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Chimamanda Adichie, Clip Art, and Why We Need Diverse Books

May 23, 2018

Recently, my little sister (a career counselor for an engineering college), called me, frustrated. For the millionth time that school year, she was unable to find clip art or stock photos for the department’s social media material that actually captured her student body.

Two weeks, later, one of my own classmates was putting together a workshop on domestic violence and couldn’t find a single stock photo of “happy black family”.

And, honestly, none of us were surprised.

This past school year, I was introduced to the work of the fabulous Chimamanda Adichie. Adichie is now an internationally published writer but grew up in Nigeria, reading mostly western stories during her formative years. In her glorious Ted Talk (below) she talks about how the stories we read, the movies we watch, and the other cultural forces we are exposed to, shape our own stories.

 

There has been a lot of conversation, recently, about representation in YA, specifically. Twenty years ago, I don’t think I would have understood what that meant. I would have understood but wouldn’t have truly internalized why it was so important.

When I was growing up, it was hard, even for me (a white girl from an educated background, living in the suburbs) to find a relatable character. There were very few strong girls, even fewer Jewish girls, and absolutely no queer kids. But I did find them. I related to enough young women that I saw myself in the stories, even if they weren’t complete in their telling.

The Olympic gymnastics team looked like me.
Girls on t.v. looked like me.
The teenagers in college brochures looked like me.

And I was so ensconced in my little suburban Massachusetts bubble that I never thought to question that setup. It wasn’t until college, when my bubble expanded, that I truly began to understand that my story was the one being told. What I considered “normal” was what was being shown on tv and in being told in books.

It would take me pages and pages to list the recent books to grace my shelves that are changing that story. Nicola Yoon brought us, stories of undocumented immigrants, people living with terminal illnesses, and women of color who excel in math and sciences.  Christina Lauren wrote a heartwrenching story about male bisexuality in a closed off religious town. Nic Stone and Angie Thomas took two different lenses and a hard look at growing up as a teenager of color, living in fear of police brutality. Samira Ahmed’s debut focused on growing up Indian and Muslim in a post 9-11 America.

These books are winning awards and hitting the bestseller lists. And they are doing it in a way that presents life outside of the WASP-norm as, well, normal.

These stories are important in an age where, to escape looking at the hard fallout of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and heterosexism, the common response is “Oh! I don’t care if someone’s gay!” or “It doesn’t matter to me that someone is Muslim or Jewish!” “and the dreaded “But I don’t SEE color!”

If these pieces are not the story we live, every day, filled with code-switching, erasure, exclusion, and outright bigotry, it is easy to forget why we need a  wider lens when creating our cultural media makeup.

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Sky in the Deep ~ Adrienne Young

May 22, 2018

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Genre: Young Adult/Historical Fiction
Publisher: Wednesday Books
ISBN: 9781250168450
352 pages
Source: OwlCrate

I wish I had known a little bit more about this, going into the book.

The writing itself was absolutely gorgeous but the plot was far more pastoral and less character driven than I have been reading, lately. I think I may have read too many books that focus on deep, hard feelings which left me a little wanting for Sky in the Deep.

I just felt as if it was a nice, pretty picture, that could have been told as a short story but never graduated to the need for a full novel. I never really got a chance to connect with the people involved.

That said, the actual prose was quite stunning and I did like the overall story. I almost put it down for good about a quarter of the way into it and I’m glad I didn’t.

It ended up being a pretty solid metaphor for our current social struggles in terms of rivalries, alliances, and old grudges. Not entirely in the same vein but similar, there is a strand woven through that is almost Romeo and Juliet-esque. That is, when there are two divided tribes, the tribe that stands as “bad” is deeply subjective, changing depending upon who you ask.

With the sort of lukewarm character set up, I’m still glad I read the entire thing and, as I said, I think that, had I known the devices ahead of time, I would have enjoyed it more.

Love, Hate, and Other Filters ~ Samira Ahmed

May 21, 2018

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Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Soho Teen
ISBN: 9781616958473
288 pages
Source: Barnes and Noble

I wish I had had this book when I was a freshman in college.

I was about two weeks into my first year away from home, standing on campus in New York, when my best friend and I saw the towers come down.

At the time, I had never experienced anything like that but my Indian-Muslim friend stood next to me and said, “Please don’t let them be Muslim”.

Over the next few days, as she wept and worried with millions of other New Yorkers, fretting about how many of her friends and neighbors might have gone down in the crash, she had to deal with a level of anxiety the rest of us didn’t.

The American climate shifted immediately toward anti-Islam threats and when we went to the student chapel, that night, to pray, she was harassed for speaking in Arabic.

That moment has been stuck in my heart for 17 years, even as this friend used her resilience and intelligence to go on to become an attorney for the UN, never letting the negative voices stop her.

Because of that introduction of how horrible people can be in a time where we should be helping one another, Love, Hate, and Other Filters struck a deep chord with me.

In a somewhat similar (but altogether different) story, Ahmed’s protagonist., Maya, deals with the fallout of a terrorist bombing and the xenophobic aftermath from her classmates and neighbors.

It is a true testament to the work we still have to do as a country to refrain from judgment in moments we find ourselves acting in fear as opposed to understanding.

Ahmed’s voice is spot on for both the frustration as a Muslim teen among WASP peers and as an American teen in a traditional Indian household.  The intertwined identities, code-switching, and balancing of her parents’ American Dream and her own personal search for truth and meaning are woven expertly into the larger themes at play.

I absolutely loved this story and I think it is an intensely important one, right now.

Sunday Wrap Up!

May 20, 2018

Another busy but awesome week on the books!

Wrapping up the second to last week of school for the boys means lots of volunteer time which is fine because I adore my kids’ school. I can’t believe we’ll all be on Summer Vacation by the end of this week. Wheee!

This week in reading was great and also sort of all over the place. I went from The Iron Knight…

…to The Coldest Girl In Coldtown…

…to Obsidian…

…to Geekerella.

Right now, I’m reading Love, Hate, and Other Filters which is really good so far. I’m also gearing up for my monthly buddy read. For May, we are reading Ash Princess and I’m super excited about it.

What are you all reading, this week? Tell me, below!

Geekerella ~ Ashley Poston

May 18, 2018

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Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary
Quirk Books
ISBN: 9781594749476
320 pages
Source: Barnes and Noble

Since the rise of blogging and other social media, there is a corner of the web for just about everything.

Oh, yes, this is going to be a very meta post.

I know that, for me, writing and connecting with other book lovers has become a bit of a sacred practice and I know that holds true for most of the book blogging world.

As book reviewing has gone online and, as a result, more widespread, writers have started capturing that element in their books. This is probably one of my new favorite tropes. Obviously.

Though not book related, Geekerella throws a very courteous nod to the blogging world through the fictional television show Starfield, as viewed through the eyes of high school senior, Elle.

Yes, her name is Elle. As in Ella. As in Cinderella. She lives with her stepmother and two insufferable stepsisters. True to the legend, they’re all pretty awful, though instead of old-fashioned social climbers, they are the perfect blonde, tennis playing, country club set, obsessed with celebrities and fashion.

Elle, of course, is a vegan food truck employee and a total geek, just like her late biological parents. She even used to go to the comic convention in Atlanta, started, once upon a time, by her dad, but she hasn’t been in years.

This year, it’s her ticket to freedom, though. If she can just win the costume contest, she’ll be able to hightail it out of hell and make it to Los Angeles.

That’s if the new lead in the Starfield movie chooses a nobody like her as the winner.

Well, you can kind of tell where this is going.

It’s so expertly done and such a love letter to the fandom of, well, almost everything.

I grew up around geeks and nerds and I now live in that very same Atlanta where we have the marvelous DragonCon, every year, all of which ended up endearing this book to me pretty strongly.

It’s such a great adaptation and even has the added bonus of not completely revolving around love. Both sides of the main couple have their own hopes and dreams, parental and social expectations. Their happily ever after has much more to do with finding themselves than finding each other. Though, as we all know, sometimes having that one person who sees you and hears you can be the exact boost needed to get out and follow that dream.

Obsidian ~ Jennifer L. Armentrout

May 17, 2018

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Genre: Young Adult Fiction/SciFi
Publisher: Entangled Select
ISBN: 9781620610077,
335 pages
Source: Half Price Books

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to give a luke-warm review. And this isn’t really one of those but it fell a little short so I’m just going to get that part out of the way, quickly.

I think I might have put too much on to this story.

Obsidian, the first book in Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Lux series, is not bad; it’s just not as swoon-worthy as I was expecting. I think a lot of it has to do with it being the first in a series. From the beginning, based on the very short summary on the back, we know that Katy, our protagonist, has just moved to West Virginia and that her new neighbors are definitely aliens.

Because that’s basically a given from the start, the build up to the reveal was kind of tedious. It also seemed to have a few narrative parallels to Twilight which is one of my least favorite books but it eventually took a detour from that path, thank goodness.
Now that I have the downside out of the way, I will say that the writing and characters, themselves, are typical of Armentrout’s awesomeness. Katy and her new otherworldly friends all feel deeply with intense loyalty, even for those they just met.

That has been a theme throughout Jennifer’s books and as someone who can relate, I love those feelings.

The alien aspect was new to me. I’ve mostly been involved with the more earthly supernatural in my fantasy, by way of warlocks, faeries, vampires, et al. So, that was a cool departure.

Overall, I enjoyed it but I do think I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t heard such amazing things and left myself to find it on my own. I have a good feeling about the rest of the series, though, which I already have in hand. I think once the initial story setting is over, this will eventually turn into a good one.

Shame, Guilt, and the Art of Self Care

May 16, 2018

Recently, a classmate raised a hand and asked “All of our supervisors and professors talk about self care but when do we learn how to do that?”

The class giggled but it struck me as a widespread problem.

We all know what to do to take care of ourselves. Sleep, eat, drink water, be with humans we enjoy, be with ourselves, do nice things for ourselves and others. The little things that keep us running, emotionally and physically.

The halfway tricky part, of course, is time. Trust me when I say that as a single mom in grad school and an internship, I get the lack of time thing.

That said, I have learned that my biggest hangup is not really time but shame and false guilt.

I say “false guilt” for a specific reason.

Shame is the feeling that we ARE bad.

Guilt is the feeling that we have done something bad.

I like real guilt because it helps me change for the better. I am part of a little club that emphasizes promptly making amends when things go wrong and we can see our part in it. If I screw up, owning my stuff and speaking it, helps.

In many ways, acknowledging my guilt helps me side step shame.

That said, when people say they feel guilty for taking time for themselves, that is guilt masquerading as shame.

We have learned, as humans, to respond to the question “How are you?” with one word: “Busy.”

Busy has become our currency whether we are truly busy or not.

It becomes our worth.

Yes, we have genuinely busy lives and days and weeks.

But it is not what we are.

I am learning that when I take time for myself, I am not a terrible person. I can read a book on a train and not feel shame for not engaging with everyone in my path. I can take my lunch break at work to sit alone and not chat with my coworkers. I can put aside my assignments for 30 minutes to sit in the sun and do diddly squat. I can even tell my kiddos I need twenty minutes to just have quiet. I can set boundaries with friends and family. I can say “no”.

Now, I don’t do that all the time. Gosh, I still feel shame much of the time when I do.

But the “how” of self care is less about “what to do” and more about “why” we have such a hard time allowing ourselves to be ourselves.