Book Review: We Love You, Charlie Freeman-Kaitlyn Greenidge

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I’ve been really enjoying reading books by blacks authors this summer. Each author has delivered a unique and interesting perspective into black ancestry, history, and culture. When it comes to African American ancestry, it often turns into a painful reminder that so much of our culture and history was eradicated by white people.  This summer has been about loving, embracing, re-seeking and reclaiming our history through the various types of books I have read. Diversifying your reading is so important on many different aspects as it allows you to gain a better perspective on a multitude of races. In her debut novel We Love You, Charlie Freeman, author Kaitlyn Greenidge ties race, family, sisterhood, ancestry into a story that is both interesting and enlightening.

The Freemans family journey to the Toneybee Institute in Massachusetts to take part in a social experiment by raising Charlie, a chimpanzee as a part of their family.  Part of the research and experiment is to teach Charlie sign language which the family is well versed in. The Freemans must start a new life in a secluded neighborhood and apartment, quite different from life they had previously known. The story focuses on a few perspectives, but the primary narrator Charlotte gives the reader her perspective on how she deals with being the only black girl in a very white surrounding, as well as adjusting as a freshman at a new school. Each family deals with the research experiment in their own way, but when a deep secret is revealed about the project, everyone is affected and reacts differently. Greenidge uses many literary devices to raise important questions about race and black ancestry. Throughout the story there are flashbacks to a woman named Nymphadora who helped the Toneybee Institute, although in a grotesque and exploitive way. Greenidge places heavy weights on the pages, but does it in a way to not deter her readers and keeps them intrigued throughout the duration of the novel.

When I read this was Kaitlyn Greenidge’s debut novel, I was so impressed with the quality of writing she exemplifies. You can tell she did her research; and she writes so thoroughly and clean she easily can pass as a seasoned writer. I love that she talks about race and ancestry in a unique way, that doesn’t seem to scream a very wearying rhetoric of “American slavery during the nineteenth century.” She doesn’t write about a family raising a chimp, but a black family raising a chimp which draws interesting comparisons scientists have conducted throughout the ages on black people. I also enjoyed how she brought up race in way that didn’t feel like a hammer hitting your head, but you definitely felt the weight of her words. This book is layered, and although some of the layers are hard to understand, they are vital and necessary in order to tell this story. Charlotte’s narration was by far my favorite as she was so introspective and inquisitive. There was also the layer of Charlie the chimpanzee being a family member but also a science project, loved but also probed. The relationships and themes in the novel seem to be placed in a petri dish and peered at through a microscopic lens which allows the author to conduct an experiment on her readers as well. How science and history often go hand in hand, and the author does a fantastic job drawing these two things together. Greenidge is one to watch, and I’m thrilled to have taken part in her first novel. I’m a fan of this book and would recommended this to anyone wanting something out of the ordinary. Praise to the author Kaitlyn Greenidge and her novel that is both progressive and nods to the historicism.

Book Review: Between the World and Me-Ta-Nehisi Coates

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  They made us into a race. We made ourselves in a people.

The reality of a black person is vastly different than that from a white person. Our worlds are separated, and our bodies hold different weight within the universe. With fists and teeth clenched, we move through the world. You saunter through life, whereas we  briskly walk, trying not to hesitate too long. Our moments in this world are brief and often over looked, which is why we shine so bright-we must fully experience everything before our light is snuffed out. To understand us, is to understand an arcane and hidden secret. Yet, not many seek to bear the weight of the secret, for that would mean stripping one’s self down to humanity. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay and memoir Between the World and Me looks at the reality of racial relations in America and what it means to be black in America in today. If willing, this book hits you in the core. If listening, this book will awaken you and bring you into touch with reality. If looking, this book with refocus your attention on an ailing matter in America.

Structured as a letter, Between the World and Me Coates’ writes to his teenage son Samori about the reality of growing up black in America.  He intertwines it with his own personal memory of growing up in Chicago and his experience of police brutality. He refers to white people as “Dreamers” people unwilling to connect with their humanity. He writes about the heritage of black folks, the oneness we inherently  have with one another. He contemplates race relations in America and ties them in with his experience of being out of America. The book is a collection of emotions and people  and stories that have helped shaped his curriculum vitae. Although it does dive into black culture and heritage, it is an  exposé on how humans are treated different in the world based on skin color. Coates’ passionately bears all when educating his son on his responsibilities.

And you know now, if you did not before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body. It does not matter if the destruction is the result of an unfortunate overreaction. It does not matter if it originates in a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction springs from a foolish policy. Sell cigarettes without the proper authority and your body can be destroyed. Resent the people trying to entrap your body and it can be destroyed. Turn into a dark stairwell and your body can be destroyed. The destroyers will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions. And destruction is merely the superlative form of a dominion whose prerogatives include friskings, detainings, beatings, and humiliations. All of this is common to black people. And all of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible.

This book has been deemed important by many, and I can only agree. It contains so many important facts about the way life is, how black bodies have no importance in the world, even when we shaped and built the world. I thought it incredibly endearing but also somber that one has to warn their child about how the world does not see value in their life. However, through the exact realness of it all, Coates reminds and encourages his son to never break or bend on who he is. To be rooted in his blackness as he writes, “You exist. You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you.” I can foresee this book being on English AP lists everywhere, as it can reach a wide array of audiences. Coates is a fantastic writer, and I can only imagine more great things coming from him.

But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversation.

What to Read When the World Crashes Down and You Need Some Love

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Flashing screens displaying brown bodies piled up. Tears running down tired and blood stained faces. Screams and fists pumping in the air with anger. What do you do when your bones ache from being torn apart day in and day out? What do you do when  people tell you your skin color makes you in invaluable, when they say your life is invaluable. I too am sick of being reduced to a #hashtag or temporary Facebook post; I want more, I want to be valued. In the mist of such turmoil and police brutality, it’s vital we take care of our mental health. We need to string together any last bits of hope and love ourselves. To bask in the essence, the presence, and spirituality of us. It’s okay to be strong but it’s okay to also be human and let those emotions be felt. It’s okay to take time for yourself. It’s okay to step back from social media or the world, and invest in your mental clarity. Many expect black people (especially black women) to hold it all together, because essentially that is what we have done for centuries. But when we do that, we don’t allow ourselves to heal and grow, instead we become desensitized to horror, to pain. I encourage anyone who is left feeling stripped, crippled, voiceless, or tired to just take a breath. When I say breath, I mean a life breath, one that puts things in pause long enough to stabilize yourself. I’m angry and sad just like you, but I fear for the health of my self being if I don’t stop to pause and invest in my self care. Self care comes in many shapes and forms, and it ultimately what makes you feel the best and most whole. One of my self care practices is reading; reading books that fill me to the brim. When I read books that confirm how validated I am, it allows me to then take that knowledge and apply it to my everyday life. I have curated a list of books that inspire me and might be of some help to you. Let’s get rooted in ourselves again. I hope you feel better, wherever you are in the world or in life. Happy reading!

  1. Freedom: The Courage to Be Yourself-Osho

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2. The Diamond in Your Pocket: Discovering Your True Radiance-Gangaji

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3. Communion: The Female Search for Love-bell hooks

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4. One Day My Soul Opened Up-Iyanla Vanzant

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5. Eat, Pray, Love-Elizabeth Gilbert

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6.The Alchemist-Paulo Coelho

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7. Afro Vegan:Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed-Bryant Terry

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Book Review: Summer of the Cicacadas-Cole Lavalais

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Home. What do you think about when you hear the word ring in your ears? Is it a physical place, a spiritual one, something intangible? Home strikes deep beneath our veins; our cords where our spirits lie. It is something that can be found and lost at the same time. Home has been stripped from people of many races. It has been picked, pried into, destroyed, built, restructured, refurbished. Home has been cooked into a ball that we swallow, unsure of the taste, or place, or face. Do you know your home and where you come from?

This summer is all about self care, and reading books by black authors. Diving into titles and authors that are skimmed over at the bookstore, this summer is about creating a space for the many voices of literature.  Cole Lavalais has created a book that left me completely speechless and in awe. Summer of the Cicadas is an enchanting story about a girl defining home and in the process, dealing with a darkness that lurks in every corner. The strong yet fragile Viola Moon enters into a small and southern black college in an attempt to gain a part of her sanity. However she finds it difficult to adjust to life outside of her mother’s home. Viola is intrigued with those that have a legacy and a sense of home, which is why she connects with Perry, the son of an elite black family. Their relationship symbolizes something for each of them. Viola is searching for a father figure to give her life validation, it’s the idea that home starts at the root, and Viola is searching for the beginning. Throughout the novel, Cole Lavalais brings us up many issues that are faced by black families, black men, and black women. This story is riveting, difficult, and deep.

I am not what I pretend to be, so that means I can never stop pretending. I am not what I pretend to be, so if I stop  pretending they will know and I will be stuck in between here and there.

I must admit, that although this book was not long, it did take a while to read, because it is extremely thought provoking and at times difficult to sift through. Lavalais is an extremely talented writer, and I hope more people can read her novel. This novel resonated deep with me, and I really liked the character of Viola Moon. She is someone who is troubled and is just searching for a connect with roots, a history. My only critique is I wish the editor edited more carefully as there were slight grammatical errors and misspellings. This one is a treasure, and is definitely a favorite of the year so far. This book is great for self healing, as it might answers some questions to those wondering about “home.” Summer of the Cicadas is a passionate yet distant look at the mental health of an individual and how it affects the past, present, and future. Filled with symbolism and mysticism, Lavalais buries history, legacy, and gender into a novel that should be read and re-read.