Thursday, July 9, 2020

Book Reviews - Her Stories

For this round of reads, I have four books that have amazing women at the center of them. They are also four books written by women who have incredible gifts for storytelling. This is one of my favorite quartets of the year.

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld is a fictional story about Hillary Rodham Clinton. In real life, Bill proposed to Hillary three times before she accepted. The premise of the book is then imagining what might have been had Hillary said no. Some of this book is based in factual happenings. I'll be honest that I haven't read all of Hillary's memoirs, so for me, I didn't know what was fact and what was made up. I wish I would have had that context, and I'd even consider re-reading with that just to see how the author built the story in this way. However, I also didn't feel like my reading experience was hindered by not having this knowledge. The story starts with Hillary's time at Wellesley and Yale where she meets Bill, and then evolves into the alternate timeline. It was really, really fascinating. It's an interesting experience to read a fictional account of a real life person (and in case you aren't familiar, the author first did this with Laura Bush in American Wife), and it also "hits different" given the reality of the present. This is an author who always draws me in with her writing, and I was captivated by this experience. Even though I somewhat knew the woman at the center of this story, I also had no idea what was going to happen in this alternate world, and the way she built this world kept me reading. It was also incredible to me how she shifted certain individuals in Hillary's story based on the different direction she chose. With that, it did bring about some really, real feels, but y'all I loved this journey.

Blended by Sharon Draper is a middle grade novel that brings so much honesty and realness. I have loved finding books like this that offer real talk to kids about things they are seeing, thinking and feeling, and this is definitely that. This book centers on Isabella. Isabella is biracial with a father who is black and a mother who is white. His parents are now divorced, and they have each found new partners. Her parents have shared custody which means Isabella is having to navigate the norms and structures of two homes, in addition to figuring out her own identities. I appreciated the opportunity to hear from Isabella the struggles that this arrangement had for a young girl. I'll also say this gets really intense at the end with an incident that happens. I wanted more about this as it was a lot to unpack and process, and it didn't quite give me that. That said, if an actual kid is reading this one, I think it makes sense to process what happens to Isabella as it's powerful and emotional. 

On the Bright Side by Melanie Shankle is the newest memoir by an author I love. Part of why I find her so endearing is she's an Aggie, so I feel that Texas nostalgia as I read. This collection is focused on (as the title would imply) finding the silver linings and positives in a variety of situations. She identifies things that came seem like a bummer and how to reframe and find the joy in those spaces. With this, she also drives a faith-based connection. I love the authentic way this author writes. She isn't afraid to acknowledge struggles in her life, and she shares how she uses faith, friends and family to work through situations. I will be honest that there are other of her books that I have just loved, and this didn't quite achieve their status, AND this is also an author whose books I'll always read as she just reflects in a way that resonates with my heart.

Smash It by Francina Simone is a book that was so real and such a delight. The story focuses on Liv who decides she needs to take control of her life and really start living. First of all, let me tell you know much I loved how this story began with Liv wearing khaki shorts and a sweatshirt at a Halloween costume party. Everyone else is dressed up, and then there's Live in her normal clothes. I loved this because I felt the connection with who she was. Liv decides it's time for a change and she makes a F*ck It List. She wants to stop being scared, and this list is designed to help her do just that. Y'all, I love a good list, so again this is a girl after my own heart. One of Liv's first challenges is trying out for the school musical. Again, I loved that this is the experience she chose to find herself. Liv's list was so great in that it was stuff so many of us struggled with, especially during those angsty high school times, and she was truly dedicated to figuring out how she could achieve all that was on her list. And while there is some love interests in this story, I also really liked that this book ultimately centered Liv and her list throughout. Above all else, this was Liv figuring out who she was becoming, and she doesn't always get it right which is how this stuff so often works. One last time I'll say I loved Liv, her list and the story of how she navigated achieving its tasks. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this September 2020 release. 

Onto the next ones!