[Image description: The Lit Club logo, on top of a book.]
Art by: Amy
Art by: Amy
For this month, The Lit Club wanted to honor Arab-Americans as well as Arab-Canadian literature. As it is National Poetry Month too, we've made sure to add in a few of our favorite books featuring poetry. Happy reading!
A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar
Nidali, the rebellious daughter of an Egyptian-Greek mother and a Palestinian father, narrates the story of her childhood in Kuwait, her teenage years in Egypt (to where she and her family fled the 1990 Iraqi invasion), and her family's last flight to Texas. Nidali mixes humor with a sharp, loving portrait of an eccentric middle-class family, and this perspective keeps her buoyant through the hardships she encounters: the humiliation of going through a checkpoint on a visit to her father's home in the West Bank; the fights with her father, who wants her to become a famous professor and stay away from boys; the end of her childhood as Iraq invades Kuwait on her thirteenth birthday; and the scare she gives her family when she runs away from home.
Funny, charming, and heartbreaking, A Map of Home is the kind of book Tristram Shandy or Huck Finn would have narrated had they been born Egyptian-Palestinian and female in the 1970s. - Goodreads
Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone) by Kamal Al-Solaylee
Brown is not white. Brown is not black. Brown is an experience, a state of mind. Historically speaking, issues of race and skin colour have been interpreted along black and white lines, leaving out millions of people whose stories of migration and racial experiences have shaped our modern world. In this new book by Kamal Al-Solaylee¸ whose bestselling Intolerable was a finalist for Canada Reads and for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Nonfiction Prize and won the Toronto Book Award, fills in the narrative gap by taking a global look at the many social, political, economic and personal implications of being a brown-skinned person in the world now. Brown people have emerged as the source of global cheap labour (Hispanics or South Asians) while also coming under scrutiny and suspicion for their culture and faith (Arabs and Muslims). To be brown is to be on the cusp of whiteness and on the edge of blackness.
Brown is packed with storytelling and on-the-street reporting conducted over two years in 10 countries from four continents that reveals a multitude of lives and stories from destinations as far apart as the United Arab Emirates, Philippines, Britain, Trinidad, France, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Qatar, the United States, and Canada. It contains striking research about immigration, workers’ lives and conditions, and the pursuit of a lighter shade of brown as a global status symbol. It is also a personal book, as the author studies the significance of brown skin for those whose countries of origin include North Africa and the Middle East, Mexico and Central America, and South and East Asia, he also reflects on his own identity and experiences as a brown-skinned person (in his case from Yemen) who has grown up with images of whiteness as the only indicators of beauty and desire. - Goodreads
The Road to Paris by Nikki Grimes
This is a story about the harsh realities of foster care and the even harsher reality that prejudice is prominent and perpetuated to people of all ages. This is the story of Paris Richmond, a biracial girl with dark skin and blonde hair. She and her brother, Malcolm, were placed in foster care by their mother, Viola, but after running away from an abusive foster home, end up separated after seeking help from their grandmother. Paris is taken by social services to a city in New York called Ossining. Skeptical and withdrawn, she’s placed with the Lincoln’s, a white family with one other adopted child. One of her main struggles throughout the book is that she was one of the only black faces in a predominantly white town. This took a toll on her and eventually led her to often feel isolated. Paris spent a lot of her time wishing she was with her brother, that she could just speak to him. That also led her to feel alone in many situations. Throughout the story, she begins to warm up and eventually makes a friend, Ashley. The story takes a sad turn when Ashley’s father lodges a slew of racial slurs at Paris when she walks up to their front door. This was uncharted territory for Paris and, being a child, she didn’t know what to do but go home and tell her foster mother what happened. Because of this situation, Paris becomes worrisome of any white person who tries to be her friend but eventually, she opens her heart again. Like everything, homes are not forever and the Lincoln’s home was no exception. Paris moved back in with her mother and Malcolm but she, forever, kept the Lincoln’s in her heart. - Goodreads
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntokaze Shange
From its inception in California in 1974 to its highly acclaimed critical success at Joseph Papp's Public Theater and on Broadway, the Obie Award-winning for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf has excited, inspired, and transformed audiences all over the country. Passionate and fearless, Shange's words reveal what it is to be of color and female in the twentieth century. First published in 1975 when it was praised by The New Yorker for "encompassing...every feeling and experience a woman has ever had," for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf will be read and performed for generations to come. Here is the complete text, with stage directions, of a groundbreaking dramatic prose poem written in vivid and powerful language that resonates with unusual beauty in its fierce message to the world. - Goodreads
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (with Christina Lamb)
Published a year after an almost-fatal altercation with the Taliban in which she was shot in the head, Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala is an incredibly powerful book. With the aid of foreign correspondent Christina Lamb, Malala details the events in her life leading up to and directly after her being shot, from the first appearances of the Taliban in Swat Valley, Pakistan, where she grew up, to the origins of her name and her father’s work as a campaigner for girls’ education. During some chapters, the book feels rather autobiographical - we learn about Malala’s family history and we see pictures of her and her brother as young children - while at others, it feels immensely political - Malala describes her writing for BBC Urdu about life under the Taliban, and how it led to her family becoming ostracised in Swat Valley. Although I Am Malala’s intentions seem to be to educate the reader about the Malala Foundation, I rather enjoyed ‘getting to know’ Malala on a slightly more personal level. Prior to reading this book, I had heard her story and read about her various nominations for peace prizes; after reading her words, I feel like I can understand her work much better than before. One of the most striking images in this book is the photograph of a hand with the lungs and the formulae involved in respiration drawn on them (pictured below): to me, this image spoke volumes about how vital education is for all girls and women, regardless of their social situation.
Cia’s rating: 4.5/5 stars
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Filled with joy, laughter, and the occasional sad moment that left you wishing you knew these characters in real life, Everything, Everything tells the story of 18-year-old Madeline “Maddy” Whittier, a biracial teen who has never been outside because she suffers from Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disease. Throughout the story, we learn about Maddy’s past and future, but mostly stay stuck in the present. The budding romance between her and the “boy next door” Olly kept me very interested because of the way their personalities clicked together. I enjoyed their conversations and the different cartoon drawings throughout the book keep it from turning into one big blur of a story. The illustrations also help tell a story by showing us how Maddy writes, as well as the items described in the book. Some of the downfalls I found for the book were Maddy’s mom and the ending. Maddy’s mother was overprotective, manipulative, and a liar. I had a problem with the ending because it seemed as though it was very abrupt. I thought I had skipped a couple pages because I was very confused. I think part of this reason was because it seemed as though everything I had read in the book already flew out of the window. What we had established about Maddy’s character before was now a complete 360 degree turn. I think a lot of the reason people see this book as ableist is because of this. It definitely left me with the hope that the movie would give me more clarity. I had been looking forward to reading this book because of all the comments and praise it was getting, not to mention the fact that there is a movie coming out starring Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson. It was overall a very cute and romantic book, full of ups and downs and the difficulties of navigating teenagehood, with or without a disability.
Tyler’s rating: 4.5/5 stars
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
In Tahereh Mafi’s first novel, Shatter me, the first in its trilogy, is set in a dystopian future with Juliette Ferrars as the protagonist. Within this novel, we explore the character of Juliette and how the past has impacted and created the person she is now. Mafi’s incredible wordplay works well to expose the reader to her innermost thoughts and feelings, but adds a little flair by using the strikethrough tool. An example would be this one, used for when she meets Adam for the first time, “[h]is lips soften into a smile that cracks apart my spine. He repeats my name like the word amuses him. Entertains him. Delights him. In seventeen years no one has said my name like that.” Though some may feel like they take up too much space, I feel as though the emotions brought out by Mafi’s poetic style are an important and strong component of this novel, compared to other aspects such as the world building. The lack of world building can be forgotten, though, due to the fact that Juliette has been stuck in a cell for so long. Other major characters also are as emotively written and coded, such as Adam and Warner, though both may play too much into the stereotypic bad and good guy at times. As both their relationship with Juliette already played on common stereotypes, this caused their relationships to grow quickly, which bothered me quite a bit, but can be pardoned after reading the entire trilogy.
I would recommend this novel for anyone who can swap an action filled novel for one that is heavy on its emotional poetic prose.
Adele’s rating: 3.7/5 stars