Mini-reviews: Andrews, Bambara, Jackson

07Feb14

Here are short summaries of three books that have to go back to the library today. It’s a shame–they deserve full-fledged essays, and, in at least one case, a dissertation. These mini-reviews should, however, help you decide if you would be interested in the stories told.

image spotted at Goodreads

image spotted at Goodreads

Bitch is the New Black, Helena Andrews. If you like memoirs and have an earthy sense of humor, you’re going to like Andrews’s tale of searching for love in Washington, D.C. What’s really great about this book is that, at first, you think you’re getting one kind of story, and then Andrews goes deeper, like stepping down a half scale in a jazz piece, so that you get the brightness on top and the texture underneath, both of which inform each other and reveal just how this classy, complicated woman grew to be who she is. Race and class are concerns here, especially when it comes to the lack of serious romantic partners available. Andrews, who has written for a variety of publications and can currently be seen at xoJane, tells her story well, with wit and humor.

Those Bones Are Not My Child, Toni Cade Bambara. Sundiata Spencer was supposed to be

photo obtained from Goodreads

photo obtained from Goodreads

grounded, but he sneaked out of the house anyway to join his friends at youth camp. At least, that’s what his mother, Marzala, thinks, until Sunny fails to come home from camp with the rest of the boys. Given that young Black children have started to disappear from the Atlanta metro area, Marzala is panic-stricken…and then her panic changes to disbelief and anger as she realizes the police aren’t taking Sunny’s disappearance very seriously. Based on the case of the missing and murdered children in Atlanta, which stretched from 1979-1981, Bambara’s novel is a world of confusion and pain, not so much a book to be read as it is to be experienced. The agony of losing a child, coupled with the intense political involvement the loss sparks, gives voice to the rage felt by Atlanta’s African American community, even after an arrest in the case was made. Sunny’s loss affects Marzala’s marriage and the well-being of her other children, but it also stirs her to fight the long-entrenched patterns of racism in which her city is held grip. Clocking in at over 600 pages, this is a book you’ll walk away from forever changed.

Image spotted at bestdamncreativewritingblog - click through to read the review

Image spotted at bestdamncreativewritingblog – click through to read the review

The Residue Years, Mitchell S. Jackson. Grace is clean, fresh out of rehab, and determined to put her life back together so she can spend more time with her children. Champ, her oldest son, is getting ready to graduate from college, contemplating graduate school, and dealing drugs to pay for it all. Told in alternating chapters, Grace and Champ’s story indicates just how hard it is to stay out of the drug scene, even when you desperately want to, and while their downfall is not inevitable, it is definitely always a thing to consider, a teeter-totter of existence.

For Grace, staying away from drugs is pretty easy, but when she finds out that Champ’s drug earnings are paying for her new, sober lifestyle, she doesn’t feel good about taking the cash. When money starts to get tight is when Grace starts to slip back into her old habits and take up with old friends, one bad influence in particular. Champ’s story is harder to fathom: why would somebody turn his back on not one, but two promising options–basketball and academe–for the life of a dealer with all its risks? For one thing, he and his girlfriend have a baby on the way. For another, Champ has a dream: being able to buy back the house he, Grace, and his other siblings used to live in. But a house of cards built on dreams can be very fragile, and when things start to fall apart, Champ just might go down with them. You can see, at every point in this story, how things could be so much different and better for both mother and son If Only..and those “if onlies” force the reader to question certain assumptions s/he might have about what it takes to succeed in America. Good, gritty stuff.

Writing in dribs and drabs, I managed to fit these reviews into today’s lunch/breaks. Here’s hoping the next review can be a full-length response.

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