Hello! I hope everyone is still staying safe. I also hope you have taken time to crack open a book or two that were on your when-I-have-time pile. It’s always refreshing and a bit relieving to see that pile shorten.
I have shared two more reviews from my 2020 Goodreads Challenge down below. This pair are number four and five on my list: the first is nonfiction and the second is an ARC that I received last year, but by the time I got to it, the book was published — story of my life.
Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land
This memoir recounts the hardships the author, Stephanie Land, faced as a single mother living on the edge of poverty while working as a maid.
My rating: ♥♥♥♥
I finished this memoir back in January; it was a gift from my former supervisor at Hachette. I remember her gushing over the book and overall I wasn’t disappointed by it. Stephanie paints a clear and honest picture, from her perspective, of what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck, and what it’s like to be treated by those who think themselves better because of their financial status. Her story had me question myself because I found myself mulling over Land’s decisions: to have a baby without the support both from the father and financially, and I know it’s terrible for me to judge her. I kept thinking, “Why are you spending money on yourself, your daughter is sick!” One the one hand, Land had me engaged by her story, and the other hand, well, something else kept tugging at my figurative coat pocket.
I identified that tug in Roxanne Gay’s Goodreads review:
“This is a tightly-focused, well-written memoir, a good book, but it is not a deeply researched book about poverty. This is a book about temporary poverty and it is part of a canon where the goal is to reach the middle-class. There’s nothing wrong with that. Where I struggled with this book, was the lack of acknowledgment of white privilege and how that made the arc of her narrative possible, save for a cursory moment where the author acknowledges the challenges immigrants might face that she did not.”
Frankly, I could NOT have said it better myself. Stephanie is only one perspective: the white perspective. However this doesn’t mean Land’s story is irrelevant, it means that she was at an advantage at birth, and if we were able to actually go back in time and view her situation and the interactions she had with doctors and landlords, etc we would see this privilege that a person of color does not have. Yes, Land does, as Gay wrote, acknowledge this privilege but it’s the pebble in my shoe. Hopefully this has aided in opening up a market for more diverse personal perspectives and drawn interest of publishing more stories written by people of color.
Maid is a window into the stressful world of economic disadvantage, and it’s not a perfect example of hardship. I don’t know if there is or if “perfect” can even be defined in this category, but Maid has heart and at its core, it’s a story of a woman doing what she thinks is best for her daughter.
Burnt Pine recommends: “Control,” “The Circle We Share,” and “These Things.”
Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
The 2019 National Book Award winner for Fiction, this novels dives into the lives of high school students at a competitive arts school in the South. Sarah, falls in love with another student, David and that love is then meddled with by their teacher, Mr. Kingsley and other characters. The plot takes a hard turn later on, revealing that what you’ve read may or may not be a reliable account.
My rating: ♥♥♥♥
**SPOILER-Y** I received an ARC and, of course, I didn’t get to it until it was already published. My first impression of this was the cover. It took me a moment to really see what it was, and I was surprised and delighted by the ingenuity of the designer in regard to the contrast of the colors; you have to look closer to piece together the final illustration. And, it’s a great reflection of what happens in the book. Later on in the novel, the perspective it’s told from makes the reader really look at what happened in Sarah’s account. As, I’m sure you know, you shouldn’t wholly trust one person’s take on events. Human beings are unreliable in themselves, so it didn’t come as a big surprise when I, the reader, was told to reconsider Sarah’s reliability. Also, being in high school, events could be taken in a different light: a teenager’s priorities are much different to an adult.
Side note: As I’m sure anyone can relate to this if you’ve attended high school or seen a movie about high school — the trope of the “all-too-friendly-teacher” you want to win attention and praise from and who is also too involved in the lives of their students runs rampant. On the one hand, it’s relatable and familiar, which can be comforting, but on the other, it’s predictable and has been done.
I gave this title four out of five stars. The fault I found with this title was the shift between the two perspectives. The connection to the characters and to the story itself is lost when you reach the second part, and the fact that this book ends ambiguously permanently severed what whispers of webs that still connected me.
Burnt Pine recommends: “Still August Nights,” and “I Was Told That High School Was the Final Frontier.”
Have you read Maid and/or Trust Exercise? Disagree? Agree? Let us know your thoughts below!