Book Review

The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet by John Green

Publisher: Dutton
Genre: Social Science, Essays
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

John Green’s latest book is comprised of a series of essays describing and rating different aspects of the Anthropocene—the current geologic age— on a five star scale. Based on the podcast of the same name, The Anthropocene Reviewed tackles everything from humanity’s temporal range to the world’s largest ball of paint. At their core, these essays ponder the ways in which humans are profoundly and irreversibly shaping the world around us—and, by extension, how we too are being shaped by our actions and experiences in the modern age.

Thoughts

If you’ve visited our blog before, you’re no doubt familiar with our deep and abiding love of John Green. When the writer/Youtuber/ die-hard Liverpool fan announced that his latest book was going to be a non-fiction collection of essays, I’ll admit I was a bit disappointed. While I would be happy reading Green’s shopping list, his novels hold a special place in my heart. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised by The Anthropocene Reviewed, and especially by the glimpse that it gave us into the author’s life.

Through Green’s novels, we’ve learned a great deal about the author himself. Looking for Alaska provided a backdrop for some of the personal events in his own life. Turtles All the Way Down delved into what it’s like living with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Green’s latest book is unique, however, in that his life is not being viewed through the lens of Pudge, or Aza, or Hazel. The stories and insights provided are unencumbered by narratives or characters, and the result is pure, unfiltered John Green.

Obviously, Green is no stranger to sharing personal information with his fans. Aside from his books and his website, he regularly engages with his fans on his Youtube channel, vlogbrothers, that he runs with his brother, Hank Green. Through all of these avenues, we’ve learned a great deal about Green’s life. His latest book differs however, in that it centers around opinions and musings that are deeply and intrinsically influenced by personal experiences. As a result, the author shares a great deal of personal anecdotes and stories about his life.

Another charming feature of this novel is found in its footnotes. I really enjoyed finding and reading the small print hidden throughout the front and back pages providing 5 star ratings about copyright and half-title pages. Beyond this, the back of the page also contains notes and sources for some of the facts and stories Green mentions in each essay. This feature is especially rewarding to the Green fans like myself who are continually amazed and baffled by the amount of diverse knowledge Green possesses about every aspect of human existence.

As a final note, I’d like to add that this book—while a wonderful read for anyone and everyone (since it concerns, well, humanity)—it might resonate more strongly with those who are already fans of Green’s work. I enjoyed seeing glimpses into the author’s early life and seeing connections between his personal experiences and his other novels, for example, which would not be as interesting to someone who knows nothing about John Green. Some of my personal favorite essays included those on our capacity for wonder, the movie Harvey, googling strangers, and Hiroyuki Doi’s circle drawings—all of which struck me as especially candid and earnest. I would recommend this book to any John Green fans, as well as those who enjoy learning obscure details about various facets of human existence.

4 Binge-Worthy Escapism Reads

Now more than ever, many people are finding their way to books. As the real world becomes progressively more and more like a dystopia, books provide a welcome escape to the turbulence of our everyday life. If you’re anything like me, this past year has made you even more dependent on fictional worlds to help make sense of the real one. While this escapism if often found in books, it’s also commonly found in the world of film and TV shows. In the spirit of fueling your next binge-reading and binge-watching experiences, I thought I’d provide some escapism series that have a film counterpart (or, at least one in the works). These selections are all made up of at least three books in the core series, and many include spin-offs or related works.


Shadow and Bone—Leigh Bardugo. Soon to be a Netflix series, now is the perfect time to read the Shadow and Bone series. The first book in the trilogy follows orphaned soldier Alina Starkov, who unwittingly reveals dormant and powerful magic to save her best friend when her regiment is attacked. She begins training with the Grisha—the magical military elite—under the guidance of their infamous leader, the Darkling, who believes that Alina’s power might be the key to saving their war-torn country. As Alina trains, she makes a dangerous discovery that threatens those she loves and her entire nation.

In addition to the Shadow and Bone trilogy, the Grishaverse also includes the Six of Crows duology and the King of Scars duology, whose final book was just released last month!


Dune—Frank Herbert. Lauded as one of the best science fiction novels of all time, you’ve likely heard about the adaptation starring Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya set to be released later this year. Dune tells the story of Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family on the desert planet Arrakis, who is tasked with ruling the desolate land and safeguarding the melange—a drug that is highly-coveted for its abilities to extend life and enhance consciousness. When Paul’s family is betrayed and destroyed, he goes on a journey to avenge his family and bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.

As an added perk for those looking to escape in the barren deserts of Arrakis, the Dune series contains many prequels and sequels written by both Frank Herbert himself as well as his son, Brian Herbert. For a complete list of the books in the Dune series (both novels and short stories) in chronological order, check out the Dune website here.


A Darker Shade of Magic—V.E. Schwab. For those who have recently read The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and have fallen in love with Schwab’s magical writing, I’d draw your attention to her older fantasy series, A Darker Shade of Magic. Schwab crafts a world of four parallel Londons: Red London, where magic and life are celebrated; Gray London, a poor land without magic; and White London, a city slowly losing its life force due to constant magical warfare. As for the fourth London, Black London, nobody speaks of it anymore. Almost nobody can travel between the Londons, as the magicians capable of teleporting between the worlds (the Antari) are all but extinct. One of the last remaining Antari, Kell, acts as a messenger between the Londons—as well as an unofficial smuggler of valuable artifacts, a side gig that often gets him into trouble. His misadventures cause his path to collide with Delilah Bard, a cutpurse looking for adventure.

The Shades of Magic trilogy, while not as well-known as some of the other series on this list, is also slated for a film adaptation in the (hopefully) near future by writer Derek Kolstad.


Outlander—Diana Gabaldon. Outlander follows Claire Randall, a former British combat nurse, as she returns home from the war in 1945. While on a second honeymoon with her husband, she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles of the British Isles and finds she is suddenly an outlander in a war-ravaged Scotland in the year 1743. As Claire attempts to navigate this violent world, she finds a companion in the young Scottish warrior Jamie Fraser. As their lives become more closely intertwined, Claire finds herself torn between two different men from two irreconcilable lives.

The Outlander series is currently eight books long, with a ninth set to be released sometime this year and a tenth promised after that. The series has also been adapted into a TV show, with 12–16 episode seasons for each book. The show just aired its fifth season—based on The Fiery Cross—last year, and has been renewed for a sixth and seventh season.

Book Review

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Publisher: Anchor
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 528
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

The Night Circus tells the story of a mysterious circus that arrives without warning. Le Cirque Des Rêves (The Circus of Dreams) is only open at night, and the wonders inside seem truly magical. From the delectable treats to the performers and tents, every aspect of the circus seems to delight and defy reality at every turn. Of course, few know what is really occurring behind the scenes.

Celia and Marco have been engaged in a duel for most of their lives. Entered into a competition by their vindictive guardians when they were children, they know little about the contest—including the rules, the goal, and against whom they are competing. All they do know is the venue, a circus wherein they can showcase their abilities as illusionists and magicians.

Thoughts

One of the first words that comes to mind when I try to describe this book is enchanting. Morgenstern weaves a narrative that seamlessly blends what appear to be unrelated storylines with an elegance that seems to reflect the winding paths of the circus itself. A large cast of characters are introduced right off the bat, and it seems impossible that all of their stories can be treated with the same level of importance. Doing the impossible, however, is a specialty of the titular circus, and the book makes a serious (if not entirely successful) attempt to bring you deep into these characters’ lives. An especially captivating touch comes from the occasional passages in the second person: you truly become the person experiencing the wonders housed within Le Cirque Des Rêves. The descriptions of the circus itself is also deeply captivating: from the intoxicating smell of apple cider to the wonderfully-disorienting layout of the circus tents, you’ll find yourself mesmerized and, like the Rêveurs—the self-dubbed devoted followers of the circus—eager to explore more.

It’s worth noting that the actual plot of the book can be a bit slow to progress in some places, but the aforementioned descriptions do much to keep the reader’s attentions during these stagnant moments. One drawback of the large number of characters included in the story is the subsequent lack of characterization as a whole. Aside from the main duo of the novel, Celia and Marco, many characters are not given special attention or notice. A notable exception to this rule is found in the character of Bailey and the young circus twins he befriends, Poppet and Widget. It is also worth noting that the book is divided into many (many) chapters—each segment is only about a few pages long. While this division makes the book easy to read in pieces during a busy time (midterms, anyone?), I cannot stress enough the importance of noting the identifying information at the beginning of each chapter—namely the year. The contents of the story span a few decades, from the inception of the circus to the conclusion of the competition between Celia and Marco.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this story comes from the family created by everyone involved in the circus. As a close-knit community formed by the performers themselves, it’s touching to see the circus grow to something greater than itself, something that makes dreamers everywhere feel seen and understood by. This is perhaps most clearly seen in Bailey, who sees the circus as an escape from his dull life on a rural farm, and Herr Friedrick Thiessen, the clockmaker who creates a cult-following from his captivating publications about the circus. At its core, beyond the magic and mystery, The Night Circus is about family, and the bonds that we form when we are allowed to truly be ourselves. The love shown by the characters to one another—and to the circus itself—is the true magic at work, and serves as an inspiration to dreamers everywhere.

Literary Event: Laini Taylor in Conversation with Sabaa Tahir

Changing Hands Bookstore will be hosting a virtual conversation with acclaimed author Laini Taylor as she celebrates the tenth anniversary of her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. The National Book Award finalist will be in conversation with Sabaa Tahir, author of A Sky Beyond the Storm, the final book in the Ember in the Ashes quartet.

This event will take place next Thursday, January 28 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Attendance is free, and the first 50 people to purchase a book with their ticket will have their bookplates personalized by Ms. Taylor. For more information about this event, and to purchase tickets, click here.


Location: Online

Date: Thursday, January 28, 2021

Time: 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Price of Ticket: Free (optional VIP tickets available)

Book Review

Dear Emmie Blue by Lia Louis

Publisher: Atria/ Emily Bestler Books
Genre: Fiction, Romance
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

Dear Emmie Blue tells the story of Emmeline Blue as her life falls to pieces. When she was 16, Emmie released a balloon with a secret written on it, only for it to wash up on a distant shore and introduce her to her best friend, Lucas. Now in her twenties, she is hopelessly and irretrievably in love with Lucas, and thinks he is finally going to ask her out—only for him to announce that he is getting married. To make matters worse, Lucas wants Emmie to be his “best woman,” prolonging and magnifying her anguish. From her dead-end job, distant mother, and aloof landlady, Lucas’s engagement is the last straw for Emmie.

Despite all the loneliness and heartache, however, wonderful things are in store for Emmie Blue. Lia Louis’ novel pays homage to the idea that life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans, and reminds us that unexpectedly wonderful things could be waiting just around the corner.

Thoughts

I don’t know about you, but this year has been a doozy for me. This was a book that I desperately needed to help me cope with this unpredictable—and sometimes depressing—world we’re living in. This might seem to be an odd sentiment, given that Emmie faces heartbreak and calamity for a decent portion of the book. I would argue, though, that a book with a certain amount of despair is fitting, given the current state of things (so long as all ends well). While Louis undoubtedly forces the reader to empathize with the protagonist, there is a certain hope found in seeing a character continue pressing on, even when things look bleak.

I think a great deal of charm in this novel comes from Emmie Blue herself. She manages to be strong and fragile, resilient and weary, all at once. More so than this, you truly feel for her throughout the book. Especially when she divulges the details of a sexual assault in her youth, and wrestles with her broken relationship with her parents, you can’t help but root for her. It’s hard to not be in Emmie’s corner, especially concerning her relationship with Lucas—a kismet meeting if ever there was one. Both Emmie and us as the reader see these two as so obviously destined to be together, and it’s beyond frustrating that they aren’t. Even characters that I didn’t find very likable, such as Rosie and Marie, were appreciated insofar as they related to Emmie.

Dear Emmie Blue is an important reminder that life is unpredictable, and that sometimes that’s the best thing about it. If everything stayed the same, there would be no way for things to get better. It’s a cheesy sentiment, sure, but true nevertheless. The only complaint I had about this book comes from the predictability of the ending, but I would argue that even this lends a certain charm—knowing how something ends doesn’t make the journey any less meaningful, right? I would recommend this book to anyone who needs a mental reset, or a reminder that there are sunnier days ahead.


Thank you to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC
in exchange for this honest and unbiased review.

Percy Jackson Books Ranked

As I’m sure many of you have already heard, Rick Riordan recently announced a Percy Jackson TV series coming to Disney+. This is a much-deserved reward for the loyal fans who have read and loved the books, only to be sorely disappointed by the film counterparts. Our patience has finally paid off—now, we’re getting a series comprised of one season for each book, produced by Riordan himself! In honor of the wonderful news and to help pass the time before it comes out, I have put together a personal ranking of the books in Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Bear in mind that this list does not include the books from the Heroes of Olympus or Trials of Apollo spin-off series. It also goes without saying that this list is rife with spoilers—read on at your own risk!


5. The Sea of Monsters. Starting things off at number five is The Sea of Monsters. Granted, this book has plenty of memorable moments: Annabeth listening to the sirens, the team’s fight with Polyphemus, and—of course—Tyson’s introduction as Percy’s cyclops half-brother. This book was also a beautiful ode to The Odyssey, and featured a host of callbacks, from the sorceress Circe to Polyphemus’s anger with being thwarted by Nobody. This book is last on my list, however, mainly because it largely focuses on setting the stage for the books that follow—aside from the few interactions with Luke’s assembled army, there is little development in regards to the war with Kronos and the Titans. Despite this, The Sea of Monsters has perhaps one of the best endings in the series, with Thalia being resurrected by the Golden Fleece, adding a twist to the Great Prophecy.

4. The Lightning Thief. Oh, The Lightning Thief. Where do I begin? When ranking a series, it’s worth mentioning that the readability of a series is largely dependent upon a captivating first book. If we didn’t like the first book, we wouldn’t want to read the rest. This book is singular in the series in that the reader is immersed in a world of modern-day Greek gods for the first time—from discovering Percy’s godly parent to learning that Mount Olympus now resides above the Empire State building, there is a certain level of novelty and whimsy that can’t be replicated in the other books. Overall, The Lightning Thief is a mostly-lighthearted introduction to life at Camp Half-Blood and the world of modern Greek mythology. It places fourth on the list only because I find the books get better as the plot thickens, which is why my top three picks are the last three books in the series.

3. The Battle of the Labyrinth. This book is centered around one of the coolest (and also creepiest) myths out there, which is why it is one of my favorites. Nearly everyone knows the story of Icarus and Daedalus, which means Riordan could spend less time on the backstory and fully focus on advancing the plot. This book was full of shocking twists—from the revelation that Quintus is actually Daedalus to Luke becoming the host for Kronos’s spirit, this book was certainly not lacking in action. The Battle of the Labyrinth itself was also a satisfying conclusion to the buildup of the preceding books regarding the two armies preparing for war. It was also refreshing to see Annabeth finally lead a quest of her own. The only aspect of this book that didn’t sit well with me was Rachel’s addition as a love interest for Percy—to me, this felt forced and unnecessary.

2. The Titan’s Curse. I truly can’t sing enough praises for this book. There are just too many wonderful things, where do I begin? We’re introduced to the hunters of Artemis, Thalia, and—of course—the di Angelo twins. We get to meet Nico and discover yet another child of the Big Three. Not to mention, there are some good dam jokes in this book. (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.) The Titan’s Curse also serves as a bridge between the light-hearted books in the beginning of the series and the higher stakes characteristic of the later books. This is the first book featuring a major character death, and shows that war has casualties and nobody is safe.

1. The Last Olympian. I know, I know. Perhaps its cliché of me to choose the last book as the best, but come on. Finding out that Silena was Kronos’s spy at Camp Half-Blood still remains one of the greatest plot twists of all time. Percy taking on the Curse of Achilles was an amazing decision, and allowed for a much-needed exploration into Luke’s past. Plus, Percy and Annabeth’s relationship has such a beautiful progression throughout this book—Annabeth being Percy’s anchor to the mortal world? Percy turning down immortality for Annabeth? The underwater kiss? It was unbelievably satisfying to see these two finally get together. This book also has a wonderful redemption arc for Luke, and has a satisfying conclusion with Rachel’s status as the new oracle. It also sets the stage perfectly for the Heroes of Olympus with the next Great Prophecy.


So, there you have it! There’s definitely room for discussion regarding this list, but I hope you enjoyed this one reader’s thoughts. I’d love to hear your own ideas about the series, too! If you haven’t read these books, or are looking to reread them, you can find all of them at Changing Hands website here.

5 Books for Increasing Mindfulness

In our fast-paced and overloaded world, alone time has become a rare commodity. In contrast to the typical hustle and bustle of everyday life, extended time in isolation has allowed for some serious self-reflection. Although I adamantly dislike time alone with my thoughts, there is a lot of good that can potentially grow from these less-than-ideal circumstances. We often find ourselves mindlessly going through the motions in our daily lives, without investing time to reflect on where we are devoting our energy. This is the perfect time to take a step back and re-evaluate the way we are living our lives. As we prepare to head back out into the world, it can be worthwhile to take stock and look at the places where we invest our time and energy. In doing this, I found the following books to be instrumental to creating a life more firmly-centered around mindfulness, intentional living, and overall well-being.


Notes on a Nervous Planet— Matt Haig. Following the publication of his highly-lauded memoir, Reasons to Stay Alive, Haig wrote Notes on a Nervous Planet, a book about the ways in which modern society fosters anxiety and unhappiness. His book consists of bite-sized tidbits (that are somewhat chaotically arranged) to advise people on managing their anxiety in the twenty-first century. Haig likens our planet to a sentient being on the brink of a breakdown and explains how the modern world is one that deteriorates our mental well-being. This book is especially versatile in that it is broken up into small segments that are easy to digest and put into practice. The sections I found particularly useful include ‘Maybe,’ which speaks to the transient nature of happiness, ‘an excess of everything,’ in regards to our overloaded lives, and ‘What I tell myself when things get too much,’ a list of reminders when we are feeling overwhelmed.


The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up—Marie Kondo. While this may seem redundant give the title of the book, I can’t stress enough that this book will change your life. As a firm believer that the state of your living space reflects the state of your mind, Kondo’s book is revolutionary in that it offers tips and tools to create both an organized house and mind. On the surface, this book seems like it would have nothing interesting or practical to offer other than, you know, don’t make a mess. The KonMari method goes far deeper than this, though, and introduces a lifestyle centered around intentionality and mindfulness with your physical possessions. She urges you to only surround yourself with belongings that “spark joy,” and that doing this will simplify every aspect of your life.


Tuesdays with Morrie—Mitch Albom. Mitch Albom tells the story of his old college professor, Morrie Schwartz, who is dying from ALS. Instead of being angry or saddened by this news, however, Morrie chooses to focus on the wonderful gift of knowing that he is dying, and the freedom this grants him to live intentionally. Morrie spends his last months teaching Mitch—and, by extension, us—about where we should focus our attention in our lives. Tuesdays with Morrie is a book that I think everyone could benefit from owning and finding time to read once a year. Every time I come back to this book, I learn something new that I can apply to my current situation in life.


10% Happier—Dan Harris. Dan Harris was a newscaster with ABC when he suffered from a panic attack on live television. This event sparked a period of self-reflection in Dan’s life, and, through this, he found his way to meditation. A lifelong skeptic and nonbeliever in meditation, Harris’s book is written specifically for skeptics and lays out in no-nonsense, scientific terms how meditation can be beneficial for the mind and body. Instead of professing the life-changing nature of this practice, however, Harris remains a realist—he explains that engaging in mindfulness activities will make you 10% happier. When the stakes are so low, it’s hard to find a good reason not to introduce meditation as a habit in your life. 


The Little Prince—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This book might seem like an odd addition to the list, given that most of the other books here are of the self-help variety. Personally, I tend to be a bit skeptical of books that tell me how I should live my life, and that’s why I added Saint-Exupéry’s children’s book. The Little Prince is a well-loved classic, and for good reason—this story reminds us in the simplest possible terms where we should be focusing our attention in our lives. We as humans have a tendency to overcomplicate things, and this book is the perfect way to recenter and remind ourselves that “what is essential to the heart is invisible to the eyes.” A simple, oft-stated message, but one that is sadly kicked to the curb in our hurried and fast-paced lives. 

Book Review

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Thriller, Bildungsroman
Pages: 784
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

The Goldfinch follows thirteen-year-old Theo Decker, the son of a loving mother and reckless father. The young New-Yorker’s life is forever changed when he miraculously survives a terrible accident that kills his mother. Theo unwittingly steals a masterpiece from the museum where the tragedy occurred, and the captivating little painting provides a source of hope and comfort, as it reminds him of his mother. Theo is soon taken in by a wealthy friend, but he lives tormented by longing for the life he once had.

In adulthood, Theo’s stolen painting propels him deep into the art underworld, and he finds himself leading a double life as an antique dealer and as a con. He soon becomes entwined in a dangerous web of deceit, one that leaves him alienated and at risk of losing everything. Theo’s story is one of self-discovery, legacy, and the ways in which a single event can forever alter the course of our lives.

Thoughts

It goes without saying that Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is a real page-turner—as the title suggests, the story largely revolves around an (accidental) art theft. The plot is brilliantly weaved together, and the reader is plagued with the same anxieties as the protagonist when it comes to the stolen masterpiece. Theo is a thoroughly interesting character to follow, in that his life is tinged with loss and continual sorrows, and the reader witnesses first-hand how these trials change him from a hopeful boy to a cynical adult. Theo also meets a host of interesting characters throughout the novel—from Pippa, an impish musician who was also present during the bombing, to Hobie, a kindly antique store-owner turned father-figure, the book is certainly not lacking in personality.

The only fault I found in this book comes from the way it tended to drag on in places. Some plot points (such as the time Theo spends with Boris, his bedraggled, drug-addicted friend) felt unnecessarily drawn out and did little to advance the plot. The only purpose I could see this serving would be to make sudden plot advances all the more jarring for the reader—you are lulled into a false sense of security, only to have the rug immediately pulled out from under you as the plot thickens.

One of the things I found most memorable about The Goldfinch comes from the fact that the message of the story doesn’t become apparent until the end of the book. Throughout the novel, I found myself (worriedly) wondering if the plot was building towards any meaningful revelations, and was delighted to find that Tartt did an excellent job of tying the events of the novel to universally contemplated aspects of the human experience (you know, for those of us who can’t personally relate to Theo’s dabbling in art theft). Of the many themes expressed, there is a beautiful message about our loving art because of the ways that loved objects take on a life of their own, as well as serving to connect us to some greater beauty. The novel also tackles ideas such as whether or not to follow a heart that can’t be trusted, the times when bad actions can still lead to good outcomes, and challenging the notion of free will. In short, Tartt poses some of the great questions that we as humans should be contemplating without necessarily giving us the answers. Instead, she plants seeds of thought and leaves you as the reader to ponder the subject yourself and arrive at your own conclusions.

Overall, this book is a vastly entertaining story about a young boy placed in increasingly despairing circumstances. Beyond this, however, The Goldfinch will be especially loved by those looking for a revelatory piece dealing with topics such as legacy, love, fate, and beauty.

BIPOC Literature: Staff Recommendations from Black, Indigenous, and POC Writers

Given the current state of the world, it is more important than ever that we are united as human beings. Divisive issues should serve to remind us that we have much more in common than things that divide us. In standing with out black community, each of our bloggers and editors selected a novel they loved by black, indigenous, or POC authors. We hope this list serves as a reminder to spread love to your fellow man, and adds some new reading material from a wide variety of voices in our community!


Editor-In-Chief Mackenzie King

Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun, is about a family who lives in the South Side of Chicago as they await the arrival of a life insurance check. It explores how each family member copes with their disillusionment of the American Dream while, at the same time, trying to improve their lives. The play helps to understand the limited opportunities that this family has and how the world around them is intent on keeping it that way. It is a powerful story, and very well written and illuminating. The characters are complex and their motivations are each different and shaped by how they have been treated by a systemically racist society up to this point. It is painful to read at times—and that makes it all the more important to do so.


Communications Coordinator Roxanne Bingham

Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give follows 16-year-old Starr Carter, a black girl who lives in a predominantly white school. At a young age, she has to learn to navigate the two different worlds. She has always felt out of place in her school and knows she isn’t treated like everyone else. Her life is turned upside down when her childhood friend, Khalil, gets shot by a police officer at a party. This events causes her to re-think what she knows about the people in her life, and she realizes that her white friends don’t understand what she is forced to experience. When she goes to talk to the police, they are more concerned with Khalil’s character than with the events that took place. Starr is faced with a great injustice that should never have been present in society. She chases justice for her friend and learns the importance of a single voice.

This novel is extremely important as it mirrors current events and issues present in our society. A lot of districts have banned this book based on its language and graphic content, so it is important that people—especially students—have access to it. The message it conveys is very much applicable to current society, and everyone should hear it.


Managing Editor Jade Stanton

Tahereh Mafi’s A Very Large Expanse of Sea is set in 2002, following the events of 9/11, and tells the story of Shirin, a 16-year-old Muslim girl navigating high school. In addition to the typical struggles high-schoolers face, Shirin is regularly subjected to xenophobia, judgement, and stereotyping. Overwhelmed by these ever-present reminders of the dark side of humanity, Shirin has learned to build walls and block out the constant stream of negative attention she receives. Everything changes, though, when she meets Ocean—her lab partner who, impossibly, seems genuinely interested in getting to know her for who she really is. Shirin is caught trying to mix two seemingly irreconcilable worlds and worries about subjecting Ocean to the horrors she witnesses daily. Mafi’s semi-autobiographical novel sheds light on an often ignored perspective and paints in saddening detail the racism present in our world today.


Staff Writer Sharon Enck

Set in the deep South, The Color Purple by Alice Walker centers around a young black girl named Celie. Born into segregation, poverty, and extreme abuse, the story follows Celie in her quest to rejoin her sister, Nettie, escape the bonds of a dehumanizing marriage, and find herself. As uplifting as it is graphic in its description of Celie’s horrors, The Color Purple is an important piece of fiction. It was the first book, outside of school, that introduced me to the atrocities of being black in America. Its graphic descriptions of the mental and physical abuse, and the humiliation that Celie endured were jarring. At the time, I could have never imagined that kind of pain and suffering, and it opened my young eyes to the obstacles that people of color deal with every single day.


Staff Writer Abhilasha Mandal

Roma Tearne’s Brixton Beach is about nine-year-old Alice Fonseka, daughter of a Tamil father and Singhalese mother, who moves to Britain from Sri Lanka, the picturesque island that is fast being engulfed by the fires of a civil war in the ’70s. She leaves behind her mother’s family and her childhood friends, memories of the deep blue ocean imprinted on her mind forever. Exposed to racial violence from a young age thanks to the growing rift between the Tamil and Singhalese communities in Sri Lanka at the time, Alice faces a new form of hatred on the ship to England when she’s called a savage for wanting to eat with her hands. Alice’s mother fails to adjust to her strange new life in Britain, and it takes a toll on her marriage. As with most first-generation immigrant children, Alice Fonseka has to strive to find her racial identity, a struggle that is reflected later in her work as an artist and sculptor. She draws from the vivid memories of her childhood, picking rocks and shells on the beach beside her grandparents’ house. Brixton Beach is a saga of a family that was torn apart by civil unrest and migration. It paints the image of all the feelings that generations of immigrants have felt, and of how far social acceptance of people of color has progressed over the turn of the century.

Book Review

Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin

Publisher: Pantheon, 2020
Genre: Urban Fiction
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

Morningside Heights tells the story of Pru Steiner, a graduate student ready to take the world by storm. Set in New York circa 1976, Pru is ambitious, daring, and proud. Her plans quickly fall by the wayside, however, when she meets her charming young Shakespeare professor, Spence Robin. Spence is everything Pru didn’t know that she was looking for: dreamy, brilliant, and charismatic. The two quickly become involved, and Pru’s life is subsequently turned upside down. Pru’s relationship with Professor Robin complicates her academic career, forcing her to reevaluate everything she thought she knew about herself and her path in life. 

Thirty years later, Spence isn’t acting like his usual self. He is lethargic, is always cold, and has trouble concentrating on simple tasks. Pru is left to handle this new challenge on her own, as their daughter, Sarah, is away at medical school. In the midst of Spence and Pru’s adjustment to a new way of life from a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s is Arlo: Spence’s estranged son from his first marriage. Arlo randomly reappears in his father’s life, only now as a wealthy biotech entrepreneur and his father’s best hope for recovery. Pru, meanwhile, meets a man in the midst of her isolation and loneliness, and a potential romance begins to form. Morningside Heights is a story of love, loss, and the simutlaneous hateful and wonderful messiness that comes with being human.

Thoughts

Joshua Henkin’s works are highly lauded for their complex, dynamic characters, and Morningside Heights is no exception. Largely set in the titular neighborhood in Manhattan, this book pays homage to the varied lives of people living in New York. There are no sidekicks in this novel; every character is a completely fleshed out individual with their own thoughts, hopes, and fears. Everyone is highly unique: from Spence, who struggles with the deterioration of his once-great mind, to Ginny, his no-nonsense caretaker, every person in the story adds something special. As is the case in real life (and is often difficult to translate into fiction), no characters are created for the sole purpose of advancing the plot. The reader, as a result, feels seen through the triumphs and struggles of the characters: you will truly feel for them, to the point of being embarrassed, outraged, and devastated for them as the story unfolds.

This novel also cleverly utilizes a shifting timeline, which is at once engaging and (delightfully) disconcerting. It adds to the reader’s depth and understanding of the story to see certain events transpire, then to see their precursors in the past. The characters also find themselves at many points looking back on their lives, and wondering where their plans went awry. Morningside Heights tackles a wide variety of issues, from love (both romantic and familial), to changing expectations in the times when life takes a turn we could never have anticipated for ourselves.

Perhaps the most important thing this book has to offer is found in its versatility and the connection it creates between people of all walks of life. Suffering doesn’t discriminate; and we as humans are united in the fact that none of our lives are untouched by hardships. Morningside Heights is a book about how to react when things don’t go as planned, something we’ve all experienced for ourselves. Pru’s life is constantly in flux: from Spencer’s diagnosis to Arlo’s sporadic appearances, Pru is constantly adapting to a new way of life. The important thing to note, however, is that Pru doesn’t always handle these changes well. She makes mistakes. She gets angry. She wallows in the unfairness of life. Don’t we all? This story is powerful and resonant in that it sheds light on the fact that sometimes bad things happen, and that we aren’t supposed to handle everything perfectly. More so than this, it reminds us that beautiful, wonderful things can grow from the mistakes and hardships we endure.


Thank you to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC in exchange
for this honest and unbiased review.