Boulevard of Broken Dreams

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.

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Say You Won’t Let Go

  • What: Border Child
  • Who: Michel Stone
  • Pages: 250, hard cover
  • Genre: Contemporary fiction
  • Published: 2017
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flames

I received Border Child from a publisher sometime in 2018. I delayed reading it though because it seemed too real and too close to real-world problems. Books are powerful in that they call attention to immoral circumstances in our everyday lives; they’re also powerful because they can be an escape from that reality. With our current tumultuous landscape and with the U.S. border such a fiery topic, I strayed from this novel. I didn’t think my heart could take it.

I knew its purpose likely had meaning and influence and hoped it was a book that would change people’s minds, give them that “ah ha” moment that sadly this growing nationalist world needs. But I couldn’t bring the nastiness of the world into my literary one, not yet anyways.

Until I finally did — and was disappointed. Border Child has foundational power for issues that are often ignored when talking about immigration reform; however, it lacks strong storytelling to really bring these problems and challenges to the forefront of conversation. It didn’t captivate me like I had wanted, and it doesn’t do the real-life people and problems that inspired it much justice.

Border Child

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Killing Me Softly

  • What: Exit West
  • Who: Mohsin Hamid
  • Pages: 231, softcover
  • Genre: Contemporary fiction
  • Published: 2017
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flames

Killing me softly is exactly what Mohsin Hamid does with his lyrical novel, Exit West. He’s created existential poetry as his words reach down to the core of human emotion and make you experience exactly what the characters are feeling: anxiety, stress, and the overwhelming sense that you’re just going through the motions.

Raw human emotion.

That’s what he evokes.

He gives it to us in an imaginary world that doesn’t seem too far away from the one we’re already living. It’s filled with violence and terror, prompting people to seek refuge elsewhere. Sound familiar? In Hamid’s world, though, he gives us a little bit of hope that we can all find a new place to call home, even if that place is filled with trepidation and its own set of challenges.

Exit West

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Sad, Beautiful, Tragic

Writing about religion takes a certain gall (not to mention talent to really nail it). It has such an impact on some people’s lives that it’s hard to capture its enormous weight as well as the life it bears to those who practice it. Alice McDermott doesn’t shy away from this challenge in her novel, The Ninth Hour, another top contender in 2017. She exquisitely hits the aura that religion provides with just the right amount of suspense, weariness, and hope. The foreboding, though, that her writing evokes fails to come to fruition in the plot, which ultimately knocks down some stellar language to three flames.

The Ninth Hour

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Life is Like a Box of Chocolates

You never know what you’re gonna get. For main character Lillian Dunkle, that was quite the case, as she navigated life from being an impoverished and abandoned immigrant on the Lower East Side to a national phenomenon living on Park Ave. And as a reader, I definitely didn’t anticipate that The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street would be the Forrest Gump of the dessert world. But that’s what Susan Jane Gilman gives us in her debut novel. From Ellis Island to the conservative movement of the 1980s, Gilman provides us with a lesson in American history through the lens of her main character, much like Winston Groom did with his 1986 novel.

If you’re going to follow the concept of a book that led to a Best Picture Oscar, then you have to nail it. Gilman does. She chooses a strong and interesting, albeit abrasive, character to lead her tale. And she keeps her storytelling consistent with the same humor, drama, and characterizations lasting for 500 pages.
Ice Cream Queen

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