Title: Sea, Swallow Me
Author: Craig Laurance Gidney
Number of Pages: 199 pages
Book Number/Goal: 16/50 for 2011
My Rating: 2.5/5

Jacket Summary: Ancient folklore and modern myth come together in these stories by author Craig Laurance Gidney. Here are found the struggles of a medieval Japanese monk, seduced by a mischievous fairy, and a young slave who finds mystery deep within the briar patch of an antebellum plantation. Gidney offers readers a gay teen obsessed with his patron saint, Lena Horne, and, in the title story, an ailing tourist seeking to escape his troubles at a distant shore, but who never anticipates encountering an African seagod. Rich, poetic, dark and disturbing, these are tales not soon forgotten.

Review: Honestly I wasn't really impressed with this book. There were a few stories I really liked and the rest were just okay. Also, the copy I have is an ARC, so it's got a lot of mistakes, which hopefully were corrected in the final proof (the most annoying one was in the Japanese story, where Amaterasu was misspelled as Amaratsu throughout the story).

Note: My last post here was book 8/50 for 2011. Books 9-15 for me were a reread of the Harry Potter series, so I didn't bother writing reviews. I'm just skipping ahead here.
Title: Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare
Author: Dorothy Roberts
Number of Pages: 341 pages
Book Number/Goal: 4/50 for 2010
My Rating: 5/5

This is an excellent analysis of the US child welfare system and how ridiculously broken it is. While the general view of foster care is that children are only taken from their families when they are abused or grossly neglected, the truth is that many children (especially black children) are taken from their families for no reason other than that they are poor.

And because regardless of how true it is for individual cases, as a whole, biological parents are coded as black and foster parents are coded as white, so the government is willing to spend tons of money on foster parents (for example, in California, not only foster parents, but also parents who adopt through the state get paid monthly for each child until they turn eighteen, plus the children can go to any UC or Cal State school for free), but is unwilling to instead spend that money on helping poor families so that their kids aren't taken from them in the first place simply because they had too small an apartment or couldn't afford a babysitter or had no food in the house or were homeless.

The book lays out how the current system ends up harming not just children by taking them away (often unnecessarily) from their families but the black community in general, and the unconsious racism that drives the decisions to favor placing children in foster care and terminating parental rights rather than working to keep families together.

Mooch from BookMooch.
Title: Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet
Author: Sherri L. Smith
Number of Pages: 167 pages
Book Number/Goal: 66/75 for 2009
My Rating: 3/5

When a pipe bursts during Ana Shen's middle school graduation, flooding the field and cutting the ceremony short, it doesn't seem like things could get any worse. Then comes the announcement that the gym is flooded, too, and the graduation dance is cancelled. The dance was going to be Ana's big chance to tell Jamie Tabata she likes him before they go their separate ways for high school, but when her best friend Chelsea ends up inviting Jamie and his family over to Ana's for a graduation dinner, it looks like there might be hope after all. Assuming Ana can keep her grandmothers' rivalry from ruining everything.

I'd seen several reviews for this on [livejournal.com profile] 50books_poc and wasn't really that interested, but after reading and loving Flygirl, I decided to give some of Smith's other books a try. This...is definitely no Flygirl. It's cute enough, and it's nice to see a biracial main character (or any character!) who isn't half white, but I wasn't wowed or anything.

I really think the book could have used a lot more editing. Most of it is fine, but it starts to fall apart at the ending, which seems really rushed, plus has a couple of chapters that don't really fit. At one point her grandfather starts telling a story and instead of just making it quick or summarising, we actually get a random flashback chapter in his POV about the event he's relating. We also get a few paragraphs in one of the grandmothers' POV towards the end, in a story that has otherwise been very tight third person with only one POV. It just seemed sloppy.

Also I was really excited about the story being set in LA at first, but it ended up being more frustrating than anything because the author gave all sorts of conflicting details. The kids have gone to school together since kindergarten, yet for some reason they all go to an elementary school in a totally different zone than where they live. (One person going to a far away public school might have some excuse, but not a whole class.) Then the high school mentioned is not the high school that middle school feeds into. Neither is it the high school she would actually be going to for where she's supposed to live. Which being less than a mile from the beach would be Santa Monica and she'd go to SaMoHi, not Uni (also everyone keeps saying University High and I'm sorry but I have never heard anyone call it that; it's Uni). Plus the author gives a freeway exit that they're supposed to live near, which is not less than a mile from the beach, either.

I really don't know what she was thinking. The jacket flap says she lives in LA, so it's not just that she didn't know what she was talking about. It's like she wanted to use real names of stuff, but didn't want to be specific, so she ended up taking bits from all over. If you don't want to be specific, then either be vague or make up names of school and stuff. But if you're going to be specific then you have to get your facts right!

Of course most of the people reading aren't going to know or care, but it really took a lot of fun out of it for me.
Title: Push
Author: Sapphire
Number of Pages: 192 pages
Book Number/Goal: 65/75 for 2009
My Rating: 4.5/5

Precious is sixteen, illiterate, and pregnant with her second child by her own father. But when she gets kicked out of junior high and starts attending an alternative school, her life finally starts to turn around.

This is written in an experimental style, very stream-of-consciousness, with lots of dialect to mimic the way precious talks. Some parts are even written as if Precious had written them herself, complete with spelling errors, which gradually improve over the course of the book. I didn't find that a barrier at all, though. It was really easy to read (I zipped through it in two sittings). The last fifty pages or so of the book are essays and poems written by Precious and the other girls in her class.

Pretty much everything bad you could imagine happening has happened to Precious and it sometimes seems like overkill, but overall I really enjoyed the book. And I'm glad the ending was optimistic but realistic and not all magically wonderful.

I'm definitely interested in seeing the movie, though probably not til it's out on DVD. I was looking at the cast, though, and um...wtf? The teacher is described as dark with dreads, yet somehow in the movie she is really lightskinned and has wavy hair. It's like they made her as close to a Nice White Lady as possible without actually casting a white actress. D:
Title: The First Part Last
Author: Angela Johnson
Number of Pages: 132 pages
Book Number/Goal: 51/75 for 2009
My Rating: 4/5

Sixteen-year-old Bobby is living with his mom, trying to finish up high school, and raising his baby daughter by himself. With chapters alternating between "now" and "then", this tells the story of how Bobby ended up a single parent and what happens after.

This was well-written and enjoyable, though I thought having Nia end up a vegetable in a nursing home was a little over the top. It's nice to see a book about a teen father (and a black teen father at that), and I liked that even though Bobby's parents were divorced, his dad was still in the picture and he even goes to live with his dad near the end. His older brother is also shown being an active parent to his own kids.

Mooch from BookMooch.
Title: Flygirl
Author: Sherri L. Smith
Number of Pages: 275 pages
Book Number/Goal: 50/75 for 2009
My Rating: 5/5

Ida Mae's dad taught her how to fly in the plane he used for cropdusting, but being both black and female, it's not easy for her to get her pilot's license. While she's saving up the money she earns cleaning houses to go to the one school she knows licenses both women and blacks, Japan attacks Pearl Harbor and suddenly they're in the middle of a war. When her little brother shows her a newspaper article about the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), she knows she has to join...even if it means passing for white.

I really liked this book a lot. I read it in two days, which is quick for me, but it was really hard to put down! I love that Smith really doesn't pull any punches. Passing allows Ida Mae to do what she loves, but it changes her forever. The scene where her mom visits her during her training was especially tough to read.

There are several other reviews here.

Mooch from BookMooch.
Title: Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties
Author: Mike Marqusee
Number of Pages: 310
Genre: non-fiction, social history, biography
Book Number/Goal: #10 out of the 18 I've read so far
My rating: 4/5

Review: This is not a biography in the traditional sense, but rather an exploration of those past and contemporary events that shaped Ali and how he in turned influenced the events of his culture. I was surprised by his attitude toward the civil rights movement and moved by how he changed and grew through the years.

I was very interested by the connections the author made between Ali and the rise of Black Power out of the civil rights movement, by Ali's influence on American/African/International culture, and by Ali's relationship with his religion and his sport. A thread that runs through the book is Ali's opposition to being drafted and the stand he took on that. His words speak most clearly about who he was: "I know where I am going and I know the truth, and I don't have to be what you want me to be. I'm free to be what I want."

This is a passionate, loving and open look at Ali and the sixties, at what influenced him and the influence he had on both America and the world. A quick entertaining read, I enjoyed reading this very much. The only weakness with the book was the lack of footnotes. Notes on Sources at the end of the book does not make up for a complete lack in citing original sources.
Title: Flygirl
Author: Sherri L. Smith
Book number/goal: 6/10

Review: Flygirl is the story of Ida Mae Jones, a African-American woman whose father taught her how to fly. When the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) program starts during World War II, Ida Mae is determined to join -- even though it means passing for white.

This book is excellent; grounded in the realities of the time, full of well-researched (but not dry or over-described) historical details, well-told and well-plotted, and it digs deep into the emotional complexities of passing, as well as the difficulties of being a woman in a highly sexist time and place.

Highly recommended, and I'd definitely look up more books by this author! (The author's blurb says she started writing Flygirl as her master's thesis project after hearing about the WASP program on public radio.)


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