Book and an Album: Identity and Otherness

If you want to excite a Librarian, tell them that a book award is being announced. Seriously, try it. We love these prize/honor lists because we get to see incredible authors and illustrators get the recognition they deserve, but also because it is a surefire way to find remarkable books to read and share with others. I discovered Watched by Marina Budhos when it was named an honor book for the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. A short plot summary was enough to convince me I had to read this book.

Naeem is a young man caught between expectations and desires. As a first generation Bangladeshi immigrant, he is aware of the sacrifices that his parents make for him, and feels the pressure to succeed. As a Muslim, he knows that he is expected to be respectful and pious even while he questions his faith. And finally, as an older brother he knows that he is a role model to a young boy who reveres him.

Watched-CoverYet Naeem has his own ideas. He goes to school in Queens and his experiences are far different from his parents and other elders. And because Naeem is a teenager, his brain is hardwired to make some rash decisions (really – it’s science). After making a string of poor choices, it isn’t too surprising when Naeem finds himself in an interrogation room facing accusations and likely arrest by the NYPD. Instead, the police offer Naeem an alternative – watch his neighborhood and its mosques, report on “suspicious” activity, and make some decent money in the process.

Naeem desperately agrees to this offer and things start off fairly well. Naeem feels like a hero. He believes that by watching his neighborhood he can keep trouble makers from ruining the reputation of the hard-working majority of his community. It doesn’t hurt that he is also earning enough money to help his parents make ends meet. But as the pressure to produce actionable intelligence increases, and the police turn their focus to people close to Naeem, he faces difficult choices about his identity, his community and his sense of right and wrong.

While Watched deals with heavily politicized topics, the book has few outright heroes or villains. Watched works largely in the gray, giving complex motives to characters whether they are exploitative police officers, terror suspects, misunderstanding parents or troubled teenagers. The ideas in this novel are as nuanced as the characters and Budhos uses Naeem’s trials to explore difficult questions. Among the most significant concepts in Watched is that of the “good immigrant,” a nebulous phrase that can serve as a disservice to both those it includes and excludes. Watched is a compelling story that left me unsettled, challenged my assumptions, and rewarded my time.

a0908914594_16Need an album to pair with Watched? Try the Swet Shop Boys’ debut album, Cashmere. Swet Shop Boys are the rappers Heems and Riz MC, better known as the actor Riz Ahmed. Together, they make music that is both pointedly political and raucously hilarious, with gorgeous production that leans heavily on South Asian samples. Heems and Riz MC trade rhymes exploring identity, race, inequality and otherness with dexterity, refusing to shy away from controversy and pushing the comfort boundaries of the listener. Given that Heems first broke out as part of the group Das Racist, with the song Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, it should come as no surprise that this album has plenty of lighter moments and more than a few explicit references. Make no mistake; this is an album that provokes. Several of the songs tell stories from perspectives that may offend. Yet these are also stories that feel real and urgent, presenting perspectives that are underrepresented in both popular music and hip-hop.

Spot-Lit for March 2017

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new novels and story collections of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2017 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

The Female of the Species

This is how I kill someone.

I learn his habits, I know his schedule. It is not difficult. His life consists of quick stops at the dollar store for the bare minimum of things required to keep his ragged cycle going, his hat pulled down over his eyes so as not to be recognized.

But he is. It’s a small town.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for opening lines. The above quote, which opens Mindy McGinnis’s The Female of the Species, is narrated by Alex Craft, a teenager in a small Ohio town hit hard by recession and harder by opioid addiction. The soon-to-be-victim that Alex is stalking is the man who abducted, raped and killed her older sister three years prior. Due to a lack of evidence, police cannot make charges stick. Thus, the killer walks free until Alex takes ferocious justice into her own hands.

femalespeciesAmazingly, in a small town with no secrets, Alex gets away with murder. People are satisfied that a vigilante “made things right,” and the killer’s death evolves from recent crime to urban legend. But for Alex, this act of savage violence bears its own costs. Though she feels no guilt, she remains overcome with rage and views herself as deeply damaged. To protect others and herself, Alex withdraws, keeping to herself whenever possible. However, during her senior year of high school two classmates threaten her seclusion. Peekay, the local preacher’s daughter and Jack, the closest thing the town has to a golden child, are both drawn to Alex and determined to bring her into their lives. As Alex begins to care for Peekay and Jack, she feels a fierce need to protect them, bringing her anger back to the surface with explosive and violent effects.

At times, The Female of the Species is deeply upsetting. McGinnis does not shy away from uncomfortable subjects including addiction, sexual assault, rape culture, and the unequal expectations society places on young men and women. McGinnis gives her characters the voice to skewer hypocrisy with devastating precision, as when Alex observes: “But boys will be boys, our favorite phrase that excuses so many things, while the only thing we have for the opposite gender is women, said with disdain and punctuated with an eye roll.”

The Female of the Species rewards readers willing to grapple with these difficult issues by masterfully blending genres. McGinnis seamlessly maintains the intensity of a psychological thriller while incorporating elements of a contemporary coming of age story and flirting with classical tragedy. As the story unfolds, told from the alternating perspectives of Alex, Peekay and Jack, Alex is revealed to be an incredibly complex young woman whose intensity, ferocity and loyalty are equally mesmerizing and terrifying.

Spot-Lit for February 2017

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2017 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

The Girl Before by JP Delaney

The Girl Before by JP Delaney is not my typical feel good read, in fact it is anything but!

girlbeforeInitially after reading the summary of this advanced reader copy and agreeing to preview the book, I expected I’d be getting a historical  novel but there was a mix up. Once I received the book and read the back jacket it was quite clear The Girl Before was not what I signed up for. However it looked intriguing: a psychological thriller, something I do enjoy now and then.

Admittedly, as I began reading I got sucked into the short chapters alternating between Emma and Jane. What I wasn’t prepared for was the graphic sex scenes. At one point I nearly gave up, but  I read on Amazon that the book is soon to be a movie produced by Ron Howard.

I’d just seen an old re-run of The Andy Griffith Show and had lingering fond memories of the good old days. I rationalized Opie, Ron Howard’s sweet innocent character, wouldn’t be involved in anything too scandalous.

Well I’ll let you be the judge of that!

Emma and Jane have multiple things in common: each are looking for a fresh start, both women are in a vulnerable state, neither of them can afford the flat known as One Folgate Street, and both  women have a similar look, one that attracts strange men. Lastly, and most disturbingly, Emma and Jane don’t seem fazed by the fact that the flat they want to rent has a frightening history.

First we meet Emma and her boyfriend Simon as they are filling out an elaborate questionnaire to meet the bizarre qualifications to become renters. Emma is much more engaged than Simon who more or less just goes along. Emma ends her relationship with Simon shortly after the couple moves into One Folgate Street. Emma moves right into a sizzling relationship with One Folgate Street’s owner Edward. The relationship seems a stretch given Emma’s lack of tidiness, something Edward insists upon, but she manages to compromise as she becomes obsessed with her new lover.

Next we are introduced to Jane who takes possession of One Folgate Street after Emma’s mysterious death. Jane must comply as well with the restrictive guidelines required to live in One Folgate and she too ends up in a romantic relationship with Edward. Like Emma, at her own expense.

Edward is a purist, a perfectionist, a minimalist, and even though I didn’t look up the definition of a sociopath in the dictionary, I imagined Edward to fit the mold. Not surprisingly he approaches Jane in the same manner he did Emma.

One Folgate Street is a secure and ultra-modern flat giving both women peace of mind. The house is operated remotely by technology. For example, if one breaks the ‘rules’ the shower will not turn on or turn cold notifying the resident that they have broken a rule. Edward, as I mentioned, has idiosyncrasies about neatness. It is just one of the absolutes that tenants are expected to strictly adhere to.

I’ve not read The Girl on the Train, nor Gone Girl, but I have recently read The Woman in Cabin 10. The Girl Before moves much more quickly and is a page turning mystery thriller. You’ve been warned!

Spot-Lit for January 2017

Spot-Lit

These titles – many from debut authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

All On-Order Fiction

Spot-Lit for December 2016

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Remember to check back monthly: Many of the titles we feature here each month end up in major media lists of best books of the year, alongside lesser-touted gems you won’t want to miss. You can see all of this year’s Spot-Lit titles here.

Notable New Fiction 2016 | All On-Order Fiction.