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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A: Thank you for your time, Ms. Dixon! I got a chance to read your essay collection, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, and your poetry collection, No God In This Room, last month, and both pieces really resonated with me!
What was the process like writing and getting The Incredible Shrinking Woman published? Did you find your experience with an independent press different than working with a larger publisher?
AD: The manuscript started as a series of individual essays in 2012. I was going through a pretty rough breakup and I found poetry wasn’t giving me the space I needed to express everything I was feeling. I began writing personal essays as a remedy. In 2016, I attended a creative non-fiction conference and started toying with the idea of pulling together a book. I threw together every essay I’d written over that four-year span and started trying to make sense of it. It didn’t go too well and I went back and forth in adding and subtracting pieces from it. I continued to write and publish work from time to time and in late 2019 I thought I’d come up with a decent manuscript. I researched presses I thought would be a good home for the book and came up with a list of four. I did not pursue publishing with a larger press at all. Fortunately for me, Split/Lip was on my first-choice list and wanted to give the book home.
Working with an independent press has been great! From the very beginning I’ve felt that they were not only interested in the book, but also me as a person. Writing personal essays can be a very scary thing and having a group of people working on your project who respect that is a gift. Being with an indie press allowed me to have a stronger voice in the kinds of edits I was willing or unwilling to accept. I also had amazing freedom in deciding on my cover design, promo events, and blurbs. It felt more like a collaboration than someone doing me a favor by publishing my work.
A: Did you have a specific audience in mind when you were writing The Incredible Shrinking Woman?
AD: I generally consider myself my first audience and from there I hope to find a connection with people who’ve had similar experiences. I hope that I am writing for people who feel on the fringes or invisible—kinda like background music. Those people who help make the world go ‘round but aren’t necessarily the ones in the spotlight. I think it is important to craft stories for audiences who are dynamic and interesting in ways that may not always get attention. There is a world of people who feel as if they don’t have a voice and I hope that in my exploration of my own invisibility and shrinking I am helping them be seen and heard as well.
A: In a virtual craft chat with The Writer’s Center, you mentioned “wanting to be seen and then being afraid when you [were] seen [and] working through what you’re asking people to see.” Did this sentiment play into naming your essay collection The Incredible Shrinking Woman?
AD: The collection had several names, but this one seemed to fit the best once the final slate of essays was solidified. When I began writing, I thought I was writing about something completely different, but as the manuscript progressed it seemed more and more, I was writing about ideas of shrinking and invisibility. I’d never considered just how much time I’d spent trying to fit into boxes and roles that never seemed to contain all I believe I am. But I also had to confront what it means to be seen. Asking for it and actually having it are worlds different. There’s a bit of a play on words with the title, too. There is the active shrinking that takes place, but there are also elements of a sideshow or exposure in the use of the word incredible.
A: My favorite essay in your collection is “Reader’s Insert.” In the piece, you say:
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve slipped myself into roles that don’t quite fit, roles that aren’t quite real…I’ve always felt invisible, so accurately telling the story of me starts with a disappearing act.
Invisible. It’s a word that has gotten blowback from friends and family in ways I never expected. I suppose they think they see me. But I don’t think anyone really does. At least in terms of a whole person, that is.”
This quote resonated with me because, as a Black woman, there seems to be a substantial gap between the expectations placed on us individually and as a group versus the actual empathy that is offered to us as human beings. Instead, we seem to be rendered as invisible or treated as pieces of a whole. Did your perception or definition of yourself change as you wrote this collection of essays and came into your voice as a writer?
AD: My greatest fear putting the collection in the world was being exposed and judged. I thought people would see me as weak or damaged in some way, but I found that I grew more confident personally and creatively as the collection took shape. I think it is partially because I was able to let go of some experiences that had been weighing me down and also realizing there are dynamic parts of me I should share with the world despite my fears. As well, by examining some of the issues in the collection, I was able to see parts of myself I couldn’t while I was in the thick of it. I learned I am much stronger than I knew and that I have so much to offer to not only myself but also the world. I think writing the book helped me unlock portions of myself I’d hidden away in order to fit what I thought the world wanted to see of me.
A: Your essay, “Native Tongue,” was another favorite for me. One of the things I loved about your essays is the way that you give voice to those Black girls who aren’t labeled as being “conventionally Black” in the way you described your cousins as being with their “Salt N’ Pepa hairstyles” or even your best friend, Greta. Why was it important for you to tell this particular story of coming into your Blackness in “Native Tongue?”
AD: It was important for me because I think sometimes there’s an idea that if you are born into a particular background you settle in smoothly. For me, I always felt loved and cared for, but I struggled to find where I fit within the confines of the culture around me. I so badly wanted to be like my cousins and my parents, but I never considered the idea there were other avenues that were tailored to me. And I think it was important to recognize and acknowledge my own narrow view of what I thought Blackness entailed.
A: There’s a line in “Vagina, Slightly Used,” where you say:
“It’s because I’d felt so invisible my entire existence that I gathered greedily what was laid out before me. I’ve always felt like my being deemed desirable by a man was a fluke.”
In the same way you give voice to the “non-conventional” Black girls, you represent for women who are believed to take up too much space physically with their bodies and those Black women who are denying themselves a “fairytale ending” because the world said we can’t/don’t deserve one.
Currently, soundbites of “image consultants,” like Kevin Samuels, and celebrities, like B. Simone, are going viral for shaming Black women for daring to believing we deserve a happy ending. Do you feel as if there is starting to be a movement to commodify the inherent “shame” that Black women, like yourself and I, are fed throughout our lives by mass media and brands?
AD: I do. I think people are so intent on solidifying their own importance, and pockets, that they are willing to sacrifice the well-being of others in order to do so. I think it’s easy to prey on people’s insecurities while setting impossible standards they can never achieve because the goal posts always move. There is a part of me that feels some of this is a backlash to the “less desirable” women starting to gain confidence or ignoring what society thinks they should be. The shameful part of it is when other Black people, who know discrimination and harm first hand, take part in it denigrating their own people for the sake of profit and popularity.
A: The Incredible Shrinking Woman is raw and has so many visceral moments that left me, as a reader, swept up emotionally in your words because of their authenticity and how true they rang in my lived experience as a Black woman. How were you able to draw on so many powerful emotions as a writer, and not become bogged down by them long enough to get your thoughts onto the paper?
AD: I was able to do that in some instances, but there were a few times that I got lost. I couldn’t read “Liturgy” without crying for about a year after I wrote it. Part of that was because I hadn’t really dealt with that grief. Fortunately, I’d processed, or started to process, most of the other topics I covered in the book. I look at my subjects as a bruise. If I can touch it and there is only an ache then I feel safe writing about it. If there is marked pain, then I know that I am not ready to fully explore that topic for public consumption.
A: Music is heavily attached to your writing with your father being a DJ. What’s on your playlist now?
AD: I have a playlist for everything, but there are few things I have on repeat right now. “Everything I Wanted” by Nuq, “Moment” by Victoria Monet, “Good & Plenty” by Alex Isley, “I Mean It” by PJ, “Vibe” by Cookie Kawaii, and “Whoa (Remix)” by Snoh Aalegra feat Pharell Williams. I’ve also been using “Whatever Lola Wants” by Sarah Vaughn and “All Blues” by Miles Davis to craft a few pieces on my plate at the moment.
A: What writers or pieces of art have influenced your writing?
A: Do you have any advice you would give to people who want to write?
AD: I would say write for yourself before anyone else. If there is no heart or passion behind what you are writing your audience can tell. If you don’t like what you are writing why would your readers?
A: Thank you so much for your time, Ms. Dixon! I can’t wait to read more of your work!
Athena’s work has appeared in various publications both online and in print. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee (2016, 2017), a Best of the Net nominee (2017), a Callaloo fellow (Oxford 2017), a V.O.N.A. fellow (2018), and a Tin House Workshop attendee (Winter 2019). Athena is a member of the Moving Forewards Memoir Writers Collective. Additionally, she has presented at AWP (2013, 2020), HippoCamp (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020) and The Muse and the Marketplace (2019) among other panels and conferences.
To win a copy of The Incredible Shrinking Woman, follow my blog via email or WordPress reader, and comment below your favorite poet or author you’ve been moved by. Extra entry for following me on Instagram @IntrovertInterrupted and share a screenshot of this post in your IG stories every 24-hours and tag me. The giveaway is open internationally!
Fans of Netflix’s On My Block and readers of Elizabeth Acevedo and Angie Thomas will love this debut novel about a girl whose life is turned upside down after one local act of vandalism throws both her relationships and neighborhood into turmoil.
Chinelo, or Nelo as her best friend Kate calls her, is all about her neighborhood Ginger East. She loves its chill vibe, ride-or-die sense of community, and the memories she has growing up there with her friends. Ginger East isn’t what it used to be though. After a deadly incident at the local arcade, most of her friends’ families moved away. Kate, whose family owns the local corner store, is still there and as long as that stays constant, Nelo’s good.
When Kate’s parent’s store is vandalized and the vandal still at large, Nelo is shaken to her core. And then the police and the media get involved and more of the outside world descends upon Ginger East with promises to “fix the neighborhood.” Suddenly, Nelo finds herself in the middle of a drama unfolding on a national scale.
Worse yet, Kate is acting strange. She’s pushing Nelo away at the exact moment they need each other most. Now Nelo’s entire world is morphing into something she hates and she must figure out how to get things back on track or risk losing everything–and everyone–she loves.
A: Congratulations on your debut novel, Like Home, Ms. Onomé! What was the process like writing your first book?
LO: Thank you! The process was honestly pretty fun. I love every stage of writing a book because I tend to treat them as separate opportunities to fine-tune a story. When I was drafting, I had the most fun making things up and throwing things together to see what stuck. My process is a little chaotic. When I was revising (which I learned to do effectively while writing this book), I enjoyed asking myself tougher questions about how each character or each plot point was showing up. Overall, it was such a great learning experience.
A: The neighborhood of Ginger East felt so authentic to the story you’re telling about gentrification and coming of age in a place that others have written off as being “rundown” or “unfavorable.” Did you have any specific places that inspired the creation of Ginger East?
LO: Ginger East was loosely inspired by the neighbourhood I grew up in just west of Toronto. While the place I lived was more residential and had a mix of household incomes, it also had a growing immigrant population and was enriched by the experiences people brought to the neighbourhood. I was honestly very fortunate to have had that experience.
A: There is a strong sense of community that Chinelo constantly references within Like Home. How would you define community and how did you use that definition to influence how you wrote Chinelo and the characters of Ginger East in your novel?
LO: I define community as a place where you are seen and heard for who you authentically are. As such, Nelo really feels at home in Ginger East, not only because she grew up there and doesn’t know anywhere else, but because the people there understand her as well as she understands the area. It was important for me to define it that way because sometimes, as shown in Like Home, we live in communities where not everyone has our backs, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t a part of the fabric of that neighbourhood.
During the lecture, Lee touched on how gentrification was ruining the local neighborhoods in the boroughs of New York City in his rant asking, “Why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the south Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed Stuy, in Crown Heights for the facilities to get better?… What about the people who are renting? They can’t afford it anymore!”
Why was it so important for Chinelo, a sixteen-year-old teenager, to evoke the same disdain and possessiveness over the gentrification of her Ginger East community in your novel as Spike Lee, a then fifty-seven-year-old man, did for his neighborhood of Fort Greene?
LO: That’s such a great quote! In Like Home, Nelo’s possessiveness comes strictly from her inability to accept change. She’s sixteen and all she knows is the place she grew up. To see it change so brazenly without any regard for the people who live there, her family and friends, it begins to make sense how she would have such anger over new businesses moving in or rent prices increasing. Something she knows so well is being pulled out from underneath her by people she knows don’t care about people like her. That feeling of being neglected, of not really being seen, is a strong pain point for her and I think is something a lot of marginalized people can relate to.
A: In the same vein, Chinelo is facing an uphill battle trying to convince people in her age and friend group that fighting against Ginger East’s gentrification is important. This is in direct opposition to Maree, one of Chinelo’s ex-best friends, who becomes a social media influencer and capitalizes off her connection to what she deems her “old trashy neighborhood.” Why was it essential for you to include a character like Maree in Like Home and the discussion of gentrification in contrast to Chinelo?
LO: Great question! It was important to me because a lot of us have to deal with people like Maree in our daily lives. There is a recognition there, unfortunately. Maree represents the largest block that Chinelo has to face when it comes to attitudes about Ginger East and places like it: apathy. It’s one thing to try and change a place, but it’s harder to try and change someone’s mind. Chinelo believes if more people cared, then it would be possible to make a difference, but Maree exists in direct opposition to that in many ways.
A: Black girlhood is a multi-faceted thing that can hold joy and beauty. However, it also can be a scary time in a Black girl’s life. Like Home strikes this wonderful chord where it is perfectly nostalgic of what being a teenager is like in the age of social media while also honoring the fact that Chinelo’s character is the child of immigrants and held to a different standard than others in her age group maybe. Were there any parts of your childhood as a Nigerian-Canadian author that you used as inspiration to writing Chinelo’s character?
LO: Yes I agree! It’s such a delicate time, but so multi-faceted. There were small instances I mined from my experience as a Nigerian-Canadian that I put into Nelo’s experiences, such as the chain messages from family, but not a lot of overt things. Instead, her Nigerian-Canadian identity is more in her way of being and existing in the world. I guess it’s like that for everybody, though.
A: In a blog post you did for the “Her Story: Ladies in Literature” series on Pop Goes the Reader’s last year, you made mention of the fact that when reading, you “[identify] with the quieter characters; ones whose motivations maybe are subtler, or ones who aren’t at the forefront of a conflict….[since] our motivations aren’t always lived out loud.”
This quote really resonated with me because when reading about Chinelo, her character felt relatable. There’s a debate currently in the book community about how #OwnVoices authors are often asked to draw on traumatic or stereotypical experiences to get published, which does not always leave room for a “quiet character” in areas like Black Literature. Did you feel any pressure to make Chinelo or the story you wrote fit into either of these categories?
LO: Thank you, I’m so happy to hear that resonated with you. I’m thankful in that I didn’t feel that kind of pressure to make Chinelo anything other than who she is. I modelled her after the girls I had seen and the girl I had been growing up in the Greater Toronto Area. I know so many Chinelos. She’s not an uncommon figure around here: someone who has opinions, doesn’t always speak when spoken to, and prioritizes her friends and family above all else. I didn’t want to write a character who was meant to be some sort of martyr or one-size-fits-all representation for Black girls, because as we know, Black people aren’t a monolith. I hope readers can find comfort in knowing that even though Chinelo isn’t necessarily what you’d expect of a YA protagonist, she still has value.
A: Often, when I’m reading stories about activism in YA, it feels as if it’s taking place in a parallel universe based on how outlandish the methods and situations authors give their characters to carry out. Yet, the way you write about the grassroots movement Chinelo and her community put together to protest the gentrification of Ginger East feels very “do-able.” Is there a message about community involvement and activism that you want readers to take from Like Home?
LO: Yes, for sure. Oftentimes, labels can be somewhat daunting for those of us who just want to help in any way we can. I’d love for readers to take away the fact that all forms of help are different, and you don’t need to have the loudest voice to move the needle. I think it’s important to recognize that starting where you are, doing what you feel most comfortable with, is still good enough.
A: What are some of your writing influences or authors you deem as “must-reads?”
LO: My biggest writing influences are usually music or video games, because I love to try and recapture emotions. But also, I’m such a fan of Nicola Yoon’s work. I think her writing is so sincere and so magical. I’m a big fan of the characterization in Mary H.K. Choi’s work too.
A: What advice would you give to young writers looking to break into the publishing industry?
LO: Just like with reaching out and helping with causes you care about, it’s important with writing to start where you are. Write what makes you happy, write what makes you sad, write easy things, write hard things, find readers you can trust, take feedback, leave feedback, grow, continue to learn. Be as ready as possible for when your number is called, because it will be!
Thank you so much for your time and for the opportunity to interview you, Ms. Onomé!
Faith’s parents and 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 and writes her off as a “lost cause,” as he finds his foot in between the hyphen as a British Jamaican person.
With all these conflicting opinions about herself, it is no wonder Faith finds herself confused about who she is meant to be. It is not until a trip to the “Motherland” that Faith begins to craft an identity for herself.
What I most enjoyed about Levy’s story is that it is purely a character study. The shifts in the story feel akin to real life. 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 and outside forces, who either see us as pretenders or as phony in how we present ourselves.
Therefore, it’s easy to understand the struggles Faith faces as she battles the remnants of colonialization and casual racism to become self-actualized.
Since I was a child, reading has been one of my favorite past times. When I read a good book, it sits with me for a long time and becomes a part of who I am. The ideas that I have gleaned from reading certain books have helped color my opinion on topics, like respectability politics, social issues, along with many other topics. Since we don’t have anything else to do during this #QuarantineSeason, I decided to share my favorites books with you all!
Tell me if you have read any of these books in the comments below!
1. Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples: I remember having to read this book in fifth grade and being so transfixed by Shabanu’s story. Shabanu is a Pakistani girl of about 12 or 13 who lives in the Cholistan desert with her nomadic family. Growing up tending her herd of camels she always knew she’d marry young, but as fate would have it, her betrothal comes muchearlier than she expects. Shabanu is married to a man that is twice her age after a chaotic event takes place when her family visits her actual betrothed. Staple’s book has the type of storyline that sticks with you well beyond you finishing the book. Even though I read the other two books in this series, I would still recommend this book out of the whole series as the one that is most riveting.
2.Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling: J.K. Rowling once said that, “no matter how old you get, the world of Harry Potter will always be waiting for you when you return.” As corny as this sounds, it is the truth. I frequently reread this series from beginning to end and always get emotional even though I know what’s going to happen. Regardless, my emotions always slip away from me when I read the 6th book in the series. I love the back story that Rowling gives to why Lord Voldemort is the way he is and why their is a rivalry between Harry’s father and Professor Snape. If I had to only pick one book from the series as my all-time favorite, this would definitely be the one. I never get tired of this book.
3. Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss: The thing you’ll quickly learn about me is that I’m a tad sentimental and a sucker for quotable things or things that give some insight into the human experience. I love this book by Dr. Seuss because it makes me feel like I’m not alone in my journey to that great beyond we all call adulthood. This book is usually something that you give to a person who’s graduating or just moving up another level in their life. I love the simplicity in the Dr.’s rhymes and the overall messages in the books. The artwork in this book also lends itself to the unique wackiness that can only be found in a Dr. Seuss book. This book is good for people of all ages and something that never goes out of style.
4. Friday Nights At Honeybee’s by Andrea Smith: I picked this book up on a whim in undergrad at my university’s bookstore and fell deeply in love with the story during my first reading. The book follows two women as they migrate individually to Harlem in the 1960’s until the point where they meet at Honeybee’s, a home for the Black artistic crowd during this era. The two women, Viola and Forestine are both running from their own personal demons. Viola is a Southern Baptist preacher’s daughter who gets ran out of her small town by her Church family and Forestine is a woman who’s only dream is to become a singer. In Smith’s story, the recreation of Harlem in the 1960’s is beyond believable and the storyline immediately sucked me in. I’d recommend to all lovers of Harlem and jazz music or to anyone who loves The Color Purple by Alice Walker or the Sugar duology by Bernice McFadden.
5. The Blacker The Berry by Wallace Thurman: We’ve all been born in skin that we don’t always feel comfortable in. To make matters worse, we may often get told, “oh you would be pretty if…” or “honey, why don’t you do x, y, and z to yourself” by some brainwashed individual who has been sold a one dimensional view on what beauty is.
In the case of Emma Lou, the hue of her skin is what keeps her from being considered beautiful by others in her family and race. Born as a dark-skinned African-American in the Harlem Renaissance period, Emma Lou is frequently told to modify her skin tone to fit in with society’s concept of what beauty.
I personally love this book because of the raw emotions that Thurman lets spill onto the pages of the novel. Growing up as a dark-skinned girl myself, I can understand the feelings that Emma Lou has when it comes to life and her struggle to come of age in an era when blacks were not necessarily as accepting of their skin tone as they should have been. Yet, don’t be detoured from reading this novel if your not that into African-American history, it’s a good read for anybody who enjoys coming of age stories as well.
6.Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree: This particular book falls under my top picks not only because it is a good book, but because of the way it came to me. Tyree’s book was a staple read amongst middle school girls when I was in 6th grade. Flyy Girl was secretly passed back and fourth between us girls like it was the ultimate study guide and each girl in turn would read it and pass it on to the next girl in line. As an adult, this book doesn’t hold nearly as much magic for me, but I still keep it in my list of faves because it reminds me of a much more innocent time. The book itself isn’t exactly child friendly because of certain scenes where the main character partakes in adult “cardio” exercises yet, the novel itself is about the main character, Tracy’s coming of age and learning who she is on her own terms. While I did read this book at a fairly young age, I would caution other young girls to do so under the pretense of being an observer of Tracy’s story opposed to using it as an all out manual for living life in the fast lane. If you love this book, you need to read The Coldest Winter Ever by Sista Souljah.
7. The Spook Who Sat By The Door by Sam Greenlee: Action, racial commentary, fight scenes, wise cracking, and an urban setting are all a part of Greenlee’s masterpiece. I read this book this semester for my seminar on African-American Fiction after growing up hearing my parents discuss it frequently. Greenlee’s novel has a tumultuous back story. Turned down by American publishers and eventually having to go to Britain to publish this book due to its graphic and raw nature, Greenlee’s book was lost in the shuffle of great African-American fiction. This book is a fictional account of Dan Freeman, an ex-CIA African-American operative as he fights to exact guerrilla warfare on his oppressors. The novel takes place in the 60’s and follows Freeman as he seeks to educate a gang of urban teens on having love for themselves and their race. It was eventually turned into a movie and then, banned by the government upon its release. It has only recently been reintroduced into print and DVD (If you want to watch it, also check out the movie on YouTube).This novel is not for the faint of heart or for those who are easily offended by racial slurs. I would recommend it as a serious read or just as a thriller selection for any and everyone.
8. Imaginary Men by Anjali Banerjee: One of my ultimate guilty pleasures is the Indian culture. I truly enjoy reading novels that are based around Indian or Indian American women’s experiences. Here, Banerjee writes about Lina, a woman who loses her fiancee in an accident and works as a matchmaker. On a trip home to India, Lina’s Auntie tries to set her up with some random Indian man at her cousin’s wedding and she panics blurting out to her aunt that she is already engaged. This sends her family into a tizzy and Lina is stuck trying to find a man to fill the spot of her fictional fiancee. Enter in Raja, an Indian prince who hires Lina to find his brother a wife and sparks start to fly from there. Since buying it, I reread this book at least once a year. Even though it’s predictable, I love the mushy romance and the way that Banerjee deals with grieving. If you love chick-lit I’d definitely recommend you read this book.
9. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen: I was a HUGE fan of Sarah Dessen growing up. (Don’t make that face at me…I know, I know 😑). To fill this final spot, I had to delve back into my bookshelf and weigh the pros and cons of each of her novels to decide which book is my top fave of all time. For me, this position would have to go to The Truth About Forever due to it’s ability to draw me in every time I reread it. This novel follows Macy, a girl seeking perfection to hold her life together after her father dies. On a whim, Macy takes a summer job with Wish, a catering company. Here, she befriends Wes, a boy who has also lost a parent and they play an endless game of Questions where each person has to answer the others question truthfully until someone forfeits. Dessen’s books have been called cheesy and repetitive by some however, I find them to be comforting. I especially love the Question Game and can’t wait to play it with some willing person in the future.
What are your favorite books? Tell me in the comments below.
“I think, more than anything, people like to feel superior to others… And when people feel superior, it makes it harder for them to see the problems just beneath the surface. They don’t want to believe them, to face them, because if they did, can they really claim to be superior anymore?”― Rebecca Schaeffer
We are in the middle of a global health pandemic. It would be nice if this moment of fear made us all more empathetic & understanding of those who differ from ourselves, but to say this, would be a lie. For, there are always people that will take any excuse to succumb to fear. When this happens, xenophobia runs rampant with little prompting.
In WWII, the choice to confine Japanese citizens into internment camps came after Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. This Executive Order authorized the removal of all people with Japanese ancestry from designated military areas and communities within the United States. In response to this removal, the court case, Korematsu v. U.S. (1944), was filed to contest the removal of these citizens by Fred Korematsu, 23, a Japanese-American citizen that was arrested for not complying with the order. Korematsu later became a national civil rights hero appealing his case all the way to the Supreme Court where it was found that the U.S. government intelligence agencies had hid key documents from the Court causing Korematsu’s conviction to bee overturned.
Similar to Korematsu, John Okada uses his novel to tell the story of Ichiro, a nisei or second-generation Japanese American man, who gets drafted to serve in WWII. This character resist on the principle of not wanting to renounce his Japanese heritage or his American citizenship. The story progresses from here and readers are able to see WWII through the eyes of a Japanese-American.
The title of Okada’s book stems from Question 27 of the “loyalty questionnaire.” Okada shows how the act of “othering,” or placing a minority in a position where they feel as if they must choose between their ethnic culture & “American” culture can create a fracturing of the person’s psyche causing emotionally, mentally, & physically duress.
Okada’s novel asks readers, specifically white readers, to place themselves in the role of a minority person and to think, “how would I feel if my existence were seen as a threat?” While this book isn’t about the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), it is about how Asian people are often perceived as a danger to America. Thanks to continued feelings of Yellow Peril, we are now seeing people shroud their fear of getting sick with racist comments & acts toward Asians.
If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go.” —James Baldwin
When I was teen, I read this book called, Like Sisters on the Homefront by Rita Williams-Garcia, and in it, there’s a part that talks about how one member of the main character’s family is entrusted with remembering the ancestral history in it’s entirety. When this person dies, he/she/they must pass on their family’s history to the next generation until it’s time for them to relinquish their role. As I came to the end of The Deep by Rivers Solomon’s book, I was put in mind of this practice of remembering.
As the descendant of American Chattel Slavery, I am many generations removed from my ancestral home. There is no one who can remember who we were or where we came from before my ancestors landed on the shores of Charleston, South Carolina chained up in the hull of a ship. Sadly, there is no one who can really tell us how our forefather and foremothers ended up on those ships to begin with. I am much like the lost mer-people that Solomon’s main character, Yetu, has the task with “reminding” about their history.
“Some women get erased a little at a time, some all at once. Some reappear. Every woman who appears wrestles with the forces that would have her disappear. She struggles with the forces that would tell her story for her, or write her out of the story, the genealogy, the rights of man, the rule of law. The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt.”—Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me
On #InternationalWomensDay, I want to give a hearty shout out to all the women in the world that are taking up space and existing in the world. Give yourself a hug for all you’ve done and will do in this coming week!
In February, I read Forward Me Back to You by Mitali Perkins. As a total read, this book was a hard one to get through due to subject matter, but also because of the pacing and choice of medium. Perkins writes this book as if it were a script in omnipotent third person narration.
The general premise is that there are two teenagers, Kat and Ravi, who are both questioning their current existence and eventually travel to Kolkata, India to do mission work with an organization that traffics women. Kat is a mixed race girl of Afro-Latinx and white heritage. Her story starts from the point of her being sexually assaulted and forced to leave her school in California and move to Boston as a way of getting away from environmental triggers that remind her of her attack. Sadly, her story will be familiar to many women in the #MeTooMovement or #TimesUp era.
Ravi on the other hand is an adopted Indian boy that lives in Boston with his white parents, who adore him. Ravi has the feeling that there is something missing. Quiet, and seemingly only good with fixing cars, he is a background player in his own life. Determined to find the mother that abandoned him, Ravi attempts signs up for the mission trip in India and it leads him into a better understanding of himself and how he fits into his world.
While each of Perkins’ characters are well-written, I went in expecting to love the book, but ended up feeling uncomfortable reading it due to the odd choice to make the story appear as if it was a movie with each chapter heading. I have read other books from this author and loved them, but this one just wasn’t for me. I definitely could imagine it as a movie though.
I gave it 3 stars.
Where there any books in your February reading list that you would have turned into a movie if you had the chance?
Shange’s choreopoem was very interesting to read. In the beginning I was confused by Shange’s abbreviations and had to use guess work to figure out what she was saying, but as the choreopoem went on, I got better at discerning what she was saying since she frequently repeated certain words like cd (could) or waz (was). Thank goodness for this because the action in this choreopoem speeds by and if you’re not on point, you’ll easily miss something. Since this was a choreopoem, the actual character building isn’t really meant to be full blown. In addition, Shange’s motives for creating the characters is meant more so for them to represent ideas than for them to actually have personalities.
While I did like this choreopoem, I would have to say without actually seeing a visual interpretation of it (be it a theatrical production, the tv movie, or the film adaptation), one could get lost fairly easily. Since I read this choreopoem for an assignment and watched Tyler Perry’s film adaptation in tangent with reading Shange’s work, I have to say, I actually got a better feeling for what Shange was doing with her work from watching Perry’s movie. Without seeing Shange’s work in action, I would have just chalked this read up as an overblown classic, but the visual representation made this piece one of my favorite…movies that is. I know this is harsh, but I still felt as if Shange’s work would be better off packaged as simple poems in written form opposed to as a single unit that is meant to be read as a full chorepoem/play. And yes, I am aware that Shange admits that she did write these poems singuraly and later preformed then as a collective unit however, I must go off of how it was presented to me in it’s published form.
Perry’s film on the other hand was OUT-STANDING! At the time this film came out, I was under the impression that it would be similar to his other works and that the film itself was scary since it deals with subject matter like, abortions and rape. However, I was pleasently surprised to find that Perry handled everything tastefully. The actresses he chose to represent each character was phenomenal and fitting. I especially enjoyed Loretta Devine as the lady in green and Anika Noni Rose as the lady in yellow. These two poured their hearts into their characters and it shows.
Out of all the poems though, my favorites from both, the choreopoem and the film would have to be “somebody almost walked off with all my stuff” and “no assistance” performed by Loretta Devine in Perry’s film and “my love is too…,” which was performed by all the colored ladies in the film and choreopoem. from the film version and “dark phrases,” which was also performed by all the colored ladies in the film and choreopoem in the written form.
This choreopoem is something I would recommend that everybody read and watch at least once. It’s definitely gives one food for thought. But, beware, viewer discretion is advised.Shange’s work isn’t for a younger audience, it’s better suited for individuals who can truly grasp what is being talked about in the poems.
This is one of my favorite scenes from the Tyler Perry film. Have a look and tell me below if you have ever seen the movie or the choreopoem performed.
I also love the way Ntozake Shange critics Tyler Perry’s movie in this discussion too. It offers a lot of insight on the the final production of the movie that adds another layer to what transpired in the movie.