Book Reviews Summer 2018

I read a number of books this summer in an attempt to try to complete my Goodreads challenge for this year (40 books). Here are the ones that left an impression I wanted to share with you:

Title: The Astonishing Color of After

Author: Emily X.R. Pan

Publication Date: March 2018

Synopsis: Leigh Chen Sanders is a sophomore student in high school. At the same time as she kisses her best friend and longtime crush, Axel, Leigh’s mother commits suicide in their home. As she deals with this loss, her mother appears to her, in the form of a bird. this sets off a chain of events that starts with Leigh (who is half Asian and half Caucasian) traveling to Taiwan to meet her mom’s parents, who she has never met. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents.

Review: I thought this book was well written, and it tackled the issue of depression with grace and understanding. As Leigh searches for answers on her mother’s death, she realizes that the reason has been there all along: depression. There was no one triggering event or person; it was something her mother had struggled with nearly her whole adult life. I’m glad that the book was able to handle this topic with such delicacy and truth, without circumventing the magical realism aspect of the book.

As you might guess from the title, this book employs a lot out of the use of color. Leigh is an aspiring artist, and she and her best friend Axel often ask each other what color they’re feeling. However, additionally Leigh’s mom appears to her as a red bird, and the color follows her in her adventures, not just from the bird. The detail in the imagery is really wonderful.

During the book Leigh sometimes appears to not be self aware, in a way that teenage girls often are in books about high school. This isn’t a major detractor from the book, but it would be nice to see teenage girls be a little more self aware in their social dealings in literature.

Regardless, I enjoyed my journey with Leigh, and I felt that the book did a great job of capturing the frantic need for answers Leigh has, without glossing over important aspects of the story, and the problems of each character. I would recommend this book to high school students and up, due to it’s heavy subject matter.

My Goodreads Rating: 5 Stars


Title: A Place For Us

Author: Fatima Farheen Mirza

Publication Date: June 2018

Synopsis: A Place for Us unfolds the lives of an Indian-American Muslim family, gathered together in their Californian hometown to celebrate the eldest daughter, Hadia’s, wedding – a match of love rather than tradition. It is here, on this momentous day, that Amar, the youngest of the siblings, reunites with his family for the first time in three years. Rafiq and Layla must now contend with the choices and betrayals that lead to their son’s estrangement – the reckoning of parents who strove to pass on their cultures and traditions to their children; and of children who in turn struggle to balance authenticity in themselves with loyalty to the home they came from.

In a narrative that spans decades and sees family life through the eyes of each member, A Place For Us charts the crucial moments in the family’s past, from the bonds that bring them together to the differences that pull them apart.

Review: When I first heard that Sarah Jessica Parker was going to have her own imprint (SJP for Hogarth), I assumed it would be mostly beach read types of books. I was surprised to see that the first book from this imprint was a story about diverse characters.

As I read this book, I was pleased with the complexity of the characters, as well as the author’s ability to write beautifully, and in a way that many people can empathize with. Despite the shift in perspectives between siblings, between generations, and over time, each character’s actions make sense, and we see them evolve as the years pass.

Personally, as a second-generation American, I felt this book mirrored many of my own struggles, thoughts, and feelings about being both American, and trying to hold on to the culture of my family. The book also provides the perspective of the parents, and it does a good job of finding the balance of not trying to take sides, just allowing each of them to be human with their own flaws and strengths.

However, one of the siblings is not fully developed as a character, and I do wish we had gotten to hear from her more, and share her perspective.  The narration switches between the mother and father, the eldest daughter and the son, but the younger daughter is left out of the mix for most of the book.

Lastly, I want to say that the author does a fantastic job of capturing those moments that stay with you, from childhood into adulthood; memories that haunt you, and memories that make you smile. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time, and I’m so glad that we are seeing more books written by diverse authors with diverse and complex characters. I would recommend this book to high school students and up, those in middle school likely will not be able to empathize with a lot of the characters’ feelings.

My Goodreads Rating: 5 Stars

Title: Calypso

Author: David Sedaris

Publication Date: May 2018

Synopsis: David Sedaris’s newest book is a collection of stories with observations of his life as he enters into middle age, and he also talks about his sister’s suicide.

Review: I loved David Sedaris’s previous books, especially Holidays on Ice, but this one I just didn’t find funny. There was one moment where I laughed out loud, and the rest of the book, I just found myself reading and thinking “So What?” Sedaris has his quirks, but for the most part I didn’t find them amusing, I just found them to be…odd. His desire to feed his tumor to a turtle didn’t strike me as hilariously absurd, I just thought it was strange, but but not funny. A large portion of the book also touches on his sister’s suicide and I found it a bit uncomfortable and unable to relate enough to find it funny. I kept waiting for the hilarious moments everyone else was talking about, but they never came. Instead, many of his short stories rambled on, without any real point, or punch to it. I was really disappointed in this book, which I understand is an unpopular opinion. However, I can’t recommend this book to anyone, unless they’re really into David Sedaris (I will reiterate that I’ve loved his past writings), or love odd stories. I will say that I didn’t think this book was the worst, but it fell short of being great.

My Goodreads Rating: 2 stars


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