Title: Down Among the Dead Men: A Year in the Life of a Mortuary Technician
Author: Michelle Williams
Page Count: N/A
Publishing Date/Publisher: Soft Skull Press
Review: The dead deserve respect, and this author says as much, and then promptly calls the body of an obese person a ‘monstrosity’ and then writes a whole chapter about all the laughs they got out of a man who died while dressed as a woman. Absolutely unacceptable. It also serves no purpose in the grand scheme of things. It doesn’t teach anyone anything and it’s basically just the sticky-note version of what happens in a morgue. I couldn’t finish this book, nor do I want to, and I wouldn’t recommend to to anyone. That half star is me being generous.
Title: Ordinary Girls
Author: Jaquira Díaz
Page Count: 336
Publishing Date/Publisher: October 29, 2019 by Algonquin Books
Review: Every so often I get in the mood to read memoirs. I am especially interested in coming-of-age stories, so this one immediately appealed to me when I read the synopsis. I did enjoy the book, especially the parts that took place in Puerto Rico, but I found that Díaz jumps around too much in the chronology for my personal taste. As a reader I found myself getting frustrated by the tangents she would go on in the midst of telling a story. I find that a lot memoirs take place in snapshots of a life; however in this case it was just too many things at once and it was difficult to get a clear picture.
At the conclusion of this book, I couldn’t help but feel that it was unfinished. It is clear that at some point Díaz pulls herself out of the cycle of poverty and self-loathing she grew up in, but this is not really explored in this memoir. Each time I thought she was going to make it out of the tunnel of darkness, she would throw herself back in. Clearly she achieved her goal of becoming a writer and I just wanted to know more about that journey. I wouldn’t consider this book uplifting or particularly inspiring, but it was very real and didn’t sugarcoat anything. Díaz seems to have a lot of self-awareness in writing this memoir, so it was overall an interesting and revealing read.
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Page Count: 304
Publishing Date/Publisher: March 12, 2019 by Penguin Young Readers Group
Review: Laurie Halse Anderson has been a powerhouse in the realm of Young Adult Fiction, so it was interesting to learn a little bit more about her through this poetry memoir. I like the format in verse because I think it will make the book seem less daunting to reluctant readers. I was able to breeze through it in a couple hours, and despite it’s brevity, there is still a lot to unpack.
I think this is an important book because it reveals the gap in education regarding consent, and really just sex in general. Because sex is still such a taboo topic, society is failing to educate youth about their own bodies and the importance of respecting others.
One of the most tragic aspects of sexual abuse/assault is that the victims often do not fully understand what has happened/is happening to them. They push down their shame and internalize their trauma, which often manifests itself in destructive ways. Because of this, it is so important that we talk through these issues with our youth, and let them know that it is ok to speak out if someone is doing something that doesn’t feel right.
I personally think this should be required reading in middle schools, because it is important to start this conversation early. It is not graphic, but it absolutely gets it’s point across, which I think makes it appropriate for both middle school and high school students.
Author: Tara Westover
Performer: Julia Whelan
Length: 12 hrs, 15 min, 32 sec
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2018 by Random House Audio
Review: This memoir was truly fascinating. I thought the audiobook version was incredible. I have greatly enjoyed this performer for other books, and she really does a fantastic job with this one.
It is hard to believe this is a true story. The fact that someone can go to college and excel without a formal education is a concept I had never considered. As a librarian, I am a huge proponent of books, but this story really puts into perspective how powerful literacy, books, and internet access can be.
The physical, emotional, and psychological abuse in this book is difficult to stomach, so this is a serious trigger warning. It is incredibly frustrating to see the cycle of abuse perpetuated on so many different levels, and it demonstrates how difficult it is to truly cut ties with an abuser, especially one that you love. This story is a powerful example of how one can break the cycle and move forward in life. My heart broke for Tara on so many occasions, and some of the choices she had to make for her own mental health and wellbeing brought tears to my eyes. She is an incredibly resilient human being and I have great admiration for all she has accomplished.
I highly recommend this memoir. I think it provides important insights into a world that few know about, and it tackles issues, such as mental illness, that have a lasting impact on more people than we realize.
Title: In the Name of the Children
Author: Jeffrey Rinek and Marilee Strong
Page Count: Unavailable
Publishing Date/Publisher: 17 July 2018, BenBella Books
Review: While it deals with a very difficult subject matter, this book is extremely well written. Rinek and Strong are natural story tellers, making you feel like you’re sitting down with them and just talking and listening to Rinek’s tales of the FBI.
I would give this 5 stars, but the topic gives me pause. It doesn’t feel right, considering it’s about kidnapped children. However, it’s so, so well written. I can’t stress that enough. Rinek expertly describes the processes he went through and the people he dealt with. He shows a lot of respect for his fellow law enforcement officers, stating that many of them became friends over the years, which makes sense; not many people go through what they go through and that forms bonds.
This book is clearly not for everyone, however, if you think you can handle it, I highly recommend giving it a try.