Alex, Approximately

He could be any one of these people.

En als je dan even iets lichters nodig hebt, zonder gelijk je haar uit het hoofd te trekken omdat het allemaal zo vreselijk dom is, ga je voor een tienerromance die vanaf het tweede hoofdstuk duidelijk voor je neerzet hoe het af gaat lopen. Niks mis mee.

Hoofdpersoon Bailey is een groot fan van klassieke films, chat daarover met een leuke, slimme, vriendelijke jongeman online (Alex), en verhuist naar zijn dorp zonder het hem te vertellen, zodat ze kan ontdekken of hij in het echt net zo leuk, slim en vriendelijk is. Maar dan ontmoet ze een vervelende maar leuke jongeman op haar nieuwe werk, en wordt de vraag om Alex steeds kleiner. Oh nee, hoe zal dit nu aflopen.

Alex, Approximately voorkomt dertien in een dozijn te worden door een paar scherpe randjes die de motivatie van Bailey goed onderbouwen. Verder is het zalig zwijmelen in een surfersparadijs.

Alex, Approximately, Jenn Bennett, Simon & Schuster 2017

The Hate U Give

I shouldn’t have come to this party.

This one is probably going to be relevant for a long time coming, and that’s why I’m unsure how to go about this. As one of the blurbs on the back of the book says, everyone should read it, maybe especially if it makes you uncomfortable, but how do I put into words why you should read it?

Maybe because it gives a face to Ferguson, to Black Lives Matter, to Flint and all the other cases in which it’s easy to think of an entity, instead of a collection of individuals. Starr is one of the few black people on a very fancy school, which makes her feel like she’s living two versions of herself. When she witnesses a shooting, it’s harder to keep those two apart.

But it’s not just Starr’s story. It’s her family, her community and the endless attempts of being heard and seen as people, instead of thugs, low-lives, useless. Angie Thomas balances that impressively, and even though there are rough patches to get through, you’ll be so attached to the people you’re reading about, that you just take it.

And again, definitely a book I would have rather seen in my YA Literature class than another white boy story.

The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas, HarperCollins 2017

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

Pachinko

History has failed us, but no matter.

Yes, a much better start for the new reading year than Acceptance. Much better than any recent books, and it’s January 24th. Anyway, Pachinko was lauded and I’m glad it didn’t disappoint me.

It’s a family epic of a Korean family, starting in 1910. Generation after generation takes you past living in poverty, living in a colonised country, war, prosperity and loss. There’s born family and created family and all the other connections that happen in society.

Sounds terribly vague? Simply because this is a book you should allow to overwhelm you, instead of going in with any expectations. “Meh”, you think, “a soap opera spread through time”, but that’s an insult. Pachinko is history, humanity, entertainment and mind boggling (the things I didn’t know as a white woman). Oh, and the descriptions of food might make you drool a little.

Pachinko is nominated for the American award ‘National Book Award for Fiction’. It has my vote.

Pachinko, Min Jin Lee, Hachette Book Group 2017