cultural preservation | 2019.08.30

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine | Review

Martine, Arkady_A Memory Called Empire

Publication: New York : Tor, 2019

Genre: Science Fiction

Pages: 462

Formats: Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

Source: MCL

There’s a lot to chew on in Martine’s debut novel. The two most poignant themes that caught my attention, however, were the ideas this author weaves into her plot concerning colonialism and the best way to preserve institutional/cultural knowledge. Let’s take each in turn, shall we?

For a space opera novel such as this, descriptions of a society that governs via colonial conquest couldn’t be a better place to start. Martine borrows from her historian’s background to bring to this space epic a reminiscence of the Byzantine Empire and the European colonization of the New World.

This theme has been especially on my mind lately with some of the other books I’ve been plunging into and sampling the last few months. What gives a culture the idea that it has a particular right to impose itself so fully on all the other cultures it gobbles up in its perpetual need for acquiring? Perhaps this is just another example of evolution’s “survival of the fittest” mantra—-as if this justifies all societal injustices. Perhaps we’re simply dealing with The Poisonwood Bible revisited, a kind of “institutionalized oppression gone wild” ideal.

The cultural confusion Martine’s main character displays throughout the novel is a good example of how sideways this type of “my right is the only right” mentality can go. Yet Martine also does a good job of allowing her main character to keep her mind set on the cultural goals of her own distant society. Mahit Dzmare is a true ambassador for her non-empire-absorbed Lsel Station as she works within the story to fight against the Teixcaalan Empire’s continuous hunger for more and more domination of the worlds they say they are simply inviting into the “civilized” world.

Any definition of what makes a culture or society civilized is hard to pin down to be sure, both in real life history and in this book, because the subjectivity can too easily get lost in a war of “the mightiest always win.” And this is where institutional knowledge (a.k.a. culturally historical, in this novel, as opposed to a company’s knowledge-base . . . this is a shout-out to all the other archivist nerds, of course) comes into play. A better term for the concept displayed by Martine’s Imago technology in the book might be categorized as institutional memory boxes. These Imago devices, a well-kept cultural secret among the Lsel characters’ society, act like time capsules in my archival-based mind. They at once allow the user to understand the ideas and first-hand experiences of their predecessors, all while the Imago machines also consciously work to specifically not overrun the next generations’ own experiences in realtime.

In this way, the Lsel Station culture, in my estimation, wins out over the Teixcaalan Empire in the race of ever-expansion. Because Lsel’s culture is a convergence of both the past and the present, built meticulously on the gift of perpetual learning from its ancestors so as not to repeat the mistakes of those that have gone before. The Teixcaalani, on the other hand, only have their unchanging, tradition-held oppression-model to copy again and again, so that the cultures it engulfs get swept under the rug at each new conquest, and nothing is gained except a recurrence of what has always been known. Ideas of what is culturally acceptable are pressed again and again into the minds of the conquered until they become ultimate truth without consideration of “the other” as a result. I would like to argue that the Teixcaalani model is not a true example of actual growth because history has shown enlightenment can’t truly be obtained through a simple recycling of the past.

Martine has promised more novels in this universe, and I’m hopeful that she’ll play with these themes more in her books to come. A Memory Called Empire seems to only scratch the surface of the potential inherent in ideas like memory preservation and cultural expansion in all their multifaceted forms. But this is an archivist talking, so, yeh, the bias is pretty strong, to be sure.

perpetual rat-race | 2019.08.17

Snowpiercer: The Escape by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette | Review

Jacques, Lob_Snowpiercer 1 The Escape

Publication: London : Titan Comics, 2014

Genre: Science Fiction, Graphic Novel, Dystopian Fiction

Pages: 110

Formats: Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

Source: MCL

What are the characters escaping in this story, exactly? This graphic novel seems to suggest in its opening pages that its characters are escaping fate, or at least they’re attempting to in the name of perpetual human survival.

And any individual or collective failings blamed on fate aren’t really that individual’s or group’s fault, right? They can’t be! Or so the main character proclaims in the final desperate panels of this story. Besides, circumstances of fate are meant to be fought against, not blamed on anyone within the collective, right?

Lob and Rochette really drive this question home through the examples posed by the actions and decisions made by their characters in this story. As much as we’d like to mask our intentions, the heart of the “why” that drove us ever forward still lives on. Similar to how the characters in this story had to finally take stock of what drives the Snowpiercer’s perpetual engine ever forward, we would probably do well to also pay special attention to that catalyst—-the “why” of our decisions and subsequent reactions—-before any productive forward momentum can truly be attained.

And continual, perpetual motion is the primary goal . . . or is it? Remember, the train in this story isn’t really going, um, ANYWHERE! There’s absolutely no destination its passengers have to get to, because the name of the game is a pure, shark-like “Just Keep Swimming.” So round and round and ever goddamn round the characters in this story go, no rest in sight for the perpetually weary. If ever I wanted an artful example (they call these analogies, I suppose, in the lovely world of literature) of modern society’s endless economic rat-race, Lob and Rochette couldn’t have been clearer, I feel.

So, what are we escaping in this no-goals story? Perhaps guilt. Perhaps peace of mind, since there’s none to be had for those stuck in Snowpiercer’s metal tubes. Perhaps we’re escaping ownership of the consequences inherent in the circumstances that our individual and collective choices have surged on ahead of our ability to foresee. Will ridiculous mounds of ice and snow, or perhaps some other unavoidable death sentence for humanity be ultimately of our own making? Will we rise above the consequences of our own need for perpetual winning, the perpetual circling of our own drains to nowhere? How will we conquer our constant rejection of everyone else not in our class or of our self-perceived social stature in the midst of the endless night of humanity’s unquenchable longing for more?

I’m excited to read the sequels to this truly epic story that is a journey all its own through odds as apparently unbeatable as the human will to survive. Sometimes I wonder if the universe might have another plan, however . . . and I wonder if that might be alright.

difficult discussions | 2019.07.20

Any Man by Amber Tamblyn | Review

Tamblyn, Amber_Any Man

Publication: New York : Harper Perennial, [2018]

Genre: Fiction

Pages: 272

Formats: Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

Source: MCL

When this book was suggested for my Ladies Forward Book Group this summer, it came with the caution that Tamblyn’s novel includes some extremely explicit rape scenes. The group was warned that these may prove difficult to discuss even in all-female company.

First things first, why is rape, and sexual assault in general, difficult to talk about? Well, there’s what might be categorize as the most immediately obvious: If you’ve experienced rape or other forms of sexual assault or trauma, these very serious experiences can be tough to bring up in a public forum. One reason for this aversion to openly discussing such a personal experience like rape is because the visceral aspect of trauma continues to live deep in the brain long after the traumatic events have physically ended. The fight-or-flight reaction can very difficult to escape after such experiences.

On the other end of the spectrum, trauma can often stay hidden in the subconscious for years on end until just the right trigger pops the memory screaming and crying out of its self-preservation shell. Scarier still, studies have shown that the best-preserved memories are those most rarely recalled. The less a memory is replayed in the mind, the more shocking it is when it at last rears itself fully in the forefront of consciousness. Christine Blasey Ford was being anything but cutely poetic when she proclaimed, “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter.”

On top of all this neuroscience is the social stigma that survivors of trauma “should just get on with their lives already.” We are often taught that the reliving of a traumatic event isn’t the forward motion our progress-driven culture wants to even think, much less talk, about.

Okay, so there’s all THAT! And then secondly, what does “extremely explicit” mean, anyways? As I reached the last pages of Tamblyn’s Any Man, I suddenly realized how under-explicit the book’s descriptions of the multiple rape scenes had been. They were, from my perspective, all veiled in implications, a full-on “show, don’t tell” escapade, focusing more on showing the societal aftermaths instead of on telling any realistic details of the events themselves. Which was fine in some ways, because the reader gets the picture.

Okay, so there’s also that.

All in all, I found that the heart of this book was all about the reactions of the society-members surrounding those who had survived the sexual assault scenes the author alludes to within the novel. This is where the power of the novel is trying to reside, I’m going to argue. The book is less about actual explicit descriptions of rape and sexual assault, and spends more time showcasing the disgusting behavior of the exploitation that our society often adopts when faced with the stories of those who have experienced traumatic events like rape and sexual assault. (If you want to understand the true violence of sexual assault and rape while also exploring real-life examples of societal reactions, I recommend reading Jon Krakauer’s Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town.)

Perhaps the most difficult part of Tamblyn’s book (to the horror of many critics, I found) is found in its efforts to give the experience of having been raped over to men (Tamblyn’s serial rapist in the novel is a woman, by the way—-a plot point at which I’m not sure she wants the audience to cheer or to be appalled even further). Tamblyn has gotten some backlash because of this flipped power-dynamic, but I wonder if there may be something to be said for the empathy aspect Tamblyn says she is trying to inject into her male readers through the stories she presents within this novel. With her male rape-survivors’ stories in Any Man, Tamblyn seems to be trying to mirror what women go through after having been raped. Sure, men can certainly be raped, too. It’s not a trauma that only women experience, but it is a violence that women more publicly bear the brunt of in the realm of societal judgement. And herein lies the importance of the empathy-aspect that I think Tamblyn is going for. And if, as I’ve been mentioning again and again in these book review posts, feminism is about equality between the multiplicities of gender, then empathy is a very important part of our dark societal forest that we need to visit and perhaps ultimately embrace.

I fear (like the above-mentioned critics), however, that the empathy she is encouraging might diminish the repeated horrors that women have had to endure in the face of sexual assault and society’s inability to cope with the truth-telling of specifically female survivors. I fear this book might instead just shift the limelight of the realities of rape and sexual assault again in a more male-dominated direction. But, it cannot and should not be denied that any survivor of rape or sexual assault, no matter their gender, needs all the room we can give them be heard purely and not from the perspective of the story society wants to make of them.

This brings us full circle. Topics like rape are difficult to talk about not only because survivors may be forced to relive their experiences by their very brave decision to simply share those experiences out loud, but also because popular culture has, up until very recently (with many failings still, as the vote for that infamous supreme court justice last year evidences), only taught us to point and stare at, turn uncomfortably away from, or accuse those who have survived experiences as severely traumatizing as rape and sexual assault.

This is our failing, friends. Society should be quicker to empathize, to recognize, and to ultimately act against true pain and injustice. When we’ve finally learned to put away the Twitter feed of titillation and see the individuals behind the news stories, perhaps we’ll stop being “uncomfortable” at another person’s trauma so we can be the shoulder they probably just need to fucking lean on already. It’s a hard ask, for sure, but there’s no shame in practicing until we get this right.

anthro-shorts | 2019.08.22

Changing Planes by Ursula K. Le Guin | Review

Le Guin, Ursula K_Changing Planes

Publication: Orlando : Harcourt, ©2003

Genre: Science Fiction

Pages: 246

Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

Source: MCL

“Wish I’d thought of this story-format!” As a lover of anthro-fiction, this was the first cry that inevitably sprang from my lips upon opening this short story collection. Pure genius! Le Guin, my darling and fearless author of all things anthropologically poignant, you’ve done it again. The premise of the stories encapsulated in this collection is explained in the first chapter of the book, and explained with all the fierceness and beauty Le Guin’s most polished writing can offer. With such a premise as offered in this book, the stories that follow it quickly become a practice in imaginative descriptions of our known reality’s most subtle elements while simultaneously carrying the reader to other worlds emanating with possibilities.

The premise? How does one pass the seemingly endless hours of waiting out an airport’s or airplane ride’s drudgery of boredom? Well, of course! Just turn a bit this way and sway slightly in that other direction until you’ve slipped onto another plane of existence. And voila! The universe of endless anthropological study questions is suddenly your oyster, baby. Le Guin makes sure that these cultural quandaries hit pretty close to home, I have to say.

On such a stage set as this, the book’s narrator is taught all about the mystical magical “Sita Dulip’s Method” of changing planes between various realities. Through this method, the narrator is able to take the reader through the Le Guin’s anthropologically-primed mind. The social structures Le Guin poses within the variable “planes” in this book become absolutely limitless with cultural observations and wonderings. What would a society look like if its inhabitants ceased all forms of communication after age six or seven? How would capitalistic initiative change a world that was previously devoid of such endlessly “gainful” ambitions? What would the second, third, or even hundredth rebirths and subsequent lives lived of each individual within a community do to the voting rights of such a community? If a planet’s years spanned 24 of those familiar to earthlings, with built-in migration patterns dictated by unconquerable weather, how would this change ideas of marriage and family, home and time? What would a society predicated on letting rage rule within strict codes of conduct look like exactly?

I was pleasantly surprised to learn (albeit and sadly after Le Guin’s death last year) that the “K” she insisted on keeping attached to her name was a nod to her father, Alfred Louis Kroeber, a cultural anthropologist who is still quoted to this day in archaeological reports on a regular basis. Having grown up with such a father, it stands to reason Le Guin’s literary endeavors would match the cultural interests that permeated her household during her youth. Arwen Curry’s film The Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin showcases this influence beautifully, giving animated visualization to how Le Guin was “one of the very finest explorers of questions.” Truly, Le Guin’s stories, especially in this book, invite the reader to fill in the answers for themselves as she presents her endless questions about what makes civilization truly tick.

Changing Planes is not only a collection of short stories about fantastical and scientifically fictionalized worlds, but is at its heart a collection of “what if we really saw ourselves” quandaries. And herein lies the greatest appeal of the rawest kind of science fiction and fantasy storytelling. The cultural exploration in this book is as boundless as the author and reader could ever imagine. Le Guin writes elsewhere that “the purpose of a thought-experiment . . . is not to predict the future . . . but to describe reality, the present world” because “science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive.” (from Le Guin’s introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness) And it is through the multitude of questions, so masterfully spun story upon story in this book, that Le Guin is able to describe the reality of our world’s internal workings and desires.

This is true anthro-fiction at its best, in that the text challenges the reader to take a closer look at the world in which they truly inhabit and ask the hard “what if” questions. And not so much “what if the world looked this way or that,” but more in line with the “why” that may lurk behind our most-ingrained snap judgments of the cultural subtleties we might not at first understand. Take another look at the questions noted above that come out through the short stories within this book, and consider the implications of their actually being a quandary-based commentary on our here and now. You might be surprised at the similarities you find when thinking of these questions in the context of human history and even some of our cultural-nows.

not the story you made | 2019.06.28

The Chronology of Water: A Memoir by Lidia Yuknavitch | Review

Yuknavitch, Lidia_The Chronology of Water

Publication: Portland, Or. : Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts, [2011], c2010

Genre: Memoir

Pages: 310

Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

Source: MCL

Like with my review of Jo Walton’s Among Others, this is going to be long and drawn out. I will not apologize, though, because . . .

My introduction to Yuknavitch was at my favorite pub in 2015 while I flipped idly through a local newspaper that focuses on creating “income opportunities for people experiencing homelessness and poverty.” I about peed my pants in my excitement at Yuknavitch’s brave proclamations of her life’s story in that article. I mean, SERIOUSLY! Who was this woman? With all the hurting and pain from abuse, both self-inflicted and at the hands of power-hungry, ignorant men (and at times also women), why aren’t there more Lidias in the universe who are willing to speak the ABSOLUTE TRUTH without apology about all the hurting and pain that . . . just exists in our lives, especially the lives of women, seemingly without explanation?

It takes me a loooooonnnnggg time to warm up to people or to ideas, so instead of running out to buy all her books immediately, I saved the article deep in my heart’s caverns of denial, telling myself over and over in a whisper of despair that I would never reach the same level of bravery to speak with such gut-wrenching honesty that this obviously magnificent woman had accomplished. My partner understood though and bought me a copy of Yuknavitch’s The Misfit’s Manifesto a couple Decembers ago, which helped me work up the courage to purchase and read her novel The Small Backs of Children shortly thereafter.

Then last year, she appeared again, at a local poetry reading, without warning. There she was! In the FLESH! Walking up to the microphone while I stared gobsmacked from the back of the room through my evening haze of booze-induced brain fog. My friends had to practically hold my feet to keep me from floating up over the heads of the rest of the audience on a gushing wave of over-enthusiasm to try and merge myself into her skin and being. “That’s Lidia!” I whisper-squealed in ecstasy. Her reading was comprised simply of quoting Christine Blasey Ford’s “indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter” over and over, inviting the audience to take up the chant with her.

After, I lingered at the back of the room like the complete freak my unforgiving mirror of self-worth always presents to me in the wake of any spark of hope or ambition. “Go away!” I shouted to my internal mirror, and then . . . there she stood in front of me and my hand was extending and my mouth was saying something probably about how much I loved her work and found it TOTALLY inspirational, and she was holding my quaking palm and fingers, steading my fluttering gaze. And THEN! She asked the mother of all questions any aspiring writer longs and yet dreads to hear, “Are you a writer?” I don’t remember what I said, what soppy, half-answer I gave, but I think I said maybe, “I’m working so hard at it.” And she nodded in approval and said something about the importance of my efforts and wished me the best of luck. I honestly don’t remember what we said to each other with our voices in the echoing chambers of reality, but what I HEARD from her eyes was something more encouraging than words could ever express. It was something to the effect of, “You are accepted. You can do this. Don’t give up, for the sake of all those you write toward liberation, and yourself, do NOT give up.”

Finally reading The Chronology of Water last week put all this in perspective. Often, I find that I’ll fall in love with a writer because of their life’s story as told through essays and philosophically-charged interviews, but then I’ll crash into the wall of disappointed expectations when reading their actual work. Yuknavitch took that wall and smashed it to smithereens with her memoir (and with her other books, for sure, but this one truly takes the cake and shoves it down the reader’s throat with the full, sweet force of all its glory). In this book, she is honest in a way I’ve never seen in any other memoir, and she does not apologize for her experiences, for her rages of anger against the abuse she suffered at the hands of her inappropriately horny and overly-possessive father, and at the absent hands of her suicidal and alcoholic mother. She also didn’t hold back from truth-telling when it came to her own mistakes, individual life choices, and ruckus adventures.

And her writing! Gaaaawwwwwwddddddd is it BEAUTIFUL! Where poetry and honesty meet, the gods of understanding and solidarity are born. Yuknavitch writes early in the book, “Language is a metaphor for experience. It’s as arbitrary as the mass of chaotic images we call memory — but we can put it into lines to narrativize over fear.” And she thus fearlessly creates a chronology of her memories, messy and out of order, just as they are often presented to us while we’re walking around trying to conduct the menial and mundane, or even the most important, life tasks of the here and now. Throughout her book she explains “why the micro movements of a girl woman’s sexual history matters.” She puts in perspective all the bits our unruly memories present over and over again, giving them meaning through the promise of the individual lens.

She also gives voice through this book to the safe places women so often glance right past: “In the women’s locker room after swim practice and skin and wet. Little girls holding in youth in V-shaped torsos. Almost women shaving their legs. The bodies of women and girls safe in a room with heat and steam and let loose hair. My head swimming, swimming. I want to stay. I want to belong to something besides family.” YES! I shout at this passage. Yes. Here is the solidarity of women and womanly desires for beauty and elegance and the steamy, messy, and sometimes not so elegant trajectory of sex, sex, sexiness that I’ve been yearning for (without the misogyny of heterosexual men who desire without regard for the individuality of the women they desire). Yearning for someone to just COME ON and admit it, already.

“Sexuality is an entire continent,” Yuknavitch writes. It needs, like life (with as many versions as you can conjure at that) to be explored. “The key is to make up shit. Make up stories until you find one you can live with [. . . .] Make up stories as if life depended on it.” Yuknavitch makes up the story of her life by putting her experiences to words, her own personal narrative becoming a word-formed treasure map of individual existence.

This is the promise writing and art holds, and deeply so for those of us who have been hurt, who are in pain, or who have been subjected to the poor decisions of others and of our own devising. The mantra on the cup I got at the writing center where Yuknavitch spoke the night I saw and gushed all over her states “I am not the story you made of me.” And, oh, brother and sister and all the others, I agree. We get to choose our own stories in the end. And I’d wager in the process of telling these stories, there will be others, oh sooooo many others, more others than we’d ever dared to imagine, to answer our call for solidarity, understanding, and synchronicity.

(That phrase on the cup, by the way, is one that Yuknavitch coined, I found out later, which makes everything seem to make so much more sense, but anyway.)

overgrown anger | 2019.07.13

The Power by Naomi Alderman | Review

Alderman, Naomi_The Power

Publication: New York : Little, Brown and Company, [2017]

Genre: Science Fiction

Pages: 386

Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook

Source: MCL

“Feminism is a science fiction enterprise.” Alderman stated during the PBS interview she gave in March of this year. She went on to say that, “female advancement comes from recognizing equality.” With this in mind, I dearly hope the true goals of feminism don’t get stuck forever in the realm of fiction and pure speculation.

Alderman’s book works hard to be a warning of what could happen if the power of existing in a male body while living in a male-dominated world was merely flipped on its head. (Opinions about the male versus female brain may bulk at this conjecture, but I’m still intrigued by this thought experiment, so . . . let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and go with this perhaps tenuous premise for the duration of this review, shall we?)

As you may have noticed from some of my recent posts (not that this hasn’t been a common thread since I began this book review website), I’ve been wrestling with ideas of feminism. How can feminism encourage true equality instead of simply generating a space for more violence, for more emulation of the bad behavior that women so often have to fight against in the midst of the patriarchal world we currently inhabit?

As part of my reading and thinking about Alderman’s book, I did a very quick preview of Merlin Stone’s When God Was A Woman. Interesting food for thought, especially as I’ve always been of the opinion that the history we ascribe to with regards to our currently male-dominated culture has its roots (or some of them at least) in the patriarchy of our religious perspectives. While Alderman utilizes the influences of religion in her novel, I’m going to take this book review in a different direction (mostly because I’m still chewing on this concept, so I’ll probably return at a later date). The concept of how power seems to inherently breed religious fervor is not lost on Alderman in her book’s narrative, for sure. Again, interesting food for thought.

Also while traveling through Alderman’s story, I reread several times Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay “About Anger” in which Le Guin talks about the anger and rage that first initiated the feminist movement. It’s true that to feel angry about an injustice has immense power. But then Le Guin also makes the genuinely beautiful, and terrifying, point that a rage exercised to the point of becoming a very powerful and effective weapon can quickly lose its effectiveness if those welding it do not know how or when to put that same weapon down when the initial need for indignant rage has begun to subside.

Both Alderman and Le Guin seem to be exploring a similar message about feminism here, that being “if feminism was the baby, she’s now grown past the stage where her only way to get attention to her needs and wrongs was anger, tantrums, acting out, kicking ass.” (This quote is from Le Guin’s essay mentioned and linked above. I didn’t find any online responses to Alderman’s book directly from Le Guin, but many articles push the two authors together for the themes they most obviously shared in their fiction.)

Throughout her novel, Alderman tempers the rage of women with the backlash of having that same rage, in its rawest form, run rampant, no matter the sex or gender of the person who is carrying forward into “the battle” that weapon of anger-infused indignation. She mentions in her interviews with both BBC and PBS that she didn’t want her book to be saying that women are intrinsically better than men or vice versa.

And Alderman is right, I believe, in presenting this idea, because whenever there is a winner, there will also always be a loser, and that is not equality. That is just a power structure being inverted so that all of the advantages of one portion of society become the disadvantages of another portion of society.

If feminism’s true goal is to fight against the injustices that women have been subjected to for far too long, then a complete eradication of those injustices, no matter who the inflicted or the initially powerful party may be, needs to be at the basis of any social justice action. By keeping this goal of true equality at the forefront of our minds, maybe we can continue to pull the empowerment of women out of the realm of SciFi and categorically “speculative” fiction.

brushing the third act | 2019.04.21

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas | Review

Thomas, Angie_The Hate U Give

Publication: New York, NY : Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, [2017]

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Race Relations Fiction

Pages: 444 | 11 hours 45 minutes

Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook, eBook

Source: MCL

It’s a common screenwriting rule that if there’s a gun in the first act, then it must go off in the third. This mantra has as much to do with foreshadowing as with setting your audience’s expectations. On my second read-through of Thomas’s The Hate U Give, I realized she had set such a stage, incorporating all the props that she had perfectly situated around her characters with an almost guru-like subtly of foresight.

We learn early that the suspected “gun” in the car door of the book’s initial victim of racial violence turns out to only have been a hairbrush. With this as the setting, the weapon that is at last seen firing in the book’s third act is the voices of those repeatedly subjected to racial prejudice. The idea seems to become, then, that a person’s most valuable weapon is their ability to speak out against injustice.

The main character of Thomas’s book reminded me of my first (and only, as I guiltily haven’t re-read To Kill a Mocking Bird since high school) impressions of what Harper Lee was trying to expose about the ugliness of societal prejudices through her characters. Thankfully, Thomas is able to do this without the white-savior complex that Lee’s editors ultimately pushed for in their publication of To Kill a Mocking Bird. In both these books, however, there’s a tension set early that the audience longs to see manifest in the resolution of an explosion. Yet how can we explode toward such a resolution without more death resulting from anger’s fallout?

I loved the honesty Thomas’s story presents throughout the narrative when dealing with the often-at-odds demands for respect versus forgiveness. Her main character has to decide what friends really matter to her, and this beyond the color of their skin. In this way, Thomas shows both sides of prejudice, and how saying you’re sorry another person feels the way they do is grossly insufficient in the realm of coming to grips with true understanding and actual communication toward growth.

I hope this book is read and taught in high schools for many generations to come, since the world Lee was writing about has certainly changed, or at least is still trying to. I also hope our society can find ways to explode toward a culture where perspectives can be heard before the gun shots that have taken too many lives already.