There are no breaks living in today’s constantly fluxing world. Our best recourse is to choose our foci carefully and constructively and always draw an easy-to -open window in this bubble. There is so much resistance in the world that it’s amazing when change breaks through. Crafting dialogue and campaign is a challenge when being offended produces viral results, political decision making and fear. Fear is paralyzing and necessary aspect of any species’ survival. This issue of Bookisshh explores fictional works with central themes of resistance. Try NOT to enjoy one of them (kidding).
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (pronounced ing).
5 Pens (Adult Literary Fiction or Mature YA)
At present Little Fires Everywhere is everywhere! Quietly told in true Ng style
this is the story of small town suburbia and privilege. In this tale white privilege asserts itself in wealth, tradition, portraits of success, and at its very strongest, ownership of immigrant children who’s family lack resources and voice to sustain their families.
Shaker Heights, Ohio, a small socially engineered community which values tidiness and hard work. Founded by Shakers, and carried forward committed to diversity in polite practice but not in day-to-day hardcore living as readers discover with each page turn.
The Richardson family provides the home for readers to enter. Their life is the perfect formula for a Shaker Heights family–4 children each about a year apart, attorney father affording all the luxuries affluent teens hunger and become bored so quickly with and an educated mother with a respectable career not too demanding of her time who writes endorsing news for the local paper. Haves and have-nots come together when the Richardsons rent an income property to single mother, Mia and her teenage daughter Pearl. Little Fires Everywhere becomes a grass is greener story and teens trying to compensate for parental deficits, spend time attaching across households gaining approval and support from each other’s mothers.
It’s only a matter of time before mommy wars are imitated and pasts are looked into. The little fire that triggers the mommy war is over an abandoned Chinese baby girl named Mai Ling and renamed Mirabelle by her adoptive Caucasian parents.
Covered in this book is the abuse of journalistic privilege, legal and media biases, abortion, immigration issues, discrimination, entitlement and the toxic nature of buried secrets. Readers will have to concentrate deeply in this story to pull all of this together. Ng makes the case, that even when citizens follow the rules, remain in their station and keep to their side of the grid, when worlds come together versions of truth and correctness collide.
When artists reference artists the resultant effect is further art. The artistic imagery Ng crafts is stunning. She makes readers remember the work of photographer Cindy Sherman and elevates it as Mia’s process for photography is described. How she stages and alters her subjects is pure poetry and Ng is generous to readers who savor the visual and reconstruct it as prose. The melancholy created in Mia’s work give readers a final impression of life in Shaker Heights, where some people continue the same story while those who live outside the box flee to a wider, more diverse and abundant world.
Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu- 5 Pens (YA Fiction)
Got a young feminist or trying to promote equality in your home? If yes can be answered to either of these things then this book should immediately be added to your library!
Set in Texas at a high school that lives and breathes football. Women are groped, objectified, dress coded and defunded. Sexism and the trickle down aspect of this is demonstrated as girls wake up to their disenfranchising.
Vivian, daughter of a former Riot Girl, decides to fight back in a quiet and creative way–she develops a zine which comments on female status at her school and ways to fight back without getting in trouble. The Moxie movement is born and girls are silently identifying their agreement and gaining access to group think and their power.
No spoilers here and no major triggers in areas which require ratings and parental intervention. The climax is highly satisfying and while things don’t necessarily change completely things do get a little better. This YA book is excellent reading for mature Middle Schoolers and all Young Adults. It’s a great addition to any classroom curriculum or just fun to share with friends or at home.
Exit West by Moshin Hamid- 4 Pens (Adult Literary Fiction)
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Award and nominated for every literary award possible, Exit West by Moshin Hamid creatively addresses the challenge of remaining in one’s country when militants
take over and consequently the constraints one is faced with when trying to migrate some place else. Into this structure is woven a relationship between Saeed and Nadia, two Muslim community members each coping with how their faith resonates in their individual and collective lives. Readers become intimately familiar with how a society breaks down and individuals are left behind struggling through the new normal–bombs, curfews, rationing and a need for escape and entertainment during these times. When the pickings become few, compromises are made and things like religious faith, marital arrangement and life pursuits are quietly set aside. Hamid requires his readers to leap in their faith and consolidates story time by using a gimmick, in this case doors, to bring his characters forward to different settings and challenges during their journeys. Characters leave Pakistan, enter Germany, whisk over to London and end up in California and all the while experience different formats of communal and camp living. What the reader is left with is a deep distinction between friendship and love and how during the lifetimes these things can swiftly alter depending on circumstance. What remains is our core values because that is our sense of home, a place we carry wherever we go.
Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben- 5 Pens (Adult Fiction/Modern Fable)
If ever a story experiments with Resistance (capital R intended) Radio Free Vermont does! McKibben uses small town Vermont peppered with colorful characters to show readers how local
activism can work especially when secession from the United States is on the table. This book has everything–economic takeover of big beer companies, a diverse cast including members on autistic spectrum, lesbians, elderly, corporate moguls, Olympiads, petty politicians, and stoic narrators who direct listeners to the airwaves even if they have do a podcast to do so. McKibben has a unique voice which delivers readers a more simple and refreshing time when neighbors worked together, businesses were small and sustainable and communities functioned at the grass roots. Town hall meetings were and continue to be the forum to get things accomplished and main character, Vern, emphasizes to his posse and followers that this is where people need to return to. The book is filled with solid laughs–Coors trucks and cases are emptied AND recycled, fugitives hide out among the elderly in the Alzheimer’s unit (no one would look there for them) and there’s even a small school that teaches, “How to live in Vermont” and doubles as the fugitives’ hideaway. Verne and his posse’s goals are to return Vermont to what it has always been: an independently functioning agricultural state that did a fine job maintaining a healthy and fruitful environment for its citizenry and NOT be sold to offsite, disenfranchising, corporate interest. This is a great holiday gift for any friend or loved one who is fed up with the system!
The Welcome Home Diner by Peggy Lampman 3 1/2 pens (Adult Literary/Foodie Fiction)
Ambitious and delicious describes The Welcome Home Diner by Peggy Lampman. Detroit, after the fall of the auto industry, the city is slowly rising from the ashes of an economic devastation. Two cousins open a diner and serve up locally sourced, clean, soul food stemming from a variety of heritages wherein soul food can be found. Potlikker is one of their specialties and while the Polish girls own the business their African American counterparts share equal part in menu making and crafting fantastic food. There’s trouble and there always is when communities are building bridges toward one another–the locals don’t dine there and the owners are doing everything they can–community outreach, bringing schools in, using local purveyors and it is slow going. Community activism simmers in the background throughout this book and Lampman dabbles in the rehabilitation of trafficked women by bringing one on as an employee and sharing her growth which is heartwarming. There is a strong Christian appeal in this book and it might have had more significant impact if is was nonsectarian but it isn’t my book to write. Racial tensions are honest but there’ a lingering frost of great white hope story, however the sentiment of building and elevating community is well centered. Please note you WILL be hungry while reading this!
Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders- 4 pens for a listen and 3 for a read (Adult Historical Fiction)
This winner of the Man Booker among other prestigious awards and nominations is not shy on deep research and a broad base of narrative voices. The premise: it’s the height of the Civil War, the Lincolns are hosting an important event and the favorited son is upstairs dying. Add to this a belief practiced by Tibetan Buddhists that before a soul departs the world it goes to a transitional place where peace is made and readiness to go beyond is fully attained. It is in this space, also the burial crypt where Will, Lincoln’s favorited son, meets a host of individuals who by looping their story or commenting on the time they lived and function they served build a broad sense of history of the time. Reading this can be challenging especially if you read electronically–it’s hard to know who’s talking at any given moment since there are over 160 voices moving the story along. Some are more prominent than others and all of them come and go at will (no pun intended). Listening might be a better option because the range of talent employed–David Sedaris, Don Cheadle, Lena Dunham, Carrie Brownstein, Keegan Michael Key and Ben Stiller to name a few. Maybe listen on a long drive to Springfield…
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