Review: What We Lose

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Review for "What We Lose" by Zinzi Clemmons (2017)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I have a confession to make. Like several other online reviewers, I too thought this was a memoir. About halfway through the book, I realized that the author is named Zinzi, and the character’s whose story is within these pages is named Thandi (*smacks forehead*). Though they are two different women their backstory is essentially one in the same, both are born of a South African mother and an African American father. Thandi navigates through life negotiating both identities, never really fitting into one or the other. The book chronicles her life from childhood all the way to adulthood as she stumbles in and out of relationships, loses her mother to cancer, marries, and eventually has a child of her own. The loss of her mother, however, is the clear focal point of this book.

This novel is written in sparse language and presented vignette style. There are photos, poetry, and snippets of nonfiction text, which is a pretty distinctive of a lot of the ‘new school’ memoirs that have come out over the past few years. Clemmons choice to present fiction in this way is interesting, though one of the drawbacks of this style is that all of the ‘space’ left me wanting more Thandi. It’s ok, however, because the words are powerful enough.

Do read this book. Clemmons is definitely a writer to watch.

P.S. – I’ll be disappointed if this book doesn’t win some kind of award this year. It’s that good. πŸ™‚

Review: The Hate U Give

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Review for "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas (2017)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I don’t know, ya’ll. 3.5 stars for me.

This is probably one of the most authentic books I’ve read this year. It deals with a very timely issue: the police killing of an unarmed Black man during a traffic stop. “The Hate U Give” is the story of 16-year-old Starr, a Black teenager who lives in a predominantly Black neighborhood who goes to a mostly White prep school. Starr has difficulty fitting in at school but she manages to maintain friends, a relationship with her boyfriend Chris, and hold down family life until she witnesses the death of her childhood best friend, Khalil, by a White cop during a traffic stop. Khalil, of course, was unarmed.

After the shooting, Starr’s life goes into a tailspin. She is torn between wanting to speak for Khalil and maintain a social status among her mostly White upper class friends, who believe the media accounts that Khalil was a drug dealer. She also deals with violent riots in her neighborhood, gang conflicts, and the problems that come from having dysfunctional family members.

Overall, this is a good book. I won’t entertain the arguments of some online reviewers who call this book racist (privileged readers who can’t understand the historical implications of institutionalized racism in America), a heavy handed promotion of the Black Lives Matter movement (who were never mentioned once), or “anti-cop” (failing to recognize that the main character had a positive relationship with an uncle who works in law enforcement). What makes this book 3.5 stars for me was its structure, which in my opinion wasn’t very good. At nearly 464 pages, this book waffles along and dabbles in far too many extraneous details. It could have been cut by about 200 pages and it would not have suffered at all for lack of information. It’s almost as if the author followed every single detail of an already overloaded plot to its own end, so much so that by the middle I found myself skipping pages. Yeah.

For those of you who follow my reviews, you know that there are some books I don’t like and don’t recommend, because I truly feel that they would be a waste of your time. This one is not the case. Regardless of how I felt about this book’s structural issues, I do recommend that you read it and form your own opinion about the issues that are explored. There is a movie deal in the works, so it would be beneficial to read it before seeing it on screen.

Review: Team Seven

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Review for "Team Seven" by Marcus Burke (2014)
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Oh, this book is just flat out wrong. Where do I begin?

First of all, this book had a lot of potential. It’s the story of Andre Battel, a Jamaican-American boy growing up in the urban center of Boston around the 80s and 90s. We follow him from around age 7 or so until his late teens, though the way the story is written, it’s hard to tell. We also follow his very dysfunctional family during the same period: Eddy, his unemployed, drug-addled, and absent father, Nina, his sister, and Ruby, his saintly, long-suffering mother. There is a host of extended family as well, an aunt and his grandparents, who live upstairs from the ongoing Battel family drama.

Around the age of 9 or 10 (I assume), Andre falls under the influence of a neighborhood drug crew of older boys, eventually becoming their seventh member (hence the title, “Team Seven”). He comes of age in a violent street culture–selling and smoking shitloads of marijuana, doing poorly in school, fighting, treating girls like garbage (along with a misogynistic attitude to boot), and beefs with his dad. The one thing Andre is good at his basketball, which he plays in city leagues with a reasonable amount of talent. He continues this sport until he is a teenager, looking for a way out of his twisted home life.

There are shifts in voice and time here, and that’s where the problems start. In the beginning there’s a young Andre, though as he grows there’s no kind of context of his age or any indication of how much time has passed. It’s just a kind of chapter to chapter ‘snapshot’ of Andre, with no backstory. He speaks and thinks in a heavy street dialect from the 90s and the 2000s, though other period indications in the book don’t seem to match. For example, there’s the mention of a lyric from Outkast’s “ATLiens” album (which came out in 1996), though several pages later there’s the appearance of a paragraph-length, perfectly grammatical cell phone text. Any genius will tell you that there were no such cell phones with such advanced texting capabilities during this period.

The novel also starts with multiple narrators: there’s Andre’s dad Eddy, mom Ruby, and one of the members of Team Seven. They each get a small sections in the beginning and, other than one other narration by Eddy later in the book, are never heard from again. Why have other characters narrate at all if it’s not continuous? Hmm.

And then there’s the members of Team Seven, who, other than two main characters of which are continuously mentioned, we don’t know much about. While we know they’re older that Andre, how old are they? As I said before, the lack of structured detail to the timeline here is terribly confusing.

The author also mixes up Andre’s narration in present and past tenses, depending on what chapter you’re reading. Is Andre currently in the action, or far beyond it, reflecting on the past? This is unclear and inconsistent.

This book had potential, but the rookie-ness of the mistakes here are glaring and detract from the overall cohesiveness of the story. I’d read, but only with caution.

Review: The Orphan Mother

Ahh…it’s Christmas time. Days and nights of no work or school, warm cups of coffee and tea, and more time for reading. I get a few weeks of break before heading back into the spring semester on January 9th.

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Review for "The Orphan Mother" by Robert Hicks (2016)

Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

I have a favorable impression of this very interesting, very well written historical fiction novel. This is my first book by Robert Hicks, and I certainly don’t regret it. What initially attracted me to this book was indeed the historical side of this work of fiction: the events, the main characters, and the setting are all near Franklin, Tennessee, the smaller town around the larger city of Nashville where I born and grew up. It was cool to hear the names of places that I was completely familiar with, only I’m seeing it from the unique perspective of people who lived 150 years ago.

Anyway, “The Orphan Mother” takes place in 1867, right after the Civil War. Former slave Mariah Reddick, now a free woman, continues her association with the wealthy McGavock family who used to own her, only now she makes her living as the town midwife. Mariah’s only son Theopolis, an accomplished shoe maker, attends a political rally with his mind possibly set on politics. Very early in the novel, however, Mariah’s son is violently murdered by several White townspeople while at the rally.

The rest of the book is about Mariah’s search for justice for her son through her relationships with several key people–Mrs. McGavock, her former owner, Elijah Dixon, the crooked town magistrate, and George Tole, another mysterious man at the center of the events which took her son’s life. Overall, it’s a sad novel, and even though there is a sliver of hope at the end, it’s still one whose outlook on race relations is completely relevant to today’s times.

While I liked this book and the characters themselves were all very believable, the pacing of this book was kinda slow. Several times toward the middle I found myself skipping pages, asking myself when the action was going to continue. There were also a few plot points I found somewhat unbelievable for the time period, given the racial and social taboos of the time. Minus those flaws, I did like this book a lot.

Review: The Mothers

Hola!

It’s been a while, I know. With my second year going and the semester drawing to a close, I haven’t had as much time for this site as I should. I continue to read, but because I’m picky about what I post here, you guys only see about 75% of what comes across my reading pile.

Enter Brit Bennett’s The Mothers. I knew I’d be posting about this book the moment it started coming up on the Internet. I just finished it tonight, so here goes:

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Review for “The Mothers” by Brit Bennett (2016)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book has been getting a lot of buzz in literary circles this fall and after reading it, I definitely understand why. It is well written, finely characterized, and it’s an excellent story. In short: the hype around this book is well deserved.

“The Mothers” centers on Nadia Turner, a beautiful 17-year-old African American girl whose mother has recently committed suicide. She hooks up with the pastor’s son, Luke, and soon after, discovers that she is pregnant. Nadia has an abortion, Luke pays for it, and the two teenagers subsequently move on with their lives. Nadia hides this secret from everyone, her father, her church, and even Aubrey, her tightly wound best friend. The novel then follows Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey through the next several years as this trio find themselves caught in a trio of secrets, lies, and heartbreak.

The plot to this book is solid and the writing is sharp. The only criticism I have is at the beginning of each chapter, there is a soliloquy narrated in the first person plural by the ‘mothers’ of the church in which Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are a part of. Even though I liked it, these parts of the book didn’t work as well as the rest. Otherwise, definitely a solid offering from Ms. Bennett. I will definitely be watching for her work in the future.

Review: Edge of the Wind

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Review for “Edge of the Wind” by James E. Cherry (2016)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Alex van der Pool is a young Black writer with a mission. A schizophrenic living with his sister, he is off his meds and ready to unveil his poetry to the world. He listens to the voice in his head, Tobi, as he takes a poetry class at a local college hostage. As his family and the local sheriff watch helplessly, he shares his innermost thoughts with the reader and the terrified hostages.

I will avoid giving the intimate details of the book away. However, I will say that this is a tense, beautiful read that immediately grabs you and doesn’t let up until the very end. I definitely recommend this novel, as James Cherry is a gifted writer with a knack for getting inside the heads of his characters. Definitely a must read!

Note: Thank you to the author, James E. Cherry, for a copy of this book. More info on this author can be found atΒ http://www.jamesecherry.com/

Review: Another Brooklyn

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Review for “Another Brooklyn” by Jacqueline Woodson (2016)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is not just a novel. It’s poetry, it’s memory. It’s a testament to Black girlhood.

With events written in non-linear, prose style, Another Brooklyn is the story of August, a young academic who travels to her Brooklyn home to attend her father’s funeral. She runs into an old friend on a train and from there, you are transported back to specific memories of August’s childhood in the 1970’s. Brooklyn, we learn, was a place where she found the friendship of three other Black girls, each from a different home situation. There are memories of growing up without a mother, of DJ parties, of first love, and so many other things that to describe them all is to give this book away and not let you experience this great novel for yourself. My only complaint was that this book was not long enough. It’s a short (less than 200 pages), but I could have read Woodson’s gorgeous prose for another 200 pages, that’s how great this book is.

Another Brooklyn deserves all of the Top Ten lists and press it’s getting. A must read!