Neshama’s Choices for February 15th

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Nineteen Minutes

Don’t know how I missed this when it came out in 2007 but wanted to lose myself in a compelling story and this filled the bill. Nineteen minutes was all the time it took for Peter to shoot a number of his fellow high school students. He was small, bullied throughout his childhood, and terrified of his incipient gayness.  His mother Lacy was the midwife who delivered the judge’s daughter, Josie, and considered her a friend. Josie and Peter played together until school and peer pressures intervened. All this taking place in a small New England village. The judge presides over the case until it becomes obvious she can’t maintain impartiality. Such a pileup of interlocking relationships. Other fascinating characters: a bitter detective, and Peter’s lawyer. A commentary on the insidious nature of bullying and how far we are from taking functional measures to combat it.

Every Body Looking

Ada is a dutiful daughter of Nigerian immigrants.  Her father is strict, her estranged mother a mess.  Off she goes to college, supposedly pursuing an accounting degree.  But in her heart of hearts, she wants to dance.  She gets a demeaning job with the soccer team and a “boyfriend” who exploits her callously. But then she comes across Kendra who sneaks in to dance in the college studio and encourages her to join dance classes in town. There, at last, Ada embraces her destiny—and Kendra! A teen book that lifted my dancer’s heart.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

Rom-com with a literary twist. Single, quiet (except for her connection to her bookstore patrons and her lively participation in trivia contests) Nina is content with her modest life. Into which crashes a whole new family. Her peripatetic mother never told her the identity of her father but now he, a serial philanderer, is dead and she’s beset with new, complicated relationships and possibilities. Love interest? Her primary competitor on the trivia scene who specializes in sports.  Does he even read? And of course the bookstore is losing money and at risk. Predictable. But charming—I read it for relaxation.

A Song for A New Day

With her road manager sidelined by a family emergency, Luce has to deal with all sorts of screw ups.  Like when her intoxicated bandmates utterly trash a motel room with a coat of Pepto-Bismol pink paint. Meanwhile, young Rosemary has been sent out to scout surreptitious acts for the virtual music company that dominates the field, now that live concerts are forbidden. The Pox and devastating acts of violence have shut down public gatherings. (Sound familiar?) Put on your hoodie and communicate via speedy electronics and drones.  Of course the devices also allow the government to track your every move. The author is a queer singer-songwriter who conveys the music scene with verisimilitude. Entertaining, and uncomfortably close to home.

Severance by Ling Ma

The title reflects the multifaceted approach Ma takes to very pertinent subjects these days: pandemic, immigration, and the workplace. At a publishing company Candace  produces bibles though she’d hoped to join the art division.  Her boyfriend Jonathan is ready to leave NYC for a simpler life with the pandemic breathing down their necks. She stays put as the city and her work empty out and grind to a halt. Then she joins a ragtag group of survivors led by a peculiar fellow who wants to keep her “safe” (imprisoned) in the mall they’ve colonized;  she’s pregnant. The ghost of her Chinese mother serves as a guide as she attempts to escape. Haunting, with lots to reflect on: the otherness of being between two cultures and the absurdity of much of the work we consider so important and hold so dear.

Back next week.