Of Women and Salt

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Gabriela Garcia
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: Mar. 2021 (read May 2021)

I have read some really good books this month and Of Women and Salt is definitely one of them. I’ve been seeing a lot of buzz about it over the past few months but I couldn’t quite pin down what the plot was. I gathered it was a multi-generational immigrant story and honestly, I didn’t need to hear any more, I was sold. 

We put this on our book club voting list and it lost to The Lost Apothecary, which is really too bad because I think my book club would have enjoyed this a lot more than they enjoyed The Lost Apothecary. This book is centered around women, primarily the relationships between mothers and daughters. It’s another story that is told non-linearly (seriously, I’ve read so many of these this year), but this is one of the books where I didn’t mind the non-linear telling. Overall the plot is pretty simple, so I didn’t find it difficult to jump around as the novel focuses more on the character relationships than anything else. 

The novel kicks off in 19th century Cuba and then jumps around from there. Though someone from almost every generation of this Cuban immigrant family are featured throughout the novel, most of our time is spent close to present day with the youngest woman in the family, Jeanette. When she witnesses her neighbour being taken away by ICE in the middle of the night, she inadvertently becomes guardian to her neighbour’s daughter for a short period of time. Though they only know each other for a few days, the experience has a profound impact on both Jeanette and the young girl, Ana. 

I’m glad the novel focused on these two individuals because I did find their stories to be some of the most memorable and meaningful of the book. Though I did love the development of both Jeanette’s relationship with her mom (Carmen), and her Mom’s relationship with Jeanette’s grandmother (Delores). Beyond Delores, I don’t think going further back in the family tree really added that much to the story. The inclusion of the family tree at the start was definitely a good idea, I could see this being really confusing otherwise.

Some might question how much Ana and her mother’s story really belonged in this book, but I loved the comparison of two different immigration stories and though they are only loosely linked to one another, I thought the inclusion of both really made this a more well rounded story. 

Honestly, my only complaint about this book is that it could have been longer. It’s only about 200 pages and I really would have loved to spend more time with each of the women in this family, particularly Carmen. I felt like I had good insight into Dolores’ perspective, but I would have loved to hear more about Carmen’s experience immigrating to America and what it was like growing up under the shadow of her childhood trauma. Abuse was passed down from generation to generation in this family and I think that Garcia could have really developed this theme more to make her narrative even more impactful. I just wanted a little bit more from each of the characters, but the writing was so beautiful I’m definitely excited to see what the author will write next. An excellent debut!

Detransition, Baby

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Torrey Peters
Genres: Fiction
Pub. Date: Jan. 2021 (read May 2021)

This is going to be a hard review to write. It took me a long time to read Detransition, Baby; not because it’s a bad book, but because it’s a heavy book in scope. As a character study, this book is incredible. Peters really gets into the psyche of her main characters and I was frankly astonished at the emotional depth to which she takes Reese and Ames. These are not hastily created characters, they are well developed individuals and Peters brings to life every aspect of their character, from their most trivial thoughts, to their deepest secrets. Don’t come to this book if you are looking for a fast-paced plot, but rather if you want to get down into the nitty gritty of what it means to be trans and the exploration of both womanhood and motherhood as a trans-woman, this is the book for you.

It’s what made it so hard to read. The plot is not told linearly and the book is chaotic in its exploration of the themes and who these people are. Peters goes to some dark places and this is not a lightweight book. For those not aware of the plot, Detransition, Baby is primarily about two characters, Ames and Reese, though Katrina also plays a central role in the story. Reese and Ames were in a relationship for many years, but Ames eventually decides to detransition back to male and accidentally impregnates his boss, Katrina. The novel explores the idea of these 3 individuals raising the baby together because Ames fears that Katrina will not understand why the idea of ‘fatherhood’ is so scary to him and because Reese is a trans-woman that has always wanted a baby.

It’s a messy book and I can see it being very polarizing. But the fact that it’s been creating so much buzz and making bestseller lists from its release is in itself an achievement. The danger I think may be that this is held up as the only example of what it means to be trans, so I hope to see many more books like this get published to both broaden the narrative, and of course, for representation. Although shoutout to the YA genre which I think has been ahead of literary fiction genre on this topic. 

There are so many ideas presented in this book that I did find myself finishing it and not knowing quite what to think. I’m still not sure if I loved it, but I can’t deny its power because I really can’t stop thinking about it and I appreciate Peters’ unapologetic telling of these individuals. This is ultimately a book about womanhood and motherhood and what it means to navigate those worlds as a trans-woman. Peters explores so much within a limited number of pages and I definitely commend her on her honesty.

My only complaint is that I wish this story had been told linearly. I’ve read a lot of non-linear stories lately and for the most part, it doesn’t bother me – but I’m not sure what this style achieved in this book. The chapters are very long and every time I finished one, I knew I would be jumping to an entirely different part of the story, so it made it hard to pick the book up again every time I put it down. I felt like I had to get re-invested in the story after every chapter because the storytelling itself was quite chaotic. 

But one thing is for sure – whether you loved it or hated it, Torrey Peters is definitely one to watch!

What’s Mine and Yours

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Naima Coster
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: Mar. 2021 (read May 2021 on Audible)

This was an impulse buy because I liked the audiobook narrator. I always have such a hard time finding audiobooks because I own so many hard copies of the books on my TBR and I don’t want to pay for them twice. I’ve seen a bit of buzz about What’s Mine and Yours, but I wish I was seeing more because this book was excellent! Honestly, I don’t know why this is only rated 3.67 on goodreads, I feel like it must be misunderstood because so many of the characters are unlikeable, but definitely a 4.5 star read for me.

Unfortunately the synopsis of the book is a bit misleading. The book is pitched as being about the lives of two students from North Carolina whose school is being forced to integrate. This is a small part of the story, but really this is a multi-generational saga about the families of those two students – the impact of their childhoods and their parents’ influence on who they become and how their lives continue to intersect throughout the years. It reminded me a little bit of Ask Again, Maybe because of the ripple effect that single circumstances can have on a person and on a family. In this case there’s not necessarily one catalyst so much as a series of events, but it still makes for a really interesting character study.

This novel touches on so many themes: grief, growing up, race, class, abuse, family, love. Gee grows up with his headstrong mother Jade, who wants the best for her son, but struggles to be there for him in the way he needs after a tragic incident. Noelle grows up under the shadow of her mother, a white woman who has been dealt her own difficult hand in life, but fails to recognize how her white privilege blinds her and creates a wedge between her and her half-Latina daughters.

With so much going on in the book, I did find it a little hard to follow by audiobook in the beginning. The author doesn’t use a linear timeline to tell the story, for a good reason understanding the surprising ending, but it did make it hard to follow at times. I think the strongest themes of the book are those of race and class, but Costa accomplishes a lot in under 350 pages. I didn’t love the ending, but I loved how this book is a character examination of these two families. The narrative isn’t proportionally split between all the characters, but by looking at each of the family members, we get to recognize the larger scope of the story. 

Lacey May was the most interesting character for me. I struggled with her character because she really doesn’t have any redeeming qualities. She’s blind to how her children perceive her and she’s not ashamed of her blatant racism. Despite her strong character, she fails to be able to stand on her own two feet, always relying on the men around her, and even as an old woman, she still uses the same old antics to manipulate her daughters. But she makes for an interesting character study because you know there are tons more women out there just like her. 

Unfortunately the plot is already getting hazy in my memory, but definitely recommend this if you’re looking for a nuanced and engaging story!

Infinite Country

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Patricia Engel
Genres: Fiction
Pub. Date: Mar. 2021 (read Apr. 2021 on Audible)

I decided to read Infinite Country because I’ve been seeing a lot of good reviews and the narrator in the audiobook sample sounded excellent! I’m so glad I picked it up because I ended up really liking it. I found it mildly confusing to keep track of the characters at the beginning, but this was a really moving story about how it feels to be divorced from your homeland and the struggles mixed-status families face in staying connected to one another.

Infinite Country is split between Colombia and America and tells the story of a family who move to America and overstay their visas. Elena and Mauro never intended to stay in America, but the uncertainty of returning to Colombia and the fact that some of their children are now American-born, they decide to stay. Eventually they become separated – with half the family returning to Colombia and the other half living undocumented in the States. 

Like the book, I’m going to keep my review short. The story had some interesting plot points – especially with the part of the family living in Colombia – but at the end of the day it’s a simple story about the trauma many families experience in trying to immigrate to America. Nothing in this story really surprised me (except for the bad thing Talia does), it’s a story I feel like I’ve heard many times before. Families that seek a better life and are forced to live in poverty and taken advantage of because of their fear of deportation. But I loved this book because it is deeply humanizing. We get to spend time with each family member and experience each of their longings and struggles. I really connected with each of the characters, especially Mauro, and I was moved by their tenacity.

Immigration forces everyone to make tough choices and I really appreciated this in-depth look at its impact on one family. At less than 200 pages, I read this in two sittings and definitely recommend it for everyone! 

Honey Girl

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Morgan Rogers
Genres: Fiction
Pub. Date: Feb 2021 (read Mar. 2021)

Oh Honey Girl. I wanted to love this book so much! There’s so much to love in here – a new adult queer romance filled with a diverse cast of characters that are just trying to figure out their lives while taking care of their mental health. This is absolutely the kind of book that we need more of. I thought the last third of this book was absolutely a four star read, but I found it just so damn slow in the first two thirds.

28 year old Grace Porter has just obtained her PhD in Astronomy after over a decade of studies. But after she blows the interview at her dream job, she goes to Vegas to celebrate her doctorate and gets drunk married to a girl she meets from New York. Grace and Yuki return to their lives in Portland and New York, but both women are extremely lonely and begin to seek comfort in one another.

Grace is half black, half white and has fought against racial bias her entire life. She felt intense pressure from her military father to study medicine, but seeks her own path in astronomy instead. Her whole life has built up to earning her PhD, but after being unfairly discriminated against in her defense and being told she’s the “wrong fit” for her dream job, she begins to question what all her hard work was for. Grace decides she needs a break and joins Yuki in New York to get to know her wife better.

Like I said, I think the premise for this book is so great. It had so much rep and I love that it dealt with so many underrated topics. There’s so few quality new adult books out there – I’m always on the hunt for something great. I know a lot of people have really been loving this, so I’ve been trying to identify where it failed for me. I think it was just that the set-up for the story took too long. It took a long time for Grace to finally fall apart, but I felt like it didn’t take that long for her to put herself back together. I loved the last part of the book that takes place in Florida, where Grace really starts working on herself, but I thought the plot meandered so much before that.

I felt like too much time was spent in Portland – I was anticipating her going to New York, but when she does finally go there, I didn’t really feel the chemistry. I felt like there were all the right plot points, but I just didn’t quite connect with the characters. Yuki’s radio show was a little too whimsical for me and to be honest, I was just kind of bored with the relationship. I wanted to see more sparks fly, either in a good or bad way. I felt like maybe the author just had too many ideas and she struggled to execute them in such a short novel.

There’s a lot going on with the side characters, but I didn’t feel like I spent enough time with any of them. Grace loves Agnes and Ximena, but I didn’t get enough backstory to really understand their friendship. She considers Meera and Raj to be her sister and brother, but I have no idea how those bonds we’re formed. When Raj comes to NY and starts freaking out at her I found it extremely jarring – I loved it in that I was like, yes, here is someone dealing with their angst, this is a great scene – but I didn’t have any context about their relationship in which to process the argument. Raj just came off looking like a total asshole for screaming at Grace about his problems.

Even with Yuki, I thought it was a bad choice to open the novel the morning after they met – why not open with their love story? If I’d seen them meet and heard their banter I feel like I would have been a lot more invested in their relationship, but I felt like I met them at chapter 2 and I just didn’t buy into their chemistry since I was missing their meet cute. Plus I felt like Yuki was really nuanced and had other stuff going on under the surface that was never really addressed. In short, I just felt like every single character and relationship had this whole backstory that I would have loved to hear more about, but instead of getting deep meaningful characterization about any character, I got a surface level characterization of everyone. I wanted more depth and sadly I think this story had too much going on to really get the depth I craved. Grace’s character growth towards the end of the book is really well done, but I wanted more from everyone else.

So all in all, I think this was a good book, but not a great one. It really showed to me that this was a debut novel, but I won’t hold it against the author because everyone has to start somewhere. I think she has all the right ideas, she just needs more time to hone in on her skill. I wouldn’t be dissuaded from reading more from her in the future because I still think this was an important story, despite its shortcomings.