Lola by Junot Diaz: Reshaping the Children’s Book Industry

Written by Kiran Gokal

Junot Diaz, the Dominican-American author of renowned books This Is How You Lose Her and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, recently released a children’s book called Islandborn which focuses on six-year-old Lola, an Afro-Caribbean girl who came over to the United States so young that she has no memories of the island where she was born. At the Texas Library Association this past Thursday, Diaz spoke about his children’s book and not only his own connection to it, but the importance of it within the children’s book industry. The narrative of the novel follows Lola and her fellow classmates, all children who are from somewhere else, as they’re asked to draw a picture of their “first country.” Lola, not recalling any memories of her own, must reconstruct hers by drawing on those of her relatives to remind herself of and to illustrate her home country.

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Review: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Written by Kiran Gokal

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is a riveting and transparent novel that follows four characters in 1975 as they navigate the beaten paths of an India governed by the notorious prime minister of the time, Indira Gandhi.  The harrowing effects of the Emergency Act conducted by Gandhi and the political anxiety of the time serves as a backdrop against the compelling lives of four strangers, who are all refugees in their own ways, and are thrust in an uncertain journey together. We follow an uncle and a nephew fleeing persecution, a woman searching freedom from an environment that holds her back, and a young college student too naïve to face the reality of society on his own.

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American Shakespeare Center’s Macbeth: A Review

Written by Kylie Warkentin

While I stood in line on the night of February 28th waiting to be let into Hogg Auditorium for the American Shakespeare Center’s performance of Macbeth, Dr. Cullingford, a University Distinguished Teaching Professor and the Chair of the English Department, luxuriously slinked down the line asking after her Oxford Program students. As her sharp figure sweeped past, I thought to myself: Yeah, she’d make a pretty great Lady Macbeth.

For the uninitiated (as I was, at least until I was forcibly made aware), the American Shakespeare Center is unique for its dedication to an authentic Shakespearean experience. Put flippantly (and in their own words), they “do it with the lights on:” the entire play is performed under universal lighting in an effort to mimic the lighting conditions of Shakespeare’s time, thus allowing the actors on stage to engage with the audience in an unique way. Additionally, before, during, and after the play, the actors perform music, as the actors in Shakespeare’s troupe would have done.

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Shailja Patel’s Migritude: Poetry in Motion

Written by Katelyn Connolly

Migritude is a text obsessed with movement. The content of Shailja Patels striking work of poetic theatre, first staged in 2006 and published in book form in 2010, is a meditation on the history, politics, and emotion of migration. Her story moves across Africa, Europe. and North America. Its form is an exercise in the fluidity of style, genre and narrative voice. In performance, it calls upon dance and choreography to drive home spoken word. And the text itself came to me and passed from my hands in a remarkably diffusive manner. My friend read Migritude for a class called Reading Resistanceat a college in Portland; she mailed it to me because she knew of my interest in memoir and witness; I passed it along to my old roommate here in Austin because her family are Gujarati emigrants, like Patels own. Each of us reads for a different reason, and the text continues to move physically across land and through new lenses of meaning.

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Turtles All the Way Down: Let’s Talk About Mental Illness   

Written by Kendall Talbot

Six years ago, John Green brought millions of readers to tears with his tragic, yet oddly comical story of two teenage cancer patients who, in spite of their ailments, were determined to experience love and life and everything in between. While The Fault in Our Stars dealt with the horrible effects of physical illness, Green’s new novel, Turtles All the Way Down, addresses a different category of illness: mental. The story’s sixteen-year-old protagonist, Aza “Holmsey” Holmes, suffers from severe anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, living in constant fear of the multitude of tiny microbes alive inside her body and the bodies of others. Her mental illness keeps Aza consistently and irrevocably stuck inside her own head, and for 286 beautifully written and heartbreakingly raw pages, we get to be stuck inside there with her.  

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Girls Own the Void, and What Lies Beyond

Written by Kylie Warkentin

I read Lynn Steger Strong’s piece, “Why I Wanted to Write About Anger,” on my phone in the small, suffocating apartment my grandmother owns. It feels less like a piece about anger, and more like what would result from a swell of resentment bitten off at the start once you’ve reminded yourself of glasses half full and your best friend’s good morning text. Strong describes her intent as “want[ing] to figure out what’s inside of all that anger” and “want[ing] to write about space and time and feeling like somehow, we’ve always had less of it than our male counterparts.” And I got it—I thought of Audrey Wollen’s Instagram post furiously and in all caps reminding male artists that “NOTHING DOES NOT BELONG TO YOU” and “GIRLS OWN THE VOID”; I thought of a statistic I had once read reporting that 58% of US women cried from feeling helpless as opposed to 23% of men; I thought of how I angrily purse my lips when I hear a whistle and how I clutch at the fabric of my pants when I hear tapping and I turn and inevitably it is a man; and I got it. As I clutched my obnoxiously large phone held in my clammy palm, I got it.

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The Monster Within: Getting The Grip of It

Written by Carolina Eleni Theodoropoulos

Jac Jemc’s new novel, The Grip of It, is a story of a haunted house and the couple within it. At her reading during the Texas Book Festival, Jemc spoke about using the haunted house trope as a metaphor for the couple’s deeply rooted problems. The more they are disturbed by the unknown of the house and its surrounding area, the more is revealed of the dysfunction of their relationship.

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Vicious: A Story of Near-Death Experiences and Supervillains

Written by Kiran Gokal

Ever wondered what x-men would look like on a college campus? Well, the search is over. Vicious, a fantasy, sciencefiction, and paranormal thriller (honestly it’s a little bit of everything)  by V.E. Schwab, plays with the ethics surrounding life and death, and the fine line we walk between the two. The story follows Victor Vale and Eliot Cardale, two pre-med students who discover that the key to gaining superpowers is near-death experiences. So they set out to research and manufacture their own abilities by experimenting with their own suicides. Of course, it goes horribly wrong. Vicious is a journey that intrigued me right from the start and made me think rather critically about the definition and executions of the cliché heroversusvillain story.

V.E. Schwab, a best-selling author of multiple books and book series, wrote this particular novel in secret, in an attempt to respark her interest in writing for pleasure rather than for an income. The rawness of such a notion definitely shows in the work. It’s funny, it’s engaging, and it’s thought provoking. Adorning the captivating story of Victor and Eli are the various wonderful characters that either join forces with the pair or happen to make appearances in the story. Schwab’s strong suit is balancing her characters with her plots, neither one louder than the other. I don’t know about you, but those are my favorite stories to read.

More fascinatingly, Schwab wrote the novel hoping to “play with the idea of the superhero as social construct” and the notion of giving an ordinary person supernatural abilities—what would they do then? Save the world just as the comics would have us believe? Here, she strips the archetypes of their roles. The hero is no longer the hero and the villain could be both. It really is up to the reader to choose a side (or not). As Schwab would say, “we like our heroes flawed and our villains complicated.”

If any of this interests you, I highly recommend picking up Vicious by V.E. Schwab. The dark and mysterious atmosphere of the book is a perfect read for the fall and winter time—and who doesn’t love superheroes?

Reviewing the Netflix Adaptation of Atwood’s Alias Grace

Written by Angie Carrera

Written in 1996, Margaret Atwood’s novel, Alias Grace, comes to life in a six-part mini series on Netflix. This series comes after Hulu’s successful adaptation of another Atwood novel: The Handmaid’s Tale. During a time of great feminist activism, it is evident that Margaret Atwood’s work is at its prime, and this is exemplified by her “murderess” protagonist, Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon).

Alias Grace is a true-crime story set in Victorian Canada, where Grace and her stable hand counterpart, James McDermott (Kerr Logan), have been accused and convicted of the murders committed in 1843 of Thomas Kinnear (Paul Gross), and Nancy Montgomery (Anna Paquin), his head housekeeper and lover. Before being hung, McDermott adds to his confession that it was in fact Grace who made him kill Kinnear and Montgomery, causing severe confusion  regarding Grace’s claims of innocence.

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Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold and the Folly of Loving Relatives

Written by Abby Adamo

For over a decade, Joan Didion’s name has been synonymous with grief. First with A Year of Magical Thinking in 2005 and then in 2011 with Blue Nights, Didion writes of the unthinkable tragedy of losing her husband and then—within the same year—her daughter as well. In the Netflix original documentary, Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, created and directed by her nephew, Griffin Dunne, we see the rest of the story. From her childhood with a severely depressed father to her early days writing for Vogue to her casual dinners with Linda Kasabian from the Manson trial, the documentary covers Didion’s life before grief.

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