Review: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

I write this knowing that I will not able to truly express how I feel about this novel. It is equal parts breathtaking, heartbreaking and infuriating. I was drawn to this book by the title. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that Kate and I have an interest in Korea and I was born in 1982. You add the feminist storyline and it had me. Kim Jiyoung quit her job that she liked to be a full time mother and wife. She starts speaking in other women’s voices which not surprisingly concerned her husband so he enlist the help of a male therapist to treat her. The novel plays out out a narrative her life as she explains it to her therapist during their sessions. Through this we see the hardships she endures throughout her life and everything that has led her to today. Like so many women of our generation, Jiyoung was encouraged to follow her dreams and pursue a career that she wanted but also expected to give it all up once marriage and children come into the picture. As the novel progresses and she gets older I could see of how the toll of constantly being undervalued, dismissed and harassed by a misogynistic society has taken on her. There are the all too familiar stories of having expectations of taking care of ones family over yourself. The expectation that her brother should get cherished because he will be the one to bring the family honor and not the sisters. The expectations that women have to do just deal with being harassed and belittled at the work place. That she will always come in second to the wants and needs to the men in her life. Every woman knows how this all feels. Growing up in the US during a time of mostly prosperity, there were things about her childhood I could not identify with but what I could was being told that the boy teasing you/bulling you means that they secretly like you. The assumption that the boys are just smarter and some how more mature and more immature then you too. I remember a specific incident in college getting a grade two points below my fellow male student even though it was a group project and we both did equal amount of the work. At least twice I was passed over for promotions in favor of a less experience male coworker. As a single woman living in New York City. I am constantly aware of my surroundings and cautious of what I say and do when I’m around men. On the occasion I went out with friends, we always make sure to text each other when we get home to check in that we all got home safely. It’s exhausting to be a woman. Admittingly, Kim Jiyoung had it harder then I did. I do admit that I have a certain amount of privilege that has allowed me to live an easier life than most. I have had some sense that Korea is a very patriarchal society based on the amount of Kdramas and Kpop I’ve consumed but how it’s illustrated here makes it feel so oppressive. It seems to be getting better but you can’t change thousands of years of thinking and traditions overnight. Jiyoung is constantly trying to find the balance of sticking up for herself but also not rocking the boat. She sees that what she is being told and taught is unfair but doesn’t what to to say or do about it. When she does stand up for herself it is often her that gets in trouble and not the man in question. Again all too familiar. It really is a wonder that after a lifetime of this abuse and oppression that all women don’t just snap. The sense of dread I began to feel as the narrative came closer and closer to her getting married was just heavy. I wished I could tell her no. Don’t do it. Don’t quit your job. Insist more that your husband give up more of his time once the baby is born. At the end we get to read the therapist diagnosis and like so many good intention men he gets so close to getting to the truth and understanding what she is really going through but in the end fails to comprehend. Mostly because it would mean he would have to start to actually see women as something other then just their wives, mothers, daughters and human beings and to do that he would have to make them people, equal and that is just too hard for too many men. So nothing changes and we all suffer for it.

Ally Box!

Greetings! About a month ago, I saw that Fulton Street Books and Coffee was putting together an ally box, containing books to help folks wanting to learn more about race, racism, and white supremacy in America. So, to further my education (and to be a better and more informed teacher) I signed up. The subscription is running for three months (and there are still some subscriptions available through Fulton Street Books website! Click through on that link above!)

In this first box, there are flash cards with key terms that you’ve seen popping up in the media and two books. They’re both books that are on my to-read pile and I am super excited about them. The first book is So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo. I think this will be an overview to some of the issues in the current moment.

The second book is The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein. As someone who grew up in largely white communities, I think this one will probably contain a lot of information to help me better understand how I have benefited from our current systems that harm Black citizens and other citizens of color. Despite what I said about the first book probably being a good overview text, I think I’m going to start with the second one.

These look like they’re both going to be good reads, and I can’t wait to see what’s in the next box!

Quick Review: Children of Virtue of Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

Wow. This was gripping from the very beginning. I really love how Tomi Adeyemi has built this world. It is full of such imagination but also so rooted in the the real world. Zelie and Amari completed the ritual to bring back magic but it kinda worked too well. Not only do the Maji have their magic back but Nobles with any Maji ancestries also have magic now. So their enemy is just as powerful and in some cases more powerful. This book really explores how deep the hurt that hatred and bigotry lies and not easy to get over and move on. Amari and Inan both try to get both sides to come together but there are just too many years of hurt and betrayal for either side to trust each other. In fact they are both so sure that the other side is wrong that the only way forward is to eliminate the other. Also the power of grief and how it can really paralyze you to move forward. Pretty much everyone in this book makes big mistakes that will hunt them. Except for Tzain, who is just maybe the best person ever. I really can’t believe it ended the way that it did. It is a much bigger cliff hanger then the first one and I’m not sure I’m okay after reading it. Obviously there is one more book and so the solution couldn’t have been as easy as they thought it should have but the ending was such a twist and confusing mess that it really messes up the reader as much as the characters. I really hope the next books comes out soon.

Reviews of The Crown of Embers and Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

I really enjoyed this series. Elisa has to be considered among the best YA heroines. She is smart, caring and strong. She never stops fighting for her people and love ones and is able to make the impossible possible. The Crown of Embers begins with Elisa as Queen but because she is a teenage girl and an outsider, the first thing that she is asked to do is find a husband. The people will be more willing to except her rule if she has a husband by her side to guide her. Never mind that she just single handily saved the whole country on her own. All women need a husband. If that wasn’t enough, the Inveirno threat isn’t over. Elisa has threats coming at her from the outside and the inside so what does she do. She looks for the source of her Godstone to make her more powerful and will go through many perils to do so. Bitter Kingdom finds her facing a civil war as well having to rescue her Guard and love Hector from the Invierno. It may at first seem a little selfish to go off the grid to go rescue Hector but Elisa knows that having him at her side is a strength not to mention it gives her a opportunity to learn more about her enemy. She is nothing but practical.

What I like about Elisa is that she is not loyal to her friends but she is incredibly smart. She is able to size up a situation and come up with a solution in moments. This is truly her special power and she becomes to learn this. The Godstone gave her an advantage but it’s her ability to understand her enemies and how she can take advantage. She is able to talk her way out of a fight with her Inviernos and takes back her Palace without having to start a war. Her ability to inspire loyalty and friendship from those around her is also a power. She is a good person and people see that and want to follow her and help her. She couldn’t accomplish everything with out Hector, Mara, Belen, Ximena and the many others. I think this is way she is such a strong heroine. Yes, she has a special power that helped her out but all the power in the world wouldn’t help if she didn’t have the intelligence and friendships to plan and execute. So read those books ladies and be kind to your friends. I’m selling this trilogy short. It was a thrilling ride and I’m happy that we are getting another book in the world next year. There is so much more to explore and Elisa and her kingdom have more work to do .

Read Along with Us: A Wizard of EarthSea by Ursula K. Le Guin

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Join us for the next five weeks and read a Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. This is a short novel about Sparrowhawk, a young man who becomes a wizard. It’s listed as being for grade levels 7-9. It is a classic and I am so very excited to share this reading experience with all of you! We will post two summary discussion posts a week, starting Wednesday! The posts will be on Wednesdays and Fridays. There will be other posts related to the reading on other days. If you’re not reading with us, and are worried about spoilers, we’ll keep them behind a cut! (Also, if you’re not reading with us, you can look forward to other reviews, as I have a backlog of at least three things to review.)

 

Review: A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

conjuring of light The Shades of Magic trilogy is quite a ride and A Conjuring of Light is no exception.  For a book that has to do with multiple Londons, magic and power this is book isn’t really about any of those things.  It’s about where do people really belong.  Kell is an Antari, a very powerful magician that can travel between worlds. He is raised as a Prince, treated as the brother and son of the Royal family in Red London but never truly feeling that he is one of them because he knows he can’t leave.  Rhy is the crown prince of Arnes in Red London and for all his privilege and charm he has no magic. There are no rules or reason as to why some people have magic and while others don’t.  Rhy is the heir to the throne but feels unworthy because he doesn’t have any magic and in this world is seen as a weakness.  Lila is talented thief from Grey London struggling to get by.  She ran away from home when she was young and has been running ever since.  She had no friends as she sees any kind of attachments as a weakness she cannot afford because she has big dreams of seeing the world. Holland grew up an White London, a hard world that Magic has been slowly going away thanks to it’s nearness to Black London. In his London magic is a gift and curse those who have it have power and those who don’t will do anything to get it.  Holland is an Antari like Kell and for that reason he is both feared and targeted.  He grew up with stories of a King that will bring back magic to his world and he dreams of being that King but he suffers greatly from those who loved and cared for. Alucard was born to the aristocracy but was cast out of his family because of who he loved and now travels the seas a Privateer for the Crown. All of them are powerful in their own rights and all of them are searching for their place in their world or worlds.  Their stories is what makes this series so compelling.  As they all struggle to overcome a power far greater then them individually it was their discovering of themselves and overcoming their own fears that allowed them to overcome the darkness and save their world and themselves.  One of the themes throughout the book is that magic needs a balance.  Just like the Force for there to be peace the Light must balance the Dark.  Magic needs to be balanced with non-magic because even Magic has it’s limits. Black London was destroyed before the action of the trilogy because Magic had no counterbalance and burned it down.  For Kell, Lila, Rhy, Holland and Alucard, they are all looking for that counterbalance in their lives and until they found it they couldn’t defeat Osaron who was pure magic.  I feel like I’m getting real deep here but I think this is true in all of our lives.   The Shades of Magic is truly entertaining series.  It did have few bumps along the way.  I said of the second book about how it started off slow and a little harder to get into and this book I felt had a little unnecessary side trip to a mysterious black market, in the end these are minor missteps to a enjoyable trilogy.  A trilogy that I wonder if may become more one day because I think she left things open to a return to Grey London in the future.  I kinda hope so because I would love to visit Kell, Rhy, Lila and Alucard again.

Series We Said Goodbye To in 2017

goodbye 2017

It was a great year for books and some of my favorite series ended this year.  I’m looking back at some of the series I loved that gave us their last chapters in 2017.

  1. Prisoner’s of Peace Duology by Erin Bow -This was an unexpected ending as I didn’t know it was even in the works before I bought it.  The Swan Riders, the follow up to the Scorpio Rules was quite a ride. Greta forged her own path to save her people but not everyone was ready to let her go.
  2. Firebug Duology by Lish McBrideLish McBride has left it open for a return to this series but for now Pyromantic is the last book of the Duology.  I do hope we get more adventures with Ava, Lock and Ezra because these books have been nothing but delightful
  3.  To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before Series by Jenny Han – I thought this series was over before and while I enjoyed it I’m not sure if Forever and Always, Lara Jean was truly necessary because I felt Lara Jean ended up in the same place she was before.  I will make allowance that her decided to go to school out of state was a big growth for her.
  4. Reawakened Trilogy by Colleen Houck – This one I’m glad ended because I’m not sure I would kept up with it for another book.  I just never really connected with the characters I did with her last series, The Tiger’s Saga.  I am very happy that she will be going to back to her Tiger’s in 2018.
  5. Chronicles of Nick Series by Sherrilyn Kenyon – Technically, Nick Gautier’s story will continue in a new series but the narrative that is Chronicles of Nick is at an end.  I can’t tell you how much I love Nick and I’m not ready to let him go.
  6. Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard Trilogy by Rick Riordan – This was a groundbreaking series in a lot of ways.  Positive representation of Muslims, Queer, Trans and those with disabilities is so important and to have all of them represented in the main cast of characters is amazing.  Thank you Rick!

Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

hate u give The Hate U Give may be categorized as a fiction novel but make no mistake, there is nothing fictional about it. Yes, Starr, Khalil, Seven, Maya, Devante, Big Mav, Lisa and Kenya don’t actually exist but their story does. Starr is a sixteen year old girl who lives in the hood but goes to school in private school in the suburbs.  Her worlds could not be different.  Over Spring Break, her best friend Khalil gets shot and killed by a police office during a routine traffic stop and Starr is the only witness.  Starr must reconcile her own feelings about what she witnessed and the realities that come with it while also coming to grips how it effects her two different worlds. It gets thrown into sharp relief how her family and neighbors think what happens versus what her friends at school do.  Starr grapples with her own fears and find her own voice to stand up for what rights, stand up to the authorities and her own friends too.  This book is heartbreaking because it’s a story that we have seen played out too many times in the last couple of years.  Khalil was unarmed when he was killed.  Yes, he did sell drugs and had involvement with gangs but none of those facts should be justification for what this officer did.  You could replace Khalil’s name with Michael, Philandro, Tamir, Tayvon or any other young black men unjustly killed by law enforcement and you would go through the same emotions.  Angie Thomas does a brilliant job of outlining all the many view points about this issue.  From Starr’s father, a former gang member and ex-con who is far to aware of how the justice system works to Hailey, Starr’s rich white friend who is willing to protest only because it got her out of class for a day.  As the reader, we see what happened and how it happened at the beginning of the book.  We know it was unjust but since the other characters weren’t there, we get to see how they process it through how they relate to Starr. They accept or deny it depends mostly on their own socioeconomic background and yes race plays apart of it too.  Starr’s family of course understand immediately that Khalil did nothing wrong and that Starr did nothing wrong.  They also know that because of the neighborhood that they live in it could be dangerous for Starr to speak out even if can help bring him justice.  Whatever her decision, they always have her back.  The first thing that really struck me was when Starr and Khalil were pulled over, Starr goes over in her head how she is supposed to act when interacting with cops.  She says when she was 12 her father told her to do as the officer says, don’t talk unless spoken to and keep your hands visible.  She was told this at twelve.  Meaning that her parents thought, even as young as twelve years old she could be in danger.  I tried to think if my parents and I ever had a talk about what to do if I got pulled over and I don’t think we ever did.  Why would we?  We are white, there is no reason for cops to look at me or my sister and assume we were up to no good.  That we were criminals.  That we could be dangerous but Starr’s parents and many black parents have to worry about that for their kids.  That is truly heartbreaking.  Two of the most interesting characters, okay maybe not the most interesting are Chris and Hailey.  Chris and Hailey are both white, privileged and rich.  Chris is Starr’s boyfriend.  They share a love for sneakers, basketball and Fresh Prince of Bel Air.  He at times is completely oblivious to their differences.  He doesn’t notice or bother him that people stare at them when they walk down the hallway.  He wouldn’t say he was racists and most people would agree with him but because of his own privilege, without even realizing it he sometimes falls into the insensitive thinking. He doesn’t understand why Starr is so upset with him or just in general but when she tells him he does try to understand. He wants to be supportive to Starr and that means challenging his own misconceptions and that’s what makes a good ally.  Hailey also wouldn’t call herself a racist either.  She would be one of those people who says, “I’m not a racists have a black and Asian friend.”  Throughout the book she makes insensitive comments and try to pass them off as jokes. When she gets called out on she gets defensive.  “It was a joke” “I didn’t mean anything by it”  “I can’t believe you would think I’m a racist”  Even demands for Starr to apologize to her.  She makes absolutely no effort to see Starr’s point of view or acknowledge that what she said hurt her feelings.  When she does apologize, it isn’t because she sees what she did or said was wrong it’s that she wants things to go back to what they were before.  Since I assume there are going to be a lot of young white readers of this book, Chris and Hailey are important because they may not be able to relate with Starr and her family but they probably can relate to either Chris or Hailey, whether they want to admit it or not.  I hope they take a hard and close look at both of those characters and ask themselves some uncomfortable questions.  Are they more like Chris or like Hailey? This novel really should be required school reading. Not just because it was well written but also because it does outline all the point of views and how much it should be it’s not just black and white but shades of gray.  Only be listening and understanding what people of color and marginalized communities are saying and owning up to our prejudices will we able to end this.  So one day, we won’t have to teach our children how to act in police presence and police won’t make snap judgments about civilians based on skin color.