Adapted from a popular video series, “Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man,” Emmanuel Acho, former NFL player and sports analyst, lays out an accessible explanation of systemic racism for younger readers. The format of the book and casual conversational quality make it more approachable and easy to understand. He covers a wide range of topics that lend insight into what it’s like to be Black in America including relevant terminology, historical context, cultural appropriation, use of the N-word, voter suppression, etc. Although I don’t feel like his book is covering anything radically new in the realm of antiracism, the style feels fresh, and his call to action is perfect for younger audiences.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a champion for women, and her research is thought-provoking on many levels. Her candor is revealing and challenges perspectives on immigration and women’s rights. Ali uses staggering statistics and mounds of data to present her argument that the increase in sexual violence against women in Europe is linked to increases in immigration from Muslim-majority countries. Stringent gender roles, polygamy, and a lack of legal protection for women all contribute to oppressive ideology. Ali points out how European women are changing their behavior by avoiding certain locations and types of transportation to ensure they don’t become victims of sexual violence. European leaders are afraid to discuss the connection for fear of being labeled racist or xenophobic. Subways offer female-only cars. Parks offer benches for women exclusively. Cafes and bars in parallel community neighborhoods consist of all-male Muslim patrons who sometimes intimidate female citizens if they try to enter. As Muslim asylum-seekers flood into Europe, attacks against women have escalated. Ali asserts that Europeans are putting their heads in the sand instead of facing down a problem that is slowing eroding women’s rights and changing society’s attitudes toward women. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an immigrant herself, raised in Somalia and having suffered from genital mutilation, she does not advocate against immigration but instead believes that asylum seekers should be required to assimilate into the societies they wish to join. Young Muslim men, as the primary demographic for asylum seekers, must be taught that European culture gives voice and equal protection to women, and they must integrate into this type of society or be denied entry. They will have women colleagues in the workplace, women as bosses, and women in public, dressing as they please. Ali believes that immigration laws have become too loose, and both legal and illegal immigrants have little to fear when seeking refuge in Europe. Ali’s research, while unpopular and contradictory amidst liberal values, has given voice and legitimacy to a concern that has dire implications for European women and sets off warning bells for Americans.
Typically we like to pack in as much culture and sight-seeing as possible, but with this trip, we decided to maximize laziness to its full potential. We chose an adults-only all-inclusive resort with no intent on leaving the pool/beach except for eating and sleeping. We fulfilled our goals, drank a lot, ate a lot, and learned almost nothing about Mexico. It's what we needed this year.
The first issue we encountered was our transfer from Cancun International Airport to the Valentin. We were ushered outside and had to stand in the sweltering heat for over 45 minutes until our van arrived. The driver kept telling us it would be ten more minutes which eventually led to an eternity dripping with sweat. Our flight arrived about fifteen minutes early, so we expected to have to wait, but everyone was tired and hungry (total of three couples) with the heat pushing us over the edge. It wasn't a great start.
The hotel more than made up for it once we arrived. It's gorgeous: lush grounds, lizards everywhere, flowers blooming around every corner, and incredibly friendly staff. We stayed in the Deluxe Junior Sweet which is the base level accommodation and was fine for our needs. The property is expansive, and they have staff zipping golf carts along the paths willing to take you anywhere at any time.
The pools are exquisite. We spent very little time on the beach simply because there's so much to do at the pool: huge bars, lots of space to float around, a wild, party side, and a calmer, quieter side. They have various exercise classes happening in the main pool and events including a Michael Jackson impersonator, a mechanical bull, and many other hilarious and entertaining diversions. There's also a pool with a lazy river.
Bar service was great everywhere. The pool bars have all sorts of fun festive drinks and shots, and we tried tons of them. We especially loved the atmosphere at Don Miguel. One night, the piano player took requests, and the guy can literally play EVERY SONG. He plays just by hearing it in his headphones; it was incredible.
This bar also serves some interesting cocktails like this pictured cucumber martini. The wild ones include a flaming coffee drink that the servers pour from overhead as the flames shoot up the trail of the liquid. We also tried the cotton candy cocktails they serve with a puff of the fluffy stuff on top before dissolving it down to a perfectly sweet but not overpowering blend.
Although we did resolve to stay as lazy as possible, I did sneak away for one quick mini-excursion. Three of us did a quick two-hour snorkel led by the hotel's excursion company located near the main pool. We boarded a boat directly off the hotel beach, and they took us to a reef nearby. It was the perfect amount of time, affordable, and in beautiful, clear water. We saw sea stars, a giant conch shell, and colorful fish. It was well-worth it to break up the pool time.
Ultimately, we had a blast. The negatives weren't enough to take away from our fabulous time. I don't know that we'd stay here again, but we enjoyed it immensely and wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Valentin.
Mexican Gothic is reminiscent of an atmospheric Scooby Doo mystery set in Mexico but without the canine hijinks. The thing is...I like Scooby Doo. I really do, but it’s also corny and campy. This is how I feel about Mexican Gothic; I liked it but found the mystery reveal to be a little too absurd and not in line with the rhythm and feel of the first half of the book. Peel off the mask and jinkies, it’s Mr. Howell, the grounds caretaker!
Noemi is living life as a quintessential debutante in 1950s Mexico when her father receives a bizarre letter from her newly married cousin, Catalina, who is clearly unwell. Concerned, Noemi travels to an old, foreboding mansion called High Place to check on her welfare. High Place is cold, dreary, run-down, and staffed by strange people with even stranger rules. Catalina married into the Doyle family, a once powerful and wealthy empire in the mining industry. The family has a long, troubling reputation in their small, countryside village, and rumors swirl about murder and madness. Seduced by the lure of the old house and the puzzling darkness of the Doyle family, Noemi desperately tries to figure out why Catalina won’t or can’t leave only to find herself becoming more and more like a prisoner herself. The Doyle patriarchs are creepy and disturbing. Moreno-Garcia blends the spooky characterization and setting in a masterful writing style. I was hooked up until …
...the mold. The mold in the walls of the house takes on a life of its own, and at first this is pretty fascinating. The house is oozing with decay and a sinister, pulsing dampness that makes it seem alive. I was so excited to see where the author would go with this. Is the mold causing the family’s madness? Will it absorb Noemi and trap her there forever like the rest of this macabre family? Then things take a left turn, and I’m done. I can get on board with evil fungus, but Moreno-Garcia takes the story down a path that crosses into eleventy-billion themes including immortality, rotting old men, eugenics, gender roles, romance, and transmigration. Uncle Howard is decomposing along with High Place - disgusting and perfect for a Gothic horror, but not when it’s jumbled together with all of these other wild plot elements. Uncle Howard and Virgil dabble in theories of natural selection and eugenics – gripping but covered so briefly that it loses steam and feels like a sideshow to the main event. The big reveal at the end was so off the charts that it bordered on ludicrous thus the Scooby-Doo comparison. As much as I enjoy Noemi as one of those “darn meddling kids,” the ending was just too preposterous.
Read it, but prepare yourself to suspend belief on many levels. The characterization and imagery are flawless, and it’s a solid spooky read with some interesting commentary on humanity. “Scooby Doo taught us that the real monsters are humans...and if that isn’t deep, I don’t know what is.”
Get this one on your shelf book friends! I may be a convert. I’ve always complained about verse novels, and here I am falling in love with another one. Home is Not a Country took my breath away, and now Clap When You Land revived me. Rich with sadness, longing, loss, and the complexities of being a young adult dealing with tragedy and trauma, this book is a powerhouse. A father dies in a plane crash on his way to the Dominican Republic. Two daughters mourn his tragic death – one in New York City and one in the Dominican. Each girl doesn’t know the other exists until they start piecing things together. In their grief, they find ways to deal with their anger and find forgiveness, family, and each other. Elizabeth Acevedo paints a picture of two very different settings, both colorful and charming. I love how each character tells her story in the back-and-forth chapters, slowing coming to grips with this new reality and the blank spaces that used to be filled with a father’s presence. It’s a really touching story of how ties bind people together in often bittersweet, unplanned ways.
This contemporary novel reveals the voices of twelve different Native characters living in Oakland, California as each struggles to come to grips with his or her identity, history, and heritage while living in an urban community. Tommy Orange interweaves the experience of modern urban Natives with the calling of tradition as all of the characters make their way to the Big Oakland Powwow. They’re all connected in one way or another and reflect the true complexity and variety of Native culture. I really could not get into this. I appreciated the overall theme of the book, but felt disoriented by the shallow characterization and lack of historical background. For example, one of the characters discusses her experience during the occupation of Alcatraz in 1969, and I was completely lost. I don’t know enough about this historical event and felt adrift because it wasn’t explained. I guess I would have a better appreciation for this one if I had more historical context, and It did inspire me to do some research. There are a lot of characters, and this is a short book. I just couldn’t really connect with them, and it read more like individual short stories than a novel with the exception of the very end when things come together. I think the goal was to show all of the characters’ varied lives and experiences in a modern setting and not focus on history as much, but I still felt disconnected along the way.
I simultaneously hated these characters and loved them beyond words. Jayne is a hot struggling mess of a person. She moves from Texas to New York City to attend fashion school bringing a collection of baggage that new scenery can’t shake off. She lives in a dump of an apartment, illegally rented and mostly disgusting. Her boyfriend is a tool who continues to use her, and her friends are inauthentic. She’s honestly just a sad sack with zero motivation to pull herself out of suffering. Her misery is raw. She’s a real character with deep self-loathing and pain that seeps out of the pages like blood from a wound. Jayne is emotionally estranged from her Korean parents and avoids her sister, June at all costs even though she also lives in New York City. She struggles to make sense of the disconnect she has with her culture, her body and the eating disorder she slowly reveals, her sibling bond or lack thereof, and the painful childhood she endured while living in Texas with immigrant parents. June reveals that she has uterine cancer, and Jayne has to come to terms with what this means for her family, her sister, and herself. June lives in a high-rise, has expensive clothes, an impressive city job, and is everything that Jayne is not. June’s cancer diagnosis not only reveals her fragility, but it also gives way to the cracks in her exacting veneer.
Although this is ultimately Jayne’s story, the sisters are each portrayed in all manner of real characterization: good, bad, and sometimes really ugly. They’re each hilarious, vulgar, self-involved, sensitive, impulsive, loving; they’re all of these things and more. I appreciate how the author, Mary H.K. Choi, doesn’t paint each sister in one single hue but rather shows each dappled in her own colors that vary by day and mood like real people are in ordinary life. This book is moody for all the right reasons, and I found it to be odd, repulsive, mesmerizing, and wonderful. It’s unique in a way that it’s not quite comparable to anything else I’ve read, and for that, I’m smitten.
Stamped is one of the most meticulously researched books I’ve ever read. At almost 600 pages, it’s one you really need to own in print so you can underline and take notes for future reference. Ibram X. Kendi lays out the history of racist thought in America, revealing strategies that have failed to produce change and those that have perpetuated racism. He emphasizes that the self-interest of intelligent people creates policies that are racist and in turn preserves racist ideas. Racism has not and will not be eliminated or explained away through education. As long as racism continues to benefit the people who have the power to abolish it, they will never choose to eliminate it. America can only be antiracist when antiracists are in power and their policies become law.
Kendi examines this through the lens of five prominent people in history including Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. DuBois, and Angela Davis. Mather founded a philosophical society and crafted racist ideas as the first assimilationist. Mather pushed the religious justification that Christianity could make blacks better slaves, and by turning to this Christian God, blacks could be uplifted toward whiteness in their souls. Jefferson loathed slavery but feared losing his way of life filled with lavish hypocrisy. His views were contradictory, both abolitionist and racist as many of his writings included his thoughts on black inferiority. Garrison was considered radical because of his beliefs for immediate emancipation, yet he still shared the racist belief that blacks were inferior. The racial science theory of polygenesis begins to push the agenda that blacks are a different species. Black features are bad or ugly, and white is better. I found Kendi’s examination of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin to be really interesting. He points out the racist views that this book categorized blacks as soulful and whites as the source of intellect. Although black, DuBois consumed racist ideas. He went to a white owned college with all white professors and believed that racism could be educated away. His famous book, The Souls of Black Folk enforced the racist idea of blacks having different characteristics – soulful and having a simple faith, whereas whites are portrayed as smart and strong. A new strategy develops that in order for blacks to change racist minds, they have to command white respect. When positive portrayals of blacks were used in media, racist whites often just dismissed it as extraordinary exceptions. DuBois spent his whole life urging blacks to uplift to white standards, but by the age of 65, he had turned to an almost completely antiracist viewpoint. He saw his life’s work urging moral uplift and education had changed virtually nothing when it comes to racist ideas in America. He began arguing for black empowerment instead of education and integration. Davis became active in the black power movement and is one of the most famous female antiracist academics.
This book was insanely long and tedious to read, but I also felt enlightened in a whole new way from slogging through this dense history. It helped me understand how the complex issue of racism has been able to keep its grip on this country and a better approach for the future. Angela Davis really sums it up best. “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”
This verse novel left me wrecked. Safia Elhillo’s writing is so elegant and intense that I had chills the whole way through. I’m not typically into verse novels, but I wanted to pick one up in honor of National Poetry Month for April. What a standout. Run to the book store or grab your digital reader; it’s worth the rush. Nima lives in America but feels like an outsider. She struggles with identity and clings to the idea of a life she was meant to have instead of this one filled with isolation and post 9/11 harassment. She wears the same dirty sweatshirt every day, doesn’t engage with her classmates, and endures bullying and physical harassment. Naima’s mother was an immigrant from an unnamed Muslim country, and as Nima feels detached from both her mother and her American life, she begins to imagine a parallel universe ushered by her alter-ego, Yasmeen. Yasmeen’s father is alive and lives in their Arabic-speaking homeland filled with family, friends, music, and dancing. Nima is disillusioned and adrift in her present life. She’s angry and unable to accept why her mother brought her to this country. In America, she views her mother from afar with sadness and frustration, but when she travels “home” with Yasmeen, she sees her as a dancer full of life and promise. But as Yasmeen pulls back the curtain of this past life like the spirits in Dickens’ Christmas Carol, Nima begins to also see the cloudy, wavering parts of the mirage. This life she thought she was meant to have is not what she had conjured up in her longings. Yasmeen reveals a darkness that helps Nima embrace her present, reconnect with her mother and family in America, and discover her identity in ways that satisfy both her love for nostalgia but also her desire to belong. Nima’s home is what she makes for herself. I can’t stop thinking about the beauty of this book. It’s both gentle and shocking at the same time. I ached for Nima and her mother as they circled their distant relationship, never quite reaching one another. Elhillo’s book provides countless avenues for thoughtful reflection and is going straight to my “new loves” shelf.
I like this book, but I’m dying for the cover. Finally, a cover highlighting the female protagonist to look as I imagine her; she’s straight-up dazzling. I enjoyed this YA read, but wasn’t blown away. Enchanted Jones is an aspiring singer, swimmer student athlete, and feeling like an outsider after her close family moves to the suburbs. She’s the only black girl in her school, and she’s trying to figure out exactly where she fits in. Cue Korey Fields, a famous adult R&B artist, who spots her at a talent audition and grooms her R. Kelly-style. Enchanted yearns to be a professional singer but is also at a tender age when teens are just trying to figure out who they are. She notices Korey’s controlling behavior but writes it off because he’s an adult, and she believes in him. Korey gaslights her and manipulates her family into trusting him. Tiffany D. Jackson does a good job showing the subtle ways that Enchanted’s abuser creeps into all parts of her life, taking advantage of her drive to be a singer and alienating her from her loved ones and friends. The book starts off with a shocking scene where Enchanted wakes up to blood everywhere and a body. The murder mystery element gets convoluted in the end and is ultimately where I lost interest in the book. I also found the plot was too carbon copy replica of the R. Kelly scandal. I wanted Enchanted’s story to be more of her own instead of what felt like a re-telling. With that said, it’s a book that will surely resonate with many young adults.
Bryan Stevenson puts human faces on the data-driven bodies of research exposing the injustices in our American criminal justice system. Stevenson's heartfelt book revolves alternating chapters around the death sentence of Walter McMillian, a black man in Alabama wrongly convicted of killing a white woman. In between chapters relating Walter's heart-wrenching story, Stevenson tells of the creation of the Equal Justice Initiative and their fight to challenge death penalty cases, unfair juvenile imprisonment, racism in the justice system, and injustice related to poverty and mental health. Stevenson repeatedly drives home the assertion that "The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned." Not only does he reveal a lot about racism, but he also shares deeply moving stories about inequity for the condemned simply because they can not afford good attorneys and bail. “We must reform a system of criminal justice that continues to treat people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent." Our justice system often blocks poor and mentally ill people from getting fair representation in legal matters. The stories he shares are incredibly powerful and sad but also reveal his expertise at channeling emotion through words.
I also recommend The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton. Hinton was another innocent death row inmate freed by the efforts of the Equal Justice Initiative. Hinton is mentioned briefly in Stevenson's book. He's remarkably resilient and a profound optimist. His story completely changed my views on the death penalty and left me with a whole new understanding of what our prison systems do to inmates, both innocent and guilty.
Travel All the Pages is inspired by my two loves - travel and reading, a combo I can't resist. Enjoy these little pairings.