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Review: How to Love the Empty Air

28 May 2018

Review: An Authentic Experience

An Authentic Experience An Authentic Experience by Kelly Wittmann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kelly Wittmann's "An Authentic Experience" is a lovely peek at the GenX-GenZ generational conflict through parenting. Silver is a 15-year-old GenZer whose Riot Grrrl mom is recovering from brain cancer and punk rock father never learned to be a dad. She finds solace in her maternal grandparents, cousin-best friend, as well as her first boyfriend.

I fell in love with the book because of Silver's constant eye-rolling over her parents' GenX references. I busted out laughing when her father calls her Frances Bean, because well, Silver is a bit of a punk rock-riot grrrl princess as her parents were (her father remains) famous in those circles. Her parents admonish her generation for caring too much about what people think and Silver constantly recalls her mother's famous bleeding out on stage moment or stunt that is legendary in the family.

As with many great young adult novels, Silver's summer break is what frames this novel. She is sent to live with her father across town in Milwaukee while her mother recovers from surgery. There she learns more about her father and his inability to move on from his punk rock days. At the same time she discovers the sexist manner in which her father's career is held up as legendary while her mother's influence has faded to a whisper. In the forefront is Silver's first big romance and how she goes from idealizing her boyfriend to a rude awakening when he fails to support her in Silver's moment of need. The honest depiction of a teen romance was beautiful. The awkwardness of connecting to the fumbles of expressing it. Wittmann was genius in building up Silver's boyfriend and then when he disappoints her, depicting Silver's reliance on the wisdom her mom instilled in a manner only a Riot Grrrl (inspired) mom could.

CW for family dysfunction and physical violence. Wittmann stays well within the approved plot lines for young women to grow up by having Silver be assaulted, but not raped. The travails that Silver endures with her parents and typical boyfriend stuff is enough of a hero's journey without having to include an assault. This is the one disappointing part of the novel, but it does serve as a wake up call to Silver's father to get his paternal act in order. But I look forward to the day when we do not need physical assault or threat of rape for young women's transformation. This is more a critique of the overall genre than this book.

All that said, I do recommend this book for teens and parents alike. I've already assigned it to my 14yo for her summer reading. Silver's insight into GenZ thinking was enlightening to this GenX mom. Maybe my daughter will gain a bit more insight into her GenX mom through this book. Even if I'm the farthest thing from Courtney Love.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Kelly Wittmann for reaching out to offer me a review copy of her novel in exchange for an honest review.

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27 May 2018

Review: Girls Burn Brighter

Girls Burn Brighter Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's been a long time since I've burned through a book so quickly and "Girls Burn Brighter" was the perfect one to reignite my furious reading skills. But I must warn you dear reader that Shobha Rao sculpted a violent tale of two young women determined to save each other with the most beautiful words. CW: Rape, violence against women, physical abuse

Poornima and Savitha become fast friends. They are separated after a horrible incident. The remainder of the novel is their quest to save themselves and reunite.

Reading this book is like learning about atrocities through stained glass. It is beautiful to look at, but the details are heart wrenching. In one scene Poornima, who has little education, discovers that her husband's esteemed career as an accountant is overblown math:

"She saw that the first row on the topmost page did make sense. It was imply the numbers in the second, third, fourth, and firth columns added up, and listed in the sixth column. The first column was just a date. That was easy enough; she'd learned addition well before the fifth class, which was the last year she'd attended school...Was this what [her husband] did at work all day? She nearly laughed out loud (page 98)."

As she works to truly understand accounting in between her harsh marriage, she discovers pride in the work and is shaken at the feeling. This helps her discover a strength that she will need to fall back on over and over.

Poornima and Savitha have to decide between terrible choices so many times it wears on your heart. Rao's description of the too-often close relationship between love and fear, and then one woman's sweet discovery of a banana split will bring you to tears. There are many times I questioned why I was still reading the book. Then Rao gifts another gorgeous line like:

"Every moment in a woman's life was a deal."

Indeed.

"Girls Burn Brighter" is a tale of two undereducated young women in India that feels familiar even to this non-Indian reader. Although I would like to read reviews from Indian woman as this novel does travel through many stereotypes. In the end this is a tale of how the love between two friends can move mountains and be the source of unimaginable strength.

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20 May 2018

Review: The Night Masquerade

The Night Masquerade The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The mark of a genius writer is one who can wrap up a trilogy in a way that stays true to the spirit of the first book. Nnedi Okorafor has fulfilled this difficult task with "The Night Masquerade".

I will admit that I had my doubts near the end. Binti’s journey in the last third of this book is one that made me frustrated. Frustrated at what was happening and the thought that Okorafor had jumped the shark. But somehow she recovered and landed an excellent and fitting ending for our hero.

When I read “Binti” a few years ago, I saw it as a premiere novel for young adults ready to leave the safety of their parents’ homes to start their own journeys. The third book in her journey encapsulates the brutality that goes into forging one’s own path and the blow back that some have to manage when it comes to familial disappointments. At the same time it exhibits the loving and stumbling manner in which we craft chosen families. Pop culture and literature are full of bands of misfits that evolve into family - Buffy, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Lauren Oya Olamina's Earthseed - Binti’s crew joins these ranks.

As with the other books in this series, there is graphic violence, death, and heartbreak. I firmly believe these books are young adult, definitely not children’s books. The intelligence of the books lends itself well to readers who are young adults at heart.

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02 April 2018

Review: How to Love the Empty Air

How to Love the Empty Air How to Love the Empty Air by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the 15 years since I lost my mother, I have yet to read something that so beautifully and tragically embodies what it means to lose your biggest supporter.

I do not normally read poetry, but Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz's writing makes me want more. When her collection ended I did not want it to end. It was part because I wanted her to continue painting my own sorrow and because I wanted to read more of her art. It took me a few days to finish this book because the poem that is set at her mother's deathbed was so vivid, I wanted to sob...and well you don't do that when you are in the car. From there on out I read the book while holding my breath and tears streamed down my cheeks. And yet, also with a slight smile on my lips.

The smile was because for once, finally, I felt like someone truly knew the path I have been walking. Even the dates seems to line up to my own journey. The big difference was Cristin had to work through her grief as she prepared to get married while I grieved while pregnant.

I know I may be identifying too much to be a good reviewer, but this book blew my mind while simultaneously breaking and mending my heart. This is the book I have wanted to write the past 15 years. I consider it a gift that a review copy found its way to me. Thank you, Cristin.

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24 March 2018

Review: The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Of all the books that I have read about motherhood, "The Fifth Season" is in my top five. It feels impossible to write this review without spoiling this magical journey N. K. Jemisin gifted the world. But I'm giving it a try!

The world we find feels familiar to us, yet at the same time so far in the distant future. It is at once sometime long ago and just down the road. The women we meet along the way make up the bulk of the protagonists. Each are flawed in their own way - some are young enough we forgive them and hope they grow out of their weaknesses, others leave us wondering what led them to the place we meet them.

Holding it all together is a race towards the end of the world and two characters wrestling with the role of motherhood. As I said earlier, the manner in which motherhood and mothering is tackled in "The Fifth Season" is contemporary and accessible, all the while occurring on a planet ready to collapse onto everyone.

Life is the only reason why it took me so long to read this page-turner. At 449 pages, it seems intimidating, but at the conclusion you will want more. Thankfully there are two more books in this series.

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Disclaimer

This blog is my personal blog and is not reflective of my employer or what I do for them.

What I'm Currently Reading

I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame
The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces


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