Juliet Takes A Breath

Dear Harlowe,

Hi, my name is Juliet Palante.

Wederom een boek dat een noodzakelijke andere invalshoek biedt. Een Puertoricaanse lesbische tiener uit de Bronx die handvaten nodig heeft voor opgroeien, identiteit, feminisme en seksualiteit.

Maar leuk en lief en frustrerend en interessant, echt waar. Juliet worstelt nog met haar identiteit en uit de kast komen, maar heeft veel hulp van een boek. Na een enthousiaste mail naar de auteur mag ze langs komen voor een stage, waardoor ze ook nog moet leren omgaan met een compleet andere omgeving (Bronx naar Portland).

Juliet is heel erg een tiener, maar wel eentje die open staat voor nieuwe dingen leren, waardoor wat-een-tiener-frustraties bijna niet op komen borrelen. Ja, ze is koppig en ongeduldig en wantrouwend, maar ook zelfstandig, nieuwsgierig en kan kritiek aan.

Het boek leest als een technicolor sneltrein, en ik kan mij niet herinneren wanneer ik het voor het laatst zo’n ontiegelijk menselijk YA heb gelezen. Dus doen voor de invalshoek, maar zeker ook voor de lol.

Juliet Takes A Breath, Gabby Rivera, Riverdaleave Books 2016

The Gilda Stories

The Girl slept restlessly, feeling the prickly straw as if it were teasing pinches from her mother.

I wish I liked this book more. It’s original vampire fantasy, mixed with history from a black woman’s point of view.

The Girl is turned in the fifties of the nineteenth century, and the reader follows her into the fifties of the twenty-first century, adding some science fiction with a dire outlook as well.

I just didn’t care. Some of the secondary characters bring excitement to the chapters, but never stay long enough. Maybe it’s the writing, which feels flat and colourless to me, maybe it’s the main character’s aloofness that prevents me from connecting. It’s only 252 pages yet it took me weeks to get through it. The historical point of view interested me more than all of Gilda’s stories.

It could definitely work as a (mini-)series, I think. I’d give it a second chance on a screen.

The Gilda Stories, Jewelle Gomez, Firebrand Books 1991

Jam on the Vine

Ivoe liked to carry on about all she could do.

Female history, black history and history of the (newspaper) media, and all that coming from a black female author? It’s like a filled out bingo card of potential amazingness.

I’ve mentioned before how I try to read more of the unfamiliar point of view, and this book makes me glad I did. You learn so much, but most of all that the white (male) author doesn’t have a monopoly on a good story on any subject.

Ivoe¬† is a nineteenth century born black woman who wants more than the cotton fields or house work. She’s got the brain to back it up, but brain isn’t enough to open doors with. Even with the necessary education, she can’t land the so much desired job of journalist. Instead of giving up, she starts her own newspaper.

What makes this story is how every step is harder (than the white male’s one) than necessary. This can’t be used by black people, that can’t be done for black people, and definitely don’t get involved with the law, if you don’t want to lose at least eight years of your life. It’s so bizarre how all of this happened not all too long ago, but even more how so many of these ideas are still alive and active. Jam on the Vine is a rousing, educating story that probably will never get the attention is deserves. Because of the author, because of the subject. The only huge difference between now and then is that there’s no segregated public transport.

Jam on the Vine, Lashonda Katrice Barnett, Grove Press 2015

Girlhood

113 min.

I missed my chance to watch this in London, in the Netherlands, and now Netflix (Canada) helped me out. It’s so pleasing to find ‘smaller’ movies there.

girlhood poster canalplusWhy did I want to see it so badly? Because it’s a movie about girls. Female friendships and relationships, but not in the clean, Hollywood way. And the majority of the characters are black, something that outside a Tyler Perry movie doesn’t happen in Hollywood. Are black female friendships different from those of other women, then? Very probably not, but their backgrounds are.

Marieme wants to go to high school, but isn’t allowed to. Instead it’s the banlieu for her, where she lives with three siblings and her mother, between fights and dealings.
She’s picked up by a group of girls, but while the viewer may expect them to be the gateway to worse, they may be the right thing for her instead.

But French films don’t mind showing reality, so things happen outside Marieme’s power. The viewer starts to lose her not long after having found her. All we can do is watch.

Stories like these have to be continued to be told until every Marieme (and her friends) are recognised as a human being, instead of a threat or a burden.

Girlhood, Canal+ 2014

Kindred

I lost an arm on my last trip home.

I’ve been told for quite some time that I couldn’t call myself a lover of the fantasy genre without having read anything by Octavia E. Butler. When my library offered some of her titles a place in the spotlight, I considered it a sign.¬†Kindred it was.

It’s a time travel story. But this time the time traveler is a black woman from the eighties that’s pulled back into the antebellum South, ending up on a slaver’s plantation.

So instead of enjoying the history lesson and possibly being hauled as someone knowledgeable, a genius or a great but terrifying witch, Dana has to fear for her life and freedom all the time. If it looks like a slave, it probably is a slave, after all, no matter how weird she talks. Quickly she discovers a link to the house she keeps returning to, but every time she’s pulled back, it’s harder to adjust and harder to believe that this isn’t her life, these aren’t her problems.

Butler doesn’t mince words nor situations. If a slave does something its owner doesn’t agree with (this ranges from looking at them in a certain way to trying to run), punishment follows. Brutal punishment, written up in vivid detail. If Dana has to suffer, so has the reader. Every small shimmer of hope can be mistrusted, because surely it won’t last. Not in that world.

And yet it’s an incredibly easy, quick read. Maybe it’s the disaster tourist in all of us, you can’t keep your eyes off the terror.

Kindred, Octavia E. Butler, Beacon Press 1979

The Residue Years

It’s years beyond the worst of it, and it’s your time, Mom, a time of head starts and new starts and starting and not stopping – of re-dos and fixes, of gazing at full moons and quarter moons and seeing what before were phantasms for-reals.

Sometimes people have already said it and said it better: “A raw heart wreck of a novel .. one of the fictional families I have cared about most” (Amy Hempel).

A poor, black family tries to adjust to the drugs-addicted mother coming back from rehab. She tries to adjust to society, life, and family, but none of those are very cooperative in giving her a a second, third, fourth chance. Her older son tries hard to avoid the cracks, but just stumbles from one to another, because life is different for a black man versus a white man.

Things go a bit better before they turn a lot worse again, and it hurts and it aches because the reader can’t do anything about it. This is simply the reality for some people, and even it knowing is uncomfortable, it’s better than not knowing.

The Residue Years, Mitchell S. Jackson, Bloomsbury 2013