ARGH!!! I told myself I would never do this, but I’ve been a terrible mixture of swamped and exhausted lately. The migraine I had at the beginning of December had me feeling terrible for a week, and I’ve been running around like crazy trying to get things done for the holidays and by the end of the year (which of course means that my daughter is home sick today!). All that has put me so many reviews behind that there’s no way I’ll catch up by the end of the year, but I don’t want to ignore those books entirely. Thus, a mass post of tiny reviews!
Ready? Let’s get this post started.
Love Thy Neighbor: A Muslim Doctor’s Struggle for Home in Rural America by Ayaz Virji (Convergent Books, 2019). This was a beautiful, moving book. Dr. Virji had a pretty good life as a doctor in a big city, but with rural towns in dire need of medical professionals, he felt called to serve humanity and his fellow Americans by moving his family to rural Minnesota and setting up practice there. And in doing so, he found both a sense of home and fierce racism and bigotry.
This is an absolute must-read; Dr. Virji’s perspective is absolutely eye-opening on what Muslims face, especially when they’re the only Muslims in the area. It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking book and should definitely top your TBR list.
No Laughter Here by Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad, 2003). Akilah and Victoria have been best friends for a few years. Akilah loves Victoria’s accent and her stories of world travel, but when Victoria comes back from her summer in Nigeria, something’s terribly wrong. She won’t smile, she won’t laugh, she won’t even speak to Akilah, who can’t figure out what she did wrong. Little by little, Akilah works to gain her friend’s trust again, only to find out that in Nigeria, Victoria’s family forced her to undergo female genital mutilation, and she’s been massively traumatized by it.
This is a middle grade novel and it’s devastating and unfortunately necessary. The author points out at the end that while this might seem like a too-sensitive subject to bring up to middle school-aged girls, it’s girls of those same ages that undergo genital mutilation, so yes, this is exactly the book for girls that age. This would make for a fabulous mother-daughter read, or a mother-daughter book club, especially one looking to expand cultural awareness and issues that affect women and girls the world over.
Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical, edited by Hannah Faith Notess (Cascade Books, 2009). This is a collection of essays, written by various authors, on their varying experiences of growing up as evangelical Christians. Their experiences run the gamut; for some, it worked out well and they remained in the fold, and others found their connection with the sacred in other ways and in other places. I didn’t find this particularly riveting, to be honest, but it was a pleasant-enough weekend read.
To Life! A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking by Harold S. Kushner (Grand Central Publishing, 1994). This is a reread for me; I don’t often reread books, but it’s been a few years and I was curious as to how my perspective of it had changed. It’s a great primer if you’ve never read anything on Judaism before and are curious. The reread taught me that I still indeed enjoy this book very much; Rabbi Kushner has a lovely perspective on religion and God that I can often relate to. He’s probably best known for his bestseller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, which he wrote in the aftermath of his teenage son’s death from progeria. It’s also worth your time if you’re struggling with some of the darker aspects of life.
An Unorthodox Match by Naomi Ragen (St. Martin’s Press, 2019). I’d tried one of Naomi Ragen’s novels years ago and ended up DNF’ing it, but this sounded interesting so I figured I’d try her again. Leah (called Lola by her flighty, hippie mother) is dissatisfied with all of her life and decides to leave everything behind and join an extremely insular ultraorthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn. Almost immediately, she begins helping in the home of Yaakov, a widower with five children (including a deeply angry teenage daughter), whose life has been upended after his wife’s untimely death. Even though they’ve never actually met, they start to fall in love, but their community and family aren’t so sure about this match.
The premise of this book sounded fascinating, but every single character in this book (minus maybe the grandmother, after a while) engaged in such singular black-and-white thinking that I was annoyed almost from the start. Things are either this way or that, and ZERO in-between. Leah, for all her pious leanings, treated her mother terribly and engaged in constant judgment of others whilst bemoaning that they were judging her. Yaakov was ready to toss his teenage daughter out like yesterday’s spoiled food; Leah’s mother was a mere parody of a person, and there are multiple shocking incidents of racism and an uncomfortable-at-best depiction of autism that are casually included by the author and that nearly made me drop the book. This book had such potential to be interesting, but I don’t feel like I can recommend it at all.
Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life- In Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There!) by Sarah Hurwitz (Spiegel & Grau, 2019). I absolutely adored this book. It’s brief parts memoir, but mostly more nonfiction about Judaism. There are a few write-ups and breakdowns of holidays and practices, but moreso it’s a theological discussion of the differing Jewish perspectives of what God is and isn’t, what that means and looks like in practice, and how belief doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing thing. I deeply appreciated Ms. Hurwitz’s take on things; she presents ideas and thoughts about God that made a lot of sense to me. Some were her own; others came from current rabbis and rabbis throughout the ages. I took down multiple pages of notes from this book, and it gave me a lot to think about. Highly, highly recommended if you’re interested in reading about religion!
Okay, I’ll wrap this up here, so as to not make it a MEGAPOST that no one will read, and I’ll continue on with a second post of mini-reviews on Monday. Happy reading, friends! 🙂