Book Review: Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland

Book: Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland

Published March 2014 by Touchstone|288 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction/Memoir

Determination meets dance in this memoir by the history-making ballerina.

In this instant New York Times bestseller, Misty Copeland makes history, telling the story of her journey to become the first African-American principal ballerina at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre. But when she first placed her hands on the barre at an after-school community center, no one expected the undersized, underprivileged, and anxious thirteen-year-old to become one of America’s most groundbreaking dancers . A true prodigy, she was attempting in months roles that take most dancers years to master. But when Misty became caught between the control and comfort she found in the world of ballet and the harsh realities of her own life, she had to choose to embrace both her identity and her dreams, and find the courage to be one of a kind.

With an insider’s passion, Misty opens a window into the life of an artist who lives life center stage, from behind the scenes at her first classes to her triumphant roles in some of the world’s most iconic ballets. A sensational memoir as “sensitive” and “clear-eyed” (The Washington Post) as her dancing, Life in Motion is a story of passion, identity and grace for anyone who has dared to dream of a different life.

I really liked Life In Motion!  I wasn’t sure about it at first, but I ended up liking it more than I thought I would.

I don’t follow ballet or dance so I wasn’t sure who Misty Copeland was before picking this book up.  It seemed interesting enough, so that’s why I picked it up.  I really liked reading her story, and it felt like I was getting a peek behind the curtain.  It’s a look into a world that seem so graceful when you’re looking at it from the outside, but I really appreciated an insider’s perspective.  There were times where it felt like she was name-dropping a lot, even though I didn’t recognize most of the names.

Still, she had a lot of support, and even though it’s glazed over, I got the sense that she wanted to do the same. The Boys and Girls Club was where she got her start in ballet, and it seems like she’s never forgotten that.  Again, it seems like she’s very grateful for the opportunities she got there, and wants to pay it forward.

I was surprised that she started ballet late in life, at least for a dancer.  I have this image in my head that all professional dancers have been dancing since they were little kids, and Misty does not fit in that image.  She seems like a pretty quick study, and really determined to be the best ballerina she could be.

I really felt for Misty- she didn’t have an easy home life, but it really seemed like her mom had good intentions.  She seemed to have a great relationship with her siblings, and they seemed pretty supportive of Misty’s dreams.  She did live with her ballet teacher for a while, so she could focus more on her ballet, and that definitely put her at odds with her family at times, particularly when Misty filed for emancipation.

I admire Misty’s strength and passion, and reaching to young dancers was really important to her.  Her mantra, this is for the brown girls, was a strong message throughout the book, but particularly towards the end of the book.  I cried when she got the role of the Firebird, and it was so important to her, that you couldn’t help but cry and feel happy for her.

The writing itself was okay, and while the book was mostly linear, it did seem to jump around a little.  It was also repetitive at times, particularly with a couple of injuries she had.  And this is slightly random, but I thought her usage of mommy throughout the entire book was a little odd but to each their own.

4 stars.  Overall, I really liked Copeland’s memoir.  There were some things I didn’t like but I loved reading her story.

Book Review: Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot

Book: Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot

Published February 2018 by Counterpoint|143 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction/Memoir

Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father―an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist―who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.

Mailhot trusts the reader to understand that memory isn’t exact, but melded to imagination, pain, and what we can bring ourselves to accept. Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story, and, in so doing, reestablishes her connection to her family, to her people, and to her place in the world.

This is one of those books that seem really popular, in the sense that everyone is reading it, so I figured I’d read it and see why people love it so much.

So, I wanted to love it, but it was just okay for me.

A big part of it is both the length and the writing style.  I wasn’t expecting it to be so short.  It’s not even 150 pages, and that’s including the Q & A at the end, plus a forward at the beginning.  It’s not long at all, and I think that’s why I finished it, because I really struggled with her writing style.

It felt like I was reading diary entries or her notebook, and her memoir felt really disjointed and all over the place.  Stream-of-consciousness is what comes to mind, and so Mailhot jumps around in time and place.  It is one of those books you really have to pay attention to, otherwise you’ll miss something.  Not only that, but it felt like I was reading a collection of essays.

It’s not completely Mailhot’s fault, since I went into this book expecting a more traditionally written memoir.  I also felt like I was reading the same thing over and over- it felt like each chapter involved Mailhot pining after someone, while lamenting over having one child, while her other child was taken away from her.  There didn’t seem to be any resolution or movement, and I think, what it comes down to, is that I was expecting something very different than what this memoir contained.  I also thought the usage of the word you throughout the book made me feel like I was watching things from a distance, and I had a hard time connecting with her.  I had a hard time keeping up with her thought process, since it does meander around quite a bit.

It’s a shame, since there were a few sentences that were absolutely beautiful and poetic.  I wanted to like it, I really did.  And I tried so hard to like it, but I just didn’t have it in me.  I can see why so many people love it, and I really do think that the reasons why people love it are the reasons I didn’t, but not every book is going to be for every person.  This clearly wasn’t the book for me, but I am glad that it is a book that works for so many other people.

2 stars.  Heart Berries was just okay, and I was definitely expecting a more traditional memoir.  Even though it wasn’t for me, I can see why so many people think it’s a great read.

Book Review: March, Books One, Two And Three by John Lewis

I’ve heard a lot about March, and I figured it was time to read all three books!  All three books are written by John Lewis and and Andrew Aydin, and illustrated by Nate Powell, and I borrowed all three from the library.

March: Book One

What It’s About: Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president.

Now, to share his remarkable story with new generations, Lewis presents March, a graphic novel trilogy, in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell (winner of the Eisner Award and LA Times Book Prize finalist for Swallow Me Whole).

March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.

Book One spans John Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall.

Many years ago, John Lewis and other student activists drew inspiration from the 1950s comic book “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story.” Now, his own comics bring those days to life for a new audience, testifying to a movement whose echoes will be heard for generations.

What I Thought:

  • I really liked it!  I kind of wanted to start reading the 2nd book right away, but I also knew I wanted this one to sink in a little bit.
  • I liked seeing how he got involved in the civil rights movement.  Meeting Martin Luther King, Jr really changed his life
  • I really loved that the inauguration of President Obama was tied-in to his story.  It’s such a great parallel to how hard John Lewis fought for equal rights
  • I am still amazed that this was something that happened 50+ years ago…and how hard people are still fighting for equal rights and protections.
  • I thought a graphic novel was a really cool way to tell the story- it certainly would have been easier for Lewis to go the more traditional route as far as memoirs go, but a graphic novel worked really, really well
    • I think it’s because you can see everything that’s happening
  • There’s not a lot to this volume, but it does set up everything pretty well for the next two volumes

My Rating: 4 stars.  I really liked it, and I wish this volume were longer.

March: Volume Two

What It’s About: The #1 New York Times bestselling series continues! Congressman John Lewis, an American icon and one of the key figures of the civil rights movement, continues his award-winning graphic novel trilogy with co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell, inspired by a 1950s comic book that helped prepare his own generation to join the struggle. Now, March brings the lessons of history to vivid life for a new generation, urgently relevant for today’s world.

After the success of the Nashville sit-in campaign, John Lewis is more committed than ever to changing the world through nonviolence – but as he and his fellow Freedom Riders board a bus into the vicious heart of the deep south, they will be tested like never before.

Faced with beatings, police brutality, imprisonment, arson, and even murder, the young activists of the movement struggle with internal conflicts as well. But their courage will attract the notice of powerful allies, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy… and once Lewis is elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, this 23-year-old will be thrust into the national spotlight, becoming one of the “Big Six” leaders of the civil rights movement and a central figure in the landmark 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

What I Thought:

  • I’m glad we get to see more of his story and his involvement in the civil rights movement
  • I really felt for Lewis and all of the Freedom Riders.  I don’t understand how people can be so hateful just because they wanted the same rights as everyone else
  • That they would arrest children…children!  I honestly didn’t know that, and I have such a hard time wrapping my head around that
  • I still can’t believe it was 50+ years ago that this happened, and yet…it’s still important to remember the people who fought for equal rights
  • I liked seeing why the non-violent approach was so important to him, and how he stayed true to that, even when it would have been easier for him to take a more aggressive approach
  • I also really like seeing some of the behind-the-scenes stuff in terms of organizing everything.  I never really thought about it before, but someone had to organize all of the protests and marches and get people working together
  • Even though I’m not the biggest fan of the illustrations, it worked really well for the story
  • I really liked the tie-in to Obama’s inaugaration.  I’m glad we get to see that alongside everything John Lewis worked for
  • This one is much more powerful than the first book.  I think it’s because the first book felt like it was setting up the rest of the story, and we were able to get much more into the rest of the story in this book.

My Rating: 4 stars.  I really liked it, and while some of it might not make sense if you don’t read the first one, I think you can pick up on everything that’s going on if you’re pretty familiar with the Civil Right Movement.

March: Book Three

What It’s About: Welcome to the stunning conclusion of the award-winning and best-selling MARCH trilogy. Congressman John Lewis, an American icon and one of the key figures of the civil rights movement, joins co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell to bring the lessons of history to vivid life for a new generation, urgently relevant for today’s world.

What I Thought:

  • I think Book Three is my favorite of the three.  I had to wipe away tears a few times when I was reading it
  • Book Three focuses on the Selma to Montgomery march, and I was surprised that he was one of the people who led the march.  I don’t think we learned that in history class, but if we did, then I obviously don’t remember it, and that makes me feel sad because he, and many others, fought so hard for equal voting rights and equal rights
  • This book was much more heart-breaking than the previous two books put together- and they heart-breaking, don’t get me wrong- but I felt much more emotional reading this book than I did the previous ones
  • I loved seeing how what he wanted for SNCC and how that was different than some of the organizations he worked with.  And how what he wanted for SNCC was different than what some of the others in SNCC wanted
  • Telling this story as a graphic novel really was the best way to tell this story, because of the illustrations- the peaceful and non-violent protesters and what they had to endure, up against people who would do everything in their power to make them stop
  • Honestly, this book is so deserving of all of the awards it has won.  The whole trilogy should be required reading for EVERYONE, but in particular, this volume is worth reading
  • I finished this book feeling like I needed to do something…what, I’m not sure, but…I feel like just reading about it isn’t enough
  • I am in awe that they took a non-violent approach, when it would have been easier to do the complete opposite- and that they never gave up, even when it would be easier to give up, and not try to change things for the better
  • Page 190.  Just thinking about it makes me want to cry

My Rating: 5 stars.  For me, this book is the best one out of the three.  It’s a must-read for everyone, especially for those who think this story isn’t relevant anymore, that the civil rights movement is over and done with.  Words cannot express how grateful I am that they fought so hard for everyone to have equal rights and that they never gave up on trying to change things.

What I’ve Been Reading: Part One!

I’m back…sort of!  I know it’s been a while since I’ve done a blog post, and I’m trying to get back into reviewing and blogging again.  I’ve been reading, but not up to reviewing.  But I still wanted to talk about the books I’ve been reading, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about the books I haven’t talked about yet.  I’m a bit fuzzy on some of them, since it’s been a while…but that’s not going to stop me from talking about them!

Book #1: Ghost by Jason Reynolds

I borrowed the hardcover from the library.

Here’s what I thought:

  • It’s a middle grade contemporary about a kid who runs track, which I thought was cool.  I feel like track doesn’t come up a lot, as far as sports novels go.  Cross country, yes.  Track, not so much.
  • I don’t know that I remember enough to say anything else, but I remember thinking it was okay.  Then again, All-American Boys was such a great book that I had really high expectations.
  • I did like the parallels between running and what was going on in his life.  Especially with how running turned out to be a really good thing for him.
  • I don’t know that I’d read the rest of the books in the series- it looks like this is the first one of…I’m not sure how many.
  • It’s definitely a must read if you like stories about sports.  And also how to move on and deal with your past.
  • I think my rating would be 2 stars.  It’s okay, and not a lot stuck with me.

Book #2: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

I borrowed the hardcover from the library.

My thoughts:

  • I really liked this book!  It’s a YA contemporary about Amanda, who transferred schools.  I felt for Amanda, who tried so hard to fit in, and who had to deal with a lot- bullying and transphobia are the first things that come to mind.
  • I really like that it’s not a coming out story- both are important, but I really liked seeing Amanda move to a new town and transition to a new phase in her life.
  • I liked the friendships she had too- people can be horrible, but I’m glad Amanda found some amazing people.
  • I can’t remember anything about the romance, other than I liked it…but that’s about it!
  • I loved the author’s note at the end of the book.  Don’t skip over it, because it really does add to an already awesome book.
  • I feel like I’m not doing this book any justice.  At all.  Mostly because it’s been a while since I’ve read it, and I remember next to nothing.  But it’s such a great book and really important and I doubt I’d do it much justice regardless.  But waiting months to do some sort of half-hearted attempt isn’t helping.
  • Part of why it’s important is because of what the book is about, but it is worth mentioning that the author is also trans.
  • And I’m not sure if it’s true, but the cover model is trans as well.  For some reason, that feels really important as well.
  • I know I got really emotional and starting crying at one point.
  • My Rating: 4 stars.  Had I reviewed it right after finishing it, my rating probably would have been 5 stars.
    • But I may re-read it at some point so I can properly talk about it.
    • I still really liked it though.

Book #3: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

This is another hardcover from the library.

What I Thought:

  • I liked seeing how much Strayed changed during the hike.
  • She did seem ill-prepared for the hike, and I can see why some reviewers think she’s whiny and self-absorbed
    • and also why some people thought she made poor life decisions
    • There’s no judgement from me, though, because she did have a lot of things she had to work through, especially with the death of her mother
  • Hiking- especially since she was by herself for most of the hike- seemed to help her
    • there was a lot of opportunity for her to reflect on her life
    • she did randomly meet up with other people along the way, though
  • I think my favorite part was seeing her not give up, even when it would have been easy for her to do so
  • I can’t imagine doing such a big hike, especially with no hiking/backpacking experience whatsoever
  • It really felt like I was hiking with her, and it never felt boring or repetitive
    • I can’t imagine being alone with my thoughts for that long, but props to her for sticking with it
  • It’s a memoir of her experience hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, so if you’re looking for more information or history about the trail itself, this is not the book for you
  • I’ve heard of it before- because it was adapted into a movie, but I mostly picked it up because it was mentioned in one of the Gilmore Girls revival episodes
    • I’m glad I picked it up, though, because I really liked it
  • I think my rating would be 4 stars.  I didn’t love it, but it was an easy read, and there is something about the way she writes

Book #4: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad is a hardcover from the library.

And now, my thoughts:

  • This book deserves a lot more attention.  I feel like it didn’t get a lot of attention, despite the fact that it was an Oprah book club pick.  The publication date also got moved up because of it.  And I know it was recommended by Obama, so I had really high expectations.
    • It lived up to all of the hype…at least the hype that I heard.
    • It’s totally worth reading
  • I admit that I didn’t like it at first, and it took me a while to get into it.
    • I’m glad I stuck with it, though, because I really liked it
  • It is a hard read, because you see what it might have been like for slaves on the Underground Railroad
    • I’m not sure what to call them, but there are ads and wanted posters for runaway slaves, which really added to the journey Cora takes
  • The Underground Railroad is quite literal in this book but it was terrifying to see what it was like during that time period
    • so many people risked everything to be a part of it- whether they were a stop along the way, or the one trying to escape slavery
    • I know I said it already, but it really highlighted what it might have been like
  • It really is mind-blowing that people were willing to take a chance to have freedom than spend one more second as a slave
  • My rating: 4 stars.  It was hard to get into at first, but worth reading.

Book Review Round-Up: Always Running, The Vegetarian, and Sister Of My Heart

I’ve read quite a few books recently, and thought I’d do some shorter reviews on a few of them!

always-running-coverBook #1: Always Running by Luis J. Rodriguez

Published October 2005 (originally published 1993) by Touchstone|288 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the paperback from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction, Memoir

What It’s About: The award-winning and bestselling classic memoir about a young Chicano gang member surviving the dangerous streets of East Los Angeles, now featuring a new introduction by the author.

Winner of the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, hailed as a New York Times notable book, and read by hundreds of thousands, Always Running is the searing true story of one man’s life in a Chicano gang—and his heroic struggle to free himself from its grip.

By age twelve, Luis Rodriguez was a veteran of East Los Angeles gang warfare. Lured by a seemingly invincible gang culture, he witnessed countless shootings, beatings, and arrests and then watched with increasing fear as gang life claimed friends and family members. Before long, Rodriguez saw a way out of the barrio through education and the power of words and successfully broke free from years of violence and desperation.

Achieving success as an award-winning poet, he was sure the streets would haunt him no more—until his young son joined a gang. Rodriguez fought for his child by telling his own story in Always Running, a vivid memoir that explores the motivations of gang life and cautions against the death and destruction that inevitably claim its participants.

At times heartbreakingly sad and brutal, Always Running is ultimately an uplifting true story, filled with hope, insight, and a hard-earned lesson for the next generation.

What I Thought: I really liked Always Running!  It’s very honest, and I’m actually really glad I read it.  It’s a very raw account of his life in east L.A. and his life on the streets, and how he broke free from that life.

It was hard to read, and I was especially saddened by how people were placed in certain classes based on their race, and yet, it wasn’t that surprising, especially given the time.  It’s as much his life story as it is the history of the factors that led to the rise in gangs.  His parents came to the U.S. from Mexico in search of a better life, and it seems like they tried to give him (and his siblings) a good life.

I liked the snapshots we got of his life, but at the same time, it was a little hard to follow because as far as timeline went, he did jump around a little bit.  I also had a bit of a hard time keeping track of who was who, but overall, it’s still worth reading.  You do a clear picture of why he joined a club- for protection, because it was the only way to stay safe.

My Rating: 4 stars.  It’s very vivid, and it’s still very relevant to current events.

the-vegetarian-coverBook #2: The Vegetarian by Han Kang, Translated by Deborah Smith

Published February 2016 (originally published 2007) by Hogarth|192 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Fiction

What It’s About: Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.

A disturbing, yet beautifully composed narrative told in three parts, The Vegetarian is an allegorical novel about modern day South Korea, but also a story of obsession, choice, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

What I Thought: I’m not sure what to think about The Vegetarian.  It’s a very weird book, but in a good way.  It is interesting that she gave up meat because of a dream, and that dreams played a big role in becoming more plant-like. In a way, it seemed like becoming vegetarian was Yeong-hye’s way of gaining some sort of control over her life.  It also goes in a direction that I did not see coming, and it’s interesting that you see it through the eyes of her husband, her brother-in-law and her sister.  Part of me wishes that we saw Yeong-hye narrate even a small portion of the book, but at the same time, I liked seeing her through the eyes of the people around her.

One thing I wondered was how people in South Korea view vegetarians, and if it’s something that’s very specific to her family.  I honestly assumed her family would be okay with it, and I’m not sure where that assumption came from. But something about how they reacted rang true.

My Rating: 4 stars.  I did like the first two parts, which focused on her marriage and being a muse for her brother-in-law, but I wasn’t as interested in the last part, which focused on her sister.  It’s still worth reading.

sister-of-my-heart-coverBook #3: Sister Of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Published January 1999 by Doubleday|336 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: Anju & Sudha #1

Genre: Adult Fiction

Where I Got It: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni made an indelible impression on the literary world with her first novel, The Mistress of Spices, a magical tale of love and herbs. Sister of My Heart is less reliant on enchantment but no less enchanting as it tells the tale of two cousins born on the same day, their premature births brought on by a mysterious occurrence that claims the lives of both their fathers. Sudha is beautiful, Anju is not; yet the girls love each other as sisters, the bond between them so strong it seems nothing can break it. When both are pushed into arranged marriages, however, each discovers a devastating secret that changes their relationship forever.

Sister of My Heart spans many years and zigzags between India and America as the cousins first grow apart and then eventually reunite. Divakaruni invests this domestic drama with poetry as she traces her heroines’ lives from infancy to motherhood, but it is Sudha and Anju who give the story its backbone. Anju might speak for both when she says, “In spite of all my insecurities, in spite of the oceans that’ll be between us soon and the men that are between us already, I can never stop loving Sudha. It’s my habit, and it’s my fate.” Book lovers may well discover that reading Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is habit-forming as well. –Margaret Prior

What I Thought: I liked Sister Of My Heart.  I really liked the bond that Sudha and Anju had, and that they are more sisters than cousins.  There were times where their bond was so strong I honestly forgot they were cousins, and not sisters.

They definitely learned things that will completely change their relationship, and it’s hard to tell which secret will change their relationship more.  I have the feeling that both secrets will come out at some point.  I didn’t realize that this was the first book in a series, and at the end of the book, I was slightly disappointed that there was not more resolution.  Once I realized that it was part of a series, the ending made more sense.  It makes me wonder what will happen next for Sudha and Anju.

I will say that I found the arranged marriages to be interesting, but also hard to imagine.  Even though it’s something I know exists, it’s hard to wrap my head around it, and this book was a really good glimpse into what is one of many reasons why there are arranged marriages.  It’s also a really good look at families and the family dynamic in a different part of the world, and how different things are for people in other parts of the world.

My Rating: 3 stars.  I liked it, and I may continue the series, but not anytime soon.  I did love the relationship between Sudha and Anju and how much it changed.