R. who is (somehow) now 5 picked out Uri Shulevitz’s memoir Chance: Escape from the Holocaust from the library which was (I suppose appropriately) shelved in the children’s section as it is pitched at an older young adult reader. Anyway, I’m pretty shrug shrug to whatever the kid brings home to read – we’ve read a lot of garbage Little Critter books and a lot of much to adult books about dragons as a consequence – but in this case I thought I’d give it a quick go over before reading it to him (something I have truly not done before – which results in a lot of adapted stories let me tell you).
And not that I won’t read it to him, but maybe not at 5. He is still, after all, afraid of giants and requires illustrations with ‘angry eyes’ to be covered up, so not sure he’s ready for the steady description of a family of Jewish refugees from Poland through Soviet Russia (and back again) during WWII. Like the descriptions are never super graphic, but the relentless hunger, terror, uncertainty and sudden death of loved ones… might be a lot.
It does make me wonder when the right time might be to read books to him (or the other kid) that are… difficult. Like we’ve been reading books that explore racism, or violence, or death or other manner of hard stuff forever – in (I like to think) age appropriate and supported ways. But eventually he will be ‘ready’ for a book like this one – where the fate of the author is genuine chance (or maybe God, but you know, chance) and he’ll have to sit with that. I guess I’ll just leave it to school to figure it out. Ha ha.
But seriously – how have you figured out when to read something with a younger person that might be Hard? Or when have you yourself approached a challenging topic and what did you need to read through it well?
So as I was mocking myself for my inability to focus, I decided I did have *some* control over what and how I read. The same podcast I referenced last post, on ‘deep reading’ and ‘deep thinking’ had the insight that you can just… put your phone away. Granted Ezra, the host, bought a literal safe to literally lock his phone away to provide him the right environment to read. I don’t have the luxury of locking my preschooler away (did I say luxury?), but I do have time every day that I can read.
[As an aside, I think if you went back through the last year of blog posts you’d see a series of posts where I Firmly Commit to focused reading, and then posts where I decide I can never focus again and why should I bother and I’m just going to read mysteries anyway. And then the pendulum swings again and I delete all my news apps and social media accounts and for a month I read a lot and feel better, and then I get sucked back into the addiction and it’s all Trump and tweets and what is with Justin’s beard all over again. So yeah. Acknowledging that today’s post is of the sort where I feel virtuous and committed and that by next week this will probably have changed all over again.]
ANYWAY. To give myself an achievable goal I started with a critically acclaimed, very-short, young adult fiction prose-poetry novel Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. This truly terrific little (and I mean little – like an hour to read, max) book follows our protagonist on his trip down an elevator en route to revenge shoot his brother’s killer. On board the elevator he encounters the ghosts of all those – and there are so many – that have been killed around him. And with each encounter we see in sharp relief how this and all the other murders have tried – to varying degrees of success – to shape and contain the child. And how far beyond individual choice this action, or any inaction, would be – so constrained by context that choice itself is as risible as it is hearbreaking.
So yes – I recommend you to Long Way Down for its form (a playful prose-poetry) and its effort to have you rethink individual choice in light of all the rules that are spoken and unspoken in the lives of each of us, but particularly those navigating the intersection of race, class and gender.
I like to walk around the big chain bookstore, with its carefully crafted display tables and candles and blankets, and not buy books (or anything). Instead I have my library app open and as I see a book that looks interesting I order it up. A few weeks or months later the book arrives at the library and I feel this smug satisfaction of *free books* and the delight of having forgotten I’d ordered it in the first place, so it’s like a double present. Continue reading
Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves is a YA (maybe?), dystopic, post-climate-apocalyptic, fantasy novel that follows an Indigenous family as they establish familial and romantic ties while also trying to escape the clutches of predatory, murderous, white ‘Recruiters’ bent on capturing them and taking them off to ‘Schools’ to drain them of their literal marrow (and kill them) because their marrow combats the dreamlessness that has turned all white people into dream-zombies. *Breath* That is to say… it is a lot.
It makes its thematic concerns abundantly clear and accessible (presumably this is why it is understood as young adult fiction?): colonialism, settler-indigenous relations (past, present and possible-future), ecocriticism and trauma. There’s scope to discuss how/when children become adults, the intersection of history and story and the purpose of spiritual life and dreams. It feels like if you were teaching a literature/politics course you could not have ordered up a better novel to open conversations (or I guess if you’re a producer of the 2018 Canada Reads competition…). It is also bursting with similies. Like a water barrell overflowing in a rainstorm with similies.
As a story I didn’t love it. It was a quest narrative that didn’t articulate it’s quest until reaching the climax, as a consequence the reader is left adrift wondering if there might be a point to all the wandering (though I suppose there’s an argument to be made that the reader’s feeling of waywardness is intentionally mirroring that of the characters, but I don’t buy it). The characters themselves read a bit jumbled: there are a lot of them in the family and not enough attention is paid to individualizing each, so there is little emotional investment for the reader on what happens to any one of them. That said, the few characters that do receive a backstory are compelling, if not entirely complicated. There’s also a question of setting. They are forever walking north (like months and months) but never seem to get anywhere (again with the wayward wandering). And I did find the writing strayed into the cliche and the Literary Devices.
As a novel to spurr conversation I think it has merit. There’s ample opportunity to talk about the legacy and continued experience of colonialism, the continued profit off Indigenous bodies, the history of residential schools and the present of incarceration and child welfare agencie, the experience of Metis people within and against the state, and the representation of indigenous people as eco-warriors.
I never know how to end these posts. I feel like I’m always tempted to be like “read it” or “don’t read it,” and in this case I don’t know what to tell you, and maybe you don’t want me to tell you anyway, and so… END.