And 2021 is a wrap! I can’t believe I made my Goodreads Challenge. I do have to admit that I added books that I read to my little one; I did read the entire Princess Posey series to her at least twice, as well as most of the Craftily Ever After series, the first six books of the Mallory McDonald series, the illustrated children’s version of The Famous Five, and the Sugar Plum Ballerinas series. I counted each series just once, as I felt that together, they formed as formidable a reading as any YA or adult book, be it for the number of times I read them to her, or all the questions we explored through them. I would be interested to know if anyone else adds the books they read to their children as part of their Goodreads challenge!
Review of ‘Jameela Green Ruins Everything’, by Zarqa Nawaz
There was something delightfully uncomfortable about this book by the creator of the amazing CBC show Little Mosque on the Prairie (if you haven’t seen it, go find it and watch it. Totally worth it.) It’s the completely over-the-top, comedy of errors story of Jameela, a woman who has one wish and, when it isn’t granted, visits her local imam to ask for guidance on how to get it granted. The imam is newly arrived, an innocent and simple man taken aback by Jameela’s request. So he makes one of his own: That Jameela must help someone in order to get her own wish granted. And thus an absurd set of events begins, which involves, quite heavily, the fictional Dominion of the Islamic Caliphate and Kingdoms, i.e. the D.I.C.K. (And of course the author has a lot of fun weaving dick jokes throughout the book.)
About that discomfort: It comes from the presentation of the consequences of American foreign policy on the Middle East. Weaved into quite an absurd story, these historical accurate conversations (as far as I know) between the book’s characters on American foreign policy underline how, well, absurd they were and are. I have been thinking a lot about how to contribute to the betterment of the world, which includes the elimination of prejudices. Prejudices about the Middle East and Islam in general have given way to some terrible foreign policy decisions. What would happen if we, the people, informed ourselves better about the realist in the Middle East and about Islam (even if it is through some really funny book like this one) and flood the discourse with accurate information rather than inaccurate prejudice-driven fear?
On a more personal note, as far as I remember, this is the first time I saw my name used for a character in a book. It was jarring and weird; what was I doing there? Books aren’t about me, right? Which made me realise how underrepresented I am. Now in my case, I don’t think it has really affected me negatively. But it does reinforce my commitment to discovering and promoting books about a broad diversity of characters, so that everyone feels represented.
Review of ‘She Gets the Girl’, by Rachael Lippincott, Alyson Derrick
Alex wants to be with a girl, Molly wants to be with another, and the only way it seems that the two of them are going to get what they want is by teaming up; but of course, the two girls fall for each other. The question of stepping out of your comfort zone, which was Molly’s main obstacle, was well explored; I appreciated the final word on the matter, which was to balance out stepping out of your comfort zone without stepping away from who you truly are. As for Alex, her obstacle was the unstable and unreliable mother in her life, whose attention she has to fight alcohol for. I also liked the rather well-rounded final word on this matter, which was that you can’t outrun your past but that you will have to work through it, and that might take a lot of time, a lot of energy, and requires a lot of support. I feel like Millennials and Gen Z are, more than ever, trying to break negative intergenerational patterns of behavior, and we need to understand that this is going to take a lot of time and energy, and requires a lot of support. I do hope that Gen Alpha will be the first generation to reap the benefits en masse of this work, the importance of which I felt was underlined in this book.
Review of ‘What the Cat Dragged In’, by Kate McMurray
For my second audio book ever, I chose a romantic comedy. I figured it would be something easy to follow, and that it would help me hone my audio book listening capacity. I wasn’t expecting to like the book, honestly; I find myself often frustrated at what romance books teach us, indirectly or directly, about the nature of romantic relationships. And I have to be honest, I might not have captured everything like I do when I read a book.
But from what I registered, I feel it was rather healthy of a read, in that there was no big drama, rather just the discomfort of a new relationship settling in. The main complication was that the sister had to get used to the idea of her best friend dating her brother. She didn’t deal with it in the most mature way, but at the same time, I didn’t feel it was over the top dramatic. It felt like what I would potentially go through if a friend of mine starting dating one of my siblings. And the issue was dealt with time and conversations, which is such a healthy way of dealing with potential tension. The characters were engaging and I really felt invested in everything finishing well, which really caught me by surprise.
Review of ‘Float’, by Kate Marchant
Fish-out-of-water Waverly usually spends her summers with one of her divorced parents in Alaska. She’s pretty sheltered up there and hasn’t really had what is defined as the stereotypical media-fueled typical teenage experience (neither have I, for that matter, and neither have many of my friends, but that’s a conversation for another time.)
But this summer, she is going to Florida to spend the summer with her aunt—and her aunt’s next-door neighbour’s son, who happens to be her age.
We all know where this is going, both with regards to romance and teenage experience. And I’m sure you can imagine al the silly thing that can happen to a girl from the tundra spending her summer on a beach, for the first time ever. I thought the way that various relationships were seen through new, fresh eyes was a great way to identify and discuss some of the underlying patterns and tensions that invariably seep into them, especially when the group is small and tight knit. The overarching theme did seem to be not to judge a book by its cover, as every character ended up being quite different from the first impression that they gave.
Now about that typical teenage experience. I have mentioned before how I do not feel comfortable with this concept. I feel like the United States is way too diverse of a country to have a teenage experience monolith. And it begs to ask, how can books like this one, which, despite the presence of this monolith, it quite the interesting read, be consumed in a way that respects the diversity of the teenage experience?
Review of ‘The Cost of Knowing’, by Brittney Morris
The accident that took the lives of the parents of sixteen-year-old Alex and twelve-year-old Isaiah also gave them strange abilities. When he touches a person or an object, Alex can now see its future. Needless to say, it causes him much anxiety and doesn’t allow him to be present in the moment.
Unfortunately, it seems that the close future also has in store another death: that of his brother. In the months after their parents’ death, the two brothers self-isolated, but now that he knows what is going to happen, Alex is determined to make the little time he still has with his brother count. And during this time, Alex finds out a lot about his ancestors, who were brought to the United States as slaves, about himself and his strength, and about being Black in America.
This was such an emotionally difficult read but I would read it all over again and recommend it again and again. The supernatural aspect of it (i.e. Alex being able to see a person or an object’s future) become a great exploratory tool, rather than a distraction, for questions regarding family, romance, and race. On top of this, the writing is poetic, the story is well paced, and the characters very engaging. I’m still a little heart-broken about this book but don’t regret reading it. I feel like I’ll be carrying Alex and Isaiah with me for a very long time.
Review of ‘Goodbye,Vitamin’, by Rachel Khong
One of the downsides of growing up is seeing one’s parents growing old. And one of the downsides of growing old is developing certain conditions, some more devastating than others. In Ruth’s case, her brilliant professor father develops Alzheimer’s, and, as it robs him of his memories, unlocks a series of them for her. Beautifully written and heartbreaking, Goodbye, Vitamin is also choke full of bittersweet moments that made me smile even as my heart was hurting. Presented in snapshots of the life of Ruth during the year she moved back in with her parents to help with her father, the most poignant part to me was the biggest way the author underlined the reversal of Ruth and her father’s roles. Whereas he used to write quasi daily notes about what his daughter had done, all starting with “Today, you…”, she is the one now chronicling the moments of connection between her father and those who love him.
Review of ‘The Selfless Act of Breathing’, by J.J. Bola
In another emotionally difficult book to read, a man decides to leave everything behind and go travelling. Once he has spent all his money, he will kill himself. The portrait of this man is very different from what one would expect, knowing this intention. Michael Kabongo has been fighting the injustices he sees around him to the best of his ability; but he is getting tired, and one final loss tips the scale towards this tragic, self-prescribed ending.
I really liked the way the chapters that happened before this decision were written in the first person, while the chapters that occurred after this decision were written in the third person. To me it felt like it underlined the disassociation that happened to the protagonist after said final loss.
How the ending came to be isn’t explained, but that in itself is part of the charm of this book. One cannot understand the ending if one hasn’t really tried to empathise with the protagonist. The changes are subtle, and I don’t think I caught them all (or even most of them), but I did see how the hope was slowly rekindling in the midst of the overall despair felt by Michael. This is where, to me, it is most obvious that the author is also a poet.
Review of ‘The Ballerinas’, by Rachel Kapelke-Dale
For my third audiobook experience, I picked a general fiction. I’d like to again reiterate that I am not sure I captured it all. But from what I did capture, the audiobook based on Rachel Kapelke-Dale’s The Ballerinas was deeply engrossing and beautifully written. I found myself both envying the long-term friendship between the three main characters and getting annoyed by their self-centeredness. I was intrigued by the relationship between their chosen profession—ballerina—and the emergence and strengthening of this self-centeredness. I also appreciated the exploration of how even the deepest of friendships could be severely tested by this self-centeredness, and how in the midst of it, moments of selflessness can pierce through. I also found the presence of misogyny and sexism in an environment one might assume (ha) is catered to and centered on the women (i.e. a famous ballet company) the trigger for many a potential explorations of how to weed it out not only there, but in the general population.
Review of ‘Secrets of the Sprakkar’, by Eliza Reid
It was very interesting to catch a glimpse into what life is like for women in Iceland, a country that prides itself for its work in creating equality between men and women. The book is written by its current First Lady (who happens to be a Canadian, oh yeah!) and is structured around several themes explored first through a general overview (including studies), interviews with a selected number of women, the sharing of the author’s personal experiences, and wrapping up with insights and reflections. At the very least, this book might give activist insights into what they could themselves do to hone their own work. It also can bring hope to the heart of those tired by the seemingly unending work of building justice. Because Iceland is doing great, and after reading this book, I can see how it isn’t that hard, building equality. It just takes a lot, and I mean, a LOT of work.
Thank you to Raincoast Books and Simon & Schuester Canada for ARCs, to Orca Book Publishers for review copies, and thank you to all the publisher who sent me electronic ARCs through Netgalley!