by

The Burgess Boys

The Burgess Boys
Elizabeth Strout

The Burgess Boys is the story of a family: brothers Jim and Bob, and their sister Susan; as well as their respective spouses, exes, and children. When Jim, Bob, and Susan were very young, they were in the car when an accident killed their father. Bob has always believed himself to be responsible. The heavy burden he carries has led him to a solitary life in a small apartment with lots of alcohol. Jim, on the other hand, has become a successful and famous lawyer with a lovely family and a nice house. Unlike her brothers, Susan did not move to New York but stayed in their hometown, where she also has a small, cold life. Her only joy is her son, Zach- until his teenage prank mushrooms into a hate crime against the Somali Muslims that have immigrated to their hometown.
Zach’s legal case forms the framework for The Burgess Boys, but it is not the story: the story is the brothers, Jim and Bob, and their struggle to navigate their relationships with each other and the people around them. This is not a book with lots of action or major plot points, but it is a book with incredible character development. The narration rotates among a handful of main players, allowing the reader to see the characters from both their own and others perspectives.

Yes, The Burgess Boys is about immigration, racism, and the law. It is also about middle-aged marriage, divorce, and falling in love again. But ultimately, it is about family. It is about the narrative of who you are in your family, starting in early childhood, and how it shapes the person you are as an adult. Its about the Burgess boys, Jim and Bob, and the people they love -and hurt- the most.
image

Advertisements
by

I Am Malala

I Am Malala
Malala Yousufzai

Malala is a teenage Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban because she stood up for education rights for girls and women. Miraculously, she survived. She recieved treatment in England, where she now lives with her family. She has gone on to achieve global fame, including being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, and continues to speak out for education.

Of course I knew all this from the news, and actually didn’t plan to read the book, but I picked it up and next thing I knew, I was in chapter 3…so of course I had to bring the book home.

What struck me most about Malala’s story was how she came to be an education advocate in the first place. Her father was a teacher and activist in Pakistan. The school he founded grew large, altho not necessarily prosperous because of all the scholarships he gave away. When the Taliban came to Pakistan and started enforcing Islamic extremism, he lead activist groups and spoke out in the media. He refused to sucumb to pressure and threats, and kept his school open to girls. He treated his daughter Malala like an equal to his sons, which helped develop her freedom and confidence, as well as her love of learning.
Malala’s mother played a role that was less obvious but equally important. She was a housewife, not an activist- but its clear that she enjoyed more freedom and influence than many women in her culture. She had a role in family financial descisions and opened her home to many family members in need. Without her support, her husband would not have been as successful.
Malala obviously is a person of extraordinary courage, but its clear that she was rooted in a strong loving family. Her love of learning was instilled from both parents all her life.

The tone of this book’s writing was very inviting. Malala had a co-author, so I’m not sure how much of the style was hers, but it felt like sitting down and talking to a friend. Malala’s voice came through as direct and uncomplicated. She offered explanation and background for many things that would be unfamiliar to a Western reader, but the story doesn’t slow down. Overall, I found the book somewhat charming.
Malala shares little details of her home life and family to paint a vivid picture of her life. She is quick to point out her failings, including her worst subjects in school, her disagreements with friends and fights with her brothers.

In the end, the book invites us to see Malala not as an extraordinary person, but as an ordinary person who has had extraordinary experience and opportunity. She says she doesn’t want to be known as “Malala the girl who was shot in the head” but as “Malala the girl who stood up for education.” Thanks to the teaaching of her father, the support of her mother, and the story in this book- I think we will all remember Malala that way.

image

You might like: And the Mountains Echoed, K. Hosseini. Kabul Beauty School, D. Rodriguez.

by

Stage Daughter

Stage Daughter
Sheryl Sorrentino

The author of this book sent me a copy for review. I was hesitant, because I could see it was a small press or self-published book, but the plot seemed interesting, so I agreed. I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed this book. The story, writing and editing were better quality than I anticipated.

Razia is a girl on the edge of adolescence, the bi-racial daughter of a single mother, Sonya. Razia is attending an arts school because her mom wants to see her dreams of being an actress lived out in her daughter, but all Razia wants to do is draw. Sonya is a strong, feisty woman with a big inferiority complex stemming from being the adopted bi-racial daughter of a Jewish family. Her tough life as a single mom has only made her more independent, prickly, and resistant to help or love.
The drama rachets up when Razia insists on meeting her Kuwaiti father Aziz, an unfortunate one night stand whom Sonya refers to as merely a sperm donor. Aziz struggles to explain Razia to his wife and children. His efforts to introduce Razia to his Muslim faith don’t go over well with either Razia or Sonya.
Razia’s struggles with her family and identity lead her to make risky choices with boys and drugs. Sonya’s habitual fierce independence causes problems in her family, her relationship with Aziz, and her friendship (or could it be more?) with another art school single mom named Nanette. If only the two of them could open their hearts to change, acceptance and, most importantly, each other.

The strongest part of this book is the female characters, in all their different forms. Curly hair and dark skin; hijab-covered hair and gold skin; even short hair and white skin are all celebrated as beautiful. Sonya, while limited by her own needs, is well-intentioned. Razia, while disobedient, wants to do what’s right.
The ending is short, but I felt like it got to a good place. Everyone in the story was able to grow and accept something that they initially resisted. I felt hopeful that all of them- Razia, Sonya, Aziz-  could have loving relationships with one another and the other people who mattered most to them.

image