Tag: race

Book Review: In Search of Us, by Ava Dellaira

in search of us
Image belongs to Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR).

Title:  In Search of Us
Author:  Ava Dellaira
Genre:  Young Adult
Rating:  4/5

In LA in the late 1990s, Marilyn is a pretty 17-year-old with a mom who has ambitions;  she expects Marilyn to make it big in Hollywood, so Marilyn can support them. But her mother never asks what Marilyn wants:  going away to college and becoming a photographer. With Marilyn landing fewer jobs, they soon find themselves living with Marilyn’s unpredictable uncle.

Marilyn is just biding her time, living for graduation, when her “real” life will start. Then she meets James, the boy who lives downstairs. James shows her how to live in the now.

In the present, Angie has a single mom, a dead father she never met, and no one to help her sort out her identity. With her brown skin and curly hair, she looks nothing like her mom, and she knows nothing about her father. Then Angie finds out her mother has been lying to her all along, and she sets out on a road trip to LA with her best friend, Sam, hoping to discover who she really is.

In Search of Us is an emotional story about family, love, and finding yourself. These two stories are entwined seamlessly, and I’m not sure which I was more emotionally invested in, Marilyn’s or Angie’s. Both feel like their mothers don’t understand them, and both want more out of life. Marilyn is struggling to break her mother’s hold on her, and Angie struggles to find her father in more than just a single old picture. Racism is a strong theme here, portrayed honesty and realistically, with a large helping of grief. I was in tears by the end, and this book made my heart ache, as well as being so vivid I felt like I was a part of the story.

Ava Dellaira is the author of Love Letters to the Dead. In Search of Us is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) in exchange for an honest review.)


Book Review: This is Not a Love Letter, by Kim Purcell

Image belongs to Disney Book Group.

Jessie and Chris were on a break. Just one week, so Jessie could get some perspective, then they could make all the big decisions looming with graduation. Jessie just needed a little bit of time to think.

Then Chris disappears on a run by the river, on the same path where, a few weeks before, he was beaten up by some guys from a rival high school. Chris is popular. He’s good looking. And he’s black, a rarity in their small, paper mill town.

When the police decide Chris ran away, Jessie speaks up, and voices her fears that Chris’s disappearance is race-related. She’s terrified of what might have happened to Chris, but she’s not prepared for the threats she receives.

Chris has written Jessie a love letter every Friday since they started dating, now it’s her turn to write him, telling him everything that’s happening while he’s gone, what she’s afraid of, and some truths she’s kept hidden.

I’m just going to say it straight out:  this book almost broke me. I’m not sure if it was the situation, or if I just identified with Jessie that strongly, but I was in tears (sobs) by the time I finished reading this. Straight through, in one sitting, I might add. Jessie, while not always rational or sensible, made sense to me. She seemed real. Her relationship with Chris, which she remembers in detail while he’s missing, was charming and inspiring. Their town has problems, and sometimes the issues were ugly and hurtful, but they were always truthful. I cannot recommend this book highly enough!

Kim Purcell is from Canada, but now lives in New York. This is Not a Love Letter is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Disney Book Group in exchange for an honest review.)

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee

Image belongs to Grand Central Publishing.

Min Jin Lee is the award-winning author of Free Food for Millionaires. Her newest novel is Pachinko.

Sunja is the daughter of a desperately poor Korean family in the early 1900s. To her mother’s shame, she ends up pregnant and unmarried:  Sunja didn’t know the father was already married, and walked away from him when she found out. A young minister offers to marry her, and they move to Japan before the baby is born.

Pachinko follows the life of the family as they live as Koreans in Japan. Ostracized and despised, the family struggles to find hope and success amidst prejudice and poverty. Forever despised because of their ethnicity, Sunja’s family retains their pride despite the obstacles they face.

Pachinko is not an easy book to read. The tales of the war and the havoc it wreaked in Japan are horrible, but so are the atrocities faced by Koreans living in Japan during the time, some of who were actually born in Japan but are still identified as Korean and discriminated against. The writing is a vivid description of the poverty-filled life faced by Sunja and her family, but also a moving description of love and strength beyond imagining. I highly recommend this.

(Galley provided by Grand Central Publishing.)

The Last Road Home, by Danny Johnson

I do not own this image. Image belongs to Kensington Books.

Danny Johnson is a Vietnam veteran, and a writer of Southern fiction. His first published novel is The Last Road Home.

Raeford “Junebug” Hurley has had a hard life. At the age of eight, his parents die, and he goes to live with his grandparents on their tiny farm. There he meets Fancy Stroud and her brother Lightning, children of black sharecroppers, and they become fast friends, almost unheard of in 1950’s North Carolina. Tobacco farming is hard, desperate work, and Junebug is grateful for Fancy’s support when things grow even harder, and soon they are more than friends.

A moneymaking scheme gone bad and a visit from the KKK have Junebug and Fancy setting out in search of different dreams. She, a place free from the casual bigotry and hatred that infuse every day in the rural South. He, looking for a place he feels at home, a place where his darkest secrets will be safe. The connection between Junebug and Fancy is strong, but will it be strong enough to withstand war and thousands of miles of distance?

The Last Road Home is a deep, emotional book about friendship and love in the midst of hardship and hatred. This is not an uplifting, breezy novel, but one with unexpected depths that delves into the darkness inside us all. The ending was not what I had hoped for, but it was true to the story. This is well-worth reading.

(Galley provided by Kensington Books via NetGalley.)