Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy #BookReview

What’s your favorite character driven story?

Book cover for "Fruit of the Lemon" by Andrea Levy
Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy

In Fruit of The Lemon by Andrea Levy, the author describes the journey of self-discovery her character, Faith, takes to craft her identity as a British-born Jamaican while learning about her family’s heritage.

As a first-generation child of Jamaican immigrants, Faith is set adrift between her life in Britain & her family’s Jamaican cultural heritage. Surrounded by White friends & flatmates, Faith is the victim of casual racism & constant humiliation at her peers’ hands.

Faith’s parents & brother, on the other hand, treat her as an anomaly. To her parents, she is rudderless with no understanding of her Jamaican heritage. Yet, neither parent will tell her what she needs to know to grow closer to the country they love so dearly. Faith’s brother sees her as disconnected from her roots & writes her off as a “lost cause,” as he finds his footing in between the hyphen as a British Jamaican. It is not until a trip to the “Motherland” that Faith begins to craft an identity for herself.

Photo of the Author, Andrea Levy
Author, Andrea Levy

What I most enjoyed about Levy’s story is that it is a character-driven story. In Faith, Levy explores the nuanced feelings of being set between cultures and being made to choose which one you will embrace when you are the child of immigrants who raise you to be fit for all the opportunities they never had and distant from their homeland. This depiction of life “in between the hyphen” feels akin to real life.

Because of this angle, though, Levy’s exploration of Faith’s character climaxes when she finally gets Faith on Jamaican soil. The glimpses readers get of Faith’s interaction with her Jamaican family are fascinating. However, by the end of the novel, there is no sense that Faith had gotten any better at understanding who she is than when she first started off in Jamaica. When this section is held up against the section in London where Faith is mercilessly tortured at the hands of her White boss and friends experiencing continuous microaggressions, Levy’s work feels unfinished.

Book Cover of "Small Island" by Andrea Levy
Small Island by Andrea Levy

I will say, though, that Levy’s choice to explore the “hyphenated identity” of her character is something that any BIPOC person can understand regardless of their country or their economic class. 

This is because we all eventually go through some metamorphosis that moves us further away from our ancestral “home base,” be it through our economic status or geographical location. And due to this change, we often face scrutiny within our community or outside forces, who either see us as pretenders or as phony in how we present ourselves once we are removed from that home base.

Therefore, it’s easy to understand the struggles Faith faces as she battles intergenerational trauma, colonization, & casual racism to become self-actualized.

Fruit of the Lemon is a book everyone needs to read at least once!

Six Stories & An Essay by Andrea Levy
Six Stories & An Essay by Andrea Levy

If you enjoy it, I’d suggest reading Andrea Levy’s whole catalog. So far, I’ve started reading Every Light in the House Burnin’ and Small Island. Both are really good books and show the depth of Levy’s writing and exploration of characters.

If you’re a lover of short stories, Levy’s short story collection, Six Stories and An Essay, is masterful. The way Levy handles her subjects and shows the difference in her characters’ socioeconomic background with just a simple sentence or detail is something I admire. It reminds me of Alice Walker’s collection, In Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women, and the way Walker only needed a few lines to tell such a detailed story.

Have you all read Fruit of the Lemon or any of Levy’s other books? Let me know in the comment below!

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The Issue With Race in the Brown Sisters Series by Talia Hibbert #BookReview

What type of books do you read when you need to de-stress?

When I need a break from “heavy books,” romance is one of my go-to genres.

In between my Spring finals, I finished The Brown Sisters series by Talia Hibbert, and it left me with some thoughts…

Hibbert has penned one of the hottest interracial romance series of the last three years, with each of her titles following one of the Brown sisters.

Chloe, Dani, and Eve Brown are all representative of individuals who are neurodiverse or who have mental health issues they are living with. The sisters’ love interest also share these diagnosis, allowing readers who are seeking diverse representation for differently-abled characters to find themselves in between Hibbert’s pages. 

However, where Hibbert’s books fell short for me is that they felt devoid of any cultural indicators for all of the characters.

Now, yes, each book does have a sentence dedicated in each book to let us know that Brown’s matriarch has some Jamaican ancestry a few generations back.

Author, Talia Hibbert
Author, Talia Hibbert

And, yes, the middle sister, Danika (Dani for short), does get a love interest of ambiguous Middle Eastern descent. 

But, just like I mentioned in my review of Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, I can’t help but feel as if Hibbert uses the same method of turning her Black and Brown characters into caricatures as Callendar does in their book as a means of ticking off the diversity box.

I say this because not one of the Brown sisters feels as if they were written with depth to their characters.

Instead, it felt as if all of the sisters were written by Hibbert for her readers to have a “fill in the blank” experience where that person could scribe themselves onto the sisters when it was time for the “steamy” scenes to jump off. While this approach could be a plus short-term, it irritated me and made me disconnect from the books halfway through each story, with the exception of Take a Hint, Dani Brown.

The one saving grace with Dani’s story is that Dani and her love interest, Zafir, were given exciting and fully fleshed-out backstories that were revealed early on, and this kept me interested. Eve and Chloe’s story felt fragmented, and the constant anticipation of an “angsty” reveal for these sisters and their love interests left me drained. And by the time the big “payoff” was finally revealed, I was just ready to throw the whole audiobook away.

Speaking of which, even though I love the narrator of Dani and Eve’s books, Ione Butler, the audio narrator for Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Adjoa Andoh, was not my favorite.

Andoh’s narration made Chloe read as if she was someone’s nan out on a bucket list adventure trying to get laid. This could’ve worked if Chloe’s character was meant to be a woman well into her sixties. However, Hibbert wrote Chloe to be in her mid-thirties, which made listening to Andoh’s interpretation of Chloe’s voice taxing on my nerves.

At one point, this audio narration made me put Chloe’s book down for almost six months and didn’t pick it up again until the final books in the series were out. This was actually helpful for me as a reader because I got to read all the books in rapid succession.

These close readings led me to the conclusion that while Hibbert’s books are great for their showing of differently-abled and neurodiverse characters (Eve and Chloe’s characters are especially excellent in this regard), they don’t have fleshed out backstories for characters. Nor do they show a complete showing of the Brown sisters’ racial background.

This leaves the Brown sisters in limbo as characters and makes this series little more than a trumped-up sex fantasy for readers. This would be fine if Hibbert was simply writing fan fiction. However, Hibbert’s series is a bestseller in the romance genre and constantly pushed forward as the contemporary Black authored series, which carries weight in terms of representation.

Not to mention, the Brown sisters are Black women living in the UK dating outside their race. Yet, the question of race is never even broached. Adding insult to injury, the sisters never even come into contact with any other Black people besides their families throughout the series, which is extremely peculiar to me.

Heck, the Brown sisters don’t ever even really discuss anything minor, like their hair texture in a frivolous scene where they wake up with bed head or have their partners ask about touching when they’re getting intimate. They instead focus only on agonizing over their disabilities and sexualities.

As much as these two identities are important, it just strikes me as odd that at no point in this series does Hibbert show Chloe, Dani, or Eve’s race intersecting with how their mental health or neurodiverse diagnosis and sexuality. The author instead glosses over race by writing the Brown sisters as being super wealthy and trust fund babies that want for nothing and live in an effective bubble of family and money. I again found this to be super unrealistic and weird, but okay.

I want to be clear, though, the insertion of a conversation about race doesn’t have to be in depth on Hibbert’s part for the Brown Sisters series or any of her other books. But, it would definitely be nice and normal to see how these characters exist as Black women in their everyday lives. After all, I don’t think every Black, Indigenous, or person of color (BIPOC) in literature has to be a martyr. However, some acknowledgment of their identity is preferable to them never addressing the racial elephant in the room and being used as blank slates for readers to scribe themselves onto when reading a romance novel.

I digress, though…

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If you’re interested in reading books that are just as steamy as Hibbert’s books and just as careful with neurodiverse representation, I’d recommend reading The Kiss Quotient series by Helen Hoang.

Author, Helen Hoang
Author, Helen Hoang

Only two books in the series are out, which are The Kiss Quotient and my personal favorite, The Bride Test

Like Hibbert, Hoang is an #OwnVoices author who writes characters who are neurodiverse. Hoang’s handling of characters on the spectrum is perfect because she, like Hibbert, is a part of this community. Hoang shows these characters as humans and does not allow her characters to be pitied.

Book Cover of "The Heart Principle" by Helen Hoang
The Heart Principle

Each of Hoang’s stories is infused with information about the Vietnamese culture, which the Diep brothers and their cousin, Michael Phan, who are all the love interest in this series, are each from. Learning about this culture and having characters openly talk about their cultures for more than one sentence was a welcomed change when reading this series from what I experienced reading The Brown sister series since it made the characters and their struggles more real.

Book three, The Heart Principle, is out on August 31!

Have you all read Hibbert or Hoang’s series?

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Bride of the Sea by Eman Quotah #BookReview

Readers, what’s one book that’s made you want to learn more about another culture?

While one can never know the true depth of a culture from reading just one novel, Bride of the Sea by Eman Quotah offers a rarely seen intimate portrait of life in Saudi Arabia through the eyes of her characters, Muneer, Saeedah, and Hanadi, over 40 years. 

Book cover of Bride of the Sea by Eman Quotah
Bride of the Sea by Eman Quotah

Quotah tackles heavy topics, such as parental abduction, women’s rights in patriarchal societies, how one can lose their identity when separated from their culture, and the mental toll of being estranged from family by choice and through force. The richness of Quotah’s writing, her attention to Jidda’s setting, and the detailing of the messiness of her characters’ life drew me in as a reader. However, I couldn’t help feeling as if there was a considerable chunk of Saeedah’s story missing and a lack of a climax when I turned the final pages of Bride of the Sea that kept me from truly loving this book. 

The fact that Quotah’s story was an #OwnVoices narrative was apparent in how much attention to detail was paid in scenes where the author shows the transplanting of Muneer and Saeedah from their lives in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, to Cleveland, Ohio. For example, I loved the scene where the young couple is trying to learn to cook and spend “a month’s rent on phone calls to their mothers” to get cooking tutorials. 

These scenes were relatable and drew me in since they reminded me of learning to cook family recipes over the phone from my parents doing my college and graduate school days. The same is true of Quotah’s attention to the mental strain put on Hanadi as she forms her identity and works through the trauma of being abducted and becoming a mother and reunited with her father. This deep dive into the characters’ emotions is where Quotah shines where Muneer and Hanadi are concerned.

Saeedah’s character, though, never feels fully formed compared to Muneer and Hanadi. As honest and plausible as these two’s actions feel, Quotah seems to skirt around what motivates Saeedah to abduct Hanadi and keep her away from her family for over seventeen years. There are moments when readers are given glimpses of Saeedah’s erratic behavior. But, the lack of a first-person perspective for this character leaves the narrative feeling disjointed and keeps the story from ever climaxing. 

Author, Eman Quotah
Author, Eman Quotah

For instance, when Muneer is in Jidda looking for Saeedah and Hanadi, I was invested in his quest because I was shown why he wanted to reunite with his family. Even Hanadi’s choice to reunite with Muneer in Jidda and the subsequent fallout in her life makes sense because I heard her reasoning in her own voice. Saeedah’s choices, on the other hand, are a mystery to me because she’s never given a chapter to explain herself, and her inner dialogue is shielded from readers. Everything we know about this character comes to us filtered through other characters’ perspectives of her.

After finishing this book, I was curious about this writing decision and researched Quotah’s process for developing her characters. In her author interviews, she pointed out that she was never really clear about Saeedah’s motivation for abducting Hanadi when writing her novel. This gave me pause since I was always under the impression that an author needed to understand their character’s intentions to help bring about the actions of their novel to life. While the motivation for Hanadi’s anger is obvious, hearing how Saeedah felt in this moment would have added another layer to Bride of the Sea. It also would have let out the tension in the narrative to give closure to Quotah’s story, in my opinion. 

Hear Quotah talk about her writing process with The Writing Center

Overall, I am appreciative of how much care Eman Quotah took in writing Bride of the Sea. This is one of those rare novels where a reader comes to understand that every book is not meant to have a nice, neat ending. Yet, the lack of closure to Saeedah’s narrative and omission of her point of view from the novel left me thinking, “is that it?” 

If I could suggest one novel that compliments Bride of the Sea, it would have to be Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.

Book Cover for Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Divakaruni tells the story of three generations of women in a family: Sabitri, the matriarch of a family who grew up poor in rural Bengal and dreamed of going to school; Her daughter, Bela, who flees to America with her husband, who is a political refugee causing strain on her relationship with her mother; and Tara, Bela’s daughter, who feels the weight of the other two women’s choices as she tries to forge her own path.

Like, Quotah, Divakaruni explores mother-daughter relationships perceptively as she relays each woman’s story. However, where Quotah relied so heavily on others to tell Saeedah’s story, Divakaruni allows each woman to speak for herself within Before We Visit the Goddess. This balances out the narrative and allows readers to understand the frustrations each woman has with their mother.

Have you all read Quotah or Divakaruni’s novels?

Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee #BookReview

Cover of "Jasmine" by Bharati Mukherjee
Cover of “Jasmine” by Bharati Mukherjee

Something that I enjoy when I read stories about people who have immigrated is to see how their identities change as they go from place to place. This transformation of character belies an unshakable strength that escapes many people who stay stagnant all their lives.

In Bharati Mukherjee’s novel Jasmine, the main character, Jyoti, transforms several times within the book to survive. Jyoti’s story shows the immigrant’s struggle and the danger of being female while immigrating.

For the immigrant woman, the threat of being denied her agency and personhood is much higher than for their male counterparts. Sadly, women face the danger of being sex trafficked, raped, and a slew of other dangers as they make the journey to a better life that is often not faced by men. Mind you, this isn’t to say a male immigrant’s path to a new life is riddled with ease, but Mukherjee places emphasis on the difference in her female character’s struggle to pin down their identities. This left me questioning how different subgroups of immigrants build their identities once they start their new lives.

Author, Bharati Mukherjee
Author, Bharati Mukherjee

It would seem that the author also wanted to prove a point about the flexibility of women vs. men as they move into their new lives. According to Mukherjee in a 1990 interview with the Iowa Review, women are more likely to be the family member who has to go out into the community when the family arrives to speak on behalf of their families. By doing these things, they can build ties to their new homes. 

Men often spend time living in the past and remembering their homes fondly, which can sometimes hinder their progress toward building new ties with their current community. This was an interesting argument because it’s a point that Mukherjee makes about Punjabi men who have immigrated and the American men who still long for the “glory days” of their country.

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If I had to choose a book I’d recommend to read after Jasmine to showcase how immigration intersects with women and those who are impoverished, Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid is an excellent follow-up to Mukherjee’s book.

Book cover of "Lucy" by Jamaica Kincaid

In Lucy, Kincaid explores the vapid and consumeristic undertones of American culture through the eyes of her teenaged protagonist. Fleeing her British-ruled Caribbean island, Lucy Potter, a nineteen-year-old au pair, comes to New York to take care of an upper-class White couple’s children. Lucy goes through all the steps of disillusionment with her life in America after having dreamed of escaping her island life and colonialism in general.

Where Jyoti in Jasmine comes to America and seems to insert herself wherever she goes seamlessly, Lucy questions ev-ery-thing she sees and all those around her. And this singular decimation of the world Lucy inhabits is why I love this book.

Lucy is for you if you’re a lover of books where there is an exploration of character and heavy emphasis on internal dialogue. Be warned, though, Lucy is not a “go with the flow” type of character. Kincaid’s writing is definitely not about smoothing the way for a reader to have a “feel-good experience.” You will feel everything about this slim volume, and like Jasmine, you will think about the main character long after you close the book.

Tell me what books have left you thinking about the characters well after closing the book in the comment section.

Books That Got Me Through My 20s (Pt. 1)

I turned thirty this Fall, and I felt super reflective. This milestone made me think about some of my favorite reads and songs that got me through my 20s.

"Golden Years": Books that I read in College - "Far From the Tree" by Virginia DeBerry & Donna Grant and "Babylon Sisters" by Pearl Cleage

The "Golden Years" were about just reading water I want and passing times.

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The “Golden Years” were about just reading whatever I wanted and passing times.

Borders used to be my go-to spot on the weekend when I was at Howard University. Whenever I went to the bookstore, I would get either a Virginia DeBerry & Donna Grant or Pearl Cleage book to get me through the week to read.

Before there was an online reading community to turn to for recommendations, I stayed in that one stack designated for “African-American” books in Borders, Barnes & Nobles, and Books-A-Million. Before there was an online reading community to turn to for recommendations, I stayed in that one stack designated for “African-American” books in Borders, Barnes & Nobles, and Books-A-Million. Here is where I found DeBerry & Grant and Cleage’s books. By the time I was a junior in college, I’d read these three authors’ catalogs cover to cover and was hungry for more.

If you’re a lover of Bernice McFadden books, check out DeBerry & Grant’s books. Far From the Tree is If you’re a lover of Bernice McFadden’s books, check out DeBerry & Grant’s books. Far From the Tree is my favorite from DeBerry & Grant. This book is about “sisterhood, family secrets, and the ties that bind.” Cleage writes about two sisters who inherit a house in Prosper, North Carolina. While figuring out what to do with the house, they begin to come to terms with their tangled relationship with each other and their parents.

Babylon Sisters is for readers that enjoy mysteries and doing deep dive into Southern Black culture. Cleage’s writing exists within a specific universe/neighborhood called “Wed End” that she created in Atlanta, Georgia. Babylon Sisters is the second book in the West End series where the author tackles everything from crime in the Black community, gender roles, and other social justice topics using these really intricate character studies. They’re so good because they remind me of Walter Mosley‘s books and a touch of Black Futurism type reads where characters use Black Spirituality to draw conclusions and carry out tasks. 

You have to read these books to know what I’m talking about.

Grad Years: Books that I read in Graduate School

Books Listed:
- "The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman
-"Changes: A Love Story" by Ama Ata Aidoo
-"Lucy" by Jamaica Kincaid
-"The Spook Who Sat by the Door" by Sam Greenlee

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In my “Grad Years,” I was able to read more African & Caribbean Literature

My first stint in graduate school for my Masters in Literary and Cultural Studies allowed me to go more in-depth, learning about African and Caribbean Literature and reading classics from the African-American canon I’d never been introduced to in high school. I read books, like Changes: A Love Story by Ama Ata Aidoo and Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid, in my Globalism and Transnationalism course and did an individual study of Sam Greenlee’s Blaxploitation classic, The Spook Who Sat By the Door, for my final project. But, most importantly, this was the first time I found myself delving deep into a book when I wrote my entrance paper on The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman.

During this time, I felt super isolated since I was the only Black person in my program and felt behind since I was going into the program as a Psychology student. This lead me to constantly fall behind in my reading and constantly feel disconnected while I was in the program.

The one thing that I loved about the program was taking courses with my favorite professor at the time, whose specialty was Postcolonial Studies. In her class, it was the only time I felt myself coming alive and being excited to read.

My favorite book that I studied during that year was Aidoo’s book, where I got to look at feminism and woman’s rights from the perspective of Ghanaian Literature. Getting to see how Aidoo used Changes: A Love Story to talk about intimate relationships and gender roles through the lens of another culture from the Diaspora were eye-opening and made me curious about African Literature.

Reading Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid was one of the first times I felt myself becoming possessive of a character. I remember one instance where I ended up verbally sparring with my classmates about Lucy’s character and her choices in contrast to her white employer. Having to defend Lucy’s character against my classmate’s ire was one of the first times I found myself experiencing the fact that I, as a Black woman, experience life and literature differently than my white peers.

London: Books I read Studying Abroad

Books featured:
-"White Teeth" by Zadie Smith
-"Quicksand" and "Passing" by Nella Larsen

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London is one of the first study abroad trips I took as a college student that involved literature specifically

If I could give anyone advice to someone in their 20s who has the means, I would say to try and get out of your comfort zone and travel to new places. If you can, travel and travel widely.

Throughout my time in school, I’ve had the chance to travel to three locations to study abroad as student. As an undergraduate, I went to Florence, Italy and London, England to study film and literature for a semester as a junior and senior. During my graduate education, I spent the summer learning about social work practices and social justice issues in Prague, Czech Republic.

My favorite experience by far is the Fall semester I spent as a senior in London. During this semester, I read Zadie Smith for the first time and Nella Larsen, which my best friend introduced me to when we were Sophomores by gifting me a copy of her novels, Passing & Quicksand.

Going to London was amazing because I got to experience theatre and literature almost every day in a way where it was integrated into my studies and curriculum. In our courses, we’d follow the paths of literary greats’ journeys throughout the city and connect them to our interests. My semester in London was the first time I ever got to see an August Wilson play performed live or saw a Shakespeare play with colorblind casting. Experiencing these types of art after having spent almost two years at a PWI where I rarely read any literature from the African Diaspora was refreshing.

"Digging Deeper": Books that provided foundational knowledge

Books Mentioned:
-"Pedagogy of the Oppressed" by Paulo Freire
-"Black Skin White Masks" by Frantz Fanon
-"On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century" by Timothy Snyder

Caption: My 20's involved learning how to approach knowledge differently than in my teens.

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My 20’s involved learning how to approach knowledge differently than in my teens.

You know when we talk about older generations living through technology shifts and how seeing all those tech innovations must have affected them in their lifetimes? I was randomly thinking about this and how by the time I was in college, social media was embedded into our global culture and a part of our daily lives to the point it was becoming taught in certain curriculums.

Technology affected my life in many ways, but I’ve seen the greatest impact on my reading. In college, I was an avid YouTube watcher. I would usually spend my nights watching YouTube videos instead of doing homework or as entertainment in college and graduate school, and this lead me to join BookTube in 2011.

During that brief stint as a content creator on YouTube, I realize how many genres I’d neglected as a reader from watching other bibliophiles across the world. This time period lead me to delve deeper into reading theory books I’d just started hearing about in graduate school. It also made me read more diversely and intentionally.

The first theory book I’d ever tackled on my own was Black Skin White Masks by Frantz Fanon. This was a book I read chapter by chapter in the library. I was so proud of myself because I remember having to go over each line annotating Fanon’s words with my dictionary and Google search tab open to guide my way. Finishing this text made me feel super confident as a reader. Through posting about Fanon’s book in 2015-ish, I connected with my current reading group, with who I read Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. From there, I’ve read a lot of other theory books, with the above two being my favorites, along with On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder.

Readers, what’s your favorite books that you’ve read over the last ten years?

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender #BookReview #UnpopularOpinion

Disclaimer: All opinions that follow in this review are my commentary on the fictional characters I name and not the social groups that the characters represent regarding gender identity or ethnic cultures

I checked Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender out from the library almost four times and tried to finish it to no avail and eventually ended up DNFing it at about 57% because through Felix’s actions and verbal and internal dialogue made this character out to be a horrible person as a friend and a son.

Cover of "Felix Ever After" by Kacen Callender
Cover of “Felix Ever After” by Kacen Callender

How Felix was able to idolize the parent who left while treating the one who stayed and sacrificed so completely for him was beyond me. This character treated his dad like crap and didn’t allow him the grace that Felix so readily demanded for himself, and that made me so angry at Felix since his dad was literally jumping through hoops trying to give him the most comfortable lifestyle (e.g., expensive tuition & hormone therapy) he could on a limited budget.

Unlike Felix’s mom, the dad stayed and was trying so hard to support Felix every step of the way. He made one mistake in mentioning Felix’s dead name through a Freudian slip, and Felix went off the deep end. Int hat moment, Felix didn’t offer his father the grace of trying to understand that just as he was questioning his new reality, his dad was also getting used to having a son who had transitioned. The dad even immediately apologized right after making a mistake, but Felix leaves the house and doesn’t until chapters later and the discussion is never really resolved.

Callender also does this thing where diversity appears to have been inserted into their novel to check boxes as opposed to adding depth to their story which causes the characters to be caricatures and only written at surface level.

For example, Felix’s best friend is a “Patel.” This allows him to make him generically rich, as is the stereotype in America for people with this last name (at least where I live). They add that the BFF is also generically pansexual and just “bonds with the soul” of his lover while being promiscuous. This promiscuity bleeds into the stereotype the author writes into the LGBTQ+ characters in their book. Here, Callender leans heavily into making most of the queer characters they write avid drug users and has them all swapping sexual partners within their friend group throughout the book. These tropes all feel very generic and lazy when executed in Felix Ever After because the author doesn’t examine any of these topics further in the narrative and just leaves it up to readers to chalk these tropes up to teenage angst.

Author, Kacen Callender
Author, Kacen Callender

My biggest issue, though, is nothing about Felix feels concrete ethnicity-wise. He’s supposed to be Latinx and African-American. Yet, the way he back talks and runs away constantly without his dad even trying to put boundaries on him or at the very least acknowledging the disrespect of the house rules feels unauthentic. I’ve yet to meet anyone in a Latinx or African-American household who’d ever be able to get away with this regardless of our class level. And while I admit my reality is not indicative of the Latinx or African-American experience in its totality, Felix’s character felt very surface level and as if it was built around racial tropes.

My major issue with Callender’s book, though, is Felix’s entitlement. Felix spends over 3/4 of Callender’s books feeling entitled to an art scholarship to Brown University over his peers when he RARELY goes to class and is never shown creating any art of quality. Yet, he constantly harps on others who are creating art and being praised by their teachers. 

And this is where this book started to fall apart for me. 

Felix has this thought process that only he is deserving of grace. He doesn’t extend it to his nemesis, who is a better artist than him, because he puts in the effort and time to work on his craft. He doesn’t extend it to his best friend who didn’t ask to be rich or get to choose his parents and the opportunities he’s been given. Nor does he extend grace to his father, who breaks his back to provide him with all the comforts, like hormone therapy and the ability to live as his true self without ridicule, that other transgendered teens would kill to have.

In spite of all this, Felix feels everyone should extend grace to him regardless of how foul he treats others.

My last straw with this book came when Felix decided to catfish his nemesis without proof and attempted to ruin the other boy’s life out of jealousy and spite. Even when his BFF pointed out that he had no obvious proof that his nemesis outed him, Felix doesn’t back down. Instead, he blames the nemesis for no other reason than his nemesis has been “mean” to him by pointing out the obvious fact that Felix is never working toward his goal of a Brown acceptance by creating any actual art. Why no one ever backs the nemesis up on this obvious point is beyond me.

I know many people will counter the above points by saying Felix is a teenager, and this book has meant so much to the Trans community. And I want to speak to the latter point, I understand how comforting this book is, and I take nothing away from that. However, no one should be allowed to be so selfish and emotionally violent toward others regardless of how marginalized their voices are. 

Felix is a toxic character that gets given unfathomable amounts of grace to wreak emotional havoc on his community because of his character’s background of trauma, which is not healthy in the least. 

I truly wanted to love this book as much as the hype, but Felix’s behavior left a bad taste in my mouth, so that I couldn’t recommend this book to anyone in good faith as a mental health advocate.

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Now, if you want a book that gets trans and Latinx representation correct, check out Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Cover of "Cemetery Boys" by Aidan Thomas
Cover of “Cemetery Boys” by Aidan Thomas

Thomas’ book follows Yadriel, a young wannabe brujo, as he attempts to complete a ritual to join his family and participate in the Brujeria traditions. Unfortunately, not everyone in his family accepts his decision or his identity as a transgender male. To prove everyone wrong, Yadriel attempts to complete his ritualistic rite of passage alone and inadvertently summons the ghost of Julian Diaz, his school’s resident bad boy.

Cemetery Boys gave me everything I wanted in a book! I especially loved that the trans representation was multifaceted and layered. The Latinx representation and aspects of Brujeria culture also had me hype. I was also happy to see that Thomas handled the “toxic” traits in his characters, like Yadriel’s family not accepting his trans identity with care. Moments where Thomas shows Yadriel’s family not accepting his identity felt nuanced and realistically on the family and Yadriel’s end, which was my biggest gripe with Callendar’s book.

Now, I will say that I guessed who the villain in Cemetery Boys was within the first 30 pages or so and their motivation for committing the killings. However, it didn’t take away from the story or the tension between the two main characters. 

Regardless, read this book now! 

A Woman in Her Prime by Asare Konadu #BookReview

Cover of A Woman in Her Prime by Asare Konadu
Cover of A Woman in Her Prime by Asare Konadu

If you’re looking for a “Backlist” read from the African Diaspora, look no further than A Woman In Her Prime by Asare Konadu. This Ghanaian Lit novel centers around the coming of age of Pokuwaa, an industrious farmer from a traditional African village, as she attempts to conceive.

Coming in at a mere 107 pages, this book is excellent for readers who are looking to read something short this week without feeling overwhelmed by their page count. 

The drama in A Woman In Her Prime centers around infertility. However, the way Konadu describes the daily activity of Brenhoma, the village Pokuwaa lives in, readers come to understand Pokuwaa’s infertility is not the main focus of the book. Instead, we see the various interpersonal relationships within Brenhoma and get a feel for how every character that’s introduced fits into village life.

The author also explores the role of traditional religious practices in the character’s lives, the “seasons” of the village as they move from harvest to planting and back, and even inserts a brief mystery to push the story forward. All these topics and actions are condensed within what could technically be considered a novella.

Author, Asare Konadu
Author, Asare Konadu

I think what most pleasantly surprises me about this book is that while Konadu positions Pokuwaa as having infertility issues, he does not make this her only characteristic in the story. Likewise, outside of a few characters, he does not let the villagers of Brenhoma harass Pokuwaa about the particulars of her womb. And these two attributes of his story were refreshing because it felt as if he not only understood that Pokuwaa is more than her womb, but as a male author he showed significantly more empathy for his character than I was expecting from him as a writer.

A Woman in Her Prime shows how important a woman’s role is in society is as the vessel of life even though society can often strip a woman of her agency. By emphasizing the traditional religious sacrifices and gender norms Pokuwaa goes through as she’s trying to conceive, Konadu allows room for commentary on the psychological toll infertility can take on a woman and her partner.

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My 2020 Instagram post for The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin
My 2020 Instagram post for The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin

If you’ve read this novel before, I’d suggest following up with The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta and The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin. Each of these stories deal with infertility in women from the African Diaspora.

I’ve done a blog post for The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives which you can check out earlier on my blog and even added some additional books you may enjoy to follow up with. Check it out and tell me if you’ve read any of the books in the comment section.

My 2015 Instagram Post of "The Joys of Motherhood" by Buchi Emecheta
My 2015 Instagram Post of The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta

I read Emecheta’s book in 2015 and was BLOWN away by how simplistic the writing was. The story follows a woman named, Nnu Ego, as she grows from being a young woman in her father’s compound all the way up until she has kids of her own and onto her passing. Subjects like colonialization, women’s rights in Africa, and how cultural religion is carried out versus the colonizer’s religion are all talked about in The Joys of Motherhood. A lot of critics compare this book to Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, but If you enjoyed Beloved by Toni Morrison, you’ll definitely enjoy Emecheta’s book.

Readers, have you heard of any of these books before?

The Golem and The Jinni & The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker #BookReview

There are few times where I can genuinely say I’ve been anticipating a book as much as I have the sequel to The Golem & The Jinni by Helene Wecker.

Cover for "The Golem & The Jinni" by Helene Wecker
Cover for “The Golem & The Jinni” by Helene Wecker

If you remember my 30th birthday post from Instagram, The Golem and The Jinni was a book I mentioned in “The Lost Years” slide.

When my dad was ill, I listened to The Golem and the Ginni as an audiobook. This was the first time I’d ever used an audiobook to read. And it offered me a lot of comfort since it reminded me of being a child and having my parents read me books to fall asleep. Likewise, being able to hear George Guidall narrate Chava and Ahmad’s story added another layer to Wecker’s novel for me.

Wecker’s writing covers the story of these two magical beings’ lives through the lens of immigration and technological advances. Paying particular attention to the importance of community, the author asks the reader to imagine what it must have been like for people to leave all they’d ever known to strike out into the unknown in a foreign land.

While Chava and Ahmad are two magical beings, you can see the difference in how men and women assimilated to their surroundings in each character’s story. This is something that Wecker and I talk more about in the interview I posted with her last week.

"I define community in its broadest sense as a group of people whose interactions are framed around a shared element. You can have communities based on physical proximity, on one’s geographic or cultural origins, on shared life experiences, on something as inconsequential-seeming as a hobby. I think that we all belong to any number of these communities, all of which intersect and layer on top of each other. Our ties to them may wax and wane as our lives change. The problems come in when a person belongs to two or more communities that are antithetical to each other in some way." - Helene Wecker, Author of "The Golem & the Jinni" and "The Hidden Palace
Excerpt from my Helene Wecker Interview

For Chava, a golem created as the bride to a rich Jewish man striking out for a new country, coming to America forces her to venture out of her comfort zone to be independent and tackle her natural ability to provide for others. The jinni, Ahmad, is the total opposite. Having lived for several hundred years in the Syrian desert, he’s awoken in a strange land with no recollection of how he came to be in America and wants nothing to do with humans.

When these two have a chance meeting in the middle of the night in 1900, a series of events are set in motion that the reader could never imagine.

If you’re a lover of books that have a full cast of characters and that is multi-layered, this is a story you’ll love. I highly suggest the audiobook for those who enjoy hearing the voices of characters.

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Cover for "The Hidden Palace" by Helene Wecker
Cover for “The Hidden Palace” by Helene Wecker

Wecker has just come out with the next book in the series, The Hidden Palace, and I highly recommend Wecker has just come out with the next book in the series, The Hidden Palace, and I highly recommend it. George Guidall is back as the audiobook narrator, and there are more characters and more adventures in this story. I’m excited that Sophie, Ahmad’s human lover, was given a much bigger part to play in the newest book, and Wecker has included two new magical characters.

In this epic sequel, we get to see characters bounce between New York City and the Middle East in the years leading to World War I. If you’re a student of history, you will love getting to see how Chava and Ahmad react to historical events, like the sinking of the Titanic.

Grab your copy of The Hidden Palace today!

Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury #BookReview

Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury is the type of book I’ve been waiting for for over 25 years.

This futuristic fantasy about a family of Black witches made my inner tween squeal with joy when I first heard about its publication. From the practice of calling on the ancestors to guide you as you come into your magic to being reliant on the connection with family, Sambury weaves together a tale that’s Blackity Black Black Black.

Book Cover for "Blood Like Magic" by Liselle Sambury
Book Cover for Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury

Blood Like Magic follows Voya Thomas, a newly “called” teenage witch, who is given the task to “destroy her first love” to secure her family’s magic for generations to come. This task comes from her ancestor, Mama Jova, a New Orleans witch who suffered the trauma of being enslaved and wants Voya to learn from the past.

Unfortunately, Voya has two problems: she is plagued with anxiety making it hard to make decisions, and she’s never been in love before. This immediately lets her know that her task will not be an easy one to complete. 

Interpreting “destroy” to mean “kill,” Voya decides to scout out a love match using a “genetic matchmaking” program from the futuristic tech company, NuGene. And this is where she finds a match in Luc, a NuGene intern that’s being sponsored to work by the CEO, Justin Tremblay.

And this is where Sambury’s story got good…

As a lover of magic-themed books, Blood Like Magic is one of the few Black fantasy novels that I’ve encountered that not only centers on the Black experience but also provides a complex magic system. This system exists in a world much like ours where real-world issues, such as violence against the Black community, the plight of Black girls who go missing, and gentrification take place. 

The way Voya’s family is written reminded me of growing up in a multi-generational household with my grandparents, parents, and siblings. Like Voya, this made me hyper-aware of being a part of a family unit and being in tune with everyone around me. To see this aspect of my family reflected in Blood Like Magic made my heart sing.

Author, Liselle Sambury
Author, Liselle Sambury

The author was also obviously careful in easing the reader into her dark fantasy by giving content warnings early on in the print description. This showed me that Sambury cared about her reader’s experience. This extended to the author being mindful of being fully inclusive in the future she dreams up. At various points in Blood Like Magic, readers are shown a positive representation of different types of bodies, sexualities, and ethnic groups all living together harmoniously. 

The only thing that really gave me pause in this novel was the idea that even in the future that Sambury has imagined, being Black is still seen as a threat. 

The violence that came with reading about Voya’s friend, Lauren, who we learn early on has gone missing, is something that frustrated me. Same with the feelings of mistrust that happen between the Black witch families who are marked as “pure” and don’t use violence to yield magic versus the “impure” families who do. In these moments of the narrative, I became frustrated. Even though Sambury does try to clear this up by the end of the novel, it gave me pause when juxtaposed against the solidarity shown for other racial groups in the novel who shun Black witches for their aforementioned violent natures and discord that happens in their community.

When these scenes came up, It made me think that if Black people can’t get along even in the future, what does this say about us?

Overall, though, listening to Blood Like Magic on audiobook was a great way to pass my weekend. Joniece Abbott-Pratt delivers Sambury’s words in a way that had me glued to my headphones.

This book is one I’d recommend for everyone. 

If you enjoyed this novel, I’d recommend reading Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper Cypher trilogy and watching the online show, Juju.

Book Cover for "Shadowshaper" by Daniel José Older
Book Cover for Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Older’s series, like Sambury, pairs ancestral knowledge with urban life and Caribbean magic to create a masterpiece. Shadowshaper follows Sierra Santiago, a teenager from Bed-Stuy whose family safeguards magic that connects them to spirits via paintings, music, and stories. When disappearances start to happen in her neighborhood and her Abuelo falls ill, Sierra powers are unearthed. This power is tied to a supernatural order her Abuelo is a part of. The only thing is that the anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, is now after Sierra and her newfound power.

For anyone who’s a fan of audiobooks, grab Older’s series on this medium. Anika Noni Rose performs the series.

If you have access to YouTube or Amazon Prime, check out Juju, a “mystical, dark fantasy” that Jhé “Moon” Ferguson wrote. Following three best friends, Ferguson’s script is a mix between Charmed and Insecure.

Juju is about Ally, Gigi, and Yaya, three Black millennials tackling “Adulting” and being Black women in America. On Ally’s 28th birthday, the women learn that they are the descendant of Yoruba witches who must break a generational curse placed on them by a Salem witch. 

Author,  Daniel José Older
Author, Daniel José Older

Ally is played by Cydni Jenkins and is a descendant of women who practices Santería from Cuba. Her character speaks to anxiety-ridden Millennials who compare themselves to each other. 

Nedge Victome portrays Gigi. This character is a powerful voodoo priestess from Haiti and Louisiana bayou. She’s a seductress who’s not afraid to speak her peace while tearing down the patriarchy. 

Yaya is played by Cassandra Borgella and is the backbone of her friend group. Her character is a descendant of an Obeah woman in the Jamaican mountains. By nature, she is a giver and empathetic healer.

Juju web series trailer

This series showcases the many facets of being a Black woman across the Diaspora with each of the main characters. Featuring themes, like Black mysticism, Black ancestral magic, Black sisterhood, and Black culture, Feguson’S show is a masterpiece.

Children of Blood and Bone by Toni Adeyemi #BookReview

Cover of Children of Blood and Bone by Toni Adeyemi
Cover of Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

I really wanted to love Children of Blood and Bone by Toni Adeyemi, but the themes and tropes all felt very cliched and overdone while reading it. I honestly felt as if I was rewatching every YA and Fantasy film I’ve ever loved blended and pureed into oblivion and then served to me tied up in a neat “diverse” bow.

To make matters worse, Adeyemi’s book was served up on a gilded platter in 2018 readers as the “diverse reading pick of the year” when it was merely a decent read that just happened to fill the void in a sea of whiteness that year.

Adeyemi’s book runs off the idea that magic is forbidden, and those who are maji, or magic-users, are hated and hunted. These characters are called things, like “maggots,” and live under oppressive systems or are just outright killed. Zélie, the main character in Children of Blood and Bone, is a part of the maji group. Along with her brother are on the run as they’re being pursued by Inan, who is the prince of their land. Inan is our usual male protagonist for fantasy with a “heavy burden” in life to uphold his tyrannical father’s genocidal beliefs. And of course, with this description, it is apparent that Zélie and Inan must fall in love at some point…insert eye roll here…

To put it plainly, Children of Blood and Bone was too long and too drawn out to match the hype it been given. However, I can’t lie and say that the book wasn’t on trend for what’s hot in pop culture and the YA genre right now.

Author, Toni Adeyemi

For instance, I know that the religion that deals with Orïshas has just hit mainstream culture thanks to Beyonce’s Lemonade visual album. Due to this, everyone and their mother was scrambling to find a connection to these sacred figures in some way or other as a means to get “inspired” in their art. Still, Tomi Adeyemi’s usage of religion as a means of being the precursor to magic in the book just fell flat for me. With the overuse of the Orishas and the many poorly written and angsty passages that kept getting repeated, I felt as if I was being beaten over the head by this plot device.

Likewise, the character development in the book was too drawn out for me. The teenage angst in this book was drawn out thanks to the repetitive scenes and the book’s length. In a way, I almost wish I could get to know the characters more because it feels as if they’ve all become too close, too quick in the way they are put together, causing a lot of their relationships between the four main characters to feel forced to me.

I know this will be an unpopular opinion, but I have to be honest and say, for me, this book was decent at best and overwritten at worst. That being said, after reading this first installment in the series, I hope that the filler passages get cut from the second book. If not, It would be nice if Adeyemi could find a way to balance out the “action” and “traveling” scenes and allows the characters to find a way to interact outside of combat. I think this would help round out the characters’ relationships and clear parts of the novel up where the world-building was murky. Having the characters tell the reader about the world they live in through daily interaction and good dialogue would allow us as readers to breathe in between fight scenes. Obviously, Adeyemi is a good writer, but she seemed to have thrown a lot into this first novel.

In terms of recommending this book, I think it’s a decent start to a fantasy series and will possibly pick up the second book. Regarding the Orisha element of the novel, though, I’d personally say American Street by Ibi Zoboi deals with representing these religious figureheads so much better.

Cover of American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Cover of American Street by Ibi Zoboi

In American Street, Zoboi mixes Haitian Voudon beliefs about their Loas with a Detroit setting to tell a gritty story about Fabiola, a young Haitian girl, as she tries to bring her mother home from the detention center she’s being held at since she is an immigrants. Zoboi’s writing style is impeccable and seamless as she fits together with the urban setting of Detroit with the mystical elements of her narrative. 

Unlike Adeyemi’s book, the pacing for American Street is streamlined and clean. This will keep readers from getting bored and from becoming frustrated with the teenage characters. Not to mention, the book is just amazing, and I would highly recommend it. Children of Bone and Blood not so much.