Review: Brother

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Review of "Brother" by David Chariandy (2018)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A short, well written novel that behaves like a much longer book. Believable characters, relatable plot.

“Brother” is the tale of Michael, a young man living with his elderly mother in the public housing sector of Scarborough, a working class borough of Toronto, Ontario. At the beginning of the story, we learn that Michael has lost his older brother Francis in an act of violence 10 years before, though we’re not told much more than that. The story follows Michael as he opens his home to Aisha, a young neighborhood woman from his past, to the drudgery of his dead end job at a grocery store, to the agony of keeping track of his mother so she won’t wander off in the streets (no doubt, the beginning of a probable case of dementia).

This book also wanders through the past. We witness Michael’s perspective of him and his brother’s upbringing as first-generation immigrants from Trinidad. We also watch the rejection of their father and their acclimation to life in Scarborough’s streets, hanging with friends listening to hip hop and their run-ins with local cops. The cause of Francis’ death is revealed in the end, but it wasn’t a buzz kill to the book. It’s a natural progression of events, the missing piece that finally puts the story together. I won’t tell you to avoid spoiling it, but it all gives the book a sense of purpose.

Even though the novel’s setting is Canada, I never got the sense that it absolutely needed to take place there. This story could have been in the U.S., in Britain, in Europe, in South Africa–anywhere where there’s a system of stratification in which social inequalities still exist. The backstreets and the ghettos of this book are anywhere and everywhere.

The writing here is quite beautiful. Even though it’s less than 200 pages, it took me a while to read it because I wanted to really read and savor it.

Five stars, my friends.

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Review: How Are You Going to Save Yourself

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Review for "How Are You Going to Save Yourself" by JM Holmes (2018)

Rating: none (DNF)

Hey babes! I’m back! I know ya’ll missed me…*plants kiss on your forehead*

Anywho, lemme get to the book. ‘Issa’ NO for me. I tried, but I couldn’t finish it. I’m not going to rate this. I DNF’d this about 60% through.

This is a coming of age story about four men of color (Dub, Gio, Rolls, and Rye) growing up in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The book is told through short stories mostly narrated by Gio, though you occasionally hear from the other three main characters. Gio, the son of a White mother and a Black father, struggles with racial identity as he goes back and forth between living with his father in Washington state and his mother in Rhode Island. The other main characters grapple with identity as well, mostly through the power that society affords them by way of their masculinity. The masculinity here is toxic and disturbing, with detailed accounts of female sexual conquests, violence, and drug use, mostly marijuana.

I couldn’t get with this, though. While I can understand wanting to explore toxic masculinity, the misogyny in this book was too gratuitous for my taste. The author writes about his male characters engaging in sexist behavior with laser precision, yet the female perspectives remain largely unexplored. Case in point, the story “Be Good to Me,” in which a late adolescent Rolls seduces a high school sophomore named Tayla. He coerces her into having sex with him and eventually, he and two other main characters gang rape the young woman in a dark basement. The rape is presented rather matter-of-factly, with a kind of “boys will be boys” nonchalance. I longed for some hint of Tayla’s voice, but it didn’t really exist. Other female characters were mostly hollow and one-dimensional–the long suffering, ride or die girlfriend, ghetto stepmothers.

Also, the narration was confusing. We know the main characters’ names, but each of their voices sounded pretty much the same with very little that distinguished one from another. As I moved from chapter to chapter, I kept having to mentally go back to place the character with their back story from another part of the book. Essentially, I kept forgetting who was who from one story to the next. Forgetting a character shouldn’t happen in good fiction.

I hate giving this a bad review, but I just didn’t like this at all. I feel really bad because I actually won a pristine copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway and I will probably never open it again. Maybe I’ll donate it to the library or do a giveaway here. Either way, I wouldn’t read this.