November Reads

November has not been my best month health wise, but it’s given me the opportunity to read more, evidenced by my high book count. I did my best to include as many Indigenous authors for First Nations / American Indian Heritage Month as I could depending on what was available at my library (lots of my anticipated reads were checked out – which is a good thing too! I’m glad other people are interested in reading those books). Next month, December, I’ll be checking off as many books as possible that I own or want to finish by the end of the year.

All photos courtesy of Goodreads

Island of Shattered Dreams by Chantal T. Spitz

Ta’aroa’s pain is our pain today, People of my Land, People of my belly, Mā’ohi People, Mā’ohi of today. I look upon you now and I do not know you.

Short Description: The story of Tahiti, condensed into a tight, poetic epic on love and trauma.

Critic Quote: “From a technical standpoint, Island of Shattered Dreams manages to do so much in so few pages (157), and with an extraordinary balance. Poetry, lyricism, history, politics, and romance all intertwine to form a tiny epic that never feels incomplete.” –Biblio

My Verdict: I really wanted to like this book so much, but unfortunately, it just wasn’t for me.

Full Review HERE

When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry Edited by Joy Harjo, LeAnne Howe, Jennifer Foerster

One time, my mother asked her what she thought Heaven would be like. She said that there was sweetgrass everywhere and people made the most beautiful baskets.

Short Description: A collection of poetry from a multitude of First Nation Tribes across the US and Polynesia.

Critic Quote: “It is a remarkable collection and a vital addition to the vast Norton anthology lineup.” –LARB

My Verdict: Really spectacular – required reading.

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty

Still, it is demonstrably wrong to claim that the West has death rituals that are superior to those of the rest of the world. What’s more, due to the corporatization and commercialization of deathcare, we have fallen behind the rest of the world when it comes to proximity, intimacy, and ritual around death.

Short Description: A short text describing the various ways cultures across the world honor their dead and the grieving process.

Critic Quote: “She masterfully navigates discussions of the diverse cultures while at all times maintaining cultural humility. The sum is a fascinating look at eight different ways people in this world conceptualize death.” –Pallimed

My Verdict: This was a really lovely and insightful book! Doughty has a clear and enjoyable voice, and while some of the specifics of various rites went over my head, I’m glad to have read these experiences. I only wish there were a few more chapters to cover more countries and cultures.

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

I mean, think about it. Our childhood memories are about murder and mayhem. How many others can’t bear their own thoughts?

Short Description: Five Indigenous children endure the brutality of Canada’s residential schools in the 1950s-60s and must learn to face and make sense of life beyond it.

Critic Quote: “This book is a must-read for everyone in Canada so that we all can begin to understand and respond to the intergenerational impacts the residential school system has had not just on the students and their children but on the entire country.” –Miramichi Reader

My Verdict: Absolutely outstanding. Each character was vividly and artfully written – superb structure and emotionally devastating. Definitely pick this book up!

Full Review HERE

Cherokee Women by Theda Perdue

The commercial hunting economy of the eighteenth century undermined an earlier aversion to the exploitation of the natural world . . . A hierarchical worldview began to emerge that gave men dominion over the animals and placed them at the top of a human hierarchy as well. When this worldview extended to gender, women no longer balanced men.

Short Description: An academic text describing the lives of Cherokee women before, during, and after Western invasion.

Critic Quote: “Theda Perdue attempts to stake a position between these two poles in her account of Cherokee women’s history, and most often she does so with success.” –Journal of Social History

My Verdict: Informative, if sometimes a bit dry. Definitely recommend picking up this book if you’d like an in-depth look at Cherokee women’s lifestyles over time.

As Long as Grass Grows by Dina Gilio-Whitaker

[Environmental justice] frameworks must be able to situate tribal peoples’ struggles to protect sacred places with their relationality to land, not with artificial constructions of identity.

Short Description: An intensive academic text on centering Indigeneity in the environmentalism movement, and the history, trauma, and injustice that has led to such a grievous divide.

Critic Quote: “By connecting Native American history with the environmental justice movement in a clear and comprehensive manner, Gilio-Whitaker clarifies the depth of the wrong-doings of the past, while also opening the door to a wide range of opportunities for positive change in the future.” –Green Network Project

My Verdict: Deeply educational and eye-opening, if only a bit difficult to parse through. A book that will require multiple re-reads to truly absorb.

Homefire by Kamila Shamsie

What would you stop at to help the people you love most? Well, you obviously don’t love anyone very much if your love is contingent on them always staying the same.

Short Description: A tale of complicated love and family ties in which British sibling of Pakistani descent are separated by country and ideologies, leading them down different paths as they seek to reunite.

Critic Quote: “This is a haunting novel, full of dazzling moments and not a few surprising turns, that manages to be suspenseful despite its uneven momentum.” –The Washington Post

My Verdict: Unique, but the writing didn’t quite click with me and I didn’t find the love story believable. Consider your own tastes before picking this up.

The Break by Katherena Vermette

The dead don’t hang on, the living do. The dead don’t have anything to hang on to. Our bodies become nothing, and we just float around the people who love us. We go back to nothing. That is all we ever were or should ever be.

Short Description: A young girl is brutally attacked, unfurling a tragic mystery and opening old wounds within her family.

Critic Quote: “Vermette portrays a wide array of strong, complicated, absolutely believable women, and through them and their hardships offers readers sharp views of race and class issues. This is slice-of-life storytelling at its finest.” –Publisher’s Weekly

My Verdict: Emotionally devastating. This was probably the best execution of family tree perspectives I’ve ever read and Vermette really knows how to write trauma. Read if you want to feel pain and understand how others try to cope with it.

Full Review HERE

Jezebel Unhinged by Tamura Lomax

The problem is also that, though black Americans have historically been interpreted as ‘problem people,’ reifying diasporic subjectivities into an undifferentiated mass of difference and second-class citizenship, the problematizing of black femaleness, womanhood, femininity, and sexuality within black religion and black popular culture as the difference within black difference attempts to not unhinge but breathe immortal air into jezebel and other tropes.

Short Description: A highly detailed analysis on misogyny (or in this case, misongynior) in the Black Church and how it works, and how it harms Black women and LGBTQ+ people.

Critic Quote: “Lomax’s writing is undeniably scholarly. The notes for each of the book’s seven chapters are extensive, and its bibliography is gratifying and dense. However, Jezebel Unhinged is still readable, accessible, and provocative.” –Foreword Reviews

My Verdict: Incredible, insightful, and wonderfully fresh. 100% recommend for anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of Black feminism.

Native Country of the Heart by Cherrie Moraga

To disappear into Mexicanism is not enough; to disappear into Latinidad is even less of who we are; to disappear into Anglo-America, our colonization is complete. We were not supposed to remember.

Short Description: The memoir of a Chicana feminist leader in which she chronicles her childhood, her growth into her identity, and her relationship with her mother.

Critic Quote: “A sympathetic portrait of Mexican-American feminism (both in mother and daughter) delivered in a poignant, beautifully written way.” –Kirkus Reviews

My Verdict: A short, enjoyable read, but not the knock-out I was hoping for. Pick this up if you’re interested in learning more about Moraga’s backstory.

Shelter by Jung Yun

There are times when sorry alone won’t save him, when his behavior has to be dissected and discussed before anything resembling forgiveness can occur. It’s always the wait that he finds unsettling, that moment right before she opens her mouth when he can see it all building up inside.

Short Description: A thrilling story on the legacy of family trauma, condensed into a tight family mystery.

Critic Quote: “A lot of Shelter is about missteps, misunderstandings, and family conflicts that just won’t go away—yet the book runs deeper than that. Yun has given us a conflicted character whose pain and struggles easily become our own. If that weren’t enough, the conflict is packaged within a well-paced, plot-driven book that refuses to sit still. This is an exciting first book; it is one that keeps the reader thinking while also keeping her on her toes.” –American Micro Reviews

My Verdict: An enjoyable, quick read that investigates family trauma with break-neck pacing and a haunting mystery.

Educated by Tara Westover

You can love someone and still choose to say goodbye to them,” she says now. “You can miss a person every day, and still be glad that they are no longer in your life.”

Short Description: The memoir of a young woman who must leave her deeply fundamentalist Mormon family to seek an education, and all that she must endure and sacrifice to get there.

Critic Quote: “This story, remarkable as it is, might be merely another entry in the subgenre of extreme American life, were it not for the uncommon perceptiveness of the person telling it. Westover examines her childhood with unsparing clarity, and, more startlingly, with curiosity and love, even for those who have seriously failed or wronged her. ” –The New Yorker

My Verdict: Wow, what an incredible read. Though I found the beginning a bit difficult to get into, once the momentum starts to pick up, Westover’s story is captivating, unflinching, honest, and deeply contemplative. A memorable memoir if I’ve ever read one.

New Poets of Native Nations Edited by Heid E. Erdrich

Here is poetry of a new time—an era of witness, of coming into voice, an era of change and of political and cultural resurgence—a time shared within this anthology in poetry forceful and subtle, hysterical and lyrical, ironic and earnest, sorrowful and joyful, and presented in ways harder to define, but made of the recent now, the lived realities that poets of Native nations write.

Short Description: A collection of poetry from various Indigenous tribes across the US.

Critic Quote: New Poets of Native Nations also provides an impressive range of poetic voices and styles . . .” –Harvard Review

My Verdict: A brief, pleasant read to pick up to diversify your poetry collection.

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

Hoping,

I’m starting to think,

might be the bravest thing a person can do.

Short Description: A young Syrian girl and her mother immigrate to the US in this light-hearted novel-in-verse.

Critic Quote: “There are so many reasons to read this novel. It’s a book about kindness, for one; it sings, for another, as any good verse novel should.” –NPR

My Verdict: The sweetest, purest story I’ve read all year. Warga is a talented writer and I look forward to reading her future works.

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Guess that’s where the tears came from, knowing that there’s so much in this great big world that you don’t have a single ounce of control over. Guess the sooner you learn that, the sooner you’ll have one less heartbreak in your life.

Short Description: A sprawling, generational story of a young girl born out of wedlock, and her mother and father’s families.

Critic Quote: “ In less than 200 sparsely filled pages, this book manages to encompass issues of class, education, ambition, racial prejudice, sexual desire and orientation, identity, mother-daughter relationships, parenthood and loss — yet never feels like a checklist of Important Issues.” –NPR

My Verdict: Absolutely fantastic writing and, despite its short length, full and brimming with complex characters, rich themes, and compelling internal conflicts. I especially loved the audiobook’s divvying up of voiced characters. My only qualm was that I found the timeline a bit difficult to follow and I wish there may have been a few more pages at the end – as the story seemed to conclude a bit abruptly.

Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog

People talk about the “Indian drinking problem,” but we say that it is a white problem. White men invented whiskey and brought it to America. They manufacture, advertise, and sell it to us. They make the profit on it and cause the conditions that make Indians drink in the first place.

Short Description: The memoir of an AIM activist of the 1970s, her childhood, and her recollections on the treatment of Ingenious communities in the US.

Critic Quote: “. . . her searing autobiography is courageous, impassioned, poetic and inspirational.” –Publisher’s Weekly

My Verdict: The writing itself is a bit too straightforward and matter-of-fact for my taste, but Mary Crow Dog’s story is certainly a remarkable one.

Full Review HERE

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

You believe that you keep yourself safe, she thought. You lock up your mind and guard your reactions so nobody, not an interrogator or a parent or a friend, will break in. You earn a graduate degree and a good position. You keep your savings in foreign currency and you pay your bills on time. When your colleagues ask you about your home life, you don’t answer. You work harder. You exercise. Your clothing flatters. You keep the edge of your affection sharp, a knife, so that those near you know how to handle it carefully. You think you established some protection and then you discover that you endangered yourself to everyone you ever met.

Short Description: When two girls disappear in the cold, an entire village begins to speculate on what could have happened to them throughout the following months.

Critic Quote: “Like a good tourist, Phillips takes every opportunity to explore her environment, with mountain rescue teams, tourist guides and an ecology research unit as well as the reindeer herders and the urban dog-walkers and flâneuses. She can certainly write: characters, dialogue, pacing, the fine balancing of what is shown and what goes unsaid are all done with aplomb.” –The Guardian

My Verdict: A disappointing, boring read for me. More a series of loosely connected short stories as oppose to a mystery. The setting is interesting, but I couldn’t latch onto any of the characters.

Over the Top by Jonathan Van Ness

Just because we mess up doesn’t mean all the lessons we learned are undone. Healing can be imperfect.

Short Description: Queer Eye’s beautician Jonathan Van Ness opens up about his rise to fame and childhood trauma in this memoir.

Critic Quote: “What I appreciated most about this book is that Jonathan is incredibly real. He has a positive attitude but is completely honest about his darker times, that he wasn’t a person we’d want to know at times.” –Chloe Metzger

My Verdict: An enjoyable, conversational read for those who are fans of the TV personality. If not, this read may not be for you.

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliot

In this age, the natural world is spared only if it can be photographed; if its beauty can be sold; if it doesn’t get in the way of more pipelines and more profit.

Short Description: A series of essays on the intersections of Indigineity and mental illness, colonization, sexual assault, food, photography, and more.

Critic Quote: “The author is not inclined to shrug off such things, and her larger views on the treatment of Indigenous peoples by the Canadian and American governments and critiques of racism, sexism, and other such offenses are well thought through and elegantly argued.” –Kirkus Reviews

My Verdict: An absolutely fantastic collection of essays. Highly recommend.

The Dragonfly Sea by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

Ayaana would learn that there seemed to be no absolutes in the world, only codes and questions and a guarantee of storms.

Short Description: A young girl distantly related to a Chinese merchant is selected to cross the seas for a unique academic program and in doing so, learns more about her family, the ocean, and herself.

Critic Quote: “With a rollicking narrative and exceptional writing, this epic establishes Owuor as a considerable talent.” –Publisher’s Weekly

My Verdict: A sprawling epic filled with flowery language and a unique storyline. If you enjoy lengthy descriptions then you’ll enjoy this. If not, maybe pass this over.

The Little Old Lady Killer by Susana Vargas Cervantes

La Chingada was killing La Virgen of Guadalupe.

Short Description: An sociological analysis that examines how a woman’s crimes were sensationalized in the media and in police reports – distorted by views on gender, nationalism, and sexuality.

Critic Quote: “This brilliant mixed-genre meditation on the life and crimes of Juana Barraza combines the pulse of true crime, a picaresque cast of historical characters, the contextual nuance of a cultural history, the sophistication of queer theory, and disturbing new insights into Mexican identity and its complicated relationship with human mortality – a (trans)historical achievement of the highest order.” – Robert Marshall Buffington

My Verdict: A bit circuitous at times, but overall an insightful, captivating read.

Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford

I bought the skin back together, smoothing away any puckering with the flat of my hand. It pinkened some, once re-joined, and I waited for the rosiness to fade before waking her…A very accommodating cure.

Short Description: A surreal story following a uniquely talented father-daughter dup who “cure” townspeople of their various ailments.

Critic Quote: “Horror, feminism and folklore collide in an unnerving story of a non-human father and daughter who work as healers.” –The Guardian

My Verdict: Enjoyed this but wish it was longer so some characters could really be expanded upon. A mix of “The Book of X” by Sarah Rose Etter and “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley.

But Some of Us Are Brave: All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men: Black Women’s Studies Edited by Akasha Gloria Hull, Patricia Bell-Scott, and Barbara Smith

We exist as women who are Black who are feminists, each stranded for the moment, working independently because there is not yet an environment in this society remotely congenial to our struggle—because, being on the bottom, we would have to do what no one else has done: we would have to fight the world.

Short Description: A seminal text of the 1970s that centers Black Women’s work in feminism, academia, literature, music, etc.

Critic Quote: “In college, Brave allowed me to see myself in feminism. This new edition brings this essential and still powerfully relevant book to a new generation.” – Veronica Chambers

My Verdict: An indispensable resource – part essay collection, bibliography/archive, syllabus full of incredible academic work done on Black women’s studies.

All the Names They Used For God by Anjali Sachdeva

Her words shift within her like nervous birds. They long to go winging, and one loud noise will send the whole flock exploding outward, past the paltry gate of her tongue, into the world from whence they cannot be reclaimed.

Short Description: A short story collection following a variety of unique characters and their connections to themselves and reality.

Critic Quote: “Her literary world is magnetic. The author has created perfect, complete micro-universes that lure the reader in to the dark depths of literature like siren song.” –LARB

My Verdict: Though I appreciate the diversity of topics and the versatility of the language, these stories simply didn’t resonate with me (though the titular story is a stand out).

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