Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

cobb cover

“Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy.” (GR)

*****

 

Children of Blood and Bone is set in the land of Orïsha, where the maji once wielded their magic and ruled the elements. But our heroine Zélie lives in an Orïsha where ‘magic has gone away,’ where ‘the Raid’ happened and her mother and countless other maji were murdered by king Saran’s army. Zélie is living with this trauma of genocide in a world of systemic oppression, resisting where she can, without magic and fearing for her non-maji brother and father. Marked by their dark skin and stark white hair, dîviners are harassed, abused and killed by the lighter-skinned ruling kosidán. The parallels to the white supremacist US and Black resistance movements such as #BLM are clear. She also explores colorism and the privileges that come with it.

Adeyemi has created a stunning piece of speculative fiction with detailed world-building. She has drawn on West-African and especially Yoruba culture to create the world of Orïsha and it’s never not going to be a relief and pleasant surprise to get to read non-Western fantasy. Also, there are snow leoponaires! There is an overview of the maji clans at the beginning of the book and I hope we’ll get to meet more of them in the sequel.

The book is told in alternating points of view from Zélie, Amari and her brother Inan. It’s quite easy to follow despite that and allows us to see their doubts and how they influence each other. For example we get a Zélie that will do everything to change the system but in her chapters we also get to experience her as traumatized, as having huge doubts about her own role in the revolution and the love and hope she holds for her family and her people. With Amari we get an inkling of how she came to support the cause and of the fighter behind the shy, privileged princess. Quite a surprise was also Inan, but I don’t want to say much more except I’m glad how his role and the relationships he formed were handled. The women in this book are amazingly complex and I’m so glad teens get Black feminist reads like CoBB.

This a hyped book (and I am so glad this book got all the hype), but let me tell you, the hype is real! Children of Blood and Bone is a fast-paced, Black fantasy that’ll leave you breathless. While the pacing was excellent, my reading was purposely slow. Because I loved this book so much that even 600 pages weren’t enough. And I’m usually meh about books longer than 350 pages. So, read it now, if you haven’t already! Brace yourself for quite a bit of violence though.

Finally, fair warning: Take a deep breath before you read the last page! 😀 The wait for book 2 will be rough, but remember we’re getting to see the movie adaptation before (I think). I’m so excited! There’s a scene where Zélie finds other dîviners and there’s celebration and can you imagine how amazing that will be to see on the screen!?

 

Other thoughts:

Stitch’s Media Mix

The Shrinkette

Word Wonders

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Fierce Reads in exchange for an honest review.

 

Indianapress.co

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Blog Tour Q&A + Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet X blog tour image

GR The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo ・Pub. Date: March 6th, 2018 ・YA/Poetry 

“A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.”

 

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WOCreads: Can you tell us a bit about your inspiration for writing The Poet X?

Elizabeth Acevedo: As someone who was a writer and performer as a teenager, there was so many fascinating facets to participating in poetry slams that I wanted to capture, but as I got to know my character more I realized that slam was a vehicle, but that the main point of the story was to tell the story of what it means to struggle with your family, your faith, your body, and the societal expectations people have of you.

WOCreads: You’re a slam champion with amazing video poems and the fierce chapbook Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths. How did you come to the novel form and how did your process differ from writing poetry?

EA: I’ve always been a big reader of fiction and had aspirations to write a book but I had to write several manuscripts before I was able to teach myself how to write this narrative. Writing a poetry manuscript is a bit different than a novel because in the former, the poems are often self-contained, even if they are in conversation with one another. But a novel requires a plot arc and character development that forced some of the verses to be transition pieces; I had to learn how to keep all the different pieces balanced.

WOCreads: I love Xiomara’s character and the way her voice just leaps off the page. How did you go at creating her character, did you draw inspiration from different media or people you know?

EA: Xiomara is an assemblage of a lot of girls I know, some that I’ve taught, some that I went to school with, and of course, myself. I wanted to ensure she had an authentic voice and I borrowed from parts of my life to make a character who felt and sounded real.

WOCreads: Your poetry is fiercely feminist, tackling issues like hair, sexualization and anti-Blackness central to the intersection of Afro-Latinidad. How did you have Xiomara engage with these issues?

EA: Xiomara doesn’t always name that she’s engaging with these issues; more often the reader sees her questioning gender roles, rape culture, beauty standards, and the symbolism of white saints and saviors and what that means for dark-skinned congregations, but I think I keep her engagement with these issues central but subtle. She is still figuring out the language to name those things.

WOCreads: Young Adult literature is currently experiencing a much-needed rise of diversity, but there’s still a lack of Afro-Latinx stories. What particularly appealed to you about YA and do you have some favorite YA books?

EA: Growing up I wished for more representation, for characters that looked like me. And then when I was a schoolteacher (I still work closely with teens), I realized that although I had grown older the canvas of literature in regards to its representation of a diverse Latinx experience had not expanded enough. I really wanted to help bridge that gap, especially for such a critical age where young people are affirming their self-importance in the world.

WOCreads: Do you have any advice for LatinX teens on writing and navigating the publishing industry?

EA: I think I would advise teens to form good relationships with other teens that are writing; my best critique partners have been my peers. I also strongly advise mentorship. So much of the publishing industry can be confusing, but having one or two writers who are one step ahead of you really helps shine light on what you can be doing to better your craft. I think this can be done by taking online or in-person workshops, and engaging with writers, agents, and editors on social media. Demystifying the industry is the first step to learning how to navigate it.

WOCreads: What’s next for you? Are you working on a new project?

EA: Yes! My second novel is slated to come out with HarperTeen in Winter of 2019!

WOCreads: I can’t wait! Thanks so much for answering my questions!

 

↓↓↓

Win a copy of The Poet X!

The giveaway is open internationally! Enter till March 26th!

*****

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Elizabeth Acevedo’s debut novel The Poet X is a coming of age story told in verse. The main character Xiomara Batista is an Afro-Dominican teen living in Harlem with a twin brother, devout Catholic mother and emotionally absent father. She doesn’t fit the space which society and her parents have designated for her, but X is determined to carve out her own place in the world. It’s from filling her notebooks with all the words she cannot utter freely to finding her way to the world of spoken word poetry that Xiomara comes into her own.

The Poet X deals with sexualization, rape culture, religion and complicated families. While Xiomara’s mother is very religious, she’s also taken in the virgin/whore dichotomy that Catholicism espouses and attempts to mold her daughter accordingly. I found these scenes difficult to read, but we also get X’s memories of an earlier version, of mother as heroine, who takes her children ice skating and loves them fiercely.

Xiomara feels that her body as “un-hideable,” growing curves and being sexualized make her feel ambiguously about her body and she learns to make her fists do the talking instead. She comes to question religion, especially the whiteness of Catholic figures, as “not one of the disciples look like me: morenita and big and angry.” X also criticizes the patriarchal nature of Catholicism: “When I’m told to have faith/ in the father the son/ in men and men are the first ones/ to make me feel so small.”

It was great to see how close Xiomara is with her twin and their childhood friend Caridad. I loved her relationship with her gay brother Xavier, who is super smart but who she grew up protecting from others and with whom she builds a unit against their parents. And while Caridad chafes less against her family and the good girl role, she’s a wonderful friend. X’s crush Aman is Trinidadian and shorter than her.

I love how X’s voice just leaps off the page and you can almost hear her perform as you read. I adore spoken word, so I will be rereading this one in the audiobook version. It was amazing to see X come into her own, to find a place where she fits and which she makes fit her. This is a powerful work, loved the Brown girl feminism! It’ll mean the most to Afro-LatinX folx, as it should, but I found a lot to connect with. Give this book to all the marginalized teens you know! Suffice it to say, I was absolutely blown away by this book and I hope you will be, too!

TW: Sexual harrassment, abuse, body shaming, homophobia.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the publisher and Karina from Afire Pages for the opportunity.

*****

about the author

 

Side Project: Diverse Study Group

divstgr

Ugh I wanted to post last night but migraine struck again. I didn’t want to post without an image though, so today is the day! Maybe it’s my migraine hangover brain, but while rereading the rows of text confused even me, thus have some random keywords emphasized for (hopefully) readability.

The What & The How

So during the holidays I mentioned on twitter that I wanted to read up on current mostly academic nonfiction and asked if anyone wanted to join in. Loved that so many of you were interested, and hope you still are at the end of this post! 😀

I graduated last year, but have continued reading articles and nonfiction regularly, however I miss the exchange and discussion part of uni that generates understanding and new ideas. So that’s why I want to make this a regular thing and also involve you folks. Knowledge production happens in fiction and on social media, especially twitter, as well, so reading scholarly works would just be another, perhaps complimentary,  approach. I realize that these works might not be accessible to all, but perhaps the format of an informal study group encourages people who wouldn’t pick up these works by themselves. Disclosure: I’ve done grad school twice, but I had to work for it, my brain is super slow. I hope to have discussions that have space for non-academic folks and a context that is not competitive. As for actually getting our hands on these books, I can ILL many UP books (which takes 2-3 weeks) here and probably share 1-2 chapters as pdfs. We might also decide to read articles and I still have access to some databases. Perhaps between all of us, we’ll manage with most works, I’m hopeful.

Which brings me to another thing: This project would basically be a study group not a book club in that we would be reading chapters from books (and /or articles), perhaps several different books to get at several ways of approaching a topic. We could always later decide if we want to continue with a specific book all the way through, but the wonderful Social Justice Book Club does this and I want to join their reading whenever a book interests me 🙂 Let me know what you think! I know we all have lots of other books to read.

Also, I was thinking of reading and discussing 1-3 chapters a month, using a hashtag (#DivStGr for example). Or we could use a shared google document perhaps. We’ll need to see how the time-zones work out, but perhaps weekends with not quite live-tweeting would work.

Also, you’ll notice that this is a book list that is broad in topics and  lot of books are left out. That is because I finally have to luxury to read widely rather than in-depth to become an expert in one particular topic. However, my focus is clearly on ethnic studies, feminism and social justice and at the moment I’m mostly focusing on the these experiences in a Western context. So there’s several fields I want to explore, and that’s how I grouped books. Of course several books would fit more than one category, but this is easier for overview, I hope.

And finally, tons of books are missing from this list. I forced myself to post only a handful of books I want to read to start with, my initial list was embarrassingly long! But I’m sure you have suggestions, too, and when we decide on a fist topic we should do additional research as well. While my goal is to read newish research, I found that it might benefit discussion and understanding to go back more so that foundational and key texts can be added too. So the older works could be read if some of you are new to a concept or topic, or for comparisons and to find changes in directions of where the field is headed.

Fields of interest/ books to read from:

Intersectional Feminism, Solidarity, Disability

are-all-the-womem-white

Are All The Women Still White?: Rethinking Race, Expanding Feminisms  (Janell Hobson)

intersectionality

Intersectionality (Patricia Hill Collins, Sirma Bilge)

feminist-quer-crip

Feminist, Queer, Crip (Alison Kafer)

#BlackLivesMatter

policing-the-planet

Policing the Planet (Jordan T. Camp, Christina Heatherton, eds.)

blacklib

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation (Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor)

The Prison Industrial Complex

global-lockdown

Global Lockdown: Race, Gender, and the Prison-Industrial Complex (Julia Sudbury, ed.)

captive-genders

Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex (Eric A. Stanley, Nat Smith, eds.)

are-prisons-obsolete

Are Prisons Obsolete? (Angela Y. Davis)

Sound Studies

sonic-color-line

The Sonic Color Line: Race and the Cultural Politics of Listening (Jennifer Lynn Stoever)

dissonant-divas

Dissonant Divas in Chicana Music: The Limits of La Onda (Deborah R. Vargas)

Indigineity, Settler-Colonialism, Sovereignty

decolonizing

Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (Linda Tuhiwai Smith)

asian-settler-colonialism

Asian Settler Colonialism: From Local Governance to the Habits of Everyday Life in Hawai’i (Candace Fujikane, Jonathan Y. Okamura, eds.)

Queer Studies

queer-activism

Queer Activism in India: A Story in the Anthropology of Ethics (Naisargi Dave)

black-queer-studies

Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology (E. Patrick Johnson, Mae G. Henderson, eds.)

Critical Ethnic Studies

critical-ethnic-studies

Critical Ethnic Studies: A Reader (Critical Ethnic Studies Editorial Collective)

Biopolitics

bioinsecurities

Bioinsecurities: Disease Interventions, Empire, and the Government of Species (Neel Ahuja)

habeas

Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Alexander G. Weheliye)

Health, Medicine

medicating-race

Medicating Race: Heart Disease and Durable Preoccupations with Difference (Anne Pollock)

blood-sugar

Blood Sugar: Racial Pharmacology and Food Justice in Black America (Anthony Ryan Hatch)

So, what do you think? Are you in? Let me know your thoughts on the project, books on your radar and directions you want to explore!

P.S.: I’m totally taking ideas on the name!

A New Beginning

A New Beginning

Welcome to WOCreads!

After book blogging for many years, I have found myself in need of a change. In these rough times, I have decided that I want and need the blog to be at once a statement and an archive and resource. Hopefully people looking for diverse literature, specifically by women of color, will find their next read here (and the next, and the one after that).

WocReads at once refers to the books I want to discuss in this space, and to myself, a woman of color who reads. So yes, this is personal. Much love to the #DiverseBookBloggers family for making me feel brave!

This blog is a work in progress and changing urls does not mean I’m going to be a super blogger. It’s just me claiming my corner! 🙂

Best,

B.

Thoughts: One Crazy Summer

gaither sisters

One Crazy Summer is the first book in a middle-grade trilogy about three Black sisters growing up during the 1960s/70s. In the (crazy) summer of 1968, Delphine, Vonetta and Fern are sent by their father to Oakland, California to visit their mother Cecile, who left them years ago. Instead of spending time with her estranged daughters, Cecile sends them to the Black Panther People’s Center for some real education (and perhaps some convenient babysitting) and holes herself up in her kitchen.

You can see how Williams-Garcia sets the stage here not only for some much-needed Black historical fiction, but also an exploration of the meaning of family, of love and abandonment and growth. The book shines with outstanding characters against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement, but the tone is never preachy and the social commentary handled subtly.

Eleven going on twelve Delphine narrates this story, and she is a mature and strong young girl with too much responsibility as she tries to take on the role of mother to her younger sisters. Through Delphine we hear Big Ma’s opinion on those militants in berets she sees on tv who are just making trouble, Delphine being told to be a good girl because she presents the entire Black community; we see her learning about the community support system set up by the Black Panthers. There’s a lot of learning and growing done by the girls in Oakland.

Another aspect I loved was the mother-daughter relationship between Cecile and Delphine wo, unlike her sisters, still has memories of her mother.The author handles this relationship so well, this is not about making Cecile a villain or a corny happy end, but instead Delphine learns of her mother’s identity as a person outside of being a mother. Cecile who is now Sister Nzilla turns out to be a poetess of the revolution. It is clear that she does not want to be a mother and does not want to sacrifice her identity for this role. Her behavior and carelessness will shock many, but I appreciate that we learn a bit about her marriage and her reasons for leaving. While Nzilla tells her daughter to enjoy being a kid, it is clear that Delphine felt she had to sacrifice being a child. Perhaps this is a lesson in selfishness that Delphine can learn from. Williams-Garcia makes it possible for readers to feel compassion for Nzilla, for all that she is a terrible mother.

And the younger sisters come to life as well: Vonetta with her desire for being seen and heard, practicing for the stage and then getting stage freight. But also caught between wanting to make friends and being loyal to her sisters. And little Fern who is made fun of for carrying a white doll around with her everywhere and never getting her mother to use her real name. But oh, little Fern gets her moment toward the end of the book and it is utterly amazing!

For the weighty subjects covered, One Crazy Summer is a fun and quick read and I wasn’t quite ready to let go of the Gaither sisters. Luckily there are two sequels that I immediately put on my tbr after finishing the book. I’m glad I found a new-to-me author who has also quite the backlist for me to explore. And it looks like I need to explore more middle-grade literature, not that I’m especially biased towards it, but it was just rarely on my radar!

Other thoughts:

Ana @ Things Mean A Lot

Lady Business

Reading in Color

Rhapsody in Books

The Englishist

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

(Why) Should we read middle-grade fiction? Tell me in the comments!

Thoughts: Coffee Will Make You Black

coffee will make you black

April Sinclair’s Coffee Will Make You Black is the coming-of-age story of young Jean “Stevie” Stevenson who grows up in the Chicago Southside of the 1960s, in the midst of the Black Power and Civil Rights movements. As a bildungsroman, the novel follows Stevie from age eleven until seventeen and her journey of self-discovery  as well as her and her community’s place in the US. If, like me, you’re not from the US, the title may have you confused. Coffe will make you Black is explained by Stevie’s grandmother as:

“The old folks in the South used to tell that to children so they wouldn’t want to drink coffee. The last thing anybody wanted to be was black.”

Horrible isn’t it? As you can see, and important part of the novel revolves about racism and racial identity. Sinclair also critiques the colorism inside and outside of the Black community. For Stevie is very dark-skinned and among her group of friends they like to compare their skin color to see who is the lightest. Alongside these notions of colorism is the rise of the Black Power movement through which Stevie comes to reject anti-blackness. Instead, she decides to wear her hair in a ‘fro and refuses the skin-bleaching cremes her mother offers her. Sinclair further demonstrates the generational conflict at work as Stevie’s mother strives to emulate white people in that she straightens her hair, bleaches her skin and insists on ‘proper’ English. Stevie, however, fights her mother and embraces Black vernacular and insists on staying friends with a girl who is ‘nothing but trouble.’

But square Stevie also longs to be part of the cool group, which leads to boyfriends with misogynistic attitudes and nearly having sex before she is ready. Growing closer to white school nurse Horn, Stevie comes to re-evaluate her sexual identity and also her community’s attitudes towards interracial friendship and homosexuality that she had previously accepted without question.

In the end, the novel proudly declares that ‘Black is beautiful’ and Stevie’s grandmother offers an other saying, ‘The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice’ as counterpoints to the titular racist idiom. Sinclair for the most part wonderfully connects and interrelates the coming of age story and the Civil Rights narrative, even if some moments could’ve done with a lighter touch. But this is a debut novel and it spoke to me on so many levels. I can only imagine what this book might mean to all the Stevies out there. And apart from its obvious importance in telling the story of growing up a Black girl in the 60s, a lot of the book is uproriously funny! I can only draw from other readings and movies about the time and community for comparison, but I think Sinclair’s use of vernacular is fantastic and lends the book much of its charm.

Luckily there is a sequel, Ain’t Gonna Be the Same Fool Twice, which follows Stevie’s exploration of her sexual identity in her college years in San Francisco. I can’t wait to read it!

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

What’s your favorite coming of age story? Tell me in the comments!

Thoughts: The Sisters Are Alright by Tamara Winfrey Harris

sisters are alright

The Sisters Are Alright is first of all a love note Tamara Winfrey Harris has written to other black women. It’s a warm, welcoming book that celebrates their complexities and humanity. I hope Harris’ book will be a gift given to many young black girls. I read this book to understand the specific lived experience of black women in the United States, become a better ally and just rejoice in the celebration of women of color.

“Black women’s stories look a lot different from what you’ve heard. And when black women speak for themselves, the picture presented is nuanced, empowering, and hopeful”

Some of you might know the author from her blog What Tami Said or from her editor work on Racialicious. In her first book, Harris starts by introducing the history of propaganda against black women and the major harmful stereotypes that were introduced during slavery and have become the backbone of the current racist, sexist society of the US. This first part will be very educational for anyone not part of the target audience, but it is tough reading as Harris covers everything from Sapphire to the welfare queen and the Moynihan Report to hurtful current beauty and marriage double standards.

Harris shows how stereotypes of the ‘angry black women’ are still pulled out even on successful women like Shonda Rhimes or Michelle Obama. Or how the myth of the ‘strong black women’ hurts black women emotionally or physically, causing stress and serious health issues when they try to appear strong all their lives.

But Harris writes engagingly and encouragingly, dismantling these misogynoir traps and interspersing them with little boxes called ‘Moments in Alright,’ which shows that black women are indeed alright. Here Harris presents snippets about black women as successful business owners, achieving amazing educational goals and more.

There’s one caveat, but Harris is very upfront about it, the women she interviewed and focused on are largely well-off middle-class and for the most part straight. Make sure to read about these experiences, too. Recommendation: Black Girl Dangerous on Race, Queerness, Class and Gender by Mia McKenzie.

If you’re on a tight budget, like me, the book is even available on Scribd. And isn’t the cover the best thing ever? The Sisters Are Alright is also my first read for the Diversity on the Shelf Challenge this year.

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!