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review 2018-03-20 23:48
Dear Martin -- my best YA read in recent memory
Dear Martin - Nic Stone





This is what I imagine Justyce, the MC, would do if asked to hold a sign about race early on.


There has been a stream of books about race and police brutality in the last few years. One could read nothing but books on the topic and still not keep up with the books available. What a great problem to have: too many books on important topics. Now if only these books were useless because the problem had been solved.


If one can "enjoy" a book like this, then I enjoyed Nic Stone's telling of tragedy story more than I've enjoyed almost any other. There are obvious comparisons both in other recent books but also to real cases in real America. Nic Stone writes for the young reader in a simple way that never is dumbed down or too basic. She has all the nuances and difficulties of her subject matter under command as she writes the story of Justyce and his friend Manny, two black kids at a liberal, elite school and the ways they handle casual, subtle, daily racialization, microaggressions, as well as the more obvious and deadly type.


The POV shifts between third person storytelling to Justyce's interior life to second-person letters/journaling to "Dear Martin" (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) Nic Stone makes excellent use of the "safe place" classroom, where the white students do all the talking on race while the black students sit uncomfortably or angrily by, but certainly don't feel "safe" on the topic of race, despite having a black teacher. There is confusion by the bundle for our protagonist, in the way his friends behave, the racial issues involved in dating, the always-difficult world of being a teenager. He takes refuge in writing honest letters to MLK, and it's here that he feels safe enough to say what he thinks. But can even Dr. King help Justyce when the world caves in?


This is, ultimately, an uplifting story with characters who grow in the face of extreme circumstances and stereotypes that threaten to keep them stuck. Well worth anyone's time.


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review 2018-03-20 20:39
Unsettling, entrancing tale of escaping the traps we're born to
Along the Indigo - Elsie Chapman

Disclaimer: Reviewing pre-publication proof via NetGalley


I loved this. Vivid, strong character writing and a fully fleshed-out sense of place from the first page made this an engaging story, and the dark fantasy/paranormal elements, while light, tinted the story with a deliciously creepy atmosphere.


Marsden is saving up to skip town with her 8-year-old little sister before one or both of them get roped into joining Nina's girls like their mom. Their dad died (or killed himself) when she was her sister's age, and their mom started working the not-so-secret nightshift in the boarding house they live in/brothel.


Being pressured toward sex work isn't the only source of Marsden's misery. She's half Chinese in a white, rural American town. Her mother's job - and her likely future - are an open secret, and the predatory, bullying behaviour of her peers and neighbours has her self-isolating to survive. And she can't hear the voices of the dead - despite regularly visiting the covert behind the boardinghouse to strip the bodies of the dead for cash. It's the last remaining piece of family property, a sort of suicide forest, tainted by the murder spree of a mad ancestor.


So there's a lot going on here. The visible minority/POC/mixed ancestry thing is handled well and comes up in Mars & her sister's experience, as well as another boy in town's story. The absent/abusive parent thing is troubling but very well handled, as is the dysfunctional community. And the suicides. There's heaps upon heaps of messed up in this book, but the author doesn't bury you in it. It's an engaging read, atmospheric and challenging without feeling hopeless. It reminds me of Brenna Yovanoff's books, and Kendare Blake's Anna Dressed In Blood just a touch. I think it's set in eastern Oregon or Washington maybe, or one of the prairie/desert states further east of there, but it has more in common with Southern Gothic paranormals. Creepy, foreign and familiar at the same time, unsettling and entrancing. Will circle back to this author's earlier works and follow her future books with great interest. Highly recommended read.

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review 2018-03-15 17:29
Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko - Min Jin Lee

It took me almost four months to read Pachinko. As I read, I began wondering about my slow pace. My fall semesters are busier, yes, but I still manage to finish most books in what's a timely manner for me. It certainly wasn't because I found the book hard to read in terms of comprehension or engagement. As I got closer to the end, I realized: it was because I was so invested in the characters and storytelling I had to take time to process the intense feelings the novel evoked. There are also regular gaps in time that take place between chapters where characters' situations change significantly; I needed mental space before diving into the story again. I can't think of another novel that required this sort of reading from me.


In addition to Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh, Pachinko has served to establish that "family sagas" can engage me, or at least when another culture is involved. Through the family portrayed here, I learned more about Korea, but it never feels like a history lesson. Everything comes from the characters. The novel also provokes thought about national and racial identity.


There were moments I dreaded, as with the return of a less sympathetic character, though not in a way that made me dislike the novel or its author. There were moments that shocked me to the point of gasping. There are many scenes that easily and vividly come to mind when I recall my reading, which I finished more than a month ago.


I would love to teach this novel. I have the feeling I may reread it some day, regardless. For me, that's a rarity, a compliment, and a sign of deep gratitude. 

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review 2018-03-08 23:53
So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo
So You Want to Talk About Race - Ijeoma Oluo

I debated whether to give this a full five stars, mostly since I rarely give books five stars, but I really don't have anything to criticize here (other than a minor disagreement about a single comma) and I did really enjoy my read. I wasn't always perfectly comfortable, admittedly, but I think it was direct and well-written while possessing a lively tone.


The content isn't exactly new but it's a good resource that walks you through a lot of the arguments and provides strategies for talking about race. I do feel that the more familiar people are with arguments and talking points, the easier it is to speak up when appropriate. Let's hope I can manage to do more of that.


I would like to share a particular passage from the chapter on microaggressions since it reminded me of an argument I had once about whether the younger generations are too sensitive about "politically correct" topics.

"I would like to say that his is when I stopped caring what other people think, that this was when I stopped trying to fit in. But I was a fifteen-year old girl, and I was lonely. So I kept trying. I kept trying to make friends and build community and every time I thought I'd made progress, someone would deflate all of the air out of my dream.


But as painful as it was, I didn't know that it was wrong. I didn't know that I wasn't supposed to be treated this way. I was pretty sure I was the problem. Because nobody came to my defense, hell, nobody batted an eye when these things were said to me. They weren't a big deal, just small comments, little jokes. I shouldn't be so sensitive. It was all in my head. If I just found a way to have less things wrong with me, these bothersome comments would stop. So I smiled less, at less, laughed less, and spoke in a whisper."

I really empathized with that heartbreaking passage. The little things over time hurt. They have psychological impact. Why would you want to write off that kind of hurt as over-sensitivity? You shouldn't! I can only assume that the people making this argument don't understand that it's the accumulation of all the little comments because they've never paid attention to them and so they've never noticed how many there are. We all need to do better.


This book is focused on racism in the US, so not everything is the same where I live, but we're not immune from racism here either. We always seem to like to think that these things are better in Canada, but a black coworker of mine once admitted that he shaved his braids off in his 20s because he felt it was holding him back from landing a job. That was a few years ago, but not all that many.


Previous updates:

163 of 238 pages

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text 2018-03-08 23:12
Red Game Round 3 Guess (Kill Your Darlings)
So You Want to Talk About Race - Ijeoma Oluo

I read So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo for this card since there's an I in Finch (Ijeoma). I'll write up a review later tonight but I wanted to get this guess in before it was too late. 


Let's see how evil MR is...

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