Omg, omg, omg Keith Knight is totally awesome.
I got into his comics a few years back (let’s be honest, it was more than a few. It was the Bush (#2) era), bought a couple of his books at the Anarchist Book Fair and a library reading, read them and reveled in their awesomeness, and then, naturally, got distracted.
The Complete K Chronicles is a compilation of a few books and weighs in at 510 pages and contains strips from 1993 – 2004. Knight Takes Queen is a single book and was published in 2014. They’re both so good!
Knight has a really exciting and unusual ability to mix politics, potty humor, and pure heart– for example, he’ll be writing about violent racist cops in one panel, and the joy of yummy food in the next. Oh, and you’re laughing for both (even though sometimes it’s an LOL!, and other times it’s a resigned, head-shaking omg he’s so right, ain’t that tragic kind of laugh.
We should totally support rad cartoonists; of course check your library (and check the items out! Shelf-sitters (i.e. books that don’t get checked out) often get weeded when library shelf space is limited! Do your part to keep good stuff in the libraries)– but also buy his books and art! You can most easily do this on his website (which also has more comics!).
D Foster is the mysterious new girl that randomly wandered down Neeka and her best friend’s block one day and befriended them. Tupac is, well, Tupac. The three girls become BFF’s and bond over girlhood and a reverence for Tupac and his music (in terms of era, we begin before Tupac non-fatally gets shot the first time, and we end after his death from a different shooting). You may be thinking that sounds silly, or I don’t even like Tupac so why should I read this. But you should check it out! The author KILLS IT when writing about the effect that song lyrics or a performer’s persona has on you in those early teen years. The persona of Tupac is like a beacon and a friend in the lives of the girls, even though he lives nowhere near them and they listen to his music on a crackly tape of a tape, he’s just as present as, say, a mother or brother in their lives.
This children’s fiction (classified as “JF” at my library, probably best for 5th to 8th grade, but I’d also recommend it to older teens who are reluctant readers– or Tupac fans). It’s a short read, and is not just about ‘Pac– it also weaves in narratives of options for young black males, foster care, race, undeserved incarceration, having a gay family member, the fact of being female and growing up.
Check out a copy here!
Blast from the past!
If you’re not familiar with Keith Knight, his work is totally awesome. I have a few of this books which I totes love, and I recently picked this one up at the library since I hadn’t read it before.
Published in 2004, it’s basically political comics from the thick of the Bush era. They’re spot-on to how things were at the time.
My first thought was Whew! Thank goodness we’re under a new regime, shit was so fucked up then! And then I realized that we’re basically still at war, we’re still crowded by racism that’s institutional AND and home-born, government surveillance has been proven (hiya NSA), and everything is now so connected that there’s a pretty serious chilling effect over activism and free speech. People’s passion is gone. Remember when everyone was going to rallies all the time, and it wasn’t considered in bad taste to critique the gov? But basically, other than the demise of MJ and the mass-forgetting of a few public figures’ names, the book’s still hella relevant. Buy his other books (this one’s sold out) or check this one out!
So I had this giant stack of well-respected adult literature that I was intending to read– and instead I gravitated toward teen stuff (and returned the adult stuff to the library). So much for faking like I’m fancy and grown up. Here goes:
45 Pounds (more or less) by KA Barson
So teenage Anne has been told that she is 45 pounds overweight, her (super skinny) mom is a total jerk about it, and as a result, she has a pretty big complex. Her lesbian (!) aunt’s wedding is in a few months and she wants to lost the weight so she can look thin in the ceremony, so she goes through some extreme measures to start– and ends up having to get a job to support these new measures, and meanwhile there’s a boy she likes and her little sister is starting to get emotionally distressed about something, and there’s a mean girl out to sabotage her…
Ultimately lots of the right lessons are taught, but I really wish the “happy ending” could have been made happy without the stereotypical things that it ended with. I kind of also wish that we’d gotten to know Anne a little better. BUT this teenage “problem novel” is still solidly multi-dimensional, entertaining, and interesting.
Find a copy here
Hot Girl by Dream Jordan
14 year old Kate’s had a tough life. She’s been bounced around group homes and foster families, is a former gang member and former pot smoker and all-around tough girl– but she finally had a good social worker, good grades, and an ok (but strict) family she lives with. But when her BFF goes away for the summer, she befriends Naleejah, a super-fancy girl who has tons of money and designer clothes– and sleeps with guys to get them. Naleejah gives Kate a makeover, and the kind of attention that she gets starts to change… Will she fall in too deep with her new friend and risk losing everything that she’s worked so hard to make stable in her life?
This is a decent YA novel. It features multiple characters’ complications and complexities, and is realistic in the sense that it doesn’t try too hard to clean up supporting characters’ messes. Kate is weird enough that we can actually believe that she’s a real person, and while some of the other characters might be jerky, they still elicit some empathy.
Find a copy here
I’m really glad that I found Dana Johnson! I forget how I found out about her as an author– Maybe Library Journal reviews, maybe Amazon recommendations, maybe an old photocopied book list. I wrote a bit about her short story collection, Break Any Woman Down, about a week ago. My write-up was really disjointed because I got all distracted in between reading and writing– but I was interested enough to read more by her.
Break Any Woman Down has two stories about a character named Avery– one as a child, and one when she’s older. Elsewhere, California is a more fleshed out meditation on Avery’s life, flip-flopping between the present and the past to illustrate that your personal history never entirely leaves you. Avery did most of her growing up as an African American female in the suburbs of LA, often in a sea of white kids. As a grownup she’s an artist and a stay-at-home girlfriend to a wealthy Italian immigrant who’s white. The publisher and cataloging descriptions of the book that I’ve found aren’t really the greatest– they tend to be kind of essentialist, I think in hopes to “package” the book nicely for specific “sets” of readers. Basically a lot of stuff that is often rather poignant happens. These happenings involve gender, class, art, and most prominently the state of race and racism in America. These details aren’t really spelled out– it’s more like they’re positioned in a ways that the reader will hopefully notice.
The book is well-written, engaging, and doesn’t take too long to read. The structure of flipping between the past and the present is not problematic, and I found that I was disappointed when it was over.
Find a copy here.
Looking for short stories that read easy but actually make you think? Dana Johnson’s collection, Break Any Woman Down will do the job. I read this a couple weeks ago and a lot of stuff happened since then, so I don’t remember the details perfectly. BUT the stories in the collection are super diverse, with lots of different types of characters, and take place in multiple eras. They all showcase the Black female experience in the US, and touch on stuff like family, relationships, racism, school, work, abuse, AIDS, dating, love, etc. It won a Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, and according to the internet, seems to have been pretty popular when it was published a bit over a decade ago. Check it out!
I found this one on some librarian Juv/YA booklist, and I’m glad that I checked it out! I recommend it for all ages. Though intended for kids age 12+, I think it would work well for teens also as well as adults who like YA books).
Ghetto Cowboy is the story of what happens to 12-year-old Cole who gets in trouble one time too many at his mom’s house in Detroit, and is sent to stay with his father (whom he has never met) in Philly to help clean up his act. But as soon as Cole’s mom’s car pulls into town to drop him off, he realizes that his dad doesn’t live in an ordinary place. Nestled in the middle of the inner city are barns, horses, and bona-fide African American cowboys. At first he’s freaked out. But then things start to come together…
The storyline is fairly typical to what an experienced adult reader would expect, but the parts of this novel that were the most interesting to me are as follows:
1) The author has Cole narrate with a natural urban conversational tone (you know, the way real kids talk) without apology
2) Inner-city black cowboy associations are totally a real-live thing. Read about one HERE.
3) Technically a children’s book, Ghetto Cowboy doesn’t pussyfoot around things like institutional racism, gentrification, gangs, etc. The author does a good job of trusting that the reader can handle it all
Find a copy at your library
The Drama High series kept on getting mentioned as one of the few contemporary book series’ out there about African American teenage girls. So I picked up Second Chance to see if it was something that that the teenagers at my library would be into (and, um, because I like YA fiction).
So yes, Second Chance is a recommendable book. In all honesty, I think that being a teenager would have enamored me to it more (the author does a great job of capturing that certain breed of awful anxiety that comes with relationships when you’re a teen– and it’s so nice to be free of that as a grown up– also, there’s a good deal of interpersonal friend drama that was more teen-style than I was into (but I’m not a teen)).
So the story is that Jayd is African American and lives in Compton and wakes up every morning to take the bus to a mostly-rich-and-white school in LA. She’s in AP classes and has a handful of African American classmates who are also from her part of the city. Amongst them are her 2 best friends, her sworn enemy, and the manipulative boy who she used to date. Jayd starts dating a rich white boy, and drama of course ensues. Unlike a lot of paperback teen novels in general, Jayd and her surrounding life gets a fair deal of dimension. Her grandma who she lives with works making potions and magic satchels (and it’s treated totally normally in the book). The school has some notoriously racist teachers, and Jayd tries to bring charges against one of them. Jayd also works on the weekends and has difficulty with her dad and his side of the family. She’s likable, typically says the right thing, and has a strong sense of self.
This is not the first book of the series, and I would recommend starting with book one, as I felt a little bit in the dark about some of the characters. On a similar note, it is definitely part of a series– so there is not a tidy conclusion.
Find a copy here
Book Review: Seasons Change by Jennifer A Lightburn
I found this book on an LGBT reading list, and I was pleased to find that my library had it! It is the story of what happens to Annette after she leaves a really messed up abusive relationship with her ex, Montel, and starts to get on with her life. The narrative itself has multiple layers: there’s a court custody battle, a back story about the local homophobic police department, a new same-sex relationship with an old friend, friendship, family drama, deceit, private investigators, and more.
This book is addictive reading– Lightburn really knows how to immerse a reader into a character’s entire world. It’s self-published and you can tell that it was really an effort of love. There are a couple of minor misspelling/editing issues– but they are not big enough to disrupt the story or crack the author’s credibility. The book came to a slightly abrupt end and left me wanting a part 2!
Find a copy here. If you’re a Kindle person, it’s only $2 on amazon!