Beautiful Boy – David Sheff

“Fortunately I have a son, my beautiful boy. Unfortunately he is a drug addict. 

Fortunately he is in recovery. Unfortunately he relapses. 

Fortunately he is in recovery again. Unfortunately he relapses. 

Fortunately he is in recovery again. Unfortunately he relapses. 

Fortunately he is not dead.”

In Beautiful Boy, David Sheff recounts his son’s struggles with addiction. Nic’s drug of choice is Methamphetamine, well known for being one, if not the hardest drug to stay in recovery for. Sheff talks about his difficulty coping with his son’s addiction, rehab stays, and subsequent relapses. 

Sheff’s story is heartbreaking, and gut wrenching. He is very real about his emotions. From his shame of having an addict for a son to the happiness he feels from thinking about Nic before his addiction changed him. He speaks often about how he wants to feel hope that each trip to rehab will be the one that keeps him clean, but how it would be easier for him if he just gave up and save himself from the heart ache.

I appreciate that Sheff does not hide his emotions, nor does he hide his own drug use when he was younger. While some may leave out this fact he is frank about it, even adding in that at one point Nic asked if he wanted to smoke Marijuana with him and he agreed desperate to have something that he could use to connect with his son. He laments a few times that he wishes that he never did. While Sheff did drugs when he was younger he was blindsided when he found out Nic was also doing them. He says that parents tend to ignore the signs of addiction in their children, hoping that it’s not true and he and his wife are no exception to this.

He wishes that he could do more for his son. Nic is in and out of rehab. He worries constantly about his son’s well being. It is not just Nic who suffers, his family does as well. Sheff struggles with explaining Nics illness with his younger children, unsure of how much to tell them. This is something that I never thought about, how much do you tell small children when their older sibling has an addiction. I don’t know if Sheff handled this correctly but it seemed okay to me to explain that he is ill, but try to keep them away from the effects that the drugs have on him. His choice to lie by omission must have been a difficult choice for him to make.

Sheff’s honestly makes for a heartbreaking story. A great read, especially for those who know someone struggling with addiction. I am grateful for his ability to share his experiences without sounding disconnected and bland. I had fears of this but it did end up reading like the memoir it is.  

“Fortunately there is a beautiful boy. Unfortunately he has a terrible disease. 

Fortunately there is love and joy. Unfortunately there is pain and misery. 

Fortunately the story is not over.”

Becoming – Michelle Obama

“Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.”

Becoming is Michelle Obama’s memoir of her life up too when her husband, Barack, left the presidential office. Obama talks about her life as a child growing up in Chicago, in a neighborhood that suffered from White Flight. Obama manages to bring herself out of this, graduating from Princeton and becoming a successful lawyer. She continues be successful in her endeavors, including her unofficial job as First Lady of the United States. She ends her memoir around the time Donald Trump is sworn in making her memoir end in a very present time period.

Becoming is a book that I was really excited to read, though the $32 price tag was a little steep so I waited for five months to get a copy from my local library. That was a little excruciating. I was a little disappointed at parts but overall it was a good read. For me Becoming was a little weird to read because once she gets to her adulthood it’s a very preset. I’m use to reading memoirs that are either in a different country or are a little older so it feels very distant. This one end in 2017 after Donald Trump’s inauguration.

I got a little frustrated in the middle of the book. I know that Barack Obama is going to be an important part of her life because he is her husband but I did not pick this book up to learn about him. For a fair amount of the middle of the book I felt like I was learning more about Barack than I was of Michelle. This could have been fixed by making the descriptions sound more like they were through her eyes and her experience instead of just spitting out information about Barack running for Senator. It was a better by the time she got to his presidential campaign because she was very involved in the whole process. I only felt this way in the middle of the book, the rest of it was fine, surfacing every once in a while but for the most part if felt more like her memoir.

I loved that Obama added in things about being a First Lady, and having younger kids that you wouldn’t think about. For instance both Malia and Sasha learned how to drive while Barack Obama was in office. She talks about how she wanted them to have the experience of learning to drive like normal teenagers even if it meant that they have to have lessons from the Secret Service. Or how there was always a store of blood of Barack’s blood in the vehicle he was just in case he needed it. Things for her children became more complicated, security sweeps would have to happen before they were allowed to go to parties and they could never go anywhere without an escort. She explains that all of the rules were frustrating even though she knew how important they were.

Michelle Obama is an inspiring woman and her memoir is a reminder of how hard she has worked. She is not just the wife of a President but someone who truly worked hard and could have gotten to where she was without her husbands fame. She clearly states that she doesn’t like politics and would never run for President but man, her ideals would make for a great candidate.

Uncomfortable Labels: My Life as a Gay Autistic Trans Woman – Laura Kate Dale

I was given an e-Advanced Reader Copy of this novel through Netgalley. Many thanks to Netgalley and the Publisher for the opportunity to do so!

Laura Kate Dale’s Uncomfortable Labels: My Life as a Gay Autistic Trans Woman summarizes her life as a child through an adult, covering both her transition, diagnosis of being on the Autism Spectrum and her discovery of being gay. She talks about no only everyday things that are involved that are being part of these groups but also the long term effects on her and others that are involved in these groups.

Dale writes about how there is an overlap between being Autistic and Transgender, unfortunately, she only sources one article. While this is not my area of expertise, one article is not enough to prove that it is common. I was frustrated through the book when she stated things as facts but didn’t give the evidence to prove them to be so. All of the things that are presented as facts are not and that makes a lot of the attempted academical writing in this book to be moot.

I applaud her for talking about how things are when you’re transgender. The most striking thing that she brought up was “passing.” Where you have to pass as “looking female” or “looking male” to be considered the correct gender and avoid being misgendered. Bringing this up here made me realise the need to stopping thinking of people as the gender that they look but as the gender that they wish to be called, regardless of my perceptions. Not everyone is going to look “traditionally” male or female.

Unfortunately, a lot of things in this book were constantly repeated or she started to ramble. She at one point makes a statement about how her autism allowed her to focus and write four chapters in one train ride. Boy does that show. Dale meant to point out a good part of having autism but this statement is not a good one. Honestly, parts of this book remind me of unedited papers were things become muddled and unfocused. Of course there are good things about autism and hyperfocus can be one of them but that doesn’t mean that those 4 chapters should never be revisited. It progressively gets worse as the book goes on.

Dale has good intentions with this book but she falls short on the execution. I hope that before this book is fully published that she is able to add more resources, other than her personal experiences, and and remember that longer does not alway mean better.

The A-Z of Gender and Sexuality by Morgan Lev Edward Holleb

Many thanks to Netgalley and the Publisher for an E-Advanced Reader Copy of this comic. I was given this in exchange for a fair review.

The A-Z of Gender and Sexuality by Morgan Lev Edward Holleb is a comprehensive guide to terms used for gender and sexuality topics. Something that is needed in a world where terms in this area are forever evolving and emerging. While this is not a bad thing it does make a book like this necessary to know what the correct terminology to use is.

This glossary is extremely educational, as I hoped it would be. It has many terms that I had never heard of and it was fun to learn about their existence. I was especially excited to see different gender neutral terms other than they/them. I was annoyed by the examples that were given for using them in a sentence though. Here there was no usage of punctuation which made it hard to determine the proper way to use them. I hope that this will be fixed in the finished copy.

For being advertised as a glossary this the definitions were quite wordy and political at times. I chose this book to use more like a reference when reading LGBTQ+ novels. Finding a term quickly is important when it comes to this usage. This made it quite annoying for me to use, there were terms that took up whole pages. This made me really dislike this format.

Along with this I was looking for a glossary or a dictionary not a history lesson which is what happened soooo many times here. While it was interesting to read at times, I didn’t think that it was the place for it to be included.

It was incredibly frustrating to be told that something was going to be a glossary of terms and get told things, that while they were related to the word they weren’t needed to know what the word meant. This is not something that I would recommend for what it advertises. Go into this book to not only learn definitions but also to hear more things that are related to the more complex and charged terms. Unfortunately, I could not give it a good rating because of this.  

How to be a Good Creature – Sy Montgomery

How to be a Good Creature is Sy Montgomery’s way of exploring her life, doing so with the animals that have being involved with her life from her pets to research animals. Montgomery’s way of writing her memoir is innovative and imaginative. Who would have thought of telling parts of your life using the animals who also shared that time period with you? Sy Montgomery did, and I’m so glad that she thought of it. It was so fun to read her story this way.

Montgomery’s choice of illustrator, Rebecca Green, was a great one. She captures the personalities of each of the animals exquisitely. Some pictures feature a quote from the chapter, others just the animal. Even in though these images are black and white, aside from some text, they capture the eye and make you wonder if Green pulled these from snapshots that Montgomery had of the moments that they reflect, that’s how well they fit.

My main complaint with this is that it I wish it was longer. I feel like her life has a lot more interesting things in it outside of these animals and I wish that those events could have been addressed as well. However, this didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the memoir so it it wasn’t a huge problem.

I don’t know why I didn’t expect this from a book filled with animals but this memoir was sadder than I expected it to be. Many animals have shorter lifespans than people do, and  why wouldn’t I expect that their deaths to be included, when they had such an integral part of Montgomery’s life? While it was sad I appreciated that it was integrated into her memoir. Life isn’t always happy nor is it perfect.

How to be a Good Creature an interesting exploration of Sy Montgomery’s life. It was sad but also warm and fun. Montgomery is innovative by using the animals that filled her life to explore her own. It wasn’t my favorite memoir ever, but I didn’t hate it either.

Surviving the Fatherland – Annette Oppenlander

I was given an E-book of this novel in exchange for a fair review. Many thanks to Netgalley and the Publisher for the opportunity to do so.

Surviving the Fatherland: A True Coming-of-age Love Story Set in WWII Germany by Annette Oppenlander is a true story written about Oppenlander’s parents, Günter and Lilly. Both of her parents grew up during World War II and this showcases their struggle through both Hitler’s Regime and Post-war Germany.
Oppenlander’s ability to explore her parent’s past is remarkable. Showing both the bad and good things they did without sugar coating things to make her parents, and grandparents, seem like better people than they were. They were humanized through their faults and mistakes which made the novel read more like a historical fiction novel than a nonfiction novel. I truly forgot that it was a nonfiction book while reading it and only remembered when i got to the last 50 or so pages. Her ability to connect you to the characters also makes you want to read the snippets that she added to the back about what the characters are doing now. Which I also highly appreciated knowing about instead of their memory disappearing during their 20’s.
I appreciated that Oppenlander focused more on Post-war Germany instead of the time period of Hitler’s Regime. The Holocaust is important but many people at least have a general knowledge about concentration camps and Germany’s economic struggles. Often, however, it is assumed that Germany was fine after WWII ended, but this is not the case. It took many years for the economy to recover. Both Günter and Lilly struggle to find food and survive. Which is only different from during the war because Günter could be at home and not hiding from the Military so that he could avoid joining Hitler’s Army and parishing with the rest of his classmates.
Curiously, there were somethings that were changed that could add some confusion as to how much of the novel is fact and what is fiction. Oppenlander adds in two fictional characters Herr Baum and Karl Huss. Both of these characters appear often in the novel itself. Oppenlander does state this in the Gallery of Characters at the back of the book and are based in some fact, but it does seem strange to put fictional characters in a nonfiction novel. Oppenlander does change a few names in the novel but she does this for clarity as both Lilly and Gerda’s real names are Helga. This makes sense to me to do as they are often together and this would become confusing to read, but I still have a hard time with making up characters.
While the topic of this novel is a heavy one Oppenlander shows glimmers of hope through the friendships created and the love story that ultimately comes into fruition. I found myself hoping that Günter, Lilly, Helmut and Gerda had happy endings in a time where happy ending are few and far between. While she offers up hope she also shows heartbreak, with Günter’s difficulty to cope after the war was over and the economy finally took an upswing. With Lilly’s mother’s favoritism and her father and mother’s relationship. She combines the two beautifully, allowing the reader to have a full range of emotion in such a depressing time period, which makes for the novel to be not as emotionally taxing as WWII novels tend to be.
I really enjoyed Surviving the Fatherland, and I’m glad that I was able to read it. I would recommend this specifically for people who don’t know what Post-war Germany was like and those who want to learn about it. This novel is also good for people who usually enjoy Historical Fiction as this novel is not fact heavy and reads very much like a fiction novel.

Girl, Wash Your Face – Rachel Hollis

Girl, Wash Your Face : Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis is a collection of lies that women are told as they are growing up. Each chapter is one lie covering things from “I’m Bad at Sex” to “I’m Not a Good Mom.”

I didn’t like this book. I expected so much more from it but in the end I was so let down. So many of the things that she talked about just really ground my gears. From the need to exclude men from the book, to being beat in the face by religion.

First of all why is this book geared only towards women. I’m pretty sure that the majority of the topics in this book are also things that relate to men. For instance in “I Need a Drink” Hollis talks about how after she had kids she started to use wine to calm her nerves and help with the exhaustion that came to taking care of her children. She comes to realise that this is not a healthy way of going about things. But why is this not relatable to men as well? I can see “The Lie: I Need To Make Myself Smaller” and “The Lie: I Need A Hero” possibly only being relatable to women. Why is female empowerment suddenly about excluding men from things? Is it really the right way to go to treat someone else how you have been treated to make yourself feel better about your exclusion? I don’t think so.

I appreciate the things that Hollis brings up, but sometimes her solutions become repetitive. Such as the “just do it.” I don’t need three different chapters telling me that I should just go do it. I get it. Go for you dreams. God will show you the way. I like that she gave points at the end of each chapter showing what helped her get over this lie in her life. Even having things pointed out to me that I never really thought about. For example one of the chapters is “The Lie: I’m Going to Marry Matt Damon” at some point in your life you realise that the celebrity crushes you had as a kid were just you lying to yourself and that it just isn’t going to happen. This added a little humor into a mostly serious book.

I’m glad that Hollis is so solid in her faith, but listening to her talk about it just felt like someone was rubbing sandpaper on my skin. I just don’t like reading books where people chalk up their success or abilities to God. Sure you can think that God gave you these things but you chose to use them. You went out on a limb to do something that could have failed and you were the one who made it a success.

A History of America in Ten Strikes – Erik Loomis

I received an E-Advanced Reader Copy of this book in exchange for a fair review. Many thanks to the Publisher and Netgalley for the opportunity to do so.

A History of America in Ten Strikes by Erik Loomis is an informative non-fiction book focusing on the importance of strikes and what they they did for the working class of America. Loomis focuses on 10 strikes ranging from the Lowell Mill Girls Strike from 1930-1840 to Justice for Janitors in 1990.

The layout for this book was not what I expected, though it was not a bad way to do it. I expected that each chapter would talk about what happened during the strike and then tie it in with other parts of American History. Instead each strike is framed with a question which is then answered in depth using other strikes and context before going into the strike named at the beginning of the chapter. Once I understood this layout it didn’t bother me.

This is definitely not a book to read all at once. There is so much information to absorb. I took breaks every few chapters and went and read a lighter book so that I could fully understand everything in the book. I loved that it had so much information, I learned tons of things that I didn’t know already. In fact, it was rare that I already knew the strike that was focused on in the chapters and it was really refreshing to be able to learn so many things. However, it is a lot and it would have been overwhelming if I read it without stopping to read other things inbetween.

While this is an informative book, Loomis’ opinions come through a lot throughout this book. I didn’t expect the rhetoric that is used, I was looking more for an explanation on the strikes, not so much being told how important it is for workers to fight for their rights. While I agree with this ideal it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

A History of America in Ten Strikes is an informative book and not one for someone who is just looking for a general overview. It held my attention for the most part through the usage of real life things that were happening at the time period, such as 12+ hour work days at dangerous jobs for low wages. This book holds real day importance and should be read by anyone who is trying to understand how we got to where we are in our workforce.

She’s My Dad – Jonathan Williams and Paula Stone Williams

I received an E-Advanced Reader Copy of this memoir in exchange for a fair review. Many thanks to Netgalley and Westminster John Knox Press for the opportunity to review this memoir.

She’s My Dad : A Father’s Transition and a Son’s Redemption by Jonathan Williams and Paula Stone Williams follows a Jonathan while his father transitions from male to female late in her life. Paula has felt that she was a woman since she was a child but did not transition until late in his life after he married and had children. Jonathan has a hard time coping as he feels like he is losing his father. On top of this, Paula loses her job as a director for an Evangelical church-planting organization and struggles to find her place in the world after losing something that was such an integral part of her life. Johnathan who is a Pastor at one of these churches struggles to accept his father and if it is okay for him to do so in the eyes of God.

This memoir is so refreshing. Jonathan is honest about his struggle to accept his father’s new identity. Jonathan laments that he feels like he is losing the person that he grew up knowing even though his father really isn’t going anywhere. He admits that this is partly because the perceived masculinity that he saw his father having. His identity was based around his now transgendered father does that mean that that he is a woman himself? Eventually Jonathan comes around to his father’s change but he struggles deeply while doing so.

Paula’s perspective is very limited, she only has a few chapters, but I wish that she had more. She too has her own struggles. From her relationships with her friends and family falling apart to her own faith. Paula loses the her job, something that she loved to do and this made her lose her faith in God because she cannot find her place without preaching. I wish her journey through transition was explored more, but I understand that the majority of this book was meant to surround Jonathan’s struggle.

This memoir is the perfect example of using religion and faith in a way that does not turn a reader, who does share their opinion, off. Jonathan is humble in his journey through his father’s transition. He, as a preacher, does question is faith. He wants to accept his Father but he is having a hard time figuring how to do so while still following what he feels his religion expects of him. His group of churches does not accept any part of the LGBTQ+ community. Jonathan ends up leaving this group of churches when he decides to embrace his father, bringing his church to be more accepting and even if they don’t agree they can still live together. It is beautiful to watch Jonathan express his struggle and eventual acceptance of not only his father but the LGBTQ+ community.

There are a few things that I wish were in this memoir but they often involved other people, I accept that this was probably due to the person not wanting their own experience published. One thing that did bother me was that “fuck” is used a few times but it is bleeped out. This is an adult book and I think that we as adults can handle explicit language. This is a minor thing, but It did annoy me to see those stars in the word.

She’s My Dad is an eye opening memoir showcasing two people’s struggles to accept themselves and each other. It is a great book for those who know someone who is transitioning, and especially their families. I’m curious to see what comes of this book when it is finally published.

Maid – Stephanie Land

I received an e-Advanced Reader copy in exchange for a for a fair review. Many thanks to Hachette Book Group and Netgalley for the opportunity to do so.

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive documents Stephanie Land’s struggles as a single mom. Land finds herself and her daughter homeless after she leaves her abusive boyfriend. As the title suggests she works as a maid while she struggles to get out of a homeless shelter and provide for herself and her young daughter. Even when she does manage to get out of the homeless shelter life keeps knocking her down. Beaten and bruised from what life throws at her Land continues to get up and slug through, using the hope that things will get better to keep herself from giving up.

This memoir is distressing while also being inspirational at the same time. Not only does it show how people treat people when they poor, but also the struggle that they go through trying to crawl out of the incredibly deep hole of poverty. Land talks about many different situations but the two that stuck out to me the most where when Land uses SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) to buy food at the supermarket. While checking out man tells her “you’re welcome” because in his mind he is the one who is helping her pay for her food with his contribution to taxes.  How sad it was for someone to remark on her struggles without knowing anything about her. Another incident that stood out to me was her daughter, Mia, continuously get sick because of their living conditions. The only apartment that she can afford is a home that is damp, cold and teeming with black mold. The nurse, after Land tells her a bit about their apartment, tells her to try harder for her daughter. Even though Land frequently forgos food to feed her daughter, works a maid service job while taking more cleaning and landscaping jobs on the side. Not to mention how even earning a little bit more money will keep her from receiving some of her benefits that help her pay for Mia’s childcare while she works. Even with these hardships she manages to make it through, working to provide the best that she can for herself and Mia.

There are a few things that did bother me about this memoir. I wish that the timeline was more pronounced. Often I found myself confused as to if the time line was linear or not. I wish that years were mentioned more. Months were given but not mentioning the year every once in a while made it hard for me follow. The next thing that bothered me I am excluding from my overall dislike of the memoir until the final copy is out because I hope that it gets fixed before it’s publish next year. It has to do with using commas to separate nonessential phrases and clauses. Land with use this grammar rule twice in a sentence which can make it difficult to understand the sentence without reading it more than once taking out one phrase or clause at a time. This happens mostly in the first half of the book. So hopefully this just has to do with it not being a final copy. Finally, every once in a while there would be a paragraph that didn’t seem to relate to the what was going on in the paragraph before and after. While they gave important information it just seemed out of place.

I did like reading about Land’s hardship and struggles. It puts poverty into a perspective that allows for it to be understood. Showing the the judgement of her situation and her struggle to overcome it. I’m not sure if I want to pick up a final copy of this book, but I did enjoy the memoir.