The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett

The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Unpopular opinion. This book was just ok.

I loved the frenzy surrounding this book, and the gorgeous cover, and all the hype that went along with it, but to me, this book did not live up to its hype. It’s too safe.

This book is a story of twin girls, who come from a very small town called Mallard. The town is so small you can’t even find it on a map. However, this town is quite unique, in that each of the inhabitants of this black town are so light, that a passerby might mistake many of them for white. The twins though are itching to escape and make a life of their own after their mother basically cancels all of their future hopes and dreams by taking them out of school so that they can work and contribute money to the household. So when they flee their little town and head for the big city, they are able to see the world with eyes wide open, looking for a chance to spread their wings and fly and live how they have always wanted to live. Free. However, freedom comes with a price as they soon realize. The book attempts to share what the cost of freedom will be for these 2 twin girls from Mallard. We also learn about the daughters, cousins really, named Jude (Desiree’s daughter) and Kennedy (Stella’s daughter) and how the twins’ decisions has affected the lives of their offspring.

From the beginning I feel this book just dragged on endlessly for no reason other than to stir up some drama. I felt like there were some really interesting topics that the author wanted to bring to light, but most of the topics all stopped short of really exploring those ideas. I feel like the author played it safe with this book because she never really uncovered any of the underlying reasons or hidden truths or exposed anyone to really get to the meat of the story.

Topics included in this book:
– Colorism and passing for white
– Classism
– Domestic Violence
– Identity issues
– Lying/hiding truths
– Self-esteem/self-confidence
– Racism/bigotry

I felt like the main purpose of this book was to tell a story about one of the twins vanishing and passing for white, which it somewhat told, but it didn’t nearly scratch the surface to the pain it caused for Stella, for Desiree, for Adele, for Jude, for Kennedy. We don’t get to see Stella really go through the fear and pain of passing for white or what it did to her individual life, we see some of the effects of how it affected her family somewhat, but not entirely. We don’t get to see the great chasm it caused between her mother and those lost years. We don’t know to what extent of the pain of the separation caused her to be away from her twin. We see glimpses, but it’s never tapped into fully and it leaves you discontent and wanting more.

There are whole sections that talk about the daughters and how they eventually meet and how it affects the dynamics of the entire family, but even that part is somewhat nondescript and leaves you wanting more. The author skims the surface on really important topics and that was very frustrating for me to read.

We learn about Jude and her boyfriend Reece, who is a trans man, but we never really get to see more of that world. The topics of identity and LGBTQIA+ are very gray, fuzzy, and frustrating to say the least. The author is attempting to share how Reece is “passing” as a man, but that makes it somewhat weird, as if he’s hiding something when the author has depicted Reece as someone who is sure of what he wants. I don’t see Reece as having to hide in the closet of his sexuality, but the author appears to try and connect the “passing of white” as the same as “passing as a man” and I just did not agree with that combination. The life that Reece and Jude have seem very normal, almost too normal, compared to what many Trans persons actually share and explain how they are abused and disrespected, that this depiction of their perfect life doesn’t realistically share what this community goes through when they make this life choice for themselves; the fallout. All of that was not in here.

There really was no plot twist, nothing to keep you captivated, just very predictable in the beginning and end. The middle had some interesting parts, but it also left out really meaty parts that could have made this book a banger. Essentially, there are no repercussions to passing for white, like there are no repercussions for white people doing what they do everyday in real life, they get to do what they want and get away with it for good, and that made this book somewhat of a long drawn out bore for me.

Cover is gorgeous though. Story, not so much. 3 stars.

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This is My America by Kim Johnson

This Is My America

This Is My America by Kim Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If there was ever a book that screamed at me to buy, this would be that book.

From the first page, Kim Johnson brings you into the world of the Beaumonts. Tracy, Jamal, Corrinne, her mother, and father James Beaumont. We start off learning that Tracy’s father has been in prison for 7 years, and is running out of time on death row. She has been writing letters to Innocence X hoping to get her father represented so that he can appeal his case and get off death row. The clock is ticking, as he has less than a year left before his execution date. On top of all that, her brother Jamal gets accused of killing a white girl at school, and he is on the run, unwilling to be arrested or brought to the police station because he knows what may happen to him.

Tracy is determined to save both her brother and father from prison or death, and we learn about her fight for justice and unwillingness to let things just be. She is a fighter, a problem solver, and believes in uncovering the truth no matter what.

This book brings up very hard hitting topics, wonderfully down under the YA umbrella. Although these topics are hard hitting, they are very much needed in the Black and Brown community. Kim Johnson discusses:
– Corrupt police
– Flawed criminal justice system (guilty until proven innocent for Black people)
– Innocent black men in prison
– Fallout from family during/after prison
– Racism (white supremacy)
– Big private prison business
– Microaggressions and stereotypes from white people
– Integrity
– Interracial dating/friendship
– Teenage life during a crisis
– Black Lives Matter

The range of emotions I felt while reading this book:
– Teary-eyed and cried
– Sad.
– Joy
– Hope
– Tense
– Scary
– Frightening
– Heart pounding

This book amazingly brought together a clear picture of what racism in America is like in real life. All of the subtle racism, in your face racism, and blatant disrespect is all brought to life here. This book should sicken you about the injustices Black people face in the criminal justice system. This book should anger you when understanding how white people can say one thing in your face and do another, hurting or harming Black people for no other reason but because they are Black. The lies white people tell themselves to protect their own interests. This book should make you cry when you feel for Tracy and understand the hopelessness and helplessness she feels as time is running out for her father, who has maintained his innocence since he was sent to prison. White people should check their white privilege every second of every day because they should understand that they are not immune from white supremacy or showing their racism. Even with the best intentions, white people are not immune. Racism permeates and infiltrates everything. It has been what this country was founded on, and what white people’s ancestors came to believe and know and teach their children. It’s is ingrained in their whole upbringing as a mass.

This book is so real, so timely, so needed, so important. This is a must-read!

Kim Johnson does a phenomenal job on her character development, and we learn about life is like for Tracy and her family. I feel like she is somewhat appealing to white people though, humanizing her characters in such a way to make white people understand that Black people have lives. That we hurt, that we love, that we laugh, that we have family that cares for us. We have love interests, we share secrets with our friends, we enjoy having fun, that we are kids and teenagers just like them. We are no different. If only they didn’t hate so much.

“Only recently has it been cemented in my mind and made clear, that acting civil, being deferential, doesn’t matter. It’s like, Mama has always said, “Black Lives don’t matter enough to them.” That evidence is live and in color, on every news channel in America.”

“Why not “All Lives Matter?” The problem is, that those lives have always mattered. Ours are treated like we’re less than equal. Like we don’t deserve the same respect.”

“We’ve never caught a break. All those years praying, going to church, looking over our shoulders when we didn’t do anything wrong.”

“We’ve been paying a debt that ain’t even ours to pay. White folks act like something wrong with us. They hate us.”

“All that blood. We built America. Black labor built the greatest nation in the world for free. They ripped us from our family then, and they do it again with new laws disguised as change.”

I highly recommend this book to everyone, especially the YA crowd. It’s necessary! 5 stars.

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Ready, Set, Never… by Widley Oge

Ready, Set, Never...

Ready, Set, Never… by Widley Oge

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a story of a young daughter who is grappling with losing her father while she was still young. The epistolary style of writing here showcases the rawness of her emotions and how she, as a young girl, is dealing with the aftermath of her father having passed away.

This diary-style of writing was very raw, emotional, private, and informal. Not sure at what age the author was when writing this book, but it reads like a teenager’s private diary describing how she is handling her new life without her father being present.

The book is divided into small “vignette-type” chapters and shares a touching first person account of her life with and without her dad. Seeing that the death of her father is very sensitive, and personal, I don’t know if writing in this way made it very effective. The writing is almost too personal, too informal, and I feel as if I’m violating her privacy by reading this book. The writing appears to me to be disjointed, disorganized in thought, and scattered because of the very nature of this personal subject; dealing with the emotions of losing her father. Reading this reminds me of looking through a broken mirror. All the pieces are there, but it’s all over the place at the same time, which is how one may feel when losing a parent who is close to them.

This is a very short read (35 pages), but it feels like the author tore out a section of her diary and presented it as a book. I’m not sure if this is meant to be a memoir, a short story collection, a novella, a journal, a diary??? I’m not sure. There is no plot or storyline leading to a plot. I feel like the plane took off without a destination in mind.

However, I can relate to losing a father prematurely due to health conditions at an early age. I also grappled with similar emotions and understood her guilt and wistfulness of what she could have done while he was here or what she didn’t do while he was here. Those emotions are seen in these pages quite clearly. However, the execution of sharing these emotions didn’t quite hit the mark for me. I truly believe the author had something on her heart that she wanted to share and other people to read, so I do commend her on creating this piece of work because I can imagine how hard it was to relive her memories of her dad while writing this book. I would definitely encourage her to keep writing and gleaning knowledge from other authors who can help her tell her stories, as she has a knack for storytelling.

Thank you Widley Oge and Molding Messengers for providing me with this book in favor of a fair and honest opinion.

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Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir

Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If there has ever been a book that made you supremely sad, sick, depressed, and felt the urge to bawl your eyes out all at the same time, this is that book.

“They could have saved her.” The haunting words that reverberates in my mind as I write this review.

This book can be triggering for some people who have experienced domestic violence. I am one of those people. Natasha Trethewey’s use of the English language to share her pain, leaves you breathless, haunted, damned, depressed, and volatile. From the start of this book I felt like I was in her head or like in a dream… seeing her thoughts compose before my very eyes. She takes you along this painful journey of suppressed memories, and you feel the weight of her pain on your chest the whole time. This gripping, eerie memoir tells of the author’s life leading up to the murder of her mother’s death, by the hands of her stepfather.

This memoir is different than what I’d normally see in memoirs, as this isn’t a retelling of the author’s whole life, but a certain aspect from her life. The death of her mother. Trethewey is reliving this painful event in order to remember her mother in such a way as to piece together what happened, and to heal. She is hoping to reveal what caused this event to come about? What were the signs? Was she able to do something about it? Was this preventable? Could her mother still be alive today if…?

This book uncovered all sorts of emotions and thoughts. As a mom, it made me realize or wonder what impact am I leaving for my own children. How do they see me? What do I mean to them? How am I affecting their lives? Am I harming them in anyway by the type of parenting I employ? It made me really take a deep look into how my children may see me… am I doing enough for them? What if something happened to me? What will their life be like without me? Have I done enough?????

Remembering my own domestic violence issues has me grappling with the what ifs. This book scares me, especially for those who still have perpetrators out there still on the loose, hunting down those who have done them wrong, gotten away, or living life without them. The book shines a light on the mental illness of those who have suffered PTSD, especially from Vietnam or other traumatic life events, who have been left untreated, and how the state can be slow to respond to issues such as this in the Black community. I don’t know if the outcome would have been different if Natasha Trethewey’s mom would have been white. Would they have believed her sooner, without having to go the extra 3 steps to collect more data? Would the police officer had left even though they were assigned to stay there? Trethewey doesn’t say if this is mixed with racial issues, but in the Confederate state that Georgia was at the time, I don’t doubt that race played a role on the responsiveness of the police and court systems. The courts continued to need more evidence… proof actually… and they got the proof, sadly. Two bullets.

Do Black Lives Matter? With all of Natasha Trethewey’s mother’s success, status, career, monetary compensation from her employment, it still wasn’t enough to protect her from her ex-husband, even though she had all the proof in the world prior to her death to put him in jail for “attempted” murder.

I caution those who have experienced domestic violence while reading this book. The terror in the way her mother experienced it is harrowing. Having to relive my own experience with a person who I’ve had to protect myself against through the courts, and having them believe his words over mine is not something I wanted to ruminate. However, this book is gut wrenching and made me enormously sentient of my past interactions with this type of violence. I commend Natasha Trethewey in writing her experience, for allowing herself to heal, allowing herself to remember her mother, and to relinquish the hold it may have had on her life as an adult.

Thank you to Natasha Trethewey, HarperCollins, and NetGalley for providing me with this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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N*gga Theory: Race, Language, Unequal Justice, and the Law by Jody Armour

N*gga Theory: Race, Language, Unequal Justice, and the LawN*gga Theory: Race, Language, Unequal Justice, and the Law by Jody Armour
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am not eloquent with my words and sometimes I’m not as articulate as I seem to be in my head. However, I do love to read and write reviews for books that I pick up. Wonderful people have been contacting me as of late, curious as to how they can get their books in my hands. I’ve been deeply honored by these requests. However, when I got the request to review this book, I was highly interested. The subject of mass incarceration, race, the law, and unequal justice piqued my interest. These subjects are what black people have been fighting for since the beginning of time. I wanted to learn something, especially from a law professor, whose life’s work it has been to fight for equal justice under the law.

However, I’ve been given a book that I’m not sure how to review. Mainly because I don’t have the knowledge or the legal jargon and theories of law in my background. Law professor Jody Armour has written a book that is tackling an enormous problem we have in our society. Mass incarceration, race, law, justice, and is trying to inform the world of the problem we have when, black people have to live side by side other people who see them as criminals from just their skin color or simply ignore them because they are invisible and don’t matter. Society is just now starting to attempt having discussions about race but honestly I don’t think this world is ready. White people, historically, have had 20+ generations of wealth and a head start. Slave patrols who originally took orders from slave masters as bounty hunters, transformed into doing the work of the KKK, are now our modern day police. Black people have suffered enumerable setbacks because we have been deemed less than a human and hunted every day of our lives because of the color of our skin. Our lives are snuffed out by a wave, a lie, a blink, a gasp, a look, an assumption, a thought by a white person. This book begs the question, can white people actually treat black people like civil human beings and provide equal justice? Jody Armour theorizes that there is some hope, but as James Baldwin would say, “I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.”

There are hard to digest parts in this book because if you are like me, you don’t have a background in law. The legal jargon, terms, definitions, examples, rationales, legal speak, can get a bit cumbersome for the average lay person. Jody Armour clearly believes and he states, “we need to fix the law. We need to bring light to the dark ghetto. We need to fight injustice. We need a full and active empathy.” (p. 257) I agree wholeheartedly in what he is theorizing. However, I’m skeptical, not in his theory, but in the practicality of applying this theory.

Mass incarceration has been the “New Jim Crow,” as Michelle Alexander explains in her book. This justice system was designed by white men to extricate black men and women out of society and throw them back into a form of slavery. Armour brings to question many things about your personal beliefs in what justice looks like for you. This book also will invoke great discussion around the subject of whether jurors can be impartial and unbiased. Armour does not believe that jurors can be impartial and unbiased and therefore all black wrongdoers should be exempted “from capital punishment on the ground that, because empirically demonstrable biases such as attribution bias and ingroup empathy bias, ordinary people on juries are just as prone to make noisy and unreliable inferences about the subjective culpability and just deserts of black wrongdoers.” (p. 293) This system was not designed to provide us (black people) equal protection under the law. I firmly believe that the retributive urge toward black people will continue to be shown, that white Americans will not “curb their punitive, retributive reflexes long enough to recognize the macro-level social factors that breed crime and poverty before passing judgment.” (p. 63) What white society has done in the form of systemic racism that touches every part of Black life has been that they have put Black people in a dehumanizing social condition, did nothing about those conditions, and then commanded Black people who suffered from these conditions, tell them to Behave – or else! Once that Black person commits a crime, they are then shuffled in front of white people (supposedly a jury of their peers), who already have impartial bias, for which they see Black wrongdoers as the “worst of the worst”, and are judged more harshly than white people for the same crimes. Unfortunately, white people will sacrifice their own to mass incarcerate us. Which is why there is no outcry when white people are put away. There is no one protesting about their sentences or demanding fair and equal treatment because they aren’t receiving the same retributive urge as a Black person.

Armour is unapologetic in his usage for the N-word. He wants to and is using this word as a call for solidarity among all Black criminals and non-black criminals. Although, I don’t agree with his overarching premise of why he feels the need to use this word, I do agree with some of the reasoning behind it. In many ways, we as Black people are all one. When white people see them (as in “bad black people”) they see me. However, as Armour has mentioned regarding Chris Rock’s famous routine, “I love Black people, but I can’t stand n*ggas,” for me, there is some truth there. Armour though believes that we shouldn’t be divided in that way, and that he prefers people call him a n*gga. Armour has caused me to re-think my mindset in different ways of looking at how we perceive wrongdoers. Am I a choice theorist? Do I believe in personal responsibility and respectability politics? Do I agree with people having bad or good luck in regards to their upbringing? There are so many different topics that Armour brings to question that will have you discussing and contemplating for a long time.

Race has been a forever topic of discussion. Dismantling the systemic racism that permeates every aspect of Black people’s life is another topic altogether. This book helps to have that conversation about race, primarily centered around the criminal justice system and how Black people are perceived as wrongdoers just based on the color of their skin. Armour seeks to dismantle misconceptions and racism, and enlighten and encourage and provide this theory on how we can all get there; and I hope to God people listen.

Thank you to Professor Jody Armour and Coriolis Company for providing me with your book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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