Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Book Review: The Black Kids - Rodney King and the '90s

When I heard that Christina Hammonds Reed was writing a book about being a Black kid in the '90s in Los Angeles, I jumped at the chance to read this book. I grew up 20-30ish minutes outside of what some would call "LA proper" in the city of Downey, but worked in LA for most of my adult life. So I knew this book would be extremely nostalgic. I was only three when the Rodney King Riots erupted throughout LA so I don't remember much. We were not extremely close to the riots but my mom remembers vividly the things she saw. Christina Hammonds Reed is an LA native so I love that she included things like earthquake drills and fire season.

The amazing thing about this book is that even though it's about what happened in the '90s, it honestly feels like it is happening today. The way she talks about the way the rioters, looters, and protesters are portrayed and how the media makes them out to be monsters and animals. "The media and the politicians keep stereotyping everyone who was out during the riots as"savage" or "lawless" or "hooligans" or "thugs," an "underclass" not representative of the "real America."(Reed) The thing is, that is the real America. There are people today who are not looting who are fighting for justice and peacefully protesting and being met with intense force, tear gas, rubber bullets, and now we have federal agents coming in and kidnapping people. All at the Presidents orders. We just want justice. We want things to change. Real change. 

This book tackles a lot of themes. Ultimately, it's a coming of age story but it deals with racism and race, class, family pressure, the distance between two people, painful family history, and the push and pull of teenage and female friendships. But there were three that really hit me on a personal level: Finding your identity in a sea of whiteness, being Black in America in the midst of a riot or civil unrest, and existing in the in between: not feeling "Black" enough to fit in with the Black kids while not actually being white so not truly fitting in with that crowd.

I didn't grow up in a predominately Black neighborhood and I didn't have a lot of Black friends growing up so as I grew up it felt really hard to discover parts of my identity when not many people around looked like me. This is the same thing that our main character Ashley is facing. She goes to a very white prep school and has all white friends. There are a group of Black kids in her school but she doesn't interact with them at all. Throughout the whole book Ashley straddles the line between trying to fit in with her white friends who never let her forget she is Black and say some VERY inappropriate things. I'll just say her friends are racist and they suck. But at the same time Ashley watches this group of Black kids from a far always thinking that she wont fit in with them. She feels very disconnected from them and almost "others" them. Her friends have made her feel that since she grew up in a good neighborhood, her family has money, she doesn't have any Black friends, and doesn't "act Black" (my least favorite term) that she is not actually "Black" or as her friends remind her that she is not "Blackety Black," which is extremely offensive. But when you're sheltered all your life and told these things you wouldn't know what else to believe so I feel for Ashley to be honest. I've been called an Oreo multiple times in my life and have also been told that I'm "not really Black," which I've always hated. But throughout the book Ashley starts understanding her family history more, spending more time with the Black kids at her school and people outside her white friend group, trying to reconnect with her activist sister, trying to understand the Rodney King riots, and from experiencing her own run in with the police, that at the end of the day her class does not separate her from her Blackness because unfortunately her Blackness is what the world sees first.

The Rodney King Riots are probably the first time Ashley has every experienced anything like that. So being Black during a time like that where there is a collective anger among the Black community is another layer that Ashely has to figure out. She has to figure out how she feels about all of it and if she wants to take a stand against it and if so, what lane she can make the most change. In the beginning, we know that Ashley feels like what is happening is wrong but at the same time she is so wrapped up in her little bubble that she doesn't realize there is actually a bigger issue that just Rodney King. And throughout the novel Ashley has to come to terms with this. Her sister Jo is on the front lines fighting for justice and Ashley is clearly scared for her and often times there was a lot of tension within her family because of the stance that Jo was taking because she knows that her sister is not the type of person the media was portraying the rioters to be. Through her sister, Ashley really starts to dig deeper and look past all the rioting and looting to start looking at the deeper issue and realizes that" maybe the problem isn't only the "bad" people; maybe the problem is with the whole system." 

There are so many things I could say about this book and honestly I'm still getting my thoughts together. There are so many good quotes and Christina Hammond Reeds writing is almost lyrical and the imagery she puts forth is magical. I highlighted and tabbed a lot of quotes and passages. This book is timely and important. This book feels deeply personal because I know what it feels like to be an Ashley.

This book comes out August 4th and everyone should read it!

Happy Reading

Mid Year Book Freak Out Tag 2020

I can't believe we're already coming to the end of July. This four months since I've been on quarantine have flown by and it's super weird. Well since we're midway through the year, I thought I'd participate in the mid year book freak out tag. I"m doing this a little late so I tried to pick books that I read from January - June since that'e the actual six month mark. So here we go!

1. Best book you’ve read so far in 2020 : SLAY & Just Mercy
2. Best sequel you've read so far in 2020: The Proposal by Jasmine Guillroy. I don't know if this is considered a traditional "sequel," but it's the second book in her Wedding Date series all the books are set in the same universe and connected in some way or another so I'm counting it.
3. New release you haven't read yet, but want to: The Only Good Indians!!
4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year: The Year of Witching!! Hands down. No if, ands or buts
5. Biggest disappointment: Verity by Colleen Hoover. This was actually my first book by her and I don't think this was a good place to start. From what I've heard Verity is unlike any of her other works.
6. Biggest surprise: Evvie Drake Starts Over. When I first obtained this book I was reading a lot of contemporary romance. But now it's one of my favorite genres and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I actually liked this book. And it's a quick read.
7. Favorite new author. (Debut or new to you): Echo Brown. Her book Back Girl Unlimited was one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking things I've ever read.
8. Newest fictional crush: Rhen from A Curse so Dark and Lonely. He has his flaws but he seems like he actually is a nice guy.
9. Newest favorite character: Rhen. Fictional crush and character that I wanted more of in the sequel.
10. Book that made you cry: I'm not much of a book crier, but Black Girl Unlimited had me in tears at the end.
11. Book that made you happy: This one is so hard. Most of my books make me happy. I'm generally happy due to the fact that I get to read at all.
12. Most beautiful book you've bought so far this year (or received): There have been some AMAZING covers this year. But I'm absolutely in love with the covers of A Song Below Water, Sex and Vanity, and Incendiary. Honestly I couldn't fit all the covers I love in this picture.
13. What books do you need to read by the end of the year? Ha, there are too many for me to narrow down!

Well there you have it! I feel like my reading game has only gotten stronger over the last month so I can't wait to see what my answers for these questions will be at the end of the year. I've also linked some of my reviews in case you wanted to check them out.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Book Review: The Voting Booth and the Power of the Vote

"That's what people want—for us to be too scared to stand up for ourselves and what we believe in. I think that's more dangerous than trying to change things."

This book is important! We're at the height of an election year and in the midst of COVID as well as one of the largest movements ever: Black Lives Matter. Using your voice and voting is just one of the ways you can help make changes in this country and it is clear that we need to make some drastic changes. And don't forget it's not just about voting for the President, but you can also vote for your Senators, every member of the House of Representatives, and mayors just to name a few. Register to vote here!

I honestly loved everything about this book because it's about so many different issues. We follow Marva and Duke over the span of one day as they navigate the perils of election day and the struggle that sometimes comes with voting. On top of that, Marva is navigating boyfriend trouble and a missing cat while Duke is dealing with his own grief about losing his brother and trying to make it to a gig on time. 

Right from the opening pages it took me back to when I was able to vote for the first time and how special that felt. The first vote I ever got to cast was for the first Black President. As a Black women, that is insanely powerful. I remember the electricity of that day and how it felt like I could finally use my voice and my vote to make real changes. I actually wasn't into politics all that much around this time, but it was because of that special time that I started really getting involved and making sure I watched the debates, researched the candidates, and voted for the person who I thought would get us closer to a more fair and just country. I know that a lot of people think their vote doesn't matter, but if you look at what happened in 2016, it's clear that it matters! As a Black woman, I've been reading a lot of non-fiction just about my history and the history of our country, and as we know Black people fought tooth and nail, and sometimes died, for their right to vote. So I will exercise my right to vote for as long as I can, because I will not let those deaths be in vain. 

What I feel this book does so cleverly is bring to the forefront the issue of voter suppression. Voter suppression is a big issue in this country. We have a President who doesn't want to allow absentee ballots, polling places that close down without any warning, broken voting machines, long lines, and a whole host of other issues, including transportation, that keep people from voting. And this book talks about these issues so well. Marva (our main character) even says, "How can we vote in the people who want to make it easier for us to vote if we can't get in to vote in the first place." And this is the exact issue that happened in Atlanta and many other states with this most recent Primary election. It is our Constitutional Right to vote and we need a government that allows everyone an equal and fair shot at actually exercising that right. 

As we're at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, there is a lot of positive activism going on and this book definitely touches on that. I'm learning that there are many ways to be an activist. One of the characters in the book, Ida, likes to be out on the front lines, Marva has been canvasing and raising awareness about voting for the 2 years prior to the events of this book. In today's world we have protesting, social activism, artistic activism, digital activism, organizing, petitions, donating, spreading the word, distributing literature, sending emails and calls to our Representatives, and so much more. But we must remember that we don't have to occupy every lane, but you have to at least pick one. It is not enough to be quietly non-racist on the side lines anymore. We must be actively working to dismantle racism everyday in any way we can. Find out how to get involved here!

I know this book is called The Voting Booth, but it's also about grief from losing someone from gun violence, "the talk" which for Black families is what to do and how to act when/if you get pulled over by the cops, and even on the importance of Juneteenth. My favorite thing is that The Voting Booth normalizes therapy for Black families and I'm here for it. 

After finishing the book you realize that there is no mention of any political parties, and I absolutely love that because it's not about that. It's about making your vote count. 

I don't know how Brandy Colbert included all these important issues into this 293 page book but she did it! And she did it like a true Queen!

Happy Reading!

Saturday, July 4, 2020

June Wrap Up: Reading While Black

June was probably one of the worst month's I've had emotionally in a long time. After witnessing the murder of George Floyd and then continuing to hear about the atrocities done to the black body, I was not in a good place mentally. As a Black woman living in America I have experienced by fair share of racism but in this moment in time it feels like our Blackness is at the forefront of conversation, as it should be, but at the same time I just want to be able to live my life without the fear of walking outside, being confronted by the police, or being harassed for the color of my skin. I am proud to be a Black woman and it took me a long time to feel this way, because how do you feel proud in a society that constantly tells you that you are a second class citizen. But I know I can finally say (and I've felt this way for a while now) I am proud to be Black.

On top of all this we are still in the middle of a GLOBAL PANDEMIC, so yes my mental health during these past few months, especially this last month, has taken a nose dive. But at the same time I'm trying to not be so hard on myself about the lack of places I may feel my life is going or the lack of reading I did in June, because the world is literal shit right now. I will not accept that the world will be shit forever because I'm determined to see change in politics, legislature, on the city and state level, in society, and definitely in book publishing. 

Over the last month I have gained A LOT of new followers and I feel like I've almost been thrust into this new level of Instagram responsibility. At the same time, I've also lost a lot of followers. I could physically feel the height of the movement in the book community through the engagement in my posts and then the "return to normal" that happened when following a Black bookstagrammer was no long a thing you felt you had to do in the moment or maybe when my content got too controversial, or maybe for no reason at all. But I need people to remember that being Black is not a fad because we live in this skin everyday so we can't just "turn it off" or "return to normal." Black Stories Matter. Black Voices Matter. AND BLACK LIVES MATTER. They always have and they always will. My life matters! So I do want to thank everyone who has stuck around, or shouted me out during this time and is actually invested in and engaging with my content. 

I started this bookstagram because I LOVE to read! I think I got lost for a second there in what it really means to be an advocate for your community. I got caught up in doing more scrolling instead of reading. It's important to make sure I'm staying up to date on all the news and how I can help my community and all the voices who are struggling to be heard. I thought people were just here for the black book lists and once things "returned to normal" no one would care. and yes, honestly at times it feels like that, but I have to remember why I started all of this. Because I love to read and share my love for books. I love getting books out there and talking about them with people. So, that is exactly what I'm going to do. You're going to see me doing more reading and book updates because I do have things to say and opinions to give, but I have to remember at the forefront of all of my work is doing the actual reading. 


Warcoss - ⭐️⭐️ ⭐️
I finished this book in the early hours of June 1st so even though I wanted to focus on Black Voices and stories for June, I still have to count this for June. I really wanted to love this book but unfortunately it just didn't do it for me. I was also coming off the high of SLAY (and we all know how much I loved Slay) so honestly this book probably never stood a chance. I liked the storyline and the diverse cast, but I just felt like it was just too slow. I didn't feel any action and that's why it probably took me almost a whole month to read this book. With that said I will be reading Wildcard because I already own it and I'm a completist in certain aspects of my life. 

Hunger - ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This book was an open and honest account of Roxane Gay's body and how she inhabits that body. The trauma that has happened to that body and how it has effected her entire life. To me, this is what vulnerability looks like at its most raw. 

Black Girl Unlimited - ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I don't even know how to put my thoughts in order to describe my love for this book. I actually started this book at the beginning of the month as a buddy read with Jess (@jessreadit). This book took a little longer than I would've wanted. I read half of the book at the beginning of the month and then fell into a horrible reading slump. And it definitely had nothing to do with this book. This book is beautiful, heartbreaking, triumphant, and magical. I'm not usually a book crier but I was basically in tears at the end of this book and after I read the last sentence I hugged the book and just laid there. This book is literal Black Girl Magic. Echo, who the story is about, has a rough upbringing and goes through insanely traumatic things when she is in High School, and yet she still wants to use her power for good. She is determined to help the the people around her create a better life for themselves. Echo is strength and she is triumph. To fight against all odds to create a better future for yourself and the people around you is beautiful. Even thought at times this story is hard to read because it's so raw, this is always a story about the relentless magic and strength of Black Women.

The Burning : Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 - ⭐️💫
This book triggered me a lot. I had a lot to say in my Instagram stories about it as well as the review I wrote. My biggest problems were with the language the author used and the way events were presented. Please read my full review here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Book Review: The Burning - Massacre, Destruction and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921

I went back and forth about writing up a full review for this book because I felt like I said a lot of what I had to say in my stories on Instagram, but then I thought maybe I have more to say? Maybe not, but I wanted to give myself the space to explore that. 

I'm not a big non fiction/history reader but when I found out about Tulsa 1921, and very recently I might add, I figured this was something I wanted to read more about. I'm a little ashamed to admit that I had never heard of the Tulsa massacre of 1921 until very recently. I honestly don't even remember where I heard it first. It might've been on social media or it might've been in conjunction with the show Watchmen on HBO. I did a very small amount of research on the actual events and jumped right into the show. To say that a television show in 2020 is where I first heard about something like this is honestly insane but also speaks volumes about the time we're living in. Anyway, after watching the series twice through, I finally picked up an actual book on the subject. I chose The Burning because it had better reviews than some of the other books I had seen. Because of the subject matter and the fact that I'm a Black woman living in America I had to really almost check myself while reading to make sure I wasn't showing any bias towards either position. I basically just wanted to get the facts about what happened during the two days where Greenwood, also known as Black Wall Street, was burned to the ground.

But about half way through the book I started to ask myself, "what is this author trying to do?" When we read historical retellings I think it's important to understand what the author is trying to give to the reader. What is the story the author is trying to present while making sure personal opinions do not get too mingled with facts. I do think when writing anything personal feelings or opinions will show up in some way, shape or form. Whether it be with the language the author is using or even the way information is presented. And that was my biggest problem with this book.

Yes, it is a huge endeavor to research events and conduct interviews with victims and witnesses who were present during the Tulsa Race Riots and I do not take that away from our author at all. Having to take all that research and shape it into a digestible text for the masses to understand seems like it would be a daunting task. And that is what our author did. What I believe he was trying to do was give us an overarching picture of what was happening at the time and how those events "inevitably" would've let to this riot and massacre. I personally disagree with the inevitability that was presented, but I am not the author.

As the author, you get to choose the way you'd like to present the information and the language you want to use when depicting time, place, and people, and that was my biggest problem with this book.
1) This book was written in 2001. The fact that the author called Black people "Negroes" all throughout the book felt problematic to me. Yes, he's writing about an event that happened in 1921, but he could've brought the language into the present. 

2) The words in which our author described White people (including the KKK) v. Black people really stuck out to me. Words used to describe White people - brave, impressive, "who could blame them?" Words to describe Black people - belligerent, stubborn, beast. 

3) I know that this book was constructed based on interviews with both Black and White people and articles from that time, but there were a lot of times when I wasn't sure if the author was summarizing what someone had said or just writing to fill in history or conversations that he wasn't a part of. And that to me is problematic. If I can't distinguish between something racist someone is saying and what the author is saying, then we're going to have problems. 

For example, the author spends a lot of time at the beginning of the book talking about the racial tensions that were always brewing between White and Black people, especially when it came to the interaction of Black men and White women. The author states, "How many times had the trouble started with a Negro man smiling at a white woman, who would scram bloody rape, causing a mob of outraged white men to avenge the woman's honor, and another black corpse to dangle from the end of a rope." Which of course we know to be extremely true during that time. He then proceeds to tell us that it's funny though because slave masters raped their slaves all the time giving us "mulatto" babies, but of course no one talks about that. BUT THEN HE SAYS,   
"But then the Union triumphed and the slaves were freed. Mingled with the Southern white man's fury at the destruction of his way of life was this fear: what sort of retribution might the Black buck now exact on white women? Negro men were now free to do to white men's beloved wives and daughters what the white men had done to the Negro women. Great vigilance was required to prevent such abominations. After all, how many rapes began with just a smile?" (Madigan, 52)

Okay WTF. I need to know if this is what the author assumes the fear is or if this is gathered from actual research of talking to people who said these exact things. Also, there are no quotation marks to be found when the authors makes statements like this.

Another example: Our author tells us about a Tulsa grocer names Huge Gary and how he "loved" Black people. In fact he had plenty of them on his payroll. He then proceeds to tell us this, "So why did those uppity, belligerent coloreds across the tracks try to make trouble for the peaceful, happy Negroes like Gary's employees at the grocery store, make trouble for his beloved mammy at home?" (Madigan, 113) He goes on to say some pretty horrible stuff about how lessons needed to me taught. We know this is the author talking because he mentions Gary! If this were Gary talking he wouldn't mention himself like that. Which brings me to my next and final example.

And I quote, "For whatever private sorrows that might have remained, the burning of 1921 has affirmed the superiority of the white race. At the same time, it was a powerful lesson to any colored person with ideas of tampering with the right order of things." (Madigan, 233) The "right order of things"?!?! FUCK OFF. (Excuse my language)

These are just some of the problematic things I encountered throughout the book. No matter how this book presents the information, we must be clear that it may have started as a riot but 100% ended as a massacre. Black people were essentially blamed for what happened which in my opinion is 100% bullshit. They were dragged from their homes which were set on fire. Either shot or taken to a containment camp and basically became prisoners unless someone they worked for (usually a white person) could vouch for them. This was a horrendous event in American history and this is not the only one. I took AP and Honors classes in high school and can tell you none of this was taught in any of my classes. As a society we need to be more aware of the atrocities that have happened to Black people since 1619. It is our duty to do better!

Rating: ⭐️💫