Book Review: I’m Not Dying With You Tonight

i'm not dying with you tonightI’m Not Dying With You Tonight
by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal
Young Adult / Contemporary Fiction
247 pages
Published August 2019

I read this book with the intention of going to Barnes & Noble’s Young Adult Book Club last Thursday (and taking a break from my in-laws!) but the GOP decided to have their House GOP Retreat in the Hotel directly behind my local Barnes & Noble, and Trump came to town to speak at the dinner the SAME NIGHT AS BOOK CLUB. Between the extra security for that, and the protests surrounding it, I wasn’t setting foot in the area that day. So that was disappointing – but this book was not.

Content Warning: Racism, Anxiety, Violence

I’m Not Dying With You Tonight is told from two very different perspectives.

Campbell is a white girl whose father owns a hardware store downtown. To most people, she looks well off, but she knows the hardware store is only barely staying afloat. Her mother recently moved to South America, leaving her to switch schools and live with the father she barely knows, in a new town. She’s a fish out of water in more ways than one.

Lena, on the other hand, knows the town, and the people. She’s a black girl with a plan to make it big, between her fashion sense and her boyfriend’s musical talent. She’s one of the popular girls at school, and has the kind of easy confidence that can be intimidating.

The two girls are thrown together by chance when a high school football game sparks a riot that soon engulfs the town. Again and again, we see Lena’s knowledge make up for Campbell’s naiveté about the town and its issues, but then over and over we see Lena’s strengths become utterly useless because of her skin color, requiring Campbell to step up for them both. Campbell’s not a damsel in distress, but she is definitely the weaker of the two, and I think the point about all of Lena’s strengths being ignored by racist white people is well made.

I’ve never been in a riot, so I can’t say for sure, but the chaos and non-stop anxiety of Lena and Campbell’s journey through town seems like an accurate description. It’s a quick read partly because the action and danger drives you through the book, looking for safe harbor that isn’t found until the last few pages.

I understand why the book ended where it did, but I’m a little dissatisfied by it. I’d like to know how the experience shapes the two girls (and Lena’s boyfriend) going forward. Do they become friends after this? Does Lena’s boyfriend shape up his act? How does this change the three of them? The answers aren’t necessary for the story, but I’d still like to know!

Ultimately, I enjoyed the book. It follows my trend of diverse young adult books that teach hard topics. Really the only change I’d like to see was a little more denouement at the end!

From the cover of I’m Not Dying With You Tonight:

LENA AND CAMPBELL AREN’T FRIENDS.

Lena has her killer style, her awesome boyfriend, and a plan. She knows she’s going to make it big. Campbell, on the other hand, is just trying to keep her head down and get through the year at her new school.

When both girls attend the Friday-night football game, what neither expects is for everything to descend into sudden mass chaos. Chaos born from violence and hate. Chaos that unexpectedly throws them together.

They aren’t friends. They hardly understand the other’s point of view. But none of that matters when the city is up in flames, and they only have each other to rely on if they’re going to survive the night.

Book Review: Internment

internmentInternment
by Samira Ahmed
Young Adult / Contemporary Fiction
384 pages
Published March 2019

This book should be required reading in schools. Especially now. It could be paired with Anne Frank. One history, one a possible future. Probable, even. Depending on how you look at it, an actual present. We DO have concentration camps on the border. (Which makes me shudder to write, what in the absolute FUCK.)

*breathes deeply*

Internment is a gut-punch of a book. I had to set it down two pages in and get control of myself, and again around page eleven. I took breaks throughout reading it to do HOUSEWORK, of all things, because I needed the mental and emotional reprieve. And I’m a white woman. I have the privilege of being pretty sure I will never be the target of these kinds of atrocities. Which means I have the responsibility to work against them. I’m also a physically weak, chronic-illness-having, unemployed white woman, (which does have the benefit of letting me keep on eye on my middle-eastern neighbors’ houses to watch for ICE showing up – I fully intend to go make myself a damned nuisance if they do) so I can’t go storm the camps or march for hours at protests. What I can do is boost books like this.

If you’re white, GO READ THIS BOOK. Suck it up and read it. I don’t have the same recommendation for my friends of color because they already live with this kind of fear and racism. They don’t need it illustrated to them. WE DO.

This book needs content warnings for violence, threats of rape, anxiety-inducing situations, racism, violent death – Samira Ahmed does NOT pull punches. Direct resistance is costly. It takes courage and sacrifice, and she does not shy away from showing that. It would be sugar-coating if she did.

Internment focuses on the idea of America forcing citizens into camps – but we are already forcing non-citizens into camps. The Red Cross visits the camp, not unlike our politicians visiting the immigrant concentration camps on our border now. They have a garden they can work on in the camp – not unlike a pair of photos I saw on Twitter:GardenCampTweet

Internment is stunning, heartbreaking, and inspiring, and if you’re emotionally capable of it, YOU SHOULD READ IT. This is happening, right now, on our southern border. It is infuriating that our politicians have not put a stop to it yet. My own Congressman (I just moved into this area, I haven’t had a chance to vote on him yet) just visited the camps, and his Twitter thread on them is SO CAREFUL to use absolutely neutral language when talking about them, and it pisses me off. This is NOT a neutral subject.

Internment did have a few downsides – the Director never gets a name (though the book is told from Layla’s viewpoint, and it would not surprise me if he never bothered to GIVE his name to the internees) and he’s almost cartoonishly evil. I would have liked to know more about the guard that helped Layla on occasion, but again, told as it was from her viewpoint, it can be excused by saying she simply didn’t know more about him. But this IS a Young Adult novel told from a seventeen-year-old’s viewpoint. We’re only going to get what she knows and feels. So these downsides don’t detract from the book for me.

To sum up – I recommend Internment at the highest level. You absolutely must read this book.

From the cover of Internment:

REBELLIONS ARE BUILT ON HOPE.

It’s been one year since the census landed seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her family on the registry. Five months since the attorney general argued that Korematsu v. United States established precedent for relocation of citizens during times of war. And one month since the president declared that “Muslims are a threat to America.”

And now, Layla and her parents are suddenly taken from their home and forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.

With the help of new friends also trapped within the detention center, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, Internment is a heart-racing and emotional novel that challenges readers to fight the complicit silence that exists in our society today.

Book Review: The Invention of Wings

Sue Monk Kidd The Invention of WingsThe Invention of Wings
Sue Monk Kidd
Historical Fiction
369 pages
Published 2014

The Invention of Wings is one of my PopSugar Reading Challenge books, for the prompt “A Book from a Celebrity Book Club.” It was Oprah’s 3rd pick for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. Oprah interviewed Sue Monk Kidd in the January 2014 issue of O Magazine.

I can definitely see why Oprah was so affected by this book; the two main characters are Sarah Grimké, an early abolitionist and women’s rights activist, and Hetty Handful, the slave gifted to her by her mother when she turned 11. In an afterword, Kidd explains that she did try to stay mostly historically accurate, and Handful was gifted to Sarah when she was 11, though she apparently died not long after. In Kidd’s book, however, Handful survives. Sarah and her younger sister, Angelina, were real people, and really did most of what is ascribed to them in the book, though Kidd passes a couple of their deeds from one sister to the other. The Grimkés were from Charleston, South Carolina, and born into an aristocratic, slave-owning family headed by a prestigious judge. Their abolitionist actions get them exiled from Charleston and from their church. Meanwhile, Hetty, her ownership having returned to Sarah’s mother, dreams of freedom and plots rebellions of her own.

I was a little wary going into this book; I’ve read a couple of Oprah’s picks before, and generally found them dry and uninteresting. This one, though, was very well written. The voices of both women came through clearly, as did some of the brutality of slavery. Kidd also wrote The Secret Life of Bees, which got a lot of attention. If it’s anything like this, I might have to finally read that as well.

(I know the author is white, but I thought, being about slavery and abolition, it would still qualify for Black History Month.)

From the cover of The Invention of Wings:

A triumphant story about the quest for freedom and empowerment, Sue Monk Kidd’s third novel presents the extraordinary journeys of two unforgettable women: Hetty “Handful” Grimké, an urban slave in early-nineteenth century Charleston, and Sarah, the Grimkés’ idealistic daughter. 

Inspired in part by the historic figure of abolitionist and suffragette Sarah Grimké, Kidd’s novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten-year-old Handful. The Invention of Wings follows these two women over the next thirty-five years as both strive for lives of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement, and the uneasy ways of love.

 

Book Review: Tears We Cannot Stop

tearsTears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America
by Michael Eric Dyson
Nonfiction
228 pages
Published 2017

I’m always trying to continue to educate myself on my white privilege, America’s racist history, and civil rights and activism in general. Tears We Cannot Stop fits neatly into that category, but it’s not an easy-to-read book. I mean, it is – in the sense that it’s well-written and flows very well. But it’s not easy to read because of what it says. Dyson is a black pastor, and he wrote this book as if he was preaching to the white people of America, trying to make them understand the plight of the minorities we oppress. Black people specifically.

It’s a short book, but a very powerful one. It’s separated into sections like a sermon would be, with a Call to Worship, Hymns of Praise, Scripture Reading, the Sermon, a Benediction, and more. He’s correlated these sections of a sermon with that of the book – The Offering Plate, for example, is a short little section talking about how one university – Georgetown – apologized for their past use of slavery, and established an institute to study slavery and its effects. Tried to make reparations, in a way. In the scripture reading he quotes a lot of Martin Luther King. In the Benediction he actually talks about a lot of other books to read about the subject of slavery, all of which I’ve added to my already extensive Goodreads shelf on the subject of civil rights and activism. (I’ll be attempting to read as many of those books as I can.)

Tears is a really good opening book to read on the topic, especially for white people. It’s eye-opening, and both invites and provides guidance for further investigation into just how big of a mess we’ve made of things in this country. I highly recommend it.

And, if you happen to be local to Baltimore, the author will be speaking at the Baltimore Book Festival this Friday, September 22nd! Unfortunately, I can’t make it on Friday, so I’m going on Sunday. Sunday I’m planning to catch Daniel Jose Older, the author of the Bone Street Rumba series and Shadowshaper, and Kevin Shird, the author of Uprising in the City, about the Baltimore Riots in 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray. I’m really excited about it, even if it is going to be the hottest day we’ve had in a couple of weeks. (Still only mid-80s, though, so it could be worse!)

From the cover of Tears We Cannot Stop:

As the country grapples with racial division at a level not seen since the 1960s, one man’s voice is heard above the rest. In his New York Times op-ed piece “Death in Black and White,” Michael Eric Dyson moved a nation. Now he continues to speak out in Tears We Cannot stop – a provocative and deeply personal call for change. Dyson argues that if we are to make real racial progress we must face difficult truths, including being honest about how black grievance has been ignored, dismissed, or discounted. In the tradition of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time – short, emotional, literary, powerful – this is the book that all Americans who care about the current and long-burning crisis in race relations will want to read.