March Reviews

I guess one of the benefits of a rainy month with sickness aplenty is that I was able to read a lot! Here's what I got through this past month:

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala
214 pages
Niru is a senior in high school who excels at academics (hello early acceptance to Harvard) and track, but must navigate life after his traditional Nigerian parents accidentally learn that he is gay. His father is especially outraged and after an explosive reaction to learning the news he takes his son to Africa to try to "pray away the gay." Once the family returns to DC, Niru tries to cope with a failing friendship, dating, and his future. There is a shocking twist at the end that is timely and tragic, adding an extra element of complexity to the text (that I won't give away).

Verdict: I was really captivated by this book, but my heart ached for most of it. I teach this age group and see kids struggle with issues of identity constantly, so I was very empathetic for the protagonist. I appreciated Iweala's writing, although I do know the lack of quotation marks bothers some (not me). This book would be great for someone who likes YA but wants a more serious, advanced style and treatment of the issues (it's definitely not YA). 

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
245 pages (for work)
You know how it goes- Hester has a baby with the Reverend (scandalous), but refuses to reveal his identity. Meanwhile, Hester's long-lost husband returns and decides to make everyone's life a living hell. And so on and so forth- if you haven't read it yet I'm guessing you never will.

Verdict: This is the fourth or fifth time I've read this novel and while I find it tedious to get through, I actually enjoy teaching it to my students. There are some great literary features and thematic issues to discuss, not to mention some seriously conflicted characters.

Notes from a Public Typewriter edited by Michael Gustafson and Oliver Uberti
159 pages
I picked this little book up on a total whim after seeing it on a book-related Instagram feed. Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor Michigan leaves a typewriter and endless supply of paper for it's patrons to leave messages on and over the years they've collected the best for this little volume. Mixed in with the notes are essays from the editors that talk about everything from the founding of the independent bookstore, family death, quirky customers, and, of course, typewriters.

Verdict: I am such a sucker for little books like these and this one was no different. Instantly I thought how neat it would be to do this with my students, although that may be opening up a can of worms... My favorite message was, "Maybe one day we will write enough books and read enough words to understand each other. I hope." (Gustafson and Uberti, 69). This would be a great book for grads or even mother's or father's day.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
209 pages (for work)
Okonkwo is an important, powerful man in his tribe but must grapple with issues he has surrounding his father and the changing ways of his culture. Along the way Okonkwo is banished with his wives and children to his motherland after accidentally committing a crime, an enormous blow to his wealth and pride. As time passes the missionaries arrive, bringing their religion, government, education, and social infrastructure to the Africans, which leads to even more trouble for Okonkwo.

Verdict: I loved seeing how much my students loved this book this time around (my third time teaching it, fourth time reading it) and appreciated how it complimented my concurrent reading of Homegoing. Achebe's prose are on the more simplistic side, making his ability to construct such a deep narrative even more impressive.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
300 pages
This book begins hundreds of years ago in Africa during the slave trade and works it's way up slowly to the near-present. The narrative is comprised of alternating sections told from the perspectives of two different families, which are actually connected (it sounds complicated, I know, and is to some degree; luckily there's an extremely helpful family tree at the beginning). Gyasi works her way from Africa and the slave trade to the US, focusing on plantation life, the struggles of recently freed slaves, and then through hardships of the twentieth century. The text goes back and forth between the US and Africa and connects the stories and characters along the way. There's so much more o the text than the intricacies of the narrative, though, as each character has extensive obstacles to face and overcome.

Verdict: I absolutely loved this book and probably should have written a whole post on it, since it's so complex it's hard to condense into one tiny blurb. The book really is the whole package- an amazing story, a well-written narrative, and characters with depth.

Arlo Finch and the Valley of Fire by John August
324 pages
Disclaimer: this is a kid's book (middle-grade, to be exact), but I listened to August's podcast about how he wrote and published it and was interested. Arlo Finch is a young boy that moves to Colorado with his mom and sister, only to find that the remote town they live in has a magical past. He makes friends with two kids at school and joins a sort of Explorers/Boy Scout group, which helps him learn about the magical forest. Eventually there's a big battle and his crazy uncle has to help the kids.

Verdict: I loved the podcast, but, honestly, there were just way too many parallels to Harry Potter. I also have to be honest with myself and admit that I just don't like reading YA and kid books [shrugs shoulders], with a few exceptions. I can see kids liking it though, since the characters are witty and the book action packed. 

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
249 pages
This memoir tells about the year Rakoff spent at a literary agency in Manhattan working with the agent who worked with JD Salinger. Rakoff has just dropped out of graduate school and was floundering, trying to figure out her career and love life, she took the first job she could find. Along the way she learns about the industry, helps play middleman between the world and Salinger, and sort of figures out how to be an "adult." 

Verdict: I found this book interesting, yet still a bit anticlimactic. The whole Salinger angle sort of seemed like a ploy to sell more copies, since it wasn't like she and him were having lunch every week or enjoying long personal talks on the phone. She did answer some of his letters and watched an attempt to publish one of his later works failed, but I still thought this approach to the memoir was weak. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed her writing and stories about this time of her life. 

1,700 pages


  1. My library discussion group I sometimes attend chose Homegoing recently, but I had a conflict that night, so I ended up not reading it. It’s still on my TBR though, so I’m glad to hear how much you liked it.

  2. I've found that the only time that I enjoy reading children's/MG is when my kid and I read them together (out loud, he reads a couple pages, I read a couple pages). Otherwise, nope, and I don't know why.