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Tell Me How It Ends: A Call to Action

In Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends, the child migrant crisis in the United States is laid bare. Without going into tremendous detail of individual stories, Luiselli manages to make it clear that all of these children are running from, and the running to is merely a consequence. Relatives in the United States are going into debt and spending their life savings to bring children to safety – to save them from gang violence that the United States helped to, directly or indirectly, foster and fund. They spend their life savings and then cross their fingers that these children are able to make the treacherous journey – survive the elements, the people hunting them, the journey itself.

Luiselli writes that “The children who cross Mexico at the U.S. border are not ‘immigrants,’ not ‘illegals,’ not merely ‘undocumented minors.’ Those children are refugees of a war, and, as such, they should all have the right to asylum. But not all of them have it.” That we as a country cannot agree that these children (let me say that again: CHILDREN) should be taken care of and given a place to start over, is mind-boggling. And I wonder if it would be easier for most people to agree if they took the time to read Luiselli’s essay.

I know this isn’t so much a book review as it is thoughts on what I read, and I’d like to end by saying that I learned a lot from this book about the United States, its immigration policies, how those immigration policies got to be what they are today, how and why children are crossing the border at such an alarming rate, and who is helping them try to stay. I hope you’ll read Tell Me How It Ends, and I hope you’ll also read it as a call to action.

Dec & Jan Book

How did we get here?? This year (disaster? reformation? apocalypse?) 2020 is finally coming to its end. And let’s hope whatever cloud has been hanging over us these last several months (4 years? 300 years?) starts to dissipate.

That being said, 2020 has taught us a lot. Many of us learned what we’re capable of, who we can lean on, what family means, who we are in this world and our roles as allies and citizens. It’s been a journey. Lots of conversations, revelations, and reading. And I like to think there are a lot of us out there better off, more aware, than when we started this year.

But let’s not stop there…

We’re seasonal readers at The Bookly Club. And this time of year we like to learn something new by looking outside our own world views to hear new voices. And this year we’ve chosen Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions.

Valeria Luiselli was born in Mexico City and spent her childhood in different countries around the world. She attended pre-university in India, and returned to Mexico City for university, after which she lived in Spain, then France, and eventually landed in New York City where she earned a PhD in Comparative Literature from Columbia.

And in Luiselli’s career as an author of five books she’s been the winner of two Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, an American Book Award, been nominated twice for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Kirkus Prize, and has been a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35″ honoree.

Tell Me How It Ends was Luiselli’s fourth book. Published in April, 2017 it’s an essay in book form on the treatment of undocumented children in America. The idea took hold when Luiselli began working as an interpreter for immigrants in the New York City courts.

She was tasked with helping children complete an intake questionnaire. Their answers to the questions affected whether or not they were granted legal sanctuary. But Luiselli observed how the questionnaire failed to fit these children neatly into worthy or unworthy. In fact, there’s no such thing. And the questions posed to these refugee children only left Luiselli with more questions of her own.


“In the course of her work, Luiselli’s young daughter has heard about some of the children’s stories, and she repeatedly asks, as children do, ‘Tell me how it ends, Mamma.’ Luiselli has no answers for her. There are, as yet, no happy endings, but toward the end of the book she offers a small hint of promise.”

– Tell Me How It Ends Introduction


It seems like there’s not been a more significant time in our history to learn more about the immigrant experience in America. We’ve spent the last four years (and more) demonizing those who seek refuge on our shores. We’ve damaged so many lives, and our own futures in the process. We need to keep learning from these experiences and do better. And we hope you’ll learn with us.

Here’s how…

  1. Pick up a copy from where ever you get your books, and read along with us anytime between now and the end of January.
  2. Keep us posted on social using #booklymark and tagging @thebooklyclub
  3. And stay tuned for our discussion post on Instagram and/or our reviews here on the blog to share our thoughts!

Happy reading x

Homegoing: Great Expectations

I’d heard nothing but praise for Homegoing before picking it up. It’s clearly a beloved story, and a big reason why we chose it as our November book. But sometimes such high expectations get in my way. But with the really good ones, the author-defining books like this one, expectations are just the beginning.

Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel Homegoing is a blow-you-away kind of story. Gyasi masterfully engineers the stories of eight generations into just three hundred pages in a way that’s nothing short of a work of art. Her writing is poetic and yet efficient. The characters are each sketched as full portraits in their short chapters. And the beginning of every ancestor’s story reads like the start of its own epic novel. Some of the characters I missed after their brief time in one chapter (give or take some overlap), but Gyasi then has you falling in love with the next character, and the next, and the next. And all the while she weaves in significant periods of history in a way that’s intimate, palpable, and very affecting. You can feel the stories as they move through time, humanizing major events through her characters.

These heartbreaking, beautiful, tortured, strong, stories span hundreds of years and several generations from two branches of the same family tree. It’s beautiful storytelling. And the ending has you seeing the journey all the way to the end in an entirely satisfying way.

I will say I think I did this book a disservice in how I read it. This time of year I don’t have more than twenty minutes at a time to dedicate to reading. But picking it up and putting it down again so frequently had me losing track of which character or family I was reading. And I think it took away from the book. If you haven’t read this one yet I encourage you to make sure you have hours (or a weekend) to devote to Homegoing so you can read it as one journey in its entirety.

But overall, this book was definitely a favorite for me and I’m so glad we picked it up for The Bookly Club! I hope you read along with us and enjoyed it too. Or that this review has convinced you to pick it up yourself. But if I didn’t convince you, here are some other great reviews you should check out….

Coffee and Shortbread Blog

Mahogany Books Review

Eyes Open: Homegoing

I read Homegoing in March. I wrote my review of Homegoing immediately, in March. A lot has happened since March. A lot has happened that is relevant to the subject matter of Homegoing. I have done a lot of reflecting, a lot of reading, a lot of discussing, and a lot of Work. This book and this review, in some ways, were a turning point in my commitment to truly understanding my own privilege, to educating myself, and to equity and justice. So, instead of rewriting it to reflect all that I have learned since, here it is, exactly as I wrote it in March.

Homegoing Review, March 2020

Let me get the easy part out of the way, Homegoing is absolutely amazing. Yaa Gyasi wrote a phenomenal novel following a family line over centuries, through separation, slavery, loss, death, heartbreak, hope, and everything imaginable. This book rocketed easily into my top ten favorite books ever. From the first chapter, I was completely hooked and desperate to find out what would happen in the next generation. I am not a professional book reviewer, so I’m not going to pretend to be able to talk about why her writing is excellent – all I know is it was beautiful and compelling, and I would’ve happily continued to read were it double the length.

Now the hard part. The part where I admit that, for as much as I educate myself and try to do the right thing as far as equality and race are concerned… this book woke me right up. Let me be clear: I am fully aware of my own privilege, I completely understand the challenges faced by people of color today, I am obviously aware of and educated about the history of people of color and racism in this country. And I know how the history affects the present. But I don’t think I had ever spent enough time thinking about how the history and the present intersect and affect individual people. And here’s how it happened while reading Homegoing.

While reading the chapter about Jo, I got a little frustrated and thought to myself, “but what actually happened to Ness? And what happened to Esi? I wish she finished out their stories before moving on to the next generation.” And then it hit me. I am frustrated because I don’t know what happened to people in a work of fiction. But for generation after generation, REAL HUMAN PEOPLE didn’t know what happened to their family in generations before them. A mother may never see her child again. A child may have no idea if their father is still alive. Over and over and over again. It turned my stomach. I can’t imagine that kind of pain. The depth of that sorrow. That incredible loss of self and history. So here I am, head hung low, ashamed that my privilege has blinded me to this for 35+ years, but glad that my eyes have been opened now, albeit late.

Yaa Gyasi, I can’t wait to read more from you. Transcendent Kingdom is next on my list.

Who Invited You?

Jennifer McMahon’s The Invited wasn’t bad but it wasn’t scary either. I think this narrative that “you shouldn’t really fear ghosts; it’s your neighbors you should be scared of” is more than played out. The focus of the book quickly shifts from one of hauntings and ghostly presences to that of a seemingly cute town hiding more than its fair share of dirty secrets. That is a shame because the creepy wind was quickly taken out of the sails of this book. 

I liked the back and forth story telling between the two main characters because the shifting perspective made things move quickly and instilled some much needed suspense. The characters are a bit one note and almost secondary to pushing the storyline along. The most interesting characters are the ghosts, and we hardly get to know them. (Inexplicably one chapter is written in first person, in contradistinction to the rest of the book, and it actually makes me mad.) It admittedly gets pretty fun at the end leading up to the predictable “twist.” As I was reading I kept seeing the movie in my head. It wouldn’t be particularly scary or make much money in the box office but it would be a fun way to spend $15 on popcorn (after the vaccine).

November Book

More than most books we’ve read at The Bookly Club, fellow book-lovers can’t seem to say enough good things about this year’s November book. And rightfully so! This bestseller is an all-time favorite for a lot of readers and has won countless accolades.


Selected in 2016 for the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35” award, the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award for best first book, one of Oprah’s Best Books of the Year longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize in 2017, recipient of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for 2017, an American Book Award, and the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Literature


The historical fiction debut novel Homegoing begins in eighteenth century Ghana, and follows the parallel lives of two half sisters and their descendants. One sister, Effia, marries an Englishman and lives a life of comfort. The other, Esi, is captured, imprisoned, and sold into slavery. This multigenerational family saga travels from Southern plantations and the Civil War, to the Great Migration, the jazz age, dope houses in twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day.

“Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.”

And if you can believe it, this unique and poignant story was published when Yaa Gyasi was just 26 years old. Born in Ghana and raised in Alabama from the age of 10, Gyasi studied at Stanford University where she received a BA in English and then an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. But her debut, Homegoing, was inspired by a 2009 trip to Ghana which she hadn’t visited since leaving the country as an infant. She completed the novel in 2015, and after initial readings of her manuscript she was signed-on by Knopf with a seven-figure advance!

But for all these accolades and dollar signs, it’s the love that readers have for this story that really excites us. We’re so glad to finally be reading this beauty, and we hope you’ll read it with us!

Here’s how…

  1. Pick up a copy from where ever you get your books, and read along with us anytime between now and the end of November
  2. Keep us posted on social using #booklymark and tagging @thebooklyclub
  3. Stay tuned for our discussion post on Instagram and/or our reviews here on the blog to share our thoughts!

Happy reading x

 

RSVP: Maybe?

Let me start by saying that Jennifer McMahon’s earlier book The Winter People is one of my favorite books. And I’ll probably read anything she writes from now on. But it also means I come into her books with fairly high expectations.

I was excited to add The Invited to our 2020 Bookly list, and felt like it couldn’t be a better fit for our October selection. And I wasn’t totally wrong! Haha. It was a solid ghost story set in Maine during late summer and early fall, so it was a great time to pick this one up. But overall, for me, it wasn’t a home run. Don’t worry, I’ll share my thoughts without any spoilers…

I struggled with the main character. She fell a little flat for me, and I never quite hooked into any of her motivations. It’s not giving anything away to say she spends most of the story fixated on local historical artifacts that tie into the greater mystery. And to me this fixation seemed like a bit of a leap. At least if there’d been a little bit more added as to why she was so fixated, and why this fixation wasn’t giving her any introspective pause, I think I could have gotten there.

And in the end the story fell into place just as I thought it would. But that being said, and not to toot my own horn, I do have a tendency to figure out the endings long before they arrive. I tend to read mysteries to solve them, less for the story… just me?

But I did really enjoy a lot of the relationships in The Invited. Helen and Nate’s dynamic and Olive’s relationships were what kept the characters and the story grounded for me. And the town legend turned ghost story was intriguing enough to keep me flipping through the book at a fast pace. It’s definitely a quick read!

In conclusion, I liked it but didn’t love it. I guess I just wish I’d liked Helen more? Or maybe my expectations got the best of me? But either way I wouldn’t steer anyone away from reading this one. It’s a great October book, and I know plenty of readers who’ve really enjoyed it. It just didn’t knock my socks off. But I recommend picking it up and deciding for yourself!

Highlights from Avonlea

Anne of Green Gables had been on my “to be read” (#tbr) list or faaaar too long (probably since watching the classic ’80s TV series). But for alas, it took me until now to finally get around to it. And either way, I’m so glad I finally crossed this one off my list! There was probably no better time to read it as the seasons begin to change.

The setting of Avonlea and the way L.M. Montgomery introduces each chapter with a romantic description of its changing seasons was a highlight for me. Anne, Marilla, Matthew, and Diana were all very charming characters, but Avonlea itself, the Lake of Shining Waters, the Haunted Forest, and the Snow Queen were my favorites. The natural setting was a meditative escape and had me dreaming of a visit to Prince Edward Island.

Also, I was surprised at what a fast read it was. I’d expected it to be more like a traditional “classic,” with a fair amount of tangents and portions being a little over-written. But I found the writing style very approachable, yet poetic. Which I guess makes sense since it was originally meant for a broader audience. I can really see why this book is so beloved. Seeing the world through Anne’s eyes you can’t help fall in love with all of Avonlea, and it was really refreshing reading the world through such bright and hopeful eyes.

I will say Anne’s arc was the only thing that threw me for a loop. A young girl who begins full of life and awe and passion is whittled down to a more adult, muted woman with practical notions. Which I guess the reader can interpret as they wish. I certainly didn’t feel like Montgomery was making a commentary one way or another on who Anne should aspire to be. In fact quite the opposite, maybe her intention was to share in a remorse that she’d dimmed a bit over time. So although part of me wishes we’d seen Anne’s fanciful notions carried on as she grew, I suppose that’s not how growing up works.

Overall this was a 5 out of 5 start read for me. Definitely a new favorite! And hopefully one day soon I’ll get to re-read it with my girls.

October Book

At The Bookly Club we read according to the season (more on that here). And what does fall put you in the mood for? For us it’s the perfect time to read something good and scary. We know, we know this year’s been scary enough! We’re definitely not in the mood for anything apocalyptic right now. BUT this October we’ve picked a book that’s a play on the classic haunted house story. And we think it’s just right time for curling up with a good book as the leaves change and the temperatures fall.



The Invited by Jennifer McMahon is a story about Nate and Helen; a young couple who decide to leave suburban life for a more rural setting on forty acres of land in the country. They plan to build their dream home together. As Helen finds inspiration through found objects in the local area—a beam from an old schoolroom, bricks from a mill, a mantel from a farmhouse—she becomes infatuated with the area’s dark history. The stories of Hattie Breckenridge, a local legend said to have died there about a century ago, and her descendants, consume Helen (the former history teacher). As the building goes on, the dream home soon becomes home to nightmares.


“A chilling ghost story with a twist: the New York Times bestselling author of The Winter People returns to the woods of Vermont to tell the story of a husband and wife who don’t simply move into a haunted house–they build one…”


Jennifer McMahon

McMahon definitely has an imagination for spook. Growing up in her grandmother’s house on the East coast, she was convinced a ghost named Virgil lived in the attic. And as an adult she settled in Vermont and found herself living in a cabin with no electricity and no running water as she and her partner Drea built their own house. Sounds like inspiration for The Invited to me! And they now live in an old Victorian in Vermont that some neighbors say reminds them of the Addams family house, “which brings me immense pleasure,” she says. McMahon is the author of nine books, with another set to release next Spring.

{side note: if you haven’t read her book The Winter People yet, it’s a MUST READ}

 

This modern retelling of the classic haunted house story is just what we’re in the mood for, and we hope you are too. Not into scary stories? You should be brave and join us! Here’s how…

  1. Pick up a copy from where ever you get your books, and read along with us anytime between now and the end of August
  2. Keep us posted on social using #booklymark and tagging @thebooklyclub
  3. Stay tuned for our discussion post on Instagram and/or our reviews here on the blog to share our thoughts

Spooky reading
x

 

I mean….yeah

Quick summary: This book was stupid.

Longer thoughts: It starts with a rape and ends with the author pretending it wasn’t. The interaction begins with Henry following a very intoxicated Tess up the stairs under the pretense of helping her because she is wobbly and drunk. Once upstairs, he kisses her. She says “I can’t. I’m engaged.” And then she “gives in.” Cut to baby and a complete denial of what this encounter was. I really found it odd that Chamberlain made no real effort to address the four letter word in the room. Moreover, she wants us to root for this dude later on. If she meant it to be a wild night where both parties got carried away, perhaps she should have tried a little harder and dedicated more than a paragraph on how these characters ended up in bed.

She lost me after that. It only went downhill from there with extremely one-demential characters that basically existed to tell Tess that there is “more than meets the eye.” Ooooo. In order to draw out the mystery, a main character is killed off. She got to close to just being upfront with Tess, so she had to go.

The interesting history about immigrant Italian communities in Baltimore and a polio epidemic and important commentary on race and injustice were completely overshadowed by a landslide of crap. Tess felt like a soap opera character. If her evil twin showed up, I could not have been remotely surprised.

In summary: No.