21 May 2015

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

There have been a lot of books in the last year or so that have addressed mental illness in various ways. Most of the ones I’ve read have dealt with depression and bipolar disorder: MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES, ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES, I WAS HERE, and even FANGIRL. There’s a huge spectrum out there, though, and it’s great to see something new brought to light. Last year, I read Nic Sheff’s SCHIZO, about a boy with schizophrenia, and earlier this year I read MOSQUITOLAND, though I'm still not certain Mim had schizophrenia.

There was nothing ambiguous about Neal Shusterman’s CHALLENGER DEEP: it was a deep dive into a young man deeply affected by schizophrenia (or a related disorder).

Caden Bosch is unraveling. I don’t know how else to put it. From the first page, he’s both here and there, living a life in high school and simultaneously living aboard an insane pirate ship on its way to the Marianas Trench to explore Challenger Deep, the lowest point in the world.

Caden doesn’t know what’s happening to him. His family doesn’t. His friends don’t—they think he’s on drugs. He knows his thoughts don’t make any sense, but he can’t control them. He spends so much time being afraid of things.

It’s one of the most heartbreaking narrations I’ve ever read.

When Caden was finally hospitalized and taken, terrified, from his parents, I almost lost it.

As his doctors try different cocktails of medication, Caden’s narration becomes even more unhinged, sloppy. He switches to second-person perspective for a large swath of the novel. It showed us the disconnect he was experiencing perfectly.

CHALLENGER DEEP is unflinching in its portrayal of Caden’s institutionalization. The people he meets there are just as messed up as him. They aren’t presented as blessed lunatics: they have real problems. Some run even deeper than Caden’s. Some get better. Some get worse. 

And there’s no happily-ever-after, either. Schizophrenia is something you live with for the rest of your life, as Caden comes to learn. You can manage it but you can’t ever believe that it’s gone for good.

CHALLENGER DEEP was breathtaking. It had the poetry of an epic fantasy and the beating heart of the best contemporary story. It never asked for pity, only for empathy. And it earned it in droves.


I really liked CHALLENGER DEEP. I hope it finds a home in lots of readers’ libraries—and lives.

20 May 2015

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

There are some books that fill you with hope. There are some books that devastate you. That are some books that ring so true to your own experience that you have a hard time figure out how to talk about them.

ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES was all of the above.

This is spoiler-heavy. So if you haven’t read the book, I would say: READ IT. If you work with children, READ IT. If you are a parent, READ IT. If you know someone who struggles with mental illness, READ IT. If you yourself struggle, READ IT.

Anyway.

I’ve mentioned before I have history with depression. When I was twelve I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. I was diagnosed so young because my mother had seen the signs in me and was concerned—I wasn’t doing my schoolwork, I wasn’t eating well, I wasn’t doing anything, really.

Depression and bipolar run in my family. My mother knew what to look for.

By the time I was sixteen or so—four years in—I reached a point where my medication had been tweaked enough so I could function more or less normally. I was still dull, still deadened at times, and I had pretty much no sex drive, but it was worth it. There were days, especially around age thirteen, when I was so low I thought about death. Not killing myself, mind you, but just not being alive anymore.

I remember it so clearly, because it was right around when the movie Titanic came out, and my sister had “My Heart Will Go On” play on repeat every night. Our bedrooms shared a wall. Every night I would lie awake wondering if anyone would miss me if I was gone, all the while hearing Celine Dion from the other side of the wall.

To this day, I can’t listen to that song. It takes me right back to that place.

I was nearly hospitalized when I was fifteen, when I had a pretty severe depressive episode, one so bad I couldn’t leave the house for a month.

Suffice it to say, I made it through high school, and college. By the time I was twenty I was in a place where I had learned to cope with things, and my medication was discontinued. I still monitor my moods carefully, though. Just because I am okay now doesn’t mean I might not need help again. And I’m so lucky I have a support system around me to help me realize when I do.

So.

How does this relate to ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES?

Theodore Finch finds Violet Markey on top of their high school’s bell tower. While Finch goes there frequently to contemplate death, Violet looks ready to actually end it—and Finch talks her down.

So begins their unlikely friendship.

Violet’s grieving the death of her sister—her first bout with loss, made all the worse by the fact that her parents don’t know how to talk about it, and that she blames herself for the whole thing.

Finch is living with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and he’s just entered a manic phase: The Awake, as he calls it.

Theodore Finch is the most kinetic narrator I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. He’s full of life and love, bombastic and charismatic. But there is darkness lingering. He’s afraid of The Asleep. He has to fight to stay in the world.

It’s a fight he ultimately loses.

There are a million other reviews out there, talking about how beautiful the book is, how moving, how meaningful, how poignantly it handles loss and grief and survival. Those things are all true.

But what got me, what absolutely destroyed me, was how badly Finch’s family let him down. I think of my own family and I get so angry at Finch’s.

His mother is completely absent. Not physically, but emotionally. She has no idea when Finch misses school for weeks at a time. She refuses to see when he takes to living in his closet as he fights The Asleep he knows is coming. She should have been paying attention.

His father is abusive. Brutally, physically abusive. He, too, suffers from black moods. He should know better.

Finch’s older sister helps him get away with missing school. She’s too wrapped up in her own college life to look and see that what she’s doing isn’t helping him.

Finch’s younger sister is too young to know what’s what, so she gets a pass.

There were so many chances for Finch’s family to look at him, really look, and say something. Do something. But they didn’t. It was Violet’s parents who tried to help, after Violet asked them to. But it was too little, too late—and it may have scared Finch off.

Finch’s counselor at school tried to get through to him. He even hit the nail on the head, suggesting Finch was bipolar. Could he have done more? I don’t know. Maybe, but Finch’s family certainly didn’t make it easy.

And it might just be me, but it seems like there’s a lot less sympathy for boys who have emotional problems. Boys are told to “be a man,” “suck it up.” Finch was no less a man for being unable to control his brain chemistry.

I'm not trying to assign blame. Suicide is a complicated thing.

That’s why everyone should read this book.

Everyone who’s ever been depressed (or bipolar, or struggled with any mental illness, for that matter) should read it. Because it will remind you of all the bright places in the world. It will remind you that love can be real and that people care about you, even if it’s the people you find on your own. It will remind you that life is worth living.

Every parent should read it. Because parents need to know how to identify illnesses like Finch’s. Parents need to know not to be afraid to broach the topic. To remove the stigma. If my parents hadn't been aware, I would not be here today.

Everyone else should read ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES, too. Because we all need to fight the stigma surrounding mental illness.

And besides: it’s a beautiful book. I stayed up until one in the morning finishing it. I kept thinking about it. Three weeks later I still think of it. A few days ago, a song came on and I got chills because it sounded like Finch was singing to me. (The song was Imagine Dragons' "Nothing Left to Say." The first line is "Who knows how long I've been awake now?")


I am so grateful to Jennifer Niven for writing ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES. And I hope it helps everyone who reads it as much as it helped me.

It made me lovely.

18 May 2015

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by AS King

These days, it seems like "feminism" is a dangerous word, one that'll inspire raging passions of all kinds, from all kinds of idealogical perspectives.

GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE is all about feminism—and yet, it's totally not. While a cynical assessment could call it some sort of battle cry, and an overzealous one could call it a manifesto, in truth, it is nothing so much as an honest examination of how one girl interacts with the world around her—her questions about her own identity as a woman, and as a woman who interacts with other women, included.

When Glory O'Brien and her maybe-best-friend Ellie drink the desiccated remains of a bat, they suddenly start seeing visions. Wherever Glory looks, she sees people's pasts and futures laid out for generations in either direction. And what she sees in the future is alarming: a world where, in just a few generations, a new civil war splits America. Glory sees the pieces fall like dominoes: the passage of a fair pay act (legally requiring equal pay for men and women), the subsequent illegalization of women working in some states, kidnappings and rapes and pillaging and murder.

It's chilling.

And all the while, Glory is stuck in her own past, unable to see a future past high school. Her mother killed herself when Glory was four, and Glory doesn't know how to get past that. Neither does her father. Glory looks at the world through the lens of her camera, seeing everything in the Zone system—absolute white through shades of gray to absolute black.

Glory is unable to see those shades of gray with her friend, Ellie. While Glory is a self-professed feminist—raised that way by her hippie parents—she nonetheless struggles to be an actual friend to Ellie. She veers wildly from trying to help Ellie escape from her parents' hippie commune and build a life she wants, to slut-shaming Ellie when she makes her own choices with her body and her sexuality, and the constant back and forth is, I think, a true and all too human look at the contradictions we all face when we don't live up to our own convictions.

GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE was the first book I've read by A.S. King. It will not be the last.

15 May 2015

Domaine du Cassard Blanc


I haven't had a lot of white Bordeaux, so I was excited to try this offering from Domaine du Cassard.

It was a pale yellow in the glass, much lighter than the golden hue of a bold Sauternes. The nose was full of white peach scents.

It was light on the tongue, sharp, not quite crisp but certainly not flabby either. It tasted of white peach, mostly, but added nuances of lychee and kiwifruit.

It was dry, with a nice pucker to the end, and a swift, decisive finish.

I enjoyed the wine with friends and some Thai fried rice. I had meant to get Thai Basil fried rice but messed up my order. It was still delicious.

14 May 2015

Denton Little's Deathdate by Lance Rubin

Denton Little knows when he's going to die: the day of Prom. Thanks to AstroThanatoGenetics, everyone in Denton's world knows when they're going to die.

It sounds like the plot for some dystopian thriller, but it's not. DENTON LITTLE'S DEATHDATE is a coming-of-age(-and-then-dying) comedy set in an alternate version of the present.

When Denton Little wakes up with a massive hangover the day before he's supposed to die, he doesn't remember where he is; he doesn't remember sleeping with his best friend's sister (thereby cheating on his girlfriend); he doesn't remember when he started getting the weird purple rash that's spreading from his legs. But Denton tries to make the most of his final days on Earth. He attends his funeral (and delivers an amazing eulogy) and then settles in for his Sitting: waiting at home for death to take him. Needless to say, with love triangles, mystery illnesses, death threats, and the very real possibility that one of his classmates is trying to murder him, Denton's Sitting turns out to be anything but calm.

Rubin kept Denton's world grounded in our own: aside from the conceit of the death date, DENTON LITTLE'S DEATHDATE felt exactly like the here and now. Rather than relying on dystopian tropes of scarred psyches and angsty worry, Denton relied on sarcasm, wit, and charm to tell his story. He was mostly kind, but he made mistakes. He genuinely wanted to leave people better off for knowing him. He was scared and he was angry that his life was nearly over. But he did his best.

In other words, he was absolutely human.

Denton's narration was vibrant, mostly because of the excellent supporting cast: best friend Paolo; Paolo's sister Veronica; girlfriend Taryn; Denton's brother and father and stepmother...every relationship was complex, full of inside jokes, long-standing misunderstandings, and those impossible-to-quantify sparks of deep, abiding familiarity that real-life friendships are made on.

The ending really surprised me, in both a good way and a bad way: good because I did not expect it, but bad because now I expect more and it's going to be a while before I get it.

I would say the wait is going to kill me, but that might be too on the nose.

12 May 2015

Hero by Perry Moore

A few months ago I visited Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon. It was the same trip in which I finally got to visit Steven Smith Teamakers. After filling up on tea, my friends and I went to Powell’s. It was my first time there, and it was awesome. As I browsed the shelves in the YA section, one book stood out at me: Perry Moore’s HERO.

The setup: Thom Creed has superpowers. He can heal pretty much anyone he touches (it even works on plants sometimes). He’s the son of Major Might, a superhero who nevertheless didn’t have superpowers, and who, after an epic fall from grace, has made it clear he disapproves of superheroes all around.

Thom has to keep his powers hidden from his dad.

He also has to hide the fact that he’s gay.

HERO was written in 2007, but it reads just as fresh almost ten years later. Thom is stuck in that place where he both craves his father’s approval and wants to break free of his shadow, and that’s a place that is universal. He can’t decide if he wants to run away or not, if he wants to come out or not.

When Thom does try running away, he winds up on a bus that gets attacked by supervillains—and for the first time, his powers get noticed. He gets an invitation to try out for The League, the world’s organized superhero team, but he also runs across Dark Hero, a Batman-esque loner.

Thom was one of the most compelling narrators I’ve read in a while; he struck a perfect mixture of sensitivity, humor, self-deprecation, and, occasionally, badassery. It was really hard to put down HERO. The supporting cast, Thom’s fellow heroes-in-training, were great, though maybe a little clichéd. The wise old lady (who was also prophetic); the sarcastic, fiery girl (who was possessed of some sort of radioactive power); the glib speedster who had no patience for Thom; Typhoid Larry, who could get people sick, but couldn’t touch anyone.

I enjoyed the team, but I would have liked to see them subverted a little bit. The Tick is one of my favorite cartoons ever. I could have used more of that tongue-in-cheek humor.

Thom’s father, on the other hand, felt like something new and fresh: a powerless superhero, washed out and reviled by the world he used to protect, determined to shelter his son while at the same time carelessly shaming Thom into staying in the closet. Thom’s dad had a lot of problems, but he felt fully-formed and real.

Thom met Goran, his basketball rival, in a total foot-in-mouth situation. Their relationship changes, though, when Thom heals Goran after an injury, and things change even more when Thom starts playing one-on-one with Goran. Thom develops a heavy crush pretty quickly, and it’s heartbreaking to see, because he’s not sure if Goran is gay or not. This part of the novel felt the most grounded, the most real, to me. There's one particular scene when Goran casually mentions how a teammate accused him of stealing someone's girlfriend, and the way Thom's heart was crushed at that moment is a feeling I know all too well.

I figured out most of the secrets of HERO fairly early in the novel, but then again, I’ve been reading comics since I was eight, so I’m pretty familiar with the genre. Suspecting what was coming did not diminish my enjoyment of it.

My one qualm with HERO was that it pulled its punches. It reminded me of a screenplay. In a film, you can write “Their eyes meet” and the actors will create a world of meaning from it. But in a novel, if you write, “Our eyes meet” and then leave it at that, you’re leaving out the emotional payoff. How does it feel? What do you do after? That's what I wanted so badly.

That’s not to say there was no emotional payoff; HERO got its shots in. But I would have liked to see some of the conflicts taken further, the resolutions done bigger and bolder. Some things felt unfinished to me.

All in all, I enjoyed HERO. It was a fun read with endearing characters. I wish there was a sequel. Unfortunately, Perry Moore passed away back in 2011. Either way, I'm glad he finished HERO.

11 May 2015

Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc 2014


I love New Zealand wines. I can find exceptional quality at a ridiculous value. Nobilo's Sauvignon Blanc was no exception.

The wine was a light straw color, bursting with peaches on the nose, and an almost pillowy body. It felt a little thicker on the tongue, almost like a Chardonnay—but the character was all Sauvignon Blanc.

It was tart! Very tart. It had assertive acidity, but it wasn't overwhelming, and it was counteracted by chalky minerality. Sweet peaches in syrup flavors abounded, but it remained crisp. It had one of the longest finishes of Sauvignon Blancs I've experienced, carried forward by the chalk notes.

It was lovely.

07 May 2015

None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like 2015 has been the best year yet for diversity in literature. So many great books have come out exploring lives that never got noticed before. In NONE OF THE ABOVE, I.W. Gregorio shines a light on intersex (aka differences in sexual development).

The only other book I've read that dealt with intersex was GOLDEN BOY, which I read last year. (And the only other one I've heard of, MIDDLESEX, I haven't gotten my hands on yet.) GOLDEN BOY wasn't technically YA, though two of the narrators were teenagers, so it felt that way sometimes. NONE OF THE ABOVE, on the other hand, is 100% YA, and focuses quite intently on the effect that one diagnosis has on its young narrator.

I found myself thinking about the similarities, and differences, between the two books quite a lot as I read NONE OF THE ABOVE, and I'd encourage anyone who has read NONE OF THE ABOVE to go read GOLDEN BOY as well.

In NONE OF THE ABOVE, Kristin Lattimer is a more-or-less typical teenager. Perhaps she's a little atypical, in fact: she excels at track, she's voted homecoming queen, she's popular without being a stereotypical "mean girl." But after she and her boyfriend attempt—painfully—to have sex for the first time, she goes to see her doctor and finds out she has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. She has internal testicles and has a Y chromosome. In other words, she could biologically be considered "male," even though she has always identified as female.

And when her diagnosis gets out—to her entire high school—well, you can imagine what happens.

Author I.W. Gregorio is a practicing surgeon, but NONE OF THE ABOVE is anything but clinical. There is a lot of information presented, and it's presented well, but it never feels like a teaching moment. Kristin digests the information at the same time as the reader does.

NONE OF THE ABOVE felt, in many ways, like the flip side of GOLDEN BOY. While Max in GOLDEN BOY already knew his diagnosis, and was, in fact, desperately trying to keep it private, Kristin never has the chance for her diagnosis to remain secret. She has to face the prejudice and bigotry and misunderstanding that accompany being intersex. It showed a lot of ugliness, but a lot of heart, too: not everyone was blind and bigoted.

It struck me that both GOLDEN BOY and NONE OF THE ABOVE started with sex. I don't know exactly why it should surprise me—sex is at the heart of the questions of identity that both books explore—but still, it struck me. In one particular scene, Kristin's therapist explains gender identity and sexuality so beautifully, by drawing a little diagram. Who you love is different from Who you are which is different from How your body was born. This is something that everyone—intersex or no—needs to understand.

The other parallel theme that really stuck out to me was the question of surgery. In NONE OF THE ABOVE, Kristin is faced with the choice of whether or not to have surgery to align her anatomy with her identity. It's a monumental choice to be faced with. But what is so important is that Kristin is allowed to make the choice herself. That's something that, historically, has been denied to many children with intersex traits. Indeed, in GOLDEN BOY, Max's parents fought about the issue constantly.

While GOLDEN BOY was harrowing and intense and haunting, NONE OF THE ABOVE was, at its core, optimistic and hopeful. Not every story needs to be as dark as Max's was. It was refreshing to see Kristin come to terms with her intersex diagnosis in a decidedly gentler way.

That's not to say Kristin didn't face adversity, but her support system was strong, and it was gratifying to see that. Her father, in particular, was excellent. Not every story has to be about the end of the world. That's not everyone's truth. Sometimes, with friends and family and a lot of love, we can pull through. It was beautiful to see Kristin come to realize that, to become comfortable in her own skin, and to learn how to love herself again.

I really enjoyed NONE OF THE ABOVE. I hope it will continue to open up discussion—and acceptance—of intersex. It's worth noting that I.W. Gregorio is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books, and she certainly puts her money where her mouth is.

06 May 2015

Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour

I found CENSORING AN IRANIAN LOVE STORY on one corner of a library display labeled “Judge a Book By Its Cover.” Well, I did. So I grabbed it.

As the son of an Iranian immigrant (my father) and an American (my mother), I’ve been aware of having a cultural identity lurking in the background. I grew up in Kansas City, and for most of my childhood I tried to pretend that I was just as white as my classmates, with no other culture to draw on. As I got older, I connected more with my Persian side.

Part of that has been exploring the literature of Iran. Most of what I’ve found, however, has been classical: the poetry of Rumi and Hafez and Omar Khayyam. CENSORING AN IRANIAN LOVE STORY is be the first piece of contemporary Iranian literature I’ve ever laid my eyes on.

CENSORING was translated from the Farsi. Farsi is an extremely nuanced and poetic language, or so I’ve been told by my family members who speak it. Sadly, I have not learned more than a smattering. Though I’d like to learn more, there are only so many hours in the day, and most of my free time goes to writing.

Anyway: Despite the translation, CENSORING’s poetry came through just fine, though I’m sure some of the symbolism was lost on me.

In CENSORING, the author, or rather the author’s analogue, is trying to write a love story, but is frustrated because of the public censorship in Iran. The story is told alternately in bold text (the story being written) and plain text (the story of the story being written). Certain parts are struck through, because the author has censored himself ahead of time, rather than allowing his story to be butchered later.

The love story of Sara and Dara was unlike any I’ve read before. Living in an Islamic regime has certainly shaped their ability to form a relationship, but beyond that, the constant tension between the story and the author, the bits of magical realism that occasionally seeped into the story, left so much interpretation in my hands. Here again, the poetic nature of Farsi revealed itself: layers and layers of meaning in each chapter, in each paragraph, in each word, and I’m pretty sure I missed plenty of nuances.

Beyond that, though, CENSORING offered me a look at how an Iranian living in Iran today (well, six years ago) perceived his country. There are all sorts of cultural imperatives that struck me, both familiar (in things I’ve seen my family do) and foreign (traditions they’ve since abandoned). My father’s family is not Muslim, so there were many laws they were forced to obey in Iran that they happily gave up after moving to Canada.


CENSORING AN IRANIAN LOVE STORY gave me the chance to imagine being in Iran. I would very much like to visit, some day, but certainly not under the current regime. I hope that one day, things will change, and I will get to see the land of my father’s birth.

05 May 2015

Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher

I picked up WHALE TALK by Chris Crutcher after reading an article on challenged books, and the disproportionate number of books with non-white narrators that got challenged. WHALE TALK was mentioned as an example, and I've been getting into swimming for fitness lately, so a book about underdogs forming a swim team seemed fun.

WHALE TALK's narrator, The Tao Jones (who goes by TJ, so he can spare himself repeatedly explaining his mother's hippie naming conventions), is white, Japanese, and African-American. His biological mother had a brief affair with a half-Japanese, half-black man, and when TJ was born, his mother's [white] partner discovered the affair and left. TJ's mother left as well, when TJ was only two, and he was raised by his adoptive mother and father.

TJ is fine with this now, though he went through pretty severe abandonment issues when he was a child, and he is self-aware enough (thanks to counseling) to know that it still affects his life and relationships in ways both large and small.

At TJ's high school, everything revolves around athletics. The Cutter High School letter jacket is a huge deal, with the most stringent conditions for earning and wearing them. When TJ comes across football players bullying Chris Coughlin for wearing his deceased brother's jacket—a violation of the "jacket code"—TJ determines to help make sure that Chris, and other marginalized kids like him, get letter jackets of their own.

There were times when my high school felt like this: like the athletes got all the funding, all the privilege, but thankfully they were never so fierce as the ones in WHALE TALK, and there were a few administrators at my high school who went out of their way to support things besides football.

To be honest, the setup almost sounds like some sort of feel-good movie. But Crutcher's writing, and WHALE TALK's setting, make it anything but.

WHALE TALK is set in a small town in Eastern Washington, where the population is overwhelmingly white—TJ is one of three people of color in his town—and, it seems, overwhelmingly messed up. It felt like half the people in the story were either victims or perpetrators of abuse: domestic, sexual, psychological, and often as not, all of the above.

I've never truly encountered abuse. I've been fortunate enough never to have been abused, and no one that I know has ever shared with me any abuses they've received. I hope there have been none. It was hard for me to wrap my brain around what makes a person like that. TJ has trouble, too, but his counselor, and his parents, try to help him understand—as best as anyone can. He doesn't like it, but he can't save people from themselves.

Aside from the dark setting, what made WHALE TALK most memorable were the characters. TJ casts a pretty wide net an ends up with some pretty different fish:

Dan Hole, the nerd; Tay-Roy Kibble, the body-builder; Simon DeLong, who's overweight; Jackie Craig, quiet and shy, who barely ever speaks; Andy Mott, angry and (we come to find out) physically disabled; and the aforementioned Chris Coughlin, who is developmentally disabled after being abused as a child (his mother's boyfriend covered his face in saran wrap to stop him from crying).

Each of these characters could have been sketches, or worse, caricatures. Instead, they all breathe with life of their own. TJ is uniquely aware that they all have their own wants and needs, and Crutcher portrays that skillfully. Perhaps no one is more eloquently depicted than Chris Coughlin. He's probably the most compassionately-written character with a mental disability that I've ever read. So often, characters like him seem to have some sort of magical quality to them: Tom Cullen from THE STAND comes to mind. Other times, they'll be held up as some sort of example of purity and innocence.

Chris Coughlin is never treated as anything but a real person. He brings out the ugliness in people, and he brings out the kindness in others; he's brave when he has to be and cowardly when he can be. He was not just one thing: he was beautifully complex, just like everyone else.

Of course, in a town filled with abusive racists, things get dark in WHALE TALK. Triumph mixes with heartache. The resolution was well-earned, and the denouement was nice and tender.

I really enjoyed WHALE TALK. The most valuable thing it gave me was an insight into racism and abuse that was pretty different from what I'd read before, especially on the racism front. There are lots of books dealing with the sort of overt, violent racism that so many people face, but the subtle, pervasive kind doesn't always get as much attention. In WHALE TALK, Crutcher manages to make it just as menacing as a lynch mob.

In a way, I'm glad WHALE TALK is challenged so often. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who goes out of my way to read challenged books.

04 May 2015

Sartori Corte Brà Amarone della Valpolicella 2007


At Il Gabbiano in Miami, Florida, I had the chance to enjoy Sartori's Corte Brà Amarone della Valpolicella 2007 with dinner. My table-mates and I decided to try something new, something red and robust, and something at a reasonable price point.

The Corte Brà was dark, bruised looking—not like bruised fruit, but the deep, purple bruise of a black eye. That might sound unappealing, but it actually was quite lovely.

The nose was full of oak and raisin notes, and upon tasting, the dried fruits prevailed, with added hints of dried black currants. It had a nice pucker to it—tingly acidity—and the tannins were mild and smooth.

The wine had the perfect amount of acidity to cut through my pesto, and it paired nicely with my table-mates' meals: chicken, steak, ravioli, and fish.

I haven't had much Amarone della Valpolicella, but I look forward to having more.