Amanda Eyre Ward: The Nearness of You

In this profound and lyrical novel, acclaimed author Amanda Eyre Ward explores the deeper meanings of motherhood—from the first blissful hello to the heart-wrenching prospect of saying goodbye.

Brilliant heart surgeon Suzette Kendall is stunned when Hyland, her husband of fifteen years, admits his yearning for a child. From the beginning they’d decided that having children was not an option, as Suzette feared passing along the genes that landed her mother in a mental institution. But Hyland proposes a different idea: a baby via surrogate.

Suzette agrees, and what follows is a whirlwind of candidate selections, hospital visits, and Suzette’s doubts over whether she’s made the right decision. A young woman named Dorothy Muscarello is chosen as the one who will help make this family complete. For Dorrie, surrogacy (and the money that comes with it) are her opportunity to leave behind a troubled past and create a future for herself—one full of possibility. But this situation also forces all three of them—Dorrie, Suzette, and Hyland—to face a devastating uncertainty that will reverberate in the years to come.

Beautifully shifting between perspectives, The Nearness of You deftly explores the connections we form, the families we create, and the love we hold most dear.

So here’s the deal. I almost didn’t make it past the first chapter. I even tweeted that I was fully prepared for this book to piss me off all the way through.

The premise of this book is that Suzette doesn’t want children. Her mother has a mental illness so bad that she is hospitalized (we never meet her), and Suzette also suffers from “issues.” Those issues are vague, but referred to throughout the book, and she’s deathly afraid of anyone close to her getting sick too. She was very clear on the first date with Hyland that she was not going to have children. They made a decision, she was firm on it, he seemed happy.

But after 15 years of marriage, he suddenly decided that he wanted a baby, and pretty much gaslights her into thinking she wants one too. So they get a surrogate. And then he spends the rest of the book making her feel HORRIBLE for being a successful pediatric surgeon with a busy schedule–even though she has ALWAYS BEEN a successful pediatric surgeon with a busy schedule.

This is my absolute worst nightmare–and my husband knows this–that he will suddenly decide 15 years into our marriage that he wants children. It is the cruelest thing a person could do, in my opinion–worse than cheating–to go against something so fundamental in your marriage foundation.

I know, I’m ranting, but this is all just to say that it soured my opinion of the book from the first chapter–and it only went downhill from there. I did finish it, and had that big nope in the beginning not happened…I don’t know, there were a few other things that made me go ehhhhhhhhh…

The story certainly has hooks, and I could see people liking this. But it has way more problems than good things.

NetGalley and Ballantine Books provided this ARC for an unbiased review. This post does have affiliate links.

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Malcolm X: The Autobiography of Malcolm X

If there was any one man who articulated the anger, the struggle, and the beliefs of African Americans in the 1960s, that man was Malcolm X. His AUTOBIOGRAPHY is now an established classic of modern America, a book that expresses like none other the crucial truth about our times.

 

My thoughts about Malcolm X’s autobiography are many, but also, I feel, extremely disorganized. This man is not at all who I thought he was–though admittedly, I did not know much beyond that he was a black leader in the time of the Civil Rights Movement.

That’s really such a fault of our history classes, isn’t it? He even discusses it at one point–that black history is limited to one paragraph. “We” think of him as the same kind of leader as Martin Luther King, Jr, because he is brought up in the same conversation–but in reality, the men taught exactly the opposite principles. MLK taught nonviolence and desegregation, while Malcolm X wanted Separate but Equal. And while he wasn’t exactly violent, he certainly wasn’t nonviolent or peaceful either.

This book is a real punch in the face for a white person to read. Over and over and over he calls us “devils” and “rapists.” But all the more reason I should read it–especially for Black History Month. It hurts, certainly, but that pain is nothing compared to the pain that caused his words in the first place.

For the white man to ask the black man if he hates him is just like the rapist asking the raped, or the wolf asking the sheep, ‘Do you hate me?’ The white man is in no moral position to accuse anyone else of hate!

It’s a tough read. I won’t pretend that I didn’t feel sick at times. But that sickness is due to all of the very valid points he was making. I don’t agree with all of his points–I think I’m more on the integration side of the debate (That is to say, that maybe a peaceful integration is the goal ultimately. I know it isn’t happening now in reality, and is it possible? I don’t know. As a white person, it is easy for me to speculate on these things without actually experiencing them.) than Separate but Equal (Because we know it is never equal.)–but I can certainly understand his arguments for the latter. He has some things to say about multiracial people vs racial purity that is very problematic, and he was very much a misogynist.

Most interesting was the actual development of the book itself. Malcolm X did not start off as a revolutionist preacher. The first half of his story takes place in the nightclubs of Boston and Harlem, where he dealt drugs and pimped women until he was sent to prison for 10 years. It was there he found the Nation of Islam. The telling of his story starts rough and is slowly smoothed out by sandpaper until it becomes a sermon that predicts the exact political climate we are in today. It is actually pretty creepy how right he was. I had goosebumps for most of the last section of it.

The things he said in this book about America’s race problems are terrifyingly accurate. If you’re looking for a book to read for Black History Month, Malcolm X might be a good one to turn to this February. I’m still developing my thoughts on this, and I’d love discussion about it. This is certainly not a book I read once and never approach again–I’ve even come back while reading Between the World and Me and adjusted a few things. These two books make me want to bury myself in the library stacks and research for days. There are some books that I don’t feel worthy of writing reviews for because I am not smart enough to understand them yet, and I could never live the experiences that the author has lived. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is one of those books.

(I included some of my aside thoughts in pink, mostly for clarification’s sake. I went back and forth on whether to keep them there, but I think it’s important for you to know my reasoning. Either way, our system is so broken, and I don’t know how to fix it.)

DiversityBingo2017:  POC on the Cover

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Jodi Picoult: Small Great Things

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game.

I’ve been a fan of Jodi Picoult since I first read My Sister’s Keeper. Her stories are always deep and meaningful, with some kind of big twist at the end. She is one of the queens of Women’s Fiction, if we must classify her in that genre–really she belongs on a shelf alongside Michael Cunningham and Jonathan Tropper. But I digress…

I knew that her upcoming book would be one of the exemptions to my #OwnVoicesOctober TBR, since I committed to Small Great Things prior to the challenge. I did not realize, however, just how ironic that interruption would be.

I won’t deny that Small Great Things covers a lot of really important topics. But I feel a bit like a more talented me wrote this book–someone who recently opened her eyes to the race problems in America, and is trying to process them through her writing. I try as hard as I can to be an ally (and read and review accordingly), but as a white woman, I cannot speak for people of color–and I feel that is what this book is trying to do. Kennedy is the only character that really resonates without being, at the very least uncomfortable, and at the most, downright offensive. Turk is horrifying–we absolutely don’t need a white supremacist POV character to know there is racism in this story. And Ruth–she’s every African American stereotype in the 2016 media.

Picoult’s author’s note does give some insight to her thought process, her research, how she came to write this story. She didn’t take this lightly, and she knows she is going to get backlash from it. I understand why she wanted to write it. I sympathize with her frustration and desire to be an allied voice–I feel it too. But the contrast of reading Small Great Things and those written by #OwnVoices authors is a big one, and I think this would have come across differently if she had only written Kennedy’s POV, and left Ruth’s for those authors who live it every day. Turk’s POV…no one needs to read those racial slurs, even if they are appropriate for his character. It’s one thing to have this type of person as a side character, it’s another to get inside their head and say/think very triggering, offensive things.

Jodi Picoult, as always, is a masterful storyteller. I’m just not sure this is a story she should have told. If it made ME this uncomfortable to read it, I can’t even begin to imagine how it would make Ruth feel. Because this isn’t Kennedy’s story, and it isn’t Turk’s. They are part of it, sure. But the story is Ruth’s–and it is her voice that should be the loudest. That can’t happen, though, at least not effectively or appropriately, from the pen of a white author–no matter how masterful.

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NetGalley and Ballentine Books provided an ARC for an unbiased review. Book to be released on Oct 11, 2016. This post contains affiliate links.

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Small Great Things Reader’s Guide

BY JODI PICOULT

1. Which of the three main characters (Ruth, Turk, or Kennedy) do you most relate to and why? Think about what you have in common with the other two characters as well – how can you relate to them?

2. The title of the book comes from the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote that Ruth’s mother mentions on p. 173: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” What does this quote mean to you? What are some examples of small great things done by the characters in the novel?

3. Discuss Ruth’s relationship with her sister, Adisa. How does the relationship change over the course of the novel?

4. Kennedy seeks out a neighborhood in which she is the only white person to help her gain some perspective. Can you think of an example of a time when something about your identity made you an outsider? How were you affected by that experience?

5. All of the characters change over the course of the novel, but Turk’s transformation is perhaps the most extreme. What do you think contributed to that change?

6. Discuss the theme of parenthood in the novel. What does being a parent mean to Ruth, to Kennedy, and to Turk? What does it mean to you?

7. Why do you think Ruth lies to Kennedy about touching Davis when he first starts seizing? What would you have done in her position?

8. Why do you think Kennedy decides to take Ruth’s case? What makes it so important to her?

9. Discuss the difference between “equity” and “equality” as Kennedy explains it on p. 427. Do you think Ruth gets equity from the trial?

10. Was your perspective on racism or privilege changed by reading this book? Is there anything you now see differently?

11. Did the ending of Small Great Things surprise you? If so, why? Did you envision a different ending?

12. Did the Author’s Note change your reading experience at all?

13. Have you changed anything in your daily life after reading Small Great Things?

14. Who would you recommend Small Great Things to? Why?

Review: Summer House

After years of wandering from whim to whim, thirty-year-old Charlotte Wheelwright seems to have at last found her niche. The free spirit enjoys running an organic gardening business on the island of Nantucket, thanks in large part to her spry grandmother Nona, who donated a portion of land on the family’s seaside compound to get Charlotte started. Though Charlotte’s skill with plants is bringing her success, cultivating something deeper with people–particularly her handsome neighbor Coop–might be more of a challenge.

Nona’s generosity to Charlotte, secretly her favorite grandchild, doesn’t sit well with the rest of the Wheelwright clan, however, as they worry that Charlotte may be positioning herself to inherit the entire estate. With summer upon them, everyone is making their annual pilgrimage to the homestead–some with hopes of thwarting Charlotte’s dreams, others in anticipation of Nona’s latest pronouncements at the annual family meeting, and still others with surprising news of their own. Charlotte’s mother, Helen, a Wheelwright by marriage, brings a heavy heart. She once set aside her own ambitions to fit in with the Wheelwrights, but now she must confront a betrayal that threatens both her sense of place and her sense of self.

As summer progresses, these three women–Charlotte, Nona, and Helen–come to terms with the decisions they have made. Revisiting the lives and loves that have crossed their paths and the possibilities of the roads not taken, they may just discover that what they’ve always sought was right in front of them all along.

Because audiobooks are strictly background noise for me, I stick to books that don’t require a lot of thinking–those books that people consider “beach reads” are perfect for that. Summer House has it right in the name. This book is all about hanging out with your family the way summer is meant to be spent–in a coastal New England mansion that the family is fighting over.

It has all the necessary chick-lit drama:  a love affair, a love triangle–those are two separate romances btw–a wise and rich old grandma with a past and an affinity for scotch, not to mention a guy you want to punch in the friggin throat. Gang’s all here.

Would I bounce up and down and throw this book at you until you read it? Probably not. But it was nice enough to listen to in the afternoons while getting work done. The person reading had a sweet, steady voice too, so it’s a good one to listen to. Solid three dragons.

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First Comes Love

Growing up, Josie and Meredith Garland shared a loving, if sometimes contentious relationship. Josie was impulsive, spirited, and outgoing; Meredith hardworking, thoughtful, and reserved. When tragedy strikes their family, their different responses to the event splinter their delicate bond.
 
Fifteen years later, Josie and Meredith are in their late thirties, following very different paths. Josie, a first grade teacher, is single—and this close to swearing off dating for good. What she wants more than the right guy, however, is to become a mother—a feeling that is heightened when her ex-boyfriend’s daughter ends up in her class. Determined to have the future she’s always wanted, Josie decides to take matters into her own hands.
 
On the outside, Meredith is the model daughter with the perfect life. A successful attorney, she’s married to a wonderful man, and together they’re raising a beautiful four-year-old daughter. Yet lately, Meredith feels dissatisfied and restless, secretly wondering if she chose the life that was expected of her rather than the one she truly desired.
 
As the anniversary of their tragedy looms and painful secrets from the past begin to surface, Josie and Meredith must not only confront the issues that divide them, but also come to terms with their own choices. In their journey toward understanding and forgiveness, both sisters discover they need each other more than they knew . . . and that in the recipe for true happiness, love always comes first.

Emily Giffin is always good for some complicated female friendship and relationship drama. First Comes Love is no exception to that rule. Two sisters face off in their constant sibling rivalry that only worsened after tragedy struck their family. Now that they are older, they are unable to lean on each other when they really need to the most.

While I can’t find much fault with Giffin’s writing per se, I just find her books fairly predictable. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing–sometimes it is nice to sit down to a patterned genre. But it also means that I knew what was going to happen from the very beginning.

I’m having a little bit of a hard time finding words to review this, because I wasn’t excited about it. I feel–mediocre. I know a lot of people will enjoy it–it probably falls in that “beach read” category. I just didn’t find it stimulating.

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NetGalley and Ballantine Books provided this ARC for an unbiased review. Releases June 28.

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