Ugly Feelings by Sianne Ngai (Harvard University Press 2007)
Reviewed by Ingrid Carabulea
The power of literary criticism lies in its ability to shape the way we view texts and engage with the world, often through the use of analytical lenses like psychoanalysis, feminism, etc. Ugly Feelings by Sianne Ngai, however, asks that we view texts through an emotional lens, a focus not often emphasized in literary criticism.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Ray Books 2020)
Reviewed by Summer A.H. Christiansen
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s latest novel, Mexican Gothic is one feminist horror story you will not want to miss. The reader invests immediately in the heroine of the novel, Noemí. She is a 22-year-old socialite who enjoys her lavish life in Mexico City. Beautiful, well-dressed, and quick-witted, Noemi dreams of becoming an anthropologist. Her parents don’t agree with her lifestyle and wish instead she would focus on settling down and finding a husband, or as se sees it: “…she should never have any fun for the sake of having fun, but only as a way to obtain a husband” (6).
A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua (Ballantine Books 2019)
Reviewed by Amaya Hunsberger
Vanessa Hua’s debut novel, A River of Stars, follows the path of Scarlett, a pregnant Chinese woman while the child’s father, Boss Yeung, wishes to do business in America. She is sent to Perfume Bay in San Francisco where she and other pregnant Chinese women will deliver their children in secret in order to ensure American citizenship for their babies. The whole operation is run by Mama Fang, a lucrative entrepreneur. After finding out that her unborn child is a girl, she escapes the facility with a teenager named Daisy, and together they make their way to San Francisco’s Chinatown. There, they rely on the generosity of a new community and their own ingenuity in order to survive.
Bestiary by K-Ming Chang (One World 2020)
Reviewed by A. Mana Nava
Bestiary is a nonlinear, multi-generational experiment exploring how stories are passed down from generation to generation. K-Ming Chang plays with narrative structure by blending the epistolary form, fables, oral storytelling, and close third-person narration. In the narrative, the character Mother tells Daughter a story about a hungry tiger who eats toes to explain why she cut hers off and keeps them in a tin. Then, one day Daughter wakes up with a tiger tail. This novel turns impossible tales of rivers impregnating women, flying crabs, and holes carrying letters across the country into a plausible reality. There is no line between fantasy and reality as the two are brilliantly woven together.
Fighting words by kimberly brubaker bradley (Dial books 2020)
Reviewed by Megan Foster
Fighting Words is the newest middle grade novel by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, best known for her Newbery Honor-winning novel The War That Saved My Life. I’ve always attested that its sequel, The War I Finally Won, is even better, but Fighting Words is arguably her best novel by far.
Delicious Nevaeh Roberts, or Della, is all I could ever ask for in a protagonist: tough and street smart, empathetic and kind, proud of her loud mouth and lobbed curses. She’s the kind of girl who’ll draw a mustache and devil horns on a princess, then defend her bullied friend. Della and her sixteen year old sister, Suki, have had to be tough after years of living with their mother’s boyfriend, Clifton, who finally did something so bad they had to get out quick. With their mother in jail states away, the two must navigate foster care while memories of Clifton continue to haunt them both. Della continually looks to Suki as her protector, but when Suki attempts suicide, Della has a terrible, earth-shattering revelation: who’s protecting Suki?
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang (Graywolf Press 2019)
Reviewed by Claudine Mininni
Esmé Weijun Wang’s illuminating essay collection, The Collected Schizophrenias, details her tumultuous relationship with schizoaffective disorder. In her opening essay, “Diagnosis,” Wang writes:
Schizophrenia terrifies. It is the archetypal disorder of lunacy. Craziness scares us because we are creatures who long for structure and sense; we divide the interminable days into years, months and weeks.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones (Gallery/Saga Press 2020)
Reviewed by Robert Drinkwater
I was instantly drawn to the premise of Stephen Graham Jones’s book The Only Good Indians. It centered around four Blackfeet men who are haunted by a malevolent entity from an event ten years in the past. It is a story that is full of Blackfeet folklore, tradition, and plenty of blood and gore.
You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat (Catapult Press 2020)
Reviewed by Isabella Scala-Natoli
In Zaina Arafat’s debut novel, You Exist Too Much—what some have called a bildungsroman, and a character study—an unnamed D.C. raised Palestinian-American narrator gets dumped by her girlfriend for her chronic infidelity and goes to rehab, then an MFA program. Across America, Europe, and The Middle East, she learns how to shape her life story into a love-story both shattering in impact and fractured in shape. Each place the narrator takes us to is tied to a person, and another manifestation of the same quest. That is, to find a mother—and in effect—a homeland. On this quest, as readers, we experience with the narrator what I can only describe as growing pains. What I got from reading YETM was the chance to bond with a character who by working out her own flaws, made me consequently realize my own. This sounds negative but it isn’t. It was a pleasant awakening. Like suddenly remembering where you know that person from, the one you saw on the bus earlier. You went to college together. Of course! Your dislike of others stems from your own insecurities. Of course!
Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot (Counterpoint 2019)
Reviewed by Yollotl Lopez
Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot is like balloons filled with paint exploding against a white canvas — c. Heart Berries is Mailhot’s debut memoir told in a cyclical narrative touching upon her experience as a writer, mother, mental health patient, and partner all informed by her identity as a First Nations Canadian living in the U.S. It is the story of love, and loss, but most of all it is a story about storytelling. Mailhot writes:
“Things were created by story. The words were conjurers, and ideas were our mothers” (105).