Review: Let’s Talk about Love

Hey folks!

I’m writing this from a hotel in Manhattan. I’ve been here for 5 days now for an education conference and so far I’m totally in love with the city. Anyone who would like to see my NYC adventures can follow me on my IG: kellythegreat.

Anywho, on to the review:

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Review for "Let's Talk About Love" by Claire Kann (2018)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I’m sad to say that I didn’t really like this book.

It’s disappointing because I wanted to love it, to grab it and go out and buy my own instead of a library copy. I did finish it, but honestly, after 25 pages, I knew this wasn’t the book for me.

Alice is a bi-romantic, asexual Black girl college student. As the story opens, she is being dumped by her girlfriend Margot because her gf believes that she doesn’t want to have sex with her. Heartbroken, Alice moves out of their shared space and into an apartment with another friend, Feenie, and her boyfriend. Meanwhile, she develops an intense romantic attraction for one of her co-workers, Takumi. The remainder of the book details Alice’s romance with Takumi and her struggles with her asexuality, as well how she deals with a whole host of family problems to boot.

I liked this novel because it is the first book I’ve read in which asexuality (or “ace,” as some asexual individuals call themselves) is discussed like the very real thing that it is. It is not ‘weird’ or a mental illness. Although there are a wide variety of perspectives on sexual activity within this community (some do have it, some don’t), it is widely accepted by people who identify in this manner that it is an orientation, not a “choice.” Even though they may lack interest in sex, they do indeed have romantic inclinations. Alice, the main character of this book, is featured in this way. I appreciate the fact that this book’s purpose was to allow people to understand asexuality without the long-winded explanations of an academic paper or a textbook. It’s timely and informative.

My dislike of this book, however, was in the characterization of Alice. While she’s not the worst character I’ve ever encountered, I loathed the way the author portrayed her–less like a real college student and more like a 12 year old. For example, Alice has mental categories called “Cutie Codes” to describe her attractions to people. She constantly refers to this all throughout the novel: Cutie Code Orange, Cutie Code Red, Cutie Code Yellow, all the way to Cutie Code Black (Takumi, according to Alice, is the ‘perfect’ black). She also has the nerve to refer to a tv character on pg. 48 as a ‘cutie patootie badass.’

((*eyeroll*))

Are you serious? What adult (or, as I said earlier, anyone over the age of 12) in 2018 talks this way? While I can understand making character relatable and giving the protagonist some quirks, the author was trying entirely too hard for this angle. Alice’s wide-eyed, child-like nature was problematic for me, because I don’t think real ace people go around acting like a bubbly 12 year old. It’s completely ok for an ace character to say someone’s hot or that someone they like is sexy without resorting to infantile language associations.

And the writing…while it’s not bad, it’s nothing to write home about. This book is plagued by an overuse of parentheses, usually employed between paragraphs to represent Alice’s thoughts. This is weird, because this book is written in 3rd person. If there is so much emphasis on the thoughts of the main character (which there is) why not use the 1st person and make it official? Reading this book in a 3rd person POV seemed unnecessarily awkward, because I always had the sense that it was a 1st person narrative.

Once again, I appreciate the diversity of racial representation in this book (a Black ace female, an Asian male), as well as what it attempts to do when it comes to portraying a sexual orientation that few people understand. I just wish it could have been executed better.

2 stars.

P.S. – The cover is Cutie Code Black.

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Review: Tyler Johnson Was Here

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Review for "Tyler Johnson Was Here" by Jay Coles (2018)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

From the moment I saw this book I knew I had to have it. I’m always down for YA books by and about people of color that are overtly political in nature, as well as books that challenge young people to think critically social issues. And yes, THAT cover. Gor-juss…

“Tyler Johnson Was Here” is just such a book that is destined to provoke conversation, particularly on police killings and the role of Black Lives Matter movement. The novel centers on the lives of twins, Tyler and Marvin, growing up in the fictional town of Sterling Point. The twins are raised by their single mother while their father, who is incarcerated, makes frequent appearances throughout the book in the form of letters written to Marvin.

Even though this is the story of twins, the story is told through Marvin, the more grounded of the two. Marvin hangs out with his friends Guillermo and Ivy, makes decent grades, watches reruns of “A Different World” and hopes to get into MIT. Tyler is the more restless twin, directing his energies toward social pursuits and hanging with a tough crowd. Much to Marvin’s dismay, he notices a rift between him and his brother and cannot convince Tyler to stay away from trouble. One night, after a party thrown by a local drug dealer, Tyler does not return home. Several days later, he is found deceased. A leaked video reveals that Tyler was unarmed when he was shot by police. As Marvin deals with his grief and anger over his brother’s death, he turns his efforts to protest and making sure that his brother’s memory isn’t forgotten.

What’s wrong with this book? A lot. Hell, I’m just going to bullet point here:

— The pacing of this novel was a problem for me. We’re told on the front flap of the book that Tyler is going to disappear and later be discovered dead. However, the characters do not discover Tyler’s death until well over halfway into the book. I felt as if the author could have skipped the ‘missing’ part, because it slowed the pace of the novel significantly. You’re literally just sitting around waiting for the inevitable for the first 150 pages. That’s not fun.

— Characterization fell a bit flat in this book as well. Even though I felt I understood Tyler, when I finished this I realized that I really didn’t. The limitations of a single perspective (Marvin’s) is apparent here. We know he was a good kid who got mixed up in a troubled crowd, but we’re never told the exact nature of his last days, his dealings with his friends. The author spends a great deal of time making the point that although Tyler may have been troubled, this was no reason for the manner of his death. While this is true, I think this point would not have required so much emphasis with more character-building as far as Tyler was concerned.

— There’s also a side character that goes absolutely nowhere: an aunt who’s a police officer, mentioned several times in the novel, who’s “always on the phone” with Marvin and Tyler’s mom. Considering that the police are the bad guys here who murdered Tyler and all of law enforcement in this book is portrayed as the epitome of evil, a relative of Marvin’s who happens to be a cop may have added to the complexity of this book. But that’s never explored. Weird.

— Marvin meets a girl, Faith, through his attempts to discover his brother’s whereabouts after the fateful night at the party. They eventually become involved with one another, but I never got a sense of their chemistry, her relevance to the story beyond the standard YA romance requirement, or really why she is in the book at all.

— The multitude of references to the tv show “A Different World”: Marvin is obsessed with this show, viewing it as a way to “understand” diverse Black characters. I’m not sure why this is, especially when there are more modern (and diverse!) shows with Black characters that could have been referenced here. I’m an 80’s baby, so I watched “A Different World” as a teenager (it went off the air in 1993, right as I went into high school). A teenager in 2018 still fixated on characters from a show from well over 25 years ago seemed strange, kinda like a kid who watches a dated show like “Hogan’s Heroes” expecting to find enlightenment. Yikes.

Comparisons to “The Hate U Give” are inevitable (both have Black main characters, both are about the subject of police violence), and if I had to pick between the two I’d say in a heartbeat that “The Hate U Give” is the much better book. Despite my criticisms, however, I won’t go lower than 3 stars for “Tyler Johnson Was Here.” I also wholeheartedly recommend this to other people to read. Even though TJWH has problems in its execution, I respect what it does accomplish successfully, and that’s place the narrative surrounding police violence in the hands of Black youth, within the context of their own language and culture. The value of those things in and of itself is immeasurable, respectable, and deserves notice.

And yes, the cover. It’s quite beautiful.

*sigh*

Review: Speak No Evil

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Review for "Speak No Evil" by Uzodinma Iweala (2018)
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Nah, I didn’t like this book. Thankfully it’s a short one (about 200 pages), so I was able to muster the courage to get through it quickly without chalking this one up as a DNF.

“Speak No Evil” is the story of Niru, the first generation, American-born son of conservative, upper class Nigerian parents. Although he lives a life of material wealth, he cannot escape the realities that cause him considerable distress: impossibly high standards set by a successful older brother, police harassment due to driving while Black, the racist microaggressions by White classmates at the prep school he attends. The one person he relates to is Meredith, a classmate to whom he confesses that he is gay. His father discovers his secret and, after a violent confrontation, takes his son to Nigeria to visit a special preacher to “pray the gay” out of him. Niru returns to school but his spirit is even more troubled, restless, and confused. He is a shadow of his former self.

The story doesn’t end there. Niru goes continues struggling with his sexuality before meeting a violent end, the circumstances of which did not seem to go with the premise of the book. It is obvious that the author wanted to prove a point about race with Niru’s demise, but I dunno…this kind of “switch” seemed uncalled for. There is also a shift in narrative–when Niru stops talking, Meredith steps in and ends the book. I didn’t like this either. I think he could have stayed with the original voice. The inclusion of Meredith’s voice seemed rather sloppy to me, kinda like he originally drafted two novels and put them together in the same book.

Strangely, I also found this book terribly hard to read. I shouldn’t have, though. Iweala writes this book in the same way he did his last, “Beasts of No Nation.” There is no speech punctuation in that book either, whole conversations appear within huge blocks of text. Though the lack of punctuation didn’t bother me in BoNN, for some reason, it bothered me immensely here. Perhaps it is because there was more description and internal thoughts with “Beasts of No Nation,” less dialogue. I don’t know. Hmmm.

I won’t give this book one star, I respect Iweala greatly as a writer. I just don’t think this particular book was my cup of tea.

Review: An American Marriage

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Review for "An American Marriage" by Tayari Jones (2018)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Because there’s such a long waiting list to check out this book at my city’s library, I ended up getting a hold of the audiobook version of this through Hoopla. Ultimately I’m glad I did that, because I thoroughly enjoyed the audio version. The two actors reading the story breathe a kind of life into it that I don’t think I would have experienced had I chosen to read it.

“An American Marriage” is the story of Celestial and Roy, a newly married couple residing in Atlanta. For all intents and purposes, they are a mismatch: Celestial is well-grounded and from an urban upper class family; while Roy has a roaming eye for trouble and is from a rural working class upbringing. Despite their differences, they are happy. The couple is only a year and a half into their marriage when Roy is falsely arrested for rape and sentenced to 12 years in prison. From here the novel goes into epistolary form, with the separated couple writing letters back and forth to one other. Roy finds himself adjusting to prison life, while Celestial makes the most of her loneliness and despair in Roy’s absence by creating dolls with her husband’s likeness. She also finds success as an entrepreneur, traveling the country and selling her dolls.

Eventually, Roy is released from prison after 5 and a half years due to a technicality with his trial. He returns home, but both Celestial and Roy find that the terrain of their marriage, as well as who they are as people, have vastly changed. I won’t give away the rest of the story, but I will say that Roy’s release from prison happens early on, at about 35% into the book. There is literally an entire story line after this event that gets very messy for both Celestial and Roy, and not in a good way.

This novel is not a quick read. It’s a slow burn of emotion, with a marriage disintegrating at the center. Both the motives and lives of Roy and Celestial are explored in detail, both characters take turns being both right and wrong.

This book is a solid 4 stars. I can definitely understand why it’s getting the press it’s getting, because it’s definitely well deserved. This one’s a triumph, definitely read it!

Review: A Kind of Freedom

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Review for "A Kind of Freedom" by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton (2017)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is a really good book. Set in New Orleans, it’s a family saga that spans three generations and roughly about 70 years, from 1944 to 2011. There are three distinct third person narrators from each generation: Evelyn, the well to do daughter of a Creole family, Jackie, Evelyn’s daughter, and T.C, Jackie’s son.

Evelyn is a middle class girl from a family with high hopes. Her father is one of the first Black doctors to practice in the city of New Orleans. She falls for Renard, a sincere but working class man who her parents strongly disapprove of. Their disapproval continues even as he goes off to fight in WWII. The second story is that of Jackie, Evelyn and Renard’s youngest daughter. The year is 1986 and although Blacks officially now have equal “rights,” low wages and lack of job opportunities is the catalyst that pulls Jackie’s husband, Terry, into crack cocaine addiction. The last story is that of T.C., Jackie’s son. As the story begins, he is being released from county jail for yet another criminal charge. He decides to make money for his upcoming son’s birth by selling home-grown marijuana. He soon discovers that leaving ‘the game,’ however, is a lot harder than he imagined.

There are three story lines in this book, and they switch back and forth. Because this was such a short book (less than 250 pages), there’s only plot and not much else. At the end of the day, I felt like I really didn’t get the depth with the characters I wanted. By the time I was reading one section, the switch was made and the time period and character had changed. Bummer.

This is a good book though, so I won’t go under 4 stars. New Orleans always makes a captivating tale, and Margaret Wilkerson Sexton is definitely a writer a watch.

Review: When They Call You a Terrorist

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Review for "When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir" by Patrisse Khan-Cullors (2018)
Review: 4 out of 5 stars

Ahhh, this is a good book. Even though it is about the life of one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, there is sooooo much more than just BLM rhetoric here. It begins with Cullors’ childhood in Los Angeles, growing up poor and constantly harassed by law enforcement. Her single mother works multiple jobs and never quite gets by, and without much adult supervision, both of her brothers eventually end up in the prison system. One of her brothers, whom she spends multiple chapters describing the plight of, was severely mentally ill and systematically abused by the prison system. It is tragic and harrowing, anyone who reads this book will come away with a detailed understanding of Cullors’ rage at law enforcement, the justice system, corrections, and pretty much every institutional system in America.

The author herself is bisexual (she describes herself as queer). She spends a lot of time discussing the fact that Black Lives Matter was founded by three queer women and is a mostly women and LGBTQ-headed movement–though the way it is conveyed in the press, you would not know this. There is also a discussion of the full agenda of the movement, which encompasses far more than just an end to police violence against people of color. In addition to the rights of Black citizens, Black Lives Matter stands for economic justice, health insurance, prison reform, educational reform, ending domestic violence, an end to the abuse of immigrants and unfair deportation, and so on.

Regrettably, much of what Cullors and the Black Lives Matter movement has worked for in the last few years has been undone in the past few months by the current president and his administration. This is lamented in the last part of the book. It’s not an ending, however, but a call to action, hope for the future.

Once again, this is a timely read and great book.

[A digital copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America

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Review for "Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America" by Jill Leovy (2015)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Before I begin this review I have to commend the author, because there really is no easy way to write about the subject of Black on Black crime. How do you talk about the very real issue of Black homicide rates without pathologizing an entire race? At the same time, one has to recognize that Black homicide is indeed a problem and even though poverty, racism, and decades of neglect by law enforcement play a consistent role in its existence, you can’t “excuse” it either. Even though crime rates have dropped in recent years, the murder rates among Black men remain relatively high. Violent homicide still remains the number 1 cause of death among Black males ages 15-34 in America.

Jill Leovy starts off great in this book. For her setting, she chooses inner city Los Angeles, a city long plagued by Black homicides. She describes a crippling bureaucracy, as well as homicide detectives struggling for resources–lack of computers and cars, even buying their own “murder books” (binders in which to keep case files). They didn’t even get tape recorders, many detectives had to buy their own. Leovy argues that the LAPD and the entire criminal justice system has not placed a high priority on solving Black murders. This has created a lack of trust in the police among Black citizens, tendencies toward vigilante-style justice, witnesses afraid to talk, and a “no-snitching” culture that makes closing murder cases notoriously difficult. Names go in files to be forgotten, detectives get bogged down with even more cases.

“Ghettoside” is a broad narrative, though it focuses on the specific case of an LAPD homicide detective’s son who was gunned down in 2007 while walking down the street. A long chapter is dedicated to describing his family life and how much of a “good” boy he was (not a gangster, followed rules, etc). You almost have to wonder if the author is following the same kind of rationale that many people feel toward murder victims: an unspoken sentiment that a person’s morally questionable behavior in some way should “justify” what happened to them. Another problem is the large amount of biographical information on not just one but several LA detectives and their careers, which, honestly, I just didn’t care about. It was hard to remember who was who and after several chapters of this I started skipping pages.

Another problem with this book is that, through the case of the detective’s son, Leovy seems to make an argument that if all cases were solved by dedicated detectives like the one who solved this one, there wouldn’t be any unsolved Black homicides. Well, not really. For one, the circumstances of every case is different and second, you have to revisit the idea that (perhaps) one of the main reasons why this particular case continued to stay visible was because of who the victim’s father was. You can’t take socioeconomic status, which governs so much of our lives, out of the death equation here.

Overall, a clunky but ok book for me. 3.5 stars.