Book Review: “Cane” by Jean Toomer

I’m torn about this book.

There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s beautiful. I can give it full marks for that, but for some reason enough of it did not resonate inside me to leave me wanting more of it.

IMG_8458

The book is a collection of short stories and poetry, based around black experience both in the rural south and up North during the 1900’s to 1920’s. Every piece had a wandering, lost, sort of feeling to it, reminiscent of the author himself, who spent most of his life suspended between the worlds of white and black, due the to racism of his day. My version of the book had a fairly extensive biographical portrait of the author at the end, which helped to pinpoint the inspiration for a lot of the pieces within the collection. And though it is a collection, I have seen it called a novel. This is probably because as you’re reading you see little connections here and there, linking everything together in a sort of chain.

The longest and final piece in the collection is written in a very interesting style, a sort of mixture between prose and play. The dialogue attributions are not done with the usual, “he said” and “she said,” but like a play have the speaker’s name with a colon. All of the poetry was beautiful, and this same beautiful use of language spilled into the short stories, making them a kind of prose poetry.

As lovely as this book was, only a few of the short stories really grabbed me, and the very last and longest story was not one of them. Perhaps it was this that left me feeling a bit torn about the whole collection. It was almost like reading a really good book with a disappointing ending. I have seen many reviews online about how wonderful the final story is, and the author himself admitted in a letter that the main character in it reflects his personal experience, but I wasn’t moved by it the way I was when I read “Passing” or “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”

If you’ve read it or plan to read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave them in the comment section, along with any recommendations for me to add to my ever lengthening “to read” list.

Book Review: “The Tiger Rising” by Kate DiCamillo

There have been a lot of healthy learning curves in my time spent living with my in-laws.   One that still continues to baffle me is the reading habits of my eleven-year-old sister-in-law. Partly because I am her ride to the library and partly because I read in virtually every genre and age group, she sometimes asks me for book recommendations. Some days I’ll try to help, others I’ll just shrug and say, “I have no idea.” I can never tell what’s appropriate for her or what will make her upset for one reason or another.

What I believe I’ve learned is that you can’t truly know what is appropriate for someone else’s kid. I live in the same house as her, but I can’t gage from one book to the next how much she’s matured or what content she can handle. Therefore, I ask that you please take this into consideration with my recommendation on the book below.

Personally, I love it when MG authors aren’t afraid to deal with hard topics. I especially love it when they do it in a way that is both wise and tender, so that younger readers can metabolize the depth of the themes they’re dealing with. From what I’ve read of her work, this is one of Kate DiCamillo’s talents, and her book The Tiger Rising is a perfect example of this. It is a short read, only 128 pages, which I actually think is one aspect of it that makes it easier to digest.

The story centers around a young boy and girl who discover a caged tiger. This becomes a metaphor for the struggles in both their lives, that of repressed anger and sadness. This book is about dealing with immense loss. Along with that, it also contains realistic portrayals of bullying and a heartbreakingly beautiful portrait of a family living in a motel, barely making their way. It is not a light bubbly read. It’s not intended to be. Yet I think it excellently done.

I have seen some reviewers condemning it because it’s too sad or heavy. To me, what makes this a worthy read even for a younger audience is the tactful yet truthful way the hard issues are addressed. There should be space in children’s reading experience for books that show them how other people have to live. It helps them develop empathy for those around them. For example, say that a bully is made to read this book by a parent or a teacher, seeing the pain that the tormenters cause to the main characters might prick their conscience about their own behavior. Reading, if the writing is good, forces you into the headspace of another person as a necessary part of the experience. There are even studies that show reading good literature improves a persons ability to empathize.

Also, let’s not forget that not all children lead charmed existences. Life’s ugliness does not pass over you because of age. If the child is experiencing a similar tragedy to the characters, it gives the child hope to read the story, not pain. They can say, “if someone I don’t know could write about a kid just like me, than I’m not alone.” That’s why truth in writing is so important.  And, solong as it’s done on a level that they understand and can cope with, is it ever too early to preach truth to a child?

Only you know when and if your child is ready for certain content. Personally, I loved this book and was not at all uncomfortable with its target audience, as I have been with other YA/MG books I’ve read. Kate DiCamillo did justice to a lot of heavy themes with how she gently unfolded the tale. It read like crawling into the lap of a protective loved one. Her words brushed the hair from my forehead, and when I closed the book my heart felt foremost this message, “life can be ugly, but remember child, you’re not alone.”

SaveSave

Book Review: The Night of Two Graphic Novels

Last year was the year of graphic novels. Partly because I bit off more than I could chew with my Goodreads reading challenge and had to get back on track somehow. Partly because one of my favorite authors is Neil Gaiman and he has written several graphic novels that were on my To Read list. In the slew of GN that I consumed last year, I found many that I loved and now make it a habit of pulling one or two out of the library every month.

I had two in my bag that night, so I reached in and grabbed one to read. It was Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann, illustrated by Kerascoët.

91o2dW4NC0L

Fans of Graphic Novel’s and/or Golding’s Lord of the Flies would probably adore this book. Personally, I hated itIt was haunting and violent depiction of humanity in crisis. I compare it to Lord of the Flies because it had the same allegorical feel about society and human nature only told with fairies instead of young boys. The illustrations were both beautiful and chilling. Some of the images were so disturbingly violent that still I cannot shake them from my mind.

Being a person of a somewhat sensitive nature, I obviously wasn’t going to be able to sleep with that on my mental palate. I reached back into my library bag and pulled out the next one. It was The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks. It was also utterly different from its predicessor in virtually every way.

61a8R4DSuQL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

It was Middle Grade for one, and based on the violence of Beautiful Darkness I’d call that one at least Young Adult.

The story revolved around Kaidu, a young boy just entering the army, and Rat, a street girl he befriends. It was an innocent and engaging story about friendship and honor, based around the political issues of the city, a city called “the Nameless City” by its citizens because they are constantly being overthrown by nearby nations.

The artwork was bright and clean, and though the story had several violent altercations, the most disturbing thing inside it was a few bloody noses. Everything else was implied, but not directly shown. The characters were kind and fun, and the whole plot was devoid of excess drama. It was a refreshing read, a kind of smile to carry with me when I shut out the light.

I handed it off to my 11 year old sister-in-law in the morning. She read it in an hour and loved it even more than I did. She even asked me to see if the library had a copy of the sequel The Stone Heart.

It doesn’t. I’d already checked before I shut out my bedside light.

Book Review: “The Mist” by Stephen King

This may sound obvious, but seriously, Stephen King is an amazing writer.

I talked about this a little bit when I read The Shiningbut I just really enjoy his style. It’s easy going, almost simplistic, but with this kind of flourish that makes me crave the sound of his voice. His characters are all so real, just like the kind of people you bump into every day at the gas station or target or work. And his figurative language is perfect. It just feels so original. Like, saying the old basement smelled yellow. I love that! It’s spot on and fresh, every time.

I saw the trailer for the new series they were making off of The Mist in my Facebook feed. I looked up the book and saw it was only a novella. Since I hadn’t read anything from Mr. King in a while, and since I was 12 books behind on my Goodreads Reading goal for the year, I decided to get it from the library.

url

It was a little too close to finals though, so the little green paperback sat on my bedside “To Read” stack for almost a month. I went online and saw that it was due back in 4 days. I shrugged, clicked the “renew book” button and saw the dreaded error message.

THIS TITLE CANNOT BE RENEWED: REQUESTED BY ANOTHER PATRON

I groaned a little, picked it up and checked the page count. 230. I smiled, and thought those two little words that every Booknerd has tattooed on their soul: No problem. I wasn’t feeling too hot anyway, so I just spent my day resting, reading, and letting Little Baby inch her way a little closer to nailing me in the ribs when she kicked.

I opened this post with a gush of praise about Mr. King’s writing. I meant it. The only catch is that he often writes in two genres that I am very hit or miss on as a reader: horror and science-fiction. I enjoy both, but no where near as much as I enjoy other genres. This makes me a little hit or miss with his plots.

For me, The Mist was a miss.

It opened the way I experienced the trailer, surreal and creepy. The narrator is named David, an artist who spends his summers at a family lake house in Maine. A horrible storm kicks up one night, knocking out the power and felling trees. In the morning, Dave, his son, and his next-door neighbor head into town to grab some provisions until the power comes back. While they’re there, a thick, otherworldly mist settles over the town, trapping them in the supermarket.

This was all fine and creepy, I was enjoying it, but as the story continued to unravel it became a sort of mixture between sci-fi and 1940’s B grade horror flick. It reminded me heavily of a black & white movie I used to love called The Crawling Eye. So much so that I ceased to be creeped and began to chuckle, the same reaction this B Grade movie used to give me as a kid. In his memoir On Writing, Mr. King mentioned his love for old horror movies (any/all horror movies really), and I kinda wondered if he’d seen it too.

In the end, I wasn’t thrilled with the plot, definitely shrug worthy for me on that score, but I so enjoy listening to him tell a story that I was still glad I read it.

…all in one day so that I could get it back to the library before it was due. 😉

Book Review: “Sold” by Patricia McCormick

This book. Just wow.

url-6

It’s poetry. Literally. The whole book is a series of poems all telling the story of Lakshmi, a 13 year old girl from Nepal who is sold into prostitution.

It won’t be any surprise when I say that this book was hard to read. It’s Young Adult and not atrociously graphic, but it’s well written enough that it nearly shattered me. I barely slept after I finished it, because it made me feel so powerless. The author went to India and Nepal to interview girls who were saved from child slavery and sex trafficking. It didn’t matter that Lakshmi’s story was fiction; the whole book just feels far too real. It made me feel miserably uncomfortable and helpless, like when you get an alert on your mobile that there has been some global catastrophe, and you know that there is little you personally can do to help.

I think that telling this story through poetry was especially effective, because of the vivid visual nature of poetry. Yes, this can also be accomplished through prose, but I wonder then if the story would have needed a lot more excess description of movement and action. In poems everything is cut back to sensations, sights, smells, sounds, and feelings. This made the book able to talk about something as horribly graphic as child brothels by preserving the essentials and making the trauma palpable.

All I could think was, this girl is only thirteen. This girl is only thirteen.

This book meant a lot to me. It was one of those books that forces your eyes open, drags you from your comfortable life, and screams, “Don’t waste your life. People are suffering. This is real.” These are the kinds of books that deserve medals and awards, because they bring awareness to the world about ugly things. If you can stomach the ugly, read this book.

I spent a day or two looking for organizations that work to stop sex trafficking in Nepal and India. I have placed two links below if you want to read up on the work they do, or donate to help.

World Vision
MountainChild

 

Curtain Close. Take a Bow. Spring Semester’s over now!

Done. And considering my sweet little complication this semester, I think I did a pretty good job.

IMG_8433

Not that I’m taking sole credit for that. My husband ran me back and forth to every class, my mother-in-law encouraged me and proofread my writing, most of my professors were sweet and sympathetic to the challenges I had this year, and God held me up and gave me just enough strength to get through it.

But it’s over! *sighs long relieved sigh of relief* Next is the part where I chill, read, and write while I prepare for…THE ORDEAL! *DUN DUN DUUUUUUUNNNNN*

In all honesty, I try not to think too much about labor. That doesn’t stop me from occasionally laying awake at night, thinking to myself that, one way or another, this little person has to come out of me. I have a few girlfriends with children who have been super encouraging, but they are the few. Can anyone tell me the rationale behind the many and the bold negativity freaks who sneak attack you with horror stories about childbirth?

They lurk behind soup cans in the supermarket: *cans clatter to the floor as they shove their red faces forward* OHMYGWALLYMOSES! I just read about this woman who gave birth in her car! IN HER CAR! Can you believe it? Never even MADE it to the hospital.

They hover beside you in the library: *in a stage whisper* Oh! I thought you were due in June. Well, August is nice too. *snorts prematurely at the hilarity of their next comment* Only you’ll have to go through the heat of the summer. The WHOLE THING.

They spontaneously pop into being, uncaused, from nothing while you’re clipping your toenails: You’re due when? How can you BE so YUUUUUGE? *sees husband working at computer* Is THAT the father? Oooooooh! *nods knowingly with a wry smile* That’s why you’re so big. That baby is going to be a 12 pounder. *pats my belly* Good luck pushing that monstrosity out of your…

Don’t they think about the fact that I might already be concerned about some of these things? I mean, am I the only pregnant woman who wonders what she’ll do if she wakes up to find out she’s one of those wacko’s that sleeps through labor only to meet her baby, blinking up at her between the sheets. Or that labor will be the excruciating horror that all these lurkers warn me about, and my heart will just give out entirely during it. And yes, I also worry that my husband’s hearty viking ancestry has placed the heir of Thor into my womb, complete with pink Mjölnir. It’s my first. It’s all unknown. That’s freaky on it’s own. And most lurkers appear to be women with children. If they’ve already been there, don’t they know to shut up?

Lurkers aside, I’m just trying to enjoy this for what it is. Labor is inevitable now, but in a way, I’m looking forward to it too. I mean, after THE ORDEAL I get to kiss my little girl’s face. I also get to watch my husband kiss her face. I’m pretty sure both those things will make it worth it.

*lurker pokes head in through bedroom window, waggling a finger* Not if you’re… *sound of flamethrower and terrified screams drown out the rest of their sentence*

So, if you need me for the next few months, I intend to be curled up with my growing baby belly. We will be reading lots of books, drinking gallons of water, and trying to do a complete rewrite of Immortal Bond  before tiny persons and William Paterson eat up all my leisure time.

*weak voice floats from garden below broken window* Yeah, and you’ll never sleep again either.

IMG_8387

NOTE TO READERS: This blog has a zero tolerance policy on pregnancy lurkers and their snarky negativity. Any and all pregnancy lurker comments found in the comment section will be moderated by the delete button and a flamethrower. You have been thusly warned.

Book Review: “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi

IMG_8390

My “Readings in Global Literature” class was not at all what I expected it to be. The literature chosen for class focused mostly on the transatlantic slave trade. There is nothing wrong with this at all, and I learned so much, but when I read the course description I thought we would be reading novels from all around the world. I hoped to read a book from China or India, then maybe some from Russia or the Middle East. Basically anything but American or European, which is what most of the literature courses seem to concentrate on.

This was my only complaint with the course. Otherwise, the professor was phenomenal, and we read several wonderful books. One of my favorites was the novel Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. The title apparently comes from an old African-American belief that when they died their souls would journey across the ocean, back to their homeland of Africa. The author herself was born in Ghana and raised in Alabama, and says that the character Marjorie has very similar experiences to herself. Which is interesting to know once you get to her chapter and the chapter of Marcus at the end of the book.

In my opinion, Homegoing is epic. I say this because the purpose of the novel is to try and trace the effects of the slave trade across generations, starting back in the 1700’s all the way to present day. Gyasi does this by following the story of two half sisters born in Ghana. One is sold into slavery, one remains in Ghana.

Each chapter is almost like a short story. A portion of a character’s life is relayed, giving key information about the family and about important events regarding slavery during that time period. The next chapter switches to the other branch of the family, so you go from Ghana to the United States and back to Ghana.

In some ways, this could be a bit confusing. Often times you meet a character once then see very little to nothing of them ever again. I did find myself referring back to the family tree at the opening of the book, just so I could gage where I was at generationally, but it helped that any chapter that takes place in the United States is one sister’s descendants, and the others are still living in Ghana. Gyasi also weaves in recurring themes of fire and water, which help to tie the story together.

The scope of the story is just incredible. It’s so ambitious, to try and condense so much history into one novel, but I truly think that the author did an excellent job. I’ve read some reviews that remark on how her characters have “all the things” happen to them just to make reference to important historical events, but personally this did not bother me. I liked that it was there to remind you that these things did happen to real people. It made the story all the more compelling to me in a historical sense.

I found this book absolutely breathtaking. Every chapter, every generation that brought me closer to present day had me more and more wrapped up in the story. I didn’t feel disconnected at all from the geographical or character jumps. I just wanted to see how the author was going to tie it all together. Her prose is pretty straightforward, except for now and again she breaks into a kind of poetry that always made me stop and reread the sentence.

Definitely one of my favorite reads this semester.