Aug. 12th, 2017

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"Welcome to the Middle-Aged Orphans Club," writes Sherman Alexie, and as a middle-aged orphan myself, I did feel welcome, and seen, and understood. In July, Alexie cancelled part of his book tour because of complicated grief and being haunted by his late mother: "I don’t believe in ghosts," he writes. "But I see them all the time." Me too, brother.

Like Bad Indians, this is an intricate quilt of a book, part memoir, part poem, part dream. It's hard to imagine how it could be otherwise. The loss of a parent is a loss of meaning. For indigenous people, this is doubly true. Lillian Alexie was one of the last fluent speakers of Salish. Her death robs her son, and the world, of an entire universe.

This book, like Hawking radiation, is an almost-undetectable glow of meaning escaping from a black hole. If you haven't lost a parent yet it might be too much to bear, but if you have, it might feel like joining a group of survivors around a campfire after a catastrophe.

IN AUGUST 2015, as a huge forest fire burned on my reservation, as it burned within feet of the abandoned uranium mine, the United States government sent a representative to conduct a town hall to address the growing concerns and fears. My sister texted me the play-by-play of the meeting. “OMG!” she texted. “The government guy just said the USA doesn’t believe the forest fire presents a serious danger to the Spokane Indian community, even if the fire burns right through the uranium mine.”

...“Is the air okay?” I texted. “It hurts a little to breathe,” my sister texted back. “But we’re okay.” Jesus, I thought, is there a better and more succinct definition of grief than It hurts a little to breathe, but we’re okay?
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Australians of my generation have a particular reason to be fond of Journey to the West and it is the gloriously daft Japanese adaptation that was replayed endlessly on after-school TV. (For many queer Australians of my generation, myself included, Masako Natsume, the woman who played Tripitaka, is a pivotal figure in our secret lives.) The Monkey King resurfaces in Gene Luen Yang's graphic novel American Born Chinese, one of the books that taught my younger kid to read. (I was especially touched when in Yang's book, the three wise men who attended the birth of Jesus turned out to be Monkey and his friends Sandy and Pigsy. I'm a sucker for good crossover fanfic.)

All this to say that The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is yet another delightful take on Journey to the West, this time set in the hyper-competitive high schools of the Bay Area. Monkey is now Quentin, a handsome, short, brilliant and very annoying teenager who kept reminding me of Miles Vorkosigan, in a good way. Genie herself has a surprising connection with him, but is a three-dimensional character in her own right, with a sense of honor and complicated relationships with her parents and friends. Her efforts to balance college applications with supernatural obligations had a Buffy-ish resonance, and the various Gods and demons showing up in modern America will please Neil Gaiman fans. I found this a quick and enjoyable read.

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Writers of Color 50 Books Challenge

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