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RECENT RECOMMENDATIONS FROM SOUTHERN INDIES...
Tan France's autobiographical memoir outlines his life growing up, coming out, fashion, and of course, getting cast in Queer Eye. Anyone who has watched this show needs to read this right now, and even if you haven't, you should still pick it up. It is a very thoughtful memoir that is honest about race, perception, bullying, love, marriage, and fashion. He is very-real, very-direct addressing of these topics to be eye-opening while also showing a vulnerable side of him that we don't often experience on the show.
Even some of the remarks that he makes quickly in the book and doesn't elaborate on in great detail (i.e. "brown people cannot run through an airport even if we are late for a flight") will leave an imprint on you. It is personal, real, and even those who tend to shy away from this genre, will find themselves interested in the conversational and captivating story of Tan France.
Naturally Tan by Tan France ($27.99*, St. Martin's Press), recommended by Fountain Books, Richmond, VA.
Knot is a strong and independent woman in a rural town in North Carolina. She likes her liquor and she will always speak her mind and regrets none of it. She is one of many members of the community of West Mills that we get to know over the course of 40 years in De'Shawn Charles Winslow's beautiful and feisty book about the love of family, friends and neighbors. Though not always perfect and with a fair share of secrets, they always try to do what they believe is best for the ones they love.
In West Mills by De'Shawn Charles Winslow ($26.00*, Bloomsbury Publishing), recommended by Fountain Books, Richmond, VA.
16-year-old Grace has just had a baby. After going through the pregnancy and choosing adoptive parents for her daughter, she now feels unmoored from her life before and wants to find her own biological family. That's how her biological siblings, Maya and Joaquin, come into the picture. Maya, set apart from her adoptive family in looks and temperament, struggles with the fallout of her adoptive mom's secrets coming to light. And Joaquin, in foster care his whole life, struggles with the idea of being worthy of someone's love. All of them grapple with their sense of belonging, but now that they have each other, maybe that will be easier. Benway has written a touching, sometimes humorous, compulsively readable book that will resonate with anyone searching for their place in the world, showing that sometimes where you are is exactly where you belong.
Far from the Tree by Robin Benway ($9.99*, HarperTeen), recommended by Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC.
I remained unsure where Elizabeth Gilbert was taking me throughout the nearly 500 pages of City of Girls, but now that I've finished the final chapter, I'm glad I trusted her expert hand. I adored seeing the world through Vivian's eyes; her coming-of-age is, perhaps more than anything else, a love story, a tribute to the theatre and to New York City. Every one of Gilbert's characters is flawed and complicated (sometimes even downright awful), but somehow she's made every one of them likable and determined to grow, making for a compelling story I couldn't put down.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert ($28.00*, Riverhead Books), recommended by The Bookshelf, Thomasville, GA.
Ayesha At Last is a completely lovely Pride and Prejudice re-telling that does not shy away from depth. Jalaluddin delves into the subjects of racism, religion, and gender with deft and care and manages to retain the sense of romance and charm all the while. I'd say this skill makes her a perfect choice for Austen retellings. I'd consider this novel a great "what next?" recommendation for fans of The Kiss Quotient or The Wedding Date.
Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin ($16.00*, Berkley), recommended by Books & Books, Coral Gables, FL.
While Ollie sticks to graphite grey in her drawings, Tucker's debut vibrates with vivid color in its strong sense of place and well-sketched characters. It has that timeless quintessence that evokes such classic New York City adventures as Harriet the Spy and The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler, and it is sure to delight fans of Rebecca Stead and Laura Marx.
All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker ($17.99*, Viking Books for Young Readers), recommended by Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA.
I realize that this book is, in large part, about sisterhood. Unfortunately, I don't have a sister or a similar relationship to measure against. I loved Emma and Jessie anyway, and found them credible characters in their own right. Emma's struggle to find a nourishing relationship is deeply touching. The dynamics between the two of them and between Laurel and Jessie are written with honesty and affection.
But what grabbed me by the heart and wouldn't let go was Witsell's descriptions of parenting and motherhood. It's unflinching in a way that I haven't read before without someone being written as a monster. Laurel isn't a monster; She's just not cut out for motherhood. She's a flawed person whose flaws are particularly incompatible with mothering. God, I sympathized with her. Early motherhood was frequently intolerable for me as well, and I found a sort of weird validation from reading someone else who wasn't very good at it. However, I also loved Sarah's character. She wasn't any more perfect than Laurel was imperfect.
I especially applaud Witsell's commitment to Laurel's integrity. Laurel never "rises above" or adopts the proper level of selflessness. It would have been pretty but dishonest to do otherwise. Even when her intentions are good, as with baby Liza, she manages to get it all wrong.
Everything about this book feels real, genuine, and honest. It it were written as memoir, I would believe it, but I think it somehow points to even larger truths by being written as fiction.
Give by Erica C. Witsell ($19.95*, BQB Publishing), recommended by Sunrise Books, High Point, NC.