Mini Reviews: Own Voices

I’m still behind on some 2020 reviews so it’s time for mini reviews! Thankfully last year I got caught up on my previous years’ worth of reviews so there’s just a couple more I’d like to share my thoughts on.

Today’s collection have very little to do with one another but they are all own voices-authored!

Book cover for The Ghost Collector by Allison Mills. Illustration of a graveyard with a ghost man wearing headphones and a ghost cat leaning against gravestones. A woman's face with long brown hair is at the top of the cover, her eyes aren't visible.

The Ghost Collector by Allison Mills
Middle Grade
Content warnings: death, grief, racism

I’d been looking forward to reading this one for some time because it’s written by a librarian/archivist! That role has nothing to do with the story but her school had shared the book news when it was released and I was so excited to read a book written by someone who went to a similar program as I had.

This story follows Shelley, a young Cree girl, who works with her grandmother to catch ghosts, in their hair, and help them move on. But when Shelley’s mother dies, Shelley begins to collect ghosts, hoarding them in her room as she searches for her mother’s ghost. It becomes quite a literal story about working through grief that I think worked beautifully, and I loved the incorporation of Indigenous spirituality through the grandmother’s work.

There are also subtle comments on the discrimination that Shelley and her family face – her grandmother is often sought out by police when they’re trying to track down a missing person (the author noted that she had a family relation in a similar role) but Shelley still notices that these seem to be the only times her grandmother’s gifts are welcomed. She’s young but she picks up on looks and comments that she and her family face in public and at school, which I appreciated. The author never underestimates children’s intelligence here.

There aren’t any grand statements in this story. All of these revelations feel quite subtle and just below the surface but they still work together in creating a powerful story on grief, with a gentleness I expect that is geared to its audience.

Book cover for Transcendant Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. Half pink and half black background with an illustration of a young black woman's torso turned away from the reader and knelt in prayer.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Literary Fiction
Content warnings: addiction, overdose, depression, racism

Thanks to the publisher for an e-ARC of this one! There’s been a lot of love for Gyasi this past year but this was my first by her and I went in with limited knowledge of the book. This was a really beautiful and painful story in so many different ways. Gifty, the MC, is a PhD student studying addiction after her brother overdosed when she was younger. Narrated from her point of view, we constantly come to back to issues of addiction as she tries to study whether there are ways to help.

The book also tackles two other big areas of discussion: science vs religion and the experience of immigrants in the States. Gifty’s family had immigrated to the US from Ghana before she was born and their lives and the racism they face, some instances more insidious than others, is nothing like they expected. Gifty was also raised in a religious household, her priest playing a significant role in her family’s life throughout the book, but she struggles to make sense of the science and religion dichotomy, especially as her experience of Christianity has mostly taught her to be ashamed of herself.

I really enjoyed the author’s writing and these big issues that Gifty struggles with. It felt a little harder to get a sense of her character but there’s so much she’s still working through that we really needed the whole book to get a clear view of who she is as she starts to recognize the harms done to her in her childhood and beyond. I was reminded a lot of Sammie’s post on the trauma of being Black for Shattering Stigmas, as Gifty is so entrenched in this church and Christianity from a young age that she does feel the trauma of being Black before coming to terms with her identity as a Black woman.

I did find the ending rather abrupt and it felt so off from the rest of the story. It was too neat and wrapped up based on the previous chapter so I would’ve preferred to have taken the time to get there. There was also details about Gifty’s work that didn’t feel quite right. The author mentions in the acknowledgements that she based the research off of her friend’s so there’s likely some accuracy there but Gifty is in the final year of her PhD and still doing experiments, not having written a single word of her thesis. For the PhD students I’ve known, experiments would’ve been completely wrapped up and that last year would be entirely dedicated to writing so that struck me as odd. That aside, it’s a really wonderful book if you’re in the mood for some heavier topics.

Book cover for My Conversations with Canadians by Lee Maracle. Title text is white over a photo of a person sitting with their head on their lap on tree branches laid in a star pattern. They are outside on a grassy lawn.

My Conversations with Canadians by Lee Maracle
Essay Collection
Content warnings: racism, sexism

I’ve finally read my first book by Maracle! This one was mostly a hit for me and I’m curious to check out more of her work, fiction and non-fiction. This essay collection covers a broad number of topics but it’s centered around Maracle’s experience as an Indigenous woman. She details her encounters with readers throughout her publishing career, offers her thoughts on Canadian policies and the attitudes of wider Canadian society, and shares some of the teachings of the Sto:lo people.

It’s a very personal collection as these essays are Maracle’s experiences and her opinions. But even with this personal approach, there’s a lot to learn here and a lot I’ve taken away from her examination of colonialism in Canada and even the microaggressions she’s faced on book tours.

I listened to this one on audio (a free version available through Spotify) and while I enjoyed the format, the chapter breaks were unnatural, breaking in the middle of sentences and words, so it was a little difficult to follow along, but that hasn’t affected my rating. I did find some parts unnecessary, like when Maracle suddenly talked about enjoying intercourse, it seemed as a way to make an argument in favour of same-sex couples and letting people love who they love. While I don’t argue with that statement, I think this topic could’ve been better presented without the personal approach. It felt like taking away focus to talk about her own lack of desire for sexual acts with same-sex partners. There were also some chapters that felt like they meandered a lot, serving more as memoir-like recollections rather than working towards a thesis as many of these “conversations” seemed to aim to do. Still, Maracle’s many experiences as an Indigenous woman can offer Canadians much to reflect on.

I clearly had a lot more to say about these books than I anticipated 😛 A lot of great reads here, if there were a few things that irked me.

Have you read any of these books?
What are some of your favourite own-voices reads?

Own Voices identification based on information made public by author.
Cover images from Goodreads.

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