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review 2017-02-26 20:16
Beautifully written story of a lost in translation version of the American Dream
Behold the Dreamers - Imbolo Mbue

Thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collings UK, 4th State for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily review.

This novel, written by an author hailing from Cameroon, like her characters, tells us the story of the Jongas, a family of emigrants trying to make a go of life in the USA, more specifically in New York. Jende strikes it lucky at the beginning and gets a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a big executive for Lehman Brothers. That seems to open many opportunities for Jende and his family, paving the way for all their dreams to come true. Unfortunately, the undoing of Lehman, some personal issues in the Edwards family and the pressure of their unclear immigration status (Jende arrived with a 3 months’ busy that he’s overstayed, his wife has a student visa but they might not have enough money to finance her studies to become a pharmacist and their son would have to go back if the father does) change all that.

The story, written in the third person alternating the points of view of Jende and his wife, Neni, is full of details of the subjective experience of the characters, from the worries about their immigration status, the variety of connections with people from home (from parties, to disinterested advice, emotional support…), their feelings about New York (their favourite places, the cultural shock of confronting new rules, prices, weather, standards and extremes of poverty and richness), their initial shock and later better understanding of the Edwards lifestyle, the educational opportunities and the effect of the stress of their situation on their personal lives.

Both characters are credible, engaging and easy to empathise with, even when we might not agree with their actions and/or decisions. They also have dreams and wishes for their future and their family. To begin with, they both think the USA will change their lives and open up avenues they’d never be able to pursue back home. Jende couldn’t even marry Neni back home and his wife had to live with her parents and had no chance to study. Everything seems possible in the USA, but slowly it becomes clear that things aren’t as straightforward as they thought at first, that being white and rich in America doesn’t equal happiness, and that not everyone is prepared to give them a chance.

There are funny moments and also very sad ones (especially when the couple disagrees and their relationship becomes difficult) and one can’t help but become invested in the story and the future of the couple and their children, who become ersatz members of our family. If at times the Jongas appear as victims of circumstances and a system that they don’t understand, at others they take things into their own hands, and, whatever we might think about what they do, they act. The book is beautifully written and offers an insight into lives that might be different to ours but we can easily share in.

On a personal note, I was a bit disappointed by the ending, not so much by what happens but by how it comes about, and I wasn’t so sure the reactions of the main characters towards the end of the book were totally consistent with the personality they’d shown so far, although it might be possible to see it as a result of the extreme pressures they experience. What that would suggest of the likelihood that their Cameroonian dream will end up becoming a reality is the crux of the matter but something left to the imagination of the readers. The scene towards the end of the book between Clark Edwards and Jende Jonga where they share their future plans (both of them moving on to a future more in keeping with family values and less with work), makes us think of how differently the women of the book see things compared to their men. Gender relations are one of the most interesting and troubling aspects of the novel.

A solid book with great characters that deals with important issues (domestic violence, family relations, cultural differences, immigration, asylum seeking, race relations, the Lehman Brothers and the economic crisis following its fall, the American Dream…), is a joy to read and it will make you consider many those topics from a different point of view.  

 

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review 2017-02-18 22:14
Class
Class - Lucinda Rosenfeld
ISBN: 9780316265416
Publisher: Little Brown & Co. 
Publication Date: 1/10/2017 
Format: Hardcover
My Rating: 4 Stars

 

Lucinda Rosenfeld's CLASS features New York, Karen Kipple as she struggles to balance the demands of motherhood and career, always convinced that she was shortchanging one or the other.

Married for ten years and for the last five Karen had been the director of development for a small non-profit devoted to tackling childhood hunger in the US. For the past two years, she had been trying to write an oped which she hoped one day to publish in a major newspaper, about the relationship between nutrition and school readiness.

Matt, her husband is also a career activist in the nonprofit sector and she is always worried about Ruby, her eight-year-old daughter’s education. She encourages her former lawyer husband to quit his job and work with low-income people to assist their housing needs.

Karen had enrolled her daughter at Betts, aware that it lacked the reputation for academic excellence of other schools nearby, but Ruby would be exposed to children who were less privileged than herself. Even though the white population of the school hovered around 25%. Being in the minority in what she had chosen. However, was he sacrificing her education? Diversity or inferior education?

She had always aspired to a life of making a difference and helping those less fortunate than herself. She tried to live in accordance with the politics and principals, which of course included the notion that public education was a force for good and that without racially and economically integrated school, an equal opportunity couldn’t exist.

Ruby was smart and a voracious reading and life should be good. Karen, an advocate for non-food additives and chemicals as well as diversity. She has a nice condo, hubby, and daughter, Karen’s life seemed to be good in New York; however, she is unhappy.

“Karen’s complex and contradictory relationship to eating had also grown more in the last few years, along with weight, teeth, and marriage—somehow become a dividing line between the social classes with the Earth Day — esque ideals of the 1960s having acquired snob appeal, and the well-off and well-educated increasingly buying “natural” and “fresh” and casting aspersions on those who didn’t.”

Then when a classmate of Ruby’s transfers out of Betts to a more privileged school of white students, all of Karen’s earlier thoughts and commitments, quickly vanished. Her husband wants a divorce because she enrolled Ruby in a new school without telling him.

Following the lead, she moves Ruby and then begins an affair with a rich guy, Clay, among other things. More lies. Her emotions are all over the board. Karen is torn between social classes, seeing the poor living in shelters and the rich and their superficial ways. Hypocrisy. Guilt.

She was capable of paying hundreds of dollars for an espresso machine from Italy, Karen had a deeply ingrained cheap streak as well, which caused her to do things like go to the library and photocopy the crossword puzzle from the Sunday paper rather than pay for a subscription.

Rosenfeld kicks butt and puts it all out there. With keen insights, raw honesty, a brutal portrayal ---the truth of our unequal society in urban America. With humor and highly-charged topics, the author hits the bull's eye, with CLASS.

I especially enjoyed the wide range of topics from privilege, class, identity, entitlement, education, politics, domestic, marriage, social economics, philanthropy—to ethical dilemmas, the author does not miss a beat in this delightful satire.

A tale of one woman’s struggle between the madness of liberal and reality. The lesson liberals need to learn is that despite their arrogance, they do not have the power to alter reality. From liberals to progressive—is equality among human race the exception, and inequality the norm?

Much to like here whether you are a modern-day urban parent, grandparent, or single. Smart, witty, engaging, absorbing, and thought-provoking! The hardcover was stunning with a perfect fitting cover. An ideal choice for book clubs and further discussions.

A special thank you to Little Brown & Co., Goodreads Giveaway, and NetGalley for a complimentary reading copy, in exchange for an honest review.

JDCMustReadBooks

Source: www.judithdcollinsconsulting.com/single-post/2016/12/01/Class
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review 2017-02-16 19:56
Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings
Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen - Jazz Jennings

I don't often read nonfiction. Not because I don't like reading it. It's just something I don't naturally gravitate towards. I tend to reach for more fantastical worlds as a way to relax from the ever polluting realities of our own world. However, this year I want to do something a little bit different. This year I want to read more nonfiction. I want to educate myself about different cultures and experiences. I've always been a very diverse reader, but I want to do that with my nonfiction reading as well. So when my partner and I saw Jazz Jennings memoir at the library, we both decided we HAD to read it.

 

I really enjoyed reading Jazz Jennings's memoir. She writes in a very conversational tone. Almost as if she is in the room with you, just chatting about her day. It was a very relaxing way of conveying her story and message. I enjoyed reading about all the advocacy work she does and I especially loved learning about how loving and supportive her family was. I am fully aware that for some transgender teens and adults, that's not always the case, but I am so happy that Jazz Jennings has a family that loves, supports, and protects her so she can be herself. To be happy. I thought that was beautiful.

 

That's not to say that her life wasn't without struggle. Being transgender, she encountered difficulties when it came to using the girls' restroom in school or being prohibited from being on any female teams when playing sports. Her family fought long and hard so that Jazz could be treated fairly and equally just like other girls. And in the end, it paid off! What makes this an amazing accomplishment is that they paved the way for other transgender kids to have these same rights without having to go to court and fight for them. (Although, I know that no matter what, there will always be struggles for anyone who is transgender or who is considered "different" in our society. But this is why I believe educating yourself and having an open mind could help us better understand one another, so that there's less hatred and violence. Please treat each other kindly.)

 

All in all, I really liked this book. I think if you know a teen who is transitioning or is thinking about transitioning, this is a great book to introduce them to the idea. Or if you know any adults who has a child or teen that is transitioning, they should read this book so that way they can learn to be understanding of their child and their needs. To support their child in any way they can. Parents, more than anybody else, need to try and understand that their child is their child. No matter what. And parents should love their child unconditionally. Whether their child is male, female, trans, intersex, non-binary, etc., remember to always love your child. The world is cruel enough as it is. Do not add to the hatred by discriminating against your own child. 

 

So I do recommend this book for people to learn from. The only downside to this book is that Jazz Jennings writes from a very privileged perspective and she knows that. She points out throughout the book multiple times that she is fully aware she's lucky to have been blessed with understanding parents and the financial needs to transition. So, a lot of the treatments and experiences she talks about in her book are not something everyone will be able to afford or experience themselves. Nevertheless, I still think there are things in this book everyone can benefit from by reading it. Please give this book a read if you come by it. A little bit of education goes a long way.

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review 2017-02-15 00:41
Slow start, fiery finish!
The Education of Sebastian - Jane Harvey-Berrick

 

You ever played the Sims and saw one of them react to a fire?

Something akin to this maybe:



Why do I bring this up?

Because the last chapter of The Education of Sebastian actually had me react like a Sims character in a panic state. I flailed, screamed, cursed and repeated all three some more.

This novel had such an unassuming beginning but finished explosively.

I can't believe how invested I was with the characters, the plot, the everything of this novel.

I already have Part 2 singing on my Kindle to me to read it like YESTERDAY!

Thirty year old Caroline is stuck in a loveless & childless marriage to an asshole Naval doctor. He treats her like a servant he has rights to fuck, emotionally belittles her at every opportunity he gets and doesn't see the prize he has laying next to him every night. See Caroline has been married for 11 years already and her husband has made her into a shell. She's weak, she knows she's weak and she hates herself.

She's moved back to California to a naval base and resumes friendship with her ex-neighbors' son, Sebastian. It's been 9 years since she saw him last and the kid has grown. Now seventeen, Sebastian is starting the framework of the man he will be. It's summer, he just graduated from high school and instead of having a last hurrah before college, he has to worry about his drunk and abusive parents. The one bright spot is Caroline, his friend and crush.

Now the premise of the book is well known, 30 year old woman and 17 year old teen start a relationship. What this book does a good job of showing is why it's plausible in Caroline and Sebastian's cases. 30 and 17? What could they have to talk about other than genital boogey?

Yes, there's a metric ton of sex--not stellar, realistic and sometimes even gross

I should say gross aftermath

(spoiler show)

were on even footing despite their ages. Mentally, they were the same. The naivete and exploration especially,

Though my major gripe with the book is the language used. Caroline was thirty. It wasn't like she was Mother Gothel. The retirement home wasn't on the horizon. Her phrasing and thoughts read way older than her age a lot of the times. I understand the author wanted to drive home the fact Caroline is older but damn did she act even more mature than her age.

Sebastian was seventeen going on twenty. But the way at times, he'd act a little older, I can equate to having to virtually raise himself, living in such a house full of hate. The story is told from Caroline's POV, so we don't get the full scope of Sebastian's abuse, only second hand telling from characters.

Speaking of characters, I liked them. It was a lot of characters to keep track of but it added to the story. Even the asshole parents and shit stain of a husband. Ches was a great friend as was Donna. I was proud of them especially in the WTF chapter (I dubbed the last chapter this)

I believed the connection Sebastian and Caroline had. It wasn't just sex. They were both very emotional...crying, whining, declaring love at a drop of a hat.

Tempestuous.

That is this book.

And I only wanted to take a peek, ended up devouring it.

And now am the proud owner of the entire series.

And I've been told the second book is better?



This one sneakily grasped my attention. Can't wait to see what #2 does.

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