Book Review: Everything Grows by Aimee Herman (2019)

May 7th, 2019 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

A story about growing up, coming out, and finding the words to speak your truth.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for suicide, child abuse, and homophobia.)

Dear James,

I fell asleep clutching your notebook. We sit in classrooms for years and years. Same faces. But we have no idea what we are all swallowing deep, deep inside us. Why were you writing to me, James? Me? And why did you choose me to bully? Do we hate the people we recognize ourselves in? I mean, parts of ourselves that we can’t exactly be?

“Audre Lorde said something really beautiful about that,” Flor said. “A different book than what you’re reading. I’ll have to give to you. She talked about the words we don’t yet have and the power of what happens when we find them.”

“So how do I find my words?”

“Keep reading. Keep searching. You and your words will find one another,” Flor said.

“Dear Kurt,” Aggie paused. “What does it feel like to be gone but still able to speak? Even in your death, you make music. We rip up old flannels to remember you, but all we really need to do is press play. Sew thread into each square and knit them together as you scream ‘Pennyroyal Tea.’ Watch as shirts turn into a blanket to remind us how to stay warm as you call out ‘Lithium’ and you came as you are. There is no such thing as a separation of deaths. I believe we all head into the same place, floating and filling up the air with our memories. Say hello to my mother, please. Tell James he had more friends than he ever knew. I’ll keep playing your music to keep you down here as you sing along above me.”

Fifteen-year-old Eleanor Fromme is hanging at her* best friend Dara’s house when she hears that a fellow classmate committed suicide. Her immediate reaction is to run home and chop off her beautiful blonde curls.

Things are complicated, and not just because James was her bully (what’s the “right” way to feel when someone you hated and feared dies by suicide?). El’s mom Shirley (as El now calls her) attempted the year before, and wound up institutionalized for a brief period. Though Shirley is doing better now – going to group therapy, making friends, even dating again – Eleanor cannot beat back the fear that she’ll try again.

Somewhat serendipitously, James’s mom Helaine ends up in Eleanor’s suicide support group. This, along with her new look (or rather, the reactions it elicits in others), impending puberty, and a journal assignment from her English teacher Ms. Raimondo, opens up the metaphorical floodgates in Eleanor. As she writes letters to her bully, Eleanor discovers that he was also writing to her – giving her the courage to do what he couldn’t: come out. But even as Eleanor self-identifies as a lesbian, she still feels like that word doesn’t quite fit: “It’s like I’m a meal on a menu with the wrong name. My ingredients make it seem like I’m one dish when really, I swear I’m another.”

Luckily, El is surrounded by a pretty wonderful support system: her parents are loving and open-minded; she has a great mentor in her mom’s best friend Flor, an out lesbian; and a chance meeting (and subsequent friendship) with Reigh, a trans woman, helps expand El’s concept of queerness. Whereas Dara turns out to be a pretty shitty friend, El finds a kindred spirit in Aggie, unabashed feminist and she of the glorious braid. Helaine even takes El under her wing, showering her with the love and acceptance meant for James.

There’s so much to love about Everything Grows. As a child of the ’90s, I dug all the “historical” references. Everything Grows takes place in the 1993-1994 school year, the ending coinciding with the death of Kurt Cobain. Not gonna lie: Aggie’s letter had me in tears. Pretty much all of the music that El and James are into is on my ipod.

I love the abortion conversation, and that Planned Parenthood got a mention.

I love that Aggie is a vegetarian (and El is totally nonjudgmental and accommodating of it), and that there is an ex-boyfriend known as Vegetarian Todd.

I love all the women, from Gret to Flor to Helaine to Reigh to Shirley, and especially how supportive they are of each other, and of El.

I love that Helaine is not a stereotype.

I love that El is an atheist.

I even love El’s reaction to her changing body, since I could see so much of myself in it. (I’m not trans, but I too suffered the indignity of family members hounding me to wear a bra. Period, no want.)

Sometimes the language felt a little off: too formal, too childish, and – on the other extreme – too dirty for a teenage girl. (Gah, to be as bold a at sixteen as T’nea. To be that bold at forty!)

Overall, though, Everything Grows is a sweet and moving read about a young person growing up, coming out, and trying to find the right words to speak their truth. The awesome soundtrack is just a bonus.

* I struggled with what pronouns I should use in this review, ultimately settling on “she” and “her” since it’s how El thinks of herself throughout most of the story.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

tweets for 2019-05-06

May 7th, 2019 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2019-05-05

May 6th, 2019 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2019-05-04

May 5th, 2019 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2019-05-03

May 4th, 2019 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato
  • RT @miamckenzie: So…this super-stressful, racist shit has been happening for the last year that I haven't talked about, but now I have a… ->
  • RT @adropofrainbook: @AllOnMedicare I suffered broken neck & 5 stab wounds by rapist. I was fully insured by 2 insurance companies.
    Claim… ->
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    Lures in a pedophile to a park at night.
    Beats the shit out of h… ->
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tweets for 2019-05-02

May 3rd, 2019 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2019-05-01

May 2nd, 2019 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2019-04-30

May 1st, 2019 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: Anarcha Speaks: A History in Poems by Dominique Christina (2019)

April 30th, 2019 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

“fine. new hell, whatever.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. Trigger warning for violence inflicted on black bodies, including rape and medical experimentation.)

this bruise ain’t no girl
she gone
she never gon be again
she too much a ghost even
for burial

when he left
seem like he stayed
like i kept
some of it
like i ain’t
have no other way

and now Betsey say
i expecting

how you translate
a bludgeonin to
a birth?

you tell me how
i’m suposed to
do that –

a baby.
from the mud pile…
a baby…

one more
thing i don’t know
how to carry.

i say:
what you make a dem stars?
he say:

they just like us. sizzlin dead.

— 4.5 stars —

Like his homeland, the man widely regarded as “the father of modern gynecology” built his wealth and success on the bodies of slaves. Specifically, enslaved black women who suffered debilitating complications from childbirth.

J. Marion Sims is credited with a number of advancements in the field of gynecology: He developed a precursor to the modern speculum, using a spoon and complicated series of mirrors. He built the first women’s hospital in his backyard in Montgomery, Alabama, despite his reported disgust with women’s anatomy. (He wrote in his autobiography, “if there was anything I hated, it was investigating the organs of the female pelvis.”) Most famously, he developed a way of repairing vesicovaginal fistula.

Vesicovaginal fistula is caused during childbirth “when the woman’s bladder, cervix, and vagina become trapped between the fetal skull and the woman’s pelvis, cutting off blood flow and leading to tissue death. The necrotic tissue later sloughs off, leaving a hole. Following this injury, as urine forms, it leaks out of the vaginal opening, leading to a form of incontinence.” Similarly, rectovaginal fistula can cause fecal incontinence; Sims explored treatment for this condition as well.*

And he did it all on the backs of the most vulnerable: enslaved black women.

Over a period of four years, Sims experimented on twelve female slaves who suffered complications from childbirth. He subjected each woman to multiple surgeries without the benefit of anesthesia (though some were given opium post-op). Sometimes he had an audience; on other occasions, the women themselves had to assist in Sims’s procedures. Many were brought to him by their “owners,” seeking to recoup their “investments.” Sims purchased one woman outright so that he could experiment on her. Only three of these women’s names resisted burial under the weight of history: Anarcha, Betsy, and Lucy, all of whom suffered from fistula. Sims violated Anarcha thirteen times before he declared her a success.

In Anarcha Speaks, poet/activist/educator – and mother – Dominique Christina attempts to reconstruct Anarcha’s life, imagining the events that might have landed her on Sims’s doorstep/operating table/torture chamber. Sims doesn’t even make an appearance until halfway through the book, giving us a chance to get to know Anarcha as a person, and not “just” the ill-fated woman in that horrifying Robert Thom painting. After this, Christina occasionally alternates their perspectives: slave/patient and doctor/”massa.” I’m not sure I loved this convention: I think perhaps the story would have been more powerful coming from Anarcha and Anarcha alone; and besides, history is overflowing with the perspectives of privileged white men – do we really need to hear more? On the other hand, Sims’s POV gives necessary context on how doctors/society regarded black women – and their pain.

Anarcha Speaks is powerful, raw, and visceral. I don’t always love poetry because I don’t usually “get” it, but Christina’s prose cuts to bone. I can’t exactly call Anarcha Speaks an enjoyable read, but it’s a necessary one, and skillfully done. This tiny little powerhouse of a tome would equally be at home on a history syllabus or in a class on medical ethics as in a creative writing course.

* He also experimented on children and babies, in an attempt to treat trismus nascentium; these interventions were met with a hundred percent fatality rate, which he blamed on the mothers (all black). Naturally.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

tweets for 2019-04-29

April 30th, 2019 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2019-04-28

April 29th, 2019 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2019-04-27

April 28th, 2019 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2019-04-26

April 27th, 2019 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato
  • RT @JordanPeele: You win. https://t.co/NeIMgIU9IC ->
  • RT @JuliaSerano: to celebrate almost 3 years on @Patreon, I've compiled all the essays I've written since then! it is a public post, chockf… ->
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  • RT @anne_theriault: “Yes, of course I would vote for a woman. I love women. I respect women. It’s just that this particular woman had too m… ->
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Book Review: The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas (2019)

April 26th, 2019 10:19 am by Kelly Garbato

A haunting contemplation on love, death, and destiny.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for allusions to rape and mental health issues.)

“The funny thing is, the other time travelers—I’m thinking of Teddy Avedon in particular, he’s been showing me the ropes—they keep telling me that it’s green to be so excited. They mean I’m being gauche. Teddy says I’ll get used to seeing dead people. But I think he’s wrong. Whenever I visit my father, the trees in his garden are young again, and so is he. I will never take that for granted.”

Two women, who’d already witnessed each other’s deaths, married on the first day of spring. […]

Entertainments followed: fifty-five Angharads danced a ballet.

It’s 1967 and time travel is about to become a reality – thanks to four brilliant young women.

The laboratory, in Cumbria, was home to four young scientists. Margaret was a baroness turned cosmologist. Lucille had come from the Toxteth slums to make radio waves travel faster than light. Grace—who never gave the same account of her history twice—was an expert in the behavior of matter. And the last was Barbara: the baby of the group, hair so fair it was nearly white, ruddy-cheeked and naively wholesome. She specialized in nuclear fission.

Among other things, their invention will make it more difficult for society to deny them their accomplishments:

And because time travellers appear again and again as the years go by—long past their natural lifespan—it would be harder to write these women out of history. They would be visible, for all to see.

Yet, shortly after traveling forward an hour into the future (time travel being possible only between points in which the infrastructure exists which, for the purpose of this story, is between 1967 and 2267 … mysterious!), Barbara – Bee for short – suffers a breakdown on live TV and is promptly institutionalized. It’s later theorized that the disruptions in daylight triggered a bipolar episode in Bee, who was already predisposed. Nevertheless, Bee is ostracized from the burgeoning Time Travel Enclave, largely at funder Margaret’s behest.

Fast forward fifty-plus years. Bee marries, has a child, is widowed, has a grandchild. She shies away from the spotlight and largely abandons her scientific pursuits. She lives a cozy, contented life in a cottage by the sea, kept company by her garden, her doggos, and her granddaughter Ruby. She is, in a way, written out of history (despicably, by another woman).

That is, until the day she finds an origami rabbit on her front step. Inside is in inquest notice, dated five months in the future, into the death of an unidentified woman in her 80s. Afraid that Bee will soon be murdered – multiple gunshot wounds, her body discovered in the locked basement boiler room of a toy museum by a volunteer – Ruby launches a covert investigation into the Conclave’s other three founders. Meanwhile, Bee tries to get back into the Conclave’s good graces.

The Psychology of Time Travel jumps back and forth in time – from the invention of time travel in 1967; to last half of 2018, in the months leading up to the murder; to the crime’s fallout, in 2019 – and is told through multiple perspectives: Bee, Margaret, Grace, Lucille, and Ruby, naturally; Odette, the young graduate student who makes the gruesome discovery; Ginger, Ruby’s sometimes-lover; Angharad, an astronaut who joins the Conclave after Bee’s ousting; and Siobhan, a psychologist from the 22nd century. Every. Single. Narrator. is a woman, which is such a refreshing and surprising delight, I can’t even.

Sometimes stories told in this way can prove difficult to follow but, once I got used to the rhythm, I became lost in the tale. It’s a little bit mystery, a lot of geeky good science fiction, and – perhaps above all else – a surprisingly philosophical exploration of how time travel might affect us: the travelers specifically, and society more generally. Mascarenhas’s vision might surprise you.

This is an exceptionally difficult book for me to review, but probably not for the reasons you might think. I read it while one of my beloved puppers – fifteen years young! – was dying…though I did not realize it at the time. She’d been struggling with dementia for about ten months, which was difficult to watch; but I thought we had at least a few more months together. Sadly, O-Ren was euthanized at home five days after I finished The Psychology of Time Travel: she was refusing to eat or drink, and her nighttime pacing became more frantic, even as her energy waned and she could no longer do laps around the house without falling, repeatedly. Most likely she also had a brain tumor, like her friend Mags, who passed away just four months before – on Thanksgiving, no less. One of my final memories of Rennie will be pacing around the house with her while reading The Psychology of Time Travel on my Kindle. Needless to say, this review was written in tears.

Point being, it’s been a rough few years for me. In just under six years, I lost six dogs, a grandmother, and my husband. I had to sell my house and move back home. My last remaining doggo is thirteen-and-a-half and I’m waiting on a neurology consult to see if Finnick might have a brain tumor as well. I don’t know what I’m going to do when he leaves me, too. Some days these dogs are the only thing that keeps me going. In this context, I found The Psychology of Time Travel’s meditations on death especially appealing.

This book is called The PSYCHOLOGY of Time Travel for a reason: turns out that time travel can really fuck a person up.

When you’re a time traveler, the people you love die, and you carry on seeing them, so their death stops making a difference to you. The only death that will ever change things is your own.

This idea is both amazing and terrifying. To think that your loved one will forever exist during a certain period in time, even if they do not exist at this particular moment, and that you can visit them at the drop of a hat, is…wonderful. Magnificent. Liberating. I would give anything to be able to do that. To bump crooked noses with Peedee, or smell Ralphie’s musk, or rub Kaylee’s piggy belly. To talk to Shane or go on a hike with Mags. To once again toss a tennis ball around with little puppy Rennie.

Yet, as we soon learn, this mutability of death is a double-edged sword. Time travelers become cruel. Hardened. Some of this is in the management, sure, but even the “good” ones struggle with doing what’s right – why not, when you can put that weight on your silver self’s shoulders?

The Psychology of Time Travel is a thoughtful contemplation on love, loss, and – yes – destiny. Another pitfall of already knowing the future? Subjugating your will in order to choose the path that you think your life is “supposed” to take: seeing the future makes it so. But who’s to say the future cannot be changed?

So, yes, time travel is a magical experience – but took much knowledge can become a prison of its own.

The time travel also lends itself well to all sorts of neat little details, from the slang (“For instance—intercourse with one’s future self was called forecasting. Intercourse with one’s past self was a legacy fuck.”) to the scenes featuring multiple versions of the same character (see also: slang). You never know just when or how some characters’ lives will intersect, and the guessing makes for a really enjoyable experience.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

tweets for 2019-04-25

April 26th, 2019 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2019-04-24

April 25th, 2019 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2019-04-23

April 24th, 2019 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: The Underfoot, Volume 1: The Mighty Deep by Ben Fisher, Emily S. Whitten, & Michelle Nguyen (2019)

April 23rd, 2019 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Two words: hamster mercenaries.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss/NetGalley.)

The Underfoot is set in the (not-so-?) distant future, in which humans – known to the surviving land mammals as the Giants-That-Were – have been wiped out: either by mass floods, or by earthquakes, or perhaps even by avalanches, depending on who you ask. In our wake, we left behind the results of our scientific cruelty (or generosity, again relative to the teller of the tale): a variety of nonhuman animal species, imbued with superior (again, perspective!) intelligence, capable of using tools and communicating with advanced verbal language. They’re like us, but tiny and furrier!

They’re also like us, for better or worse: they engage in spying, sabotage, and warfare. Which brings us to the “underfoot” (“underfeet”?), i.e., hamsters. The hamster community at the heart of this story lives in a fungus-powered bubble under the water. Believing that the great floods will some day return, they train their pups to swim, (dis)assemble dams, and keep the underwater colony running. They also maintain an elite para-military group called the Hamster Aquatic Mercenaries (H.A.M.), which performs ops for other animal colonies in exchange for IOUs, unspecified favors to be cashed in at a later date.

When we first meet them, the HAMs have just been hired to destroy a damn for … a bunch of skunks? I wasn’t clear on that. Anyway, the structure is threatening to flood their home. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem for the HAMs, but their expert traps-hamster recently passed away. It’s time to graduate a young pup early – but are any of them up to the job?

The story is kind of cute, I guess – I mean, who doesn’t love a furry round hamster butt? – though I think it’s probably best suited for younger readers. The animal experimentation angle piqued my interest, but isn’t really explored in depth. Certainly not any intellectual depth, such as the ethics of vivisection. The hamsters idolize humans, even though we left them to rot in cages, so…yeah.

I mean, does Gunther the lobster have any idea what we used to do to his people? And here he is, collecting and guarding our junk in eager anticipation of our return? Yuck.

The ending does hint at more to come, but the story didn’t hold my interest enough to continue.

Beyond this, I just didn’t find the plot (or many subplots) all that compelling. It can be difficult to keep all the hamsters straight (though the artists do an admirable job, for example, through accessorizing and mixing the species up), and many of the action panels are confusing as heck. idk, it just wasn’t what I was gunning for.

Ruby and Mac are adorable though, and I love how the hamsters rescued the cats from the research facility. Interspecies cooperation ftw!

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

tweets for 2019-04-22

April 23rd, 2019 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato
  • RT @emrazz: .@DLoesch have you seen this story? Thoughts? Any NRA resources available for Brittany? ->
  • RT @emrazz: Police photographed 33 wounds on Brittany’s body, including bite marks on her neck and chin, inflicted during her brutal rape.… ->
  • RT @theappeal: Recently @theappeal published the story of Brittany Smith who says she was brutally raped twice the night she killed the man… ->
  • RT @LadyHawkins: I just remembered that I once desperately wanted to write a Western where thanks to a mail mishap, a lady rancher ends up… ->
  • RT @AnimalsAus: Fear feels the same for all of us. https://t.co/1PhUCKi60h ->
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tweets for 2019-04-21

April 22nd, 2019 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato