Mike

Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

The Yellow House tells the story of a family home in New Orleans East, specifically the lower Ninth Ward, a part of New Orleans which once promised a booming economic expansion eastward but instead, through neglect, became the poorest part of the city. The story follows the yellow house from its construction up through hurricane Katrina and its eventual destruction in the aftermath. More than the house though, this explores the family that lived in the house for most of that time, and it raises questions about home, family, race, and poverty among others. Unique to this memoir, it tells the story of hurricane Katrina as part of a larger story of neglect of this almost exclusively black part of New Orleans. It doesn’t just focus on the devastation, but also looks at the disruption to life, family, and home for people who stayed put, those who fled and returned, and those who left permanently. Back to Book Reviews

Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin

Not just a murder mystery, this book tells the story of how a tragic murder affects the victim's family and the accused for years after the event. A family's tropical holiday is torn apart when their college age daughter is murdered. The murder goes unsolved, but everyone has their suspicions as to where to put the blame. The story is told by the younger daughter, seven years old at the time of the murder, who tries to find closure for those early events that shattered her life and figure out what actually happened. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear how much race, class, and all sorts of other prejudices shape everyone's understanding of the events. Back to Book Reviews

They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears by Johannes Anyuru

Directly relevant to today’s (or maybe yesterday’s prepandemic) international events, this story is told from the perspective of one of 3 terrorists who take hostages in a small bookstore in Sweden during a book reading by a controversial author responsible for offensive drawings of Muhammed. The main character believes she is from the future and has come back to change the course of history, because this event was identified as a key moment that eroded the standing of Muslims in Sweden. She relays most of the story in a psychiatric hospital a couple years after the event. Themes of sanity, terrorism, prejudice and representation all enter into the story. It is sort of a 12 monkeys crossed with the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, but in Sweden, and it is well told by an author who is very well known in his native Sweden. Back to Book Reviews

The Beirut Hellfire Society by Rawi Hage

Intriguing and absurd, these are some of my favorite things. Pavlov, a young man in Lebanon, takes over his father’s business as an undertaker in Beirut during the Lebanese War. Yes, this seems daunting. Taking his father’s position includes taking on more than expected. It is not just about dealing with the dead, it includes managing various underground influences his father was connected to while also dealing with the absurdity of life in a tumultuous time. The story presents dark humor amidst the will to survive as the character is left to run through the rubble of the war-torn city, dodging bombs and encountering militia, as he pieces together what is expected of him. I see this as kind of Frankenstein in Baghdad crossed with The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. Yes, this is a somewhat weird juxtaposition, but try to go with it. Back to Book Reviews

Mostly White by Alison Hart

This is a beautiful and powerful story of a girl who ran away from an Indian residential school, and the following generations who deal with the trauma they inherit and continue to experience. I found the story very engaging. I kept wanting to move forward through the story, and when I got to the end I wanted more. It is multi-generational in scope and shows the effects of historic sociological conditions as they plays out in people’s lives and the lives of their successive generations. Back to Book Reviews

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

There is so much depth to this short novel. A society exists beneath the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, but only one member bears the collective memory. Their origin is too painful for the others to keep in their minds, but there is a clear connection between them and the former slaves living on land in the New World. With many ways to read into this simple but deep story, this novel explores identity, loss of collective memory and family heritage, and race issues. Highly recommended. Back to Book Reviews

Motel Life by Willy Vlautin

Driving his car while intoxicated, Jerry Lee hits a kid who ran out in front of him in the middle of the night. In a panic, Jerry Lee drives off and turns to his brother for help figuring out what to do. Feeling they are already in trouble, they go on the run and hide in motels while Jerry Lee deals with the consequences and guilt of his tragic mistake. These are brothers who have nothing but each other, and whatever happens, they are in it together. This is the gritty side of life, living in motels, running from your past, your mistakes, and Willy Vlautin is one of the best writers of this gritty fiction. Beneath it all is a strong sense of humanity.Back to Book Reviews 

The Need by Helen Phillips

Molly hears what sounds like footsteps in her home. It might be an intruder, but it might just be normal house noises. She is home alone with her young children, and she will do anything to keep them safe while trying not to overreact, because there’s no need to frighten the kids if the noises amount to nothing. What begins as an everyday fear, noises in the night, slowly escalates with each brilliant twist and turn of the story into a thrilling exploration of a mother’s greatest fears. Nearly every anxiety parents feel, particularly mothers, is explored in this novel making it a terrifying read for anyone with children, or even those who worry about things that go bump in the night. I highly recommend it. Back to Book Reviews

Brother by David Chariandy

Winner of several awards and accolades, this novel gives voice to growing up in the 90’s in a tough Toronto neighborhood called the Park. Two brothers, Michael and Francis, try to balance the conflicting expectations of home and neighborhood. They struggle to prove themselves on the street, while still holding onto their ambitions beyond the streets as well. This is a well written quick read that is engaging and deals with important issues like racism and masculinity.   Back to Book Reviews

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

People will be talking about this book. A report came out earlier this year about 27 more possible unmarked graves discovered on the grounds of the former Florida School for Boys near Tallahassee, Florida, a correctional facility where horrendous abuses were committed against mostly black boys. The Nickel Boys is a fictionalized account of two boys who go through a similar fictitious facility in the 60s called the Nickel Institute. The novel depicts horrors of the institute and the lasting effects those experiences have on the boys’ lives as they try to move on and forget. Because of the recentness of similar events, the story feels part journalism, part fiction, and part social justice commentary. It comes together to create a powerful story of how people get swept up into a system of abuse because of the color of their skin. Back to Book Reviews