PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksUnfortunately, this supernatural aspect of the story, though effective as a hook, dissolves rather quickly and is only referenced later in the book when necessary. It is not the power that Kirabo develops and learns to wield, though her own origin story is still compelling ... Kirabo and Nsuuta and even Kirabo’s grandmother Alikisa are treated with such care in the novel, you can almost hear the splashes and smell the earth when the two elders are dancing in the rain in the final pages ... Perhaps the most important aspect of this novel is its relevance, from the ideas of mwenkanonkano (feminism) to the importance of having a voice and representation ... As various institutions stumble through the implementation of diversity, inclusivity and equality initiatives that are being forced into email inboxes and communication chat windows, Makumbi taps the shoulders of readers lest they forget the power of being able to tell your own story. Whether it be teaching something new or overwriting something old—A Girl is a Body of Water makes clear the importance of being able to speak for yourself.
PositiveChicago Review of BooksDimaline makes it clear that when it comes to standing up for her people, she is wildly excited about the choreography of a damn good fight.
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksBrit Bennett is an author outside of time. The Vanishing Half is a novel written a century after the Harlem Renaissance. It is a clear and direct descendant of that literary heritage and is a strong entry when compared to its ancestry. Race, class, and gender discussions are wrapped in beautiful language that is confident yet compassionate toward both reader and character. Somehow, Bennett manages to take these important topics head on but cleaves away the fat of redundancy and banality. Beginning the novel in the climate surrounding the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the impact of the storytelling is undeniable, but it is not a relentless series of blows that keep the main characters from recovering nor readers from engaging ... No matter how hard [the sisters] try, they cannot escape themselves or their past and the journey to that realization is not for the faint of heart, nor is it to be missed by anyone whose heart beats for a story about being honest with yourself.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksZack’s portrayal of Odetta definitively zooms out to take in more than just her physical appearance, considering also her physical presence as an offense to those who felt she didn’t belong, ultimately supporting the statement that Odetta couldn’t be anywhere else ... Zack’s telling of Odetta’s story is heavily populated by conversations with friends, family, and contemporary musicians about her impact on the genre and the political landscape. One drawback to this approach to Odetta is that her narrative is so heavily steeped in the context of the time period. There are sections of the text that speak abstractly about the contemporary state of music and social climate such that, at times, Odetta herself feels like an afterthought. However, if there is nothing else readers come away with, it is how her musical presence was critical ... Both Zack and Belafonte had it right: Odetta’s effect on folk music and Black culture is immeasurable and deserves much attention.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksThe most important element of Taylor’s work is without a doubt his use of language. Although Wallace experiences numerous atrocities, Taylor somehow keeps us evenly paced and able to withstand the horror. Wallace has trouble expressing and even defending himself in the moment, but Taylor suffers no such failing. Wallace’s internal dialogue is razor sharp on his feelings about what’s happening ... Perhaps because it is the intersectionality of being both black and gay and existing in a community that is not accepting of either that Wallace is able to articulate his frustration so poignantly, though never asserting himself in a visibly productive way (arguably the main flaw of the material).
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksAttenberg’s attention to detail zooms in on the interpersonal relationships that are either nurtured or fractured between different pairings of people ... One microscopic flaw of this novel is the point of view transitions. Readers are able to see into the thoughts of random characters — some are inconsequential and seem almost arbitrary — and some of them turn out to be tangentially connected to the core family ... Attenberg — quite beautifully, in fact — lets us know this family is not all bruises and dark spots.
RaveChicago Review of BooksSusan Steinberg’s latest work, Machine, is a novel that upends the format’s structure from the first letter of text. Her unique style allows for the vulnerability of the narrator to easily pour through and saturate the audience. Steinberg’s writing sinks its teeth in down to the bone and refuses to release. We’re pulled into memories as murky as the water beneath the dock near which much of the story is set and left to drown in the narrator’s guilt. We come up gasping for air at the checkpoints where she \'breaks the fourth wall\' and addresses her confidants ... Steinberg’s latest novel is a text that if you only read it once, you feel like you’ve missed everything important ... but you do realize just how important it is, so you must turn back to page one immediately before it’s too late.
RaveChicago Review of BooksNick White’s gorgeous story collection, Sweet & Low, is wonderfully woven from threads of identity, sexuality, family, and heartbreak. Characters are deeply flawed and unforgettable ... Nick White captures the essence of the struggles of humanity. Death, resentment, and anger are set loose throughout these stories, but White gives readers a chance to spend time with his characters in a way that evokes empathy instead of despair.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of Books\"Monsters is a graphic novel that functions more as mixed media visual art. Ferris utilizes not just traditional comic imagery, but she also drills deeper by using paintings from Chicago’s Art Institute serving as characters and settings in their own right. Karen keeps an art diary, which acts as the format for Ferris’s story. Each page resembles a notebook that Karen uses to work through problems. Art is her sanctuary, and, when necessary, her next witness ... Aside from occasionally reaching conclusions a bit beyond her ten year old sensibilities, Karen is the perfect conduit for this story.\
Peter Handke, Trans. by Krishna Winston
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksThe old writer’s storytelling technique is reminiscent of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Sensationalizing or downplaying occurrences—from the waving of a child’s hand outside the bus to the recurring appearance of a familiar woman throughout his travels—he keeps his and Handke’s story intriguing ... Is writing an escape or not? Is the 'damned jabber' the narrator commenting on the writer’s storytelling or merely repeating the sentiment of the writer on his reasoning for writing or his feelings about having to tell the story instead of write it? The answers are deliberately hazy. Then again, that is the point. Both the writer and narrator are storytellers changing it as they see fit for the greatest impact, creating the demand for them to 'Come on, out with it! Tell us!'”
Edmundo Paz Soldán, Trans. by Valerie Miles
PositiveThe Chicago Review of Books\"Soldán astutely links the lives of these full-blooded people throughout the full-color world of Norte ... Soldán maneuvers easily between the minds of these characters, himself crossing borders into different psyches and varying states of sanity to illustrate how traumatic displacement can be. The language often flourishes even when the scene is most solemn ... the visuals are so torturous they should require trigger warnings. Nearly every one of Jesús’s crimes is graphically described from start to finish ... Its characters experience internal struggles that arise from movement and place, but their struggles are what make them more than mere characters on a page.\
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksThe Underground Railroad provides limited dialogue from the characters, but both Cora and Caesar speak plainly and think with a complexity that, if disguised in dialogue, could have cast a shadow over their nuances ... The Underground Railroad does not need to jar audiences with its gruesomeness. It manages to do that work by exposing the trauma that results from the gruesomeness ... Whitehead seamlessly ties the past to the present, turning history into a visceral experience that cannot be ignored.