Review: Finding Yvonne

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Review for "Finding Yvonne" by Brandy Colbert (2018)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Another YA book I luv’d. Let me count the ways:

“Finding Yvonne” is a complicated, beautiful novel that explores race, the uncertainty of the future, family dynamics, and perceptions of the choices we make. It focuses on Yvonne, a Black 18-year-old Los Angeles teen, raised by a single father. She attends private school and plays violin, yet feels that she has lately lost much of her passion for the instrument. Her father smokes weed regularly and runs a successful restaurant. Yvonne is currently in a relationship with Warren, one of the young men employed as a sous chef at her dad’s restaurant. Despite the fact that Yvonne and Warren have chemistry, they have a very complex romance which leads Yvonne into a messy affair with a street musician. After sexual encounters with both men, Yvonne unexpectedly finds herself pregnant.

I won’t tell you the rest of the story for fear of spoiling it. However, this story is less about the pregnancy of the main character and more about her passions and the day to day struggles of her life, which is brilliantly written about here. Yvonne was always fresh and real to me, and even though she made choices that I disagreed with, I understood her. I never stopped rooting for Yvonne and wanting to see her win. Also refreshing was the sex positivity here, the portrayal of Yvonne as a person capable of making her own decisions about her body and not as a pariah.

Definitely worth the read.

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Review: The Perfume Burned His Eyes

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Review for "The Perfume Burned His Eyes" by Michael Imperioli (2018)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Ok, ok…I admit I read this book because Michael Imperioli’s name was on it. I’m a big fan of HBO’s “The Sopranos” and couldn’t resist.

This book, however, was just ok for me. It’s about a 16-year-old named Matthew who moves from Queens to Manhattan with his mother to start a new life after his grandfather dies and leaves them with a large sum of money. Matthew is very insecure and hopes that maybe the move will bring him confidence, which, after getting a delivery job at a local deli, happens. Not long after he begins working, Matthew meets Lou Reed. Yes, THAT Lou Reed (musician, rock god). Reed plays quirky neighbor and the two form a very unusual bond. Matthew begins to come out of his shell a bit. At the same time, Matthew becomes enchanted by a mysterious girl at school named Veronica. I never got a sense of what the exact nature of their relationship was, but Matthew learns a lot about the world from her as well.

All in all, an ok book. It’s clear that the point here is a youth’s coming of age, but honestly, that’s about it. Some parts go on longer than normal and other parts had way too much dialogue, but it’s a fast paced story and one that I guess I’ll recommend, depending on your personal tastes.

Meanwhile, I’m going to declare a personal moratorium on reading books by celebrities. I don’t know why I expect literary greatness, as if they aren’t cut from the same cloth as the rest of us who may (occasionally) produce ho-hum material.

*sigh*

Review: Katerina

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Review for "Katerina" by James Frey (2018)
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

NO NO NO NO NO NO….*slams book on the table with each successive NO*

This book’s terrible. It reads like a bad Tumblr poetry, awful teen fan fiction. Choppy lines, run on sentences, and magnetic poetry kit lines masquerading as style. “Katerina” is the story of Jay, a whiny brat of a dude who goes to live in Paris in the 90’s. All he does in the City of Lights is eat bread, get drunk, vomit, snort coke, sleep, have sex, and share his opinions on the superiority of French culture and art, which I really don’t care about. Somewhere in the middle of all this he tries to establish himself as a writer, though I don’t care about this either. He falls in love with a Norwegian model named Katerina, who is equally as shallow and as horny as Jay is. We suffer through dozens of their awkwardly written sex scenes (trust me, they’re not titillating at all) until they finally have enough of each other and break up. Jay returns to America shortly thereafter and starts smoking crack.

Fast forward to present day and Jay is a nouveau-riche writer and still a douchebag. He is married and making tons of money writing, though he hates himself for doing so. He’s contacted by Katerina and they begin chatting online. The present-day scenes are interpersed throughout the text with ones from the past, and are eerily reminiscent of his James Frey’s current life, including his “Million Little Pieces” controversy. For the third time, I don’t care about this. I’ve never read his first book and never will. I do care about how bad this book is though. Ugh.

Every now and then the book manages to say something interesting, but most of it is so ridiculously shallow and self-indulgent it’s not impossible to wonder how it managed to get published, though the author’s notoriety is probably a good reason. Anyway, skip this. Please.

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.

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.