Tag Archives: first to read

How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas

howtobehaveinacrowdHow to Behave in a Crowd is a novel about a family with a set of precocious, “exceptional”, excelling siblings, ranging in age from around 10 to mid-20s. The Mazal family and their attributes is very reminiscent of the Glass family, of Salinger lore — a group of siblings that are just so smart and specialized in their studies, but floundering in a world that requires more skill sets than pure intellect. Everyone’s a little too smart, everyone’s a little too annoyed with the rest of society, everyone is a little too much of a self imposed shut in because they think their intellect is too “alienating.” While this could put off a lot of readers, I still found How to Behave in a Crowd entertaining and I silently laughed to myself several times with sentences that perfectly set me up to be caught off guard. 

All of the children are prodigies in academia or musical performance, except for the youngest and the narrator Isidore/Dory, who seems to have more emotional and social ability than the others. While his siblings often discount Isidore’s statements, it also seems like they wish for his social adeptness in the same way that Isidore wants to be as academically excellent as each of his siblings.

The dialogue about life and other people is what really makes this novel shine. Two of the Mazal siblings are in the midst of completing PhD programs and I found their strings of consciousness quite amusing, since I’m partially through my own PhD studies at the moment. In the same way that you’ll have a favorite Glass if you read Salinger’s collection, you’ll have a favorite in the Mazal family too. I think my favorite Mazal is Aurore, which isn’t too surprising given that my favorite Glass is Franny.

At times I wondered if How to Behave in a Crowd may have been better as a short story because most of the pages seem to be dazzling examples of the author waving her pretty pen and witty commentary without actually moving the plot anywhere. The novel is kind of like a great conversation you’re really engaged in while it’s happening, but you can’t remember any of the specific details the next day, but just how you felt while having it. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, I simply mean that a lot of the writing seemed superfluous and unnecessary for the story at large. I still enjoyed the paths it took me along anyway.

Some of my favorite quotes were:

“I have an opinion on everyone who seems to have a good time being a teenager.” – Aurore (p. 152)

“She was good at turning everything you said into yet another example of how complicated she was.” (p. 208) Isidore on Denise.

“One only cried if one expected something from the world and was disappointed.” (p. 83)

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Penguin via First to Read. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Penguin or First to Read.

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Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen

unrulywomenBuzzfeed writer Anne Helen Petersen covers a range of “unruly” women, using celebrities to describe how society reacts now and has historically to different types of unruly women. In the author’s own words, the women in the book, “spark feelings of fascination and repulsion” and are “explicit and implicit alternatives to the ‘new domesticity.'” (p 10).

The entire collection felt like an extended long read and each section is broken into chapters that feature a specific celebrity and then culturally and historically situates their corresponding label. I was familiar with all of those profiled which probably helped me eagerly approach each of the essays. Because of how this felt like a series of long reads, I recommend reading each piece as a stand-alone and not concurrently. Set aside 20-30 mins to read a chapter and then come back to the book the next day to read the next standalone piece. Otherwise, it feels repetitive and the book as a whole becomes less shiny.

For me, the standout is the piece on Kim Kardashian and her “performance of pregnancy” which discusses how publicly being pregnant has evolved since the beginning of pregnancy depictions (the Virgin Mary), to how pregnancy was omitted and banned from media enactments, to how Demi Moore’s naked, 7-month pregnant body on a magazine cover completely changed the public performance. Petersen discusses the emergence of “cute pregnancies” with cute, slim bodies and compares and contrasts Kim Kardashian to Kate Middleton, who was cutely pregnant at the same time as Kim’s unruly pregnancy. Compared to the rest of the pieces, this chapter had the best integration of the history of celebrity than any of the other chapters.

I found Petersen’s piece on Jennifer Weiner to be the most unlike anything I’ve read elsewhere and I found myself sending multiple quotes from the essay to a friend. The Weiner chapter had the most sociological influence, demonstrated by comparing mass market books to the “high” culture of books marketed to the “educated” classes. As someone who reads a lot, this was a very necessary reflection on what’s allowed to be a “good book.”

Overall, I recommend this book – as long as you spread out consuming each of its chunks instead of devouring it in one sitting.

I ranked the pieces in order of my perception of their quality below. I didn’t necessarily rank the pieces on the celebrities I liked the best as the highest (i.e. Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer are probably my favorites, but their chapter was my least favorite):
1. Kim Kardashian (Too Pregnant), 2. Serena Williams (Too Strong), 3. Jennifer Weiner (Too Loud), 4. Nicki Minaj (Too Slutty), 5. Hillary Clinton (Too Shrill), 6. Melissa McCarthy (Too Fat), 7. Caitlyn Jenner (Too Queer) (later in the chapter, Petersen categorizes her as probably least unruly, but counterparts on her show are), 8. Madonna (Too Old), 9. Lena Dunham (Too Naked), 10. Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer (Too Gross).

For more, check out http://www.girlwithabookblog.com!

Disclaimer: I was provided with an Advance Reader Copy of this book for free from the Penguin First to Read program. All opinions expressed in the following review are my own and have not been influenced by Penguin.

bright lines by tanwi nandini islam

brightlinesIn a week, on August 11, 2015, a fantastic book entitled Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam will be released. This is hand’s down the best book I’ve ever received as an Advance Reader’s Copy from the First to Read program. If you know what’s good for you, you will snatch it up/request it from your local library instantly! Bright Lines features many dynamic characters who are all fully fleshed out — each of the characters all exist with their own qualities and back stories and aren’t simply devices to advance the plot, which unfortunately has been rare for me to find in books at times.

The novel shifts perspectives throughout the story from the patriarch of a family, Anwar, to his biological daughter, Charu, to his adopted child, El, who is the orphaned child of the patriarch’s deceased brother-in-law. Each of these characters struggle through their own individual turmoil and to find themselves, proving that a “coming of age” experience can occur even when you’ve passed middle age as it does for Anwar.

The novel takes place about ten years ago in Brooklyn, specifically an area that I spend a lot of time in today. This shared geography definitely added to my enjoyment of Bright Lines, but I think the setting is so well described that any reader will be able to easily imagine the environment where the characters reside. These illustrative descriptions of the setting continue when the novel shifts momentarily to Bangladesh, both when Anwar reflects on his youth in the country and when the family chooses to return for a family vacation.

Anwar owns an apothecary and isn’t always present in his own life and his family’s dilemmas because he spends a lot of time toking up. At times, his herbal habit influences him to be a bad father and spouse. He ultimately attempts to remedy his mentally and morally absent behavior, but the reader is left to decide if it’s too little to late. Charu, Anwar’s teenage daughter, experiences the most familiar “coming of age” story that I’ve read before, but Nandini still writes Charu’s story in an interesting way.

The journey I was most engrossed with was El’s, Anwar’s adopted child, who moves from their home country of Bangladesh to America. El explores their sexuality, gender identity, and place within their adopted family, each of which is beautifully detailed by the extremely talented Nandini. None of El’s story  seems rushed or superficial and I felt like I was authentically accompanying El on their self-discovery.

Please, please, please read this book! Each of the stories are radically different and are beautifully interwoven. Plus, as a reader, you’ll get to enjoy exploring Brooklyn and Bangladesh with Nandini’s characters. 

If you’re in the Brooklyn area, come join me at Greenlight Bookstore on the book’s release date for a conversation between the author and Kiese Laymon. More details can be found by clicking here.

Disclaimer: I was provided with an Advance Reader Copy of this book for free from the Penguin First to Read program. All opinions expressed in the following review are my own and have not been influenced by Penguin.

Expected Publication Date: 11 August 2015 by Penguin Books. Format: Ebook.

Author: Tanwi Nandini Islam web/@twitter/instagram

undocumented: a dominican boy’s odyssey from a homeless shelter to the ivy league by dan-el padilla peralta

undocumented by dan-el padilla peraltaUndocumented is a fantastic memoir that depicts one person’s journey as an undocumented person living in America. When Dan-El Padilla Peralta is a young child, he moved to New York from the Dominican Republic with his family. His family didn’t acquire US citizen documentation and soon their travel papers expired and he and his mother were eventually living in America illegally. Dan-El beautifully articulates the struggles that he encounters because he doesn’t have documentation – his mother isn’t able to legally work so they had to move into a shelter when Dan-El is young and move frequently until they are able to find a more stable home thanks to public housing; he isn’t able to “officially” work (on paper at least) when he is offered a mentorship job when he’s in high school; he has no idea how to apply to college and if he will even be allowed to attend; and more struggles that are too numerous to list (and would also spoil some of his life story if I included them here).

It is so, so important that stories like Padilla’s are captured and made available to the public. Moving to the US and overstaying your initial papers and eventually living in America illegally is more common than a lot of people think. You may even have someone in your life who is undocumented and you have no idea. With Padilla’s story of his life, he’s able to share his experience with those who may not be aware of the realities that face being undocumented in the US, and also provide comfort to others who have lived those experiences. I talked about this book with my friend who was undocumented for most of his youth and he said that it would have been incredibly reassuring to know a book like Undocumented existed because for a long time, he didn’t know anyone else outside of his family who was undocumented. He told me that if he had been able to read about someone who shared his experience in some way, he wouldn’t have felt so isolated about his status and his situation.

That said, Padilla is quick to remind readers that he doesn’t have the answers for someone in similar situations to him. He was able to acquire a lot of well-placed connections and a valuable support system based on his specific circumstances, which may not be widely available to everyone. His book isn’t about teaching others specifically how to navigate their own situation, but purely serves to detail his own life experiences.

After the acknowledgments section of the book, there is a glossary of Spanish terms used throughout the text. Since I had an e-galley of this book, I didn’t notice this until I had finished reading. There are hardly ever full sentences in Spanish within the book, and most of the Spanish terms are sprinkled into the text occasionally in a way that isn’t distracting if you don’t know Spanish. Thus, a glossary wasn’t necessary to me, but some could find it helpful.

The only thing I would have changed about the memoir is the epilogue – it felt awkward to read and seemed as if it was hastily strung together. It’s very vague about how many years had lapsed between the epilogue and the last chapter of the book and if there had been any development with one of the major plot lines of the book. I also wish there had been a greater call to action at the end of the book; Padilla speaks extensively about the DREAM Act and I felt like the epilogue could have included a request for readers to contact their local representatives about this bill or listed activism groups that they could either directly be involved with or contribute to if they desired. However, if you couldn’t tell from the rest of this glowing review, I definitely recommend reading this book. It’s well written and represents a perspective that I haven’t read before. If you’ve read books that cover similar territory, please recommend them to me!

If you somehow stumbled across this review because you’re in high school and are wondering how you can ever go to college if you’re undocumented, my friend, who was in a similar situation to you, applied to universities via QuestBridge, which is a service dedicated to helping low-income students apply to college. You do not have to report a Social Security number if you apply to college this way. Good luck as you navigate this very complicated process!

Disclaimer: I was provided with an Advance Reader Copy of this book for free from the Penguin First to Read program. All opinions expressed in the following review are my own and have not been influenced by Penguin.

There’s currently a giveaway for this book for readers residing in the US on GoodReads through June 22, 2015.

Expected Publication Date: 28 July 2015 by Penguin Press.

Author: Dan-El Padilla Peralta Publisher Page