“It was still hard for a Korean to become a Japanese citizen, and there were many who considered such a thing shameful—for a Korean to try to become a citizen of its former oppressor. When she told her friends in New York about this curious historical anomaly and the pervasive ethnic bias, they were incredulous at the thought that the friendly, well-mannered Japanese they knew could ever think she was somehow criminal, lazy, filthy, or aggressive—the negative stereotypical traits of Koreans in Japan.”
I started this book rather randomly one night while trapped in the room with my toddlers who were refusing to go to sleep (but were actually letting me read -- a rare moment, but one that required the Kindle instead of a regular book, which is how I discovered that I'd purchased this book on one of the daily deals... such a good purchase!).
I was immediately swept away by the tender, compelling story of the young Sunja, child of Hoonie and Yangjin, and their family's challenges as they worked to make their living by running a boarding house for people in the small village where they lived in Korea. When Sunja found herself in a position of dishonor and shame, I was moved by her resolution and her courage. As she makes the move to Japan, the story shifts into an exploration of Korean life in Japan. The epic novel moves through generations of Koreans in Japan, and Lee highlights the systemic oppression faced by Koreans in Japan, moving from the early 1900s all the way to present day.
I loved the way the novel showed the complexities of identity and the weight of family. I also found the treatment of Koreans in Japan both appalling and a bit surprising -- I found that it was something about which I knew very little. I loved the way that Lee showed the various reactions and feelings toward the Japanese and life in Japan.
I'm kind of thankful that I didn't realize how long the book was or how many generations would be covered -- I might have felt a little intimidated, or I might have put it off for another time. Instead, I knew nothing about it other than what I know about current day pachinko parlors in Japan, and I found myself wrapped up in the complex story of this family and their struggles to understand their identity (both as individuals and as a collective group).
By tracking the pathways of so many individuals, this novel spans the scope of human experience, and Lee explores the common threads within that experience. “He was suffering, and in a way, he could manage that; but he had caused others to suffer, and he did not know why he had to live now and recall the series of terrible choices that had not looked so terrible at the time. Was that how it was for most people?” Although this thought came from a more minor character, it incapsulates the scope of this powerful narrative and its examination of human experience. Such a profound novel.
This was definitely one of the best reads of 2019 so far for me, and one of the most impactful books I've read in a long time.
Thank you to Partner Netgalley for sharing an e-book copy of this uplifting children's book, Who is My Neighbor? by Amy-Jill Levine and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, illustrated by Denise Turu.
This is a touching story about the Blues and the Yellows, two groups who are homogenous and a bit xenophobic and prone to bias against the other group until the unlikely mixing of a Yellow (Lemon) and a Blue (Midnight Blue). Lemon and Midnight Blue discover that despite everything they have been told by their neighbors in their respective color groups, things are not what they appear.
When Midnight Blue gets hurt and gets help from Lemon (after being ignored by two members of his Blue group), he discovers that the Yellow world is one of kindness and compassion that is totally different from the way Yellows had been described to him by his Blue community. Lemon, who takes Midnight Blue to her doctor and shares her snack, discovers that Midnight Blue is also kind and gracious. After their encounter, Lemon and Midnight Blue become and remain friends. Seeing them together teaches the neighborhoods that their biases and stereotypes are all wrong, and the two communities change their ways to come together.
This is a sweet, hopeful story that very clearly parallels real life struggles that people have as they encounter others who are different from them (or avoid those others simply because of ignorance and fear). I read it with my four year old, who loved it because of the way that Lemon helped Midnight Blue and because of the way they all came together in the end. She quickly drew connections to skin color and languages, and she mentioned the prejudice that we've read about in other books and how wrong that is.
This is a great children's book with an important message about acceptance and compassion and not accepting that things have to be the way they have always been.
Thank you to Partner Netgalley for my advance copy of this novel. I loved The Belles and was so excited to read the sequel, The Everlasting Rose. Set in the dystopian world of Orléans , this novel reveals the way that quests for beauty and power can spiral out of control as the quest to become the most beautiful and most powerful gets in the way of compassion, equity, and all forms of understanding.
The Belles opens in a world where most people are born gris, meaning that their natural complexion is gray, with red eyes, straw-like hair, and gray whiskers on their faces. This condition is both unattractive and painful. The only exception to this natural state is the Belles, who are born lovely with all different complexions, shapes, and demeanors, but who are all able to use the power within their blood to help others beautify themselves. The Belles are raised to beautify others, and when they come of age, that becomes their duty. In order to avoid this natural but uncomfortable state of being gray, the citizens of Orléans must have routine beauty procedures done, which can only be performed by the Belles. They pay high prices and suffer extreme pain to endure the beauty procedures. Camille Beauregard and her sisters are coming of age at the beginning of The Belles, and they become the group of Belles able to assist all of the people of Orléans, including the royal family, with these procedures. However, as Camille gets deeper into her journey, she quickly realizes that the world is not as it seems and that her talents can be misused and can cause harm.
The Everlasting Rose picks up where The Belles left off, and it captivates the reader immediately. I loved the main characters in the novel and found myself swept up in their riveting adventure, rooting for them to succeed, even though they were facing staggering odds. Camellia Beauregard leads us through the complex world of the royal family as Princess Sophia makes her way toward the throne. Camille discovers that she has powers she did not realize she possessed, but she also realizes that she can be forced and manipulated into doing things that are horrendous. Her unlikely companion, Rémy, and her sister Edel, are both fascinating supporting characters with their own agendas and desires. Additionally, the teacup dragons who travel with them are so precious and fun!
I love the way Clayton demonstrates the power of suggestion, the pressure to fit in, and the role of gossip and the media in what shapes society. I also love her commentary on the way that subliminal messages and peer pressure can lead us all to feel that there is some kind of artificial beauty ideal that we should achieve-- and that the pursuit of that false ideal can destroy us or cause us to destroy others.
Camille's courage, determination, loyalty, and resolute unwillingness to back down make her the kind of woman I hope to be and hope for my daughters to be. She is ready to bring about change, and she faces the uncertain future with resilience and passion.
In short, I cannot wait for Book Three!
Thank you to Partner NetGalley for the awesome opportunity to read this book before publication. The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib is a powerful, gripping novel written by a commanding, courageous writer who addresses eating disorders and mental health head on. It is a story that needs to be told, and Zgheib tells it in a captivating way that forces the reader to take a good long look at the reality of that situation for everyone involved.
This story is the struggle of Anna Roux, an anorexic twenty-six year old married French woman living in America with her husband of three years, Matthias. As the story unfolds, Anna has been voluntarily placed in care at 17 Swann Street in DC, a residential facility for women with severe anorexia or bulimia. The novel is a powerful examination of everything leading up to that moment side by side with the experience of being in the residential facility itself, trying to find a way back from starvation and into life.
Most notable about this novel is the raw, direct way that Anna's narration depicts how unbelievably difficult it is for someone with anorexia nervosa to overcome it, even when that person desperately wants to be well. Throughout the novel, it is readily apparent that Anna's husband Matthias adores her and that her father and sister in France are still very close to her. However, Zgheib reveals how little the family intervenes, even when they see that Anna is in crisis. Even Matthias does not act:
"They had both become too comfortably settled in the magical kingdom of makebelieve. She
made believe that she was happy and all was fine, and he made believe it was true. It was less
painful than confrontation. Confrontation just led to fights. And so she ate nothing and they
both ate lies through three years of marriage, for peace, at the occasional cost of no more roller
coasters, no more sharing ice cream and French fries."
Matthias, who clearly loves Anna dearly and sees that she is suffering, cannot find a way to reach her. Anna's other family members also do not know what to say; what they do say only leads to brutal fights. And so they go on in silence until it is absolutely impossible to keep going. The pathway back is a long and painful one for all of them, and the end is uncertain.
By tracing the path of Anna's life, Zgheib shows how someone who is seemingly successful, happy, in love, and willing to change and grow spirals down into a husk of a person, unable to look at much less consume food. Zgheib demonstrates how some catastrophic childhood events coupled with dancing ballet, concern over body image, pressure to lose weight, and major life changes in early adulthood result in a profoundly severe situation for Anna as she finds herself starving to death.
I also loved the way that Zgheib incorporates facts and statistics into the narration; those biting details make real for the reader how destructive and deadly both anorexia and bulimia can be. Zgheib lays bare the cruel facts about how anorexia physically destroys the body. As Anna lives at 17 Swann Street, she arms herself with information about the disease that plagues her body. Throughout the novel, Anna notes what she learns, such as what she read in the patient manual: "Only 33% of women with anorexia nervosa maintain full recovery after nine months. Of those, approximately one-third will relapse after the nine-month mark." Some of the information is terribly discouraging, but Anna seems to take comfort in the knowing, even if knowing is painful.
Anna's time at the house is unbelievably difficult for her. The regimes are brutal for the girls there, and the methods can be severe, though the readers comes to understand how vital those methods are for the women. Feeding tubes become a fact of life for anyone who refuses to comply with the meal plans. The required therapy sessions threaten to tear Anna apart. It's clear that the people who work there have seen everything that Anna is experiencing before, and they can sometimes seem callous and even cruel from her perspective. Yet those caretakers are saving the lives of the women there, as Anna comes to understand.
I found Anna's tale captivating, and I believe that Zgheib speaks to many of the misconceptions and biases surrounding anorexia nervosa and bulimia, forcing the reader to take a clear-eyed look at the brutal reality of life for a person living with either of those conditions. Strikingly compelling and full of heartbreak but even fuller of hope, this is a phenomenal novel that will stay with the reader long after finishing.
This week on Unabridged, we're sharing some of our favorites reads from 2018. These were two of my favorite reads in 2018. Both are middle grade, though Barnhill’s book could be read by younger kids. They both feature strong women who stand against oppression and make courageous choices.
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed, a global read aloud book of 2018, is a phenomenal story about Amal, a brave girl in Pakistan who has tremendous family responsibilities that pull her away from the education she treasures. Her situation goes from challenging to unbearable when she uncharacteristically speaks up for herself against a formidable landlord in the town, changing her life forever. It is a story of determination, perseverance, and hope. LOVED it!!!!
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill is a lovely, whimsical story that includes dragons, swamp creatures, witches, and town elders. I love the way the story challenges stereotypes and highlights the importance of questioning traditions and accepting what is simply because it's what always has been. I listened to this one on @Scribd, and I loved it so much I also bought a copy! I can't wait to read it again and to read it aloud with my girls!
K. Ashley Dickson-Ellison is a former high school English teacher (who is now an instructional technology teacher) interested in exploring the integration of trending young adult literature into the English classroom experience. Ashley is also a member of the podcast Unabridged; check out the podcast site below.
Please note: All ideas and opinions are my own and do not represent my current or past employers.
© K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All thoughts and ideas are the author's and do not represent any employer.