The Deep – Staff Review – Cherise

The Deep by Rivers Soloman (Request)(CloudLibrary)

When the mermaids remember what human’s have done to the world and their ancestors, they won’t just get revenge, they’ll take back what’s theirs.

The Deep is a story that’s been told again and again, from music, from writing, to more. The Deep by Rivers Soloman is another version of it and one that though short is very much worth the read. We follow Yetu, the historian of the wajinru, the decedent’s of the African Slaves thrown overboard while pregnant. Yetu carries the memories of her people, their pasts and how they came to be, but suffers under it. When given a chance to escape her role as historian, she takes the chance, knowing that the rest of her people will suffer under the weight.

I honestly love the messages this book has. I probably won’t be able to name them all and I apologize, but the main one I want to mention is the fact it brings up the case of remembering one’s ancestors as a way of giving thanks, but also knowing that there’s such generational trauma that it could truly hurt those who must live with these memories and suffer under them. And the way of balancing, this book allows the characters to balance it once Yetu is confronted by another character who is the last of her people, who is exactly what Yetu needs to remember she is honoring her ancestors and keeping them alive through those memories, at the cost of pain. Other characters in turn help Yetu as she helps them with balancing the heavy truth of the past, which is key. Yetu isn’t exactly the most loveable character, but this has to do with her getting weighed down and being forced to decide if she is allowed to live and be herself, or die under the heavy weight of these memories. By the end, you finally understand her more and the parts that make her tick as a person. Why she’s was so abrasive (which I get, as someone with sensory over stimulation that happens more than I want, this was the first time seeing a character truly show how overwhelming those feelings are) and why she chose herself over the others. It’s honestly a really important read with great representation with gender and sexuality, along with a cast of black characters learning to live and understand one another and their shared trauma.

3 stars

Black Water Sister – Staff Review – Cherise

Black Water Sister by Zen Cho (Request)

Spirits don’t always stay dead. Jess finds this out the hard way when her Ah Ma comes to her and demands her to finish her unfinished business. But how do you do that when you don’t know who you can trust? And who is this mysterious Black Water Sister?

We follow Jess as she and her parents move back to Malaysia. What she didn’t expect is to start hearing a voice that claims to be her Ah Ma. Ah Ma wants revenge on a man that happens to be the 5th richest man in the country. Jess, just simply trying to do as her Ah Ma wishes to get her to leave her alone, ends up getting possessed by her Ah Ma and nearly kills the man’s son. We find out that there’s more to this story and to her mother’s side of the family that she didn’t know, including the fact, her Ah Ma did some rather illegal things while alive while the god Black Water Sister peeks her head in, after all, Ah Ma had been her medium while alive. Now Jess is faced with becoming the next one while not wanting her life tied to the god who demands blood.

I loved every second of this book. We get to know these characters along with knowing some of the beliefs in Malaysia (though it didn’t touch on the large Muslim population, simply the old beliefs of the Malaya people, Christianity, and Chinese gods). Then there’s the fact this book has a lot of diversity within it. Shreng is mixed race, part Chinese, part Indian. Jess’s girlfriend is Indian. And then there’s the fact Jess is gay and has to live with keeping this a secret from her family because she fears them finding out. There weren’t really slow parts because this book had bigger events tied to it and Jess as a character is extremely relatable in my opinion. She wants to do right by her family and not stir the boat or make them worry. Of course, that doesn’t exactly work for her as her mother finds out about the god. As for what this story is about at its heart, it’s about those who want to get rid of the old ways. After all, there’s a fight for the right of the land that has Black Water Sister’s shrine on it. Ah Ku is a medium and on the board of the temple. It’s about the rich wanting to gentrify everything because they feel they have a right, specifically those of Chinese descent because they get a boost simply for being Chinese. What happens to the old ways and the old gods when their shrines are destroyed to be made into a coffee shop?
Please go read this amazing book. I highly, highly recommend it.

5 stars.

Girl A – Staff Review – Cherise

Girl A by Abigail Dean

I went into Girl A not fully remembering what the book was about. All I knew that I wanted to read it. And I’m so happy I did. This book really kept me guessing. I wasn’t expecting the twist, despite having thought more books should have that sort of twist to it.

Lex is one of seven children. She is Girl A, the one that escaped her father and the house of horrors where she and her siblings were being held captive, tied down, and starved. We see current Lex and past Lex, living through her memories of that life with the death of her mother and her mother’s final wishes for Lex to carry out her will. Within it, we meet Lex’s siblings and the lives they are now trying to live despite the horrors they experienced, some worse than others. There’s Ethan who has profited off his past, who is about to be happily married. There’s Delilah, who has seemingly moved forward with her life, she’s married and has found her faith once again. There’s Gabriel who has been dealing with his trauma and the fact he wasn’t set up to succeed due to the family that took him in after. There’s Noah who was a baby when it all happened and has no memory of it. He’s a happy teenager completely unaware of what had happened. And then there’s Evie, the younger sister that Lex loved the most. They had shared a room together during all of this and they forged a bond. It’s Evie who convinces Lex that they should turn the house of their pain into something good, a community center. She just has to get her siblings to sign off on it.

This book is full of twists and horrifying details including a lot of abuse, trauma, PTSD, alcoholism, drug use, and so much more. Despite that, I somehow ate up this book. It went by so quickly, and as I mentioned, I didn’t see the twist coming, which I normally try to keep an eye out for in books like this. I think I enjoyed it because Lex is morally gray. You can’t say she’s fully a good person, but that she does try to be for the most part. She isn’t trying to be anyone’s friend. But she does slowly come back to her family, to look past the horrors and how her siblings had managed to survive after it all. She finds her own happiness in the fact she has amazing foster parents and a good job and slowly, her family, even if she has to face a hard truth that she’d been avoiding since the day she got free.

3 stars.

These Violent Delights – Staff Review – Cherise

These violent delights by Chloe Gong

This book was one of those books I was super excited about. I’m not a fan of Romeo and Juliet, but a retelling set in Shanghai in the 1920s? PLUS a supernatural mystery? I was extremely here for this book. This story did start out strong, however I felt that the book dragged on in the end and could have ended a 100 pages sooner, much of the plot repeated again and again. I fell in love with the characters. Juliette is a character that you instantly love because she’s strong and doesn’t care about being nice. You realize there’s a lot behind this, a lot of trauma that made her become cold and ruthless. Roma on the other hand I didn’t care for that much. He fell flat. He was technically the same as Juliette, but with a softer tone to him. He was a gangster unwilling to kill. There were times I liked him, I liked what he stood for, but by the end he felt like he got in the way more than anything. I loved the representation in this book, Kathleen being a transwoman and Marshall a gay man. The author wrote them both well, not letting those things rule their characters and be their sole trait. Did it play a big part in both of them? Kathleen at least, yes. Marshall, not so much. Being part of both the gay and trans community, I did love seeing this inclusion in a book set in the 1920s, when people like to pretend that no one was gay back then. As for the plot, it did suck me in at first. Two rival gangs, a madness spreading through their city, members of the gang dropping quickly. That the two ex lovers now must work together to solve it. I do love a good enemies to lovers. And this book took it a step further, from enemies, to lovers, to enemies, to dealing with each other, and finally lovers again only for it to sour once more. Personally I would have preferred if the romance had held out a little longer. It just didn’t fit with the fact the two of them. It felt a little forced.

So my final thoughts. It’s an enjoyable story, though it didn’t fully live up to the hype I had for it. It fell flat in a few places, but I am interested to see what book two gives us.

3 Stars

The Nickel Boys – Staff Review – Cherise

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Going into this book you know it’s not going to end well. There’s no way a story about the institutions that were once common place as the one in this book. And yet, you have a hope. Because the book gives you small peek into the future of Elwood. Elwood survived. He wasn’t one of the boys buried on boot hill out back of the Nickel Academy. You’ll go through it with him, live the trauma and abuse he experienced in the time of the Civil Rights Movement, of Jim Crow. Elwood is a smart kid who’s life was just starting, he was going to be the first person in his family to go to college, and early at that when he stuck out his thumb to hitch a ride on his first day of class. He wouldn’t know until the cop was pulling them over that the car was stolen. It didn’t matter he was only hitchhiking. He was sentenced to Nickel Academy. There, Elwood learns the hard way to keep his head down, to not cause problems even if it’s for the betterment of others. He is beaten and watches boys disappear. He sees the difference in how the white boys are treated and how those of color are treated. He befriends Turner, another boy there and they keep each other sane while watching out for the other.

This book is important, it’s part of the history we need to acknowledge and do better about. We still throw away boys of color into institutions like this, not giving them a chance to become men. We see the man Elwood turns into, how careful he is now, how he still tries to keep moving up and not let his past get him, but even he sees the patterns and knows that he’s broken and can’t exactly move past it. In the end, when the truth comes out and the bodies are found on boot hill Elwood has to face the truth and come forward as who he really is. But he doesn’t have to do it alone, though he’s avoided the boys from Nickel all this time. I highly recommend this book, though it will set your gut in knots. It’s too important to not to read. The author brought together this story that might not be fully true, but it’s true in the sense that Elwood is the boys from schools like this. He is real in the fact his trauma lives on in the others who lived this life and those now who face jail time for minor offenses at such a young age. And the end? It’ll leave you gasping and wanting to yell out at the twist you don’t see coming.

5 Stars

Punching the Air – Staff Review – Cherise

Punching the air by Ibi Zoboi with Yusef Salaam

This story will rip you to pieces. I knew it would be emotional simply by knowing the author and what they’ve written in the past. And I wasn’t wrong. This was one of the most beautiful books I’ve read all year and probably the most gut wrenching. Amal is sentenced to Juvie for something had didn’t do. Was he there? Yes. But did he throw the last punch? No. Amal was in the wrong place at the wrong time and the result he was found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit and the one person who can prove him innocent is in a coma. Everyone he had relied on let him down, from his art teacher who was supposed to be on his side who instead testified about his anger, anger that might be real, but not in the way she sees him, simply because he’s a black male it means he’s “angry” because she’s constantly failing him because she refuses to listen to him. His lawyer promises that he’ll be found innocent and then rolls over when he’s found guilty. Amal is a poet, and artist. He believes he loses these things when he’s taken to Juvie. He lets that said anger go and lashes out after he’s a victim to a racist officer and is beaten by white prisoners. Because Amal is a teenager, he’s angry at how life has let him down. But he gets lucky, he makes friends while he’s there, he meets someone who sees his talent and wants to give him a chance in Amira. His mother is there every step of the way and refuses to let her son become hardened, to lose hope in the world.

This story is short but terribly important in the time we live in. It’s only at the end we find out this story is based off of Yusef Salaam who cowrites this story using his own experience, one of Central Park Five, now exonerated. It makes these details more chilling, more heartbreaking. Amal is a good kid who is treated horribly simply because he’s black, because he’s a male, because he’s Muslim, because he has no dad in the picture. Thankfully, there are people who see Amal for who he is, a kid who just wants to express himself in a way to cope with the injustice. Read this book. It’s so important.

5 stars

The Vanishing Half – Staff Pick – Cherise

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

I wasn’t a big fan of it the first couple of chapters, but I think I just wasn’t in the right headspace for this story. It didn’t take long for that opinion to change. I quickly became wrapped into this story and characters, needing to know more about the mystery of Stella. I tend to struggle with books that are family sagas like this one was, but this story somehow did it in a way that wasn’t hard to follow and left you wanting more. The story revolves around Desiree and Stella, twin sisters who live in the town of Mallard in the deep south. The “town” (as we find out later it’s not a real town according to the government, but it’s clear this is simply because of who lives there) is populated by light skin African Americans. At 16 the twins run to New Orleans, escaping the town they grew up, that their own family founded. But not long after Stella disappears, leaving Desiree alone. The story revolves on Stella’s disappearance and the aftermath, as life goes on. Desiree comes back to Mallard years later with a daughter, Jude, who is dark skinned and is ridiculed by the kids at school. We meet Early, a boy that Desiree had fallen for as a teenager and is given a second chance with, who had been hunting down Desiree and Jude (he’s a bounty hunter who was paid to try to find them) only to volunteer to look for Stella while keeping their secret. I picked up this book because it had LGBTQA+ representation and we find that representation when  Jude when she moves to California for college. She meets Reese, a sweet man that is hard not to love instantly. We learn Reese is a trans man and he has gay friends who are drag queens. The whole group of characters are simply really well done and hard not to love. We learn Stella is living a double life, one in which she hides that she’s African American from her husband and daughter, this all in the time of racial discrimination. It leaves the reader wondering, if you had a chance like Stella, would you take it? Would you kill the person you were after all the hate you saw growing up? Or would you be like Desiree who refuses to kill that part of her, even working for the FBI in a time when there was questions of if the FBI had any link to the death of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, only to return to Mallard, the home she was so desperate to escape. Both twins live completely different lives and have daughters that remind them more of their sister than themselves.  I highly recommend this book. It’s a really interesting story that might take you out of your comfort zone. It makes you look at race relations in this country in a different life and forces you to ask what would you do in this situation, knowing the hardships and abuses these women faced and the lives of their daughters.

4 stars

The Serpent King – Staff Review – Cherise

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

This book has been on my To Be Read List for a long time. I finally picked it up after a friend of mine sent me a copy. I was struggling to find something to read that caught my attention even while in a reading slump. The Serpent King was able to do that. I devoured it. It was the first book in a long time I didn’t put aside to read another book. And then another book. 

This book follows three friends, Dill, Lydia, and Travis in their senior year of high school in a small Tennessee town. All three are misfits, not exactly fitting in at school. It’s how they became friends. Dill is the son of a Pentecostal preacher who used live snakes in his services who was arrested, grandson of the famed Serpent King, believing madness comes to each Dillard Early (he is the third). Travis deals with hardships at home and the grief over the death of his brother. Lydia is made for big city life, having managed to somehow run an extremely popular blog and is in some cases famous in the larger world but not where she lives. There was something so completely wonderful and aching about this story that simply kept your attention through the whole thing. If spots were slow, it was done in a way that was still entertaining. This story truly knows how to get you to become attached to these characters quickly and to leave you completely wrapped up in their happiness and loses. 

I recommend this book for anyone who wants to read about small town life (though in the south in a lot of ways you can relate with living in a small town even here in Maine) with wonderfully descriptive writing that really connects with you. The Serpent King is available on the CloudLibrary to check out and I highly recommend it. Just be prepared for some tissues!

5 Stars