The Black Flamingo follows Michael, a young half-Jamaican half-Greek Cyprian from boyhood to his coming of age in university. Michael struggles with never feeling Black enough, Greek enough, and that being gay is at odds with all these other parts of himself, all while wrestling with a father who never seems to want to see him, and a mother who doesn’t understand that Michael would rather play with Barbie’s then Ninja Turtles. Even with the story seeped in deep questions of identity, there were light moments of family love between Michael and his sister, the power of friendships, and even the sweetness of falling for a guy you never thought would see you in that way, and to have him like you back. Not to mention discovering your tribe—in the university Drag Society for Michael! This was my first verse novel ever, and I admit I was a bit worried going into it—I’ve shied away from verse before as I am not great at connecting with poetry and I had a hard time imagining I could really lose myself in an entire novel written in this format. Oh. My. Goodness. I’m ashamed it took me so long to give this format a try!
“The Tribulations of August Barton” is a sweet, kind of coming-of-age novella. Except it aims to show how the college experience has helped Augie find his voice, and with the help of his ex-prostitute grandma, Gertie, get a hold of his anxiety during a period of change. Augie may not have ventured very far to go to college (hey I didn’t, either) but it’s not about the distance. It’s about putting yourself in new situations and meeting new people, broadening your horizons in every sense of the word, and Augie definitely does that! Everything from his first time getting drunk, to falling in love, to even streaking in freezing temperatures, August finds his footing more than most in college. But throughout all of Augie’s adventures, there is this undercurrent of appreciating your elders, and spending time and enjoying the elderly while we have access to them that I found to be quite beautiful.
I don’t know where to begin with “Picture Us in the Light”. The simple fact is that, at first, I thought the book was kind of slow and the odd section every now and again written in second person threw me through an uncomfortable loop, but then… well, then magic happened and I fell in love. This is such a great book with so many tender messages and depictions of what it’s like to be a modern day teenager who struggles to be perfect on paper for college admissions, constantly pushed to the brink by helicopter parents, and the deadly consequences of what being told “you aren’t good enough” can do to a young person. There were so many tender moments depicting parent/child relationships, and Danny’s love for Harry. The synopsis makes you think Danny is confused by his feelings for his friend Harry, but he never was. He knew, always knew, that he loved Harry, that he wanted to be with him, that the idea of being far away from Harry in college was devastating. And, interwoven with the slow burn mystery that gets unraveled through the course of the book, is an honest commentary on some current stances when it comes to race in America and immigrants. So, even with the slow start, this book had me as enamored as Danny was with Harry come the end.
If there is one central message to “Sophie Last Seen” it was: grief has no timetable. Or at least, that was the message I took away from this raw tale of a mother’s unrelenting search for her missing daughter. The story focuses on the way grief, and the anxiety riddled feeling of not knowing whether you should mourn someone’s passing or never give up the search, changes people. The way it shapes them and how it can both destroy, and reinvent them. Jesse, at the start of the novel, is nearly destroyed by the lack of answers she has regarding Sophie’s disappearance. She constantly searches, turning herself into an alcoholic and a bit of a hoarder as she believes every little thing she finds is a clue as to what happened to Sophie and where she is. Sophie’s best friend, Star, is nearly crippled by her guilt and the thoughts of what could have happened to her best friend to the point where she is haunted by images of Sophie and turns to self-harm in order to banish the disturbing thoughts and images. Their grief, guilt, and destructive coping mechanisms are incredibly raw and they create a tangible ache in the reader, even if they haven’t experienced what these characters are going through. It’s definitely not a light read, but it is a powerful one.
I don’t usually cry watching sappy shows or reading sweet books. It’s just not something I do. I think the last time I cried while reading was maybe sophomore year in high school and Sirius had just died? Yeah, it’s been awhile. Enter “Far From the Tree”. This book had me, well, not BAWLING because I’m still mostly heartless apparently, but I was tearing up in several places. This book… oh my goodness, so good! So many feels! 90% of it is not traditionally “happy” but that’s what I loved about it; it’s heavy and beautiful. “Far From the Tree” follows the story of three siblings who are separated when their bio-mom puts them up for adoption/loses them to foster care as babies. These kids’ lives are real and raw and tragic, but also inspiring and you just ache for them and want the best for them. They each are going through so much and when they learn that they have siblings, instead of it destroying them further, it turns into this beautiful relationship. The kind of relationship and support system each child needs at that precise moment in their lives.
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