What I’ve Been Reading: April 2018

36519506The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever by Jamie Wright

As a quirky Jewish kid and promiscuous punkass teen, Jamie Wright never imagines becoming a Christian, let alone a Christian missionary. She is barely an adult when the trials of motherhood and marriage put her on an unexpected collision course with Jesus. After finding her faith at a suburban megachurch, Jamie trades in the easy life on the cul-de-sac for the green fields of Costa Rica. There, along with her family, she earnestly hopes to serve God and change lives. But faced with a yawning culture gap and persistent shortcomings in herself and her fellow workers, she soon loses confidence in the missionary enterprise and falls into a funk of cynicism and despair.

Nearly paralyzed by depression, yet still wanting to make a difference, she decides to tell the whole, disenchanted truth: Missionaries suck and our work makes no sense at all! From her sofa in Central America, she launches a renegade blog, Jamie the Very Worst Missionary, and against all odds wins a large and passionate following. Which leads her to see that maybe a “bad” missionary–awkward, doubtful, and vocal—is exactly what the world and the throngs of American do-gooders need.

I’ve already touched on this, but Jamie is one of my favorite people ever.  There’s so many good things to say about her: she’s relatable, confident, and loving.  She’s unapologetic about who she is.  She’s the embodiment of how a Christian should treat other people.  And this woman is good at writing.

There’s a lot of good to say about the book itself, too.  Though Jamie has a blog, and ended up with the book deal because of it, it does not fall into the trap many bloggers-turned-authors do — the book does not read like an expanded, print form of her blog.  It’s one part memoir and one part critique.  She tells her whole life story, and it’s funny and touching at the same time.  And she critiques Christian missions and the church from the inside.  She has a great perspective, and looks critically at it without being overly critical.  I’d recommend it just because it’s an enjoyable read, but also because it’s a good wake-up call, and it’s a good idea of how Christians are truly supposed to live.

693208The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

I cannot believe I did not read this book before 22 years old.  My best friend has recommended it several times, and the first few times it didn’t sound that great, but y’all.  This is so freaking good!

The genre is technically autobiographical fiction.  Alexie really did live through most of the exact things Junior experiences.  Knowing that makes this book so, so sad — and so, so important.  This book is a rare (or maybe I just don’t know where to look?) look at how Native Americans live and are treated and are perceived in this country.  Here’s a hint: it’s not good.  Native Americans are probably the single most marginalized group of people in this entire nation and that’s just disgusting, because they’ve been here longer than literally everyone else.  So you should read this, because it’s good and it’s important.

27833513Results May Vary by Bethany Chase

She never saw it coming. Without even a shiver of suspicion to warn her, Caroline Hammond discovers that her husband is having an affair with a man—a revelation that forces her to question their entire history together, from their early days as high school sweethearts through their ten years as a happily married couple. In her now upside-down world, Caroline begins envisioning her life without the relationship that has defined it: the loneliness of being an “I” instead of a “we”; the rekindled yet tenuous closeness with her younger sister; and the unexpected—and potentially disastrous—attraction she can’t get off her mind. Caroline always thought she knew her own love story, but as her husband’s other secrets emerge, she must decide whether that story’s ending will mean forgiving the man she’s loved for half her life, or facing her future without him.

Honestly?  This was pretty forgettable.  It was kind of slow, and kind of boring, and though the premise was good, the execution was lacking.  Caroline, the main character, has never dated or slept with anyone else other than her husband in her life, and we’re told they’ve been together since high school.  Seems like an affair like that would throw her for a huge loop, to put it lightly.  But no — almost immediately after the affair, she begins a healthy relationship with her coworker.  It doesn’t seem like she should be mentally ready for that given the circumstances, but Chase decides she is.  And that was the biggest issue with this book.

The story was somewhat entertaining.  But so many things regarding long relationships and sexuality and dating at a young age could have been explored, and they were ignored in favor of an unrealistic office romance.  There were really good subplots, like Caroline’s relationship with her sister and a quest to obtain a certain donor for the art museum Caroline works for.  The art museum plot was actually my favorite part of the book — it caused the most character development because Caroline really had to stretch herself to achieve her goals.  Other than that, it was meh, and the main plot got dragged back in at the end for some unsatisfactory “closure.”  If you’re looking for a quality fluffyread, skip this one.

37435The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily’s fierce-hearted black “stand-in mother,” Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free. They escape to Tiburon, South Carolina–a town that holds the secret to her mother’s past. Taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters, Lily is introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the Black Madonna. This is a remarkable novel about divine female power, a story women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.

I know I’m late to the party with this.  (At least I finally got here?)  This was a really enjoyable, really well-written book about grief and familial love and self-love and motherly love.  It’s a coming-of-age story, which I adore, with themes of race relations, which I enjoy learning about.  If you’re looking for a well-written, thought-provoking novel, this is a good choice.

The one thing holding me back with this is that it heavily features black women and black culture and black perspectives, but it was written by a white woman.  (Same issue with The Help, which I also adore.)  I’m not trying to say that Kidd or Stockett did bad jobs — quite the contrary.  But it’s 2018, and there are plenty of books about the black experience by actual black people, and that’s what I need to read from now on.

 

Covers and descriptions from Goodreads.

4 comments

  1. I just finished the Sherman Alexie book because my son read it for a school reading project. I absolutely loved it. Alex loved that book too and he’s not a huge fiction reader. He prefers non-fiction typically–and he just devoured this one. I also had a lot of fun connecting with him on a new level as we discussed the various themes and lessons in the book–especially those ideas of traveling and identity and finding community and belonging–such a valuable book that I’m glad his teacher included in the reading list.

Got thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.