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Monday, November 26, 2018

Ghost Boys: Remembering Child Victims of Racism

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes is a nominee for the Goodreads Choice Awards of 2018 that made it to the final round.   Since Jewell Parker Rhodes is one of my favorite authors, I prioritized the book.  I was fairly certain that it would be worthy of my vote.   I've reviewed Rhodes' Bayou Magic and Hurricane on this blog.  The reviews can be found at the hyperlinks I've provided.  So based on previous experience, I expected great things of Ghost Boys.


Ghost Boys deals with the misperception of African-American boy children as threats due to deeply ingrained prejudice.  Jewell Parker Rhodes shows that this is by no means a new issue.  She traces it back to the lynching of Emmet Till in 1955, but there were probably other Black children who died un-noticed in earlier periods of American history.

Peter Pan is mentioned in Ghost Boys. A discussion question in the back of the book wonders about how this English Victorian children's fantasy could be connected to Rhodes' anguished protest against very real violence. I saw a troubling parallel between these works.  Like the Lost Boys of Peter Pan, the ghosts of the victims portrayed in this novel would never grow up.  They are as lost to their families and communities as if they had been spirited away to Neverland.

The Latino character Carlos plays an ambivalent role in the heartbreaking story of the young protagonist Jerome, but in the end his influence is positive.  He and his family show Jerome's family a spiritual means of always remembering him through the Mexican Day of the Dead tradition.  This inter-cultural relationship of families bound together by the loss of Jerome was very moving.

The historical and spiritual dimensions of Ghost Boys deepens the narrative.  Jewell Parker Rhodes met my expectations by providing a truly meaningful portrayal of a contemporary tragedy.



Sunday, November 25, 2018

Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

I've never read YA fantasist Julie Kagawa previously, but when I saw that she had written an Own Voices fantasy taking place in Japan, I couldn't resist.  I was very grateful to be approved by the publisher for an ARC via Net Galley.


I've actually read some fantasies based on Japanese legends, but none were Own Voices books.  They were all by Caucasians, and they were mainly martial arts oriented fantasies grounded in samurai films.  Shadow of the Fox has a number of similarities to those books, but the biggest difference is that Julie Kagawa gave us a character who poked fun at the samurai and their values.  The reviews I've seen don't even mention this character, but he was the one who stood out for me.

The protagonists also don't fit the formula I've seen in Japanese background fantasies.   I've seen kitsune (fox woman) characters.  They're usually destructive villains, not protagonists.  Yumeko was trained to suppress her kitsune persona and powers at a temple where she was brought up.  Then there's the samurai protagonist, Tatsumi.  Samurai tradition contends that the soul of the samurai is in his sword. This is a metaphor for the samurai's total commitment to the way of the warrior.  It isn't intended to be literal. In Shadow of the Fox, there really is a spirit in Tatsumi's sword, but it's a demon.  This is a significant challenge for a protagonist.  He had to fight that demon in order to maintain self-mastery.  So both these protagonists had divided natures.  They weren't entirely trustworthy.

My favorite character was essentially a sidekick.  His name was Okame, and he's a ronin which means masterless samurai.  Every ronin I've ever read about before is continually trying to find a master.  They're never happy unless they've sworn fealty to a lord, and can be proper samurai.  At first, I thought of Okame as a drunken fool who lacked ambition, but as time went on I realized that he was a subversive who had some really good dialogue.

I liked the fact that Julie Kagawa claimed the freedom to play with the standard figures of Japanese fantasy and move beyond formula.   I am looking forward to finding out what she does in future volumes.


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Another Anne Perry Christmas Mystery

I admit that I'm usually much more impressed by Anne Perry's Victorian mysteries, but authors can't always be brilliant.  I did hope for better when I requested A Christmas Revelation from Net Galley.

This is my one hundredth review for Net Galley.  May I have many more!


I read A Christmas Garland by Anne Perry primarily because I was intrigued by it being located in India, and I did enjoy it.  A Christmas Revelation was scheduled for the December meeting of my F2F mystery group.  So I thought I'd try that one too.

What stood out about this Christmas mystery is that it dealt with ordinary working class people.   Perry has a tendency to focus on the perspectives of aristocrats and officialdom.  I applaud her for thinking that there was a story worth telling in the lives of an accountant for a clinic catering to street prostitutes called Squeaky and a street urchin named Worm that he'd adopted.  I'd be more interested in the women who were treated at the clinic.  They actually are human beings.  There could be an inspiring Christmas story dealing with them.

One thing that stuck in my craw was those character names.   It seemed to me that people who allow others to call them Squeaky and Worm should have more self-respect.  The name Squeaky reminds me of an accusation hurled at cowards. "What are you, a man or a mouse?"  Squeaky turned out to be rather heroic.   It made me think that he shouldn't put up with being called Squeaky.

The mystery itself seemed rather routine to me.   It was okay.  I'd give it three stars.



Friday, November 23, 2018

To Live Out Loud-- A Novel About Émile Zola's Life and Death

When I reviewed A Different Kind of Angel by Paulette Mahurin last month here , I said that I would be getting to Mahurin's 19th century homophobia novel, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, soon.  Yet I had Mahurin's Zola novel, To Live Out Loud, on my Kindle. Yes, I actually purchased it. Sometimes I do review books I bought.  đŸ˜„


A more cogent reason to prioritize To Live Out Loud is because it now seems so urgently necessary to remind people about what happened in late 19th century France.  Right wing military officials inflamed an antisemitic hysteria by court-martialing loyal Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus in 1894 and condemning him for treason based on falsified evidence.  For  American Jews, this is a travesty of justice that echoes through history due to recent events.

 In 2017 white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia chanting "Jews will not replace us." Then in 2018, the worst antisemitic atrocity in American history occurred when a right wing extremist killed 11 praying Jews on the Sabbath at a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania synagogue.

Dreyfus had a defender in the French press.  He was Émile Zola who wrote a searing editorial commentary called "J'Accuse!" which became famous.  I knew about "J'Accuse!", but it was To Live Out Loud that made me aware that Zola was subjected to violent attacks afterward.  Today journalists who expose injustices are no more safe than Zola had been.  There is a hostile atmosphere that encourages persecution of journalists.  So I very much appreciate that Paulette Mahurin focuses on journalists who were social activists such as
Émile Zola in this book, and Nellie Bly in her most recent novel, A Different Kind of Angel.

To Live Out Loud also made me aware of a French Kristellnacht  in the French colony of Algeria that was an incident which happened during the same period as the Dreyfus case.  According to a Wikipedia article on The History of Jews in Algeria,  in 1898 two Jews were killed and 156 Jewish shops in Algiers were attacked as a result of antisemitic hysteria among the French colonists.

My only criticism of this book is that I thought it would have been more intense if it had been from Zola's perspective.  I don't really see the need for a fictionalized friend of Zola who barely exists as a character.  After Zola's death, there could have been an epilogue from the perspective of Alfred Dreyfus perhaps.

Otherwise To Live Out Loud was a meticulously researched novel that speaks to our times.  Zola's courage and integrity are memorialized through this book.

I'd like to close with a quote from Anatole France's eulogy at Zola's funeral:

"Zola deserves well of his country for not having lost faith in its ability to rule by law."