kaberett: A drawing of a black woman holding her right hand, minus a ring finger, in front of her face. "Oh, that. I cut it  off." (molly - cut it off)
[personal profile] kaberett
This came into my possession via the latest Humble Ebook Bundle, and I am so glad it did. This is how glad I am: I am about two-thirds of the way through it and I can't wait to finish before I tell you all how good it is.

The protagonist, Hanna, is sixteen, manic depressive (and explicitly, canonically prefers that descriptor to "bipolar", Because Reasons), and Finnish-"island girl" (Hawaiian?), raised (for most of her life) in Dallas. She describes herself as biracial and bicultural, and she's bilingual in English and Finnish - and the codeswitching is genuinely plausibly represented.

The dude she ends up hanging around with a lot is the same age, Latino, and bilingual in Spanish and English - again, really nicely represented.

The story takes place in creepy smalltown Texas. It's sub/urban fantasy and abusive parents and a critique of the medical-industrial complex and teenagers having (complicated, not always happy) sex lives all tied up in tight, funny monster-killing brilliance. It's lovely.

Content notes. )
[identity profile] ms-mmelissa.livejournal.com
Maya Angelou is best known for her first autobiography, the groundbreaking I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which chronicles her early childhood before breaking off abruptly when she's seventeen. Gather Together in My Name picks up a short while after her last book broke off and chronicles Maya's early forays into adulthood. 

I enjoyed Gather Together in My Name a great deal more than its predecessor. The work has received criticism for its looser structure; Marguerite stumbles in and out of jobs with regularity and falls in and out of love with men at the drop of the hat. This doesn't provide for a great, over-arching narrative, but then life seldom does, and this chaotic period of Maya Angelou's life (from about 17 to 19) seems to demand a less formal structure. 

Angelou was purportedly hesitant to write about this period in her life and after reading the book it's easy to see why. Already a young mother at this point in her life, Angelou also spent this time period making forays into prostitution, both as prostitute and pimp, while remaining stunningly naive about the world around her and her own actions. Some of the most powerful moments of the book can be found in these passages; Angelou is at her best when she is speaking from the voice of teenage Marguerite, outlining her own beliefs and showing the reader how a headstrong girl who believed she was jaded and world-weary was repeatedly fooled by her own naiveté. However, Angelou was writing this at a point in her life where she was no longer a naive spirited girl, but a savvy woman and the voice of that woman occasionally emerges, to the book's detriment. In an early scene Marguerite goes to the home of a lesbian couple simply to show how laissez-faire and grown up she is. As the two begin to kiss in front of her Marguerite is overcome with revulsion and disgust, which Angelou promptly excuses as the bias and hatred of an ignorant girl repeating the prejudices of the world around her. The authorial intrusion is a rare mis-step in a work that is fearless in its refusal to apologize for its narrator. 
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
3. Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Wench

Whew, this is a depressing book. But well worth reading; the characters are all very believable and engaging, and the situation is compelling. It's a novel, but one based on a real-life situation: Tawawa House, a popular summer resort in the early and middle 1800s, located in Ohio but frequented by rich men from southern states. The story focuses on four black women, all slaves, and all brought by their owners to Tawawa House over repeated summers. Because, see, Tawawa House has a particular reason for being popular: it's a place where slave-owners can bring their black mistresses, leaving their wives behind.

This is a hard book to describe, because there's not much of a plot; most of what changes over the course of the novel is the slow shifts in Lizzy's (the main character) attitude toward her life and the other people in it. Wench is excellent at describing the tangled situation she and the other women find themselves in, their feelings about each other, other people back home on their plantations, and finding themselves in Ohio- a free state- while still being a slave. Each of the four women has differing attitudes towards their men, ranging from Lizzy (the main character), who really believes her owner loves her and her children, to Mawu, who would kill her owner given the chance. Lizzy's efforts to make a better life for her children shape her character and result in some of the most heart-breaking scenes in the book, while her time in Ohio tempts her to leave them behind and make an escape attempt.

Not a fun book, but an excellent one. I recommend it.
[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com

 #23.  Bayou, Vol. 1,  Jeremy Love (writer, illustrator) with Patrick Morgan (colors)
2009, Gettosake and ZudaComics.com (online), D.C. Comics (print version)


A shoutout to [info] 
chipmunk_planet for posting about this book back in June.  This is the first -- and, I know, not the last -- book I've discovered via this comm that I would have overlooked otherwise, and which I found absolutely amazing

Bayou is an incredibly creepy, graphically startling work of deepest [Black] Southern Gothic, set in rural Mississippi in the 1930s and featuring as hero the courageous young daughter of a sharecropper.    

All by itself, that premise would make it kind of remarkable: heroic little girls are in markedly short supply in the comics, much less poor, ragged black ones.  The ambition and underlying coherence of this comic's vision, and the graphic aplomb with which it is executed, make it downright astonishing.  I am really impressed by Bayou.  My only serious complaint about the print version is that this "Volume 1" is really not complete; the story is published serially online, at ZudaComics.com (under the aegis of D.C. Comics), and although this book collection heralds itself as "the first four chapters of the critically acclaimed webcomic series," it doesn't end with much closure -- the author was clearly not planning these chapters to be a self-contained story arc.  (That said, it just drove me online to see What Happened Next. :)
 You can read it online, too (if you have a fast enough connection...)

More about the story... )


[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
28. Sherri L. Smith, Flygirl

A YA novel. Ida Mae is a young woman working as a maid in Louisiana in the early years of America's participation in WWII. Her father taught her how to fly planes before he died, but as a black woman, she's been unable to get a pilot license of her own. When she hears about the Women Airforce Service Pilots (a government operation that flies non-combat missions), Ida Mae decides to join. But she has to pass as white to have a chance.

This was a great novel. It did a wonderful job of dealing with both sexism and racism (and the intersection between the two), while keeping the situation complicated and letting the characters be individuals. There aren't any easy answers here, though I felt the tone of the book was ultimately uplifting. (Though there were some scenes that broke my heart, like when Ida Mae's mother comes to see her during pilot training.) This book is very well-written, fast-paced, and I couldn't stop reading. Very recommended.
[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
#14. Thomas and Beulah, Rita Dove
1986, Carnegie-Mellon University Press

Thomas and Beulah
is a book of poems by Rita Dove about her grandparents; her grandmother, "Beulah" (renamed from Georgianna), who grew up in Akron, Ohio, and her grandfather Thomas, who migrated up the Mississippi River from Tennessee as a young man, along with his friend Lem.  The book is in two parts: the first, "Mandolin," is about Thomas and largely from his point of view, while the second, "Canary in Bloom," is about Beulah. 

I like it pretty well.  It is not quite what I was expecting.  It leaves me thinking.

This book won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1987.

Here are two pieces from it, to give the flavour & taste: )
[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
#10.  Kindred, Octavia Butler.
1979

Okay, I am about the fiftieth person to read this book in this community, and the sixth or seventh to post about it TODAY.  Which makes me feel as if an in-depth review would be... unnecessary?  Redundant?  I will, nonetheless, try to write briefly about what I myself took away from it. 

A brief summary: Dana, who is black, is a feminist and a writer.  It is 1976, and she has just moved with her husband of not-very-long, Kevin (who is white), to a their first house together in Los Angeles.  By mechanisms unknown to her, she finds herself unwillingly pulled back into the past, for the presumable purpose --  she quickly figures out -- of saving Rufus, a young white boy who will become the master of his father's Maryland plantation, and keeping him alive long enough to father the child who will become Dana's ancestor.  But that means Dana has to live -- and  try to keep her body, integrity, and sense of self intact, in a society in which blacks are property, women are treated like children, and she has no legal or personal rights at all.

Butler calls this book a "grim fantasy," which seems correct, in that it's certainly not science fiction.  The mechanism of time travel is not really important here; what matters are its consequences.  I find Butler's writing very immediate, and although she is not a particularly lyrical or elegant stylist, her calm, tough, clear prose works very well to keep the story moving, to illuminate character and to draw the reader into the questions she is most interested in addressing: those of assumptions; of ambiguous ethical questions; of painful choices which genuinely -- unlike in most fiction -- have no obvious right answer.

A couple of interesting, and illuminating, quotes from the book's Wikipedia page:

"I was trying to get people to feel slavery," Butler said in a 2004 interview. "I was trying to get across the kind of emotional and psychological stones that slavery threw at people." In another interview, she said, "I think people really need to think what it's like to have all of society arrayed against you."

The book is set on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Butler said she chose the setting "because I wanted my character to have a legitimate hope of escape," and because two famous African-Americans, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, had been enslaved there.

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