Review || The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

Genre: Fantasy | Diverse Rep: West Asian setting + Muslim (#OwnVoices)

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

34814099The City of Brass is an epic historical fantasy novel that follows Nahri, a 19-year-old con artist from Cairo, as she discovers that she’s the last descendant of a powerful djinn healer family. With the help of a protective former Daeva slave, Dara, Nahri journeys to the magical city of Daevabad and integrates herself into the ruling family. As she gets to know Ali, the second son of the Qahtani king of Daevabad, Nahri must decide where her loyalties lie and what she will do in order to survive.

I haven’t read a fantasy story in a long time, so the depth of world-building saved this book for me.

As a white American, I’m not familiar with the Islamic myths that Chakraborty draws on, but I loved the seamless weaving of myth and fantasy. We learn about the world of djinn through Nahri, a presumably human girl who gets swept up in a war she doesn’t fully understand. Through Nahri’s perspective, we learn about the different magical creatures and the basics of Daevabad’s political factions.

There were lots of surprises in the story, from Nahri’s background, to the action scenes. The combination of 18th-century Egypt with the mythical world of Daevabad was absolutely stunning.

That being said, I cannot review this book without admitting the mis-balanced pacing.

The beginning of the book is description-heavy as the reader is thrust into an unfamiliar world. We’re still getting to know who these people are and learning new terminology, which often threw me out of the story. On top of that, the entire first half of the book is a long and arduous journey from the human world to Daevabad…and I’d almost lost hope of Nahri and Dara ever arriving.

Of course, once we arrived in Daevabad, I was absolutely hooked. While the first half of the book dragged, the second half seemed to fly by as I got sucked into the political intrigue. The one thing that kept me going in the first half of the book were Ali’s chapters. I really connected with his moral struggle: he believes in equality, yet he’s trapped in a family of pureblood maniacs who care more about keeping their power than doing the right thing.

In fact, one of the best things about this story was the fact that most of the characters are morally gray to some extent. Nahri comes from a background of stealing to survive; Dara murdered countless people during his time as a warrior and as a slave; and Ali chooses his family’s political views over his moral feelings time and time again. Pretty quickly, we learn that Dara and Ali are diametrically opposed, yet it’s not clear that either of them is fully right or wrong. Dara and Ali both have different views of history that affect their current worldview, which acts as an interesting parallel to real life.

My main complaint was that I wasn’t invested in Nahri’s relationship with Dara.

I get that they went through this huge journey together, and that Dara admires her because she’s descended from the people his people have always served…but I just didn’t buy the fact that she was so loyal to him, that she defends him in spite of everythingincluding his borderline abusive treatment of her, which she writes off as just how he is. I don’t think Dara is as evil as the Qahtani family makes him out to be, but I definitely think Nahri is smart enough to see through Dara’s facade.

That being said, I loved the friendship between Nahri and Ali. It starts out with them both using each other for their own ends, but the friendship that develops is so genuine and real.

One of the strongest elements, and something I hope is explored more in the next book, is the racism within Daevabad.

The pureblood djinn are divided up into different tribes who tolerate, but also insult each other. Beyond that, most djinn are incredibly racist against shafit, or non-pureblooded djinn. The shafit live in segregated areas with fewer resources, often living in abject poverty. Meanwhile, the Daeva tribe both looks down on everyone else and convinces the Qahtani rulers to provide them with extra security—all based on the fact that, before the Qahtani family won the throne, the Daevas and the Nahid healers were in charge.

Despite being a book about Islamic myths, though, I’m not convinced that this is the best Muslim rep that’s out there. Since this isn’t my lane, I’m linking to two different #OwnVoices reviewers so you can decide for yourself. I highly suggest you read both Fadwa’s review and Chaima’s.

Overall, do I recommend:

I really enjoyed reading this book. I haven’t read a fantasy in a long time, and this one really sucked me into the world and had me rooting for the characters. I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

—find this book—

Goodreads | AbeBooks | Book Depository

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Have you read The City of Brass? What are your thoughts? What is your favorite fantasy series? Let me know in the comments!

If you liked this review and want to see more of what I’m reading, add me on Goodreads!

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Review | Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

Genre: Poetry/Memoir | Diversity: #OwnVoices sexual assault survivor

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

40519254“Shame turned inside out is rage.”

Shout is one of those books that touches someplace deep inside and makes it nearly impossible to write a coherent review of any sort. Still, I’m going to try.

In this memoir in verse, Laurie Halse Anderson, author of the revolutionary 1999 Young Adult novel, Speak, tells her true story for the first time. Through haunting, poignant poems, Anderson details her childhood, from her mother’s silence to her father’s PTSD. When she was thirteen, Anderson was raped by an older boy she considered a friend, and she spent her high school years dealing with the aftermath in some pretty unhealthy ways.

Although it’s slow-moving to start, I loved the opportunity to learn more about an author I admire.

Through this book, I discovered the ways that Speak came from Anderson’s true experience. She struggled to deal with the aftermath of her rape because she had no examples of positive coping skills. She talks about how her father drank to forget his war trauma, and her mother had no voice whatsoever. Thus, 14-year-old Anderson turned to drinking and smoking pot to dull the pain of being raped. She had no positive influences in her life to tell her that it wasn’t her fault, that she hadn’t been asking for it, that she was more than this one act of violence.

I also really connected with the brief passages about her journey as a writer. A lot of young writers have this perception that great writers are just born that way, that they sit down to write their first book and gold falls out onto the page. Anderson writes about her struggle to find her voice as a writer, from attempting to write picture books for her children, to writing novels and other works that were rejected over and over again. It was so comforting to me to learn that I’m not the only one who’s struggled to find my way as a writer. Anderson never expected Speak to even be published, much less to win awards and make her a household name (at least within kid lit/YA circles).

This isn’t a plot-driven memoir whatsoever. Nor is it fully a memoir.

The second half of the book follows Anderson as she writes and publishes Speak, a story about a 14-year-old high school freshman who’s struggling to survive her own rape. In the second half of the book, Anderson writes about her unexpected fame and the censorship that follows writing openly about sexual assault. This part of the book forms a poignant call-to-action. She writes about how many kids she’s spoken to in the years following Speak’s fame, but also how many times she’s been told to censor herself, how many school libraries have banned her book. She calls attention to these instances to point out how “censorship is the child of fear/the father of ignorance” — not talking about rape doesn’t prevent it from happening.

Anderson also does a beautiful job of connecting her story to that of other sexual assault survivors across the world. She shares a few of their stories, from a man who confessed “I am Melinda” to the young woman whose education was ruined when her rapists were allowed to continue in theirs. These poems go a long way in showing the prevalence of sexual assault and how our culture creates a space for it. She writes that we as a society have a duty to educate our men better than we are currently. She also shows the different types of sexual assault, from the young people who were assaulted but not “technically” raped, to the young men who are molested by priests. I really appreciated how she incorporated men’s stories as well.

While this book was incredibly difficult to read, emotionally, I can only imagine how powerful this book will be.

So many young people desperately need to know that it wasn’t their fault, that they’re not alone, that they can shout their truth to the world. This is the kind of book with the power to change lives for the better, and I’m grateful for the chance to read it.

-Find this book-
Goodreads | B&N | IndieBound

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Have you read Shout or Speak? What are some books you’ve appreciated that discuss sexual assault? Do survivors have an obligation to speak up about their experiences? Let me know what you think!

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Review || A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum

Genre: Contemporary Fiction | Diverse Rep: #OwnVoices Palestinian immigrant family

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I received an ARC of this book through my work. While I am grateful for the opportunity to review, this in no way influences my opinion of the book.

Content Warnings: misogyny, alcohol abuse, domestic abuse, sexual violence, death.

IMG_0595In A Woman Is No Man, three generations of Palestinian-American women struggle to find a sense of self in a culture that treats women like wallpaper. Fareeda holds her family together in the new world of America; Isra submits to her husband and worries about a future for her daughters; and Deya yearns to go to college instead of getting married.

It should be noted from the start that this book is in no way meant to represent all Arabs/Muslims.

In fact, one of the major characters points out that other Arab families allow their women more freedom. In the author’s note to my edition, Etaf Rum remarks that by even writing this book, she’s violating the code of silence in her community; she worries that the world will take this as further reason to discriminate against Arabs. But remaining silent wasn’t an option for her, and I’m so glad she decided to write this book in spite of her fears.

I was so excited to read an #OwnVoices book about Palestinian-American immigrants.

For one thing, it seems that Americans avoid talking about Palestine whenever possible, and this book encouraged me to do more digging. For another thing, I firmly believe these kinds of stories are so important—not only to break the code of silence, but to remind us just how real these issues still are, right in our backyard so to speak.

The use of 3rd person limited to show each woman’s perspective was incredibly effective.

While it’s a character-driven story, the slight distance from the minds of downtrodden characters adds to the story, rather than detracts from it. Reading the perspective of Isra, a mother of four whose husband is physically abusive, would’ve been even harder had we been fully immersed in her mind. I also loved every single reference to reading (the author runs an amazing bookstagram that I highly recommend). Throughout the story, reading is the way that younger women are able to visualize a culture and way of life that’s different from theirs. They’re able to imagine going their own way, whether it’s having adventures or actually falling in love, rather than being forced into an unwanted marriage right out of high school.

I can’t lie: this book was hard to read.

Every time I picked it up, I got sucked back into a world where women can’t go out alone, even just to walk around the block; where reading is dangerous and motherhood is one’s only solace. What was amazing, to me, was how Etaf Rum carefully revealed why the family operates the way it does. Fareeda and Khaled grew up in refugee camps, first in tents and then in concrete shelters. They didn’t have running water and they were barely able to pay bills. They make it to America, where they have a better life, but neither of them truly leaves their old life behind. Fareeda worries that America will spoil her children and grandchildren, so of course she holds onto her culture as tightly as she can.

I loved getting to see inside the minds of three generations of women.

Each of the characters has a reason for her silence and submission to what’s expected of her, yet each of them rebel in their own ways. Isra remains silent, allowing herself to be beaten if it means protecting her children, but she rebels through reading books that her sister-in-law brings home. Deya sneaks off to visit her long lost aunt and comes to understand her own power in shaping her future. Even Fareeda, the grandmother, stands up for herself the only way she knows how, and she’s the one who holds her family together. We see how the culture is toxic for men as well, through Adam’s slow deterioration under the pressure of supporting not only his wife and children but his siblings and parents.

Still, the story ends on a bittersweet yet hopeful note. It’s clear that there is hope for the future, but the women in the story have to learn to make their own destiny—even when it comes at a high price.

I will be shouting about this book for a while. I want my friends to read it, and my family too. I want this story to be read as widely as possible, so that hopefully change will come for women like Fareeda, Isra, and Deya.

-find this book-

Goodreads | B&N | IndieBound

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Have you read A Woman Is No Man? Are you participating in the 2019 Year of the Asian Reading Challenge? What are your favorite books with Arab/Muslim rep? Let me know in the comments!

Review | Paperweight by Meg Haston

Note: this is a backlist review from my previous blog. This review contains mild spoilers.

Trigger Warnings: disordered eating, severe depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts

CM+BBLnvSoabTrazcJYScQ17-year-old Stevie is convinced that the only way she can atone for past mistakes is by killing herself on the anniversary of her brother’s death. When her dad checks her into an eating disorder treatment center, the anniversary is 27 days away, so Stevie knows she won’t make it through the full treatment. In fact, in the beginning, she refuses to believe that she needs help—in her mind, the only solution to the pain she’s shoved away inside is for her to die.

Paperweight is not a light-hearted contemporary. It’s the most realistic portrayal of not only anorexia/bulimia, but of pure, self-hating, suicidal depression that I’ve ever encountered.

By immersing the reader inside Stevie’s perspective, alternating the present day treatment center narrative with memories of what led her down this road in the first place, Meg Haston shows how eating disorders are about so much more than food, and adds a mystery element that builds suspense throughout. This is also one of those rare books where not a single sentence is wasted, where the gorgeous language itself is enough to keep you reading.

I’m not usually a fan of the hospital narrative in mental illness books.

They often become a way of dramaticizing or even romanticizing mental illness. Not everyone who’s struggling with depression, eating disorders, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, etc. winds up in a treatment facility. Some folks struggle along on their own—some folks die in that struggle—and other folks don’t have the luxury of a nice facility like the one Stevie has in Paperweight. And yet, two things really made this work for me: the balancing of the present/past narration and the portrayal of the individuals both in therapy and the professionals at Stevie’s treatment center.

the past/present narrative

As the story progresses, Stevie recalls various moments in her life that led her not only to her eating disorder but to her desire to kill herself. Less than two years ago, her mother abandoned the family to move to Paris and start a new life. Stevie blames herself for this loss, believing that if she had just been skinnier, had more self-control over food, her mother wouldn’t have left.

Stevie also believes herself responsible for her brother’s death, which is a big reason she wants to kill herself on the anniversary. She’s never really connected with other girls for reasons she struggles to explain, until she meets Eden, an older, glamorous girl. Eden encourages Stevie’s growing with binge drinking led, which leads to binge eating and purging. Her older brother, Josh, is the only one who notices Stevie losing weight.

All of this not only adds suspense to an otherwise emotionally-driven novel, but it also reveals clues about Stevie’s illness. Controlling food and losing weight are the ways she seeks control and power over her situation, and her brother’s death (which, by the way, is actually an accident and not her fault at all) acts as the catalyst to some serious depression and suicidal thoughts.

Stevie literally wants to starve herself—she wants to disappear, to cease to exist. She desperately wants to take up less space, which is is tied in with her mother’s abandonment. Like many of us with depression, Stevie believes herself to be unworthy of good things, unworthy of life itself. This is self-hatred at its most dangerous, particularly when tied in with her eating disorder.

treatment center realism

In the beginning, Stevie resists her therapist, whom she calls Shrink, but ultimately the two develop a beautiful patient-therapist relationship (something I can’t recall seeing before in this kind of narrative). Rather than crafting the stereotypical overbearing, misunderstanding therapist who spouts cliches, Haston complicates this presentation. “Shrink” aka Anna has a personality of her own, and while she does spout cliches, she ultimately is able to really help Stevie.

Even the other girls in treatment with Stevie have unique characters: they all ended up here for different reasons, from one girl who’s older brother abused her in childhood to another girl who doesn’t even have a big reason that she has an eating disorder. Despite Stevie’s unwillingness to participate in treatment at all, we slowly see her coming around, both through her therapy sessions with Anna, and through her friendship with her roommate, Ashley.

I love the way Haston portrays the recovery process. It’s so easy to write a story about someone who goes from totally suicidal to totally “fixed” by the end of the story. Rather, Haston writes the honest truth about recovery: it’s a long, brutal road, filled with temptations, because eating disorders (and depression) are not something that can be “cured” like the flu. Books like this go a long way toward destigmatizing what it’s really like to live with a mental illness, not just “suffer” from one and then get better.

full disclosure: This book could be very triggering!

particularly if you’re struggling with depression, self-harm/suicidal thoughts, or an eating disorder. Mostly, I recommend this book to folks who’ve never struggled with depression or eating disorders. Read this with an open mind, allow yourself to feel what Stevie feels, and you’ll be a lot closer to understanding what these disorders really do to a person.

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Have you read Paperweight? What is your favorite book with realistic mental health representation? Let me know your thoughts!

Review | Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Diverse Rep: Deaf MC + side character of color

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.🌙

“Sound can move anything if it’s strong enough.”

IMG_0546**I received an ARC of this book through my work. While I am grateful for the opportunity to review, this in no way influences my opinion of the book.**

When 12-year-old Iris learns about a whale called Blue 55, who can’t be understood by other whales because he sings at a different pitch, she’s drawn to help. Using her wiz kid skills with electronics, she crafts a song at Blue’s frequency. Despite her parents’ refusal to understand, Iris manages to travel all the way to Alaska in search of one lonely whale, determined to let him know that he’s not alone.

I picked up this book for the beautiful cover, but I decided to read it as soon as I learned that the main character is Deaf.

It’s been a looong time since I’ve read anything Middle Grade, but this story really sucked me in. I was impressed by Iris and her skills at deconstructing and fixing old radios. While I don’t know much about whales, I enjoyed getting to learn more about their communication skills. Lynne Kelly’s poignant and descriptive writing really helps the reader feel Iris’s loneliness. I haven’t read a lot of MG books, so I don’t know how it compares, but I found this a really fun read that didn’t feel “dumbed down” for kids.

Blue 55, the whale who sings differently from the others, acts as a metaphor for Iris and her struggle to connect with hearing people.

Iris quickly becomes obsessed with helping him, because she understands so deeply understands what it’s like to feel unable to communicate with people. At home, Iris has her hearing family, who do pretty well at using sign language but don’t truly understand her much of the time. Iris has her grandmother, who’s also Deaf, but both she and Grandma are mourning the loss of Grandpa. Grandma’s healing is a big part of the story as well, which was beautiful to see.

This kind of story is so important, not only for hearing kids to understand what it’s like for someone who’s different from them, but for Deaf kids to see themselves represented. My only real “concern” with this book is that it might encourage kids to solve their problems by running away from home, which isn’t really a great thing to promote. It’s pretty clear that Iris’s parents are mostly okay with things in the end, too, which I felt was a little unrealistic. For more on this perspective, check out this review.

Iris as a character is believable, spunky, and incredibly relatable.

Her loneliness, while specific, really hit home for me. I think most kids struggle to be understood by and fit in with their peers at some point, and I vividly remember my feelings of invisibility at this age—and I spoke the same language as my peers!

I loved watching Iris grow and progress in the story. In the beginning, she’s very isolated, communicating only with her friend Wendell who attends another school. As the only Deaf kid in school, Iris resents Nina, a girl who attempts to learn sign language but mostly just flails around. Later, though, we see Iris learn to reach out through her friendship with Bennie, who shows Iris that hearing people can be her friends too. Lynne Kelly is not Deaf, but has made her career as a sign language interpreter. It’s my understanding that she spoke to Deaf people while writing this book. I would defer to Deaf readers to verify the accuracy of the rep.

Iris’s grandma was also a wonderful character. For such a hopeful book, Song for a Whale does a great job at showing the process of grief. At the beginning of the story, Grandma is in a cloud of sadness, but through the journey with her granddaughter she begins to come back to life.

Overall, do I recommend:

I love that there are kids’ books with this kind of representation as well as the hopefulness of the storyline. I will definitely be recommending this book to my customers at work, as well as to anyone who’s interested in reading more Middle Grade books.

Review | The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember

Genre: YA Fantasy | Diversity: bi rep | My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“I was through living a life driven by others.”

34181737The Seafarer’s Kiss follows 19-year-old Ersel, a blue-haired mermaid who wants more for her life than society’s prescribed role of baring children. She risks everything to rescue and aid Ragna, a human woman who’s survived the destruction of her village. Ersel must decide what she’s willing to give up in order to gain the freedom she desires.

This f/f Little Mermaid retelling has been on my TBR for ages, which is why I picked it for the first selection of the Gay Book Club I’m starting with two of my coworkers. I was pleasantly surprised that this reads more like Ursula’s story than Ariel’s, but I’m not mad about it. It’s clear that Julia Ember did her research when it comes to the mythology behind her story; reading this inspired me to look into this more.

Ersel’s voice is incredibly believable as a young rebellious mermaid. For anyone who’s ever disagreed with authority, her feelings are incredibly relatable. In the beginning, Ersel wants nothing more than to escape her home and explore the world—which is pretty much exactly how I felt at 19.

This is mostly a story about Ersel’s personal growth, from a selfish young person who will sacrifice anything to get what she wants, to someone who fights for her community and the people she cares about. In the beginning, when she first meets Ragna, Ersel really admires the human girl who’s fought her way through everything just to survive. While she dreams of escaping, Ersel doesn’t really have any experiences aside from exploring ruined human ships with her best friend Havamal. As the story progresses, though, Ersel has to step it up and take responsibility for her actions—even when it means admitting that she’s seriously screwed up. For that reason alone, I really appreciated this story.

However, I wasn’t as sold on the romance aspect of the story. I picked up this book for the f/f romance, but I wasn’t really convinced by Ersel and Ragna’s romance. They spend very little time really getting to know each other, and then they’re separated for a good portion of the book. When they’re reunited, it’s as if no time has passed. I really wanted to read more of Ersel’s feelings, what drew her to Ragna and what made her believe in their love. As it stands, it all happened really quickly and I don’t feel like I got to know Ragna all that well.

The characters are portrayed as being complex people who make mistakes and then learn from them. Although Ersel resents Havamal at the beginning of the story, and he makes a huge mistake that costs Ersel her place in her community, he eventually comes to see the error of his ways. Similarly, Ersel hated the “mean girl” character, only to discover that she, too, has a complexity of emotions and desires. With the possible exception of the king, the true villain of the story, everyone is blurring lines in one way or another.

Another great thing about this book is the normalization of bisexuality among mermaids. In fact, the king encourages mermaids to make love to each other in order to make them more receptive to touch and therefore (hopefully) more fertile. It’s more of a big deal that Ersel’s with a human than that she’s with a girl. On top of that, Ersel talks about being fat in a way that comes across as completely natural and beautiful, which is really nice to see in a book for teens.

When it comes to Loki, the god of lies, my impression is more complicated. Loki uses they/them pronouns, which was really refreshing to see. Again, this is viewed as just the way it is, rather than an abnormality. I found Loki’s character really interesting, too. Despite the fact that they compel Ersel to do questionable things to get what she wants, I don’t really buy that Loki is the villain of the story. Depending on how you read Loki, though, it’s problematic that the genderfluid character comes across as villainous with questionable morals. Since I’m cisgender, though, I defer to other reviewers on this subject, and would urge caution for non-binary readers.

Overall, do I recommend?

This was such a fun book to read that really kept me guessing. I appreciated the complexity of the characters and the way everyone in this story seems to blur the lines in one way or another, from Ersel’s bisexuality to Loki’s mischief that ultimately helps Ersel grow as a person. I’d definitely recommend this to someone who wants a book with queer characters where their gender/sexuality doesn’t define them and is taken for granted.

find this book

Goodreads | B&N | Book Depository

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Have you read this book or its sequel? What did you think? What are your favorite retellings of fairytales or mythology? Let me know in the comments!

Review | The Bold World: A Memoir of Family and Transformation by Jodie Patterson

Genre: Memoir | Diversity: black author + trans son | My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

*I received a free ARC of this book through my work. While I am grateful for the opportunity, this in no way shapes my opinion of the book.*

IMG_0514Jodie Patterson’s memoir reveals her story of growing up black on the Upper West Side in New York, attending an all-black women’s college in the south, and building a unique family unit to adapt for her transgender son, Penelope.

the writing

Although it’s pretty exposition heavy, focusing on Jodie’s thought processes of her experiences, this book is a beautifully written portrayal of a black woman coming into her own. There were several places where I had to stop and just admire the way she constructed a sentence, or appreciate the profundity of what she had to say on a particular moment. Like any good memoirist, Patterson has a clear understanding of her own experiences, her feelings at the time and the significance of those experiences for her today.

the significance

Patterson truly has a gift of helping readers understand not just her struggle, but also Penelope’s struggle. She describes the human battle with the body, both from the cisgender perspective and the transgender perspective. The body is not the same thing as the soul, she argues, and in trans folks, their bodies don’t match their souls, and that’s what causes distress. Patterson’s writing has power to really speak to cis people who might not be able to wrap their heads around what it means to be trans by drawing a connection to the way we all have a fight with our bodies.

While I read this for the exploration of parenting a trans kid, what really struck me was the way Patterson writes about blackness. The very first chapter takes the reader down south and talks about the amazing black women in Patterson’s matrilineal history: women who could pass for white, but chose not to; women who fought for civil rights, even being jailed; women who infused a sense of a black woman’s power into everything they taught their daughters. Patterson talks about how her parents specifically spent time educating their two daughters in what it means to be black, giving them the history that was missing in schools (and still is) as well as instilling the importance of black community in them.

Blackness is practically a character in the book, but it gives her a sense of power, rather than just feeling marginalized by society’s racism. In this sense, Patterson’s story has the potential to be inspirational for all sorts of readers, but especially racial minorities.

Toward the middle of the book, Patterson talks openly about the point in her life where she wasn’t able to keep going. She was over-worked running her own business while trying to raise four kids of her own and one adoptee. Oh, and she was trying to figure out how to explain to people in her life that her son, Penelope, is actually a boy. So often, I feel like women—especially mothers—are compelled to put on a brave face, keep doing all the behind-the-scenes emotional labor of being women. I really appreciated how Patterson openly admits that she hit a breaking point and that admitting one’s weakness is often a huge part of being a strong woman. This part of the story shows that it’s okay to ask for help; it’s okay to need a break; it’s okay to not be okay.

what was missing

Literally the only I felt was “missing” from this amazing book was a deeper exploration of Patterson’s privilege. She mentions that her father more or less built his own wealth, despite white men not wanting him in their space; yet Patterson doesn’t really talk about the advantages she had over many people, especially in the NYC area, living in poverty and unable to enjoy the freedom she does throughout her life. She talks about feeling the pressure of other black people to focus on the “hard issues” like racism, poverty, and education, rather than on “soft issues” aka “white people’s problems” like trans rights.

Patterson acknowledges that we still have a lot of work to do on racism in society, but she believes that trans rights should be included in the fight and doesn’t take away from other issues. I just wished that Patterson had taken even a moment to address the fact that she is privileged to even have the ability, the education, and the knowledge of how to be an activist, when a lot of people are just fighting to survive. Of course, this is just my impression; ultimately, Patterson presents a compelling story as well as a call to action.

Overall, do I recommend:

This is one of those rare books I think anyone could learn something from reading. More than that, reading Jodie Patterson’s progression from a young woman who feels invisible to a mother who stands up for her kid—this book inspired me to keep fighting for what I believe in, even when things get tough. I highly recommend this book to anyone who needs a little inspiration and motivation to keep striving toward their dreams.

find this book

Goodreads | B&N | Book Depository

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Have you read this book? Who are your favorite black writers? Let me know in the comments!