Ep. 2 Exit West by Mohsin Hamid — The Stacks Book Club (Dallas Lopez)

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgOn this week of The Stacks, high school English teacher Dallas Lopez is back, and we’re talking about Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.

This is our very first The Stacks Book Club (TSBC) episode. Join us as we discuss the fears of leaving your home behind, the power of the human spirit to 
carry on, who we think should be in the movie, and a lot more.
There are spoilers in this episode, so if you’ve yet to read the book, listen at your own risk.


Here are links to other things we mentioned this week:




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The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater

F511F697-6F50-4094-8953-629BD40E493AI grew up in Oakland, CA and had never heard about this story. It is a true one, from 2013, and it is pretty heartbreaking. If you have never heard about this book or this story here is a little more information for you.

One teenager in a skirt. 
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.

This book was originally an article for The New York Times. I’m glad its was turned into a book. I’m glad this book exists. It is a Young Adult Non-Fiction book, a genre I had not been familiar with before reading this book. The book is mostly written in a straight forward journalistic style, but there are moments of poetry woven between the reporting. It allows for a little reflection and processing.

The 57 Bus does an amazing job of breaking down the different terms and pronouns to use for all gender and sexual identities. Sasha’s process is complicated and nuanced, and Slater really takes the time and care to present Sasha fully, without judgement. Sasha is presented as so many things at once, a complete and complex individual.

When it comes to Richard, Slater does a good job giving us the context of his life, however I do feel that there is not the same care paid to him. I don’t know if there should be, given the circumstances. I do feel she attempts to treat both teenagers as equal, both trying to navigate the world and move into adulthood. However the subtleties and complexities of being young, black, and male in a city like Oakland are not fully dealt with. Richard feel incomplete.

For example, when Slater attempts to explain how we arrived in a place where juveniles could be prosecuted as adults and receive life in prison without the possibility of parole, she spends a few pages discussing “super predators”. A racist term created in the 1990’s to scare people into thinking that young black youth would become more violent, which led to the stricter imprisonment laws. Then at the end of this section, Slater just says, “super predators” were a myth. And like that, she dismisses this idea she has spent time setting up. That is not adequate. Especially as this is a Young Adult book directed at audience that were not alive during the time of “super predator” fear and anxiety. A more equivocal dismantling of the myth was needed.

These small slights toward the black experience in this book left me a little frustrated. Knowing that many young adults are not fully versed in the racial politics that lead to the label of black youths as bad, in need of special education, and eventually to incarceration. More could be done to give the context of the systemic racism that black youth face.

I would certainly recommend this book. Its an interesting story, and a good reminder that we’ve got to teach our children better. I would suggest reading it with a critical eye. It would be especially powerful for young people with an interest in social justice.

Tell me what you thought of this book in the comments.

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (October 17, 2017)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy The 57 Bus on Amazon

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.

The Central Park Five: The Untold Story Behind One of New York City’s Most Infamous Crimes by Sarah Burns

IMG_5205This book falls perfectly in my wheel house, a book about true crime, a book about racial politics in the United States, and a book about the wrongfully convicted. I already knew a lot about this story, and the facts of this case before reading the book, in fact I had already seen the PBS Documentary.  That being said, if you’re not familiar with this story, here is some context.

On April 20th, 1989, two passersby discovered the body of the “Central Park jogger” crumpled in a ravine. She’d been raped and severely beaten. Within days five black and Latino teenagers were apprehended, all five confessing to the crime. The staggering torrent of media coverage that ensued, coupled with fierce public outcry, exposed the deep-seated race and class divisions in New York City at the time. The minors were tried and convicted as adults despite no evidence linking them to the victim. Over a decade later, when DNA tests connected serial rapist Matias Reyes to the crime, the government, law enforcement, social institutions and media of New York were exposed as having undermined the individuals they were designed to protect. Here, Sarah Burns recounts this historic case for the first time since the young men’s convictions were overturned, telling, at last, the full story of one of New York’s most legendary crimes.

As I mentioned I was already keyed into this story. I had seen the documentary years ago and was really moved by it. This book, is written by the same woman, Sarah Burns, who was a co-creator on the film (her father, legendary documentarian Ken Burns, is also a co-creator). Both the book and film share from one another, and I can only imagine how ground shaking this book would be if you were relatively unfamiliar with this story.

Burns does a fantastic job of detailing not only the events of 1989 and 1990, but also recreating the environment and cultural current of the time. She walks us through how something like this could happen; the media frenzy, the racist attitudes, and so much more. Her writing is straightforward, though also a little biased (and I think rightfully so). This is not a “we need to hear both sides of this story” kind of book. In all fairness, the “other side”, the side of the city of New York, has been driving the narrative on the Central Park Five for the last 20+ years. She is righting a wrong. She is setting a record straight.

You can sense Burn’s frustration with the system through out the book. The Central Park Five is a searing indictment of the way that the NYPD and District Attorney’s office handled this case. Burns does lean in a little deeper and remind us that this case could happen to anyone, as the practices used to convict these young men are still very much alive and well in today’s judicial system.

The only thing that this book lacks for me is a deeper connection to the boys who were dubbed The Central Park Five. I wish Burns dove deeper into repercussions these events had on the five teenagers. At the center of this story is not only wrongdoings by the city of New York, but also the story of those who were wronged. This book is more styled to be a piece of journalism chronicling the events, and less and expose on the lives that were altered. I would have loved for it to have done both things.

If you’re not familiar with this story, or the revelations that have come up in the last 15 years, I highly recommend this book, and the documentary. It is also worth noting that Ava DuVernay (Selma, A Wrinkle in Time) has signed on for a five-episode Netflix series about The Central Park Five set to film this summer. I’m obviously looking forward to this as well.

If you’re familiar with this story or have read the book or seen the documentary I would love to hear from you. Leave your comments below.

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Books (May 9, 2012)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy The Central Park Five on Amazon

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.

The Stacks Book Club April Picks

AF46C895-A674-432C-93AB-46EC5D70E4EC.JPGEvery other week on The Stacks Podcast we will be discussing The Stacks Book Club (TSBC) picks. We will be diving into conversations about the books, not only discussing the themes and its greater social and cultural context.

April 11th will be our very first TSBC episode, and we will be discussing Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. This book tells the story of two young people exploring a romance as their country dives into unrest. The books made it on many lists of the best books of 2017, including Barak Obama’s favorites.

On April 25th we will discuss Jesmyn Ward’s memoir, Men We Reaped. In this book Ward deals with the death of five young men that were close to her, and what it means to live, and die, as a black man in the rural south.

We do plan on diving deep into these books, please know there will be spoilers. So make sure you read the book before you listen to any TSBC episodes.

I want the conversations to be engaging, and touch on the topics you want to hear about, send over you questions and thoughts about the books. Likewise, I am constantly looking for books to add to TSBC, your input is greatly appreciated. What books do you think deserve a good talking through?

Make sure you’re subscribed to the podcast so you don’t miss a single episode. I look forward to discussing these books with you in April. Happy reading, and I’ll see you in 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.