BOOK REVIEW | Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

I was initially incredibly hard on this book. It’s up for literary awards and is touted a contemporary work on racism. As I read on, I contemplated putting it down many times; it just wasn’t a book for me. However, I kept reading, and around half way through I realized I needed to take the book less seriously – this is entertainment. Once I put away my expectations for the book, I was able to enjoy it as a fun page-turner.

The story surrounds Alix, a wealthy, white, influencer, and mother of two and Emira, her young, Black, babysitter. One night, Alix calls Emira in a panic: she needs an emergency babysitter. While Emira is out passing the time with her young, white, charge she is subject to racial profiling and becomes the star of the next would be viral video. At Emira’s request, the white man who records the incident promises he won’t share the video publicly.

What follows is a fast-paced story that touches on racism, specifically white savior complex and performative action, as well as the victimization and commodification of Black people. In this story, Emira serves a specific role in the narrative of Alix’s carefully curated life. I initially thought I was supposed like Alix, but once I realized she’s kind of the villain of the story I was able to enjoy it much more. The last quarter of this book was completely entertaining and almost reads like a thriller. Overall, a fun and timely book that address critical issues with a lightness many readers will enjoy. I’m more the heavy type myself, but I understand this book’s appeal.

BOOK REVIEW | Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

3/5 stars

Mongrels is a coming of age story for our young narrator – he’s approaching puberty and anxiously waiting to see if he’ll “wolf out”, joining his family lineage of werewolves. Both gruesome and charming, this is a surprisingly tender story.

This can be read as a allegory of a culture of people living on the outskirts of society, outcast by their savage qualities. Or, this can be read as a fun and gnarly horror story. Jones expertly entwines social commentary with gore and werewolf lore, making this a truly fun read.

Jones utilizes the Indigenous tradition of storytelling to educate both the narrator and reader in werewolf lore and best practices. The werewolf rules outlined in the book were, hands down, the most fun part of the journey for me. Make sure your garbage cans are always empty, denim is the preferred choice of pants, and if you’re a werewolf never, under any circumstances, wear pantyhose. The explanation will delight and disgust horror fans!

Overall, an entertaining and touching story of a boy trying to find himself. Gory with a side of heart 🖤

BOOK REVIEW | Corregidora by Gayl Jones

5/5 stars

Corregidora meets its readers at the intersection of racial and sexual trauma. This powerful book, first published in 1975, tells the story of Ursa Corregdira as she reckons with both her violent family history and her experience as a woman navigating her own intimate relationships.

Ursa is a talented blues singer, making her living performing in bars. After a violent encounter with her husband leaves her unable to have children, she becomes consumed with the generations that came before her, and the generations that she can no longer produce. Told though conversations, inner-dialogue, and memory, we piece together a painful family history passed down from Corregidora’s grandmother and mother.

There’s so much packed into this short book, from a woman’s right to sexual autonomy, to the psychological impact of the male gaze, to the lingering effects of intergenerational trauma. What struck me the most was the sense of loneliness. Ursa is desired for her talent as a singer and for her body, but rarely for who she is – the intersectionality of black womanhood that is still relevant today. She contends with her inability to “make generations”, which highlights the question of what society values in a woman.

The language in this book is extremely raw and visceral with an transparency unlike anything I’ve read before. The prose is colloquial and accessible which allows you to feel deeply for and with Ursa. Corregiadora is the most honest portrayal of womanhood I’ve encountered, and I am so incredibly glad to have discovered Gayl Jones.

BOOK REVIEW | Islands of Decolonial Love by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

5/5 stars

Islands of Decolonial Love is a unique collection of stories and songs from Anishinaabe author, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. These stories are told in the Indigenous tradition, so please read this with an open mind, and leave behind your ideas about colonial literature.

For me, these stories felt like wisdom. They’re the sort of stories that can be read again and again, each time gleaning new lessons. I was blown away by the beauty of the language, and the openness with which Simpson writes. It feels like she has invited you into her personal space, sharing intimacy and tradition with her readers. Some of the most beautiful passages I’ve ever read were in her stories about land and nature.

The book is accompanied by performances that you can download and listen to while moving through it. I found that these added a richness to the experience that was so valuable. In my second photo, you’ll see a little cassette tape graphic – this indicates that there is an audio piece to accompany that story / song. I absolutely loved how immersive this made the reading experience.

BOOK REVIEW | Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

5/5 stars

I knew from the first page that I was going to love this book. It’s heavily stylistic but compulsively readable. Broken down into 4 sections and an epilogue, we follow the lives of 12 primarily black British women. There are mothers and daughters, friends and lovers, wealthy and working class, young and old. The stories range in time from 1905 to present day – Evaristo covers ample ground with ease.

We’re first introduced to the effervescent Amma, a successful feminist playwright. Amma is the axis which many of the other stories spin around. Everyone connects to Amma in one way or another: we learn about her business partner Dominique and daughter Yazz, and later we see certain characters as attendees at Amma’s latest play, connecting solely through her art. The interconnectedness is masterfully crafted and it was a joy to read through each of these stories, slowly piecing together a history of black British womanhood.

I felt more connected to some of the women than others, but laughed, cried, and experienced pain with all of them. I was particularly invested in Dominique, who ends up in a relationship she needs to escape from, LaTisha, who falls for men too easily, Bummi, who finds the love of her life but is fearful of what it means, Carole, who rejects her African roots to embrace a posh lifestyle, and Grace, who loses baby after baby after baby in a time when providing her husband an heir is required.

Evaristo won a Booker award for this work, and is currently a Women’s Prize finalist. The accolades are absolutely deserved! It’s a sweeping, grand, beautifully crafted work. If you’re looking for a book to get lost in, this is it.

BOOK REVIEW | Beloved by Toni Morrison

5/5 stars

What can I say about Beloved that hasn’t been said before? It’s a truly remarkable work.

This is the raw and powerful story of Sethe, a woman who escaped slavery, but not before committing a horrific act as a way of keeping her children from becoming slaves as well. Eighteen years later, Sethe is haunted by her past. Morrison examines both the lasting effects of slavery, as well as the mental health of the enslaved.

Morrison is otherworldly in her prose; poetic, intimate, explicit – I caught my breath more than once while reading certain passages. The first was early on in the book when Sethe tells her lover, Paul D, that she has a tree on her back. Paul looks at her tree post-coitus and instead sees the gnarled scars left behind after a brutal whipping. It’s a sad, graphic moment, and when I first understood the power of Morrison’s craft.

A heavy, dense story that commands your attention, but it’s worth every bit of the effort. A book to be read over and over again.

BOOK REVIEW | If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

5/5 stars

A beautiful, heartbreaking, and painfully relevant story. A young couple in love and newly pregnant fall victim to racism and a corrupt police force. James Baldwin has a potency to his work that is unlike any other; he’s one of the greatest writers I’ve ever read.

It’s sobering to realize how little has changed in America since it’s publication in 1974. Black people are still routinely framed and even killed by police nearly 50 years later. It’s deeply painful.

This story feels current, not just in content but also in style. Less a bit of 1970’s slang, this book could have been published today. The sweetness of the tender young love story between Fonny and Tish contrasts excruciatingly with the horrors of racism, over-policing, and an unjust prison system.

This is my third Baldwin, and I’m already itching to pick up another. I’ve finished The Fire Next Time and Giovanni’s Room in addition to Beale Street. I’m thinking of trying Another Country next, and then maybe some more of his non-fiction. When I love a writer I try not to binge their work, but Baldwin is the sort of writer your never truly finished with.

BOOK REVIEW | Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

4/5 stars

I finished Radicalized a few days ago, but have had trouble concentrating long enough to write my review. Like so many others, I’m feeling overwhelmed. This was a great collection though, so hopefully this quick rundown of the stories will do it justice.

“Unauthorized Bread” seems silly initially: Salima, an immigrant, jailbreaks her toaster so she can toast “unauthorized bread”, rather than the manufacturer approved bread for her model. This leads to her eventually jailbreaking her dishwasher, and so on. It seems outlandish, but really, when you think about it, how is this any different than using a propriety cord to charge a device? Or your printer faulting because you purchased aftermarket toner? The story goes deeper, straddling the ways in which the rich can benefit from these constraints while the less privelaged, immigrants in this case, are left to suffer. Salima eventually moves into apartment housing where the appliances are subsidized and monitored, and elevators work on a hierarchy: non immigrant ride first. Naturally, Salima wants to find workarounds. Funny and smart, I loved this story.

“Model Minority” is a superhero story that takes on race, police brutality, systemic oppression, and even the culture of armchair saviors. This was probably my least favourite story of the book, but I appreciate Doctorow’s commentary on these relevant injustices.

“Radicalized” is about health care and one man’s descent into the dark web. As insurance companies systematically deny critically ill patients the care that they need to survive, an online forum provides an outlet for their frustrated loved ones to express their anger. This anger soon evolves into a hotbed of violent ideologies, and it’s not long before someone decides to act on his destructive fantasy.

“The Masque of Red Death” is about a pandemic. I didn’t know that there was a pandemic story in this book, it was just an unfriendly coincidence. This was hard to read given the current state of global emergency. The story follows a survivalist and those with him at his compound. Difficult decisions are made, food and medication must be rationed – I think we all know how this one ends. I would have enjoyed reading this a lot more if it was a different time. I’ve heard some say that they don’t see how this story fits in with the first 3, but the first 3 issues are all, in some way, represented in this final story. Survival, classism, and health.

I really enjoyed these novellas from Cory Doctorow; they’re profound, astute satires about very real social issues. A book that I probably wouldn’t have picked up if not for Canada Reads, which is why I love the competition.

BOOK REVIEW | Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

4/5 stars

Son of a Trickster has been on my radar for a while now, and I’m so grateful to Canada Reads 2020 for selecting it for the shortlist. I loved this book!

Eden Robinson can tell a story – this book and all of its characters are so vivid and alive. Right off of the bat, the language is foul and hilarious: I knew I was in for a wild ride. This is in many ways a coming of age story for Jared, a 16 year old First Nations boy. Jared’s parents are busy dealing with their own addictions to drugs and alcohol, leaving Jared to take care of both them and himself. Jared bakes and sells marijuana cookies to get by, goes to parties, and occasionally helps complete chores for his aging neighbours.

That’s the tip of the iceberg here. Jared’s grandmother spent time in a residential school, and the effects of multi-generational trauma are very much at the centre of the narrative. Along with addiction, Jared has endured abuse and absentee parents. While these are heavy topics, and as dysfunctional as Jared’s life is, Robinson has crafted a story centered around the love and strength of family. Jared’s mother, for all her faults, loves him deeply. Oh, and there’s magic too.

If you’re familiar with Indigenous storytelling, you’re probably familiar with the Trickster. The Trickster can take many forms, but is a mischievous mythical creature present in traditional stories. In this case it’s called the Wee’git, and Jared’s maternal grandmother thinks that he’s it. Jared sometimes notices strange things happening around him, but passes them off as bad drug trips. We dive into the world of magic in the last third of the book, and I wanted to better understand and this section. It was totally entertaining, but I can’t help but feel as though I missed an important detail. The good news is this is the first in a trilogy, so I can continue to enjoy Robinson’s fantastic word.

BOOK REVIEW | Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles

 

4/5 stars

My first book complete for Canada Reads 2020!

Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club, a book for the #metoo movement, takes place in St. John’s Newfoundland. Set over the course of one long day with a blizzard setting in, we hear from staff and acquaintances of the resturaunt “The Hazel”.

Narrated by a large cast of characters, Coles seeks to illustrate the ways in which a capitalist society sets you up for either success of failure. When you have a rich dad he can buy you a restaurant to run, nepotism at its finest. When you have drug addicted parents you may find yourself in damaging foster homes, and end up addicted to drugs yourself. This is ultimately about imbalances in power and wealth, and how this impacts the health of a community.

Coles is unrelenting, unafraid to go to the darkest depths of addiction and poverty, but the format of this book kept me at an emotional distance. The narrative style is unique – there’s not a lot of dialogue throughout the story. We mainly hear from the different characters via their inner monologues, often in a sort of stream of consciousness rumination. I felt the most engaged when we see the dynamics between the characters come alive – Iris and John, Calv and Amanda, etc. This book is heavy, depicting some really difficult scenes, but I found myself unaffected. At least not as deeply as with stories where I feel truly connected to the characters.

This is a great book and I can see why it’s doing so well here in Canada. Up for a Giller Prize, and now shortlisted for Canada Reads 2020, it’s a bold look into the some of the dark places that we often try to avoid. It you’re about to start on this book, I recommend keeping a piece of paper nearby to jot down how the characters are connected. Personally, I feel like a second reading would allow for a deeper relationship with the characters and a more impactful experience.