This week I’m participating in #Diverseathon, where I try to focus my reading on as many diverse authors, characters, and themes as I can because We NEED To Read Diverse Books. Why? Because our country is threatening to tumble backwards about 300 years if we don’t. Because it’s important to be that my children are exposed to as many different experiences and beliefs as possible. Because I want to live a multi-faceted life, as well. And because too much of any one thing just sounds boring.
This week, my reading life has been anything but boring!
Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly (2016, William Morrow, 346 pages, e-loan). This satisfies my “Read a book about technology” challenge for READ HARDER, and paired well with Rocket Girls. I’ve always been a sucker for space exploration, ever since I was little and got for Christmas a book about mythology and constellations. I loved that even the stars had stories behind them. Then I won the citywide science fair in 6th grade with a report on the constellations. Exploring the constellations outside of paper has never been high on my list, but making sure those who did help us get that done got the proper credit, smashing glass ceilings and fences designed to keep us “in our places”, that is high on my list. So as much as I loved Rocket Girls, reading about these incredible women responsible for the science of the new frontier written by an author of color was important to me. #OwnVoices are so important. I am dying to see the movie, to see how well it was adapted, because the book scratched so many of my itches. 5 of 5 stars.
Speak Gigantular, by Irenosen Okojie (2016, Jacaranda, 206 pages, digital). I picked this blistering set of erotic short stories for my micropress READ HARDER challenge (though it could also pass for the debut challenge), even though I’m not a short-story person. Erotic stories, though, very much my thing, especially when I’m both trying to stay awake and reward my way through the day. I’d read Okojie again, though her stories were uneven enough for her to land on pre-order status quite yet. There’s a lot of promise and I hope she continues to mature as she finds her voice. I like that Okojie wasn’t locked in to one lens; her narrators had as much fluidity in taking on different roles as did the “back-up” characters. It spoke well of how highly the author placed a premium on representing different viewpoints and starting places. I highly recommend, as long as you’re open-minded for more than cis-het romances. (Don’t dream too big; I just don’t want it to come out of nowhere.) Strong 3 1/2 of 5 stars.
The Association of Small Bombs, by Karan Mahajan (2016, Viking Books, 288 pages, e-loan). This was a big week for READ HARDER challenges – this checked off “Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey.” I almost plunked it down in the “5,000 miles away from your location” category, but that seems broader, and I might need broad later. And so many characters spirit about. Truly, dazzling characterizations are where Mahajan excels; I haven’t felt this immersed and invested since I first found Khalad Hosseini’s kite runner of Kabul. Go! Read! Get sucked in by the guilt and narrative threads of everyone affected by the “small” and “inconsequential” car bomb, flash back and forth as you experience everything firsthand there with victims, the terrorists, and all sorts of shaded complexities as coping mechanisms and perspectives change. The language, the pace of the story as it unfolded…I loved everything. 5 of 5 stars.
Lucky Boy, by Shanthi Sekaran (2017, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 480 pages, digital). Yes, you guessed it, another READ HARDER challenge; this time the “…by an immigrant or with a central immigration theme” one. Soli is an undocumented worker, who smuggled herself into the country on top of a train after the man her parents hired to sneak her across two-timed them, demanding Soli rescue herself. Adaptability and choosing the lesser of two less-haunting evils are themes Soli returns to throughout after she falls in love with a fellow hideaway and gets pregnant before turning up on her cousin’s doorstep in California. Soli’s baby is pulled from her arms after she gets caught and hauled off to a detention center, and the titular child is adopted by a couple whose lives we’ve been following in parallel chapters, watching their marriage and their lives fall apart because they can’t conceive. HUGE triggers for adoption and immigration (documented or not). It’s hard to say whether I felt more for Soli’s story because I’ve single-mommed my way through so much of my grown-up life, or if it’s because so much of the story focuses on her life. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking Kavya and her husband have it “easier” because their immigration is sanctioned, their pregnancy issues a path they’ve chosen. But the truth is that there is no “easy” anything. Everyone loses. And the shades of gray that Sekaran uses to color in the story are brilliantly shaded. It was never an easy read, but gorgeously and hauntingly explored. So many good books this week! 5 of 5 stars.
March: Books 1-3, by Congressman John Lewis (2015, Top Shelf Productions, 564 pages, paperback). These graphic novel adaptations have been everything to our little rebel alliance at Casa de Katie. The three of us all read them during this past weekend’s readathon. It was just what we needed to break up the prose, especially considering Team Tangerine had just accused Congressman Lewis of being all talk and no action. We read his story of the Civil Rights Movement as a small act of honor, and we’ll be donating the books to Bee’s classroom. They’re smartly penned, holding my attention while at the same time still get-at-able for the 5th grade set; that sounds easy, but it’s not. The illustrations layered action and informed the story with nuance, as appropriate. Every reading list should boast these titles. They’re truly classics for all ages. 4 of 5 stars.