Review: Love Warrior

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Review for “Love Warrior” by Glennon Doyle Melton (2016)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

I went into this not knowing anything about the author, her blog, or any of her previous writings. I had no idea of its connection to Oprah’s Book Club either, as that info was not in the e-book edition I read. Honestly, I just picked this up because I like reading memoirs. Lo and behold, within about 15 pages, I deeply regretted my decision.

This is the first book in a long time where my dislike for the author became a 10 out of 10 immediately and it remained that way for the entirety of the novel. In the first 20 pages of the book, Glennon Doyle Melton describes how her then-high school boyfriend was accused of rape by another classmate. She then writes:

I ask him about the rape and he laughs and tells me the accusation isn’t true. I do not break up with him. My friends and I handle this by agreeing publicly that the girl who accused Joe of rape was drunk, stupid, jealous, and lying.

It gets worse. A few sentences later:

A few weeks later I run into the victim in the locker room of my mother’s gym. As we pass each other, I hold my head high. She lowers hers and looks away. I feel an electric sense of defiance and victory.

Are you serious? Ms. Melton, you are an absolute BITCH. Yeah, I said it.

Although Ms. Melton does ‘change’ her life, it’s only after 240 pages of crappy writing and self indulgent whining. Sure, she discusses challenges that women face: body image issues, infidelity, and mommy fatigue, but it’s exhausting, tedious, and very very boring. She berates her husband for being a porn addict but fails to see until much much later that she is not a nice person either, her addictions in this case happen to be food and drama. She also talks quite a bit about the ‘scandal’ her marital separation caused in her church and in her community, with people everywhere giving her unsolicited advice. Umm…well didn’t you tell them all about it in your Christian mommy blog, Ms. Messy Boots? If you don’t want to hear other people’s opinions about your business, then a good suggestion is to keep that business to yourself.

Also: I felt bad for her kids, particularly in several passages in which she’s very blunt in her feelings about their father. I understand that being cheated on sucks, but creating a living record of you bad-mouthing their dad during a rough patch in your marriage for millions to read about for all posterity can’t be a healthy way to deal with your anger.

I can imagine that there are legions of women out there who are living in similar situations, trapped in their middle class homes with their bad ass kids in a sexless marriage and reading these words from a “Christian mom blogger” (umm, her words) is comforting to them. I can also imagine a roomful of these aforementioned women in a room together somewhere, having paid for one day what I spent on my entire grad school tuition to hear Ms. Melton tell them more about her “love warrior” journey. But we all have a sob story, and anyone can sit down and write theirs and get it published. This is one such case. For me this book is nothing special, as there’s no sense of objectivity between the author and the words on the page. This book is a hot ass mess, a phone call from a long winded friend who calls you nightly at 2 am and all you want is for her to stfu so you can go back to sleep. Ugh.

One star. I don’t recommend this at all.

Review: Five Days

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Review for “Five Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City” (2020)

Rating: 3 out 5 stars

This book follows seven citizens of Baltimore in the five days of rioting following the death of Freddie Gray in 2015. There are a wide variety of perspectives here: the activist sister of a victim of police violence, a white female public defender, the owner of the Baltimore Orioles, a young Black male protester, the husband of the local district attorney, the owner of a popular skating rink, a Black police lieutenant, etc.

Although I understand the inclusion and the purpose of the multiple perspectives; it’s not executed very well here. The chapters are short and there’s never enough plot build-up to form any kind of cohesive narrative. The tone of this book is emotionless and flat, there’s no nuance that separates one voice from the other besides the label of each speaker at the beginning of each section. Wes Moore does give some background in the opening pages on the ways in which racism, poor public policies, and bad policing ultimately led to the chaos that erupted in Baltimore, but he relies on too much blank space to tell this story. There’s little sense of the atmosphere of anger that started the protests in the first place.

All in all, I feel like this could have been a news article. The author takes the subject of a complex city with very complex problems and paints it with too broad of a brush. Better books on Baltimore include “The Corner” and “Homicide: A Year of Killing on the Streets” by David Simon.

Three stars. Get this one from the library.

Review: The Book of Rosy

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Review for “The Book of Rosy: A Mother’s Story of Separation at the Border” by Rosayra Cruz and Julie Collazo

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Although the plot of this story centers around the life of a woman named Rosayra Cruz, this is essentially a book divided in half with two distinct voices. The first section focuses on why and how Rosy left Guatemala for asylum in the U.S. In addition to surrounding the grinding poverty of the region, Rosy’s husband was violently murdered in 2008. She also discusses numerous gang extortion attempts on her business and her own brush with death with a stranger’s bullet. Rosy subsequently takes her youngest son (she has 4 children in all) and leaves for the U.S. She works for a while in States, but later returns to Guatemala for her oldest son, who at barely 12 years old is being threatened by local gangs. It is on her way back from the second trip when she is detained by Customs and Border Patrol in Arizona and both of her sons taken away from her as a part of Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ family separation policy.

The second section of this book details activist Julie Collazo’s effort to create the non-profit group Immigrant Families Together. Her group begins to raise bail funds for detained migrant women, one of whom is Rosy. After Rosy is released from custody, the kindness that surrounds her through the efforts of activists, teachers, and the community is nothing less than inspiring.

I won’t spoil the book by telling you how it ends, but I definitely recommend this over many of the migration stories coming out right now that have questionable points of view (*ahem* “American Dirt” *ahem*).

Definitely put this on your TBR list. Four solid stars.

Review: My Vanishing Country

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Review for “My Vanishing Country” by Bakari Sellers (2020)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Part memoir, part cultural critique, and part political analysis, “My Vanishing Country” is the story of Bakari Sellers, who became the youngest member of the South Carolina Legislature when he was elected to that role in 2006. Sellers, a lawyer and CNN analyst, grew up in the small rural town of Denmark, South Carolina. He writes with vivid imagery of fishing in local ponds, riding his bike on dirt roads, and, well…just being a country boy. This part of the book connected with me the most as a Southern girl myself and recalling my own memories of summers spent on my grandparents’ farm in Tennessee.

Despite growing up in a racially segregated rural setting, Sellers’ family history is rich with civil rights history. Both of his parents were activists; with prominent members of the movement such as Jesse Jackson, Julian Bond, and Stokely Carmichael counted among their friends. After graduating from Morehouse, Sellers went into politics and won a seat in the SC Legislature. After an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor, he returned to practicing law and became a political commentator and analyst on CNN. His public role on CNN became more prominent after the shooting deaths of 9 Black churchgoers by a white supremacist in his home state of South Carolina in 2015.

There are a lot of reviews comparing this book to J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” but honestly I don’t think that Vance’s book holds a candle to this one. Sellers gives a more balanced critique of Black life, highlighting the joy and the pain of growing up in a Black rural setting. There are also chapters that give analysis the 2016 presidential race, Black mental health, and other nuanced topics that Vance misses in his discussion of the white rural working class.

Overall I really liked this book. Solid 4 stars.

Review: All Boys Aren’t Blue

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Review for “All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto” by George M. Johnson (2020)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It has long been my goal of mine to read more books by LGBTQ authors of color, so this book (along with its beautiful cover) jumped out at me immediately. This YA-focused book centers the experiences of George Johnson, a 30-something journalist and queer Black activist. It begins with his middle class upbringing in New Jersey and ends with his observations of life at a historically Black college in Virginia, highlighting the joys and pain of queer existence across many topics–homophobia, sexual abuse, violence, gender policing, denial, and finally, coming out.

I loved this book. It wasn’t until the end that I truly realized how rarely the queer Black experience has been written about, and done so with such honesty. This title opens doors because it calls not just those who are outside of gender norms, but allies as well to a path of self healing and understanding.

Definitely read this book. You won’t regret it.

Review: Hillbilly Elegy

I’m probably the last person in the world to read this book (it came out in 2016), but since I’m quarantine’d up like the rest of the world, I finally got around to getting a digital copy from my library. It didn’t go so well. Anywho, here goes:

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Review for "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis" by J. D. Vance (2018)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Oh hell no…I didn’t like this book.

J.D. Vance, a self described “hillbilly,” grew up poor and disadvantaged in the Appalachian Rust Belt of Ohio. His parents were divorced before he could talk, his mother had addiction issues, and his Mamaw took most of the responsibility for raising him. He eventually goes off to the Marines, on to Ohio State, and graduates from Yale Law. He carries emotional baggage from his childhood experiences, but honestly umm…Mr. Vance is not a hillbilly. With his Ivy League education and newfound book fame he’s probably among the top 10% of wage earners in the country. So umm, a hillbilly? I don’t think so.

This book points to meritocracy as the answer to every problem that deep poverty brings. If J.D. Vance can achieve the American Dream with a quality education, a decent job, and hard work, then why can’t you? The virtue signaling of this book is loud and unmistakable, that if you’re still poor in the richest and best country in the world, you deserve to be. It’s interesting that Mr. Vance has adopted a conservative political viewpoint to coincide with this fallacy, which completely ignores the social, racial, and gender inequities that have been present since the day this country was founded. He absolves the government of blame and espouses personal responsibility for ourselves and our communities, yet stops short of any kind of real solution for the poverty, drugs, and loss of manufacturing jobs that plague his beloved working class.

And then there’s race. Other than once or twice, there is very little discussion of the obvious, and that’s the fact that Appalachia is still a very racist place with a long history of hatred and violence towards black people and other minorities. I find it interesting that people look to this book as “the reason why Trump won,” but there’s no acknowledgement of the white supremacy that was already long present among the working class that made his win possible. His avoidance of this topic is cowardly and telling; a refusal to see simple facts.

This book was also boring. Who cares about J.D. Vance’s agony at figuring out which fork is which at his first big fancy dinner party?

I gave this book two stars, because one star seemed cruel. I still might go back and subtract one. What the hell.

Review: Children of the Land

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Review for "Children of the Land" by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo (2020)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“Children of the Land” is Mexican-born poet Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s personal and familial experience with immigration and becoming an American citizen. Castillo first came to the U.S. with his undocumented parents as a child. They settle in California, where ICE agents frequently raided their home and his father was deported back to Mexico. To ‘become invisible’ to arrest and detection by authorities, Castillo does well in school and learns, in his words, “perfect” English. He goes to college and eventually receives American citizenship through the DACA program, first set into place under the former President Barack Obama.

Through DACA, Castillo is able to visit his father in Mexico. Although their relationship is strained, he assists his father in the long, fraught process of getting a green card. While this attempt proves unsuccessful, it is only after his father is kidnapped by a violent drug cartel that Castillo is able to help his parents seek asylum in the U.S.

This book is raw and spares no details of America’s dehumanizing immigration system. I would certainly recommend this over “American Dirt” because it is a represents a Latinx view of the lives of the undocumented and the myriad of dynamics (social, familial, personal) that come with it.

Review: Invisible Americans

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Review for "Invisible Americans: The Tragic Cost of Poverty" by Jeff Madrick (2020)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Throughout this book, Jeff Madrick, an economist, proposes that the solution to the very complex problem of child poverty is to give children and their families cash. While I am not going to go into why I completely disagree that we cannot simply throw a monthly cash allowance at a problem that is very much rooted in the history of racism, discrimination, and just plain bad government policy, I will critique the book itself.

Many of the arguments presented in this book are very compelling. Madrick explains why current measures of poverty are woefully out of date and inaccurate. He discusses the flawed political underpinnings of the notion of “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, as well as an extensive attack of the idea of the “culture of poverty” which often position Black and Latinx communities as hopeless victims instead of people who desire to lift their circumstances.

Despite all of these “right on target” themes, I must admit that this book is very dense and not very accessible to the masses. There are lots of statistics, heavy handed explanations, and acronyms that are intended more for policymakers than the typical curious reader who may stumble onto this book. While Madrick does present a compelling case for why child poverty is a moral failing and its devastating consequences, I would have liked to see this book’s language a lot more readable for the masses.

Review: Year of the Monkey

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Review for "Year of the Monkey" by Patti Smith (2019)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Ahh, first review for 2020. Happy New Year!

I hate to start the decade with a bad review, but you know I gotta be honest and say that nah, I didn’t like this one. I love Patti Smith and I loved her other memoir, “Just Kids,” about her and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s coming of age as artists in NYC in the 70’s and 80’s. This book, however, is different. “Year of the Monkey” really is a book about nothing much at all.

Lemme back up for a moment. It’s perfectly fine for a book to be about nothing at all. The one author off the top of my head who’s perfected this technique is Haruki Murakami–if you pick up any one of his books you’ll find pages and pages of character observations and thoughts that seemingly go nowhere, but it somehow manages to keep me reading. Smith is not Murakami, however. I wanted to like this book but it wasn’t what I imagined it would be. Here, Patti Smith recounts 2016 through a series of photographs, dreams, travels, meals in dingy diners, etc. There’s also a lot of really vague references to other writers, musicians, and history events I have no previous knowledge of which left me out in the lurch. The events of this book are more like a fever dream and it’s obvious that Smith is trying to weave together dreams and reality into a narrative but for me what was real and what wasn’t was just too confusing.

I am thankful that this book was short. Although I will read Patti Smith again, I would not read this book again.

Review: The Witches Are Coming

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Review for "The Witches Are Coming" by Lindy West (2019)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

First of all, lemme say that I like Lindy West. She’s one of the few women writers that seems to get “it”–and when I say “it,” I am talking about the interconnectedness of the systems of oppression that encapsulate gender, race, class, and body type. I thought her first book was alright, though at times her tone completely put me at a distance. Why did Shrill feel like I was reading a series of long, continuous blog posts by a bitchy teenager? There’s nothing wrong with humor with a fair dose of snark, but I found West’s constant attempts at a punchline really off-putting.

“The Witches Are Coming” is slightly better than “Shrill,” but not by much. It’s not so much the snark here (though there’s much less in this book), but the content itself. And while I did agree with what she’s saying, I just found a lot of the subject matter kinda boring. By that I mean that there were definitely some essays I liked more than others, like why Adam Sandler is so popular (his movies have never really been all that funny to me either). The Goop one is also quite hilarious because it’s so ridiculous (yoni eggs and aura baths–yay!).

But the boring ones were just not my style–at all. I skipped over the ones about the Fyre Festival (there’s been 2 documentaries on this already and we don’t care anymore), Joan Rivers (never been into her style of humor; don’t care), and Ted Bundy (there’s a Netflix series on this; who cares?). I also found myself skipping a few others because they weren’t very interesting. Overall, this book was very uneven and just ok for me.

3.5 stars. Blah.