Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category

A librarian once told me that Wish didn’t sound like YA language, and I took that as a compliment.  Then I thought about it and wondered whether my reaction was appropriate—what’s wrong with sounding like a teenager?  The truth is, I probably didn’t sound like a teenager even when I was one, and I don’t use much slang in my writing now…but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect the myriad ways teens have of expressing themselves.  While reading Jazz in Love by Neesha Meminger, I found myself faltering whenever the teen characters slipped into “teen talk.”  But once I let go and let myself focus on what they were saying (more than how they were saying it), it all started coming back to me…those terrible teen years, the angst, the panic, the highs and lows, and battles with parents—I’d never want to be 16 again!  Jazz actually reminded me of my friend Fariena; she was tall, thin, beautiful—and Muslim, with strict Guyanese parents who had their hands full with three vivacious daughters. I think, as a group, my friends and I did more pining than playing when it came to boys, so it was great to see a girl like Jazz taking a chance on love—and keeping her grades up at the same time!  Neesha has created a genuine teenage girl who’s unsure and ambivalent about her feelings, her obligations, and her rights as a young woman.  Like Neesha, I’m thrilled that Jazz in Love has been reviewed on the Kirkus Reviews blog, especially after reading this article about self-published authors having to pay for a listing in Publisher’s Weekly (with the outside chance of a review).  If you’re a blogger and would like to review Jazz in Love, be the first to leave a comment and I’ll send a copy your way!

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If you’re a fan of YA lit, then you need to know about this new site!  Em and Nora interviewed me a couple of weeks ago, and yesterday they posted Em’s review of A Wish After Midnight.  I love that she appreciated the many shades of gray—people are rarely wholly bad or wholly good…

While Genna’s mom seems to see people in black and white, Genna is conscious of the gray. She recognizes the difference between Mr. Christiansen, her elderly Danish immigrant friend, and the white woman who yells at her for even contemplating renting a room in her building. And the white people who Genna works for in both timelines definitely fall into this gray area. Both Hannah and Dr. Brant are, at the very least, relatively kind to Genna and both offer their help and encourage her to explore college options. But “help” for both of them seems a bit more like an obligatory gesture than one offered out of friendship and caring.

Love YA Lit is also hosting a giveaway for Banned Books Week.  Read their invite below for all the details:

Date: September 25, 2010 12:01AM
Location: The United States
Every year around this time we get really excited for Banned Books Week, not because we are excited about book banning, but because we love that there is a special week set aside to celebrate the freedom to read! So this month we will be reading and reviewing books that have been frequently challenged or banned over the years and hosting a giveaway of a Banned Books Week gift bag (filled with so-called dangerous books).

To enter, all you need to do is share a link on our Banned Books Month page to any review you write this month (between Sept. 1st and October 2nd) of a frequently challenged book. We encourage you to include information about the book’s challenge/banning in your review. Each review counts as one entry. The winner will be chosen at random. (additional details available at our site)

For some great resources check out the ALA’s Banned Books Week site and Steph Su Reads’ Banned Books Reading Challenge.

Hope you’ll join us in our celebration of the freedom to read!

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Really thoughtful reviews always make my day!  I love it when readers want *more* from the novel, and I wish the AmazonEncore edition made it clear that there’s a sequel in the works.  Calico Reaction has posted this evaluation (and a longer review here):

Must Have: Despite my brain hopping around demanding certain answers, I understand that my desire for knowledge shouldn’t handicap this book in any way, because really, it all depends on the reader, and I can’t make a blanket formula that’ll fit every reader as to whether or not you’ll want the same answers I did. We’re all different, after all. But I loved Genna as a narrator. Her POV kept me riveted, especially in present day Brooklyn, and I want so much for there to be a sequel it’s not even funny. There’s so much this book has to offer, so much this book has to show you, that it’d be a shame to let this one slip by. It’s a fantastic book too for a debut novel (I think it’s a debut, anyway, and if not, it’s still fantastic), and readers will also enjoy the nods/similarities to Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred (similar premise but VERY different story) and shades of Justine Larbalestier’s Liar, as we have similar narrators (except that Genna is not a liar) in both voice, POV, and stature. This is just a delightful read, and I’m so glad I finally got my hands on this. And Amazon has it RIDICULOUSLY cheap right now, so when I say it won’t hurt your wallet, believe me. There’s a reason I made this book my bonus read for the September Book Clubbers, and you should want to read this to find out why. Really, you should. I can’t wait for more from this author.

I *just* sent an email to all the teachers I know because it’s true—right now Wish is selling for $4 on Amazon…which hurt my heart a little at first, but then I realized what an opportunity that could be for cash-strapped schools looking to buy a class set.  As I work on the sequel, I think about all the loose ends from the first novel and *know* they won’t all be tied up.  It matters that I started Wish in 2001, and now I’m writing the sequel in 2010…I’ve evolved as a person, and my priorities as a writer have changed.  When I wrote Wish, I knew I wouldn’t reveal just what Genna wished for that fateful night; they call that narrative possibility, I think, and I definitely didn’t want to spell it out—let the reader imagine all the possibilities!  But now, with the sequel, I’ve chosen to focus on ritual and an actual formula for opening a portal into the past; Genna’s starting to realize that she can shift time with the force of her own yearning…the scene I wrote on Monday fleshes that out.  Where you wind up depends on the deepest desire in your heart, which is why sometimes Judah follows Genna—and sometimes he does not…

Woke at 5am with a headache but decided I was NOT going to get a migraine today and so I am willing the pain to go away.  I think I need to take charge of these headaches; I keep a symptom journal, I try to keep a regular sleep routine—and I do know that falling asleep on the couch is likely to produce a bad night’s rest that concludes with a headache.  I also know that taking OTC meds sometimes just postpones a migraine, so when I feel one coming on, I need to suck it up and take my prescription meds.  But today, I simply took one Excedrin and decided to move on—downloaded a photo on my phone that made me smile from ear to ear; a few years back I bought a plastic push car for my neighbors’ little girl.  She had just started to walk, I think, or was learning how and I thought a little car was in order.  Later I learned how green my friends are, and I felt bad about foisting a hunk of plastic on their carbon-conscious family.  But today I opened a message that said, “Remember this car?” and it was baby #2 pushing himself along wearing nothing but a diaper!  I miss my nieces and nephews, which is how I imagine all my friends’ kids.  Yesterday Kate sent me photos of her eldest girl’s first day of school—and I was at work, so of course I turned my laptop around and started showing off…they grow up so quickly.  And I’m not there for these kids, but I do think about them a lot.  I just gave away half the kids’ books I had on my shelf; the Prisonreader program is looking for donations, and I realized I was keeping books in my home on the outside chance that young visitors might stop by.  But that’s like my mother hoarding boxes and boxes of picture books in her basement on the outside chance that my sister and I will provide her with grandkids someday.  And THAT is not likely to happen…

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I can remember just about every instance when someone (always white) told me that I had a bad attitude.  It happened a lot in high school—when I started a new job, when I ran into a new teacher who didn’t know about my reputation for being a straight-A student leader…if I dared to speak up, speak out, or ask a simple question, I was accused of having a bad attitude, which had better be adjusted quickly—or else!  In my family, I was designated “the troublemaker,” once again because I dared to question situations that just didn’t make sense; if you point out there’s a problem, YOU become the problem that needs to be fixed.  But as I get closer to 40, I realize that all those experiences were perfect preparation for my life as a black feminist writer.  Here’s a bit of my guest post for The Book Smugglers’ Young Adult Appreciation Month:

Everything we experience in life prepares us for what’s next. At least, that’s what I like to believe. I grew up not being the favorite in my family, which means I got used to my big brother getting the largest slice of pie and I struggled mightily to escape my older sister’s imposing shadow. Birth order may have something to do with the person I’ve become, but I like to believe that, ultimately, my childhood prepared me to recognize and reject “the myth of meritocracy.” I learned early on that I would always have to work harder to be seen and heard; no matter my talents or achievements, to some I would always be invisible.

What better preparation for life as a black feminist writer?

Yesterday Thea and Ana posted an AMAZING joint review of Wish—what an honor!  This YA author *definitely* feels appreciated…

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I’ve been thinking about excellence lately…how to promote it, how it’s constructed.  There’s an ongoing conversation around making black-authored books “universal,” a term generally reserved for the culture and experiences of the dominant group (whites).  Author Carleen Brice has a great round-up on her blog, White Readers Meet Black Authors.  Even though I know it’s wrong, I sometimes find myself worrying about the black-authored books recommended to white readers.  A book that gets a lot of hype isn’t necessarily an outstanding piece of fiction—not in my opinion, anyway.  And even though I know it’s wrong, I worry that the “wrong” book in the “wrong” hands could turn a reader off African American literature forever.  It’s not right, it’s not fair, but I can just see a well-meaning white reader convincing herself to step outside her comfort zone; she picks up a book by a black author whose name has been bandied about online, and…the book disappoints.  Now, ordinarily, one bad book wouldn’t turn a reader off all authors of a particular race.  But I feel like that isn’t how it works for black authors and non-black readers.  So I’m careful about the books I pass on to my white friends.  And when I share a book that my white friends or family members don’t like, I encourage them to talk about their opinion of the book so that they can tell whether their critique is valid—and NOT racist.  I want white readers to be open-minded, but I also want them to be rigorous readers.  I don’t want black-authored books to be held to a higher standard than books by white authors, but I also don’t want poorly-written books to be given a pass simply because the author’s black.  When that happens, mediocrity prevails…and what I want is excellence.

That’s exactly what I got when I picked up The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin.  WOW!  Sometimes you read a book that’s SO good, it actually makes you despair as a writer.  But this novel filled me with such hope, with a sense of my own potential as a writer—I didn’t want it to end.  Initially I was a little worried because I’d read a positive review of the book that nonetheless called it “convoluted.”  I hadn’t read any fantasy fiction since The Lord of the Rings back in college, and wasn’t sure I could keep all the people and places and species straight.  And I won’t lie—there were aspects of the narrative that I didn’t fully understand.  But I kept on reading because the plot was so compelling and the characters were so richly drawn…Yeine Darr is the most fascinating “mixed-race” character I’ve read in ages; her hybridity is a curse in some ways, but this young woman is FAR from tragic.  What do you do when the very blood within your veins shapes your destiny?  Yeine doesn’t back down; at every turn, she asserts her humanity and her right to self-determination.  As the appointed heir to her grandfather’s throne, Yeine must leave behind all that she holds dear; still mourning the mysterious death of her mother, Yeine answers her grandfather’s summons and goes to Sky, a world unto itself ruled by scheming, heartless, decadent “highbloods.”  Within hours of her arrival, Yeine starts to understand why her mother abdicated the throne and fled to Darr, a matriarchal country in the High North peopled by brown-skinned “barbarians.”  Among her tall, pale-skinned relatives, Yeine feels her difference keenly (she is short, dark, green-eyed, curly-haired, and built like a boy)—but she refuses to be shamed by their false sense of superiority.  She finds comfort in the company of gods—!!!—enslaved in their immortality by Bright Itempas.  Can Yeine free them when she’s likely to die rather than rule?  Will she be seduced by the deadly (and sexy) Nightlord, or will she make the ultimate sacrifice and redeem humanity in the gods’ eyes?  If you come from a dysfunctional family, this narrative will resonate with everything you know about sibling rivalry, loyalty, and love.  Jemisin’s utterly original narrative is laid out in prose that’s so gorgeous you’ll keep reading whether or not you fully understand what transpired in a particular scene.  I *know* I’ll be revisiting this book, but right now I’m just eager for the second book in the trilogy to arrive!  The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms raises the bar—THIS is what literary excellence looks like.

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Did you know it’s Young Adult Appreciation Month over at The Book Smugglers?  Today I’ll be writing haiku, but soon I’ll be writing a guest post for YAAM; I’m one of several authors invited to participate, and I’m thrilled that Ana and Thea will be doing a joint review of Wish!  Today there’s a review and giveaway of Cory Doctorow’s For the Win…check it out!

My next book report will be The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which I am LOVING…just had brunch with a friend and tried to explain the plot to her; I promise my review will be coherent—THIS book is a story about a mixed-race girl that I can really get behind…

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One thing I love about the internet is that it allows you to build community *without* shmoozing in public.  I’m not especially good in social situations, and I wouldn’t even dream of attending kidlit “drinks night,” which happens every so often here in NYC.  It might be a great way to connect with other writers and editors, but it’s not my scene.  I don’t attend SCBWI conferences, either—so maybe I’m to blame for my limited success as a published author?  Orlando Patterson recently published this interesting essay in The Nation, and explained how even middle-class African Americans are losing ground in this economy in part because of their lack of cultural capital:

In modern America, like all other major industrial societies, economic success stems as much from network location and access to cultural capital as from formal schooling. Getting a job, as sociologist Mark Granovetter showed in his pathbreaking work, is as much a function of who you know as what you know…It is precisely such crucial networks and cultural capital that segregation excludes black Americans from. This, along with persisting, though declining, racism, explains, too, why black middle-class young people still lag far behind their white counterparts in school achievement and in career rewards from educational attainment. It explains also the looming tragedy of massive downward mobility and the failure of the black middle class to reproduce itself.

Recently author/publisher Cheryl Willis Hudson asked her Facebook friends to list all the African American editors they could think of—she hoped for 20, but had to recruit more help to reach double digits.  She then blogged about this issue, and I immediately thought of Patterson’s argument—how “shmoozing” is really the way to get ahead, and segregation in the social sphere limits career opportunities for qualified blacks.  I’m sure Cheryl will have lots to say during our panel at the Harlem Book Fair…you know I will!

I certainly intend to bring up the Silver Phoenix cover controversy—for two great posts on the subject, read Tarie’s open letter (reposted at Color Online) and then stop by Gal Novelty’s blog to consider one fan’s “many feelings” on the erasure of Asian identity.

It’s time once again for Book Blogger Appreciation Week—I’m not entirely sure when you can vote, but Gal Novelty, Summer Edward’s Caribbean Children’s Literature, and Multiculturalism Rocks! are in the running for best cultural blog…

And July 1 was not only Canada Day, it was the release date for Mitali Perkins’ new novel, Bamboo People. It’s getting RAVE reviews, including 5/5 from Ari—check out her stellar review

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Many thanks to blogger Summer Edward for this thorough, thoughtful review of Wish—from a Caribbeanist’s perspective!  I hope you’ve already discovered Summer’s online journal, Anansesem, which is currently accepting submissions from children and adult writers…

Have you stopped by The Bottom of Heaven lately?  Claudia has posted the first in a series of reflections on Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.  I’ll be contributing my thoughts in early July—be sure to follow along as other bloggers explore the significance of this classic novel 40 years after its publication…

Ok, I literally can’t stand b/c I was on my feet ALL DAY wearing brand new shoes…woke at 4am, left the house at 7am, got home at 9pm…one interview down; two to go…

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Thanks to Amanda and Jodie, The Mariposa Club started off at the top of my TBR list following the Book Blogger Convention in late May.  And even though I finished it a couple of weeks ago, the distinct voices of the characters are still fresh in my mind.  This is one of the most original stories I’ve ever read, and the representation of four gay friends (self-dubbed “The Fierce Foursome”) entering their senior year of high school in southern California brilliantly complicates our ideas of gender, loyalty, and love.  Yes, the book’s cover is disappointing—especially after you realize just how vividly the characters are drawn; in my mind, I see a cover that shows gender-bending Trini with thumbs linked, her fingers fluttering like the mariposa (butterfly) that comes to represent the friends’ dramatic (and sometimes traumatic) evolution.  What does it mean to be free?  To live without any inhibitions?  What if being your authentic self only seems to provoke others to violence?  Can one person be free if others are not?  Liberace, overweight and brilliant, follows his sister’s lead into the Goth world, but then stands virtually alone as he tries to raise awareness of gay rights in his conservative community.  Trini clings to her beloved Aunt Carmen, knowing that if the elderly woman dies, she’ll have no family left (her parents threw her out).  Isaac dares to do what the others can’t, hoping to find in LA the life he can’t lead in Caliente.  And Maui watches it all unfold, craving love, security, and fidelity yet knowing from his own experience that nothing lasts forever…

I’m thrilled that author Rigoberto Gonzalez agreed to answer these questions about The Mariposa Club.  There aren’t any spoilers, so read on!  And if you haven’t read The Mariposa Club yet, go get your copy NOW…

1.  I was particularly struck by Maui’s struggle with what seemed like internalized homophobia.  Even he can’t understand his sudden bursts of rage, which are often triggered by Trini’s refusal to “play it straight” at critical moments.  Is Maui envious, or afraid of living passionately?

You’ve got it right: it’s internalized homophobia. I believe many of us suffer from it because we’re afraid of what others (usually our friends and family) will think of us. Not everyone has the courage and, let’s face it, [are as] daring as people like Trini, who pays dearly for his flamboyance and exaggerated mannerisms–he’s bullied, beaten, and alienated even by his own friends who flinch at how Trini doesn’t mind the attention–even negative attention. That’s a whole set of other issues right there. And since Maui is unhappily controlling and repressing the way he speaks and talks, he begins to project his frustrations onto Trini who will be Trini no matter what corner of the world he stands on. In my next book, Trini’s being Trini and Maui says, “Hey, those people are looking at you.” And Trini answers, “Of course, they’re looking at me. I’m interesting.” So this love-hate relationship that Maui has for Trini is actually a love-hate relationship he has with this part of himself: he accepts that he’s gay, but he knows that his environment won’t be all too accepting. Maui wants to live, but he has to mature a little more, and learn from people like Trini who live the way they choose to live. Once Maui realizes that he has to come to terms with his sexuality as an individual, he can join the community. And Trini is there to remind us that not all of us have the privilege to be who we are because there are so many haters out there getting in the way. But he’ll become an adult soon, and then he will really be unstoppable.

2.  I really admired your choice to include a range of fathers in the book: Mr. Dutton nearly dies of hard-heartedness, Trini’s father is brutal, and yet Maui and Lib have loving, caring fathers.  It’s uncommon to find representations of tender men, and stereotypes about Latino men certainly tell a different story.  Can you talk a bit about the parents in this novel–and why are mothers mostly absent?

I always go back to this moment when I was giving a talk at UCLA about ten years ago. I spoke about homophobia in Latino culture and how young men fled their communities in order to be who they wanted to be, but that this was a heartbreaking choice because many of us didn’t want to leave our families and culture. At the end of the talk, a young man came up to me and said, “There’s only one thing I don’t understand. If you had such a horrible experience at home, why would you want to go back?” I was haunted by that question, until I had to admit that I wanted to go back because I loved my family, despite the bad times. I never got to have that opportunity, but I knew many who did, whose families learned to accept their gay sons and lesbian daughters. So I made a conscious effort to show the range of experiences, from the outright homophobic, like Isaac’s father, to the endearingly tolerant, like Lib’s father. I chose to deal primarily with the father-son dynamic because that’s where the struggle of masculinity is most palpable and dangerous. I do a little reversal in the next book, where I introduce a gay teen with a mother to be reckoned with. But that’s a good observation: mothers are almost absent in the book. Part of the truth is that mine passed away when I was very young, just like Maui’s, so I wanted the boys (who call themselves girls) to negotiate their roles in a landscape where machismo was a dominant and oppressive presence.

3.  Would Isaac have stayed in Caliente (and finished high school) if “the Fierce Foursome” hadn’t vowed to put friendship first?  Falling in love with Maui would have bound Isaac to the other aspects of his life that he so desperately needed to flee–do you think teens recognize that love doesn’t always lead to liberation?

That’s an excellent observation. I know that one reason Isaac and Maui didn’t end up together is that they were on very different wavelengths. I think that if they had ended up boyfriends, the relationship would have given Maui a whole new set of anxieties he wasn’t ready to contend with, which would have led to a break-up. And then what? Friends again? I think many of us out there know how tough and awkward that can get. Even the safety of intimacy would not protect Isaac from his father, you’re right about that. If anything, these tough choices demonstrate how complicated teen life is, that love and desire are part of every teenager’s life. This is one reason it frustrates me that the U.S. still considers teenagers children, and laws and religion overprotect them in very unhealthy ways. But we won’t get into that. I have faith in today’s teenagers and know that they will not be the intolerant, fanatical grown-ups of today.
4.  I felt a wave of panic every time Davy entered the scene, and was troubled by Armando’s possessive claim on underage Isaac.  Why include these (potentially) predatory relationships in a novel for and about teens?  Why not have Maui and Lib “protect” Trini from Davy?

One of the strange contradictions of high school is that up until graduation, teenagers are kept in a controlled environment, and then summer happens and they they’re out in the world as grown-ups. It’s quite a leap and many teens are ready for it. Others are in for a shock. For the gay teens, where there’s nothing to prepare them for the big gay world except rumor and misinformation, this can lead to some terrible encounters, which is why I chose to bring in the gay adults as omens of the dangers lurking right outside the door. If issues like birth control and sexuality are not part of a teen’s education during his or her formative years, then we’re going to see plenty of people get into trouble. One more strike against public education. The reason Maui and Lib can’t protect their friends is that they don’t know how. This is all new territory to them and it will remain secretive and seedy because no one wants to talk about it–not even their parents.

5.  The Mariposa Club has a cinematic feel to it; considering the disappointment over your book’s cover, how optimistic do you feel about the representation of queer youth in US popular culture (publishing, film, television, etc.)?

I roll my eyes every time I see the same pretty faces and same pretty bodies on television. It’s worse now than ever before. Boys are buffed, girls are petite. Well, I was the overweight short kid. Now I’m the overweight short grown-up. Am I not part of this planet? Apparently not. I cringe at the thought of the book being made into a movie with pretty thin boys. I’m not going to say that pretty people don’t have problems, but they also have to admit that they have privileges many of us do not. Queers are outsiders, let’s just own up to that. And some of us are pretty and petite, but that’s just a single dimension of who we are, but I did not write those stories. I wrote about the overweight Goth, the scrawny trans kid, the lanky white boy, the plain brown boy. Hopefully the publisher of the sequel Mariposa Gown (in which the Fierce Trio–yep, and then there were three) will get it right.

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I finished Wench a few days ago, and have been thinking about the best way to discuss it; Andrea Levy’s The Long Song is waiting for me at the library, and if I include The Book of Night Women, I’ll have read three neo-slave narratives in one month.  I’m still thinking about how to write about The Mariposa Club—write a review? set up an author interview? both?  It’s harder for me to review LGBT novels because I’ve only read a few, and that means I can’t really situate the book in relation to a particular tradition.  Context is important, and when it comes to Wench, I know it suffered (for me) by having to follow Night WomenWench is a good read, and an original, interesting story—we don’t often get the perspective of an enslaved woman who loves her master, and the fact that the novel is set in the North further complicates the narrative.  This is also a novel about a group of women, but from the start we see the bond between them—three slave concubines meet for several consecutive summers at a resort in Ohio, and their sisterly bond is radicalized when a new woman, Mawu, joins the group.  With her African name, unbound red hair, and curiosity about freedom, Mawu removes the blinders the three other black women have worn to avoid confronting the possibility (and proximity) of freedom.  Refusing to be bound to the son she left back in Louisiana (a child born of rape), Mawu immediately sets out to learn more about Ohio and the free blacks living nearby.  The other women, Sweet and Reenie, shy away from Mawu at first, but Lizzie is completely drawn in.  The homoerotic bond between them is interesting, though never resolved, and Lizzie’s love for “her friend” ultimately drives her to reveal Mawu’s escape plans to her master, Drayle.  Mawu is publicly raped and beaten, all three women shun Lizzie for her misguided “loyalty,” and then the novel shifts into the past to help us understand how distorted notions of “love” have kept Lizzie from considering her own needs.  I was struck by the mildness of this novel—its tone, the writing, the book’s cover, the main character’s temperament.  Of the four enslaved women, Lizzie is the least interesting to me precisely because she lacks the drive to be free, can’t see the true nature of her relationship with Drayle, and holds onto aspirations that seem utterly absurd; as a mother of two children, it’s understandable she would hope her lover/master would set the kids free, yet again and again Drayle proves he’s not to be trusted.  Unwilling to use force against his slaves, Drayle manipulates them instead, using his emotional hold on Lizzie to coerce her into complying with his will.  Until Lizzie witnesses the abuse of the other sex slaves, she’s unaware of her own exploitation.  The novel ends abruptly, and I felt as though a third of the story had been left (or cut) out; I didn’t read Lizzie and Mawu as spiritual twins, and so that explanation didn’t satisfy me…and the role of two white women wasn’t clear to me.  But Wench is a novel I’d definitely teach and recommend to others. (Did anyone else notice an error at the end of the book—Lizzie recalls “Sir” whipping Mawu, but wasn’t it her owner, Tip?)

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