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

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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.

 

 

 

The Grace Year

Author: Kim Liggett

Published: October 8, 2019

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Where I picked up my book: Pre-order from Indie

Key Words: Young Adult, Dystopian, Feminist

My Rating: 4 stars

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My Thoughts: 

If a young adult mix between The Handmaid’s Tale, The Power, Hunger Games, Wilder Girls with a touch of Swiss Family Robinson vibes sounds good to you, then this book has your name written all over it! I LOVED it and was completely immersed in the world that Liggett created for us. Recently, I have found myself soaking in as many dystopian thrillers as I can get my hands on (and I don’t even understand why because it feels like we are actually LIVING a dystopian thriller right now with the state of the government…but I digress). So when I saw this one popping up on my Bookstagram account, I thought yep, and immediately ordered it. I’m so glad I did. I usually delve more into the book a bit when I write a review, but sometimes things like plot, characters, action, etc. are better left unsaid. I think that is the case for this book. The only thing I will say is it’s feminist, witchy, full of friendship, relationships and adventure, apocalyptic, has a survivalist aspect, deceitful, freedom fighting and so much more. I was completely hooked from square one (let’s be honest, I was completely hooked from the cover alone) and it did not disappoint! The writing is smart and fast-paced (it’s one of those books I found myself frantically flipping through into the night) and the characters are so clearly written it feels like I know them days after finishing the book. I’m going through a lot of changes with work and life and this was a perfect book to snuggle up with after a long day and escape into. I’d highly recommend it!

As always, come find me on Instagram and let’s talk books!

bookishfolk…read instead.

The Rift

Author: Rachael Craw

Published: October 8, 2019

Publisher: Candewick Press

Where I picked up my book: From the publisher (THANK YOU!)

Key Words: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy, Fantasy

My Rating: 3.5 stars

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My Thoughts: 

I should preface this review by saying that I’ve never read urban fantasy before. I know…how in the world have I gotten to be my age and never read urban fantasy before?! Well…I have no idea but I’m glad this was my introduction to the genre. I was completely swept up into the world and spit out when I read the last sentence.

First, the atmosphere of this island was so well written, I felt like I was on the island myself (and I didn’t steer away when my thoughts drifted to wanting to actually live on Black Water Island myself from time to time throughout the reading). Minus the rabid dogs, lack of technology, and slight creepiness that is 😉 What I really liked was that this is an island where people come together for one cause, and that wasn’t lost on me. But don’t be fooled by that description, it’s also an unsettling island full of intrigue and THAT is what made me take a deep dive into this book.

Second, the relationship between the two main  characters, Meg and Cal, reminded me of those young adult feelings that most of us have experienced. I rooted for them, felt nervous for them and wanted to cheer them along from my seat on the couch. Craw wrote these two characters so well (really all of the characters so well), I felt like I knew them by the end of the book. And bonues, the ‘childhood friends getting together later in life’ troupe is always a favorite of mine and here it was!

Third, corporate greed and interests were an underlying theme in The Rift and I’m ALWAYS here for talking about that more, seeing how it impacts all of us little ones, and how it will affect us in the future. Corporate greed is my nemesis (especially as a small business owner regularly affected by corporate greed) so for this reason alone-I was completely enamored by this book. More.talk.about.corporate.greed.in.novels.please.

Fourth, magical animals…need I say more?!

If you love adventure stories (especially island stories) mixed with sci-fi, fantasy and folklore along with strong characters, nature, mystery, relationships and a bit of scary-you’re going to enjoy this book! I kept thinking it contained a sort of fantasy, mysterious, Swiss Family Robinson vibes and I’m 100% in for that. The Rift has made me want to read more urban fantasy/fantasy books and I’m so thankful that this one came in my mailbox!

As always, let me know what you thought if you’ve read this one! Find me over on Instagram (@bookishfolk).

bookishfolk…read instead.

The Testaments

Author: Margaret Atwood

Published: September 10, 2019

Publisher: Doubleday

Where I picked up my book: Local Indie

Key Words: dystopian, feminist, science fiction

My Rating: 4.5 stars 

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My Thoughts:

I LOVEDDDDDDD this book! I was slightly hesitant when I heard that Atwood was coming out with a book and it promised to give us some answers to the long awaited questions that rose from The Handmaid’s Tale. Did I need answers? Would the answers hold up today? Could Atwood write this new book as well as she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale? If not, are we at risk of not liking The Handmaid’s Tale as much as we once did? Will the show on Hulu ruin this book or vice versa? Well…I’m here to tell you to just go into this The Testaments and know you’re going to love every second of it. No, I don’t think it’s on par with The Handmaid’s Tale per say. The Handmaid’s Tale was a once in a lifetime book that has gone down in history as a work of tremendous fiction that is considered to be a part of the literary canon. The Testaments isn’t necessarily on par with that, but it’s an amazing work that takes you on a final journey to Gilead where you’ll be sucked in and spit back out when you’re done. It takes a broader look at the world and I really enjoyed that view. It’s brilliant, terrifyingly relevant, answers the questions that have haunted you since you read The Handmaid’s Tale and just like the first, will leave you wanting more.

I don’t want to give away too much. I literally put my blinders on with every social media post, book blog or book review that I came across before I read the book and I’m so happy that I did that! Going in completely blind left me to just go into the world that Atwood created and enjoy it on it’s own merit and that made my experience exponentially better and more raw. I was taken away for a few days and I feel honored that we were given that gift. Thank you Margaret Atwood for creating another unforgettable piece of fiction.

bookishfolk…read instead.

The Nickel Boys

Author: Colson Whitehead

Published: July 16, 2019

Publisher: Doubleday

Where I picked up my book: Purchased from an Indie

Key Words: Reform school, Historical Fiction, The Black Experience in Jim Crow/Civil Right Era

My Rating: 5 stars

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My Thoughts:

I LOVED this book and because of the content, that feels hard to say…but I did. This is based on a real reform school in Marianna, Florida that was operated for 111 years and “warped the lives of thousands of children.” Here is more detail if you’re interested. You should definitely be interested-it’s harrowing,  but we should all know what happened there, so please give that article a read. To top it off, the school only just closed in 2011?! What in the actual hell?! Whitehead, after hearing about the devastation that occurred behind those school walls including beatings, deaths, rape and other atrocious things, decided to write a book about it and The Nickel Boys is what it turned into. It is magnificent, telling, devastating…and truly a masterpiece. I finished it over a week ago and I’m still thinking about those boys and their story (and frantically googling about the real school in Florida every chance I get).

I don’t want to say too much because honestly, you just need to read it to appreciate it. And then probably read it again to appreciate it even more. That’s where I’m at. Although I have zero experience with reform school, or being Black in a white world, I did go to an all-women, Catholic school (which I should preface by saying it was NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING like this) and I have some thoughts. There is a sense of discipline and control in schools like this. There are structures that must be adhered to and yes, scholastics are very important (in my school at least), but discipline and structure are almost top of the list. There are laws that don’t apply to us as students in a Catholic school and I remember knowing that very well. Nothing ever happened when I was there, but I remember stories of past generations and the types of punishments that were allowed. Again, NOTHING like this, but knuckle slapping with rulers and things of that nature happened in the past. There is a control that the adults in charge think they need to get a handle on early, and rules and discipline are there “for a reason.” Keep in mind-this is only coming from my experience at a relatively well-off, Catholic school that my parents were invested in (both actually with their presence, but also with their wallets). But I could see how a disciplinary reform school could turn into this something horrible really quickly. Although my experience was nothing like the experiences in this book, I can understand what it must have been like for children, especially Black children, to be sent to a reform school that is full of racism and bigotry, into the height on the Civil Rights and Jim Crow Movement in the 1960’s where the school (and world) is segregated, where teachers have formed a corruption circle among themselves with no outside monitoring?! Plus add the dimension that these are “bad kids” in need of discipline. This school is what you get.  What ACTUALLY went on in this school? What laws were being broken? What boy’s souls were being crushed for the rest of their lives? In this book, you’ll get those answers and more. I will never be the same after reading it. It truly crushed me.

The Nickel Boys is not for the faint of heart, but the writing is genius, the plot is immaculate, the details are truthful and succinct and overall, this book will make you think long after you read the last page.

I hope you read this one and if so, come chat with me on Instagram! Find me at @bookishfolk

bookishfolk…read instead.