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High school in Texas, always a challenge for veteran biology teacher Hernan and new English teacher Lena. She’s a spoken word poet who’s relocated from the East to “make a difference.”A new administration makes teaching a nightmare with inspirational catch-phrases, intrusive demands, and teaching to the tests devised to demonstrate its efficacy (not). Politics weigh heavily and oh how the dedicated staff try until they’re exhausted by idiocies. Humor amidst the rubble, and a trenchant demonstration of what occurs when ego and money subvert the needs of kids.
Three young Muslim women, friends since childhood, grapple with familial expectations versus their own wishes. As roommates they cover for each other. Kees’s sweet boyfriend is white and Catholic. Jenna is pretty wild. Malak leaves London for Egypt where she discovers she feels surprisingly at home though she’s never been there. Jenna and Malak are eventually slated to marry into the fold but something’s off with each. Kees feels enormous guilt. At the end they reunite to rescue themselves from those “acceptable” outcomes but at considerable cost. A riveting story, full of emotion and insights into cultural tangles.
The eponymous structure is the nickname for low-cost housing in Vaca Vale, Indiana. That city is on the skids, except for developers who want the flatten what’s left of surrounding wild places and install McMansions. We get to know various denizens of the Hutch, especially young Blandine who seems slated for destruction as well, with periodic countdowns to her expected demise.) Surrealistic, smart, and witty to boot.
Frida, a single mother, has a devastating slip that plunges her into a terrifying system of surveillance, judgment, and loss. Yes, she did leave her toddler alone for two hours and a neighbor turned her in. But once identified, it’s all a swift downhill plunge into nightmare. At the eponymous institute, she’s given an AI “child”, a very sophisticated variation on all those experiments with eggs or dolls designed for teenagers to discover the challenges of childrearing. The demands of good motherhood seem to ask for complete self-abnegation and the perky nostrums of the trainers made my blood run cold. Very insightful, very disturbing.