Book Review, Fiction, Review

Book Review Round-Up: August 2021

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Review of ‘The Eternal Audience of One’, by Rémy Ngamije

Diversifying my bookshelf (and that of my little one) has been quite the satisfying experience, to say the least.  I don’t think we should focus on non-fiction; quite the contrary, reading about universal experiences in different settings can be quite the unifying force.  In the case of Rémy Ngamije’s The Eternal Audience of One, the pain of coming-of-age, discovering what our passion is while still managing, somehow, to step up to the expectations of our parents, and while dealing with the extra pressure of being an immigrant, all came together in this beautifully written book.  I was completely obsessed with it and missed a few nights worth of sleep over it!  Ngamije’s is so incredibly detailed in his writing and yet managed to create a book that is incredibly light to read.  Every word has been carefully chosen and is essential, which as a writer, I appreciate just as much as a reader.  I personally prefer not having sex scenes in a book, and the ones in this one were easy to skip over without missing anything from the story.  And thankfully they are not long, either.  I also loved the glimpses into the sights and sounds of South Africa and Namibia.

Review of ‘Why We Fly’, by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

I loved the previous collaboration by Jones and Segal, and so jumped at the chance of grabbing an ARC of Why We Fly.  And am I glad I did, because however good I’m Not Dying With You Tonight was, this one is even better.

But you had better be comfortable with ambiguity—or get ready for a lesson in ambiguity (which is a good thing, so read on).  When I first finished Why We Fly, I was a little uncomfortable and couldn’t quite place my finger on why.  I thought it was because the ending was too positive (perhaps a reflection of my current state of mind, i.e. so tired from all the negative things happening in the world?)  Or maybe it was because there were so many unaddressed questions left unanswered.  Or maybe because I wasn’t satisfied with the lack of justice meted out, in this case of racism, to certain characters who happen to be, to no one’s surprise, white.

Then I realised that I was putting way too much onus on one book.  I was expecting it to be neat and tidy like fiction, whereas, despite its positive ending (which I loved, ironically enough), is messy and unclear… just like real life is.  And my reader’s perspective shifted from reading this book as an source of information meant to help me on my anti-racism journey to reading it as a way to understand some of what people of colour can go through.

It won’t come as a surprise, then, that I now consider this book a very strong book club contender.  I especially would want white and white-passing people to read it and really try to understand what completely went over the main white character’s head: the influence of racism in the situation she and her Black co-main protagonist find themselves in (the book is written from their dual perspectives.)

Another reason I think this book is a strong book club contender has to do with my increasing realisation, through my community-building work, that people are surprisingly attached to the status quo, be it for the smallest or the biggest things.  And I guess that’s normal; change can be a lot of negative things, from exhausting to terrifying, or just annoying quite honestly (don’t get me started on the hassle of changing one’s address!)

But when the status quo hurts somebody else, our love for humanity compels us to change the status quo despite the exhaustion and the fear and the annoyance, which become a gift we are giving to those around us who are oppressed by the status quo.  Why We Fly reflects well how people can react so negatively to any attempts to change the status quo, even if it would benefit those they love the most.  And I think that reading these books can really help us become more discerning when it comes to the negative impacts of the status quo that our own privilege might blind us to.

Review of ‘Big Boned’, by Jo Watson

Reading Big Boned around the start of the new school year as my own little one begins the next step of her academic career gave me all the feels.  But the book would have done that on its own, even if I hadn’t been all #mamaemotional already.  The main reason is the focus on the difficulties of being the sibling of someone who is neurodivergent.  It makes me ache, but it also is a good reminder, as a member of a community, to keep an eye out for all children and not just my own.  Ok, not all children, but as many children as I can.  It really does take a village and yet, what are we doing to be a good villager?  Or, at the very least, are we even thinking about what we are doing, as a villager, to contribute to the raising of the children in our village?

I remain impressed by how rich Big Boned is in important themes while managing to remain easy to read in two ways: the first is the flow of Jo Watson’s writing, which is impeccable, and the second is the way the story weaved the lighter and heavier moments of life as they naturally occur, with insights shared with the reader in a very natural, easy way.  I felt trusted, as a reader, to understand the many layers of what was happening without any extra hand holding, and I feel this makes a book very potent…  And yet another great book club contender!

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!

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