Review of ‘The Startup Wife’, by Tahmima Anam—Must Read
The startup at the heart of Tahmina Anam’s book tickled my interest from the get-go, and was the main reason why I picked it up. As a religious person, I was intrigued by the concept of a social media platform that would bring together people from all over the world receiving personalised ceremonies for milestone events, such as marriage and death, which have a religious bouquet without being religious. And then, wonder of wonders, the person at the heart of this social media platform becomes a prophet of sorts, which poses the conundrum: if you are against organised religion, should you be turning to someone who is basically becoming the self-appointed prophet at the center of a modern-day, app-based “religion”?
But turns out that the main topic at the heart of this book is the racism, sexism, and misogyny so intertwined with our collective patterns of thought and behaviour, that they subconsciously infect everything.
While the idea that we are all equal is increasingly gaining traction, I think we haven’t quite tackled the tedious and difficult work of removing from our beliefs all the ones that assume the superiority of one gender over the other, and of one race over the other. These two forms of inequality are clearly weaved into so much of the plot in such a natural way that I wonder if I would have been able to put a finger on why the book made me uncomfortable unless the characters themselves called them out.
Because oh boy, did this book make me uncomfortable. And that’s because I saw myself in it. I saw myself in the way Asha’s concerns about Marco were dismissed. I saw myself in the way I was expected and encouraged to make myself smaller so that someone of the “right” gender or ethnicity could be made bigger. I saw myself in the way my ideas were dismissed but then labelled as “amazing” when coming from a man. The microaggressions Asha faced drove me insane, and I am still annoyed that she was robbed of the respect she should have gotten for coding to life a brilliant, complex, revolutionary idea.
This was all the more difficult to read that I am very much aware of the war on women currently being waged in many (if not most) parts of the world. It’s easy to point the finger at people and societies that are obviously sexist and misogynist. But however enlightened we might think we are, however much we believe in the equality of men and women, if we do not, on a daily basis, in every single one of our relationships, root out the inherited and often subconscious sexism and misogyny, we are never going to achieve equality.
Review of ‘We Are Not Like Them’, by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza—Must Read
We Are Not Like Them follows the story of a Black female journalist covering the shooting of a Black teenage boy by a white cop—who is married to said journalist’s white best friend. The way this tragedy affects each one of the character’s is really well explored in chapters written in chronological order, but alternating POVs between the two women. The anger of the journalist is palpable, while the unexplored inherited racism in the cop’s wife will make more than one reader quite uncomfortable—in a good and necessary way.
The way that this tragedy also affected the relationship between the journalist and the cop’s wife was a fantastic exploration of what allyship should look like, and how ignoring the color of our friends’ skin isn’t as much as a good thing as we are lead to believe. I particularly appreciated how the conversations between the two friends shifted immediately after the shooting, how the conversation about race finally was had between the two women, and how the ending was left blurry and vague, albeit hopeful. The rockiness of the road ahead of the women was emphasised but not in a discouraging way. I can see how it will encourage more than one reader to seriously consider how to change their own approach to antiracism work.
Pride and Piazza are great writers and do a fantastic job delving into important, complex concepts in a way that doesn’t weigh the story down or come off as patronizing. They injected a raw honesty into the voices of each character that makes this book all the more poignant. I feel like it gives readers the opportunity to see how each side of the story can look like. Uncomfortable conversations were had and the book ends with a resolution that looks very real: an idea that the path forward is one of constant, difficult conversations that will require unlearning and commitment.
Review of ‘Unbound’, by Tarana Burke—Recommended
I have to often remind myself that great things happen after a lot of work, most of which is often invisible. Nothing happens overnight; it’s just that they reached a tipping point overnight. Understanding where great things come from inspires people like myself, who are toiling away at the level of the community, trying to effect change, to continue doing so even if they aren’t getting much, if any recognition.
Unbound is such a hard read. I almost didn’t make it through the first third because of the rage I felt at the horrible things that people do to kids. But I kept going because somehow, through it all, Burke manages to remain uplifting and inspiring, by balancing honesty and rawness on one side with hope and empowerment on the other. I did cry during parts of this book and I may or may not have hugged it a few times. The most important takeaways are: 1. There are horrible unacceptable things happening to children and we have to do more to stop it, and 2. Everyone is needed to contribute their best, whatever it might look like, because yes, it does make a difference.
And who knows? Maybe another global movement, like Burke’s #metoo movement, will be born out of your contributions.
Review of ‘Be Dazzled’, by Ryan La Sala
Ryan La Sala has basically delivered a beautifully bejewelled book celebrating love in Comic Con, and I am all here for it. Be Dazzled is a fun read both because of the story of the relationship at its heart but also because of how it immerses readers into the world of cosplayers. I also want to give this book to some older readers to basically introduce them to how Gen Zers can use the power of easily accessible internet content to create online personas, side hustles, and incredible opportunities before only available to only a very select few.
Be Dazzled also struck a chord with me as I have been thinking a lot these days about the difference between a toxic relationship and a relationship in which people can make honest mistakes, sometimes repeatedly, and learn. I feel like the question of the toxicity or not of the relationships in this book would be a great theme to explore in a book club. Preferably holding it’s last meeting a Comic Con, just saying.
Review of ‘The Girl in the Headlines’, by Hannah Jayne
Listen…. As a mother, I forget things alllll the time. But I really hope that I wouldn’t forget a murder that I either committed or witnessed, which is what happens to the main character in this book.
In typical first POV thriller fashion, we are immersed in Andrea’s head as she wakes up the morning after her 18th birthday to find herself in an unknown hotel room with blood on herself and her clothes. She finds out that she is in the headlines for a possible involvement in a terrible attack against her parents and the disappearance of her little brother.
A lot comes to light slowly throughout the book, a little like the shiny pennies we find while walking down the sidewalk. A suspension of belief is needed and an acceptance of how terrible are some of the decisions Andrea takes—I mean to be fair, I never found myself in similar circumstances, so I wouldn’t know how I would act. I liked Andrea was portrayed as both empowered and overwhelmed; I feel like most humans would be pretty much in that same space. Andrea wasn’t quite the damsel in distress needing outside help; she was a damsel feeling a lot of distress.
There were holes in the plots and parts that seemed a little too far-fetched but again, I have never been in that situation, and it is possible to imagine such turns of event. And let’s be real; this book isn’t about being accurate, it’s about the twists and turns that lead the main character (and us!) to a resolution, and in that regard, The Girl In The Headlines does deliver.
Review of ‘If the Shoe Fits’, by Julie Murphy
If The Shoe Fits is all about the ride, as the ending is very clear from the very beginning of the book. The main think that I love in this retelling of Cinderella is how the stepmother and the stepsisters are loving, albeit imperfect. They embraced the main character with so much love that it made me a little teary-eyed at one point in the book. What can I say, I guess I’m very tired of the evil stepmother trope and totally ready for more books portraying healthy family dynamics—and by healthy, I mean honest, open communication and people trying hard to go better every day.
Other than the warmth of a couple falling in love, the book offers an interesting backstage pass into reality dating shows. Fair warning: I have never watched a dating reality show, so my knowledge is based on nerdy type articles about these shows and news headlines. But the impression I always got from what I heard is that it is, well, a competition, with backstabbing and dirt tricks galore. I liked that the women, although they are competing against each other, are for the most part quite lovely with one another. Now does that make me interested in watching a reality dating show? Not at all; I remain steadfast in my assertion that I feel these are a terrible influence into an already decaying conception of what a real, healthy relationship should be like.
Another great offering by Murphy is how diverse the characters are. The main character is of above-average size, while the supporting characters include Black, gay, bisexual, and non-binary individuals. It’s a wonderful escape, a relaxing read that is quite needed in these turbulent times.
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!