memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: America Calling: A Foreign Student in a Country of Possibility by Rajika Bhandari

I never got the chance to study abroad, but I was friends with people who had, or who were currently foreign students. The amount of courage that takes is incredible, and I’m even more in awe of the people who make the decision to study abroad in today’s political climate. I also have a friend who works with foreign students, and her job always sounds so interesting, so when I heard about America Calling: A Foreign Student in a Country of Possibility by Rajika Bhandari (She Writes Press, 2021), I knew I had to read it.

Rajika Bhandari grew up in a middle-class Indian family. Her parents weren’t rich, but they managed to give her an excellent education at various schools, including boarding school, around the country. When it came time to get her graduate degree, she decided to follow her fiancé to the United States, studying psychology at North Carolina State University. While she’d grown up speaking English, the language was still a barrier. Money was a constant struggle. The locals struggled to understand her foreign-ness, and the culture shock was massive. Studying abroad is a massive change of pace, and Ms. Bhandari illuminates every last difficulty in this eye-opening memoir.

The difficulties don’t end after graduation. Making the decision to return home or stay in the US is a challenge; finding an opportunity to stay is even tougher, with mounds of paperwork and years of waiting (and sometimes employers back out after realizing just how much work it is for them). This all takes a toll on Rajika’s relationship, but it helps her understand the students she later goes on to study and serve.

This is a really great memoir. I had no idea of the sacrifices most foreign students undergo, the difficulties placed in their paths, in order to receive an education in America. And staying in the US after graduation? The entire process sounds like a nightmare; I’m kind of in awe of anyone who makes it work. The US makes this process way more difficult than it needs to be.

This is one of those books that’s going to stick with me, especially the images of Ms. Bhandari’s first small shared apartment, learning to drive, learning to cook and struggling to afford the basics. We ask a lot of our foreign students, making it way harder than it should be merely to survive (my God, the US really seems to delight in that for just about everyone, doesn’t it?). It doesn’t have to be that way.

Visit Dr. Rajika Bhandari’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter.

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memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: Gunfight: My Battle Against the Industry that Radicalized America by Ryan Busse

I had the privilege of attending a virtual presentation a few weeks ago featuring author and activist Ryan Busse, discussing the US’s massive gun violence problem and his book, Gunfight: My Battle Against the Industry that Radicalized America (PublicAffairs, 2021). I hadn’t been able to get a copy of his book before the talk, but it came in soon after and mirrored a lot of what he spoke about in his presentation. He shared slides, some of which came from testimony he’s given to Congress (like half of them care…), and all of it was shocking and terrifying, like so much in this book.

Ryan Busse grew up loving the outdoors. His father taught his brother and him to hunt and fish, but he shared with them the importance of handling guns safety, and that no gun was worth a human life. Thanks to his strong ties to hunting as a child, Ryan grew up wanting to work in the gun industry and made that happen for himself, securing a position with Kimber and helping the company grow exponentially over his time there.

But Ryan’s goals for the company and where the NRA was steering the firearms industry as a whole began to diverge along the way. Whereas Ryan stood by the values of safety and nature conservation he’d grown up with, the radicalization and violence fetishization the industry pushed, along with its commitment to toxic masculinity and profits above human lives, alienated and horrified him. For years, he fought back from the inside, until the damage was too much for one man to even begin to control.

This is quite a damning look at the firearms industry as a whole and how the NRA has poisoned it along with American politics, and has fanned the flames of xenophobia, racism, toxic masculinity, and violence as a whole, all under the guise of making money. “Who benefits from this?” is an important question to ask when you’re consuming social media of politicians and reporters who are doing their best to drum up fear; the answer is very often the firearms industry, as more and more Americans purchase more and more guns and weapons. It’s a disturbing, sickening industry with no morals or integrity, and it makes me ashamed that we as a country let this happen.

I’m not a gun person; I have no interest in them (I’ve been shooting multiple times in my life and I’m actually a pretty good shot, but it’s not a hobby I’m interested in pursuing), and I can’t say this book did anything to make me more interested in guns as a whole, despite Ryan’s obvious respectful fascination (I did appreciate his devotion to conservation and protecting the lands he obviously cherishes, however!). If you’re not into guns, you should definitely know there’s a lot of information in here about them. I can’t say I’m any better informed about makes and models, but I am walking away with a much better look at how dark the gun industry has become in the US, and how they’re a massive part of the problem, if not the majority of how and why we’re where we are today in the US. It’s shameful, but I’m glad to have this understanding now. I wish everyone understood this.

If you’re looking to shed more light on why the US is such a horrific mess, and you want to know how we got here, with mass shootings every ten seconds and no one doing anything about it, look no further. Gunfight by Ryan Busse will explain it all.

Visit Ryan Busse’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

memoir

Book Review: The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger

I feel such a responsibility to read memoirs by Holocaust survivors. So much history, so much suffering, so much to learn about how not just to survive but even thrive while carrying some of the worst trauma imaginable. I’m careful about how and when I read these books, however; I recognize when I’m more able to engage with these types of books, in order to preserve my mental health (especially with the constant chaos going on in the world today), and hopefully you are too. On my last library trip, I decided I was ready for The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger (Scribner, 2017), a Holocaust survivor, and I’m glad I was. This is a remarkable book.

Edith Eger was only sixteen years old when she wound up in Auschwitz. Her parents were killed immediately; her oldest sister had been away playing violin concerts, so she hadn’t made the trip, but Edith and her other sister clung to each other, helping each other to survive and risking their lives for each other. Throughout her time there, through illness, starvation, grief, and pain, Edith managed to maintain an attitude that helped her make it through the grueling days of suffering, and afterwards, trying to rebuild a life without her parents and beloved boyfriend, she carried on with that same attitude, marrying, having a family, and eventually earning a PhD and growing a successful therapy practice. Her story is one of resilience, a message about how we can’t always choose our circumstances, but we can choose our attitude towards them, and some attitudes are more helpful for survival – and thriving! – than others.

Dr. Eger’s story is a tough one. Her descriptions of conditions, of the depravity forced upon the prisoners in Auschwitz and the other camps she spent time in are horrifying, and there were definitely times I had to set the book down and take a few breaths. It’s not an easy story to listen to, but these stories are so, so important. We can’t let this history be lost; we have to take it in, carry it with us into the future, and make sure our children understand what the outcome of such hatred looks like.

Reading about Dr. Eger’s successful practice, not only after having survived the Holocaust but after having earned her PhD as an adult student, filled me with hope (and also more than a little jealousy for her clients; she sounds like she’s a remarkable therapist!). Maybe it’s not too late for me to become something more than what I am now. If she can do it, maybe I can, too…

Truly a heart-wrenching, inspiring book, one I’m very glad made its way to my TBR.

Visit Dr. Edith Eger’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

food · food history · memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: Koshersoul: The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew by Michael W. Twitty

It’s not hugely often that I’m in time to spot Jewish books on NetGalley (I’m deeply realistic about what I have time for, so I tend to not browse the NetGalley shelves too often!), but I was thrilled when I happened to be clicking through and stumbled upon Koshersoul: The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew by Michael W. Twitty (Amistad Press, 2022). I was so excited when I received notice that my request had been approved. Into the world of Black Jewish cooking I dove!

Michael Twitty is a chef and a writer, living at the intersection of Black and Jewish in a country (and a world) that doesn’t have an excess amount of kindness for either group. That said, despite people’s confusion, despite people not understanding and deliberately not bothering to learn, being Black and Jewish co-exists beautifully together and is expressed lovingly in many ways, chiefly in the food that Mr. Twitty cooks. From the traditional dishes of various African countries, to the meals cooked up in the slave cabins of his ancestors, to the Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions that are now his traditions, Michael Twitty finds deep meaning in the art and flavors of cooking and how his many beautiful identities color his culinary creations.

Part-memoir, part academic history, part exploration of the culture of food and how our identity contributes to what we cook (and how Black identity in particular brings not just baggage, but joy and beauty), Koshersoul defies genre – maybe making the point that those of us with multiple intersecting identities defy traditional classification as well.

Michael Twitty is a talented, eloquent writer. His writing is scholarly enough to challenge my exhausted, pandemic-addled brain, but friendly and comfortable enough that reading this is joyful. He writes of his life, his ancestors, with a deep reverence, and the same reverence is afforded to the food he creates and serves. To him, cooking is an art and deserves the same respect afforded to works of art, and his veneration of tradition has made me consider cooking in a different way: less of a chore, more of an act of worship, a respect for those who came before us, a celebration of who we are and our survival over the centuries. They tried to kill us; they failed; let’s eat.

Koshersoul wanders from subject to subject; it doesn’t follow any linear structure, but that’s part of what keeps it so interesting. His interviews with other Black Jews and chefs (many of whom I already follow on Twitter, so it was great seeing their words in long form!) intrigued me, but I also deeply appreciated reading Mr. Twitty’s experiences, difficult as some of them must have been to recount (racism is, unfortunately, alive and well in the Jewish community). The book is also heavy on Judaism and his life within it, so that absolutely called to me and made my own soul happy.

Koshersoul is available from all major retailers on August 9th (and it contains recipes!).

Visit Michael W. Twitty’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

book review · memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American by Wajahat Ali

I’ve followed Wajahat Ali on Twitter for years. His astute political commentary, sense of humor, and love for his children (especially his daughter Nusayba, who fought stage-4 liver cancer and won with the help of a new liver – which was found because Dad tweeted about it! Bless that man who gave her part of his, when he didn’t have to) made him an easy and enjoyable follow. So when I learned he was coming out with a book, I added Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American (WW Norton Company, 2022) to my TBR. And this week, it was finally in.

The son of Pakistani Muslim immigrants, Wajahat Ali has led an interesting life, much of which I knew nothing about. This part-memoir, part-humor writing, part-textbook on Islam in America and the immigrant and second-generation experience, introduces the reader to a world they may not understand much about. With a large extended family and frequently gossipy community, Wajahat Ali may not have always felt accepted by white America, but he kept his nose down, worked hard, and tried his best. Life fell apart, however, when his parents got caught up in some shady business deals, were arrested, and were sentenced to prison.

Instead of getting started with his adult life and heading straight to law school after college like he’d planned, Wajahat picked up his parents’ mess, attempted to take over the business (while trying to finish up school as well!), and did what he could to support his parents and try to garner more support from the outside community. The stress nearly devoured him whole; he survived, finished law school, became a playwright, a writer, and a lawyer, and became a man who, if only on the outside (anxiety and OCD solidarity, Mr. Ali!), handles himself and the challenges he faces with courage, grace, and a wicked sense of humor.

Wajahat Ali’s writing style will pull you in. When terms come up that a non-Muslim may not be familiar with, he’ll define them, but he’ll do so in a way that keeps the conversation going. Never once does he talk down to his audience, even when he knows far more about the subject than we do. He wants to engage us, to involve us in his story so that we understand the full Muslim-in-America story: what it’s like, how it feels, how white non-Muslims have affected his life (positively and negatively). How white people have ignored people like him, until they can blame him for something that someone who may have looked like him or shared his religion did – something we don’t do to white people. (As I write this on July 4th, police are frantically searching for the gunman of the Highland Park parade, which is only about 45 minutes away from me. Ten bucks said that guy had a Christmas tree in his house when he was young, and I’ll bet all my savings that we’re not going to hold all Christians or Christianity responsible for his behavior. And we shouldn’t. And the same courtesy should be extended to our Muslim brothers and sisters.)

What I’m trying to say is that this will make you think deeply about how you think of Muslims – the ones in your community, the ones you see on television, the ones in your family or friend group, if you’re lucky enough to have them. How are they portrayed in the media? Are there any ways you think about them differently than you’d think anyone else? Can you do better? (The answer here is yes. Always yes. We – and this includes me – can always do better.) This book is a great start, and it’s a great read.

I’m glad this made its way to my list, and I look forward to hearing more in the future from Wajahat Ali. I’m glad I got to enjoy his writing in longer form.

Visit Wajahat Ali’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

memoir · nonfiction · true crime

Book Review: Unmasked: My Life Solving America’s Cold Cases by Paul Holes

My long-time online parenting group (been with them twenty years now!) has a book group, and of course I’m one of the admins. Every Wednesday, we chat about what we’re currently reading, and a few months ago, someone mentioned that they were reading Unmasked: My Life Solving America’s Cold Cases by Paul Holes (Celadon Books, 2022). My brain immediately perked up, and off I trotted to my library’s website. Sure enough, they had it, and just as I expected, it was checked out…and likely would be for a good long time. ‘No worries,’ I thought. ‘I have plenty of other books to read in the meantime.’ But on this last library trip, Unmasked was on the new books shelf. YOINK!

Paul Holes worked for various offices in Contra Costa County, California, solving both active and cold cases, some of them well-known. Jaycee Dugard was discovered on his watch; his work with DNA helped to finally identify the Golden State Killer after decades. He was good at his job, and having served in that role for twenty-seven years before retiring, he’s seen some terrible, awful things. And he’s here in this memoir to tell you all about them.

For the sensitive reader, there are a few stomach-turning moments where the descriptions get a little graphic, but for the most part, Mr. Holes keeps that part calm. It’s more the details of what happened that are tough to read. Children and young women, mainly, ripped from their families, often times without a trace. Horrible suffering for both the victim and their families and loved ones. Paul Holes was privy to all of it over his career, and the horrors took their toll on him as well. This brutally honest memoir shows not just the brutality of crime but what it costs those tasked with solving them.

What struck me most about this book was its honesty. Paul Holes pulls no punches when it comes to what a shitty father and husband he’s been, in large part because of the demands of his work (and this goes for both the PTSD it caused him and how his brain is naturally wired to get obsessive about his cases). He drank too much, he spent far too much time at work, he had a hard time letting go of work once he did return home. The crimes he worked also destroyed his first marriage and deeply damaged his second as well; they weren’t the sole cause, and maybe he would’ve been just as crummy of a husband and father if he’d been a dentist or accountant, but the horrors he dealt with every day at work definitely didn’t help. His honesty at just how awful he was, however, is refreshing.

This is a grisly peek into what goes on behind the scenes of all those true crime podcasts and documentaries that so many of us binge-watch. It’s more than DNA swabs and footprint casts; it’s maggots and rot and murders continuing to ruin families because there’s not enough usable evidence. It’s horror on every side, but if true crime is something that intrigues you, you’ll do yourself a favor by delving more into this behind-the-scenes story.

Follow Paul Holes on Twitter here.

memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: Since Sinai: A Convert’s Path to Judaism by Shannon Gonyou

Another Jewish book from NetGalley! I’m on a roll, baby!!!

I’ve followed Shannon Gonyou on Twitter for a while now. She converted to Judaism, like me, and I’m always interested in the perspectives of other converts: the whys, the similarities and differences to my own conversion. Shannon has always seemed insightful, with a good sense of humor, so I was thrilled to learn she’d written a conversion memoir. Lo and behold, there it was on NetGalley! I requested (of course!), and voilà, the acceptance email for Since Sinai: A Convert’s Path to Judaism by Shannon Gonyou (Msi Press, 2022) landed in my inbox a few days later. I may have gasped in excitement. Huge thank you to NetGalley, Msi Press, and Shannon Gonyou for the opportunity to read and review this book!

Shannon Gonyou grew up Catholic, the stipulation of her birth mother to the parents who adopted and raised her. They weren’t super into it, but they dutifully raised her in the faith, which didn’t particularly interest her as a young child, but in which Shannon took a greater interest as she grew older. She had a lot of questions, of course; maybe more questions than her religious educators cared for, and the answers often rang a little more hollow than she would’ve liked, but Shannon held on, trying to carve out a place for herself in Catholicism. The evangelical church she tried out next was much the same. Both churches’ white savior complexes felt faulty, along with their one-size-fits-all belief systems. What’s a spiritual-seeking girl to do?

Judaism was something Shannon just kept coming back to, over and over. She’d question friends, co-workers, classmates, anyone who she met and learned was Jewish. The tradition kept calling to her until finally, she blurted out to her husband one Christmas eve (what better time?) that she wanted to be Jewish. To his absolute credit, despite being caught somewhat off guard, her husband was remarkably understanding, and eventually he came to fall just as deeply in love with Judaism as Shannon did. This is the story of Shannon’s religious journey, from questioning Catholic to deeply committed Jew, and all that happened in between.

This is an absolutely lovely memoir. Shannon’s story is winding, full of questions and the struggle to find herself in traditions that weren’t quite meant for her. Conversion is a huge, intimidating leap (I sat in front of my first email to the rabbi I converted with for over a week, struggling to come up with the exact words that expressed how deeply I had fallen in love with Judaism); being able to travel her journey with her in all its stops and starts, in the moves she now considers uncomfortable at best (such as the mission trips she went on), was truly enjoyable. I saw a lot of my own story in hers and it was a true joy to not only read about Shannon’s path to the mikvah, but to also be able to compare and relive my own journey there.

This is no dry, dusty, stodgy memoir; Shannon Gonyou writes as though she’s having a warm, comfortable conversation with her oldest friend, and every sentence is infused with her love of Judaism and her absolute delight in having made her way home to where she belongs. If you don’t know much about Judaism and are curious as to why someone would choose to become a member of a traditionally persecuted group, Since Sinai will lead you to a greater understanding. If, like me, you’ve converted to Judaism, you’ll definitely see yourself in these pages. And if you’re in the process or are considering converting, this book will enlighten you as to what the process might look like for you – and you can pass it along to your family and friends when they have questions, too.

Since Sinai was an absolute delight to read. Pre-pandemic, I was staying off the internet on Shabbat, but fell away from that practice when the internet became my sole connection with family and friends who were similarly isolated. Reading this moved me back to the place where I felt ready to do that again, and I very much welcomed that haven of calm and peace the last few weeks.

Follow Shannon Gonyou on Twitter here.

memoir

Book Review: A Beginner’s Guide to Paradise by Alex Sheshunoff

It was while searching my library’s catalog for books on tiny houses that I stumbled across A Beginner’s Guide to Paradise by Alex Sheshunoff (NAL, 2015). (There’s an entire long subtitle that I’m not going to write out here, but feel free to click on the Goodreads link so you can see it in all its unwieldy glory!) I love a good travel memoir, and I also love a good ‘picked up and moved halfway around the world memoir,’ so this called out to me for those reasons, but what really intrigued me was that the author moved, at first, to the outer islands of Yap.

Yap? What’s Yap?

Yap, my friends, is an island group in the federated states of Micronesia, and it’s where I had a penpal for a brief period of time when I was about 11. Every once in a while Yap comes up in conversation and it feels pretty cool that I’ve been familiar with this place that most people haven’t heard of since I was a kid.

Anyway.

Alex Sheshunoff wasn’t satisfied with his life. The website he’d started up wasn’t doing well and was no longer providing him that feeling of contentment. Living in a big city and working for the weekend wasn’t doing it for him, and his relationship, it was becoming clear, wasn’t made to last. He needed to make some changes and figure out what he wanted out of life, and what better place to do that than a tropical paradise? So Alex sells everything, packs up, and heads off to Yap in order to find himself and discover that which is meaningful to him.

It’s not exactly the lazy island utopia he pictured before the plane touched down. Cultural differences are massive, and making friends – or even getting to know people at all – is challenging. Moving between islands is far more complex than Alex had anticipated, and he finds himself in a lot of wacky situations. It’s a move to a different island that changes everything, where Alex meets the woman he falls in love with. Together, with friends brought over from back home, they build a home (kind of…) and Alex doesn’t necessarily end up with all the answers, but he at least finds some of the things he wasn’t necessarily looking for.

This was…okay. Alex’s journey to Yap and the surrounding islands felt a bit rushed and lacked research, but I suppose if you have the kind of money that I’m reading he did, you can afford to do wacky things like picking up and moving halfway around the world on a whim. His recounting of his interactions with the locals felt awkward and like he wasn’t sure how to fit in (which very well may have been the case; cultural exchanges can be really tough!), and I did feel bad for him in that aspect.

I don’t know, there was something about this book that made it hard for me to connect with. Part of it might be how different our lives our to begin with; it’s hard to find something to connect with in a story of a man who’s able to drop everything and leave the country to find himself, when I don’t have the money to find myself here in town. While I don’t necessarily need to see myself in every book I read, I couldn’t find much at all to connect with here. Still an interesting story, but…it was lacking, for me. But that’s okay. Not every book is meant for every reader. : )

Visit Alex Sheshunoff’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir by Dee Williams

I’ve been on a kick lately, reading about tiny homes. I’ve watched documentaries about them in the past and enjoyed them, but I think I’ve just reached that part of middle age and that stage of the pandemic that a small house all to myself seems like the ultimate fantasy. Combine that with all the environmentalism stuff my daughter and I have been reading for her schoolwork, and having a smaller carbon footprint in a house mostly run on solar and built out of used materials sounds amazing. I dug through my library’s catalog and one of the selections they had was a book called The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir by Dee Williams (Blue Rider Press, 2014). Yes, please! Into my bag it went on my next library trip.

Dee Williams lived a normal-to-hippyish life in the Pacific Northwest. She owned her own home (which was constantly breaking down in various ways) and had been building her DIY skill set since she was young (which came in really handy when her house needed repairs!). When a health problem surfaced that couldn’t be ignored, Dee began to take a hard look at her life and what mattered. What did she want? What would truly make her happy?

Almost overnight, she purchased a trailer and began to build an eighty-four square foot house on it. She had help; friends, neighbors, random passersby, the men giving free advice at the hardware store, they all pitched in to help her dream become a reality. And suddenly…it was built, and eighty-four square feet became home.

Dee Wiliams has written a charming memoir of the ups and downs of building your own home, of learning the skills you need to create a place you can live in, of figuring out what’s important and what can be discarded, and how to build not just a dwelling place, but a community. There are definite downs: her health scares are stressful, and she writes about an incident involving falling off a ladder that resulted in multiple unable-to-be-casted-or-splinted bones that made my whole body cringe (because I’ve also broken one of those bones, and it’s awful); pulling her house behind her down the highway is my actual nightmare (I’ll stick with my smaller vehicle and continue fantasizing about tiny homes that don’t need to be moved anywhere); not having a shower or washer in my tiny house is a no-go for me, but she manages just fine. But the ups outweigh it all. The community she builds around her, the friends who rally and cheer her on when she’s building and afterwards, the family she builds when the house is finished, it’s all so lovely and cozy-feeling.

You might not be ready to give all your possessions away and move into a house smaller than most bedrooms, but it’s still fascinating to read about someone who was, and did. I enjoyed the time I spent living vicariously through Dee Williams’s tiny house-building journey. What a fun and thoughtful book.

Visit Dee Williams’s website here.

memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: The Girls in the Wild Fig Tree: How I Fought to Save Myself, My Sister, and Thousands of Girls Worldwide by Nice Leng’ete with Elizabeth Butler-Witter

Years ago, in my very early 20’s, I was introduced to the concept of female genital mutilation when my online book club read Do They Hear You When You Cry by Fauziwa Kassindja. Since then, I’ve read other books on the subject, and it never gets any less horrifying. Last summer, my library announced they would read The Girls in the Wild Fig Tree: How I Fought to Save Myself, My Sister, and Thousands of Girls Worldwide by Nice Leng’ete with Elizabeth Butler-Witter (Little, Brown and Company, 2021) as a book club selection. I’m still not going to in-person events, so I missed out on what I’m sure was an amazing discussion, but I definitely still wanted to read the book. That FGM hasn’t disappeared off this planet yet is a tragedy, but it’s a relief knowing there are still brave women (and men!) out there, fighting so hard against it.

Nice Leng’ete grew up in Kenya, a member of the Maasai tribe. Her parents were more progressive than most, and her father had a deep commitment to ensuring that his children were educated. Unfortunately, both of Nice’s parents died when Nice was still in early elementary school, and she and her sister were shipped off to an uncle who wasn’t much interested in raising his brother’s children. Education remained a priority for Nice, and she fought hard to be able to stay in school, but by the time she turned nine, her family began demanding that she undergo the ritual of female genital mutilation. Having seen these scenarios performed and knowing that its risks included infection and death – and especially knowing that having this done would mean early marriage, babies, and the end of her education – Nice refuses, even running away multiple times to escape the knife.

It’s not easy to avoid being mutilated; pressure is intense and Nice is nearly shunned by her family and her community for refusing (her sister is, unfortunately, not so lucky), but she holds fast and not only gets the education she deserves, she goes on to college and begins a career with a nonprofit, working to stop the practice of female genital mutilation around the world.

What a fascinating book! This is another easy read about a tough subject. It’s not as in-depth as, say, Do They Hear You When You Cry, but it’s definitely more accessible for younger readers and would make a fabulous read for the mature middle-to-high schooler looking to become better informed about issues that affect girls and women around the world. FGM is still happening, even in countries where it’s been banned, and Ms. Leng’ete makes an excellent case for why people like her – girls and women who know the community, who are intimately familiar with the communities – need to be at the forefront of demanding change. There are a lot of great lessons in this book about what amazing modern-day leadership looks like.

This is another book I read quickly, but it’ll stay with me. I’m in awe of Ms. Leng’ete’s bravery, and her commitment to becoming educated despite so many challenges. This is another book I’d love for my own daughter to read in the future.

Follow Nice Leng’ete on Twitter here.