REVIEW – Deacon King Kong by James McBride

“He was a peaceful man beloved by all. So what happened?”

I didn’t really know what to expect when I picked up Deacon King Kong, but I was definitely surprised. Tihs book is so much funnier and lighthearted than I anticipated (but I wouldn’t say it’s a “lighthearted book”). You might not fall in love with Sportcoat right away, but you’ll realize just how much you enjoy his character by the end of the book.

I would say this is definitely more character-driven vs. plot-driven, which isn’t usually my cup of tea (or bottle of King Kong, in this instance) but I really loved this book. I don’t think the 1969 setting is incredibly consequential here, but it does make some parts of the story more plausible.

There’s so much heart in this book – each chapter almost feels like its own story, and it all contributes to the overall narrative. Everyone and everything is connected in some way, and McBride’s writing is so clever and vibrant, you can’t help but want to know who you’re going to meet next.

The shorter version? Jesus cheese. It’s all about the Jesus cheese.

REVIEW – Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Oh boy, do I have mixed feelings about this book. Some of the chapters were really engaging and interesting to me, and others…there are some incredibly unlikeable characters in this book (which honestly is probably the point – women don’t need to be likable to be valid).

I did really enjoy the format – we follow 12 different women in groups of three. Each woman is related closely to her own group of three, and all 12 women tie together in some way or another at the end. Some connections were stronger than others, but Evaristo did a great job of making everything click.

The very end bumped this from a three to a four-star read for me.

Content warning: drug use, suicide, slut shaming, rape, domestic abuse, child abuse, manipulative relationship, infidelity, racism.

REVIEW – Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

“We’ve all been through a lot, Bryan, all of us. I know that some have been through more than others. but if we don’t expect more from each other, hope better for one another, and recover from the hurt we experience, we are surely doomed.”

Just Mercy is truly essential reading for all Americans. Our justice system is so broken – and Bryan Stevenson provides stories about real people who have suffered because of it. There’s not much I can say about this book that hasn’t already been said, but I can say that I have waffled back and forth on the death penalty for years. It really depended on the day, or the news I had most recently read, that swayed my opinion either for or against it. This book solidified my opinion – we need to abolish the death penalty. There are too many people who have been failed by our justice system, failed by a lack of education, or social programs, support, love, care, for those in power to fairly decide if someone should be put to death.

“We’ve given up on rehabilitation, education, and services for the imprisoned because providing assistance to the incarcerated is apparently too kind and compassionate.”

Just Mercy is one of those books that will move you to ACT. This isn’t just an educational read, it’s a motivational read. There are a lot of tough topics covered throughout this book, but I urge you not to look away.

“We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others.”

REVIEW – The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

“No one knows the worst thing they are capable of until they do it.”

I had been interested in reading this book for quite some time – I love historical fiction, but this had the added promise of a more gruesome/thrilling story. Well, it’s definitely disturbing. But it’s not quite a thriller (at least, not in the traditional sense).

This book is beautifully written, but don’t let it fool you – even in the lovely, “happy” moments, there’s an underlying cruelty and dread that follows Frannie pretty much everywhere. Since the book is told through a series of flashbacks, you somewhat already know what awaits Frannie at the end.

“That’s always been my trouble. Never knowing my place or being content in it.”

After traveling from Jamaica to England, Frannie transitions from slave to servant. However, having been enslaved for her entire life, she struggles to understand the difference. She’s still under the control and authority of someone else, and her life is still difficult regardless of the change in status.

Through Frannie’s letters/journal entries, we learn about a lot of horrific events that she either witnessed or participated in. It never gets too deep – many of the horrors are merely alluded to. That being said, there’s an overall lack of depth throughout the story – I felt that we skimmed the surface on so many topics instead of really digging in to the meat of the story.

There’s a deep sadness here too, and if you’re looking for something with a happy twist or ending, don’t expect to find it here.

I think Sara Collins shows a lot of promise, and i’d be happy to read whatever she decides to write next.

There are multiple trigger/content warnings for this one, so proceed with caution if you’re a sensitive reader.

Thank you Harper Perennial for the free book!

REVIEW – Dear Martin by Nic Stone

“Long story short, I tried to do a good deed and wound up on the ground in handcuffs.”

Dear Martin has been on my want-to-read list for a while, and I was finally compelled to pick it up when I decided to pre-order the sequel, Dear Justyce. I regret not reading this sooner, but i’m so glad I finally gave it a shot.

We meet Justyce, a high school senior navigating his way through the school year. Justyce attends a prestigious private school and has some pretty insanely wealthy friends and classmates, despite being from a “rougher” (see: poorer, blacker) part of town. I had a vague idea of what the plot of this book would be, but I was actually pretty wrong. An event at the very beginning of the book starts to shake what Justyce thought he knew about racism in this country, and what he perceives as the “right” vs “wrong or bad” kind of Black people.

“Yeah, I grew up in a rough area, but I know I’m a good dude, Martin. I thought if I made sure to be an upstanding member of society, I’d be exempt from the stuff THOSE black guys deal with, you know? Really hard to swallow that I was wrong.”

After the incident at the beginning of the book, Justyce starts studying the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and keeps a journal that’s comprised of letters written to Dr. King. We alternate between these letters and chapters that detail what’s going on at school and in Justyce’s life. Stone includes some incredible discussions that take place between Justyce, his classmates and one of their teachers – I think these are some of the most powerful parts of the book because they will likely remind readers of conversations they have had, things they have said or things they have heard other people say.

“Prosecutor actually referred to me as a ‘career criminal’ at the hearing. I think that was prolly the moment I gave up. Why try to do right if people will always look at me and assume wrong?”

We’re also introduced to Quan and get to know him a bit better, which sets us up for the next book. I’m really looking forward to reading more about Quan’s story.

I would love to press this book into the hands of every high schooler and educator in America (at least at first – honestly, everyone should read this book). There are so many layers to this book and so many complex concepts but Stone does a great job of making this book very accessible for readers of all ages.

REVIEW – Saving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West

Saving Ruby King is a heavy book for a debut, and Catherine Adel West pulls it off seamlessly. When Ruby King’s mother is shot and killed, we follow Ruby, her best friend Layla, and both of their (very different) fathers.

Through flashbacks and present day, we learn a number of long-buried secrets that have plagued both families (some for decades). What stood out most to me throughout the story was how the cycle of abuse impacts multiple generations of one family, how the abused can become abusers themselves, and how that can ripple throughout an entire community.

Content warning: domestic abuse, self-harm, brief mention of sexual abuse.

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 – All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

“We are not as different as you think, and all our stories matter and deserve to be celebrated and told.”

All Boys Aren’t Blue is a deeply personal memoir that should be required reading. George Johnson just has an impeccable way with words – we follow their story from childhood to high school to college and beyond. Johnson and I are around the same age, and I loved some of their stories about growing up – it was so easy for me to picture those moments in time.

“Symbolism gives folks hope. But I’ve come to learn that symbolism is a threat to actual change – it’s a chance for those in power to say, “Look how far you’ve come” rather than admitting, “Look how long we’ve stopped you from getting here.””

Johnson touches on the importance of representation – from teachers to politicians alike. A lot of Black kids (and kids of all races) don’t have Black teachers. (I mean, think about it – when did you have your first Black teacher? I don’t recall having a Black teacher/professor until I was in college.) Queer representation is important too – especially with LGBTQ+ youth being high-risk for suicidal thoughts, homelessness and abuse.

Johnson often mentions the dual struggles of being both Black and queer – and how lucky they are to have a family who supports them as they are. I think Johnson’s story would be much different without the support of their family. Johnson’s grandmother, Nanny, is a strong presence in this book – what an incredible woman! She is the embodiment of pure, unconditional love for her family.

All Boys Aren’t Blue deals with some incredibly heavy topics but the book never feels weighed down – there’s always hope, always growth, always forgiveness.

Note: When this book was released, Johnson used he/him pronouns and has recently switched to using they/them pronouns (just something to keep in mind if/when you write a review for this book).

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.