Jaime Moore's novella is intimate, quiet, and powerful in its approach to telling a story that deftly moves between a coming-of-age story and the vast...moreJaime Moore's novella is intimate, quiet, and powerful in its approach to telling a story that deftly moves between a coming-of-age story and the vastness of complexities that each person faces in navigating the world of race relations and where they fit in--if they fit in--and this is the key that will draw readers into Selma and Zeke's stories--the reader, no matter their age or race, will find themselves, someone they were, or maybe someone that they'd like to be, in the pages of Our Small Faces. In a voice that is natural, relaxed and authentic, Selma and Zeke are standing along the border of a new adult world that shrinks and expands according to privilege and positionality, marginalizes indiscriminately, and through no fault of their own, is looking to take away their lone safety net--each other. Moore's economy of language in the compressed form of a novella demonstrates both a mastery of narrative pacing and a faith in her characters to tell their story, tell it true, and leave the reader changed without having to hold their hand and explain it to them. That trust is well-earned. As Selma and Zeke make their choices and leave behind the children they were to start building the adults they will be, you will share in their joys and their pains, because they will be as real, as natural, as wonderful and terrible at once, and as close to you as the world outside your window. Our Small Faces is a little sliver of hope that doesn't tell half-truths or put a polish on the flaws of our culture--but as with anything worth doing, worth fighting for, and worth loving, it's the hope that sees you through from one side to the other. (less)
I don’t know Leah Sewell—but I want to. Her first poetry chapbook, Birth in Storm, is every bit as tempestuous as its title promises. Leah’s poems del...moreI don’t know Leah Sewell—but I want to. Her first poetry chapbook, Birth in Storm, is every bit as tempestuous as its title promises. Leah’s poems deliver on everything that accompanies a natural disaster—the threat and the destruction, as well as the unexpected moments of calm before, and trailing in the storm’s wake. In Sewell’s poems—particularly in pieces such as “Alfalfa Child,” and the Pushcart nominated “The Crimson Lady”—nature and the physical self are the lens through with the poet examines all in our world which is uncertain, showing the reader how to uncover beauty amidst disaster. Sewell doesn’t shy away from the fierceness of the storms she chronicles in her collection, but instead guides the reader through the tense anticipation of an impending tempest, as well as provides them with quiet spaces where the process of cleaning up afterwards can be every bit as cathartic as coming through gale force winds alive. “Sister” is one of Birth in Storm’s most haunting pieces, one that will remain with the reader, visions of mewling white kittens and long-haired boys, each doomed in their own way and resigned to the storms looming on the horizon. Sexuality is menacing and unexpected as the storms outside, “risen/unexpected as a tumor,” in pieces such as “Boys,” and “Thirteen Tastes Like the Pantry Floor,” where Sewell invokes the reader to “taste your father’s cologne, sliver of soap taste, copper smell of your new woman-taste, sweat on your friend’s hand & spit-sister shake.” Birth in Storm leaves no one unscathed, but instead, stronger for having made it through. Sure, there’s broken glass everywhere and there’s a lot of work to be done, but somehow, the reader finds themselves looking forward to putting everything back together—because Sewell shows us that for poems born in storm, that which yields is not weak. (less)
Fiction essay hybrid featuring an insecure, self-congratulatory aspiring writer who is trying to figure out "how she should be" to win the love, affec...moreFiction essay hybrid featuring an insecure, self-congratulatory aspiring writer who is trying to figure out "how she should be" to win the love, affection and admiration she feels entitled to. Though at times there were sparks of brilliance, ultimately the character-author Sheila is so grating and insistent that the reader (and world) should admire her that I decided to dislike her on general principle. Never delivers a solid reason why she should be admired and never really answers the question of "how to be", and seems to learn spectacularly little on her journey. There are great lines interspersed through the chapters that make it not an entirely unpleasant read, but I found these made the overall effect of the novel even more disappointing. She's clearly capable of writing well, it just seems she chooses not to, to fly by the seat of her pants, and to be recognized for brilliance without ever breaking a sweat to work for it. Oh, if we could all be so lucky. (less)
……and yes, gentle reader, make no mistake, you will ask yourself that, probably more than once, in the few hours it takes to read King of the Perverts. The premise of the novel is fairly repugnant: average-guy Dennis, reeling in the wake of a divorce, the loss of his job, and the at-the-hospital revelation that his ex-wife Carrie’s child is most definitively not his, has nothing left to lose, except maybe his dignity. And you won’t have to wait long for him to lose that too. Dennis answers a shady newspaper ad calling for extras and finds himself cast in a reality TV show (all too believable, I might add) called King of the Perverts. If Dennis can make his way through ten increasingly filthy sex acts, he wins a million dollars. To add to the ethical quandary of the challenges, the probably-Russian-mobster cameraman isn’t letting him back out of the competition, even when Dennis’ morals kick in.
The premise and writing style are akin to Paul Neilan’s Apathy and Other Small Victories or Diablo Cody’s Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper; the subject matter is not entirely dissimilar to John Waters’s Pink Flamingos and A Dirty Shame tossed together into a blender. If you’re into the oddball or the bizarro, it can be a rather fun read. If you’re squeamish at all or have somehow missed the more awful corner of the Internet where Goatse lives, this is one you might want to skip. If you’re curious what the ten challenges are, be prepared to Google a few (NSFW, but I’m sure that goes without saying). Word of warning: they’re ALL REAL THINGS, and like Goatse, the Blue Waffle, or Two Girls, One Cup, some things can never be unseen.*
Underneath the crudeness of the sex acts, the morally grey area of people humiliating themselves and others for the benefit of “reality TV,” and the ofttimes off-putting manner in which women are described, there’s actually a decent story at work. Dennis’s anger and disappointment at his failed marriage and the college degree he never finished bubble beneath the surface and help the reader empathize with a character that they might otherwise dislike. His guilt over how he treats Danielle (the alligator fuckhouse challenge) and his inability to believe that Tricia (the golden shower) might actually want to see him again outside of a cheap hotel room give the reader a glimpse into a man who’s trying to be more than the sum of his failures or conquests. Dennis is grappling with his own debasement, while at the same time attempting not to debase the women of his challenges, despite that being the objective of the TV show. In a generation of The Real World, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Flavor of Love, and Bad Girls, it’s all too conceivable that a show like King of the Perverts just might end up on the air, and we’d all be a little worse off for it. But that’s kind of the point.
Overall, by the novel’s end, there seems to be a little hope left for Dennis — and for the reader, too. Not a bad way to pass a couple of hours, but be prepared to put it down a few times and wonder to yourself, “What the fuck did I just read? Is that even real?” Trust me. It is. And it’s probably best not to Google it to make sure.
*Bookshelf Bombshells assumes no responsibility if you are foolish enough to Google any of the aforementioned things and, in fact, we recommend you search for pictures of kittens instead.(less)
"I almost envy you your scars,” Meghan says. “They’re something visible, something you can point to, to show how much you hurt. Something that lasts longer than a bruise. I don’t have that.”
Scars is a well-written YA novel whose main flaw is that it bites off more than it has time to chew on, muddling the message it is trying to send. As the name implies, the major theme in the novel is self-harm. Kendra Marshall is a teenager who has recently disclosed to her parents that she was repeatedly molested by a close family friend. The problem is, she can’t remember who he is and thinks that he may be stalking her to ensure her silence. To cope with the stress of the abuse, Kendra cuts to soothe her inner chaos.
With the dicey subject matter of Scars, a simplification of the story and a focus on its two main themes would have benefited the story’s overall impact greatly. There are secondary themes of strained parental relationships, art as therapy, alcoholism, physical abuse, and homosexuality. In fact, the subplot is a wonderfully tender love story, as Kendra realizes she is a lesbian and grows stronger through her love for Meghan — so strong that I wish the author had saved it for another novel, because its inclusion makes it too easy to “blame” Kendra’s rape for her homosexuality.
The climax is way, way over the top, almost condescending in what it asks the reader to believe. Once the abuser is revealed, the action of the story’s climax builds in a way that’s both unbelievable and outright silly, which detracts from all the good things about the story that the author has worked so hard to achieve up to this point. It’s almost as though she doesn’t trust the reader to be able to take away something meaningful from a climax and resolution that aren’t fraught with hyperbole and YA cliches.
Scars starts off with the potential to be a well-written, emotionally complex novel, and it’s a shame that it couldn’t deliver on its promise, because there are so many points in the storyline where the author could have deviated from the formulaic contrivances of YA fiction and created something more memorable than what the reader is left with on the last page.