Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare

For the month of December, my Shakespeare read for The #ShakeTheStacks Challenge was, Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s first attempt at a tragedy.

Titus Andronicus is a revenge play centered around Titus Andronicus, a Roman General, who is locked in a cycle of personal revenges with Tamora, Queen of the Goths. The play is bloody and brutal, to the point that the first scene includes a handful of murders, one of which is Titus killing his own son. Shakespeare was not going for subtle with this play.

By far the most interesting part of Titus Andronicus centers on the character of Lavinia, Titus’ daughter. I don’t want to give too much away, but the scenes involving Lavinia, are some of the most fantastic scenes. She does not speak, instead the men around her speak at her and for her, and are given a voice when she is not. They must interpret her thoughts and her pain, and it is excruciating to read.While I’m not sure what Shakespeare was sayingabout women in his own time, Lavinia struck a chord with me now, at the end of 2018. I kept thinking of an essay, by Lacy M. Johnson, called “Speak Truth to Power” (which can be found in her amazing book of essays, The Reckonings).

Aaron, the Moor, is another fascinating character to read in modern times. He is Black and is a complete and total villain. He is given little in the way of redemption, and reaffirms his own villainy until the end of the play. I think so much about how this role would have been seen throughout history, this angry, violent, remorseless Black man as the epitome of evil. What kind of actor plays Aaron? Is he a brute? Is he cerebral? Is he ever played by a charming man? Or a light skinned Black man? Or is he always a stereotype of the angry dark Black man? How does this role evolve over time? I could reflect on Aaron (and Lavinia) and how the character functions in this play for a long time.

Titus Andronicus is shockingly easy to understand. While the character’s names are hard to remember, the text itself is accessible (for Shakespeare) in a way previous plays have not been. Its simple really, a play predicated on revenge. The ending of the play is too short, the fallout is too quick. I think thats partially because this is Shakespeare’s first tragedy. I know he gets better at elongating the pain and suffering at the end of his plays.

I really enjoyed Titus Andronicus more than I thought I would. It touches on mercy and justice in a way that I was not expecting, and gave me a lot to think about when it comes to Blackness and the representation of women on stage.


In case you’re reading along with me for The #ShakeTheStacks Challenge, I wanted to give you a heads up to what I’ll be reading in 2019. You don’t have to read along in the same order as me, and you can feel free to join me for one or all. However you decide to do it, my plan is below.


  • Paperback: 107 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Australia; Pelican Shakespeare edition (January 1, 2000)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Titus Andronicus on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

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 my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister

I was thrilled to pick up Good and Mad after hearing Rebecca Traister on the Hysteria podcast. A book about the power of women’s anger and not the same tropes about shrill women felt particularly exciting. Especially during a year that brought us the Kavanaugh hearings, children being torn from their families at the border, #TimesUp and a whole lot more. Controversies and violations that women everywhere had every right to be pissed about.

Here is more on Good and Mad

In the year 2018, it seems as if women’s anger has suddenly erupted into the public conversation. But long before Pantsuit Nation, before the Women’s March, and before the #MeToo movement, women’s anger was not only politically catalytic—but politically problematic. The story of female fury and its cultural significance demonstrates the long history of bitter resentment that has enshrouded women’s slow rise to political power in America, as well as the ways that anger is received when it comes from women as opposed to when it comes from men.

With eloquence and fervor, Rebecca tracks the history of female anger as political fuel—from suffragettes marching on the White House to office workers vacating their buildings after Clarence Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Here Traister explores women’s anger at both men and other women; anger between ideological allies and foes; the varied ways anger is perceived based on its owner; as well as the history of caricaturing and delegitimizing female anger; and the way women’s collective fury has become transformative political fuel—as is most certainly occurring today. She deconstructs society’s (and the media’s) condemnation of female emotion (notably, rage) and the impact of their resulting repercussions.

In a time where most people seems to be somewhere between generally irritated and in a state of full out rage, this book felt particularly helpful in contextualizing the world. As a woman who has often been asked to calm down, or slow down, or think things out, Good and Mad gave me the encouragement I needed to continue in my rage, it gave me permission.

Rebecca Traister is the kind of person you want with you in a debate. She is smart, articulate, and can give you specific examples to prove any point. In Good and Mad Traister’s research feels comprehensive. She connects the dots between the suffrage movement, of both women and Black folks in America, to the current anti-Trump moment. She takes her time making points and documenting the many times where angry women have gotten the job done. There is so much in this book, from media bias against women to the history of rage at work to political campaigns to social movements, and Traister skillfully ties these ideas together. She underlines the history which allows for something like a #MeToo movement to flourish. She is a serious journalist committed to her beat and it pays off in this book.

One of the most complicated and frustrating parts of the women’s movement or feminism (or whatever you want to call it) is the role of White women. White women have for years used their proximity to White men to wreak havoc on people of color, while simultaneously calling for action and change in the ways that benefit them (abortion rights, for example), forgetting their success is predicated on that of all women. And though sometimes it may seem like all women benefit from the success of White initiatives, often time it is women of color who are harmed (see: Margaret Sanger). Traister doesn’t shy away from explaining these types of double standards. It is one of the most refreshing parts of this book. Traister trusts her audiences ability to think deeply about complicated matters and draw their own conclusions. She invites the contradictions as proof of the strength of a coalition like “The Woman’s Movement”

From politicians to pop singers to labor activism, this book has it all. It is a great crash course on women’s rights and rage The same rage that has propelled women spark movements. There are moments the book goes on a too long and sometimes the writing can feel dry, but it it often balanced by Traister own personal grapplings with feminism, which are fantastic. It is a powerful thing to read Good and Mad in the years following the 2016 election, and the months following the 2018 election. It is a reminder that women;s anger has been, and will continue to be an important and useful force for change.

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • PublisherSimon & Schuster (October 2, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy on Good and Mad 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.

Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee

I am so grateful to My Mentor Book Club, a sponsor of The Stacks for sending me Joyful. MMBC is a monthly book subscription, where you get two newly released nonfiction books sent to your door. I am always really excited when the books show up, and sometimes they send me things that I’ve never heard of that are totally in my wheel house. That was the case with Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee.

Here is more about Joyful

Have you ever wondered why we stop to watch the orange glow that arrives before sunset, or why we flock to see cherry blossoms bloom in spring? Is there a reason that people — regardless of gender, age, culture, or ethnicity — are mesmerized by baby animals, and can’t help but smile when they see a burst of confetti or a cluster of colorful balloons.

In Joyful, designer Ingrid Fetell Lee explores how the seemingly mundane spaces and objects we interact with every day have surprising and powerful effects on our mood. Drawing on insights from neuroscience and psychology, she explains why one setting makes us feel anxious or competitive, while another fosters acceptance and delight — and, most importantly, she reveals how we can harness the power of our surroundings to live fuller, healthier, and truly joyful lives. 


Lee does a fantastic job of breaking down the ten different elements that provoke joy, she calls them “The Aesthetics of Joy” and they range from energy to magic, from abundance to celebration. This isn’t simply a design book, Joyful does a fantastic job of including the psychology of joy and experts in a range of fields that engage with each aesthetic. I particularly loved hearing about color (in the energy aesthetic) from Ellen Bennet of Hedley & Bennett Aprons. These moments through out the book provide context for Lee’s points and give depth to seemingly basic concepts.

This book allowed me to think of the different aesthetics that spoke to me, and the places in my life I could add joy. Its a totally practical guide complete with worksheets that help you figure out where you could add joy to your life, and which kinds of things spark that joy in your own environment. For me, I love sparkle, and travel, and hosting dinners, which all fit into different categories, and could work on adding color and magic into my world.

I think overall the book could’ve been a little shorter. Some of the later sections got repetitive and didn’t require as much explanation, but were still long. While the writing is solid, the content is where this book really shines. Lee traveled the world to meet with so many kinds of people and experience unique places and gardens and homes and artwork. It is almost a kind of culture study in addition to being a guide for joy.

In 2019, I’m looking forward to (or dreading) a renovation in my own home, and found this book to be helpful and inspiring for that process. It also will serve me as a guide for how I want my whole life to feel, especially with a new year on the horizon. If you like a pop-psychology book, want to live a more joyful life, or are thinking about transforming any spaces in your life (including launching a new project, or hosting a major event) I would suggest you check out Joyful and Lee’s website, The Aesthetics of Joy for guidance and inspiration.

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • PublisherLittle, Brown Spark (September 4, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on Joyful 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.

Seven Sundays: A Faith, Fitness, and Food Plan for Lasting Spiritual and Physical Change by Alec Penix

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.

In preparation for having author and celebrity trainer Alec Penix on the podcast, I read his new book, Seven Sundays. The book is a 43-day fitness and faith routine, with daily assignments and reflections.

Here is more on Seven Sundays

In Seven Sundays, celebrity trainer and devoted follower of Christ, Penix explains the connection between faith and fitness, both his own and shares his clients’ success stories. When our spiritual and physical bodies are built up simultaneously, we find ourselves more likely to stick with healthier, life-changing habits, appreciate what we have, be thankful for what we’ve gained (and lost), and feel content with how far we’ve traveled.

Seven Sundays is a six-week program that shows you how easy it is to undergo your own total transformation. The book is organized as a day-by-day journey in the same manner as a daily devotional. Over the course of each week, you will work on the “6 Pillars of Purpose” that build up this strength. You will also enjoy “Faith-Full” foods and explore a new spiritual theme each week. Ultimately, you’ll undertake a meaningful journey that will finally connect your body and spirit.


Seven Sundays is a daily look at fitness with a heavy emphasis on Christianity, and one’s relationship with Christ. While, this isn’t something that I connect with at all (I am a agnostic woman, raised in a Jewish family), I do think Penix is onto something powerful, with his ideas that you can do all the exercise you want, but if you’re not settled emotionally and mentally, you won’t be able to be successful in changing your lifestyle. The book takes you through every single day of the 43-day program. And walks you through each of six categories, some of which are readings of bible verses, some of which are nutrition plans. This book will hold your hand through the process which is fantastic.

There is a huge focus on God and Jesus in this book, which wasn’t particularly enjoyable for me. I found myself skipping pasts the sections of each day that talked about bible verses and “Him”. I just didn’t connect and didn’t care. That doesn’t speak to me. While I think you could make some substitutions, instead of “walking with Him” you could walk to connect with nature or your greater power (if you have one). There is some sections of the program that are very specific to Christianity. There are daily devotionals that center talking to God and/or Christ. That is a lot harder to change.

The fitness portion of the book is great. It is inclusive of all levels (unlike the spirituality part). There are modifications, and concessions made for different types of people and abilities. The same an be said for the nutrition as well, though it does get a little biblical toward the end. There is also a section on offerings, or community service. The offerings range from introducing yourself to people in your life who you don’t know by name (your barista or security guard, etc) to offering to do something physical for someone who might need help. I think this part of the book is unique and really positive.

This book isn’t for people looking for a conversation about fitness and faith. This is a book for Christians looking to revamp their health and body and center Jesus Christ in that process. Which is all to say, this book isn’t for everyone. I think that is fair to write a book for a very niche audience (of course I think that my two favorite books are about the Attica Prison Uprising and the mass casualty at Jonestown). You can get to know Alec better on his episode of The Stacks, he discusses Seven Sundays and more about his life and journey, which helps to put the book in context a little more.

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • PublisherHoward Books (December 4, 2018)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy on Seven Sundays 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 Reckonings by Lacy M. Johnson

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.

After reading Lacy M. Johnson’s memoir, The Other Side I couldn’t wait to dive into this essay collection, that was positioned as a sort of response to her kidnapping and rape that was documented in her memoir. The Reckonings is that response, and it is much more than that as well.

More on The Reckonings

In 2014, Lacy Johnson was giving a reading from The Other Sideher memoir of kidnapping and rape, when a woman asked her what she would like to happen to her rapist. This collection, a meditative extension of that answer, draws from philosophy, art, literature, mythology, anthropology, film, and other fields, as well as Johnson’s personal experience, to consider how our ideas about justice might be expanded beyond vengeance and retribution to include acts of compassion, patience, mercy, and grace.

She grapples with justice and retribution, truth and fairness, and sexual assault and workplace harassment, as well as the broadest societal wrongs: the BP Oil Spill, government malfeasance, police killings. The Reckonings is a powerful and necessary work, ambitious in its scope, which strikes at the heart of our national conversation about the justness of society.


The Reckonings is one of the most powerful books I’ve read. A well crafted meditation on justice and the roles that each of us, as humans and citizens, has in the greater picture and good of society. Johnson is a great thinker, who is subtle with her own intellect. She is wise. She is thoughtful. She is accessible. She sees the world in a more compassionate and realistic way than many. However she never forces her depth on her reader, instead she allows to understand her own processing, peppering her discoveries with “I think”. This isn’t done out of self doubt, but as a way to remember Johnson is trying to figure it all out, and figure out her role in it all.

This book is profound. It has something to say, about joy and health, and access, and vindication, and mercy, and grace, and privilege, and art, and the most base human desires. Johnson leans into the complex nature of sacrifice and healing. Honest and vulnerable each essay is willing to engage with the complexities of society, and in doing so, Johnson has to confront herself. Her biases and what they say about her ability to be compassionate or an ally, or whatever it is that comes up. The Reckonings has so much to say, that when I got to the end of the book, I went ahead and read all of the notes, in full, and then went back and re-read the first two essays. I couldn’t get enough of the words and what they had to say.

There are essays in The Reckonings that range from the Nigerian Girls captured by Boko Haram to Hurricane Harvey, from the justness of the death penalty to the cost of the BP oil spill. The essays seem like they wouldn’t belong in a book together, but somehow as you’re reading them, each one feels like it is in its perfect place. They all build on one another until we come to some resolution. I won’t tell you where that is, but know that it was fulfilling and bleak. The only way this book could have ended.

I think there is something to learn from this book for just about everyone. The writing is beautiful and the content matches. Johnson is a professional writer, something that we often times over look, but The Reckonings reminded me why people dedicate their life to the arts, so that they can create artwork that reminds the rest of us what it means to be alive.

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • PublisherScribner (October 9, 2018)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy onThe Reckonings 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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.