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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January Summary

I can’t believe January is over already! Seriously, where did the time go?!

It was a bit of a mixed bag for books this month. I got off to a bit of a rough start to the year with several book duds, but things definitely picked up later in the month and I loved all three of the books that I read for my January reading challenge. Here’s my summary:

Books read: 10
Pages read: 3,797
Main genres: Young adult, historical fiction, fantasy
Favourite (new) book: Girl in Translation
Favourite re-read: On the Jellicoe Road

I started off the month with Thunderhead, the sequel to Neal Shusterman’s new series Scythe. I did like this one, but overall I don’t think Shusterman is quite my cup of tea and I found it a bit boring. He explores a lot of really interesting concepts in Scythe and in comparison, Thunderhead seemed a bit lacking.

Things only got worse though because I followed up Thunderhead with The Life She Was Given and The Star-Touched Queen, both of which I did not like at all. The Life She was Given was my book club read of the month and it ended up being our lowest rated book to date, and we’ve read over 50 books! I found the book totally lacking in depth, development, and meaning. Likewise, I thought the writing in the Star-Touched Queen was so over-the-top flowery that it completely took away from the story. I can see why some people might be into this type of writing, but it really did nothing for me and I didn’t find the story meaningful.

Things picked up after that with the first book in my January Challenge to read 3 books about immigration – Girl in Translation. This is a fantastic book about a Chinese mother and daughter who immigrate to America and the terrible conditions they put up with just to survive. It was so well written; I loved the main character Kim and her aspirations to get the very best education so that her and her mother could rise above their circumstances. it was a very moving story.

Next I read Looking for Alibrandi, which is one of the few Melina Marchetta books I hadn’t already read. It was a solid 3-star read and I thought the main character Josie had a lot of spunk, but I didn’t think it was anything that special. However, it inspired me to give On the Jellicoe Road a re-read, which is one of my favourite books of all time and still moves me to tears, even after several re-reads over the last few years. These are both relatively older YA contemporary books, but I honestly think On the Jellicoe Road is timeless and that everyone should read it!

My second January Challenge read was Pachinko, which is a slow-moving historical epic that spans 80 years of history about a Korean family that immigrates to Japan during its colonial rule over Korea and struggle to build a life for themselves and escape the stigma of being Korean. It examines the challenges of being emancipated from your homeland and finding where you fit in in a new culture. Also a wonderful read, although quite long.

I needed something light and fast-paced before I tackled my last Challenge book, so I read The Cruel Prince which has been getting an insane amount of good reviews. I liked it, but was definitely disappointed with it because I think it’s gotten a little over-hyped and the book wasn’t able to deliver on my expectations. That said, I still gave it 3 stars and I will definitely be continuing on with this series. I’m hopeful about the next book!

My last book on immigration was American Street, which was refreshing in that it was totally unlike the first two books I read. American Street focuses on 16-year old Fabiola, whose mother is detained when they try to enter America from Haiti. She is forced to go on to Detroit without her mother and struggles to navigate her new life with her 3 larger than life cousins and her sick aunt. This was my least favourite of the 3, but I still really enjoyed it and gave it 4 stars.

I thought American Street would be the last book of the month, but I managed to fit in one more with Ruined. Based on other reviews I figured I would either love or hate Ruined and I’m pleased to say I LOVED IT! It’s a fast-paced YA fantasy novel that has a lot of action and a fair bit of romance. Sometimes I dislike too much romance in my fantasy novels, but I loved it in this one. Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of the sequel!

American Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Ibi Zoboi
Genres: Young Adult, Magical Realism
Read: Jan. 2018

Ibi Zoboi! Way to rip my heart out and stomp on it! What even? I was not expecting this.

This was the last book in my January Challenge to read 3 books about immigration. I read Girl in Translation and Pachinko earlier this month and loved both of them. American Street was a whole different kind of story, quite unlike either of the others. It was probably my least favourite of the 3 books, but still really good.

Fabiola Toussaint was born in America, but raised in Haiti because her mother didn’t have citizenship. Her Aunt Jo and her 3 cousins, Chantal, Pri, and Donna all live in Detroit and regularly send money back to Haiti to help out Fabiola and her mother. When Fab is entering her junior year of high school, they send enough money for her and her mother to finally move to America for good. Fab has American citizenship, but her mother has to get all the necessary visas to “visit” America. Unfortunately, when they enter America, Fab’s mother is detained at the border and she is forced to go on to Detroit without her.

Her aunt and cousins live at the corner of American Street and Joy Road. Fab has been desperate to come to America to live in the land of the free, but she doesn’t feel very free with her mother detained in an immigration prison in New Jersey and navigating her cousins’ world is scary and overwhelming. Her cousins are notorious at school and a little rough around the edges. Fabiola is pulled into their world and discovers the dark underside of what it costs to chase after the american dream.

Like I said, this was really different from any of the other immigration books I’ve read this year. I think Zoboi really captures Fab’s Haitian spirit and what it’s like growing up black in Detroit. She intertwines some cultural elements, like Haitian vodou, which is very much a spiritual thing for Fab, but is usually interpreted more like witchcraft in modern society. She weaves in some magical realism which surprised me and first, but I thought really worked with the story.

Voice was key for me in this novel. I’m a privileged white girl who grew up in a predominantly white town, so I definitely can’t relate to Fabiola or her cousins, yet their voices rang so true. I had no trouble believing in Zoboi’s characters. Fab’s uneasiness when she first arrives at her aunt’s house; Chantal’s desire to chase education but her reluctance to leave her family; Donna’s inability to say ‘enough is enough’; and Pri’s fierce and protective love for her sisters. My only complaint would be that Zoboi didn’t actually go deep enough into each of these characters. She formulated some really excellent characters, I just wanted more of them.

I really wasn’t anticipating where the plot of this story went. I thought it was mostly going to be about Fab trying to re-unite with her mom. While this was definitely an underlying conflict throughout the entire novel, Zoboi tackled a lot of other issues in this story. Although I would have liked to have heard her mother’s story as well and learn about what it’s actually like to be detained. I never really knew where the story was going and felt quite out of my depth with some of the content, much as I imagine Fabiola must have felt arriving in Detroit and trying to fit in with girls attacking each other over boyfriends and drugs passing hands on the sly. But Zoboi was quite unflinching in her delivery. I really did not see the end coming in this book and parts of it and brutal.

So like I said, probably my least favourite of the 3 books that I read, but actually very complimentary because this offered a totally different perspective than the other two. The characters in Girl in Translation and Pachinko are very meek and I loved Fabiola’s strength in this novel. She makes some pretty big mistakes, but she’s not afraid to chase after what she wants and she is very brave and courageous. Her culture shock was quite different and I liked getting another perspective. She could have let herself be pushed around, but she wouldn’t stand for it and decided to make her own place. Family is a central theme to this novel and I enjoyed the messiness that was the Francois sisters and Fabiola’s relationships with them.

Way to go Zoboi, this is a great debut novel!

January Reading Challenge

Happy New Year everyone! I had a great year of reading in 2017 and I’m looking forward to starting my monthly challenges and reading lots more great books in 2018.

At first I thought this exercise might help me reduce my TBR, but after picking my first monthly challenge I quickly realized it’s actually going to result in the discovery of a lot more books to add to my TBR. Oh well, you can never have too many books right?

I am super excited to announce my first monthly challenge for January! After doing a quick brainstorm I think I have enough challenge ideas to last me for the next 3 years, and I’m really happy with my choice for next month. I’ve decided my first challenge will be:

Read 3 books about immigration

I don’t want to pigeonhole myself on the first challenge, so I’m leaving it very broad. But oh my goodness, picking just 3 books was so hard!! I tried to find books representing a good variety of experiences, the three I settled on are:

  1. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
  2. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
  3. American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Girl in Translation showed up on almost every list of books I looked at about immigration stories (along with Breath, Eyes, Memory, which I’ll have to make time for in the future as well). It’s about a Chinese-American girl and “the countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires”. It was published in 2010 and has been on my TBR for ages, so at least I’m making a little progress!

Pachinko was nominated for the National Book Award in the fiction category this year and lost to Sing, Unburied, Sing (which I read earlier this year and was quite good!). I’m really excited for this one because so many immigration stories are about immigration to America, but Pachinko is a historical novel about a Korean family who is forced to move to Japan in the early 1900’s in search of jobs. Added bonus because I’ve been wanting to read this one as well.

American Street is a new book that I added to the list at the last minute. When I realized Pachinko had been nominated for the National Book Award, I took a look at the other nominees and saw American Street had been nominated for the young adult category ( side note: Far From the Tree won this one, which I LOVED). American Street tells the story of a young Haitian girl whose mother is detained by US immigration when they try to enter America and her challenges adapting to life in Detroit. I’m happy to include this one as it’s a YA contemporary novel.

I think it’s a pretty good mix of books – I’m a little disappointed I don’t have any African immigration stories, but I read both Americanah and Behold the Dreamers last year, so I’ll keep those in mind as I read these. I also wanted to include a Canadian immigration story, but I just finished listening to One Day We’ll All be Dead and None of This Will Matter, which is a series of essays written by Buzzfeed’s Scaachi Koul about what it’s like growing up in Canada with immigrant Indian parents. I really liked this one and would definitely recommend!

So evidently this isn’t my first foray into books about immigration, but I’m looking forward to reading these 3 acclaimed novels. Wish me luck and feel free to join in by reading any of these books. I’ll check back in with reviews in a month!