Book Review, Fiction, Middle Grade, Review, Women's Fiction, Young Adult

Book Review Round-Up: February and March 2021, Part 1 of 2

5.00 avg. rating (99% score) - 1 vote

Review of ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’, by Eric Walters

I have to admit that I am still a little in shock it has been a year since this pandemic has been declared, and quite annoyed at the way we didn’t manage, as a whole, to come together and fight this thing as efficiently as we could have. But at the same time, I know it’s important for me not to lose this sense of hope and optimism, and I have found that the right book catering to a younger audience can do a lot for my personal mental wellbeing. After Hockey Night in Kenya, here is another middle grade book I’d recommend not just to middle graders but also to teens and adults just because of the feel-good factor.  When the pandemic hits, 13-year-old Quinn and her friends are just like the rest of us—bored and lonely, struggling to manage a healthy Zoom life in isolation and wondering what is going to happen.  But Quinn comes up with two ideas that bring her community together, while respecting public health rules.  Best of all?  Both ideas are relatively simple and straightforward, which means any reader can choose to follow in Quinn’s steps.  Needless to say, everyone here knows what a believer I am in the vital importance of small acts in the overall betterment of the world, which makes this book all the more special of a read to me.  A definite recommend.

Review of ‘Hockey Night in Kenya’, by Danson Mutinda, Eric Walters, and Claudia Davila

Oh my goodness, this book!  I can’t get over how good this book is.  Actually, the word that came to mind is delicious.  It was a treat!  It didn’t gloss over some of the harder things in life—like being an orphan and being poor—but didn’t leave me stuck in a pit of despair.  Instead, it focused on how, even when facing some insane odds, we can choose a constructive path of hope.  Taking one step at a time, using our creativity, consulting with those around us, and with the help of our friends, we can work our way towards achieving “impossible” dreams.  This read is so important not just as a delightful, easy, well-written read for younger children packed with beautifully delivered important life lessons, but also and especially because, in the face of all the forces of society trying to convince us that we are just consumers, we need to slowly work our collective way towards completely changing the structures of society that have reduced us from noble beings to money-making and stuff-collecting machines.  And although it might not seem like it, but books like Hockey Night in Kenya make a great addition to our toolboxes.  A definite recommend.

Review of ‘Calling My Name’, by Liara Tamani

The idea that a child should listen to their parents “just because” and follow rules “because I said so” is quite outdated.  Now don’t get me wrong.  First, this is a luxury only the privileged have easy access to.  When one is crumbling under societal, financial, emotional, and mental pressure, then we are not quite in the position to do the patient, slower kind of parenting required to avoid these attitudes.  This is a reflection solely for the privileged.  Also, even for the privileged, sometimes, when there is no time or the situation is dire, these should be used, with the understanding that at a later date, the parents will explain what happened in retrospect.  That being said, Calling My Name is an intriguing, complex, poetic religious coming-of-age story.  Author Liara Tamani artfully weaves the story of Taja Brown, a young African American girl growing up in Houston, Texas, deftly exploring the struggles related to growing up, questioning family expectations, understanding the meaning of life, discovering our sense of self, and finding our purpose.  Each chapter is short, and focuses on a specific episode in Taja’s life from middle school to high school.  The exploration that most resonated with me was that of Taja’s relationship with her family’s religion, and the very uncomfortable space where children should be allowed to ask hard questions about faith but often are not allowed to.  I feel this is a great read for a religious parent to remember what those years can feel like and to help them remain patient as they help guide their children through these sometimes stormy waters.  Another definite recommend.

Review of ‘Surviving the White Gaze’, by Rebecca Carroll

I’ll start this review by reiterating that one person’s experience does not speak for the experience of everyone who looks like that person.  That being said, it is important to read multiple, different stories of how racism is experienced by Black people in America, because it gives us a better idea of how insidious racism can be.  Surviving the White Gaze is the real story of Rebecca Carroll, a biracial, Black child adopted into a white family who reconnects with her white biological mom.  Rebecca lives through years of unintentional but deeply wounding microaggressions at the hands of those meant to protect her—her adoptive parents and her biological mother.  What I appreciated the most was the complexity of the storytelling.  Carroll didn’t diminish anyone into a caricature of either an angelic savior or an evil perpetrator.  For example, she really strove to show us the deep love her adoptive parents have for her, while showing how this love isn’t enough to make up for the cluelessness that allowed for constant microaggression in her own home, which should be a safe space for all children.  This resonated a lot to me as I struggle to accept how my own imperfections will, no doubt, affect my child; all children, let alone adopted biracial ones who are constantly subjected to microaggressions, need to see their parents in their full complexity in order to be content yet break inherited, unhealthy patterns of behavior that usually trickle down generations.  Yet another definite must read!

Review of ‘The Newcomer’, by Mary Kay Andrews—Unhealthy Read, Avoid

On the one hand, this book had an interesting plot and although the ending was very predictable, I did wonder how it would come about.  I don’t mind knowing what the ending is going to be, honestly; I feel like not worrying about how things are going to end enables me to enjoy the journey, especially when the plot has so much potential, such as in this book.  But unfortunately, the journey wasn’t enjoyable this time around, for a few reasons.  The first is the lack of character development.  Things happen without much of an explanation, scarring the journey that could have been.  For example, two older women, Ruth and Billie, at first absolutely hate having a four-year-old child around disturbing their peace, but by the end of the book, the little girl has them wrapped around her little finger.  How?  Magic, apparently.  One assumes that the little girl grew on them, but that’s the thing—we shouldn’t have to assume, not in this type of book.  As for the two main characters, they go from hating each other to falling in love, obviously, but with no apparent path or no rhyme or reason.  It just kind of happened, as if they are two befuddled actors told by the director to go ahead and just fall in love, already.  But I feel the worse part of this book is how Joe’s immature response to Letty having to go back to New York City to deal with, oh you know, her sister’s death and securing her niece’s future, is romanticised.  The romanticising of Joe’s attitude has a deleterious effect on the mental health of so many out there who think that in the name of “love”, they need to take this kind of behaviour.  But you know what?  Uh-uh.  Oh, no, mister.  If my sister is murdered and you are not completely on board with me going back to the city to take care of her affairs, especially since she is leaving behind a little four-year-old whom I am now the guardian of, you can bet I am going to be breaking it off with you, posthaste.  So unless you are going to be dissecting all the reasons why this kind of behaviour is immature and toxic, then don’t pick this book up, because its only one of the problematic things I found in its pages.

Thank you to Raincoast Books and Simon & Schuester Canada for the physical Advanced Reader Copies, to Orca Book Publishers for review copies, and thank you to all the publisher who sent me electronic advance copies through Netgalley!

5.00 avg. rating (99% score) - 1 vote

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