Archive for September, 2019

Click by Kayla Miller

September 30, 2019


Olive just wants to find her place. Used to always getting along with everyone, being left out of all her friends plans for the school’s talent show really throws her for a loop. With the date of the performance drawing near, Olive is convinced she will never come up with something good enough on her own. But with a little help from her fierce and fabulous Aunt Molly, Olive might just realize how wonderful it can be to be yourself and stand out. Click is a sweet and funny graphic novel. A lovely and quick read.

You can find Click on Libby/Overdrive.

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Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

September 24, 2019


I love books that introduce a new perspective to familiar stories. Two of my favorites include “Longbourn” by Jo Baker, which tells the story of “Pride and Prejudice” from the perspective of one of the Bennett’s maids, and “The Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which tells the story of the King Arthur legends from the perspective of Morgaine. These alternative perspectives, often told by characters who are marginalized within the worlds they inhabit, always stay with me when I think of the originals.

“Washington Black” brings a valuable, alternative take to the Jules Verne, “Around the World in 80 Days” type of adventure novel. The story is told by Washington Black, an 11 year old enslaved boy born onto a plantation in Barbados in the early 1800s. Washington’s life is changed forever when Titch, the eccentric younger brother of the brutal plantation owner, decides to take Washington with him (because Wash is the right size and weight) to build and launch his experimental flying craft (basically a hot air balloon). We get to travel the world through Wash’s eyes – the US, Canada, the Arctic, London, Amsterdam and Morocco. While we experience his delight and wonder in the natural world as his interest in marine biology and his talent as a nature illustrator grow, we are always aware of his terror and isolation wherever they go, particularly after Titch’s brother puts a bounty on his recapture. The inability of the other characters, most painfully Titch, to recognize the devastating impact of slavery on Wash, and the terrifying vulnerability of his position in the world, is powerful. This was a fascinating and engaging read.

Washington Black can be found on Libby/Overdrive.

The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung

September 17, 2019


Sometimes the appeal of a book for me is tied to what else I have been reading. In the case of The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung, I was drawn to the structure of the novel — an older woman looking back to tell the story of her life — partly because I recently read (and loved) City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. There is something so appealing to me about this type of story – when the narrator is able to look back with a perspective and clarity that enriches the story, as it does in both of these books.

The Tenth Muse also has a kind of “Hidden Figures” appeal to me, in that it tells the story of a woman who is a gifted mathemetician during a time (her career begins in the 1960s) when the field was not friendly to women, let alone a woman who is half Chinese. Although the main character is fictional, the stories of actual women in mathematics throughout history are embedded in the book, highlighting the frustrations and obstacles and barriers, personal and professional, faced by the main character. I often wished I had a better understanding of math (or really any understanding of math) as I read the book, but I don’t think that is at all necessary to find it a worthwhile read.

The Tenth Muse is available on Hoopla.

Sisters: Divisadero, by Michael Ondaatje and The Den, by Abi Maxwell

September 3, 2019

[Lesley] This summer I read both The Den and Divisadero. The Den came out in May and Divisadero was published in 2007. I’ve had Divisadero on my “to-read” list forever and I’m not sure why it took me so long.

Both of these books feature sisters whose intense closeness is followed by (or causes) extreme distance. Both sisters are separated after traumatic events involving sex/love/a boy/a man (naturally) but the trigger is just a trigger — all that follows is more deeply rooted in the nature of sisters, the push and pull of this particular relationship. There can be a cataclysm between individual identity and identity as a sister — can both be maintained?

The Den, by Abi Maxwell

The Den gives us sisters growing up on a farm with enough years between them for the divide to grow as Henrietta becomes a teenager and Jane still holds onto the sisterhood of children. Henrietta turns away from Jane into a first and intense relationship/exploration. Jane follows and observes, jealous of the boy and wishing to have her sister back. What ensues is a tragedy of errors leaving Jane alone.

We meet another pair of sisters as well — Elspeth and Claire who lived on this land 150 years earlier. The story of a missing family turned into coyotes links Jane and Claire, both seeking for their lost sisters, not knowing if they are alive or dead – not knowing their own place in the world if not as a sister.

Divisadero, by Michael Ondaatje

Divisadero, with its sisters split apart, is by far the more intense and stark of these two novels. There is so much pain and loneliness and sorrow here – and all from the ways in which humans can’t connect. Our own failings, assumptions, self-doubt, and untruths prevent us from building unbreakable relationships. The title, Divisadero – the divisions between our lives and the lives of others; and even between the selves inside of us.

Sisters Anna and Claire grow up on a remote farm with their father (this is complicated…) and alongside Coop, both farmhand and almost part of the family. The farmer’s wife died in childbirth with one of the sisters and he takes two home when another baby is left without a mother. Coop is brought onto the farm after his family is murdered. These shaky bonds are blown apart after a sudden, shocking act of violence.

This is an intricately structured book, branching off from the beginning in disparate directions following the ruined tracks of the characters. Ondaatje’s writing deserves every accolade (and he has many) in its intimacy, unshrinking view, and poetic imagery. I read this at the beginning of August and I’m still haunted by the characters, stories, places, and the inevitability of loss.

Divisidero can be found on audiobook on LIbby/Overdrive.