Concrete Rose

by Angie Thomas
First sentence: “When it comes to the streets, there’s rules.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There swearing, including f-bombs, some tasteful sex, and talk of drug use. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Maverick Carter is just trying to live his life. He’s got a girlfriend he adores, and friends — including a cousin, Dre — that have his back. But then, his life is upended: a girl he had a one-night stand with (the condom broke) got him to take a DNA test to see if her baby was his. And sure enough, it was. Then she dumped the baby in Maverick’s lap and left (she was suffering from postpartum depression, so I get it). Which meant, all of a sudden, Maverick has to take stock of his life. Does he want to be involved in the King Lords and sell drugs, even though the money is good? How can he help his mom out (especially since dad’s been in prison since Maverick was eight). And then after a tragedy happens where Dre is killed, how can Maverick just go on?

In this prequel to The Hate U Give (you don’t have to have read that one first), Tbomas explores what it’s like to be a Black man in the inner-city in the late 1990s/early 2000s. When really all anyone expected of Maverick was for him to be a part of a gang, and to get a couple of girls pregnant. It’s all about Maverick finding it within himself to not be a stereotype, to not fall into the life his father lived, to be something — and someone — different. And, because Thomas is a gifted writer, she is able to bring life to this world and this character without making it seem preachy or trite. It really is an excellent story, and one that makes you feel for Maverick and his struggles and situations.

Thomas’s not just an important writer doing important work, though. She’s an excellent writer telling good stories. And that’s what really matters.

With the Fire on High

by Elizabeth Acevedo
First sentence: “Babygirl doesn’t even cry when I suck my teeth and undo her braid for the fourth time.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, one almost sex-scene, and frank talk about teenage sex. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Emoni is many things: Afro-Puerto Rican. A mom. A senior in high school. And most importantly, someone who loves to cook.

As she starts her senior year, she’s navigating her world: co-parenting with her ex, Tyrone, and taking more responsibility for their daughter. Her relationship with her abuela and her absent father. And her final year at high school. She wasn’t really expecting any challenges, but she is thrown for a loop: her school has just added a culinary arts class. And she wants to take it, but will she be able to handle the pressure from a working chef.

This isn’t a novel in verse like Poet X is but it’s still just as lyrical. I thoroughly enjoy Acevedo’s writing, and her celebration of Afro-Latinx culture. I loved the food in this book, and though she touched on magical realism (I really love it when food makes people feel/do things) she didn’t really go there. I loved Emoni as a character, and her struggle to overcome the results — the baby — of a bad decision she made when she was 15. I loved the support she got from her abuela and friends, and I felt that Acevedo captured some very real emotions.

It was just a delight to read and I can’t wait to see what else Acevedo writes.

The Bitch in the House

26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage
edited by Cathi Hanauer
First sentence: “This book was born out of anger – specifically, my own domestic anger, which stemmed from a combination of guilt, resentment, exhaustion, naivete, and the chaos of my life at the time.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: A lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs. Talking about sex, but no actual sex. Probably not interesting to teens, since most of these women are in their mid- to late-20s and older. It’d be in the sociology section of the bookstore.

I got a text from M a while back, with a picture of this, saying (essentially) that she really needed to talk to someone about this. So, I picked it up, just to see what it was.

It is precisely what the cover said it was: 26 women, all employed, some with families, expressing anger at their life situation. I get some of that anger: a lot of the pressure on women is societal. We were told we could have it all, but no one bothered to tell the men that they needed to help out. (Which, truly, seemed the biggest complaint.)

I did find myself identifying with some of the essays: life is tough, and I can see how it not going the way you think it should would equal anger. But, I can’t just muster that; I’m much too tired. I bailed about 2/3 of the way through; I found that I just didn’t care about upper-middle class women’s whining that they can’t have a job and a family and a relationship and everything else. So what? There are people out there who are trying to make ends meet without the help of a nanny.

That’s a bit harsh.

It’s also 12 years out of date, and I felt that time lapse. Maybe things haven’t changed all that much. Maybe they have changed a bit, and maybe not always for the better. But, I’m tired of anger. (I know it’s useful. I’m just tired of it.)

In the end, it just wasn’t the book I wanted to be reading.

Audiobook: Small Victories

by Anne Lamott
Read by the author
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Content: She likes the word s**t, and drops about five f-bombs. ¬†Which kind of caught me off-guard. It’s in the religion/philosophy section of the bookstore.

I’ve been curious about Anne Lamott for a while now; she’s an incredibly popular author at the store. I was in between audio books recently and discovered this one, and it was delightfully short. I figured audio was a good way to experience her.

This is basically a series of short reflections on life, God, and the intersection of the two. For the record: Lamott is a liberal, which I don’t mind at all, and was very against the invasion of Iraq in 2003. (Several of the essays are from around that time period.) She belongs to a church in northern California. She has a son, and lots and lots of friends, many of whom are suffering from serious illnesses. She has a good sense of humor, and is honest about her struggles with God, people, and just life in general.

In many ways, the words were just what I needed to hear: we’re all human, we’re all trying. God is in connecting with other people and reaching out to love them.

What I didn’t like so much, was Lamott’s reading of her own work. I understand why she needed to read her own words; it would have been odd otherwise. But Lamott read in such a way that it soundedlikeonereallylongsentancewithoutevertakingapauseorevenraisedorloweredhervoicewithsentenceinflection. When I concentrated to hear the words, I loved it. But her reading of them almost turned me off altogether. I’m glad I stuck it through to the end, for the thoughts and ideas. But, I wish Lamott had been a better narrator.

Parenting Teens with Love & Logic

by Foster Cline and Jim Fay
First sentence: “Parents whose children are now turning twelve and thirteen know their kids face far greater challenges than they did just a few short years ago.”
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Content: It’s geared toward parents, and it talks frankly (but not graphically) about a lot of things. It’d be either in the Parenting section (most likely) or the Self-Help section.

I don’t usually read self-help books. I prefer to talk to other people, find out what works for them, and then see if it fits with my kids. But after a couple of fights (which may have been my fault), I pulled this book off the wayback TBR pile (the ones I should read, but have never gotten to). I think my parents sent it to me when M turned 12 or 13, but I just threw it on the shelf.

The edition I read was pretty out of date — 1992 — but even so, there was a lot of good advice in it. Simple little changes that I’ve started making, and (surprise!) this past week has gone so much more smoothly. The basic principle is this: give your teens the freedom to 1) make decisions and 2) own them. Use real-world consequences. Ask questions, offer sympathy, but don’t solve their problems. Don’t make orders, ask for things (but give them choices: “Would you rather x or x?”). And demand respect; it’s YOUR house after all. (I’m pretty lousy at that last one. Something I need to change.)

I’m sure there will be bumps along the way, especially as I (and Hubby) try to internalize a slightly different way of parenting (we were happy to find that some of the things — like respecting the girls’ ideas, and not criticizing their friends/hair/pop culture likes — we do already). But, I’m hopeful that maybe the next 10 years (as the rest of the girls head through teenagerhood) won’t be too rough.

Audio book: Dad is Fat

by Jim Gaffigan
read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Some mild swearing (like, less than a dozen times) and it’s all about parenting, so I’m not sure how many kids would be interested. It’s in the humor section at the bookstore.

Jim Gaffigan is a comedian (whom I hadn’t heard of) and a father of five kids. In New York City. He lives in a two-bedroom apartment in a five-story walk-up. And as you can imagine, all this leads to an immense amount of hilarity, most of which he turns into comic gold. (Well, not gold, really.)

Like most comedians (and humor really), it’s really quite subjective. This one tickled my funny bone, partially because I could relate to it (one tweet I sent out: “So true: ‘When children see animals in captivity, it makes them want ice cream.’ – Jim Gaffigan), perhaps because I have nearly as many kids as he does. And partially because he’s honest about himself and his abilities as a parent. I want to sit down with him, swap horror stories, and say, “Yeah, I think I suck at this parenting gig, too.”

I’m not sure I would have liked it if I had read it, but Gaffigan is a terrific narrator of his own material (see: stand-up comedian), and I often found myself guffawing (yes, I do guffaw) along with his hilarious and often ridiculous (see: five kids in NYC) stories. As I was telling a friend of mine: there’s nothing like listening to the war stories of someone who’s got it more challenging than you to make you feel good about your life.

And this was a thoroughly diverting ego boost.