The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper (bloomsbury 2020)
Reviewed by Madeleine Nowak
If I really wanted to do Phil Stamper’s debut YA novel The Gravity of Us justice, I’d pull out my phone and video myself live walking through the streets of New York City while I shared my thoughts with you. To review the book this way would be the best homage to Cal, the wonderful narrator Stamper has crafted, a social-media-savvy, budding seventeen year-old reporter from Brooklyn who suddenly finds himself transplanted to Clear Lake, Texas when his dad is picked as an astronaut candidate for NASA’s first mission to Mars. In Clear Lake, Cal is pulled away from everything he loves from Brooklyn, but unexpectedly brought closer to Leon, the son of another astronaut and the perfect love match for Cal.
Evidence of V: A Novel in Fragments, Facts, and Fictions by Sheila O’Connor (Rose Metal Press, 2019)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
We are not taught to think of women in prison. The cells which contain women, we are told, are physical, social – women are victims, and men their assailants. Like so much gendered terminology, we have prisons, and then we have women’s prisons. As if an afterthought, as if a near impossibility that a woman might have the ability, the audacity to act against the norm. Have we not, we ponder, created enough of a cage for women out of invisible walls – out of the nuances of our socially constructed expectations, exploitations? And what to do with a girl who is not considerate of the walls we have put up for her? What to do with a girl who wants something else?
Sea, Land, Shadow by Kazuko Shiraishi, trans. by Yumiko Tsumara (New Directions Books, 2017)
Reviewed by Clara Guyton
Nicknamed “the Alan Ginsberg of Japan” by Kenneth Rexroth, Kazuko Shiraishi brings readers a sight-seeing drive through the mystical mountains of Japan in her collection Sea, Land, Shadow, complete with sharp turns and curves, moments of awe-inspiring depth and darkness, and instants of effervescent lightheartedness.
“on a mountain road in a traffic jam
I have poetry, so I’m fine…” (8)
As we embark on a new decade, I wanted to provide a guidebook for a year of reading – a list which might offer, loosely, a template for reading to encourage you to hear new voices, support new authors, and step outside your comfort zone.
The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger (Scribner 2017)
Reviewed by Patricia Steckler
I’d sworn off Holocaust stories permanently. Or so I thought. Twenty-five years ago, Schindler’s List, Stephen Spielberg’s film, nearly did me in. Soon thereafter, I burst into tears in the lobby of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, before even picking up admission tickets. Thousands of pairs of shoes taken from murdered prisoners at the Majdanek concentration camp, displayed in the museum’s lobby, felt crushing.
look how happy i’m making you BY POLLY ROSENWAIKE (DOUBLEDAY, 2019)
Reviewed by Gregorio Tafoya
“1. Lack of Interest in Your Baby”
starts the quietly explosive “Ten Warning Signs of Postpartum Depression”, a thick middle piece to Polly
Rosenwaike’s short story collection, Look
How Happy I’m Making You—best said in a sleep-deprived, low, gravelly tone.
Much like the characters in Polly Rosenwaike’s debut, I feel wholly inadequate and ill prepared for the task at hand. They are entrusted with the nobler task, that of motherhood, and I, a male with no child rearing experience, am attempting to review their explorations. When I get sentimental about fatherhood aspirations, it is always the highlight reel of playing catch in the backyard and teaching the finer points of auto mechanics—a concept I hardly have any grasp on. The scenes in Rosenwaike’s book are far from the highlight reel of any parenthood.
The After Party by Jana Prikryl (Tim Duggan Books, 2016)
Reviewed by Hannah Wyatt
A couple of weekends ago, while wandering through the
statuesque dinosaurs and food trucks of my new city, I picked up a $1 copy of
Jana Prikryl’s The After Party (Tim Duggan Books, 2016) at a tent sale
hosted by Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library. This being my first read of Prikryl’s
work, I was delighted to find that, within the first few lines of the collection,
I felt I was reading someone who cared about the world I care about.
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang (Penguin Random House 2019)
Reviewed by Patricia Steckler
I have never encountered a person who is not fully human in 35 years of private practice as a clinical psychologist. Diagnoses, country-of-origin, race, religion, and financial status do not define people. Not at all. Why do we say that a person has cancer or has arthritis and, conversely, say that a person is autistic or is an immigrant as if those labels completely define them?
Assigning labels condemns people
to a marginalized purgatory. Perceived to be less than human, unable to love or
feel pain, they’re relegated to the sidelines of life and deemed to be odd,
bizarre, even dangerous.
The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through
Madness by Elyn R. Saks (Hachette Books 2007)
Reviewed by Patricia Steckler
Horrifying delusions and auditory hallucinations
did not deter Elyn Saks from her Oxford University Master’s degree studies. Compassionate
psychiatric care in England squired her through. But, later, as a law student
at Yale University and in a psychotic state, Yale psychiatrists “bound both
legs and both arms to a metal bed with thick leather straps” and forced
medication down her throat. Multiple times. She plummeted into despair.
“A sound comes out of me that I’ve never heard before—half groan, half scream, marginally human, and all terror. Then the sound comes out of me again, forced from somewhere deep in my belly and scraping my throat raw. Moments later, I’m choking and gagging on some kind of bitter liquid that I try to lock my teeth against but cannot. They make me swallow it. They make me.” (4)