By Phoenix Tefel
“I want to run naked through a meadow and catch a rabbit and snap its neck and then rip its throat open and drink the warm blood from the wound.”
Rachel Yoder’s debut, Nightbitch, is a freaky novel—rarely does a book devour you rather than the other way around. Visceral and edifying, this is a Metamorphosis-like tale of a stay-at-home mom turning into a dog.
As a young woman with no children of my own, this book made my “biological clock” both tick and revert unto itself in fear. Our tale begins with an anonymous mother, self-dubbed Nightbitch, a woman constantly confronted with the ennui of being a working artist turned stay-at-home mom. She doesn’t quite fit in with the put-together mothers who peddle pyramid-scheme essential oils, and her sweet-but-aloof husband is typically away on business rather than helping to raise their two-year-old son—worst of all, she has been deprived of free time to make art. Compounded with the new patches of hair needling out of her neck and tailbone, the mother feels entirely Othered, even monstrous.
And yet, the beauty within motherhood is palpable; the moments Nightbitch shares with her son, her one companion, are heart-wrenchingly sweet. The kinder scenes in this dirty little novel involve the mother and son “playing doggy," lowering on all fours to bark and nose at each other while voraciously digging hovels into the earth. In parks, hikes, and story time at the library, Nightbitch chases and barks at her son while he runs, quadrupedal and laughing. They are both uncaring about the feral appearance of their movements, allowing the mother to indulge in her newfound primal nature while growing closer to her son than ever before. Nightbitch, the mother, slowly coalesces with Nightbitch, the animal.
Naturally when one begins to blossom tufts of fur and pointy canines, curiosity is sure to follow. The mother searches for answers in A Field Guide to Magical Women, an ethnography from the library written by the mysterious Wanda White. Interspersing her experience with Wanda’s uncanny interactions with birdwomen and wolfmothers, Nightbitch begins a ravenous discovery into the animality within motherhood. Yoder expertly and dreamily weaves her devised mythos that mother is creator, an artist at her most primordial level. Marriage, self-sacrifice, and solitude are merely arduous fictions of society, while deeper there exists the guttural howl of freedom.
The feminine monster is no new feat, but Yoder’s monster mother is something different. Neither sexy nor particularly formidable outside of her realm, Nightbitch’s power is simply existing within the capitalist muck of the modern world. A bestial pinnacle of emancipation, this novel will enrage you, baffle and unyoke you until your howling at the moonlight.
Want your own copy of Nightbitch?
Get it from us here!
By Elly Murray
Rainbow Rowell is the New York Times Bestselling author of Eleanor & Park and Fangirl. Carry On is her third young adult book, published in 2015, and it marks the first book of a trilogy that she’s currently working on. Carry On is actually an expansion of a world that Rowell first presented in Fangirl back in 2013. She explains in the author’s note in Carry On that, “In Fangirl, Simon is the hero of a series of children’s adventure novels written by Gemma T. Leslie - and the subject of much fanfiction written by the main character, Cath. When I finished that book, I was able to let go of Cath and her boyfriend, Levi, and their world. I felt like I was finished with their story...But I couldn’t let go of Simon.”
Carry On follows a teenager named Simon Snow, who attends a magical school called Watford in the UK. He’s the Mage’s Heir, which means he has a ridiculous amount of power that he has no idea how to control, and along with his best friend, Penny, and his rival, Baz the vampire, he has to figure out a way to defeat the Insidious Humdrum. If any of this sounds a little bit familiar, it’s for a good reason; the world and characters of Carry On were inspired by the wizarding world of Harry Potter. However, instead of the whole seven books of adventures, Rowell starts Carry On at the beginning of everyone’s last year at Watford.
The first third of the book was a bit dull, because it was all set-up. Rowell had to introduce this entire world that she’d created that is very similar to the world in Harry Potter, but that has its own little niches. And while it was interesting to learn all about this new world, I wish she had taken a more gradual approach. It kind of read how a middle-school writer would start a story, by explaining everything the reader needed to know about the world, versus just letting them experience it themselves. Additionally, as a result of this, we don’t really get a sense of who the characters are, or get a chance to form attachments to them, until a bit later in the book. However, once the book finally got going, it was very interesting. If you’ve read Harry Potter, you’re sitting there the whole time making these little comparisons in your head. And you discover that apart from a few similarities, Rowell really took the time to make this tale much more than just a Harry Potter fanfiction. You can see how Rowell was inspired by J.K. Rowling’s world, but then she took that inspiration and created something completely different with it.
I felt that Simon was a very fleshed-out character. He is a “Chosen One” character, but he’s got his own personality rather than just being a mold to fit the stereotypes of that archetype. One of my favorite things about him is that he’s a fiend intent on devouring every piece of food he comes across. In fact, one of my favorite lines in the book is from Baz about Simon. Simon is questioning him about being a vampire and he asks, “Does it have to be fatal every time? The biting? Couldn’t you just drink some of a person’s blood, then walk away?’ and Bas responds, “I can’t believe you’re asking me this, Snow. You, who can’t walk away from half a sandwich” (p. 349). In addition to just being really cute and relatable, Simon’s food obsession also provides a deeper level of character development for him; as an orphan who has gone through the U.K.’s foster care system, he’s always overwhelmed by how much food there is available at Watford that he is allowed to eat. In fact, when he makes a list of things that he misses at Watford on page 12, the very first thing is ‘Sour Cherry Scones.’
I also really loved how a lot of the characters’ descriptions come from what other characters think or say about them. Examples of this would be “Baz is...indelible. He’s a human grease stain. (Mostly human)” (p. 88) or “Baz was sure I’d singed off his eyebrows, but he looked fine to me-not a hair out of place. Typical” (p. 7) both of which are from Simon. Another one, from Penny about Simon, is very prominent: “Too thin. He looks too thin. And something worse...scraped” (p. 32) I really enjoy this method of characterization, as opposed to the more direct route of just describing a character because it feels much more natural and it’s sort of like a two-birds-one-stone scenario. At the same time as getting a description of Character A from Character B, we also get a sense of how Character B thinks, based on what they think about others. For example, in the quote above from Penny, we see that Simon is too skinny. But we also see that Penny is very caring and worried about her friend.
There’s also a very simple map in the front. I usually greatly appreciate a map, especially one that isn’t overly complicated. However, this map might have been too simple; half of the buildings at Watford weren’t labeled, so the reader has no idea what they are. I also would have perhaps liked to see visualizations for places outside of Watford where significant events took place, like Baz’s house.
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who likes tales of magic and romance. It’s witty, descriptive, and really just everything I could ask for in a YA fantasy novel. With a well-built world and fleshed-out characters, Carry On is perfect for anyone who loved Harry Potter, but felt themselves wanting more.
Want your own copy of Carry On? Get it from us here:
And while you’re at it, pick up a copy of the second book, Wayward Son: It explores something that isn’t often considered: what happens to the hero when their story is over and they’ve saved the day?
I hope you’re all staying safe at home! These are some crummy times, but you can always turn to a good book for comfort. So read on!
By Elly Murray.
Philip Pullman is most well known for his trilogy, His Dark Materials. The first book of the series, The Golden Compass, came out in 1995, quickly followed by a sequel, The Subtle Knife, in 1997, and a final book, The Amber Spyglass, in 2000. The series was reworked as a movie in 2007 and a TV show in 2019.
After its release, The Golden Compass was all the rage. When it came out in 1995, it won the Carnegie Medal for Children’s Literature in the UK. In 2007, it went on to be voted the best Carnegie Medal winner in the seventy-year history of the award. Time Magazine has included it on their list, The 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time, and the trilogy as a whole has garnered Pullman quite a few other awards and recognition. Even now, 25 years after the release of the first novel in the series, when it comes up in conversation it’s usually with a fond remembrance: “Oh yeah, The Golden Compass! Man, that was a good book.”
For some reason I never read it until a few months ago. I passed by it on a library shelf, remembered how much my fellow book nerds had loved it, and thought, “Well, I suppose it’s about time I got to it.” And I’d have to say, it holds up fairly well, even after over two decades.
The story centers around Lyra Belacqua, an adventurous young girl who bounds across the rooftops of Jordan College with her best friend, Roger, and her shape-changing daemon, Pantalaimon. When her mysterious uncle, Lord Asriel, comes to visit the college on a strange quest, Lyra learns of a cosmic particle called ‘Dust’ and the Gobblers who will stop at nothing to reverse its effects on adults, including kidnapping and experimenting on children. When Roger is taken by Gobblers, Lyra is forced to leave Jordan College and embark on an exciting and dangerous adventure, full of armored bears, balloon aeronauts, and revelations about her past. She has a much bigger part to play in the fate of her world and others than she can ever know.
I felt that the best part of the book was experiencing Lyra as a character. She’s headstrong in a way that is both refreshing and to be expected of a young child. She’s not afraid to take charge of her life, which I feel is a good message for young readers, and she shows a lot of maturity for her age.
The children in the book were the most interesting and approachable characters to me. Pullman really makes you feel their emotions, especially their terror. What specifically comes to my mind is the scene where Lyra encounters a boy, Tony Makarios, in a village. For some reason, the entire village is afraid to go anywhere near him, and when she goes to investigate, she discovers why; his daemon has been cut away. When Lyra realizes this, it reads “Her first impulse was to turn and run, or to be sick. A human being with no daemon was like someone without a face, or with their ribs laid open and their heart torn out; something unnatural and uncanny...So Lyra clung to Pantalaimon and her head swam and her gorge rose, and cold as the night was, a sickly sweat moistened her flesh with something colder still” (p. 214). The scene continues like this, with Lyra showing compassion while trying to help the boy, even though she’s absolutely horrified. The description of her emotions in this scene, as well as others throughout the book, really helped to pull me into the story and see the events happening through her eyes.
There’s also just an incredible amount of vivid detail that really sticks in your memory, like when Lyra and Farder Coram seek out Iorek Byrnison, the bear:
“Dim yellow light through the rear window of the bar showed a vast pale form crouching upright and gnawing at a haunch of meat which it held in both hands. Lyra had an impression of a bloodstained muzzle and face, small malevolent black eyes, and an immensity of dirty matted yellowish fur. As it gnawed, hideous growling, crunching, sucking noises came from it” (p. 179).
The detail here is so strong that I could hear the sounds Iorek was making in my head. I love reading books like this, because almost every description throughout is this visual and striking, and you can clearly picture in your mind what is happening in the story.
However, I felt that the motivations, inner thoughts, and emotions of the adult characters aren’t fleshed out well. I was expecting to be able to interact with them the same way we did with Lyra and the other children: being privy to their emotions and thoughts. I think Pullman may have done this intentionally because adults don’t often share what they’re thinking or feeling with children. However, the result for me was that the adult characters didn’t feel as strong or as developed as the children.
I will also say that the pacing of the book was a bit slow. I spent most of the book waiting around for something significant to happen, but then the last third of the book was action-packed.
One of the most interesting things about the book was the underlying religious discussion. Pullman is well known for his criticisms of organized religion, Christianity in particular. In a Washington Post interview, when asked about being compared to other fantasy authors like Tolkien & C. S. Lewis, he was quoted as saying, “I’m trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.”
What’s peculiar, however, is that in this book the Church is really more of a stagnant background influence. It doesn’t support the work of the Oblation Board (the Gobblers who are, essentially, torturing children for research), but it would also like to keep the rest of the world in the dark about the nature of Dust and the possibility of a parallel world. One of the main themes of this book is Lyra going against that traditional authority to discover secrets that no one is supposed to know.
Another intriguing detail is that in this book, children haven’t been impacted by Original Sin yet. Some of the adults spend the entire book doing back flips to reclaim that innocence and freedom from sin for themselves, and end up becoming even darker as a result of their actions. It really made me pause and think about our society. Some people try to “better'' themselves through religion, but end up becoming even worse and more hateful. I believe that religion isn’t supposed to be about bettering yourself. It’s supposed to be about giving up your own desires to serve God and others, which is essentially what Lyra does. She gives up the life she knows, and the comfortable existence she could have had with Mrs. Coulter, to find out the truth and save the other kids. At the end of the book, she even gives up the certainty of her world to go explore the parallel world, and put a stop to Lord Asriel’s nefarious plans.
Overall, The Golden Compass was a wonderful read. I fully intend to read the next two books in the series, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. We have the entire trilogy here in the store, and you can order them online as well.
I enjoyed reading this book so much that I immediately went out and found the graphic novel version to read--which, incidentally, was very beautifully illustrated. You can find your own copy of the graphic novel on our online store.
Jarrett Krosoczka is an illustrator and author who is most famous for his Lunch Lady & Jedi Academy series. His most recent book, Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction, is a graphic memoir for young adults that comes out on October 9th. It was recently longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. I was lucky enough to receive a galley copy when I went to the SIBA tradeshow last month. Krosoczka was unable to make it to speak at the event because of Hurricane Florence but he did record a very moving video about the book that we (booksellers) watched together. I left that lunch knowing that I was going to read the book before I even got back home.
Reader, I read it in one, very emotional, sitting.
In this book, Krosoczka tells the story of his family--starting with his grandparents, Joe & Shirley, who met and fell in love as teenagers. After his grandfather returned from WWII, during which the young Shirley had broken up with him, he came back to Worcester, MA to win back her heart. They got married shortly after and started having children. Jarrett’s mother, Leslie, was the second child in a family of five kids. The same year Leslie was born, Joe opened a factory that was fairly successful throughout his life, and spent most of his time working. Shirley, however, had experienced a personal tragedy that led her to start drinking heavily. This was the beginning of a tumultuous mother/daughter relationship between Shirl & Leslie.
When Leslie was 13, she began to act out. She started sneaking out, drinking, doing drugs, and getting into fights at school. Eventually, Leslie came home to say that she was pregnant. This did not help the volatile relationship she had with her mother but she did manage to stay clean while she was pregnant. After Jarrett was born, Joe bought Leslie a little home to make their own and they lived relatively happily there until Jarrett was a few years old. Leslie made a series of bad decisions and eventually went to jail. While there, Jarrett went to live with his grandparents and Joe set things up so that he, legally, had custody of him.
Ultimately, Jarrett was better off living with his grandparents than with Leslie. They were supportive of his art, encouraging him to make friends at school, and wanted to be involved in his life. However, they both drank heavily and fought constantly. It wasn’t the most stable upbringing, especially when you add in the infrequent visits and letters from his mother. After Leslie got out of jail, she spent time in halfway houses trying to get her life back on track. Jarrett always hoped, as a young kid, that he would be able to live with his mother again. It wasn’t even until he was in 3rd grade that he learned his mother was in jail and the knowledge haunted him. His hope to be reunited with his mother diminished as he aged until, eventually, he was a bitter, angry teenager.
During this time, he also began wondering about his father, who he’d never met and who’d never sought him out despite knowing that he had a child. As a teenager, he discovered his father’s last name and couldn’t shake the thoughts of him and what knowing his father would mean for his identity. So, when he got a letter from him one day, he was surprised but still not ready to get to know him yet.
Throughout middle and high school, Jarrett kept sketchbooks to draw in everywhere he went. He took art classes and began to get involved in the school newspaper as an illustrator for their comic section. Through art, he was able to explore the emotions he was feeling and express the pain he was feeling in a way that didn’t hurt him or anyone else. The drawings from this period of his life are quite dark and you can tell he was struggling with a lot.
There’s more to the story but I’ve gotten to the part where I feel like I’m going to give something integral away so I’ll stop my summary here. You’ll have to grab a copy to find out what happened to teenage Jarrett.
Reading this book was difficult but satisfying for me. Krosoczka writes with a openness and honesty about his troubled upbringing that I found both refreshing and reassuring. He also added a lot of special, personal touches to the book that made reading it especially moving. For example, each of the chapter title pages has the pattern of the wallpaper that was on the walls of the house he grew up in. He saved a roll of it to use in this book. He also added in actual art that he made as a child. All the artwork you see in the book that he says was drawn by him, was actually drawn by him when he was young and then superimposed into the book later. The letters from his mother are also real letters that she wrote to him. It was a very nice touch to this personal, painful memoir.
For my part, I didn’t grow up in a traditional nuclear family so seeing a representation of a loving family that maybe wasn’t quite like the families I saw in movies & tv shows was comforting. I also have experience dealing with family members struggling with addiction. Krosoczka’s memoir does an excellent job excavating the pain and anger that boil up in situations like this without feeling like he’s dramatizing for the sake of the story. Stories of addiction often have enough drama without needing any embellishment. Ultimately, the book felt real and raw and accessible in a way that I haven’t seen in a graphic memoir for a while. Comparatively though, it reminded me of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.
Because this book was made for young adults (recommended ages 12-14), I feel that the topic is especially important. During a time when opioids are so widely available and so many people are addicted to them that the media calls it a crisis, there are many young adults who will find this book and be reassured by it’s honesty and it’s message.
I talk a lot about the importance of representation and there are lots of obvious ways that we can improve representation in literature. For example, it’s my priority to highlight books by marginalized authors or with marginalized characters both in my store and on our social media. However, I do think there are groups of marginalized people whose stories are often overlooked. The stories of those families fighting drug or alcohol addiction, and the children caught in the crossfire, are on that list. Often, addiction is a dark family secret. It’s not something you talk about outside of the family and certainly isn’t a story you share with the rest of the world, particularly in literature for young people. So, the importance of this work at this particular time in history is a bit elevated. We need these stories, not just for the sake of representation but also because the message we learn from Krosoczka is extremely valuable.
What is that message, then? The message is not particularly unique or surprising but it is one that I think we need to hear. Art saves. Art saves people. Art saves lives. Art saves families. Art saves angry kids from going to jail. Art saves. Art saved Jarrett from repeating the mistakes of his mother. Art saved Jarrett from the demons that plagued him. Art saved Jarrett from a life of doing something he didn’t love. Art saved Jarrett from the bitterness that threatened to eat him up as a teenager. Without art and a family who supported that art, we wouldn’t have the Jarrett Krosoczka we know and love today.
So, if you know a kid who’s struggling with their own demons or someone else’s, I highly recommend this book to them. If you know someone who is a parent and an addict, I also recommend this to them. It paints a vivid picture of the pain that a parent’s addiction caused one boy. If that message can help one person recognize the suffering they’re causing, then this book is more than worth the cost to purchase it. If the message that art saves can be imparted onto at least one young soul, then I think we’re on our way to making the world a better place.
You can pick up a copy of Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka at Foggy Pine Books on Tuesday, October 9th. You can also pre-order the ebook from us online and have it downloaded to your device that day.
I'm a huge fan of Katie O'Neill and loved her previous books: The Tea Dragon Society and Princess Princess Ever After, so I was excited to have the opportunity to read her upcoming book.
Aquicorn Cove is the story of a small fishing village and the people who live there, who love their way of life. A young girl, Lana, comes back to visit with her Auntie Mae after a terrible storm does a lot of damage in the village. While helping her family and friends clean up, she finds a seahorse looking animal (an aquicorn!) that needs help and rescues it to let it recover before returning it to the ocean. We learn that Lana's situation is complicated and that there's a lot of emotion to process while she's visiting her Auntie. When Lana asks her Auntie about the creature she rescued, Mae tells her the story of meeting a beautiful Aquicorn queen, Aure. She tells her how she helped their family and the message she gave her about the destruction of the ocean and coral reefs. This caused a huge rift between Aure and Mae. When another big storm threatens the island and Auntie Mae, Lana seeks help from the Aquicorns to keep both the village and her Aunt safe. When Lana is taken on her own undersea adventure, she discovers how much damage humans are doing to the ocean and to the coral reef. What can Lana do to help the Aquicorns and her Auntie's village? You'll have to read the story to find out!
This book is a heart-warming and thoughtful story about the power of family and how, if we all care just a little bit, we can each make a big difference in the world. I couldn't imagine a better follow up to Katie O'Neill's previous books. I highly recommend for anyone who enjoys sweet, adorable stories with gorgeous artwork and a moral to think about at the end.
🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟-- Mary gives this book 5 out of 5 stars!
Aquicorn Cove comes out on October 16th but you can pre-order it here at Foggy Pine Books or pick it up here on release day!
I really enjoyed Brenna Thummler's first original graphic novel, Sheets, a middle grade/early young adult story about a lonely girl trying to keep her family's failing laundry business alive and the ghost boy who helps her. She illustrated the recently published graphic novel adaptation of Anne of Green Gables and I absolutely adored the art work, so I was excited to check out her original story.
Marjorie is a 13 year old girl who is going through a very difficult time. Her mother recently drowned in a tragic accident and her father has fallen into a deep grief that even the care of his children cannot seem to shake. Marjorie spends all her time after school working at her family business, a laundry service, and taking care of her 5 year old brother. The story is sweet and heart-warming while also touching on some deep and dark subject matter. Watching Marjorie deal with all her family struggles and trying to keep the family business running after her mother's death was difficult, especially because I felt frustrated with her dad's behavior. There's another character who is trying to sabotage her business in an effort to get the property for himself. Enter Wendell, a young, lonely ghost, who ends up making quite a mess of things for Marjorie on accident. When he realizes what he's done, he decides to help her and goes back to the Ghost World to ask for support. After this, the story becomes so much more hopeful. A small friendship between a ghost and a girl can change things for the better.
I love how accurately working in a service industry role is depicted, as well as grief and loneliness. Thummler takes dark elements of a very human story, mixes in a little supernatural fun, and illustrates it with a Wes Anderson-esque color palette. A quick read and something I'd recommend for readers of Raina Telgemier who want something similar for older kids.
🌟🌟🌟🌟 -- Mary gives this book 4 out of 5 stars
Sheets comes out August 28, 2018! You can pre-order with Foggy Pine Books or come pick it up on release day!
Review by Yelisa Leiva, bookseller at Foggy Pine Books
“But long ago when the people were given these ceremonies, the changing began . . .but only this growth keeps the ceremonies strong. She taught me this above all else: things which don't grow are dead things . . .”
Centering on Tayo, a Native American soldier returning home from the shattering horror of World War II, Ceremony unveils the persistent reality of dual identity in modern America, implementing mental health as another prevalent but disregarded truth, a conduit for layered conversation. The novel begins with Tayo returning to the Laguna Pueblo reservation, where his family and friends live. Revealing severe symptoms of PTSD, Tayo must return to his roots to recover from not only the war he had fought in, but the war within himself for being half-Native American and half-Mexican, a corporeal reminder of racial betrayal and perceived retrogression in his community.
While colonialism is a pressing matter in the novel, the Native American characters view white assimilation as something that they should esteem to be, exhibiting the despondent, embedded indoctrination. Auntie, Tayo’s Christian grandmother, resents Tayo for his ethnic identity although she willingly raises him, but praises her own son Rocky for preferring science that was introduced by white teachers over Laguna narratives. Rocky is later killed in the war, adding to Tayo’s guilt and internal turmoil. Silko takes the issue of colonialism and parallels this confusion to Tayo’s broken mind. She beautifully interweaves the personal and socio-political issues through Tayo’s journey of cultural ceremonies and visuals within the pages themselves, such as purposeful large, blank spaces between Tayo’s memories and interjecting poetry and tales that are pertinent to the Laguna culture.
The ceremony becomes integral to Tayo’s recovery. Betonie, an old medicine man, organizes the ceremony for Tayo, telling him of the necessary change he must find within himself and America. The ceremony involves him digging through his past and recognizing fear as the reason for the conflict within himself and his community. As the novel delves further into Tayo’s spiritual journey, his reality emulates those of his ancestors stories, including characters like the Night Swan, a Mexican woman with hazel eyes and mystical powers, The Hunter, who transforms into a mountain lion and rescues Tayo twice, and the instance where Tayo curses the rain which inevitably results in a detrimental drought.
Although towards the end you wonder whether the entire novel was Tayo’s hallucination due to his PTSD, Silko does not create this question to harm the portrayal of those with mental illness, but does it to emphasize its severity; while Tayo’s fragmented reality is heavily illustrated, their is no harshness to this illustration, but rather presents gentle brushstrokes that request empathy and enlightenment on the issue.
If you like this novel, I recommend reading Whereas by Layli Long Soldier, The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Passing by Nella Larsen.
I started this book because the title made me giggle every time I looked at it. The summary sounded interesting and I always enjoy something that's different from what I typically read. This was definitely a departure for me but one that I'm thoroughly pleased I decided to make.
I expected something funny and light-hearted which is, mostly, what I received. However, I was surprised that, from the beginning, there was a vein of insidiousness winding it's way through the story. Though the title and the subject matter lead you toward something fun and exciting, there was more to this book than I was anticipating.
We begin our story by meeting Nikki, a young British & Punjabi woman living in London. Her relationship with her family is strained after she drops out of law school and moves out of her mother's apartment, something young women in her community are not expected to do until marriage. Despite that, she and her sister still talk often. Nikki feels aimless after leaving college and has been working at a pub. When posting a marriage flyer at a temple for her sister (who is seeking an arranged marriage), she sees an advertisement for a job at the local community center, teaching Punjabi women how to write stories. Nikki applies and interviews for the job so is very pleased to be hired, despite her lack of experience. However, when the time comes to teach the class, she realizes that the Punjabi widows who have come to learn how to write stories also need to learn how to write. Feeling frustrated, she thinks about quitting but wants the experience to include on her CV.
During one class, she comes into the room to find that one of the younger women is reading aloud from the erotica book Nikki had purchased for her sister as a joke. Embarrassed, she explains why she has the book and tries to bring the class back on track. The widows, however, have another idea. Their husbands have died and they are lonely. They miss intimacy and sex. To Nikki's horror, the women start sharing erotic stories with one another. Some are stories about their own lives, some are from their imaginations, and some are ideas gleaned from the late night soft-core movies they've discovered on cable. Despite her original discomfort at hearing these otherwise conservative women discuss their passions, Nikki begins to realize that sharing these stories is good for the women. It makes them feel strong and makes them willing to seek the passion they so desire in their own lives. The stories start to spread around the community and more women begin to seek out Nikki's class.
Not everyone is happy that the widows are opening up and learning more about themselves though. A group of ultra-conservative young men in the community with no jobs and nothing better to do have started harassing women and men who are not behaving as traditionally as The Brothers believe a respectable person should. Women who are out too late, enjoying time with friends in mixed gender groups, or who aren't covering their head have been assaulted and attacked. In addition to the fear mongering by The Brothers, the widow of a community religious figure is blackmailing people in exchange for "prayers" concerning the immoral or unfavorable behaviors being held against them.
As the story progresses, we begin to see exactly what kind of threat the women's classes are to the traditionally conservative community in which they live. The women are beginning to stand up for themselves, to fight back against the injustices wrought by The Brothers. The men in the community are confused and worried. They have typically never had to worry about things like this from the elder women in the community; only the younger, more British, girls give them problems regarding authority, sexuality, and education. When Nikki begins to unravel community secrets about the death of her boss' daughter, she draws the attention of The Brothers. The concern about the women's classes burns into hate and fear.
Interwoven between the erotic stories the widows tell and the mystery of what happened to her boss' daughter is Nikki's love story. She meets a man, at the temple of all unlikely places, and is swiftly falling for him. They are incredibly happy together and Nikki is coming to terms with loving someone of whom her family would actually approve. However, Jason starts to act sketchy, taking quiet, argumentative phone calls before leaving briskly. This happens several times before he leaves and doesn't return for weeks. When he does, Nikki must decide if she wants to listen to what he has to say or if his bailing is something she can't forgive.
The story ends in a way that was entirely unexpected though the author did sprinkle clues about it throughout the story. I was just too absorbed to try to put together a mystery ending. We reach a satisfying conclusion for every thread of the story and I finished the book feeling entirely pleased.
While being funny and enticing and entirely engaging, this book was also a social critique about the way women are treated in the Punjabi community and how immigrants are treated in the United Kingdom. The book mostly takes place in the largely Indian community of Southall, London and most of it's characters are Punjabi Indians and immigrants (or from a family of immigrants). I learned a lot about their culture through this book. Tradition and community are extremely important to the characters we meet. Arranged marriages are still fairly common, though much different than our stereotypical idea of what that means. Women are expected to serve in their in-laws homes after marriage, some are pressured to give up their jobs entirely. Men and women still wear traditional dress and speak Punjabi in their homes. Because of these things, they have been made to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable in London as a whole. Their community is tight knit and the gossip can be insidious. Your standing in the community is a very important aspect of an individual's social status. By the end of the book, the author makes it clear that while they support the idea of community and cultural tradition, they do not support the oppressive forces that are often inextricably tied to religion. Especially those traditional aspects of religion that force women to serve men and put their own needs, desires, and passions at the back of the line in support of their husband, father, brother, or son.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who loved A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, or Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James.
In Red Clocks, Zumas paints the picture of a not-so-unimaginable future in which the U.S. has banned abortions. After the election of an ultra-conservative president, women of the United States find themselves in dire straits. Abortion is now punishable with prison time, as well as in vitro fertilization and adoption by any "nontraditional" couples or individuals--meaning LGBTQIA+, single person, and non-Christian families. The story follows several different women as the author explores how this new legislation has impacted their lives:
--a young girl just learning to navigate her sexuality
--the single teacher at her school who desperately wants a baby but can't conceive or adop
--the local healer, a woman considered a witch for her herb knowledge and pleasure in her own company
--the harried stay-at-home mom unhappy in her marriage and wishing she'd continued her law career instead
This novel is an exploration of harmful legislation and how the people impacted by it must navigate their lives in new and uncomfortable ways. It's also a warning that the freedoms are cherish can be eroded at slowly until, with a single election, they no longer exist. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and absolutely could not stop listening to it. The audiobook was extremely well done and I enjoyed the reader's voice and reading pattern. Read if you loved The Handmaid's Tale or The Power.
You may purchase copies of this book at the bookstore or you can click the links below to order them from us online in different formats.
Let me be clear: I love short story collections. When done well, short stories can hold great literary (and personal) value to me. Most collections have a few stories that aren't on par with the rest and one or two stellar stories. Difficult Women is not like this. Each story feels real, often magical, but always tangible. Some are allegories, some are simply insightful, while others are brimming with emotion--and they are all excellent.
It is ovbious that Gay is using the female experience as her focuse of this collection--something that she has successfully drawn upon in the past with her essay collection, Bad Feminist. Her stories explore self-realization, sexuality, hope, relationships in romantic and familial states, birth, and death. They're full of both mundane moments and magical ones. Her characters are unflinchingly real. They are flawed, have desires, shames, secrets, and one's father-in-law destroyed the sun and plunged the earth into a darkness that matched his heart. One woman is even perpetually followed by a rain cloud.
In short, they're difficult women. Their emotions and actions don't operate within societal standards. In Hollywood, we see these women as witches, whores, and failed mothers. We see them as drug addicts, mistresses, and screeching soccer moms. Gay turns that trope on its head and explores women, in all their unique beauty and dysfunctionality, as individual persons worthy of exposition. And she executes this skillfully. Her words flow off the page while each story leaves you craving for the next one.
My favorites were: "I Am A Knife", "The Sacrifice of Darkness", "Baby Arm", and "Open Marriage".
Read if you loved: Bad Feminist & An Untamed State (both by Gay), A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel, and The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
I give this book 5 out of 5 stars!
🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟
Max Ruthless: Owner & Ruthless Reader