Review: Hurricane Season

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Review for “Hurricane Season” by Fernanda Melchor (2020)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Trigger Warnings: rape, incest, sexual assault, homophobia, extreme violence (particularly toward women), bestiality

In a small Mexican village, a local witch has recently been discovered dead, floating in an irrigation canal under “a mass of black snakes.” What follows this disturbing scene are seven chapters, each one paragraph long, from the point of view of a character who is either connected to the murder or directly involved in it. The chapters also give backstory: allegedly a long time ago the witch killed her husband and cursed his sons, she performed abortions and herbal cures, the witch was not a woman but really was a man, she hosted sex orgies at her place, and she possessed a horde of treasure deep within her home. The storytelling here is lurid and unreliable, the language is foul. This book does not attempt to sort out the truth, because whether or not the character’s stories about the witch are true or false is not the point. The bottom line is that the woman at the center of this story serves as the village’s scapegoat, someone upon whom shame, secrets, and sins dwell.

As was previously stated, each chapter is a paragraph. Sentences go on forever, there’s no stops or quotations to be found. The characters narratives often digress, get back on track, then digress again. The language is vulgar, and yes, there’s some really obscene acts here (see above trigger warning). Normally I hate this kind of storytelling but considering the content, I think it was pulled off quite well here. It definitely moved the narrative at a fast pace and to give the sense that the true intent of the nasty stuff is not so much to shock you, but for you to understand the rage and hopelessness that’s at the center of this book. Rape, extreme violence, copulating with animals–there’s really no topic that’s off limits or taboo. But instead of preaching against these things, the author demonstrates the detrimental effects of what homophobia, misogyny, poverty, and police corruption do to a small community. The focus here is clearly brutality toward women and gay people, and this story’s proximity to the truth is what makes this book such a difficult read.

Do I recommend this? Yes and no. This is certainly not the book for everyone. For those who are into experimental novels and don’t believe in censorship, read on. For those who are triggered by foul language and extreme violence, I would avoid this one. I gave this book four stars, however, because it takes a lot of balls to even write something as messy and thought provoking as this.

Review: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

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Review for "Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982" by Cho Nam-Joo (2020)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982” is an interesting novel that tracks the experiences of a generic everywoman (Jiyoung happens to be a very popular name in South Korea) from her birth in 1982 to the present day. We’re introduced to Jiyoung in the present where, at the age of 33, she has been hospitalized for a mental breakdown. The author then recalls her life story, giving familial and societal context as to how the character’s breakdown happened.

There are lots of examples of institutionalized sexism here, which begin long before Jiyong is born. Boys are the preferred gender of Korean parents, it’s no surprise that girls are an afterthought or discarded via abortion as soon as the gender is known (Jiyoung’s mother is no exception–we learn that she aborted a daughter before giving birth to her third child, a son). Throughout her life, Jiyoung is subjected to sexism and misogyny in every aspect of her existence. The needs of her older sister and Jiyoung’s come after her brother’s, as both of her parents cater to his every whim. She and her female peers are sexually harassed in school and punished for it. Even though she is a brilliant student and worker, she is openly discriminated against and skipped over for promotions at work. After she marries she settles into domestic life, and, even though she has no desire to stop working, ends up leaving her job to raise her daughter.

Resigned to a life of staying at home and raising her child, it is this last “straw” that finally undoes Jiyoung. Although I wholeheartedly followed this book and its message that patriarchy is having a detrimental effect on not only women but Korean society as a whole, the way this book is presented is not very engaging. Mixed into the fictional narrative are hard facts, along with footnotes and citations to illustrate the bottom line. I get it, but it was a bit off-putting and it disconnected me from the novel. Or maybe something got lost in translation here. Hmm…

I definitely recommend this book. It is always fascinating to read about life from a non-Western perspective, even though the parallels are familiar and apparent.

Review: Darling Rose Gold

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Review for “Darling Rose Gold” by Stephanie Wrobel (2020)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The name of this book should be called “Crazy and Crazier.” It’s good though, ya’ll. Really good.

When the story opens, Patty Watts, the single mother of daughter Rose Gold Watts, has just been released from prison. Although it is never explicitly stated in the text, all indicators point to Patty having Munchausen’s syndrome, a mental illness that results in her abusing Rose Gold who had been under her continuous care for years, poisoning her through phony stomach ailments. As her release date nears, Rose Gold desires to reconcile with her mother and invites her to live with her and her infant son.

Once Patty comes home, the real action begins. Rose Gold has recovered physically, but it is evident early on that she has deep seated psychological issues, much like her mother. Mother and daughter attempt to reconcile in their time together but both are far from healed. Told in alternating chapters of both Patty and Rose Gold’s points of view, you get a glimpse into the twisted psyches of both.

I will not go into specifics of the plot because it will completely spoil the book. I will say though that when I finished reading it I closed my Kindle, looked at the wall and said: “well damn!”

This book is fast paced and fairly easy to read. Both of the main characters are unreliable narrators and in their own ways completely wretched, there are no real redeeming qualities for either. Both voices are flat and emotionless, and even though I hate that kind of storytelling in other books, here I loved it and thought it worked really well.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this book is greenlit for tv or a Netflix series. The level of drama here definitely insures an audience. Either way, I loved this book. 4.5 stars, friends…

Review: No Visible Bruises

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Review for "No Visible Bruises: What We Don't Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us" by Rachel Louise Snyder

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

There’s not many books that do a decent job of discussing a very complex social issue. This book does an excellent job of not only breaking down the many facets of domestic violence, but providing ways that society could be doing a better job to combat it.

The statistics on domestic violence are staggering. I won’t repeat them here, other than to say that domestic violence (i.e., intimate partner violence, intimate terrorism, etc) truly touches every race, class, income level, gender, sexual orientation, and age group. It also impacts other social issues–homelessness, income inequality, mass incarceration, substance abuse, immigration, mental health. Snyder talks about how domestic violence is often linked to many of the mass shootings in today’s news. What do the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting and the Orlando nightclub attack have in common? Both began first in the homes of the offenders as domestic violence.

“No Visible Bruises” also talks about how many of the responses that society has for domestic violence are woefully inadequate. People still look upon the victims of domestic violence and blame them for their victimization, asking why they didn’t leave first. Police are no better, looking for ‘visible’ bruises when they respond to a DM call, when many forms of violence may or may not leave physical marks. Battered women’s shelters do offer a temporary solution to the problem, but often leave a woman and her children homeless in the long run, which may ultimately lead them back to an abuser.

There is also a lengthy chapter in this book dedicated to a program that attempts to change men’s abusive behavior. One of the hallmarks of domestic violence apologists is that abusers cannot be reformed. Snyder shows that with the right therapy and support, they can. And they do.

I cannot recommend this book enough. Please read it to gain insight into a very complex problem.

Review: The Dreamers

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Review for "The Dreamers" by Karen Thompson Walker (2019)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

In the small fictional college town of Santa Lora, California, a virus spreads among the students on campus. The victims fall into a deep, coma-like sleep from which it appears that they will never wake. They are alive, but dreaming.

“The Dreamers” is told through an omniscient narrator and follows several people throughout the town, each grappling with the epidemic. There is Mei and Matthew, two quarantined freshman who breach the barrier and fall for one another, Anna and Ben, a married couple with a new baby, and Libby and Sara, two young sisters coping with life after their doomsday prepper dad falls ill. As with any medical based mystery, as the virus spreads, fear among the residents increases and the town becomes more and more isolated by quarantine as more people fall asleep. What is it? What is going on?

An interesting thing about this novel is that there is no background info given on the source of the virus or how it is spread; you as a reader are just as clueless about what’s going on as the town’s residents. I didn’t necessarily mind the lack of a solid back story here, though I admit that this was the only thing that kept me reading. Other than this, I wanted more from this book. Characters are too brief, events are fleeting, emotions aren’t explored as deeply as they could have been. There’s echoes of Jose Saramago’s “Blindness” here, but this doesn’t come close.

I liked reading this and I definitely like Karen Thompson Walker, but her first novel, “Age of Miracles” much much better.

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: Rani Patel in Full Effect

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Review for "Rani Patel in Full Effect" by Sonia Patel (2016)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Took it back to 2016 with this one, though I read this a little over a month ago. It’s a worthwhile but tough YA read, content warnings abound for rape and sexual abuse.

Rani is a 16 year old Indian American girl (Gujarati) living with her parents on Moloka’i, a remote island in Hawaii. Despite being a person of color, she is an outsider among the locals. She finds common ground with her peers through writing and performing raps under the alias MC Sutra in a hip hop collective about a variety of topics–racism, sexism, colonialism, female empowerment, etc. Often Rani’s raps about female empowerment are in direct conflict with her actions and decision making, which have been damaged due to her chaotic home life. Rani’s mother is emotionally absent, her father is out cheating on her mother with a much younger girl (in addition to some other foul things I won’t mention here in order to not spoil the book).

As far as the writing, this book seemed kinda thrown together. Some editing would have been nice here, at times it felt like sentences and different scenes were just strung together with no transitions at all. There’s also a lot of Gujarati and Hawaiian words that just show up organically with no translation at all. I don’t mind this (I’m in their story–remember), and the glossary at the back is a huge help. Just know that there’s a LOT of unfamiliar words here. You will work reading this.

Also, I strongly encourage you to read the author’s note in the back of the novel. The author details why Rani is so frustrating and makes unhealthy choices time and time again, despite all warnings to the contrary. It’s critical to understanding the book.

I gave this three stars–no more, no less.