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Is Reading Political (Enough)?

I’ve been thinking about this post for what feels like years.

I still don’t know if I should post this, or even write it at all. I don’t have my thoughts completely sorted out, so I don’t feel ready to write this post. At the same time, I learned in 2020 that sometimes I have to do things that are scary even when I don’t feel like I’m ready for them. So here goes.

Continue reading “Is Reading Political (Enough)?”

2021 Intentions

Hello world!

Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on

I know, it’s been a while. Instead of listing a bunch of excuses for why blogging suddenly seemed unimportant to me, I’m here to make an accountability post for the coming year.

Continue reading “2021 Intentions”

Am I Still A Writer If I’m Only Writing for Myself?

Hello and welcome back to Lady Gets Lit! Today I’m bringing you another post in a loooong history of me, well, writing about my writing.

where i wish i was instead of having this quarter life crisis again

I’ve been writing (almost) daily since the ripe old age of 14, when I started filling composition books and later spiral notebooks with my angsty teen thoughts to avoid exploding on people around me. Around the same time, I started playing around with fiction stories, first writing fan fiction where my friends and I were dating famous actors (don’t ask), and then eventually starting to work on my very first novel. 

Now, in my 30th year, I do this thing every couple of months where I question myself. In fact, for someone who’s been writing as long as I can remember, I spend a ridiculous amount of time gatekeeping my own identity as a writer.

Continue reading “Am I Still A Writer If I’m Only Writing for Myself?”

[Review] These Violent Delights

Author: Chloe Gong
Genre: YA Fantasy/Retelling
Rep: Chinese (#OwnVoices); LGBTQ+ side characters
My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

CONTENT WARNINGS from the author: This book contains mentions and descriptions of blood, violence, gore, character deaths, explicit description of gouging self (not of their own volition), murder, weapon use, insects, alcohol consumption, parental abuse.

Chloe Gong’s retelling of Romeo & Juliet, set in 1926 Shanghai complete with warring gangs and a mysterious madness overtaking the city, absolutely blew me away.

a boring photo for a very much not boring book

While I came into this book expecting to encounter a familiar storyline, where two teens from warring families fall in love, These Violent Delights reimagines the tragic love story, and, in my reading, continues the story of Roma & Juliette after their secret relationship has fallen apart. The story shows the difficulties of encountering your ex, now a re-sworn enemy, while trying to combat the mysterious forces that threaten to bring down your entire world.

Gong’s writing really immersed me in the world of 1926 Shanghai. I knew next to nothing about this era of Chinese history, so I was fascinated to learn about the struggle between international merchants trying to take control of more and more of the city, while the Chinese fought to retain control. The blood feud between the Chinese Scarlet Gang and the Russian White Flowers really seamlessly weaves together the historical and the fictional. 

Every single one of these characters absolutely stole my heart. 

Because the story follows different points of view, you really get the chance to dive into the characters heads. Juliette, having just returned from four years of study in America, struggles to uphold her Chinese identity and gain the loyalty of her father’s gang. On the other side of the city, Roma fights for his father’s respect while disguising the fact that he has no taste for violence whatsoever. 

I equally loved the queer subtext of this book, between Benedikt and Marshall’s unspoken love to Kathleen, who works to disguise her body. I loved that these character just were, without necessarily being named as gay or trans or somewhere in between; despite the fact that we like to think being queer is something new, it’s really not, and I loved how these characters existed outside of their queerness as well. 

Where the book knocked it out of the park, for me, was the combination of the mysterious madness wrapping its hands around Shanghai’s throat and the political intrigue. 

Before reading it, I had no idea how much of this book is really about the impact of colonialism. After the Opium Wars, international powers have taken control of parts of Shanghai, while stirrings of Communism arise and threaten the elite. There are so many subtle moments where Juliette in particular confronts the way her people are treated as inferior, as incapable of running their own country, while White Europeans come in and stake their claims. I’m guilty of thinking of colonialism as something that happened in the Global South, but this book does an amazing job of showing the sneaky aspects of control that left their mark on people all across the world. 

Overall, would I teach this book?

I chose These Violent Delights as my Book of the Month in November as I was constructing a reading ladder over Romeo & Juliet. While I didn’t get around to reading it then, I was blown away by how well this book would fit into my ideas about doomed relationships between people who come from different worlds.

I think this would pair so well with a reading of the original Romeo & Juliet. While These Violent Delights contains some elements of the original, it answers the question I have asked for years—what happens to Romeo & Juliet if they don’t die in the end, if they try and fail to make their relationship work in the face of their family feud? At the same time, this reimagining explores elements of history that we don’t talk about enough in American classrooms, all while being an incredible mystery that kept me guessing. I can’t wait to read the sequel! 

A Classic Book I’m Avoiding [Classic Remarks]

Hello, and welcome back to Lady Gets Lit! Today, I bring you a discussion for Classic Remarks, a weekly discussion meme by the wonderful Briana & Krysta over at Pages Unbound.

When I started thinking about going back to school to become a teacher, I went on a bit of a book buying spree, and one day I came home with a used copy of To Kill A Mockingbird.

At the time, I thought little of it. TKAM is such a commonly read book in ELA that I figured it would be good to refresh my memory from my own experience in a 9th grade classroom. While I remember loving the book in high school—I was one of those nerdy kids who couldn’t help reading ahead in the book—I’m curious to see how my perspective has changed. Plus, I wanted to read the follow-up that Harper Lee had just published after all these years. 

It was only in entering graduate school, starting off with a class on diversity in curriculum, that I started to realize my own limited understanding of the book itself as well as what it represents. We talked a lot about the importance of representation in our classroom literature, and not just in the books we provide but in how we teach books. It’s not enough to just add in a couple token authors of color; we have to rethink how we teach the canon (if we really have to teach it at all…but that’s another post entirely).

On some level, TKAM is a book about racism, the kind that hides in the corners of our society, both then and now. And yet the attention, the lens the book shows us, is that of the white main characters. While Black people exist in the story, as Errin Haines points out in an article in The Washington Post, the characters of color aren’t given the same amount of depth and humanity that the white characters are. In the end, TKAM is a book about the white savior narrative, one that white folx can read and say, “Oh, we’re not that racist anymore.”

As a future English teacher, I’m sure I will be obliged to re-read and ultimately teach To Kill a Mockingbird at some point in the future. Because this book is such a staple of ELA curriculum, I doubt I’ll be able to avoid reading it much longer. When I do read and teach this book, I want to examine it from a critical lens: who is the intended reader for this book? what does it say that the white characters receive more character development than the characters of color? why is this book still considered a classic, and does it still deserve that title?

As a white educator, though, I have to wonder if this is enough. If I still teach the canon but apply a critical lens, I’m still exposing students of color to narratives that aren’t meant for them. I guess the question I’m getting at is this: do we have an obligation to teach content that might cause harm? And if so, how do we mitigate that potential harm while also steeling our young people for the very real racism they might encounter in the real world?

Maybe I will get around to reading this book in 2021, but maybe not. Only time will tell!

What are your thoughts on teaching potentially problematic texts? Do you remember reading To Kill A Mockingbird, or would you like to defend it? I’d love to have a conversation about this! Until next time,

[Review] Paola Santiago and the River of Tears

Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Rep: Latinx (#ownVoices)
My Rating:  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Thank you to the folx at ALAN for my ARC of this book! I’m so grateful to be able to read and review more books for middle grade readers!

Paola Santiago is a science-minded, space-obsessed 12-year-old who’s looking forward to spending her summer break with her two best friends Emma and Dante. But when Emma goes missing, Paola and Dante set off to save their friend, and Pao’s scientific mind comes into conflict with mythological beast, fierce fighting niños, and more. 

This book was an absolute blast to read. 

For the last 250 pages, I was pretty much glued to my chair and I had no idea where Tehlor Kay Mejia was dragging me next. Even though the book was a bit long, and sometimes the descriptive language read more like YA than MG, the dialogue was spot on for that awkward age between child and teen. Y’all know I’m not a big fantasy reader, so I appreciated how Pao’s story was really grounded in the world I’m familiar with, and how I got to learn about all the fantasy pieces alongside her. 

Can we talk about how much I love Pao?

She’s messy and flawed and trying to figure herself out. She doesn’t know what to make of her conflicting feelings for Dante, her best friend, who’s suddenly gotten super weird with her. She’s struggling between wanting to be a good daughter and her frustration with her mom’s superstitions. She’s stubbornly loyal and filled with anger; Paola isn’t the hero we’re used to, but she’s the hero we deserve. The fact that she’s so grounded in science and has to open her mind to the impossible is, to me, a great metaphor for how we all have to expand our understanding of the world as we grow and encounter different people and experiences. 

I don’t think you have to know anything about the myth of La Llorona to enjoy reading this book.

I know next to zero Spanish (something I’m trying to rectify via Duolingo!) but neither does Pao. I love that we get to see a Latina heroine whose relationship to her culture is fraught with tension. On one hand, Pao’s quick to call out racist cops who don’t take her and Dante seriously and accuse them of being troublemakers just because they’re brown. On the other hand, Pao’s mom never taught her Spanish, and she hates that she was raised on superstitious stories. A story like this one is powerful because it shows that, hey, Latinx culture isn’t a monolith, and neither are its people. 

Would I teach this book in my classroom?

Absolutely. This book reminds me how important it is to expose young people to all different kinds of diverse stories. We want brown kids to see themselves as heroes, and we want girls to see themselves that way too. Because of the linguistic complexity, this book might be challenging, but I could see is as a class read aloud for sixth or seventh grade. 

Additionally, this book opens up important dialogue about how law enforcement treats even children differently based on skin color. I found Los Niños de La Luz to be an interesting element, since they’re all kids who’ve gone missing. 

Even if I never have the chance to teach this book, it’s one I would recommend to those voracious readers who keep running out of things to read. I look forward to reading the sequel, which comes out this fall. 

Have you read this book? Do you have a favorite middle grade novel? Let me know in the comments! Until next time,

[Review] Dark and Deepest Red

Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Genre: YA Fantasy
Diverse Rep: queer/trans & Latinx (#OwnVoices); Romani
My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.

Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.

Synopsis from Goodreads

I picked up Anna-Marie McLemore’s Dark and Deepest Red as part of my personal challenge to read more diverse retellings this month to kick of 2021. I received a copy of this book in my box from the ALAN Conference this past November, and I’m grateful to the publisher and NCTE for the opportunity to read and review this book.

This is my first McLemore book, so I was a bit intimidated due to all the amazing things I’d heard about them. This book did not disappoint! 

The story takes place in two different timelines.

In the present day, Rosella wrestles with a pair of red shoes she made from her grandparents’ scraps, while Emil struggles to hide the Romani heritage that makes him different from even his nerdy friend. In 1518 Strasbourg, Lavinia and her aunt must disguise who they are to avoid being blamed for a mysterious dancing fever that has taken over the city. Told in short, alternating chapters, these storylines come to intersect and reveal the toll that hiding can take on a young person’s body and soul. 

Although I don’t read a lot of fantasy, I found myself fascinated by the way McLemore wove magic into the fabric of this story. In the present day, Rosella and Emil’s small town is overtaken each fall by a “glimmer” over the reservoir, which causes people to do strange things like befriend their enemies or finally kiss the person they’ve wanted to for years. Back in 1518, Lavinia and her aunt go to great lengths to prevent anyone around them from accusing them of witchcraft, yet there seems to be no logical explanation for the dancing fever that overtakes the town.

Mostly, though, this is a book about what happens when we try to hide away our differences, when those things that make us unique are the things that cause us to be bullied, cast out, or worse.

McLemore does an amazing job of exploring the discrimination and oppression that Lavinia faces as a Romani in hiding, as well as the stereotypes and lack of understanding that both Rosella and Emil face in different ways in the contemporary setting. 

Another thing I absolutely loved about this book was how the queer characters just were, without question or further analysis. Yes, Alifair has to hide the fact that he was born with a girl’s name, but Lala accepts and loves him, and as the story progresses, they discover that they aren’t as alone as they thought they were.

While I braced myself for a heartbreaking ending, McLemore reminds us that queer and brown folx have survived on the edges of society even in the darkest of times. In that sense, this book is a powerful glimmer of hope: no matter what makes us different, we can survive and even thrive in communities that accept us. But first, we have to face our true selves, just as each of these characters do in their own ways. 

Overall, while this isn’t a book I would’ve initially been drawn to, I quite enjoyed reading it. McLemore leaves us with a powerful message about radical self-acceptance, about being true to ourselves, and about surviving in all sorts of circumstances. 

Have you read Dark and Deepest Red or any other Anna-Marie McLemore books? What is your favorite book that weaves fantasy into the setting? Until next time,

Why Am I Such An Inconsistent Blogger?

Hello, and welcome back to the blog I sometimes remember I have!

Photo by Pixabay on

If you’re new here, thanks for stopping by! If you’re familiar with my blog… well, I’d like to say I’m sorry for forgetting to post for most of 2020, and dropping off the face of the planet halfway through 2019, and spending 2018 forgetting I ever blogged in the first place…

Continue reading “Why Am I Such An Inconsistent Blogger?”

Review | This Is My America by Kim Johnson

Genre: YA Contemporary
Diverse Rep: Black/African-American (#OwnVoices)
My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?

Goodreads Synopsis
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I don’t know how to write a coherent review of This Is My America, but I’m going to try. I could talk about the story, the writing, or the characters. Instead, I’m going to focus my review on how I believe this book might be impactful in an educational setting.

We need books like this in the classroom. For one thing, the main character, Tracy, is an activist. She writes letters to lawyers who might be able to help her wrongly imprisoned father on death row, but Tracy also hosts monthly workshops in her community to try and prevent the same situation from happening to others. Young people know that we’re still dealing with racism; what they need to see is what they can do to impact others around them in a positive way. Students need to know that they have power in their words and actions, and that they can create change. Tracy is an excellent example of this.

The book does an incredible job of giving the reader a window into what it’s like to have a family member who’s incarcerated. As so many others have noted, we so often focus on the prison experience itself; TV shows like Orange Is the New Black often allow us that voyeuristic experience. Mass incarceration impacts so many people on the outside as well, like Tracy’s family, who struggle to pick up the pieces while knowing that Mr. Beaumont’s time is running out. They’re often ostracized by members of their community and treated as guilty by association, and Tracy’s little sister will grow up with this legacy haunting her.

Reading this book is more than just a sociology lesson, or even a history lesson. What made This Is My America so readable was how easy it is to get sucked into the mystery element. Tracy’s brother, Jamal, is accused of murdering a white girl, and Tracy and her friends race to uncover the truth. I appreciated the complicated relationships Tracy has with Quincy, whose father was shot by police, and Dean, a white guy who tries to do the right thing. Even though the book reveals a lot of hidden racism within the community, I felt like Dean’s character showed what it takes to walk alongside someone in their fight for justice, how to be an accomplice, and also how sometimes what we try to do may never be enough to overcome what’s already been done.

Overall, I think this book belongs on classroom bookshelves and in curriculum. More than that, I hope everyone has the opportunity to read this book, because it’s one that will stick with me for a while. 

Have you read This Is My America? What are some of your top reads of 2020? Let me know in the comments!

Top 20 Reads of 2020

Hello world!

Today I’m sharing a short post including my top reads this year. According to Goodreads, my average rating in 2020 was 4.4. Excluding re-reads, that leaves me with these 20 books that really stood out this year. 

I’m listing them here in the order I read them, because it would be impossible to rank these beauties. Titles link to Goodreads. 

The List

  1. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
  2. There There by Tommy Orange
  3. Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas
  4. The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession by Dana Goldstein
  5. Dear Martin by Nic Stone
  6. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  7. Writers & Lovers by Lily King
  8. Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake
  9. Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  10. Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
  11. Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham
  12. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
  13. Pride by Ibi Zoboi
  14. The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Daré
  15. Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett
  16. The Black Friend: On Being A Better White Person by Frederick Joseph
  17. Anna K: A Love Story by Jenny Lee
  18. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo 
  19. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
  20. This Is My America by Kim Johnson
Did you read any of these books in 2020? What are some of your favorite reads from this year? Let me know in the comments.

The Most Important Book I Read in 2020 | Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

With a week left in the year, I think I can safely say that Caste is the most important book I’ve read in 2020.

Before I get started with some musings on the book, I need to start with a disclaimer.

I am a white woman, or, in Wilkerson’s terms, a woman from the dominant caste. I grew up in an upper middle class family to college-educated parents, also both of the dominant caste. I went to schools in dominant caste neighborhoods, and the majority of my friends throughout my childhood were also dominant caste, purely by the nature of de facto segregation in my mid-sized midwestern city. My perspective on Caste, both as a book and as a sociological lens to view my home country, is undoubtably colored by my experiences as a member of the dominant caste by birth.

If you’re an anti-racist, you’ve probably heard of this book, among a dozen other books in a similar vein that have been published throughout the term of our current president, Donald Trump. Why, then, read this one, which isn’t even about racism?

The power in Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is in the systematic way Wilkerson consciously reframes the narrative around race in America.

Wilkerson reveals how racism is the face that caste wears, but caste itself is the “unseen skeleton” that makes up “the infrastructure of our divisions” (p. 17).

And yet, this isn’t a book for people who believe racism doesn’t exist. It isn’t Wilkerson’s, or any other marginalized person’s, job to convince dominant caste people of the problems that lie beneath the surface of our allegedly post-racial society. Rather, this book picks at the scabs of our nation and reveals the festering wound underneath that we’ve been trying to ignore for centuries.

If you’re interested in this book at all, I’m sure you’ve read the raving reviews already. Rather than breaking down each chunk of the book, I’m going to share just a few of the most mind-boggling things I learned from reading this book slowly over the past month.

  • The breakdown of just how impactful slavery was on our country: we had slavery in this country for more years of its history than the years after its abolition; 2111 will mark the first year that African-Americans will have been free for as long as they were enslaved.
  • The word Caucasian was literally an accident that was then adopted in an attempt to scientifically cement what it means to be white.
  • The Nazis looked to the American South when they were determining how to blame the Jewish people for everything wrong with the country; they saw the Jim Crow South as being too harsh.
  • Alabama had a law against intermarriage until the year 2000, and in that vote, 40% of the electorate voted to keep the law.
  • Donald Trump, rather than being an accident or a surprise, makes perfect sense—the dominant caste needed a narcissistic leader to reassure them that their superiority is safe.
  • “People of color with the most education, who compete in fields where they are not expected to be, continually press against the boundaries of caste and experience a lower life expectancy as a result” (p. 307).
  • The majority of white Americans didn’t vote for Obama. Louder, for the people in the back: only 43% of white Americans voted for Obama in 2008, and 39% in 2012. Then, in 2016, only 37% of white voters chose Hillary Clinton, where 53% of white women voted for Trump and 62% of white men.

Caste is more than rank, it is a state of mind that holds everyone captive, the dominant imprisoned in an illusion of their own entitlement, the subordinate trapped in the purgatory of someone else’s definition of who they are and who they should be.

Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, p. 290

Reading this book as a dominant caste person was not just eye-opening or enraging, but truly saddening as well. Caste is such a hidden part of our society that it seems nearly impossible to fight. Yet throughout the book, Wilkerson includes personal stories, those of herself and of other people she interviewed, about their experiences with caste. Then, toward the end of the book, she pulls out her vision of what it would look like to fight against caste.

We need radical empathy, she writes.

Which “means putting in the work to educate oneself and to listen with a humble heart to understand another’s experience from their perspective” (p. 386).

As I read this passage, I couldn’t help but think about my own dreams for my future classroom, a place where young people are exposed to all kinds of stories from all kinds of people, in the hopes that they will learn to see people who are different from themselves as just that—people. In my mind, this is where we start: by showing young people how to enact radical empathy, how to find common ground, how to listen to other people, how to look past the surface and treat others with respect and dignity.

I hope, if you’ve read to the end of this review, that you choose to pick up Caste. I hope it’s as awakening for you as it was for me.