If you’re looking for a good mix of classic and contemporary science fiction to help take advantage of our All Hallow’s Read discount, look no further. These five books are an excellent starting point down the wormhole of some excellent sci-fi.
Foundation (Foundation #1) – Isaac Asimov
For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. But only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future — to a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save mankind, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire — both scientists and scholars — and brings them to a bleak planet at the edge of the Galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for a future generations. He calls his sanctuary the Foundation.
But soon the fledgling Foundation finds itself at the mercy of corrupt warlords rising in the wake of the receding Empire. Mankind’s last best hope is faced with an agonizing choice: submit to the barbarians and be overrun — or fight them and be destroyed.
American War – Omar El Akkad
Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, that unmanned drones fill the sky. And when her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she quickly begins to be shaped by her particular time and place until, finally, through the influence of a mysterious functionary, she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. Telling her story is her nephew, Benjamin Chestnut, born during war – part of the Miraculous Generation – now an old man confronting the dark secret of his past, his family’s role in the conflict and, in particular, that of his aunt, a woman who saved his life while destroying untold others.
The Machine – James Smythe
Beth lives alone on a desolate housing estate near the sea. She came here to rebuild her life following her husband’s return from the war. His memories haunted him but a machine promised salvation. It could record memories, preserving a life that existed before the nightmares.
Now the machines are gone. The government declared them too controversial, the side-effects too harmful. But within Beth’s flat is an ever-whirring black box. She knows that memories can be put back, that she can rebuild her husband piece by piece.
Monday Starts on Saturday – Arkadi Strugatski, Boris Strugatski
Sasha, a young computer programmer from Leningrad, is driving north to meet some friends for a nature vacation. He picks up a couple of hitchhikers, who persuade him to take a job at the National Institute for the Technology of Witchcraft and Thaumaturgy.The adventures Sasha has in the largely dysfunctional institute involve all sorts of magical beings–a wish-granting fish, a tree mermaid, a cat who can remember only the beginnings of stories, a dream-interpreting sofa, a motorcycle that can zoom into the imagined future, a lazy dog-sized mosquito–along with a variety of wizards (including Merlin), vampires, and officers.First published in Russia in 1965, Monday Starts on Saturday has become the most popular Strugatsky novel in their homeland. Like the works of Gogol and Kafka, it tackles the nature of institutions–here focusing on one devoted to discovering and perfecting human happiness. By turns wildly imaginative, hilarious, and disturbing, Monday Starts on Saturday is a comic masterpiece by two of the world’s greatest science-fiction writers.
Kindred – Octavia Butler
The first science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.
Itching to take part in our All Hallow’s Read sale but overwhelmed by the sheer number of books you could buy? Don’t worry! We have you covered on our top books to pick up if you’re looking for something spooky to read when the midnight hour is close at hand!
The Strain – Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
A Boeing 777 arrives at JFK and is on its way across the tarmac, when it suddenly stops dead. All window shades are pulled down. All lights are out. All communication channels have gone quiet. Crews on the ground are lost for answers, but an alert goes out to the CDC. Dr. Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather, head of their Canary project, a rapid-response team that investigates biological threats, gets the call and boards the plane. What he finds makes his blood run cold.
In a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem, a former professor and survivor of the Holocaust named Abraham Setrakian knows something is happening. And he knows the time has come, that a war is brewing.
So begins a battle of mammoth proportions as the vampiric virus that has infected New York begins to spill out into the streets. Eph, who is joined by Setrakian and a motley crew of fighters, must now find a way to stop the contagion and save his city – a city that includes his wife and son – before it is too late.
The Boy on the Bridge – M.R. Carey
From the author of USA Today bestseller The Girl With All the Gifts, a terrifying new novel set in the same post-apocalyptic world.
Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy.
The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.
To where the monsters lived.
House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth — musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies — the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations, who not only found themselves in those strangely arranged pages but also discovered a way back into the lives of their estranged children.
Now, for the first time, this astonishing novel is made available in book form, complete with the original colored words, vertical footnotes, and newly added second and third appendices.
The story remains unchanged, focusing on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
Of course, neither Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson nor his companion Karen Green was prepared to face the consequences of that impossibility, until the day their two little children wandered off and their voices eerily began to return another story — of creature darkness, of an ever-growing abyss behind a closet door, and of that unholy growl which soon enough would tear through their walls and consume all their dreams.
Salem’s Lot – Stephen King
Author Ben Mears returns to ‘Salem’s Lot to write a book about a house that has haunted him since childhood only to find his isolated hometown infested with vampires. While the vampires claim more victims, Mears convinces a small group of believers to combat the undead.
The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories – H.P. Lovecraft
Collecting uniquely uncanny tales from the master of American horror, H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories is edited with an introduction and notes by S.T. Joshi in Penguin Modern Classics.Credited with inventing the modern horror tradition, H.P. Lovecraft remade the genre in the early twentieth century. Discarding ghosts and witches, and instead envisaging mankind at the mercy of a chaotic and malevolent universe, Lovecraft’s unique works would prove to be a huge influence on modern horror writers such as Stephen King. This selection of short stories ranges from early tales of nightmares and insanity such as ‘The Outsider’ and ‘The Rats in the Walls’ through the grotesquely comic ‘Herbert West – Reanimator’ and ‘The Hound’, to the extraterrestrial terror of ‘The Call of Cthulhu’, which fuses traditional supernaturalism with science fiction. Including the definitive corrected texts, this collection reveals the development of Lovecraft’s mesmerising narrative style and establishes him as a hugely influential – and visionary – American writer.
Several months ago when hosting a moderately successful open mic on Masculinity, I was struck by the number of young men who wished to contribute but feared ridicule. One pointedly referred to the event as a ‘trap’, obliquely accusing me of coxing out male vulnerability for spectacle. So pervasive is this crisis of masculinity, that Grayson Perry the author of The Descent of Man exasperatedly reassures his male readers that “no one dies of embarrassment”.
I can quote Margaret Atwood till I’m blue in the face but the stubborn resistance of masculinity has tuned out most women reducing their legitimate concerns to white noise.
Grayson Perry, an artist and once overtly masculine man with a penchant for cross dressing, takes on the burden of educating his fellow men on ingrained patriarchy. In the first third of the book he takes the masculine ideal of “the Default Man”, white, middle-upper-class heterosexual man, and demonstrates its irrelevance to the majority of its gender, and why it is unwilling to forgo the advantages it has violently wrestled from others.
Grayson, puts together a helpful primer on gender. Alluding to how male privilege being largely unchallenged in the modern era has paved the way for the election of Trump, the perfect embodiment of the illogical assumptions of toxic masculinity.
Since men appear reluctant to forgo their dominion, Grayson appeals to the inevitable existential crisis if men continue to cling to outdated gender roles, whilst forward thinking women adapt and learn new skills developing male traits if necessary. The Descent of Man is almost guaranteed with automation in the fields of finance, engineering, medicine, law and accounting, with men only dominating in computing and janitorial services.
The toll of masculinity on men makes up the core of the book. Its vice-like hold on emotional intelligence, stunting men into believing in a pecking order dominated by “alpha men” and their emblems of success. Despondency at failing to achieving masculine ideals is endemic, and the absence of emotionally outlets provide fertile ground for violent movements ranging from white supremacy to ISIS. What does one say in the face of statistics that prove suicide is the lead killer of men under 45? He honestly navigates the assumption that a feminised man is a sexual turn off, removing another stumbling block for the progressive man.
Grayson has higher aspirations for men he wants for us to stop seeing them as cardboard brittle, inflexible and unable to change. As he says “ they pretty much have the same brains as women”.
The Descent of Man is an accessible must read for men everywhere and will go some way in eliciting empathy for those caught in the unforgiving and unreasonable expectation of masculinity.
Since I’ve always championed the merits of reading comic books and graphic novels, I was ecstatic to see some choice additions in our new stock. I devoured, in quick succession, Haddon Hall: When David Invented Bowie based on David Bowie’s early life, and Neil Gaiman’s Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire. After briefly surfacing to join the world, I dove back into three more graphic novels and revisited one from before. The result? I had no idea which one of them to choose for an in-depth review as I had greatly enjoyed them all.
Upon closer inspection, however, I noticed a similarity: they all focused on growth through journeys. Visually, most featured simplistic drawing styles (although Robert Hunter’s Map of Days has some mind boggling compositions in it) and limited colour palettes.
Isabel Greenberg’s debut The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, put her on the map in 2013, along with her love of stories and the art of storytelling itself. In it we follow a storyteller separated from the woman he loves due to an uncanny phenomena. He is from the North Pole and she from the South, but the effects of the magnetic field cause them to repel each other instead of being in each other’s arms as they crave. The solution they settle on is to simply spend their lives with each other with the distance between them acting as a part of their day-to-day life. To while away the time they tell each other stories. The novel begins with her asking the storyteller to tell her how he came to her, one she has heard many times but has not yet grown tired of. It’s easy to see why. The storyteller launches into his tale and we are treated to one of the best life histories ever written. He travels the world encountering distant lands and strange creatures like ogres and warrior nations like the Hals and Dags that inhabit Early Earth. Along the way he experiences divine intervention (both helpful and hindering) from the god Birdman, and his children Kid and Kiddo.
The three gods make a return in Greenberg’s second graphic novel, The One Hundred Nights of Hero, joining a new cast featuring Cherry and her lover Hero. When Cherry’s diabolical husband makes a twisted wager with his friend Manfred over whether he can seduce Cherry in the time he is away, the two women must band together to save Cherry and keep their relationship a secret. Hero decides to tell Manfred (and later the guards and anyone in the vicinity of the castle are added) a story every night to stall the seduction. In the tradition of The Arabian Nights, Hero keeps Manfred (and us) enthralled with her interwoven stories that eventually put both women in danger and save them as well. While both graphic novels take place in the same universe, The One Hundred Nights of Hero is a standalone story and is actually the one I read first.
Both books show off Greenberg’s superior storytelling ability and her love of the medium as well. Sporting primarily black and white pages, there are well-placed splashes of colour that accentuate the dramatic moments of the story and help make her pages beautiful and expressive. Both are odes to storytelling, containing multiple stories within a frame tale, all of them gripping and highly imaginative. In her simplistic drawings Greenberg manages to convey great amounts of emotion and just as importantly, moments of quiet and contemplation, allowing the reader to absorb the events in each panel fully.
Where Greenberg’s books have small pops of colour, Robert Hunter’s Map of Days is a technicolour explosion on each page, as his complicated compositions take on a creation myth of his own making. Gone is the god with the head of a bird and his children, instead we have nine celestial siblings who each create a corner of the universe and retire. The ninth sibling is responsible for creating Earth and becomes obsessed with the Sun. Later an unnamed narrator discovers a way to the being through the grandfather clock in his grandfather’s house and he soon must navigate his way around the being as the first living creature the sibling has seen in years.
Map of Days is a visual masterpiece; Hunter’s illustrations are lush and ethereal. His characters don’t show much emotion and there are no speech bubbles. Instead blocks of text dot the pages that are more image-centric. The end result is a dream-like narrative which the narrator relates to us from a point in the future. The images are motionless compared to Greenberg’s where there is constant movement from wind, water and falling leaves on almost every page. Map of Days allows for slower reading as we are forced to observe each panel on the page which shows a small change in the characters’ actions. The lack of in-panel dialogue also distances us from the events, reinforcing the distance the narrator has from this story as well. Many small grids and rectangular panels make up the neatly structured, orderly pages making for an immensely beautiful, contemplative story that is more than just fantasy.
Luke Healy’s How to Survive in the North was the last one I read and ended up being a strange combination of the previous two. The snow and ice (which naturally features in a fictional narrative of real life Arctic expeditions) is reminiscent of the icy landscapes in Greenberg’s work, and the limited four colour palette imbues each page with the richness of Hunter’s work. However while Hunter’s colours make for a warm, almost suffocating atmosphere on each page of dense flora and fauna, Healy’s use of colour helps bring the remote iciness of the Arctic into sharp relief.
Based on the diaries of Ada Blackjack and Robert Bartlett, Healy’s work traces their expeditions up north. Clean lines, not unlike Hergé’s for Tintin, dominate his pages, while his characters have minimal design. Healy’s characters are up against formidable odds in this story, facing shipwreck and polar bears in the middle of nowhere. Bartlett and Blackjack’s stories are being read by a fictional professor in the future who spends his sudden sabbatical in the university library researching their records. Healy sympathetically renders his characters and how they deal with their situations- even if their circumstances are self-inflicted- allowing for a fascinating recounting of historical events and the hardships one has to endure when undertaking such journeys.
Read together, these four graphic novels have taken me to strange worlds and back, giving me a greater appreciation for this genre and all its potential. Read separately, I’m sure they’ll delight any fan of visual narratives and wonderful storytelling.
It’s proved to be difficult quieting my thoughts to write this review. Kunzru’s satirical novel about two young, starkly Caucasian music aficionados with a fetish for rare records turned out to be more affecting than I anticipated.
Seth and Carter embody a friendship of expediency reminiscent of the Gatsby Gatsby. The latter has the means to satisfy his every whim, and the former gets to mooch off him it in exchange for his minor talents and his unquestioning loyalty.
Carter is the beleaguered soul who yearns for intensity which he insists can only be found in Black music. His wealthy family- who are strangers to the pain and suffering he touristically seeks- warily fund his expensive appetite for rare pre-war blues records, and the inevitable tirade in glamourous surroundings when he loses out on a rare find.
Kunzru has no patience with the trust-funder’s empty quest for authenticity – a full-time occupation of the hipster generation-and to the reader’s relief lands him in a coma following an incident involving a failed attempt at another acquisition.
Seth attributes Carters tragic misfortune to a curious chain of events stemming from a surreptitious recording of a vagrant singing a mysterious blues tune, which Carter sets to a guitar riff, adds effects and attempts to pass off online as a recently discovered lost recording by a made up ‘Charlie Shaw’.
Prior to the incident the recording draws the attention of an elderly collector who meets with Seth and warns of its sinister power. Unconvinced by Seth’s insistence that Charlie Shaw was a fiction concocted by his friend, the collector attributes his own friend Chester’s demise to the the record’s ominous power.
Now spooked by Carter’s fate, Seth embarks on a road trip to trace the provenance of the record and rid himself of any lingering malevolence. His journey switches between that of Chester’s in 1959 as they both head deep into the south drawn by something to do with Charlie.
The object of fascination throughout the book has been black music, and up until this point it has been offered, withheld, traded and consumed by talentless white men who function as the self-appointed gatekeepers of cool.
The readers discover’s how Chester brutally snatches the sole recording from Charlie’s sister’s home in 1959, manically insisting it was an “act of preservation”- the foundational belief for almost every museum collection in the west. This perennial white privilege is in full effect when Carter withholds “our music” from a musician, having done nothing more than amass a secret stash of hyper rarities from the 70’s, to equate ownership in his mind.
This entitlement is emblematic of the tone deaf nature of gentrification where incidents of disruption to black culture e.g. complains of “noise” by new white homeowners made against old time resident musicians or block parties, have increasingly plagued the original inhabitants.
The claim to non-white culture, disrespect, and indifferent to the conditions of its creation and ultimately the fate of the artist, is what finally awakens the wrath of Charlie Shaw, who bedevils Carter, Chester and finally Seth like a Djinn.
Although we hear of Carter and Chester’s fate, with Seth we witness the relentless torment which leads to his ultimate demise. How Charlie, knowing no bounds, weaves through time and space in hot pursuit of Seth, and how Seth after a number of outer body experiences learns what it means to have ‘skin’ in the game. Seth’s eventual release from this torment comes when he ends his own complicity through a violent and earth-shattering act.
Kunzru’s White Tears is a tour de force. Suspenseful, harrowing and bristling with anger. Some went so far as to call it a revenge fantasy, I, however, could reconcile myself with the horror in the way I would a fairy tale. I was deeply affected by the historic crimes against a community and the undercurrent of racism that fuels the powerful compounding and even institutionalisation of cruelty, but when just deserts are eventually served it helped restore my equilibrium. That I should derive so much joy from this book should give a whole lot of white people pause for thought.
Bored of fantasy series and craving some excellent realistic fiction this summer? Then Osama has the perfect recommendations for you with The Last Word’s top five YA picks for June!
Holding Up the Universe – Jennifer Niven
Age Range 14-17
Holding Up the Universe is about seeing and being seen and taps into the universal need to understood, loved and wanted. Libby Strout experiences fat shaming and struggles to find her place in high school where people are unable to look past her weight. Jack Masselin is a typical high school jock; popular and too cool for school and has a newly acquired secret that keeps him from getting too close to anyone. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game – which lands them in group counseling and community service, they discover that sometimes when you meet someone, the whole universe just comes into focus.
A Quiet Kind of Thunder – Sara Barnard
Age Range 12-15
A Quiet Kind of Thunder is a moving story of a girl, a boy, and voices unheard. Steffi is selectively mute, but she has so much to say. Rhys is deaf, but he understands her perfectly. Their experiences transcend language. It presents Steffi’s journey through her first year of sixth form as she navigates her disability, adolescence and family dynamics, and her budding relationship with Rhys to find her voice and place. With a protagonist who has selective mutism and a love interest that is deaf, the story narrates the difficulty in coping from anxiety and losses people with impairment face and the little victories they achieve in a world where worst-case scenarios are on an endless loop in one’s head.
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
Age Range 14-17
The New York Times bestselling novel The Hate U Give is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and involves the police shooting of an unarmed black teen. 16 year old Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil and has to testify in front of the grand jury. What follows is the chaos that closely resonates with the hysteria, insecurity and violence people of color feel in their engagement with the law. As Starr negotiates the dichotomy between her predominately white upper middle class school and the stereotyping of her neighborhood as a ‘ghetto’h, er experiences with gang fighting and racial discrimination taps fully into the shock, pain and outrage black teens experience in the US today and highlights their role in combating and exposing the deeply entrenched prejudice.
The Bombs That Brought Us Together – Brian Conaghan
Age range 12-16
14 year old Charlie finds himself situated in a conflict between Old Country and his home the Little Town. Citizens of the Little Town aren’t expected to befriend sworn enemies from Old Country, but when Pavel, a refugee from Old Country relocates to Charlie’s neighborhood, a relationship of mutual respect and dignity develops, challenging notions of identities and differences. ‘The Bombs That Brought Us Together’ offers a remarkable insight inside the lives of individuals impacted by war. Conflict silences individual stories and voices. Names become numbers. And in that context, Brian Conaghan narrates a dark, powerful tale of survival, morality and loyalty involving two teenagers who are able to look past labels and identity markers imposed by an ‘accident of birth’ that places them on opposite sides of an arbitrarily decided international border.
A Tragic Kind of Wonderful – Eric Lindstrom
Age Range 14 -18
A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is a story about internal fears and insecurities that confine individuals to their shells. Mel Hannigan struggles to keep several things under wraps: Her bipolar disorder, death of her brother and distance with her best friends. But when she comes across someone new, she learns to find comfort in her own skin and challenge fears that inhibit her from exposing her true self. A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is a beautiful, captivating story about living with mental illness, and loving – even with a broken heart.
The cover attracted me as soon as we unpacked it, bright red with a hand-drawn black hand and silver vein-like tendrils tracing its outline. It seemed to embody Margaret Atwood’s declaration of “Electrifying!” and “Shocking!”
Shortlisted for the Bailey-Gifford Prize, the title refers to teenage girls suddenly finding themselves imbued with a strange electrical power they are unable to control that electrocutes those around them. The girls can awaken this power in older women, establishing the first hint of global sisterhood that other characters will eventually espouse. As each woman tests her limits they begin banding together, inciting mass rebellions in Riyadh and Delhi, breaking free from human trafficking and, in some cases, becoming rulers of entire countries, each woman fending for herself at times in extremely violent ways. The story follows four central characters: Allie, an abused foster child in America who reinvents herself as a religious figure named Mother Eve; Roxy, a powerful daughter of a London crime family; Margot, an ambitious American politician; and Tunde, a Nigerian journalist who was one of the first people to observe the power and made a name for himself as being one of the few men involved in these women-centric upheavals.
The world occupied by these characters is one that is incredibly similar to ours, the girls’ electrocution powers are at first the only difference present. However, as women worldwide begin to hone their skills, men become increasingly irate about the changing status quo, forming their own guerrilla groups aimed at protecting men from the tyranny of women (employing rhetoric not unlike the Men’s Rights Activists one finds on the internet today). A porn industry evolves around the use of the power while drugs are developed to enhance it. Men are advised not to wander alone at night or without a female guardian- a sentiment which evoked much schadenfreude as I read. To see real-life limitations on women turned on their head and applied to men underscores the ridiculous emphasis placed on what one must do to protect oneself from members of the opposite sex. As the book progresses men are deemed too emotional for their own good and unable to take care of themselves, and women begin to assert themselves as the ones to deal with directly.
A clever framing device in the novel shows the ‘present’ as an actual post-apocalyptic future where female superiority is unquestioned. A male author writing the story of Allie and company breaks the fourth wall to seek guidance from ‘Naomi Alderman’, his friend and celebrated author. Naomi guides him on how to make his book more palatable for what will be his predominantly female readership, supplying him with friendly advice that is again reminiscent of what women today hear.
Alderman’s work comprises of women from all walks of life, without coming across contrived. This is no small feat as the book subverts every conceivable gender norm, rewrites history, and reinvents the world as we know it in one of the most effortless ways I have seen in a while. The novel thus becomes historically and geographically global as the characters, fictional and real travel to countries, which are enchantingly depicted.
The Power is a roller coaster of a book. Some parts had me punching the air in triumph while at others my chest constricted so much that I was ready to yell at anyone who interrupted my reading. The last time this happened, I was eleven and Lyra was about to be severed from Pan in The Golden Compass.
This book bears the mark of all excellent speculative fiction by making you question everything about the world you live in, irrespective of your gender. Asking fundamental questions of what it means when a marginalized group is suddenly endowed with a mysterious power and what one would do in that situation, The Power is a book I would highly recommend to anyone and everyone looking for an excellent dystopia novel that shatters everything you think you know.
Forget everything you think you know about gun violence and pick up Another Day in the Death of America. Whilst we are regularly assaulted with mass shootings emanating out of the United States we are rarely pushed to discover the origins of the violence. The second amendment is the explanation we most readily reach for, but to rely on that solely is to avoid the cruel truths underpinning society in the United States.
My entry into Lahore came in the wake of a brutal shooting in the house I now live in and if you wrack your brain, you or someone you know would have been affected by gun violence too. To some degree we have a separate set of conditions underpinning our reality, but it’s still a phenomenon that deserves a lot more attention.
So what is the true cost to society if guns become an accepted reality? Gary Younge’s meticulously researched Another Day in the Death of America takes us through the deaths of ten children and young teens during one calendar day. He combs through public records, newspaper reports and social media to build a profile of the victim which come to life through interviews with those they leave behind. Each chapter bears the name of the victim, and where they live. As you read on you realise the location has as much to do with their death as the firearm itself. Some communities are in shock after the violent death; some respond with grief stricken resignation, some are torn apart, whilst others move on under a heaving cloud of denial and trauma. In almost all cases, the reactions relate directly to the likelihood of such an event in that place.
Racism, poverty, lack of jobs and infrastructure, mental health, parenting, and teenage recklessness each end up in the dock compounding the risks of preserving the 2nd Amendment. The incidence of gun deaths involving poor kids from the black community are the most harrowing as Younge establishes their relationship to racist policy, governmental neglect and an entire populations apathy. A relationship, he reveals, as evident to policy makers for decades now.
Reading how residents learned to tune out the sound of gun fire to go about their daily lives brings tears to your eyes. By the end of the book I found it almost unfathomable that American exceptionalism can exist alongside such inhumanity; that parents were forcing their kids to internalise ordinary teenage behaviour for fear of deadly consequences; and that an entire nation was hostage to the NRA who won’t allow enforcement of a minimum of protections for those most vulnerable to gun violence.
I had seen the prose version of Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred on our shelves for quite a while now and it had slowly turned into one of the “I’ll get to it later” books (you can imagine just about how many books I have on that list). Well in the time it took me to not read the prose version, Damian Duffy and John Jennings came out with the graphic novel adaptation which I devoured over two afternoons.
The story follows Dana, an intelligent and brave black woman, and her husband Kevin (who is white). Dana and Kevin live in 1976 and are just moving into their new apartment when Dana is struck by a sudden and intense bout of dizziness. When the feeling subsides, she finds herself rescuing a little red-haired boy named Rufus from drowning. It is the early 1800s and Rufus is the white son of the slave owner Tom Weylin. Later Dana will be called every time Rufus finds himself in life threatening danger (which is quite often). What translates as several months or even years in the past ranges from a few minutes to a few weeks in 1976, adding to Dana’s increasingly paranoid state as she does not know when she will vanish. Dana finds out that Rufus Weylin is an ancestor of hers who had children with a slave named Alice, also one of Dana’s ancestors. As such, Dana is determined to make sure that no permanent harm comes to Rufus and that her existence in the past does not jeopardize her family tree. As Rufus grows older, Dana must contend with the fact that he is a slave owner’s son and that no matter how hard she tries; there are some things she just can’t change about history.
The duo behind this graphic novel is Damian Duffy, the adaptor, and John Jennings, the artist. Both Duffy and Jennings have long worked to promote the work of black artists and as Duffy explains in the blog posts on his website, Kindred is a project that has excited both of them for several years (he’s done an entire set of blog posts on the entire project and they make for a fascinating read at http://damianduffy.net/blog/).
Jennings’s art is rough and kinetic, each panel and figure reflecting the danger and uncertainty of the time while making the emotions of each character almost palpable in their depiction and simultaneously making sure they don’t lose their humanity. I imagine paragraphs in the prose version that may be spent developing Rufus’s character and his moral ambiguity are represented here in uncertain facial expressions and dialogues that convey Rufus and Dana’s hesitance around each other as they both are drawn to being friends while also being kept separate by the inescapable circumstances of pre-Civil War Maryland. Duffy and Jennings’s respect for their source material is evident as Kindred feels like a commendable standalone work, it does not require any prior knowledge of the novel making it justifiably a New York Times bestseller.
Butler’s original novel has had quite an impact on fans of science fiction, people of colour, and those who identify as both, as evidenced by Nnedi Okorafor’s introduction which helps us place the original text in terms of its importance. It gave black people a voice in a genre where they were unused to seeing themselves or their stories and allowed others to dream that they too could write like this while also highlighting a dark period in American history. That the story is sad and the ending inevitable goes without saying, it is impossible to imagine Dana escaping the past unscathed. However, this invitation to revisit the horrors of slavery and the terrible acts humans inflicted on each other is unfortunately as pertinent an issue today in Pakistan as it is in America and this graphic novel thus becomes one we must all pay attention to, regardless of where we find ourselves placed in the world.
A Court Of Thorn and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1)- Sarah J. Maas:
“I was not a pet, not a doll, not an animal.
I was a survivor, and I was strong.
I would not be weak, or helpless again
I would not, could not be broken. Tamed.”
This series breathes new life into the YA genre thanks to the introduction of Feyre. While some YA heroines seem doomed to a fate of ‘being fixed’ (read: controlled) by unnaturally good looking males, only feeling liberated when they levitate some knives or do some magic, Feyre subverts these notions. She is not a character that is strong from the beginning; instead she goes through an amazing arc and emerges a strong, empowered woman. The story winds up fast, in typical Maas fashion, and flies through twists and turns. The characters and their dynamic are fantastic and as a reader you will find yourself roaring with laughter at their antics.
An Ember in The Ashes (An Ember in The Ashes#1)-Sabaa Tahir
“The field of battle is my temple.
The swordpoint is my priest.
The dance of death is my prayer.
The killing blow is my release.”
Freedom will come at a heavy cost. Laia is a slave and spy and Elias is a soldier and neither is operating on their own free will. When the brutal world causes the two to meet, their stories unwind and join together, tighter and tighter. Love and loss shatter them and make them question the very different beliefs that they have grown up with. No one can be trusted- no one should be trusted. Key players in this story do not reveal themselves until the shocking end.
A love story that doesn’t overpower the plot or make you gag, earnest and sincere characters, hard choices and dumb decisions- this book is guaranteed to resonate with you. When I first read it, I was on vacation, and to the chagrin of my mother I could not put it down. Irresistible is the word for this brilliant story.
Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1)-Leigh Bardugo
“I’m a business man,” he’d told her. “No more, no less.”
“You’re a thief, Kaz.”
“Isn’t that what I just said?”
A testament to the brilliance of this book is that I spent a good 15 minutes choosing between quotes- there are just so many brilliant ones. This book is a YA Ocean’s Eleven, only more brilliant, more magical and with more females. It features a richly imagined story and a DELICIOUS plot (yes, edible adjective level good) – but the true triumph of this story is its characters. It contains a diverse, hilarious and unconventional team comprised of “a convict with a thirst for revenge, a sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager, a runaway with a privileged past, a spy known as the Wraith, a Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums, and a thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.” At times, it had me gasping, laughing and my heart racing. It was phenomenal.