Book Review: A Place For Us

Author: Fatima Farheen Mirza
Published: June 12, 2018
Genre: Literary Fiction
FLW Rating: 4.5/5

First things first: I’m currently participating in the Unread Shelf Project 2018, hosted by Whitney at @theunreadshelf. This post reflects on the August Challenge, but you can look back at all the posts here

You may be thinking – another five star (or almost five star) review of A Place For Us, really? If you are, I feel you – the hype was strong for this book and I found that anticipating “hype” in a slow burn really brought the vibe down. So I want to say that this book was good, particularly for the beautiful writing and unique structure, but I would advise you to be conscious of the slowness of this book.

A Place For Us is the story of an Indian-American family. Like any family they love each other but have their moments. This family in particular, though, has the added stressers of a strict Muslim lifestyle. Being a Muslim affects a lot of their life – the clothes they wear, the choice to abstain from alcohol, the romantic relationships they can enter in to, and, importantly, the way their classmates view them. As these factors come in to play over the course of the children’s upbringing, conflict repeatedly arises between Amar and his father and the book unfolds as they confront these issues. 

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At the center of this story is a generational shift from parents to children. While the parents grew up in a primarily Muslim community, and appear to have escaped a childhood full of prejudice and discrimination, the children are growing up farther removed from the church and in a society where they constantly have to think about not just being discriminated against, but also the risk of violence against them solely for their religion. This fundamental shift, while having some to deal with religious beliefs, comes across as a human story of struggle. While I harped strongly on faith in the summary above, I want to stress that, while I do not strongly associate with any religion, I still felt that I was able to relate strongly to the religious components of the story line in this book.

To illustrate this generational shift, two key issues are at play in this book: domestic violence and the use of drugs/alcohol/opioids. In this book Amar, the youngest child and only son struggled with substance abuse, and separately, his father, struggled with psychically abusive tendencies. I’ve read a few books recently (notably The Great Alone and Ohio) that tackle these issues together, meaning that one person has issues with both substance abuse and physical abuse — typically one causing the other. I loved how this book tackled them separately, so that one wasn’t an excuse for the other.

What truly made this book stand out for me was the structure. The first few sections, while non-linear in timeline, follow a relatively straightforward, third person storyline trajectory. However the fourth flips the story on its head and features Amar’s father directly addressing the first three sections and his feelings towards Amar. It was so hard to read and be confronted with the eternal and unconditional love of a father, despite viewing him as the villain for three-fourths of the story.

The phrase “stunning debut” is, in my opinion, way overused — but it truly applies in this situation. To write with such meaning and to create such a unique structure of a book is truly inspirational, and I commend Mirza for writing with such originality. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to feel some feelings — and sympathize with those who we may have faulted in the past.

Have you read this one? What did you think?

Book Review: Chariot on the Mountain

Author: Jack Ford
Published: July 31, 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

I seriously struggle with historical fiction if I think the story is “just” a novel from a different era – for a historical fiction novel to really strike me I need to know that it’s based on a true story. So I wanted to start off this review by saying this book is based on a true story and it is an extraordinary story that you will not find anywhere else. Ford, the author, discovered this story by reading a historical plaque on a courthouse in Virginia, and went through years of research to put this story together. Point being: If it weren’t for him this story would have gone untold. Luckily, Ford is also a fantastic writer so this book is full of complex narratives that make it a full 5 star read for me.

Chariot on the Mountain tells the story of Kitty’s journey to freedom. Kitty is a slave living on a plantation in Virginia, where she had always been given preferential treatment as she was the illegitimate child of the plantation owner. But when the owner passes away, Kitty knows her future will be uncertain if she stays put. The road to freedom is bumpy road to say the least, and before anything can be decided Kitty will travel the underground railroad, return to Virginia, and become to first black woman to sue a white man.

This book deals with the topic of slavery, and let’s just be honest, there’s no gray area with slavery – we all know slavery is bad. So I was really pleased with how effective the author was at surprising me with a) how bad it was and b) how commonplace it was. There was a lot of talk about how slavery was part of the lifestyle and how the northerners just didn’t understand their lifestyle, along with the realization of how hard it would be to abolish slavery since it’s so important for the economy. (Just think about how hard it is to outlaw something like guns today! There would have been so many fierce opponents of slavery who would have lobbied hard against the abolishionists.)

The dialog in this book also added to emotional impact for me. Coming primarily from the villain of the story, there were lines such as “they’re just slaves, it’s not as if they’re humans with emotions.” At first reading this, my reaction was to feel like the writing wasn’t very nuanced, too blunt and overstated and surely noone actually thought that, right? But the more this line stuck with me, the more I’ve come to appreciate the writing style. It really drove home the point of what it would be like to be in a country where you didn’t have a single human right. Perhaps not to the same extent, or maybe so depending on your political beliefs, but this didn’t seem too far off how I expect immigrants are being treated at the border today. One thing I worried about with this book, was that it was too far in the past for me to relate to, but emotions like this, unfortunately, made this book all too relevant in this crazy times.

Beyond knowing that the story was based on true events, I also enjoyed knowing that Ford was a lawyer. I worried that the court scenes would be written in a style bordering on cheesy, but I ended up enjoying the complexities of the law that he brought in to the story, which no doubt came from his experience in the court room.

Overall, I truly enjoyed this book and am so happy that NetGalley pointed it out to me as a book I might like! I flew through it in a couple of days and always looked forward to picking it up again. It’s out on shelves now so I highly reccomend you check this one out!

[Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for the free copy of the book. All opinions are my own]

 

Book Review: Boomtown

Author: Sam Anderson
Published: August 21, 2018
Genre: American History
FLW Rating: 4.5/5

Boomtown was one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read in the last few years. While I must admit, I struggled with getting in to it, the second half picked up so much speed that I was smiling ear to ear while reading all three epilogues. I often say that I’m a lover of non-fiction, but I’ve realized recently that I’m a lover of non-fiction until it comes to the epilogue. I normally get bored with the “lessons learned” and “where do we go from here” sections, so staying engaged to until the last word brought me true joy. I finished it at a cafe during lunch and walked back to work with an extra little pep in my step!

Boomtown is, simply, a history of Oklahoma City. From it’s crazy founding, to its attempted renaissance in the 1970s, Oklahoma City has never stopped trying to become a world class city. Boomtown tells the story of Oklahoma City from the founding, to the energy industry boom, and from the 1995 bombing to the 2012 NBA finals, and it does it so well. Oklahoma City is a city that trusts in the process, and rolls with the booms and the busts.

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First of all, I want to make one thing clear – you do not need to have any prior knowledge or interest in Oklahoma City or even basketball to like this book. Sure, it would definitely help, but I’ve never been to Oklahoma City or seen a single OKC basketball game and I loved this book.

This book has so many themes, which is exactly how I wanted it to be written. I wanted to learn the full history of Oklahoma City through a series of stories. I say this mostly to admit that at one point in reading this book, I did stall and lose some hope in it (as can happen when you’re reading an ARC!). After the initial comedy of the Land Run wore off (yes, Oklahoma was literally founded by people running in from the borders and claiming a plot of land), I felt like the book lingered a little too long in this time period. Since the pattern of switching between stories hadn’t been established, I wondered if the point of the book was the founding of the city and it would just stay there for the rest of the book – well I was wrong, and soon after I had that thought, the book jumped ahead to focus on the ’50s, ’70s, ’90s, and 2010s – a much more relateable period. As it turned out, the true structure of the book was to alternate between the present and the past, where the historical stories continued to progress through time and the “present” was told as the 2012 season of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Speaking of the Thunder… Sports – they get me every time. 🙂 . This story, the story of Oklahoma City, would be nothing without a focus on sports. So many of their failures and successes as a city have a tie to sports. This book walks through the entire 2012-2013 season from preseason to the Finals, through all the ups, downs, and injuries. If you’ve ever loved Remember The Titans, The Blindside, Beartown (wink  wink), or any other sports narrative, consider checking this book out. This may look like a history of a city, but it’s also a story of a sports team, and the city that needed them.

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And finally, this book (or review) would not be complete without adressing the 1995 bombing, which killed 168 people and was the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States until 9/11.  As this event has such a strong association with the city, I expected the bombing to be a primary focus of the story. Instead the book was told with hardly a mention of it for the first seventy-five percent or so. By the middle of the book I had all but forgotten that there was a deadly bombing in the city. But as Anderson started to describe the day, I could feel my heart beating out of my chest. I love in a nonfiction when you know what is going to happen, and the suspense still gets to you. I felt this brewing and was so moved. I loved that by the time the bombing was adressed you had come to know so many characters in Oklahoma City and Anderson let you know where each of them was. It gave you an eerie sense of being there and a strong concern for these people you had gotten to know. It was, in my opinion, the strongest way this story could have been told. (Seriously, getting chills writing this.)

In closing, I just want to say that, with all nonfiction, it’s the writing that really makes or breaks it. This book was well researched and artfully compiled with so much affection for the city and particularly it’s people. There was one chapter in particular in this book that left my jaw open with admiration of the writing. It’s called Buffalo. I truly believe that if you read one thing from this book, it should be this chapter. I read it, re-read it, and then read it outloud to my boyfriend. It’s that good. I’ll leave you with this passage.

“I’m not saying that Timothy McVeigh bombed Oklahoma City in 1995 because the Buffalo Bills lost four Super Bowls in a row. […] Such a claim would be absurd. Human motives are incalcuably complex. But that Buffalo heartbreak was one of the many shadows that fell across McVeigh’s life between his unstable childhood and his perpetration of mass murder in Oklahoma City. The almost unbelieveable failure of the Bills, and the civic pain it caused, amplified his native pain.
[…]
It’s easy to pretend that sports doesn’t matter in real life, but for many millions of people it does. It matters profoundly, every day. After Super Bowl XXVII, Timothy McVeigh went looking for somewhere else to be, something else to do – something bigger, more meaningful, more real. Reality had failed him, in so many ways, so he went off to pursue his own fantasy of justice, very far from Buffalo.”

 

This book comes out on August 21st, so keep an eye out for it in the next few months!

Thanks to Crown Publishing for the free copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

Should you read Beartown?

SPECIAL NOTE: Beartown and Us Against You made such a big impression on me that I’m dedicating a week to them. Check out the other posts here:


Clearly reading Us Against you has thrown this blog for a loop! I’ve been passionately writing about Beartown, Us Against You, and Fredrik Backman himself for the past week. Nonetheless, I’ve found myself struggling to recommend this book to people around me. I’m not sure if they would enjoy the writing style, or if they would enjoy the heartwrenching nature of the story. Maybe they don’t want to read about domestic violence and feel sad and vulnerable — but at the same time maybe they SHOULD.

So to answer my own question, the short answer is – YES. But it’s more complicated than that.

Ready for the long answer?

To address the writing style that I brought up earlier — Backman said that many of his editors told him “you’re not supposed to write exactly what people are thinking.” At first, I’ll admit that the style didn’t work for me, but as the book went on, it made every emotion resonate so much stronger. I was feeling feelings while reading them on the page and the combination was powerful. Recently, I’ve seen so many Instagram reviews saying “how did Backman write exactly what I was thinking?” The people seem to like it!

But more to the meat of the issue — is the content for everyone?

When I met Fredrik Backman, I asked him if he had a favorite book – kind of expecting him to say he couldn’t choose – but he said the Beartown series was the book he was most proud of because so many people told him not to write it.

His editors told him that his audience knew what he wrote — heartwarming stories about curmudgeons — and this this would be way too out there for them. They also told him there would hate mail from the group of people he was criticizing in this book. His response was that maybe his audience should be exposed to these truths.

Backman illustrated the point by saying “Look at me. I’m white, I’m a male, and I’m a pretty big dude. I look like I could play hockey. I look like the group of people I’m criticizing and that’s the only reason I could publish this book. I could have published this book under a female pseudonym and I would have received death threats.” It was so moving to realize how right he was. (And to be clear, he has received hate mail, but no death threats to date)

Aside from the commentary on sports culture and rape, there is an underlying plotline about a gay man and how his community deals with his coming out. Backman talked about this plot line with so much love and during the signing, the man in front of me, who was gay, told Backman that he hadn’t read these books yet, but hearing him talk about them was so important to him. You could feel the sincerity in his words and the impact it had on Backman himself to hear this feedback. It was a really special moment and while my heterosexuality is never something that is attacked, I am also glad this book exists.

I think the perfect way to summarize all these feelings is actually an instagram caption that I read on my friend Molly’s page. She sums it up so well and I whole heartedly agree.

“It leaves me wondering if the obligation to write and read stories that bring (necessary) attention to the epidemic of hate and violence against anyone who doesn’t fit into the mold of the white patriarchy will ever go away. And it makes me sad that the answer to that feels, right now, like a resounding ‘no.'” – @readmollyread

So please PLEASE please read this book ❤

Book Review: The Great Alone

Author: Kristin Hannah
Published: January 30, 2018
Genre: Literary Fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

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Wow – I cannot say enough good things about this book. I ordered it back in February from Book of the Month and it took me until now to read it because I really wanted to be able to savor it. I still wasn’t sure the time was right, so I created a poll on Instagram, asking my followers to vote on The Great Alone or The Mars Room. The result was almost unanimously in favor of The Great Alone, which was just the kind of kick in the butt I needed! However, the best outcome of that poll was that my new friend Chelsea messaged me asking if I would be interested in a buddy read! I said yes, and the back and forth discussion with Chelsea ended up being so much fun and a great way to unpack this book in which SO much happens! (I will talk a lot more about that buddy read in a future post because it was such a great experience – but we’re here to talk about the book!)

The Great Alone tells Leni’s story. Leni, of course is a fictional character, but she felt so real and to me and she had such a powerful story to tell. Her mom was 16 when she got pregnant with Leni and married Leni’s father, who shortly thereafter was deployed to Vietnam where he unfortunately was taken as a POW. Years after his return, the family was gifted property in Alaska through the will of a fellow POW, and Leni, her mom, and her dad decide to take the offer and move up north. What they don’t anticipate is that while living far from the rest of society may have its perks, it also has some serious consequences. Leni’s father’s mental health struggles in the cold dark winters, and being so far from family and resources makes it hard for for Leni and her mom to find a way to survive in his company.

What I liked so much about this book wasn’t necessarily the story, but the characters. Each character was so well developed and was fighting their own battle. In life when we, and those around us, are all going through something, it can be hard for us to a) help each other and b) sort out our emotions. I thought the author gave Leni so much maturity in her ability to sift through her emotions – sadness, guilt, anger, and fear – as four distinct feelings, and also consider what others were going through as well. I can be picky about character emotional intelligence, and the author giving young characters more emotional intelligence than they would really possess, but this felt right. It made Leni a strong character, and helped the reader process the events as they were happening to Leni too.

Overall, the writing in this book was extremely readable – which is something I love, especially in a long book. I don’t want to be struggling through uniquely structured sentences for 440 pages. That has its place and time, but I was glad that I found this book to be easy reading.

The one warning I will give with this book is that it is trigger HEAVY. I know triggers are discussed a lot these days so I’ll let you know that there is a lot of domestic violence and a lot of grief. For as wonderful as this story is, it carries a heavy plotline and I felt sad for most of the book. To me, that speaks to the power of the book, but for some I know it may be too much to handle.

But back to the positives, when I closed this book, I knew I’d never forget Leni, her mother, or any of the other characters in this book. I truly spent most of a weekend reading this book – and to me it was a weekend well spent!

Book Review: Beartown

Author: Fredrik Backman
Published: April 25, 2017
Genre: Fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

First things first: I’m currently participating in the Unread Shelf Project 2018, hosted by Whitney at @theunreadshelf. This post reflects on the May Challenge, but you can look back at all the posts here

The challenge for May was to pick the book that you most recently acquired and read it before the end of the month or get rid of it! I bought Beartown in the end of April after renting it and not finishing it from the library TWICE. I knew it was a book I wanted to read and would want to keep, I just couldn’t seem to get through it in the time allotted by the library. Ironically, once I started it this time, I couldn’t put it down and finished all 415 pages of it in four days.

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My COMPLETED Unread Shelf Challenges

Beartown tells the story of a small hockey town on the edge of a forest. As the book frequently says, “Bears shit in the forest. Everyone else shits on Beartown.” The only thing that keeps Beartown going is the hockey club. And when all the work that was put in to the club by each member of the community is about to come to fruition, something happens to put everything they’ve worked so hard for in jeopardy. The community response is, understandably, very strong. And as the drama unfolds, the few who choose to risk it all for what’s right face losing their entire support system.

The character development in this book is strong. In my opinion, this is both its strength and its weakness. The first time I picked it up, I found the narration to be a little heavy handed. The tone was almost prophetic in its third person omniscient style. There was a lot of foreshadowing of how a character would act based on their pure and unchangeable personal definition — which irked me since I tend to favor more dynamic characters. At first I found this to be on the telling-not-showing side of things, and was a little frustrated by the style. Honestly, that is why, after only reading forty pages, I returned it to the library without a second thought.

However, all the character development in the exposition, comes full circle after the main event, because faced with such strong personal dilemmas, each person is forced to look inside themselves to pick a side. As the reader, you’re already inside of each character’s head, and are able to dive even deeper in to the conflict with that knowledge in tow.

Without getting in to any of the details, I thought the ending was really well done —  for a trilogy. I have SO many questions, but got enough closure to wait a month for the next installment to be released! (Us Against You comes out on June 5th!)

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Book Review: I’ll be Gone in the Dark

This past weekend I listened to the new hot book of the moment on a long solo road trip I was taking – keep in mind that at the time, only five days ago, this was a book almost noone had heard of. I had a long drive after a long first week of work at a new job, and thought I needed something really gripping to keep me awake in the car. I started browsing my Scribd app for options and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark came up. I had seen a few positive reviews on #bookstagram, so I gave it a shot. Six hours later, after driving through Pheonix-area traffic and arriving at a friends house, I should have been racing out of my car- but honestly, I didn’t want to stop listening to this book! And thus began my relationship with this book that has come to take over all of my thoughts.

I would normally skip to the synopsis and my thoughts on the writing at this stage, and we’ll get to that, but I need to state the elephant in the room first. I was so haunted by this book for days, and now that the Golden State Killer has been caught, I am full of so much relief and am ready to talk about it.

 I’ll be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer is a true crime memoir retracing the steps of the posthumous author, Michelle McNamara. McNamama passed away in her sleep in 2016, before completing the book. Luckily for us, her husband pushed through and got the book finished and published to help raise awareness of the Golden State Killer and publish the findings Michele had pulled together. The book tells the stories of each of the attacks – it tracks their escalation in nature, and pinpoints the defining traits that link each one to the GSK. It explains criminology tactics like profiling, using DNA, fingerprinting, and geolocating. It takes you right along with McNamara through all her false leads and innocent suspects and also successes.

Truthfully, I felt every attack when I was reading this book. I cringed and tried to close my eyes (but I was driving, so I didn’t). I wanted it to stop but I had to get to the next clue. After arriving back home from my weekend away, I didn’t rush to finish the last 30 minutes of the book because, being back in the comfort of my Golden State home, I couldn’t stand thinking about this creep who may still be out there. I didn’t sleep well for the my first two nights back home. The first night I just kept imagining being woken up with a flashlight. Can you think of anything worse? Except of course what would come next. The second night a dog in a neighboring house barked for over an hour – an annoyance on a normal night, but enough to cause serious concern when you remember that the Golden State Killer wasn’t deterred by barking dogs. I told myself to forget the facts, that he probably died long ago, and while I’m sure my brain would have listened over time, the extreme relief I felt when he was caught the next day was so real. Last night, I slept like a baby.

I would like to say THANK GOD THEY FOUND HIM TWO DAYS AFTER I READ THE BOOK, but that doesn’t give McNamara enough credit. What she did in contributing to the knowledge in this case shouldn’t be understated and I don’t think the timing is really that coincidental.

So my takeaway – this is a real true crime book. The descriptions are not sugar coated so if you pick this up, you will be reading about murder and sexual assault. McNamara does it tactfully though, and while I felt the fear, I never found her writing to be over the top gruesome. So, my advice is that if you are a true crime lover, read this book and prepare to be blown away. AND BONUS: the killer is caught so you should hopefully be able to sleep well at night!

 

Enjoy!

Book Review: An American Marriage

Author: Tayari Jones
Published: February 2017
Genre: Literary Fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

I went in to my February Book of the Month selection thinking I should skip the month, and would ONLY get a book of The Great Alone was an option. Fast forward to reviewing the choices, and I couldn’t turn down An American Marriage once I read the description. It sounded like a story that I needed to read if I was going to understand the America we live in today. This may sound dramatic but incarceration and racism, particularly in the South, is a topic that has gotten me fired up in the past few years. For more on that topic you should definitely read Hell is a Very Small Place by Jean Casella. Anyway, I read the following description and decided I had to have this book:

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined.

Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward—with hope and pain—into the future.

From the description, I gathered that the book would probably be heavy, but I couldn’t have anticipated how hard hitting it would be. It may be my age (28 to the characters’ early 30s) and relationship status (living with my boyfriend of a few years 🙂 ), but this book hit home so hard. At my stage in life I spend a lot of time dreaming of my future – the house I’ll hopefully own and the children I’ll hopefully raise. I can only imagine being a few years down the line – a newlywed couple with a house they bought together and kids on the horizon – and then having the rug ripped out from under you and told to put everything on pause for 12 years because of a false accusation.

The writing structure was unique, but it really worked for this book. The first hundred pages or so are written as an exchange of letters between the newlyweds, and then it transitions to a multiple narrator style for the rest of the book. This change could have been abrupt but I found it worked really well in this case!

Honestly, I don’t have anything negative to say about this book, except only read it if you’re willing to experience all the unfairness of today’s world.

If you want to join BOTM  and experience great books like this that may otherwise not be on your radar, use my referral link for a discount on your first month!

Review: Pachinko

Author: Min Jin Lee
Published: January 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction
New York Times 10 Best Books 2017
FLW Rating: 4/5

Pachinko is a book that I will always remember, maybe not for the story, but for the history lessons I learned from it. This may just be me, but I feel like when it comes to history I tend to stick to similar cultures – American, European, maybe Russian or African at times, but very rarely do I study Asian history. Almost two years ago, I went to the Chinese American museum in New York City, and was blown away at how that population suffered upon immigrating to the US. It’s with this self awareness, that I’m so happy that I read Pachinko and that it is a New York Times Top 10 Notable Book for 2017. But I digress, Pachinko is a wonderful story set in Korea and Japan that spans almost the entire 20th century.

The story begins with a teenage girl, Sunja, who is living in the Bansu peninsula of Korea. The country has been largely oppressed by Japan who is beginning its quest to take over the region, using Korea as a stepping stone to China. Sunja lives with her mother, who, as a recent widow, provides for her family by running an inn full of interesting characters. But as Sunja grows up and moves away from the inn, she is forced to persevere – through hunger and poverty and segregation of many types. Sunja is an inspiring protagonist and as her family grows and moves, you feel yourself growing with them.

My favorite thing about this book, is of course the history, but beyond that I loved the writing. When I finished reading, I felt like I was going to mourn the loss of a dear friend (not a spoiler of the ending, just a reflection of my connection to this book), and so I kept turning the pages to the authors note. What I learned is that Min Jin Lee moved to Japan when her husband accepted a job, and she spent a lot of her time interviewing locals to prepare for this book. She had been working on the story for so many years, and wanted to make sure that it was exactly right. I think this anecdote is the purest example of what makes this book so moving and personal – the time and attention and care for the people it portrays just reflects how genuine Lee’s writing was.

While the plot may come in second to the characters and the history, it moves at the just the right pace, with just enough action to keep you turning the page. I would recommend it to someone looking for a heavier-novel or a lighter-nonfiction.

Review: Missoula

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
Published: 2015
Genre: Non-fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

A couple months ago, I had a conversation with a coworker about some of our favorite narrative non-fiction authors and Jon Krakauer was at the top of that list. So the next time I found myself in a bookstore, I decided to check out out what books he had written aside from Into Thin Air. I posted a photo of his book Missoula and that photo became my most popular post by far in terms of comments. So many people said that they read it, were so affected by it, and that I should absolutely read it next. I requested it from the library and read it in two days over Christmas break – not exactly cheery Christmas reading, but when the writing is as good as this was, it’s easy to make an exception.

In Missoula, Krakauer tackles the tough issue of rape on a college campus. Most rapes that occur in the US today happen in private homes between acquaintances, making the cases notoriously difficult to prosecute, causing even more trauma for the victim.

Krakauer follows the cases of two women who decide to pursue charges against their alleged rapists. He documents their stories from the first friendly interaction, all the way through the justice system proceedings. For brevity, some sections of the court proceedings were left out, but the latter half of the book feels as though the reader is a fly on the wall in the court room, so crudely exposed to the arguments of both the prosecution and the defense. The language used is blunt because it is factual – no euphemisms are used to soften the blow of accused actions. I think this language and the unrelenting use of it throughout the court proceedings are what cause many readers to cringe and warn others about the challenges associated with reading this book.

However, as Krakauer is so famous for, he masterfully weaves together the experiences of these two women to tell their stories in a way that isn’t dry nor boring. I felt captivated and invested in the outcome of the cases, which kept me flying through the pages the whole time.

Missoula is thoroughly researched and rich in statistics – statistics that I wish more people knew. One of the facts often cited about rape is that 45% of rape accusations are fabricated. Krakauer, through his research, discovered that the two papers which cited for this statistic were debunked soon after publication. The true statistic of false accusations ranges from 2-10%. Similarly, a DOJ study found that 2% of women in America experienced rape, however a more inclusive study conducted by the CDC found that the number is a much more staggering 19.3%. And worst of all, if someone is raped in this country, the rapist has a 90% chance of getting away with no penalty while the victim will suffer from a lifetime of psychological effects.

There are many dimensions of this book worth exploring – from the role of the local prosecutors, to the varying obligations of the prosecution and defense in the court room, to the role of the universities, but it would take too much time to dive in to them here. While these topics may seem very technical, Krakauer makes them a part of the story, so that they are both understandable and interesting to the reader.

I would highly suggest Missoula to another reading looking for a social justice narrative non-fiction read – or really anything to make you feel engaged and fired up.

Have you read it? Let me know below in the comments!