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Book Review: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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Brown Girl Dreaming

Source: Goodreads

Plot Summary (Taken from Goodreads): Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement.

My Review: One of the best aspects of the book is the poems. Most of them are written in free verse, while others are haikus. Many of the free verse poems have great sensory detail that allows the reader to feel like they are right there with the author. Meanwhile, the haikus serve to sum up lessons she learned by paying attention to what was going on around her. They are simple yet poignant poems that make the reader pause and reflect.

Besides the poems in general, the poems that tell the about the author’s love for stories and her beginnings as a writer are very touching. Through the eyes of the author as a child, these poems go from innocent to passionate as the book progresses. After reading about the author’s influences and seeing her writing voice emerge, current and new readers of Woodson will appreciate her more.

Another aspect of the book that is great is its themes. The most prominent ones are freedom, dreams, and a sense of belonging.  Despite being set in the 1960’s and 70’s, these are themes and more are presented so honestly that almost anyone today can relate.

Overall, this book was fantastic. I recommend it to poetry fans and minorities of all ages.


Book Review: Zami- A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde

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zami, audre lordePlot Summary (Taken from Goodreads): From the author’s vivid childhood memories in Harlem to her coming of age in the late 1950s, the nature of Audre Lorde’s work is cyclical. It especially relates the linkage of women who have shaped her.

My Review: One of the best things about this book is its beautiful imagery. She makes some sentences in the book seem like lines from a poem. An example is the line “All the colors change and become each other, merge and separate, flow into rainbows and nooses”. In addition, there are poems sprinkled throughout the book that give a more vivid impression of her experiences.

Another fantastic aspect of the book is how the poignant bond between women is shown. The book’s title is a Grenadian word meaning “friending” and symbolizes the bond between Lorde’s ancestral home of Grenada and the women that impact her life. Lorde’s experiences show how true sisterhood is formed between women who are mothers, sisters, friends, and lovers.

In addition, the book has a powerful historical account of racism, lesbianism, and the McCarthy era. All three of these themes eventually intertwine as Lorde struggles to discover her identity and her place in the world. There are a couple of chapters devoted to Lorde’s thoughts on how others perceive race and sexuality and the impact of those perceptions. These thoughts are insightful and could easily apply to today’s times.

The only flaw of the book is also its strength. Sometimes, the author focused too much on her romantic relationships with other women. It made the book a bit slow and melodramatic.

Overall, this book was a touching autobiography that may give strength to fellow outsiders of any race, sexuality, or gender identity. I recommend it for black history month reading and anyone who has enjoyed Audre Lorde’s poetry.

Written by Serena Zola

February 3, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Book Review: The Big Sea by Langston Hughes

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This autobiography mostly covers Langston Hughes’ twenties as a world traveler and worker, a reveler and poet in the Harlem Renaissance, and as a college student. He also discusses his early years  in order to show what shaped some of his actions as a person, writer, and poet.

One of the things that is enjoyable about this work is the honesty. If he felt ashamed, insecure, or mad, then he says so and explains. He doesn’t try to present himself as this genius poet who knows everything; he admits his flaws and shows he is as human as everyone else. Besides being honest about himself, he is also honest about his own race and everyone else by portraying the good and the bad side. One shocking thing he wrote about was the Washington Society,  a  group of cultured upper-class colored people who were snobs to Langston and other colored people who didn’t meet their standards.

Another admirable trait of this book is Langston’s writing style. While he does recount certain poems he wrote and what inspires them, he also displays an excellent prose writing ability through vivid sensory detail. For instance, he writes of Burutu women in Africa: “”Women of the night stood before low doors, with oiled hair and henna-dyed nails. In the golden light, they looked like dark flowers offering their beauty to the moon.” A particular line that became a favorite is about his poetry writing habit that goes, “For poems are like rainbows: they escape you quickly.”

Lastly, the theme of “a big sea” was a creative way to put a metaphor into an autobiography. Not only does it set the tone of the book, it makes the entire work seem like one poem. At the start of the work, there are the words, “Life is a big sea full of many fish; I let down my net and pull.” For this reader, it seems to mean learning to living life to the fullest with other people by learning to tolerate and appreciate them.

To sum things up, The Big Sea is a wonderful book that deserves to be read just as much as Langston Hughes’ poetry is. It is poignant,  funny, lively, and intelligent. I recommend this to fans of Langston Hughes’ poetry and those who are interested in the Harlem Renaissance.

Book Review: Thing of Beauty-The Tragedy of Supermodel Gia

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 Thing of Beauty is a biography of Gia Carangi, considered by some to be America’s first supermodel. This book inspired the 1998 biopic Gia, which stars Angelina Jolie as the title role.

The research on this book is very well done. Gia’s family, friends, lovers and the people who worked with her were interviewed for this book. In addition, the front and middle of the book features photographs of Gia from her modeling days and various “chapters” in her life. An interesting aspect of the research is excerpts from Gia’s journal as well as a psychoanalysis of herself that Gia did for a magazine. A poignant quote from Gia is “When I look in the mirror, I want to like myself… And if I like myself, then I look good.”

While the research done is very good, it is also overdone at times. In addition to finding information about Gia, the author found more than enough info about the world Gia lived in. Sometimes, it was interesting. Other times, pages were skipped.

Gia Carangi’s life is very sad. As a child, her parents never gave her enough attention. I was particularly disgusted at Gia’s mother Kathleen, who not only abandoned Gia when she was eleven, but manipulated Gia into modeling in order to live through her. Furthermore, Gia dying young the way she did was awful. I found myself mourning for her a little when I finished the book.

With Gia herself, I felt many emotions. When Gia was getting into David Bowie as a teen, I thought she was cool. When her mentor Wilhelmina Cooper died and Gia turned to heroin for comfort for the first time, I felt sad and empathetic. When Gia was using heroin after the first time and being wild, I alternated between disgust and pity.

Even though she was beautiful, Gia was a lost and lonely person who feared abandonment. In today’s age where looking good and sexy is everything, it is easy to forget how vulnerable people can be. Gia’s story is a good warning for anyone wanting to be a model and a wakeup call for celebrity worshipers.

Written by Serena Zola

July 30, 2012 at 1:16 PM

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