Book Reviews, books

Checking out the Book: Feminist Edition

This edition of recent library reads is brought to you by strong lady protagonists and characters of color who are not messing around. Pediatricians, mothers, folk healers, mathematicians, and police officers–none of these ladies, real or fictional, are going to take your shit. Here are a few books by and about women I’ve enjoyed lately.

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Title

The Tenth Muse

Author

Catherine Chung

Format

Book

Review

As an Asian-American growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, Katherine is an ambitious young woman torn between performing the role expected of her and one that allows her to pursue her passion for math (which I cannot directly relate to). When Katherine enrolls in Master’s and Doctoral programs, she is the only woman in her graduating classes and struggles to find acceptance.

Complicating matters is the revelation that Katherine’s parents have been keeping secrets about her identity, which has a surprising connection to WWII Germany. Accepting a role as a visiting researcher in Germany gives Katherine the opportunity to explore this relationship–though she will certainly learn some dark truths about her family and the mathematicians she idolizes. While the ending feels a bit rushed, Chung tells a unique story that seamlessly blends together themes of family, identity, and the weight of women’s decisions in a world very much tied to patriarchal values.

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Title

What the Eyes Don’t See

Author

Mona Hanna-Attisha

Format

eAudioboook

Review

The true story of a whistle blower in the Flint water crisis, Hanna-Attisha’s memoir is compelling in the way all tragedies are. A local pediatrician (who narrates her own book), Hanna-Attisha’s compassion for the children in her care is the force motivating everything she’s done. When she notices high levels of lead in the blood test results of many patients, she refuses to let it go until she’s done absolutely everything she can. But what can a pediatrician do to address crumbling infrastructure, intentional cost-cutting to the detriment of well-being, and governmental commitment to ignore or even cover up the crisis? Quite a lot, actually.

Connecting the story of the Flint water crisis to her experiences growing up as the child of Iraqi immigrants, Hanna-Attisha doesn’t shy away from bringing her personal life into the memoir. As a narrator, her passion for the subject and commitment to serving the families of Flint come through effectively. Though this book haunts my dreams and makes me hesitate whenever I turn on the faucet, it tells an important story and tells it well.

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Title

Sabrina & Corina

Author

Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Format

Book

Review

Not going to lie, I picked this one up for the cover, which gave me Frida Kahlo vibes in all of the best ways.

Fajardo-Anstine’s short stories are interested in themes surrounding family relationships: those between siblings, parents and children, large extended families. She explores the role of tradition, Latinx and Native American identities, and the roles of women in community and as individuals.

“Sisters” stands out as an especially heartbreaking tale, as Fajardo-Anstine sets up the events leading to a young woman losing her eyesight. Protagonist Doty lives with her sister in 1950s Colorado, but the two won’t be able to afford this arrangement forever. As the sisters go on a series of double dates, Doty feels the pressure for marriage even as she feels absolutely no attraction to her boyfriend. What options does a single Latinx woman have when she barely makes a living wage?

I also enjoyed the story “Remedies,” which details the brief but significant relationship between the narrator Clarisa and her half-brother. The titular remedies are those Clarisa’s great-grandmother uses to cure everything from a headache to the flu. However, these remedies cannot be used for the persistent head lice that afflict Clarisa and her half-brother Harrison, whom Great-Grandma despises. Clarisa’s unconventional mother works hard to maintain the relationship between the half-siblings, efforts that Clarisa most definitely does not appreciate.

To be honest, though, I can’t think of a single story that wasn’t well-crafted and interested in compelling themes and characters.

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Title

Girl Waits with Gun

Author

Amy Stewart

Format

eAudiobook

Review

Constance Kopp, eldest of three sisters who live on a farm in 1910s New Jersey, just wants one thing: for the factory owner who ran into their buggy with his car to pay the money he owes for repairs. Unfortunately, Henry Kaufman, the factory owner in question, is an entitled tool who is disinclined to entertaining the demands of women. Facing threats against her youngest sister, broken windows, and attempted arson (all to avoid a $50 fine), Constance remains steadfast in her commitment to seeing justice done.

Based on a true story, Stewart creates a fun adventure that is meticulously researched; not only are the initial events true, but many of the happenings in the novel are pulled straight from the headlines of the day. Constance went on to become one of the first female deputy sheriffs, and by all accounts was as tough as nails as she is in this telling. The narrator of the audiobook does an admirable job of giving each sister a distinct voice that reflects her character, as well as some memorable scruffy man voices.

What are you reading (or listening to)?

Header photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

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