Oh, you guys. Remember how I promised you that I have weeks and weeks of What I’m Reading Wednesday reviews of awesome, soon to be released books?
I still do.
(Along with a few just released, because it’s summer and my kids think that mom on the computer is the perfect time to pick a fight/ask her questions/spill something on the rug/<insert your favorite distraction here>.)
As I mentioned previously, I read ALL the books on my summer vacation that had “hold ’til publication” requests forthe reviews (and the books I could review were unread). What can I say – sometimes, a book description hits your mood or something clicks and you just HAVE to read it.
I have two of those books right here.
Both of these books have their own sort of tale of perseverance, of chasing a dream, of discovering who you are, of facing difficult choices. Both look at poverty versus privilege. But the stories are very different as is the feel.
And oh my goodness I loved them both in a way that would give my favorite librarian the chills.
First up is Jennifer Weiner’s novel Who Do You Love. I’ve long been a fan of Weiner’s because she offers up characters in all their foibles and flaws, their messy lives, with humor and compassion, and honesty. The book description uses the words “modern-day fairy tale” and talks about how the lives of the main characters Rachel Blum and Andy Landis cross in “magical” ways.
They say magical, I say fate. ToMAYto, toMAHto, I suppose.
Rachel and Andy are living very different lives when they meet at age 8 in the emergency room of a Florida hospital: Rachel lives a life of privilege, well-loved and a bit over-protected by her parents, thanks to a congenital heart defect, while Andy is a poor mixed-race kid from Philadelphia who is raised by a seemingly indifferent at times single mother.
When Rachel leaves the hospital, she never expects to see him again, but in the way of fate, their lives do cross, again and again. This is a story about second chances as well as about race and privilege. What I loved was the thread that no matter where we come from or what our background is, we can be more similar that we realize. With Rachel, the stigma of the heart surgery and her mother’s over protectiveness gives her an “otherness” and a desire to just be normal. Andy shares that desire, caught between the world of his father, where his black friends think he isn’t black enough or trying to be white, and that of his mother’s family, where he is seen as white. His struggle with finding a sense of normalcy and acceptance in the face of the privilege he comes up against again and again is simply heart breaking.
With Weiner, however, characters are real and show their flaws, have triumphs and painful losses, and somehow, everything works out in the end without feeling heavily scripted.
Who Do You Love was a book that brought out the true book geek in me – reading far too late, through meals, and any time I could grab a few minutes (God bless my Kindle). Weiner offers up a roller coaster of a story that you won’t want to put down.
Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner was released on August 11, 2015 by Atria Books (I know, I know, I’m a week late on this one) so you have no excuse not to run and get it NOW. Jennifer can be found on Twitter at @jenniferweiner and on her website at www.jenniferweiner.com.
The second book that sucked me into that vortex of lost hours was Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s We Never Asked for Wings. Fan’s of Diffenbaugh’s Language of Flowers will find an equally powerful coming-of-age tale in her newest novel, but one with a very different feel. She, too, has a wonderful way of pulling you into the lives of her characters, making them feel so REAL. Her storytelling in this book is gritty and realistic, and really left me feeling anxious for the characters when I did have to put the book down.
Letty Espinoza is a troubled young mom in San Francisco working several jobs and leaving the raising of her two children, Luna and Alex, to her parents. But when her parents choose to return to Mexico – something that, as undocumented immigrants will mean they will face difficulty returning, if at all, she is forced to step up her act, take responsibility for herself and her kids, and finally become the mother she should have been. I didn’t much like Letty in the beginning but she slowly won me over as she began to grow up.
15-year-old Alex survives in a low-income area of the Bay that seems largely abandoned, and this setting flavors the desolate feeling that surrounds his life. He navigates the changes in his life brought by his grandparents seeming abandonment of them along side his first crush, Yesina, a girl who has seen her own share of tragedy and struggle. But I’m not going to give too much away – that wouldn’t be any fun, would it?
For me, Alex’s story drove the narrative – his compassion, his perseverance and his drive to succeed – which ultimately leads him to a situation unwanted and unexpected – and left me asking some tough questions.
Moody and ok, I’ll say it – riveting – it’s really a coming-of-age tale of both mother and son, and Diffenbaugh takes on headfirst the issues of illegal immigration and education as well as the struggles single mothers face here in the US in a way that will break your heart and leave you hanging on until the end.
Did you hear that sigh? This book was that lovely. And lucky you, Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s We Never Asked for Wings was released on August 18, 2015 by Random House Publishing Group. Vanessa can be found at @VDiffenbaugh on Twitter. I still don’t feel like I’m doing the story justice here, so go read it, ok?
Advanced reader copies were provided to me by NetGalley from Atria Books and Random House Publishing group in exchange for my honest review. All opinions found here are mine alone.