This installment: will the Sicilian mama ever accepts her son’s African-American bride? (nf); Knisley on maternity (f); teenage transgender angst (f-CD); drought and perverted faith in California (f); and Duterte’s drug war close to home (f).
Editor’s Note: The titles and links below will direct you to print when available, with occasional notes made of digital eBook and eAudiobook availability.
From Scratch by Tembi Locke
Subtitled A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home. Who wudda’ thunk that a young African American woman would connect with Saro in Italy? She’s a student, he’s a chef, and his family is shocked and for the most part turns a cold shoulder. The couple ends up in L.A., and adopts a daughter. Then he dies. How Tembi works through such heartbreak and eventually makes a deep connection with his Sicilian mother creates an engrossing, touching story. Recipes too.
Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley
Subtitled Nine Months of Careful Chaos. She’s one of my favorite graphic artists, and I knew I’d be in good hands when she turned her attention to her own pregnancy. She’s the soul of candor and her journey had many fraught elements including undiagnosed pre-eclampsia that led to a traumatic birth. (They’re fine now.) She also intersperses notes on maternity history and misconceptions. A tour de force that balances humor, inquiry, and personal narrative with excellent results.
Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
Three strikes: Black, queer, and transgender. The protagonist, a talented artist, is lucky to have a good platonic friend, Zack. Felix’s mother ran off, and his father still struggles to accept Felix’s transition but supports him as well as he can. At his private school in Brooklyn, Felix experiences extreme bullying and tries to discover the identity of his primary tormentor. Two sources of deep concern: Felix starts to question his own gender identity (which turns out to be fluid), and what happens when he discovers that Zack has always loved him. I listened to this and sometimes it felt a little “operatic” (oh the intensity of teenage angst) but I found the story quite compelling.
Godshot by Chelsey Bieker
At first I resisted this book because its tone often verged on the edge of hysteria and the material seemed very familiar. But the images wouldn’t get out of my head so I ended up in the benighted town of Peaches in the Central Valley where Lacey May at 13 gets pregnant. Pastor Vern’s dictum: these babies will bring about the return of the rain. Followers are sprinkled with glitter during services and baptisms use soda because water is in such short supply. She lives with her grandma who drives a pink hearse, communes with taxidermied vermin, and demands that Lacey May help with horrid grooming tasks. Some workers at a phone sex establishment in town provide Lacey with much needed support. I suspended disbelief and rooted for Lacey’s future and a downfall for that spurious cleric—take that, Pastor Vern! Vivid writing, for sure.
Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay
Back in the Philippines, Jay felt close to his age-mate cousin Jun during sporadic visits and they corresponded faithfully until the letters stopped abruptly. Now Jay discovers Jun is dead at 18 and no one in the family will say more. College-bound but not particularly motivated, Jay decides to spend the summer in the Philippines to find out what happened. Could Jun really have been a drug-dealer, a victim of President Duterte’s draconian anti-drug policies? It doesn’t help that Jun’s father is a police chief. With no Tagalog but a burning desire for truth, Jay perseveres and discovers much about his family and the culture they sprang from. This is a teen book but I recommend for anyone who wants to get absorbed in a personal story that reflects a broader relevance—a favorite way of mine to learn more.
Back next week.