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Around Harvard Square by CJ Farley {Review}

Blurb:

It’s the nineties, and Tosh Livingston, straight-A student and superstar athlete, is living the dream—he’s made it out of upstate New York and into the incoming freshman class at Harvard University. But after an accident blows up his basketball-playing hopes, he discovers a new purpose in life—to win the frenzied competition for a spot on the staff of the Harvard Harpoon, the school’s legendary humor magazine.

Along with Lao, his pot-smoking roommate from China, their friend Meera, a passive-aggressive science major from India, and Zippa, a Jamaican student-activist with a flair for cartooning, Tosh finds that becoming a member of the Harpoonis weirder and more dangerous than anyone could have imagined. Success requires pushing themselves to their limits and unearthing long-buried secrets that will rock their school and change all of their lives forever.

Review:

This was one of those books I went into partially unaware of what it was going to be about and I also had some of the plot mixed up with another book, lol. Even with all that I ended up enjoying this story.  There were so many relatable aspects and scenarios. Farley explores privilege and race in a way that is not subtle but also not in your face. There were events that happened with Tosh that I have not only experienced in similar fashion but also have been witness to. He is a black male who is a first generation college student even though his father took a few classes at a community college. He is not your typical star athlete who has gotten in an ivy league school because of his sports talent but because of his intellectual ability.  He has to fight stereotypes while also having to manage not stereotyping others. For example, his roommate Lao and their friend Meera. Each of them has a background that they all try to hide from each other. They are all using Harvard as a clean slate to reinvent themselves.

When an opportunity comes to become part of the Harpoon, one of the school’s long-standing publications they are each tested in their morale and in their friendship.

The story is told from Tosh’s point of view to an unnamed person who you find out later is Zippa and that she plays a much bigger part in the story than is realized. This person has even more at stake than the others and much more to prove.

Farley not only explores the topics of racism, he also explores sexism as well. This story takes place in the 90s but it is so similar to what is currently going on today.

There is not a clear-cut ending to this novel and it basically leaves you to your own thoughts and assumptions as to what happens. I find that although that is not a desirable ending for most, it fit this story perfectly.

Rating:

4 Stars

Availability:

Available now in paperback and ebook

 

Thank you to Akashic Books for my free copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden {Review}

Goodreads Blurb:

Abeo Kata lives a comfortable, happy life in West Africa as the privileged nine-year-old daughter of a government employee and stay-at-home mother. But when the Katas’ idyllic lifestyle takes a turn for the worse, Abeo’s father, following his mother’s advice, places her in a religious shrine, hoping that the sacrifice of his daughter will serve as religious atonement for the crimes of his ancestors. Unspeakable acts befall Abeo for the fifteen years she is enslaved within the shrine. When she is finally rescued, broken and battered, she must struggle to overcome her past, endure the revelation of family secrets, and learn to trust and love again.

In the tradition of Chris Cleave’s Little Bee, Praise Song for the Butterflies is a contemporary story that offers an educational, eye-opening account of the practice of ritual servitude in West Africa. Spanning decades and two continents, Praise Song for the Butterflies will break and heal your heart.

Review:

I requested this novel after reading about it in an article on Facebook mentioning books to look forward to. Once I read the plot, I knew I would like it. I didn’t know how much it would intrigue me and keep me glued to its pages. This was a one sitting read for myself and I’m glad that I picked a long weekend to read it even if it only took me 2 hours to read it.

The opening of the story is so intense, but it does not prepare you for what is to come for the rest of the story. This is a story about love, abuse, sacrifice, and pain, and the path to healing.

Abeo is a young happy girl in Africa living what seems to be the perfect life with her family. They are wealthy, and they don’t need for much. Abeo’s family is visited by her Aunt Serafine who lives in the United States. Abeo’s life is easy even when her father is suspended from work. When Abeo’s grandfather dies and her grandmother comes to live with them, Abeo’s life begins to change in a way she does not see coming. Abeo’s grandmother believes and convinces her son to believe that Abeo is the reason for all their misfortune. She convinces him to basically give his daughter up to slavery to make his life better. This is not something he discusses with his wife. He just takes his child and leaves her in the hands of the devil himself and never looks back. Abeo was 9 years old.

At first Abeo’s mother is overcome with rage but she eventually comes around because she believes that it is her duty to follow behind the decision of her husband. For a while, life without Abeo starts to get better and her parents are convinced that the right decision was made. Soon enough, the luck runs out. Abeo’s mother dies. She dies before she ever sees her daughter again.

While the Kata’s are living their newly enhanced life, Abeo is living a life of hell. A life that she was thrown into without ever knowing why. She is a slave along with other young girls whose families have thrown them into the life of being a trokosi. They are beaten, fed enough to keep them alive and raped. Abeo must endure this for much of her childhood and the early part of her adult life. She doesn’t know anything about her family or their whereabouts. She just knows that this is the life her father has left her to. Abeo does try to escape but fails to no end. She takes beatings and soon must endure a constant stream of rape.

Finally, a woman name Taylor moves to Africa and opens a sanctuary and begins rescuing girls from the life of being a trokosi. Abeo is one of the women who is rescued but not after enduring the death of her son.

After Abeo is rescued, she must learn to love again and to function again in the real world. She is also reunited with who is left of her family. She learns of her mother’s death and she also learn her family’s other secret which will have a significant impact on her life.

Although this is a story of fiction, it is a story that needs to be told and put out into the world because this is happening everyday just like human trafficking. This story had me feeling so many emotions all at one time. I could not even keep up. I was angry, sad, happy, hurt, devastated. All of those within the two-hour time it took me to read it. I am still feeling those emotions even the next day. This story is going to stick with me for quite some time and I would actually want to look further into this heinous practice and see what it is I may be able to do to become more educated about it and lend my help.

I really loved the significance of the butterflies. You will have to read the book to see what I am talking about.

There are definitely some trigger warnings that come with this novel. It is not for the faint of heart.

I received this book in exchange of an honest review.

Rating:

5 Stars

Availability:

Available now in paperback, hardcover, ebook and audiobook