Review of ‘Transcendent Kingdom’, by Yaa Gyasi—Must Read
In case anyone had any doubts after reading her first book: Yaa Gyasi is an incredible storyteller. Although filled with heavy topics and complex writing, Transcendent Kingdom reads as easily as cutting through butter on a hot summer day. I use that analogy with intention; the book will leave you feeling warm and soft, in all the right ways. It reads much more than just the story of Gifty; it’s a brilliant reflection on religion versus science, not offering a specific answer but many paths a reader can choose to explore for himself. Gyazi’s masterful analysis of the relationship between science and religion is told through Gifty’s experience with her mother’s church and her work in neuroscience. The brilliant Gifty was confronted from a very young age with so many illogical religious “truths”, so she turned to science only to find it also coming short. The answer to her brother’s addiction seems to be found, in the end, in an elegant blend of the two: that science and religion co-exist harmoniously when one removes the ego from one’s search for the truth. We live in a world where dichotomy and dissession rule the mainstream discourse; Transcendent Kingdom is much more than Gifty’s story or even its analysis of science and religion. Rather, in it’s lessons in learning to not create dichotomies and look for what is in common between seemingly disparate opinions lies the key to building a united, diverse, harmonious world.
Review of ‘Becoming’, by Michelle Obama
I decided to reread this one on a whim, after binging through Michelle Obama’s podcast and a few of her post-White House speeches. Now that I am not as sleep deprived as when the book first came out, or perhaps because I had heard the stories it contains many times already, or probably because the conversational nature of the writing, it was a very easy read. Becoming can be as little or as much as the reader wants it to be. It can simply be a memoir of sorts, telling us the story behind the first Black First Lady of the United States. But it can also be as large as a reflection on the state of the political process not just in the USA, but also in Canada and, quite honestly, everywhere in the world. To me, the big conclusion is that partisan politics has got to go. We have to find a new way to govern, a way that works from the bottom-up and that really and truly includes all voices. Honestly, guys, we can do it; this is 2020, we have the technology for it, for sure. It’s just the will that is lacking. Is it really that hard to imagine regular consultations (real ones!) being held in every neighborhood, city, region, state, or country, with the main points making their way to the top where decisions can be taken in light of the will of the people? Because if two seemingly great people like Michelle and Barack Obama—on top of the team they put together—couldn’t change things, then who can, really?
Review of ‘One by One’, by Ruth Ware
What a ride Ruth Ware takes us on each time we crack open her books. This one did start with a very cliché idyllic sky getaway turns horrific. But what happens after is quite something. I mostly appreciated the suspense not being cheap—finding hints and scary things here and there. The suspense was mostly in figuring out why the characters acted in a certain way. And this, despite the fact that I had an idea very early about who the killer was. In fact, despite knowing who the killer was, I was still rooting for this person, and was almost disappointed that I was right. It did leave me thinking about who the true criminal is, the person who killed in the first place, or the people and actions that put this person in a mental position of wanting to kill. I don’t mean to excuse this person’s actions, but it’s worth thinking about the way someone, fictional or not, gets into a position to do anything criminal. Empathy can go a long way, as I have been saying a lot lately. The way Ware messes with readers’ heads is just that brilliant, isn’t it?
Review of ‘Dear Child’, by Romy Hausmann
I just gobbled this one up. I legit could NOT stop reading. It was partly because of the storyline; it starts with a woman kidnapped over a decade ago being hit by a car after she freed herself from the cabin where she had been imprisoned in. Her parents are called; we discover there is a child now. Just that was so horrifying that I just had to find out what was happening—would the woman now be able to live a more normal life despite what happened to her? Would her parents be able to get their daughter “back”? What about that child, raised in captivity? The book is written from three point of views: that of the kidnapped woman, her father’s, and her daughter’s, which gives three very different but just as real and truthful perspectives. That was also quite an interesting exercise in figuring out what was each character’s truth versus what is THE truth, something we all need to learn how to do in the era of fake news and misinformation campaigns. Then there are the twists and turns, with an ending quite different from what I expected it. I’m trying not to spoil it, so I’ll leave it at this: I was trying to figure out the answer to the wrong set of questions; I should have looked the other way.
Review of ‘Gut’, by Raina Telgemeier
Talk about looking ahead. I used to read a lot of MG books in light of my volunteering as a junior youth animator. Now, I am reading them again because I know that I will have one much sooner than I expect it (isn’t that the refrain we hear from parents, that it goes by so fast?) I heard a lot about Raina Telgemeier and particularly about Gut as a tool to help preteens and younger teens understand anxiety, and I’ll be honest—it really helped me, too. It’s a little embarrassing to admit this, since I’m supposedly a writer, but I found the description of anxiety so rich and textured that I totally added the expressions in my own set of tools to help me deal with my anxiety. It’s all the more brilliant that it wasn’t just labelled as anxiety and thrown into the bottom of a bag somewhere. I am totally planning to buy this book as a gift for any preteen in my life, anxious or not—identifying anxiety is something everyone in this day and age should be able to do. And that’s on top of how beautiful the imagery in this graphic novel is. Recommended for preteens, teens, and adults like.