The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing

I really enjoy learning about other cultures. I’m a big fan of “own voices” books and try to add them to my reading list when possible. I am a part of the Great American Read group on Facebook and have gotten some amazing recommendations of culturally significant books. I’ve read and loved The Hate U Give, The Sun is Also a Star, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, Dear Martin, The Kite Runner, Everything I Never Told You, Release, The Namesake, and Turtles All the Way Down. If you are looking for a good list of “own voices” novels try here: own voices.

TSGtD follows Amina living a mostly good life in Seattle with her cousin. Amina was once a photojournalist, but a difficult photo she took caused her too much stress, and she is now a wedding photographer. She gets a call from home that disrupts her life, pulling her back to her home of New Mexico. The story is told partly in flashbacks from when Amina was a child and a teenager and partly in the present day. Through the flashbacks, you learn about Amina’s parents coming to America to make a life for themselves, about Amina’s brother, Ahkil, and his struggles, but mostly about Amina trying to find herself and her place in the world.

As much as I love a good plot heavy book, there are times when a good story about an interesting character fits the bill. This is exactly that book. Amina is a wholly fleshed-out character, and you get to dig deep into her life. I read The Namesake about an Indian-American man trying to find his place in both worlds, and I feel like this one is very similar in nature. I loved both books for filling my world with captivating characters and culturally authentic situations.

 

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Inspection

I am a huge fan of Josh Malerman’s work. I’ve read everything of his that I can get my hands on including Bird Box, Black Mad Wheel, Unbury Carol, and A House at the Bottom of the Lake and can’t wait to see what he has in store for us with the Bird Box sequel, coming out this fall (last I heard). He’s one of those authors that when I hear he has a book coming out, I make reading it a priority. Bird Box is still my favorite, but Inspection is his best since.

J is an Alphabet Boy. Raised in a turret with 25 other boys (one for each letter of the alphabet), he only knows his small world comprised of only men. The boys, their instructors, and their father figure, D.A.D., live together in a tower. D.A.D. is convinced that the opposite sex causes boys to neglect their studies, which in turn, makes them less productive members of society. So, he creates an experiment to eliminate that distraction. Women don’t exist in the boys’ world. They are told they were born from trees, are educated in traditional subjects, and show tremendous abilities.

However, not everyone is on board with this idea. D.A.D hired a man to write propaganda for the boys in the form of children’s novels, but this man knows what D.A.D. is doing is wrong and creates his own book, hands it out to the boys, and some read it, learning of women for the first time. Once that happens, they are deemed “spoiled rotten” and sent to THE CORNER, which is the scariest place for them. Every day these boys go through an “inspection” to check their bodies and minds for outside influence. They play an honesty game called Boats complete with nodes they place on themselves.

Halfway through the book, there is a giant reveal. I’m sad to say this reveal was in the book jacket summary, which was a bummer because I wish I hadn’t known it was coming. This book had a very 1984 feel to it.¬† J begins to realize there’s more to life than this tower, but he’s unsure what that means. The boys are blind followers of D.A.D., never questioning his authority, THE CORNER is so much like Room 101 that the parallels are downright obvious. All of these examples made me love the book even more. Once I got to the ending, there was no putting his book down. I was rooting for J to figure everything out and then quite crushed as his world kept collapsing under him, little by little, the curtain pulled back more and more. D.A.D. is an excellent villain, leaping off the page, and watching his transformation from bad to worse is simply horrifying. Another excellent novel from Malerman. Hopefully, it tides me over until the Bird Box sequel.

An American Marriage

I read Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones a number of years ago when it was a selection of The Rumpus’s Book Club selection. I don’t remember much, but I gave it four stars on Goodreads, so I must have enjoyed it. I do remember that it shifted narrators, just like An American Marriage does. I found an ARC of AAM at my local library several months ago and bought it for $1. Turns out I had a signed copy and didn’t realize it until I sat down to read it.¬† I immediately placed it on a very high shelf never to be read and borrowed a copy from my library.

The story follows newlyweds Celestial and Roy through an all too real situation- the false imprisonment of an innocent man. Roy is found guilty of raping a woman, even though he didn’t do it and his wife testifies they were together. But the jury believes the victim, and Roy is sent away. Much of their story early on is told through prison letters. Each one a bit more heartbreaking than the last. Roy discovers a familial connection while in prison, which makes life a bit easier for him, while Celestial just misses her husband. But time passes and she moves on. She isn’t trying to, but it just happens. Her life is thriving with a small, successful business and her childhood best friend, Andre, becomes something more.

The trouble arrives when Roy is released early. Five years have gone by and he no longer has a wife. They are still legally married, but too much has changed for both of them. The cost of imprisonment, especially for an innocent person, is unmeasurable. Not only did the true perpetrator get away with a crime and justice isn’t truly served, but the lives of all those surrounding the innocent are ripped apart. To this day, 364 people have been cleared of false charges against them through the DNA findings of The Innocence Project.¬†Celestial and Roy are only an example of the true horror of the falsely convicted in our country.