Cephalopod Coffeehouse Sept 2016–Banned books galore!!


Hi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

stand-up_facebook2This week marks the annual BANNED BOOKS WEEK “celebration” highlighting books that are the most challenged within the ALA, American Librarian’s Association. As many may remember, I’ve been on a mission to read banned books in 2016. I think I’ve done rather well! I cried reading PERSEPOLIS. I smiled reading AND TANGO MAKES THREE with my sons. I’ve looked at the 2015 Top Ten banned books and saw John Green’s LOOKING FOR ALASKA (read this years ago, before I got into Goodreads or blogging!) is in the top spot again, followed by EL James’s FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (read the book, own the movie), and David Levithan’s TWO BOYS KISSING rounded off the list. Food for the thought, the Bible is on the list again this year…

part-time-indianAnyhoo, I decided to pick up THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN, which was the top of the 2014 banned list-and required reading for my son in 2011, I’ll add. I read half the book with him, and liked it. He still remarks that it’s the only English book he finished in high school. (Jane Eyre, he claims, broke his soul, but I digress…)

Sherman Alexie’s unflinching story of Junior, a dirt-poor Spokane native teen growing up on the rez is really a fantastic look into a world most Americans forget exists. It discusses poverty, and opportunity, and hope, and despair. Showcases parents who try hard, but still fail. Highlights the stark differences between kids who dwell in a world with no expectations–versus those who have a lot going for them, and dreams that might actually come true. It’s practically a treatise on institutional racism, and how it keeps some classes of people down…forever.

Are there problems? Yes. Junior’s attended forty-two funerals in his fourteen years. His parents are alcoholics. Close friends and family die for insensible reasons, usually related to alcohol abuse. White people think he’s trash. That’s a reality of life on the rez. It’s as inescapable as his dark skin and black hair. But. Junior seeks a way out–leaving the rez to go to the nearby white high school, and he’s labeled a traitor as a result.

Honestly, this was an eye-opener. I hate using the term “Indian” for Native Americans/First Nations persons, but it’s how Junior sees/calls himself. He stands up for himself when he can, and recognizes that the white world of his white school is a very different place. There, kids have so much more, and they don’t fight, and some of them really will make something of themselves. It’s almost a foreign country compared with his rez-life 22 miles away. And yet, this community also lacks closeness and camaraderie. Junior, walking between his two worlds, remarks that he’s Half-Indian in the white world and half-white on the rez–despite being a full-blood Spokane. These subtle cultural distinctions underlie the deep prejudices in his life. He’s brave, though, and succeeds in building friendships in both places.

Why is this book on the banned list? Cited reasons include: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying.” Well, I that “sex education/sexually explicit” complaint is pretty weak, considering Junior makes a couple references to masturbation. And anti-family? Junior loves his family, despite their dysfunction. I saw fantastic bonding moments, in all their tragedy. Regarding cultural insensitivity: There are some gay slurs, and I’m not super thrilled about that–though there are other moments when Junior talks honestly about homosexuality in the Native community. Also, it was others calling Junior “gay” as a slur, and he rolled with it; bigots were always painted as such. There’s violence, and bullying, none of which seemed extreme. Junior was a target, and he endured some rotten moments, sure. Offensive language falls out of my 14 y/o son’s mouth on the regular–if you hang around boys you’re not gonna be shocked by the few F-bombs on the page.

Ultimately, this book opens a window on contemporary life in Native reservations, and the view isn’t good. I think it’s honest, and troubling, and it makes me want better for all these folks. My great-grandfather escaped reservation life in the 20s. He lived to be 36, dying after several bouts of pneumonia and leaving behind his widow and my grandmother–aged 8 at the time–at the outset of the Great Depression. The stories I’ve heard from family painted a bleak picture, but Junior’s world is even more despairing. Though his experience isn’t the same as that on all reservations, because his sister finds another rez that’s better off. That said, the whole book is an emotional rollercoaster that I rode for the span of a day. The story is completely accessible, with evocative language and fearless art, and I’m glad it was required reading for my eldest. I expect my other boys to pick it up in their turn, and have a copy on my shelf awaiting them.

Interested? You can find THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and bookstores and libraries everywhere. It’s a National Book Award winner, a best-seller, and a banned book.

I hope you’ll tell me if you’ve read a banned bookrecently–or if you’re inspired to do so, now! Be sure to check out the best books from my fellow Coffeehouse reviewers below. Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Rebuilding UNTIL SEPTEMBER–A Review

Hi there! I’m really excited to share a review for this contemporary M/M romance from Chris Scully. First, UNTIL SEPTEMBER is an enemies-to-lovers romance, which I found very intriguing. But MORE IMPORTANTLY, this book has some excellent diversity with characters who are First Nations Cree growing up in a racially-charged area, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. I felt it was a brave choice that gave voice to a culture through the character’s eyes.

Until SeptemberAbout the book:

As a teenager, Archie Noblesse clawed his way out of the poverty, heartache, and abuse of the reservation and left his family behind. Desperate to shake the shadow of his past, he reinvents himself as Archer Noble, an outspoken blogger and controversial author who lives only for himself. But when his beloved sister dies, Archer is saddled with guardianship of his niece and nephew.

Elementary school teacher Ryan Eriksson is devastated when his best friend Marguerite is killed, leaving her two young children orphaned. Helping Archer with his new responsibilities eases his grief, but when Archer offers him custody of the children, Ryan’s left with an impossible choice: get the family he’s always wanted, or respect Margie’s wishes and convince Archer to give parenting—and his heritage—a chance.

To buy time, Ryan promises to stay for the summer, hoping that Archer will change his mind and fall for the kids. But Archer’s reluctant, and the growing attraction between him and Ryan complicates matters. Legal decisions must be made, and soon, before Ryan returns to school. But with hearts involved, more than just the children’s future is on the line.

My Review:

I want to state right up front, that I applaud the author for being sensitive to First Nations culture and writing a Cree MC who has survived the racism and disadvantage of Native life in a real and approachable manner.

Archer Noble (once Archie Noblesse) survived life as the eldest child of a drug-addicted Cree prostitute, and that included several years of sexual abuse from an uncle. He battled his way out, scraping money through theft and turning tricks until he could get legitimate employment and put his younger half-sister through college. Marguerite married and had two children before her husband died of cancer, and when the book opens Archer–now a vocal opponent against the heteronormatism of homosexuals–writes and speaks out against the need/right for same-sex parenting. His official stance is that love doesn’t exist, that gay folk shouldn’t bother with monogamy, settling down, or raising kids. They ought to enjoy their lives hedonistically with out the shackles of society, like marriage, weighing them down.

And then…the phone rings and he learns that Marguerite is dead, and he’s the guardian of his nephew and niece-Dillon and Emma-two kids he’s barely met. Marguerite also named her good friend, Ryan, as a stand-by guardian. When Archer arrives at Marguerite’s he’s overwhelmed and eager to pass the kids to Ryan, even if Ryan is just 25 y/o and gayer than gay. A total twink, and not the kind of gay man Archer either fancies or respects. Ryan is the “picket fence” guy that wants a solid stable partnership, and kids, and everything Archer detests. So, why not give him Margie’s kids?

Ryan won’t accept that, however. He knew Marguerite had a plan putting Archie in charge, and he’s determined not to let Archie run off without a second glance. Ryan takes a hard-line stance, saying that he won’t accept guardianship–even as it breaks his heart–but he will stay with Archer and the kids through the summer while school’s out. During that time, Archer’s supposed to be getting all the legalities in place to assume full guardianship.

Archer’s not a nice guy. He’s a cynical and jaded man who has scraped and scraped and learned to game the system wherever possible in order to survive. He’s not proud of himself, and he’s ashamed of his Cree heritage, which forever marked him as lesser in Manitoba where he grew up. He has no illusions of the past, and is sure his mother died alone, one of the many anonymous Native homicides that went unsolved at the time. Over their summer together, seeing Ryan’s compassion, and Dillon and Emma’s reaction to Ryan, is a watershed experience for Archer. He has no doubt that Ryan–a clearly gay man–is a fabulous parent. And, that he could never live up to Ryan’s example.

Still, there’s a romance building. Archer’s rather adept at the Grindr. And he’s got few scruples regarding hook-ups. He knew, as a Native, that addiction was one issue he’d face. As he didn’t want to die young–like all his family–he chooses sex as his outlet for all frustration, rage or disappointment. Ryan puts his foot down regarding “guests” in the house. Ryan is attracted to Archer physically, and he’s growing to love the man who is learning to raise Dillon and Emma, even if he doesn’t like Archer’s political activist viewpoints. He suspects he’s not Archer’s type but all the close quarters makes for tight connections. And Archer’s narrow-minded view of caregiving and who should provide it is blown wide open. He observes Ryan, the patient, self-sacrificing man who’s getting over his dream to marry his college sweetheart cheer on Dillon and Emma. Ryan’s clearly still nursing a broken heart over the man who used him for a doormat, and Archer’s shamed for having contemplated doing the same.

This is a slow burn, though Archer is definitely, and inexplicably, attracted to Ryan. He’s drawn to his kindness and selflessness–and grateful that Dillon and Emma have someone so wonderful helping them through their grief. Through the days and weeks Archer becomes more comfortable in his role as guardian, and he’s got some very tough choices to make regarding his career and his parenting. Ryan’s summer comes to an end, and while he’d love to stay with Archer and Dillon and Emma, he realizes that he deserves more of a relationship than “the manny” role he assumed at Marguerite’s death. It’s a bittersweet moment, but it’s not the end. Both Ryan and Archer have to make some compromises to their life plans, now. And those compromises work. The book is an HEA, but I will warn readers it’s very low steam. Also, expect some unintentional cockblocking by grieving kids who need drinks in the night.

I loved the tenderness. I loved the ethnicity and inclusion. I loved the enemies to lovers premise that I felt was really well-written and balanced. I liked the progressive growth of the dynamic between Ryan and Archer. Ryan is a gem, and Archer was a fool to let him walk away–but not nearly as big a fool as Ryan’s ex, who let him get away twice.  I wished for more steam, and some sexytimes that happened on the page, not just the “aborted” trysts. That said, this is a tender family drama with a stellar interracial romance.

Interested? You can find UNTIL SEPTEMBER on Goodreads, Riptide Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and AllRomance.  I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:

CHRIS SCULLY lives in Toronto, Canada. She grew up spinning romantic stories in her head and always dreamed of one day being a writer even though life had other plans. Her characters have accompanied her through career turns as a librarian and an IT professional, until finally, to escape the tedium of a corporate day job, she took a chance and began putting her daydreams down on paper.

Tired of the same old boy-meets-girl stories, she found a home in M/M romance and strives to give her characters the happy endings they deserve. She divides her time between a mundane 9-5 cubicle job and a much more interesting fantasy life. When she’s not working or writing (which isn’t often these days) she loves puttering in the garden and traveling. She is an avid reader and tries to bring pieces of other genres and styles to her stories. While her head is crammed full of all the things she’d like to try writing, her focus is always on the characters first. She describes her characters as authentic, ordinary people—the kind of guy you might meet on the street, or the one who might be your best friend.

Although keeping up with social media is still a struggle given her schedule, she does love to hear from readers. You can find Chris on her website and Facebook.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!