March 2021 Reading Round-Up: All About Love

This is our first reading round-up! Hurray! And after the outpouring of support (and content!) from our community these last few months, we can’t think of a more fitting theme for our first collection of micro-reviews than LOVE.

In this month’s round-up, we’re sharing love stories — stories of queer love, brown and black love, parental love, self-love, love of home. These books teach us that love is sticky and uncertain. Sometimes, it is colored by bias and political violence. Sometimes, we don’t have the language for it. Sometimes, it is wrapped in a heavy blanket of grief. But no matter what shape love takes, the Drizzle team believes that love is valuable. Love stories are valuable. After all, as contributor Katie Centabar wrote in her review of Get a Life Chloe Brown: “In these tough times, we all need love.”

The Magic fish by Trung Le Nguyen

Genre: Graphic Novel/YA | random house graphic 2020 | Reviewed by nora poole

This moving and whimsical graphic novel tells the story of Tiến, a child of Vietnamese refugees to America, who doesn’t have the words to come out as gay to his parents in their native language. Words are important in this story— it is through storytelling that Tiến and his mother Hien find a language they can both understand. Tiến reads his mother fairytales to help her learn English, while Hien shares stories her mother told her as a child in Vietnam. It’s thanks to this common language of stories that Tiến learns to express who he is to his parents and the world.

The Magic Fish is visually stunning. The separate threads of the narrative— the family’s life in America, Hien’s past in Vietnam, and the stories she and Tiến tell each other— each have their own distinct color, guiding the reader gently back and forth in time and place. Nguyen’s characters are lively and expressive, giving the story a depth beyond what words alone can manage.

Although it’s marketed for young adults, The Magic Fish has something for readers of any age. It’s the sort of hopeful, tender, queer story I wish I’d had access to growing up. In a world where queer stories are often full of sadness and torment, this beautifully illustrated tale is a welcome respite.

Why We Love It: A beautiful story in images about speaking across language barriers, queerness, refugee experience, and familial love.

The Truth Is by NoNieqa Ramos 

Genre: YA Fiction | Carolrhoda 2019 | Reviewed by sarena brown

Author of The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary, NoNeiqa Ramos’ second book The Truth Is explores LGBTQ+ identities, teenage homelessness, grief and trauma through the eyes of Verdad, a fifteen-year-old Puerto Rican queer kid who is just trying to get by. 

After losing her best friend to gun violence, Verdad is not okay. And by the end of the book, she is still not okay. That’s what is so amazing about this novel. There are no easy outs or tidy endings. It demonstrates how messy (and joyful) life can be, especially for those with underrepresented and marginalized identities. Verdad’s friends have diverse races, genders and sexualities, and they are all fully developed characters with charms and flaws just like the next person. Their identities are pieces of who they are, but they aren’t all of who they are. 

Immediately after reading this book I went back to the first page and started over. I didn’t realize how hungry I was for a character like Verdad; a queer brown kid who has trauma and doesn’t think she’ll ever find love, who doesn’t always say the right thing but who wants to learn, who isn’t understood in school or at home, but who finds a kind of love in her grief, her friends and herself. Even as an adult I felt so much joy and recognition in these pages. If you’re looking for a YA book to read this spring, pick this up! You won’t regret it.  

Why We Love It: This book represents SO many marginalized identities and their intersections (BIPOC, neurodivergent, queer/trans, etc.), and centers queer love in a way that is authentic and complex.

Dispatch: Poems by Cameron Awkward-Rich

Genre: poetry | persea books 2019 | reviewed by isabella scala natoli

The poems in Cameron Awkward-Rich’s collection Dispatch are like calculated punches in a friendly fight, expertly placed to teach and even zing, but never injure. Awkward-Rich’s focused, musical stanzas swell with a dizzying fullness of thought and emotion. They threaten to overwhelm and then leave you on the precipice. He starts with poems that acknowledge the space between us—poet and reader.

Here is the circle of my life

& here is yours, tangent extending 

indefinitely away & here is the place

where, by definition, they always meet.

He not only asks “What brought you here?” but also “What am I without you?

He meditates on his identity, which is so difficult to dissect or hold up to the light, but still, we try. He lets us look at him—a Black, Trans, introvert in America—whether that be through his eyes, the eyes of his cat, or even an entirely different person. Each perspective allows us into his world, as he exists—here—on a “drowning planet” but a planet nonetheless.

Oh. Yes.

This is the world

with me in it.

Like its title suggests, Dispatch gives readers the truth about how it is, just the way it is, sort of like a 911 dispatcher. But how can we trust the truth when footage of a murder goes viral and the guilty are not held accountable? How can we trust the notion of safety when it is clear that not all are safe? There are no easy answers to be found in these poems, because it is dishonest to believe that there are any yet. Awkward-Rich helps us to feel this uncertainty alongside him and helps to keep ourselves open to the treachery, the integrity and the grace of life as a Black, trans man in America. 

Why We Love It: Awkward-Rich’s gorgeous lyric poems love by noticing, as he explores self-love in a violent world and the bond between writer and reader.

A Registry of Survival by Ann Tweedy

Genre: poetry (chapbook) | last word press 2021 | reviewed by rebecca valley

In “External Validation,” the poem that gives Ann Tweedy’s latest chapbook A Registry of Survival its name, the narrator searches for her homeless mother on Google and feels satisfied when she comes up empty. It means her mother is alive.

In the wake of this emptiness, Tweedy writes a registry of her own. In both narrative prose poems and careful lyric, Tweedy tells the story of her mother’s mental illness, her own childhood in “the broken, moldy, heatless, new england house / with no running water,” and the complicated love between mother and daughter, compounded by worry, guilt, fear, and shame.

In this collection external sources – medical records, diagnostic manuals, lists of objects – provide a tangible, logical counter-balance in a world filled with delusion, and fear. But as Tweedy reminds us, these stories are never simple. “Victimization can come from trying to avoid it. Or being too afraid of it.” She contextualizes her mother’s illness with her history of chemical exposure and trauma, and then asks us, the reader, to check a box – are these delusions “bizarre”?

We see, in this book, the lasting grief of a flawed system – of lives made invisible by inadequate social services. In many ways, this systemic perspective brings us to the most startling moment in the book, in which Tweedy realizes her mother’s actions often have nothing to do with her: “The child insists on seeing the mother as acting in relation to her, but sometimes the child doesn’t even figure in.” Tweedy’s complicated meditation on childhood, mental illness, houselessness, and trauma is often painful, but always tender. By the end of the book, I share Tweedy’s childhood desire: “i find myself wishing … that i could take away her grief.”

Why We Love It: This beautiful chapbook toes the line between poetry and memoir to tell a story about the love between mother and daughter and the inadequacies of America’s mental health care.

my autobiography of carson mccullers by jenn shapland

Genre: biography/memoir | tin house 2020 | reviewed by megan foster

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers begins with an obsession of the tragic writer’s life that blends into an exploration of censorship, female queerness, and identity. It wouldn’t be fair to call Jenn Shapland’s book a memoir or a biography. It exists somewhere between the two, yet is entirely in a genre of its own. As Shapland herself writes, her book “takes place in the fluid distance between the writer and her subject, in the fashioning of a self, in all its permutations, on the page” (4). She examines various aspects of Carson McCullers’ life, like her tumultuous poor health and steadfastly insightful stories; her unhappy marriage and supposed affairs; her wealth of relationships to other queer writers and devotion to numerous women throughout the years. As Shapland archives and chronicles Carson McCullers’ life, asking “Who is she, really?”, she asks this of herself, too. 

While the focus remains on Carson McCullers, Shapland takes a kaleidoscopic squint at other women–authors or legends in their own right–whose queerness has been smudged over by historians. The book examines how, in an effort not to let queer people commoditize queerness, the truth about these women is often completely crumpled or written over entirely, altered by other narratives or agendas. Women are straight until proven gay, it seems. Shapland sleuths to prove that McCullers should be taken at her word, and taken for the queer love that she had. By striving to tell McCullers’ story–and love story–with all honesty and transparency, Shapland is able to share her own narrative more freely, outside of stringent straight spaces. I came away wanting to know more about both women. And as a queer female writer myself, I came away ready to recommend this incredible book to every other queer female writer fighting for her own truth to be told. 

Why We Love It: This hybrid memoir redefines what a biography can (and should!) be, and insists on the validity of queer history, queer experience, and especially queer love.

atlas of lost places by Yamini Pathak

Genre: poetry (chapbook) | Milk and Cake Press 2020 | reviewed by leonora simonovis

In Yamini Pathak’s Atlas of Lost Places, the reader is immersed into the lush geography of the speaker’s memory, where the scents and flavors of childhood “will enter the/mouths of people, rinsed by prayer, in a feast of charity.” There’s a sacredness that permeates the pages, where ancestors and deities anchor the speaker’s longing and, at the same time, allow her to come home to herself and become a refuge for her own children, and for every child who grows up away from their country of origin,

I will be your compass, my bones are yours to borrow

My body your only true country, this is my sorrow 

Pathak’s use of language and rhythm create a meditative cadence that invites the reader into the wonder of these “lost” places as they’re recreated in each poem. The author incorporates some traditional forms (Ghazal, Nocturne) that stand alongside more experimental ones (a Field Guide, a Manifesto, a List Poem). Each of these forms come to together to convey a sense of traveling through space and time, while staying connected to a present that sometimes feels like a “pause between silent worlds,” but that the speaker has come to accept as inevitable.

Why We Love It: Pathak’s book explores how deep love and admiration transforms place, time, and history. It’s a book full of nostalgia and longing, but also familial love and love of our ever-changing homes.

ceremonials by katharine coldiron

Genre: literary fiction | kernpunkt press 2020 | reviewed by robert drinkwater

Inspired by Florence and The Machine’s 2011 album of the same name, Ceremonials is a story about falling in love, grief, and coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. It follows two girls Amelia and Corisande who fall for each other at an all-girls boarding school. However, Corisande dies unexpectedly right before graduation. Ceremonials is separated into twelve parts, like the twelve songs of the album.   Most of these parts are told from Amelia’s point of view, as she grapples with the sudden loss of her girlfriend.

“You’re my love, I tell her. I wake and sleep with you in my head and my heart. But you really aren’t here. But you really aren’t here. This isn’t where you live. There’s a space in my bed” (69). 

The absence of Corisande haunts Amelia throughout this book. Her life continues, yet her thoughts linger on her dead girlfriend, who watches her, helpless, from another realm. As the story unfolds, Coldiron relies on lyrics from the Florence and the Machine album to light up the pages, as in “No light, no light in your bright blue eyes.” Coldiron does an exceptional job of portraying the stages of grief, from Amelia’s shock (“Where is my Corisande?”) to the depression, and finally acceptance and new love.

Why We Love It: This novel takes ekphrasis to the next level, while beautifully portraying the love and grief of two young women.

Want to review a book for our next round-up? Head to our submissions page for more information and to see a list of titles we’d love to cover.

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