The Love Wife by Gish Jen
Took me quite a long time to get through. Didn’t connect with these characters as much as I did in Typical American or Mona in the Promised Land. Still good. In a lot of ways this book is more about a well-meaning white lady trying to best care for her multiracial family and how the family reacts when a mother-figure Chinese woman starts living with them. It was also a little bit (a lot?) sad.
Read this for a fictional but serious look at the complications that multiracial families can face and the power of feeling that you are “like” someone else.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
So… confession. I also read her book An Untamed State and was not impressed. I wanted to be. I follow Gay on Twitter and tumblr and am an all-around fan, so I scooped up that novel with enthusiasm, but for me it just fell flat.
Another confession: I read this book a solid month ago and am just now typing this up. Fail.
That said, this is a really strong group of essays. There are a couple in the collection that felt so strongly academic-review-paper that I actually skipped them, but the rest were fantastic and I highly recommend the book. I do wish that, in some ways, she had gotten more intimate. Her style seems to be very matter-of-fact – she’ll give you details and will name her feelings but won’t encourage you to feel them with her so much as tell you about them. I’m not saying these to dissuade at all – again, highly recommend and I’ll be passing it to friends. Just thinking aloud.
Read this if you’re a feminist. Or not a feminist. Or (ha!) a bad feminist. I also recommend you get familiar with Roxane Gay on Twitter and tumblr for a taste of her musings. She is a true literary internet rockstar.
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
I really loved the beginning of this book. It felt raw and real and dealt with adult-type things in a teen-like way. It was great. The language was sharp and funny and insightful. Once you get about a quarter of the way in it starts becoming more cliche and forced. I figured out the plot pretty quickly, yet it continues to rely on that plot as if the reader doesn’t know what’s coming. It was enjoyable, and some of the images stuck with me, but generally something I’d skim instead of get deeply into.
Read it if you’re generally a fan of YA lit or if you are compelled by stories about artists.
P.S. I would be zero percent shocked if this gets made into a movie in a few years.
A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain by Adrianne Harun
This was one weird book. Basically a tale of good vs. evil with a little bit of poverty and race politics. It was OK. I didn’t feel compelled enough the unfurling evil to put up with the flowery, detailed language and ended up flipping through the last 30 pages or so.
Read this if you really like good/evil stories and long descriptions.
The Circle by Dave Eggers
This book made me super tense the way an all-night HTML-fixing session or internet black hole does. It’s basically 1984 (George Orwell) with a female protagonist and the internet as your enemy. I simultaneously wanted to delete all of my internet profiles and check my Twitter followers.
Read this if you’re in the mood for some dystopian lit that isn’t YA (not that the book is particularly racy.) Or if you feel like getting real angsty about your internet habits.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
I’ll be honest, even though I read the back, I quickly forgot that this was a book about a girl who lived her life with a chimp.
This is an easy-read, fun-to-read, easy-to-empathize with book. It also made me want to deeply research animals. I feel like this is a book that could turn a person into a PETA member. Or any kind of animal activist. It really taps into how human animals can be (and how animal humans are.)
Read this when you need something light-heavy – the kind of thing you might call “chick-lit” to entice a certain kind of person and “light-lit” to entice another. It’s a lovely look into family and what it means to be a person.
Vida by Patricia Engel
Not much to say about this book, which is not to say I didn’t like it. It’s a series of short stories about the same main female character at different stages. Rough and tumble and a little gritty. Really pleasant to get through, strong strong descriptions. I’d call it the female version of Junot Diaz’s work, but I feel like that demeans it’s heft. It’s good, is what I’m saying, and you can get through it in an afternoon.
If you’re looking for a bit of an anti-heroine who you can still completely relate to, pick it up.
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
This is a really gorgeous book. I think my only criticism is I could have easily spent a few hundred more pages with the main character. I wanted to more time spend with her coming to her own in America, the challenges that presents.
There’s a lot going on in this book, in a good way. Religion, poverty, apartheid, race, abuse, immigration, feminism… just to name a view. Bulawayo is sharp, and not-super-obvious. Darling (the main character) is a gorgeous insight into family and beliefs and getting what you wanted (…and then wondering if you really wanted it.)
Read this when you want to see the world through the eyes of someone who is probably rather different to you (unless you happen to be a Zimbabwean living in the U.S.)
The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara
This was kind of a weird read for me. Pleasant, seriously interesting premise (low-brow scientist ends up discovering a turtle that keeps people alive for hundreds of years past their natural expiration date). It’s a little mysterious and long-winded. It took me a while to get through because there’s just… a lot. The writing is clear and detailed.
What really got me was the ending. Man, the ending. I felt as though I’d been strung along for the sake of it.
Read it if you’re in a pseudo-sciencey mood and feel like taking a dive into a fake “undiscovered” land. I definitely did when I picked it up.
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Pleasant read. Which is weird to say about a book where a woman is raped and her teenage son tries to figure out who committed the crime and how to deal with it.
It was good, I read it, I enjoyed it. But now that I’m here writing about it I feel a little… less impressed. Things don’t line up as well, consequences for the characters are all over the place, the sense of what made the difference in their lives is kind of… poof. Not because I don’t remember but because it seemed a little outrageous.
But it’s good. The dialogue is strong. The sentences are strong. You’ll read it and like it as long as you’re not to invested in consequences or PTSD or a foundation for moral ambiguity.
It’s good for poolside or light reading. It’s great for teenagers or people who aren’t familiar with narratives dealing with Native Americans. It’s a good start, for sure. It’s a good insight into the laws Native Americans are dealing with regularly, particularly women. I just don’t know that through the eyes and “justice” of a 13-year-old-boy is the best way to go about it.