characterizes him as an emotionally abusive man who allowed her to be seriously injured on a movie set, among other bad things. After this she lectures us on and on about cults, groupthink, the virtues of #RoseArmy (her social media followers who can’t get enough of her), why men continue to abuse women, etc. When she started to plug some EDM music album she’d created, I stopped reading. Zzzz.

Which brings me back to Rose’s “feminist” problem. I place “feminist” in quotes because before this book came out, Rose has been noted on the record multiple times with negative statements about trans women, commenting that “they don’t live in this world as women.” This is false. It’s also terribly ignorant. Trans women are raped, discriminated against, murdered, abused, and beaten quite often–exactly because they do live as women. Fortunately, Rose does not get to decide who is and isn’t a woman. It’s also exactly why I, as a feminist myself, can’t embrace her exclusionary brand of “feminism,” which seems to privilege being straight and cisgendered above all else.

So I’m giving this three stars. I like to think I’m a person who can separate the person from the book, but both of these had issues. Meh…

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Review: Lockdown on Rikers: Shocking Stories of Abuse and Injustice at New York’s Notorious Jail

Skipping Top Ten Tuesday again…I’ve got a backlog of reviews, so enjoy!

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Review for "Lockdown on Rikers" by Mary E. Buser (2015)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
I went into this book based solely on its title, thinking it would be a critique of one of the largest and most dangerous prisons in America, the notorious Rikers Island jail complex located in New York City. The author spent time as a mental health therapist on the Island, a site of continuous controversy over its bureaucracy, officer corruption, violence, and the inhumane treatment of inmates. I also thought that this book would discuss solutions on what we could do as a society to reform jails and prisons. With both of these things in mind, I had high hopes for this book. However, this book does none of those things. What you get here is a therapist-in-training’s daily account of her interactions with inmates and her frustration with system bureaucracy and its treatment of mentally ill inmates.

I certainly understand Ms. Buser’s point in writing her story. It is a fact that many jail and prison inmates are mentally ill, and should be getting treatment and care for their conditions instead of jail time. However, this story is not particularly new or unique. We know that prisons aren’t good places for the mentally ill, and there’s been numerous exposes already written and filmed on this subject. While I commend the author for staying so long on this job and her compassion for the inmates, I am a bit disappointed that the focus of this book wasn’t more solution-based. If jail isn’t the place for the mentally ill and locking them in asylums aren’t either, then what, according to her professional opinion, is? Ms. Buser never tells us and stops far ahead of offering any kind of insight into this problem. Also disheartening is that the events here took place in the 90s, yet she is telling this story over 20 years later (this book was published in 2015). Wouldn’t this story have had much more of an impact 20 years ago? She does write an update of sorts in the epilogue, telling us very generally that “abuse on Rikers continues” but she cites few examples to back up this point.

The writing here is nothing special. I wouldn’t be surprised if the author took her therapy notes, copied them, and reconstructed it as the dialogue and events that you read about here. Overall, this is a very underwhelming story that could have been a lot more, had new insights been presented.

Review: Tyrell

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Review for "Tyrell" by Coe Booth (2006)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Meet Tyrell. He is a 15 year old Black kid living in a roach-infested homeless shelter in the Bronx with his cracked-out mother and little brother. To make a living and supplement his mother’s SSI checks, he scams riders at subway stations. His father is incarcerated, he has long since given up on going to school. He refuses to sell drugs and doesn’t have much but a detailed knowledge of the streets, a fierce desire to protect his brother, a girlfriend that he loves, and a plan to make a lot of money by DJing at a party to get his family out of the shelter.

What I like about this book is that Coe Booth makes Tyrell a deeply flawed, multifaceted character. I could not help but to love him despite his bad (and sometimes very violent) choices, many of which reflect a sexist attitude toward women. He gets it right and he gets it wrong–but I always understood the “why” of Tyrell, as he reflects the manifestation of a life not lived but survived, a boy grown up too fast. This novel is the thought process of a man-child with no role models or people that he trusts. The streets have nurtured him, he’s raising himself. The empathy you feel for Tyrell carries you through this novel and make his life and his motivations understandable.

This book will shock those who are not familiar with (or, who simply choose to ignore) the lives of Black and Latin urban teenagers. There’s lots of cursing here, along with casual drug use, sexual situations. There’s also non-standard English, constant use of the word “nigga.” Get over it. Although “Tyrell” is YA, this is clearly not White suburban YA. It should not be controversial, then, that a story about a Black urban teenager is appropriately written in a language that is familiar to that audience. Given the realistic subject matter here, the language simply is what it is. It fits the novel perfectly.

Needless to say, I loved this book. There’s a sequel to this, I’ll be picking that up too.

Review: The Comedown

Back home in good ol NC. I’m skipping Top Ten Tuesday to review a book that comes out today, so enjoy!

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Review for "The Comedown" by Rebekah Frumkin (to be published on 17 Apr 2018)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This book’s ok.

“The Comedown” centers on a missing yellow suitcase full of cash and a drug deal that went wrong in Cleveland on May 8, 1973. Leland Bloom-Mittwoch, a drug addict, witnesses the killing of his dealer, Reggie Marshall, and absconds with the suitcase. The story then follows three generations of the families of the two men involved, one White (the Mittwochs) and one Black (the Marshalls), from the early 1970’s to 2009. Over the years, members of both families search for the yellow suitcase. The suitcase is a bit of a MacGuffin here, taking on a kind of mythic quality as each character doggedly pursues it for reasons of their own.

For me, this book is a compilation of character studies. For that reason it’s heavily populated, with various family members of the major players going in and out of the main narrative. Although the characters are all relevant and connected to one another, it was a struggle for me to stay interested here. This novel definitely explores race, class and addiction, but I don’t know…maybe I just wasn’t the right audience for the ensemble cast approach it uses. Once I began to like, hate, or empathize with someone it was off to another person, time, and place. For me this book just seemed too broad, too many bits and pieces.

The quality of the writing is decent, so Frumkin is definitely a writer to watch. This book will probably get good reviews from other people, so maybe my issues here are simply ones of personal preference.

3 stars.

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

Review: Let’s Talk about Love

Hey folks!

I’m writing this from a hotel in Manhattan. I’ve been here for 5 days now for an education conference and so far I’m totally in love with the city. Anyone who would like to see my NYC adventures can follow me on my IG: kellythegreat.

Anywho, on to the review:

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Review for "Let's Talk About Love" by Claire Kann (2018)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I’m sad to say that I didn’t really like this book.

It’s disappointing because I wanted to love it, to grab it and go out and buy my own instead of a library copy. I did finish it, but honestly, after 25 pages, I knew this wasn’t the book for me.

Alice is a bi-romantic, asexual Black girl college student. As the story opens, she is being dumped by her girlfriend Margot because her gf believes that she doesn’t want to have sex with her. Heartbroken, Alice moves out of their shared space and into an apartment with another friend, Feenie, and her boyfriend. Meanwhile, she develops an intense romantic attraction for one of her co-workers, Takumi. The remainder of the book details Alice’s romance with Takumi and her struggles with her asexuality, as well how she deals with a whole host of family problems to boot.

I liked this novel because it is the first book I’ve read in which asexuality (or “ace,” as some asexual individuals call themselves) is discussed like the very real thing that it is. It is not ‘weird’ or a mental illness. Although there are a wide variety of perspectives on sexual activity within this community (some do have it, some don’t), it is widely accepted by people who identify in this manner that it is an orientation, not a “choice.” Even though they may lack interest in sex, they do indeed have romantic inclinations. Alice, the main character of this book, is featured in this way. I appreciate the fact that this book’s purpose was to allow people to understand asexuality without the long-winded explanations of an academic paper or a textbook. It’s timely and informative.

My dislike of this book, however, was in the characterization of Alice. While she’s not the worst character I’ve ever encountered, I loathed the way the author portrayed her–less like a real college student and more like a 12 year old. For example, Alice has mental categories called “Cutie Codes” to describe her attractions to people. She constantly refers to this all throughout the novel: Cutie Code Orange, Cutie Code Red, Cutie Code Yellow, all the way to Cutie Code Black (Takumi, according to Alice, is the ‘perfect’ black). She also has the nerve to refer to a tv character on pg. 48 as a ‘cutie patootie badass.’

((*eyeroll*))

Are you serious? What adult (or, as I said earlier, anyone over the age of 12) in 2018 talks this way? While I can understand making character relatable and giving the protagonist some quirks, the author was trying entirely too hard for this angle. Alice’s wide-eyed, child-like nature was problematic for me, because I don’t think real ace people go around acting like a bubbly 12 year old. It’s completely ok for an ace character to say someone’s hot or that someone they like is sexy without resorting to infantile language associations.

And the writing…while it’s not bad, it’s nothing to write home about. This book is plagued by an overuse of parentheses, usually employed between paragraphs to represent Alice’s thoughts. This is weird, because this book is written in 3rd person. If there is so much emphasis on the thoughts of the main character (which there is) why not use the 1st person and make it official? Reading this book in a 3rd person POV seemed unnecessarily awkward, because I always had the sense that it was a 1st person narrative.

Once again, I appreciate the diversity of racial representation in this book (a Black ace female, an Asian male), as well as what it attempts to do when it comes to portraying a sexual orientation that few people understand. I just wish it could have been executed better.

2 stars.

P.S. – The cover is Cutie Code Black.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Loved But Will Never Re-read

“In the end, we’ll all become stories.” – Margaret Atwood

I read a lot of different kinds of stories. Some of them are downright disturbing and reflect a side of life that we  would rather not see. The following are books that I found wonderfully awe-inspiring, but for reasons I’ll explain, I would never read them again:

  1. The Coming, Daniel Black. Written in the collective first person (“we”), this book follows a group of Africans taken from the continent in the early 1800’s and their horrific journey to America by ship (“The Middle Passage”), to their sale as slaves in the New World. If you really want to understand what African Americans endured to get to the U.S., you must read this book. It is absolutely devastating, an emotional wringer.
  2. Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng. Despite the fact that this is a good book with good reviews (and deservedly so), the dysfunctional nature of the family in the book is one that I don’t ever want to read about again. Everybody’s clueless, and their oblivion to real life put me in such a tizzy that I wouldn’t do this twice.
  3. Aquarium, David Vann. Another great book, about a family that puts the “D” in dysfunctional. The mother is a monster, and there’s a little girl at the center of the action that you just want to hug forever.
  4. An Untamed State, Roxane Gay. Haitian American attorney Mirelle is vacationing in her native Haiti with her husband when she is kidnapped and held for ransom. When her wealthy father refuses to pay for her release, her captors retaliate with a campaign of rape and torture. It’s heavy, heavy stuff. Forgiveness and healing does come, but it’s not in the form that you’d expect. Great book, but I would never dream of opening it again.
  5. The Summer that Melted Everything, Tiffany McDaniel. This is a “thinking” book about what happens when “The Devil” in the form of a child comes to a small Ohio town in 1984. It’s an excellent book I read this two years ago and I’m still thinking about a lot of the questions this book brings up. Still no answers.
  6. Problems, Jade Sharma.  Maya is a married woman with a lover, a dead end job, and a heroin habit. She’s also one of the most unlikable characters I’ve ever read about. Her descent into chaos is the reason why, even though I loved this book, I’d never read it again.
  7. The Warmest December, Bernice McFadden. Another book about a girl’s experiences growing in a highly dysfunctional family in 1970’s Brooklyn. It’s a good book but a hard one to read, I remember having to take frequent breaks to finish it.
  8. Dime, E.R. Frank. A very gritty YA book about a young girl’s life while in the sex trade. It is raw and terrifying, but I was completely blown away by this book.
  9. Notice, Heather Lewis. Several months after this book was published, the author, Heather Lewis, committed suicide. When you read this book you will understand some of the demons that tortured her, because this is, quite frankly, the most profoundly disturbing book I’ve ever read. It’s good though. Really good. Read it again? No way.
  10. Delicious Foods, James Hannaham. A book about modern day slavery, drug addiction, greed, pain. This book had a profound effect on me because I distinctly remember that at the time I read this, my son was the same age as the protagonist of this book. Excellent read, but wouldn’t read it again. It’s too much.

Review: Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America

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Review for "Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America" by Linda Tirado (2014) 
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Ladies and gentlemen: this is a long review. I also have a potty mouth. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I wanted to read this book all the way through but I just couldn’t. I did finish it (thank God it’s short), but skimmed through most of it. I’ve never read a book in which the author’s tone is so negative, angry to the point where the arguments they are attempting to make are almost laughable because its obvious that they’re affected by their emotions. I got this over as quickly as possible.

Linda Tirado was an average “poor” person on the internet one evening when she came across a message board where a poster asked why poor people make bad choices (smoking, drinking, having children they cannot afford). She responded to the poster in a strongly-worded diatribe on why life is hard for poor people. Her post went viral and apparently she started a GoFundMe account and raised $60k. She promptly went on a Vegas vacation got herself a book deal.

In “Hand to Mouth,” Tirado takes us on a kind of “tour” of what it means to be poor. In the introduction, she breaks down poverty as “when a quarter is a miracle,” poor as “when a dollar is a miracle,” working class as “being broke, but in a place that’s not broke down,” and “middle class” as “being able to own some toys and to live in a nice place–no leased furniture.” “Rich,” according to Tirado, is anything above this.

[Pause]

From this page forward I knew that this individual was completely insane, but I decided to give her a chance.

Anyway, I call BS on this book for the following reasons:

— Despite the “poor-middle class-working class-poverty” distinction Tirado makes in the intro, she spends the entire book only talking about two types of people–rich and poor. If she’s just going to speak in a dichotomy, then her definitions are meaningless, because by doing so everyone who is not rich is, in her own view, “poor.” In applying the term “poor” to such a large swath of the population, she falsely attributes the same attitudes she has to everyone who is not rich. This is a classic logical fallacy. It is also simply not true, and it permeates the whole book.

— Tirado was going to college, but admits that she dropped out because, financially, she “didn’t think it would amount to anything.” While I’m not one of those snooty folk who believe college is for everyone (it’s not), I am curious to why the author did this with no apparent backup plan for a career. She also does not bother to learn a marketable trade or skill (i.e., paralegal, nursing, auto mechanic) in the place of college. Instead, after dropping out, she complains to us about working a series of low paying jobs that she hates. With no advanced degree or training, how then, can she expect better than low-paying work? Does she seriously expect, by stroke of luck, to land a job making $25 an hour despite not having demonstrated any kind of skill to do it? I’m a bit confused with her logic here.

— Tirado also admits that she was mediocre at several of the jobs she’s held, even screaming at her boss once because she was stressed and has “anger issues.” Putting anger issues aside, I am not sure what “being poor” has to do with simply being a bad employee. The “poverty” she’s referring to here seems to be one of the spirit.

— The author also attributes every unfortunate thing in her life to “poor” financial circumstances. Her lawn is shitty because she can’t pay someone to fix it. There’s tires in her grass because she can’t pay someone to haul them away. She can’t land a nice secretarial job because she’s poor and not pretty. She doesn’t want to open a bank account because they take a monthly fee, and she’s poor. There’s roaches at her house because, well, she’s poor. At some point you wonder where a sense of personal responsibility sets in, or the strength and amazing resilience of people like my grandparents (who, trust me, were dirt poor, Black, and living on a cotton field in the Mississippi Delta) and still managed to keep a clean house, a nice lawn, arrive on time to maintain stable jobs, and raise 10 law-abiding children in the process. Yes poor people are poor, but they still thrive. They find meaning in their lives, they get out of bed in the morning and yes, they manage to keep up a decent looking lawn. Fuck that.

— Makes no point at all about race and/or privilege. Despite how “poor” Tirado claims to be, her being White still gives her a privileged existence over many minorities who could write this same story. At least she doesn’t live in the projects, or live in a violent, gang-infested neighborhood. At least she speaks English. At least she is a documented U.S. citizen, and doesn’t have to deal with the fear of being deported every time she leaves her house. At least her and her husband don’t have a juvenile criminal record which would prevent gainful employment. At least she doesn’t have a physical disability or a severe mental illness that completely prevents her employment. I could go on and on, yet she mentions nothing of the fact that even she has it a lot better than some because of the systemic racism and discrimination that privileges Whites and able-bodied individuals over minorities.

Now Tirado does make some points that I agree with:
— Yes, universal health care is needed.
— Yes, the myth of meritocracy (the idea that anyone can be rich, all they have to do is try hard; as well as the idea that if one is not rich, they did not try hard enough) is very real and is still very much bullshit.
— No, we shouldn’t judge poor people’s decisions to have children. We may not like the fact that a poor woman has more kids than we’d prefer, but that’s not my decision to make.
— I also agree that poor people aren’t the only ones who get hand outs from the government (bail outs and corporate tax cuts are the wealthy person’s welfare).
— No, rich people should not look down upon people in service industries (cooks, washers, retail workers, food service).

But this book is simply too angry, too simplistic, and far too emotional in its tone to be taken seriously. I don’t advise reading it.