Review: Monday’s Not Coming

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Review for "Monday's Not Coming" by Tiffany D. Jackson (2018)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I’ll admit it: Monday’s Not Coming has been one of my most anticipated reads this year. I read this in a few days and I’m definitely giving this a solid 4 stars.

The story begins when Claudia, the main character, returns from a summer vacation to discover that her best friend Monday Charles has not show up for their first day of eighth grade. No one seems concerned. Claudia’s parents caution her not to worry, but she knows better. After several weeks pass, Claudia begins to ask around about her friend. The school says she hasn’t registered. Monday’s mom says that she’s with her father, Monday’s sister says she’s with an aunt. The police also dismiss her concerns, labeling Monday as a probable runaway. Despite the setbacks, Claudia is more and more determined to find her best friend as the novel progresses.

I loved the setting of this book, as well as Claudia’s character. Claudia resides in Washington, D.C., a city with predominantly Black residents. There are thoughtful explorations here of gentrification, the educational system, the child welfare system, as well as class tensions in Black communities. Go go music, the National Mall, and the Anacostia neighborhood are all very prominent “characters” here as well. I loved it all. Also memorable is Claudia herself, a very complex character. Monday is her only friend, but she represents way more than just a friend–she’s Claudia’s other half. Once Monday’s disappearance takes hold, Claudia’s dyslexia becomes more visible to those around her. She is compelled to take remedial tutoring, which she hates. Claudia also enjoys dance, but lacks the confidence to stand out.

The execution of this novel has some problems, though. This is definitely one of those “down the rabbit hole” kinda books, where nothing’s a given and you’re gonna go through some hoops before you get to the Big Reveal at the end. The hoops here are four timelines that run parallel throughout the book, labeled “Before” (events before Monday’s disappearance), “After” (events after we discover what happens to Monday), “Before the Before,” and “2 Years Before the Before.” It’s confusing. I understand Jackson’s use of ambiguity here, but all of the various timelines and events made this a muddled mess. There is a twist at the end, but by this time I was so lost in the mire of the timeline that I have to admit that the only reason I didn’t skip pages was because I genuinely wanted to find out what happened to Monday.

To tell you more about this book takes it dangerously into spoiler territory. It definitely shines for its fearlessness. It is one of the first YA books that I’ve read in which Black girl friendships are problematized and presented with the realness that they deserve. It is also one of the first YA books that speaks directly to the phenomenon of “Missing White Woman Syndrome,” the term first used by PBS News anchor Gwen Ifill to describe society’s tendency to treat the disappearances of young, affluent White women as media events with constant, around the clock national coverage, despite the fact that men, along with women and children of color, comprise the majority of missing persons cases. For Monday’s disappearance, no one joins a search party. Her picture is not in the newspaper. She’s not even on the nightly news.

4 stars. If you read nothing else in 2018, please read this. You don’t want to miss it.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Summer TBR

I have a confession to make, ya’ll. I typically don’t do TBR lists. The reason for this is simple: I have a horrible reading attention span. I simply cannot guarantee that the books I tell you I’m going to read will be read in the allotted time frame I give. I am literally always looking at books–online, in stores, at the library, through emails I get, through requests. I just can’t say I’ll read x, y, and z during this month when the truth is I will probably find something else while randomly browsing the library one afternoon that will catch my interest.

I find that it’s best for me to base my TBR-isms on what’s currently on my shelf and in my Kindle with an expiration date or on reserve from the library. So here goes:

Books I’ll More Than Likely Read this Summer

1. How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs (ARC, to be published on 24 July 2018). Short story collection from a debut author that promises to be really yummy.

2. Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson (currently reading). I am floored by this book so far. Review forthcoming.

3. There There by Tommy Orange (currently on reserve). Debut fiction about urban Native Americans headed to a powwow. It’s gotten some good reviews and I’m curious about it, so I’m going to give this one a peep.

4. The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner (own a copy of this). Fiction book about an incarcerated woman. I’m interested where this one goes.

5. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (currently in my Kindle). Kick ass Black girls and zombies. Sign me up and take my money…

6. A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising: A Novel by Raymond Villareal (currently on reserve). I told you: I love zombies, so this should be interesting.

7. The Terrible: A Storyteller’s Memoir by Yrsa Daley Ward (currently on my shelf; library copy). I loved her recent poetry volume, Bone, so this should be a great read.

8. Sick: A Memoir by Porochista Khakpour (currently on my shelf; library copy). A nonfiction account of the author’s long and expensive struggle to get a diagnosis for what is discovered to be late-stage Lyme disease. I have a sister-in-law with Lyme disease, and she nearly lost everything just to get a doctor to listen. I need to read this story.

9. Severance by Ling Ma (ARC, to be published on 14 Aug 2018). Interesting dystopian fiction read about a lady who loses her job while the end of the world is happening at the same time. Can’t wait to read this later this summer!

10. Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras (ARC, to be published on 31 July 2018). Fictional story set in Colombia at the time of Escobar’s violent hold on the country. Promises to be a great read by a debut author.

Ok, work in the morning folks.

xoxo, Kellan

 

Review: Heather, The Totality

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Review for "Heather, the Totality" by Matthew Weiner (2017)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
From what I’ve glanced through on Goodreads, this is a book that people either completely loved or absolutely hated. I’m in the first camp, I think this book is fantastic. And no, it’s not because the author was one of the writers on two of my favorite shows, Mad Men and The Sopranos (though being a fangirl sho’ does help). I liked this book because it’s a pretty decent work of fiction.

This is a short book (less than 150 pages), more novella-like than a novel. There is very little dialogue, the story is told through third person narration of one of four characters. I can see where this annoys people because it reads more like a storyboard summary than a fully fleshed out, traditional novel. Either way, the quirks in the style didn’t bother me. I really dug this story.

Mark Breakstone lives the life that people dream about. He works in finance and lives in Manhattan in a spacious, expensive apartment. He marries Karen, a pretty social climber who shares his dreams of the good life. Shortly after their marriage, Karen becomes pregnant and gives birth to Heather, their beautiful and gifted daughter. So beautiful is Heather that both of her parents become obsessed with her, seeking to one-up one other in competition for her affection.

Meanwhile, the reader is introduced to Bobby Klasky. He is not beautiful or gifted or wealthy. He grows up in New Jersey, the son of a heroin addicted mother. He drops out of school and dabbles in petty crimes until he eventually goes to prison for assaulting a woman in his neighborhood. All the while we get a window into Bobby’s thoughts, which become more and more disturbing and violent as the narrative progresses.

It becomes evident early on that the paths of Bobby and the Breakstone family will eventually meet, and that the result will be a violent one. There is a sense of dread that starts in the first quarter of the book that’s played up skillfully until these four characters collide at the end. It’s good that this is a short novel so you don’t have to wait that long to find out.

My only complaint about this book is that the ending was a little too clean and convenient for my tastes. As I said before, there is a tension that’s played up, only to get to the end and it’s like: hmmm, ok. That was easy. None of the scenarios that I envisioned while reading this came even remotely close to what actually happened. A minor complaint. But still, ugh.

Four stars. Read this in one sitting, like you’re supposed to.

Review: We’ll Fly Away

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Review for "We'll Fly Away" by Bryan Bliss (2018)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A very well written, hard hitting YA book.

“We’ll Fly Away” is the story of two boys, Luke and Toby, who have been friends for most of their lives. Luke, the stronger of the two, is an athlete who dreams of college success through wrestling, while Toby, aimless and a victim of his father’s physical abuse, relies on Luke to protect him. Both boys long to escape their rural North Carolina town (ironically, the setting of which is only about an hour away from me) and bond over a broken down airplane they discover in the woods as kids. Interestingly, the theme of flight is all throughout this book, even though it is apparent early on that neither of these boys are going anywhere. Escape, it seems, is only possible through death and/or violence.

When the story opens, we discover that Luke is in prison, writing letters of apology to his friend Toby. We are not told why he is on death row, but it is obvious that he is there for a horrible crime. In his letters, Luke struggles with his morality, getting along with inmates, and other adjustments to prison life. The story switches between his letters to a third person narrative of the events leading up to Luke’s imprisonment. In the third person flashbacks, we learn that Luke’s life isn’t free of dysfunction either. When he isn’t wrestling, Luke is taking on way more responsibility than he should, watching over his younger twin brothers while his mother takes up with different men. Toby’s father, a local criminal, physically and emotionally abuses him, leaving him with a lack of social skills that lead him into conflicts at school. Luke, ever Toby’s rescuer, comes to his defense time and time again.

I won’t go into too many of the details of this story to avoid spoiling it. I will say, however, that this is a fairly solid book that examines male friendship, difficult choices, and the criminal justice system in a very meaningful way. Even though there was a bit of a lull in the middle of this, the ending was shocking enough to make up for everything it lacked in between.

Definitely recommended.

Review: Calling My Name

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Review for "Calling My Name" by Liara Tamani (2017)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I loved this YA book. The cover’s cute and the writing is quite gorgeous.

“Calling My Name” is the beautiful story of a young Black girl named Taja, growing up in a middle class, Southern Baptist family in Texas. The story begins with Taja as a young girl and follows her through her senior year of high school through a world of ‘firsts’–social awkwardness, wearing a bra, friendship drama, sibling and family relationships, her first kiss, losing her virginity. Each chapter is named and presented vignette style, with quotes from various Black women authors (Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith, Zora Neale Hurston) interpolated throughout the text as themes for what follows. I also loved the lovely ambiguities here: we’re never told explicitly how old Taja is, though the passage of time as the novel progresses is evident. Also nebulous is the exact time frame in which Taja’s childhood takes place, surrounding references to pop culture and relics such as acid-wash jeans allude to the late 80’s through the mid-90’s. I loved, however, that time really didn’t seem to matter here: Taja’s life could be today, 20 years ago, or even as far back as 40 years ago. I’ve always maintained that the best books do not have to explicitly state everything they’re made of, and this book knows that and much, much more.

Religion, specifically the Black Southern Baptist tradition, plays a prominent role in this book. Taja’s parents are ultra conservative and tightly control her behavior, not wanting her to fall into “sin” or become “used goods” before marriage. Taja’s identity as a Christian influences much of her thoughts and actions, leading to several conflicts as a teenager until she eventually finds her own voice as an individual, shortly before leaving for college.

Reading this book was emotional for me. It is the first book that so closely mirrored my own experiences as a Black girl in the 80’s and 90’s, growing up in very much the same middle class, conservative Southern Baptist family dynamic. The stereotypical ‘problems’ that we typically associate with the narratives of people of color (you know, incidents of racism, poverty, substance abuse, economic struggle) were largely absent here, which I have to admit that I appreciated for a change. This is not a story about any of those kinds of traumas–it’s a story about soul-searching, Black girl style. Throughout the reading of this book I wanted so much to simply applaud because finally, someone got it RIGHT.

It goes without saying that I completely and totally recommend that you read this book.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Decided to DNF

Ok, it’s 11:28 pm Eastern Standard Time…and I know where my official Top Ten Tuesday is. A couple of weeks ago I discussed the intricacies of the DNF (book-speak for one that you willfully choose not to finish); this week I’ll list a few books that I’ve DNF’d over the years and the reasons why they ended up that way.

As I’ve explained before, I DNF books quite often for a variety of reasons. If I got over halfway through it and I can put together a somewhat coherent review, I’ll post it here. Often, however, I don’t. I just move on to another book.

So here’s my playlist of skipped books whose reviews I’ve never posted here and I’ve never mentioned to anyone but myself. You always get the latest hits, so here’s:

29chapters.com’s List of Not-So-Famous Misses

  1. Bastard Out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison. This book is actually quite good. I’ve read other books by Dorothy Allison and her work is taught in a lot of Women’s Studies classes, especially at the college level. The reason I DNF’d this book, however, is because of its graphic depictions of the sexual and physical abuse of the main female character by her stepfather. I’ve tried many times to just grit my teeth and read it, but I can’t get past the highly disturbing content here. I just…can’t.
  2. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold. Another wildly popular book whose disturbing content I just couldn’t stomach. The horror comes on very early in the book, around page 12 when the main character is raped, killed, and dismembered by a neighbor. After 3-4 times of pulling it off my shelf, reading it, only getting to page 12, and DNF’ing it, this book sat on my shelf for years until I finally got rid of it in a used book exchange last summer. It’s safe to say that I will probably never attempt to read it again. I also refuse to watch the movie version.
  3. Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, Sunil Yapa. This is a historical fiction novel that examines several sides of the 1999 Seattle WTO protests from different perspectives–a riot cop, a politician, protesters. Somewhat decent, I just couldn’t get into this.
  4. Her Last Death: A Memoir, Susanna Sonnenberg. One of the few nonfiction books here that I’ve quit. Basically this is a book about a very dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship, which morphs into the author largely blaming her mother for many of her poor choices, including becoming promiscuous at an early age, being a pathological liar, her drug use. I got half way through this book before I just said enough already, I can watch this Dr. Phil episode on any given day of the week…
  5. Paint it Black, Janet Fitch. After her first novel “White Oleander,” I thought author Janet Fitch was untouchable. Au contraire. Her second novel was such a snoozefest that I put it down and never looked back.
  6. The Tsar of Love and Techno, Anthony Marra. This book had glowing reviews, but I kept falling asleep on this one. It’s a set of interconnected short stories, all centered around various characters during the history of modern Russia. Perhaps I also hated this because it brought back bad memories; I fell asleep during the Russian section of World History during high school too. Oh welp.
  7. The Dog Stars, Peter Heller. Post-apocalyptic story. About a man and his dog. And a plane. But the writing style. Was such a fucking distraction. That I put it down. (<— The whole book’s written like this, mates. It is an absolute pill to read.)
  8. Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward. First off, I love Jesmyn Ward’s writing. I’ve read another nonfiction book of hers, Men We Reaped, and I absolutely loved it. This book, however, not so much. I found the plot kinda tedious and I just couldn’t get into the characters. I’m not surprised that this book won the National Book Award, because there is something special here, but the specialness is simply not for me.
  9. Severance, Robert Olen Butler. This book has an interesting premise: that human consciousness is maintained for 90 seconds immediately after one is decapitated. Therefore, this book is a collection of the “final thoughts” of many people (some famous, some not) who have ‘lost their heads’ throughout history. It’s a really morbid book, and the premise alone should have been enough to carry me through it, but for some reason the writing here was just plain weird. The friend who suggested it to me told me to read it like poetry, but that didn’t help, because I hate bad poetry. Blech.
  10. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy. I’ve read my fair share of Cormac McCarthy over the years: The Road, Outer Dark, Child of God, No Country for Old Men. His writing is typically very dark and violent in nature, but that’s what makes him so special to me: that he can explore darkness and evil in such meaningful, creative ways. Anyway, Blood Meridian was just sloooooow. It’s also a Western (the other four novels I’ve read by him are not), and Westerns are just not my preferred genre.

There’s tons of other books I’ve DNF’d that could discuss here, but these are the ones that stood out most. Stay tuned!

xoxo, Kellan

Review: After the Shot Drops

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Review for "After the Shot Drops" by Randy Ribay (2018)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

“After the Shot Drops” is the story of two friends, Bunny (affectionately named so because he’s got ‘hops’) and Nasir. When the novel begins, Nasir and Bunny are not on speaking terms, mostly because Bunny has recently transferred to an upper crust private school to play basketball without talking to him about it first. While Bunny realizes he’s out of place among his wealthy, mostly White peers, Nasir remains at his inner-city school and finds kinship with his cousin, Wallace, a troubled young man facing eviction. To earn quick cash, Wallace bets against Bunny in a final championship game–leading to very serious, life-altering consequences for all three young men.

I gave this three and a half stars because there are some issues here. For one, the pacing was entirely too slow. It took me nearly a month to finish this book, and that was because it failed to really maintain my interest for more than 50 pages at a time. We don’t find out until nearly page 150 that Wallace is up to something sinister that will ultimately change the rest of the book. Second, this book is written in dual narration, switching back and forth between Bunny and Nasir. While I’m not criticizing this method of storytelling, I was a little weary of the characterization here. The voices of Bunny and Nasir seemed indistinguishable, I couldn’t tell one from another. If the author hadn’t labeled who was speaking before each chapter, I wouldn’t have known who was saying what.

Third, during certain scenes of this book, there’s a lot of very technical, play-by-play basketball talk. While personally I like bball, there may be other readers that get kinda lost here. While I don’t think you have to love basketball to read this, liking it sure does help you get through those pages.

Overall, I think this is a fairly decent book. I love how it focuses on Black male friendship, a subject that I don’t think gets a lot of play in YA literature. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of a book that I’ve read in the past 5 years where a friendship between two young Black men was front and center, to the exclusion of other subjects. There are short, quick chapters here too, which tends to engage those students who are reluctant to read.

Definitely recommend this book!