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

Book Review Round-Up: May, June, and July 2021

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

Review of ‘So You Want To Talk About Race’, by Ijeoma Oluo—Must Read

There are some things that need to be revisited, and one’s racism (intentional or not) is definitely one of them.  Ijeoma Oluo’s book comes as a much-needed chat about potential, unintentional racism that we may have absorbed from the oftentimes unintentional racist comments, thoughts, points of views, and opinions that surround us.  And as a person who is trying to ramp up her anti-racism work (within the context of educating myself, educating my child, and the community building work that I am engaged in), I feel like the joy that I feel from all this volunteer work and service can easily blind me to unintentional harm that I am be doing to my Black friends.

And so, I return to this book regularly, sometimes choosing to read specific sections, and other times (like this summer), rereading the entire thing from cover to cover.

Perhaps because of the conversations I have been having with my preschooler about racism, it felt like I was reading So You Want To Talk about Race for the first time, I’m not sure.  But either way, the topics at hand are just as fresh, informative, and actionable as the actual first time that I read Oluo’s book.  I’d like to do a group read at some point in the future with other non-Black friends, so that we can explore, in the safety of our group, our own unintentional racism and hopefully take a leap, together, into becoming non-racist.

Review of ‘The Skin We’re In’, by Desmond Cole—Must Read

Another must read for anyone working on eliminating racism in all aspects of ourselves and the systems in which we live in.  It’s centered on a Black Canadian’s experience of racism in Canada.  However, the way it is written is enlightening not just for Canadians, but for anyone living in North America, Europe, or Australia.

The non-Black individuals in my various circles don’t seem to think that there is any “bad racism” in Canada.  Of course, this comes in contrast with what is happening in the United States.  However, The Skin We’re In presents just how bad things can be in Canada.  We can even easily see the way things can get as bad as in the United States.  Because even if our numbers are not as bad, and our cases don’t make the international news as often as those in the United States, there is no such thing as “good racism”.  All racism is a cancer, and even the smallest tumour can kill a person.  So even the smallest traces of racism in a society can lead to it coming apart at the seams.  I feel strongly that it is already pretty bad here in Canada, and that, if we do not act decisively now, it will get much worse, very fast.

I can’t rave enough about this book, and can’t recommend it enough to all my Canadian followers.  If you can, get a book club going around The Skin We’re In, and go dig into various news archives to see how much these topics have been buried from the public’s eye.

Review of ‘Misfits in Love’, by S.K. Ali

We say that representation matters, but oftentimes the books that I have seen representing non mainstream culture are heavy and rather depressing, portraying the darker sides of cultures other than white Christian culture.  Misfits in Love is anything but—it’s a stereotypical wedding story (sister of the groom figures out her own love life and her own self at big, crazy wedding) in a non-mainstream (for North America) setting.  This gives readers the opportunity to enjoy a good love story—love between friends, between family members, and within a couple—while catching glimpses of how lovely a Muslim family usually is.

It might comes as a surprise that I am recommending a rom-com.  However, I am not doing do just because of the opportunity to see positive representation of a Muslim family.  The subplots are quite complex and touch on so many topics, including older generation versus younger generation divide, racism, classism, and what makes (or doesn’t make) a quality relationship (romantic or not).

Regarding the topic of healthy and unhealthy relationships, the book includes examples of both but there is a surprising and refreshing number of healthy relationships.  This is refreshing as books about toxic relationships (romantic or other) focus so much on the unhealthy ones that it can get quite suffocating.  In this case, the contrast between the unhealthy relationships and the healthy ones makes readers more receptive to identifying the unhealthy relationships in their own lives, as well as committing to nurturing the healthy ones.  Relationships being at the heart of community building and societal transformation, you can see why this book would mean a lot to me.

Working my way through this book also made me feel very grateful to friends who open their lives and hearts and homes (well, pre-pandemic, and some days, post-pandemic…)  I’ve learned so much about toxic friendships in the last ten years thanks mostly to the example of respectful and loving honesty and frankness they have shown me.  I can see how this book could have come in handy in my journey had I read it some ten years ago, and I hope it will help others earlier in their own path towards building healthy relationships.

Review of ‘Hurricane Summer’, by Asha Bromfield

Gorgeously written, Asha Bromfield’s Hurricane Summer is a very heavy read.  It delves into so many difficult subjects, all happening on our main character during the span of two months—the metaphorical hurricane met with a real one pummeling her parents’ native Jamaica.

This book can serve two audiences very well.  Readers who have been through the things the main character has gone through might appreciate knowing that they are not alone and that there is a way out.  Readers who have not been through these things can gain a glimpse into what someone around them might be going into.

The main topic that came to mind are the difficulties related to intra-family relationships when jealousy sets in, and the effect of perceived advantages on feeding said jealousy.  The main character lives in Canada, which means that, to her family still in Jamaica, her life seems lavish and luxurious.  Of course those of us who live in Canada know that life in Canada is luxurious and lavish only for a select number, and recently arrived immigrants can have a very hard time financially, living lives that are well below “luxurious”.

Ultimately, any book that offers insight into another person’s suffering can lead to a better world, where action and policy center around the common good and the betterment of our communities, rather than money and power.  Perhaps readers of Hurricane Summer will be inspired to arise and ensure that wealth is shared more equally both within the country they reside in, and between all the countries in the world.

Review of ‘I Was Told It Would Get Easier’, by Abbi Waxman

I got completely OBSESSED with this book only a few pages in.  You guys know that I love Jennifer Weiner’s books; well, if all of Abbi Waxman’s are this good, then she is going to be either right behind or at par with Jennifer Weiner.

Yup, that good.

The writing is tight, witty, and insightful.  The alternating POVs of mother versus teenage daughter was unsettling in a good way, a reminder, as both daughter and mother of a daughter, to always remember to communicate rather than assume.  Of course, this is easier said that done, which makes this reminder all the more important.

Humour tied seemingly to every situation and page of this book, in a subtle way that basically gives the book a humorous aroma that doesn’t take over the story at the heart of it: the relationship between a mother and her teenage daughter.  There is so much that can so easily derail that relationship, from the changing mind of a teenage girl and premenopausal mother to the struggles they each face at school and at work.  The book left me, as a mother of a beautiful little girl, with some insight into how I could support the development of a strong relationship with her.

Review of ’The Beautiful Struggle’, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

No review I could write (at least with my current level of writing capacity) could do a book by Ta-Nehisi Coates justice.  The Beautiful Struggle is a poetic coming of age story, where things we read about racism read in books such as Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want To Talk about Race or Ashley C. Ford’s Somebody’s Daughter

Of course, just like other Ta-Nehisi Coates book, the beauty of the writing comes in sharp contrast with the issues touched upon.  We gain a glimpse into how hard it is to be a Black boy and a young Black man in North America.  I say North America because while Coates grew up in the United States, the situation here in Canada isn’t that much better or easier.  And further to the racism that touched Coates’ growing years, classism is very much an issue in most, if not all countries in the world.

So choose to be swept away in a book that reads like a non-rhyming long-form poem with the hopes of gaining insight into the experiences of those touched by racism and classism, and be inspired to arise and transform the status quo.

Review of ‘Somebody’s Daughter’, by Ashley C. Ford

This is another book I got completely obsessed with only a few pages in.  It was so good that I kept sneaking a page or even a paragraph here and there in between everything else I have to do.

This is another case of a gorgeously written book touching on such important topics in a way that welcomes readers into the narrative.  The part that I found hard to read is exactly the reason why this book should be read.  The stories of kids not being treated like the mines full of gems of inestimable value that they are.  The child that was Ashley Ford should have been better protected, but she was failed, time and again, by a terrifyingly large number of adults.  Not that I blame them; I have a feeling I would have failed her to, had I been an adult in her life, because of the way the various spaces in which Ashley Ford moved were structured.

Stories like this one make me even more determined to continue volunteering and spreading awareness as much as I possibly can, and contributing to the transformation of the structure of society.

Review of ’Better Together’, by Christine Rocco

Better Together has an interesting premise, was an enjoyable and relaxing read, and was well written, but I had a hard time working my way through it, as it dragged in places and felt repetitive at times.  The characters are engaging and believable.  The use of magic as a plot device was done in a great way, more like a “what if this could happen” than “it’s being forced down my throat”.  One can even imagine such a thing actually happening, if one wants to believe in magic.  (When is my Hogwarts letter arriving?)

This is going to read as a familiar refrain of my reviews: The hardest part for me was to accept that parents would do the things that the parents in this book did to their daughters, and at times it made it very difficult to keep reading.  But this is a good thing; increasing one’s awareness and empathy in the pages of a book allows us, hopefully, to be better in real life.  And although I can’t imagine myself as a mother doing what was done by the parents in this book, I think it’s still a great reminder about the importance of honesty with the members of one’s family and reflecting on what other people in the family have to say.

I also greatly appreciated the message at the end: that families can work things out, although it might take a lot of work, and lot of time, and a lot of emotional maturity.  It gives me great hope that the family unit can be not only preserved, but nurtured and strengthened in what are some challenging times, to say the least.

Review of ’The Nature of Witches’, by Rachel Griffin

This is not the kind of book that i usually read, but the team at Raincoast books believes in it so much that they asked to send me a copy.  I decided to trust the team at Raincoast, and oh boy, let me tell you, after just a handful of pages, I’m obsessed.  And finished it in three days (which is very fast when one is a mother who works from home.)

Well done, Raincoast, well done.

There are many great things about this book, but what comes through the most to me is how Clara, the main character, has to fight herself to accept a life of service to others that requires immense sacrifices from her.  It resonates deeply with me, as I have long struggled and continue to struggle with the decisions I have and continue to make to remain on a path of service.  That anger and fear, that frustration and despair, that self-pity, all the feels Clara went through?  Been there, done that.  And I don’t have any of the power Clara does!

Review of ’The Other Mother’, by Matthew Dicks

Matthew Dicks’ The Other Mother is a poignant reminder of how things could be so confusing at the age of 14, even if one’s father wasn’t dead or one’s mother wasn’t constantly working to make ends meet.  It’s a refresher course, almost, in how to listen and be present for the 14-year-old in your life, if you have one.  I think it’ll help anyone dealing with a kid, or anyone still processing unhealed moments from their own teenage years.

For me, this confusion from my preteen and teen years bled, somewhat, into my adulthood.  And because adults are not allowed to admit these things, The Other Mother was a great reminder that I, too, at the ripe older age of adulthood, was still just as confused about some things as when I was 14 years-old.  And while this is an easy opening to make fun of how I am not mature (I mean, good point…) I think it’s a great reminder that even adults don’t have it all together…  And that perhaps we should stop pretending that we do.

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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