Herí za Kwanzaa, readers! I hope your holiday season is ending well.
Welcome to the second day of Kwanzaa! If you haven’t already, check out the giveaway from the first day of Kwanzaa on yesterday’s post.
Today we celebrate the principle of Kujichagulia or self-determination!
On this day, our goal is “to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.”
The Adinkra symbol for Kujichagulia is an Ashanti stool of royalty. This symbol calls for us to exercise, individually and collectively, the diligence and determination required to make ourselves the royal authority for the shaping of our lives and destiny.
“I am my best work - a series of road maps, reports, recipes, doodles, and prayers from the front lines.”
― Audre Lorde
This is slightly childish, but there’s something fun about saying the name of today’s Kwanzaa principle. It’s a throwback to elementary school when we learned the Kwanzaa Song, and any multisyllabic word got a good chuckle from us kids. So, saying Ku-ji-cha-gu-lia never fails to give me a good chuckle even to this day.
From an adult standpoint, though, the ability to carry out self-defining or self-fashioning traits is a bit tougher on the sensibilities.
In a world where everything seems to be carried out as mere performance and based on trends, it’s hard to know what you want or be your authentic self sometimes. It almost seems as if we’re all scrambling to stay “on brand” and caping for likes from a silent audience.
In 2021, I found myself taking several much-needed social media breaks due to life circumstances and out of a general feeling of exhaustion.
My intention for 2022 is to take more time to focus on life outside of my screens.
In the moments where I delete my apps and spend time face-to-face with family or researching and catching up on my school/work, I feel that same type of awe that I did as a kid at how much the little things like a song can amaze me and buoy my spirits. There’s almost a nostalgic quality that comes in those moments.
Going offline also brings about a clear distinction for me about my reason for doing things. In those times, I’m not worried about if what I’m reading is “on trend” or if it counts toward my yearly Goodreads challenges, I’m just indulging in a hobby I love.
This feeling of freedom is something that feels refreshing now that I’ve been online for a decade as a social media user, being influenced and posting as a micro-“influencer.”
Cheers to 2022 being a year of self-discovery and self-fulfillment!
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The Sunday Post is hosted by Caffeinated Reviewer and Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb @Readerbuzz. Check Deb’s pages out for more information about this bookish memes!
Bookish peeps! I’ve missed you all and this space!
Today is the start of my favorite holiday – Kwanzaa!
Kwanzaa is a Pan-African holiday that Dr. Maulana Karenga started in 1966 after the Watts riots in LA. This holiday is built around multiple African harvest or “first fruit” celebrations, including cultural festivals from the Ashanti and Zulu people.
Kwanzaa can be celebrated alongside other Winter holidays. It lasts for a week from December 26 to January 1 and can be celebrated in whatever way you and your family and friends decide.
All that’s required is that you honor the Nguzo Saba, which are the seven principles of Kwanzaa, one for each night.
Our goal for Umoja is “to strive for a principled and harmonious togetherness in the family, community, nation, and across the African Diasporic community.”
The Adinkra symbol for Umoja is the Kramo Bone. The Kramo Bone translates to “The bad make it difficult for the good to be noticed.” This Adinkra symbol symbolizes “warning against deception and hypocrisy.”
To promote unity, we must be aware and guard against those who are not actively seeking to do good for the race as a whole and make sure all our goals actively align to have the greatest impact for the majority opposed to the minority of the race in our fight against oppression.
Mederais’ story is a children’s book set in Ghana that tells the story of seven brothers who are tasked with making gold out of seven spools of thread to gain their inheritance from their father.
Seven Spools of Thread is a great representation of what Umoja means. Working alongside the people you love working through your differences, and building up your community to be even stronger than you initially found is a hallmark of Kwanzaa.
A person is a person through other persons.
None of us comes into the world fully formed. We would not know how to think, or walk, or speak, or behave as human beings unless we learned it from other human beings.We need other human beings in order to be human.
I am because other people are.
A person is entitled to a stable community life, and the first of these communities is the family.”
― Desmond Tutu
Born on the Water is a reminder of the strength of being born Black in America. We are a people who were given nothing but took those meager scraps and built a rich heritage that is often imitated but rarely duplicated.
Hannah-Jones and Watson’s book reminds me of the proverb that the Kramo Bone’s meaning stems from, is built off of, even though all the “the bad” African-Americans have been through in this country, Kwanzaa is a time where we can sit up and reflect on how those “difficult” times helped us notice how “the good.”
Regardless of your race or where you are in the world, I hope you’re able to celebrate something good in your life today amongst people you love.
I know we’re all still in this pandemic, and some people struggle to make it through. But, in this coming year, I hope you all can lean on your communities or find people who help you build back even stronger than you were in this pre-Covid era.
I hope you all will join me for this weeklong celebration of Kwanzaa.
To enter today’s giveaway for a copy of Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story and Born on the Water, tell me what your favorite holiday memory or book is in the comment section below.
Then, like this post and subscribe to the newsletter to get the heads up about tomorrow’s giveaway!
The giveaway is open to all subscribers worldwide if the Book Depository or Bookshop.org delivers to your country.
Checkout the first part of the list here and my playlist over on Spotify for my favorite songs from my 20s.
This second part covers the years I was a caretaker for my grandmother and father when they fell ill in the latter part of my 20s.
The Lost Years
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will always remind me of the road trip I took to get home after grad school with my mom and two strangers in the middle of a tornado when Southwest dumped us in Branson, Missouri. This road trip was unplanned and was so bananas, every time I look at my worn copy of Americanah, I think about that wild ride and the grace of God that kept us from being blown away like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz during that storm.
After graduate school, I spent a lot of time drifting while trying to adjust to life outside of school and to have to help take care of my grandmother and father. While I had always seen my mother taking care of one of my loved ones, I never realized just how much went into caring for people who were ill as a caretaker.
Dealing with the stress of caretaking is what led me to the Bookternet.
When the Bookternet was young and the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Movement was starting out in 2014, I was one of the leaders of a book club on Goodreads called The Writers of Color Book. The primary purpose of the WCBC was to get people on BookTube and elsewhere focused on reading diverse authors that weren’t cookie-cutter selections.
Ozeki’s book follows three different timelines: Nao, a sixteen-year-old Japanese teen who her peers are mercilesslybullying, Nao’s grandmother, a hundred-year-old Buddhist nun, and Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island in the Pacific that’s just retrieved a Hello Kitty lunchbox after the 2011 Japanese tsunami and earthquake that killed over 20,000 people. Ozeki’s work shines in the way that it tells such a visceral and heartbreaking story.
Almost a decade later, I’m still thinking about A Tale For the Time Being because of the way it reminded me during my caretaking years that death is inevitable. But, the way you live your life determines how you’ll be remembered.
After graduate school, I spent a lot of time drifting while trying to adjust to life outside of school and to have to help take care of my grandmother and father. While I had always seen my mother taking care of one of my loved ones, I never realized just how much went into caring for people who were ill as a caretaker. Dealing with the stress of caretaking is what led me to the Bookternet.
My favorite author during my 20s were Jhumpa Lahiri. The Namesake is one of my favorite books of all time and the first book I ever did a live show for on YouTube. My favorite short story collection was The Interpreter of Maladies, which was also another WCBC pick.
When I was on night watch with my grandmother and father or going to appointments, I would read short stories to pass the time in the waiting room or until the sun came up.
Outside of Alice Walker, Jhumpa Lahiri has to be one of my favorite short storieswriters for her to do with just a few pages. Walker and Lahiri get to the crux of the matter in mere lines when other authors use up hundreds of pages to tell a story. I highly recommend these authors’ short story collections.
For the most part, Bodger’s book was a leftover read from the YA Dystopian era takeover. However, at the time, I remember thinking about how interesting the plot was from other books in the genre.
In 5 to 1, women choose their husbands from five men who vie for their attention in a trial of the woman’s choosing. Bodger tells The Handmaid’s Tale writing about a matriarchal society with the men being hunted if they dare run away from their wives.
My first audiobooks were The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker, and The Bees by Laline Paull. And as intricate as each of these three books was with their cast of characters, I loved them for keeping me company during this time in my life.
The Night Circus was probably the best possible choice to start my love of audiobooks alongside The Golem and the Jinni because of how imaginative both books were. The Night Circus covers a fierce battle between two young magicians, Celia and Marco. These magicians are given the task by their teachers of dueling each other by creating wondrous feats at Le Cirque des Rêves, a continuous night circus that runs throughout the book.
The Bees was equal parts whimsical and sad as Paull told the anthropomorphic tale of Flora 717, a sanitation bee in a hive where the Queen bee is ill. Flora 717 is a bee with unique talents that none of her kin share. Due to this, she’s seen as a threat to her beloved Queen, to who she only wants to dedicate her life.
Like The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker, who I’ve interviewed and reviewed on my blog, Paull and Morgenstern’s books helped get me through long waits at doctor’s offices, and hospital stays when caretaking. These books taught me that even in those dark moments when everything looks bleak, the sun eventually comes out, and you live to fight another day.
When Life Gives You Lemons…
Sometimes the sun does not shine how you want it to. There are no television miracles or solemn moments where your loved one pops back up for a last “hoorah.”
Sometimes the doctor comes in and tells you the person is in a coma, and you have to say your goodbyes while praying all along that maybe God will do you this solid just this one time even though you know it’d be better for your loved ones not to suffer anymore.
When that moment came for me in my late 20s, I wasn’t ready. But, The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat eased the blows. Both memoirs talk about death and the changes that come with growing up in such a beautiful way. I cried while reading each, and whenever I look at my copies, I remember the time I had to say goodbye to my grandmother and father.
Favorite Books of the Decades
These last few books are stories that connect to events and memories in my 20s that I hold dear.
The first advanced reader copy I ever received was All the Days Past, All the Days to Come by Mildred D. Taylor. Taylor’s Logan Family Saga is a series I’ve been reading since I was a little girl, and I reread all ten books, including the novellas, in order every few years from start to finish to recapture some of that magic. It’s the best book, in my opinion, for you to read if you want an authentic glimpse of the African-American experience in America.
I’m on a personal mission to see all of August Wilson’s Century Cycle performed in person. Fences, the sixth book in the Cycle, was the first play I saw performed live in the West End while studying abroad. Like the Logan Family Saga, Wilson’s Century Cycle is required reading for anyone who wants to peek behind the veil of the African-American heritage.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz and The Namesake were WCBC picks that introduced me to amazing authors who used language in unique and breathtaking ways. Díaz, in particular, had me thinking about how closely language mirrors traditions and is used by Black, Indigenous, and other writers of color to tell our stories and preserve our histories.
I read Moore’s book while looking after my father when he first got his diagnosis on our front porch. Moore’s whimsical story gave me laughter when I needed it the most. And Acevedo’s story kept me company when my mother and I took our first solo trip without my father to Atlanta the Winter after he died. Acevedo’s novel of confronting pain through poetry brought me comfort when I felt anything but.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith was the first classic that I truly loved. After years of reading, I never felt any connection to the classical novels in the white American canon. But, Smith’s book so clearly lays down how it feels to fall in love with reading, I instantly fell in love.
Timebound by Rysa Walker was one of the first books that taught me to love e-books. Walker’s Chronos Files is a YA time-traveling series is one I devoured in almost a week after saying I would never read with an e-reader. If you’re a fan of Marvel’s current phase about the multiverse, this indie Kindle original may interest you.
What are the books that got you through your last decade?
Comment below and tell me some books that got you through your last decade!
As always, please don’t forget to like, comment, and subscribe. #AllOfTheThings
August marks the start of the #SealeyChallenge, a month-long reading challenge where participants set a goal to read 31 poetry books or chapbooks. And for once, I remembered that the challenge started on August 1st!
Named after Nicole Sealey, a renowned poet and educator, the challenge started in 2017. Sealey began the challenge after becoming the executive director at Cave Canem and realizing she wasn’t reading as much as she liked. She ended up sparking a movement when she put out a call on social media to her fellow poetry lovers to join her in her personal challenge to read more poetry.
To keep things simple for myself, I set out a goal to read a minimum of four poetry books (or a book a week) in August to complete the Sealey Challenge just to factor in time constraints and it being my first experience with the challenge.
Published in 2020, Un-American is an attempt by Geter to make sense of the personal tragedy she and her family suffered when her mother died of a stroke when the poet was nineteen. The collection was nominated for a 2021 NAACP Image Award, long-listed for the 2021 PEN Open Book Award, and received a Starred Review from Publisher’s Weekly.
In an article on Poets & Writers’ websites, Geter states that she used Un-American as a means to “make [her] and [her] family’s wounds metaphorical because up until then, they had been so physical, so palpably devastating” for them. The collection also served as a way for Geter to connect to her Nigerian homeland after losing her mother and to better understand her father, a Black man who grew up in Alabama and Ohio “in a country that doesn’t much care for Black boys and men.”
Introduction to Hafizah Geter and Section One of Un-American
For me, reading Un-American felt cathartic.
Geter writes about her personal experiences from the vantage point of a casual observer. Using pithy lines to create charged scenes, she invites readers into her memory while shrugging off any notions of being overly sentimental about what she’s referencing even when it is painful to recall.
Tonight the distance between me, my mother, and Nigeria is like a jaw splashed against a wall. I close my eyes and see my father sulking like a pile of ashes, his hair jet black and kinky, his silence entering a thousand rooms. Then outside, trimming hedges as if home were a land just beyond the meadow, the leaves suddenly back. When I close my eyes I see my mother, mean for the rest of the day, rawing my back in the tub like she’s still doing dishes.
Here, Geter relays the story of having her house broken into. Flitting between the perspectives of her mother, father, and self, Geter sifts through their collective memory to present a cohesive picture of the traumatic event.
Listing each person’s emotions in the poem’s lines, Geter masterfully uses snapshots to show her readers how her interpretation of events is filtered through her parents. But, what’s more, Geter tells her story through an antiseptic lens, as if she is one step removed from the story she is relaying.
While personal, Un-American also draws on the complex history of America and interrogates what it means to be “American” while simultaneously being labeled as “other.”
With the collection’s first poem, “The Pledge,” Geter speaks of the division between her mother and father and shows the difference in her understanding of being American in contrast to her parents’ knowledge of this identity. Geter builds on this theme in the second section of Un-American.
In this section, she weaves together her parents’ story and sets the foundation of their life story up against tributes to Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner in her four “Testimony” poems.
Second Section of Un-American
With the second section, Geter takes an interrogative stance drawing on the political and cultural perspectives of being Black in America and gives voice to the layered experience of being Black and American.
In this section, if a reader is too focused on only seeing Bland, Rice, Brown, and Garner as martyrs or civil rights figures, they’ll miss the way Geter uses each of the “Testimony” poems as transitions and layers her parents’ story over each poem to make sense of her own life story.
Geter shows intimacy mixed with tragedy to develop her family’s story in the reader’s mind’s eye and connect it into the tapestry of American heritage. This approach is fitting since the poet consistently shifts her focus from using a macro lens to tell a story of being an “American” to a microlens when she tells pieces of each member of her family’s story.
For instance, she mentions Sandra Bland’s death in Wallace County, Texas in the first “Testimony” poem focusing her pen on showing a wider angle of brutality against Blacks in America:
As if the humiliation can never be done, there were typos in your autopsy report. The words:no signs of struggle.I thought, my body is your body,
is a temple on fire, is a blinded mask, is a jail cell, is light as a paper bag, is the sound my father makes when, after so many years, he says my mother’s name.
And then Geter swiftly switches focus to tell her father’s story in “Alabama Parable,” giving readers a close up look at her own heritage:
My father looks down the barrel
of a shotgun house,
sees in my grandmother
hurt like prayer
is a kneeling position,
sees that fearing
the wrath of God can make you
name any angry man, King.
Finally, the poet fills in the narrative again and connects her father’s story to the larger story of Eric Garner in “Testimony (for Eric Garner)” using contemporary persona poetry and using the symbolism of kings and a blue-collar upbringing:
This love is blue-
collar work, this exile,
heritage. I don’t regret
the kings and queens I’ve made,
though police keep fucking
up. Keep kicking
down the door
inside me. Master’s tools steady
trying to burn our cribs down.
my children search mirrors
For suspicious activity. Marker 4:40.
the hourglass imitates
me. Judge, the wolves,
This second section also holds my favorite poem, from Un-American, which is “The Leaving,”
Of all Geter’s collection, if I could get you all to read any poem, it would be “The Leaving.”
As a lover of Warsan Shire’s poetry, I immediately gravitated toward this poem’s imagery of immigrants transitioning between space and place.
A Nigerian proverb
that when you lose your bridge,
climb down the mountain.
Instead, my mother grabbed
the Atlantic. Enough for a path
to carry daughters.
“The Leaving” is where Geter’s work shines as it draws together the intricate familial mythology she writes about throughout Un-American.In this poem, Geter folds all her themes into a neat bow showing how difficult it is to be Black and immigrant and woman in America.
This poem also touches upon the prevalent theme of mother-daughter relationships and being a family of mixed citizenship status. Drawing on her own experiences, Geter tackles the inherent harm that Black people face to their personhood through state-sanctioned violence alongside the everyday occurrence of being alive in America.
Section Three of Un-American
The third and final section of Un-American is about going through the motions of healing after tragedy strikes and returning home to your country of origin once you’ve set up roots elsewhere.
Where section one sets up the themes of Un-American and introduces readers to Geter’s family, and section two positions the family’s story into the wider frame of the American narrative, Geter turns her focuses inward for section three while connecting her family’s story to Nigeria.
In this third section, she moves on from talking about state-sanctioned violence against all Black bodies in America to switch gears to the violence these bodies experience in Nigeria. Here, Geter writes about trying to build up her identity as a Nigerian American finding herself in-between the respective cultures of her parents.
Poems like “Out of Africa” and “Three-Hundred Girls” track Geter and her sister’s journey back across the Atlantic to connect to their Nigerian heritage. Lines from “Out of Africa,” such as:
Something in my sister knows
it is easier in China than America to give her children
uncolonized language, easier to raise black boys to be men
Who never forget duty or home.
Or, lines like the following from “Three-Hundred Girls” draw the reader’s attention to how Geter and her sister must go outside the U.S. to gain access to that security and proximity to power that alludes to them in their father’s country of origin.
We eat fufu, efo, and egusi soup.
My sister, bowl after of jollof rice.
Like a woman no longer living
outside the language of her happiness
Yet, even in this moment of security that Geter and her sister enjoy for this brief sojourn in Nigeria, the poet intersperses violence into the sisters stay in “Three-Hundred Girls” juxtaposes the safety the sisters feel against the kidnapping and subsequent violence the Nigerian girls from the Zamfara school face:
Fourteen Hauwas, like me,
she says, as though I’ve forgotten
mothers in Chibok are still
weeping on the floors of classrooms
burned into burial grounds.
My Nigerian passport
Using “harm” as a constant theme in Un-American is understandable since being Black across the Diaspora carries with it a specific brand of harm that the average Black person knows intimately. However, it is often harder to understand when the danger comes from within our own bodies instead of from an external source.
In section three, along with the images of her and her sister reconnecting with their Nigerian roots, Geter conjures up images of the diseases that ravaged her parents. To me, this depiction of illness, besides self-discover, illustrates the cyclical nature of existence Blacks around the world are forced to live within when facing state-sanctioned violence and balancing just trying to exist peacefully.
For example, poems in section three oscillate between global depictions of violence, Geter remembering her mother, and the poet attempting to care for her ailing father while grieving and crafting her own multi-hyphenated identity.
This raw depiction of emotions in these snapshots of her poetry is what made in Un-American a cathartic read for me. While her writing is terse and to the point, the images she crafts with her poetry are full of life and well-honed to hit readers right in the feels.
At its core, Un-American is an introspective look at Geter’s family. However, the collection also asks readers to consider who gets to be a part of the American story while calling us to bear witness to the trauma and pain that comes with being labeled as the “other.”
All that being said, Un-American is a poetry collection I would highly recommend.
Are you all participating in #TheSealeyChallenge?
Thank you to Wesleyan University Press for the gifted copy! All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
A rich, dark urban fantasy debut following a teen witch who is given a horrifying task: sacrificing her first love to save her family’s magic. The problem is, she’s never been in love—she’ll have to find the perfect guy before she can kill him.
After years of waiting for her Calling—a trial every witch must pass in order to come into their powers—the one thing Voya Thomas didn’t expect was to fail. When Voya’s ancestor gives her an unprecedented second chance to complete her Calling, she agrees—and then is horrified when her task is to kill her first love. And this time, failure means every Thomas witch will be stripped of their magic.
Voya is determined to save her family’s magic no matter the cost. The problem is, Voya has never been in love, so for her to succeed, she’ll first have to find the perfect guy—and fast. Fortunately, a genetic matchmaking program has just hit the market. Her plan is to join the program, fall in love, and complete her task before the deadline. What she doesn’t count on is being paired with the infuriating Luc—how can she fall in love with a guy who seemingly wants nothing to do with her?
With mounting pressure from her family, Voya is caught between her morality and her duty to her bloodline. If she wants to save their heritage and Luc, she’ll have to find something her ancestor wants more than blood. And in witchcraft, blood is everything.
Adira: Ms. Sambury, thank you so much for the opportunity to interview you! Congratulations on your debut novel, Blood Like Magic!
As a lover of the fantasy genre, the idea of a family of modern Black witches is something I haven’t gotten the chance to experience in my 25+ years of reading until this year. This led your book to be one of my most anticipated reads of 2021. Can you tell me what influenced you to write Blood Like Magic and what publishing your first novel was like for you?
Liselle Sambury: At the time I decided to write Blood Like Magic, I was feeling homesick for Toronto and wanted to write something set there. And I had the idea of writing about a family of Black witches floating around in my head. I’ve always loved the paranormal, and witches definitely held a particular draw for me. Like you, I hadn’t really encountered Black witches in my reading, and when I saw them in movies and TV shows, they were often sidelined or slighted characters. I loved the idea of being able to focus solely on the story of a Black witch.
A:The magical lore and technology in your novel set your book apart from anything I’ve read or watched on television in recent years. How did you go about crafting this world for Voya, your main character, and her family to inhabit?
LS: Once I decided that I wanted to set the book in the near future, I made a concentrated effort to blend the technology and the magic together as best as I could. I was worried about being told “why not just make this a fantasy and take the sci-fi parts out?” But that wasn’t the world I wanted to craft. I was excited about being able to blend the two genres.
As for creating them, I started out with simple rules for both the magic system and how the genetics technology would work. From there it was a lot of layering on and building up in each revision. I would get feedback and would make adjustments to make sure that everything that needed to be explained or fleshed out was getting that treatment.When it came to Voya and her family, that was a lot more organic. I had a good idea of a lot of the characters in my head, and so I just wrote their stories as I imagined them. Later on, I definitely had to do more tweaking to make sure all their goals in the story and motivation behind how they behave was clear and made sense for their characters.
A:Voya and Luc’s characters tugged on my heartstrings. Along with the rest of the characters, you emphasize that each character you’ve written has many intersecting identities (e.g., Being a dark-skinned and voluptuous Black woman who dealt with anxiety for Voya and being a Mexican and transgendered for Luc) that color how they view the world and make decisions. Did you set out to showcase specific things with each character’s personality, or was this something that just happened organically?
LS: A lot of the characters were nearly fully formed in my head, but some things just came out as I wrote them. But one thing I made sure of, is that once I formed a character’s identity, I did my best to do my research and due diligence to make sure they would be represented well. So, it was all well and good to know that Luc is trans and Mexican-Canadian, but I had to think about how that would affect his worldview, and how he moves through the world and interacts with other characters. And I thought about, okay, if this is a dark-skinned Black character, how am I portraying them? Am I falling into any traps of colorism? I love my cast of diverse characters and I wanted to make sure that real world people reading the book could experience representation that was as accurate and respectful as possible.
A:My favorite part of Blood Like Magic is how you showcase “community” and get the nuanced nature of what it means to grow up across the African Diaspora, drawing on a collectivist nature where the group’s needs and desires are sometimes placed before the individual. This idea of community is a big thing for Voya as she tries to complete the task her ancestor, Mama Jova, set for her. As an author, were you working from a specific definition of community? And if so, did it influence how you developed your characters or any of the action in the book?
LS: I wasn’t working from any definition of community. I was really just writing what organically felt right and important to the characters. I also grew up in a house with a blended family and so that colored a lot of my experience, and in the book, I expanded it further to the community in which Voya grows up.
A:Keeping with the theme of community, your magic system is based around the “intimacy” of your characters “knowing” their ancestors and safeguarding their family’s history. You acknowledge in your work that across the African Diaspora, this isn’t an easy thing for a lot of Black people to do because of the act of Slavery. When you were world-building, how did you compensate for your witch characters who may not have had a connection to their ancestors? Would this keep the character from becoming a witch?
LS: When I was worldbuilding, I was thinking of the question around if you could have a connection to your ancestors. And that’s something that every witch has, but that non-magical people do not. I liked bringing in that dichotomy of a world full of magic and connection to your heritage that Voya has while also acknowledging that those of us in the real world may not have that because of colonization and enslavement. It felt important to me to say so, because I think some people don’t understand that disconnection and the pain of feeling that your heritage is lost to you.
A:You did a magnificent job in creating a diverse and inclusive future by showcasing the natural use of gender pronouns in everyday settings and having characters from various body types and heritages on display. Yet, the one place that felt as if it teetered on the edge of being regressive was the Black community.
In Blood Like Magic, violence permeates the Black community at the hand of its members and outsiders. This can be seen in the separation into “pure” and “impure” families to the reliance on specific acts of violence that are visited on members of the community and used in magic rituals.
When constructing Voya’s world, why was it important to show that Black bodies are still targeted with violence inside and outside their communities even in the future?
LS: Within my own worldview, I am familiar with the fact that there can be a lot of social progress in one area and not as much in another. And I’m also aware that even within already marginalized communities, Black people can be further marginalized. So, while there is progress in things like the consequences of racial-based violence, being in the future hasn’t made it stop.
I think this is grim in some ways, but it also felt real to my experience with the amount of years that have passed, and the racial injustices Black people continue to deal with. I think of Voya’s community as being complicated and there are extra challenges because those past traditions they are handing down can be overseen by the very ancestors who created them.
I feel like it is difficult to grapple with the effects of white supremacy and white power structures as a Black person, and it affects both external violence, and also how things are done within communities. The violence that exists within Voya’s community is a direct result of people trying to protect themselves based on what they suffered in the past. That is the insidious nature of it, and it can create a very complicated community in which sometimes things that seem obviously terrible, are traditions that are carried on because trauma persists. I definitely wanted to showcase the nuance there.
A:There’s been a lot of talks lately in the book-o-sphere about the idea that publishers are pigeonholing Black, Indigenous, and other authors of color (BIPOC) into writing stories based around “trauma” since many publishing houses deem this as the key to having a bestseller. With topics, such as referencing American Chattel Slavery, substance abuse, and missing Black girls, Blood Like Magic walks very close to the edge of dealing with Black trauma without it being the primary catalyst for the novel’s plot. How did you approach balancing these topics without having this aspect of your book take the narrative over completely?
LS: When I first wrote Blood Like Magic, I didn’t set out to tackle a lot of those topics. Those were things that became salient to me while I was writing, and so they were incorporated into the novel. That being said, I was definitely aware of that idea of pigeonholing, and went into my novel wanting to show a fun (though dark because it’s my style) story of a family of Black witches and what this one girl is struggling with. That has always been the core of what I’m trying to do. So, as I added in more serious topics, I never worried about it overtaking the book, because they’re all parts of a world in which the focus is a girl grappling with how to carve out her future under the pressures of her family.
I do think those stories that deal with trauma are important and necessary, but they’re not the only stories that we have, which I think is important. And I do think that publishing is improving in that I see more of those stories coming out now.
A:Luc’s status as a “sponsored” son of the NuGene CEO, Justin Tremblay, is one that bought up a larger conversation in the novel about colonialism and even, to a degree, the exploitation of children and the lack of resources (even in the future) in the Global South.
While I know your book is set primarily in Canada and references parts of the American South, will readers ever get to see where Luc grew up in Mexico to observe the toll of how magic and NuGene’s technological advancements have changed the trajectory of this area’s culture?
LS: This isn’t something that I plan for readers to see directly in that setting, but they will definitely see Luc reckoning with that system and how it affects Mexico and other countries with that program.
A:I know that you are an avid creator on #AuthorTube and have offered a lot of advice and reflections on your writing process in your vlogs. But, can you tell readers who may not be familiar with your content what the most valuable writing advice you’ve learned from writing your debut is?
LS: I have two! One is for before the book deal, and at that stage in my career the advice of being persistent was the most helpful. Sometimes it takes several books to where you want, and sometimes you need to take breaks, and that’s all part of the process, and the persistence of keeping at it is what will help you the most.
The second one is for after the book deal, and that was to focus on the one thing you can control: the writing. To write the best book you can, and to focus less on things like marketing and sales because you can’t control that. At the end of the day, you can come away knowing that you did your absolute best.
A:I saw on your YouTube page that you’re working on edits for the Blood Like Magic sequel. Is there anything you are able to share about the sequel?!
LS: The sequel will be out next year, and readers can look forward to Voya reckoning with the decisions made in the first one. We’ve also only really seen three of the five major Black witch families, and in the sequel, you’ll get to see them all. I’m really proud of what I’ve done with it and think it will be a satisfying series conclusion.
Liselle Sambury is a Trinidadian Canadian author who grew up in Toronto, Ontario, and her brand of writing can be described as “messy Black girls in fantasy situations.” In her free time, she shares helpful tips for upcoming writers and details of her publishing journey through a YouTube channel dedicated to helping demystify the sometimes complicated business of being an author.
Face Me: a declaration reveals the complexities of a mixed race identity through religion, sex, American history, and colorism. The poems in Face Me reject any white supremacy that dictates Biblical interpretations, historical truths, and beauty standards. This collection of poems follows a journey that begins in uncertainty, but concludes in celebration. Within its pages, declarations are unwaveringly signed and spoken. Black bodies are praised and exalted. Faith is reexamined and reclaimed. And Face Me exists not as a question, but as a command.
Thank you so much for your time and for offering me the opportunity to read your poetry collection, Face Me: a declaration, Ms. Keenan! So far, I’ve read it twice, and each time something new jumps out at me.
Adira: What was your inspiration for Face Me: a declaration? Did you always know you wanted to write this work in the form of poetry, or did you have another medium in mind?
Olivia Keenan: I have been writing poetry since I was in middle school, and I have always been especially inspired by slam poetry. A lot of the poems in the book came from slam poems I wrote and performed during open mics at my university. Therefore, it was always a book of poems, but many of the poems were inspired by pieces I wrote to be performed as spoken word.
A: I ask this because you have some stunning pictures included in your collection that offer readers a glimpse of the very body you are seeking to reclaim in your poetry. Is there a story behind these photos?
OK: Yes, there is a story behind the photos. I took a photography class in high school, and I think that is where I learned about the power of photos, especially when accompanied with words. Therefore, I wanted to incorporate photography alongside the journey of the poems. While the poems were inspired by slam poetry, the photos were inspired by the poems.
I have four sets of photos: one of my face, one of my feet, one of my hands, and a final one of my stomach. The same picture or a similar picture of each of these body parts shows up in each section of my book. So, I wanted the photos of the first part to not only embody the themes of the first section (shame, hurt, pain), but to also show a sense of growth within the other photos from the second and third section.
A:There are three sections in Face Me: a declaration: “exposition,” “development,” and “recapitulation.”
In each section, you take care in showing the speaker, who is a Black woman of mixed-race heritage, as she’s gradually coming undone and then carefully stitching herself back together again to reestablish her identity on her own terms. In the final section, readers see the speaker reveling in her agency and taking ownership of her body.
As a writer, did you find that your experiences as a Black woman of mixed race impacted the topics you explored in your collection? If so, were there any real-life moments or emotions that found their way into your writing?
OK: I love this question! And I love the way the question encapsulates the purpose of the three sections in the book. The poems are full of my experiences; sometimes the book feels like an autobiography of my journey through high school and college. For example, most of the poems in the first section are inspired by my experiences in high school and the beginning of college, which was a time where I was most ashamed of my body and myself. I discuss being Black in suburbia and suburban high schools, and being mixed in a very segregated city. I go to the University of Virginia, which was founded by Thomas Jefferson, and when I first entered, I had an idealized view of Jefferson from my previous education. My experiences in high school and the beginning of college were heavily influenced by my desire, or need at times, to please white people (especially white men). So I think the first section is most influenced by those themes.
In the second section, my experiences as a freshman in college are dominated by an enlightenment of sorts. I start to question the religious groups I am a part of, and to question my desire to please white Americans (such as Jefferson). The section also includes experiences I’ve had with men in college, and exposes how I feel about my body when I, too, look at it through a white gaze. Therefore, I think this section reveals moments when I recognize where my shame is coming from, or when my hurt and pain come from white superiority.
In the final section, my most recent emotions come to light. But these experiences are somewhat more abstract. The section more so signifies a period of reclamation and celebration of the body and mind. It isn’t a one-time experience, but rather months of reflection.
A: You start your collection off with “click.” Here, your speaker appears to be parsing through her feelings about the murder of a Black man while also showing moments where she is unsure about her own Blackness. She does this while also succumbing to moments where her implicit bias toward other Black people peeks through in times of panic. Why was it important for you to start your poetry collection simultaneously tackling all three of these issues?
OK: I think it was important for me to start the poetry collection with this because it was one of the poems that kicked off the whole project. Most of the poems are heavily edited and revised. This poem was written hastily at like 3 AM during the summer of 2020. It is not heavily edited, and it tackles things through a stream of consciousness style of writing. I wrote it minutes after watching a video of the murder of George Floyd on Instagram. I wanted to show right away the desperation of my poetry, and how one instance of violence towards Black people impacted me in so many ways. It made me scared, and confused, and ashamed, and angry. I thought a poem that dealt with so many issues, in such a desperate way, would start off the book appropriately– in order to show readers why I needed to write to parse through so many layers of emotions.
A: One of the things that drew me to Face Me: a declaration originally was your reading of “princess mobutu” on Instagram.
The line where you state, “I am not a slave story/ I am not enslaved to a story,” feels apropos in a time where African-Americans and Americans alike are beginning to come to terms with the fact that our race has been pigeonholed into having our stories start (and sometimes end) with American Chattel Slavery as the nation’s only reference point to who we are expected to be.
With this in mind, is there a specific audience or moment in American history that you are speaking to with your work?
OK: I’m glad you pointed out that line, because I think it embodies most of what I was trying to get across in the poem. The specific, intended audience of the poem is girls like me: especially little Black girls who need a Disney princess who looks like them. Unfortunately, most of the representation I saw of Black people in movies as a young girl had to do with slavery or struggling through racism. Rarely did I just see a Black woman enjoying life, or being rescued by the prince, or being a superhero! Therefore, that line is Princess Mobutu claiming she is not “enslaved” to any stories of struggle and pain. Princess Mobutu claims her own story, and that is a character I know I would have benefitted from seeing as an impressionable young girl.
A: The theme of fetishization of Black and female bodies appears to play a major role in poems, like “white boys still don’t let me sign the damn declaration of independence” and “Me and Jefferson.”
Was this connection between your speaker and Sally Hemings intentional in your work?
OK: There is definitely a connection between my speaker and Sally Hemings in my work, but I also intentionally keep it ambiguous. As I mentioned previously, I am a student at the University of Virginia, which is a place where Thomas Jefferson is heavily discussed, both to be idolized and criticized. So it wasn’t until I was in college that I made the connection between Sally and I, but all of the emotions in the book towards my body and the white male gaze have been there my whole life — before I ever knew who Sally Hemings was. I wanted to demonstrate how history repeats itself, even as a university student in 2021. But I also wanted to keep any connections nameless, because I know many Black women of all ages and time periods can relate to wrestling with their own bodies and sexualities in a much similar way.
I also mention Jefferson a lot, and I make sure to mention him by name. And I think when people see Jefferson juxtaposed with a Black woman, they immediately think of Sally Hemings. I wanted this effect, once again, to accentuate the cyclical history of fetishization of Black female bodies.
A: The same way historians grapple with the question of Sally Hemings ability to have a “consensual” relationship with Thomas Jefferson because of her status as an enslaved woman feels similar to how Christianity has modified the original meaning of the Song of Songs in the Bible’s Old Testament to fit their message.
As a person of faith who lives in a time when sexuality, especially for women and female-bodied persons, is heavily guarded by the messaging in traditional Christianity, why did you feel it was important to insert this message of female agency and ownership into your poems?
I think it was important for me to insert this message into my poems because the book begins in a place of shame and rejection. And I wanted to include all the ways I’ve felt ashamed, because being a Black female in America is so multi-faceted and intersectional. I’ve felt rejected by America and American history, or white individuals in my life, or educational institutions, and I’ve especially felt rejected from Christianity. Therefore I think most of my shame was rooted in Christianity, particularly from what I’ve been told by white Christians.
Throughout the beginning of the book I seem to think that my “liberation” can be found if I please the white gaze, or even if I succumb to being sexualized by the white gaze. At the same time, I felt ashamed for merely being sexual, or having sexual desires. The book concludes where I reclaim the beauty of my body, and understand that I can find liberation when I reject the white gaze. Rejecting the white gaze also means rejecting shame I’ve accumulated from Christianity. So I am also liberated from sexual shame, and can reclaim the beauty of my sexual being and desires.
A: What writers or pieces of art have influenced your writing?
OK: My poetry is heavily influenced by slam poetry, both of my own and of others’. It is therefore influenced by contemporary Black poets who also partake in slam poetry and spoken word. Some of these poets include Danez Smith, Jericho Brown, and Raych Jackson. I think some of my descriptions and understandings of God are influenced by The Color Purple by Alice Walker and Mary Oliver. My interactions with the history of Thomas Jefferson are inspired by Mistressby Chet’La Sebree. The photos are influenced by black and white photography in general. But I particularly love the book Citizen by Claudia Rankine, and how that book uses photography with poetry and the written word.
A: Do you have any advice you would give to people who want to write?
OK: My biggest advice is to take advantage of the time you have to write. I don’t think I would have been able to write a book if not for COVID. Because of COVID, all of my plans for the summer of 2020 were cancelled, and then when the school year started, most of my extracurricular activities were postponed too. This meant I had a LOT of time to write, and I took advantage of that time. Even when I wasn’t writing specifically for my book, I was taking time to journal or write random poems. I think my consistency with writing when I had time also improved my mental health and self-confidence during a difficult year. Finding time to write about literally anything is one of the best moves I made in the past year!
A: I want to commend you on how raw and evocative your writing is in Face Me: a declaration. There’s so much depth to your work that I keep thinking about the poems well after I’ve closed the collection’s pages. Are you working on anything new readers can look forward to?
OK: I am not working on anything right now — I think I am pretty tired! But I am an English Major with a concentration in Poetry writing, so I will have to write a manuscript in my final semester of college (in two years). I think that by that point I will feel refreshed again, and hopefully another collection will come then! I also do open mics at my university, so maybe I will have a few new performance poems in the upcoming year!
A: Thank you so much for your time and the opportunity to review your poetry collection, Ms. Keenan. I can’t wait to see what you publish next!
Thank you so much for your wonderful and thoughtful questions! I loved answering these, and I appreciate you taking the time to do all of this 🙂
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” —General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865
Today marks the first time America will celebrate Juneteenth as a federal holiday after 156 years of it being a staple in the African-American community.
Known by several names, such as Emancipation Day, Black Independence Day, or Jubilee Day, this African-American holiday celebrates the day when after two and a half years, enslaved people in Texas were told of their freedom on June 19, 1865, by Maj. General Gordon Granger and Union troops.
Yet, their White slave owners did not let them go so easily. Some owners even made a point of not telling the people until after harvest time was over. And if an African person tried to leave before that time, they’d be attacked and killed.
To combat this, Union soldiers and other government representatives had to intercede on the African people’s behalf since Confederate states, like Texas, refused to let go of the system that upheld American Chattel Slavery…kind of like how it is today…I digress, though.
It should be clear that the African people did not always have the freedom to be free, let alone celebrate Juneteenth in public as they saw fit, and had to be creative in how they rejoiced.
If you want to learn more about the holiday or just read some excellent African-American fiction, read the following books.
To Teach Kids
If you have small children, broaching the topic of American Chattel Slavery can be challenging. Using Folktales and simple chapter books can help ease the children into the topic and break down these horrific times into manageable bites for their little minds.
My favorite childhood collection of folktales is The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton. This collection covers 24 African-American Folktales that were handed down from our ancestors.
These tales include stories of Bruh Rabbit, Bruh Alligator, Little 8 John, and the reimagines our people having secret magic that kept them strong as they labored while being enslaved. Hamilton draws on Black spirituals and Diasporic folklore as well in this book.
Pulitzer Prize winner and historian, Annette Gordon-Reed, does an excellent job breaking down the history of Juneteenth in On Juneteenth, a short nonfiction work. Piecing together American history, her family’s history, and episodic moments from her life, Gordon-Reed tackles the question we all have of “why now?”
If you are unclear where to start in learning about this holiday as an adult, get this book by Gordon-Reed as your starting point.
My audiobook copy of “On Juneteenth” was provided by Libro.fm.
Written over the span of 40 years, Ralph Ellison’s second novel, Juneteenth, or as it’s known in its longer and completed form, Three Days Before the Shooting, is the story of a racially ambiguous man, Bliss, who was raised by an African-American Baptist preacher named Alonzo Hickman. In his adult years, Bliss has chosen to pass as a White man and ends up becoming a race-baiting U.S. Senator known as Adam Sunraider (think Candace Owens, but worse). All is going smoothly until Hickman and his congregation shows up, and Bliss has to face the music of his life.
In this novel, Ellison evokes the African-American experience and crafts a tell that calls the pain of enslavement and the Jim Crow Era, the joy of the Harlem Renaissance, and everything in between.
You can read either the whole manuscript with Three Days Before the Shooting (over 1100 pages) or only read the Juneteenth edited version (400 pages) that was pieced together by Ellison’s longtime friend and biographer, John F. Callahan.
Lewis’ story cover captures what the voyage of the Middle Passage felt like and how Lewis survived being enslaved. Reading Lewis’ story gives a modern person the perspective of what emancipated would have meant to an African person who survived being enslaved. It is another short read, but it packs a punch.
Prairie View A & M Universityalso has first-handaccounts of emancipated Africans who speak to their feelings of hearing the jubilant news on June 19, 1865, that you can read through in their archives.
Written by another Pulitzer Prize winner, Caste, tackles the world that the emancipated Africans were sent into and how that world got crafted into the America we now inhabit.
Wilkerson gets to the core of the White owners’ frustration and anger at having to let their “property” go in the aftermath of the American Civil War as she dissects the American caste system. While the players have changed, the fact still rings true that America is about the “haves” and “haves nots.” With this in mind, Wilkerson notes in her book that, “The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power—which groups have it, and which do not.”
Let me know down below if you’ve ever read any of these books or if they’re on your TBR!
As a future social worker, these numbers are horrifying.
Jackson’s main character, Mary, is a child who fell through the cracks and is continuously punished for the mistakes adults around her made. And, this is something that frustrates me.
In America, individuals are given different choices when they are BIPOC that are lesser in nature than their White counterparts. From these choices, we have to make the “best” from the heap we’re given. In this book, Mary never really has a fighting chance.
Her mother fails her. The adults around her fail her. But, most importantly, the child welfare and other protective system fails her. While this book is a work of fiction, it felt too real.
I’m so grateful to Femi and everyone else in the book club for being there to talk through this tomfoolery with. 😑
If you’re a lover of thrillers and smart depictions of those who are labeled as “criminals,” Jackson’s novel is one you’re going to want to add to your TBR List.
Myers book is one I read in the 5th grade for my English class, and like Jackson’s book, it is a story that you have to be mentally prepared for before you attempt to read it even though it’s labeled as a “young adult” book.
Monster follows Steve, a teenage amateur filmmaker, as he stands on trial for a crime he didn’t commit. Told in the form of a screenplay, Myers’ story is a realistic and raw depiction of a Black boy’s struggle to retain his innocence as he’s thrust into manhood in a literal “trial by fire.”
If you’re an avid Netflix watcher, the film adaption is now available to watch.
Upstate, on the other hand, is a realistic look at how one’s family and partners deal with their long-term incarceration. Buckhanon tells the story of Antonio, a seventeen-year-old that is incarcerated for a shocking crime, and his high school sweetheart, Natasha, who is a sixteen-year-old with a bright future.
Faced with getting through a ten-year prison sentence, Antonio and Natasha believe their love can stand the test of time. While Upstate isn’t as jarring to read as Jackson’s book, readers will still be able to relate to these young lovers and their families as they spend a decade growing together and separate. If you’re an audiobook lover, Chadwick Boseman voices Antonio’s parts.
“Sir, do you have ‘man of the house’ money?!” – Kimberly Nicole Foster, @for.harriet
Nothing gets my blood boiling more than a story about an uneven partnership that teeters into the realm of abuse. Sadly, in Buchi Emecheta’s semi-autobiographical work, Second Class Citizen, her character, Adah Obi, is in just such a relationship.
Adah is a woman who knows her mind & isn’t afraid of hard work. Breaking with Nigerian traditions of her time, she pursues an education at an exclusive school & even ends up getting a government job as a librarian afterward in spite of her family’s misgiving about this independent path she’s on. Adah also ends up marrying Francis, who, on all accounts, is an inferior partner, but he is also her ticket to “freedom.”
In a For Harriet YouTube video by the same name as the above quote, Kimberly points out that patriarchy fails to address how a man can fail to meet many of the mandates for “traditional masculinity (e.g., having a job, providing for your family, being a self-starter, etc.), & still enjoy the spoils of being the “man of the house” just because of his inherent Y-chromosome. Francis, is the perfect example of this.
He is utterly useless, but he STILL demands to be respected. Sadly, the community at large co-signs his trifflingness & mandate that Adah must be submissive to him & all his hairbrained schemes just because Francis is the man of the house. Yet, Adah is the bread winner!
Reading Emecheta’s book gave me flashbacks of reading Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones, my blood pressure went up & down, & I grew utterly frustrated with the tomfoolery of it all. If you love books that are engrossing with a heavy emphasis on character development, Second-Class Citizen is a must-read. However, TheJoys of Motherhoodis still my favorite book from Emecheta’s bibliography for the quiet and measured way that Emecheta writes about the loss of culture and infiltration of imperialism into the colonized people’s lives.