Review: A Woman is No Man

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Review for "A Woman is No Man" by Etaf Rum (2019)

Rating: 4.1 out of 5 stars

I just finished this book last night. I went back and forth between a 3 and a 4 for a while before finally deciding on a low 4, with reservations.

“A Woman is No Man” is the story of three generations of Palestinian Muslim women and the lives they lead, which are completely constrained by the demands of men, child-rearing, family, their community, and faith. The story begins in the early 90’s with Isra, a young girl growing up in Palestine whose marriage is arranged to Adam, a Palestinian-American man. They marry and go back to New York City, where over the next several years, Isra bears four daughters. With each pregnancy Isra becomes more and more depressed, sad, and eager to please Adam, who drinks and beats her. Her mother in law, Fareeda, is cruel as well, constantly demanding that she give Adam a son.

The story continues with Deya, Isra’s oldest daughter, in the late-00’s. She is a young girl going to a Muslim school and living in NYC with her grandmother, Fareeda, who is attempting to marry her off to a Palestinian man. We are told that both of her parents died in a car accident when she was 7 years old. She has very few memories of her mother. Deya does not wish to marry, but to go to college. She never questions the story behind her parents’ demise until she receives a letter from a stranger, who begins to counsel her and eventually, tell her the truth about her parents. As she learns about the tragic past, Deya’s memories of her mother come back to her gradually and she grows stronger in her desire for independence.

The narration of the novel shifts between Isra’s account and Deya’s, and later on in Part II, Fareeda’s voice is thrown in, whom we learn also has secrets in her past. I didn’t have a problem with this, but the pacing of the novel is a problem. At about 75%, we find out the truth of what really happened to Isra and Adam. The book drags on for another 25%, repetitively repeating each narrator’s details of an event that we already know about.

Another problem is the lack of nuance of this book. In traditional Palestinian society, women are married off young, expected to raise children, cook, clean, sit at home, and wait for their husbands to tell them what to do. They are discouraged from reading, going to college, or venturing anywhere outside their homes without a man. Every page or two, a character’s words or actions remind you of this until you’re practically screaming: “WE GET IT!” I understand that the author really wanted to drive home her point about the suffering of women, but there’s such an excessive amount of detail given here that if I weren’t careful, I could begin to assume that all Palestinian households are like this one. I know better, though. The lack of nuance is so strong here that the story tilts toward being unrealistic, the characters one-dimensional.

So, there it is–a 4. I do recommend you read this book, however. Perhaps you’ll like it better than I did.

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Review: A Good Kind of Trouble

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“A Good Kind of Trouble” is about a young Black girl named Shayla navigating through typical middle school struggles: boys, school dances, friendships, teachers. Her older sister is an activist and involved with a local chapter of Black Lives Matter but Shayla steers clear, not wanting to risk getting in what she perceives as ‘trouble.’ However, when the police shoot an unarmed Black man near her neighborhood, Shayla decides to take a stand for what she believes and takes on more ‘trouble’ than she bargained for.

I liked this book. I would call it the younger sister of “The Hate U Give” with a similar theme and main characters, but aimed at younger readers. The major difference in the two is that this book expressly mentions Black Lives Matter by name, while THUG doesn’t (THUG’s connection to BLM is assumed, however). Therefore, the explicit naming of Black Lives Matter here is notable. The police violence stayed mostly in the background of the novel as an ongoing trial, and while it’s not the primary plot it’s pretty clear that this is the reason why Shayla speaks out. I would have liked a more direct connection to this plot point, but perhaps indirectly is the best way to expose this topic to younger readers without making this book TOO heavy.

I also appreciated how this book respected struggles that are distinct to youth of color, i.e., the pressure to conform to racialized norms. Shayla’s best friends in the book are Asian and Latinx, however, it’s only in the 7th grade that she begins to receive pushback from Black peers about “acting White.” I enjoy the way the book grapples with the idea of being Black beyond stereotypes and encourages kids of color to be themselves.

Great book about a complex and nuanced topic without being preachy or sad.

Review: The White Book

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Review for "The White Book" by Han Kang (2019)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Ok, so this one’s been on my TBR list for a while. This is a short review because it’s not much meat on this one. It’s a minimalist manifesto dedicated to all things…well, white. Duh.

In this book, author Han Kang makes of a list of things that are white (fog, snow, smoke, etc) and writes short, meditative-style vignettes about each of them. It’s a concept kinda book with a minimalist style with writing that’s definitely good but I couldn’t help but feel as if I was ‘missing’ something that wasn’t there, perhaps something between the lines.

Maybe one has to be in the right kind of mood “get” this book or something. Either way, this volume wasn’t for me. I won’t stop reading Han Kang though.

Read this if you’re into experimental writing.

Review: Bedfellow

Back, at least for right now. Thanks for waiting on me. πŸ™‚

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Review for "Bedfellow" by Jeremy C. Shipp (2018)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Ok, the cover of this was creepy enough to make me pick it up at the library and begin reading it, but then it got really really weird and confusing, so I began skimming pages in the last quarter.

In “Bedfellow,” a typical nuclear family, the Lunds (Dad, Mom, daughter, son), is unexpectedly visited by a strange intruder who slides into their living room window late one night. The family members react to this is in calm, nonchalant way that immediately makes you uncomfortable as hell. The father, Hendrick, begins to converse with the man and eventually realizes that he “knows” him. The visitor is asked to stay the night in the guest room. The visitor is not a typical person–he vomits a lot, drinks copious amounts of Gatorade, and talks constantly about 80’s pop culture movies. Weird.

I wish that the reading experience gets easier from here but it doesn’t. Slowly, as the story progresses, each family member recalls past memories with this strange visitor as either a friend or a family member. Eventually, the visitor begins to impose his own evil agenda upon the family, from which there is little resistance. The novel is told in alternating perspectives between each member of the Lund family, who often contradict one another’s accounts.

I gave this book three stars because I can understand what the author wasΒ tryingΒ to do, which is leave just enough bread crumbs to a plot to keep you turning the pages. However, the plot was too elusive and kept wriggling out of my grasp, beyond my reach. When I finally did get a hold of what’s happening, it was too late for me to care about the characters, the story, or anything important here.

This book is a perfect example of how too much of the unusual can muck up what could be a great story. If you do read this, try to hang in there past the first 100 pages. You’ll be better off than I was.

Review: Ghost Wall

Ahhh, I know it’s been a while. Forgive me for my lack of updates. It is almost the end of the spring semester, so my dissertation and scheduled presentations have been taking up most of my reading time. Updates may be a bit slow until mid-May.

Anywho, I do have a quick book review for you guys. Sorry it’s not a good one, but you know me. πŸ™‚

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Review for "Ghost Wall" by Sarah Moss (2019)

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Nah, I didn’t really like this. Thank God it was short.

Teenage Silvie and her Mom and Dad are a part of an experimental anthropology course that involves spending several weeks in the forests of a remote part of north England, living as if they were people during the Iron Age. They make tools, forage for food, wear antiquated clothing, and sleep in huts, just as if they were people from that ancient time period. With an abusive father and a mother that acquiesces to his will, Silvie is more of a hanger-on to this bizarre anthropological experiment.

During their time in the forest, Silvie meets a young woman named Molly, student in the class. She challenges Silvie to question her life, including why they are participating in the experiment. As the story moves forward, it is quite clear that there’s some very sinister, weird shit going in Silvie’s dad’s ‘lil Iron Age LARP adventure…

What bothered me the most about this book is that even though the plot sounded good on paper, the writing and the characters really weren’t all that engaging. You know from the first 3 pages that there is something ominous that is going to happen to these role-players, you’re just not sure what. The suspense is drawn out through most of the book (thankfully it’s short) but by the time the end arrives it’s nothing that you haven’t predicted already. The style was also an issue–with no punctuation and few line breaks, much of the novel runs together in huge paragraphs, a slog to read.

Somebody out there will appreciate this–it just wasn’t me.

Review: Imani All Mine

Reviewing an oldie but goodie today. Enjoy!

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Review for "Imani All Mine" by Connie Porter (2000)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Let me start off by saying that this book had me in tears. Big, watery, and unapologetic. Whew…

“Imani All Mine” is the story of 15-year-old Tasha, a teenager living with her single mother in upstate New York. At the beginning of the novel, she has already given birth to a daughter whom she names Imani, based on “some African language” that means ‘faith.’ Tasha loves her daughter dearly and speaks about her daughter as any new mother would, yet her worldview remains very much that of a 15-year-old girl. Tasha’s dialect and the language throughout the novel is nonstandard English (words like ‘nam’ for “them”) and very much consistent with that perspective. We later learn through flashbacks that her daughter’s existence is the result of a violent rape at the hands of a stranger. Ashamed, Tasha tells no one of her assault and hides her pregnancy from everyone, including her mother.

Despite this, as well as the obstacles of poverty, an impoverished neighborhood, and her physically and emotionally abusive mother, Tasha makes strides and manages to go to school and be a good mother to her daughter. Much of the book is simply Tasha’s observations of the life of a typical teenager–boys, family members, people in the neighborhood, people at school. Tasha defies common stereotypes of teenage single mothers of color by having a strong will and vision for her future.

I loved reading this book. There was never a moment when I didn’t understand Tasha and her love for her child, her struggle, and her motives. I definitely recommend this.

A word of caution: this isn’t YA. Although the language makes it super-accessible, I would only give this book to teens if they were super mature. This is definitely an adult read with a child protagonist.

Review: An American Summer

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Review for "An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago" by Alex Kotlowitz (2019)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

If you’re an educator, particularly of urban youth, then Alex Kotlowitz is your man. I was first introduced to this writer completely by chance, picking up his famous book “There Are No Children Here” at a used book store about 6 years ago. Granted I read it 30 years after its release, but it still had a profound effect on me. Unlike other books on the subject of urban life that create a ‘poverty porn’ atmosphere (you know, exploiting poor people’s condition for notoriety or increased book sales), Kotlowitz seemed to be deeply invested in the lives and futures of his subjects, giving them humanity.

In “American Summer,” Kotlowitz returns to Chicago, where we all catch glimpses of the headlines year after year about the dangerous gangs, crime, and rampant gun violence that plague this city. He chronicles an entire summer spent there in 2013 talking to men, women, and children touched by violence. Each chapter introduces us to a person who has either lost a family member to violence, committed violent acts themselves and are coming to terms with it, or witnessed the effects of violence first hand. Some people have several chapters in the book dedicated to their story, which are ongoing and run through the entire narrative.

I love this book because Kotlowitz does not pander to critics or make excuses for bad behavior. True, much of the violence is related to gangs and the young people in them, but what about the scores of those killed who aren’t? The point that remains is that people are still people, and that gang participation is often a response to external forces (racism, poverty, segregation, poor educational outlooks) that were in play long before this particular epidemic of violence even started. There is also widespread distrust of police due to years of misconduct and overpolicing and a “no snitching” street culture that holds violence firmly into place.

I also love the way Kotlowitz begins his book by stating that it does not pretend to know the answer to why gun violence in so widespread here. What it does do, however, is humanize people from both sides of the headlines and start a conversation toward healing.

I don’t give five stars lightly, and I can’t recommend this book enough.