Black Enough

Rating: 
Author: Edited by Ibi Zoboi, many contributing authors
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction, Short stories
Pub date: Jan. 8, 2019 (read Jan. 2019)

Thanks to HarperCollins Canada for providing me with a free advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve been working on this book for awhile. Not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because it’s short stories and I always struggle to get into short stories when there’s nothing to pull you back into the book between stories. It was pretty slow going on the first half of the book, but the stories kept getting progressively better (in my humble opinion) and I read through the second half of the book a lot faster.

Overall I think ibi Zoboi did a really good job at collecting a diverse set of stories. They all focus on young people and the many things it means to be Black. I liked that some of the stories were political and some of the stories were just about being a teenager. How some days the odds seemed stacked against you and other days you’re just another confused teenager trying to make sense of the world.

This book features an all star cast of authors, many of whom I’ve read some of their other books, and some new-to-me authors that I’d now like to check out! The great thing about a book like this is that there can’t really be any bad stories because they are all just different author’s interpretations on what it means to be black.

That said, there were a few stories that stood out to me more than others and I just wanted to take the time to highlight some of them. I really liked Brandy Colbert’s story, Oreo, which is about a black girl who, because of the choices her parents made to live in a white neighbourhood and send their kids to a mostly white school, has been accused by her cousins of being white on the inside (Oreo). It’s a story about identity, culture, and longing. She has a tense relationship with her cousin and eventually discovers that they’ve actually both been misunderstanding one another and realizes how easy it is for two people to both want what the other has.

I also liked Liara Tamani’s Girl, Stop Playing story, which I thought was so relatable to all teenage girls. It’s about a girl who has just broken up with her boyfriend and is determined to get him back, but is confused when she meets a new boy that she kind of likes, and is also jealous of the other girls hanging around her ex. I liked that this addresses issues that a lot of teenage girls feel very self conscious about, while also promoting a healthy body image and the importance of female friendship and support.

I loved Jay Coles, Wild Horses, Wild Hearts, which was probably my favourite story in the entire collection, as well as Justina Ireland’s Kissing Sarah Smart. They both focus on LGBT relationships, but contrast one another in that Coles’ characters face huge opposition from their parents and culture, while Ireland’s characters are more or less supported by their family and friends.

I also really liked Dhonielle Clayton’s, The Trouble with Drowning, and was totally impressed that the author was able to work such a plot twist into a short story! Actually this may have been my favourite… it’s a toss up! The Trouble with Drowning is about a young girls struggle to live up to her parents expectations and to excel under the shadow of her twin sister.

These are just some of the stories that stood out to me, but there were many others that I enjoyed as well. Like I said, it took me a while to read this one, but I think it’s a really important book and I’m glad I took the time to work through it!

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Not That Bad

Rating: 
Author: Edited by Roxane Gay
Genres: Essays, Non-fiction
Pub date: May 2018 (read as audiobook Jul. 2018)

I listened to Not That Bad as an audiobook on audible and thank goodness I’ve finally found a new book that translates well to audiobook! I really should just stick to non-fiction when it comes to audiobooks because they translate so much better when read aloud than fiction (from my experience anyways). I read Bad Feminist, a series of essays by Roxane Gay, as well as her memoir, Hunger, and loved them both. This collection is edited by Roxane Gay; she’s not featured in any of the essays, but it was wonderful!

Not That Bad represents a diverse collection of stories about rape culture and how women condition themselves to hide their experiences or tell themselves their experiences aren’t valid because they “weren’t that bad” in comparison to other stories they’ve heard. How women brush off street harrassment because it’s not as bad as getting raped, how we’re taught to always be nice at the expense of our own comfort and safety, how a certain level of harrassment should be expected because of what we wore or how we acted, how we should be flattered instead of offended if we’re still getting catcalls when we’re older.

I’ll admit, because I listened to this as an audiobook over several weeks, I’m already struggling to recall a lot of the essays, but there are two that stick out for me.

The first was an essay about a girl in college who was pressured into attending a party (on a boat/island) with a guy who she obviously didn’t like and was afraid of – and how she spent the whole night hiding from him because she knew he expected sex and she didn’t want it. She watched him from a far as he angrily stormed around the island looking for her, asking “where’s that f***ing b***h”, and how she waited until she felt it was late enough to safely go back to their room, only to be woken from sleep to him raping her. “They will wake you up to rape you.”

It’s enraging that women can never win and can never really be safe. That many men feel they can expect sex for taking a woman out or buying her something, or in this case, taking her to a boat party. That they feel entitled to call women horrible, derogatory things if they aren’t interested in having sex and that they feel in any way entitled to a women’s body without her consent. In this case, the author later sees her rapist and he makes jokes about her rape and legitimately doesn’t think that he raped her. I’m not sure why this story stood out to me more than any of the others. This to me is very obviously “that bad”, just as all of the other stories are, but women still condition themselves to keep quiet about these horrible, invasive things that happen to them and are even forced to interact with their rapists after the fact. Some of these stories are about rape, some are about harrassment, some are about rape culture, but they are all “that bad”.

The second story that stands out to me is that of another woman who was raped and when she tells other people about it, she is routinely told, “you’re lucky he didn’t kill you”. I can’t even imagine having this response to a rape victim, but I can imagine it in a million other scenarios. He catcalled you? You’re lucky he didn’t touch you. He touched you? You’re lucky he didn’t rape you. It goes so well with this idea that as women we are responsible for the things that happen to us and not the people who actually perpetrate them. If you go drinking wearing a short skirt, you’re lucky if no one touches you. If you walk home alone a night, you’re lucky if no one bothers you. If you stay with a person who hits you, you’re lucky he doesn’t kill you.

This logic is so obviously flawed and yet it’s so pervasive in our society. This is a hard collection to read, but so important. I especially loved that many of these essays were narrated by the writers. I love when audiobooks are narrated by the writers because no one can convey tone better than the author. I only talked about two of the essays, but they are all meaningful and important in their own ways. A great collection!

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter

AKA: One Day This Will Matter
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Scaachi Koul
Genres: Non-fiction, Essays, Memoir
Read: Dec. 2017 on audiobook

 

I listened to this as an audiobook and I loved it! It is narrated by the author and I really enjoyed both her writing and narration.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter is a series of essays written by Scaachi Koul, daughter of Indian immigrants who grew up in Calgary. She later moved to Toronto for university and I believe she currently works for Buzzfeed.

I didn’t really know what this was about before I picked it up. I selected it very quickly when I was looking for something to listen to on a run because I had seen some buzz about it and I like non-fiction audiobooks that are narrated by the author. I was thrilled to discover it was written by a Canadian and about her experiences growing up in Canada and the challenges of being the daughter of immigrants.

Scaachi is really funny and she is also very insightful. I can’t believe she is the same age as me, which made this book all the more impressive. Canadians like to be critical of America (especially in the Trump era) and we like to think we’re better and more progressive, but there is definitely still what Scaachi calls “casual racism” happening here. I wouldn’t say this book was necessarily “eye-opening” for me, but it was definitely a perspective I don’t hear very often and I really appreciated Scaachi’s observations.

She talks about what it’s like to grow up female and Indian. How she is envied for her lush, thick indian hair, but at the same time shamed for having hair everywhere else on her body. What it’s like to travel back to India and discover that while you don’t quite fit in Canada, you don’t fit here either and the life your parents so fondly remember doesn’t really exist anymore. How challenging it is to have to hide all your romantic relationships growing up and what it’s like bringing a white boy 10 years your senior home to your parents.

Her parents have had a large influence on her life and it was interesting to learn more about Indian culture – the stereotypes, inequities, and familial importance. I like to think I’ve learned a little bit about Indian culture since moving to Vancouver, but I was really interested in Scaachi’s thoughts on Indian weddings, arranged marriages, and the rites and passages of her culture. She has a contentious relationship with her father that I couldn’t relate to – I found her father very unyielding and sometimes even childish in his reactions – but she still made me like him and helped me to understand a little bit more about Indian families.

I think stories like Scaachi’s are important because they provide perspective and enable you to walk in someone else’s shoes to an extent. It helps when they’re really well written, which this was. Scaachi had a perfect blend of just enough humour to make it fun, but enough perspective to also make her stories meaningful.

It’s a quick read, even as an audiobook, and I would definitely recommend!

The Refugees


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Viet Thanh Nyugen
Genres: Fiction, Short Stories, Historical Fiction
Read: April 2017

 

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this collection of short stories. It didn’t deliver what I was expecting and at times I found it slow moving and pretty boring. However, it did offer a different perspective on the experiences of refugees, that while different from my expectations, was still valuable.

The Refugees featured in Nguyen’s stories were all from Vietnam and had all eventually settled in America. I expected this collection to focus on refugees who were attempting to flee their homeland or trying to build new lives in America. However, most of the stories took place years after the refugees had settled in America and in some ways didn’t even feel like stories about refugees.

I thought that Nguyen’s stories about a wife whose husband is suffering Alzheimer’s, a man who meets his liver donor, and a father who travels to Vietnam to visit his daughter studying abroad weren’t stories that were unique to refugees – they easily could have happened to anyone. During a time when many Americans (and Canadians) are afraid of refugees, I thought Nguyen’s stories were an important reminder that refugees are normal people who build lives, put down roots, and contribute to society in the same way as everyone else. Unfortunately, they are just people who have been forced to flee their home country, often due to horrifying circumstances.

While I didn’t love all the stories, there were some that I enjoyed. I sympathized with Mrs. Khanh, whose husband was slowly forgetting their past together and her horror when he begins to call her by an unknown woman’s name. I felt Phuong’s frustration when her privileged half-sister returned to Vietnam and won her father’s affection but refused to help her create a better life. And I understood the mother who was conflicted at giving her hard earned money to what she believed to be a lost cause, but couldn’t say no to another mother mourning her husband and son.

Overall this was still a decent read, but I would recommend The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui over this one, which I loved! It’s also a refugee story about a family fleeing Vietnam for America, but I felt much more connected to the characters.