I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

What’s surprised me most about seeing my sister dead is the lingering smirk on her face.

Right now I’m following a school course about Young Adult Literature, which I’ve got to read four different books for. All of those have white protagonists, only one of those four is female. I read It’s Kind of a Funny Story next to this one, and guess what; both involve depression. So hey kids teachers, YA with Good Subjects come in other colours as well. Anyway, this was my soap box, let’s move on to the novel.

Julia’s good, sensible, perfect Mexican older sister is dead, and now Julia has to wear the brunt of her mother’s attention and emotions, and her father’s absence. As she never was the perfect Mexican daughter, this doesn’t make daily life any easier. Julia wants out, wants to live life to the fullest, and doesn’t care for getting married and becoming a mother, but that’s not how it’s supposed to be.

These struggles get extra layers when Julia’s mind goes in overdrive about everything and when she discovers that her sister might not be so perfect after all. How to keep that all in, because you’ve got no-one to share it with?

Julia so very clearly wants to escape and move on, but just like It’s Kind of a Funny Story‘s Craig, she’s got too many tentacles keeping her down. Still, the novel manages to end on a high note, and leaves me eager to visit Chicago one day.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Erika L. Sanchez, Alfred A. Knopf 2017

We Were Eight Years in Power

In 1895, two decades after his state moved from the egalitarian innovations of Reconstruction to an oppressive ‘Redemption”, South Carolina congressman Thomas Miller appealed to the state’s constitutional convention: we were eight years in power.

We Were Eight Years in Power isn’t a beach read. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ previous one had glimpses of light between all the rubble, but no such thing this time around. This time Coates has his bludgeon ready, and weighed it down with centuries of pain, abuse and inequality.
Because that’s what this book is, a collection of essays and articles in which is shown – again and again – how black people were mistreated by American authorities ever since they set foot on American soil. No, Obama didn’t create a post-racism society; there’s too many centuries of white supremacy and the ignoring of white guilt before his time. And well, just look at who’s in the White House right now.

It’s the kind of history lesson you probably don’t get in school, but if you want to join in on the conversation, you should be reading along.

We Were Eight Years in Power, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Penguin Random House 2017

The Bear and the Nightingale

It was late winter in Northern Rus’, the air sullen with wet that was neither rain nor snow.

Just like The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms an enthralling, easily accessible fantasy novel, with plenty of room for a cool (literally, in this case) female protagonist. Yay!

With my discovery of the CloudLibrary app (I’m not paid for this), I found a new way to more books. These are Express, so you can only borrow them for a week, meaning I just have to read faster. Alas.

As mentioned before, The Bear and the Nightingale is such an easy read, with only 300+ pages as well, that that time limit wasn’t an issue. It’s a (Russian) fairy tale about fairy tale elements being part of daily life. The young protagonist is too wild and strange for her family, and supports the ‘old’ gods and creatures besides Christianity. When the super religious join her house, things start rolling (into chaos).

I’m fond of reading stories set in Russia, and even though this is a romanticised version of history, it still gives an interesting look at early Moscow and its surroundings. But mostly it’s just a tasty morsel of a fairy tale that – even though it already got a sequel – can definitely stand on its own.

The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden, Penguin Random Publishing 2017

Little Fires Everywhere

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone round the bend and burned the house down.

Writing this review made me feel like reading the book for the second time, consider me a fan of Celeste Ng’s (you pronounce it as ‘ing’) work.

Again it’s a seemingly lovely, decent family of which the image (they project) slowly starts to show cracks. This time it’s literally and figuratively a small town story, and even though something quite big happens, there’s such a subdued, rosy-tinted tone to everything that even the moment when it all boils over, you don’t feel more like a soft ‘huh’. Because it wasn’t inevitable, but mostly because Ng writes in such a way that you’re swaddled, embedded into these lives and can almost feel the possibilities pass left and right. Maybe Izzy (Isabelle) will find her way sooner than later, maybe Mia and daughter Pearl will air out the secrets between them and for once put roots down somewhere. Maybe Mrs. Richardson can become a person again, instead of a connection between others.

So you wait, and hope while things crash and literally burn, while still ending on a high note. Because Celeste Ng is good like that.

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng, Penguin Publishing 2017

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

I AM NOT AS I ONCE WAS.

I’m so glad I gave this author another chance. The Fifth Season may have been a bridge too far or simply not the right book at the right time (when you read so many books, sometimes it’s weird to accept that you can’t ‘crack’ one right away), but girl, was The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms the cool, easy accessible fantasy you just might need.

With accessible I mean that the story line is (mostly) chronological, the lines drawn between good and evil are (mostly) clear and that the world building takes enough of a back seat to not confuse you about which surroundings you’re supposed to read a situation in.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms starts with an unlikely hero, a young woman brought to the royal family. But instead of letting her work her way through the fitting tropes, N.K. Jemisin quickly turns it around, and keeps adding little turns to the regular ideas.

What I really liked was the mythology used, and although this is the reason that does make the book less clean cut towards the end, by then you’ll be too enamored to want to give up.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin, Hatchette Book Group 2010

Behold the Dreamers

He’d never been asked to wear a suit to a job interview.

First of all, I’d like to mention that this is a book from Oprah’s Book Club. Mostly because the ebook file I had, would mention it in the most random ways.

Anyway, I discovered that my Ottawa library had another online service, which finally got me this one. Express, so I had to finish it in seven days. I finished it in two.

Behold the Dreamers is about the American dreamers, the immigrants who enter the country (kind of) legally and overstay their welcome in hope of a better life for themselves and their family. Jende and Neni are from Cameroon, escaping their town because of disapproval of their relationship and with dreams of more. For such a long time things go well (there is a job, education, money shared left and right) that the reader can almost get comfortable; maybe this family is the one that will slip through.

The story plays out during the start of the financial crisis. With Jende being the chauffeur of a high up Wall Street man, it’s clearly shown that suffering can always reach another level. The book is so full of (naive) hope that it gets tougher and tougher to swallow that the dream may just stay that: a dream.

Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue, Random House 2016

De melancholie van het verzet

Aangezien de stoptrein die in de vorst verstarde plaatsen op de Zuidelijke Laagvlakte tussen de rivier de Tisza en de voet van de Karpaten met elkaar verbond, ondanks de warrige uitleg van de verdwaasd lans de rails drentelende spoorbeambte en de alsmaar stelliger beloften van de nerveus rondrennende stationschef nog steeds niet was aangekomen (‘Tja, weer eentje opgelost in het niets…” zei de spoorbeambte met wrange spot), vertrok er een vervangende trein, bestaande uit een afgekeurde, gammele 424 en twee krakkemikkige, met houten zitbanken ingerichte wagons, die slechts in dergelijk zogenaamde ‘bijzondere situaties’ mochten worden ingezet; daarmee zouden de lokale reizigers, die het uitvallen van de vergeefs verwachte stoptrein uit het westen betrekkelijk onverschillig en met halfslachtige berusting opnamen –

En zo ging de zin nog even door, en dit is niet de laatste die hele pagina’s in zal nemen. Ik vind het Oost-Europese redelijk herkenbaar in toon, maar De Melancholie van het verzet voegt een toon van het absurdistische sprookjesachtige toe. Het verhaal is misschien wel bruin en solide, maar dan in tinten en patroontjes. Misschien heeft het boek ook wel mijn kunnen om een rechtlijnige review te schrijven ondermijnd.

Want wat gebeurt er precies? Er komt een vreemd circus naar een schijnbaar (door de autoriteiten) verlaten en verwaarloosde stad. Geruchten en opstootjes maken het allemaal nog iets surrealistischer, en daar tussendoor sluipen, paraderen en stiefelen figuren als vanuit een kijkdoos. Is het massahysterie, of een zeer goed georganiseerde opruiming?

Het is geen boek voor de lezer met weinig geduld, noch degene die een duidelijke conclusie eist. Mocht je open staan voor iets surrealistisch tussen te lafhartige mensen … plan er tijd voor in.

De melancholie van het verzet, László Krasznahorkai, Wereldbibliotheek 2016