Book Review: The Weight Of Our Sky

weight of our skyThe Weight Of Our Sky
by Hanna Alkaf
Young Adult/Contemporary Fiction
277 pages
Published February 2019

I’ve seen this book absolutely raved about online, as an amazing, diverse book with an #ownvoices author, and I knew I wanted to read it, I just kept having other things come up with higher priorities. I finally settled down to read it, and….it’s exactly what everyone has said. Absolutely fantastic.

Melati, our main character, is struggling with OCD, but as this is set in 1969, it’s never diagnosed. She thinks a djinn has taken up residence in her brain, and is giving her horrifying visions unless she does his will. And then riots break out and she and her mother are separated. This book covers an event we were never really taught about here in the US; in 1969 politics in Malaysia reached a boiling point and massive riots broke out between the Chinese and Malaysian populations. It’s an event that rips Melati’s world apart, and that she fights to survive in this book, while still fighting the djinn in her own head.

The Weight Of Our Sky is a young adult book, but it covers some very weighty topics. Between Melati’s mental illness, the death and violence that surrounds her, and the prejudice and bigotry driving it, it’s a book to read mindfully. The author includes a content warning at the beginning of the book, as well she should. The detail with which she describes Melati’s experience (both in her head and outside of it) is stunning.

Melati is Malaysian, but she somehow finds herself with a Chinese family, and together they confront the tensions between the two groups of people, both their own prejudices and the violence from the roving mobs outside the little house they’ve holed up in. All the while, she’s trying to hide the counting and tapping that keeps the djinn quiet in her head. The book is an extraordinary look at untreated mental illness, and the toll it takes to act normal when your brain is lying to you.

Fantastic book.

From the cover of The Weight Of Our Sky:

Melati Ahmad has imagined her mother’s death countless times. Plagued by gruesome thoughts she believes are put into her head by a djinn, Melati has developed an intricate set of tapping rituals to tame the monster within and keep her mother safe.

But there are things that Melati can’t protect her mother from. On the evening of May 13, 1969, racial tensions in her home city of Kuala Lumpur boil over. The Chinese and Malays are at war, and Mel and her mother become separated by a city in flames.

With a twenty-four-hour curfew in place and all lines of communication down, it will take the help of a Chinese boy named Vincent and all of the courage and grit in Melati’s arsenal to overcome the violence on the streets, her own prejudices, and her djinn’s surging power to make it back to the one person she can’t risk losing.

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Book Review: Black Enough

Black EnoughBlack Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America
Edited by Ibi Zoboi
Young Adult/Anthology/Contemporary Fiction
400 pages
Published January 2019

I’m not sure how to write this review or even if I SHOULD be writing this review. Black Enough is an anthology of stories about being young and black in America. (As the subtitle says.) I’m white. I don’t identify with these stories, but I wanted to read it to be exposed to other experiences. That’s WHY I try to read a lot of minority voices.

The problem is – I didn’t care for a decent portion of the book. But should that matter in writing a review of an #ownvoices book when I’m not part of the demographic? There are two authors I have previous problems with – Justina Ireland (author of Dread Nation, read my review for my issues with her) and Nic Stone, who wrote Odd One Out which I HAAAATED. Their short stories here had none of the issues their respective books did, but I tend not to separate art from artist, so I’m still side-eyeing their inclusion in this anthology. I also strongly disliked the editor’s own story, the last one in the book. But should that matter? There were stories I loved – Jay Coles’ Wild Horses, Wild Hearts, Lamar Giles’ Black. Nerd. Problems. and Leah Henderson’s Warning: Color May Fade were all amazing. But again, how much does that matter? I can’t speak for how real these stories are, or how well the authors capture these feelings because I don’t know. (Which is part of WHY I read these. To learn.)

I toyed with the idea of just not writing a review. But books like these are important, and need to be talked about and lifted up so more people can find them. Being one more white person refusing to talk about the subject ALSO isn’t the right call.

What I finally decided I can do is link to some #ownvoices reviews of the book. Don’t take my opinion on this book. Take theirs! (And, spoiler, they all loved it!)

Rich In Color’s review

Black Nerd Problems’ review (and I’m totally following this site now)

Crafty Scribbles’ review (okay, so I’m following all three of these sites now, and you should too!)

 

From the cover of Black Enough:

BLACK IS . . . sisters navigating their relationship at summer camp in Portland, Oregon, as written by Renee Watson.

BLACK IS . . . three friends walking back from the community pool talking about nothing and everything, in a story by Jason Reynolds.

BLACK IS . . . Nic Stone’s bougie debutante dating a boy her momma would never approve of.

BLACK IS . . . two girls kissing, in Justina Ireland’s story set in Maryland.

BLACK IS . . . urban and rural, wealthy and poor, mixed race, immigrants, and more – because there are countless ways to be Black enough. 

Book Review: As The Crow Flies

as the crow fliesAs The Crow Flies
by Melanie Gillman
Graphic Novel
272 pages
Published November 2017

This book is GORGEOUS, y’all. It started as a webcomic about Charlie’s experience at a Christian backpacking youth camp. The book covers the first three days of camp, and the webcomic is currently on Day 4. I actually didn’t know it was a webcomic until I hit the end of the book, went “Wait, what?!” and started poking the internet to see if there was a Volume 2. I did find part of Day 4 posted on the webcomic site, but the last comic was posted in June of 2017. I found statements that there is a Volume 2 planned on her Tumblr and elsewhere on the Internet, though.

The main character, Charlie, is a queer black girl who’s gone to a Christian summer camp. When she walks in, she discovers EVERYONE else is white, except one half-Native American counselor. She’s immediately got her guard up, and when another counselor mentions “whitening their souls” as a metaphor for purification, her guard goes up further. I loved how her friendship developed with Sydney, another camper, and their conversations are HILARIOUS. They plan to disrupt the mysterious “ceremony” planned for when they reach the peak of the mountain, but they keep coming up with outlandish ideas like summoning pterodactyls or raccoons with palanquins and little driver hats. (You know those crazy conversations you come up with when you’re exhausted!)

Some of the Christian rhetoric in the book annoyed me, but it annoys Charlie, too, so I guess that’s okay, or even intentional. There’s a lot of White Feminism on display in the book; the tradition the camp follows relied on black women not participating and keeping homes running (read: being slaves) while the white women went off to their women’s retreat. Charlie is understandably pissed about how nonchalant the head counselor is about that, too.

The head counselor actually seriously rubs me the wrong way; at one point she tells one of the girls, who had sprained her ankle, that she only has enough supplies for one ankle injury, so if she uses it now, she won’t have it for anyone else. Lady, if you only brought enough supplies for one sprained ankle, for like ten people on a week-long hike? That is YOUR problem, not the fault of the poor 13-year-old in pain in front of you. You should have planned better. The same thing with not having enough painkillers to spare for the poor girl who starts her period. I’m not sure if the head counselor is supposed to be an antagonist or not, but she sure seems that way.

I really love Charlie and Sydney, and I really really want to see what the ceremony is and how they decide to disrupt it, so I will be keeping an eye out for the webcomic to start posting again, or for news of a Volume 2. And the art is, again, absolutely GORGEOUS. I will probably be looking for more of the author’s work – she calls herself a “queertoonist” which is great! She’s queer and nonbinary, by her Twitter bio. Which makes this an #ownvoices book as well, and perfect for Pride Month. You can find the rest of my Pride Month reads listed here.

From the cover of As The Crow Flies:

Charlie Lamonte is thirteen years old, queer, black, and questioning what was once a firm belief in God. So naturally, she’s spending a week of her summer vacation stuck at an all-white Christian youth backpacking camp. As the journey wears on and the rhetoric wears thin, she can’t help but poke holes in the pious obliviousness of this storied sanctuary with little regard for people like herself . . . or her fellow camper, Sydney.

Book Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing

sing unburied singSing, Unburied, Sing
by Jesmyn Ward
Contemporary Fiction (Magical Realism?)
290 pages
Published September 2017

I know, I’m late to the party. This book made a big splash back in September – everyone was talking about it, and it won the National Book Award. My library, however, did not have enough copies to go around, and I was late putting a hold on it, so the hold I put on it in January finally came around to my turn!

In Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward returns to the same neighborhood in Mississippi that Salvage the Bones was written about. (Two of the siblings from Salvage the Bones show up in a scene in Sing.) The story is told from three different viewpoints: Jojo, a thirteen-year-old boy and the main character of the novel, Leonie, his drug-addicted mother, and Richie, the ghost of a boy Jojo’s grandfather met in prison.

This book covers so much that it’s difficult to categorize – between discrimination and outright bigotry, bi-racial romance and children, drug addiction, poverty, prison life – deep south gothic, I suppose, would be the best description. Sing really only takes place over a couple of days, but it feels much longer, because Jojo’s grandfather tells stories of his time in prison decades prior, Leonie reminisces about high school, and there’s just this sense of timelessness over the entire novel.

It’s not an easy book. These are hard issues to grapple with, and too many people have to live with these issues. Poverty, bigotry, addiction – these things disproportionately affect the black community, and white people are to blame for the imbalance.

I’m not sure how I feel about the ghost aspect of the book; on one hand I feel like people will see the ghost and decide the book is fantasy – that they don’t really need to care about the problems the family faces. On the other hand, the ghost allows us to see even more bigotry and inhumanity targeted at black people. So it serves a purpose.

I’m not sure I like this book. But I’m glad I read it. And that’s pretty much going to be my recommendation; it’s not a fun read, but it’s an important one.

From the cover of Sing, Unburied, Sing

In Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award–winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America. An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing journeys through Mississippi’s past and present, examining the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power—and limitations—of family bonds.

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.

His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

Rich with Ward’s distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an unforgettable family story.