Book Review: Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case, Patricia Hruby Powell & Shadra Strickland (2017)

Monday, January 30th, 2017

“Tell the Court I love my wife”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program, as well as an e-ARC through NetGalley. Trigger warning for racism and an allusion to rape.)

MILDRED

Richard once said,
“It could be worse, Bean.
If you was the white one
and I was the colored one,
people saw us together?
They’d lynch me.
We can do this.”

RICHARD

After waiting another year –
more like fourteen months –
they lost that case.
Is that four now?
They called for another.

They lawyers sure are excited
for losing.

As its 50th anniversary approaches, the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving vs. Virginia is receiving some extra attention: from the recently released film starring Ruth Negga (forever my Annie Cresta!) and Joel Edgerton (titled simply Loving), to a mention on the ABC sitcom Blackish, and now a “documentary novel” written by Patricia Hruby Powell, with illustrations by Shadra Strickland.

For those unfamiliar with the case, Loving vs. Virginia struck down the state’s anti-miscegenation statute (the Racial Integrity Act of 1924) – and, by extension, similar statutes that existed in twenty-five other states – which prohibited whites from marrying outside their race. Interestingly, no such restrictions existed for non-whites, which is part of what led to the law’s downfall: The Lovings’ lawyers argued that the emphasis on maintaining the racial purity of whites (but not nonwhites) presupposed the superiority of the “white race,” in clear violation of the 14th Amendment.

In Loving vs. Virginia, Hruby Powell tells the story of Mildred and Richard’s historic fight, from the genesis of their relationship to their victory in the Supreme Court on June 12, 1967 (a day that’s now remembered as Loving Day). The couple grew up together in Central Point, Virginia; their rural neighborhood was home to people of all colors: black, white, Native American, and multiracial. (Mildred herself was light-skinned, with both African and Native American ancestry.) They socialized, shared potluck dinners, and helped each other with farm work. Despite the state’s law against it, interracial relationships were not unheard of.

Millie and Richard started dating in 1955, and two years later they had their first child, Sidney Clay. When Mildred found herself pregnant for the second time, the couple decided to get married – in nearby Washington, D.C. Just five weeks later, they were arrested in the dead of night. Sheriff Garnett Brooks and two deputies stormed into the couple’s bedroom in the Jeter house and demanded of Richard, “Who’s that woman you’re sleeping with?” When Mildred replied that she was his wife, Brooks shot back, “Not here, she ain’t.”

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Book Review: The You I’ve Never Known, Ellen Hopkins (2017)

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

A complex, nuanced, and heart-rending coming-of-age story.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for child abuse, domestic violence, rape, and racist/sexist/homophobic language.)

Home
Four letters,
one silent. A single syllable
pregnant with meaning.

I’m getting married. That should have an exclamation mark, shouldn’t it? I guess a small part of me is excited to leave my current existence behind in favor of something brand-new. But the closer I get to the appointed time, the more I think I might’ve made an awful mistake.

My childhood is a jigsaw puzzle,
with chewed and misplaced
pieces. I’ve always known that.
What I didn’t realize
is that even if every correct piece
was fitted perfectly into place,
the resulting picture would’ve been
interpretive art.

When she was just a toddler, Ariel’s father Mark kidnapped her. Of course, she doesn’t know this – yet. Raised on a steady diet of her father’s lies, Ariel thinks her mother Jenny ran off and abandoned the family to be with another woman. The duo has spent the last decade and half moving from town to town, state to state, mooching off her father’s latest conquests when possible, shoplifting and sleeping in the car when not.

After years of bouncing around, Ariel and Mark have finally settled in Sonora, California – which is to say, they’ve managed to stay in one place for a whopping fifteen months. Ariel was able to attend a whole year of high school uninterrupted, joined the basketball team, and even made two friends: teammates and fellow “freaks” Monica and Syrah. Mark’s in a somewhat stable relationship with a woman named Zelda, and things are looking … good. That is, if you don’t look too hard.

Mark is … a piece of work. Actually, that’s an understatement: the man’s a full-on sociopath. Kidnapping isn’t the worst of his offenses. He’s emotionally and physically abusive, treats his daughter like a possession, and demands total obedience at all costs. He has a laundry list of rules that Ariel must follow; some, like leaving her shoes at the front door and not bringing any stray animals home, go to his rigid nature, while others only make sense when Ariel discovers the truth about herself. Unlike other parents, Mark isn’t keen on the idea of letting his seventeen-year-old daughter get a driver’s license (never mind a car!) or a part-time job, even though both would make his life infinitely easier. Nor is he thrilled when she saves the life of local VIP girl Hillary Grantham, thus attracting the attention of the media.

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Book Review: To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party, Skila Brown (2016)

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

“The men think they’re following a trail … But I know.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for cannibalism and domestic violence.)

There’s only a little gap between rain and snow,
an open window of sunshine to go,
it all must be timed just right
or it will go all wrong,
like a cup of tea that slips
from too hot to too cold
without leaving enough time
in between to drink it.

Imagine.
He almost shot Charles,
thinking he was food.

When you picture the Donner Party, of course cannibalism is the first thing to come to mind. OF COURSE. After all, it’s THE reason this ill-fated expedition made it into the history books: the gruesome lengths that many of the surviving members had to go to to stay alive. And yet murder and cannibalism isn’t where their stories begin, or end. There’s also romance, adventure, and optimism. A can-do spirit and the pursuit of the American Dream. Even if this dream is built on the backs of those who lived here before us.

(Several times, the caravan’s livestock is freed/stolen by “Indians” – who I couldn’t help but root for – and Brown briefly mentions the indigenous populations in the Author’s Note. When the killing starts, it’s the group’s Native American guides who are the first to go.)

In To Stay Alive, Skila Brown reconstructs these events through the eyes of Mary Ann Graves, who was nineteen when she and her family set out from their home in Lacon, Illinois to make a new life California. The already-arduous journey turned deadly when the Donner-Reed Party, as it came to be known, found themselves snowbound in the Sierra Nevada mountains during the winter of 1846-47, just a hundred-odd miles shy of their destination. While the majority of the party made camp next to Truckee Lake in anticipation of the spring thaw, supplies quickly dwindled, and so a small group set out on foot to find help. When they ran out food, they were forced to eat the dead to survive – first those felled by starvation and hypothermia, and then those murdered for food. (I’m not sure how closely To Stay Alive reflects reality, but the whole murdering-people-for-food thing seems a little more controversial IRL.)

To Stay Alive is particularly noteworthy for two reasons: 1) it’s a novel written in verse and 2) its intended audience, which is middle grade readers.

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Book Review: Ask Me How I Got Here, Christine Heppermann (2016)

Friday, May 6th, 2016

Nine Kinds of Awesome

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

Public School Kids Always Ask

How do you meet guys
if you go to an all-girls school?

Immaculate Heart Academy
is named for the pure love of God
that flows through Mary’s heart.
But here’s the real reason why
our logo is a hunk of dripping muscle:
five hundred girls in red plaid skirts.

Even if we brushed with garlic toothpaste
we couldn’t keep the vampires away.

Mary’s Parents

Sure, they tried their best
not to treat her any different.

What choice did they have?

After all, she was still their daughter,
and they had promised
God to love her no matter what
crazy shit her body could do.

The summer before her junior year of high school, Addie becomes pregnant and decides to have an abortion. In a refreshing twist, her parents and boyfriend are wholly supportive of Addie, and her decision: Nick accompanies her to the appointment, and mom and dad sign off on it without argument (Addie lives in Minnesota, a state that requires parental consent).

She isn’t conflicted about her choice, but Addie does slip into a bit of a depression or malaise after the fact. Worried about disappointing everyone yet again, she mostly keeps “Hurricane Addie” to herself. She withdraws from Nick and loses interest in classwork. She quits the cross-country team – which was supposed to fund her college education – and starts spending her afternoons at Java Joes, so her parents are none the wiser. There she runs into Juliana, another former track star from Immaculate Heart Academy, who is dealing with her own capital-s Shit. And then, slowly, Addie finds her way back to normal: her new normal.

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Book Review: One, Sarah Crossan (2015)

Monday, September 14th, 2015

One of the Loveliest Books You’ll Read This Year

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

When conjoined twins are separated,
it’s deemed a success so
long as one of them lives.
For a while.

And that,
to me,
is the saddest thing
I know about how
people see us.

Sixteen-year-old Grace and Tippi are ischiopagus tripus conjoined twins. Fused at the lower halves of their bodies, they look perfectly “normal” – beautiful even – from the waist up (as Grace wistfully notes on at least one occasion). They have two heads, two hearts, two sets of lungs and kidneys, four arms, and a pair of fully functioning legs between them. Their intestines begin apart, and then merge; below that, they are one.

Summer is coming to a close, and their parents have just announced that they’ll be attending school – for the first time ever – in September. Up until now, the girls have been homeschooled at their apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey, where they live with their parents; their paternal grandmother; and their younger sister, Nicola (“Dragon”). But the donations have dried up, and the state will only offer financial assistance if they attend a private school. And so it is they come to begin their junior year in Hornbeacon High School in nearby Montclair.

If you think you know where the story’s headed from here, join the club. I expected One to be a story about bullying, at least at the outset. And while Grace and Tippi do encounter no small amount of fear, hostility, and tactlessness – not just from their fellow classmates, but also teachers, neighbors, shopkeepers, extended family, and even their own doctors, who flaunt them like a medical exhibit – their transition to Hornbeacon goes surprisingly well.

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Book Review: 5 to 1, Holly Bodger (2015)

Friday, May 15th, 2015

“…bone, once broken, never heals the same.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review though NetGalley. Also, trigger warning for rape.)

Although his words put me on a pedestal,
his eyes make me
the stool he’d use
to ascend there himself.

They’d already lived in Hell. How could this new country possibly be worse?

The year is 2054, and the walled city of Koyanagar is all of twelve years old. Its birth is steeped in the blood of children – the millions of girls killed prior to its inception, and the thousands of boys sacrificed to its ideals since.

In order to halt its population growth, India instituted a one-child policy at the turn of the century, ushering in an era of sex-selective abortion and gender-based infanticide. In less than fifty years, the devaluation of girls led to a sex ratio of 5 to 1 – five boys for every one girl. Girls became a precious commodity to be bought, sold – and stolen. Tired of the war on women, and in a bid to make marriage more equitable, the women of Koyanager appealed to the Prime Minister, demanding that he reverse India’s destructive policies. When he laughed in their faces, they returned to Koyanagar, separated it from the outside world with a wall (and plenty of boys and men to guard it), and instituted their own form of government: a matriarchy every bit as oppressive and tyrannical as the patriarchy which inspired it.

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