Aug 31 2020

Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan

Richard Brautigan might be that garrulous guy at the bar telling stories of things he’s done and seen, or things that people he knows have done and seen. The book goes down easy; I read it in less than an afternoon. Individually the tales don’t go on for too long, there’s usually something amusing along the way or at the end, and sometimes they’re even poetic. Up to a certain age, or above a certain blood-alcohol level, they may even seem profound.

Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan

But more than half a century after publication, Trout Fishing has aged very badly. In Brautigan’s telling, anyone who isn’t white and male and heterosexual is just an object. The way he writes very casually about a “Negro whore” or a “three-hundred pound squaw” (whose 15-year-old daughters the author wants to lay) shows how little these people count in Brautigan’s experience and what he thinks they are good for. In the time depicted by Trout Fishing, Brautigan was married to Virginia Dionne Alder; they had a daughter together. He never mentions either of them by name; they are always “my woman” and “the baby.” The only time Virginia speaks in the book that I remember is to tell Brautigan that her diaphragm won’t work if they have sex in the hot springs so he should be sure to pull out.

It’s not just a matter of exposing America’s sordid underbelly by documenting his own degradation and that of the people around him. I doubt that hard times were so unknown in 1967, and right now America’s gold-plated underbelly is squatting in the White House communicating straight from the id to a mass audience, so there’s nothing presently gained by the book in that regard either.

Life among the winos, life of barely getting by and throwing your trash down an outhouse hole, life in San Francisco’s shabby quarters (as they were then, they’re probably unaffordable now), life skittering from job to job in the Pacific Northwest, these all figure in Brautigan’s sketches. There’s a bleak humor in a fair number of them, and some surrealism in many, particularly in his varied use of the book’s title. At times it seems that Trout Fishing in America might be the name of a person, while at others it’s a disembodied force, and at still others it’s hard to parse just what it might be. Probably the best of the surreal pieces is “The Cleveland Wrecking Yard” where Brautigan visits an impossible junkyard that has a special deal going on selling a used trout stream.

“We’re selling it by the foot length. You can buy as little as you want or you can buy all we’ve got left. A man came in here this morning and bought 563 feet. He’s going to give it to his niece for a birthday present,” the salesman said.
“We’re selling the waterfalls separately of course, and the trees and birds, flowers, grass and ferns we’re also selling extra. The insects we’re giving away free with a minimum purchase of ten feet of stream.”
“How much are you selling the stream for?” I asked
“Six dollars and fifty-cents a foot,” he said. “That’s for the first hundred feet. After that it’s five dollars a foot.” (p. 104) …

“Stacked over against the wall were the waterfalls. There were about a dozen of them, ranging from a drop of a few feet to a drop of ten or fifteen feet.
“There was one waterfall that was over sixty feet long. There were tags on the pieces of the big falls describing the correct order for putting the falls back together again.
“The waterfalls all had price tags on them. There were more expensive than the stream. The waterfalls were selling for $19.00 a foot.” (p. 106)

Sometimes the garrulous guy at the bar comes up with a good one.

Permanent link to this article:

Aug 29 2020

Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus

I read Buffalo Soldier back in May when I was recovering from acute appendicitis, and it did exactly what I needed: took me far away, into imaginary lands where people had thrilling adventures full of reversals and narrow escapes. The circumstances of my reading mean that I have not retained details as well as I would like, and that I will not be able to write about it as well as it deserves.

Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus

Broaddus gives readers a steampunk world in which Jamaica is a major power in the Western hemisphere, the United States of Albion run into the Tejas border somewhere around the Sabine River, and many things are not what they seem. His protagonist is Desmond Coke, a former espionage agent for Jamaica who is fleeing his former superiors to give a chance of freedom to an extraordinary boy, Lij Tafari. Everyone wants to get their hands on Lij, not just the ones who know his origin but possibly even more those who don’t. What does he want? That’s just one of the mysteries of Buffalo Soldier.

One of the advantages of transporting steampunk to Tejas is that the author can use the stock characters and settings of nineteenth-century America while adding as many twists as they like. Broaddus does it with relish. There are card games, plush frontier hotels, local potentates, fast-talking dames with a past, and more. It’s fast-paced and good fun, with Coke and Lij constantly trying to catch a break and get a breather, and usually not quite succeeding.

Like Huck Finn, they light out for the territory. Do they succeed? That would be telling.

I see that Broaddus has written an Arthurian trilogy set in the rougher streets of Indianapolis and a different steampunk tale called Pimp My Airship. I want to read them all. And maybe by the time I am done Broaddus will have more about Jamaica and Albion and Tejas.

Permanent link to this article:

Aug 28 2020

The ChildThat Books Built by Francis Spufford

The Child That Books Built, Francis Spufford’s second book, published six years after his first, raises a publishing question that I have long been interested in, but one that I suspect does not have any firm answer. How does an editor spot someone whose first book or two are strong but who is likely to grow and write even better books? There is a lot to be said in favor of The Child That Books Built — it’s concise, clear about what its aims, features a structure that works on more than one level, and so forth — but Red Plenty and Golden Hill the other two Spufford books that I have read (out of four that have followed) are simply extraordinary. Red Plenty isn’t quite like anything else at all; it tackles an enormous historical and philosophical question, and demonstrates its answers at the intersection of fiction and non-fiction, breathing humanity and urgency into something that at first sounds terribly dull. Golden Hill brings to life old New York, not long after its change from New Amsterdam, and shows just who liked it better that way.

The Child that Books Built by Francis Spufford

Is it possible to see those later books in Spufford’s earlier work, as he sees his grown self emerging from the books he read as a child? Certainly some of the aspects are there, as he gives the book a clear overall shape, one that serves his theses so that literary form and content work together. The breezy, conversational style is there, too, although in Red Plenty he was not afraid of echoing some of the Soviet rhetoric he was investigating, and Golden Hill gave a feel of colonial-era speech, even if it was tuned to a modern ear. While Spufford is in some ways the author that this book built, he has grown beyond it as surely as the child he depicts in four different stages grows past previous favorites.

Did an editor spot that possibility right away, or in the six-year gap between the first two? I don’t know; I suppose it would be possible to ask. Can that sort of thing be done more generally? Some writers announce themselves so forcefully with their first book that their chosen area immediately takes notice. Somewhere between several and numerous authors have, for example, won the Hugo award with their debut novels. Walter M. Miller, Jr. with A Canticle for Leibowitz, Frank Herbert with Dune, William Gibson with Neuromancer, or more recently Anne Leckie with Ancillary Justice or this year’s winner Arkady Martine with A Memory Called Empire. The first three are landmarks in the field, but whose authors took very different paths. Miller never published another novel; Herbert published many more, though his bibliography is very much Dune and everything else; Gibson continues to enjoy a visionary career. With Leckie and Martine it’s probably too soon to tell.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article:

Aug 27 2020

Black Wings Beating (Skybound #1) by Alex London

I’m really starting to question whether I should accept Netgalley invites for YA Fantasy from now on. The murder mysteries they’ve invited me to read have all been solid but too much of the YA has been middling to terrible. And yes, that includes Alex London’s Black Wings Beating, which at least has the advantages of being a) queer-friendly and b) based on Central Asian history, which has yet to be done to death in the genre. Up till the book’s somewhat redemptive ending, however, this unfortunately came very close to being one of those Everyone Sucks Here books that I could only finish by virtue of looking forward to writing an eviscerating review.

The main trouble with BWB is that the main trifecta of characters — Brysen, Kylee and Nyall, and don’t think I didn’t cringe my way through reading those names in a low-fantasy Asian steppe setting — are everything wrong with the central Harry Potter troika amped to 11. Brysen is incompetent and pathetic; Kylee is constantly squashing herself down in order to prop him up, and Nyall just seems to be around in order to pester Kylee to date him. I’m pretty sure Mr London didn’t do this on purpose as a meta-commentary on that other series tho it would certainly have been amusing if he had. Unfortunately, this book is entirely earnest, without a lick of satire in it. And don’t get me started on the allusion to vampiric practices, ugggggggh.

Anyway, Brysen and Kylee are twins who live in the Six Villages, which randomly goes from being a remote backwater for most of the book to a strategic holding in the end (more on the world-building in a bit.) After their abusive father dies, they inherit his debts, forcing Kylee to work her ass off at the falconry business she hates in order to save her family from prison or worse. Her brother, who took the brunt of their dad’s abuse while still wanting desperately to impress him, spends most of his time slacking off or focusing on his own bird, Shara, or more recently spending time with Dymian, the exiled aristocrat they hired to help train their birds. When Dymian makes the mistake of accruing too many gambling debts to one of the local kyrgs, Brysen decides to take up the challenge that killed his dad in order to save his lover: to capture the monstrous ghost eagle and bring it back as payment for Dymian’s debts.

Since Brysen is an incompetent asshole, Kylee has to sneak after him to try to keep him alive on his hunt. But Nyall, who’s been after her to go out with him for years despite zero encouragement from her (but tons from her brother, which is so fucking gross, I can’t even. The level of disrespect towards women’s choices here is off the charts,) goes after her, and things go poorly even before all three find themselves playthings of greater powers heading towards all-out religious war.

So there are some interesting bits: I enjoyed the falconry and the war kites, even as I thought raptor combat — from pits to sky — sounded extremely unlikely. And wtf is a war barrow? But the religious conflicts were original, even though the story of Anon’s initial step to becoming a rebel warlord made very little sense. The local potentate didn’t have personal guards, for real? For the most part tho, the world-building and especially the falconry felt decently thought out, enough so that I bought into the setting despite the occasional glaring error in continuity/sense. I just really disliked the three main characters and their dynamics, and while the ending points to a slightly better way forward for them, I don’t trust this author to continue this series in such a way as to not provoke as much huffing and eye rolling on my end as I displayed throughout reading this installment.

Anyway, the last book in the trilogy comes out next week for people who enjoyed this far, far more than I did.

Permanent link to this article:

Aug 26 2020

The Monogram Murders (New Hercule Poirot Mysteries #1) by Sophie Hannah

I’ve probably already nattered on obnoxiously about the fact that I inhaled every published book in Dame Agatha Christie’s oeuvre the year I was thirteen, but that was a seminal event in my life, solidifying my reading habits and eventual, oddly specialized, career path. Two years ago, I was given the opportunity to review the third of Sophie Hannah’s estate-authorized New Hercule Poirot mysteries, The Mystery Of Three Quarters, for work and found it a pleasant exercise, even as I found myself baffled by the need for a new supporting cast. Reading this first in the series confirmed for me that I should have started here in order to better get to know Fee Spring and “Mister” Edward Catchpool (and I’m sure it’s historically accurate that he’s called a “Mister” throughout but it amuses me nonetheless that he’s never addressed as detective or constable or somesuch.)

The Monogram Murders introduces Catchpool as Hercule Poirot’s latest unwitting, tho certainly not unwilling, assistant. The two meet as fellow lodgers at Mrs Blanche Unsworth’s frilly, feminine boarding house: Catchpool lives there out of necessity, but Poirot’s stay stems from a desire for slightly different surroundings from his own nearby London home. Catchpool is a mediocre Scotland Yard detective with, as the story opens, a passion for cruciverbalism and an aversion to corpses. He’s called in to investigate the discovery of three dead bodies, each found in a separate room of the Bloxham Hotel, all murdered and arranged in the same way, with a monogrammed cuff link placed inside each closed mouth.

Meanwhile, Poirot is on the hunt for a woman named Jennie after a startling interview earlier in the day at his favorite haunt, Pleasant’s Coffee House. Jennie, a middle aged ladies’ maid with a guilty conscience, told him that she feared for her life before abruptly fleeing the premises. Unable to track her down that evening, Poirot returns to his lodgings and learns about the murders at the Bloxham. Immediately seeing a connection, he insinuates himself into Catchpool’s investigations. The two are soon interviewing witnesses and marvelously exercising little grey cells in their pursuit of the truth.

And what a convoluted truth it is! I rather liked the way it was presented, all English mannerisms and critique of same gilding layer upon layer of story like the most delightful intellectual cake, but the overall effect felt a bit fluffy whereas Dame Christie’s writing was usually far more dense. Had I been told Dame Christie wrote this, I would have put it squarely in the entertaining but slight category of her works: that anyone else managed to pull this off at all is a tribute to their talents. Ms Hannah has done well to write an elaborate plot and clothe it convincingly in the trappings of a Poirot mystery (tho I did think our favorite Belgian used far more French phrases than he might have in the canon oeuvre.) TMM certainly isn’t a patch on Dame Christie at her finest but it’s a fun homage for when you don’t want to reread a mystery but do want an excursion back to Poirot’s world. I’ve already requested the next book in this series from my local library and am definitely looking forward to reading some more fresh new adventures with Poirot and co., especially with the latest book coming out in mere weeks!

Permanent link to this article:

Aug 25 2020

American Royals (American Royals #1) by Katharine McGee

What a stunningly awful book.

I picked it up thinking I’d enjoy the thought experiment: what if George Washington had accepted the title of King after wresting American independence away from Britain? According to Katharine McGee, this would have dampened the global thirst for revolution, accelerated the abolition of slavery, and paved the way for racial and sexual equality. Interesting, if not outright worthy ideas all, but then they come up against the perfectly ludicrous reality Ms McGee sets up for herself in telling an incredibly stupid story of young people acting rashly while infatuated. Honestly, I felt sometimes that she only researched enough to make this sound plausible, then ignored anything that didn’t fit the dramz of it all. Infuriating.

Crown Princess Beatrice is set to be American’s first female monarch, since her grandfather rewrote the laws of succession such that the firstborn will inherit the throne regardless of gender. Pausing the summary here to point out the glaring error in causation/correlation here: male primogeniture, which still gave us loads of European queens, is super not the same as reserving the throne for only men. Presenting America as uniquely misogynistic while being racially and sexually diverse is a weirdly self-serving straight white lady take. Anyway, Beatrice is the perfect princess, poised, pretty and responsible. Tho still in her very early 20s, she’s tasked with auditioning husbands from the short list her parents have made for her from America’s most eligible gentry bachelors. But she’s in love with her hot bodyguard, Connor, and oh my God did I roll my eyes at the very idea that the Crown Princess of anywhere would ever be left alone with one young dude for the ridiculous amount of time they were given.

Her younger siblings, 18 year-old twins Samantha and Jefferson, are a handful. According to Samantha, her little brother Jefferson gets away with everything because he’s a dude while she’s just the spare, but Samantha is stupid and awful, so there’s no taking her at her word for anything. She meets Teddy — one of Bea’s eligible suitors — at her sister’s party, drags him into a closet to make out with her, then once Bea chooses Teddy for her betrothed, decides she’s in love with him. Bitch, please. Her best friend Nina has been passively in love with Jeff for years but hates all the media attention that comes with his lifestyle, so when they start dating, freaks out completely at something she’s been exposed to since she was a girl. Daphne, Jeff’s social climbing ex, is determined to get back together with him despite having secretly (the following is not a spoiler because, as with nearly every other plot point in this book, it was obvious af) fucked his “best friend” Ethan the Cardboard Cutout, who we’re told “sees her” and “knows her” despite having all the depth of a cereal box.

It’s so dumb, y’all. Everyone makes terrible choices against their own self-interests because they’re absolute idiots. Comparing this to Gossip Girl is an insult to Cecily van Ziegesaar’s excellent novels, tho maybe the TV show was this vapid, idk, I couldn’t watch more than 20 minutes before having to turn it off every. single. time (which is weird because I honestly enjoy the four very talented main actors.) And like, not only is this not how monarchy works, this is also a bizarrely wistful argument for monarchy versus our present system of representative democracy. I get it, democracy is hard work and it’s tough not to be bitter at our present system, but that a royalist like myself feels so vehemently against the systems on display in this book should tell you something about how out of touch it is with how monarchies work in the real world. It felt less like a modern consideration of political systems and more like a fantasy of paternalism, replete with not-like-other-girls and other-girls-hate-me-because-I’m-awesome characters, all of whom I wanted to punch in the face*. I understand the desire to have Daddy use his wisdom to fix the world for you but it’s childish to want magical solutions to practical problems, and certainly not the kind of thinking you want to promote in a novel ostensibly aimed at young adults.

Tl;dr this was dumb and I’m sorry I read it.

*Daphne wasn’t so bad, but it sucked that she was set up as the villain of the piece when it’s really the patriarchal system that forces her to social climb that’s to blame. Also, it was annoying af that her ambition was colored as evil whereas Teddy’s extremely similar motivations were somehow heroic. God, this book sucked.

Permanent link to this article:

Aug 23 2020

Moneyland by Oliver Bullough

If for some reason your blood pressure is too low, this book will raise it as surely as any medicine. In Moneyland, Oliver Bullough describes in gut-wrenching detail the power of corruption in the contemporary world, how much the rich powerful and corrupt are continuously stealing from normal and law-abiding people, how thoroughly they have bent laws and public institutions to their will, and how difficult it is to fight back. Moneyland is not completely bleak, because there are ways to fight back, and because might does not always make right, but the book describes infuriating practices that are either legal or so difficult to counter that they might as well be, especially when major parts of major powers don’t care to push back. Bullough shows scheme after nefarious scheme, and all of them together are not even the tip of the iceberg.

Moneyland by Oliver Bullough

Bullough begins, not at the beginning, but with an excellent example: Paul Manafort, one of Donald Fucking Trump’s several campaign managers in his 2016 presidential effort. “According to the indictment prepared by the Office of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, Manafort … moved some $75 million through various offshore bank accounts, much of which he used to buy high-end properties and luxury goods. He earned this money working in Ukraine, primarily for thuggish ex-president Viktor Yanukovich, and was found guilty of hiting it from the Internal Revenue Service, as well as assorted other crimes.” (p. 1) From the indictment Bullough finds out, for example, that a company Manafort controlled was based in a nondescript office in northwest London. That company controlled a bank account that paid close to $200,000 to two other businesses on the same day in 2013, and may never have done anything else. “[The company] had been created just three months earlier, and was dissolved by the UK’s Companies House a year later, something that happens automatically if companies do not file the necessary paperwork. I had come to 2 Woodberry Grover to look at the street address that was Pompolo Ltd’s supposed based of operations.” (p. 2)

It is not a productive visit. The boss is unavailable and his eventual e-mail reply is an exasperated blanket denial of any wrongdoing. What then?

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article:

Aug 21 2020

An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1) by Sabaa Tahir

I feel kinda bad about shitting on this book, in large part because so many people seemed to lurve it while I spent most of my time going “for real?” while I was reading it. Because, while the concept was interesting and I know Sabaa Tahir means well — ngl, I was genuinely moved to tears by some of Elias’ passages of tortured valor — it was just one of those books that is so far removed from the basic laws of reality and common sense that I could not at all suspend my disbelief to enjoy the entire novel.

Based very loosely on the Roman occupation of North Africa, An Ember In The Ashes tells the story of Laia, an impoverished but free Scholar (*cough*Egyptian*cough*) girl who lives with her grandparents and her beloved brother Darin. Their land is ruled over by Martials (this setting’s Roman analogue,) with their primary military academy of Blackcliff being located not far from where Laia lives. When Darin is arrested in a midnight raid that kills their grandparents, Laia flees to the arms of a Scholar Resistance movement that does not want her. She begs them for help freeing her brother, and they agree so long as she does something for them first: infiltrate Blackcliff as a supposedly illiterate slave girl to its sadistic Commandant and pass back vital information.

Meanwhile, Elias Veturius is eagerly awaiting his graduation from Blackcliff so he can finally cut and run from the Martial Empire that he hates. But when the ancient Augurs come knocking with news of a Trial to choose the next Emperor, he finds himself trapped, trying to head off a reign under the malevolent Farrar twins while navigating his complicated relationship with his best friend, their generation’s only female student, Helene Aquilla. When his path collides with Laia’s, they find themselves unlikely allies in a quest to overthrow the Empire.

This is a very cool concept marred by far too much ridiculousness. While I could overlook the claim that making a sling for Helene took over an hour (fifteen minutes tops, if you’re searching for straight sticks for some reason instead of using something more rudimentary) or that the second of three sparring sessions between an enraged Helene and Elias took over twenty minutes (seven minutes at most,) I totally lost it at the third trial, which made NO SENSE to anyone with half a brain. The correct answer would have been for Helene and Elias to immediately enter into single combat to defeat each other — and the terms are very clear, defeat not kill — and only a total idiot with no experience commanding soldiers would have failed to see that. I could overlook how annoying and insecure Laia was, and even how conveniently her skills and pain threshold conformed to whatever the plot required (samesies for Helene, honestly,) but the lack of any accuracy when it came to the professional soldiers’ alleged fighting, tactical or survival prowess, all in service to the plot points the author wanted to make, was absolutely enraging. The actions and responses of the Resistance also made no sense, and while I enjoyed Izzi and Cook, their presence given their skillsets made no sense either. Overall, one of those infuriating books which disrespects logic in service to conveniently overcoming plot obstacles.

I was also annoyed, in a different way, by the idea that the Scholars deserved their subjugation and enslavement because their leaders of generations past (whom I’m betting are the Augurs now dun dun DUN) trapped all the jinns but one in a fit of prideful rage. No peoples deserve to be treated as subhuman because of the behavior of some of their ancestors — every individual should be judged by their own actions and character. It’s far more realistic, and less skin-crawling, to just blame the Martial occupation on a sense of empire and greed. I’m hoping that the idea of the Scholars getting what they deserved is debunked in future books but I, for one, won’t be reading them.

Permanent link to this article:

Aug 20 2020

The Nidderdale Murders (Yorkshire Murder Mysteries #5) by J.R. Ellis

It’s been so long since I’ve read a traditional British police procedural that starting this book was just like slipping into a nice hot bath. I mean, I’ve read my fair share of British crime novels with DCI protagonists in the years since I first picked up my dad’s copy of Martha Grimes’ Jerusalem Inn, but lately they’ve been more thriller than cozy-adjacent. Perhaps the most recent traditional was Anne Cleeves’ The Seagull back in 2017, tho The Nidderdale Murders, for someone new to J. R. Ellis’ work, was a much better introduction to the series than Ms Cleeves’ had been to hers.

The Nidderdale Murders finds DCI Jim Oldroyd called in to the small Yorkshire village of Niddergill to investigate the bizarre shooting death of local landowner Alexander “Sandy” Fraser. A former judge who’d retired to play at gentry and run a grousing moor, Sandy had no shortage of enemies, due in large part to his high-handed manner. When an eye witness sees him shot point blank with a shotgun by Alan Green, a local handyman, it seems like it ought to be an open and shut case. Only Alan had no seeming motive to shoot Sandy, and has since disappeared into thin air.

While local police go on the hunt for the missing murderer, DCI Oldroyd begins asking uncomfortable questions of the people who knew Sandy in life. He’s the sort of thorough, thoughtful investigator that is far too rare in policing, fictional or otherwise. It’s refreshing to see him not merely take the word of a single person in order to embark on what could be a fruitless manhunt, but cover all his professional bases. So when a local shopkeeper is murdered by a shotgun at point blank range, again by someone with seemingly no motive who proceeds to vanish, he’s caught less off-guard than a more single-minded, less intellectually curious detective might be.

I actually gasped out loud at the who/howdunnit reveal, so lulled was I by J. R. Ellis’ clever prose. Admittedly, there is something lulling about painstaking police information gathering — the book did feel like it dragged towards the middle as DCI Oldroyd interviewed every single person connected to the case. I also found his Detective Sergeants to be more annoying than interesting after a while, since they seemed to be there only to express admiration for how intelligent their boss was when not serving as middling comic relief. The rest of the cast of characters was pretty interesting tho, quietly defying stereotypes in ways I enjoyed. It’s nice to see so many people cooperative with the police, but I suppose that just indicates the higher level of trust in British policing than American.

This was an above average introduction to the Yorkshire Murder Mysteries, and I know I’ll definitely be turning to this series the next time I want my fix of smart, entertaining police detection in the vein of Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse series, with the added bonus of some really lovely depictions of the Yorkshire area. Gosh, I miss being able to travel: luckily, this book helped whet my appetite for that, too, if only for a little while.

Permanent link to this article:

Aug 18 2020

All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney

This has been a pretty amazing year for me in terms of discovering five star reads, and this was definitely my latest and probably most personally beloved.

So here’s the thing. When I read a book with Muslim rep, I have a habit of asking “if this was a book about believing Christians, how comfortable would I be reading this?” But I couldn’t apply that thinking to All-American Muslim Girl because I was too busy feeling it with all my All-American Muslim heart. Even now, several days after finishing it, when I’ve had a chance to take a breath and think about it, I get too emotional to really interrogate my reading. Perhaps I will revisit this subject another time!

That said, oh, what a book! Our titular character is Allie Abraham, the red-headed, pale-skinned daughter of a Circassian-Jordanian dad and a blonde white-American mom who freely converted before marriage. Her family moves from university town to university town due to her dad’s job in academia, so when it comes to school, Allie’s always felt a little left out, especially as she approaches her sixteenth birthday. Now living in an Atlanta suburb, she meets a cute boy named Wells and starts falling for him. But she’s also started trying to learn more about the Muslim faith and heritage that her dad has so firmly turned his back on, which leads to all sorts of conflict, expected or otherwise.

I am ngl, I cried buckets reading this book, as Allie begins to explore Islam and find out what it means to her heart and soul. It’s one of the few books on the market about a young Muslim girl choosing faith while fighting prejudice, while also figuring out what it means to be Muslim in 21st century America. Each Muslim character in this book was so beautifully painted as an individual with his or her own connection to the faith, defying the stereotype that Muslims are a monolith. Allie’s journey to love and faith are thoughtfully and sensitively explored, unsurprising given that the book is a semi-autobiographical #OwnVoices novel. I loved it to pieces, in no small part because I felt it reflected parts of my own journey in keeping, however imperfectly, my faith.

I don’t usually comment on other people’s negative opinions of books I like but I made the mistake of deep-diving into the Goodreads reviews and had to lol at all the fundies, Muslim or otherwise, banging on about how wrong this book was in its portrayal of Islam. Nadine Jolie Courtney’s point is that Muslims aren’t a monolith, and the bitchy reviewers are all upset that she’s not advocating for a hardline interpretation of the faith, like okay, go back to hating on everyone who doesn’t believe what you do. Weirdly, all the hijabi girls offended at Allie’s religious journey reminded me of the tradish Lakota girls who bullied Marie, the heroine of another book I recently read, David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s excellent Winter Counts, for not being Native enough. Some people just get off on being more “authentic” than thou: I just wish they could see how much absurd bigotry they have in common with the people who revile them and knock it the fuck off.

Permanent link to this article: