The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy by Anna Clark

The Poisoned City: Flint's Water and the American Urban Tragedy

The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy by Anna Clark

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Poisoned City by Anna Clark is the best book I’ve read this year. This book is going into my favorites of all time.

This is the first full account of the Flint Water crisis. However, this book far supersedes the Flint Water crisis and what happened with the devastation to the residents of Flint. This book explains how the ENTIRE United States is complicit in the failure of proper infrastructure in all cities, and it all stems from SYSTEMIC RACISM!!

The Poisoned City is a direct account from the people on the ground, reporting, protesting, advocating, screaming and shouting about the quality of Flint’s water. Anna Clark also documents how core cities around the nation have also been disinvested in due to the mere presence of Black and Brown people. The purposeful disrespect and neglect has literally rotted our infrastructure to the core, to the point where it’s endangering our entire society, no matter the race.

The residents of Flint were lied to, repeatedly. They were poisoned by their own water, while the agencies and departments in charge drank bottled water by the gallons. Mismanagement, disinvestment, dismissive, and wanton neglect was at the forefront of the water crisis. Anna Clark goes back to the beginning to when Flint had become the hub of innovation and vehicle creation, and detailed the rich history of the city. She then intricately weaves together the backstory of how all core communities and cities are just like Flint all over the United States. Due to the evils of systemic racism, our infrastructure is basically all the same. No matter your race, we all suffer when systemic racism rules over everything.

If you are non-white, the presence of hazardous waste in your community is almost expected. The dangers of the environment will most likely leach into your house at higher rates than any other community. Because of the sheer presence of non-white skin, the land and property surrounding the community is considered less than, and goes for cheap, in this land of capitalism.

Anna took great care in telling the story of Flint’s disaster from the perspective of the people it actually harmed. The local organizers who didn’t get the credit, she puts their heroic efforts on display. However, she also acknowledges and tells how the Flint crisis didn’t get any traction until a non-black person had to somehow validate that there was a crisis and a need for action. Before then, the City of Flint continued to dismiss their claims and failed to act before it was too late. Due to the negligence, the greed, the long-reaching emergency management authority, and the legal immunity, you see what happens to people who are deemed as worthless. They bear the brunt of all injustices, and it continues for generations. Not only does this happen locally, but state wide and nationwide, to include the federal government.

The powers that be in the City of Flint destroyed the people’s trust, but now, it’s not enough to trust people because we already know what’s going to happen. There is a pattern all too plain; it’s called racism. There needs to be a revamping, and restructuring, and an overhaul on our local government, state government, and federal government levels. The very bones of all of our infrastructure in every core city was saturated by racism from the onset, and so now because of the disinvestment and neglect for hundreds of years (in some places), our infrastructure will turn on us all. It’s more than having good quality water, it’s also about how our basic needs that should be met equally and not disproportionately, as they are right now.

Michigan is also due for a revamping of their laws, and how transparency and authority over certain aspects needs to handled differently. Gross mismanagement and dismissive actions harmed Flint in more ways than just water. The entire city was being poisoned and told that they weren’t, over and over and over. Then when reports started to show the facts of the poisoned water, the people in charge put forth so much time and energy into covering up, delaying, lying, diverting, and kicking-the-can down the road that they created so many layers of corruption, it seemed like everyone was just allowing the poison to continue, as if they were blind, often times just flatly saying it’s not poisoned while drinking filtered or bottled water themselves, all while knowing the water was bad.

Racially restrictive covenants existed in Flint as the standard. These covenants still exist today, even when people say they don’t. Just because we have the Fair Housing Act, and Clean Water Act, and Clean Air Act, it doesn’t matter. We continue to see the racism that was built into our infrastructure on a daily basis. The gentrification that happens to historically Black communities is alarming. They are erasing Black/Brown people out of neighborhoods and cities. They are trying to erase the history and very existence of Black/Brown people. Even when they get called out, they still drag their feet to help “those” people they are harming because they have been deemed as worth-less for so many generations. It took 18 months for the city and state of Michigan to correct their poisoned water. 12 people died and many more have been poisoned with deadly toxic levels of lead because of their negligence and lack of action. All while surrounded by the freshest of water in the 5 Great Lakes of the United States.

Unfortunately, this story, although it has received nationwide coverage and attention to help push people into fixing the problems, on top of the issue of failing infrastructures in Black communities, have not been taken on as priority. People in power work harder to protect themselves and their institutions than doing what’s right for the whole public, equally. They divide their priorities and assign importance to whites over Black people every single day. Many non-white people have little to no trust for the government, and they are right in having that feeling. The people in charge have not been fair and they continue to disinvest in communities that don’t serve them. If our strength lies where we are weak at, then we are in terrible shape. Because the “boot-strap mentality” does not work the same for all people. Black people do not have boots to begin with to even pull up, so when people say, “if poor whites or European immigrants can pull themselves up by their boot straps, so can African Americans,” it is a lie. A myth that continues to be perpetuated by ignorance or just plain old lack of care. Many Black people have never even had the means to have boots to be able to pull up, PERIOD. Black people are redlined wherever they go; housing, medical, employment, finances, and legally. They continuously have to fight an uphill battle that has no reprieve, and then are told they are just making up the difficulties. That is how the society is set up for Black people. While white people, or those non-Black people are allowed to accumulate wealth in such a way as to be able to come here and start a life from nothing, while being afforded all the benefits of systemic racism that don’t touch them in any way. Flint is a perfect example of how systemic racism is played out, to the death and detriment of people who are placed at the end of a totem pole of priorities, that constantly keeps being reshuffled to keep them on the bottom.

My hat goes off to Anna Clark for the impeccable research, and thoughtful care she gave to the Flint community. She was able to pinpoint exactly where the problems started, and her detailed account is spot on. For anyone who has followed this story, you should read this book. For those who want to know what happened in Flint, and the gross mismanagement of the crisis, you should read this book. If you want to know how the entire US handles our infrastructure, you should read this book. This book is heavy, but so necessary in calling attention to what the problem is and naming it. Anna, your words will stay with me forever. Thank you for your writing, it is a tremendous blessing to us.

Winner of the 2019 Hillman Prize for Book Journalism

Winner of the 2019 Rachel Carson Environmental Book Award

Winner of the 2019 Gross Award for Literature

Finalist for the 2019 Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Book Journalism

Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction (2019)

A Michigan Notable Book (2019)

This book is required reading. 5 stars.

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Up All Night by Laura Silverman (editor)

Up All Night: 13 Stories between Sunset and Sunrise

Up All Night: 13 Stories between Sunset and Sunrise by Laura Silverman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not a real big short story fan, but I chose this collection of short stories because Tiffany Jackson wrote a short story in this anthology of YA short stories. If you haven’t read Tiffany Jackson, then drop what you are doing and READ HER WORK! Matter of fact, skip all the stories until you get to hers, and then read them from the beginning. Ha!

All of these stories take place between sunset and sunrise, which is a very cool idea, and many of these stories have some type of suspense or thriller-esque qualities to them. I think the ’13’ stories alludes to some sort of suspense happening in these pages.

These short stories were very inclusive, thoughtful, and cute! I really enjoyed reading the majority of the stories, and I could picture myself as a teenager, enjoying these as well.

There were a couple of stories that I didn’t think fit into the anthology, but overall, they held my interest for the most part, and I would recommend this collection to YA readers who want something a little different.
The first story in this collection kind of set the tone for me, and I was really looking forward to other stories that had that same kind of vibe. Unfortunately they all didn’t follow the tone of the first story, but it’s ok! The lasting impression I got when I finished the book was, “this was cuuute! I can definitely see my teenager daughter reading this book and enjoying the stories in this anthology.”

Some of my favorite stories were:
– Never Have I Ever by Karen McManus
– Old Rifts and Snowdrifts by Kayla Whaley
– Creature Capture by Laura Silverman
– Shark Bait by Tiffany Jackson
– Missing by Kathleen Glasgow
– Under Our Masks by Julian Winters
– The Ghost of Goon Creek by Francesca Zappia

I can picture my daughter as an older teen in many of these stories, and maybe that’s why some of these made the cut for me, so to speak. I can remember being the shy nerdy girl, wanting to fit in, but also just wanting people who understood me. Always an outlier, never fitting in, but then sometimes misjudging others, or being misjudged by others because … well, teens don’t have it all together at that age, and we’re all so self-absorbed thinking about what others think or care about how others feel about us. It’s a perpetual cycle of trying to find our identities and coming to some realization of how we show up in the world at a young age.

I really enjoyed the inclusivity of all the stories. There is someone from every walk of life in these stories, and I really appreciated that aspect. We need to see everyone as human and as real as possible, and many of the characters imagined in these stories felt really real and relatable. Reading a book like this made me remember that I was a kid once, who got her heart broken in high school, who remembers all the crazy fashion trends, who was on a sports team, and got involved with the outcasts cause there was no “place” for me to fit in. It makes you take a pause and consider humanity and how we all have struggles. We all want to be loved. We all want to fit. We all want a place to be us. We all want to be accepted. We all want to be understood. We all want to just be.

I was kind of prepared for just thriller type ghost stories, but I’m glad they weren’t all like that. There was a wide variety and diverse mix of stories, and overall a pretty good anthology for YA readers. I would give this book a 3.75. Not quite a 4, but definitely not a solid 3.

Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers and Laura Silverman (editor) of this collection of short stories, and for providing this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Transcendent Kingdom

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am Gifty. Gifty is me, in a sense.

Wow. Still reeling from this book.

First off, if you came to read this book, expecting anything like Homegoing, go read a palate cleanser and come back to this book later. This book is a total shift away from Homegoing. However, Yaa Gyasi is a mastermind and powerful storyteller that completely captivates her readers with the way she can tell a story. Gyasi does not shy away from the heavy topics in this book. Matter of fact, she dives head first into the deep. This book discusses all sorts of everyday people problems that just don’t get discussed because, well, it’s heavy and hard to deal with and awkward, in some cases. Yet, Gyasi is unafraid to tell this story, and I’m so proud that she did.
This story is about an everyday family who is dealing with issues that everyday people face. Though it may not be action packed and thrumming with drama, this book is sobering and real, and very necessary in our community. We need to talk about these things because they happen to people everyday. You never know what a family may be dealing with just because they seem put together and functioning on a somewhat decent level. We are all struggling with something. You may not be struggling with what someone else is dealing with, but we all got our own issues. I was able to identify with Gifty right away, which may be the reason why I was engrossed in this book at the very beginning. Gifty is me. I am Gifty.

Gyasi has written a story about a young Ghanian family trying to make it’s way to a bigger and brighter future for their young children. However, there is a snag in this future they have dreamed of for themselves, and the family starts to unravel at the seams. However, Gifty is trying to hold the pieces together for herself, her mother, her brother, and somewhat for her father, but not really because she can’t do it alone. This is a family who has been hit by grave obstacles; father leaving, son becomes a drug addict, mother is struggling financially and emotionally, young Gifty immersing herself completely into trying to be the child who is not a burden to the family, but is also struggling in areas that she doesn’t understand how to fix.

Gyasi is writing a story about addiction, debilitating depression, succumbing to adversity, homesickness, absentee fathers, the immigrant community, familial relationships, Africans living in America, abandonment, religion, science, overcompensating, struggling, values, shame, guilt, motherhood, parenting, socioeconomics and the Black community, and the meaning of success/okayness.

I think this book hit home harder for me because I could relate to Gifty right away, and how she and her mom interacted. I was completely engrossed in this story, and I couldn’t put the book down. I really appreciated how Gifty, the youngest child, narrated this story and how she told her life story as if she was documenting science in a way. Gifty is a 5th-year graduate candidate in Neuroscience, and is embarking on solving the question/problem of reward-seeking behaviors (I.e., addiction) because of her brother overdosing on prescription drug medication as a teenager. I really appreciated how this story discussed this illness because of how it’s not treated like health crisis in the Black community, but as a drug abuse problem/crime, and how white people are treated like victims of prescription drug/opioid addiction and treated for mental illness and Black families are left out of the rehabilitation and medical aspect of this epidemic. I liked Gyasi’s angle the angle of how Africans come to America seeking a dream and better opportunities, but quickly realize there is no dream here, there is only struggle and how thinking to go back home may seem like a failure to some, but to others, they just cannot stay here because of the racism/struggle/lack they encounter here in the US. The nerdy Black science girl was a superhero, but she also has issues of trust, abandonment, stability, commitment, and facing issues in relationships because of her life experiences.

There are several questions that are brought to the forefront in this book while I was reading:
1. Does religion help overcome problems you may have?
2. Can the issue of addiction be cured?
3. How can we treat depression better?
4. What does it mean if your dream isn’t what you expected? What is next?
5. Is going home a failure? Or can you see it as something positive?
6. How can you allow your community to serve you when you need it?

This book was extremely well written, and I will read/buy anything Yaa Gyasi writes. 4.85 stars. The only critique I have is the ending… i wish it was packaged a bit neater, but overall, a great sobering read. Very necessary story here in these pages. Well done.

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The Temple House Vanishing by Rachel Donohue

The Temple House Vanishing

The Temple House Vanishing by Rachel Donohue

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t truly know what atmospheric was like in novels until I read this book. Wow! Amazing debut from Rachel Donohue!

This is a story set at a Catholic boarding school named The Temple House, in where elite white girls are here to get a premier education, being raised and groomed by the finest in the morality department. The school is run by chaste nuns who rule the school with an iron fist. However, they do have a sense of charity, by inviting and rewarding the brightest of their community with a scholarship to the school based on test scores. In this year’s scholarship recipient pool, we meet Louisa, who is a standout in all manner of speaking, who accepts this year’s scholarship to The Temple House, and it’s here that she decides to reinvent herself, and to be who she truly believes she can be. When she arrives to The Temple House, instead of anticipated reception, Louisa meets a cold front of gatekeepers, constantly keeping her on the edge by making sure she’s worthy enough to be apart of the school’s culture. Finding no friend, she is approached by Victoria, who quickly comes to her aid and claims her as friend. We see the dynamics between this duo go through some changes as the school year wans on, and we see the limits of friendship tested.

However, in this chaste boarding school, we see the wide range of teenager lifestyle come to life and in color. The crushes, the jealousy, the envy, the cliques, the gossip, the drama, the hormones all take shape and be explored in all aspects. As the school year starts, we meet Mr. Lavelle, a young man who has new age ideas when it comes to teaching and art. Victoria, Helen, Louisa and Mr Lavelle all get into some sort of inappropriate student/teacher love triangle/entanglement, and the raging hormones and emotions will rear its ugly head in these 16/17 year old chaste Catholic school girls.

This book had the perfect tension in this book. There were several issues pitted against one another just as much as the characters did the same to each other. This book was atmospheric, and the reader can get totally sucked into the world that is being created right before your eyes. Your emotions are pulled in by several different aspects, and as the story unfolds, the reader drifts from one stance to the other trying to figure out what’s true and what’s false. Nothing is ever as it seems.

I really enjoyed the way the author weaved this story together, and used the narrator to gently pull us along with the correct tension needed to keep the reader guessing, in surprise, unsure, and curious to find out what’s really happened in this school.

Psychological thriller, mystery, suspense, debut novel was amazingly done. I am sure we will hear more great things from this author in the future.

The author however raises several issues in this book apart from the brilliant story she has prepared for us.

– Mental illness (i.e. personality disorders)
– Entitlement/Legacy kids
– Parochial
– Religious
– Underage Love
– Teacher vs Student relationships
– Control/Authority
– Morality

TW: self-harm, divorce, death, statutory rape, inappropriate teacher/student relationship

Thank you to Algonquin Books and Rachel Donohue for this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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