The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah – 4.25 stars
Elsa grew up ostracized by her own family in the pretense of protecting her fragility. Having been an oddball all her life, Elsa jumps at the attention from Rafe Martinelli, a child of Italian immigrant farmers, and finds herself pregnant with Rafe’s child. Though Martinelli family resents her at first for ruining what they had planned for their son (going to college college, marriage to another girl to whom he was engaged to), they grow to accept and love her as much as the two children Elsa eventually has. While life was mostly happy for Elsa, the Great Plains begin to turn into Dust Bowl and coupled that with the Great Depression, life in Texas begins to look hopeless and impossible. Elsa resists the life out West Rafe dreams about but she eventually finds herself in California, alone with her two children.
The Four Winds took longer for me to get into than The Nightingale and The Great Alone. It sets the story for a while from her childhood to her marriage to Rafe to the life as a part of the Martinelli family before she is forced to make tough decisions for her children. As with her other books, Kristin Hannah does super job at painting the picture of the time and place in which the story takes place. For some reason, I never learned about how The Dust Bowl forced many Midwesterners to move out West for jobs and how those migrants were treated by the Californians. Reading the hardships Elsa and others go through in California just broke my heart. And the ending was truly a sappy one. I definitely shedded some tears before the end of the book.
The Martian by Andy Weir – 3.75 stars
This isn’t a usual book for me but I randomly picked up this book at a used bookstore during a recent day trip to Charlotte. I had heard of Andy Weir (his new book Project Hail Mary has been all over bookstagram!) but I started the book knowing very little about his writing or this book in particular (didn’t even know there was a movie made of it).
The Martian is a very realistic science fiction–an astronaut named Mark Watney was accidentally left alone on Mars because his team assumed he was dead based on the circumstances of their departure. While he miraculously survived, his chance at making it back to earth seems slim as no one is aware that he is alive and he doesn’t have nearly enough food to last until the next planned mission team arrives on Mars.
The book switches between Watney narrating in the form of recording his daily updates in mission log entries and a whole team at NASA back on Earth trying to do the impossible to bring him back to Earth alive. Watney’s first person narrative works well at the beginning of the book (I mean what could be more attention grabbing that “I’m pretty much fucked”?!) but it kind of lost me as he goes into great detail about technical stuff as he makes changes to the equipments left behind to suit his changing dire needs. To be honest, I glimpsed over some of the very technical languages…this would be a good audiobook listen!
Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig – 4.5 stars
This memoir from disability advocate Rebekah Taussig (IG handle @sitting_pretty) is one of the most raw and brutally honest books I have read. I LOVED it. I read a physical book but I bet it’s an awesome audiobook too (narrated by the author). Here are some things I noted white reading the book:
In sharing her story, Taussig highlights how disability is often forgotten when we as a society discuss or advocate for diversity in spaces. She explains how disabled people often have no real life examples for how to navigate life with disabilities (from getting government benefits they qualify for to managing interpersonal relationships), considering that their family members are typically able bodied and they might be living isolated from other disabled people.
Something that punched in the gut particularly was when Taussig talked about how her experience as a disabled woman is so drastically different and may even be the opposite that of an able-bodied woman. She referenced a time when she was flattered by catcalling. The conflict she felt as a women when the traditional narrative told for all women was so different from hers highlights how intersectionality of disability, womanhood, feminism, is so complex and individual.
Another great point she raises is how we live in an environment that prioritizes productivity with no regards to how people work, and that creating an environment where disabled can people thrive allows everyone else to thrive. (Examples used were curb cuts and close captioning but we can certainly add the privilege of working from home to that long list!) Disabilities are not something for other to fix or something that makes people evil or helpless (insert examples of acts of self-serving kindness some able-bodied people force on people with disabilities); it is rather the environment and the spaces that must be changed to accommodate all people.
Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo – 4.25 stars
From the author of So You Want to Talk About Race, Mediocre takes the concept of “Mediocre White Men”, which has been often mocked in recent years, and accurately presents it in regards to the dangerous impact they have had on our society for literally hundreds of years. Listening to the audiobook made me sad and angry and also dumbfounded at some points. The amount of research this book contains is absolutely phenomenal and does justice to its objective of presenting all perpetuating white male supremacy in US history–from days of European colonization of America to how a typical American football player has changed from a privileged white boy (who needed to toughen up for the real world) to a professional Black athlete playing for the white team owners.
I listened to it on audiobook since it is narrated by the author but I think it would be an equally good read as a physical book (I would have preferred a physical book). If Mediocre sounds intriguing, you might also want to check out Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women by Kate Manne (you can read my review from last year here).
Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas – 4.5 stars
I have been on Angie Thomas kick! I read The Hate U Give last year and On the Come Up last month and while I really enjoyed both, Concrete Rose is might be my favorite. Maverick (a character from THUG) is a seventeen-year-old boy who is the son of a former gang legend. With his dad in prison and his mom working two jobs, Mav is doing his best to support his family by dealing for the King Lords, one of whom is his cousin Dre who might as well be his brother. He seems to have his life together okay—that is until he learns that he is a dad. Suddenly taking care of a three-month-old baby Seven, Mav navigates parenthood while he tries to figure out what this means for (end of) his childhood and his future.
Reading Concrete Rose, I loved getting to know Maverick, even more so than I did with Starr in THUG and Bri In OTCU (and I loved them too). You see him stepping up to to the task of being a father, both in taking care of Seven and financially supporting his family. I also loved his mom (or Ma), his cousin Dre, his girlfriend-for-the-most-of-the-book Lisa, and the grocery store owner Mr. Wyatt. These characters are so human and complex and real–just like the people that make up the communities like the Garden Heights.