On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Ocean Vuong
Genres: Poetry, LGBTQIA+
Pub date: Jun. 2019 (read July 2019 on Audible)
Narrator: Ocean Vuong

I was intrigued by this book, but it wasn’t super high up my TBR. However, I loved listening to the author’s voice in the audiobook sample, so I decided to read it. I’m so glad they got the author to narrate this one because I’m not sure anyone else could really have done it justice.

Initially I really liked it. The writing is poetic and it flowed really nicely. The author’s reading is emotional and I enjoyed listening to it, but I must admit, parts of the book were over my head and left me wondering how I should feel about it.

The book is crafted as a letter to the protagonist’s mother. It’s unclear to me whether this book is fiction or non-fiction, so I’d love some insight from other readers if you have it. It certainly read like non-fiction and I internalized it as such, but it could have been fiction.

Initially I liked that it was a letter from son to mother, Little Dog talks about the relationship he had with his mother and how it impacted him emotionally as he grew up. How their Vietnamese past influenced his childhood in America and shaped all of his relationships with his family members.

From there, Vuong moves on to the relationship Little Dog had with his friend Trevor and the struggle of being not only an immigrant, but a confused gay teenager. I found many parts of the story upsetting, but really appreciated their inclusion in the book and thought it brought a great depth to Vuong’s story. However, it did affect my reading of the book as a letter from son to mother. This format worked really well when confronting his childhood demons and the relationship with his family, but I thought the format had less meaning when it got into Little Dog’s exploration of coming to terms with his homosexuality. I don’t have the lived experience to really comment on its effectiveness, but personally I just found the ‘letter to mother’ format lost some of its potency in this part of the book. Just a comment on format, not content.

Mostly I’m left confused on how to rate the book though because parts of it were definitely over my head. I’ve been reading a lot more poetry lately (I used to never read it), but I definitely still struggle with the accessibility of poetry. I want to love it, but I think I just haven’t spent enough time reading poetry to really understand the nuance of it. I really enjoyed the writing, it was flowery, but not overwhelmingly so, but sometimes it’s just so overloaded with metaphors that I kind of missed out on the point. I really liked a lot of this book, but there were definitely some sections where I found myself tuning out.

Overall though, a very thoughtful book and debut for this young author, so well done! I would not be deterred from reading his stuff in the future.

For Every One

Rating: ⭐⭐.5
Author: Jason Reynolds
Genres: Poetry
Pub date: Apr. 2018 (read Nov. 2018 as an Audiobook)

I got this as an audio CD from the library (BPL can I please say, NO ONE WANTS THIS, audio download straight to my phone PLEASE), and I spent about 20 minutes trying to figure out how to upload the disc on to my phone, before remembering that it was only going to be short anyways, so why not listen to it directly from the car (flashback to 2005, I know).

I knew this was going to be short, but it was like no more than 20 mins tops. I was so shocked when it ended. People are calling it motivational poetry, which is pretty accurate. It’s basically a letter Jason Reynolds wrote (to himself?) about dreams and being willing to take risks and not give up on those dreams, even if they don’t unfold the way you envision.

I wanted to like it and was pretty convinced that I would, but honestly it was just too short. I wanted more. I felt like Reynolds was just getting started and then it was over, so I was left feeling kind of meh. It is what it is though. His book, Long Way Down, has been on my TBR for a while and I am not deterred from reading it based on this short letter. 2.5 stars