White Ivy

Ivy Lin was a thief but you would never knew it to look at her.

White Ivy, Susie Yang, Simon & Schuster 2020

White Ivy is all over the place. As the summary and blurbs say it’s coming of age, a (second generation) migrant story, but Ivy manages to elevate (and worsen) all of it.

Because Ivy doesn’t fit into any mold. Maybe she doesn’t even have one. It’s maddening how she sabotages and destroys, but looking at her experiences and upbringingā€¦ maybe not that strange. Because how do you handle being left in a country only to meet your parents again after several years? Being the only Asian-Canadian in white surroundings? Having a violent tiger-mother and (mentally-)absent father? Lesser people would have gotten some trauma from that.

Again, sometimes you’re talking to Ivy to just unclench for once, give herself something, let go of all she’s carrying. Please, to give the reader some air to breathe as well.

I won’t share if she does, but it’s been a while since I’ve so rooted for and so disliked one and the same fictional character.

Greenwood

They come for the trees.

Greenwood, Michael Christie, Scribe 2020

It is well-known (here) that I’m a fan of family epics. There’s always the risk that the dullest character gets the most attention but still: throw in clear images of different eras and I’m in.

Michael Christie’s adds trees to his. From cutting to protecting, wood working and dendrology (- yes, I learned a new word), these Greenwood generations are willingly and unwillingly connected to the lungs of the earth.

The story ranges from 1908 to 2038 and with almost 500 pages – goes far and wide through Canada and characters.

The only thing that slightly bothered me was the imbalance between male and female characters and how the latter were all connected to motherhood somehow. I know that some of the historical settings limit female independence and freedom or maybe the male author simply didn’t dare but.. I would have liked to know more about them and their surroundings.

Except for Jake’s. Her 2038 is a loud, environmental warning we should all hope doesn’t turn into reality.

Anxious People

A bank robbery.

Anxious People, Fredrick Backman, Simon & Schuster 2020

“This story is about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots.” – don’t say Fredrick Backman didn’t warn you.

A bank robbery turns into a hostage situation but everyone involved is completely incapable of being a decent, well-functioning part of society. The bank robber takes over an apartment viewing, but everyone is more annoyed by this situation than terrified. And the bank robber is nervous and apologetic.

With flash-backs and flash..sides? we learn slightly more about this collection of fools and what made them this way. Backman does this in a quirky way, but manages very well to balance it before it gets annoying. This turns it into a comedy without having claimed to be a comedy, but there’s plenty of saddening details to add layers and depth to “Haha, weirdos!”.

It had me crying at the end. They might be idiots, but weren’t they made that way by situation and society? Saying more would ruin the few (small) surprises; read this for a solid laugh.

Homeland Elegies

I had a professor in college, Mary Moroni, who taught Melville and Emerson, and who the once famous Norman O. Brown – her mentor – called the finest mind of her generation; a diminutive, cherubic woman in her early thirties with a resemblance to a Raphaelesque putto that was not incidental (her parents had immigrated from Urbino); a scholar of staggering erudition who quotes as easily from the Eddas and Hannah Arendt as she did from Moby-Dick; a lesbian, which I only mention because she did, often; a lecturer whose turns of phrase were sharp as a German paring knife, could score the brain’s gray matter and carve out new grooves along which old thoughts would reroute, as on that February morning two weeks after Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, when, during a class on life under early American capitalism, Mary, clearly interrupted by her own tantalizing thought, looked up from the floor at which she usually gazed as she spoke – her left hand characteristically buried in the pocket of the loose-fitting slacks that were her mainstay – looked up and remarked almost offhandedly that America had begin as a colony and that a colony it remained, that is, a place still defined by its plunder, where enrichment was paramount and civil order always an afterthought.

Homeland Elegies, Ayad Akhtar, Little Brown and Company 2020

I should have seen it coming with such a first sentence. With some books you feel bad about not clicking with it; this has such positive reviews, it’s such an eye-opener etc. etc., so why am I not latching onto and never letting go?

Well, for starters the summary and the story don’t have a lot in common. There are so many descriptions of everything and everyone (the author seems to know that he does this, but still keeps doing it). And there’s much more descriptions of women’s vulvas than expected.

“Life as an American Muslim from 9/11 to Trump”. Sorta, but much more. And before as well, but not after. And very much, maybe all of it, about the author’s life. Even though there is a disclaimer about every character being fictional.

This offers insights about the (American) Muslim diaspora and ideas about the Islam which were new to me and explain some things, but there’s no clear line or plot wherever. Are these independent stories or a chronological build up? Trump might be mentioned on five of the three-hundred pages, was this a marketing decision? And why the sex diary?

But it’s “unputdownable” and by a Pulitzer-winning author, so I probably just don’t understand.

The Midnight Bargain

The carriage drew closer to Booksellers’ Row, and Beatrice Clayborn drew in a hopeful breath before she cast her spell.

The Midnight Bargain, C.L. Polk, Erewhon Books 2020

Sometimes when you work hard to get a book, and when it disappoints it hits even harder. Like a book (or film) has to deliver for the sole reason of me having invested in attaining it. I even e-mailed the library about this novel (gasp!).

Luckily The Midnight Bargain didn’t disappoint: far from it. I hoped for a Victorian romance with a hint of magic; I got a historical fantasy with a hint of romance.

Beatrice lives in a world where her path leads into only one direction: marriage and motherhood. Even though she’s got magic, women can’t use it and carry children as well – society made the choice for her that she will deny magic. It’s also necessary for financial reasons: her father made bad investments and a connection to a rich family is essential to prevent them from poverty.

But of course: Beatrice doesn’t want this. She wants to hold on to magic and help her family, not be sold like cattle.

Spirits, wonderful, kind heartthrobs and dastardly competition get involved – it’s all too much fun to spell it out. Well done, cute little romance/coming-of-age: you absolutely delighted me.

Utopia Avenue

Dean hurries past the Phoenix Theatre, dodges a blind man in dark glasses, steps onto Charing Cross road to overtake a slow-moving woman and pram, leaps a grimy puddle and swerves into Denmark Street where he skids on a sheet of black ice.

Utopia Avenue, David Mitchell, Sceptre 2020

I really think that David Mitchell is my favourite male author. While Utopia Avenue wasn’t my favourite (“yes, you did your homework when it comes to how music is created, I don’t really care”), it was still a book I spent my nights on opposed to the usual screen time.

It felt like it was a character study. Of people (in the music business) during a certain era in history, but also of the era itself. The USA and England can be compared to Cinderella and one of her siblings: young, fresh and exciting versus jealous drudgery.

Jasper de Zoet (as far as I know the first time Mitchell refers to characters from other novels) delivers the eerie, magical realistic touch to the story. Is he mentally unwell – and if so, in what way? – or is there more between hell and earth? I felt like it both lifted up and brought down the story. Any more would provide spoilers, and of course Mitchell manages to interweave it thusly that anything else wouldn’t have worked.

It’s a book like an opera: if those come with drug abuse, celebrity house parties and detailed descriptions of jam sessions. After having written this, I feel like reading it for a second time. Make of that what you will.

Stuntwomen: the untold Hollywood Story

85 min.

Kinda started this out of boredom, decided to stick with it because it told me a lot about Hollywood (history) I didn’t know yet. And showed a lot of cool stunts (which are usually also very dangerous, shouldn’t be reenacted and there should probably be a conversation about how it’s time to CGI stunts before anything else).

It’s the untold story, but at the same time and all too familiar one: women aren’t as appreciated in their job as men (in the same function).
Starting out, it was more women than men doing stunts. Then it turned out that money was to be made, and men came in in droves. Women have to be a carbon copy of the actress they replace: men are done after putting on a wig. Men are hired for every job (background victims, for example) with little experience, women didn’t because they “didn’t fit the bill completely” or “I don’t like to see women shot” – director’s quote.

Yet they – as in any other job – persevere(d). Sometimes by doing the too dangerous job (an interviewed stuntwoman broke her back twice), but they have so much passion for what they do that it’s hard to stay away.

Inspirational and motivational – both about standing your ground in the work place and I really want to pick up all kinds of martial arts, boxing and trampoline jumping right now.

Parachutes

I lie in bed listening for the shuffle of my father’s slippers.

Parachutes, Kelly Yang, Katherine Tegen Books 2020

Just to showcase that the element of immigration and immigrant characters can create very different stories (of course). Because this time there’s more Filipino characters (but they’re not the immigrants), but the real immigrants (although temporarily) are the so called parachutes: Asian teenagers that are dropped at prestigious American high schools so they can get an international diploma.
That was a lot of brackets used.

This is a good YA novel. It’s clearly written for a teen audience, (yet) manages to discuss subjects teenagers may experience yet know little about – sexual assault and rape, in this case. There’s even a warning about it in the front of the book, which caused me to kind-of-nervously count down to when things would happen.

That doesn’t mean that Parachutes is an after-school-special disguised as a novel: it’s the troubles of high school life, worrying about fitting in, crushes and clamouring to be older/out of there. Besides that there’s a class difference: Dani is a daughter of a single mum, working alongside her and on a scholarship, while Claire is a parachute who gets an unlimited credit card in her luggage to make sure that “she’s safe in the USA”. You read along with both of their stories.

All written super smoothly, making Parachutes a novel to stay up late for, wonder how the characters will develop further and gush about it online.

Interior Chinatown

INT. GOLDEN PALACE

Ever since you were a boy, you’ve dreamt of being Kung Fu Guy.

Interior Chinatown, Charles Yu, Vintage Books 2020

I don’t really know how to review it and this time that’s a good thing. It’s original and awkward and confrontational. With racism and hate directed at Asians (in the diaspora) it’s also very, very relevant.

And in between: fun. Throwing you off balance, not being what you expected. It’s not something I experience often, and for that alone I’d recommend this novel.

Oona Out of Order

Oona stopped trusting the mirror years ago.

Oona Out of Order, Margarita Montimore, Flatiron Books 2020

Very like my previously read novel. This review, not the plot. This also felt repetitive and a bit cookie cutter with an element that could have been really weird and eerie.

Oona time travels, but she never knows in which year of her life she’s going to end up in and after a year she’s gone again. She also doesn’t know why this happens, and can’t get used to it.

Which, okay; kind of understandable. But I don’t have to go through that as a reader at the start of every chapter? Whatever happened to Show, Don’t Tell?

At the very least, Margarita Montimore shows New York City very appealingly, and – just as with the previous read novel – leaves you with a tinge of satisfaction because of that one Life Lesson.