Title: What Unbreakable Looks Like
Author: Kate McLaughlin
Page Count: 336
Publishing Date/Publisher: June 23, 2020 by Wednesday Books
Review: This book tackles a very difficult topic: human trafficking. The book felt very well-researched, and it goes into a lot of detail about how young women (and men) are groomed and eventually coerced into sexual slavery. What I liked about this book is that this process is shown through what happens to Lex, rather than the author simply explaining it. It can be difficult to understand why people fall into these traps, but when you see it happening in the story, it becomes abundantly clear how easy it is. Anyone is susceptible to this sort of coercion, and it is very insidious how these pimps lure youth into a life of prostitution.
Lex is a deeply scarred character, both physically and emotionally, and my heart broke for her so many times. The topic of human trafficking in the United States is not widely addressed in YA literature, although I think it should be. It is unfortunately more common than people realize, and could be very well happening in their own backyard, so to speak. Other things happen in this book that demonstrate the lack of education in regards to this topic, and the ignorance of people who choose to look at forced prostitution as a choice. This book is largely about Lex accepting her self-worth, healing, creating personal boundaries, reclaiming her sexuality, and recognizing what makes healthy relationships. At the start of the story, she is broken and recovering from addiction, but by the end, she is learning how to build herself back up and how to stand up to her abusers. It is a painful and beautiful story, and I hope to see more like it in the future.
Title: Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All
Author: Laura Ruby
Performer: Lisa Flanagan
Length: 9 hr
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2019 by Balzar + Bray
Review: I had great expectations for this book, because I really loved Bone Gap. Ruby does a great job with magical realism, and this book is no exception; however, I found this book to be a bit too meandering for my liking. It follows two characters, one alive and one deceased, and oftentimes there really doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the plot. It jumps from one story to another, with the reader occasionally getting a glimpse of the past. The deceased character, Pearl, is fascinated by Frankie’s life although it isn’t really clear to me why. Pearl isn’t sure why she hasn’t ascended, and there isn’t any real resolution to this (in my opinion). Secrets are revealed, but they didn’t blow my mind because there was no anticipation built up around them. I wasn’t bored listening to this audiobook, but I also wasn’t chomping at the bit to get back to it. It was a nice snapshot of the time period, but overall a very average read for me.
On an entirely different note, I loved the title of this book, loved the cover, and I thought the reader did a great job.
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: The Downstairs Girl
Author: Stacey Lee
Performer: Emily Woo Zeller
Length: 10 hr, 27 min, 24 sec
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2019 by Tantor Audio
Review: A truly delightful listen starring a spunky heroine. I really enjoy historical fiction novels that highlight groups that are not widely covered in American history books. Chinese Americans are one such group. Lee addresses the fact that Chinese Americans were often invisible to society because they did not easily fit into the construct of “black” or “white.” Though considered “colored” by most, it was not always clear which laws of segregation and discrimination applied to their ethnic group. This is evident throughout the story, as Jo tries to navigate the tricky and often murky waters of the political and social climate of the South.
This book did get a little slow somewhere in the middle, but the beginning and end were fantastic. Lee’s character development is superb and she tied up the story in ways that I didn’t really expect. I liked that a romance was not a central focus of this story, because this was really a coming-of-age story about a young woman finding her voice in a world that tried hard to silence her. Despite adversity, she challenged social norms and was not satisfied to let others dictate her destiny.
Emily Woo Zeller did a great job as the narrator of this book. I enjoyed this performance far more than her performance in The Bird and the Blade.
Author: Madeline Miller
Page Count: 393
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 10, 2018 by Little, Brown and Company
Review: Lyrical and enchanting, this book had me enthralled from the very first page. Very little attention is given to the witch Circe in most mythological tales, but Miller creates a backstory that is humanizing and utterly unforgettable. In this rendering, Circe is not a predatory monster, but rather a woman driven by her passions and yearnings. She refuses to be a victim and takes ownership of her own trauma and pain, weaving it into a tapestry of strength and love. She and she alone controls her destiny.
When I finally turned the last page and closed this book, I was filled with such a feeling of completeness. Although the year is not quite at an end, I can say with confidence that this is by far my favorite read of 2019.
Title: Then She Was Gone
Author: Lisa Jewell
Performer: Helen Duff
Length: 10 hr, 13 min
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2018 by Dreamscape Media
Review: Stylistically, this book was very similar to a Liane Moriarty book (one of my all-time favorite writers). In fact, even the reader of this book had a very similar voice to the woman who performs most (if not all) of Liane Moriarty’s audiobooks. The major difference between these two authors, however, is I think Jewell reveals too much too early in her story. A huge part of what makes Liane Moriarty’s books so fantastic is her perfect timing in making big reveals. She also usually hangs onto a big plot twist to blow your mind at the end. Jewell does not quite have the same finesse with her plot twists, and for the most part I was able to predict each plot twist well before it was actually revealed. I think perhaps this could have been avoided if Jewell had arranged her content differently. I was also not a big fan of the ending. It bothers me when endings are tied up in a way that feels inauthentic, and unfortunately this book had one of those endings.
Despite the ways this book fell short for me as a reader, I still enjoyed it and would consider reading other books by this author.
Author: Akwaeke Emezi
Page Count: 208
Publishing Date/Publisher: September 10, 2019 by Make Me a World
Review: After reading this book I am surprised that it is cataloged as YA Fiction. It really read like J Fiction to me. I had to keep reminding myself that the main character is seventeen, because her character seems much younger.
The setting is a sort of Utopia where the “monsters” have been eliminated and everyone treats each other nicely (or so they think). From the very first chapter I could have outlined the entire plot of the story. I can’t say much more than what is in the synopsis without completely giving everything away, but I can tell you that the story follows a very predictable path.
I admire what the author is trying to do with this book – she is revealing the dangers of complacency and denial – but it is all overly simplified. The backstory as to how this “Utopia” setting was achieved is completely preposterous. Basically anyone and everyone who has ever committed an atrocity has supposedly been identified and imprisoned. Society has realized the error of their ways and all people are accepted regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, ableness, etc, etc., etc. This book was very short, but I honestly think it could have been shorter. This would have been a great short story for an anthology if all the repetitive filler was removed.
I generally enjoy books that employ elements of magical realism, but this one just wasn’t for me.