Leila Abid’s parents got together the old-fashioned way: via arranged marriage. Decades later, their relationship is one of mutual love and respect. Naturally, they want the same kind of stability for their daughter. And now that Leila is practically on the verge of spinsterhood — at the ripe old age of 26 — they feel that it’s time for their picky, flighty daughter to settle down.
Leila is a progressive American woman with a long list of traits she wants in a potential husband. She wants a Bollywood love story with a handsome hero. She wants a partner who will treat her as an equal. She wants someone who won’t mind that she’ll never be the type of Indian wife who can naturally cook traditional Indian meals. And of course, he needs to be drop-dead gorgeous with an amazing smile with an exciting life and intellectual pursuits. Even her friends tell her that her expectations are unrealistic.
Constantly at odds with her parents, she makes a deal: if she’s not engaged in three months, she will let them arrange her marriage.
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
Publisher/Year: HarperAudio, 2019
Narrator: Bahni Turpin
Length: 11 hours, 43 minutes
What it is: A young adult novel about a 16-year-old girl named Bri who wants to become the next great rapper. Her father was a rapper who died before his time, but she doesn’t want to be a mini version of him, the way everyone thinks she’ll be; Bri is her own person with her own style. She’s feeling the pressure to succeed: her mother has lost her job and her neighborhood is ruled by gangs. If she can make it big, she can help her family.
Why I read it: Angie Thomas is a great writer.
What I thought: I read Thomas’s debut, The Hate U Give, and while I wasn’t as blown away by it as so many others were, I could appreciate the book; it just felt like Thomas was throwing too much in at once. I didn’t feel like that about On the Come Up; in fact, I liked it more than The Hate U Give. Here, all of the plot points — even the over-the-top ones — felt appropriate; Bri is trying to make it big as a rapper, after all. Thomas beautifully balances bigger social and political issues with the important, personal questions that teens face as they come of age.
All Maggie Louise Higgins knew growing up was cleaning and childcare. Her mother, Anne, already frail from recurring flares of tuberculosis, was always pregnant; out of 18 pregnancies, 11 were live births, though not all of her children made it to adulthood. The house was always filthy, diapers always needed washing, children always needed feeding. The family fretted constantly whether Anne would survive childbirth.
Maggie, whom the world would eventually come to know as Margaret Sanger, always wanted more than a life of drudgery and childbirth. There were few options for girls as the nineteenth century drew to a close, especially poor ones. The older Sanger girls each had dreams of an education, only to have those dreams dashed as the family’s economic realities weighed down on them. The family then lay their hopes on Maggie, outspoken and intelligent, and pooled their meager resources to try to send her to school. At the very least, maybe she could be a teacher one day.
But Maggie didn’t want to be a teacher. She didn’t exactly know what she wanted, but she knew that she didn’t want to be stuck in the narrow confines of what was allowed of women of the era.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Publisher/Year: Random House Audio, 2019
Narrator: Kimberly Farr
Length: 12 hours, 2 minutes
Source: Personal copy
What it is: A novel written as a collection of stories that are all somehow linked Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher in a sleepy Maine town. Some of the stories center around major moments in her life, while others only mention her in passing and instead focus on people who exist in her periphery.
Why I read it: I bought this book a good decade ago because of the buzz, and then it went on to win the 2009 Pulitzer. But it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since! Truth be told, it’s still sitting on my shelf; I ended up buying it on audiobook earlier this year and finally listened to it during my work commute.
What I thought: I know it’s a novel, but since each chapter is more like a short story, the book is much like any other short story collection: some are stronger than others. But since the book is set in a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, the reader definitely gets a feel for the characters from different angles. As the title character, Olive naturally gets featured the most. She is a stubborn woman who had gone through some hardships and mostly sees herself living out her retirement years in peace. But her personality is sometimes too much for people, including her own son, and she can’t seem to understand how she pushes people away. It’s a beautiful book that excels at exploring its characters’ inner worlds.
Dev is back with a new series, The Rajes, in which she puts her spin on Jane Austen. True to form, it has slightly over-the-top characters in completely relatable situations. Trisha Raje is a genius neurosurgeon in a family of control freak overachievers: her father is actual royalty-turned-successful surgeon/immigrant success story; her mother is a former Bollywood star; and her brother, Yash, is probably going to be the next governor of California. Her sister, Nisha, runs the campaign, and the other Raje members in the family’s orbit are tightly bound by loyalty and closeness to make the campaign succeed.
Enter DJ (Darcy James) Caine. He’s the Cordon Bleu, Michelin star restaurant-trained caterer hired to work his magic for Yash’s big gubernatorial campaign announcement. He’s also the overprotective older brother of Emma, a talented young artist who will die unless Trish can remove her brain tumor. The catch: the only way to do that will leave Emma permanently blind.
DJ and Trisha don’t like each other.