Neshama’s Choices for February 22nd

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All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

Where does the wonderful come in?  Via angelic Wavy, a young girl surviving amidst an extremely ugly drug-dealing family, and her unlikely champion, hulking Kellan. Wavy is very bright but stays mute, knows the constellations, and is shunted from pillar to post. With Kellan’s help she gets to school.  She’s also in love with him, an impossible set up but not that surprising to me (I remember my passions at that age). Of course that love runs into societal strictures as she matures and all seems lost until…Very vivid, engrossing and suspenseful, though I sometimes had to suspend disbelief.

Brown, White, Black

Subtitled An American Family at the Intersection of Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Religion (whew). Mehra grew up somewhat protected—upper-middle class in Memphis, good schools, but very few other kids of color in that milieu. When she came out as queer, her father couldn’t accept it. She married Jill, an older professor, and they adopted Black Shiv who revealed gender identity issues early on.  She and Jill, who is white, sound like wonderful parents but they certainly have a lot on their plate. Thoughtful and inspiring.

The New American

Emilio, undocumented, is caught after a minor accident and deported back to Guatemala. He’s a student at UC Berkeley.  He needs to return to school and can’t wait out a legal process that might take years.  He connects with 4 others, including Matilde from Honduras, and they make their very treacherous way on The Beast towards the border. Thieves strip them of everything early on, corrupt police pave the way for more misery, and lives are lost. I’ve read other books on the subject so the territory is (unfortunately) very familiar but Marcom does a fine job of storytelling and I believe we need to keep this ongoing reality in our consciousness for change to happen.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota

I loved his Kitchens of the Great Midwest. (My husband grew up in Illinois and I used to make fun of midwestern “cuisine” to the dismay of his mother who fancied herself a good cook.) Here the author tackles brewing and I found it fascinating. Two sisters are estranged for years over an inheritance. Modest Edith toils; her pies get some underground acclaim. Rapacious Helen marries into the Blotz family and grows the business. Edith’s orphaned granddaughter Diana kind of  stumbles into brewing but then becomes obsessed with it. She’s very young, very smart, and against all odds becomes a success as well. I learned a lot about the process—surprisingly involved— and how to market brews. Since this came to me on CDs, I felt as if I’d been transported to Minnesota on my commute.

Blue Monday

I was hungry for an absorbing read and this came highly recommended. Frieda Klein, a psychotherapist, gets a patient whose terrifying dreams are crippling him. A young boy disappears and the circumstances resemble a long-ago cold case of another abduction. Klein ends up helping the police which strains her professional ethics but may save a life.  She’s a mesmerizing character—restrained, intuitive, and haunted; on her many sleepless nights she prowls throughout London tracking underground rivers. Atmospheric, multi-layered, with a jaw dropping denouement. And it’s a series which I look forward to devouring.

Back next week.