Autobiographies and #OwnVoices

I think all of these books deal with trauma. Whether it’s separation, illness, or the day-to-day stressors of marriage, they all have a big impact on us and require healing. I admire the protagonists in these books for finding their own form of healing. 🙏💙 Whether it’s photography, drawing, writing, therapy, or coming to terms with oneself, like Lucy Grealy did, healing is the best thing about life.

Dept. Of Speculation by Jenny Offill

This was the first time I read Jenny Offill. I read a description of her writing as like text messages, and it’s so right. Dept. of Speculation is about a marriage. The subject reminds me of The Course of Love by Alain de Botton. It chronicles the relationship that starts with what feels like a special meeting, then gets into marriage and the minor annoyances that build up until the marriage becomes a problem.

I’m not sure I am a fan of these stories, although I’m sure they will get told many times. The bleak and hyper-realistic look into a marriage can feel like warning, or maybe for people who are married, it feels super relatable. In any case, I’ve heard great things about Weather and I will read that next!

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy

Lucy Grealy suffered a lot from a series of surgeries that she had as a child, when she got Ewing’s sarcoma. Throughout her life, she has wanted to look normal. I love this book as a counter to Wonder, which looks at disfigurement as something inspirational. But it’s okay to not want to live with a disfigured or ugly face. It’s okay to be like Lucy Grealy and want to look like who you know yourself to be. The fact is surgery changed how she looked, and her post-surgery face is not her own, anymore than the

Grealy has a very unflinching look at herself. She’s totally honest about her wants and needs, the ways they’re not met, and how she came to terms with all of it. After many failed surgeries, some of which spanned years, she decided that this is the face she will live with, and she went on to have flings, relationships, and a good time, as good as any of us may have. I’m so glad Lucy Grealy left this behind for us. Thank you, Lucy.

Shooting Kabul by N. H. Senzai

I love N. H. Senzai’s historical fiction for kids. Shooting Kabul is about a family escaping from Afghanistan, and the main character’s younger sister gets left behind. The family settles in Fremont, where there is an Afghan community. Fadi and his father love photography, and Fadi gets into the photography club at his school, even though he can’t pay for it. His older teen sister helps him pay for the club fees, and he enters a contest by photographing his grandparents.

This book was published in 2020, before #OwnVoices and the Diverse Books movement properly started. It’s set in 2001, and it depicts the prejudice and aggressions that kids like Fadi faced after the 9/11 attacks. I think that was my favorite part of it because it still happens today. In one scene, the bullies mistake a Sikh kid as Muslim because of how he looks. That totally happens!!! Ugh.

I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day

This has become one of my favorite books. Edie’s mom is adopted, but she has never talked to her about who Edie is named after. One day, Edie finds a picture of her biological grandmother, also named Edith. The story is about Edie finding out who Edith and who she is. This book gives background to the Indian Child Welfare Act. It’s heartbreaking to think that the government separated so many Indian families for no reason, and what kind of traumatic impact that has had generations after.

The book left me wanting to learn more about Edith. So many elders have passed away without their voices heard. To be separated from your child must be like dying while alive. Another aspect of this book that I enjoyed was the fact that Edie loves drawing, the salmon motif, and the strong sense of place in Seattle. I enjoyed this book and hope to read more from Christine Day.

How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones

I follow Saeed on Twitter and he is such a gem — a powerful gem. I also saw that Tiffany Young got his memoir at the bookstore! Right now seems like a fitting time to read this book because we are very literally, fighting for our lives.

Jones is brutally honest here. There is a lot of sex, generational trauma, coming of age and PAIN here. It hurts to read but it is so good. It’s about living unapologetically because when you’re a a gay Black man like Jones, the act of existing is defiant. Like Lucy Grealy’s memoir, How We Fight is not written to be inspiring to us, but it is. The spirit of living and survivorship is strong. Reading these memoirs make me feel like I need to do the right thing and keep living, as hard as it may be.

Which autobiographies or #ownvoices stories have inspired you?

Great nonfiction, continued!

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It’s been great exploring nonfiction this year because there are many interesting perspectives.  Going in-depth on one topic is so satisfying. Also, I love reading blog posts, and reading essays has been a similar experience. It’s personal yet informational.

Here are three nonfiction books I read recently, that I have enjoyed.

Labor of Love by Moira Weigel is about dating. It talks about how dating came to be so much like work. When we use metaphors like “on/off the market,” it’s really not a metaphor because a good part of dating is transactional! Weigel describes the history of dating from the beginning of the 1900s to now, through the eras of “calling cards,” to going steady, to online dating.

One thing that Weigel does well is that she is mindful of the fact dating is not the same experience for middle class White daters and LGBT and/or Black daters. For example, working (and dating) outside the home might have been liberating and a big change for White women, but Black women have always had to work outside the home. The history of dating is a constant shift in power between dating partners. The book explores these shifts by answering these questions:

  • Where does dating take place? In the home, outside, on the internet?
  • How do social forces like schooling, technology, and feminism affect dating?
  • In what ways does dating become work?

I really enjoyed this book. Weirdly, I did not come away feeling pessimistic about relationships. I agree with the author’s conclusion — dating (and to that end, procreating) is incredibly creative and changes the world.

The Pretty One by Keah Brown

I follow Keah on Twitter, and just like on social media, she is vulnerable and speaks candidly about being a disabled, queer, Black woman. She created the #disabledandcute hashtag. She loves pop culture and is an entertainment journalist. She’s a big fan of Paramore. It was like getting to know a friend, and I love how The Pretty One is not strictly a memoir but also her thoughts on pop culture. The truth is, pop culture does a really poor job of representing people like Keah, but that doesn’t stop her from being a fan of it and talking about it. And I’m very glad she has a voice.

Read alike: This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe

Period Power by Nadya Okamoto

Nadya is incredible! I got into the menstrual movement last year and even though periods are just one out of many forms of inequality that comes with having a female body, it is worth talking about. It’s such a basic need that when it is ignored or not being met, it has a huge impact on daily life. Okamoto talks about how talking to homeless women about their menstrual needs, opened her eyes.

From these three books, I’m learning that for any feminist discussion to be productive, it has to be intersectional. It’s not enough to say that women are being short-changed in dating, in disability, and in menstruation. There is a hierarchy within those forums. Being able-bodied and cis-gendered means that I have privileges that make my experience more comfortable.

I’m grateful to these writers for sharing their knowledge and perspectives.

Fiction

A Tear in the Ocean by H. M. Bouwman

I loved A Crack in the Sea. It was such a unique cross-genre book! I loved Rayel, Artie, and Putnam here too. Rayel’s character spoke the most to me. She has been hurt many times, and the saddest part of the book was when Una/Nunu had a falling out with her. I like that the book doesn’t shy away from child abuse, arranged marriages and how strong children are. They survive these hardships and go on to build new lives, even if the scars remain. You’re not going to get better or be as happy as before those traumas. But you can build a new life – and that’s an encouraging message.

Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship by Chitra Soundar / illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy

I love short stories! This was such a fun read. The stories are like riddles / brain teasers. If you like Encyclopedia Brown, you will enjoy this. The prince Veera and his best friend Suku take court and solve a variety of dilemmas that citizens have. Neighborhood quarrels and greedy merchants are put in their place.

Here’s to short stories and essays, written by women and written for everyone!

Constructing and reconstructing reality in YA lit

Two of these books are based on real events, one is an imagining of the future, and one is an imagining of the past. Whether it’s real or imagined, building a rich world helps the reader get into a story. I came to appreciate that more this year because I have been diving deep into certain topics. I enjoy longform nonfiction and realistic fiction that offer a lot of context for explaining why characters do what they do, and the risks and rewards they face in their world.

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

This book has been on my list for a long time and I’m so glad I finally read it. Slater is a journalist and this true event was originally about a Black teen who lit a nonbinary teen’s skirt on fire. By talking to people from Sasha’s parents to Richard’s counselor, Slater was able to find what happened before that eventful day and the aftermath. Justice is not straightforward, and The 57 Bus challenges our assumptions about it. Juvenile crimes, teenage impulses, and the process of figuring yourself out — no single court decision can capture all of that. If only we could look at more crimes and events with the level of questioning and research that happens in The 57 Bus. 

Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh

Rebels can either want to build a new world, or they can fight hard for the world that used to be. Rebel Seoul is Lee Jaewon’s story about choosing an alliance, being a weapon vs. a person, and coming to terms with who your parents are. Jaewon’s father is an idealistic rebel who fought for the Old Seoul. Jaewon lives in Neo Seoul, during sometime in the future when Asian countries have become an alliance, after 50 years of war.

Oh is not only writing about God Machines, simulations and technologies, but she is also constructing history. I enjoyed this story for the fast pace and I felt the tug of war that Jaewon was facing.

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Towers Falling is set 15 years after 9/11. Rhodes, the author of Ghost Boys, writes in such a poetic way. Kids like Dèja, born after 2001, are still living in the aftermath of 9/11. It isn’t just a historical event, but personal in the way it affects witnesses and survivors. Dèja’s father worked in one of the towers and he has been suffering from PTSD ever since 2001. This is a great book for social studies and looks at the impact events have on individuals, families, schools and communities.

Did not finish

Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson – I have heard so many great things about M.T. Anderson, and this book was written in a unique format with documents. Anderson really was consutructing history. I may return to this someday but not now.

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins – This is Suzanne Collins’s debut book, so of course I wanted to read it. I honestly only didn’t because I ran out of time and the book was due. I will have to get to it someday! The Hunger Games was great at worldbuilding, and I want to see how Collins did it here.

International Women’s Day, pt. 1

International Women’s Day is super important to me because 1) I am a woman, 2) my friends are women, 3) I really appreciate the work that women do, and 4) I love upsetting men. (Just kidding. I only love upsetting awful men.)

One genre I have loved reading lately is memoirs, especially written by women. I’m at a time in my life when I feel feel very deeply that I am making life happen, and life is happening to me. It’s affirming to find that other people feel the same. I think the two memoirs I read recently really spoke to me. Obviously I have not been in a movie and I am not Steve Jobs’s first daughter, but I relate so deeply to Gabby Sidibe and Lisa Brennan’s experiences. As different as they are from each other and I am from them, I find that we all share so much in common. (Yes, I’m speaking like Gabourey Sidibe, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, and myself are all friends.)

  • Our fathers were there but not really present in our lives. They were not supportive in the ways that we needed them to be.
  • We felt not beautiful, despite that fact all three of us ARE very beautiful.
  • We have experience with awful men. Thankfully they were not awful experiences, but they were with men who are not good for our self-esteem or mental health.
  • We are smart and hard-working.
  • We’ve done a bunch of different jobs (and we are good at them!)
  • We’ve been in nurturing or care-taking roles for significant periods in our lives.
  • We are working women who are embracing and living our best lives.

These two memoirs spoke so deeply to me that it was therapeutic to read them and to discuss them with my therapist. OH YEAH!!!! Another commonality between all 3 of us is that we speak/have spoken to therapists. Can you see why we might?? I’ve added both of these books to my ‘Favorites’ pile. I am so happy these books exist.

I also finished reading Freak ‘N’ Gorgeous by a new YA author, Sebastian J. Plata. Pretty good debut! I really like the gender reversal and the accuracy about high school life. reminds me of Your Own Worst Enemy. It’s fun to branch out to unknown authors and read debut novels.

I have yet to read That Kind of Mother, which is also a new novel for me! Once in a while I will go shopping for books and veer off my TBR list and pick out any new writer or book, including the backlist!

Do you go “shopping for books” and try unknown authors?