Review of ‘Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun’, by Tola Okogwu—Must Read
This book is **everything**. There is so much packed into a seemingly simple coming-of-age superhero story that I can’t even begin to explain what a powerful read it can be. And I am beyond thrilled that it is only the first book in a series! From what I understand, there are another two at least in the writing, but there might be even more.
Onyeka and her mother moved to England when Onyeka was a very young girl. She doesn’t remember anything about her father and her native Nigeria, working her way through microaggression after microaggression, with her hair making her the brunt of racist jokes. But Onyeka discovers that her hair does odd things—a discovery that kickstarts a journey back to Nigeria.
Soon, she finds out the truth that her mother had been hiding for all these years: In Nigeria is a secret school where a group of kids and teens learn how to control and use their Ike, a life force which give them superpowers. Onyeka’s power is in her crown of hair, which acts as an infinite number of powerful extra limbs. Let that sink in for a little: This is a story about a black African girl who learns that accepting her hair and understanding its beauty helps her unleash its power.
Onyeka’s journey is one of self discovery in more ways than just the one around her hair. She learns more about her mother and the sacrifices she made to protect her daughter. She learns about the mysterious man that is her father. She learns about her Nigerian heritage. And, as Onyeka learns to accept and work with her hair rather than fight it, she grows into the fullness of her British-Nigerian identity.
This book is an empowering lesson gorgeously thread into an action-packed superhero story and a must read for children starting at 8 all the way to child-like adults like myself.
Review of ‘In Our Blood’, by Caitlin Billings
Caitlin Billings does a great job sharing the realities of a woman, wife, and mother going through the difficulties of life with a mental health challenge to boot. She is brutally honest which makes this book much-needed; I sincerely feel that it will help readers become better friends to those going through similar life journeys as Billings.
Having access to the author’s inner thoughts and delving into her turmoil was greatly insightful; I found myself heartbroken many a times during this read, and yet I leave it with a feeling of joyful empowerment. I was also humbled by her vulnerability, wondering at the courage it must have taken to write this book, let alone publish it. There were so many layers to this memoir that came off as an ongoing, insightful conversation (greatly fast-forwarded and distilled, of course) with a friend.
Please note that this book might be triggering to readers who have had similar mental health experiences and/or have had family members or friends go through something similar.
Review of ‘The Nanny Diaries’, by Emma McLaughling and Nicola Kraus
I have a lot of books on my TBR list and many of them have been there for a very long time, courtesy of a lovely second-hand bookstore that sells books at a dollar each and has regular half-off sales. I lived not too far from that store for a few years and would go on long walks regularly to a local coffee shop to work, and the bookstore was on the way to the coffee shop, and it would have been rude not to stop by and say hi to the books…
This is one of the books I found there. I got hooked a few pages in by the depiction of the absurdity that can be nannying for the ultrarich. The authors’ wonderfully dry sense of humor and the promise of tense moments kept me going. The book is set in 2002, and it was amusing, to say the least, to plunge back into all things 2002, especially tech and the internet. I mean, we didn’t even have Facebook at the point!
However, even if the book is incredibly amusing, the main emotion it triggered was rage. The story is about a nanny working for an ultra rich family. And I can’t get over the sense of entitlement and the pure waste of space, money, and life that is portrayed in these pages. It’s downright obscene, especially in light of the contrast between the millions of dollars that CEOs are getting as bonuses and the stagnating salaries of their workers, illustrated by the contrast between the apartment of the ultra rich mom and the small closet of the regular class nanny. I remain angry for all those of us struggling to make ends meet and workers being underpaid and overworked while corporate profit margins skyrocket. And don’t get me started on recent increases in the price of rent and essentials with a parallel stagnation in wages. Nothing but the elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty will be enough to create a world in which every human being is thriving.
And I haven’t even touched on how the little four-year-old son is being so profoundly wounded in the process, with parents so obsessed with their wealth and their own selves that they not only don’t have enough time for him, but treat him like a commodity. **takes deep breath**
A great book that had me ObSeSsEd with the train wreck that is the rich family at the center of the story and very aware of how the dynamics of greed, self-centeredness, and extreme materialism can turn a potentially beautiful family into a cesspool of rottenness.
Review of ‘Come Out Come Out Whatever You Are’, by Kathryn Foxfield
From the very first pages, this book is quite creepy, as the contestants of reality show It’s Behind You! get ready to enter the Umber Gorge caves where they are going to spend the night with the ghost of the Puckered Maiden. The best part of the plot is that we are never quite sure what is behind a scary situation. It is the ghost of the Puckered Maiden? Is it the reality show’s production crew using tactics to make the show ever scarier? Is it a part of the now defunct and decrepit rides and attractions that were going to be part of the Umber Gorge cave experience that are acting up? Or is because of the tension between a certain set of characters? Foxfield keeps us guessing until the end.
I really appreciated the reminders of how fake reality television is, and found myself taking breaks from reading to ponder the horrific effects of reality TV on society, but that’s another conversation altogether. I also appreciate the many other important issues and concepts that were touched upon in this book, including the nature of relationships and the effects of obsession and lies.
Review of ‘The Do-Over’, by Lynn Painter
I don’t quite hold Valentine’s Day as being special, quite honestly. It’s cute and amusing, but the capitalistic take on having to celebrate your love for someone on that day with a certain set of action (flowers, chocolates, restaurant, etc.) has always rubbed me wrong. But I know that this day is quite important for a lot of people, including Emilie, who has the worse Valentine’s Day ever. She goes to her grandmother’s house for an impromptu sleepover to get over this terrible day… Only to wake up in her own bed on the morning of 14 February yet again.
This book is a wonderful, subtle exploration of grief and the difficulties of being a child in a blended family. It also offers the opportunity to think about the reasons why we do certain things. In Emilie’s case, it’s an opportunity to think about why she puts so much pressure on herself and where she could, perhaps, consider letting it go. By the end of this experience, when time finally resets, Emilie learns that while her old self seemed to be doing better, her new authentic self is set to live a much healthier and more fulfilled life.
I deeply appreciated the contrast between the old Emilie following rules rigidly and the new one understanding that sometimes, rules are outdated and we need to push back against them. As a mother, I find myself reveling in the pushback I get to some of our house rules, which makes me seriously look into the reasoning behind the rule. This exercise helps the family either by underlining just how essential the rules are, understanding how some rules are just a matter of preference that need to be respected out of love or logic, or understanding that some rules are just relics of the past.
On a societal level, as humanity acquires, collectively, new capacities, we need to do the same work that Emilie did on this repetitious (and hilarious!) day. Out with the useless, in with the useful, and let us live a much healthier and more fulfilled life, all together.
Review of ‘The House of Rust’, by Khadija Abdalla Bajaber
This is definitely not the kind of book that I usually read. I did have some difficulty following parts of the story, but I loved every instant of it. Perhaps it’s because it’s very similar to stories that my culture and my religion are both steeped in. On the one hand, Persians tend to tell very flowery, descriptive, mysterious, and evocative stories meant to make listeners ponder. On the other hand, the religious texts of the Bahá’í Faith are partly made up of incredibly gorgeously written Scripture that are similarly flowery and descriptive, mystical and magical, and deeply evocative. So it’s no wonder that, although I am certain there is a lot that I missed, I loved The House of Rust.
At its heart, this is a coming of age story. When her father disappears, Aisha is the one who steps up and, despite the odds and the fear, even amongst seasoned sailors, of the deep sea where he disappeared, saves him. Set in Mombasa and steeped in elements of Hadrami culture, the descriptions alone are incredibly gorgeous, let alone some of the exchanges between the characters in the book. Of particular note is the annoying witty cat Hamza that gives Aisha the push needed to set off on her quest to find her father. This is a book I will return to both as a reader and an aspiring author.
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!