July 22nd, 2016


Flying, by Carrie Jones

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

The tagline on this book is “Cheerleader Vs. Alien. Who will win?” And that’s pretty accurate. If you think, “I don’t want to read a fun book about a high school junior and her friends running around trying to figure out what’s going on with unexpected aliens and Men In Black-type agencies in their New England town!”, then this is probably not the book for you.

If that sounds like fun, though, well, it is. Mana–and this is important to me–genuinely likes her mom. She likes her friends. She doesn’t have random drama just to have random drama. Carrie Jones trusts her plot–she doesn’t introduce sniping or ill-treatment between Mana and her friends or family in order to “heighten tension.” Some books are about people from abusive families, and those books should take that seriously. But some books can be about people from loving families whose moms bake them cookies and still are managing to get up to alien-hunting shenanigans. This is one of the latter.

This actually may be the only one of the latter. But there should be more.

There is quite a lot of action, and Mana gets to rely on her strengths as a tiny acrobatic cheerleader–a flyer, the one who does the high-flying stunts–and on talents she never knew she had, when her family and friends are in unexpected danger. She is realistically sometimes confused, sometimes a little whiny, sometimes a little frustrated with herself for getting whiny, sometimes not entirely sure how to handle new situations…none of this bogging down a book that moves quite quickly. Light and, as I said, fun.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux


Langston Hughes and the RNC: the 1950s and 1960s

It’s all over but the shouting from the RNC. Wait. It was all shouting all along, and we have three and a half months of shouting left before the general. And the DNC still to come. Well, luckily for everybody there are tons more great American poets to read? I guess?

In the meantime, the rest of Langston Hughes. He was a national figure by this time in his life–commenting occasionally in verse on his position, the difficulties of reputation and the particular type of fame that comes of being a political poet and writer and particularly a Black American political poet and writer.

This is where the big projects come in, Montage of a Dream Deferred and the jazz settings Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz. The latter are so thoroughly performance pieces that while I understand why they were reprinted–this is attempting to be a comprehensive collection that I’ve read, after all–I feel that it’s almost impossible to assess them as written works. They’re an interesting thing for a poet to want to do, an interactive form. But as words on a page, they don’t work very well.

The former, though. You almost certainly know the one that gets called Dream Deferred, whose title is listed in this volume as “Harlem,” the one that starts, “What happens to a dream deferred?” It’s only one in a large sequence, one that talks about difficulty making rent, buying shoes, finding one’s way. Difficulty and triumph and…vivid small detail, is how I suppose I would put it. These are life poems, people poems, neighbor poems of Harlem. A lot of them are brief, like the straightforward Tell Me; others paint pictures of a rising 1950s urban black population, finding its way and its voice, like Theme for English B. I think my favorite out of the entire series is Deferred, which elegantly and simply encapsulates the concept. It’s very real, very human.

There’s a lot more straightforward religious poetry in this period of Hughes’ life–anyone who thought that the earlier “Goodbye Christ” meant that he was a raging atheist would have a hard time constructing the argument with the evidence provided. The politics of the time keep providing him with unfortunately ample material for commentary, as of course they would into the present if he’d lived that long, but after the war, into the ’50s, housing became increasingly important. Little Song on Housing showed with bitter good humor that integration was not immediate solution one might have hoped. And one of the poems that still could hold true for so many people, in so many situations, in today’s politics, is Impasse.

We’re still in that same impasse so much of the time. It’s a good one to end on. It’s a good one to try to get out of.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux