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.

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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: New Kid

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Review for "New Kid" by Jerry Craft (2019)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

This is a really cool middle grades graphic novel about school, race, family, and friendship.

The main character, Jordan (ironically, the name of my own son) is a 12-year-old kid who lives with his parents in the Washington Heights neighborhood of NYC. He loves gaming and drawing, and due to his good grades he begins to attend a wealthy prep school on financial aid, finding himself among the few students of color there. In his new school, Jordan finds that he has access to greater intellectual pursuits but at the same time he experiences an incredible amount of racism, mostly in the form of microaggressions by teachers and students alike.

The graphics and the art in this book are top-notch. Interspersed within the book are Jordan’s own sketches of his impressions of literature, art, and pop culture–which are quite humorous, to say the least. One of the most profound scenes towards the end is when Jordan eventually sees through many of his own prejudices and stands up for a fellow classmate.

Definitely buy this book. I’d recommend to adults and kids alike.

Review: Praise Song for the Butterflies

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Review for "Praise Song for the Butterflies" by Bernice McFadden (2018)
Rating: 4.5 stars

Aye, a great book.

“Praise Song for the Butterflies” takes place in the fictional African nation of Ukemby with Abeo Kata, a middle class young girl being raised by loving parents. Her life is filled with joy and happiness until a streak of bad luck hits the family: Abeo’s father is investigated for embezzlement on his job, her baby brother falls ill, and financial strain sets in. To alleviate the bad luck, Abeo is taken in the middle of the night by her father to a remotely located shrine to become a trokosi, a ritual slave to a local priest.

Abeo spends most of her teenage and young adult years as a trokosi, a life filled with hard labor, rape, and daily physical abuse. I won’t tell you how the story ends (I don’t spoil books I like), but there is hope, a definite light in the darkness for Abeo as well as the thousands of women like her who are still victims to this awful practice.

Although the African country in this novel is fictional, the author’s notes make it clear that trokosi does still take place in parts of Africa, despite many governments ban of it. Before this book, I had no idea that this practice was in existence. Young virgin girls (and in some cases, boys) as young as 5 are taken to religious shrines as a living sacrifice to atone for the crimes of a family member or ancestor, or as repayment for services rendered from the shrine. The girl stays at the shrine for a lifetime, forced to have sex with the priest, or in Abeo’s case, local men who pay to visit. It’s a horrifying life that Abeo is forced into, and the author does an excellent job of weaving together all sides of the practice, whether one is involved directly or indirectly.

Definitely read this book. 4.5 stars.

Review: Friday Black

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Review for "Friday Black" by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (2018)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“Friday Black” is a unique short story collection with stories that range from sci-fi, dystopian, horror, and a couple of other genres that don’t really get talked about much because not enough people write in them yet. Adjei-Brenyah’s writing brims with creativity and satire, it takes raw imagination to even conceive of stories like this.

Each of the stories are set in plain, everyday environments–however, Adjei-Brenyah takes this and twists this and his characters into something else entirely. Comparisons to the anthology sci-fi series “Black Mirror” are accurate and appropriate here. In the collection’s best story, “The Finkelstein 5,” a young Black man named Emmanuel prepares for a job interview against the backdrop of a controversial court verdict in which a White man has been found not guilty of using a chainsaw to decapitate five Black children outside of a library. The verdict sparks protests by ‘Namers,’ Black people who commit violent acts against Whites in revenge for the killings. Emmanuel’s response to his friend’s participation in the Namers is a decision that will ultimately change the course of his life.

Another standout story, “Zimmer Land” (a clever play on the name of George Zimmerman, the murderer of young Trayvon Martin) features a theme park where participants can role play scenarios in which they are attacked and kill a Black perpetrator. “Lark Street” is about a man haunted by the aborted fetuses of his girlfriend. A trio of stories–“Friday Black,” “In Retail,” and “How to Sell a Jacket as Told by IceKing” are set within a mall and take place around the daily monotony of retail work. Stampedes at the mall during Black Friday regularly occur and kill large numbers of people, yet the business of buying and selling goes on unabated.

I gave this collection 4 stars because all of the stories aren’t perfect, and the sheer grandiosity of most of them seemed better suited for a novel. I would love to see “The Finkelstein 5” expanded into a novel, it’s just that great. Not a bad problem to have though. I definitely look forward to reading more from this writer.

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.