“The boundaries of gender, I was taught, were unmovable, like the glistening white rocks that surrounded Grandma’s crawfish ponds.” page 77
Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, and So Much More by Janet Mock.
Atria, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2014.
Memoir, 263 pages including acknowledgements.
I’d seen this book recommended multiple places before I finally bought it. The tagline says “You will be changed by this book” and I have to say, that is entirely accurate. Janet Mock is diverse and disadvantaged in so many ways – part Hawaiian, part African-American, transgender, from impoverished circumstances, a former sex worker, abused and traumatized as a child. Yet out of this mix she has formed something gorgeous.
“Today, with the twins having rejoined each other on the same side of the gender divide, the stark physical differences between them eerily testify to all that David has been through.” page 57
As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised As A Girl by John Colapinto.
Harper Perennial, Harper Collins, 2000, my edition 2006.
Nonfiction, 289 pages plus 18 pages of extras.
This is the story of an identical twin boy whose botched circumcision altered the course of his life (and many other children) forever. When his parents desperately sought help, they connected with researcher John Money, who believed gender was entirely fluid and culturally constructed and who encouraged them to reassign the baby’s sex. Intact twin Brian was raised in his birth gender, while baby boy Bruce was raised as Brenda. The results have had a long-term effect on gender theory and treatment of transgender and intersex children in North America.
“Yet here she was, three months later, with a full-fledged tumor. Either her doctors had missed it during her last exams – which seemed impossible – or it had grown at a terrifying rate.” page 17
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
Broadway Books, Crown Publishing Group, Penguin Random House, New York, 2010.
My edition 2011, some portions published as early as 2000.
Nonfiction, 381 pages including notes, index, and reading group guide.
Lexile: 1140L .
AR Level: 8.0 (worth 18.0 points) .
Henrietta Lacks had an usual type of cancer. Cells from this cancer were able to become the first immortal cell line and have been invaluable to many scientific discoveries and advancements in the past century. But Henrietta was also a working-class black woman whose family was not informed of the existence of this cell line, and who died misdiagnosed. This book manages to tell three stories: the story of Henrietta and the Lacks family, the story of her famous and scientifically important cells, and the story of the reporter’s own experiences interacting with the family.
The movie tie-in cover tricked me. I needed to grab a Target pick quickly, so I grabbed this book without realizing it was one I had flagged as do not purchase/obtain from friend or library. As you can tell, reading this book was something I was conflicted about, and after finishing it, I remain deeply conflicted and uncertain if I can recommend it (though I know a great deal more about the HeLa controversies than I did before reading this).
“Mrs. Sikelo took me behind a curtain to a smaller room, where three floor-to-ceiling shelves were filled with books. It smelled sweet and musty, like nothing I’d ever encountered.” page 161
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer.
William Morrow, HarperCollins, New York, 2009. My P.S. edition 2010.
New York Times Bestseller.
Lexile: 960L .
AR Level: 6.4 (worth 15.0 points) .
NOTE: There are three books with this title. This review is of the adult edition. There is also a picture book and a young reader’s edition chapter book.
William Kamkwamba had access to a small library and a scrapyard full of parts, and a dream – to ensure that his family would never starve again. Against all odds and despite ridicule, he built a windmill and brought electricity to his family’s rural Malawian home.
This book surprised me. I knew the basic premise – boy builds windmill with scrap parts to bring change to his village. But I didn’t realize that this was actually the story of Kamkwamba’s life, which starts long before windmills were even a gleam in his eye.
“Each time I remove my scarf I pass it through my fingers, in awe of what a simple thing it is, the dilemma it poses. The rules from the Iranian embassy are surprisingly unclear, open to bewildering interpretation.” page 31
The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran by Jennifer Klinec.
Twelve, Hachett Book Group, New York, 2014. My edition 2017.
Memoir, 230 pages including extras.
Jennifer Klinec is a fearless jet-setter, leaving her London life behind to explore the culinary arts of every corner of the world. This book is the story of her month in Iran, wearing a headscarf, finding locals who will let her cook with them, and unexpectedly falling in love.
This was so random. I had a long afternoon and wanted a book, so I grabbed this one, but then ended up reading another book that I already had instead. It sat on the shelf for a while – I have to be honest that the subtitle reminded me of Eat, Pray, Love which was a DNF for me. And there were some legitimate concerns about how Klinec would portray Iran, since she’s an outsider, a Canadian with Serbo-Croation roots living in London.
However, once I got started, I enjoyed this book. Klinec lays everything bare. She is brutally honest yet insightful, and not afraid to make herself, or her loved ones look bad. There were points where I disliked Klinec as well as others in the story, but I did feel that she was telling the truth as objectively as she could, given that she was a major participant. When she’s viewing things through her own unique lens, she’s generally up front about the perspective.
“I’m also incredibly proud of my Puerto Rican heritage, but at first I wasn’t sure why everyone was talking about it. Then I realized that as I was growing up, there hadn’t been any Latina role models in gymnastics!” page 149
I Got This: To Gold and Beyond by Lauren Hernandez.
HarperCollins Children’s Books, HarperCollins New York, 2017.
YA biography, 231 pages.
AR Level: 6.8 (worth 5.0 points) .
Laurie Hernandez was a bit of a dark horse. Just turned 16 and only recently eligible for the US Olympic team, she not only was part of the winning 2016 gymnastics team, she also won the silver medal in balance beam. Fresh off her Olympic win, she went on to win Dancing with the Stars, a nationally televised ballroom dancing competition.
This book is definitely a teen read. Apparently Hernandez’s nickname in the press is the Human Emoji, and she embraces that as each of the 20 chapters has a different emoji associated with it (a few do repeat). However, she also manages to pack in information about gymnastics and some startlingly good life advice, coming from a 16-year old.
“There is something exciting and reassuring for individuals on the autistic spectrum about communicating with other people over the internet.” page 142
Born On a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet.
Simon and Schuster, New York, 2006. Originally published in Great Britain.
Adult memoir, 226 pages.
New York Times bestseller.
Lexile: 1170L .
AR Level: 7.9 (worth 13.0 points) .
Daniel Tammet is an unusual and extraordinary individual. He is a savant, has multiple forms of synesthesia, is autistic, and can speak ten languages, one of which (Icelandic) he learned in a week.