All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

Nicole Chung’s story of her transracial adoption, search for her birth parents, and becoming a mother come together beautifully in this, her memoir, All You Can Ever Know. We featured Chung and her book on The Stacks podcast, you can hear Chung talk about her process on The Short Stacks, and a full discussion of the book (with spoilers) with author Vanessa McGrady for The Stacks Book Club.

What makes All You Can Ever Know special, is Chung’s willingness to be open and vulnerable with her story. She embraces the complexities of adoption and identity, and her reader is privileged to get to hear her inner most thoughts on these subjects. Chung weaves three families together, her birth family, her adoptive family, and the family she has created with her husband in the most fluid and natural way. It all makes sense. She finds the balance between the three and that allows for a much deeper understanding of who she is.

Chung was adopted by White parents into a White family and community, and is by birth Korean. This element, her transracial adoption, was what I found most interesting. I would have loved even more about this as Chung grows older and comes into her own. We hear a lot about how it effected her as a child, and her desires to be white, or more accurately, be the same as those around her. However, as the book goes on we don’t really get to revisit her relationship to her ethnicity once out of her White hometown.

I really enjoyed reading this book and learning about adoption in such an intimate way. Chung doesn’t speak for all adoptees or for anyone else in All You Can Ever Know, and yet she is able to tap into the ideas of family and belonging that feel universal. I suggest this book to lovers of memoir, people interested in adoption stories, and people who appreciate small stories.

We have so much more on All You Can Ever Know on the podcast, listen to the episodes below.


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

Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption by Vanessa McGrady

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

In Rock Needs River, Vanessa McGrady shares her journey from deciding she wants to be a mother, to adopting her daughter Grace, to eventually taking in Grace’s homeless birth parents. McGrady navigates the sometimes murky boundaries of open adoption in this debut memoir. The Stacks sat down with Vanessa McGrady to discuss her book and her experiences on Episode 45, which you can listen to for more context on the book.

McGrady is amazing at connecting with her reader, from nearly the first page I was with her. Rock Needs River is, if nothing else, totally readable. There is an openness and honesty with all that comes up, even the complicated stuff, like murky boundaries, family relationships, and entitlement. McGrady doesn’t fein modesty, nor does she shy away from sharing traits that aren’t always so desirable.

The biggest challenge in Rock Needs River is that much of it feels rushed or unexamined. No characters (aside from McGrady) seem fully developed, which leaves them challenging to connect with. The same is true of the main conflict in the book, Grace’s birth parents. Their situation is glossed over and unspecific. McGrady wants to help them (and is clearly generous in letting them move in), but she doesn’t really get into anything beyond her shock and her disappointment in them not getting back on track. This part of the book could have benefited from more interrogation and introspection. It is this lack of specificity that ultimately hurts the book.

McGrady finds the time to reflective on moments throughout Rock Needs River, but comes up short when she has to fit the pieces together and bring the bigger narrative into focus. The book is a quick and easy read, but I sometimes found that it wasn’t grounded. I would recommend this book to people looking to get a glimpse of what one story of open adoption is like, though I think it would be best to pair with other adoption stories for context and perspective.

Click here to hear Vanessa McGrady on The Stacks talking about Rock Needs River and more.

  • Hardcover: 182
  • PublisherLittle A (February 1, 2019)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy onRock Needs River 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 opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

IMG_4291

This is the first YA book I’ve picked up since The Hunger Games. Which I read in 2011. So, it’s been a while. Going into the book I had heard a lot of really great things so I was very eager to read it.

If you’re not familiar with this book, here is a little blurb

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

This book takes a very current and complex issues and attempts to present it for the young adult audience. That is no easy task. This book is dealing with extremely nuanced and controversial topics. I give Thomas insane amounts of respect for taking the Black Lives Matter movement on.

Starr is a fantastic character. I really enjoyed her as our protagonist and our eyes into her world. She is conflicted and lovable. The characters around her are pretty wonderful too. There were moments in this book where I actually laughed to myself, and some relationships that I envied.

I was impressed by how many levels Thomas took on. This book isn’t just about a police shooting, it’s also about the repercussions a police shooting has on an individual and their community. Thomas is looking at internal, interpersonal, and communal struggles. While she doesn’t always hit it on the head, she is striving to show something that is rarely discussed.

I know this is an unpopular opinion, but this book just didn’t do it for me. I found the dialogue to be corny and very explanatory. There are moments in the book where the dialogue is cringe worthy. Thomas is demonstrating to her audience a lot more than she is allow us to uncover.

I felt that the audience for this book was not just young people, but more specifically young white people. It seemed as if Thomas was saying, “Hey, you’ve never thought much about police violence against black folks? Well here is a crash course. Let me blow your mind.” Honestly, I just don’t think that I’m the audience for this story. The book is an introduction, and I have spent a lot of time thinking and talking about these issues with adults and young people, so it felt underwhelming and over simplified. I didn’t feel like Thomas offered me a lot to think about, and I wasn’t impressed with the writing style.

And now, to contradict myself, you should read this book. You should. Really. The book moves quickly and is easy to read, and it is an attempt to talk about some stuff that is hard to talk about. Thats admirable and should be supported. It is a solid book, and the book itself has become a sort of cultural phenomenon. More importantly it is speaking to and about a much bigger and more important cultural crisis, and for that, you should read this book.

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Balzer + Bray; First Edition Later Printing edition (February 28, 2017)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy The Hate U Give 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.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

IMG_4266

Why didn’t everyone I’ve ever known force me in a room and make me read this book? How has it taken me this long to finally pick it up? It is going to take a while for me to forgive myself for being this late to the Octavia Butler party.

Here is the blurb on this book

Dana, a modern Black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the White son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

This was the book I didn’t know I always needed. It has a Black female protagonist, time travel, slavery, interracial relationships, colorism, and so much more. It is Afrofuturist goodness. There is so much complexity and so many levels that are layered in. Butler is deliberate with her work and it pays off. A short book, that packs a huge punch.

This book is mostly set during slavery and takes those issues on head on. The events that take place on the plantation are brutal and Butler does delve into that, if you struggle with graphic descriptions of abuse be cautious with this book. (It is worth stating, that any book that is honest about slavery will have graphic language that surrounds life for Black people in that time.) The genius of this book is how Butler juxtaposes life in the present (1976) with that of the antebellum South. The book is really asking us to explore the effects of Slavery on present day Black Americans. The guilt and obligation of the Black savior. What is the role of the Black woman in relationship to the power of the White man? Is personal good more valid than collective evil? How much do Black people have to give of themselves in order to protect the systems that preserve White supremacy?

I’m not sure that in the end I felt any closer to answering those questions. I’m not sure that in the end I ever really liked the characters at all. I did appreciate them as vehicles to look deeper into what Butler is examining when it comes to race and gender power politics. The book is plot driven, and that makes for a fast-paced book, but it does leave out some of the internal struggles that would have developed more well rounded characters. As much as I enjoyed this book, I did miss having a connection with the characters.

I think this book is important for what it is, (a Black Sci-Fi book written by a Black woman in the 1970’s), and I also think this book is important for what it says and what it brings up. Now that I’ve finally read something by Octavia Butler, I can not wait to read more

Go pick up your copy of Kindred it is a classic for a reason. Enjoy!

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (2003)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Kindred 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.

 

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins

IMG_4179

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this book. I had never heard of the author and while the subtitle was pretty clear, it also left a lot for me to wonder about. This book is one woman’s, Morgan Jerkins, insights on the intersection of Black female feminism in America.

Here is a little more about this book

From one of the fiercest critics writing today, Morgan Jerkins’ highly-anticipated collection of linked essays interweaves her incisive commentary on pop culture, feminism, black history, misogyny, and racism with her own experiences to confront the very real challenges of being a black woman today.

This collection of essays floats between specific moments from Jerkins life to historical, political, and cultural moments in the history of Black women in America. Jerkins takes us through her personal experiences and uses them to show us what they mean in the greater context of the life of Black women.

Where Jerkins shines most is with her openness about sharing the intimate details of her life. There were even moments where I felt embarrassed by how much she shares, it appears very little is off limits. Her courage when it comes to discussing the most private details of her life allows us to see Jerkins specifically, and black women in general, as more in depth and complex than they’re often presented in American culture.

Jerkins is sharing her personal observations and experiences, and they are unique to her. Like everyone else, her opinions are flawed and contradictory. I didn’t agree with sections of the book, but I did respect her writing and her thought processes. Jerkins harbors some resentment toward Black women, despite her writing this book as a champion of Blackness. Its contradictory and confusing, and ultimately something she is clearly grappling with throughout. Some of the threads in the essays, feel incomplete or in search of a point. The subject matter is complex and it feels as if Jerkins is still working through a lot of it throughout each essay. Some sections really land, and some fall short for me. This is her debut book and I’m excited for her following works.

For the most part I would suggest you read this book. Representation matters, and of course Black women are not a monolith, and that is made very clear in these essays.  Remember to take Jerkins’ work as what it is, one woman’s experience and a opinions on her life to this point. 

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.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

VSCO Cam-1

Do not judge this small book by its size. It packs a major punch, it is emotional and visceral, and it is enjoyable to read. 

More about this book

The highly acclaimed, provocative New York Times bestseller—a personal, eloquently-argued essay, adapted from the much-admired TEDx talk of the same name—from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, award-winning author of Americanah. Here she offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century, one rooted in inclusion and awareness. Drawing extensively on her own experiences and her deep understanding of the often masked realities of sexual politics, here is one remarkable author’s exploration of what it means to be a woman now—and an of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists.

Simple. Direct. Smart. This book is a taste of what it means to be a feminist. Adichie dips her toe into the most basic tenets of feminism, from equal treatment across the genders to calling out misogyny as it occurs in real time, as well as raising boys and girls to treat each other with mutual respect from a young age.

Adichie is conversational in tone (which makes sense since this comes from a TED talk.) and casual with her stories, yet biting as she articulates her observations of misogyny. The book doesn’t dive deep into any one thing, it doesn’t have time, its 48 pages. But it does cut to the point, women should be respected and should be treated as equal to men, and that both men and women are responsible for making the societal changes. Feminism isn’t only the responsibility of women.

Plus, excerpts of this talk/book are in Beyonce’s Flawless, therefore this book is perfect.

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

 

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

4B442F83-01A5-4238-BBE1-6B5C2C1CCB6D

I was very nervous to read this book. When it came in the mail, it was huge, and that really freaked me out. I should have expected a huge book given the fact that racist ideas in America are almost never ending, but actually seeing this book and holding it in my hands was intimidating. It sat on my shelf for about six months before I actually started it.

More on this book

In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Ibram X. Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. Stamped from the Beginning uses the life stories of five major American intellectuals to offer a window into the contentious debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists. From Puritan minister Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, from fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to brilliant scholar W.E.B. Du Bois to legendary anti-prison activist Angela Davis, Kendi shows how and why some of our leading proslavery and pro-civil rights thinkers have challenged or helped cement racist ideas in America.

This is one of the most ambitious books I’ve ever read. Kendi is taking on racist ideas in America, and that is no small task. He expertly guides the reader through debates about race taking place at any given time in the US. He presents the different sides, and exposes the thinking that has shaped American culture since its earliest days.. His ambition pays off, not only is this book detailed and expansive, it is clear and direct. Kendi won The National Book Award for Non-Fiction with Stamped from the Beginning, and it is well deserved.

At the risk of sounding cliche, and in all earnestness, this book is eye-opening and life changing. It is an academic exploration of things we’ve come to know anecdotally as residents of the United States, but have never truly grappled with. This book gives background to standardized testing, affirmative action, popular films and so much more. Kendi is relentless in his dissection of racist ideas and the cultural importance they have had. For example he spends time talking about Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Gone with the Wind, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X to illustrate how pivotal these books were in spreading ideas about Black Americans across the country and the world.

Kendi is patient with his reader and explains things in detail. Dissecting key moments in American history, both culturally and legislatively, to develop the progress of racist, assimilationist, and antiracist thoughts over time. From the start of slavery through to the presidency of Barack Obama there is never a dull moment for the reader or for racist ideas. Kendi is there to help the reader make sense of it all and give ideas their proper context and in turn show the extent of their reach.

This book was challenging to read. I struggled and reread many passages to make sure it was all sinking in. That was part of the enjoyment of this book, really being challenged to grapple with the ideas and the text.

I would highly recommend this book to everyone. Especially if you consider yourself an antiracist or an ally in the fight for equity in this country, or if you’re interested in learning more about Blackness and anti-Blackness.

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Nation Books; Reprint edition (August 15, 2017)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy Stamped from the Beginning 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