This final set of mini reviews was meant to be primarily contemporary adult fiction, but it does contain one rogue fantasy title!
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (★★★★)
One night when Alix’s house is vandalized, Alix calls upon Emira to take Briar out of the house and kill some time while Alix and her husband sort out the mess. While Emira is at the grocery store with Briar, a customer and a security personnel question her motives and assume Emira kidnapped Briar. A young man, Kelley, films the whole scene till Briar’s dad runs in and clears up the matter. The rest of the novel spirals from there, sharing the impact one event can have on three people.
This is definitely a novel about race, perception, misunderstandings, motive, and passive listening. Alix intended to be better with and around Emira, a young black woman, but her way of tiptoeing and forcing a relationship (which…felt very white savior) was not genuine. Meanwhile, Kelley, a white man, may have been genuine but it also felt a bit white savior, and (as pointed out in the narrative) fetishized. Wrapped up in all this is Emira, who loves Briar deeply but desperately wants health insurance, a 401k, and a “true adult job” but she has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She’s about to turn 26 and be kicked off her parents’ insurance, and she’s watching her friends “grow up” at a faster rate, feeling left behind. I really felt for her and wanted her to find that perfect path. But life isn’t perfect, and when you factor in race, it’s hard to tell who is really on your side with genuine intentions and care.
I adored Emira, and Alix made me cringe on so many levels—partly for the mirror reflection personally, partly because I know people just like her. But at the end of the day this book had me examining what it means to be an ally, to be anti-racist, and how my words and actions have the potential to be misconstrued and misunderstood. Honesty is the best policy, no doubt. I was pleased with where this story ended, and I’ll admit I had zero idea throughout reading this book where any of these characters would end up! Just as unpredictable as life itself. This book got me out of a reading slump, and holds a special place on my shelves.
The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir (★★★★)
Book club discussed this and it blew my mind—reality TV, religion, feminism, parenthood, capitalism, abuse—and the book left me speechless. Whoa is all I can truly coherently say.
Essie is the youngest child in TV show “Six for Hicks,” and she’s pregnant. The world can’t know about it—out-of-wedlock pregnancy goes against the family’s extremely conservative, religious values—so she’s arranged to be married off. But when Essie plays her mother’s game and reaches out to a reporter who was once connected to another right-wing cult and broke free, she must now decide to tell the terrible truth of her family when the cameras are off, or quietly leave the show without imploding everyone’s lives.
Very readable and engaging. The experience was almost like a car wreck and you can’t look away. There were some things I could relate to––possible universal experiences such as being raised to fit a certain role in life, to be burdened with specific responsibilities, respecting and honoring family first––though thankfully never to the extreme extent Essie experienced! I think we can all agree sticking to a prescribed role is confining, demoralizing, and has explosive repercussions when one wants to break free and be their true selves.
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (★★★)
“How are you feeling?” Zachary asks.
“Like I’m losing my mind, but in a slow, achingly beautiful sort of way.”
That just about sums up how I felt reading this book. The Night Circus is within my top five favorite books ever, and I went into this hoping for something similar. I wanted to taste the words and sink into the magic of the narrative and experience the tales with all of my senses. That certainly happened, but like Zachary says, “I wanted more story.”
This is a story about stories about stories about stories. It’s incredibly meta. There are snippets of tales throughout Zachary’s narrative that have a fairytale-like quality to them—and because it’s Morgenstern, you know you need to pay attention to them because they’ll come back later. (My favorite story was the key collector. I felt a kindred spirit with him.) There are discussions on what makes a story—is it a book, a play, live theater, a board game, a video game, D&D; is it about a quest or a romance or the journey; does it have all the tropes, a beginning and end, an arc?—and every single one is explored in here. I can certainly appreciate that. The prose is stunning and the world is a bookworm’s paradise.
But there were so many stories within stories I was frustrated and lost track. Zachary was so determined to find the ending of the story in his book that all other questions—who is the antagonist, what is this group, why are they dying, how do they know these things, how is he being followed, who are these people, why are they doing what they’re doing, what is the purpose—flew out the window. He simply…bumbled along. And by the end it’s so trippy I simply accepted the lack of plot and answers and went with it. I wonder if I would have a different experience with this if I re-read it. Honestly, I don’t know if I will—it’s a couple hundred pages of wandering around not getting questions answered too long for me—but I’m pleased at least that her magic is still there.
Dear Emmie Blue by Lia Louis (★★★★)
Emmie never really had friends or family, never always felt she had a home or a safe space, until after a horrific event prompted her to send a message tied to a balloon—which crossed the Channel and found its way to Lucas in France, who emailed Emmie back. For 15 years, Lucas was Emmie’s life. But now he’s getting married, and everything’s changing.
I was extremely frustrated with Emmie’s dependent attachment to Lucas, the way she‘d drop everything and everyone else for him, the way she loved the idea of him and was blind to his true nature and to everyone else around her. I was frustrated because I was once Emmie too, and it wasn’t healthy. Emmie endured a traumatic experience and never received the help she so desperately needed, and here she was living with it haunting her everyday. Of course she would cling to the one good thing from her life all those years ago. Of course.
I fell in love with the book more and more as Emmie distanced herself from Lucas. Her relationship with her landlady Louise, rekindling the friendship with Lucas’s brother Eliot, opening up to her colleagues at the hotel, finding her birth father—it was great to see her open her eyes and take stock of what she has in her life, and that it doesn’t need to revolve around a man to make her happy. (And the slowest of slow burns romance? Loved. It. That’s respect right there!)
I recommend this book to anyone who has come out the other side of trauma: you’re not alone. I recommend this book to anyone who loves someone who’s been through trauma: here is an example of those attachments they formed. I recommend this book to anyone who loves someone still stuck in that trauma: with patience, time, and love, they do come out the other side stronger.