Showing posts with label racism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label racism. Show all posts

Friday, March 2, 2018

A Thousand Never Evers by Shana Burg

Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook which was read really sweetly by Kenya Brome, but while I would listen to her read a different story, I don't think I would want to read another story by this author because I was so very disappointed in this one. I think it had such potential, but the real story, of this young boy Elias on the run from a potential lynch mob, was completely subsumed under this farcical fluff story of a community garden being sabotaged by these rampaging butterbeans, and how this guy named Bump Dawson, and African American, was being blamed for it.

Set in 1963 in Mississippi, the story tells of a racially-divided community with black folk living literally on the wrong side of the tracks, which I felt was a bit much. They are of course criminally subjugated in every way, but things get stirred-up for the worse when the old man of the "Big House" where Bump and Addy (the twelve year old narrator) work, dies of old age. He leaves some land to the community and specifies in his will that it should be shared by whites and "negroes" but of course the white powers that be - the sheriff and mayor - aren't about to let no "uppity" black folk have a share in anything if they can help it.

It's decided that a garden should be planted with vegetables, and the black folk can work it and the vegetables shared. It's not specified whether the non-white community would get anything out of this. What happens though is that someone plants butterbeans all over the garden. There are two kinds of butter beans (or lima beans as they're also known). One type grows as a bush. The type in this story are supposed to be grown on frames. Since these beans were scattered all over the plot and had nothing to climb on, they supposedly grew wild vines which strangled everything else, ruining all the other things that had been planted.

To me, this was a stretch at best, because it assumes that not one single person other than the villain of the piece ever went to look at how the crops were progressing, and no one went to water it or pull weeds. The villain was a white guy who owned a grocery store, and who sabotaged the community garden because he thought it would take business away from his store, but it was Bump Dawson who was put on trial for it. Had this been the whole story and nothing but the story, that would have been one thing, but it wasn't.

Prior to the butter bean fiasco, a pair of white kids, heroes of the local football team, had been bullying Addy, and her older brother had flown off the handle, beaning one of the bullies with a glass jar containing a preserve or something. I forget exactly. That could have killed this kid. Fortunately it didn't, but being as it was - a black kid assaulting a white kid in 1963 Mississippi, there would be a lynching more than likely, so Addy's brother Elias goes on the lam, and the author tries to pretend he drowned, but it's obvious he didn't.

To me, this was the focal point right here, but the author derailed that one completely, ruining what could have been a great story, with this overly melodramatic butter bean garbage. So for me the story failed. It cheapened and trivialized Elias's story which was much more interesting. Yes, he was provoked, but his reaction had been foolishly out of proportion. He could have been charged with attempted murder, and by the end of the story he escaped justice. Not that there was justice to be found for black folks back then, and precious little even today in far too many cases.

I know this story was aimed at middle-grade kids, but it was a very one-dimensional story and racist in some ways in that white people were all lumped together under the banner 'white folk' who all supposedly had the same traits: all white folk do this or all white folk think that. That kind of bigotry was no better than what the African Americans had to deal with on a daily basis, so for these reasons, I cannot rate this as a worthy read.

There are better stories out there than this, and I wish authors wouldn't cheapen the tragedy of an appalling and shamefully racist past and a present that is in many ways still as bad, by churning out bland stories which bring nothing new to the table and worse, which turn people off even reading such stories because of this constant harping on the topic by writers who really need to tell stories that move and motivate instead of putting people to sleep or making their ears glaze over by regurgitating the same old stuff that's already been done to death, without even the courtesy of adding something new.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Fresh Ink by various authors

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was an anthology put together by Lamar Giles under the Random House Children's Crown Books for Young Readers imprint, but the themes here seemed rather adult, so I'm wondering if young adult might have been better than 'young children's' - to me that's misleading. Worse than this there are os many books out there titled "Fresh Ink" that it's a bit sad the publisher could not have come up with something better and less over-used.

Overall I was not impressed by this. Out of thirteen stories only two were really enjoyable and one was a maybe, but the rest were not interesting, and overall the stories belied the anthology title - there really wasn't anything fresh here at all. Maybe the stories were newly-written, but that doesn't mean they're fresh, and most of the themes featured here have already been done to death. They need really fresh ink to keep these themes alive, and sadly, this wasn't it.

The range of authors was in one way commendably diverse, but the problem with that is that all of these authors are USA authors! Only Melissa de la Cruz and Nicola Yoon were not born here and they apparently got here as soon as they could, and every story was set in the USA, like no other country in the world matters. I found this to be a big indictment of the 'fresh' claim: it really was very much same old, same old, and this made me sad. There's little point in talking about diversity and inclusiveness, and "#ownvoices" when it's all USA all the time, like there is nowhere else in the world worth writing about or setting stories in. It makes the whole enterprise hypocritical.

The blurb on Goodreads and on Net Galley says, "Careful--you are holding fresh ink. And not hot-off-the-press, still-drying-in-your-hands ink. Instead, you are holding twelve stories with endings that are still being written--whose next chapters are up to you." but this is disingenuous bullshit! All of these stories are copyrighted to their authors. You start writing 'chapter two' of any one of these and you will be sued.

The story titles are listed below with my comments on each. I'd heard of only three of these authors before through reading their work, so this felt like a good opportunity to 'meet' the others and see what they can do.

  • Eraser Tattoo by Jason Reynolds
    This story was a poor lead-in for me because it led me nowhere. I'd never heard of this author, so I was interested to see if I liked the story, but it turned out to be a maudlin meandering tale of a young couple who were going to be separated by distance. It felt like fluff to me - like nothing. People split up all the time, so if you're going to relate a story about it, you'd better bring something new to the table: a twist, a new angle, something. There was nothing new revealed here, nothing fresh. I guess there could have been, but a story like this needs to be handled better than it was. I found it boring. The title sounds almost sci-fi, but the eraser tattoo is quite literally a tattoo made from rubbing an eraser on your skin - and painfully so. I have no idea why anyone would want to do that, so from the off these two people struck me as morons and they never changed that opinion. I honestly wondered if this one had been included only because the title of the anthology suggests tattooing, and this is the only story which features it? If I'd known that the author had won the 2016 Kirkus Prize, for As Brave As You I might have skipped this story altogether. Kirkus never met a story they didn't like, which means their reviews are utterly worthless except in their utility in warning me off books I will not like.
  • Meet Cute by Malinda Lo
    After reading Ash and Huntress Malinda Lo was way up there in my esteem, and I was looking forward to reading this more than any other story here. Once again she came through for me with a sweet, gentle easy story about two girls who happily meet by accident at a comic con. While I do recognize the story potential inherent in such scenarios, I'm not a fan of comic cons or of that culture, so for her to bring a story out of that which impressed and pleased me was even more commendable. When I say the story was easy, I mean it was easy on the mind. The story itself was layered and complex with delicious subtle undercurrents. I always felt the ending had to be a happy one, but the author kept it up in the air naturally enough that it made me feel a small sense of panic that it would not. The two girls will not forget that particular comic con in a hurry.
  • Don’t Pass Me By by Eric Gansworth
    This was a story about the American Indian experience which has been an appalling one, and which is still going on far too long, but I didn't think that this was a very good way to relate it. It did make a point about how schools are designed for white folk, as evidenced in the predominantly white (or worse, pink!) appearance of characters in biology books, but aside from that it could have been a story about anyone undergoing acceptance problems, yet it wasn't! By that I mean I think this story would have popped a lot more if there had been two people enduring the same passive bullying and rejection, one of which was American Indian, the other of which was differentiated in some other way. As it was, it was just so-so and I'm not convinced it will achieve its aim which makes me sad to report.
  • Be Cool for Once by Aminah Mae Safi
    This story was ostensibly about a Muslim experience, as exhibited in this case by Shirin, but the story really could have been about anyone in her position Muslim or not, so it failed to make a good impression on me as such a story, and the writing never rose above your standard YA girl main character story. It seemed to have no focus, being much more of a generic story about two girls going to a concert and one of them having a crush on a boy than ever it did about what it felt like to be Muslim, and maybe isolated and different. You could have quite literally put any person in the place of Shirin, anyone who had some sort of issue, male or female, and pretty much told the same story word for word. It's been done! There's nothing fresh here. Because of this, it actually rendered Shirin more 'the same' than ever it did different, and I don't mean that in any positive way. I mean it was not a fresh story, and it didn't cut to the real chase, but instead meandered into some sort of ersatz chase that stood in for and thereby negated the real story that could have been told here.
  • Tags by Walter Dean Myers
    I did not like this one at all. It was written lazily, like it was a movie script, but with speech only, and no scene setting or 'stage' directions at all, and was so boring that I quit reading after a couple of pages. Big fail.
  • Why I Learned to Cook By Sara Farizan
    This was about a girl, Yasaman, who is Persian and a lesbian. She's come out to her family, but not to her grandmother because she doesn't know how grandma will take this news, but she eventually gets around to inviting Hannah, her girlfriend, over to grandmas and it worked out of course. This story I did not find objectionable, but that was the best I could say about it because it really was nothing I haven't read before. If you're going to do a coming out story you need a fresher edge than this one offered. If the story had been set in Iran, that would have made a difference, but the author played it safe. You're not going to hit any balls out of the stadium if you're afraid to really swing that bat.
  • A Stranger at the Bochinche by Daniel José Older
    This oen was really short and so rambling that I honestly glazed-over and could not take in the story assuming there was one to be had. I'm not sure what it was trying to say, but whatever it was, if anything, was lost on me.
  • A Boy’s Duty by Sharon G Flake
    I've read three novels by Sharon Flake and liked two of them, so she was batting a .666 coming into this, but now she's down to .500 because I did not like this one. It was about racism in World War Two, and an idiot kid who seemed to delight in pissing people off. There was nothing here to interest or impress me.
  • One Voice: A Something in Between Story by Melissa de la Cruz
    While I really liked the TV version of this author's Witches of East End, I did not like her original novel, nor did I like one other novel of hers (Frozen) that I read, so I was not expecting to like this, and my expectations were met. This story was like a dear diary with somewhat disconnected episodes in this girl's life. The message was about racism, but if the message is the medium, then the medium was tedium not freedom. It was so boring that the message was blurred beyond recognition which is truly sad.
  • Paladin Samurai by Gene Luen Yang, Illustrations by Thien Pham
    This was a graphic novel which was poorly illustrated (and even more poorly exhibited in Amazon's crappy Kindle app). It wasn't well told at all, which is why I gave up on it after reading two or three pages. I really didn't care about these characters or what happened to them.
  • Catch, Pull, Drive by Schuyler Bailar
    Schuyler (pronounced like Skyler) Bailar is a ftm transgender athlete, and this story felt like a memoir, because he's a swimmer who has been through this change, but it also felt dishonest because it did not reflect what he went through. While a change like this always brings difficulties, he seems to have had the support of coaches and teammates. This story is just the opposite and that doesn't mean there aren't people who suffer through this process; I'm sure there are because we are a long way from where we need to be, but for someone who has come through this change relatively unscathed, this story felt disingenuous. If he'd told his own story, even fictionalized as this was, it would have resonated far more with me, because not every story is negative and because we need an honest balance.
  • Super Human by Nicola Yoon
    This one actually did feel like fresh ink because it took an old problem and one which is still with us, and it needed a new twist. This did the trick, which is why I liked it. The story is of Syrita, who has been chosen to talk with a super hero known only as X, who has been stellar in the past but who is now not willing to be heroic any more. It wasn't clear from the story whether he was planning on simply retiring and letting the world go to hell by simply withholding his help, or if he would actually go over to the dark side and start wreaking revenge on a society he feels (with some reason) is chronically unjust. In the end, the real super hero here is Syrita, who proves to have a lot more faith in him than he does in society! The only flaw in this story was “And those dark black eyes” which is nonsensical. Either one would work, but black is dark do you don't need both!

So I was not impressed overall, and I can't recommend this collection. There are one or two gems in it and if it's worth it to you to buy this load of crude ore in the hope of finding a gem or two in it, then you may like it, but I definitely wouldn't like to buy this, only to find that most of the stories don't really offer what the title suggests they will.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Black by Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith 3, Jamal Igle

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I did not like this graphic novel. It was basically a rehash of The X-Men, or The Inhumans, or The Gifted, or New Mutants, or whichever simplistic, derivative Marvel Comic series about mutants you wish to name. This novel brought literally nothing new to the genre unless you count that in this case, the only people with the mutation are black! To me, it was racist.

All the "good guys" were black. All the "bad guys" were white. Neither side was anything more than a caricature. It felt like I was watching a so-called 'blaxploitation' movie from the early seventies. Since this was a graphic novel, and given that a potentially interesting premise failed to be effectively exploited, I found it hilarious that the color scheme was gray-scale! It felt ironically appropriate, but not in the way the creators intended, I'm sure.

While on the one hand I can understand this - and work like it - constitutes a backlash against the inexcusable racism inherent in comic books, movies, and TV shows where - unless you're prepared to be the token person of color - please don't show for the audition, the way to fix a problem where the pendulum has swing way-the-hell too far in one direction is not to swing it equally far to the opposite side, it's to stop it dead in the middle and weld that sucker down so it can never move again. Period.

I think the comic would have carried a much more powerful message had it been less comprehensively biased. As it is, it runs a dire risk of being viewed by too many people - and those are the very ones who most need to get an education - as being nothing more than sour grapes. It didn't help the cause that one of the freedom fighter leaders was named Caesar, the same name given to the chimpanzee in the Planet of the Apes saga. That sounded insulting to me.

Even that aside, it was not well-thought out. Rather than go with Marvel's asinine "x-gene" ploy, the creators (and I admire them for this) tried something different. Unfortunately, it wasn't something new! They made the mistake of taking the easy way out by simply making the quantum leap. It didn't work. The idea here is that some people (all black!) have unusual arrangements of quarks in their body. Quarks are the foundations of hadrons, which most people unknowingly know as protons and neutrons, and which form the nucleus of every atom.

There are six known quarks, divided into three up-types, named (with characteristic physicist quirkiness) up, charm, and top, and three down-types, named down, strange, and bottom. We're told that gifted black people (who may not necessarily be young!) have a hexaquark, like this is something rare, but it really isn't. Their expert is very confused and talks bayrons rather than baryons. But that, with its unintended allusion to Bay Watch, works given how some of the women are portrayed in this story. Which is another problem.

There's precisely one female super hero, and one transgendered one. The only other females are background or ancillary personnel. There is one professional assistant, one cop, and one lab technician. Two of these unaccountably wear eyeglasses whereas not one other person in the entire book does, and one of them - the so-called quantum particle expert - wears a lab coat. Barf.

The comic is hypocritical in this regard. On the one hand it's admirably, if ineffectively in my opinion, championing black characters in graphic novels, but on the other hand it's keeping "bitches" down. That's inexcusable, especially given that the women's liberation and black civil rights movements have historically often worked hand-in hand, because both sectors of society have been oppressed and in disturbingly similar way in some regards (such as having no vote, for example).

Why are there so few important black characters in graphic novels? Because most of those novels have traditionally been written by white folks and it never occurs to them to include non-whites. It's not that they hate black folks and what to keep them down or actively exclude them; it's just that (and this is no excuse) they just don't think of it. Why are there so few women of note in graphic novels? Because most of them are written by men - who don't hate women and don't wish to keep them down; it simply never occurs to them to include women. They just don't think of it. That's what happened here.

The main character is named Kareem Jenkins. He's shot for two reasons. The first of these is that it's a case of mistaken identity because all black folks evidently look alike to New Jack City cops, as a sorry history of shooting deaths in New York has shown and continues to show. The second is that when he's told to freeze, by armed cops, he's too stupid to do exactly that. Instead, he rabbits and is shot and ostensibly killed. A dozen or more black men have been fatally shot by NYPD in the last twenty-five years, and very few cases have even gone to trial, let alone ended in a conviction, but this novel repeatedly refers to NYPD as New York's finest. I don't know if that's meant to be ironic.

Kareem is unique because he rises again, and then is kidnapped by a character who far from being Straight Outta Compton, is straight outta The Matrix movie. He's Morpheus by another name, and he even sits with legs crossed in an armchair when we meet him, and effectively invites the kid to take the black pill. Yawn.

This leads to him discovering a hitherto totally unknown world of back mutants, all of whom have powers of some sort, but there are then so many of these characters so quickly introduced that they become lost and meaningless in the crowd. The irony of course is that here, all black people do look the same, not because they're all drawn the same (the artwork was pretty decent), but for no other reason than that this comic book has failed to differentiate them by giving them distinctive personalities and back-stories.

Having some of them speak in what in some circles, and for better or for worse, has been dubbed 'ebonics' is not giving them a personality. It's not giving them character. It's not making them individual. It's just cynically pigeon-holing them. There should have been fewer of them initially, and they should have been properly introduced instead of being treated like so many nameless, interchangeable slaves. This was a serious fail.

The plot doesn't work because we're expected to believe that a handful of white folks have pulled the wool over people's eyes for literally centuries, working in concert with the black community! I'm sure this isn't what the creators intended to convey, but it's very effectively what they achieved, because as the white community has, we're told, systematically sought to wipe out this 'black threat', the black community has been trying to hide the mutants, and neither side has ever let anything get out to the public! It's simply not credible.

Even if we allow that it worked before, it sure as hell would not work now! Have the creators of this series not seen the black community? Everyone is a showman or woman. There are pop divas and DJs with monumental egos. There are sports personalities with attitude, there are movie stars all about showmanship and conspicuous consumption, and there are so-called 'reality' shows and talk shows which are all about self-promotion.

None of this is confined to the black community, but we're not talking about how white folk might behave here. There is no way in hell, if any of this community had these powers, that they would all consistently keep them secret! It's simply not credible and this unarguable fact brought the whole story down and gave the lie to this farcical 'secrecy' claim. Besides, it made no sense to begin with - not in this day and age. If the white folks are trying to wipe-out the gifted peeps, then the best way to stop it is to go public, not go private. "Morpheus" is a moron!

Neither is it credible that the white folks would be able to continue their pogrom of extermination into modern times when much of the world is now ruled by non-white leaders. Are we supposed to believe that black leaders in African nations were in on it with the white folks? Bullsh! (More on that shortly). This is a classic case of failure to think outside the box, the box being the United Whites of America. Far too many of these kind of dystopian or secret society stories are far too hide-bound by 'American' thinking, or constrained by 'The American Way'.

What far too many authors fail to grasp is that there's an entire planet outside the USA that doesn't think about the USA from one week to the next because they have more important things to think about! They do not conform to US norms or patterns of thinking! They do not live the way US citizens live! They do no view the world like US people view it. Any story like this, which has global implications, yet which tries to pretend the entire globe is just like the USA is doomed to failure, and this one fell right into that trap.

There was almost cussing in this story! It's not credible. Almost all the time, when a cuss was about to be issued here, it was cut off. Instead of "Fuck!" we got "Fu-". Instead of "Shit" we got "Sh-" hence my "Bullsh" comment above. It's not realistic. It maybe be practical for some readerships, but people don't talk that way in real life, and everyone, even kids and churchgoers, knows it. You either have to include it to make it real, or you have to skip it for the sake of the readership. You can't have it both ways without it sounding truly dumb, and suspending suspension of disbelief. In short, either sh or get of the po.... Yeah! That's dumb it sounds.

A brief lesson in genetics: Not all mixed race couples have exclusively black children. Even a black couple can legitimately have a white child. Nature is color-blind! The reason for all this is that there is no difference, at the genetic level, between black people and white people and Asian people and whatever people.

Just like in real life there is no X gene, there is no B-for-black-gene either. There are gene networks wherein many genes acting in concert can achieve remarkable ends, but there is no 'negro network' than can make a person black or pigeon-hole one as such and more than there is a 'honky network' that can make a person white. This begs my last question: why did this affect only black people? There was no rationale given for this. We were expected to take it on trust.

Maybe the authors had some plan to work this out later, but forgive me for having little appetite for swallowing that when I'd already been asked to swallow much that was unpalatable in this graphic novel. I got the impression that they were winging it; tossing in some quantum nonsense and hoping to get by, but as we've seen, there is nothing in our genes to confer powers on one race and not another, so how much less credibility is there in ascribing this same effect to something even more fundamental: sub-atomic particles?

Quarks do have a property referred to as 'color', but it has nothing whatsoever to do with actual color as we perceive color day-to-day at the macro level. It's just a word; not a meaningless word because it has meaning to physicists, but it doesn't convey the same thing to them when they talk about quarks as it does to the rest of us when we talk about LED TVs. There is quite literally no color at the sub-atomic level as any electronic microscope image you can find online will show. Some of them have artificial-color added for clarification purposes, just as those glorious space images do, but in reality the sub-atomic world, just like the outer space world, is a very colorless one indeed.

Oddball congregations of quarks, which are the components of all matter, living or not, cannot grant powers to one race without granting them to all. It's another case of failure to think through. I mean, do Asians have powers? They're not white, but they ain't black either! How about the Latinx community? Deal or no deal?! What bothers me about this is that the authors seem to be saying that black people are somehow fundamentally different from all others, which is patently not true, but by saying it, they're risking undoing what decent, good-faith people of all races have been trying to accomplish for decades: true color-blindness wherein all are equal, all are one family, and all are brothers and sisters. The plot for this novel seemed like a very negative step to me unless it was handled better than it was here.

Black folks do have something rare and it is a real superpower: they have greater genetic diversity, especially those resident in Africa, than do any other humans. The reason for this is that all humans started life in Africa, not in Eden. We're all black. Unfortunately, the pale skin minority has forgotten this, and instead of seeing it as something unifying and something to be proud of, too many people see one color or another as a fault or a defect, something to be despised and rejected. Americans are often proud of their Irish, or German, or English, or native American, or whatever ancestry. What a pity they arbitrarily stop it at some point before it ever gets all the way back to eastern Africa where it all began.

So in conclusion, I cannot recommend this story as a worthy read. There were too many problems with it including endless excessive violence, but at least it was gray-scale so there was very little red ink to deal with. The one positive sign I saw was that in the end, Kareem took off on his own, rejecting all the bullsh- he;d witnessed. I commend him for that, but for me, it was too little, too late.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Kid Authors by David Stahler

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I could have done without the illustrations by Doogie Horner, but maybe those will appeal to the age range at which this is aimed. The actual content on the other hand was at times entertaining and interesting, but the racism and genderism inherent in the choice of writers featured here bothered me immensely, and it's why I cannot recommend this book. It's long past time to take a stand against white American males being the only important people in the world. We see it on TV, we see it in movies, and we see it in books. It needs to stop.

The book is not about children who are authors, but about the childhood of now well-known authors. The details are necessarily brief: each author gets ten or eleven pages on average, of quite large, liberally-spaced print and some of that space is taken up by the illustrations. At the back there is a half dozen or so pages with one paragraph 'also-rans' which is interesting because it includes writers like Alice walker and Maya Angelou who apparently didn't make it into the 'big time' here, but even in this section, most of the writers appear to be white American males like no one else is worth listening to.

The book has an introduction which I skipped as I routinely do, because introductions (prefaces, author's notes, forewords, prologues and so on) are wasteful of paper, are antiquated, and really tell us nothing useful. I rather get right into the body of the work than waste my time on frivolity.

Some of the stories are upsetting, when you realize what some kids had to go through to get where they got, and that isn't over today either, but how much more of a struggle is it for some authors to get ten pages in a book like this? Other stories are endearing or amusing, so there's something for everyone, but that said, the vast preponderance of coverage is of white American male authors which represent eleven out of the sixteen - almost seventy percent - who get ten pages here. Four of the others are British, and one is French.

That's a seriously limited coverage in a world where two-thirds of the planet's population is Indian or Chinese, fifty percent of the planet is women, and most of the planet isn't white. There are only three are non-white (two African Americans and one American Indian) authors represented here so it bothered me that children reading this might get the impression that only America (and maybe Britain) has anyone who can write, and nearly all those who can write are white men. This is neither an accurate nor a realistic impression, nor is it a useful one to give children in a world where whites are the real minority.

This is a skewed view which is already being hammered into young peoples' heads by the appalling number of novels coming out of the US which are also set in the US (or if they're set abroad, they star Americans, like no one else ever has anything to say or any adventures to write about), and largely written about white characters.

This Trump mentality is isolationist and very dangerous, so I would have liked to have seen a much wider coverage and more female authors (who get less than forty percent representation here). Also the youngest writer represented here was born in 1971! Almost half of them were not even born last century! 13 of the sixteen were born before the 1950's! It's not being ageist to ask for a sprinkling of younger writers! And could there not have been more females, more people of color, including an Asian or two?

Could there not have been a Toni Morrison or an Octavia Butler? A Clarice Lispector or a Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? A Zadie Smith or an Elena Ferrante? A Lu Min, a Zhang Ling? No Jenny Han or Tahereh Mafi? No Jhumpa Lahiri or an Indu Sundaresan? There are so many to choose from, so it's a real shame that this book evidently went with the easiest, the commonest, the path of least resistance? It felt lazy to me at best.

These are the authors which do appear:

  • JRR Tolkien (white, English, b. 1892)
  • JK Rowling (white, English, b. 1965)
  • Edgar Allen Poe (white, American, b. 1809)
  • Sherman Alexie (American Indian, b. 1966)
  • Lewis Carroll (white, English, b. 1832)
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder (white, American, b. 1867)
  • Zora Neale Hurston (black, American, b. 1891)
  • Mark Twain (white, American, b. 1910
  • Judy Blume (white, American, b. 1948
  • Langston Hughes (black, American, b. 1902
  • Jules Verne (white, French, b. 1828)
  • Roald Dahl (white, Welsh, b. 1916)(
  • Stan lee (white, American, b. 1922)
  • Beverly Cleary (white, American, b. 1916)
  • Lucy Maud Montgomery (white, American, b. 1874)
  • Jeff Kinney (white, American, b. 1971)

The book had at least one inaccuracy: it proclaims that Joanne Rowling (now Murray) was Joanne Kathleen Rowling, but she never was. It was only Joanne Rowling (pronounced 'rolling'). The 'Kathleen' came about because her weak-kneed and faithless publisher declared that boys wouldn't read a book written by a girl. They insisted that she use her first initial and a fake middle initial. Not having any clout back then, she chose the 'K' for 'Kathleen', the name of her grandmother.

This is why I despise Big Publishing, but at least I have the knowledge that a dozen idiot publishers turned down her Harry Potter series and thereby lost a fortune. The sad thing is that now they're trying to make up for it by buying every idiotic magician series ever produced, which is cheapening the whole genre. This why I self publish. I refuse to let blinkered publishers try to tell me what my name should be. I'd rather sell no books than deal with people like that.

So, in short, this could have been a hell of a lot better and I cannot recommend it.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

March Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

Rating: WORTHY!

It's easy to think this is water under the bridge now, but it's just as hard to believe that even as recently as the 1960's (and beyond) there was hateful segregation and discrimination based on skin color. It was there nevertheless, and this graphic novel tells the story of one man's perspective on the efforts of himself and others to overthrow it. Fortunately, he lived to tell the tale of segregated buses, segregated education, segregated drinking fountains, segregated rest-rooms and segregated lunch counters. He was there at the protests and organized many of them.

Congressman John Robert Lewis worked with Andrew Aydin who at the time of publication at least in 2013, served in Lewis's DC office handling media and telecommunications, and with Nat Powell, a graphic novelist, to recount Lewis's story of his childhood, early upbringing, his striving for an education, and finally his involvement with civil rights and with Ghandi-style peaceful protests and passive resistance. It cost these people their comfort, their dignity at times, and it brought them physical violence, but they stuck with it, their numbers grew, and they won out in the end. The sad thing is that they should never have had to fight at all, not even passively.

It's just as important now to recall what they did and what they won, when police profiling and white-cop-on-black-citizen violence seems repeatedly to flare-up in the news, as it was for these people and their white supporters to take a stand against this evil and outsmart it. That's precisely why this novel isn't water under the bridge and why it, or something lie this if you chose a different publication or medium to refresh you mind on this topic is eminently worth your time. In this particular case, the artwork is interestingly done in black and white, which only serves to highlight the divide that still exists in so many ways.

I have one interesting and amusing coincidence which happened when I opened this to read it and I think it's worth relating. The image colors were reversed when I first started reading: the white page was black and the black line drawings were white! At first I thought it was a glitch in the download, but then I realized that my iPad was set for night reading, which reverses the colors and conserves battery power. I recommend it, but when I realized what had happened, I thought, "How poetic this is!" And what a great shift in perspective this gave for my starting to read this novel. I found myself switching the back-lighting as I read, so different sections came to me in reversed colors. I recommend you try it when you read it. It never hurts to get a kick in the head and realize we're on two sides of the same coin and we either make it together or we have no currency.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Return To Sender By Julia Alvarez

Rating: WARTY!

This one sounded interesting from the blurb, but it quickly turned into a clone of all the other stories of illegal immigrants in the American South - or in this case the Northeast. Eleven-year-old Tyler's family hires migrant Mexicans to work on their Vermont farm. They don't worry too much about whether the workers are legal. Tyler gets to know the migrants' oldest daughter until he learns that she's there illegally.

I got to about one third the way through this and quickly lost interest. This story is nothing more than a duplicate of every other such story, showing Mexicans as struggling, trying to build a better life for themselves, which no one can blame a family for, but just like all the other stories, it depicts the Mexicans as religious, family-centric, and it tosses in cozy Hispanic family words like Tio and Abuelita. But if every story of this nature depicts Mexicans as just like all the other Mexicans, isn't that racist? It sure seems that way to me. Why are these writers not interested in telling a different story: in stretching themselves and pushing the envelope instead of parroting the precise same thing all the other writers have already spewed ad nauseam?

I'm sorry but I'm not going to rate a novel as a worthy read when it's a Xerox of every other story and rather male-centric to boot. I do like it for the idea it gave me, but that's as far as I can compliment it!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D Schmidt

Rating: WORTHY!

For a Newbery/Printz book, which I normally avoid like the plague, this one started out surprisingly well. Whether it would remain that way then became the question because Newbery books have been pretty much universally rotten in my experience. It was a surprise therefore, to discover that this one was different.

The basic material is of great interest. This fiction is rooted in yet another shameful example of abusive treatment visited upon "minorities" by US governmental agencies and supposedly god-fearing locals who despite their Christian platitudes, behaved unforgivably and abominably.

This book is pure fiction, but the facts are these: in 1912, the US state of Maine, after initially seeming to behave reasonably towards the island community, suddenly evicted the residents and razed their homes. They even went to the trouble of digging up 17 graves, dumping the bones in five coffins, and reburying those at the School for the Feeble-Minded in Pownal, Maine. Eight of the residents were also deemed to be feeble-minded, when it was actually the governor of the state who was retarded. The rest of the forty or so residents of mixed race, were gone by then, taking their shacks with them. This happened in the summer, not in the winter as is misleadingly depicted in this novel.

Them's the facts. It's known quite well who was on the island, and photographs of some of the residents can be found on the Internet. Some of their descendants are living today. The fiction is that Lizzie Bright Griffin is one of the black residents on Malaga Island, which is located at the mouth of the New Meadows River in Casco Bay, Maine. She eventually meets the son, Turner, of the new pastor in Phippsburg, Reverend Buckminster (who's rather 'Fuller' himself LOL!) which is located close by, on the mainland (the Maine land?!).

Turner is not at all happy with life in this penny-ante town after having lived in Boston. They have a weird way of playing baseball here, and the other kids seem like they want to embarrass him, or even bring him to harm when they go 'swimming' with him. Swimming to these kids involves jumping forty feet into the waves above the rocks on the shore, where if you misjudged your jump and don't catch the wave, you're very likely to end up as gull fodder splattered on the rocks. Turner isn't happy and can't seem to do anything right.

He strikes up a friendship with Lizzie, and the adventures the two have are unexpected. About two-thirds the way through, I started to get the feeling that this atrocity was starting to get whitewashed, and some of that feeling still lingers, but the ending turned it around sufficiently, shamelessly fabricated though it was, for me to rate this as a worthy read - or more accurately a worthy start to learning more about an awful pogrom. To the best of my knowledge, there was no Lizzie Bright or anyone like her, and there was no Turner Buckminster or anyone like him. Had there been a Lizzie Bright just like this one she would not have suffered the fate she did, so that rang a bit false for me, but it did make a solid point, and for that I can forgive it. I'll never forgive the jerks who stained human history with these events.

There is an odd undercurrent to the writing: that reading Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species..." was what put fire in Turner's veins - not what was happening to the people on Malaga! but evolution? It made no sense. I've read On the Origin... and despite the revolution is engendered, frankly, it's tedious! It's far more likely to put tire than fire into anyone's veins. Why the author didn't have Turner read Thomas Paine's Age of Reason instead, is a mystery. I did appreciate the sentiment that hard science, and not blind faith is what's actually going to save us - if blind believers such as the creationists will quit trying to trip it up and disembowel it, but the author really didn't get that part right. That aside, I felt this was, overall, a worthy read.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Secret at Haney Field by RM Clark

Title: The Secret at Haney Field
Author: RM Clark
Publisher: MB Publishing
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often reward aplenty!

What could be more appropriate in the depths of winter than a book about baseball?! This is actually the first fiction I've ever read that features baseball at its core. For those who need it, it features a nice glossary at the beginning, which was actually useful to me. I'm not a huge sports fan! And a huge sports fan might be what you have to be to properly enjoy this: note that it's really heavy into baseball terminology and trivia.

That said, I can tell you that I really liked the story and consider it a worthy read. It was inventive, atmospheric, well-written, and proves single-handedly that it's possible to write a first person PoV novel that's not vomit-inducing! Kudos for that!

April O'Day is obsessed with baseball. Unhealthily so, I'd say, but let's let that slide right on by. She's also a bit too much of a Mary Sue, but other than that, she's smart, helpful, confident, adventurous, and she has integrity and guts. That's not bad at all for a female protagonist, and a heck of a lot better than you get in your typical YA novel. Maybe that's because this is middle-grade and not YA? Middle grade females seem to have a heck of a lot more going for them than ever do females in YA. Hey, why is that?

April's summer thrill is that she gets to be bat-girl(!) for a week at the local minor league team - the Harpoons (a suitably phallic name for a sports team, let's face it). She does so well that she is allowed to stay on after her volunteer week is over. She proves her worth not just by doing her assigned job well, but also by giving tips to the players on their running, their swinging, and their throwing, and the team starts doing really well.

So far, so good, but one night when she's delayed leaving, and when the stadium lights go off, April thinks she sees shadows running bases - not real people, but transparent shadows. Maybe it's just her imagination. But she keeps seeing them. Her friend Darren sees them. So, too, does the owner, Mr Haney, who takes a shine to April and invites her to his owner's box. After a discussion, he authorizes her to find out all she can about the shadows.

It's pretty obvious what they are, but maybe middle-graders will take longer to figure out out. What's not so obvious is why they're haunting Haney Field. Are they connected with that large object which Haney keeps hidden away under the stadium? Are they connected with names missing from a plaque? Why does Haney turn hostile when he learns what those names are? Are they connected with events from seventy years ago? And why are they haunting Haney's field?

I really liked this story, despite some minor irritations. It told a good tale and although it was a bit too sugary, it had a good ending. I'm sure middle-graders will love it.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Title: To Kill a Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee
Publisher: Audio Partners (website not found)
Rating: WORTHY!

Ably read by Roses Pritchard.

I picked up this book because I finally couldn't stand not knowing what the big deal was about a two-kilo mockingbird. I guess I misheard the title...just kidding!

Set in the mid 1930's during the "Great Depression" (but written in the late fifties and published in 1960), this story is told from the PoV of Jean Louise Finch, who was known as "Scout", but it's told in retrospect, by an adult Jean, remembering events years ago. Jean's mother was dead, even back then, and she lived with her father, Atticus, a lawyer, and her older brother, Jeremy, who was known as "Jem".

Harper Lee denied that the novel was autobiographical, but her own father was a lawyer, she had an older bother, she hung out with a new guy in town who lived next door, and there was a boarded-up house nearby about which they made up stories. Many events in this story actually occurred in one way or another, although they were modified for this story.

The Finch family lives next door to the reclusive Radley family, and because of this, they make up stories about the Radley's - a family which both scares and intrigues them. During this time, a local black guy, Tom Robinson, is accused of assaulting a white girl - which back then, and especially in the south, was a pretty much an automatic death sentence whether the accused did it or not.

Atticus forbids his kids from watching the trial, but they sneak into the 'colored seats' up on the balcony. By some careful legal footwork, Atticus eventually shows the court that Mayella Violet Ewell, the girl accusing Tom, and her father, Robert E Lee Ewall, are lying. It was Bob who beat Mayella, not Tom. Despite this, Tom is found guilty, and is later shot 17 times when he supposedly tries to escape from prison.

This story borrows a lot from the real-life Emmett Till case, which was equally messed up, with exaggeration and dissemination on both sides. The sad thing there is that while nothing happened (at least not through the courts) to the accusers in that case, the accused paid heavily for this event - which constituted rudeness at worst and a misunderstanding at best - with his life, in an horrific torture and murder episode in the early hours of one morning - and the accused was only fourteen years old.

This story ends in Bob Ewell's death after he launches a cowardly attack upon Jean and Jeremy as they walk home late one night from a school Halloween pageant. Why Atticus even countenanced their being unescorted given the preceding campaign of threats and intimidation which Ewell had launched against Atticus and his home is a mystery and an appalling example of irresponsible parenting.

I don't know if I would have enjoyed this had I read it rather than listened to it. It was entertaining to begin with, then got boring, then became entertaining again. Roses Pritchard did a good job or representing the older Scout reminiscing.

The story isn't a really great story, and some negative reviews I've read call it out correctly in some regards, but to me a story is either worth reading (a five-star) or it isn't (a zero-star represented by a one-star since zero isn't an option). Yes the characters were a bit flat, and yes it was a very black and white story in more than one way, but did it entertain me? Yes!

Another complaint I read was that there was no character growth, but to me, character growth is over-rated! I don't need a character to grow in a story (unless they're really awful to begin with in which case growth is a requirement!). All I need is for the characters to be entertaining. Indeed, some stories which have entertained me well are enjoyable in part because the character doesn't change. In this case I neither expected it nor needed it, and I considered this one a worthy read - or more accurately, a worthy listen.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Chump by Rusty Reeves

Title: Chump
Author: Rusty Reeves (website not found)
Publisher: Reeves (website not found)
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new novel is reward aplenty!

Not to be confused with author Rusty van Reeves, the author of this novel is a forensic psychiatrist, and the novel is about a fictional Texan, Beauregard Peebles, who was educated at Princeton and is now in his third year at medical school. Beau decides to take up the so-called white man's burden and save the black community from itself, one family at a time. The amount of arrogance and sheer gall it takes to do this ought to be no surprise at all to anyone who's met a senior med student or two. Nurses worship them almost as much as they worship doctors.

He is laboring under the delusion that he will be honoring Princeton's motto: Princeton in the nation's service and in the service of all nations, and after a really educational introduction to Ob-Gyn and L&D, he decides he can salvage them poor black folks and turn around the impoverished African American community which serves up the kind of female patients he's recently been dissing and making racists comments about behind their back. In short, he;s a chump, and worse than that, he;s a moron.

His "in" to the locals is a friend - after a fashion - whom he met playing basketball, a black kid named Tyranius Roosevelt. "Doctor" Peebles wants to see if he can bring about a change for the better in the life of his young drug-dealing friend and his family. He fails and learns nothing from his disastrous interference in their lives.

I found it hilariously hypocritical when the author has his main character say, on page 218, "Rule number two, no insults or name-calling. That's hurtful and solves nothing." This is his advice to the family when they all have a show-down, and this comes from the monumentally hypocritical "doctor" who has, throughout the novel, routinely and shamelessly embraced grotesquely disparaging comments about African Americans (although not directly to them, and mostly under his breath or in his own deranged mind). I had never actually liked the Chump, but at this point I started actively disliking him, which is never a good sentiment with which to imbue your readers.

Chapter 29 p244 starts in some weird-ass form of "Ebonics" which took this story - which was already heading seriously downhill - way over the edge for me. I wasn't about to start reading that. It went one for two whole chapters. I couldn't even begin to get back into it after that, not even in the hope that there might be some point to this drivel. It simply wasn’t remotely interesting. I did finally understand the title, though: I'm a chump for even reading this.