Hollow Fires by Samira Ahmed

Samira Ahmed is an author who knows how to rip at your heart strings. So far, I have read two of her young adult fiction titles and they have decimated me, but in a way that had me thinking about the state of the world. Three years ago, I read Internment and had such a devastating book hangover after I finished that I knew I needed to read whatever she published next (Internment is set in a futuristic United States when Muslim-Americans are forced into internment camps. It tells the story of Layla Amin, a seventeen-year-old who leads a revolution against those complicit in silence). Samira’s latest soul-wrenching title is Hollow Fires. I’m still reeling from this book, yet I believe it’s a necessary read especially in today’s climate.

Hollow Fires is a powerful novel that tells the story of the evil that lives around us every day and how alternative facts created by the privileged bend the truth of a narrative to their will and desire. It’s a story of silent complicity, as well as outright and hidden racism. It’s about the will of a young journalist desperate to uncover the truth of what actually happened to a missing boy. If you enjoyed Sadie by Courtney Summers or Dear Martin by Nic Stone, I highly recommend you read this book.

Safiya Mirza wants to become a journalist. She is currently the editor of her private school’s newspaper, reporting on the facts of what is happening at her school, despite the administration wishing to push their own biases onto the paper. Safiya is a scholarship student, growing up in vastly different ways compared to her privileged classmates. Her desire to report only the facts and leave out any personal feelings changes the moment she finds the body of a murdered boy.

Jawad Ali was only fourteen years old. His public school had a makerspace where he was allowed to take recycled materials and repurpose them for whatever he wanted. Having had his current project approved by his teacher, Jawad built a cosplay jetpack to add to his Halloween costume. He brought the finished project to school to show his teacher and friends. One of his teachers mistook his jetpack for a bomb and alerted the police, which led to Jawad being arrested, labeled a terrorist, and eventually kidnapped and murdered. After his arrest, Jawad was cleared by the police, but his school still suspended him. His peers labeled him ‘Bomb Boy’ and his life as he knew it was changed forever.

Safiya is devastated after discovering Jawad’s body. His presence, voice, and smell are haunting her throughout the investigation, leading her to seek out the entire truth about Jawad’s murder and those who killed him because of their hate-fueled beliefs. Jawad was a person whose life was worth remembering exactly how he lived it and not how the media have spun it. Racist acts have been sprouting up all over Safiya’s school, as well as at her mosque and her parents’ store. Concerned they could be related to Jawad’s disappearance and with a lack of confidence in the local police department, Safiya begins an investigation of her own with the help of her friends and Jawad’s voice in her ear.

This book is also available in the following format:

Online Reading Challenge – May

Hello again Fellow Readers!

Today we launch a new month of the Online Reading Challenge with books that focus on racial injustice, advocacy and civil rights. These aren’t necessarily “fun” reads, but they’re powerful, moving and important reads.

Our main title is Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time. Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever. Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

Also available as an e-book and an e-audiobook.

Also in this month’s Book Flight:

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

Also available in Large Print, as an e-book and an e-audiobook.

The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy Tyson. In 1955, white men in the Mississippi Delta lynched a fourteen-year-old from Chicago named Emmett Till. His murder was part of a wave of white terrorism in the wake of the 1954 Supreme Court decision that declared public school segregation unconstitutional. The national coalition organized to protest the Till lynching became the foundation of the modern civil rights movement. Only weeks later, Rosa Parks thought about young Emmett as she refused to move to the back of a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Five years later, the Emmett Till generation, forever marked by the vicious killing of a boy their own age, launched sit-in campaigns that turned the struggle into a mass movement. But what actually happened to Emmett Till — not the icon of injustice but the flesh-and-blood boy? Part detective story, part political history, cultural scholar Timothy Tyson draws on a wealth of new evidence, including the only interview ever given by Carolyn Bryant, the white woman in whose name Till was killed.

Also available in Large Print.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father – a crusading local lawyer – risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.

Be sure to stop by one of the Davenport library locations for displays with these and many more titles!

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

Published in 2019, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow has lived on my to-read shelf for much too long. Deciding to read it based on my love of Harrow’s 2020 book The Once and Future Witches, I was not disappointed. The Ten Thousand Doors of January contains many elements that I enjoy: magical realism, fantasy, antiquities, multiverses, books, and strong-willed women.

January Scaller just wants to find her place in the world. Growing up as the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, January grew up roaming multiple sprawling mansions filled to the brim with peculiar and mysterious treasures. Her father travels the world hunting antiquities to add to Mr. Locke’s collection and as a result, he is seldom home with January. Mr. Locke treats her as well as can be expected, but January never quite fits in. She is instead largely ignored, while simultaneously given fancy clothes and is groomed as yet another piece of his collection. She feels out of place and just wants to find where she truly belongs. Mr. Locke treats her as a precious treasure to be trotted out in front of his rich friends. He can mold her into whatever he wants. January and her father become increasingly separated from each other, leaving January to feel imprisoned in this sprawling mansion and longing to see her father.

One day while January is looking around the rooms, she finds a strange book. The more she reads the book, the more she begins to see that there are other worlds out there full of breathtaking impossibilities. It tells the story of secret doors hidden everywhere that lead to other worlds full of danger, love, and adventure. One story has a deep pull on January. It becomes increasingly difficult for January to separate herself from the book as that one story has woven itself deep into her life.

This book is also available in the following format:

Online Reading Challenge – November

Hello Challenge Readers!

It’s time for our November spotlight author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie!

Adichie was born and raised in Nigeria. She came to the United States when she was 19 to attend Drexel University in Philadelphia. She has master’s degrees from John Hopkins and Yale universities and she has held fellowships at Harvard and Princeton. She is a vocal feminist both here and in her native Nigeria and a keen observer of race relations in the United States which is one of the main topics of her best known book Americanah. She now splits her time between the US and Nigeria.

When looking for books similar to Adichie’s work, I looked for titles that explore the immigrant experience in America, especially of people of African heritage. This look at America from an outsider’s view can often be uncomfortable to read, but they can also be enlightening and can open our eyes to issues we may not understand.

Besides Adichie’s books, look for titles by Yaa Gyasi (I highly recommend her book Homegoing) and Jhumpa Lahiri (stories told from the persepective of people from India). Other titles to look for include Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue, American Street by Ibi Zoboi and The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett (although that one is not strictly about immigrants, it is similar to Adichie’s writing).

As always, there will be displays at each of the Davenport Library locations with more titles to choose from.

I am planning on reading Americanah which is about two Nigerian students who fall in love. They are separated when the woman moves to the United States but the man cannot follow and goes to London instead. It has many glowing reviews and I’m looking forward to reading it!

Now it’s your turn, what will you be reading this month?

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

“It is white people’s responsibility to be less fragile; people of color don’t need to twist themselves into knots trying to navigate us as painlessly as possible.”

Upon ordering Dr. Robin DiAngelo’s newest publication back in May, entitled Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm, I was inspired to pick up her extremely popular and successful first book. While I plan to write a blog on her newest title in the near future, I firstly want to recognize how exceptional and vital White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism is to our country’s ongoing dialogue about and understanding of race.

Published back in 2018 and a staple of antiracist literature, this book approaches racism from a sociological perspective, considering the ways in which racism is so engrained in our culture, practices, and institutions that we, as participants of this culture, cannot possibly avoid it. When faced with this notion of inevitably being influenced by a racist culture, DiAngelo contends many white people are quick to put up their defenses, responding with anger and shame, as well as feeling attacked or insulted. She explains this common knee-jerk reaction is primarily due to the very narrow definition of racism that our society perpetuates; while many perceive racism as overt and intentional racist acts committed by immoral and unkind individuals, she asks readers to consider a broader context in which everyone engages with and acts upon unconscious biases, which stem from the simple act of partaking in a shared culture that is founded upon white racial frameworks.

Upon presenting this much-needed context, DiAngelo then goes on to identify the common responses and reactions of white people in the face of racial discomfort as “white fragility.” Drawing from her 20+ years of experience as a consultant, educator, and facilitator on issues of racial and social justice, she details how these reactions manifest and how white people often find ways to distance themselves from racial issues, thereby exempting themselves from conversations about race. Furthermore, she argues this fragility essentially inhibits individuals from participating in productive and empathetic conversations in which they recognize and accept their roles and responsibility in perpetuating the systemic racism in the United States today, whether intentionally or not.

One especially powerful passage I’d like to share is DiAngelo’s explanation of a metaphor she cited that describes the “interlocking forces of oppression.” In this analogy, she compares a white person’s worldview of racism to viewing a bird in a birdcage. If a viewer stands close to the cage and views the bird through the bars, they aren’t actually able to see the bars of the cage holding the bird in; consequently, the bird looks as if it can fly away whenever it pleases. As the viewer moves back from the cage, they may start to see one or two bars of the cage and think that, while there are some barriers, the bird could just simply fly around them. Upon backing all the way up, however, the viewer can see all of the bars intersecting one another, ultimately barring the bird from escaping the cage. This metaphor, therefore, affirms that in order to truly understand the pervasive existence and profound impact of racism on our society, we must take multiple steps back to see the whole picture.

All in all, this book is incredibly eye-opening and illuminates how white people unconsciously continue to play a role in perpetuating racism, even when they don’t intend to. DiAngelo calls us all to action, stressing that we can no longer exempt ourselves from our white collective identity and say that this isn’t our problem. Rather, she maintains this is very uniquely our problem and that, whether we like it or not, we must carry our history with us and actively work to improve equitability and social justice in our society by engaging in lifelong acts of antiracism.

*Disclaimer: From the get-go, DiAngelo recognizes her privilege of being a white woman writing this book. While some readers may want to discount her work because of this status, I highly recommend giving her a chance. She has extensive experience and a unique perspective as a diversity educator, while also never pretending to have all the answers.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Book on CD

OverDrive eAudiobook

OverDrive eBook

 

 

This is the Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism by Don Lemon

“We can be simultaneously fearless about our future and truthful about our past. We can be equally conscious of our country’s failings and proud of our country’s progress. The very essence of progress is to build a bridge that takes us from here to there, but what good is progress without healing?”

This exceptional quote was one of many that resonated with me upon finishing Don Lemon’s recent publication, This is the Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism. As the only Black prime-time anchor in America, Lemon wields his unique position and extensive journalistic experience to provide insightful, moving, and passionate calls for racial justice in this impressive and timely title. Lemon also incorporates his personal experiences and narrative into the text, lending this book a rich and personal dimension to impress the significance and urgency of its content.

Beginning with a letter he wrote for one of his black nephews, Lemon relates the tragic injustice of George Floyd’s murder, the overall injustice of racial inequities in the very roots of America’s foundation, and the fact that silence is no longer an option. He also identifies the cyclical process of America reacting to such instances of racial injustice: Weeping. Rage. Blame. Promises. Complacency. Finally, he expresses to his nephew his deep fear of what will come next if the world grows numb to racial injustice, leaving those oppressed with only a “wax-museum visage of complacency.”

After this striking letter, Lemon delves into his reporting and personal experience to identify several major areas of racial injustice through seven primary chapters. These subjects range from highly-discussed issues, such as police brutality and the removal of monuments, to perhaps lesser-known topics and histories, such as the intentional subjugation of Black Americans throughout this country’s history, the connections between racial injustice and the economy, and how change is actually supposed to happen. One uniquely interesting facet of this book is how Lemon draws parallels between these subjects and the history of racial injustice in and around Baton Rouge, Louisiana, not far from where he grew up. One such instance of this was his explanation of the 1811 German Coast Uprising, the largest slave revolt in American history; I had never heard of this major historical happening before reading this book.

In retrospect, one of the most moving moments in this title is learning alongside Lemon himself that he is the descendant of a white plantation owner and a black-owned slave. Upon further research, evidence suggests his great grandfather tried to sincerely do right by his wife and child. Rather than feel resentment or shame about his heritage, Lemon feels that he embodies “both the struggle for survival and the hope of reconciliation” and that this is what ultimately makes all of us American. After reading several books with a focus on social injustices experienced in this country, I am absolutely inspired and in awe of the hope, optimism, and compassion held by marginalized and oppressed groups of people in the United States, such as Lemon.

In addition to reading this title, I also had the opportunity to watch a recording of the keynote speech Lemon presented at this past year’s Library Journal Winter Summit, in which he discusses how this book was a response to friends, family, acquaintances, and even viewers asking him how they can start and engage in conversations about race. An ode to James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Lemon additionally felt compelled to write this book because of his unique and far-reaching platform, hoping this work could help facilitate these conversations and provide both adults and children with the language needed for these dialogues.

Overall, this book is another key title I would recommend if you are looking to dip your toes in anti-racist literature. In addition to being an accessible length of fewer than 300 pages, Lemon also cites a myriad of additional resources to help readers continue their education and research into topics of racial injustice.

*On this topic of racial justice, I also wanted to share a new resource recently added to the Davenport Public Library website for those interested in finding more books about social justice. Titled “Social Justice Reads,” this guide features new and notable titles in our collection for many types of social justice issues, such as racial equity, LGBTQ+ rights, environmental justice, and women’s rights. This guide will be continually updated to showcase and reflect the newest titles regarding social justice added to our collection. You can access the guide here.*

Online Reading Challenge – May Wrap-Up

Greetings Fellow Readers!

Here we are at the end of May already. How did your reading go this month? Did you find a Toni Morrison book or similar author to read this month?

I read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi which turned out to be an excellent choice. It tells the story  of half-sisters Effia and Esi, born in Africa. Unknown to each other,  their lives take very different paths. Effia is married off to a white man, the British officer in charge of the Cape Coast Castle, the trading post where slaves were housed until sent West. While her life is relatively comfortable, she torn between two worlds – not entirely African anymore and not welcome in English society.

Meanwhile, Esi is captured, sold into slavery and sent to America, her life becoming a nightmare of constant hardship. After she is captured, Esi is held in the dungeons of the Cape Coast Castle with dozens of other women. She raped, beaten, nearly starved and lives in filthy conditions until a ship is ready to sail. Life as an enslaved person in America is no better.

Both women struggle to raise their children with a love and understanding of their African roots, passing along the oral history of their family and their people. Each generation that comes after these women must also struggle with the terrible legacy of slavery – of the responsibility for it (on Effia’s side) and the suffering, emotional and physical, of living it (on Esi’s side).

This is a powerful story, told by a bold and courageous voice. While the writing does not have the ethereal quality of Morrison’s, it is magical in it’s own way. The stories jump forward through time, describing a pivotal moment in the life of a member of each family each generation, then moving on to the next generation, creating a face-paced but vivid picture of struggles and triumphs. The long-lasting affects of slavery and racism are especially eye-opening and heartbreaking. A powerful story of tragedy and resilience. Highly recommended.

Now it’s your turn. What did you read this month?

 

 

Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America by Michael Eric Dyson

“Our bodies carry memory – not just our own, but the memory of the group as well. We feel the history in our bones as much as we witness it with our eyes.” 

This is just one of the many profound quotes in Long Time Coming, the latest publication by Michael Eric Dyson, a distinguished scholar of race and religion, as well as a prolific, New York Times bestselling author. In this short, powerful book, Dyson considers how race has shaped our nation from its very founding, tapping into both historical and contemporary insights to guide readers on how we can truly reckon with race in America.

The profundity of this text impacts readers from the very beginning, as each chapter is a letter addressed to a black martyr of racial injustice, including Elijah McClain, Emmett Till, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Hadiya Pendleton, Sandra Bland, and Rev. Clementa Pinckney. In each letter, Dyson considers significant aspects and examples of injustice plaguing Black Americans, relating how the systemic racism inherently planted to enable slavery still permeates today’s society in a myriad of ways. This book  is also extremely timely, as the title itself denotes the momentum of a cultural and social movement, one that has been a long time coming, that spilled over after the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Since then, powerful and reverberating calls for change and reform to achieve true justice for all have been a large part of the history being made today, not unlike the passionate calls for change that occurred in the 1960s.

When reflecting on this book as a whole, one particularly striking moment for me was Dyson’s metaphor of racism illustrated through a tree and its offshoots. When considering the idea of racism as either a seed that is planted or one that merely falls to the ground, thereby growing into both intentional and unintentional forms of racism, he depicts how the change that must occur is bigger than any individual’s thoughts or actions regarding race. Rather, Dyson contends this change must be structural in order to truly combat the cyclical nature of racism and the notions of Anti-Blackness in our country. After drawing this comparison, Dyson ponders whether a reckoning of this scale will occur in today’s world to bring true justice and equity to Black Americans.

All in all, I would highly recommend this book for everyone to read. Not only is it accessible in length and language, but it also delivers an earnest, compelling, and passionate message of racial justice that could not be timelier for the history being made today.

*On this topic of racial justice, I also wanted to share a new resource recently added to the Davenport Public Library website for those interested in finding more books about social justice. Titled “Social Justice Reads,” this guide features new and notable titles in our collection for many types of social justice issues, such as racial equity, LGBTQ+ rights, environmental justice, and women’s rights. This guide will be continually updated to showcase and reflect the newest titles regarding social justice added to our collection. You can access the guide here.*

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste whose forebears designed it. A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranked groupings apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places.”

In the bestselling book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of the title The Warmth of Other Suns, draws parallels between the often-unspoken caste system in the United States with those of India and Nazi Germany to elucidate the innate, systemic racism that is intentionally rooted and entwined in the history and core foundations of our country. This work combines deep, immersive research and moving narratives, such as Wilkerson’s own experiences, to express and relate how this invisible hierarchy affects the opportunities, safety, and day-to-day life of black Americans today.

Wilkerson first shines a light on current events, painting a disturbing picture. She describes the escalating racial tensions in America as “pathogens” or “toxins” that were never completely eradicated with the end of slavery or the implementation of civil rights legislation, but were rather buried beneath the surface in the “permafrost” until certain circumstances brought them back to the surface. She then considers the arbitrary construction of human divisions across America, as well as in India and Nazi Germany, before exploring eight distinct pillars of caste she believes are the foundations of the caste system in the United States.

After elaborating upon these powerful pillars, ranging from topics of divine will and endogamy to dehumanization and stigma, Wilkerson discusses the “tentacles” and consequences of the caste system lingering in the lives of black Americans today. One of the most telling parts of this book for me was learning about the many forms of backlash that transpired after President Barack Obama’s election and re-election, as many claimed the accomplishment of a black man in the Oval Office was a sign that racism was “dead.” This could not be further from the truth.

Lastly, Wilkerson calls for an awakening and the need for action in order to combat the dangerous, debilitating, and ever-present caste system preserving and prolonging systemic racism in the United States and has a strong response to those who dismiss racism based on the reasoning that it isn’t “their fault,” or the fault of their ancestors:

We are the heirs to whatever is right or wrong with it. We did not erect the uneven pillars or joists, but they are ours to deal with now. And any further deterioration is, in fact, on our hands.”

Overall, this title is extraordinarily written as Wilkerson writes in a compelling, thoughtful, and revealing way about this subject, and if you are looking for a raw, honest, and thought-provoking title to learn more about the origins of systemic racism in America, I would wholeheartedly recommend picking up this book.

This book is also available in the following formats:

OverDrive eAudiobook

OverDrive eBook

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

Books told from multiple viewpoints have a way of tearing at my soul. Seeing the same storyline through different characters lends additional compelling layers of emotion, backstory, and meaning that readers wouldn’t have through only one character. I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal is a young adult novel told from two viewpoints over the course of one night.

Atlanta high school seniors Lena and Campbell, one black and one white, want to be normal teens. After a football rivalry escalates into a riot one Friday night, the two are forced to rely on each other to survive. From two very different backgrounds, the two girls are unexpectedly thrown together when chaos erupts at their school. During that night, Lena and Campbell must travel through the violent race riot that has enveloped Atlanta as they try to get home.

Lena knows what she wants out of life. With an awesome boyfriend, amazing style, and big plans for her future, Lena is determined to make a name for herself. Campbell, on the other hand, is just trying to survive. Being abandoned by her mother and starting her senior year at a new school in a new town with her dad is not how she imagined her life turning out. Campbell just wants to make it through the school year.

When the two head to the football game, they have plans for what they expect the night to be. When a rivalry with another school turns into a riot, Lena and Campbell are thrust together into a fight for survival. They aren’t friends. They barely know each other and don’t understand what the other is going through. Racing through town, their differences matter less as the city goes up in flames and people riot in the streets.

This book is also available in the following formats: