7.02.2020

June Books Reviews



There's not much I can add to the conversation about this book, other than to say that it does feel like an actual conversation with a friend (I especially enjoyed the audiobook). Oluo clearly lays out the structural racism and bias we all live with, and it was even more impactful as a fellow Seattle dweller. I could vividly picture the story she told of staying with her mother's friend in the small mountain town we have driven through countless times, and I knew exactly where she was going when talking about cultural appropriation when traveling at our local airport. Ooof, the Africa Lounge really ought to go...

Normal People by Sally Rooney
Okay, I GET IT. I like to know what’s up with polarizing books, and I wouldn’t say that I came down on either extreme of ‘all time fave’ or ‘worst book ever’ for Normal People. But I REALLY liked it - 4 stars. And I confess that I LOVED the BBC series - 5 big stars.
As for the book, I was enthralled by Connell and Marianne’s back-and-forth through their coming of age, the very real feeling breakups and makeups. Sure, they were insufferable in their constant miscommunication. But they’re teens/young adults figuring sh*t out. And they DO FIGURE IT OUT, which is wonderful and heartbreaking by the end. I also appreciated that they never cheated on each other and acted deferential towards one another.
In my reading experience, I felt very empathetic towards Marianne. Who doesn’t love a story of the bookish nerd girl glowing up and getting the guy? My heart ached for her as she dealt with Connell’s immaturity and her family trauma. It was harder for me to get my arms around Connell and his struggles with anxiety. He didn’t leap off the page for me. But after watching Paul Mescal’s performance on screen, I saw scenes from the book differently. Looking back on what I highlighted, I don’t know how I missed such a beautiful character study the first time around.
“He finds himself rushing to the end of the conversation so they can hang up, and then he can retrospectively savor how much he likes seeing her, without the moment-to-moment pressure of having to produce the right expressions and say the right things.”
Rooney’s writing was hypnotic, nostalgic and so thoughtful about socioeconomic status, family, mental health, trauma, and learning self-worth through it all. And I actually liked how it flowed without quotation marks! I think it lent itself well to such an interior focused narrative.

The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
I finished the Revisioners on a typical June gloom day here in the PNW and it felt like the perfect fit for this amorphous and mystical novel. I am a sucker for a dual timeline narrative, and the common threads that Sexton weaves between present day Ava, and her mother’s great grandmother Josephine, a formerly enslaved woman who becomes a sharecropper, was beautifully nuanced and thoughtful. For only 288 pages, it’s quite an epic family story about the power of mothers and Black women. I do wish it was a tad longer, as I felt that it ended too abruptly and I was just beginning to learn about the Revisioners magic.

Good Talk by Mira Jacob
I am realizing that one of my favorite genres is the graphic memoir. Good Talk is as FANTASTIC as every person I know that’s read it says it is. It is ‘timely’ for sure, about a dark skinned south Asian woman raising a mixed race child with her Jewish husband. But, in any time, the whip smart art paired with heartfelt prose is utterly compelling and completely gutted me.
“We think our hearts break only from endings - the love gone, the rooms empty, the future unhappening as we stand ready to step into it – but what about how they can shatter in the face of what is possible?”
As with all graphic memoirs, even if you don’t think they’d be for you, I strongly urge giving them a try. Similar to memoirs on audiobook, there is something about the visual arts paired with the prose that gives the reader so much more. In addition to Good Talk, I’d recommend anything by Lucy Knisley, and The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui. 

Anne of the Island by LM Montgomery
It’s been over two years since I picked up where I left off in reading my beautiful Tundra Books Anne of Green Gables box set. Spending time with Anne is always a perfect respite, and I need to remind myself of this more often! In book three, Anne of the Island, we’re treated to the halcyon days of her college life. It’s filled with all of the drama of young adulthood, immersive scenery, and the mirthful humor of all L.M. Montgomery books.

28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand
Another summer, another Hilderbrand novel! I can now see why people are raving about her latest, it is indeed fantastic. It’s a testament to how much I love her storytelling, despite utilizing one of my least favorite conflict tools in storytelling: people just not being truthful and saying how they feel. Ugh. As a riff on Same Time Next Year, it’s built on two people in love who only meet once a year and go back to their separate lives. Normally I get frustrated with the characters obtuseness in these situations and just tap out. For the first part of 28 Summers I was wary of how I would feel by the end. But, Hilderbrand knocks it out of the park with this cast of characters, intricate plot and the realness she brings to each fraught relationship: spouses of course, but also mothers and sons, best girlfriends and, what stood out to me most, the relationship between siblings.
She is one of the few authors I can immerse myself in for hours and wonder where the time went (4 hours of reading until 2 a.m. to read the entire second half of the book). It’s like listening to a friend relay an unbelievable story, filled with sumptuous atmosphere (oh, Nantucket), humor (“Mallory’s breathing is so shallow, she feels like she’s playing a dead person on television.” ha!), nostalgia (especially for us Gen X’ers - I mean, how many people get the Yaz or Michael Hutchence references??), and so much heart.
If you love Hilderbrand’s work, this is a no-brainer. And if you’re new to her novels, this is an excellent place to start.

4 comments:

  1. I had started and put down The Revisioners last summer - your review makes me really want to pick it back up!
    Good Talk sounds fascinating - I'm only getting into graphic memoirs but really enjoy it as a genre.
    Thanks for sharing your reads this month - I love seeing what others in the MMD-sphere are also reading and enjoying. Here's what has kept my family and myself occupied in books lately - https://www.everyoneslibrarian.com/blog/quick-lit-july-2020

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  2. Thank you for recommending Good Talk. I never would have considered a graphic novel/memoir, but I'm interested in how parents answer children's questions about the world.

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    1. Oh, I do hope you give the graphic novel a go!

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