Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: The Freedom Writers Diary

I learned a lot in the first few days that I was enrolled in the class.  Some of my classmates are going through a war… an undeclared war, waged on innocent kids just trying to grow up.  Society just doesn’t care about young people anymore, even if we are the future.

Call me corny but I love the movie, The Freedom Writers.  If I’m flipping through the channels and it’s on, you best to believe I’m going to watch.  Every time I watch the movie I laugh and cry as if it were my first viewing…I can’t believe it took me this long to read the book.

The Freedom Writers Diary was written by The Freedom Writers,  about 150 students who named themselves in honor of the civil rights activists the Freedom Riders, with their teacher Erin Gruwell.  The Freedom Writers along with their teacher waged war against a community that deemed these students as worthless and unteachable.  I think the worst thing was that even many of the teachers at Wilson High School labeled them as at-risk and unsavable.

This diary turned book consists of anonymous diary entries that Gruwell required the students to write in class.  The entrees give an inside view into the lives of the students.  I was flabbergasted at some of the situations that the students endured at home.  But when I really thought about it I wasn’t surprised.  There were students who were molested, homeless, drug addicts and abused.  However they all shared one common factor — they all wanted to be wanted.

Dear Diary,
If you look into my eyes, you will see a loving girl.
If you look at my smile, you will sense that nothing is wrong.
If you look in my heart, you will see some pain.
If you pull up my shirtsleeves and look at my arms, you will see black and blue marks.

There’s nothing like knowing that you have family and a community that values you and will keep you safe.  The things that kids are forced to deal with are sickening.  As I look back on my own childhood, I thank God that he kept me ‘cuz “life for me ain’t been no crystal stair” but I made it.  I guess that’s why I love this story so much.  In life we run across so many people who try to tear and beat us down but we continue to rise.  I’m so glad that there was a Ms. Gruwell for these kids and I pray that others who exist are given the resources they need to help our children.

As I think back on my days in high school, my Ms. Gruwells were Mrs. Sermons and Mrs. Gray.  If it were not for their love of teaching I’m not sure where I would be.  It was in their classes that I truly began to love the written word.  It was in their classes that I found hope.  I wasn’t just that little fast girl who my uncle declared would be pregnant by the age of 16.  I was “young, black and gifted.”  As I read this book I was so happy that these students of various hues realized that they were young and gifted and that there are people who really care.

I know that all of the stories won’t end like this one but if we all just do something to ensure that we shine our light so that others can see…just imagine…

Book Review: Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon


First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.
–Epictetus

Await Your Reply, written by Dan Chaon, spans several countries and weaves together three separate stories to create one taut, fast paced psychological page-turner.

Through one of the main characters, Chaon asks: “What kind of person decides that they can throw everything away and – reinvent themselves?  As if you could just discard the parts of your life that you didn’t want anymore.”

These kinds of people.

Ryan fakes his own death and drops out of college to live in seclusion with his estranged father.  Lucy falls in love and runs away with her history teacher only to find out that he’s not the person that he says he is.  And Miles hunts down his ever-disappearing, identity changing twin brother for some closure once and for all.

It sounds like a lot, right?  It is.  But Chaon’s crisp, yet, subtle writing takes you on the journey with ease, making it all easy to digest, all the while raising the bar higher and higher with each chapter.

The title, Await Your Reply, is borrowed from the emails we’ve all gotten from those mysterious rich folks from oversees who asks us to harbor millions of dollars in our US bank accounts.  Who are these people?  Of course they’re not who they say they are.  But what’s their story?  Who are the real people sitting behind the computer?  Reply takes you on the other side of their world.  The hackers who ruin lives and steal identities with the click of a mouse; the motivation behind why folks do away with the identity bestowed upon them.

In an age when we’re all fingers on a keyboard behind computers posting status updates to social media outlets with avatars that represent what we may (or may not) look like, who are we really? Nowadays, it’s incredibly easy to reinvent yourself; to choose an identity and be whom or whatever your want.  The novel is a study on individualism turned on its head: be anyone you want to be by being someone other than yourself.

Lucy, the orphaned high school student who falls in love with the identity her history teacher tailor-made for himself asks herself (and us): “Who would you be if you weren’t Lucy?  What life will you choose for yourselves?”

Chaon forces us to ponder questions like these and many more in this arresting novel that will leave you hiding your social security card, side-eyeing internet shopping, second guessing the true identity of the people you interact with – and wondering who you would become if you had the courage or desire to expunge your very own identity and start all over again.

– Shydel James

Book Review: Right As Rain

“The finer points don’t matter to her. All those theories you read about, whether or not I was doing my job, or if I made a bad split-second decision, or if it was the lack of training, or the Glock…none of that matters to her and I can understand it. She looks at me, the only thing she sees is the guy who killed her son.”

Right As Rain was given to me by a good friend of mine. It’s a mystery-thriller, a genre that I would have never chosen for myself. My friend told me that the story was set here in D.C. and since I am a daughter of The Capital City, I decided to give it a go. I am so glad that I did. With Right As Rain, George Pelecanos has offered an intriguing and authentic tale of police corruption, race relations and the drug trade in Washington, D.C.

Right As Rain centers around Derek Strange, a DC cop turned private investigator who has been hired by the mother of Chris Wilson, a young black police officer who was killed while out of uniform by Terry Quinn, a fellow officer who is white with a well known short fuse. Mrs. Wilson believes that her son has been dishonored and wants his name cleared. Strange reluctantly takes on the case and quickly enlists the help of Chris’ killer, Quinn, to help him get to the bottom of the case.

Derek Strange is a smooth and intelligent man and is very good at what he does. He understands the realities of the city and how things work and why. He sees everything clearly except for his on-again, off-again love relationship with Janine who is his office administrator. Terry Quinn has struggled with his personal demons surrounding how he perceives race ever since the shooting. It especially affects his attempt at a relationship with a young law student named Juana, a black woman with whom he is absolutely smitten.

These characters are so believable and I was able to sympathize with them right away. My favorite character was Terry Quinn. I was surprised that I was able to have so much sympathy for this man that killed a black man on a dark street basically just because he was black. His demons were so real and his struggle with them was significant to the story.

Strange and Quinn uncovered more than they ever thought they would in investigating why Chris Wilson was killed. Who would have thought that a cop murder in downtown D.C. would lead to the slaughter of Columbian drug mules in the exurbs, dirty cops and one good girl gone terribly bad thanks to a heroin addiction? The story took so many twists and turns, I never knew what was coming next, but with every turn of the page I wanted to know more. This was one of those books that you end up staying up way past your bedtime because you just can’t put it down!

What impressed me the most about Right As Rain was how authentically “D.C.” it was. Many movies and books have been made and written about the Nation’s Capital and very few of them stay true to the spirit of this town. They’re usually about “Washington”- the monuments, museums and federal government. This story was about D.C. as I know it: Brookland, Georgia Avenue, Union Station, North Capitol Street, The Metro’s Red Line and Crisfield’s in Silver Spring. My own neighborhood and street was even mentioned a few times. I was able to picture every location mentioned which made it all even more exciting for me.

This is a great book. It lived up to everything I’ve been told about George Pelecanos and I look forward to reading more from this author.

-Cashawn

Malca’s Favorite Books of 2010

I stepped outside of my box when it came to my book selections in 2010. I really wanted get out of the rut of reading the same types of books by the same types of authors and I think I achieved that goal. I read quite a few books last year and surprisingly my favorite books were the ones that weren’t the type that I usually read.

Cereus Blooms at Night by Shani Mootoo 
When I feel like I’ve read everything there is to read I log in to Amazon to look for books that are far away from the sites recommendations and my comfort zone. After that I log in to my library search engine and place books on hold get it poppin’. This book was one of those random finds. The story centers around Mala Ramchandin, her sister, Asha, and the other inhabitants of the fictional Caribbean island of Lantanacamara. We are introduced to Mala when she is admitted to an elderly home among suspicions of her being a murderer and all out crazy. Tyler, the first male nurse in Lantanacamara is the only nurse who’ll take care of Mala and is also the narrator for the story. The story centers around their unconventional friendship, while attempting to make sense of Mala’s sordid childhood, alcoholic father and missing mother and sister.  It took me a while to get into this book because  I had no idea what was going on the first couple chapters, but, once I realized who was narrating the story and that the author refers to the character Asha by different names I couldn’t put the book down. The sights and smells were so vivid that I can still remember them months later while writing this review.
                                                                                                                                       
 
River Cross My Heart by Breena Clarke                              An Oprah’s book club recommendation; this is the story of Johnnie Mae, a young African American woman living in the Jim Crow South who must deal with the tragic loss of her younger sister Clara, for which she feels responsible, and the racist town she lives in all while trying to make it through adolescence. This is one of those stories that really doesn’t have much of a storyline but is still good because the writing is amazing…if that even makes sense. It focuses on the many impacts of racism, some that I had never even realized. And while the novel was hard for me to read at times because of the depressing subject matter, I think the death of Clara was added to the story to for the reader to ponder if the racist society they lived in inadvertently caused her death. Thanks O!
 
The Six Liter Club by Harry Kraus                                                                              The Six Liter Club is about the life of Dr. Camille Weller, the first African-American woman trauma surgeon of the Medical College of Virginia. “Six Liter Club” refers to the illustrious club for those few surgeons that are able to save a patient who has lost six liters of blood and Camille becomes a member of the club within the first few days of her residency. Camille must fight racism and sexism in her career and also struggles to fight the demons of a past that she has a hard time remembering but still manages to haunt her daily. This book was written by a white author about a African-American woman and centers around themes unfamiliar to those outside of the medical community like myself, so I wasn’t really sure about this book. I think most of us can  relate to Camille’s plight on some level, though, and if not, you should at least get a kick out of some of the drama in the novel because there is plenty from start to finish.
 
Girls Of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea
Like a Saudi Arabian Sex And The City, Girls of Riyadh follows the lives of Gamrah, Lamees, Michelle and Sadeem, four upper-class women who have more drama than a little bit. This book was a Dollar Tree find. When I picked it up, I had no idea this book was banned in Saudi Arabia because of the risqué subject matter (which would be considered tame here) about sex, love and the freedom to marry who we choose. The book is told from the perspective of a mystery woman who is familiar with all of the ladies but never reveals herself and tells stories of the ladies lives from a Yahoo chat group weekly. I love that the author was able to teach those of us on the outside about her culture while also managing to provide an entertaining read. So glad I had the chance to read this novel.

Some Sing, Some Cry by Ntozake Shange & Ifa Bayeza
I have to pat myself on the back for finishing this book. I’m a fast reader and I’ve read some big books but this book was huge. Not just huge in size but huge also in the amount of characters the reader is introduced to as well. Some Sing, Some Cry starts off on an island in South Carolina where freed slave Mah Bette and her granddaughter, Eudora, are forced from their home in the wetlands and move into the city. The story centers around Mah Bette, a freed slave and her influence on seven generations of family. The novel travels from Charleston to New York to Chicago to Paris but the second biggest theme next to Mah Bette is music and how it brings the family together, while also ripping it apart.  I enjoyed Eudora, the headstrong granddaughter of Mah Bette, who set out to start her own business as a dressmaker and was later viciously raped by white men. resulting in the birth of her daughter, Elma. I also liked Lizzie, the wild-child second daughter of Eudora who fought like hell to make her dream of becoming a star come true even at the sake of the relationship with her own daughter, Cinnamon.  Written by Ntozake Shange (For Colored Girls) and her sister Ifa Bayeza (award winning playwright), this is an epic novel in every sense of the word. The sisters take turns writing the novel with different writing styles and dialects, and along with the millions of characters, it got a little confusing. But, just breathe, give yourself about a week or two to read this book, and you’ll be glad when you finish.

The two book books I reviewed for The Page Turners, Hold Love Strong and Third Girl From the Left were also great reads that I highly recommend.

Book Review: Jesus Boy

“I averted my eyes and in a sudden move wrenched my hand from her grasp. When I dared look again, the hand that had held mine was brushing tears.
‘Don’t forget about me Elwyn.’
Strange music began to play in my head. Was my light-headedness a result of her flowery perfume? The memory of the shape and feel of her waist? God forgive me, I silently prayed, this is Brother Morrisohn’s widow. Brother Morrisohn, a man I loved.
‘I won’t forget you,’ I said.
When I got to my car, where Peachie awaited, I was breathing as though I’d just run a great distance.”

And so begins the love affair at the center of Jesus Boy, Preston L. Allen’s hilarious, satirical novel about the outrageous happenings at the Church of Our Blessed Redeemer Who Walked Upon the Waters. Sixteen year old Elwyn Parker, devout believer, respected youth in his community, and piano prodigy suddenly finds himself stumbling into a May-December romance with his deceased godfather’s 40 year old widow, Sister Morrisohn.

“And then I wept some more because the more she rubbed my neck, the more forgiveness I needed. For when she got down on her knees beside me and began to pray against my face, the very scent of her expanded my lungs like a bellows, and her breathing — her warm breath against my cheeks, my ear, into my eyes burning hot with tears — was everything I imagined a lover’s kiss might be.”

When shining light on the sins of the saints at the Church of Our Blessed Redeemer Who Walked Upon the Waters, Allen does not stop at Elwyn and Sister Morrisohn’s indiscretions. We are also introduced to Elwyn’s former life long crush, Peachie, who at sixteen, shockingly becomes pregnant by and immediately marries, an upwardly mobile minister in the church.

The stories are highly exaggerated but the circumstances are real and truthful to an extent. Having been raised in the Black church, I was pleasantly entertained by Allen’s illustration of hypocritical church members without being judgmental or condescending in his writing. However, I can see many people in the church being offended by this story, because it sarcastically mocks the ways in which people within the church behave. For instance, when Elwyn’s grandmother, one of the highly revered Mother’s of the church, suspects that Sister Morrisohn has seduced her grandson, she rips the woman to shreds with an evil tirade:

“Aren’t there enough slack-leg Johnnies with whom you can satisfy your vile, pagan lust? When it burns down there, why don’t you just run to the nursery and throw yourself on the infant with the fattest diaper…Thou thankless apostate, thou creeping Jezebel. The stink of thine iniquity rises to the nostrils of God…You should be flung from the highest tower. And when you burst open, the dogs should pick your rotting flesh from your putrid bones.”

Eventually, you find out that Elwyn’s grandmother, along with his father, his dead godfather, and a host of other people to whom he has always looked for spiritual guidance and examples of Christian living, all have past and current sins and mistakes that come back to haunt them.  No one is without sin in this novel.

Despite the drama throughout the storylines, Allen expertly immerses the reader in the workings of the Black church, the many positions handed out to those with the most money, the most saintly, and the oldest parishioners.  He also includes the weekly and monthly church activities and the cultural traditions during special events, like revivals, weddings, and funerals. These were my favorite parts of the book.

Readers who are open minded or not bogged down by their own opinions of religion, may get a kick out of the primary theme throughout the story:  nobody is perfect, no matter how much closer to God you think you are because of your title within the church. By the end of the book,  and after having lived a life filled with guilt and self righteousness, this is something that Elwyn finally realizes.

“God is love,” Peachie says. “God is here with us right now.”

I am looking forward to reading a lot more from this author.


Book Review: Leaving Atlanta

Leaving Atlanta tells the story of classmates Tasha Baxter, Rodney Green and Octavia Harrison during their fifth-grade year at Oglethorpe Elementary in Atlanta.

Might nothing.  Think about it.  You ain’t never heard of nobody black going around killing people for no reason.  That’s white people’s shit.

Tasha is eager to return to school to show off her jump rope skills after practicing all summer to perfect her moves.  If she can perfect her foot work then she may gain a spot in the clique of Monica and Forsythia.  However, those dreams come to a halt when she finds out that jumping rope in fifth-grade is “baby stuff” according to Monica.   As the girls graduate from jumping rope to playing jacks, Tasha shows off her skills and puts a whipping on Monica.  That doesn’t help her chances of gaining access to the in-crowd but it does cause her to question the state of her family.

You now know, as undeniably as if you had read it in the World Book Encyclopedia, that Officer Brown has nothing useful to share.  As a matter of fact, you are more fearful than ever to know that this man is all that stands between your generation and an early death.

Rodney is a loner who has little to say but his thoughts are priceless.  He spends his days trying to make himself invisible as he comes to grips with the fact that he’ll never please his father.   If only “an epidemic of disappearing black fathers” hit his home like so many of his friends everything would be okay.  Instead his dad appears at the school after Rodney falls asleep at recess and misses lunch.  After being humiliated in front of his peers he is convinced that any place is better than home.

Kodak commercials say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but the one they showed of ____ ain’t worth more than three or four.  ____. Black. Dead.

Octavia, another outcast, is affectionately called “Sweet Pea” by her single mom but is ostracized for her dark skin and is teasingly called “Watusi” by her classmates.   Unlike her “almost friend” Rodney who tries to make himself invisible, Octavia has a good aim and will fight back with words and rocks.  But when two people she knows goes missing she is forced to deal with the consequences.

Leaving Atlanta is one of the few stories that make you start your sentence with, “Girl let me tell you about this book…”  when asked how you like it.

This novel is a fictional story set in Atlanta during one of Atlanta’s America’s darkest hours, Atlanta’s Child Murders.  During the years of 1979-1982, twenty-nine children went missing and some were found dead.

Born  in 1978, I’m too young to remember these events but author Tayari Jones delivers a first hand account from the third person narrative of Tasha, the second person narrative of Rodney and a first person account by Octavia.   Each of the fifth-graders tell the story from their own unbiased point-of-view.

As I read the book I felt like I was in Atlanta during these events.  The feelings that resonated from the characters were feelings I could remember having as a child.  I found myself thinking on many occasions, “Tayari had to have really dug deep in her past to nail these childlike characteristics.”

I also wondered if writing this book had affected her mental state since two of her classmates were among the twenty-nine missing.

I’m not sure I could have told this story but Tayari did and it was done with a style that is  to be envied.  Her descriptive words and language never failed to paint a picture or conjure feelings of my childhood.

What I loved most about this book was that it didn’t talk so much about the Atlanta Child Murders but focused more on how the community reacted to it, especially the children.  I couldn’t imagine having to walk home from school with a serial killer on the loose.

This novel is broken into three parts with a three, two, one punch that hits you hard below the belt.  Initially you would think that the three different perspectives would be ill-fitting but they all meshed together to tell a wonderful story about an unfortunate time in our history.

Leaving Atlanta will soon be in theaters.  Check out Nakia’s post, Leaving Atlanta at the Movies for more information on the project and a sneak peek trailer.

You can also find me at www.notoriousspinks.com.

Book Review: Third Girl From The Left

 I’m so excited to bring in the new year with a review of my latest read Third Girl From The Left by Martha Southgate.

Third Girl From The Left centers around  the lives of three generations of African-American women who come to realize that they share more than blood and familial relation as they discover their shared love of cinema is the thread that links their lives together.

Their lives didn’t matter to anyone but me. They were the only parents I knew. But not being able to talk about who they were, acting as if it wasn’t happening, that was the hard part. (p. 182)

Tamara, a self-described “film nerd”  has big dreams of becoming a film director with only a small budget to make it happen. Tamara has spent her whole life desperately wanting a family, affection, and a past to help her to decipher the meaning of her current life. When Tamara’s estranged grandmother gets sick, she leaves her job behind and flies from New York to Oklahoma and, with the permission of her family, she uses her ever present video camera to capture their stories.

My mother believed in the power of movies and the people in them to change her life. (p. 2)

Tamara’s mother, Angela, has star-studded dreams so big she can’t contain them in the small town of Tulsa, Oklahoma where she grew up. She moves to L.A to be “in the movies” and meets up with a fellow Playboy bunny Sheila who introduces her to the fast life and stays with her until Angela is forced to slow down and change her wild ways.  Angela didn’t look back once she got her first taste of stardom and alienates herself from her family and hometown, which trickles down to Tamera being forced to grow up without the presence of any of her family, besides her mother and Sheila.

There was always this need to do things right, to be seen to be right, never to be too mussed or too loud or too worked up or too anything. (p. 20)

For Angela’s mother, Mildred, life is boring and routine as a housewife and mother. She has everything a woman in her small town could want but she ends up finding what she needs in the most unlikely of places and from the most unlikely of people. Mildred later finds herself unable to deal with her wayward daughter because of the guilt she feels for satisfying those needs.

And there we are. My mother is beautiful and my grandmother is beautiful and I’m beautiful. You see that beauty as it finally is even though no one wants to see it as it is in a black woman in America, not a hoochie, not a ho, not a mammy, not a dyke, not a cliché,  just a woman. (p. 268)

And there you have it. This book was amazing. I love everything about 70’s culture so I was super excited reading about the era of Blaxploitation movies and foxy sistas with Afros. The author dedicates a good portion of the book to that era and even manages to squeeze in a guest appearance by Pam Grier. Southgate did a wonderful job of staying true to the time period each character lived in with so many details if felt like I was reading historical documents. The 1921 Tulsa race riots were of particular interest to me since I’m from the area and this book has inspired me to research the incident further.

The major theme in the novel that ties the characters lives together, second to their blood relation, is their love of movies. Mildred used watching movies as a way to escape her mundane life, Angela desired to be in the movies, and Tamara wanted to be behind the camera creating them.

I loved how Tamara filming the women for her documentary made them feel comfortable enough to reveal their secrets to each other which, as a result, helped them to heal. Southgate addresses issues like infidelity, sex and drugs, homosexuality and racism. And I must say she does a wonderful job of fully exploring these themes in only 268 pages. 

I was able to relate to each of the main characters and I loved that none of them were perfect. The women had flaws and some of the relationships that were broken were never fully mended in the story…like real life. The author wasn’t afraid to take risks or approach subject matters in depth  that others would shy away from and that’s why her characters and story are so dynamic. I can’t wait to get my hands on the other books shes’ written so I can get my read on!

I want to thank Author Carleen Brice who recommended Third Girl From The  Left on her blog.

– Malca

 

Book Review: “The Secret History

 

The book I chose to review today, The Secret History, by Donna Tartt  is actually not in my niche, but I got so caught up in it that I had to share it with you all.  The funny thing is that I almost gave up on the book about a chapter in, but I kept dutifully on.  It had a lot of obscure references to Greek and Latin language as well as history so at first I was daunted.

First of all, I am not a Greek or Latin scholar or a student of comparative literature. Nor did I attend a fancy New England Ivy League school. I didn’t understand the occasional lines of Greek, Latin, and French in this book, and I’m not an intellectual snob (Okay, maybe I am just a little bit). But these small details don’t detract from the thoroughly enjoyable experience of reading the Secret History. If you appreciate a well-written, well-told story that entertains, has good character development, an intriguing story, and reveals more than a little about human nature, you’re going to like this book. As if that weren’t enough, there’s also a liberal dose of contempt for the rich, and who doesn’t enjoy that?! For those who’ve studied Greek, Latin, French or the classics, the story will be even more rewarding.

Tartt uses Richard, the most accessible character, to tell the story with ease and authenticity. The six main characters (all in their early twenties) live in their own insular world at a small New England upper crust college, studying the classics with one solitary professor. There’s Henry, the leader and probably the one most likely to succeed as a true scholar; Francis, the skittish hypochondriac; Charles and Camilla, the twins; Bunny, the obnoxious and ill-fated one of the bunch; and Richard, the California kid from the most humble background of all. At first, Richard can’t believe his great luck to fall in with such a gilded clique, but as usual, things are not as they appear.

Soon, the outer world intrudes (they bring this upon themselves, of course) and things fall apart. It’s the telling of the unraveling that grips you as Tartt deftly controls how much to tell and when. I marveled at her lush descriptions that rival a poet’s, her skill at narrative and dialogue, and her most revealing descriptions of human mannerisms and behavior. She repeatedly builds intrigue and tension all the way to the end of the 500+ pages of the novel. This is no easy task, but she makes it look effortless.

Don’t be put off by the setting and character types in this book. You don’t have to be a literary snob to understand or enjoy the story. It’s worth the time to read the book, and if you’re an aspiring writer, there is much here to educate and marvel at. I highly recommend the The Secret History.

 

Book Review: Getting to Happy

terry mcmillanIn Getting To Happy, we revisit the four women from Terry McMillan’s classic novel Waiting To Exhale. Its been 15 years and the ladies have all experienced their share of growth, gains, losses and grieving.

Robin is still single and has a sassy teenaged daughter named Sparrow who frequently fills in as Robin’s BFF, instead of as her child. After hoping for love for so long, Savannah has married her Mr. Right, but finds out the hard way that her husband may not be who she thinks he is. Gloria is married to Marvin, but must adjust everything she’s known for the last 15 years when a tragedy strikes.
After her kids leave for college, Bernadine finds herself alone, fighting new and old demons from her past, leaving her bitter.

Let me start off by saying that Terry McMillan is one of my favorite authors, so I was excited to read this book. Once I checked out the copy that was reserved at the library for me, I  hopped on Facebook and posted on my wall that I was so happy to have the book and then hurried home to crack it open!

Unfortunately that’s where the excitement ended for me. 
After the first few chapters I was on the phone calling my mother complaining about how McMillan chose to make one of the main characters deal with a traumatic, life shattering event before we even got to witness the good times in her life.

This was a frustrating read for me for a few different reasons. The story was all over the place with no central focus on the issues each character was dealing with. In the parts about Bernadine’s struggle, the author goes from the relationship she has with her adult daughter,  to the entire process of her making a pot of gumbo and what each person thinks about the meal. The transitions were not smooth.

Robin experiments with internet dating and the author adds fictional responses from the guys who view her profile to show the type of undesireable men online. These details were simply not needed and had me wondering if they were used as page fillers in the novel.

The dialogue between the ladies was as real and hilarious as they were in the first novel, but it too seemed to run on and on with no purpose. I never thought I would find myself bored reading a Terry McMillan book, but I must admit that I lost focus while reading a few different times.

Maybe the problem was that the author waited too long to re-introduce the characters to us. Fifteen years is a long time and I found myself wanting to know what was up with the ladies a few years back. I would’ve loved to check in on Robin right after she had Sparrow, or witness the bliss Gloria and Marvin shared early on in their relationship, not 15 years after their nuptials.

Nothing is ever all bad, so I will say that that there were a few parts of the book that I enjoyed, and if you follow Terry McMillan on Twitter, you will see the same traces of humor that she shares daily in her tweets, throughout the book.

Overall it was nice to catch up with the ladies, but I would have loved for the reunion with them to be a few years sooner and with more character development. Perhaps there should have been a a book titled Glad To Be Content in between Waiting To Exhale and Getting To Happy.
– Malca W.

Book Review: When You Reach Me

Book Cover

Rebecca Stead’s intelligent children’s novel When You Reach Me is full of your typical tween fair: hush-hush middle school crushes, teenage insecurities and tiffs with Mom about not checking in when you’re going to be home late from school. But what separates this 199-page genre-bending novel from its kiddy fiction counterparts is its ability to weave together mystery, suspense, humor and fantasy into one thought provoking story.

Reach Me tells the story of Miranda, a 12-year-old, 6th grade latchkey kid who narrates her life experiences living in upper Manhattan in the late 1970’s.  Her mom, a single mother who works as a typist in a law firm and dates one of the lawyers at her firm is obsessed with her upcoming stint as a contestant on the $20,000 Pyramid.  It’s their chance at a brighter future and they’ve already begun to make plans for the money (a new rug, an exotic vacation). When Miranda isn’t doing practice rounds with her Mom, she’s trying to figure out who is writing cryptic, mysterious notes to her, predicting her very-near future.

It’s these notes that propels the drama and provides the tension in the book and forces a frightened, yet, intrigued Miranda to put together the clues to find out who’s writing her these notes – and why. Along the way, she loses a longtime friend, develops a crush on the boy she works with at the local sandwich shop and makes friends with a well-to-do classmate who lives in a posh NYC apartment that puts her rundown tenement to shame.

Reach Me is an easy read and the chapters are super short.  On the flip side, it does lull a bit midstream as Stead spends a lot of unnecessary time giving expository information about secondary characters. The explanation that was lacking was that of Miranda’s absentee father. But her unspoken feelings about her father’s absence leap off the page in the chapter where she visit’s her new BFF’s apartment for the first time and instantly realizes how involved her father is in her life.

The novel picks up steam in two explosive chapters towards the end when Miranda goes to watch her mother compete on the $20,000 Pyramid and discovers who (or what) has been leaving her those obscure notes. You’re forced to play back every detail of the story to pick up the clues you (and Miranda) both missed that were there all along.

When You Reach Me is a great read for children between the ages of 9 and 14 who love thought provoking fiction and who are curious about the inner workings of class, race and personal relationships.