Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights

Book cover: Pro by Katha PollittToday marks the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade; before that, illegal abortions claimed the lives or the fertility of thousands of women around the United States. But though abortion has been safe and legal for decades, the battle over abortion access wages on. In Texas, for instance, there were 41 clinics providing abortion services. After the Texas legislature pushed the abortion omnibus through, we now only have 17, and most of those are only open pending an appeal currently in court; that decision is expected within the coming few months.

In Pro, Katha Pollitt puts her foot down and says enough is enough. All too often, because of pro-choice complacency or weak messaging or whatever, anti-choice narratives have shaped the abortion debate. The debate is all about the hypothetical baby, even though two-thirds of all abortions happen before the eight-week mark of pregnancy (the embryo stage). Women’s voices are only valid if they say they regret abortion — the scientifically refuted Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome (PAS) is often brought up to scare and shame people — while those who are vocal about their abortions bringing them emotional or financial relief are dismissed (they’re in denial but will experience PAS eventually, you know).

In her introduction, Pollitt writes of pro-choice complacency:

For many years, pundits dismissed the notion that abortion would ever be significantly restricted, and mocked as Chicken Littles pro-choicers who warned that both rights and access were at risk, and contraception, too. The conventional wisdom help the Republican Party would not risk waking the sleeping giant that is the middle-of-the-road more-or-less-pro-choice voter. Now we’re seeing the Chicken Littles were right. Where is that giant?…It’s the millions of pro-choice Americans who are so far uninvolved (and still complacent) that will ultimately decide the fate of legal abortion in this country.

It’s past time for the giant to rise.

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Sweetland by Michael CrummeyA community on a remote island of Newfoundland has been in gradual decline for decades. Without any real job prospects or potential for growth, young people move away from Sweetland and build their futures in bigger cities; now, the town is mostly populated by an older generation that is dying away. The Canadian government has offered everyone in the community $100,000 to resettle elsewhere on the condition that everyone in the town must sign the contract and leave. Once they do, the government will cease service to the island; ferry services bringing goods will cease, electricity will be cut off, and homes will be boarded up and left to the elements. A ghost town will be created.

Almost everyone in town immediately agrees to sign the contract. It’s obvious that their way of life is dying. Most of the people have few ties to Sweetland; their children have long since moved to the mainland. There’s only one main holdout: Moses Sweetland, an old fisherman whose ancestors founded the island. Without him agreeing to the resettlement package, no one can receive any money. His stubbornness on the matter doesn’t make him very popular with his neighbors.

In refusing the offer, Moses looks back on his life and the people he’s grown up with (some of whom now shun him). He won’t say why he won’t leave, but the thought of Sweetland becoming a ghost town, its residents and history forgotten, obviously bothers him. He spends his days with his niece, Clara, and her autistic son, Jesse, a curious boy with encyclopedic knowledge of subjects that interest him. They’re the last of Moses’s family, although Jesse’s invisible friend happens to be Moses’s brother, who died as a teenager in a fishing accident that Moses rarely speaks of. It’s on account of Jesse that Moses pushed himself into the twenty-first century; he has a laptop, an internet connection, and a Facebook account in order to communicate with Jesse whenever they’re not together.

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The Book of Unknown Americans

Book cover: The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina HenriquezA family of three leaves everything behind in Mexico to move to the United States. Arturo and Alma Rivera’s teenage daughter, Maribel, was in an accident that resulted in brain trauma; she will be attending a high school in Newark, Delaware equipped for her special needs. Her parents, once loving and close to one another, are now dealing with a strain in their relationship. On top of struggling to meet their daughter’s new needs, they are now at a loss. Everything about their new home — from the language to the weather to the food — is foreign to them.

The Riveras eventually find their own little niche in the community. While her daughter is at school and her husband is at work picking mushrooms in nearby Pennsylvania, Maribel’s mother becomes good friends with a Panamanian neighbor and begins taking English classes as at a local immigrant center. She’s still terribly anxious about keeping her daughter safe — not unfounded, considering an early scene in the book — but some of her unease is beginning to fade.

Enter Mayor Toro, the neighbor’s shy teenage son. He’s attracted to Maribel as soon as he sees her, though it’s hard to get close with Alma Rivera watching her daughter like a hawk. Even when he learns about Maribel’s disabilities, he’s intrigued by her: she often stares blankly at him, but the two obviously enjoy each other’s company and a friendship starts to blossom. Not quite trusting strangers around their disabled teenage daughter, the Riveras lay down rules; teenagers being teenagers, Mayor and Maribel start finding ways to sneak around those rules. It’s innocent teen infatuation, but some of their choices lead to disastrous consequences.

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2014: That’s a Wrap!

The first part of the survey, hosted by The Perpetual Page-Turner, is one that a lot of other book bloggers do; I started doing it last year. I’ve been doing the second part of this survey ever since I started book blogging, but I tinker with it every year.

1. Best book you read in 2014?

I discussed this over the past few days:

2. Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love more but didn’t?

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee and Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2014? 

The Heart Does Not Grow Back by Fred Venturini

4. Book you read in 2014 that you recommended to people most?

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me by Ellen Forney

5. Best series you discovered in 2014?

I don’t really read series, but I did start Divergent and The Giver last year and plan to finish out the series. I also read Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, and I plan to finish the rest of her Neapolitan trilogy this year. (I know. Super late to the party on all of those!)

6. Favourite new author you discovered in 2014?

Four of these people have been around for ages, but: Sigrid Undset, Graham Greene, Elena Ferrante, Milan Kundera, Celeste Ng

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Favorites of 2014: Comics

Favorites of 2014: Comics

I read a lot of graphic novels and graphic memoirs last year. This list is heavy on the graphic memoirs (Marbles was my favorite). When it comes to the graphic novels, however, there’s no way I can choose a favorite graphic novel for the year: Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints and Boaz Yakin’s Jerusalem: A Family Portrait are both phenomenal.

Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang (2013)

Both of these books begin in China in 1898, when Christianity is starting to have more of a presence in China. Boxers follows the story of Little Bao, a rural peasant boy who participates in the Boxer Rebellion, where Chinese rebels start fighting back against the invasion of “foreign devils.” Saints follows the story of Four-Girl/Vibiana, an unloved Chinese girl who eventually becomes a “secondary devil,” a Chinese convert to Christianity. It’s a dangerous time for all involved. From my review: “They’re beautiful books, and everyone should read them.”

Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole J. Georges (2013)

When she was twenty-three-years old, Nicole Georges had her palm read and learned that her father, whom she’d thought was long dead, was actually alive. It was a ridiculous idea that she brushed off, only to later discover that her father really was alive. Nicole comes of age (and comes out) within highly unconventional and sometimes tense family dynamics. From my review: “Whether she’s discussing painful episodes from her childhood, her tendency to zone out whenever she’s feeling cornered, or even describing mundane daily life in Portland, Nicole finds creative ways to illustrate her story.”

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast (2014)

With her parents both in their 90s, Roz Chast had to start facing the fact that her parents wouldn’t be around forever and would eventually need care; her mom was still pretty strong, but her father was showing progressive signs of dementia. However, whenever she tried to broach the subject and make plans, her parents refused to discuss the matter. The memoir follows them through their failing health and eventual deaths, focusing on all the decisions that had to be made during that slow and expensive process. From my review: “The emotions that she captures ring bittersweet and true.”

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