Neshama’s Choices for January 4th

This installment: sisters bond reluctantly in India (f); a Bengali immigrant in the South (f); straight talking, funny trans advice (nf); a miserable woman saved by a dog, and more (f); and teen suicide concerns (f).

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The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal
The three sisters never got along. As her last wish, their dying mother devises a trip back to India, designed to bring them together. Ranji, the oldest, was her primary caregiver; Jezeem is the wild card; and Shirina, the youngest, comes from Australia where she’s slated to marry a rich man. The itinerary rapidly veers off course as each sister wrestles with resistances related to their secrets. At the end they learn a lot about the family dynamics that have led to their estrangement and sure enough, they end up claiming their true natures and bonding. There’s rich local color and humor as well.

The Atlas of Reds and Blues by Devi S. Laskar
Mother (unnamed) never feels at home in this wealthy Atlanta suburb; she’s a second-generation immigrant from Bangladesh. The neighbors ooze racism cloaked in Southern manners—judgmental comments followed with “bless your heart.” Her white husband, Hero, is always traveling for work. Her kids are also assaulted by prejudice. She works for a small newspaper and tries to do her own writing in her spare time (hah). There’s a mysterious raid on her house and she’s shot; we don’t find out what that’s all about. The book has a fascinating structure, non-chronological, which sometimes confused me but also delivered her experience very directly, short episode by episode. Vivid and painful—worth it.

Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan Coyote
Ivan grew up in the Yukon, a tomboy from the get-go. Now trans, they offer wonderful anecdotes and advice about how to negotiate a world that is often clueless. (Note: the pronoun they never comes up in the book.) There are also songs! Ivan is unvarnished, authentic, and inviting—no rhetoric, which I really appreciated. They trained as an electrician, worked on stage  lighting, and eventually became a speaker and performance artist, spreading the good word. As the grandmother of a nonbinary grandchild, I look for every bit of enlightenment I can get, and this one is hugely satisfying. and fun to read.

The Love Story of Missy Carmichael by Beth Morrey
When we first encounter Missy, she’s miserable, stuck in a big old house alone, estranged from her daughter and far away from her beloved son and grandchild. But a series of encounters in a nearby park connect her up with a child, his mother, a dog, and a few more women who eventually manage to coax her back to life. It takes a long time to discover the fate of her longtime husband Leo, bring about a reconciliation with her lesbian daughter, and make peace with her son’s life in Australia. I think of this as a cozy book (British), sometimes a bit over the top, but I love characters who finally let down their guard—let’s hear it for the dog.

Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford
For his first few days in the psych ward Jeff doesn’t know where he is. Then he’s convinced he’s the only sane one among the other 4 teens. We check in with his interior dialogue and reportage day by day during his mandated 45 day stay and discover how funny, kind, and blocked he is. His psychiatrist is very patient and perspicacious.  Dramatic events on the ward and tincture of time gradually shake loose Jeff’s underlying fears and deliver him into the truth of his life (which I won’t reveal because I loved the suspense). A beautiful teen book, for everyone.

Back next week.

Written by: Neshama

Editing: Ana