Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time (Time #1) by Madeleine L'Engle


I first read this book for school in 4th grade, and mostly I remember not understanding it. Literally the only thing I remembered about the book is the scene when the children first arrive on Camazotz, and everyone is behaving in unison. Reading this book now essentially felt like I was reading it for the first time.

I have to admit, I am not generally a reader of sci-fi, so a book about space and time travel wouldn't normally interest me. But with this book being in the media so much because of the new movie, and everyone heaping praise on the book, I figured I should give it a chance.

I was struck by how dated the writing was - the book was first published in 1962 - and I wonder if children reading the book today notice it? The way Meg calls her parents "Mother" and "Father", and Calvin using phrases like "golly day". I found it endearing in a charmingly nostalgic way.

I really liked Meg. With all her faults and emotions, she was a really authentic character to me. I liked Calvin, too, even though it seemed so random that he just showed up.

It wasn't until almost the very end of the book, when the travelers landed on the planet Ixchel, that I finally got roped in. I liked the beasts on that planet, and I wanted to see how the book would end. The actual events turned out to be anticlimactic, but it was satisfying to finally realize what the book was about: the power of love (reminiscent of Harry Potter, until I remembered that this book came first) and how the essence of people and things - what they mean to you - is more important than visible, physical characteristics. Also, I liked Meg's evolution from being completely dependent on others to being empowered to do what was required, despite being scared and unsure.

Interestingly, there were Christian references strewn throughout, and it seemed to me that the power of good in the universe was meant to come from a Lord that was constant through all the worlds and galaxies. This was somewhat surprising because while other series like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass are known for their religious and anti-religious themes, respectively, I hadn't heard about the religious nature of this book at all! It actually made for an intriguing combination, the scientific and mathematically-oriented minds of Mr. and Mrs. Murry and Meg, and the faith and love of a Christian God powering the goodness of the universe.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass


Before reading this book, I had heard of synesthesia, but only by having read an article or two. I don't know any synesthetes personally, so I can't judge for myself whether or not this book did a good job realistically portraying what it's like living with synthesthesia. According to some Goodreads reviews, however, it sounds like the author rather exaggerated the condition. While some people complained that the book gave the impression that synesthesia is a kind of disability, I can only say that by the end of the book, it seemed to me more like a really impressive super power. I left the book thinking that synesthesia must be a kind of blessing, a pretty special gift.

On the surface, the book serves as an introduction to synthesthesia, but it actually turns out to be something of a safe space for thinking about death. The book addresses the loss of family members and much-loved pets with both a gentle matter-of-factness and compassion. The main character, Mia, is remarkably self-aware and in touch with feelings of sadness. But the book overall is not heavy, in fact it's spotted with light humor, mostly stemming from Mia's young teen perspective or the actions of her quirky siblings. (I really enjoyed her brother Zack, even though he was only a minor supporting character.)

One thing that didn't sit right with me, though, was how Mia explored her synthesthesia without her parents' knowledge. First, she seemed to be greatly affected by the acupuncture, and probably could have benefited from having close support throughout the experience. Second, it just didn't seem right that an adult would take a 13-year-old to an acupuncturist without first touching base with the child's parents, or that an accupuncturist would accept a minor as a patient without parental consent.

Also, there was a bit about how Mia felt compelled to "cheat" on a math quiz by using her synesthesia to her advantage. I would have liked to see this story arc play out a bit more, especially since the potential was there when Mia started meeting with a math tutor. I don't know if synesthesia is recognized as a type of neurodiversity for which accommodations in school are allowed, but it seemed to me like the type of "cheating" Mia implemented was more along the lines of a technique she could use to help manage her colors in the context of math.

Besides dealing with synesthesia and grief, the book offers up a typical slice of middle school life as Mia also has to navigate friends, school work, and boys. A good read for any middle schooler, but especially for those coping with loss.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice by Khizr Khan


I am usually a notoriously slow reader, so it's noteworthy that I read this book in a mere 3 days.

I followed the 2016 presidential campaign closely, and I remember seeing Khizr and Ghazala Khan at the Democratic National Convention. Their presence was unassuming, but Mr. Khan's speech was electrifying. (The book ends with the telling of how he came to be a speaker at that convention.)

Mr. Khan is eloquent and thoughtful. His personal journey to America is a testament to American ideals. I actually felt like it was a privilege to have been given this opportunity to read about his life, and that Mr. Khan was gracious in his openness in sharing not only his personal story, but also his son, with the world. I was moved by his integrity, gratitude, and sense of duty.

Mr. Khan is the eldest of 10 children born to farmers in Pakistan. His path to becoming a Harvard-educated lawyer in America is unique and remarkable, but not unusual among immigrant stories. In reading this book, I was on the one hand completely in awe, marveling at his tenacity and resourcefulness. Yet, on the other hand, I know there are millions of other immigrant stories that are equally compelling and inspiring. This book is a much-needed window into the experiences of one immigrant, and, in my opinion, also goes to show just how much we need even more books to be eye-opening accounts of other immigrant experiences.

Mr. Kahn values education and family above all else, but the guiding principle by which he lives is his steadfast belief in the equal dignity of all people. He doesn't just talk the talk; he walks the walk, and he taught his sons to do the same.

I adored his recounting of how he met and courted his wife Ghazala, especially his observation in hindsight that the rules of propriety at the time that prohibited any political conversations early in their relationship very likely helped their relationship to develop.

Once they got to America, I was surprised at the complete lack of discrimination they experienced. I admit, I wondered if maybe Mr. Kahn was so smitten with America that he didn't recognize racism when it happened, or maybe even that his love for America was so genuine and earnest that it endeared him to everyone he met. Or who knows, maybe Houston in the 1980s was actually just a really tolerant place!

Throughout the book, Mr. Khan repeatedly returns to his favorite principles as outlined in the Constitution. He is especially fond of the 14th Amendment, which was particularly poignant to read at this time when the 14th Amendment is under attack.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

How To American: An Immigrant's Guide to Disappointing Your Parents by Jimmy O. Yang


This book was a fun read, and funny, too!

First off, like Fresh Off the Boat, this book might not be for everyone. Jimmy - usually I refer to authors by their last name, but somehow, "Jimmy" just fits; plus, I can't bring myself to call him "Yang" when I know his proper last name is "Ouyang". Anyway, maybe it's part of his comedy shtick, but he frequently idolized the "gangster rapper" lifestyle, including the objectification of women. The book includes swearing, drugs, and a whole chapter about how he worked as a strip club DJ.

I most enjoyed this book's beginning and end. The first couple chapters were devoted to Jimmy's typical immigrant experiences. As a child of Chinese immigrants myself, I could easily relate to much of his story. The last couple chapters described how Jimmy navigated Hollywood as an Asian-American, and how his roles - especially the time he spent filming Crazy Rich Asians - helped him to come to terms with his Asian-American identity. The struggle is real, and having books that explore and validate my own experiences really does make me feel empowered and visible.

In the middle, we follow Jimmy's less-than-glamorous ascent to stardom. Even while in seemingly rock-bottom type situations, he describes each episode of his life with such matter-of-factness, humor, and optimism that the book never feels too heavy. Most times I felt like I was just along for an entertaining ride.

Now, I'm a big fan of formal education - like if you want to be an actor, you can still go to college and get an acting-related degree. But Jimmy is a walking example of how a person with enough spunk, passion, and, yes, you have to have talent, too, really can approach life as one big educational opportunity with lessons to learn in every experience.