Book Review – Nikesh Shukla (ed.) – “The Good Immigrant” #NonFicNov

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I’m still a little bit disappointed with the amount of reading I’ve got done this month, especially for Nonfiction November. I have now read the Ada Cambridge for Australia Reading Month and “The Secret Teacher” and this one for Nonfiction November (plus a couple of short reads not pictured here). I have started Simon Barnes’ “On the Marsh” and might finish it by the end of the month. And this is the eleventh book I’ve completed this month, which is not actually too shabby. But still, I had wanted to read at least the other two in this picture by now.

Onwards to this excellent, moving, important and shocking read, however. And at least the date I acquired it shows I’ve always read books about people who have lives different to mine!

Nikesh Shukla (ed.) – “The Good Immigrant”

(25 September 2019)

From the Editor’s Note onwards, this book speaks powerfully of the lived experience of people who have moved to the UK or been born here who have heritage that is not directly and completely from here. The purpose was, among writers who do not write exclusively about race, to provide “a document of what it means to be a person of colour now. Because we’re done justifying our place at the table”. And where did the title come from? Shukla explains that it was suggested by a comment from contributor Musa Okwonga: … the biggest burden facing people of colour in this country is that society deems us bad immigrants – job-stealers, benefit-scroungers, girlfriend-thieves, refugees – until we cross over in their consciousness, through popular culture, winning races, baking good cakes, being conscientious doctors, to become good immigrants.

The contributors come from all sorts of backgrounds, African, Asian, what we confusingly call East Asian or Southeast Asian (and this nomenclature is discussed in the book). Some are funny, some are angry, some are both. All reflect direct lived experience and offer a simple way to access people’s lived experiences while educating oneself rather than demanding stories out of people. Like reviewing a book of short stories, I’m not going to cover every piece in here but pick out a few that really stuck out.

One thing my friend Sarah warned me about, and she was right, was how shocked I’d be reading the people of East/Southeast Asian heritage’s experiences of British life. Vera Chok (who is ethnically Chinese but physically from the UK via Malaysia) talks in a matter of fact way of the stereotypes applied to her, the things that have been shouted after her. Did you know that East Asians are the third largest minority ethnic grouping in the UK yet experience the most racist incidents (yes, she backs this up with figures)? However, she was not able to find many reports on this, just as I have struggled to find more nonfiction works by East Asian authors about their experience in the UK, something I’d like to add to my reading if I can (any suggestions out there?).

Reni Eddo-Lodge pops up to remind us that most of the Black history we learn at school seems to be about America, Kieran Yates gives a brilliant description of code-switching as she goes from confident British Asian to inadequacy but loving in in her Punjabi village to mixing with the cool kids in Delhi, and Coco Khan talks movingly of her mum’s covert sympathy as she covers for her and her friend as they spread their wings a little, an opposite narrative to one we’re often presented with. Riz Ahmed writes about the similarity between film auditions and interrogations at airports, noting the match between his ethnicity and those who stop and search him again and again at Heathrow, and Salena Godden’s piece is a cleverly constructed discussion of shade and othering as she negotiates the world as a person of mixed heritage.

Worthwhile but not worthy, entertaining but thought provoking I’d encourage everyone who’s at all interested in people’s lives outside their own demographic to read this. I can’t wait to read the US version now and compare it.

Book review and blog tour – Nancy Campbell – “Fifty Words for Snow” @eandtbooks

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I greatly enjoyed Nancy Campbell’s “The Library of Ice” last year, so when I was alerted that she’d written this gem of a book about snow and its cultural and mythological status I just had to say yes to a copy. I’ve said this before recently, but once again: great Christmas present.

It’s a lovely object and the contents, fifty words for snow and/or ice from around the world, both fascinating and strangely moving, and with a strong underlying message about climate change, as so many of the snowfields and glaciers mentioned are disappearing with global warming.

Each short chapter has the same format: a snowflake image on the facing page, the word in the original language, a translation into English and a note of which language it belongs to. Happily, this includes American Sign Language, when it comes to “Snowboarding”. The text below could be anything from an imaginary tale of a cave artist to a discussion of philosophy, climate science or mountaineering. We move from the most traditional craft activities to state-of-the-art mapping of snow leopard populations across borders and we even find places where people haven’t set foot out of respect for holy mountains and diminishing icefalls. I did love this theme of respect that resonated through the book.

You learn a lot even in the short texts: did you knowthat parts of the Antarctic are officially desert with no snow falling (actually I did know that but I do read a lot of polar exploration stuff). It was good to come across terms I recognised from other reading – sastrugi for instance, those pesky ridges that form on ice sheets but also help you navigate in poor light conditions.

Not every word about snow describes something that actually happens (I mean, Icelandic has a word for railway station and Iceland has no trains, so this is not uncommon, but it’s still fun). The chapter on the Thai word for snow revolves around whether it has actually ever snowed in Thailand or not. And there’s fake snow and a fascinating piece about the company that makes most of it for the world’s film industry.

Campbell is a careful writer, making sure she honours traditional and indigenous people, never drawing amusement where it’s not warranted, and noting colonial pasts and modern incursions into pristine places.

The book is a beautiful hardback with decorated cloth covers rather than a dust jacket. It’s printed in dark blue ink, and every entry is accompanied by a unique, stunning image of a snowflake – these are taken from the first known photographs of snow, by Wilson Bentley, who died in the 1930s.

Thank you to the publisher, Elliot and Thompson, for sending me a copy in return for an honest review. I am last on the blog tour, but you can see all the previous bloggers here!

Short reviews of short books: Rory Fraser – “Follies” and June Sarpong’s “The Power of Privilege” #NovNov #NonFicNov

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I thought I couldn’t take part in Novellas in November as, well, I didn’t have any novellas to hand, but Bookish Beck and 746 Books include non-fiction in their challenge and I did have some short non-fiction! Of course this also acts as another post for Nonfiction November, too! So two very different books here, but I can tie them together by saying that both are crying out to be bought for other people – “Follies” as a Christmas gift and “The Power of Privilege” to help people be the change they want (or need) to be.

Rory Fraser – “Follies”

(5 October2020 – from the publisher)

Coming in at 111 pages, Rory Fraser’s debut book, “Follies”, newly published by the fairly new publisher Zuleika Publishing, fits the nonfiction novella bill perfectly.

If you’re interested in architecture, history or architectural history, you’ll enjoy this small, attractive book, with 25 watercolour illustrations, on follies.

What is a folly? Officially, it’s “an elaborate building set in a beautiful landscape that serves no purpose other than to improve the view” (p. x) but there prove to not be very many true follies like that, and indeed the first one he visits, at Walsingham, as well as a shell of a Wren church in London later, is actually part of a ruined building left to stand incongruously in its surroundings. There are also mounds, caves and that famous fibreglass shark embedded in a suburban roof, as well as the more expected classical temples or gothic frills in lovely parks.

Fraser hops enthusiastically through history, kings, landowners and peers, sharing what he learns with glee. We’re looking at folklore one moment and Empire the next, always with something new to read about. It’s also something of a garden history on the grand scale, looking at the development of the landscapes in which follies often exist, framing huge swathes of land, as at Stowe, or a view of a city, as in Bath.

A great gift idea coming out at just the right time. Thank you to Tom at Zuleika for providing me with a copy in return for an honest review. A full review will appear in Shiny New Books next week and I’ll share that here then.

June Sarpong – “The Power of Privilege: How White People can Challenge Racism”

(1 October 2020)

I’ve always read pretty diversely but I’ve been buying, reading and reviewing some more of the non-fiction that’s come out as part of the upswelling of interest and activism after the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum across populations. I’m reading “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” alongside my best friend at the moment, for example. But what I was looking for was some direct ways that I could be an ally and help combat racism, and this book (and also Sophie Williams’ “Anti-Racist Ally” which I have but haven’t read in time for this review) offers that.

Sarpong is a journalist who has a senior diversity position at the BBC and is able to draw from both this and her experiences as the child of Ghanaian immigrants growing up on a council estate in London to put this useful book together. She’s recently published a longer work called “Diversity” which demonstrates the power of diversity to benefit companies and society economically as well as socially. I would imagine that talks to those in high power, as this one does: there’s an emphasis on including elite (not just privileged) white people in the conversation and a lot of the action points are for those who have power in companies and society. She also includes white people with less privilege, e.g. people of the working class and/or on a low income, people living with disabilities, people with an LGBTQ+ identity and makes it clear she understands privilege is a continuum, with well-off white male captains of industry and politicians at the most privileged end.

We get a good explanation of basic terms – racism, othering – then we’re taken through some statistics and reports about the position of Black, Asian and other Minority Ethnic people in the UK. This does have a lot of US information which I found a bit distracting from the main text. It’s also bang up to date, talking about how the disparities highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic are impossible to ignore and how it’s time to change things.

As with my attempts to join in with general inclusivity and “better together” campaigns before, I’m a bit hamstrung in my pro-cohesiveness and anti-racism work by the fact that I’m not part of any formal groups – I’m self-employed and work alone and I’m not a member of a faith group or large volunteer organisation (apart from parkrun, and I will be taking steps to look at that). It’s not the place to list what I I I am going to do: suffice it to say that in the ten clear points Sarpong offers, from educating yourself about Black lives now and in history to standing up against racist incidents to helping your white friends think about race there is something that everyone can use to help improve society and challenge racism. Action 10: Act Now has some particularly useful summary lists of things we can all do.

Oh and one for Bookish Beck’s serendipity – like “Work” which I review in Shiny on Thursday, this book talks about moving from a “scarcity” mind-set where we’re all fighting for small pieces of a pie to broadening out to build something that’s more than the sum of its parts.

 

Nonfiction November Week 4 – New to my TBR #NonFicNov

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Week 4: (November 23-27) – New to My TBR (Katie @ Doing Dewey): It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

OK, this  year, I am making sure to create this post at the start of the month, so I can add links to the posts where I found great book recommendations and make sure I thank the bloggers, after a horrible scramble and apology last year!

So these are the books I have added to my wishlist during Nonfiction November 2020 …

“American Wolf” by Nate Blakeslee – this was suggested by WhatsNonfiction in a comment on my post about Being the Expert/Becoming the expert and looks at the reintroduction of wolves to a US state park.

“Between Stone and Sky” by Whitney Brown – a memoir of a female dry-stone waller, which I saw on Laura Tisdall’s blog which wasn’t as part of Nonfiction November but is nonfic and in November …

“Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah – seen on quite a few people’s lists so I’m not going to stick to one link here.

Collectiva Sambra have put together a worldwide collection of “Pandemic Solidarity” that I spotted on Lovely Bookshelf’s leftist Be The Expert post.

Raynor Winn’s “The Salt Path” and “The Wild Silence” have cropped up through all of Nonfiction November AND in the rest of my life, Annabookbel had “The Salt Path” on her Become the Expert post and ReaderBuzz had both of them on her TBR post, I also got the note I will like them from others, but they are on my wishlist now.

That’s not many! I’m not sure why: I did read a lot of posts including exploring blogs I don’t already follow through the links added to the weekly posts. I just combed through all the Be The Expert ones. I think one thing was that a good few of the Be The Expert posts were about anti-racism, which is of course brilliant, but featured books I’m already aware of or very US-centric ones where I’m trying to read about the UK first. And then quite a few on memoir and exploration which I love but am quite picky about. Or maybe I’m just aware that I haven’t read as much as I’d have liked this month and am wary of adding on to the TBR!

Anyway … moving on:

What about last year’s list?

I thought I’d have a look at last year’s list and see how many I’ve acquired and/or read since:

Tori Bilski – Wild Horses of the Summer Sun – I’ve bought this one and it’s working its way up my TBR

Stephen Bourne – Mother Country: Britain’s Black Community on the Home Front 1939-1945

Mikita Brottman – The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature in a Men’s Prison

Juno Dawson – The Gender Games – I’ve bought this one and it’s working its way up my TBR

Gretel Ehrlich – The Solace of Open Spaces

Lori Gottlieb- Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

Dan Koeppel – To See Every Bird on Earth: A Father, a Son, and a Lifelong Obsession

John Marshall – Wide-Open World

Fatima Farheen Mirza – A Place for Us

Julie Summers – Uninvited Guests: The Secret Lives of Britain’s Country Houses 1939-45

Paul Theroux – On the Plain of Snakes

Laurence Wright – God Save Texas

So two purchased and to be read. But the others remain on my wish list so I’m still interested in them!

Book Review – Ada Cambridge – “The Three Miss Kings” #AusReadingMonth2020 @ViragoBooks

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I’ve been quite disappointed in the amount I’ve been able to read this month so far. Not sure what’s happened, but I think a combination of quite a lot of work on leaving me not so much time in the daytime for sitting and reading and some busy weekends (somehow. How?). How many of these books shown that I intended to read this month have I read? Two and a bit so far …

But I have managed to read a book for Brona’s Australia Reading Month, and it’s one I kept aside for a while, leaving it out of All Virago / All August so I could read it in November! I started reading it in the nice Virago copy shown here but the print was SO SMALL and a bit blurry in places, so I downloaded a copy from Project Gutenberg and read it on my Kindle, returning to the Virago for the introduction at the end.

Ada Cambridge – “The Three Miss Kings”

(December 2019, Oxfam Books)

Elizabeth, Patty and Eleanor King are newly orphaned when we meet them, just about to leave the rustic cottage they grew up in, saying goodbye to their woodland pets and simple friends and preparing to move to Melbourne. There, over the course of a year, they meet the loves of their lives, suffer a reversal of fortune and meet a fairy godmother – there’s a lot of coincidence and plot in this book but only as much as a Dickens or Hardy novel published in parts, as this was in the 1890s, might have.

Alongside the romance we have some quite long and careful discussions of important topics: how to move from the country to the city; how to be a lady; whether innocence is more attractive than sophistication; what makes a good musician; who should look after the poor and unfortunate and how; are all religions in fact one in the end? This makes for a few stodgy passages but the best parts are the sparks between the sisters and their fellow citizens, the lovely descriptions, ranging from a deserted Australian clifftop to an Elizabethan manor house in England, and the excellent relationship between the sisters. These themes and descriptions and the historical value of the depiction of Melbourne society in the 1880s are presumably what compelled Virago to republish this in 1987.

I enjoyed finding out more about this period in Australian life and seeing the development of the heroines’ taste and fortunes.

Nonfiction November Week 3 – Be the Expert / Ask the Expert / Become the Expert #NonFicNov

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Week 3: (November 16-20) – Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert (Rennie  @ What’s Nonfiction): Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I’ve decided for this one to do a Be the Expert/Become the Expert on Rewilding! I have read a few books on this topic and have more to read on my TBR. I have gained great solace from nature during this difficult year, glad that I have manicured local parks, well kept canal towpaths with wild hedges and more liminal places in the backs of parks and greenways to enjoy as a counterpoint to sheltering safe at home. I even grew some vegetables in the garden, with varying results, this summer!

Be the expert …

I have read three books on Rewilding so far, one that looks into the background and science of it all and two personal ones.

Paul Jepson & Cain Blyth – “Rewilding: The Radical New Science of Ecological Recovery” was a recent read that looked at the theories and science as well as practices around rewilding, with their main finding being that it was reintroducing large herbivores – as opposed to charismatic carnivores – into landscapes that redressed habitat and species loss. Read my review here.

Nick Baker – “Rewild” was a book I read and reviewed back in 2017 and inspired my interest in the topic – he has loads of ideas for fun ways to reconnect yourself to nature, including going out in the proper dark with no torch and letting your eyes readjust to the moonlight and starlight. Read my review here with a link to my review on Shiny New Books.

Simon Barnes – “Rewild Yourself” I read this year with my best friend. Short and accessible chapters look at various ways you can again reconnect with nature, from learning the names of a few trees to visiting iconic nature reserves in the UK. Read my review here.

Other books which have involved reconnection with nature and rewilding oneself have included Lev Parikian’s “Into the Tangled Bank” (review here) and Nick Hayes’ “The Book of Trespass” (here), although they’re not about rewilding habitats as such.

… become the expert

I have a few books on the topic of rewilding as such or adapting oneself to one’s natural surroundings on my TBR shelf.

Simon Barnes (again) has written “On the Marsh” about his purchase of the marsh near his home to protect it from being built on. It proves a boon for his whole family as they watch it sustain itself and observe its life.

Isabella Tree’s “Wilding” is a classic in this area and treats her experiment in letting her farm go (I think) completely wild and the burgeoning of wildlife that happens. There’s also a book around called “Rebirding” that I bought my best friend for her birthday and want to pick up for myself. And “Bring Back the Beaver” by Derek Gow, which HalfManHalfBook has reviewed here.

Neither of these, as far as I know, involve introducing megafauna herbivores, but are smaller, quieter ways of doing things (although they involve purchasing or owning land). Sort of a middle way between the big projects and the very personal stuff.

And then these two are more about settling in to you natural environment and adapting yourself to it.

In “Homesick”, Catriona Davies moves semi-legally into a shed when she cannot find affordable housing. Partly about how she came into that situation and partly about how she creates a living space, it’s also about how she lives within the landscape.

Mike Parker’s “On the Red Hill” looks at two gay couples in rural Wales, one inheriting a house from the other, and on settling into the rural environment, both people and land, as they see a year round.

Most of these books are coming up on the TBR quite soon so watch out for my reviews, or I’ll report back in November 2021!

And did I become the expert I wished to in 2019?

I did also look back on my take on this topic last year. I chose four books on birdwatching that I felt were going to help me to become an expert on the sociology of the hobby, if not the hobby itself. I read all of these (or parts of them in one case) this year.

Alex Horne – “Birdwatchingwatching: One Year, Two Men, Three Rules, Ten Thousand Birds” – loved this book about going birdwatching with his dad, which had a lot of lovely detail about the process.

Joe Harkness – “Bird Therapy” – about the therapeutic nature of birdwatching, a super read, very moving and also informative.

Mark Cocker – “Birders: Tales of a Tribe” – I didn’t really take to this one as it was from the snobbier-feeling ending of birdwatching, looking down on amateurs. I did learn some terminology from the part I did read.

Stephen Moss – “A Bird in the Bush: A Social History of Birdwatching” – A detailed and exhaustive but also inclusive and supportive history and sociology of birdwatching from ancient times until now. I really enjoyed this.

I think I did become a bit expert in this area and although I’ve gone on to read some more books on birds and will continue to do so, not sure I need any more on the sociology side of it all!

Book review – Paul Magrs – “The Mars Trilogy: Lost on Mars, The Martian Girl, The Heart of Mars” #magrsathon @paulmagrs

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Excitement here on the blog, because we have a Guest Post – this doesn’t happen very often but my friend Charlotte read the Mars Trilogy (with her daughters reading the first instalment) and kindly wrote a review for me. 

Paul Magrs – “The Mars Trilogy”

The very fact that the family in ‘Lost on Mars’ by Dr. Who writer, Paul Magrs, is the ‘Robinson family’ suggests that this series of books will fit nicely into the young adult sci-fi genre but also resonate with anyone who loves the geeky period of 60s sci-fi. The first book introduces us to Lora Robinson, with her pioneering family and trusty robot, a rebooted sunbed affectionately named ‘Toaster’. We gain an understanding of Frontier life on terraformed Mars, with handy references to how the atmosphere was altered to allow humans to live and breathe freely.

We read this book as a family, my two daughters enjoyed the humour Toaster brought to the story not to mention the fact that the Earth Authorities believed that an essential item for any travellers to Mars would have to be a sunbed. They also identified with Lora, who narrated the story and introduces us to this strange world where she is one of the third generation of settlers on a hostile planet. She has affection for her grandmother, an original space-faring traveller and through her, we gain snippets of information about the journey, the planet, the problems and her parents and younger brother.

Like all good quest sagas, Lora, finds out knowledge that could mean the destruction of their tiny community and embarks on a mission to get anyone who wishes to safety, far away from the evil Martian ghosts.

The place where she finally arrives opens her eyes to an almost unbelievable town full of humans who have been settled for many years. Lora’s quest is only just starting at the end of the first book and we are left with more questions than answers.

The second book, entitled ‘The Martian Girl’, takes us further into understanding the planet, the factions and the dilemmas that Lora faces.  I read this one alone and enjoyed the way the description was vivid, full of colour to enhance the imagination. Towns such as Our Town, Bandit Town and City Inside mean that the description is just enough to help any reader gain a full impression of the setting as a backdrop for the action. I enjoyed the use of the many Servo-furnishings; in this episode we are introduced to Barbra, a vocal and caring vending machine. The robots stick faithfully to Asimov’s three rules of robotics, meaning that on occasion, things may become a little predictable.  Having said that, my teenage daughters didn’t know Asimov and therefore the suspense was intact. We also meet another of the family: Aunty Ruby, who seems to be a natural matriarch and has her own agenda in the town.

The third and final book involved a plot which ties together the original travellers and their space ships along with the native Martians who now appear benevolent and a race enigmatically called ‘The Ancient Ones’.  There is a satirical message about the dangers of excessive screen time and also how dependent people seem to becoming on the use of tech. None of this is overly ‘preachy’ and it fits well into the story and Lora’s continuing quest to solve planet-sized problems.

The tale is rounded off with Lora managing to fulfil her quest and the dreams and wishes of several other characters are also fulfilled. I became quite fond of some of the non-human characters; Sook, Karl and the aforementioned Toaster.  This was a good trilogy to read with my daughters, we will finish the other two books when they are ready for more travels to Mars.


Charlotte and her husband and two daughters are an active family: the girls are readers, performers and part-time bakers.

You can find Paul online at Life on Magrs and he also has a Patreon for exclusive new content.

 

Book reviews – Stephen Rutt – “Wintering” and Tom Mole – “The Secret Life of Books” @eandtbooks @shinynewbooks

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Two excellent books which the lovely Elliot & Thompson Books have been kind enough to send me to review for Shiny New Books. Here are some of my more personal thoughts about them with links to the longer reviews. I will say right out here that both of these would make excellent Christmas presents for the booky or nature-loving person in your life.

Stephen Rutt – “Wintering”

This book about geese made me a bit obsessed with geese. In fact, around reading it, I both spotted a fairly rare goose (a bar-headed) in one of our local parks and got excited by the tall, muscular-necked white geese in another park before realising they were … farmyard geese. To be fair, I don’t go to many farmyards.

Anyway, this book concentrates on the migrants who spent part of their time in the UK and Rutt goes around the country to see them all, ranging around different topics as he goes through each bird in its chapter. He’s also settling in to a new life in Scotland, helped by these great creatures.

On seeing his first skein whipping across the sky, Rutt adds these large and not always elegant birds to his totems – including the first chiffchaff of spring and the final swift of summer’s end. Each chapter after the introduction is named after one of the breeds he looks into, but roams around the topic. At the end of the book, the spring comes back round, and once he hears the chiffchaff he knows that the geese will be leaving – although of course they’ll be back, living long lives and enjoying returning to the same spots.

Read my full review here.

Tom Mole – “The Secret Life of Books”

Out now in paperback, this attractive book will be getting a new set of fans. Essays on the book as an object rather than its contents delve into all sorts of areas.

I felt seen on p.3 when I came across a reference, in the chapter Book/Book, in a section about the way people shelve their books, to “the ones [the professor] had finished reading but not yet shelved somewhere,” as I have only just the other week cleared down four tall piles of books in this category from my own desk! There are many other little chimes of recognition for the booky person in the book, even though we’re only talking about books as objects here.

Like “Wintering” we get a lot of different topics covered in each section and there’s much to enjoy and think about, especially around the longevity of the printed page, even in a digital age.

Read my full review here.

 

 

Book reviews – Nic Stone – “Dear Martin” and “Dear Justyce” #DearJustyce #NetGalley @simonkids_UK

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I won “Dear Justyce” on NetGalley back in August (it was published on 01 November) and immediately went and bought the first book of the series, “Dear Martin” for my Kindle. The two books really need to be read together as they intertwine timelines and characters; as they’re YA books, they’re not too long so it’s more like reading one adult-length novel. I do recommend these novels, especially for people who are starting to explore Black Lives Matter type issues as there are plenty of examples of how to counter oppression, systemic racism and various common comments and viewpoints.

Nic Stone – “Dear Martin”

(25 August 2020)

Justyce is a young Black kid at a posh mostly White school and on the debating team, but as he gets racially profiled, brutally by the police and insidiously by his classmates, and bullied at school by his best friend Manny’s unpleasant White friends, he starts trying to work things out by writing letters to Martin Luther King Jr. Then, an incidence of extreme violence changes his life forever. Bereaved and lost, his views take a darker turn – is the presence of his excellent friend SJ, who could be more than a friend if only his mum approved of mixed-race relationships and his teacher Doc enough to keep him on the path to university or will he turn aside?

The White kids in class help rehearse come-backs to different statements of racism and the nihilistic viewpoints of some Black characters are also countered, giving the reader weapons against such speech themselves – and remembering this is written for a younger age group, that’s a good idea, although reading slightly over-didactically in places. You do root for Justyce and celebrate the feisty SJ.

Nic Stone – “Dear Justyce”

(25 August 2020)

Written two years after the first book after readers the author was in touch with asked her to write about them instead of a clever boy who was going places, we follow the story of Quan, Manny’s cousin, and see how a series of very small points where he is abandoned by authority figures and figures who should love him lead him almost inexorably down a path towards joining a gang, where he is seen and cared for at last. It’s nicely and carefully done, with different figures leading different kinds of lives for different reasons, and explores the injustices of the so-called justice system, as Quan sees White youths with often worse crimes getting off with a light sentence or fine where everyone assumes he’s a delinquent.

The narrative overlaps and intertwines with the first book very cleverly – for example, Justyce visits Quan in prison and is given a phone number – Quan doesn’t know if he uses it, but we’ve seen what happens in the first book. Justyce, SJ, teacher Doc, who Justyce sends to Quan in prison and a team of other support workers as well as a reformed White boy from the previous book who’s constantly checking his privilege work to help Quan rehabilitate himself and redress the injustice he’s got caught up in by confessing to a crime he might not even have done.

A positive book with a message that we can understand everyone’s motives (even the gang leader has a surprising education and motives) and that everyone can change – the author does admit that in real-life Georgia a real-life lad like Quan would not have all the support he’s given in the novel. But if it helps people to understand, the overt teaching and the slight exaggerations are worth it, in my opinion.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for making this book available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Nonfiction November Week 2 – Book Pairing #NonFicNov

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Week 2: (November 9-13) – Book Pairing (Julie @ Julz Reads): This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

The pairing that really jumped out at me for this week’s theme was pairing Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené’s “Slay in Your Lane” with Candice Carty-Williams’ “Queenie

Where “Slay in Your Lane” highlights British Black women’s experiences through a mixture of reported research, the authors’ personal experience and that of their interviewees, “Queenie” gives us a fictionalised but highly authentic portrayal of that lived experience with all its microaggressions, dating issues, cultural family patterns and, especially, mistrust of discussing mental health problems. Several things I’d read in “Queenie” popped up in “Slay in Your Lane”.

I’d highly recommend reading the two together, and they have both aided my understanding of the experience of Black British people.

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