#CBR8 Review #117

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

I’ve long been a fan of Lindy West’s irreverent and sharply funny style. I loved reading her film reviews when she was still with The Stranger (my favorite review is of Sex and the City 2, which I absolutely refused to go see) and Jezebel (hello, scathing indictment of Love, Actually, which is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad movie). I was excited to see her book released this year, and her passage on Lady Kluck in the first chapter made me cackle as I perused it in the bookstore. I think my expectations were really high. Sadly, I think this is mislabeled as a comedy book, as it deals with a lot of heavy and serious topics.

Shrill deals a lot with West’s identity as a self-labeled “fat feminist.” Many of the essays talk about body, weight, rape culture, and what it means to be a feminist on the internet. Many of the stories ring true. Many will make you cringe. Some will force you to rethink your own expectations and definitions of feminism. For me, the standout essay was “Hello, I am Fat.” It’s the story of Lindy’s relationship with Dan Savage, who has risen to prominence as a national spokesperson for LGBT rights. West documents his fatphobia and her direct address of it in The Stranger, which provokes a tense but productive conversation. Savage’s views have greatly changed in the intervening years, and West uses this as an example of how people can and do change. It’s fascinating.

So what gives? you might ask. Why wasn’t this a five-star book for me? What it came down to was in part marketing—I was led to believe this was a hilariously funny book, and most of the time, it wasn’t. I’m not saying that as an indictment, by the way. I’m saying that West covers horribly sad and serious subjects, and they’re not for the faint of heart. There are also some essays that don’t fit well within the frame that she establishes early. The essay about her relationship and marriage, as well as her father’s death, don’t necessarily fit within the context of her identity as a feminist and her relationship to the internet culture that has sought to destroy her. Still, she is a compelling writer, and this is a solid 3.5 star read.

Leave a comment

Filed under #CBR8

#CBR8 Review #116

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

If you’ve never read Jewell Parker Rhodes, you absolutely must. Her prose is light and crisp at once, and she tells a story like no other. You inhabit her characters fully, and they are strong, sensitive young women. I’ve read Ninth Ward and Bayou Magic, both of which tackle current issues and also include an intriguing thread of magical realism that’s friendly to young readers. I’ve taught excerpts from Ninth Ward to my college Composition I course, and if I was to theme a course around Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, I would absolutely include it. Therefore, I was eager to get my mitts on her newest book, Towers Falling.

Hello, nominee for Best Book of 2016. I can’t emphasize how absolutely perfect this book is for middle-school and early high school kids in 2016, as well as adults (especially teachers) who have lived through 9/11.

Here’s the story: Deja is in fifth grade, and her life is a constant struggle. Her family lives in a homeless shelter. Her mother is overworked and overtired, her father constantly sick, depressed, and unemployed. Her innocent youngest siblings are below preschool age and must be kept entertained. She takes circuitous routes to avoid raising attention to her family’s life situation, which changes at her new school. There, her fifth-grade teacher announces that they will be talking about 9/11, which puzzles all of the children. What does that even mean? All of them, ten or eleven years old in 2015-2016, would have been born in 2004-2005 (sidenote: OH MY WORD I AM OLD). She makes friends with Ben and Sabeen, where each of them deals with their struggles in being both American and part of their own family sagas. They grapple with the idea of towers falling in their own city, and what it means to their identities as American, as a consequence.

This book was made for teachers and students. I often forget, 15 years past, how my college students have been affected by 9/11 without knowing why. That their memories are murky at best and colored largely by memorializing from older family members and media. Rhodes understands this and creates a protagonist born well after the fact and refocuses this moment through her eyes. It’s smart and stunning at once. This book has a few tragic stories in it, so if you need a trigger warning, there it is. But I highly recommend it if you are interested in middle-grade fiction for yourself or kids in your life, or if you are interested in current events or recent history, as filtered through fiction. Rhodes is an author I’ve placed on a “favorites” list, because she tells a great story with poignant writing, and this newest book is no exception.

Leave a comment

Filed under #CBR8

#CBR8 Review #115

Somewhere, Among by Anne Donwerth-Chikamatsu

Several weeks ago, I was at a retirement celebration for my English education professor (and academic advisor) at my private college. It just so happened that one of my mentor teachers from student teaching was there—she and I fell into a terrific conversation about teaching, life, and books. Always books. An observation K had made (and I agree with, now that I notice it) is that young adult literature is kind of in a lull right now. Dystopian fiction has been the big trend, but many of the books coming out are starting to feel like copycats (case in point: I’m currently listening to Red Queen on audiobook, and it just feels like a Hunger Games knockoff, though I’m willing to hear it out). That said, I do think a trend is emerging in children’s and middle-grade literature: the novel in verse. Or, to be less fancy, fictional books written in poetic form. Somewhere, Among is part of this new canon.

Ema, our young protagonist, finds herself moving to Japan in 2001. Her mom is white American, her dad Japanese, and her Japanese paternal grandparents an enigma. Her grandfather is loving and accepting, her grandmother seemingly stern and stoic. Ema struggles to understand school, and she is taunted by a bully. Her mom is struggling with a pregnancy and feeling completely adrift from her beloved parents, while her dad is working hard to make enough money for the family—even worse, his job takes him away from home. All of this converges on 9/11, and family health scares force Ema into a new way of thinking.

I’ve read some truly fantastic novels-in-verse (favorites include Inside Out and Back Again, as mentioned in my previous review, Kwame Alexander’s Newbery-winning The Crossover, and Jacqueline Woodson’s National Book Award-winning Brown Girl Dreaming). This was not quite up to that caliber, but it was still a solid, heartwarming book. Recommended to kids and kids-at-heart alike.

Leave a comment

Filed under #CBR8, Uncategorized

#CBR8 Review #114

The South Side by Natalie Y. Moore

I’ve been focusing a lot on social justice these past few years, because the rhetoric/composition course I teach at one of my universities (ah, the joys of rootless adjuncting!) has integrated social justice and care for others as part of its Jesuit curriculum. This year, my theme is Art and Protest. I’ve read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and other related books to expand my knowledge base, as well as that of my students’. Goodreads recommended The South Side to me when it saw I was reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, and I was intrigued. This is absolutely a worthwhile read and a terrific examination of the sociological makeup of Chicago. Pair this with Eric Klinenberg’s Heat Wave, and you have a lot to chew on, especially if you are a Chicagoan or a suburbanite (as I am).

Natalie Y. Moore is a journalist who grew up in the South Side of Chicago, was bussed to a “better” school and used her education to return to the South Side as an adult to try to reinvigorate the neighborhood as a young professional. This is an examination of factors that ghettoized the South Side and keep it in poverty today. Among the problems: lack of business and transportation options, poor rental options, food deserts, and the refusal of white people to reintegrate neighborhoods. Moore explores each of these in her book with thoughtful, thorough care and uses Chicago as a microcosm of an increasing problem.

This book is engaging, thought-provoking, and well-written. Moore’s lived experience makes her a reliable and credible authority, and her own discussion of how she lost a lot of money during the housing crash of 2008 shows how those educated and encouraged to own property were hit the hardest. It’s a challenging but necessary read, because it forces you to consider the kinds of economic injustices being waged today in the 2010s.

Leave a comment

Filed under #CBR8

#CBR8 Review #113

Saga, Volume 6, by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan

Everyone has already reviewed this volume of Saga, so there’s not too much I can add. Also, I read it so long ago, that Volume 7 *must* be on its way out, right? Right? I digress. [ETA: March 28, 2017, according to Amazon. THAT’S SO LONG TO WAIT, CAN WE GET A KICKSTARTER GOING] I don’t know how much my review will add to the discussion, but I plan to give it my best shot. But can I just say, that THIS is my personal favorite review title: “I find your lack of Lying Cat Disturbing.” +10 to maydays for the classic Darth Vader reference.


Because we all know that the BEST best part of Saga is Lying Cat, right? Right. Also, in totally related news, we have a less subtle, more dogged Lying Cat in this election, one who does not care if he appears to be a total boor when correcting silver-tongued lies:


God bless you, Tim Kaine. Your manterrupting is probably Hillary’s Anger Interpreter come to life. You took one for the team.

Ahem. Saga. It’s probably best if you skip over this next part if you’re not caught up.








Are you still here? Okay, it’s totally your own fault. Let’s push forward. The sixth volume finds us in fragments. Hazel and her grandmother are captives in a Landfall prison, Alana and Marko are at cross purposes until they’re not, and The Will is exorcising some ghosts. Hazel is in kindergarten, and we finally get to hear her child-voice. As you might expect, it’s irreverent, hilarious, and old-soulish. Hazel’s teacher Noreen is wise and caring, and Hazel connects with her in a real way. Of course, she’s in major danger of being killed if people find out she is the child of two different races/species.

Obviously, I enjoyed this volume and am deeply sad it reads so quickly only to initiate a monthslong wait. It’s a double-edged sword. I had a lot of fun with young Hazel, and I *might* have gotten excited about the last-page reveal. My one complaint is this: there is not enough of Gwendolyn, Sophie or Lying Cat to please my fancy. Wish list for Volume 7 initiated!

Leave a comment

Filed under #CBR8

#CBR8 Review #112

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

I’m a huge fan of Thanha Lai’s novel in verse, Inside Out and Back Again, so I was eager to hear about her new novel that was released in the last year. Of course, when you capture lightning in a bottle, it’s impossible to expect the same kind of magic twice. And Listen, Slowly doesn’t quite capture the same magic. Nevertheless, it is a charming story with a distinctive voice and an important message.

Mai (Americanized to Mia when necessary) is a typical California teenager. She has a crush on a boy and worries that he might like her best friend. So naturally the worst thing that can happen is being removed from her typical American life to spend several weeks in Vietnam with her grandmother. Forced to socialize with a cousin who disdains her and separated from all the social media and internet that she’s used to, Mai has to adjust to a Vietnam that her parents barely know and that she herself has no context for. But in the process of trying to grapple with her culture shock, Mai begins to understand the passion that has driven her grandmother—searching for the answers to where her long-dead grandfather disappeared during the Vietnam War.

This book has a lot of humorous moments and a lot of heartfelt ones, as well. It’s a funny and gentle read, certainly something fans of middle-school and young adult literature will enjoy. I think this is a worthy companion to Inside Out and Back Again and other literature about Vietnam from the perspective of Vietnamese immigrants and Vietnamese-American citizens.

Leave a comment

Filed under #CBR8

#CBR8 Review #111

The Marvels by Brian Selznick

Is there such a thing as Brian Selznick addiction? Because OMG I totally have it. I devoured his two previous books in a mere afternoon apiece as they each came out. I’m just sad I forgot to put a hold on this when it was first released. I appreciate the way he merges simple charcoal-like sketches with a complex and layered story that helps us merge art and text. The Marvels is more of the same that I’ve come to expect. I can’t decide if I like it better than the other two previous novels, but I can tell you that it made me cry in a way the other two books had not. Unfortunately, I think talking about it is going to be too spoilery.

The Marvels begins on a ship. Billy Marvel is the sole survivor of a shipwreck with his dog. They find themselves in London at a theater, where they begin work. Then, a baby is left on the doorstep, and suddenly, Billy has a family. The story continues to the legacy of the Marvels, up to five generations, and then it abruptly shifts from image to text with the story of Joseph in 1990. Having run away from his boarding school, Joseph finds his uncle and steps back in time to a world and story he never knew existed.

What I like most about Selznick is that he is subtle. The most rewarding emotional payoffs occur slowly and then all at once. The ending made me cry, but it was a good cry. There are several pieces that are set into place, but until you see them all, together, you don’t understand the significance of them at once. This is, to me, one of Selznick’s best stories, because it examines the power of story itself and shows us where stories come from, both in our lives and our imaginations. A must-read.

Leave a comment

Filed under #CBR8