She Begat This: 20 Years of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Joan Morgan

In the year that we celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill, Joan Morgan put together a book that reflects on the importance and influence of this iconic album.

Here is more about She Begat This

Released in 1998, Lauryn Hill’s first solo album is often cited by music critics as one of the most important recordings in modern history. Artists from Beyoncé to Nicki Minaj to Janelle Monáe have claimed it as an inspiration, and it was recently included in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress, as well as named the second greatest album by a woman in history by NPR (right behind Joni Mitchell’s Blue).

Award-winning feminist author and journalist Joan Morgan delivers an expansive, in-depth, and heartfelt analysis of the album and its enduring place in pop culture. She Begat This is both an indelible portrait of a magical moment when a young, fierce, and determined singer-rapper-songwriter made music history and a crucial work of scholarship, perfect for longtime hip-hop fans and a new generation of fans just discovering this album.

Here is what this book isn’t, a song by song dissection of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Not even close. If you want that, you should check out the Dissect Podcast, Season 4, a which is exactly that, and it is pretty great. Instead, this book is a conversation about the importance and influence of Hill and her album. What it meant in 1998 for a young Black woman to leave her group, and go out into the world, pregnant and powerful, and sing her face off. The book also looks at what it meant for that same woman to age and evolve and struggle. She Begat This engages with the comparisons to Nina Simone and the widely (and I think unfairly) criticized Lauryn Hill: MTV Unplugged No 2.0. Effectively the book tries to put Lauryn Hill in context of the 90’s and also the doors she opened for artists, especially Black women, since.

Morgan rounds up women thought leaders in hip-hop culture and feminism to discuss the album with her, from Dream Hampton to Lyneé Denise and more. These women share their opinions on the music, the moment, and the movement. Sometimes these opinions conflict and that allows the book to be a subtle exploration, instead of a singular coronation. There is both praise and criticism which exemplifies the vastness of Black womanhood in art and the world.

One part of the book that was particularly insightful and powerful, and something I wish was more consistently throughout, was when Morgan explained the importance of Lauryn Hill and her pregnancy in the age of Bill Clinton. Morgan explains not only the similarity between Hill’s relationships with Wyclef Jean and Rohan Marley and the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, but also the importance of Hill’s choice to keep her child in the face of Clinton’s crime bill that wreaked havoc on Black families, placing an extreme burden on Black women. This section is exceptional. I only wished there was more of this kind of comparison throughout the entire book.

Sometimes Morgan and the other women interviewed overstate the importance of this album. Not that the album isn’t iconic, but that these women were overly attached to the album and biased. They take claim and ownership over feminism that had started long before 1998 and continued much later. Perhaps a little too personal at times. It is clear Morgan respects Hill’s work professionally, but also has deep connections to it personally. That muddies the waters of the book, a little.

I listened to She Begat This as an audiobook, and found it a little challenging to know if Morgan was saying things or if she was quoting other women she consulted, I enjoyed the narrator but sometimes found myself confused.

If you love The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill this is a quick and interesting look at the album and the woman and her place in the cultural zeitgeist. It is a simple idea, and I wish there were more books that did this with the icon albums. I personally can not wait to read the one that comes out in 18 years about Lemonade by Beyoncé.

  • Audiobook: 3 hours and 55 minutes
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Atria / 37 INK (August 7, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on She Begat This Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Open City by Teju Cole

Open City was The Stacks Book Club pick this week on the podcast. We discussed the book with actor Behzad Dabu (How to Get Away with Murder, The Chi). If you want to hear that full episode, click here, but be warned there are spoilers (though I don’t think there is much to spoil in this book).

For more on Open City read here: 

A haunting novel about identity, dislocation, and history, Teju Cole’s Open City is a profound work by an important new author who has much to say about our country and our world.

Along the streets of Manhattan, a young Nigerian doctor named Julius wanders, reflecting on his relationships, his recent breakup with his girlfriend, his present, his past. He encounters people from different cultures and classes who will provide insight on his journey—which takes him to Brussels, to the Nigeria of his youth, and into the most unrecognizable facets of his own soul.


In Open City we are paired with a protagonist, Julius, that is our guide, though we never get to know him well enough to care for him. He feels a little unreliable, but mostly, just aloof. He is constantly musing about the world around him, his place in it, what all of that means. He examines art and trauma and humanity and more, through out the course of this book, and because of his thinking, we too are asked to go reflect along with Julius. There is no real plot in the book. It starts, things happen to Julius, he goes on a trip, he meets new people, but mostly life happens and Julius moves forward, and then the book ends.  

What I appreciated most about this book was the variety of issues that Cole asks his readers to engage with. We reflect on the Holocaust, and classical music, on 9/11 and shoe shining. There is a variety of consciousness that Cole presents and that is refreshing. He doesn’t do any deep dives into any one thing, instead, like many people, he scratches the surface of what is in the zeitgeist. In presenting this variety of topics for reflection, Cole brings up some of the most controversial and provocative issues, but right as the thinking gets good and complex he changes the subject. It can feel frustrating, but it also allows the reader to do some reflecting on their own. I also think, Cole is grappling with many of these ideas himself. 

There were times the book felt disjointed. The chapter breaks made no sense. The dialogue was presented without punctuation or paragraph breaks. As soon as a character would start discussing a topic, like Israel and its relationship to Palestine, the subject would abruptly change. The book left me wanting more. It also left me with a lot to think about.

Open City felt like Cole’s musings on life and the futility of life. Things happen and we try to engage and then at some point we carry on. It is simple really, but leads to a sort of frustrating book with beautiful prose. Something that is lovely and also boring and then ugly and then interesting, and then its all over. Perhaps a metaphor for life?

I enjoyed reading this book overall. There were moments I was bored. There were also moments that filled me with energy as I allowed myself to consider things that I had previously taken for granted, for example the role of political parties in The United States. If you’re someone who likes philosophical conversations about hot button issues, this might be a nice pick for you. But be warned, very little happens.

Don’t forget to listen to the The Stacks with Behzad Dabu discussing Open City

  • Paperback: 259 pages
  • PublisherRandom House Trade Paperbacks; 1 edition (January 17, 2012)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy onOpen City Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here

Ep. 38 Open City by Teju Cole — The Stacks Book Club (Behzad Dabu)

This week actor Behzad Dabu (How to Get Away with Murder, The Chi) joins us again to discuss Teju Cole’s novel, Open City. The book is a meditation on borders, terror, and belonging set against the back drop of a post 9/11 New York City, and centers a Nigerian immigrant as our guide. This week we discuss the book in detail, there are spoilers, however this book is less about plot and more about big ideas. Listen at your own discretion.

Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. The Stacks participates in affiliate programs, and shopping through the links below (mostly Amazon) helps support the show, at no cost to you.

Connect with Behzad: Behzad’s Website|Behzad’s Instagram|Behzad’s Twitter|Behzad’s Facebook

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram|The Stacks Website|Facebook|Twitter|Subscribe|Patreon|Goodreads|Traci’s Instagram

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Sponsors

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.

My Mentor Book Club – for 50% off your first month of new nonfiction from My Mentor Book Club go to mymentorbookclub.com/thestacks


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Real Jungle Tales by Jesse Byrd and Illustrated by Andressa Meissner

This week on The Short Stacks, we talked to children’s book author Jesse Byrd about his newest book, Real Jungle Tales. You can listen to that conversation here. 

Real Jungle Tales tells the story of a little Native American girl named Zee who gets punished on Halloween and can’t go trick-or-treating, and comes up with a plan to get candy from her friends. The book is for ages 4-8 and is in rhyming verse. 

Real Jungle Tales is beautiful, the illustrations (by Andressa Meissner)  are playful and vivid, and in sync with the energy and personality of our protagonist, Zee. She is painting vibrant pictures with her words, and the images match. There is a sense of whimsy as she schemes, which is shown threw the rhythms of the rhyming verse and the bright images. Byrd and Meissner are a perfect fit for Zee’s and her story.

Where this book really shines is the unapologetic and deliberate centering of Zee, a clever, creative, and playful Native American girl. We don’t often to get see that in children’s books, young girls of color leading the narrative, but Byrd has committed his work to this kind of representation, you get to meet a Martine a creole girl in his previous book, Sunny Days

According to Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s multicultural statistics for 2017 you are more likely to find a children’s book that centers a dinosaur than a Native American child, and when books have female leads, they are “highly likely” to be in pink or a bow (even when they are animals). Byrd doesn’t engage in any of that, instead he presents us with Zee. Smart, clad in a safari hat, and confident beyond measure. You can tell that he really respects children and wants to present them as they are, diverse, powerful, exciting.

It should also be said, that this book doesn’t focus on Zee’s ethnicity, instead it focuses on her desire to get some candy. Zee is not struggling with identity, or troubled, this book is not about overcoming societal obstacles, which many children’s books that have characters of color seem to be. No, this book is about a confident little girl problem solving and being herself. 

I did give a copy of this book to my 7 year old niece, and she loved it, sat there reading it at a restaurant, she is a little Black girl, and she saw herself in Zee. It was very powerful, not only for her, but also for me. 

I recommend this book to any of the young children in your life, especially if they are children of color and/or are great story tellers, or maybe just to kids who really like animals. I would challenge you to give this book to white children as well as children of color, and to little boys as well as girls. Why not?

You can get your copy of this book through Jesse’s publishing company Jesse B. Creative Inc. or through Amazon

Don’t forget to listen to Jesse Byrd on The Short Stacks discussing Real Jungle Tales and more. 

  • Hardcover: 24 pages
  • Publisher: Jesse B. Creative Inc. (January 16, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy on Real Jungle Tales. Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The 2018 Stacks Book Club Battle of the Books

We’re bringing a little friendly competition into The Stacks world as 2018 comes to a close. You get to vote for the winners of this year’s best book from The Stacks Book Club, plus one participant will win one of these books and a tote!

Here is how it works. You go to https://challonge.com/TheStacks2018 or click here. You create your account put your predictions in for who you think will win. Then on The Stacks Instagram Stories, you’ll vote (start 12/20) for your favorite books in head to head battles, until we crown one winner, The Stacks Book Club Book of the Year. The results of each round will be updated over on Challonge (our bracket site) and on our Instagram @thestackspod.

You have until Thursday, December 20th at 9:00am PST to put in your predictions, the person who does the best will win one book from the 19 books in the tournament and a The Stacks Tote bag. We will announce the winner of the tournament and the winner of the giveaway on Monday, December 31st once the results are in.


Some of you might be wondering how the seedings worked out for the tournament, and I’ll be honest, I did a bunch of calculations to rank the books based on a slew of factors The rankings are full of bias, and assumptions, and thats what makes it fun, since ultimately YOU decide the best book. Here is what I looked at to rank these books, and below find a more detailed description of what that means. 

  • Podcast Downloads- Raw number of downloads that episode received according to my data (I know older episodes will be at a disadvantage as the podcast grew over time, but also newer episodes suffer because they haven’t been up as long, I’m hoping it all evens out). It is worth noting that I excluded Open City from this calculation since that episode is not out yet.
  • iTunes Episode Popularity- iTunes lets me see how popular each episode is. Its slight different than raw downloads, because they take into account listeners at the time of recording, but they also only include people listening through iTunes. Again,Open City  was excluded from this category, see above.
  • Goodreads Scores- I just looked up each book on Goodreads and took that score.
  • Goodreads Reviews- I took the raw number of Goodreads reviews for each book.
  • Test of Time- The older a book is, the more credit it got, because it has withstood the test of time. 
  • Social Media Input- I’ve asked you all to tell me your favorite book we read this year on Instagram and Twitter. Those responses are incorporated.
  • Traci’s Personal Ranking- Thats right, I’m influencing this competition a little. Why not?

There are 19 books in the competition, so in each of those categories the books are rated on a scale of 1-19. Each book received a score from each category, 1 being the best, 19 the worst. I then tallied all the scores and divided by 7 (in the case of Open City  only 5). The lower the score, the higher the ranking.

I know that sounds like a lot, but just trust me, it makes sense. Here are the rankings based on these calculations, and their total overall raw scores, remember lower is better. Where there was a tie, I broke the tie.

  • 1 Between the World and Me -5.142
  • 2 Giovanni’s Room – 5.571
  • 3 The Bluest Eye – 5.857
  • 4 Men We Reaped – 6.428
  • 5 Exit West – 6.714
  • 6 Bad Blood – 7.14
  • 7 Year of Yes – 7.714
  • 8 The Mars Room – 9.142
  • 9 If You Leave Me – 9.428
  • 10 Between the World and Me -5.142
  • 11 How Democracies Die – 9.714
  • 12 Less – 10
  • 13 Open City – 11
  • 14 Reincarnation Blues – 12.428
  • 15 Vulgar Favors – 12.571
  • 16 How Soccer Explains the World – 12.714
  • 17 To the Bridge – 13.428
  • 18 New Boy – 13.428
  • 19 Motherhood – 14.57

Voting begins Thursday December 20th, shortly after 9:00am PST for the first round, and will follow the schedule below. Remember you vote in The Stacks Instagram stories. You just click your favorite book in each round’s head to head matchup. Once the results are in, I’ll share the winners with you and we get ready for the next round. The schedule is below.

Round 1 – December 20th – Play In Games

Round 2 – December 23rd – Sweet Sixteen 16

Round 3 – December 26th – Elite 8

Round 4 – December 28th – Final 4

Round 5 – December 30th – Championship

That feels like a lot, trust me, it’ll be fun and worth it. Here is the important stuff.

  1. Make sure you’re following The Stacks on Instagram @thestackspod.
  2. Register for the bracket if you want to be part of the giveaway CLICK HERE
  3. Vote in each round on our Insta Stories,  starting Thursday December 20th.
  4. Spread the word!

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Short Stacks 2: Jesse Byrd//Real Jungle Tales

We’re talking all things children’s books this week on our mini episode with award winning author Jesse Byrd. In addition to writing children’s books, Jesse runs his own publishing house (Jesse B Creative), and does children’s book project management. Jesse’s most recent picture book is Real Jungle Tales and follows a little Native American girl, Zee, who comes up with an ingenious way to avoid punishment, and get candy from her friends on Halloween.

We talk with Jesse about his writing process, working with an illustrator, and why it is important to tell stories that center children of color.

You can find everything we talk about this week in the show notes below. By shopping through the links you help support The Stacks, at no cost to you. Shop on Amazon and iTunes.

Connect with Jesse: Jesse B Creative Website|Jesse B Creative Instagram|Jesse B Creative Facebook

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram|The Stacks Website|Facebook|Twitter|Subscribe|Patreon|Goodreads|Traci’s Instagram

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Sponsors

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.

My Mentor Book Club – for 50% off your first month of new nonfiction from My Mentor Book Club go to mymentorbookclub.com/thestacks


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele

When They Call You a Terrorist was much more than I expected. It isn’t only about the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement. It is also a deeply personal memoir of family, survival, incarceration, mental health, feminism, community and more. It is a beautifully told story, that is as inspiring as it is disheartening. 

For more on When They Call You a Terrorist

Raised by a single mother in an impoverished neighborhood in Los Angeles, Patrisse Khan-Cullors experienced firsthand the prejudice and persecution Black Americans endure at the hands of law enforcement. For Patrisse, the most vulnerable people in the country are Black people. Deliberately and ruthlessly targeted by a criminal justice system serving a white privilege agenda, Black people are subjected to unjustifiable racial profiling and police brutality. In 2013, when Trayvon Martin’s killer went free, Patrisse’s outrage led her to co-found Black Lives Matter with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi.

Condemned as terrorists and as a threat to America, these loving women founded a hashtag that birthed the movement to demand accountability from the authorities who continually turn a blind eye to the injustices inflicted upon people of Black and Brown skin.


The central message and biggest take away from this book, is the power of community. Not only to activate, but also to heal, to inspire, to respond, and to nourish. Khan-Cullor’s community, one that she actively cultivates through out the book, shows us the power of marginalized people to stare down oppression and systematic abuses. To enact change, to create safety when there is none. When They Call You a Terrorist has no happy ending. Which is true for America’s Black folks. But the ending isn’t important in this book, it is about the journey of one woman, fortifying her life with like minded people and fighting like hell for her their voices to be heard, and listened to.

Championing human rights in the face of violent racism, Khan-Cullors is a survivor. She transformed her personal pain into political power, giving voice to people suffering inequality and a movement fueled by her strength and love to tell the country―and the world―that Black Lives Matter

Kahn-Cullors (along with bandele) lets us into her life. She uses her own unique experiences to contextualize a more general Black American narrative. Her own father’s incarceration is an avatar for the hundreds of thousands of Black men who were imprisoned along side him. The abuses her brother suffers as mentally ill man in prison, become a glimpse into the many men who are abused when proper medical help would have sufficed. She combines deeply personal experiences into something relatable. In the doing, she puts a face on mental illness,  mass incarceration, drug abuse, racism, and police brutality. She humanizes Blackness. 

Something that is often overlooked in society is the role of Black and Brown women, especially queer women, in the progress of society. This book calls out this erasure, and correctly credits them with much of the social progress we have all benefited from. Khan-Cullors, demands we acknowledge the contributions, both in her own life (her mother, her friends, her lovers) and in the bigger picture (the activists she works with, and the victims of police brutality #sayhername). Bravo, for calling out women who very much are and very much have been the center of the movements toward justice and equality.

The one part of When They Call You a Terrorist that I wanted more from, was the discussion of life inside the Black Lives Matter movement. Yes, of course we hear about BLM and its formation, from Trayvon Martin to Sandra Bland, but it comes late in the book. There are moments in Ferguson, MO, as she helps organize around BLM, but there is not much about what life as a leader of such a powerful movement is like. I would have enjoyed more on that. 

I listened to this book, and Khan-Cullors reads it. She does a great job. Her voice is calming and direct. She tells her own story beautifully. It made me want to meet her. It made me want to fight alongside her. 

There is no doubt this memoir is moving. It is one woman’s story, and a slice of history. The book speaks to a bigger picture and moment, and I think we will look back on this book as one of the important texts of the decade. 

  • Audiobook: 6 hours and 29 minutes
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; Reprint edition (January 16, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy on When They Call You a Terrorist Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Ep. 37 Representation, Basketball, and Books with Behzad Dabu

Today on The Stacks, our guest is actor, producer, and activist Behzad Dabu. Behzad is most well known for his roles on How to Get Away with Murder and The Chi. We talk about plays that are great on the page, representation on screen, and his love of basketball books.

Everything we talk about today can be found in the show notes, and shopping through those links earns The Stacks a small commission at no cost to you. 

BOOKS

EVERYTHING ELSE

Connect with Behzad: Behzad’s Website|Behzad’s Instagram|Behzad’s Twitter|Behzad’s Facebook

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram|The Stacks Website|Facebook|Twitter|Subscribe|Patreon|Goodreads|Traci’s Instagram

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Sponsors

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.

My Mentor Book Club – for 50% off your first month of new nonfiction from My Mentor Book Club go to mymentorbookclub.com/thestacks


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Stacks Book Club — January 2019 Books

January is just around the corner, which means, holy cow a new year, and a new month for The Stacks Book Club. The way the weeks shake out, you’re getting three bookclub reads in January. Lucky you.

First up is the 1997, best selling self-help book, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The Four Agreements is a code of conduct that helps to transform our lives, and encourages deliberate self love to free ourselves from judgement and fear. Our episode on The Four Agreements will air on January 2nd. 

Then, on January 16th, we will discuss Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, the winner of the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction. This book is a modern day telling of Sophocles’ Antigone. A suspenseful and heartbreaking story of family that is forced to chose between love and loyalty. 

Our last book of the month is Rap Dad by Juan Vidal. In his book, Vidal examines identity, race, hip-hop culture all at the intersection of his own journey into fatherhood. The book is both personal and representative of modern fatherhood and American culture. We will discuss Rap Dad on January 30th. 

As with all our TSBC books, we want to hear from you. Don’t be shy, send over your thoughts and questions so we can be sure to include them on the podcast. You can email us at thestackswithtraci@gmail.com, comment on this post, or reach out to us through our Instagram @thestackspod.

Order your copies of our January books on Amazon:


The Stacks received Rap Dad free from the publisher. For more information on our commitment to honesty and transparency click here.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim

109E7C7A-C34F-4CBA-AD1C-86315A297A24If You Leave Me was The Stacks Book Club pick this week on the podcast. We discussed the book in detail with author of The Ensemble, Aja Gabel. If you want to hear that full episode, click here, but be warned there are plenty of spoilers throughout our conversation. If you’ve not read the book, but want to hear more about it, check out our first ever episode of The Short Stacks (mini episodes focused on authors and their writing processes) featuring the author of If You Leave Me, Crystal Hana Kim. Listen here, and no spoilers.

Here is more about If You Leave Me

An emotionally riveting novel about war, family, and forbidden love—the unforgettable saga of two ill-fated lovers in Korea and the heartbreaking choices they’re forced to make in the years surrounding the civil war.

When the communist-backed army from the north invades her home, sixteen-year-old Haemi Lee, along with her widowed mother and ailing brother, is forced to flee to a refugee camp along the coast. For a few hours each night, she escapes her family’s makeshift home and tragic circumstances with her childhood friend, Kyunghwan.

Focused on finishing school, Kyunghwan doesn’t realize his older and wealthier cousin, Jisoo, has his sights set on the beautiful and spirited Haemi—and is determined to marry her before joining the fight. But as Haemi becomes a wife, then a mother, her decision to forsake the boy she always loved for the security of her family sets off a dramatic saga that will have profound effects for generations to come.


What I appreciated most about If You Leave Me is how patient Crystal Hana Kim is with her reader. She allows us the space and time to luxuriate and unpack her novel. The book layers issues, one on top of the other. Kim gives us realistic struggles that are intertwined and complex, subtle and subdued, instead of hammering us over the head with “themes” and “imagery”. In reading this book, you feel the respect Kim gives her characters, and you the reader. She  is entrusting us with her stories. The book is bleak, almost relentlessly so. It doesn’t feel so sad in the reading, but after, you’re hit with the heaviness of what you’ve just read, and what it all means.

If You Leave Me is a story of war and so much more than war, and If You Leave Me illustrates the depth of human struggle and triumph that surrounds war. These little moments that are both monumental and common. Mental illness and distress is a major thread in this book, and Kim isn’t heavy handed. She methodically illustrates grief and depression, allowing the pain to unfold. Kim is barely there. You understand, but she never says it, he characters do not have the words. The same goes for feminism, survivors guilt, and so much more. Kim shows us, but never tells.

The book is told through the eyes of five narrators, and this too is expertly done. Our guides through this narrow landscape age and grow. They change before our eyes, the events her hear about shape them. People I once rooted for were , become reprehensible. You are shown glimpses of these people. This format works to give us a more complete picture of the world without explanation.

While I quiet enjoyed If You Leave Me, it did slow down at points for me. There were moments of  extreme pain, or pleasure, or revelation, and then moments where I felt the momentum stalled out. They never lasted long, but I could sense the absence of movement. The words remained beautiful, but the story dimmed.

This is a book you read in a few days; in front of a fire, on a vacation, uninterrupted. The premise is unlike anything I’ve read, but the story itself feels familiar and accessible. I loved the writing and the simplicity, but also the depth of topics that were woven throughout this book. If you love a rich story with developed characters and plenty of emotion, this is your book. This is the first novel by Crystal Hana Kim, and I look forward to whatever is next from her.

Don’t forget to listen to the The Stacks with Aja Gabel discussing If You Leave Me

Hear The Short Stacks conversation with author, Crystal Hana Kim

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • PublisherWilliam Morrow (August 7, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy on If You Leave Me Amazon

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