Review of ‘Maame’, by Jessica George—Must Read
What an incredible read. It was moving on so many levels, but ultimately uplifting. At the age of 25, Maddie is the primary caregiver for her father, who has advanced Parkinson’s. Her mother spends long periods of time in her native Ghana—and by long, I mean one year at a time. So life at home is a serious, sad affair. Things are unfortunately not better at work, where Maddie has to deal with a boss who has raging anxiety and depression, on top of always being the only Black person in the room. When her mom comes home from Ghana, she suggests that Maddie move out, so that she can spread her wings and hopefully find someone to marry. But moving out becomes an incredible opportunity for Maddie to explore all aspects of her life and make some drastic (yet realistic and relatable) changes. The journey is heavy at times to follow, as the author manages to make all of Maame’s emotions come through so clearly; but it is ultimately a fantastic opportunity to learn more about our own selves and to gain insight into what our friends in similar situation—being the main caregiver to an ailing parent and being the only Black person in the room, amongst others—might be going through.
Review of ‘Finally Seen’, by Kelly Yang—Must Read
I’ve been hearing about the experiences of some newly arrived Chinese junior youth in Canada and it’s been quite heartbreaking. I really thought the 1990s style of immature teasing of others because they sound different was over, what with TikTok and K-Pop and exposure to so many things from around the world.
But alas, there is still a lot of work to be done. And of course, one of the prescribed treatments that I always recommend are good books, and Finally Seen is definitely a book I can see making a profound change in readers who are open to it.
Ten year-old Lina Gao moves from Beijing to Los Angeles, from her grandmother’s home to that of her parents and little precocious and very Americanised five year-old sister. She has to go though the normal difficulties of moving countries with very different cultures, as well as those related to going to a new school—with the added layer of racism, otherism, and classism. Added to all of this mess is the hurt that Lina feels at having been left behind while her parents took the baby to American with them, and the betrayal of seeing that the American life her Mom wrote to her and her grandmother about was a lie. They are not doing well and the pandemic has only made it worse.
Kelly Yang manages to pull together a heart-breaking and harrowing but ultimately uplifting story of newly arrived Lina Gao in a way that shows quite clearly what life can be like for immigrants and why, in this beautiful and very important read for olders kids but also for teenagers and adults. Immigration is never easy and gaining an understanding of the hardships and injustices immigrants go through can give citizens the power needed to make a positive change.
Review of ‘Hello Stranger’, by Katherine Center
I have to admit that I didn’t even know that a condition known as face blindness existed. While my nerdy Google Dive was wonderfully satisfying, the door to empathy really opened while following the story of Sadie Montgomery, who, after being hit by a car, is diagnosed with this condition, which is “probably” temporary… which means it also is, potentially, permanent.
Just to make matters worse… Sadie paints… Portraits. One of the few things that requires an in-depth understanding of what faces look like.
It was fascinating to find out about prosopagnosia. I don’t have it (because yes, of course I did the online test, although I can definitely see faces – and yes, I did glance up as I was typing that to make sure I could still see my child and my husband’s faces, stop laughing!), but I definitely felt the anxiety and confusion of not being able to see a face, a testament to Katherine Center’s ability to craft a story, dig into a character, and make you love them as if they were your IRL friends.
Fiction as a way to build empathy and understanding and Katherine Center does this really well. I think the way the story about Sadie’s struggle with her temporary (or not…) prosopagnosia was set within a very sweet love story helps readers truly empathise with her. The author also tugged at our heartstrings, making us more empathic from the get-go, by making Sadie mother-less and making her father unable to cope well enough with her passing to be a present figure in his daughter’s life. And she makes us protective of Sadie by throwing in a very toxic stepsister and an enabling but surprisingly sweet, by the end, mother-in-law.
One topic I particularly appreciated was that of perception. There is obviously the concept of what our eyes and brains perceive and its effect on the way that we move through the world. There is also the struggle to balance out our perception of a situation with the truth of the situation—and what truth really is.
Review of ‘Tell Me What Really Happened’, by Chelsea Sedoti
I find the concept of perception really interesting, from Mulder and Scully’s constant back and forth about the way that they look at the same evidence and analyse it, to the exploration of the concept of perception in all five seasons of Fringe. And perception, I would say, is the core concept being explored in this book. When five teenagers go on a camping trip, but only four of them are found in the early hours of the morning, police have to run interviews of the four remaining teenagers as soon as possible to try to figure out what happened to Maylee Hayes in time to save her.
The book is a compilation, in a way, of all the police interviews that the remaining four teenagers did. All four stories stand on their own, but not when compared to one another. It makes for quite the puzzle, and while I think that some people are going to be disappointed in the anti-climatic denouement, it makes the entire story much more tragic and makes for a thought provoking read. Each character tends to break the stereotypes that their own interviews placed them in. And are they all lying, is one of them lying, or perhaps could they all have seen the same thing but just interpreted it differently?
The way the book was written also gave the fascinating opportunity to see the same events from different POVs; its always interesting to me to see how perception of an event can alter one’s experience of it. Another fascinating opportunity was seeing parallel events described at the same time but very differently from one character to the next. Tell Me What Really Happened could be a very interesting read to explore as a group of friends or a family to widen understanding of how misunderstandings can happen because of perception, heightened emotions, and lack of communication/miscommunication.
Review of ‘My Selma’, by Willie Mae Brown
What was it like to be a child in Selma in the 1960, around the time Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led some 2,000 marchers across the Edmund Pettus bridge to Montgomery to protest the infringement of their voting rights? Author Willie Mae Brown shares her view of those historic years through the eyes of the preteen she was.
Of course we know that children were caught in the middle of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and we know that they played an important role (and sometimes, heartbreaking ones). But there is something quite heart wrenching reading about that time from a girl who lived through it, sharing what she saw, felt, and experienced, without much explanation other than what she had available to her.
There is something utterly captivating and heartbreaking hearing these stories about Selma in the voice of an innocent child. The contrast between the regular life of a child worrying about school and bullies and the terrible worries cast on her as a Black child, worrying constantly about the safety of loved ones and the violation of their humanity, was hard at times to bear, but so important to read and bear witness to. In a day and age when people still don’t understand why we remind them that Black Lives Matter, it seems important to remember that there are innocent children who are deeply affected and traumatised by the sometimes casual and always violent racism they have to move through daily.
Review of ‘A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder’, by Holly Jackson
I finally got my hands on this book, and let me tell you, I now understand the complete Bookstagram obsession when it first came out, a few years ago!
Five years after Andie Bell, a high school senior, was found dead and Sal Singh, another high school senior and Andie’s boyfriend, killed himself allegedly out of guilt for murdering her, Pippa Fitz-Amobi decides to look into the truth of what happened as her senior project. As a murder mystery, it is delicious and will keep you up at night; it cannot be put down, as the various twists and turns, some completely unexpected, will keep you going.
What I appreciated the most though is the point made, perhaps indirectly and unintentionally, that things are not always what they seem, and that racism can muddy the water even more. Perhaps because I’m going through the podcast Serial again, perhaps because I’m reading Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria again, but this hits home when thinking about the problems of racism and the justice system. I know, I know, this is just a book, and an improbable one at that, but at the same time, there are a lot of cases where innocents are convicted or the wrong theory is elevated above others.
And I do think that the solution lies in creating a slower culture in which we have to research and deeply reflect about the truth, in all spaces and situations, as well as undo the prejudices that we have been programmed with. All in all, a fantastic read and a potentially thought-provoking one, if you want it to be.