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.

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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.

Review: A Lucky Man

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Review for "A Lucky Man" by Jamel Brinkley (2018)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is one of the most profound short story collections I’ve read over the past few years. I say that with no hesitation, because let’s face it–most short story offerings these days ain’t that good, unevenly written at best. Very rarely are ALL of the stories in a collection readable and relatable pieces of literature. “A Lucky Man” is one of the few exceptions.

In this volume are nine stories, all featuring Black men and boys in the Bronx who are dealing with life and its societal pressures. There is a focus on masculinity here, specifically Black masculinity–how Black men view the women in their lives, their families, and how they justify their behavior toward them. There are definitely depictions of unhealthy relationships here, but it’s not just sexism on display. The nuances of what it means to be a Black man are explored here in a variety of different settings: in some cases, the choice to reject traditional “male” behavior has disastrous consequences, but in others, the character finds peace.

The powerful story “J’ouvert 1996” was my favorite in this collection, which tells the story of a young boy’s coming of age during an all-night street festival. “Everything the Mouth Eats” is the tale of two brothers’ healing of the past during a capoeira festival. “A Family” is about one man’s quest to come to terms with his actions, many years after a terrible act. “A Lucky Man” is an interesting exploration of public spaces and male desire.

Overall, this is a beautiful collection of tales. It is hard to believe that this is Jamel Brinkley’s first book, he writes with a talent that is rare and unique. I look forward to any future writing projects he has. Definitely recommend!

Review: The Terrible

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Review for "The Terrible" by Yrsa Daley Ward (2018)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is a very unique memoir. It is written in prose, but large parts of it are written in verse. There’s no pattern to what the next page is going to be (a poem or prose), but that was perfectly OK. I was too wrapped up in the author’s words. Needless to say, I loved this book.

Yrsa Daley-Ward, author of bone, tells a very honest story about her life. Her and her younger brother grow up in a very strict, very religious Seven-Day Adventist household with her mother’s parents. With her father absent, her and her brother go to live with their mother later in her childhood. The relationship between her and her mother is dysfunctional as well. Eventually Ward drifts into a life of drugs, drinking, depression, and sex work. There is a lot of pain invoked in this novel, along with an exploration on inter-generational conflicts, pain not healed that is passed from parent to children.

I won’t tell you too much more about this book because I don’t want to spoil it. It is definitely worth your time to read it. Four stars.