In “Sugar Town Queens,” author Malla Nunn takes us on a journey to the slums of South Africa, where fifteen-year-old Amandla lives with Annalisa, her white mother. Where they live, in the slum called Sugar Town for its proximity to the sugar cane fields, her mother is the only white person, and the oddity of her existence there extends beyond her skin color. Annalisa’s accent marks her as upper class, as does her insistence on living in an immaculate house—even though it’s one room made from tin — teaching Amandla how to make tea the correct way, and speaking correctly. The narrative is powerful, and we see the world through Amandla’s clever, perceptive eyes.Continue reading
The set of blazing emotions provoked by Yusef Salaam’s memoir, “Better, Not Bitter: Living On Purpose in the Pursuit of Racial Justice,” includes strong doses of disgust, shame, anger — and inspiration. In 1989, five teenagers, all Black or Hispanic, were convicted in the notorious case of a young White female jogger who had been raped, beaten, tortured, and left for dead in Central Park. Salaam was one of those five teenagers.Continue reading
In “That Summer,” Jennifer Weiner returns to her beloved Cape to share the tale of two Dianas, who each in her own way have had her life’s ambitions destroyed by one man. The difference is that one Diana has her life destroyed—almost—when she is fifteen while the other Diana is seduced into choosing a life of postponed dreams and belittled ambitions.Continue reading
Their names were Berdis Baldwin, Louise Little, and Alberta King. The percentage of Americans who might recognize those three names is approximately zero. But their lives, struggles, and accomplishments are every bit as important as those of the people we generally acknowledge as American heroes. And that is why Anna Malaika Tubbs’ detailed account of their lives is so significant and timely. Her study, “The Three Mothers,” shines a brilliant light on the influence these three women exerted in the lives of their sons — James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.Continue reading
“Yellow Wife” takes us into America’s dark past, where we meet Pheby Delores Brown, a woman of valor. A woman who loved deeply and fiercely. A woman who was a slave yet managed to keep her dignity. But no matter Pheby’s relatively privileged upbringing in the plantation house where she grew up, being taught to read and play the piano by her master’s sister who was also her aunt; in the end, there was no one left to protect her. Pheby reverted to being nothing more than a possession, a belonging, to be sold at the whim of her owner.
“Starfish” is Lisa Fipps’ debut novel, and it’s a winner. Think Jennifer Weiner for middle grade readers and you will come close to picturing this book. It’s about Ellie, who is known as Splash for an unfortunate exclamation made by her older sister when she did a cannonball into the family pool at age five. It’s tough being a five-year-old and having your mother and everyone in your family berate you for your weight. The only one on Ellie’s side is her dad, but it’s not enough.Continue reading
There have been many allegations that inmates in Virginia jails have been attacked by guard dogs, even when the inmates are lying prone on the ground — clearly not a threat. A Washington Post article dated March 6th, “Virginia is using dogs to ‘terrify and attack’ prisoners, say lawsuits that describe one man as mauled in his cell,” outlines how Curtis Garrett was mauled while standing with his hands behind his back, waiting to be put in handcuffs. The two dogs not only bit his arm and leg, but when he fell from the attack, the guards lifted him up while the dogs still had their teeth in him, biting him.Continue reading
“Separate No More: The Long Road to Brown v. Board of Education” by Lawrence Goldstone is an important nonfiction young adult history of segregation and bigotry beginning in 1892 in the famous Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson. Goldstone writes the story of segregation and institutionalized racism and bigotry as if writing a novel, and many of the historical figures and events he shares become real and present. Continue reading
The malignant tumor generally known as Donald Trump may have been excised before it could fully metastasize, but Trump was not, of course, the only cancerous cell in our ailing body politic. Neither was he the cause of the disease; he was simply its most glaringly obvious symptom. The other malodorous, noxious cells are alive and all too well. Unlike the ex-president, they are still all around us, multiplying and spreading as they surely and not-so-gradually go about their business of destroying the body they inhabit. Make no mistake: those cells must be investigated and isolated in order for the healing process to begin before the offending organisms are allowed to fulfill their singularly horrific goal.Continue reading
I’ve read about the internment camps for Japanese Americans during WWII, and there are many historical fiction books for children that are set in those camps (see some listed at the end of this review), but George Takei’s powerful memoir instilled in me a broader sense of what this country was like when this atrocity was implemented — taking away the property and rights of American citizens because of their ancestry and separating them from their homes. Continue reading
In “The Night Swim,” Megan Goldin explores the male domination that exists to this day in rural America. Especially the male dominance that white, wealthy men feel endowed with, along with the usual arrogance that comes from those who feel entitled. They feel entitled to special treatment from the authorities, special treatment from shops, special treatment from their friends who may not be as entitled as they are, and special treatment from girls who, in their view, really have no right to say no to their advances.
“Lockdown: Stories of Crime, Terror, and Hope During a Pandemic” is a set of twenty excellent short stories dealing with the terrible effects of pandemics and lockdowns on both normal and abnormal human beings — and on normal people who become abnormal as the result of attempting to cope with viral plagues. The editors, Nick Kolakowski and Steve Waddle, have done a fine job of collecting and presenting the material; the stories range in intensity from quite intense to horrifyingly compelling.