The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango Street

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book had me shook from the intro.

The House on Mango Street is a colorful and descriptive dialogue of Esperanza, as she is coming of age in a neighborhood in Chicago. As the narrator is a pre-teenage girl starting off, you can see how her world looks through her eyes as Cisneros expertly crafts her poetic prose that allows us into Esperanza’s life and her experiences. Esperanza is trying to navigate growing up here in this house that she doesn’t like and thinks should be temporary and not her permanent home. She is ashamed of her house, and wishes for better. Wanting to be seen and heard, and not be invisible or looked over because of her station in life, she persists through it all. This short story collection of vignettes can be read in an hour or languorously spread out over days if you just want to relish in the beautiful tapestry that Cisneros weaves throughout this book. Although some of the subject matter is volatile, harsh, and “grown up,” Esperanza has to face these realities at this young age. We are seeing her grow, develop, and overcome obstacles as a young woman as she sees her way out of this neighborhood through her writing.

Topics discussed:
Teenage angst
Coming of age
Abuse (domestic/sexual)

This book is notoriously classic and I can see why. You can open this book to any page and not be lost, and clearly take something away while reading this book. This book is full of hopes and dreams, especially from the immigrant community, and also the BIPOC community that also experiences the same tragic life that Esperanza is trying to leave behind.

I rate this book a 5. Pure classic and could re-read for an eternity.

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The Autobiography of Gucci Mane by Gucci Mane with Neil Martinez-Belkin

The Autobiography of Gucci Mane

The Autobiography of Gucci Mane by Gucci Mane

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Autobiography of Gucci Mane is about his life, and how he hit rock bottom before he made significant changes in his life for the better.

This autobiographical account of Gucci Mane is very transparent and raw. He talks about his upbringing, his move from Alabama to Georgia, and how this shaped him at a young age, and the life he became involved with due to him being in this type of impoverished environment.

I’ve never been a fan of Gucci’s music, and this memoir did not make me want to run out and cop his music or become a fan. However, it did allow me to see a flawed human make it from nothing to something and live to tell about his journey.

Gucci talks about the drugs, the addiction, the music, the violence, the hustle, the dope game, prison stints, drug rehab, the countless arrests, parole violations, the miscalculations in business, the money, the women, the madness and chaos of the (t)rap game, the rap beefs with other artists, like Jeezy, and the lessons he learned along the way.

Many people may have come to read about how he got in the game, how he pioneered the way for trap music, and how he made his money, or came to get more info on the beef between him and Jeezy, but the story of Gucci Mane was very interesting to say the least, and much better than I expected. I applaud him for telling his side of his story and allowing this account of his life (in his own words) serve as a turning point.

However, Gucci glosses over most of his “law issues” as nothing or that all of these run-ins with the law was caused by some force outside of himself, but the “law issues” seemed to all be self-induced and quite preventable. He basically self-sabotaged himself for most of his adult life. Unable to stay out of trouble, and believing that the police and others (including the court system) were out to get him.

I also felt he had a bit of megalomania, and made very poor financial decisions, legal decisions, behavioral decisions, emotional decisions, and he was quite mentally unstable for a long time. Finding out that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder doesn’t surprise me, seeing how erratic his behavior was throughout his rap career, but it seemed like he was surrounded by enablers and very few people who cared about him.

I can see this book as a tale of “rags-to-riches,” but I also can’t really sympathize with his frequent self-induced prison stints that didn’t have to happen. He was in a bad cycle of repeating the same mistakes over and over, and he couldn’t ever break from it until his last prison sentence that forced him to go through withdrawals from drugs, from violent behaviors, from poor choices, and life in general. I’m not a proponent of Black men in jail, but prison really did save Gucci’s life.

Overall, the book doesn’t offer any real take-aways or lessons to learn, but mostly is a book for his fan base and any one who is interested in learning about the “Trap God,” Gucci Mane LaFlare. Gucci allows you to see into his life in whole, and doesn’t shy away from anything. I applaud his candor, humor, and realness in discussing his troubled past. I hope that he continues to stay on the straight and narrow path, and continues helping others to not go down the same path as he, but offer real help and mentorship to keep young men and women from repeating some of the same mistakes he made in life. I rate this book a 3.75/4.

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Wild Seed (Patternmaster, #1) by Octavia Butler

Wild Seed (Patternmaster, #1)

Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you haven’t read Octavia Butler, you are clearly missing out on life.

Wild Seed, Is the prequel to the Patternmaster series.

You get introduced to Doro, a man who cannot be killed, who has found Anyanwu, who does not die. This is the tale of how the two of them meet and how they become apart of each other’s lives.

This book is very dense and is not a quick read. However, it is equally engaging, pushing your boundaries as a reader, challenging your thoughts in every page, and as you contemplate what the future holds for these 2 characters you get lost in all of the details that Butler showcases here for you to relish in.

Butler focuses on Doro and Anyanwu throughout the book, uncovering multiple layers of humanity and immortality, and the costs of each, to them both.

Topics discussed:
– Slavery (master vs slave)
– God-like power
– Toxic masculinity
– Submission (obey vs consent)
– Abuse
– Quality of humanity
– Gender roles (gender fluidity)
– Sexuality
– Race
– Class
– Feminism

There is magnetic tension and fascination between Doro and Anyanwu. The two are constantly at odds, and hating the other for various reasons. The meat of this story all centers around Doro losing or having lost his sense of humanity (when in fact he is an ogbanje), and how Anyanwu deals with or doesn’t deal with the vile contempt she feels for Doro. Knowing that he and her will never die or be without the other in the world.

Butler carves a fantastical piece of SCI-FI, fantasy, “magical” immortality, together, weaving through a millennia about what would happen if you got 2 people together who could never die. The story is dense! Packed full with superb deftness, ingenuity, and pushing the limits to this particular genre.

Doro is basically a hunter, who is looking to recreate a set of people who have extraordinary talents and abilities. People who can read minds, shape shift, perform telekinesis, and body snatch, among other things as well. He is looking to breed and dominate these people so that he can have settlements all over the world who obey and submit to him.

Then along comes Anyanwu. A female, who is similar to him with abilities and gifts that are used to heal, rather than dominate or control. She has lived for 3 centuries before Doro found her. She is content with living among her people, helping, healing, and staying under the radar. She has unbelievable strength, can heal herself and others, can make medicine in her body and apply it with a kiss, and can change shape/form to anything she wants. She is Doro’s antagonist who is constantly wary and outspoken of his inhumanity that he exhibits incessantly. So far, they are the only 2 of their kind who can live forever, and they are pushing the limits of each other to be able to live in the world together.

The book invokes some really powerful messaging around life, power, race, class, sexuality, gender, toxic masculinity, and abuse. The book is both horrific and beautiful and as the reader you are constantly chasing those feelings throughout Wild Seed. I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you are new to Octavia Butler. You get to see a book close to perfection, that will have you constantly pouring through this work, totally immersed in the story. 5 stars.

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American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

American Spy

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What do you think of when you hear “American Spy?”
Drama? Action? Plot twists? Cliff hangers? Crime? Mystery? Excitement?

Yea, this book wasn’t hitting on anything. Written as an Epistolary novel, this book tells the story of Marie Mitchell, a Black female protagonist who is embarking on spy missions in Burkina Faso to upend the Communist leader, Thomas Sankara, for the United States.

First off I want to say what I liked about this book. The author was brave and bold in her ideas about the premise of this story. We don’t read many stories with Black American spy women who work for the government, getting involved in high espionage profile cases. I also applaud the author in telling this story from the woman’s perspective of working in a male dominated career, during the 80s, and how the Cold War affected everything in the world. This book is also supposedly a journal to her two sons, left in case anything happens to her.

The topics discussed in this book:
– Misogynoir
– Social justice issues
– Feminism

However, even after all of that goodness that I just shared, this book was equally boring! The epistolary novel format did not work for me. The story jumped around a bit too much in the narration aspect for me to settle into the actual plot of the story. I felt like there was so much missed here as far as action, drama, mystery, suspense, crime, excitement… like the synopsis of the book was more exciting then the actual book!

Marie Mitchell, is supposed to be a brilliant spy. So much so that she already knows what she’s being asked to do without it even being said. However, if she was so brilliant, why did she get caught up in falling for the okey-doke later on in the book? The plot has so many holes and missing pieces that the plot suffers in its execution. The pacing, the storylines, the backstories, the events that happen in the book was just so underwhelming, that I’m still scratching my head to figure out what I missed.

Initially I was hooked but also put off because I wasn’t really understanding what POV this book was written in, but once I got the hang of it, I was able to grasp onto the story. However, initially it was fast paced, and mysterious, and thrilling… and then, the story kind of closed in on itself internalizing everything, and then opening back up at the end. I think the author wanted the reader to be engaged and immersed in the plot from the very beginning, but then after the first quarter of the book, you kind of get lost in the minutia of detail, and then slip and fall trying to find your way to the end. There is also a totally unconvincing romance plot that leaves you asking more questions then it’s worth, but it’s kind of the crux of the story, so you are left floundering for details hoping for more engagement. Overall, this book was boring, disengaging, and full of unwanted minutia. I have such high hopes for Black women writers, and especially for Black women protagonists, but this book was underwhelming and fell flat for me. I rate this book a 2.5.

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Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

The Undocumented Americans

The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second I finished this book I cried heaving sobs of despair. That last sentence, which is a quote from the Bible is all it took.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Undocumented Americans made me feel ineffective as an American. Here I am with this godawful privilege of living here, and what am I doing with my life?? There are hundreds of thousands to probably millions of undocumented people here in the United States, and our government takes every opportunity to scourge, disband, separate, lock out, extricate, kill, terrorize, and rain down hellfire upon their lives every minute of the day. Yet, undocumented Americans literally support most infrastructures of our society in ways no one could even begin to imagine. These same people were doctors, lawyers, dentists, teachers, professors, property landowners, businessmen and businesswomen who all had lives, hoping to gain more of an opportunity from the US, all to come here and be abused, mistreated, deported, abandoned, uninsured, overworked, underpaid, and walked on.

The US should be ashamed of herself… and this current administration has done nothing but proven how uncivilized it has become in the eyes of the world. We are our own monster in the making. Especially when people support a racist who is currently occupying the White House.

“The U.S. government’s crimes against immigrants are beyond the pale and the whole world knows.” (p. 60)

This book is divided into 6 chapters that all talk heavy topics of undocumented people:
– Staten Island – most racist place in NY; how 9/11 overworked and underpaid individuals who worked the cleanup, but then let many of them die uninsured due to the effects of the dust, debris, and chemicals that were released into the air.
– Ground Zero – a continuation of workers being overworked and underpaid dealing with racists and entities that despise them and treat them as criminals just because of how they arrived here. Not understanding how hypocritical it is of Americans to treat undocumented people like this, as NO ONE originally came from here; except the Native Americans.
– Miami – how Latinx people are all lumped together as one until they aren’t. How some people of Cuban descent look down on others who are of Latinx ethnicity due to laws passed allowing their ability to stay here, and others who are not.
– Flint – the destruction of lives of people of color (Black and Brown) through unsafe, unclean, deadly water, and the state and federal government’s lack of response to ensuring that the water is made cleaned. The fear and terror that undocumented people have in requesting help, water, and healthcare.
– Cleveland – How families get separated and gutted when someone gets deported. How children are forever affected; how parents are forever wounded; how lives are forever changed for the worse, and still live in fear, hopelessness, and depression long after traumatic destruction of the family unit occurs.
– New Haven – how DREAMers, and DACA and social mobility is looked at in families with undocumented parents and/or siblings.

This book is unflinching, direct, persuasive, emotional, personal, and complex in discussing the emotional upheaval, fear, terror, anxiety, desperation, and even gratefulness that undocumented people face while living here in the United States. Villavicencio also shares with her readers her own personal stories of living here as an undocumented child, initially left behind in Ecuador until her parents return for her, explains how unbearable, uncomfortable, and how debilitating it can be living and working as an undocumented person, all while paying taxes for which cannot be recouped at all, for which health insurance cannot be purchased, for which help is not often sought because of the fear of deportation.

“They all want us dead, Latinxs, Blacks, they want us all dead, and sometimes they’ll slip something into our bloodstreams to kill us slowly and sometimes they’ll shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot shoot until their bloodlust is satisfied and its all the same…” (p. 114)

Villavicencio is raw in her anger, a little on the self-deprecating side, but courageous in calling out injustices, seeking ways to alleviate wherever she can, and invoking some form of hope, joy, support for those needing it the most. I highly recommend this book, as it should humble you from whatever piece of privilege you think you have. We should all be working towards justice for all humanity, for the BIPOC community, for the undocumented community, and committing ourselves to leaving this place better than how we found it. I rate this book a 4.5/5.

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