Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter

Written by: Adeline Yen Mah

First line: As soon as I got home from school, Aunt Baba noticed the silver medal dangling from the left breast pocket of my uniform.

Why you should read this book: Considered unlucky due to the proximity of her mother's death to her own birth, Jun-ling, known to her family is Fifth Daughter, suffers the discrimination of her young, powerful, and probably insane stepmother, under whose influence the entire family follows suit. While her half-siblings receive the best of everything and her older siblings band together, Jun-ling is psychologically tortured throughout her entire childhood; at one point in the story her parents literally take her to a war zone and leave her in a convent school even as the other girls are pulled from the school and taken away to safer places by parents who care whether they live or die. Jun-ling's only shred of hope in life is her academic prowess, which gives her a prayer of a better future as well as a world to escape to in the present.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Wow, this family is seriously messed up.

Sunday, September 16, 2018


Written by: Athol Fugard

First line: There had been a silence, as always happened at about the same time, a long silence when none of them moved except maybe to lift a glass and hold it high above their heads for the dregs to drip into their open mouths, or to yawn and stretch and slump back into their chairs, when one of them might scratch himself, another consider the voice of the woman in the backyard, the old woman who was scolding, rattling her words like stones in a tin, and all of them in their own time looking at the street outside, and the shadows, wondering if they were not yet long enough.

Why you should read this book: Set in South Africa during apartheid, this novel details a moment of revelation in the life of Tsotsi (literally"gangster"), a boy without a past or a future, a young man living in the moment of drinking and stealing and killing, feeling no remorse, feeling nothing whatsoever, until the night one of his gang members calls him out for his lack of feeling. Tsotsi beats the accuser into unconsciousness, runs into the night, and ends up in possession of a helpless infant, whose presence helps Tsotsi comprehend empathy, recall the trauma of his past, and begin to care for something beside the next job. In addition to its excellent writing and exquisite description of the human psyche, this novel also provides a detailed understanding of the everyday horrors of apartheid and the casual dehumanization of black people in South Africa in the late seventies and early eighties.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's not happy. Nothing happy happens. The ending is enlightening, but not uplifting.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Written by: JK Rowling

First line: Not for the first time, an argument had broken out over breakfast at number four, Privet Drive.

Why you should read this book: Terrible things are afoot in Harry Potter's world, as evidenced by the fact that school hasn't even started yet and already he's been chastised by muggles and magicians because a house elf dropped his aunt's pudding, shut out of the passageway to Platform 9 3/4, and been beaten up by a tree while illegally riding in a stolen flying car. But these events are overshadowed by the strange horror lurking the halls of Hogwarts: a monster that petrifies muggle-borns and threatens to bring an end to Albus Dumbledore and the entire school of magic. If he breaks any more rules, Harry risks expulsion from Hogwarts, but if doesn't break the rules, he risks losing magic altogether.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Spiders. Lots of spiders. Really giant spiders.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Falling in Love with Hominids

Written by: Nalo Hopkinson

First line: "The easthound bays at night," Jolly said.

Why you should read this book: This deeply imaginative short story collection covers the range of traditional speculative motifs, including ghosts, fairies, monsters, gods, and stochastic flying elephants, while maintaining a modern, enlightened sensibility that injects a bright freshness into familiar tropes along with the voices of queer folks and people of color. From teenage girls taking on the persona of dragons to fight back against sexual harassment to the sibling rivalry between the spirits from Shakespeare's Tempest, these intelligent  stories feel new and smart and forward-thinking. Enjoyable, fast-paced, clever, and wonderfully written, it's both fun and provocative.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Some nasty bits with city rats.