Review: Body Leaping Backward

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Review for "Body Leaping Backward: Memoir of a Delinquent Girlhood" by Maureen Stanton (2019)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

“Body Leaping Backward” is a memoir of Maureen Stanton’s life growing up in the mid-70’s in a working class family in Walpole, Massachusetts. Throughout the book, the shadow of the maximum security prison in the area looms large, in both the author’s mind and in the warnings her mother gives her to behave herself, lest she end up on the inside of the gates.

For the first several years of her life, Stanton grows up in a happy home with her six siblings. Around 11 or 12, her parents divorce amicably and thus begins the family’s slide toward poverty, dysfunction, drugs, and criminal behavior. Stanton’s mother, left with 7 children to raise, begins to steal food from local grocery stores. Maureen becomes depressed, the confusion of which leads her into taking drugs, mostly angel dust. A significant amount of the book details her drug use, which come to an end right around the time she finishes high school. Although she commits many petty crimes during this period, Stanton never actually spends time in Walpole Prison. She credits her turn away from a destructive life to counseling and positive friendships with non-drug users.

This book has some interesting parts. In addition to details about her childhood, Stanton writes extensively about what the suburban drug culture was like in 70’s-era Massachusetts and feeds in informational tidbits about the War on Drugs, Walpole prison and its famous inmates, and other things. There are also her personal diary entries throughout the narrative, which read like some angry girl manifesto. Unfortunately, none of this ever really gels into a cohesive, consistent narrative. The overall pacing is slow, and the sections where I wanted details there were few (i.e., like where her parents were during all this drug use) and where I didn’t want details there were many (i.e., the family’s installation of backyard pool). Also absent from this book was any kind of discussion about the external forces that really kept Stanton and her family out of prison–namely, their socioeconomic status and race. She lists all the “crimes committed” during the time period in the appendix, yet fails to mention the obvious fact that had she been a few shades darker and living within the Boston inner-city limits, she would have undoubtedly served time in jail and/or prison. It would have been inevitable.

All in all, this book is just ok for me.

[Note: Thanks to Edelweiss for a digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: Juliet the Maniac

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Review for “Juliet the Maniac” by Juliet Escoria (to be published on 7 May 2019)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

I’m a bit biased on this review because I love Juliet Escoria’s writing. I read her other book of fiction, “Black Cloud,” a few years ago, loved it immensely, and knew that I had to have more of whatever she writes. This book was no exception. I got an advance digital copy on Edelweiss and read it in a few days.

“Juliet the Maniac” is a fictionalized account of the author’s struggles with mental health issues as a teenager. The story begins when her bipolar disorder emerges around age 14 and continues for two years, chronicling a downward spiral of drugs and mental illness. The book covers Juliet’s two suicide attempts, medications, as well as stints in hospitals for “treatment.” Despite these measures, her problems continue. There’s extensive discussion of her history of self medication, mostly through drugs, reckless behaviors, and self harm.

This reads like memoir, but it is a novel. The more I got into this story, however, I didn’t really mind if it was true or not. Overall this book is a very raw reading experience–the more the drugs and the self harm went on, as a reader I became desensitized, much like Juliet’s response to “treatment.” I put treatment in quotes because there was considerable debate within myself while reading this whether it made her better or worse. Interspersed throughout the story are doctor’s prescriptions, pictures of relevant objects, and ‘notes’ from the author in the present day, reflecting on aspects of her past. I thought that inclusion was a beautiful touch.

The only thing I didn’t like about this novel is the fact that most people will have to wait until May to read this. When it does come out, however, do read it. 4.5 stars, highly recommended.

[Note: I received a free digital copy of this book from the publisher, Melville House, and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: How to Love a Jamaican

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Review for "How to Love a Jamaican" by Alexia Arthurs (2018)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

“How to Love a Jamaican” is an engaging collection of eleven short stories from debut author Alexia Arthurs. These are not your “typical” immigrant stories, however. Arthurs is not afraid to delve deeply into the lives of her characters and discuss complex issues of sex, class, and race both in Jamaica and within the lives of Jamaicans living in America.

All of these stories are about Jamaicans and cover a wide variety of their lives–male and female, straight and gay, old, young, and middle aged, on the island and in America. The characters are not linked, but this is definitely a cohesive collection of stories. In “Mash Up Love,” a set of identical male twins vie for the attention of their mother and loved ones. “The Ghost of Jia Yi” is about a young college student’s adjustment to America and her realization that she is an outsider. “Light Skinned Girls and Some Kelly Rowlands” is about the class conflicts within a friendship between two college girls, one Jamaican born, the other U.S. born with Jamaican born parents. “Bad Behavior” is about a free-spirited teenage girl sent to the island for disobeying her parents, with the hope that her stern Jamaican grandmother will ‘straighten’ out her wayward behavior. I also liked “Shirley from a Small Place,” about a Jamaican American pop star who finds international success and deals with the pitfalls of fame.

It’s hard to choose a favorite story here, I really liked every single selection. Even though the stories share similar themes, there were no repeats and not a single word was wasted.

4.5 stars. I will definitely read the next thing that Alexia Arthurs writes.

[NOTE: An electronic copy of this book was provided by the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: Sometimes I Lie

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Review for "Sometimes I Lie" by Alice Feeney (2018)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ahhh…man. THIS book.

To tell you anything specific about the plot or the characters of this novel is to ruin it–so I won’t. It’s gotten really good reviews online, and this time I must say that the hype is well deserved. There is a blurb on the author’s website that this book has been green lit for television, which is cool because as I read this I could totally picture this on Netflix or Hulu or something. Bingeable TV. There’s also a sequel being written, which is set to come out in 2019.

So here’s the basic “basics”: When the book begins, Amber, the main character, is in a coma. She confesses immediately that she tells lies, and that her husband doesn’t love her. She hears everything going on around her (her husband and her sister’s visits, for instance) though she doesn’t remember the event that landed her in the coma. She eventually discovers that she’s been in a car accident.

This book is essentially split into three parts that are narrated interchangeably: now (Amber’s observations while in her lucid, comatose state), then (events leading up to the week before the accident), and before (childhood diary entries). Throughout much of the novel, I have to admit that I was completely in the dark about what each strand of the narrative had to do with the other. Gradually, however, the connections came into focus and lemme tell ya…things (and people!) were not what they seemed. There are several twists here, and even though I’m not a “twist-a-plot” lovin’ kinda person, it worked perfectly here.

As I finished this book I immediately realized that it plays with two very common tropes–the unreliable narrator and the complex nature of female friendships. It’s really nothing new in fiction, but both of these things are mashed up here in a really hip, interesting way.

I loved this book. If you do read it, try to do so in as few sittings as possible–I guarantee it’s better that way.

[A digital copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher, Flatiron Books, as well as NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: Lotus

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Review for "Lotus" by Lijia Zhang (to be published on 10 January 2017)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

‘Lotus’ is a buildungsroman of a young woman from present-day China. With her mother dead and her father living as an abusive drunk, Lotus dreams of a better life and leaves her rural village to seek work in one of the large factories on the coast. Nearly all of her money goes home to care for her younger brother, who also dreams of leaving the village and enrolling in college. When a fire breaks out at the factory, she does not return home but remains in the city and finds work as a ji, a prostitute, at a low-budget massage parlor.

Enter Bing, an older, middle aged photographer. He’s divorced with a young daughter. He begins taking photos of the ji he encounters in his ramshackle neighborhood and finds his calling in telling their stories to the world. One of the ji that he photographs is Lotus. Together they eventually form a relationship that transform both of their lives.

This story is told through the dual perspective of Lotus and Bing. Personally I liked Lotus’ chapters a lot better, they’re crisper and, in my opinion, a lot more interesting. Bing grows too as a person, though not in the same manner as Lotus. This novel documents how these young women, the ji navigate the perils of modern China–corrupt police, filial responsibility, their assigned roles as the lowest of the low in society.

There’s quite a few sex scenes in this book (ooh la la!), although I don’t think their purpose here is to titillate the reader. Although the main character’s work and experiences as a prostitute are emphasized, it’s not the bulk of the novel, which I liked. There’s also a lot of general scenes that could have been edited out just for clarity, though that’s forgivable for now (this is a galley copy, btw).

Three stars and a half stars here.

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

The book gods hath giveth…

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This book arrived in my mail yesterday. If I requested it from the many blog sites I’m a member of, I can’t remember. If I won it in a giveaway on Goodreads (I’m always entering something there) then I don’t see where I won it. Regardless, it looks bloody interesting and I’ll do a nice review on it soon.

And thanks, Tyrant Books. You’re super swell. πŸ™‚