Doing Harm by Maya Dusenbery

doing harm

Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: I’ll let the subtitle speak for itself – “The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick”.

What made me pick it up: A while ago one of my friends added it as to-read on Goodreads and then I eventually put a hold on it and here we are.

My favorite parts: I guess my favorite part is the validation this book provides many women with serious conditions who find it very hard to get adequate, and sometimes any, treatment from medical professionals. The book is well written and informative but sheesh, it’s 2019 and we’re still being written off as hysterical women. It’s very upsetting. I spent the entirety of the book being grateful for not having had most of these experiences yet and being saddened by all the friends I have who suffer from MS, thyroid conditions, fibromyalgia, undiagnosed Lyme, vulvodynia, and vaginismus and all the insufficient remedies they’ve been given. I have certainly been given ridiculously dismissive medical treatment like being told my dysmenorrhea would get better after I had a baby – advice no 16 year old needs to hear. “Don’t worry, you only have to suffer through these symptoms for at least another decade but once you give birth all will be resolved! In the meantime here is a cure-all oral contraceptive!” I know what it’s like to go to doctor after doctor hoping someone will listen and offer actual, helpful treatment. I also know the joy and relief of finding one who does. Women’s whole health and lives are being affected by this poor treatment – from employment to relationships to the will to go on living. The medical profession must do better. Believe women. Trust women. We know our bodies. It’s not all in our heads.

Who it’s great for: All women. And also everybody else, especially doctors.

Erica’s rating: four shells

 

The Disasters by M.K. England

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Originally published in: 2018

What’s it about: A debut YA space opera that follows five washouts from Space Academy around the galaxies while they try to stop the bad guys before time runs out.

What made me pick it up:  I have been looking forward to this debut for a year or so since I got to hear the author talk about their writing process.

My favorite things: A new take on space adventures! As a Star Wars and Firefly nerd I was ready for some space cowboy antics and this totally delivered. Mix in a completely diverse cast of characters and an excellent narrator and I will hand sell this to everyone. England knows how to keep the adrenaline pumping but also manages the interpersonal relationships and reveals well. This book is so much fun you’ll keep flipping pages until you’re done. Then you’ll sit on your hands and hope the author has more books like this coming soon.

Who it’s great for: Fans of sci fi set in space and the aforementioned diehards for Star Wars and Firefly.

Erica’s rating: four shells

Squeezed by Alissa Quart

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Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: The disappearance of the middle class in America, or as the subtitle puts it: Why our families can’t afford America.

What made me pick it up: Because I saw the author was coming to our beloved book festival in a couple months. And also because I had to work for a decade after earning two degrees to even be considered mathematically middle class based on income and I know so many others struggling as much or worse than I am.

My favorite parts: The best parts are honestly the hardest to read about because affirmation of a bad situation doesn’t improve it. Wages have not really grown in 40 years for the working and middle classes of America, while wealth at the top has grown exponentially. That math is making just living untenable. College is more expensive, full time benefited work is harder to come by, and housing rates are simply unaffordable in many areas. Social safety nets are underfunded, or failing, and basic needs like universal child and healthcare and support of working parents are missing entirely. This book will spark some tough conversations about the way forward, but that will probably involve following the lead of our European neighbors and raising taxes to support our people.

Who it’s great for: Anyone working hard just to stay afloat and wondering why.

Erica’s rating: four shells

Calm the F*ck Down by Sarah Knight

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Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: Tackling anxiety’s penchant for overthinking and spiraling by focusing on what you can control.

What made me pick it up: I’ve tried in the past to get into these books and not managed it but turns out the key was the audio! This came up on OverDrive and I checked it right out.

My favorite parts: The author as narrator, honestly. Her brand of humor is just my style and I appreciate her advice to use logic to organize and tackle the parts of whatever problem you have that are within your control. She understands the struggles of those with overactive minds or diagnosed general anxiety disorder and genuinely wants to give you some big sisterly advice that will maybe help. If you also need drugs or want to try mindfulness, good on you. Mostly, I think the more books we have openly discussing mental health issues, the more normalized they can be – and that can sometimes be half the battle. If you don’t know many others are struggling the same way you are it can really compound your suffering. We’re all in this together, so let’s learn some tools to help us through.

Who it’s great for: Anyone who struggles with anxiety and rumination and wants some effective solutions.

Erica’s rating: four shells

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

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Originally published in: 2015

What’s it about:  The author recounting the horribly debilitating deep depression he unexpectedly sank into in his mid-twenties and the ways he learned to cope with it and eventually, mostly, got better.

What made me pick it up: It was recommended by a blogger on her Instagram.

My favorite things: Haig somehow manages to describe what it feels like inside your head and your body when you are struggling through the heavy darkness that is depression. As someone who has also been nearly lost in the fog before I really appreciated how well articulated this depiction was and the twenty years of distance he needed to be able to write it down. If you’ve never been depressed and have difficulty truly understanding how it could be “that bad”, please pick up this book. He tells what he found helpful for him while emphasizing that mental illness is as individual as we each are, so all treatments should be on the table.

Who it’s great for:  Everyone.

Erica’s rating: four shells


For those who regularly dip into deep depression or are only recently out of one reading this book may be a bit of a trigger. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or other mental health concerns please seek help. The National Suicide Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. It can sometimes be hard to believe, but the darkness will not last. It does get better.


 

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: The neighborhood oak and all the stories she has witnessed and watched over in her 200 plus years.

What made me pick it up: I’d seen it recommended on Twitter.

My favorite parts: I love that it’s from the point of view of a tree. This is such a sweet story of friendship and community and how things so simple, like friendship and acceptance, are so difficult for humans to attain sometimes. It also has a wonderful theme of environmental conservation and protection. Not only is the tree character great, but there is a whole menagerie of wild animals to meet as well including one very precocious crow. I also enjoyed that this book is fairly short and quick, being middle grade. An excellent reminder to all ages to build bridges and foster appreciation.

Who it’s great for: Middle grade readers on up, especially fans of The Giving Tree.

Erica’s rating: four and a half shells

Thanks a Thousand by A.J. Jacobs

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Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: The author’s efforts to improve his mental health by practicing gratitude, which he does by attempting to personally thank everyone who had a role in providing his daily cup of coffee. All 1000+ of them.

What made me pick it up: Jacobs is one of my favorite authors. As an intermittent gratitude diarist, I was doubly curious.

My favorite parts: I’m a fan of experiential writing, especially if written with humor which Jacobs’ books always are. As much as I enjoyed his gratitude practice and the awkward and heartwarming moments of thanking it generated, the story of how coffee gets to you and all the humans involved in it was even more interesting. Jacobs tackles everything from the farmers who raise and harvest the crop to the barista who serves the cup. It really makes you pause and refocus on the great miracle any modern thing truly is. It may also make you want to take a trip to Colombia, but that’s completely understandable.

Who it’s great for: Everyone.

Erica’s rating: four shells

Dopesick by Beth Macy

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Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: The opioid crisis in America, how it started, and why it is only going to get worse.

What made me pick it up: I was having yet another bitch session with a friend about not-even-Appalachia-adjacent author J.D. Vance and how his only solution for the opioid crisis is an offhand “it’s the addict’s own fault” and they should “pull themselves up by the bootstraps”. Then my friend said if I want to read an actual good book about actual Appalachia, I should pick up Dopesick.

My favorite parts: This book is nothing but heartbreaking from start to finish. I cried a LOT. After everything that has been done to Appalachia by Big Coal to then have them taken advantage of by Big Pharma was too much. The reporting here is excellent. The unlayering of the onion is well done by the author and I couldn’t put it down. But what she’s describing is horrific and worsening and its epicenter is just a couple hours from where I live in my beloved adopted state. As someone who was employed in a public library for years as this epidemic built, and saw the adoption of library staff-administered Narcan treatment, I know something needs to change. I have humanities degrees. I should not be the front line against this drug problem. And addicts should not need me to be. What confounded me most was the stubborn adherence to abstinence-only addiction treatment that science says fails with this type of addiction. Other countries know it fails is why there are methadone clinics everywhere else but rarely here. The author doesn’t have a lot of suggestions for battling the drug’s presence, but does have recommendations to be made about treatment. And we should listen. If we do, maybe we can lose fewer lives. This book will leave you feeling grateful for all the recovering addicts you still have in your life and heartbroken for all those lives missing due to heroin. Because we all know at least one.

Who it’s great for: Everyone.

Erica’s rating: five shells

 

Swing by Kwame Alexander

Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: A teen guy who loves his best female friend but can’t bring himself to tell her, so he makes her anonymous art collage love letters. And their other best friend, Swing.

What made me pick it up: I adore Kwame Alexander and read everything he puts out.

My favorite parts: My favorite thing is the thing I can’t tell you. It’s the thing that made me cry in the LAST TEN PAGES and which I never saw coming. But I guess, generally, I can say it was the friendship. This book is about an angsty, mixed up teen who needs the guidance of his bestie to help him get the girl. And his friend shows up every time for him. Giving him advice. Lending him money. Introducing him to older, wiser individuals and the all important jazz music that permeates the book. This book is sweet and then it’s unexpected and sad and hard. Alexander wrapped all his strings up so well at the end and right under my nose as a reader. In hind sight I should’ve added everything up and known what was coming, but I guess even readers get hopeful that maybe the world isn’t the way it ends up being. Or at least maybe books won’t reflect that sad world back to us.

Who it’s great for: Everyone middle grade and up.

Erica’s rating: five shells

The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya

girl who smiled beads

Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: The author’s refugee experience escaping the Rwandan genocide and the years she spent traveling from one camp to another before immigrating to the US.

What made me pick it up: It was really well reviewed.

My favorite parts: Wamariya escapes at such a young age she almost doesn’t understand death and war and why they are walking and not stopping. She yearns her whole life to go back to her family, as it was, even as she reconnects with them. It is heartbreaking, both reading of the little girl who does not comprehend and as the adult who cannot stop grieving all that is lost. I so admire her indomitable spirit and the unbreakable will of her older sister who helped her survive through multiple countries and camps. Wamariya examines the many ways to move past trauma, especially that caused by civil war and genocide, with no easy answers only her personal truth and what she sees others attempting as well. If you are American you will feel shame for the atrocities we ignored in 1994 and the ongoing ones we continue to ignore worldwide. You will also be immensely grateful for all you have lucked into based on the geography of your birth. Mostly, you will want to help refugees any way you can.

Who it’s great for: Readers who want to learn more about the unending trauma of war.

Erica’s rating: four and a half shells