Review: The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

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.

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Review: Forgiveness Forgiveness by Shane McCrae

Forgiveness Forgiveness by Shane McCrae (Factory Hollow Press 2014)

Reviewed by Rebecca Valley

In the past few months, I have read two books by Shane McCrae. First, I read his latest collection In the Language of My Captor – a series of persona poems and loosely autobiographical musings which focus on the complicated nature of race and racism in American history. I fell in love with the way McCrae refuses to bow down to stereotypical narratives of what it means to be black. As a mixed-race man raised by white grandparents, McCrae explores is own nuanced identity beside the identities and imagined experiences of African Americans kept in cages by white museum curators, all the while refusing to preference once experience of blackness in America over another. In In the Language of My Captors, McCrae acknowledges the complicated nature of communicating this spectrum of black experience in the language of white Europeans – this is particularly true when thinking about poetry as a genre whose canon is made up almost entirely of white, male faces.

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Review: Tell Me How it Ends by Valeria Luiselli

tell me howTell Me How it Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions by Valeria Luiselli (Coffee House Press, 2017)

Reviewed by Rebecca Valley

In Tell Me How it Ends, novelist Valeria Luiselli sheds the cloak of fiction to write a different kind of narrative – one that, as the author’s daughter discovers, doesn’t have a neat ending. The book tackles Luiselli’s experience volunteering at an immigration court in New York City, where she translated the answers migrant children gave to the questions that stood between a return to their home country and the promise of a new life in the United States. Continue reading

Review: Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

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Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat (Knopf/Vintage, 2013)

Reviewed by Rebecca Valley

“The morning Claire Limyé Lanmé Faustin turned seven, a freak wave, measured between ten and twelve feet high, was seen in the ocean outside Ville Rose” (3).

A girl, a birthday, a seaside village, a wave: these are the things which begin Edwidge Danticat’s novel Claire of the Sea Light, and they are the things which persist, wrapping themselves around each other in tighter and tighter knots until they are finally pulled tight at the close of the novel. Continue reading

Review: Light by Rob Cham

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Light by Rob Cham (Anino Comics, 2016)

Reviewed by Rebecca Valley

How to review a book without words? I was confronted with this dilemma when reading Rob Cham’s graphic novel Light, a comic in which two characters – both, of course, nameless – journey through the dark underworld in search of crystals capable of returning color to earth’s surface. The challenge when reviewing a work without words, or even character names, is the instability of the critique – how can you document the emotional arc of a narrative experienced through visual images alone? Continue reading

Review: Painting Their Portraits in Winter by Myriam Gurba

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Painting Their Portraits in Winter by Myriam Gurba (Manic D Press, 2015)

Reviewed by Rebecca Valley

Myriam Gurba’s stories are short, but her titles are long – her collection’s full title, How Some Abuelitas Keep Their Chicana Granddaughters Still White Painting Their Portraits in Winter, gets its name from the first story in her collection, in which a Mexican grandmother tells her granddaughters terrifying fairy tales about cannibalistic tamale makers and German Shepherds from hell. This story, and all of the stories in Gurba’s collection, strike a sometimes jarring balance between the modern and the ancient, tradition and reality. The book is simultaneously an ode to an older generation and a reinvigoration of old tales through a modern voice, and the juxtaposition of those elements give the collection a self-reflective edge. Continue reading