Review of ‘Concrete Rose’, by Angie Thomas—Book Club Contender
A big part of the anti-racism activism I am involved in requires having a lot of conversations, during which I attempt to answer the same questions again and again (or find resources that will help me answer the questions). One of the questions I find myself discussing again and again came back to the forefront just last week, with the passing of DMX: Black people are “much more likely to be involved in a life of gangs and drugs” and they are “unwilling to let it go because of the amount of money they make”. Such attitudes are steeped in ignorance and in racism-enable tunnel-vision that refuses to investigate reality, to put the time to understand the complexity of the context, on top of the complexity of the situation of each individual. Concrete Rose offers the opportunity to explore one of these stories of a Black person involved in drugs and gangs, that of Maverick Carter, seventeen years before the events in the book The Hate You Give. Concrete Rose is as well-written and engaging as all Angie Thomas’ other titles. It is just as heartbreaking and hard to read—how can the difficulties the characters face, difficulties that wouldn’t exist if, you know, racism didn’t exist, and justice was the foundation of everything—but also inspiring and heart-warming. For already existing fans of the work, I feel like an important role we can take, especially if you are also involved in antiracism work, is to offer this book to friends, then make sure to have follow-up conversations, using the book to break some of the misconceptions standing in the way of creating a racism-free world. For the same reason, I feel like this could be a great book for a book club. However in both cases, much care has to be put into not making Maverick’s story the story of all Black men; his experience is as unique as he is. We also need to put much care to avoid slipping into the argument that Maverick is “one of the good ones”. It’s also important not to fall into any of the other simplifying, one-line “explanations” as to how Maverick got himself into a pickle and how he got out of it. Concrete Rose is a great way to further one’s understanding of the effects of long-standing systemic racism in the United States, and creating a space where misconceptions can be undone.
Review of ‘We Had A Little Real Estate Problem’, by Kliph Nesteroff
“You’re not bad guys but you profited because of bad guys.” As someone who is (very humbly) involved in anti-Black activism, this quote popped off the pages of this book—as did many, many others. Through the story of Native American stand-up comedy, the world of anti-Indigenous racism come roaring in. The title of the book is based on a joke part of Charlie Hill’s famous stand-up routine: “My people are from Wisconsin. We used to be from New York. We had a little real estate problem.” While the faces of mainstream comedy currently are, for the most part, still white cis men, and not many people could name Native American comedians, this book highlights their contributions to advancing stand-up comedy as an art form, despite the lack of representation and the entertainment industry’s constant and degrading microaggressions towards Native Americans. The story starts as far back as in the late 1800s; a line is drawn for us from the Native Americans forced into touring in “wild west” shows instead of going to prison, all the way to current day Native American troops (and a big side note on the misconception of the “silent brooding Native American man staring into the distance”), “We Had a Little Real Estate Problem” is not just a tribute to the legacy of Native American stand-up comedy, but also a call to action to all non-Natives to get to critically look at the lack of representation as well as the inappropriateness of most representation of Native Americans in mainstream culture.
Review of ‘Beach Read’, by Emily Henry
A female romance writer and a male literary fiction writer (she doesn’t believe in love anymore, and his dark self is stuck in a writing rut) decide to write in the other’s style. He will write something rom-com worthy, and she will written the next dark and depressing Great American Novel. They will take each other on research trips, of course—him interviewing survivors of a death cult, her going on rom-com-like dates. I really appreciated the depth of the discussion about sexist beliefs in the literary world, mainly, why romance books are not considered literature, even if they are exquisitely written. The plot was straightforward, which I found made the space to explore these deeper ideas very clear, a choice that also brings extra depth, in my opinion, to the book reading experience. Obviously the two main characters fall in love, but the process by which it happens as well as the self-discoveries they make, turn this book into an insightful exploration of the self.
Review of ‘Where The Grass is Green and the Girls Are Pretty’, by Lauren Weisberger
While the books is well written and very engaging, the topic it covers falls very, very flat and reflects a passé, almost elitist attitude. At times it came off purely as an excuse for why rich people use their excessive financial means to find the infamous “side door” into college, the same “side door” that landed Full House’s Aunt Becky and her real-life husband in jail. Now while as a parent I can understand that parents want the best for their children, I find the sense of entitlement rich people have quite appalling. And I find it disgusting that individuals who become parents and understand how hard it is for them not to see their children having everything, wouldn’t try to change the system so that no kid has to suffer, rather than to rig their own way into it. I found the couple’s “solution”, i.e. the husband sacrificed himself so that the wife doesn’t lose her plushier job, a reflection of the problem in the first place. Choosing to go to jail, ruin your relationships with your offspring and your in-laws, stain your pristine reputation, all because of money? This made me feel so sad for the state of, well, everything. And yet, I also found myself wanting the poor main character to get out of this mess intact, because, apart from the whole using the side door thing, she’s quite likeable. And that’s the main thing that I am taking away from this book: not to demonize anyone, because at the end of the day, demonizing doesn’t help dismantle the system that allows for these kinds of things to happen in the first place. If you want a well-written, multifaceted insight into how deep the problem of entitlement goes, this just might be the read for you, and a good contended as a book club read.
Review of ‘The Lies That Bind’, by Emily Giffin—Don’t Bother
This was such a terrible book. It was written as well as any other Emily Giffin book, but the story in itself drove me nuts, mainly because the husband’s cheating is pretty much blamed on the wife. Cheating is unacceptable, quite honestly. I accept that a husband can be miserable in his marriage, but the answer is to try to work it out, and if it doesn’t work, divorce and start over. I also didn’t appreciate at all using the horrors of 9/11 to further a plot line. There are other ways that the main male character could have disappeared; a fictional disaster would have been fine. But using 9/11 was cheap, quite honestly. The character development was also way too circular. I understand that as human beings, we rehash things over and over, but I find that, in a book, especially one written by an author as prolific as Emily Giffin, the reflection doesn’t need to be rewritten time and time again. Also, when the main character discovers the big twist at the end, the way it happens is just ridiculous. How can a person supposedly in love and who has another person’s face etched in their mind, not recognise that person instantly? It’s a little hard to explain without spoiling the ending, but suffice to say that this was a disappointing book, well-written but with a sloppy, lazy plot, and unsatisfying character development. No need to read this one, whatever the official reviews say, it is not “irresistible”.
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!