Thoughts: Gabi, A Girl in Pieces #HHM

gabi-girl-in-pieces

Gabi has a lot on her plate. It’s her last year of high school but apart from classes and college applications, she also has to deal with a father who is fighting a losing battle with meth addiction, her friend Cindy getting pregnant (as a result of date rape, we learn later), her other best friend Sebastian coming out, as well as exploring her own sexuality and first relationships.

Isabel Quintero’s first novel Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, published by CincoPuntoPress, is a tour-de-force. The good thing about being blissfully ignorant about new releases and a lot of hype before joining twitter is that I mostly missed all the excitement and picked up this book only now because I vaguely remembered someone saying it was good and it being LatinX Heritage Month. So I got to skirt the overblown expectations trap, yay, but am totally doing this to you now with this review. #sorrynotsorry

If you’re into intersectional feminism (you better be!), then this book will make you want to get out your highlighters. Let me quote this section, which everyone else is apparently also quoting (google told me, but still thanks for the easy c&p)):

My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

This excerpt really concisely introduces all the issues Quintero adresses in the novel and also drives home the point that Gabi lives at a very specific intersection of gender, race and ethnicity. So the novel explores one culture’s version of the double-standard, that of patriarchal machismo Mexican-American dichotomy of the virgen/puta. And Gabi has to realize that many women in her community have internalized this toxicity and police other women’s behavior and expression of sexuality (as they tend to, don’t get me started on this issue), her mother among them:

“for my mother, a woman’s whole value is what’s between her legs. And once a man has access to that, she has no more value.”

Part of this patriarchal view is also the refusal to accept homosexuality and Gabi’s friend Sebastian is thrown out by his parents when he comes out. On the other side of the coin we have the boys will be boys mentality, about which Gabi writes a scathing poem.

Gabi is furthermore not marked Mexican-American by her skin color, instead she is so light-skinned she can pass as white but as a result has to deal with feeling alienated at times. Since I basically have the opposite problem, this was an interesting change in perspective.

The book also shows Gabi’s acceptance when it comes to her body and she moves from regarding herself as a “fatgirl” to acceptance. There’s a terrible lack of “fativism” in books and hopefully this will change in coming years, but it’s another reason why I hope Gabi will be read and taught widely, so these young women will see themselves represented too.

I also loved was watching Gabi coming into her own as a poet, apart from the diary style of the novel, we also get to read Gabi’s poetry and her attempts at spoken word. Poetry is how Gabi finds a way to express and empower herself. Her words are sharp and to the point and you’ll want to pick up a poetry collection immediately after finishing this book (I’ll be gushing about one particular, exciting collection later this week, stay tuned!).

The language use is wonderfully done as well, I’m glad there’s no glossary and hardly any translations. Quintero makes me work for it and I gladly got out my rusty Spanish for beginners knowledge, and between knowing other romance language and guessing from context…no excuses people! I’m sure LatinX will love this book and the intermingling of English and Spanish…Spanglish? And us other readers do well to remember to work on our privilege.

It’s amazing that this is a first novel. It’s a book that will be taught in high schools and colleges everywhere!

Other thoughts:

Reading the End

Twinja Book Reviews

Life of a Female Bibliophile

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

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Thoughts: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

girlwhofell

In a tragic incident, a woman and her three young children fall from the roof of a high building in Chicago. 11 year old Rachel is the only one to survive.

Heidi W. Durrow’s debut novel examines Blackness, biraciality and belonging in the context of the US during the 1980s. After the fall Rachel, the child of a Black American GI and a white Danish mother, is sent to live with her Black grandmother in Portland Oregon. It is only then that light-skinned Rachel with the “bluest eye(s)”is confronted with how exactly she is to fit into the Black community. Until this point, we are told, Rachel has not had to confront this issues or colorism or anti-Black racism. Having grown up on US bases in Germany and spent vacations in Denmark has apparently allowed her to live in the in-between without having to choose either parts of her identity. I’m emphasizing this because while, yes, I do understand that this book focuses on biraciality in the Black community and obviously reflects the author’s own experience, I was confused about Rachel’s life before. I want this post to be spoiler-free, so let’s just say that the impact of racism plays a key role in the mysterious incident that lost Rachel much of her family, and then thinking about army bases as microcosmos and how racism in Germany operates – well it felt like there was a huge gap that asked me to ignore all these issues to buy into the premise that racism and having to explain her identity only really began in the US. Likely this is a stylistic choice and is not meant to leave me with this impression, but it took me a while to get into the story that I was actually presented with.

It’s important to remember that this story is set in the 80s, before Obama and more media outlets presented people with stories and images of biracial people. Rachel’s attempt of making sense of how she is positioned in relation to Blackness, from being an outsider to benefitting from colorism, is the main storyline of the novel. She is forever removed from her mother and the Danish language so crucial to her identity. Instead, she is told that she is an “Oreo,” speaking and acting as if she were white. Her grandmother meanwhile tries to mold her in the image of a good Black girl who is supposed to aim no higher than a secretarial job and lonely and hurt at never quite fitting in anywhere, Rachel goes looking for validation in all the wrong places.

These attempts of Rachel at forging a self are by far the strongest aspect of the novel and I would have gladly learned more. Another is of course the mysterious tragedy and multiple narrators are drawn on to act as witness and to provide the context to the way racism and mixed-racedness impact families. While the information and perspective provided by these different voices – a young boy named Brick, Rachel’s mother Nella, her father and Laronne who was Nella’s employer – help understand the reason for the tragedy, they also serve to fragment the book. And perhaps this is also a reason I felt distanced from Rachel for much of the novel, I would have liked spending more time with her and perhaps following her journey into adulthood. There is much material for a sequel.

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is a welcome contribution to literature about mixed-racedness, identity and belonging. Fittingly, it has won the Bellwether Prize for Literature of Social Change. This is a debut novel that perhaps not always does justice to its fantastic premise, but it has an important story to tell and I will be reading the author’s next novel.

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Thoughts: The Hairdresser of Harare

hairdresser

The hairdresser of Harare is Vimbai, the best in Mrs. Khumalo’s salon. Vimbai is unmarried with a young daughter, but with a place in a good neighborhood, a house help and her job, things are going well and her talent draws customers to the salon. That is until another hairdresser, the smooth-talking Dumisani starts at Mrs. Khumalo’s salon. Initially theratening her job security and losing Vimbai her role of queen bee, she loathes Dumisani, but slowly the start becoming friends and when Dumisani needs a place to stay, Vimbai becomes his landlady.

Huchu’s first novel is set in post-apartheid Zimbabwe during mounting economic problems and a 90% unemloyment rate. Vimbai and the other women in the salon are trading petrol and sugar and there are problems with white farmers trying to hang onto their farms after independence while government officials are seizing the property. These issues are very much present but the “issue” focus of The Hairdresser is on homosexuality, its illegality and views of gay men as “lower than pigs and dogs.”

I very much enjoy characters that are not easily likeable and Vimbai with her pride and some terrible mistakes is a complex character and it is great to see her grow and become more aware. Her views will often be hard to take but the author shows where she is coming from and presents the difficulty women like Vimbai experience at the hands of men.

While Vimbai and Dumisani become closer and Vimbai is enthusiastically embraced by his family, as readers we can see where their thoughts on their future diverge. Dumisani brings larger issues into Vimbai’s life and from there things begin to unravel. I feel that perhaps the ending could have benefitted from a few more pages, it is a bit sudden but perhaps the salon life and little power struggles between the hairdressers in the first half of the book were just that well-written. The novel has been described as “bittersweet,” and this is a fitting term, so enjoy this one but be prepared for some bitterness.

This is a difficult one to write about without spoiling too much! I hope you’ll give the book a try, I know I’ll look out for Tendai Huchu’s future works! I chose The Hairdresser of Harare for Kinna’s Africa Reading Challenge and I think it might actually be the first book set in Zimbabwe and also written by a Zimbabwean author that I’ve read. But I do have another one, We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo, on my list.

Other thoughts:

Reading on a Rainy Day

Have you read this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Thoughts: The Sisters Are Alright by Tamara Winfrey Harris

sisters are alright

The Sisters Are Alright is first of all a love note Tamara Winfrey Harris has written to other black women. It’s a warm, welcoming book that celebrates their complexities and humanity. I hope Harris’ book will be a gift given to many young black girls. I read this book to understand the specific lived experience of black women in the United States, become a better ally and just rejoice in the celebration of women of color.

“Black women’s stories look a lot different from what you’ve heard. And when black women speak for themselves, the picture presented is nuanced, empowering, and hopeful”

Some of you might know the author from her blog What Tami Said or from her editor work on Racialicious. In her first book, Harris starts by introducing the history of propaganda against black women and the major harmful stereotypes that were introduced during slavery and have become the backbone of the current racist, sexist society of the US. This first part will be very educational for anyone not part of the target audience, but it is tough reading as Harris covers everything from Sapphire to the welfare queen and the Moynihan Report to hurtful current beauty and marriage double standards.

Harris shows how stereotypes of the ‘angry black women’ are still pulled out even on successful women like Shonda Rhimes or Michelle Obama. Or how the myth of the ‘strong black women’ hurts black women emotionally or physically, causing stress and serious health issues when they try to appear strong all their lives.

But Harris writes engagingly and encouragingly, dismantling these misogynoir traps and interspersing them with little boxes called ‘Moments in Alright,’ which shows that black women are indeed alright. Here Harris presents snippets about black women as successful business owners, achieving amazing educational goals and more.

There’s one caveat, but Harris is very upfront about it, the women she interviewed and focused on are largely well-off middle-class and for the most part straight. Make sure to read about these experiences, too. Recommendation: Black Girl Dangerous on Race, Queerness, Class and Gender by Mia McKenzie.

If you’re on a tight budget, like me, the book is even available on Scribd. And isn’t the cover the best thing ever? The Sisters Are Alright is also my first read for the Diversity on the Shelf Challenge this year.

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

October in Books

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October was a great reading month for me, I managed 10 books (counting 5 Lumberjanes issues as one book). Mostly this success is due to the readathon, my first one and which was a lot of fun.  Sadly, with the end of October also comes the end of two reading events: Diversiverse and R.I.P. X.

For Diversiverse, I read Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season and Also by Mail by Olumide Popoola. But I read more works by authors of color: The Good House by Tananarive Due, Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Of course I won’t stop reading non-white authors now that the event is over and luckily there are tons of amazing recommendations to be found in the #Diversiverse tab on Aarti’s blog, take a look at this wonderful growing archive!

For me the creepy reading season basically goes till February, so I’m sad that R.I.P. X is over already. But I’ll continue with the suspenseful, eerie, creepy and terrifying…mwuahaha 😀 My creepy R.I.P. X reads in October were The Cutting Season (overlap with Diversiverse) and The Good House by Tananarive Due, and also the first Zombillenium comic. And I guess my Halloween reads The Walls Around Us and Halloween Party count as well. I’m only sad I didn’t manage to write up all the reviews, but hopefully that’ll get done in the next few weeks.

Looking at my list of books read, I just cannot pick a favorite. I enjoyed them all, and loved quite a lot of them. I knew I would love The Cutting Season and Also by Mail, but Aristotle and Dante really surprised me. Turns out I can do YA romance after all when it’s amazingly written LGBTIQ+ of color and about friendship. I also fell hard for Lumberjanes.

I don’t really have grand reading plans for November. I’m still pacing myself with The Fifth Season, which I fell for at the dedication page already. And then my birthday is on Sunday, so maybe there’ll be some new books for me to enjoy 🙂

Hope everyone had a great October! Any reading plans for November?

Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon

24hourreadathon

Ahhh, I signed up for the readathon this Saturday! In all my years of book blogging I’ve never participated in the readathon, either the timing didn’t work or it just seemed too daunting. But I’ve always loved the tbr stacks participants posted and then I read Sharlene’s readathon post and was inspired to just jump in.

The best thing is that the readathon is from 2pm till 2pm in my time zone, which works great for me. I want it to be pretty relaxed, so I’ll definitely want to get some sleep and just curl up after brunch with the last book for some quick reading. Also, might actually get some laundry and work done before the readathon starts. I’m with my family over the weekend, so will need to be a bit social in-between obsessive reading bouts, but they’ll be readying the garden for winter anyway.

The prep stage appeals to me so much, I’m gonna swing by the market for snacks and such, perhaps even the small library (no hopes whatsoever) and the bookstore (only top 50 bestsellers in English), but that way I can remind myself why I chose the Scribd e-book flat. I also need more candles and not-really-but-always more tea. What? That’s completely normal reading prep!

Of course, I spent most of the day thinking of books to read during readathon. I’ve heard that lighter reads and shorter books as well as comics go a long way and while I’m not a slow reader, I hate to rush through and still want to feel accomplished, so that seems like a good idea. Since I don’t have access to all the books, my tbr consists mainly of Scribd ebooks. Well, drumroll, here it is:

readathon stack

Nope that is not what I think I’ll manage to read! My personal goal is to finish two books 😀 But I want a good selection from which to choose, depending on my mood. I chose Salsa Nocturna (which I’m a couple of pages in, but will just start again Saturday), because it’s the only Daniel José Older I have access to and it’s on Scribd till the end of October 17th only, so I’ll definitely be reading this one. Also by Mail is my second Diversiverse read and the event ends on Saturday, so my plan is to read and review it during readathon (sometimes you just got to be efficient).

I’ve also chosen two comics, that I’ve heard lots of great things about, Lumberjanes and Zombillenium, and since each part is very short I want to have them on hand to change things up. I was so disappointed that Binti was only available as audiobook, but then I checked the length and it’s only 2 and something hours and when my eyes get sore I’ll put on Binti and take a walk to get some air. In case I want some nonfiction, I’ve added I Mix What I Like to my stack, it’s about the decolonial and revolutionary potential of hip hop and mixtapes and that’s right up my alley. And two other books that I’ve been wanting to read, Artistotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and Zahrah the Windseeker are there waiting for me to get bored or restless with the other books. But I think I might want to take my time with them. That’s the plan anyway, Saturday might go very differently though (wish me luck that I don’t end up with a migraine). But I’m super exciting!

Have you read these books? Are you joining the readathon? If so, what’s on your reading stack?

Trying out Scribd

scribd

2015 seems to be my year of trying bookish online subscription services. First, I tested audible and I can report that I’m still happy with their selection and my nausea-free commute.

In recent weeks I’ve also been looking at the various e-book flats, such as Oyster, Scribd and Kindle Unlimited. Since I own a kindle, I figured Kindle Unlimited would be ideal, but I find their selection to be quite limited (ha!). They have popular books, but not all of the major publishing houses and nearly all the books I was interested in cost extra. Oyster may be great for everyone with Apple products, but I’m not a fan. Which is why I then signed up for Scribd 14-day trial. The “Netflix for books” offers access to their library of books, documents, comics and audiobooks (soon you only get 1 credit per month) for $8,99.

I know Scribd from their days as a document and presentation sharing platform and more recently from Duke UP’s Reading Friday, where you get to read a couple of chapters of their new releases on Scribd. Their academic books are a big part of why I’m interested in Scribd in the first place, of course there is not a ton of the newest UP releases, but they do have many new-ish works that are activist and scholarly anthologies, memoirs etc. and I can use for context. I do have my university library, of course, but my field is kinda niche and lets not talk about the budget for my particular interests. Usually when they have the books I need there’s only one copy, everyone else suddenly needs it, too, and though their e-book selection is growing slowly, I end up having to scan way too many pages.

On to the comics: I think at the beginning of the year or there around, Scribd started offering comics, lots of Marvel, but also such gems as March and Lumberjanes.  And then there are so many novels I want to read, my Scribd library looks insane. I heard there’s hardly any new releases, but that’s not a particular concern of mine and so far I have enough ebooks to last me a good long while plus several train conductor strikes.

What I’m not so fond of is that I cannot read any Scribd stuff on my kindle, but I’ve read two ebooks on my phone app recently and it didn’t trigger migraines, so I think I’ll be fine. But this is something that irritates me. I want that Russian smart phone with the e-ink on one side! Also, Scribd works on iOS and android and of course in any browser, but I read somewhere there’s either no windows tablet app or a pretty bad one. For all those audiobook fans, Scribd let me know immediately after signing up that the all the audiobooks you want thing is apparently over and it’s now unlimited books and 1 audiobook a month.

I think at $8,99 a month, the price is also a concern of mine. But I’ve quit my gym membership, so it’ll fit my budget fine. And let me rant tell you about libraries in Germany: They are not free! (apparently that’s the case in the UK?) I’ve always been okay with the reduced student price, but now I’m not living in a major city, their budget here sucks and the selection is very very narrow, the e-book library is even worse. Also, they don’t charge a yearly flat, but per pile of books once you’re over 20 and extra for bestsellers, DVDs etc but also for renewing books or ILL. And I rarely read in German. So, $8,99 doesn’t sound too bad.

Also, more recently I’ve been thinking of the books I own (finally all in one place, even if only for a couple of months) and why I purchased them. That’s really something for another blog post, but the gist of it is that quite often I bought books I really wanted to read at one time, but couldn’t get a hold of any other way and had to buy. And I want to start putting together a library, not just a mess of books that ended up on my shelves. So that’s what I’m taking into account while I try out Scribd and decide whether to subscribe or not, even if it would only be for the next few months. I’ve already read two otherwise very expensive graphic novels, amazing short stories and now a great fantasy.

Has anyone tried ebooks flats? What are your thoughts on Kindle Unlimited, Scribd and Oyster?