Tag Archives: race

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

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I absolutely loved this book. I was hooked from the first page! The author tells a beautiful and emotional story while educating readers on difficult topics of racism, specifically within and between minority groups.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI, SMCM
Review Submitted by: Sarah Gleason
Rating:  Highly Recommend
Challenge: Tournament of Books

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennettra

book coverThe Vanishing Half is a multi-generational story about two twin sisters who, after leaving their small town for greener pastures, diverge on widely different paths. One decides to use her lighter skin to pass for white, while the other marries and has a dark skinned child. The story is told out of order, and has many time jumps, however this happens in chunks (rather than every chapter), so the narrative is still easy to follow. Be warned, this book has racism, colorism and abuse, so if you are looking for a lighthearted read this is not for you.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI, SMCM
Review Submitted by: Jo Hoppe
Rating:  Must Read
Challenge: Tournament of Books


You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar

book cover“If you don’t laugh you’ll cry” I found myself thinking with each turn of the page of You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism. These first person accounts of racism – stories that took place over the course of a woman’s life – bring to light the everyday racism people of color encounter from the overtly hostile to the laughably ignorant. Some of the stories I read and thought “yes, I can believe that happened” while others blew me away and left me thinking “I can’t believe that happened”. I think that was the author’s intent – to alert even racism-aware readers of the extent to which POC encounter these incidents on a day to day basis, as well as validate those people who have experienced similar incidents.

The book is written in a humorous fashion but don’t think that dilutes its message. It does not pull any punches when it comes to the actual stories. It is a good read for those wishing to understand more fully the extent of racism in this country. For those who do not believe racism exists, this might be a good book to introduce the subject. It is factual but not accusatory, humorous without being silly. A good conversation starter for those who need to be brought into the conversation.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Stephanie Marsich
Rating:  Must Read
Challenge: Published in 2021

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar

book coverYou’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism was a fast but difficult read. I kinda go into a downward spiral every time I think about it. I mean the US has a huge problem, but this isn’t just a US problem. Racist parties and leaders are getting voted in left and right the world over. Hungary just revoked the human rights they’d given LGBT people. I’ve heard more stories about Alexei Navalny’s health during imprisonment than Aung San Suu Kyi’s. There’s vaccine nationalism left and right and us-first politics when we all know that if we don’t stop the pandemic everywhere then it ends nowhere.

Throughout the book Amber and Lacey reassure the reader that they’re okay, they have happy lives. I’m glad they do but none of what they relate is okay and much of it is downright traumatizing. I knew that this kind of stuff went on, hell I was there when my husband got “randomly” checked five (!) times at O’Hare airport during our layover, causing us to miss our flight to DC. He told me how he’d had to stand in line with the other people of color and listen to TSA make racist jokes while waiting for all the “random” checks to be completed. I was there when they finally “randomly” checked his luggage before we got on another flight but not mine, despite the fact we were traveling together. But man I am still so naive as to how ubiquitous this is.

Read this or a similar book and do better.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Emily Nelson Ringholm, ’07
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2201

Little Fires Everywhere By Celeste Ng

cover art“What made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?”

In Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng explores themes of motherhood and heritage as a part of identity through four mother-daughter relationships in the midst of a suburban “utopia.” It is certainly a thought provoking book that causes the reader to really question what is the definition of a mother and how important is heritage in shaping our identity. This is a beautifully written book with compelling characters. I know some people don’t enjoy the ending, but I enjoyed it and found it very poetic. Overall, a great read.

Availability: SMCM, USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Jamie Ourand
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: Book to film/TV

Little Fires Everywhere By Celeste Ng

cover artLittle Fires Everywhere begins with a literal fire. The Richardson household (minus youngest daughter Izzy (who is suspiciously absent) is standing outside their home as they watch it burn. The book then jumps 11 months in the past that explores the events (figurative little fires) that became the catalyst for the house fire.

One such event was the arrival of newcomers Mia and Pearl Warren. Mia, an artist with a nomadic lifestyle, was always at odds with societal norms. Deciding to make an attempt at settling down somewhere for her daughter, she rents an apartment from longtime resident, Elena Richardson. The two households then become intertwined, as Elena offers a job to Mia for her to work in her home and Pearl befriends the Richardson children. Ideological differences between the two women soon cause conflict, especially during the court case to determine the custody of one little girl found outside a fire station.

It took a long time for the audiobook to become available from the library because it’s really popular right now. I wound up watching the Hulu series first before reading the book. Major plot points were expanded and given a different take in the series than in the book to create more drama and explore certain themes the book didn’t touch on as overtly. Though I did find myself comparing the two mediums more than I would have liked, I still found the book interesting.

Availability: SMCM, USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Marissa Christensen
Rating:  Recommended
Challenge: Book to film; audiobook

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

book coverThis is a young adult novel, which means it’s an accessible read for everyone. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in learning and understanding more about systemic racism and systems of oppression, especially as they show up for young adults in this world.

Availability: USMAI, SMCM, COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Kate Fritz
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: Book to Film; YA novel with diverse characters.

Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin

book coverThis review is on Black Like Me. I read the 2004 1st Wings Press edition with a foreword by Studs Terkel and an afterword by Robert Bonazzi. This edition is available at the SMCM Library as a PDF download. Bonus for the coincidence that there is a color in the title. That color word is not only in the title – it’s the central theme of the entire book.

Griffin, who was white, wanted to experience what life was like for a black man in the deep south. In 1959, he had his skin temporarily darkened by prescription medications, ultraviolet light exposure, and dye. He spent roughly six weeks traveling in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. He learned quickly that for a black people, finding a restroom or a place to get a drink of water might entail walking several blocks in a city to find a place that would accept black people. White men appeared fascinated by what they perceived were the “inexhaustible” sex lives of most blacks people, and Griffin questioned how white men who solicited sex with a fourteen-year-old black girl could then act so superior to blacks. Griffin wrote about the “hate stare” and how the n-word “always stings” and how one white man told him that whites were going to do their damnedest to drive every black out of the state of Alabama. Griffin came to think that black people were treated as tenth-class citizens, not even second-class ones.

Griffin did have positive interaction with a handful of whites who were advocates for social justice – at times, they provided him shelter and support. But Griffin saw that racist southerners heaped hate not only on blacks but also on whites who wanted to change the status quo.

Some of Griffin’s most moving stories were on the warmth and courtesy he experienced with blacks, such as the shoeshine man in New Orleans (who was in on the secret and took delight in Griffin’s experiment) and the family who lived in squalor in the Alabama countryside but shared what little they had with Griffin, including a tow sack bed. This was one of the most moving stories in the book. Griffin wrote of how painful it was for black parents to see their children’s “world smaller, their educational opportunities less, their futures mutilated.” A black parent knows that white racists had “masterfully defrauded” black people of their sense of personal value, which was the “least obvious but most heinous of all race crimes” because “it kills the spirit and the will to live.” Griffin felt that friendship among blacks was a buffer against the threat from whites, with blacks like shipwrecked people, “huddled together in warmth and courtesy that was pure and pathetic.”

This my second time reading Black Like Me. The first time was as a high school student in the early 1970’s. Although many schools have since assigned Black Like Me as required reading, I am pretty certain it was not required reading at my small Catholic high school in Georgia almost fifty years ago.

This edition also provides a biography of Griffin’s life. This was a man who packed many lifetimes into one. But understanding Griffin’s life story helps readers understand why any white man would have conducted this experiment in 1959 in the deep south. With only enough money for a one-way passage, Griffin sailed to Europe at 15 to attend a prestigious French school. During WWII he smuggled Jewish children out of France; when he landed on a Gestapo death list he himself had to be smuggled out of France. He enlisted in the US Army Air Corps and spent a year living in a remote village in the Solomons. A bomb explosion caused him to start going blind but he used his remaining vision to study Gregorian chants at a Benedictine Abbey in France. Once totally blind he became a rancher, raised award-winning hogs, and in seven weeks wrote a 600-page novel that wound up the subject of a US Supreme Court case on pornography.

Through all of these experiences Griffin came to recognize the concept of the “other” – the ones who were marginalized because they were not part of the majority, whether they were French Jews, indigenous peoples, the visually impaired, or blacks. Writing Black Like Me left Griffin both celebrated and vilified; he was hanged in effigy in his hometown and had to move his family to Mexico for safety. He returned to the US and spent the rest of his life advocating social justice through non-violent means – although he almost paid for that with his life when the KKK beat him with chains and left him for dead.

I know – what a long review. This book is that powerful. I teach the history of racial discrimination law in several of my courses and I saw too much of 2020 in this book from 1961. Rereading it has left me saddened by the realization that we haven’t come as far as a nation as I’m sure I hoped we would have when I read it for the first time.
Recommendation: MUST READ.

Availability:  USMAI, SMCM, COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Mary Hall
Rating: Must Read
Challenge: Book with a color in the title.

How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

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How to be an Antiracist is a must read. I recommend this book for anyone, regardless of where they are on their journey to being an anti-racist. While I care deeply about mitigating racial inequities, this book taught me that I have a ways to go and that not being a racist is not good enough, we must be anti-racist and we can only fill that role via action. Kendi is vulnerable and honest in telling his own personal journey toward being anti-racist. His openness prevents readers from becoming defensive and his descriptions emphasize a growth mindset. We all make mistakes and we are all capable of change. The integration of personal stories history, and policy make this book both educational and interesting. It was hard to put down. I predict that I will revisit this book often.

Availability: USMAI, SMCM, COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Kristina Howansky
Rating: Must Read

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

book coverFor the first few chapters, I thought this book was nonfiction. That’s just how true-to-life Reid’s characters are, and how relevant the story is to the current day. Such a Fun Age follows the life of Emira, a Black woman in Philadelphia babysitting for an affluent White family, and the casual and overt racism and classism she experiences in her job and personal life. Reid tackles difficult topics easily, pulling the reader into the minds of the characters and, by doing so, tricks the reader into evaluating their own micro and macro aggressions and prejudices. Not only is this a must read because of how good of a story it is, but also a must-add to people’s personal lists of self-education literature for 2020.

Side note: I listened to this book on the Libby App as an audiobook, read by Nicole Lewis. I am VERY picky about my audiobook readers, and Nicole Lewis is one of the best. She brings the characters to life and helps the story feel even more realistic.

Availability:  USMAI, COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Izzy Lott
Rating: Must Read
Challenge: Audiobook

Little Fires Everywhere By Celeste Ng

cover artLittle Fires Everywhere was a book I might not have normally picked up, but I decided to listen to it in audiobook format and was pleasantly surprised. The novel shares the story of two very different families in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and specifically the matriarch’s of each family. One woman has followed all the rules her whole life and lives a very comfortable existence, while the other plays by her own rules, never worrying about societal mores. The two very different families become intertwined in very interesting and sometimes heartbreaking ways. Secrets threaten to unravel them all. Listening to this book on my daily commute, I enjoyed the teasing out of these secrets, and was enjoyably surprised when everything the novel had been building towards came to a head.

Availability: SMCM, USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Kaylie Jasinski
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: Book to film (2020 Hulu)

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani

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The Perfect Nanny is the debut novel of Leila Slimani and it drags the reader into the story by the mystery it presents and its gut-wrenching opening paragraph: “The baby is dead.” This was a gift from my husband at my bridal shower, and I loved the faces of my well-meaning friends and family when I opened his gift and started reading the first paragraph. Their faces fell but I was hooked. The opening describes the scene in an affluent Paris apartment that is the worst nightmare of every parent: a lifeless baby boy with broken bones. A little girl, stabbed and bloody, on her way to the intensive care unit. A nanny lying next to them, her throat slit. The question, for the reader, is why?

The story goes back in time to follow Myriam, a North African stay-at-home mom and former lawyer, who decides to go back to the work she once loved as a lawyer following a three year break as a stay at home mom. Her husband Paul initially castigates her for wanting to leave the children but Myriam misses the intellectual rigor of her job and the feeling of being excellent at her work. She insists, Paul relents, and they go on a search for a nanny for the children.

This leads them to Louise, who has glowing reviews from her former bosses and their children. She is a natural with the children- she can calm them down at a whim and the two babies instantly bond with her. She is obsessively clean and is an excellent cook, and by the second week, Myriam comes home every day to a spotlessly clean apartment and a gourmet meal prepared for her and Paul. She and her husband can’t believe their luck! Their friends come over weekly to dine on Louises’ delicacies. The children are content, and the marriage between Myriam and Paul flourishes. Everything seems perfect.

Except the reader knows that all is not well. The middle to the end of the book delve more deeply into Louises’ dysfunctional family, her absent daughter, her abusive marriage. Little ruptures between Louise, Paul and Myriam begin to crop up until the final, horrifying end.

This book examines the intersections of race, class, and feminism. It beautifully captures the struggle inside of every working mom, the desperate feeling of never being enough at either work or home. And it examines how a person can- after years of abuse and insults- suddenly, all at once, snap. Based on a true story, The Perfect Nanny will wow you.


Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Andrea Gesumaria
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: Translated book (French)