I don’t know if I’ve ever been disillusioned by the idea of the American Dream. I never really thought the U.S. of A was the absolute best place to live in the world and that, by being within its borders, my life had infinite possibilities. And the idea of buying a home with a picket fence — something often connected to the American Dream — surely has never been at the top of my priority list.
I have, though, been obsessed with finding that dream job. As a teenager and in college, I fully expected to work my ass off in my 20s in a dream industry to lead me to the ultimate dream job. My life would be fulfilled and have meaning. I’m no longer obsessed with this idea. Now, I fully believe in the dream of loving every second of your life and the very place you call home.
To me, the ideals of the American Dream and that of the dream job are very similar — the latter being the more-modern version of the former. And it’s these concepts that form Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers, a story of immigrants who put their full hope and faith into the American system only to be crushed by its many injustices. It’s distressing and heartbreaking and will make you question the validity behind your values. Yeah. It’s a lot.
I’ve always proclaimed one of the best things about literature is its ability to tell hidden or disgraced stories and to open our eyes to dark corners of the world. It saddens me — though I’m grateful it happened — that literature taught me about the AIDS crisis of the ’80s. Shouldn’t I have learned more about this growing up and in school? Honestly, my ignorance as a 27-year-old astonishes me.
Did I fully understand the power and effects of this catastrophe in the 80s? How it ripped through a community and denounced a way of life all over again? How it took us five steps back on our way toward social justice? How the scars of those it affected live prominently for the rest of their lives?
I never understood any of this until Tell the Wolves I’m Home came into my life. It was reinforced and explained through different perspectives with The Great Believers just a few weeks ago. As a kid, my history classes either conveniently glazed over this time in American history, or the school year conveniently ended before we made it this far in America’s story. Fortunately, we have authors, such as Carol Rifka Brunt and Rebecca Makkai, who refuse to let these tragedies go untold.
- What: Ask Again, Yes
- Who: Mary Beth Keane
- Pages: 390, hard cover
- Genre: Contemporary fiction and family drama
- Published: 2019
- The lit: of 5 flame
I’m no stranger to suburban families with more than enough drama to keep them busy. No, not my family. (We’re actually very rural and very boring.)
No, I mean the families that race into my life via the novels that tell their story. I didn’t really know suburban turmoil was a genre I loved (or that it was even a genre) until my latest read, Ask Again, Yes. From this novel, I learned I have a strong tendency to pick up books that relay familial drama and read them at lightening speed. These types of books absolutely enthrall me. There is something so appealing about the simplicity of everyday people’s lives and the fact that everyone and every family has some story to tell; we just might not see it on the surface. And those backgrounds speak volumes about who we are as individuals, how we interact with others, and the decisions we make. Not to mention we can all relate to them.
If you look through my library, you’ll see quite a few novels with this theme. Commonwealth, the best of the best, ignited my life in 2017, and Little Fires Everywhere did the same thing last year. I guess Ask Again, Yes won this year for heartbreaking and compelling family drama. I take that back: I know it has won.
If I’m being honest, I didn’t fully understand white privilege until a couple of months ago. I’m ashamed of this. I knew it existed, and that it had been a part of my life as much as any other white person’s, but I didn’t really get it. It’s important to admit ignorance and more importantly to overcome it.
I was running on a hot, humid July day and listening to Armchair Expert, a fantastic podcast with Dax Shepard, when it happened. He was interviewing one of my favorite humans — and one of the most woke — Sophia Bush, the genius who gave the world Brooke Davis. As she explained that white privilege is not meant to diminish anybody’s suffering but rather to illustrate that suffering as a white person has never been the result of the color of our skin, it clicked for me.
It is so blatantly clear that white privilege exists.
And it’s this theme, along with feminism, humor, and mental health, that brings us Queenie, a 2019 novel that author Richard Roper recommended to me. This book is the epitome of intersectionality (don’t worry: I had to Google that term too) and all sorts of sociological terms rolled up into a few hundred pages, but author, Candice Carty-Williams, injects plenty of laughs into it as well. That means we should have a compelling novel on our hands. Unfortunately, I only felt connected and drawn to half of this book, leaving me confused about my feelings. Carty-Williams tackles a lot of topics and their complex relationships with one another in Queenie, and it’s certainly a book we need in 2019. But is it the novel that fully delivers on it’s worth? I’m not sure.
- What: The Proposal
- Who: Jasmine Guillory
- Pages: 325, soft cover
- Genres: Contemporary fiction and chick lit
- Published: 2018
- The lit: of 5 flame
Sometimes you need a pick-me-up. In July and August, I read some great books (see here, here, and here), but there was a lot of death and sadness. It was prime-time summer reading mode, so why was I depressing myself before Labor Day? I desperately needed and wanted something fun, fast, and maybe even a little sexy (not too different from what our main characters in this review desire).
Insert The Proposal: the perfect remedy for summertime blues.
Yes, it’s classic chick lit: Boy meets girl; they have a fun fling; and you fly through their whirlwind romance with many laughs.
But Jasmine Guillory also gives us realistic sex scenes, some very tasty meals (I was craving tacos for days), cultural awareness and diversity, and zero eye-rolling over clichés. This is more than your typical summer beach read. To put it simply, it’s a really good book, of which I thoroughly enjoyed every page. Sometimes that’s all you need in a recommendation, especially in the steamy months of summer.
(And don’t read too much into this title; I have so many ideas now that T.Swift has new music.)
Have you ever wished you could talk to your pet? I mean, you spend so much time with the little fur balls, why wouldn’t you? They can sense when you’re sad, and they comfort you with their cuddles and love. They greet you when you come home and wag their tails to communicate their excitement. It seems entirely unfair that they can’t whisper they love you and that everything’s going to be OK and that we can’t reciprocate how much they mean to us too.
Speaking with our pets is the main conduit through which author Carolyn Parkhurst tells a heartbreaking story in The Dogs of Babel. In the beginning, you think it’s just about a man trying to communicate with his dog. It seems a little crazy, but is it really the worst idea? Soon a story about grief, loneliness, mental health, and internal struggle unfolds. Just like our pets, sometimes words evade us, and it’s impossible to convey how we really feel.
With special guests Lucky (left) and Snowy.
I’m writing this review the morning after my best friend’s wedding. It was an evening filled with love, laughter, and anything but loneliness, which makes reminiscing on my latest read a little difficult. How is it possible, after witnessing such happiness between two people and among so many family and friends, for sadness and desolation to exist in the world?
The part of me not living on cloud nine after a beautiful wedding knows the reality. And that reality is what Richard Roper captures in his debut novel, How Not to Die Alone. It’s a lighthearted story of how fantasy can never match the real deal and how it’s never too late to get the life you’ve always wanted even if that’s outside your comfort zone. Although the title may sound like 2019’s most depressing book of the year, Roper succeeds in making it an absolute treat to read — laughs, loneliness, and all.