Review – Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist

I dare you to read Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa and not get Baby, I’m an Anarchist by Against Me! stuck in your head about once per chapter.

When I first heard the description of Yapa’s debut novel I knew it would be directly in my wheelhouse. In 1999 I was listening to a lot of political pop punk music and trying to figure my political identity. I knew of the WTO protests in Seattle but did not follow them too closely. I questioned capitalism at that time but wasn’t as fully invested in taking a political stance as I am now in my mid-30s.

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Look at that gorgeous cover… and dog!

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist takes the reader through the day of November 30, 1999 on the Seattle streets. I can’t recall if I have ever read a novel that takes it’s course over one day, with the exception of flashbacks from the multiple narrators. Yapa does this well through his, beautiful, almost lyrical prose. Our narrators are all people with very different reasons for being out in Seattle that day with crowds soaring to roughly 40,000 demonstrators. We start with nineteen year old runaway (and currently homeless) Victor, who plans to try to make quick cash by selling weed to the protesters. However, his plans are soon shifted as he is faced with the reality of the not only the police presence but the temperament of the crowds.

We are then met with points of view from two seasoned political activists, three police officers and one delegate from Sri Lanka who is reprehensibly beaten and jailed. Over the course of the book we see their lives weave, perhaps just for that one day, or some have a deeper connection from their past.

I found it intriguing to try to put myself in the place of the police officers especially. It was a good test in my practicing of compassion for those who I may not understand. The reader is taken through their minds as they are committing acts of brutality against peaceful demonstrators, we see how some struggle and how some are simply aggressive. We see how the demonstrators question their commitment when faced with very real consequences and how they attempt to settle that conflict within.

Victor wanted to have the strength to watch, to witness the brutality and be strong enough to tell the world about it. He wanted to witness it and by witnessing make it real, unable to be forgotten; he wanted this horror seared into every pale pink fiber of his skull.

You aren’t going to get a lot of political history from this novel, but you get an enormous amount of humanity and the struggle to make sense of our beliefs and how we turn our belief systems into action in making a better world.

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Will you be married in the post-apocalypse?

 

 

(A review of Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien)

dawn-nature-sunset-woman
First off, this book was written by man in 1976. The book being Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien. You know, even trying my hardest to remind myself that 1976 was 40 years ago, it still was a time where women were coming into a more equal status in society than say 40 year prior to that. But we still weren’t as unequal as this book would lead one to believe.
In short, Z for Zachariah is a novel taking place in somewhere USA post-war. Chemical and biological warfare have been used and by chance the valley where 16 year old Ann Burden’s family resides seems to be a safe zone. All family but Ann go out one day to explore further into the surrounding area, but they never return. Ann has been taking care of herself for a year on the family farm and seems to be doing a damn good job. That is, until a MAN arrives.

Spoilers and rage begin here.

I picked up this book being that I am a huge fan of dystopias and apocalypses (apocali?) and heard that it would soon be a movie. (Warning, it appears the movie changed pretty much the whole premise as shown in the trailer.) I was stoked at the promise of a teen girl protagonist who seemed to be kickass at living off the land all on her own. The book is told epistolary style through Ann’s journal. And that promise was short lived.  As we read Ann’s thoughts, we quickly realize that she was cool on her own, but now; as she spots a man in a hazmat suit approaching her, the cool fades into the approaching summer.

A MAN! Ann observes how cautiously the man moves closer to the valley and as any hetero woman would in a scenario such as this, she attempts to assess his physical features and if she is interested in anything more than just figuring out if he is safe. Because of spending so much time on her land after the war, Ann is aware that some of the water is non-potable. She observes this dude from afar with his Geiger counter but yet doesn’t warn him as he neglects to test one creek and jumps in to bathe. Finally, Ann decides to introduce herself as this dude seems to be facing a certain death of radiation poisoning. We find out that this fellow is a Mr. Loomis (as Ann thus refers to him) and he was a scientist.

Mr. Loomis explains the realities of radiation poisoning and what Ann can expect from him in the coming days.  She waits on him hand and foot as he writhes around in a delirious fever stupor.  All the while she daydreams of marrying him in the local church in one year, since everything will be copacetic since she’ll be 17 and he’ll be a grown man and she still knows nothing about him. All the while she frets over her outfits and whether she should attempt to find some more flattering clothing and lay out the fine china before he awakes.

Surprise!  Mr. Loomis beings to recover from creek radiation. Ann continues to do everything, plants a garden, gathers supplies from the town general store, tends to her chickens and cows, etc. Mr. Loomis sits on his ass when she’s around, but secretly works on strengthening his walking. Oh, also, in his fever stupor he confessed that he killed his colleague so he could commandeer the hazmat suit. This is confirmed by Ann finding 3 bullet holes in it, but she just shrugs it off, because he’s a dude and she should probably just suck it up and work on repopulating the earth.

Ann begins to feel icky as Mr. Loomis looms at her tending the fields from the porch.  This is followed by his attempted rape of Ann.  Finally Ann heads out to a secret cave she can live in, and she leaves him on her land in her farmhouse. Did I mention there are guns?  Yes, there are guns and Ann has access to them. Loomis locks down the general store, hoping to starve Ann out of her hiding place. She decides to take action… her plan… to SHOOT HER DOG.  Yes.  Ann has a dog that Loomis has taken and is attempting to train to track her. Ann’s brilliant plan isn’t to shoot the stranger rapist but rather shoot her canine companion because he may expose her hideout.

In the end as Ann comes by the farmhouse to try to work shit out, dude tries to SHOOT HER. He hits her in the leg, but it’s merely flesh wound. At this point Ann decides she must DO SOMETHING. (I’d suggest that she shoot him and be done with it. Go on living as she did before he arrived on HER PROPERTY.) Her decision is to steal the hazmat suit and leave HER HOME. Yup.  Just give all that safe land to this shitty rando asshole controlling man and she’s gonna leave.

So, the writing is honestly pretty good. I like an epistolary style. However, I don’t like books that attempt to trick folks into thinking there is a strong female lead when she’s still submitting to the men around her even if there is only ONE in this world.  I’m disappointed that this book is still assigned to high school students. Assign your kids The Hunger Games, An Ember in the Ashes or Red Queen instead.

Review: Power’s Out by Rachel Meehan

Water's Edge** I received a free copy of the ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review. **

Power’s Out is the 2nd in the Troubled Times series by Rachel Meehan. I wasn’t nearly as engaged in this installment as I was with the first book, Water’s Edge. In Power’s Out we continue to follow Nairne’s struggle to survive in a world where climate change has caused extreme weather conditions and a crumbling of government infrastructure.

Close to two years after she lost her own home, Nairne is on the road with Paul trying to stay alive and potentially find a place they could take up residence. When they come upon a group of folks who have created a settlement in an old convent, they try their hardest to show that they are worthy for a permanent place in the community.

As money has become worthless, bartering and trades have become the way of life, and as we learn, this can be honest but there also comes the risk of dealing with deceitful criminals. Including ones that have returned from a past Nairne and Paul worked hard to leave behind.

I wish I was more invested in these characters. The new ones that popped up were not as fleshed out as the characters in the first book. This made it hard to feel empathy for them. I also had trouble buying the motivation of the villain of the novel. In a world where it is becoming harder to survive, revenge doesn’t seem very plausible.

Review: Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

shadowshaperOver at the Book Lust blog, Aarti put out the challenge to make our reading a More Diverse Universe or #Diversiverse for short. The only rule of #Diversiverse is to read ONE book by a person of color between October 4th and 17th, then write a review. That’s it.  I invite you all to participate.

My pick for #Diversiverse was Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older.  Originally, I had heard about this book from a Book Riot review, and moved it to the top of my TBR when I saw that the stars had aligned for my library to have my hold available during #Diversiverse. I am not usually a reader of magical realism or urban fantasy so I was excited to try something new.

Shadowshaper is a look into the world of Sierra Santiago, a Puerto Rican girl living in Brooklyn. She’s an amazing artist who has been given the gift of Shadowshaping, that is bringing works of art to life through a connection with the spirit world. As she learns about what it means to be a Shadowshaper; she makes the connection that a group of Shadowshapers who hung out with her abuelo, before his stroke, are dying off one by one. Sierra teams up with her friends, including a potential romantic interest in fellow artist Robbie, to figure out what is happening and how she can put an end to it before they come for her. 

This is a great book dealing with so many issues; racism, sexism, cultural appropriation, etc all while we see Sierra come of age with her new found abilities. Older knows how to write about these issues in such realistic detail they were like a punch in the gut. Although as a white person, I could not directly relate to the both microaggressions and overt issues with race, I certainly recognized them and could feel the hurt. His writing of a couple of street harassment incidents, which I definitely have experienced as a woman, actually made me shiver. One of the overarching themes is cultural appropriation as we see what happens when a white, male professor intrudes into the traditions of the Shadowshapers.

I highly recommend this book for anyone. It is marketed as Young Adult, but I feel there is so much folks of all ages can get out of reading Shadowshaper. Also, judge this book by its cover, because isn’t it absolutely beautiful?