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United States of Books: Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 342 pgs.
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Entertainment Weekly says, “In this richly moving novel about a woman who returns home to take care of her father, Kingsolver draws heavily on the state’s Native American and Hispanic cultures.” (Arizona)

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver on its surface is about a broken young woman who finds that she is drawn back into the web of her childhood in Arizona. It’s a childhood that she doesn’t look back on fondly and one that she barely remembers, other than two tragic events and the distance between herself and her father. She had taken the best part of her childhood with her when she moved away, and that was her sister, Hallie. Codi is forced to return home to care for her father because Hallie has taken it upon herself to delve into the political jungles of Nicaragua to help people with their agriculture, despite the danger to herself.

“All morning I’d felt the strange disjuncture that comes from reconnecting with your past. There’s such a gulf between yourself and who you were then, but people speak to that other person and it answers; it’s like having a stranger as a house guest in your skin.” (pg. 40)

Codi is faced with some hard truths about her past and her father’s mythology about who her family is and was, but she also must face the harsh truth that she’s been running away from home since she was 15. She must learn to re-see the beauty in the Arizona dessert, mesas, farmland, and its people, who have a rich Native American history and connection to the land that is dying all around them. She’s a deeply flawed character who pursued a medical degree because she wanted to please her father, only to shy away from becoming a certified doctor by failing to complete her residency. She’s gun shy about relationships and she walks away at a moments notice, but it shouldn’t surprise those around her because she never really settles in — there are no pictures on the wall.

“Pay attention to your dreams: when you go on a trip, in your dreams you will still be home. Then after you’ve come home you’ll dream of where you were. It’s a kind of jet lag of the consciousness.” (pg. 9)

Readers should not expect the issue of the dying land or the environmental issues raised in the book to be resolved, and even the relationships Codi has with her father and her past boyfriend Loyd are a bit murky, though expected given the landscape and how little people speak to one another about their feelings. The weaving of Native American and Hispanic culture is well done, and it is through her time with Loyd that she begins to realize that she is not an outsider and that she never was. Home is where you belong, even if there is pain and heartache attached to it.

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver is meditative, disjointed, and almost dreamlike in places, but at its core, it is a journey through the heart of family and finding a place in it.

Rating: Quatrain

About the Author:

Barbara Kingsolver is an American novelist, essayist, and poet. She was raised in rural Kentucky and lived briefly in Africa in her early childhood. Kingsolver earned degrees in Biology at DePauw University and the University of Arizona and worked as a freelance writer before she began writing novels. Her most famous works include The Poisonwood Bible, the tale of a missionary family in the Congo, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a non-fiction account of her family’s attempts to eat locally. Her work often focuses on topics such as social justice, biodiversity, and the interaction between humans and their communities and environments. Each of her books published since 1993 have been on The New York Times Best Seller list.

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Goliath by Scott Westerfeld (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 9 CDs
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***Read Leviathan and Behemoth before reading this one.***

Goliath (book #3) by Scott Westerfeld, narrated by Alan Cumming, takes Alek and Deryn to Siberia to pick up the slightly mad inventor Nikola Tesla, who claims to have created an invention that will end the war – Goliath. Alek continues to believe in his destiny as the next leader of Austria and as the only one who can end the war. As machines and manufactured animals come to battle, Alek uncovers Deryn’s secrets, but learns the true meaning of friendship, whom he can truly trust, and what it means to love something more than destiny.

Cumming continues to narrate this series with aplomb and he engrosses readers from the beginning. Westerfeld has created a believable alternate history, although gender issues are sort of glossed over for the most part, even as one of the main characters is a girl. Alek has grown up quite a bit in this story, and Deryn remains the anchor in the story. With appearances from William Randolf Hearst and Pancho Villa, it is clear that the politics of the war goes far beyond the war between machines and manufactured animals for superiority.

Goliath (book #3) by Scott Westerfeld, narrated by Alan Cumming, is a whole new world with a war threatening everything past and present. The series is strong throughout and the characters have evolved a great deal in the course of three books, with several close calls. Wonderful series.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Scott Westerfeld‘s teen novels include the Uglies series, the Midnighters trilogy, The Last Days, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and the sequel to Peeps. Scott was born in Texas, and alternates summers between Sydney, Australia, and New York City.

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 8 CDs
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***Leviathan was a book club selection and I’ve finally been able to get back to the series, though this book is our book club selection for June. You’ll need to read the first to read this book.***

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, narrated by Alan Cumming, is the second book in a young adult trilogy that is an alternate WWI history rife with steampunk elements. The German Clankers who rely on machines are advancing their war against the British Darwinists, using secretive technology and subversive tactics. Deryn, a young man in the British Air Service, has divided loyalties as he tries to continue hiding his identity from his closest friend, Alek, who is the heir to the empire. The Leviathan’s peace mission has hit a snag, and Alek stumbles upon a resistance in Constantinople even as they find themselves in enemy territory.

Alan Cumming is a stunning narrator; it’s clear that he enjoyed this book and narrating the heart-stopping action of Westerfeld’s alternate history. As the Clankers connive to garner support from Istanbul, the Darwinists seek to appease the government with gifts only to find they are too late. Deryn is quick-witted and eager to prove himself a dedicated soldier, even as he feels a bit of camaraderie and loyalty to Alek and his plight to escape the Clankers. Alek comes into his own away from his guardian, as he is forced to seek out people to trust and to devise his own plans to prevent an all-encompassing war between the Clankers and the Darwinists and get revenge on the Germans.

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, narrated by Alan Cumming, is a stunning middle book in the series, providing Alek and Deryn with ample opportunity to prove themselves brave. Even as secrets continue between them, they remain friends. Westerfeld has a vivid imagination and it comes alive in the prose, especially as read by Cumming. Readers will fall into this world of unbelievable animal creations and giant machines of war.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Scott Westerfeld‘s teen novels include the Uglies series, the Midnighters trilogy, The Last Days, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and the sequel to Peeps. Scott was born in Texas, and alternates summers between Sydney, Australia, and New York City.

Reached by Ally Condie (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audio, 11 CDs
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**If you missed my first review, this one could contain spoilers for Matched or the second review for Crossed.**

Reached by Ally Condie, narrated by Kate Simses, Jack Riccobono, and Matt Burns, reveals so many things that were forgotten by the characters or that other characters they meet along the way reveal to them. The backstory is here in the third book about the Society and the Rising, and all of the factions that are outside the two main struggling societies. Cassia continues to find her way through the darkness with Ky (who may not always be at her side), and Xander faces his own struggles as the plague ravages the population, even those inoculated with the vaccine provided by the Rising.

As a medic, he sees the stillness take hold of his friends and colleagues and the fear in their eyes. He is dutiful and eager to follow those he believes in. Cassia wants to find an end to the suffering; she’s looking for a way to inoculate the Society and the Rising with beauty. She finds it in the Gallery where people come to share their art and poems and songs. Like many things in these controlled societies, the beauty and originality is snuffed out. Ky, on the other hand, still tries to stay below the radar. The only one he believes in is Cassia.

This triangle of characters and their love for one another — though different for all of them — is heartening as they tackle the nearly impossible with only their faith in each other to guide them. Although there are moments of repetition when Cassia begins to regain some of her memories long after she was forced to take a red pill to forget, it is in line with the world Condie has created. The narrators are well matched with their characters, though Xander’s point of view is less robotic in this book compared to the last. The dialogue for him as improved.

Reached by Ally Condie, narrated by Kate Simses, Jack Riccobono, and Matt Burns, is a series of books that requires patience with the world and tension building. Readers will be satisfied with its conclusion as these societies tackle a mutated plague together and come out the other side eager to rebuild and collaborate with one another (even if only tentatively).

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Ally Condie is a former high school English teacher who lives with her husband, three sons and one daughter outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. She loves reading, running, eating, and listening to her husband play guitar.

Crossed by Ally Condie (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audio; 8 CDs
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**If you missed my first review, this one could contain spoilers for Matched.**

Crossed by Ally Condie, narrated by Kate Simses and Jack Riccobono, is the second book in the series and is told from alternating points of view. Cassia is on a mission to find Ky after he was taken from her home province. Their story has been star-crossed since the beginning, and she is confident that her choice to find him in the outer provinces is the best one for her. While she still loves her best friend and match, Xander, she does not believe she can live without Ky. Although this is a story of young love, Condie has created an intricate society in which everything is controlled from the 100 poems the society has kept to the loss of writing letters. In this controlled experiment, these children are told the rules and how to be from the moment they enter school.

Because people are given options that make it appear as though they have choices, many do not question the rules of the society, but a rebellion has been brewing in the background since the 100 poems to be kept were chosen. As readers are shown more and more of the society and layers are pulled back, they will have more questions. Cassia is just beginning to see the world through new eyes whereas Ky has seen a little too much of its dark side. She pushes to know more, and he wants to hold back and just be.

The different points of view helped flesh this out more for me, as Ky has knowledge that the cloistered Cassia does not. The use of poetry by Condie is intricate and adds to the mystery, but when will we meet the pilot or know what is really going on? Crossed by Ally Condie, narrated by Kate Simses and Jack Riccobono, is a satisfying second book, but it seems like both the first and second book are building and building the societal tension for book three, Reached. The advantages in this book are a little more knowledge and a little more freedom for the characters and the introduction of new characters.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Ally Condie is a former high school English teacher who lives with her husband, three sons and one daughter outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. She loves reading, running, eating, and listening to her husband play guitar.

Matched by Ally Condie (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 8 CDs
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Matched by Ally Condie, narrated by Kate Simses, is set into a future where many of the choices of the society are manipulated or made for its residents. On the date of her matching — a process through which her mate is chosen — Cassia gets a glimpse of another future, another choice. Xander, her childhood friend who lives in her neighborhood, is her match, something that doesn’t happen that often. But her interactions with another boy, Ky, in the neighborhood, lead her to question more than just the matching system.

Although aberrations in the perfect system have created a sense of unease for Cassia, part of her still wants to believe that they system does things for good, at least the good of society. Her hikes with Ky, however, reveal that not all of the society’s decisions are for the best and not even done with the best intentions. Her inner struggle is exacerbated by the words her grandfather said to her before his passing and the advice he had given her in the past. Condie has created a world that is believable, but it seems like there is too much that is not reveals about this society and its past. Everything is kept very close to the officials’ vests, and readers are likely to see that it is for very good reason in subsequent books (or so I suspect).

Simses is an excellent narrator for a young girl who is torn between the way she knew things to be and the way she sees they could be. Her narration of the male characters are well done, too. Matched by Ally Condie, is a quick listen on audio and even though readers know Cassia is about to commit an infraction she cannot come back from, not too much happens in the book.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Ally Condie is a former high school English teacher who lives with her husband, three sons and one daughter outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. She loves reading, running, eating, and listening to her husband play guitar.

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audio, 9+ hours
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*** Spoilers included ***

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais, narrated by Neil Shah, is a coming-of-age story that traverses India, London, and France as Hassan Haji comes into his own as a chef. Told from Hassan’s point of view, the novel almost takes on the feel of a memoir. He speaks of his past in India and the culture and food that shaped him, but he also speaks about the death of his mother with a sense of detachment, even though the character claims it is a defining moment.

As the family moves abroad, Hassan is exposed to different foods and cultures, but he’s also shackled to the life of his father’s making. As a rivalry blooms between his father and another restaurateur in Lumière, Madame Mallory, Hassan begins to see glimmers of a world he could master and enjoy. The 100-foot distance between his father’s restaurant and that of Mallory is short, but seems to be worlds away, especially as she makes it her mission to destroy their business.

While food is central to this story and Hassan does grow into a stupendous chef, according to those around him, readers may find he develops little, especially in terms of his relationships with women. Hassan has been unable to commit to anyone, and while it is hinted at the end that this might change, it is almost like an afterthought by the author. There are other deaths in the novel, as well, and given the closeness of Hassan to his father and Mallory, it is hard to believe that the author would gloss over these and their impacts on Hassan, but he does.

Shah is a good narrator, though some of the accents seemed over the top at times and the language a bit forced. The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais, narrated by Neil Shah, is an interesting take on a man outside his culture learning to cook with greater skill but learning little else about himself. Although he becomes a famous chef, it seems that his relationships are only on the surface, and his character stagnates, especially as the trials of his early days in the Paris kitchens are glossed over.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Richard C. Morais is a Canadian American novelist and journalist. He is the author of three books, including The Hundred-Foot Journey, which is an international bestseller and has been adapted as a film by Dreamworks.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 463 pgs.
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Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, which was our banned book selection for book club, was a re-read for me. The book was initially banned in Ohio because the language was considered indecent and considered objectionable. While there is objectionable language and graphic sexual situations, this is a book about the absurdity of war and it is a satire about World War II.

Catch-22: a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.

Yossarian is a bombardier who is an excellent shot, who achieves a second pass and earns a medal, but Colonel Cathcart has plans and continues to raise the number of missions his crew must fly. This bombardier and the colonel are in a silent battle, as Yossarian seeks out any number of reasons to get admitted to the hospital, or be declared insane, anything that will get him out of flying more dangerous missions. He’s almost like a clown bumbling around to disguise his strategy for escape.

“Colonel Cathcart cracked his knuckles violently. Colonel Korn, a stocky, dark, flaccid man with a shapeless paunch, sat completely relaxed on one of the benches in the front row, his hands clasped comfortably over the top of his bald and swarthy head. His eyes were amused behind his glinting rimless spectacles.” (pg. 148)

The shifting nature of this book mirrors the chaos of war on a smaller scale, leaving the reader in a whirlwind of activity and nonsense. Despite the horrors of war and the deaths around them, there’s a levity to these characters and their interactions. Frustration with superiors and bureaucracy is typical of many war novels, but Heller carefully demonstrates the back-stabbing, the all-for-myself moves of men in power, and the utter disbelief of soldiers at the very bottom of the power structure when the rug is pulled from beneath them. As in war, readers are unlikely to form strong attachments for the characters interacting in Heller’s novel — despite the incident with Snowden — making the war seem even more distant even more ridiculous.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is a fun ride that never disappoints. From Yossarian’s struggles within the system to Milo’s triumph outside the hierarchy of military power, Heller has created a novel that speaks to the overall chaos and disharmony of war, the futile attempts to make life for soldiers seem normal by the military through order and discipline, and the machinations of those with their own agendas and how they can place everyone in jeopardy.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Joseph Heller was born in Brooklyn in 1923. In 1961, he published Catch-22, which became a bestseller and, in 1970, a film. He went on to write such novels as Good as Gold, God Knows, Picture This, Closing Time (the sequel to Catch-22), and Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man. Heller died in December 1999.

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The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 240 pgs.
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The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman, which was our October book club selection, contains eight comics that were issued once per month. Gaiman admits that the writing is not as good upon reading them long after they were issued, and on this readers might agree. The dialogue is often choppy and the comics feel as though they do not have a focus or story arc. In many ways they are vignettes.

“There was a definite effort on my part, in the stories in this volume, to explore genres available: “The Sleep of the Just” was intended to be a classical English horror story; “Imperfect Hosts” plays with some of the conventions of the old DC and E.C. horror comics (and the hosts thereof); “Dream a Little Dream of Me” is slightly more contemporary British horror story … ” (From Gaiman’s Afterword)

Having read other graphic novels by Gaiman, this seems like a freshman effort at comics. The drawings themselves are dark and haphazard at times, making it hard for readers to follow the story in a cohesive way. I had to re-read a few pages to fully capture what was happening. Even after doing so, it seemed as though I was missing some backstory and even some explanation as to why this “order” would trap Sandman if he was not the one they wanted in the first place. However, I did like Sandman’s cloak…the flames were a nice touch.

Even once that episode is done and Sandman is free, the attempts to take back his “tools” are so easily accomplished that they fell flat. It was more of a detective story in that way — follow the clues and obtain the objects. Even the major battle with the demon was only mildly entertaining, and forget the battle with Dr. Dee. Overall, The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman fell a little flat for me in terms of substance, even the interactions between Sandman and Death were less than stellar.

RATING: Couplet

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Neil Gaiman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books, and is the recipient of numerous literary honors. Originally from England, he now lives in America.

Find out more about Neil at his website, find all his books at his online bookstore, and follow him on Facebook, tumblr, and his blog.

United States of Books: The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Source: Public Library
eBook and audiobook, 211 pgs.; 4+ hrs.
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For Louisiana, Entertainment Weekly says, “Chopin’s early feminist work, which presents a woman carving an identity for herself that has nothing to do with wifedom or motherhood, also serves as an engrossing immersion in the historical worlds of New Orleans and the Louisiana Gulf Coast.”

awakeningThe Awakening by Kate Chopin is considered by many to be a work of Feminism, published in the early 1900s. Mrs. and Mr. Pontellier appear to have a mutual respect for one another and the relationship many married couples fall into, such as nods and certain looks that are read easily by one another. He is a broker and has very specific ideas about how much attention his wife should pay to the children. But despite their easy way with one another, there is something distant in their relationship, as he feels she does not value his conversation and she tries to tamp down her anguish about only being a mother and a wife.

While summering at Grand Isle, she comes to view their relationship much differently and that of her place in the world. Mrs. Pontellier can see from the actions of other mothers vacationing there that she is much different. She does not worship her children and she does not have all the sophistication of a societal wife. As she becomes aware of these differences, Robert Lebrun begins to pay her special attention, which recalls for her many youthful infatuations. However, when Alcee Arobin crosses her path, things begin to change dramatically for the reborn painter, Mrs. Pontellier.

Edna Pontellier returns to the city and begins to break with tradition, which raises her husband’s eyebrows. Chopin’s work is not so much about the liberation of a woman from societal expectations. It is an introspective look at how we present ourselves to our husbands, children, friends, and greater society. Our inner selves, our true selves — if they ever emerge — are buried deep within our private worlds. For many of us, our true self is only known by us and, in some cases, not even then. Edna has been awakened to her true self and she embarks on a journey to realize it fully.

“She was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.”

In terms of the setting, it’s clear that they live in Louisiana and music and art are strong cultural elements. The roots of French colonization remain in the area, and many of the people Edna interacts with speak French. Many of these people are definitely from the upper crust as they do little more than socialize, entertain one another, and gossip. The Awakening by Kate Chopin explores the consequences of becoming independent and stripping all pretension, leaving Edna in a solitary world (which mirrors the one she held close prior to her awakening). However, it seems as though Edna fails to evolve, merely bringing her inner world to the surface to find that she cannot survive, rather than exploring what that means and how she should move forward.

RATING: Tercet

chopinAbout the Author:

Kate Chopin was an American novelist and short-story writer best known for her startling 1899 novel, The Awakening. Born in St. Louis, she moved to New Orleans after marrying Oscar Chopin in 1870. Less than a decade later Oscar’s cotton business fell on hard times and they moved to his family’s plantation in the Natchitoches Parish of northwestern Louisiana. Oscar died in 1882 and Kate was suddenly a young widow with six children. She turned to writing and published her first poem in 1889. The Awakening, considered Chopin’s masterpiece, was subject to harsh criticism at the time for its frank approach to sexual themes. It was rediscovered in the 1960s and has since become a standard of American literature, appreciated for its sophistication and artistry. Chopin’s short stories of Cajun and Creole life are collected in Bayou Folk (1894) and A Night in Acadie (1897), and include “Desiree’s Baby,” “The Story of an Hour” and “The Storm.”

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Symbiont by Mira Grant (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 16+ hours
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Symbiont by Mira Grant, narrated by Christine Lakin, is the second book in the Parasitology series, so if you haven’t read book 1, stop here. Read my review for book 1, Parasite.

Our protagonist Sal Mitchell finds herself in the hands of the enemy more than once in this book. Upon escaping from her father’s government facility, she finds herself thrust in the hands of another enemy. Much of the book is spent unraveling the plots of the fully-functioning tapeworm humans (chimera) who want to rid the world of humans — naturally. Led by Sherman, her sometimes handler at SymboGen, Sal finds out that the tapeworms were not only engineered to help people with health problems, but they also seem to have specific skills.

Like any species that is evolving, there are those that have fully taken over their human hosts and there are others who act more like zombies and devour humans on sight with little cognitive function. Sal is frightened of all of the above because she is on the side of life — living in harmony. Is humanity ready to accept these tapeworm takeovers as people and are the tapeworms ready to let bygones be bygones and make peace with their creators? Even when she returns to Dr. Kim and his mother at their undisclosed lab location, the ethical lines of science are blurring further than she could imagine, especially when Dr. Stephen Banks enters the picture.

Lakin continues to narrate this winding and repetitive story well, but the repetition got to me by the end. Symbiont by Mira Grant, narrated by Christine Lakin, could have been a great middle book with better editing and less back-tracking over plot points established in the first book. Certain aspects of the backstory from the first book seemed to be too constraining for the author, who reinvented some of the backstory here to suit her needs. This middle book just seemed like one bad car chase after another toward the end, and Grant did herself a disservice in that. However, the cliffhanger at the end and the overall story mean I must see this one to its conclusion in Chimera.

RATING: Tercet

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Born and raised in Northern California, Mira Grant has made a lifelong study of horror movies, horrible viruses, and the inevitable threat of the living dead. In college, she was voted Most Likely to Summon Something Horrible in the Cornfield, and was a founding member of the Horror Movie Sleep-Away Survival Camp, where her record for time survived in the Swamp Cannibals scenario remains unchallenged.

Mira lives in a crumbling farmhouse with an assortment of cats, horror movies, comics, and books about horrible diseases. When not writing, she splits her time between travel, auditing college virology courses, and watching more horror movies than is strictly good for you. Favorite vacation spots include Seattle, London, and a large haunted corn maze just outside of Huntsville, Alabama.

Mira sleeps with a machete under her bed, and highly suggests that you do the same.

United States of Books: Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 180 pgs.
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For Illinois, Entertainment Weekly says, “Sure you can always go with Saul Bellow’s Chicago, but if you’re looking for another view of the windy city, pick up this challenging, essential look at urban black life, with all its beauty and pain.”

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks is her only novel, and despite being familiar with her poetry for a long time, I’ve never read it. Maud Martha is darker than her sister, and this is a shadow that follows her throughout the novel until she eventually learns that it is not about her outward appearance but the well of strength she has inside. As a child, she looks at the world around her and finds the beauty everywhere, like the dandelions she calls “yellow jewels for everyday.” (pg. 2) Maud is very observant, even as she enjoys every moment, she does note that things are not as merry as others make them seem. In her own family, she notes that everyone is “enslaved” by her sister’s beauty (Helen), but Maud is never bitter because she knows that they cannot help it.

Like many, New York City becomes a symbol of dreams and greater things, but like many symbols, they can be tarnished. Maud meets Paul, and she knows that he could have a prettier, lighter woman as his wife. Even as he marries her, she does not delude herself. Leaving her mother’s home for her own with her husband, Maud discovers that her dreams are much different.

“But she was learning to love moments. To love moments for themselves.” (pg. 78)

Brooks’ style is very different from the traditional novelist, where things happen but not necessarily on the page before the reader. She leaves a great many plot points unobserved, while at the same time, enabling the reader to hear directly from Maud. Her observations, her thoughts … providing readers with an inside look at how life of an urban black woman truly was. Through these observations, Brooks provides a window into the racial divide within even the black community, as well as how tough it was during the depression and the beginning of WWII. At the same time, Maud has opportunities to work outside the home, and these moments provide her with insight into how her husband is treated in the workplace.

“When they sat, their heights were equal, for his length was in the legs. But he thought he was looking down at her, and she was very willing to concede that that was what he was doing, for the immediate effect of the look was to make her sit straight as a stick.” (pg. 131)

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks paints a stark picture of urban life within the black community, the differences between how the community perceived the use of the n-word and how it was perceived by whites, and the plight of women in the community. Maud says, “What was unreal to you, you could deal with violently,” and isn’t that true of all of us. What is real to us is harder to deal with head on, but we must push aside our fears. “On the whole, she felt, life was more comedy than tragedy.” (pg. 165) Maud is a pillar of inner strength from whom other women could take lessons.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Although she was born in 1917 in Topeka, Kansas–the first child of David and Keziah Brooks–Gwendolyn Brooks is “a Chicagoan.” The family moved to Chicago shortly after her birth, and despite her extensive travels and periods in some of the major universities of the country, she has remained associated with the city’s South Side. What her strong family unit lacked in material wealth was made bearable by the wealth of human capital that resulted from warm interpersonal relationships. When she writes about families that–despite their daily adversities–are not dysfunctional, Gwendolyn Brooks writes from an intimate knowledge reinforced by her own life.

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