Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

 

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Originally published: 2017

What it’s about: A modern southern gothic story set in a contemporary rural Mississippi Gulf Coast community chronicling a family’s struggles with poverty, addiction, incarceration, and the ghosts of past injustices.

What made me pick it up: I read Ward’s early novel Salvage the Bones last year and was excited to pick up her newest work.

My favorite things: Sing, Unburied, Sing is beautifully written and almost painful to read from the first page. The climax, however inevitable, left me stunned and heartbroken – but I’m here for it. The saddest parts of Ward’s stories don’t feel like cheap shots or emotional manipulation the way writing sometimes comes across. Instead, it feels honest and necessary. I love the way she seamlessly incorporates ghosts and spirits into the fabric of this family’s life.

Who it’s great for: Southern gothic readers; fans of Beloved.

Abby’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells


Get this book on Amazon or at your local library.


 

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: Think Winter’s Bone meets a politician’s pre-campaign book release and that’s pretty much what you’ve got.

What made me pick it up: Let me start by saying that I’m not from Appalachia, but I grew up in a much more economically stable (read: college town) community nearby. Growing up I was acutely aware that there was a sharp economic and cultural divide between families associated with the university and those from working-class backgrounds that had been around for generations. That is to say that I am not from the community Vance is discussing, but I have lived most of my life in close proximity to another part of Appalachia and have been consistently disappointed with the way it is represented and talked down to by people who want to ‘save’ it. When I saw the rave reviews for Hillbilly Elegy I was excited to read a voice from within Appalachia speaking about it.

My favorite things: Okaaaay. I did not love this book. I probably should have read reviews a bit more closely, but I wasn’t prepared for this book to be quite so politically charged as it is. Maybe I read it this way because I am inclined to disagree with nearly all of his conclusions, but it seems to me that Vance has incredibly little compassion for the members of a community he professes to love. Vance spends the first chunk of the book singing the praises of his hillbilly Mamaw and Papaw and then subtly, and perhaps not intentionally, turns toward a much more critical discussion of the challenges faced by these communities. What I am struggling with the most is that this book is being read and celebrated as universally true for people from Appalachian communities when it is definitely not. Vance’s Appalachia is comprised of people who would rather talk about working hard than actually work hard, suffer addiction due to poor choices, and are – apparently – all white.

Abby recommends: Look, everybody seems to be reading this book right now and many are taking it as a universal truth for Appalachian life and poverty. So, definitely read this, but then read bell hooks’ poetry in Appalachian Elegy.


Get this book on Amazon or at your local library.


 

Stella By Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: An 11-year-old African-American girl named Stella growing up in a small North Carolina town in the 1930s and all the challenges she and her family and other African-Americans in her town face.

What made me pick it up: It came up when I placed another book on hold as a suggestion, but I can’t remember what that book was anymore. I’ll pick up almost any title with racial justice themes these days, so I think that may have played a role.

My favorite things: The language in this book is beautiful. I liked how just because it’s a children’s book it didn’t shy away from brutality and injustice to favor a happy ending. The depictions of bravery by young children like Stella, and family and community are very heartwarming and heart wrenching all at once.

Who it’s great for: Anyone interested in the poor treatment of African-Americans in the south during the Jim Crow era.

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


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


 

The Death and the Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: The Great Lakes and how important they are to the world and how poorly we’re treating them.

What made me pick it up: I grew up on the southern shore of Lake Ontario and spent my summers swimming in its waters. I know the vital connection between the land and the people and the water so I get really worked up whenever I find out that something catastrophic has happened to them or is about to due to government or personal negligence. The imminent threat of Asian carp invasion is just the latest, scary possibility that could’ve been prevented. *sigh*

My favorite things: This book is so informative. It details the history of mistreatment of the waterway as well as all the man-made changes which have led to the problems faced today. Most importantly he even-handedly makes the point that this water is vitally important and we need to care for it and protect it. To do so we can’t let it leave the watershed and we can’t allow massive ecosystem collapsing species like carp to get in. We need to try harder to keep these great bodies of water alive and well for future generations. It will make you sad in parts and furious in parts. Hopefully it will also make you ready to fight for these beautiful lakes.

Who it’s great for: Water babies. Great Lakes lovers. Environmentalists. Anyone interested in future international affairs.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


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


 

Every Body Yoga by Jessamyn Stanley

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: An unintimidating guide to getting started with yoga for people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and abilities.

What made me pick it up: Stanley is something of an Instagram star, so I was curious to see what she’d have to say to reluctant would-be yogis.

My favorite things: Part guide for the reluctant yogi, part memoir, Stanley openly shares her own complicated history with yoga to make it more accessible to anybody that’s been afraid to try because they don’t think that they will be capable. She’s so inspiring and encouraging that I, who have always had trouble with the quiet and introspective aspects of yoga, found myself anxious to give it another shot. She also includes several sequences for feelings that it’s easy to identify with, such as I Need To Chill the F Out (pg 206) and  I Need to Love Myself (pg 212).

Who it’s great for: Anyone who’s considered practicing yoga but been too intimidated to start.

Abby’s rating: five-shells


Find this book at Amazon or in your local library.


 

Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Jomny, a lonely alien, is sent to Earth to study humans in this charming graphic novel. Instead, he encounters a variety of Earth’s creatures and, through their humanity, learns some of life’s biggest lessons.

What made me pick it up: When I saw the word aliebn on a book spine I thought my fever brain was playing tricks on me, but after I took a closer look I needed to know more about these aliebns.

My favorite things: It was adorable, funny, poignant, and smart. Each of the creatures Jomny meets teaches him something new about what it means to be an individual and still be part of a community. Like the story, the art is simple but compelling. I especially enjoyed the endpapers of the book, which contained a log Jomny keeps of his adventures on Earth as well as his charming interpretations of each interaction.

Who it’s great for: If you loved The Giving Tree but also love The Oatmeal, this book is for you.

Abby’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells


Find this title at Amazon or in your local library.


 

Hunger by Roxane Gay

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Roxane Gay reflects on her life in her body. She explores struggles with size, eating disorders, assault, and what it’s like to exist in a world that wasn’t designed to accommodate your body.

What made me pick it up: I love Roxane Gay’s work and I thought this book sounded important.

My favorite things: Take a deep breath before you dive into this because it is deep, raw, and painfully honest. She doesn’t shy away from details of her assault or the ways she thinks of her assailant to this day. She even takes the time to explain why she’s more comfortable identifying as a victim of sexual violence rather than as a survivor – without condemning or questioning those who do identify as survivors. The courage and openness throughout Hunger is consistently inspiring.

Who it’s great for: Fans of Roxane Gay’s other work. Memoir readers looking for something heavy to dig into.

Abby’s rating: five-shells


Find this book at Amazon or in your local library.


 

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and Nell Scovell

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Originally published in: 2013

What it’s about: COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg considers her own experiences and gives advice for women on investing fully in career and life. You can also read Erica’s review of Sandberg’s later book Option B.

What made me pick it up: I’ve been meaning to check it out for a while and the audiobook was available to check out.

My favorite things: Some will argue that this is geared only toward certain women, but Sandberg does a great job of identifying her own privileges and trying to adapt her advice to women who may not have the same opportunities. She also encourages women to fully commit to whatever decisions they make even if they aren’t the same ones she would make.

Who it’s great for: Women looking for advice on career and life or insight into one woman’s rise to the top. Readers who enjoyed Sandberg’s later book, Option B.

Abby’s rating: three-shells


Find this book at Amazon or in your local library.


 

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: In this second book of the Lowriders in Space series, three friends close their garage and journey to the center of the earth to rescue their cat, Genie, from Mitlantecuhtli the Aztec god of the underworld.

What made me pick it up: This was recommended and lent to me by a coworker.

My favorite things: Camper’s liberal use of Spanish vocabulary (with translation in footnotes and a glossary at the end of the book) adds depth to the story. The translations appear after only the first time each Spanish word appears and I appreciated the assumption that the readers are capable of learning terms that might be new to them. The art, making use of only blue, red, and black, is fun and engaging and has the feel of something that might have started as a (very impressive) doodle.

Who it’s great for: Tweens looking for a fun adventure with a bit of mythology thrown in the mix.

Abby’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells


Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


 

Marlena by Julie Buntin

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Fifteen-year-old Cat is uprooted from her middle-class suburban life and finds herself a member of the rural poor. She fills her days with Marlena, the neighbor with whom she develops a teenage friendship defined by wildness, loss, and addiction.

What made me pick it up: I heard a review of this on a podcast and was immediately intrigued.

My favorite things: The story is told through both reflections by an adult Cat still struggling to make sense of her time with Marlena, and by teenage Cat as she experiences the life-defining friendship. Cat’s two voices weave together to seamlessly to illustrate the desperation and urgency of her friendship with Marlena. Bonus: the whole time I was reading I had that one Wallflowers song playing in my head.

Who it’s great for: This is a good choice for fans of Elena Ferrante or readers looking for something with a similar feel to Winter’s BoneThe Lovely Bones, or History of Wolves.

Abby’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells


Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.