REVIEW – Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall

Hood Feminism is a compelling read from the first page right until the very end. Kendall has put together a very reader-friendly book about feminism, anti-racism and the issues that millions of women and children face each day. Instead of focusing so much on that highest glass ceiling, feminists need to work on larger issues – hunger, housing, education – that hold so many women back from succeeding.

This book makes you really check your privilege. And beyond that, it makes you want to ACT. This book isn’t so much about teaching and learning, it’s about taking actions to make meaningful change in your community. This isn’t a book that you read and put on your shelf only to be forgotten about in a few weeks or months. This is a book that should move you – to donate, to volunteer, to speak up, to vote. To use your voice, your privilege, to advocate for others.

REVIEW – Black Fatigue by Mary-Frances Winters

{Available September 15, 2020} Black Fatigue is anti-racism 101 in the absolute best way. It’s the perfect guide for those who are just starting to pick up anti-racism resources, and a great refresher for those who have already done some reading. Mary-Frances Winters outlines the physiological and psychological effects that racism has on Black people, and the struggles that come with dealing with racist attitudes and policies every day.

One thing I really appreciated about this book is how Winters explains how different intersectional identities have varying impacts on the fatigue people face. For instance, a straight Black woman has different privileges than an LGBTQ+ Black woman.

Winters also focuses on her own personal experiences and how things throughout her life have contributed to her Black fatigue. Her first experience with racism/Black fatigue was in Kindergarten (something that rings true for many).

I loved that Winters offered up other books to read and resources to check out throughout the book – she provides a lot of solutions and action items for readers. She also defines a lot of key terms that are relevant to anti-racism education. Black Fatigue would be a great book to reference over and over throughout the span of one’s anti-racism journey.

Thank you Get Red PR for providing me with a digital copy of Black Fatigue.

REVIEW – Chasing Space by Leland Melvin

“Seeing the world without geographic boundaries really puts things into perspective and makes one wonder why there is so much division, hatred, and malice.”

Chasing Space was a highly anticipated read for me. Leland Melvin (you may know him as the NASA astronaut with the best official portrait!) is a former NFL football player and retired astronaut. His memoir is smart and uplifting, and I would call this a must-read for football fans and space lovers alike. Melvin’s personality pops off of the page – you can tell he’s intelligent, compassionate and friendly. The way he writes about his friends and family is heartwarming – this is a man full of love and joy.

“Working at NASA had never crossed my mind. I mean, who work at NASA? Certainly, nobody who looked like me.”

Melvin touches on the importance of representation – particularly in STEM fields and professions. When he joined NASA in 1989, only four Black astronauts had ever been to space. It’s no surprise that NASA has a history of being overwhemingly white (and male, for that matter) and Melvin does cover that a bit in his book.

After experiencing a pretty horrifying setback, Melvin does eventually make it to space (twice!) I loved the section of the book about his time in space – as someone who both loves and is terrified of the idea, I loved his (sorry…no pun intended) down-to-Earth approach of sharing his experiences. Chasing Space almost feels like you’re chatting with a friend. His writing is approachable and conversational, and flows perfectly for a book that exceeds just beyond 250 pages.

Content warning: brief mention of sexual assault of a minor, description of a racially motivated police encounter, hazing.

TRUE CRIME REVIEW – American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan

“…I can tell you right now there is no one who knows me, or who has ever known me, who knows anything about me, really…I’m two different people, basically.”
“How long have you been two different people?”
“A long time.”

Oh man. Okay. This is true crime for the SEASONED true crime reader/listener/watcher. If you’re new to the genre, do NOT start here. This book is brutal and Israel Keyes’ cruelty and sociopathy know no bounds. American Predator is short (especially compared to other true crime books i’ve read) but Callahan was able to fit so much into this narrative. We meet a relatively wide range of people involved with capturing Keyes and attempting to uncover the other murders he (likely) committed.

“Sometimes who you were came down to the small things.”

Something that makes American Predator more impactful than other true crime books i’ve read is how recent Keyes committed his crimes. It’s easy to feel distanced from a serial killer who operated in the 70s and 80s, but a lot harder to ignore someone who was murdering people in the 2010s. His back story is disturbing and I found myself wondering (as always) if serial killers are born or created.

Despite the horrors in this book, I highly recommend it to any true crime fan looking for a story they likely know absolutely nothing about.

REVIEW – Neon Girls: A Stripper’s Education in Protest and Power by Jennifer Worley

The premise of this book had me interested from the jump – a nonfiction account of a grad student who becomes a stripper to help pay her way through school. There’s SO MUCH MORE to this, and it’s probably not what you’d expect.

I found myself rooting for these ladies throughout their entire journey. They unionize! They stand up for their rights! They stand up for each other! They’re empowered and empowering.

I learned so much from this book – from the politics of strip clubs to the intricacies and hurdles to forming a union.

Thank you Harper Perennial for sending me an ARC of this book!

REVIEW – How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

This should be required reading, full stop. I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by Dr. Kendi. His ability to weave his personal stories in with lessons on racism vs. antiracism makes for an incredibly compelling narrative. You can tell Dr. Kendi is a professor – listening to this book made me feel like I was back in a college class, learning valuable lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

This might be considered an “intermediate” book on antiracism – many (white) people start with White Fragility, which I agree is a great choice. This book is a lot heavier and will challenge some of your views about racism/antiracism. Dr. Kendi never leaves you feeling confused or unsure of the point he is trying to make. He explores his own growth and journey to becoming antiracist and owns up to racist thoughts and ideas he held as a child, adolescent and even as an adult.

Dr. Kendi makes it clear – we will all continue to have racist thoughts and ideas even after we begin working to become antiracist. Antiracism is not a destination, it’s not a course you can complete or a box to check. To truly dedicate yourself to becoming antiracist will take lifelong commitment and education.

REVIEW – The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz by Jeremy Dronfield

“The boy is my greatest joy. We strengthen each other. We are one, inseparable.”

This is probably one of the most incredible WWII stories I’ve ever read. I’ll admit, I was hesitant to pick this up – not because I didn’t want to read it, but because life is weird and difficult right now and I wasn’t sure I wanted to dive into something so heartbreaking. This book is nonfiction, but it reads like fiction most of the time – the writing flows easily and the people Dronfield writes about leap off of the page. I loved reading about each family member – while the story is primarily about Gustav and his son Fritz, we do get a glimpse into what life during the war was like for the rest of the family. They all end up on different paths, and some endings are horrific.

“It took strength and character to share and love in a world where selfishness and hate were common currency.”

I was right, this book is incredibly heartbreaking. But it’s also joyful. And hopeful. The love between Gustav and Fritz kept them going. Their resilience is inspiring and, at times, it’s almost unbelievable. Their bravery was just one small factor in their eventual survival – they also experienced incredible luck (which is so hard to say, given the circumstances) and they ended up building a small community of friends within the camps who lifted them up and pushed them through. This book examines the absolute worst of humanity but also highlights some of the best. The sacrifices people made (and were willing to make) for the good of the cause. The danger they put themselves in to save others.

“No matter what occurred in the world, no matter how near danger might be, life went on, and what could one do but live it?”

Something that I feel is glossed over sometimes when it comes to WWII books – nonfiction and fiction alike – is what the survivors experience once they are back home and safe. Even though Gustav and Fritz survived many years in unimaginable, cruel conditions, they still struggled when it came time to rejoin society and get “back to normal.” There truly was no normal after WWII for many survivors, and the trauma and pain of those years in the camps impacted the rest of their lives.

Thank you Harper Perennial/Harper Books for the ARC!

REVIEW – Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

“If you don’t run with this, if you don’t move forward with this and expose him, you’re on the wrong side of history.”

Catch and Kill is one of those books I should have read immediately upon release, when the Weinstein trial was ongoing and his fate was hanging in the balance (I mean, I guess it still is. But the buzz around this story has died down considerably).

Farrow’s relentless pursuit of the truth, and of bringing Weinstein to justice, is commendable. The book is interesting. It’s good. It’s important. But because I have read so much about this case, I did find myself a bit bored in the middle. This book could have easily been reduced by 100 or so pages (again, I think my opinion would have differed had I read this back in October or November).

Regardless of my reading experience, I was disgusted to learn just how many people were covering up for Weinstein, or turning a blind eye to his crimes. I wasn’t surprised, necessarily, but when it’s spelled out in front of you, it packs a punch. On the flip side, i’m grateful that good, moral people still exist to make sure criminals like Weinstein get what they deserve (although, he got away with it for so long, i’m not sure the punishment can truly fit the crime).

REVIEW – The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

{Available March 24, 2020} There are eleven million undocumented immigrants in our country. In our communities. They could be our neighbors, coworkers or classmates. We interact with them at restaurants and stores. They give everything they have to our country and receive so little in return. This is the legacy of our country and it’s infuriating. This is also nothing new, but it’s an especially hot political topic at the current moment.

From a writing standpoint, this book is good. Villavicencio is a solid writer with a knack for getting straight to the point. This book meanders at times, but everything is important and supportive of the overarching narrative.

Villavicencio isn’t just a writer, she’s a storyteller. She talks a lot about how she basically adopts the people she talks to – she pours her heart and soul into these relationships and tells their stories with such care. She doesn’t gloss over anything. The people portrayed in this book are REAL (of course) and their personalities leap off of the page. They’re angry. They’re grateful. They’re hurt and hurting. They’re funny and fun and loving. They’re weird and they’re interesting. They’re people (yeah, duh). They aren’t a “faceless brown mass” (to borrow words from a recently controversial author…)

They’re all different, with different lives and different experiences. Some have had more luck than others. Some have faced more hardships or heartbreak than others. But they do share the trauma of being undocumented in the United States. The fear of deportation. The lack of legal support when they are taken advantage of. Each section of this book focuses on a different city in the United States and I thought the chapters on Cleveland and Flint to be the most impactful (keep in mind I am from Ohio, in a city that’s about a 20-minute drive to the Michigan border, so these chapters were bound to feel more tangible to me).

Ultimately, my words and thoughts aren’t what matters here. It boils down to this – read this book. Read other books like this book. Gain some perspective from people who are not like you. Learn about the experiences of others (especially of marginalized groups). LEARN. GROW. Be better. Do better. Most importantly – LISTEN. Don’t listen (or read) to respond or discuss. Listen (and read) to learn. To hear. To bear witness to their lives and their stories.

Thank you Random House/One World for the NetGalley ARC.

REVIEW – Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit by Eliese Colette Goldbach

{Available March 3, 2020} There’s a lot to say about Rust – this story hooked me right from the beginning. Goldbach is from Cleveland, a resilient city with an industrial past (and present, and future).

I connected with a lot in the beginning of this book. Goldbach and I are both graduates of Catholic all-girls high schools. We’re both from cities in northern Ohio (her from the northeast, me from the northwest). Our cities both have strong foundations in industry – hers in steel, mine in glass and cars. Goldbach and I are roughly the same age (I believe she’s a few months older than me).

I’ve never worked in a factory. I’ve never had to and, honestly, have never considered it an option. Reading Goldbach’s account as a woman in her late twenties (at the time) navigating life as an employee in a steel mill was fascinating. I think many of us can agree that when we picture a “factory worker” or a “steelworker” we do not picture a young, college-educated woman. Goldbach’s account dismantled my idea of what a typical factory worker is like (which makes me sound like an idiot, but i’m not afraid to admit I was biased and I was WRONG).

I felt that this book lost its way a bit at times – it meanders from topic to topic, timeline to timeline, with few line or section breaks (but this could be something that is remedied in the finished copy). However, it’s difficult to place a “review” lens on someone’s life experience. There are moments where I forgot I was reading nonfiction (Goldbach is a great writer! And this memoir felt more like a novel sometimes).

This memoir isn’t just about a young woman finding her way in the steel industry. It also focuses heavily on her struggle with mental illness, and is supplemented by observations and events surrounding the 2016 presidential election.

Content warnings: mental illness, rape, discussion of suicide/suicidal thoughts.

Thank you Flatiron Books for the NetGalley ARC.