Neshama’s Choices for February 14th

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Dancing at the Pity Party

Subtitled a dead mom graphic memoir. Tyler’s quirky, delightful mother succumbed to a relatively fast-moving cancer while Tyler was negotiating her first year of college. Oh what a swirl of emotions, frustrations, and confusions ensued and the author lays them all out vividly. There’s nothing like the graphic genre to convey such complexity and Tyler certainly covers the rocky territory masterfully.  This is a book for teens but I think it would speak to anyone who’s been afflicted with grief—and who hasn’t, in what I frequently refer to as “this vale of tears” i.e. life.  

New York, My Village

That’s how the condescending official described his hometown during a very frustrating visa application process. So when Ekong finally gets to the Big Apple for a three-month publishing fellowship, he gives us his slant on all the cross-currents and hypocrisies of the Big Apple. Not a fit, though he tries hard. Not-so- subtle racism from most of the all-white staff, bedbugs and dubious arrangements from his pitiful sublet, the horrors of the Biafran War which haunt him. This book manages to be very funny and very angry and very sad in turn. Sometimes it almost seems too much—as exhausting for the reader as for Ekong—but I was willing to experience that discomfort for the bracing experience of culture clash and seeing the protagonist trying to make a coherent, satisfying life out of the tatters of a brutal past. 

Indestructible Object

Lee, in Memphis (no less), is trying to pursue artistic life as modeled by her namesake, a groundbreaking photographer. Lee’s parents are calling it quits after many years together and this shakes her world radically.  She’s been making a podcast with her best friend Vincent and works the sound-boarding for a cafe’s open mic sessions. More goes awry as Vincent, biracial, gets a scholarship to Howard so they won’t be going to college together as planned. When Lee starts to explore her bisexuality, things get even messier. At first I was wary of this teen book’s edge of pretension—lots of references to the Surrealist movement—but when it became clear that the heart is indeed an indestructible object, I cheered for all the growth I witnessed. 

Love in the Big City

Young’s student persona gets eclipsed by his urges. Tinder dates and drunken revelries distract him mightily. He rooms with his female friend Jaehee and this serves them both; he hasn’t come out to his family. Then she gets married and he’s on his own, adrift, until Gyo-ho comes along and they end up together. Young is HIV-positive; he refers to this condition as “Kylie” after his fave pop singer—a great example of the peculiar humor that twinkles throughout the book. I also found the depiction of domestic relationship apt and touching; how two people might grow out of sync but can still derive comfort through familiarity. Lots of untranslated Korean words I kind of figured out by context. I was surprised at how much I liked this book.