Genre: Memoir

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Review: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

January 13, 2017 Diversity 4, Reviews 1 ★★★★★

Review: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline WoodsonBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Published by Nancy Paulsen Books on August 28, 2014
Genres: Memoir, MG Historical
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Gifted
Goodreads
five-stars
Jacqueline Woodson, one of today's finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

Diversity Rating: 4 – This Is Our World

Racial-Ethnic: 5 (her identity as a black girl in both the North and the South is at the center of everything)
QUILTBAG: 3 (doesn’t come up in the book at all, but Woodson is a lesbian)
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 5 (Woodson’s black girlhood is basically what the book is about)

Though I pay attention to which middle grade and young adult books are winning awards just like any other more-bookish-than-average person, but I don’t put much stock in the awards. After all, John Green’s books have won quite a few prestigious awards and I don’t think his books are worth the discarded gum I pull off my shoes. Add in the fact I’m simply not a fan of the literary fare that usually wins awards and it’s no wonder I haven’t read Brown Girl Dreaming until now. THAT WAS A BAD CHOICE. I SHOULD HAVE READ IT SOONER. Read more »

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Review: A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

March 11, 2016 Reviews 0 ★★★★

Review: A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue KleboldA Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold
Published by Crown on February 15, 2016
Genres: Adult Nonfiction, Memoir
Pages: 336
Format: eBook
Source: Bought
Goodreads
four-stars
On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives.

For the last sixteen years, Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently?

These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In A Mother’s Reckoning, she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and on countless interviews with mental health experts.

All author profits from the book will be donated to research and to charitable organizations focusing on mental health issues.

You know by now how obsessed I am with school shootings and books about them if you’re a regular here. If you’re not, I’ve been doing pseudo-scholarly research on the subject since I was about sixteen. Naturally, A Mother’s Reckoning instantly jumped on my TBR and I bought it the day it came out. I knew it was going to shake me up even though I’ve never had any opinion on Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s parents, but this book left me in a bit of a coma for the rest of the day. Oof. Read more »

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Review: Positive by Paige Rawl and Ali Benjamin

August 14, 2014 Reviews 0 ★★★★

Review: Positive by Paige Rawl and Ali BenjaminPositive by Ali Benjamin, Paige Rawl
Published by HarperCollins on August 26, 2014
Genres: Memoir, YA
Pages: 288
Format: ARC
Source: BEA 2014
four-stars
An astonishing memoir for the untold number of children whose lives have been touched by bullying. Positive is a must-read for teens, their parents, educators, and administrators—a brave, visceral work that will save lives and resonate deeply.

Paige Rawl has been HIV positive since birth, but growing up, she never felt like her illness defined her. On an unremarkable day in middle school, she disclosed to a friend her HIV-positive status—and within hours the bullying began. From that moment forward, every day was like walking through a minefield. Paige was never sure when or from where the next text, taunt, or hateful message would come. Then one night, desperate for escape, fifteen-year-old Paige found herself in her bathroom staring at a bottle of sleeping pills.

That could have been the end of her story. Instead, it was only the beginning. Paige's memoir calls for readers to choose action over complacency, compassion over cruelty—and above all, to be Positive.

This is one of those books most of my friends have no plans to read. Frankly, I didn’t have any plans to read it either, but it got handed to me while I was at BEA and a documentary about the HIV/AIDS problems in the hemophiliac community due to poor handling and testing of blood in the past made me change my mind. Besides, it was just 288 pages. That’s a breeze if you’ve got an afternoon and a good attention span. After about two days where I just couldn’t put Positive down, I finished it and decided it was a good idea to read it after all. This YA memoir is painful, but it’s necessary and it has so many passages that speak to experiences far beyond Rawl’s experience as a teen with HIV.

Junior high sucks for everyone. If this is not a scientifically proven fact, it should be. At this stage in a child’s life, they’re developing themselves and their brains by temporarily (in most cases, anyway) shedding all traces of decency in order to go to every nook and cranny within themselves. This results in kids at that stage in life being absolutely vicious to one another and mercilessly bullying anyone who isn’t like them or is something they don’t like. Absolutely anything can be used as ammo.

Rawl is an especially easy victim because of her status as a girl born with HIV. Telling just one friend leads to the truth getting around school and sending her into a downward spiral it takes her a long time to get out of. Having been through something similar on a much smaller magnitude (I told one friend of being sexually abused and it quickly made its way around my class, but only the people who already had it out for me cared much because I had a reputation for being a weirdo who liked attention), I really get what this poor girl had to go through. It helps she’s only about a year younger than I am.

Some passages are pure gold and will hopefully hook anyone who thinks this one isn’t worth their time. For instance:

Maybe Miss Ward didn’t mean it this way, but here is what I took from that: my reporting incidents was the problem. That my telling her what was happening to me was causing drama. For her, I guess. And that I had to stop.

I had to stop reporting incidents. (ARC p. 91)

I don’t know if it was Rawl or Benjamin who came up with it, but that kind of passage speaks to far larger an audience than other readers with HIV whose reports of harassment went unheard because of who they are. It speaks to victims of sexual harassment and rape and so many other horrible things that are considered “drama” if we dare to try and report it, especially if the victim is female. So much of what we do, say, and think is thrown together under “drama” because of sexism.

For instance, three boys sexually harassed me for months on my bus when I was in seventh grade. The bus driver did nothing when I reported it to her and considering her bad history with my brother, I don’t doubt she considered it just tween drama. It took going to the school board with my mother to get them assigned seats far away from me, which made me wonder if it was even worth reporting in the first place. Other students would routinely ask me at school if I stuffed my bra. Some of them even screamed the question in crowded hallways to humiliate me. I never reported these incidents because I knew teachers and administrators would dismiss me. It was just part of the junior high experience, after all! (Gag me.)

Oh, and the bus driver put me next to two of those boys the very next year after I started cutting. Because the best thing to do to a girl who is already mentally unstable is put her right near the boys who sexually harassed her. YEP.

So yes, passages like that mean so much more than they seem to at face value. I suspect that will be an quote brought up often when talking about this book.

There’s really nothing wrong with this book, but there’s something missing that keeps me from making it a five-star read. There’s nothing to criticize and the lengthy list of resources in the back of the book is going to be very helpful to some, but there’s just something more I wanted from it. It’s well-written, everything she writes about is relevant to her journey as a person in some way, but… Sometimes, you have that sense of something missing but can’t put your finger on it, you know?

TL;DR the 2-3 years of junior high are the worst period of time for everyone, especially if you’re a child with HIV. I definitely recommend this to anyone going through a hard time right now or anyone who had a childhood so rough they tried to commit suicide, but be warned that everything seems hopeless for a while and it’s difficult to get through. She really had it rough. Still, seeing Rawl get better from where she once was may give you the hope you need to keep going.

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