24 10 / 2012
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Looking at the title of this book and its cover, it’s quite easy to ask “What the hell is this about?”
Esch Batiste lives off the Gulf Coast in Bois Savage, Mississippi, the only girl in a family full of men, which include an alcoholic father and three brothers. They are poor, living in the back woods. She is pregnant at 14 years old. And Hurricane Katrina is 10 days away.
Each chapter is a day in the life of Esch leading up to the hurricane. She is a tomboy with no feminine guidance, fascinated with Greek mythology, eager to please almost every boy who shows her any little bit of attention. There are also her brothers: Randall, the rising basketball star; Skeetah, who loves his dog China more than anything in the world; and Junior, the youngest, who gets on everyone’s nerves but is also their child, raised by them since their mother has passed.
This story may seem like it is about survival during one of the most damaging storms in US history, but it is really about a storm of a family that is grappling to grow up and get by amid poverty, violence, and the gaping hole left open by their dead mother and a father distant, angry, and most of the time, drunk.
Though Ward won the National Book Award for this, her second novel, I still was not prepared for how much I’d fall in love with this beautifully written, sad, survival story. I loved every single bit of it. It is my favorite novel of this year by far, and Ms. Ward has been added to my “Writers I Want To Be Like When I Grow Up” list. Junot Diaz was recently quoted claiming Ward “a beast” when it comes to this writing thing. He was not lying.
I would recommend this story to everyone, especially those who enjoy literary fiction and Southern literarture.
23 10 / 2012
Black Orchid Blues by Persia Walker
The cover may turn you off (so I’ve heard; personally, I love it), but this book was addictive!
Lanie Price, widower and gossip columnist in 1920s Harlem, is interviewing Queenie Lovetree aka “The Black Orchid”, an up and coming club performer, when a gunman comes in, shoots up the place, and kidnaps the rising star. Though Lanie is just an entertainment news reporter, she is also very nosey, and soon ends up investigating the mysterious incident.
The novel initially started off slow, but once the kidnapping went down, I COULD NOT PUT THIS BOOK DOWN. Walker makes you want to know the who’s, what’s and why’s just as much as Lanie does. Throw in a few historical/political facts of the day, a burgeoning love story that is complicated by past hurts and current career goals, and tons of info on the gay Harlem lifestyle, and you have a winner.
There were parts of the book that got really corny for me, and the ending seemed quite ridiculous, but the majority of the book was so intriguing that I honestly didn’t care. This book kind of came across like the Black woman’s answer to Dick Tracy. I can’t wait to read more of Persia Walker’s works.
I’d recommend this novel to those who love mysteries, historical fiction, and stories drenched in the culture of 1920s Harlem.
I’d also recommend reading Darkness and the Devil Behind Me first, because it is the first installment in the Lanie Price series. I wish I had known about this one prior to reading Black Orchid Blues so I could have read them in order.
18 10 / 2012
Passing Love by Jacqueline E. Luckett
In the present day, Nicole-Marie Handy decides to spend a few weeks in Paris after her best friend dies and she realizes that her affair with a married man is coming to a dead end. In the 1950s, Ruby, defiant and in love, runs off with her musician boyfriend to create a life in Paris. She is stubborn and selfish but eager to get away from her strict parents and make a life abroad. Passing Love is the story of how these two vastly different women, find a way into each other’s lives all due to secrets and love.
I thought I’d be intrigued by Nicole’s story, what with her having an affair and rushing off the Paris to have some fun, but Ruby stole the show, in my opinion. I loved her no-nonsense way of getting what she wanted, when she wanted. I loved how she stuck by her man through thick, and (very) thin times. Nicole’s story, on the other hand, seemed to drag. Save for a slightly surprising incident near the end, there were times when I wanted to skip her chapters altogether, and only focus on Ruby.
I enjoyed the avid amount of history of Black Paris that filled this novel. It definitely made me want to visit the City of Light and take some of the walking tours mentioned in the back of the book.
I’d recommend this read for those who enjoy historical fiction, Paris, French, and a little bit of romance.
16 10 / 2012
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
I wish every 16 year old Black teen in America was mandated to read this book. Let me tell you why:
Michelle Alexander is a lawyer who previously directed the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU of Northern California, which spearheaded a national campaign against racial profiling by law enforcement. In this book, she unleashes tons of of research not just to cover the prison industrial complex, but to cover what happens from the very start to get so many Black men there. Starting from the War on Drugs, the mass incentives given to police departments to lock up as many people as possible, the tactics used to arrest as many Black people as possible, the court cases that made such tactics legal, the stats that illustrate how Black men are disproportionately targeted for crimes that white men commit in much higher numbers, the people and industries who benefit from the high numbers of black men and women in prison, the long lasting effects of prison (no voting, little access to aid in education and social welfare, break down of family and community) which create a revolving door back to prison, and how and why she believes the prison system is the legalized way to put Black people back in the position that so many of our grandparents dealt with in the times of Jim Crow in the South.
Much of the info is eye opening and will make the most dedicated American reconsider their loyalties. I kind of already knew some of what she shared, but not all. The truths in this book made me so angry that it took nearly three months for me to complete, but it was also helpful in better understanding the conditions that have led to so many Black men behind bars. She also gives the information in a way that keeps the reader very engaged, so that even though it is filled mainly with politics, law, and history, it was still extremely interesting.
I feel like if people knew the information in this book, they would do better. Period.
I’d recommend this to those interested in American history, Black history, the American justice system, American law enforcement, racial profiling, the history and effects of the prison industrial complex, and the history of the War on Drugs.
16 10 / 2012
Just because I haven’t been posting reviews, doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. I’ve been too busy to write. But, I found a little bit of time so here goes…
If Sons, Then Heirs by Lorene Cary
If Sons, Then Heirs is somewhat of a family saga, mostly set in South Carolina, about heir property given to King Needham from his master following the abolition of slavery. His widow, Nana Selma, now lives on the property in the present day and is worried that the land will be taken from King’s descendants when she dies. Enter Rayne, King’s great grandson, on the brink of starting his own family in Philadelphia, who visits Nana Selma a few times each year, but has no desire to take over the land. The story follows Rayne on his most recent visit to see Nana, chronicling their discussions of his family history, the hardships in claiming Needham ownership of the land (and the sneaky white folk behind it all), as well as him coming to grips with Jewel, his mother who sent him from New York one summer to visit Nana Selma (and his belligerent grandfather) when he was six, but never bothered to send for his return.
Very interesting premise, what with the property law situation and the family history thrown in, but Cary lost me a few times in the book because the story seemed to be too complicated, especially for fiction. There was Nana suffering from illnesses and trying to get property ownership settled; Rayne and his girlfriend, Lillie, and their financial struggles in Philly; Rayne getting used to being a stepfather to Lillie’s son, Kalil; Rayne struggling with his newly found mother, Jewel; Jewel’s story, and her husband’s battle with cancer; King’s story of the land, his tragic death, and family history…as you can see, there was a lot going on. In addition to that, the story was almost boring and it was a bit too long for my liking. Had I not previously enjoyed Cary’s memoir, Black Ice, I would have given up on this novel early on.
I liked the positive themes of family working together to preserve their history and land, Rayne eventually embracing the responsibilities that come with manhood, and the very uplifting conclusion, so there was some good to finishing it.
I’d recommend this to those who like historical fiction, stories about Black migration and property ownership, heavy family and manhood themes, and novels with an introspective male protagonist.