Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Mini Reviews: The Perishing and Long Division

Lou is a Black teenager who wakes up in a Los Angeles alley, with no idea who she is or how she got there. She is arrested and ultimately placed with a foster family. Years later, she lands a job writing newspaper obituaries for people who are often ignored. She also makes friends with a Chinese-American actress named Esther. The girls spend many of their days at Esther's father's boxing gym and that is where Lou sees a Black fireman named Jefferson Clayton. Lou has never met Jefferson, but she realizes that she has been drawing his face for years. 

We know early on that Lou is not like other people; she is immortal and this life is just one of many she has lived. But Natashia  does such an excellent job of planting us firmly in Los Angeles in the 1930s that the more fantastical elements and the flashes of Lou's other lives are jarring. The Perishing takes elements you think you've read before, and uses them to ask if a timeline exists where we finally stop ignoring the pain and trauma of people of color. 

The Perishing
By Natashia Counterpoint LLC November 2021
304 pages
Read via Netgalley

City Coldson is going to stay out of the limelight for a while. After an on-air meltdown at the 2013 Can You Use That Word in a Sentence finals, he is sent to stay with his grandmother in the small town of Melahatchie, Mississippi. Before he leaves, he starts reading a book called Long Division, The book has no author listed, and the main character is also named City Coldson. The City in the book lives in 1985 and finds out that he can travel through time. When the character in the book encounters a girl named Baize Shephard and City discovers that a girl of the same name in present-day Melahatchie has gone missing, it's clear that things are about to get strange. 

Long Division is a book where you have to be content with not always understanding what is going on. City (and Kiese Laymon) are not concerned with explaining things to you or making you comfortable; they're just telling you how things are. The characters mirror Laymon's precision with both the construction of story and the words used to tell that story. On one level, this is the story of a teenage boy navigating who he wants to be alongside friends, enemies, and first loves. On a totally different level, City is trying to find out where and when he belongs in a world that is not kind to Black boys--even when he is allowed to compete in the competition, he is seen as a "token minority" and assigned the word niggardly. Long Division is unlike any story you've read before. 

Long Division
By Kiese Laymon
Scribner June 2021
301 pages
Read via Netgalley 

Friday, March 11, 2022

Review: Where There's a Whisk

Peyton Sinclaire can't quite believe that she is a competitor on the TV show Top Teen Chef. The winner will get a full ride to any American Culinary Institute and for Peyton, it would mean the chance to leave her family troubles and small town life behind. The story starts right in the midst of the action, as Peyton walks on set for the first time and the camera crew captures her reaction to the beautiful appliances and fully-stocked pantry. They also record her walking right into the swinging doors that lead to set. 

We all know that reality shows are not all that real. Peyton and her fellow competitors know that too, but they are trying to impress the judges, impress the audience, and maybe even make a friend or two along the way. The show begins with eight competitors and each one has a type--one is a vegan surfer boy, another is an Italian teen from New Jersey, and there is even a girl whose family is cooking royalty. While it might seem a bit obnoxious to have such obvious types, it certainly rings true for a reality show where each contestant would be encouraged to play along with a specific narrative. 

Sarah Schmitt does a great job of writing characters who want to be authentic, but also want to win a competition where perception is at least as important as your plating skills. Their frustration is palpable when they are required to act in ways that aren't natural to them, and Peyton is the most devastated of all when she discovers the show will be portraying her as the "rags to riches" girl whose father is in jail. 

Sometimes you need to read a book that my dad would call "fluffy;" the stakes are relatively low and you know that everyone will learn something and end up with a somewhat happy ending. This story is fun, moves quickly, and the reader truly feels that they are on set alongside the teens, scrambling to finish each challenge on time. If you love binging The Great British Baking Show or trying to perfect your pie recipe on the weekends, Where There's a Whisk is the perfect book for you. 

Where There's a Whisk
By Sarah J. Schmitt
Running Press Kids October 2021
400 pages
Read via Netgalley 

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Prayer When You Don't Have The Words: Mini Reviews of To Light Their Way and A Rhythm of Prayer

When Kayla Craig's daughter was three years old, she was hospitalized with a respiratory virus. Sitting by her bedside, Craig discovered that she could not find the words to pray. When a friend sent her a book of prayers, she found comfort in praying words that had already been laid out for her. As she continued to raise her children, she found many moments when she just did not have the words for the joy or sorrow or doubt she was experiencing. So she wrote a collection of prayers for parents, for the ones who are overwhelmed, for those smiling and crying as they send their little love off to kindergarten for the first time, and for the ones who are feeding a baby in those dark early morning hours.

This collection of prayers and liturgies is beautiful and varied. Craig writes in the introduction that these are not prayers that ignore reality; instead, she includes prayers for the one who parents alone, a prayer for receiving a diagnosis, and one for when your child is the bully. Some are meant for a caregiver to pray by themselves, and others are meant to read with your child. There are even simple breath prayers intended to help parents connect with God in the midst of school pickup, getting everyone to practice, and ensuring every child has brushed their teeth. To Light Their Way is a beautiful reminder that it is ok to not always have the words, and it would be a fantastic gift to give to any parent or caregiver. 

To Light Their Way
A Collection of Prayers and Liturgies for Parents 
By Kayla Craig
Tyndale Momentum October 2021
240 pages
Read via Netgalley

Sarah Bessey had a similar moment of not knowing how to pray. She recalled the prayer circles of her youth, missing both the confidence of knowing that others were praying for her and the many different ways they reached out to God. Bessey asked a group of women who teach and challenge her to contribute prayers to this collection. These prayers are not necessarily meant to be read and repeated verbatim.  Instead, they are intended to inspire you to find your own new ways to pray. 

The prayers in this book are angry cries about injustice or a guided prayer for when you don't know what you want. Some selections are not prayers themselves; they are letters to a future self or musings on the power of a mother or grandmother's prayers. One of the prayers in this book even sparked controversy when the Black author prayed that God would just let her hate white people instead of having her heart broken over and over by people who won't address their racism. It is good for us to be reminded that prayer doesn't have to look just one way and sometimes the anger or grief we feel is uncomfortable to confess. A Rhythm of Prayer is exactly this reminder and a powerful tool for anyone who calls out to God. 

A Rhythm of Prayer
A Collection of Meditations for Renewal
Edited by Sarah Bessey
Convergent Books February 2021
176 pages
Read via Netgalley