The Vanishing Half

Author: Brit Bennett

Published: June 2, 2020 

Publisher: Riverhead Books

Where I picked up my book: Purchased from my local Indie (Old Firehouse Books)

Key Words: family relations, race issues, identity, LGBTQ+

My Rating: 5 stars (I’d give it more if I could)

ECB1EDAE-3286-4DF9-9D6D-882962E71C4A

My Thoughts:

I literally could not love this book more if I tried. I opened it up, thought about it every second I was not reading it and still, weeks later, I’m thinking about it on a daily basis. It was one of those books for me for sure.

Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. Bennett is a genius at weaving together a multi-generational narrative with different locations, POV, time periods and thoughts in a flawless way. When I say flawless, I truly mean flawless.
  2. Although this took Bennett years to write and it was written before the death of George Floyd (but certainly not before the death of many, many Black people at the hands of white people and police) this book seems absolutely current to what is happening at this moment in history.
  3. The cultural nuances in terms of race, age, colorism, motherhood, the Black community, matriarchal families, and gender identity was something that I can’t even imagine writing all in one book, but Bennett did it spectacularly.
  4. This is a book that looks at systemic and internalized racism, brings it to the forefront and allows the reader to sit in it for a minute. In sitting, I learned so much.
  5. The character development was out of this world-I know these characters now as humans.
  6. There is queer representation!!!
  7.  I will, for sure, read this book again and I’m typically not a double dipper with my books…or french fries for that matter 😉

P.S. Brit Bennett also wrote The Mothers and although I didn’t love that as much as The Vanishing Half, it’s definitely a fantastic book and one you should also pick up 🙂

There you have it folks! Find me over on Instagram and let’s chat books! I also create greeting cards and other paper goods (with a lot of bookish themes too) over at PAGEFIFTYFIVE. You can find me there too! And lastly, I own a shop called Makerfolk where we sell items from handmade makers around our city, our state and throughout the US. That’s me in a nutshell 🙂

Bookishfolk…read instead.

A Good Neighborhood

Author: Therese Anne Fowler

Published: February 4, 2019

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Where I picked up my book: Free from publisher. THANK YOU!

Key Words: class and race issues, community dynamics, family dynamics

My Rating: 2.5

97A2B5F7-92DF-4030-8C87-042872DBB1CA.JPG

My Thoughts: 

I’m having a tough time reviewing this book and here’s why. This might be a bit long-but bear with me. I enjoyed the story. I always, always, always love delving into the thick of family dynamics and into the brains of different members of said family. I love a book that deals with race and culture where it doesn’t just bring up the topic, but it asks its readers to dig deep and really put yourself into these characters heads (for good or bad). I LOVE a book that isn’t afraid to ask tough questions of me as a reader. A Good Neighborhood did all of that. Yes, it seemed like there was a lot going on it the book, probably too much for my taste (environmental concerns, interracial dating, race relations, class relations, sexual abuse, influences of power, extreme religion, mental health concerns, and even more). It was a lot to pack into one book and I think it would have been beneficial to discuss less topics more thoroughly, but I still wasn’t turned off by that alone.

Here’s where I should stop myself though and give you a little background about what this book is about. A Good Neighborhood (this title should have been in quotes I think) is about 2 neighboring families. One family consists of a son who is biracial and his mother, who is black. They live in an older home with neighborhood friends, host a monthly book clubs, they don’t own a television, they listen to a lot of music, old trees are well-loved on their property and beautiful gardens are the heartbeat of the family. Their home ALSO now back up to a newly established neighborhood. The other family that moves right behind the Alston-Holts’ family are a white, rich, entitled family who has just had a mansion, for all intents and purposes,  built in the new development. The father owns an AC company and walks around like an entitled white man of privilege (in my humble opinion). Their house has disturbed the existing trees, they put in a fence, an in-ground pool and drive their fancy cars in and out of the neighborhood. They purposefully take up space. They are the epitome of entitlement and we see that from square one. I despised this family from the very beginning. There is a lot that goes on, and doesn’t go on, between these families that I don’t want to spoil, but you can probably see where some issues between them might arise.

So now I will come to the part of the book that made me feel a bit off. This author is white, and although she confronts this fact in the acknowledgements at the beginning of the book, I felt like there was something innately off. I don’t like to read a book where a white author put themselves into the shoes of a Black person and speaks for them. We all remember the feedback that happened with The Help and is currently happening with American Dirt? Fowler mentioned that she approached this project with respect, for accurate representations and was mindful of the ways white people have gotten things wrong. I appreciate that. She went on to say that she saw Zadie Smith give a talk and “in essence, Smith said an author can and should write whatever she wants to as long as they do their homework.” Hmmm…this alone had me questioning the authenticity of that statement and also had me thinking, well…just because one Black person says this that doesn’t mean you have permission or better yet, doesn’t mean some people won’t question it. So, this is me questioning it. It felt off to me and even weeks later, I’m having trouble putting into words what exactly felt off. Here are some thoughts: I don’t think white people should put words into Black people’s mouths (hasn’t that happened for long enough already? It’s time for white people to be quiet and let people of color speak for themselves. In both the world as a whole, and in fiction. Second, when you say you’ve done your homework, what homework have you done? I would genuinely love to know and that might make me change my mind about all of this. But just mentioning one Black person as if that gives permission doesn’t seem to validate much for me. Third, when only white people are praising your book but you’ve said you’ve done your homework, this leaves me wondering where the Black people are that helped you do your homework. How are they seeing your story play out from their seat at the table. AND that ending just put me over the edge. Again, I don’t want to ruin this book for you, but I will say-Black people shouldn’t be left (in real life or in fiction) to prove points to white people. People of color shouldn’t be used to teach white people lessons and that’s what this book felt like to me.

So there you have it. I wasn’t expecting to write such an intense review or to have such extreme opinions about this book. Overall, I enjoyed the plot. It kept me interested and I spent many night flipping through the pages to see what was going to happen next. I LOVED the environmental/ecology aspect of the book and by far, Valerie Alston-Holt was my favorite character and I still think about her regularly. To be honest, I’ve thought about this book a lot in the past few months. BUT, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth and unfortunately, this book just didn’t work for me as a whole. I’m just not sure if it was a white woman’s story to tell. In my opinion, white people have spoken for Black people too much already and have used people of color to prove points one too many times. I think if this story was written by a Black author, it would have been a very different, and much stronger, story. The idea is great-it just felt off in it’s execution.

Thanks for sticking with me on that one! As always, come find me on Instagram and let’s chat books! If you’ve read this one, come talk to me about it! I’m 100% open to talk about my review and what I might have gotten right, and what I might have gotten wrong too. I love a good bookish chat 🙂

Bookishfolk…read instead.

 

 

 

Heads of the Colored People

Author: Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Published: April 10, 2018

Publisher:  37 Ink

Where I picked up my book: Audiobook from the library

Key Words: Short Stories, Diverse Reads, Black Stories, Debut Novel

My Rating: 4

A7853DF9-25D0-442B-8427-C0817A65ABC1

Synopsis (via Goodreads):

Longlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction and Kirkus Prize Finalist

Calling to mind the best works of Paul Beatty and Junot Díaz, this collection of moving, timely, and darkly funny stories examines the concept of black identity in this so-called post-racial era.

A stunning new talent in literary fiction, Nafissa Thompson-Spires grapples with black identity and the contemporary middle class in these compelling, boundary-pushing vignettes.

Each captivating story plunges headfirst into the lives of new, utterly original characters. Some are darkly humorous—from two mothers exchanging snide remarks through notes in their kids’ backpacks, to the young girl contemplating how best to notify her Facebook friends of her impending suicide—while others are devastatingly poignant—a new mother and funeral singer who is driven to madness with grief for the young black boys who have fallen victim to gun violence, or the teen who struggles between her upper middle class upbringing and her desire to fully connect with black culture.

Thompson-Spires fearlessly shines a light on the simmering tensions and precariousness of black citizenship. Her stories are exquisitely rendered, satirical, and captivating in turn, engaging in the ongoing conversations about race and identity politics, as well as the vulnerability of the black body. Boldly resisting categorization and easy answers, Nafissa Thompson-Spires is an original and necessary voice in contemporary fiction.

My Thoughts:

Let me start off by saying, generally speaking, I am not a huge fan of short stories. There is something about diving into a story, being immersed in that world and staying there for a few days that I love. BUT...Heads of the Colored People may have changed my thinking! It was exactly what I never thought a short story collection could be.

First, each story truly has a life and feel of it’s own. As I said before, I don’t necessary like jumping around and having my soul flipped with each story and this seems like the opposite of what I like, but these stories almost warrant a need to flip. Some made me cry hard, some made me laugh, some made me tear up, some made me angry, but all were really powerful and shook me to my core.

Second, a few of these stories are connected by characters and by doing this, we get to see different sides of the story from different perspectives-which I LOVED. Maybe this helped me feel like I was on a journey while reading the book in it’s entirety, but either way-it was brilliant and I was happy to see some of the characters again when I thought I had to let them go in previous stories.

Third, the character development was out of this world. The personalities of most of these characters were so real, it was almost unreal and all I wanted to do was sit down and have a cup of coffee with them. Thompson-Spires wrote fantastic characters that made me feel all the feels.

Fourth, I learned more about what it is like to be Black and middle class. Yes, there are some commonalities in growing up with any skin color and middle class (I felt a connection having grown up in a relatively middle class home), but the ingrained insecurities and biases associated with being Black and middle class really come out in these stories. What does it feel like to be Black, middle class and female when there is a slight hostility against you simply for existing at this intersection? This question felt at the forefront of a lot of the stories and it was magnificent.

I’ve thought about this collection for weeks now and have attempted to write a raving review multiple times-but alas, I am failing at putting into words just how brilliant this collection is. Heads of the Colored People talks about Blackness, racial identity, middle class, our current digital age, personhood, privilege, politics, depression, parenting and so much more. It’s sure to make you more self-aware, see the world around you for what it is and what it isn’t, and see the quirks and intricacies of ourselves that we often dismiss or never even see. This is a fantastic collection that I would highly recommend!

bookishfolk…read instead.

Severance

Author: Ling Ma

Published: August 14, 2018

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Where I picked up my book: Library

Key Words: Post Apocalyptic, Science Fiction, Dystopia

My Rating: 4.5 stars

img_3442

Synopsis (via Goodreads): 

An offbeat office novel turns apocalyptic satire as a young woman transforms from orphan to worker bee to survivor.

Candace Chen, a millennial drone self-sequestered in a Manhattan office tower, is devoted to routine. With the recent passing of her Chinese immigrant parents, she’s had her fill of uncertainty. She’s content just to carry on: She goes to work, troubleshoots the teen-targeted Gemstone Bible, watches movies in a Greenpoint basement with her boyfriend.

So Candace barely notices when a plague of biblical proportions sweeps New York. Then Shen Fever spreads. Families flee. Companies halt operations. The subways squeak to a halt. Her bosses enlist her as part of a dwindling skeleton crew with a big end-date payoff. Soon entirely alone, still unfevered, she photographs the eerie, abandoned city as the anonymous blogger NY Ghost.

Candace won’t be able to make it on her own forever, though. Enter a group of survivors, led by the power-hungry IT tech Bob. They’re traveling to a place called the Facility, where, Bob promises, they will have everything they need to start society anew. But Candace is carrying a secret she knows Bob will exploit. Should she escape from her rescuers?

A send-up and takedown of the rituals, routines, and missed opportunities of contemporary life, Ling Ma’s Severance is a moving family story, a quirky coming-of-adulthood tale, and a hilarious, deadpan satire. Most important, it’s a heartfelt tribute to the connections that drive us to do more than survive.

My Thoughts:

I LOVED this book! Well written, apocalyptic/post apocalyptic books are right up my alley and this one made the top of the list for me! The entire time I was reading Severance, I was in these characters shoes. Would I be one of the people to survive this fever and then what? (side note: I’d probably NOT be one of the ones to survive the fever in the first place, but I like to think about the scenario that way). As I devoured the book, I was mentally collecting supplies, thinking about what necessary items from my home I would grab and what friends would be of upmost importance to my survival. I was (mentally) wandering around my neighborhood thinking about where I would go and where I would go to get water and food. I was planning my route out of town to the nearest city where I might be able to find a thriving community.  I found myself getting excited to survive this apocalypse (wait, is ‘excited’ the right word? Probably not, but you get what I’m saying). I was completely enthralled with surviving this fevered world as I read through Ma’s book.

Let this fantastic plot suck you in, but also be on the look out for Ma’s exploration of  immigration and the immigration system in America, human behavior, the millennial way of living life, capitalism, religion, corporate life, the exploitation of foreign labor and assimilation because those topics are here, loud and definitely worth exploring through this great piece of fiction.

I hope you pick up Severance and enjoy it as much as I did! Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment here or over on Instagram (@bookishfolk).

bookishfolk…read instead.