A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum (HarperCollins 2019)
Reviewed by Angela Gualtieri
A book’s purpose is to inform, whether it paints a view of a fantastical world or provides a reflection of everyday life. Sometimes, these purposes indulge our curiosities naturally and slowly. Other times, the author forces our eyes wide open to take in harsh truths we weren’t prepared to face. Etaf Rum’s debut novel, A Woman Is No Man, displays the traditions, culture, and societal expectations of Arab families, but also shows the painful reality for its woman.
Sparrow by Mary Cecilia Jackson (Tor Teen, 2020)
Reviewed by Maayan D’Antonio
Jackson’s debut novel tells the story of 17-year-old ballerina Savannah Rose—“Sparrow” to her friends and family. Sparrow has been chosen to dance the role of the Swan Queen, with her best friend and dance partner Lucas as the prince. But dancing isn’t Sparrow’s only talent. Her real talent is keeping secrets—a practice distilled into her by her long dead mother.
Endlings by Joanna Lilley (Turnstone Press 2020)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
“How carefully we preserve the dead and eat the living” (109)
How to write an elegy for animals? Not the ones closest to us, our dogs and cats, chickens, rabbits, the domesticated fauna we use to name and sustain ourselves. How do we write an elegy for the animals we did not save in time; the “endlings,” the final link between past and present? How do we write an elegy for the victims of a murder we won’t even admit we’ve committed?
OBIT by Victoria Chang (Copper Canyon Press, 2020)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
I wrote my first and only obituary in 2018, for my uncle. His name was Thom. He died quite suddenly, at 48, after decade-old cancer cells appeared again in his colon, took over his liver, swallowed him up.
Which is to say that I am no expert in the articulation of existence. And anyway, how do you go about writing a single document that might convey the precious, imperfect, complicated, wonderful nuances of an entire life? For Victoria Chang, the obituary is not just a death notice, but a mode. In her latest collection, OBIT, she asks: What continues to live when someone we love dies? What dies with them?
“I used to think that a dead person’s words die with them. Now I know that they scatter, looking for meaning to attach to a scent” (18)
The White Card by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf 2019)
Reviewed by Olivia Cyr
There is perhaps no better political climate in which to revel in a book that explores race in America than the one the country is in now. As both a self-proclaimed feminist with a background in black women’s studies, and a white woman, I find that I am both well-versed on current conversations about race and women and where those intertwine, and also, admittedly, still terribly conditioned to accept and lean on my own white privilege. While I do follow much of the debate on abortion, women’s rights in the workplace, intersectionality, police brutality, immigration, and the unfair treatment of black people, there is still so much I do not know. I wonder often if my own whiteness does not allow for me to see the whole picture. I think many white folks in this country try, as Claudia Rankine’s characters Virginia and Charles appear to do, and think we are doing as much as we can with the resources available. But Rankine makes it apparent that we aren’t, simply because we are white.
This Close To Happy: A Reckoning with Depression by Daphne Merkin (Farrar, straus, and giroux 2017)
Reviewed by Patricia Steckler
Not glamorous, not an artistically-hued state of suffering for the more sensitive souls on earth. Not a story that can be told with the dramatic climax and victorious transcendency that characterizes heroic tales. No. Depression is unabated suffering whose victims, often blamed for self-absorption, shunned as social pariahs, writhe in silence. Daphne Merkin, the writer and literary critic, tells her depression tale in the dark memoir, This Close To Happy: A Reckoning With Depression.
Obviously, it’s a weird time to be alive. I won’t say much more about COVID-19 here, other than the fact that I am grateful to find solace in books while home-bound.
In that vein, I asked our editors and frequent contributors to send over a book or two that has made their quarantine more manageable. Some of these are old favorites, some are new finds, but all are solid picks to stave off your quarantine-fueled boredom, and maybe even provide a little hope or inspiration in moments of chaos and confusion.
Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed (Soho Teen 2020)
Reviewed by Maayan D’Antonio
17-year-old Khayyam Maquet—American, French, Indian, Muslim—is spending her August sulking around Paris. Her essay to her dream school, The Art Institute of Chicago, wasn’t received well by the committee, derailing her chances of getting in. On top of that, her maybe ex-boyfriend, Zaid, is ghosting her. Just when everything feels exceptionally crappy, and Khayyam literally steps in crap, she meets Alexander, the descendant of the famous French writer Alexander Dumas.
Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett (Knopf Books for Young Readers 2019)
Reviewed by Kelly Dasta
Full Disclosure is an intersectional young adult novel that fosters sex-positivity and works to break the stigma surrounding HIV—a prime example of how diversity and inclusion are becoming more pervasive within the YA genre. Written by New York University film student, Camryn Garrett, the novel details the story of Simone Garcia-Hampton who hopes to keep her HIV positive diagnosis under-wraps upon transferring to a new high school. However, she soon develops feelings for a charming boy named Miles, which means if she wishes to pursue a relationship with him, she’ll have to tell him about her diagnosis eventually. To make matters worse, one day she receives a note in her locker, threatening that she either tell Miles about her diagnosis, or the note-writer will tell the whole school. Her first reaction is to hide the truth, but “as she gains a deeper understanding of the prejudice and fear in her community, she begins to wonder if the only way to rise above is to face the haters head-on.”