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review 2017-06-18 21:57
A Small Revolution
A Small Revolution - Jimin Han A Small Revolution - Jimin Han

This is a pleasant surprise. It's a Kindle First book I got a few months ago, along with the audio upgrade, that had so much more to it than I expected. At it's core the story is about four college girls who are held captive by a guy with a gun for reasons that blur between the personal and the political. But this isn't about some rejected college student who wants to take out his anger by showing power, it's more of a hostages make people listen situation.

Yoona is the protagonist and I loved the way she tells the story to Jaesung. It's not done in a way that makes it sound like she is relaying it to him later and that everything is fine. She talks to him as if he is her conscience. Jaesung is another character who is not in the room with them but he is still a part of it. You know from the beginning that Jaesung has something to do with why Lloyd, the gunman, has these girls in this room at gunpoint.

I appreciated Yoona, Jaesung, and Lloyd as characters, as would-be or possible revolutionaries. I loved the niavete they possess and the way each works through that in their own way and the way the interference, or not, of parents rang true to life for me. Some are very involved, others not so much or not at all. I couldn't help but feel for Yoona, not just in that room but as other events became known. Then there's Lloyd's unraveling, what brought him to the place, what motivates his conversations with the negotiator and I loved the negotiator. Much of the book isn't even about the room they are in but the way they all came to be there and these are the scenes that surprised me most.

I enjoyed the story embodied a part of American life by being about people who were the first or second generation to be born in the US, by being about people who still have ties to the land of their parents. I appreciated it as a story about Korean-Americans, which I feel is a group we don't hear much about, but also about Korea and a dorm room in the US. The story elements fit together beautifully and the only thing I would wish to change about it was a little more denouement.

Also, I really love this cover. Its perfectly captures the feel and tone of the story without giving anything away. Every time I see the cover since finishing the book, I get a little wistful about the story and all the characters and everything they wanted to do and everything they wanted to fix about the world.

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review 2017-06-15 20:38
Black White Jewish
Black White & Jewish - Rebecca Walker

Never before has a book so completely spoken to my heart. I originally found this last year when I was looking around for around for women's memoirs to be put into my Diverse Books Tag focused on that genre (a book with a biracial protagonist). I recommended it to my library but got quickly absorbed in a number of other books while I waited for it to be available or for the right time to pop up. At last, my library purchased it and I was the first one to get it when it came out.

I have to say that waiting for the right time worked out fantastically. Some books just seem to know when you need them. As I said, this one just spoke right to my heart. That's not to suggest that I "know" what it was like for Rebecca Walker to navigate her life or what it's like to be black and white and Jewish all at the same time. What I do know is that I am quite familiar with that sense of not quite belonging to anyone, but maybe belonging enough to be claimed here and there for this or that trait. I have drifted from one home to another within my family or neighborhood or group of friends and felt that change that Walker describes as "switching radio stations". I've felt the sting of being in one group while people denigrate the other part of you, the part that they don't claim, while they insist that it's not you but you know that it is, even if only in part. I've felt it on both sides of me.

We've lived vastly different lives in different times within this country and I couldn't possibly relate to all of Walker's experiences, but I had never known anyone to describe this being and not being so well, so beautifully. The idea of being a "movement baby" sounds terrifying, like for too much to live up to. Later, I found it far easier to relate to what happened when the ideas of the movement were gone and she was treated like her existence was half-oppressor and half-oppressed, when people asked her navigate those waters and explain what it felt like. I was never able to explain what it was like to be fragmented this way and now I have someone to turn to for that.

I loved Walker's style of writing and relating everything back to memory and the way that memory shifts, that way that it can be wrong and right at the same time and the way it shapes us and perceptions of us without ever asking for permission. I loved the poetic feel that accompanies most of the book. I peaked at some other reviews and it's not the kind of book that everyone loves, but I still find it an important book to read and discuss. Perhaps it would make a great book club memoir because it does bring in questions of race on several fronts and it could open conversations about sex in adolescence, the effect of divorce and/or neglect on a child's upbringing and other important issues that Walker goes through that still plague us.

The downside to that, of course, is that using the book that way invites criticism of Walker and her parents as people who were theoretically doing the best they could. I don't mean to sound like I doubt that anyone was doing their best but I also don't want to make it sound like I'm making assumptions about what could/should have been done. The point is simply that getting judgey about someone's life and story like this would miss the point of reading the book.

Despite what others might think, I found this book engaging, even at it's lowest moments. I appreciated the way it was a little episodic, moving through periods in her life and only stopping to fit in the moments that best sums up the time-frame for her rather than dwelling on incidentals. As mentioned above, what I loved the most was the way she relates what it is like to not fit succinctly into any single category of race, to be a part of something and not a part of it at the same time, close and yet removed from it. I have felt these things so many times in life when I am in Hispanic or not Hispanic depending on the way whoever I'm talking to feels about it and it rarely seems up to me to let them know who I am and how I fit into these categories and whether or not I even want to.

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review 2017-06-15 20:37
Written in the Stars
Written in the Stars - Aisha Saeed

This is my Letter W for the Litsy A to Z challenge this year. I picked it because of that cover. Isn't it gorgeous?

This is also one of those books that I had read the synopsis for when I first chose it and just trusted my earlier judgement, having put it on a challenge list and all. Then I promptly forgot what it was actually about, which is always fun for me because I know its about something I'm interested in but still get to be surprised.

Let me say that I enjoyed a lot about this book but it was greatly helped by the fact that I had finished Dear Zari directly before it which provided me with great information on the realities of life for Afghan women. Though our protagonist in this book is Pakistani-American, the understanding of cultural traditions is similar enough to be helpful in this book and not see that none of the characters who live in Pakistan are behaving unusually, nor are they written in a way to be seen as villainous. They are doing what they know to do for the situation they are in.

Naila, our protagonist, is born and raised in American and her parents try to hold her the cultural expectations of their extended family back in Pakistan. They want her to be a good Pakistani girl and she can't begin to comprehend what is wrong with being a good American girl instead. Her general attitude about these traditions while in the US reminded me a little of Ms. Marvel too. When her world turns upside down in Pakistan, the story really turns.

I spent the rest of the book unsure of which direction the resolution to Naila's issue the author was gonna go until close to the end. I felt pretty sure that a happy end was coming though. 

Overall, I really enjoyed it. Its a great YA that fits in a rather underrepresented demographic, those teens whose lives fall somewhere between the US and the Middle East. It also falls solidly into chick lit, in my opinion, which is part of the fun here. The characters aren't exactly well rounded, but I don't think that was the point anyway. Its enough that they are entirely different manifestations of familiar archetypes in YA or chick lit. It made them a little unpredictable for me, which is always fun. I think anyone who reads either of those genres would enjoy this.

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review 2017-03-27 22:20
Hidden Figures
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race - Margot Lee Shetterly

I am so glad that I read this after seeing the movie. I loved the movie, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to the lifetime of achievement of the women featured in the movie plus there are more women mentioned in the book whose accomplishments aren't evident in the film. It's an amazing story and Shetterly relays it beautifully.

I loved every minute of reading this book and it needs to be in all school libraries. I get that schools don't have the time to devote to each historical topic, but having something like this (there is a Young Readers version available here) for them to read would be great. I wish I had spent more time in the non-fiction section back when I was in school but I'm trying to make up for it now. I love the stories of women throughout history, seeing that we've been contributing to the world in more than 2 ways, and promoting those stories when I see them. Fortunately, this one doesn't exactly need my help. It's been great to see all the notoriety this story has gotten, it's well deserved.

Shetterly goes a long way to giving the reader an understanding of not only the important nature of these women's work, but the sacrifices they made to do the work and the pressures they were under from several sources. The difference in the way they were treated at work and at home, by coworkers and by passersby on the sidewalk, is well delineated and it paints a good picture of what it must have meant to be there, to be breaking down barriers and to be given credit for their incredible intelligence. I appreciate that they all say they were just doing their jobs, which I'm sure is true, but there's always more to it than that. I've known people who "just" do their jobs and there's a difference between them and people who love the work. It's this difference that breaks down the barriers that these women took on, purposefully or not.

I appreciated Shetterly's inclusion of the timeline with the Civil Rights movement. I am familiar with the events from school and other reading, but it helped me out to have it overlaid on the timeline of the events at NACA and NASA, to understand the shifting sands the women found themselves on. She did a great job too of delineating the cultural and workplaces differences with being African American, a woman, or an African American and a woman. The African American men got to come in as engineers and the women had to fight for that too. White women were also given advantages over African American women, which caused the women featured here to deal with twice the problems the others had.

This is a book that everyone should read, but especially if you watched the movie, which really only covers half. The book carries the story of the three central women all the way to the moon landing, while the movie stops at John Glenn's orbit. Shetterly's writing style is impeccable and the story itself is astounding.

 

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review 2017-03-03 00:22
The Original Dream by Nukila Amal, translated by Linda Owens
The Original Dream - Nukila Amal,Linda O... The Original Dream - Nukila Amal,Linda Owens

The writing was beautiful but I lost the overall point of the story. It never felt like I found the revelation it was adding up to which left me with a feeling of disappointment after a promising ride.

Along the way, the book was quite pleasant to read. The author changed from the third person point of view in the chapters about Maya's life and second person point of view in the chapters that are in her dreams, leaving a clear distinction between them and alleviating the reader from any sort of confusion about whether you were in reality. I really liked the way she did that because though it should eventually have been made obvious by events and characters that are only in one or the other, the style choice made it easier on me.

Her life and her dreams were both interesting and fun to read about. Maya's dreams included parts of her real life but also distortions of it, delusions and sense sometimes in a single scene. Each scene was written in a way that propelled the plot forward, challenging Maia in the dream or Maya in real life to see things differently, or at least contemplate the differences.

The writing is gorgeous and this book had one of my favorite openings ever.

My father is a moon orchid, white, from the jungle. My mother is a red rose in the garden, near the fence. They met one morning in the port. Gave birth to me. Pink baby frangipani. A funerary flower.

Isn't that just gorgeous? I  get how it's also kind of nonsense, but it sets up a certain expectation of how the story will be told. The first chapter goes on this way, metaphorically talking about her parents and ancestors and there's a place where she goes through a photo album that is written in this romanticized way that just pulls at me. It was such a strong beginning. I had felt like it was all adding up to some revelation of who Maya or Maia was or what her place in the world was and then I felt like it just fizzled away in the last chapter. I did't get it.

That said, don't let it or the rating distract from trying the book out alone. It was only that the end doesn't make the plot clear but some stories just beautifully meander around and it's still nice to read. I would definitely read this again over several classics I was forced to read throughout college. I would read it before Dickens, for sure.

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