A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton

a kind of freedom

Originally published in: 2017

What’s it about: A New Orleans-based family saga that traces the history of racial disparity from the days of Jim Crow through modern post-Katrina reality.

What made me pick it up: I saw that this got long-listed for the National Book Award in Fiction, and thought it sounded like a good compliment to Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, which I really enjoyed (and which actually won the award).

My favorite things: While this doesn’t dip into the supernatural they way that Sing did, it still traces similar themes that I was hoping to find. Each character experiences specific manifestations of systemic racism unique to their era but undeniably tied to those of the other generations. The lines between each are clear, with the desperation escalating in younger characters. The people missing from each character’s life have almost as much of an impact on their stories as do those who are present.

Who it’s great for:  Fans of family histories that trace multiple generations. Readers looking for writers telling complex stories of the African-American family; fans of Jesmyn Ward, Tayari Jones, and Angela Flournoy.

Abby’s rating: four-shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A teen sees his older brother shot to death on the basketball court and how he deals with his grief.

What made me pick it up: I’ve read two of Reynolds’ other books and this one was getting really good reviews.

My favorite parts: This novel is in verse, which always amazes me that as much story can be told in few words and some authors need many. The best part for me was the beautiful language the author uses — describing the sidewalk as “the pavement galaxy of bubble gum stars” and so many other great turns of phrase. I also liked the dilemma he gave his character. On the one hand he’d like to avenge his brother’s death, but on the other that would dramatically change his life. I can’t say too much about the premise without giving away the wonderful structure Reynolds used to tell his story, but it invokes the best of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol but with a delectably ambiguous ending.

Who it’s great for: Teens, especially urban ones who may have to deal with gangs, violence, and less than stable living conditions in their daily lives. Anyone who has wondered if revenge was worth it.

Erica’s rating: five-shells


Find this book in your local library or on Amazon.


 

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

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Originally published in: 1963

What it’s about: Baldwin writing a letter to his young nephew, telling him how it is to be a black man in America.

What made me pick it up: Abby mentioned it was very short, and I’d been meaning to read it so I checked it out. We both finished it in one sitting.

My favorite things: This really reminded me of Between the World and Me (as it should, since that is structured similarly and inspired by this) — beautiful writing, and unfortunately timeless observations about the treatment of black people in this country. I wish this weren’t still so resonant, but that is not the case. Baldwin talks about the difficulties of maintaining relationships with people of all colors during the distrust of the black power movement and his hopes for a more equal standing for African Americans in future America. I also learned a fair amount about the Nation of Islam and the empowering effect the Muslim religion had on African Americans in the 60s.

Who it’s great for: Anyone reading voraciously on the themes of racial justice.

Erica’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells


Find this book in your local library or on Amazon.


 

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

animators

Originally published in: 2017

What’s it about: The story of two friends, partners in art and life, creating animated works that bring them a sort of fame while also forcing them to confront difficult truths and traumas in their lives that other people would like to leave in the past.

What made me pick it up: I needed an audiobook to listen to and this one was available, has gotten a lot of good press, and has a cover that makes me want to read it.

My favorite things: Whitaker treats characters suffering addictions almost without judgment in a way that is refreshingly humane. She takes the time to develop every character’s layers and the complexity of their relationships.

Who it’s great for:  Readers looking for complex relationships between characters or an exploration of identity.

Abby’s rating: four-shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).