Review: Gift of Our Wounds

“Better to be brought up on charges for excessive force – or worse- than give someone the benefit of the doubt and be carried out in a coffin. I began waking up in the middle of the night, second-guessing everything I did on the job.” page 125

The Gift of Our Wounds: A Sikh and a Former White Supremacist Find Forgiveness After Hate by Arno Michaelis and Pardeep Singh Kaleka with Robin Gaby Fisher.
St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2018.
Adult nonfiction, 222 pages.
Not leveled.
NOTE: This book, and therefore the discussion of it in this review, contain numerous triggers. Please be aware and skip this review if needed.
2nd NOTE: Also this review is longer than usual because my own mental and emotional health made it difficult to edit.

The story of a former white supremacist whose words inspired the Sikh temple shooter and a man whose father was murdered in that shooting spree.

The Gift of Our Wounds by Arno Michaelis and Pardeep Singh Kaleka.

The book begins with acknowledgements and a prologue, followed by a chapter detailing the co-authors’ first meeting. The second chapter onward follow a more linear progression, starting with their childhoods, their high school and early adult life. At one point these two men lived only a short drive from each other, yet it took national headline level violence for their lives to converge.

Michaelis is very clear that his life was not especially full of hardships, that he was a normal, if somewhat wild, suburban boy. The stories about his recruitment to white supremacy through the punk rock scene (after an unfortunate incident turning him off of his earlier love of breakdancing) are almost as upsetting as his descriptions of acts of violence.

Then he attends a white supremacy “leadership camp” and is literally indoctrinated into the beliefs and recruitment system. He sees himself as doing good in the world even when literally beating someone. It’s stomach turning – this is not a book that can be read during lunch breaks or before bed.

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Review: Sarai & the Meaning of Awesome

“… but our whole family lives in New Jersey now. So we are really, truly Americans – North, South, and Central!” page 7

Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome by Sarai Gonzalez and Monica Brown, illustrated by Christine Almeda.
Scholastic, New York, 2018.
Realistic fiction, 108 pages.
Lexile: 690L  .
AR Level:  3.8 (worth 1.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is the first book in the Sarai series.

Sarai Gonzalez is awesome.  She can do anything she sets her mind to, right?  But when her grandparents are about to lose their home, can she solve that problem?

Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome cover resized
Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome by Sarai Gonzalez and Monica Brown, illustrated by Christine Almeda.

I absolutely adored this book and am looking forward to reading more in the series.  Sarai is like a modern-day, Latina Pollyanna without the syrupy sweetness.  She radiates positivity and a can-do attitude, but also makes mistakes and sometimes meets problems she can’t solve (yet).

A large part of my love for this book was due to the incredibly appealing artwork, which brings me to the biggest problem, which is that the artist is not appropriately credited.  Christine Almeda’s name appears only on the back cover and copyright page, and that in small print.  Since this is a book with two co-authors (teen Sarai on whose real life the series is based and experienced author Monica Brown), it would be easy for young readers to mistake the cover credits for author and illustrator.

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Review: Child, Please

“But in the quiet beneath the noise, I would wager that we are probably the most discreet, still, and discerning population on the face of the earth. And we keep many, many things on the low. Especially when it comes to motherhood.” page 43

Child, Please: How Mama’s Old-School Lessons Helped Me Check Myself Before I Wrecked Myself by Ylonda Gault Caviness.
Jeremy P. Tarchen, Penguin Random House, New York, 2015.
Adult memoir, 302 pages.
Not leveled.

One mother’s journey to reconcile her own upbringing with modern parenting article advice.

Child, Please by Ylonda Gault Caviness.

As mentioned, I’ve been on a major nonfiction slump. Although reading required for classes and work has gotten done, I havn’t read any adult nonfiction for personal enjoyment in over a year. That’s longer than the break I took after graduating! A lot of that was Covid, blogging and other non-essential activities falling by the wayside, and since I strongly prefer fiction, what freedom I had went towards what was most fun.

I tried joining a challenge and buying new books but I still was just reading a chapter here and there, so looked back to my interests. Diverse of course. Biography/memoir. Parenting. Other areas I like to read about normally, like history, but lately just… couldn’t. Luckily, Caviness’ Child, Please was just right to remind me of the joys of a well-crafted true story.

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Review: All the Women…

“All the Women in My Family Sing is a tribute to the many voices of women in a chorus of cultural refrains.  Each essay is a personal story about the victories and challenges women face every day as innovators, artists, CEOs, teachers and adventurers.  All of the essays reveal how glorious it is to live authentically in our identities.”
p. ix-x, Foreword by Deborah Santana

All the Women in My Family Sing: Women Write the World – Essays on Equality, Justice, and Freedom, edited by Deborah Santana.
Nothing But The Truth, San Francisco, CA, 2018.
Adult anthology, 365 pages.
Not leveled.
NOTES: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  Because this book contains 69 pieces, I decided to review it in three parts.

All the Women In My Family Sing
All the Women in My Family Sing: Women Write the World – Essays on Equality, Justice, and Freedom.

The essays and poems in AtWiMFS are roughly grouped into 8 categories, each containing between 7 and 10 pieces.  Most are quite short, but I do like to comment briefly on each one, so I’ve decided to break this up so it’s not excessively long.

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Review: Refuge in Hell

“There is a whole series of events, along with some poor choices, that lead a person to Sing Sing. In some cases they never had a chance at a normal life from day one.” page 3

Refuge in Hell: Finding God in Sing Sing by Ronald D. Lemmert.
Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2018.
Nonfiction/memoir, 186 pages.
Not leveled.

The story of a chaplain at Sing Sing, New York’s infamous prison, over the 16 years he worked there.

Refuge in Hell

I debated quite a bit over whether to review this one.  Our church library has been getting quite a few of these Orbis books with the little red dots.  They’re Christian, but cover a lot of social justice topics, which it’s nice to see people getting interested in locally.

Lemmert himself is not diverse within his own context.  But the people he works with definitely are, and can be counted among the most disenfranchised in America.  So in the end that tipped the scales in favor of reviewing this book, especially since I had several other books on imprisonment to read and review. Continue reading “Review: Refuge in Hell”

Review: Art from Her Heart

“In the middle of her hundred years, Clementine Hunter had decided to paint.” page 5

Art from Her Heart: Folk Artist Clementine Hunter by Kathy Whitehead, illustrated by Shane W. Evans.
Putnam, Penguin Young Readers, New York, 2008.
Picture book biography, 32 pages.
Lexile:  AD870L  ( What does AD mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  5.3 (worth 0.5 points)  .

The life story of noted American folk artist Clementine Hunter, 1886/7-1988.

Art from Her Heart cover resized

This book is part of our picture book artist biography series of reviews.  Descended from slaves, Clementine Hunter was a folk artist who was a manual laborer on a Louisiana plantation known for attracting writers and artists.  From the 1940s when she attracted the attention of patrons at the plantation until the late 1980s, she gained in popularity until she was able, at the end of her life, to live independently from the sale of her artworks.

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Review: A Better Place

“I didn’t feel safe in crowds near my home because the person ringing up my groceries could be the person who shot my son.” page 140

A Better Place: A Memoir of Peace in the Face of Tragedy by Pati Navalta Poblete.
Nothing But the Truth, LLC, San Francisco, California.
Memoir, 255 pages.
Not leveled.
NOTE: I received a free copy of this book.  See review for more details.

The story of one mother’s life after her son was a victim of gun violence.

A Better Place cover resized

When I get interested in a topic, one of the things I like to do is to read a variety of books that talk about the same subject from different angles.  This past winter I wanted to look at incarceration, gun violence, and forgiveness (as well as several other topics that aren’t related).  Among the books I’d purchased or put on hold at the library there were several friends gave to me or recommended.

However, this was mailed to me and I originally thought my prison volunteer friend sent it, but it came with a mug and he knew nothing about it.  Looking back through my emails I didn’t find any that mentioned this book either, so if I’ve accidentally deleted or missed one then my apologies!

I took some time before reading, since it seemed pretty intense emotionally.  Indeed, this title walks you through Poblete’s experiences, starting at the joyous moment when she and her fiance of several years finally booked a venue for their wedding… only to receive the call her son was murdered.

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Review: Left in America

“I guess associating with Black culture felt safer to me. They weren’t in danger of being told to go back where they came from or of anyone saying they didn’t belong.” page 110

Left in America: The Story of Juan Terrazas by Sally Salas.
Left in America Organization, Dallas, Texas, 2015.
Biography, 219 pages.
Not leveled.

The story of an undocumented child who was left behind when his parents were deported at 14 years old, including his struggles with homelessness and journey to Christianity.

Left in America cover resized

The book is clearly self-published but a good effort was made to make it standard.  My copy had a few formatting errors, and some photos were blurred or pixelated, including the back cover.  The back matter consists of one quote which might be about the book (it isn’t quite clear) and lacks a standard blurb.

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Review: In a Rocket Made of Ice

“And I think, what must it be like to be raised by well-meaning strangers who may love you but who do not speak your language, or know who you are, or have anything but an outsider’s intellectualized and generalized understanding of your culture and people, and of your life for that matter.” page 76

In a Rocket Made of Ice: the Story of Wat Opot, a Visionary Community for Children Growing Up with AIDS by Gail Gutradt.
My edition Vintage Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2015 (originally published 2013).
Nonfiction/memoir, 322 pages.
Not leveled.

Traveling retiree Gail Gutradt made a chance connection that sent her to volunteer in this community with an initial five-month commitment.  The experience was so moving that she returns again and again, finding a deep love for Cambodia and a personal passion for improving the lives of children affected by HIV/AIDs.

In a Rocket Made of Ice cover resized
In a Rocket Made of Ice by Gail Gutradt.

Notice I say “children affected by”, not “children with”, because that’s one of the interesting parts about Wat Opot – the community is open to any children and many adults whose lives have been affected, whether they themselves are positive, a sibling or parent is, or if one or both parents have died from AIDs.  That’s an important aspect of this community surviving in Cambodia, where family connections are crucial – families can stay together, dying parents can know that their children are well cared for and gently transition them, and siblings are not separated based on HIV status.

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Review: Yes, Chef

“When I had my own restaurant someday, I thought, I would never rule out someone based on race or sex or nationality. I wouldn’t do it because it was egalitarian, I’d do it because cutting people out meant cutting off talent and opportunity, people who could bring more to the table than I could ever imagine.” page 160

Yes, Chef: a memoir by Marcus Samuelsson.
Random House, New York, 2012.
Autobiography, 326 pages.
Not leveled.

The life story of Marcus Samuelsson, a chef across three continents.

Yes Chef cover resized

This was a random find that was enchanting.  I’ll admit that I was first drawn in by the appealing cover, and then after the generosity of the friend who gave this to me, I had to at least start reading it.  What I found between the covers kept me up all night until the book was finished.

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