An American Marriage

An American Marriage

New release 2-6-18

I put this ebook on hold at the library on February 5th and I just got access on the 28th so I was very excited get started on it. I only had 14 days of access so starting right away was very important.

I wrote a very critical review of The Hate U Give last year. This book has been on the NYT bestseller list forever and has received critical acclaim from reviewers and casual readers alike. I think there is a movie or tv show in the works too. This is all fabulous for Angie Thomas. My two critiques of the book boiled down to (1) this is too much stuff to cram into one girl’s experience and still accept it as realistic and (2) it was too obvious when Thomas made her characters sidebar out of the action to “learn you” on something that was important in black life in America. So while her message is important and informational, the delivery of that message left much to be desired, at least to an adult who likes to stay informed.

Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage is everything I wanted The Hate U Give to be and more, which probably speaks to the expected reader level of THUG versus An American Marriage more than anything. Jones explores most of the same themes, but couches them in a realistic, devastating scenario, and challenges you to understand all of the points of view and motivations of all the characters at once.

A man is wrongly convicted of rape and imprisoned only a year and a half into his marriage, and is kept in prison for almost 5 years before his conviction is overturned and he is released. That’s the core that the entire story is woven around. We learn about black relationships: romantic ones, familial ones, friendships, and racial bonds. What is a father? What is a wife? What is fidelity? When is being true to yourself at once both a betrayal of your promise to another person but also the right thing to do?

It is almost impossible for me to write this review. The story is compelling, smart, terrifying, and infuriating in turns, and it is next to impossible to choose a side. Everyone should get what they want but if they do then everyone also loses, but in losing they win the power to move forward? GOD THIS BOOK IS SO INTRICATE AND COMPLICATED. It is a perfect representation of the complications faced by black Americans every day.

Jones has allowed us a window into the anxiety that is simply existing as black in America, and if you don’t understand what that’s all about, especially in the American South, you should go read this book immediately and ask yourself how you could possibly navigate the existence of any of these people and not come out on the other side irreversibly damaged in some way. And perhaps more importantly, after you’ve imagined this, do more than just use the damage of black lives as entertainment and find a way to do your part to move our country in a direction where these injustices no longer happen.

Holy shit this book was so good and so important to read. Go get you some.

I’ll Be Your Blue Sky

Blue Sky

New Release 3-6-18

I’ll Be Your Blue Sky was provided as an ARC by William Morrow/Harper Collins via Edelweiss in return for an honest review. My thanks for their generosity because this is one of my favorite authors. 

I absolutely love Marisa de los Santos. I read two of her other novels before starting this blog, Love Walked In and Belong to Me, and each one was as comforting and warm as I’ll Be Your Blue Sky was.

It only took me two days to read this book, and that was only because I had things like teaching or sleeping to do. If I had a choice I would have read this book straight through in one day. Reading this story was like wrapping a warm blanket around myself and bringing a cup of hot chocolate with those little marshmallows with me to my favorite chair near the window to watch the snow fall gently outside. That’s saying something considering I live in Florida and it has decided to be 90 degrees in March.

This book switches back and forth from Clare to Edith. Clare is in present day, getting ready to marry Zach, and she has some misgivings. Edith is in the 1950s with her husband, buying a house and getting ready to start a life with the man she loves.

The morning of her wedding, Clare sits down next to an old woman named Edith who is also at the home where the wedding is being held. Clare shares that she feels nervous to marry Zach, that she might be making a mistake based on how hard he has to try to be a good person. Edith tells her that every woman deserves to be with someone who doesn’t make her afraid.

This is exactly what she needed to hear, and Clare decides to call off the wedding. When she does, we discover how mean Zach could really be and are thankful that she was able to make that break for herself.

Edith loses her husband to cancer after only two years of marriage, and finds herself alone in a small town in the 1950s, something women just didn’t do. She is approached by a man named George, who asks for her help with an underground railroad for battered women, because her house is the perfect cover, since she has been renting out her rooms to vacationers.

A lawyer contacts Clare, informing her that Edith has passed away and has left her Blue Sky House, the home Edith owned and operated as a kind of Bed and Breakfast. So Clare travels to Delaware to see the house and promptly becomes curious about who Edith was. She follows clues scattered around the home, and along with her childhood sweetheart Dev, discovers the heroism of Edith and George along with her own self and heritage.

I think that sometimes we forget that it wasn’t that log ago when women were still expected to stay at home, make babies, and be servants of their husbands. I don’t know how we forget, since so many members of our society and even our government still believe that women and their bodies are there for the pleasure of others and should be governed by men today. It was still shocking to see the battered women coming to Blue Sky House being marked as kidnappers if they dared to take their children with them as they tried to escape. Fighting this treatment and view of the role of women as subservient continues even today, and we have to keep fighting.

Despite this dire piece of the story, Marisa de los Santos shows us hopeful possibilities. Clare is never beaten by Zach, she escapes that kind of marriage. Dev is patient with her after he confesses his love, and waits for her to come to him without being pushy. Edith is brave and sticks to her guns in the face of the impossible. This story shows us both the horrors women face and how everything can go right and turn out for the best.

I always need these kinds of stories so I can live vicariously through the women in them, but in the After Times I didn’t realize how much I needed this book. I drank it up like a person in the middle of the desert desperate for an oasis. It is truth frosted with comfort and wrapped in hope and support.

Please read this book. It was so good. Go get it now and curl up with it and let it hold you close.


The Wrong Way To Save Your Life

the wrong way to save your life

Okay guys, I’m a little shaky today because I stayed up until 1am reading this book without realizing I had stayed up so late, and when I am up that late I am a zombie the next day. But I had to race to the computer to let you know that this book is life changing.

Stielstra has written a collection of essays about times she was afraid, or more generally, about fear. What makes you afraid? Chances are you will identify with the majority of this book. From parent relationships and care to job instability to simply being a woman, Stielstra takes us on a terrifying yet cathartic journey through being alive in the modern world. A world we are living in right now!

You know that my book reviews tend to be more about how I felt about a book rather than its literary structure and whatnot. I want you to understand whether a book is enjoyable or boring, exciting or dull. This collection of essays is just…everything you need. It’s a historical record of the world in the past 30 years, but if a normal person wrote it and was truly honest about how they were feeling. Omg it was refreshing and scary and it brought back memories I had hidden away just to survive what at least the last fifteen years have been. I felt safe to remember.

One of depression’s lies is that you are alone. Reading this book into the wee hours last night was like having a fellow adult look at me and say “omg yes this has all been shit hasn’t it? But I’m proud of you, you’re proud of me, and we’re in this and we can do it!” It was like having a big hug and a pep rally and a quiet space alone to cry all at once. I could’t sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about how amazing this book was and how I might be able to put it into words today. Stielstra showed me that even when things literally catch on fire, as long as you grab what’s important you can always find a way to keep going.

Please go buy this book as quickly as you can and read it and know that you are not alone. Life is fucking scary and difficult and You. Are. NOT. Alone.

Are you done reading it yet?


Electric Arches

electric arches

I don’t put a lot of content out on Twitter, but what I do enjoy is following individuals that are smart, vocal, and diverse. One of these voices is Eve L. Ewing, sociologist and educational specialist from the University of Chicago. She drew my attention mainly for her opinions on school choice and school closures, but eventually I discovered that she was also an accomplished poet and writer as well. I was brave and tweeted at her, requesting an ARC of her book, and she directed me to the right person to obtain a copy. This honest review is provided in return for this glorious book that was sent to me by her publishing house.

When I read books like this, written by POC and WOC, I am often reminded of the distinction between something that is about you, something that is for you, and something that is available to you. Something that is about you is readily identifiable; you feel seen, you feel heard, it’s as if you are reading about yourself on the page. Something that is for you is you-adjacent. It could be about something that does or might affect you, or about a place where you live or an industry in which you work. It’s for you in that the subject could apply to your life. Then the things that are available to you could be either of the previous, but alone it is simply something that is accessible to you for your general consumption.

Samantha Irby’s works encompass all three of these things simultaneously for me. In her books Meaty and We Are Never Meeting In Real Life I find things that are about me (general malaise, introvertedness, avoidance of people, poverty), for me (cohabitation, relocation, family relationships), and available to me (WOC experience, LGBT experience). As a white woman reading the work of a WoC it essential that my reading of this work find those divisions so that my commentary can be informed and honest. There are things I can speak to, and others that I cannot outside of my own reactions to the stories told.

So after reading Ms. Ewing’s work I have just three reflections that I feel should endear you to her work and encourage you to buy and read it.

  1. This book is a collection of poetry and prose that will give you a window into the world and life of a black woman. If you are not a black woman, these will feel unfamiliar, but if you care about black people, these stories are essential to hear. They are available to you, and you should read them and learn/enjoy them. 
  2. The writing is so evocative and vivid that you will see these visions, you will be standing on the streets of Chicago, you’ll be wondering at the hair in the tub. I love writing that makes my mind become a movie reel. Ewing’s writing will absolutely transport you and you will be thankful for the ride.
  3. One of the stories has a small girl using a futuristic machine to call into the past to get knowledge from ancestors about how to alleviate the plight of the black population, and the woman from the past just laughs at their question, at their search for something that seems to be eternal – the distrust and exclusion of black people from society at large. That story was one of the many that stuck with me from this work of art, and makes me want to work even harder to help find an answer to that girl’s question.

This short livre finds its place among the other voices sounding in literature right now: Gay, Irby, Adichie, Smith, Ajayi, and more, that allow the voices of black women to inform, educate, liberate, and resonate within all of us. Whether their writing is for, about, or simply available to us, it should be seen as valuable and you should run, not walk, to enjoy every moment. Electric Arches, by Eve L. Ewing – go get you some.

The Madwoman Upstairs

madwomanPicture your favorite ice cream sundae (or sandwich, honestly I could do both). Nuts, hot sauce, a cherry? Or like those fro-yo places where you can cover your ice cream with fucking breakfast cereal and full size peanut butter cups if you want. Colorful and multi-flavored, it has everything you want in a sundae (or sandwich, god I want a good club sandwich right now).

Oh readers, this book has everything. It is the ice cream sundae/club sandwich of books. The last time I loved a book this much was when I finished Kitchens of the Great Midwest. Our protagonist deals with unwanted fame, grief, learning to navigate college, falling in love, learning to stand up for herself, fear, a cool scavenger hunt, and reconciliation. There was one page where I had to put the book down because I was so surprised and also laughing so hard that my husband came in to make sure I was okay.

I must admit though that it was a slow start. Samantha Whipple is the last remaining Bronte, meaning that the first few chapters are about Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and ZZZzzzzzzzzzzz ugh. I love books, but I have to really dedicate myself to slogging through the classics, and for some reason I never got to the Brontes. I have never read a lot of the novels from that time. So at first I was like, oh jesus, this author is going to try to back-door teach me about/make me appreciate these novels. But then magic happens and the books are just the vanilla ice cream/bread that holds this magnificent delight together.

Her father dies making her the last known Bronte, she gets placed in a weird tower room in her first year at Oxford because the regular dorms are full and our adventure begins. You will love her professor. James Orville III is a fast, witty, dry match for Samantha’s lost, sassy, grieving mouth. Her father is dead and after hearing her will Samantha is headed on a scavenger hunt to find “The Warnings of Experience,” which is supposedly her inheritance. She has a nemesis, a professor that is trying to find the “vast Bronte estate” and insists that she is hiding it from the (academic) world. And there is a ghost who delivers her father’s books to her one at a time, with clues as to where to search for the inheritance.

This books starts slow but opens petal by petal into one of the most complex, beautiful, fun, interesting, suspenseful books I’ve read in a very long time. Catherine Lowell is so amazing at keeping secrets, and things are only revealed to you when she absolutely means them to be. As I’ve mentioned before I am very alert for patterns and solutions in books and that tendency often ruins them for me, and I was legitimately surprised several times in this book. And it takes about two thirds of the book to get one of the resolutions you’ll be wanting, and it’s sooooo satisfying. 😀

Please read this book. Please enjoy it as much as I did. I plan to make this a book that I own, not just borrow. I have to read it again and again.