A beautiful surprise

51fb-u69shlBehind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo (2012)

Opening line: “Let it keep, the moment when Officer Fish Lips met Abdul in the police station.”

This one was tough. It took me like 6 months to read, because I could only take so much at a time. And I was just reading it. It’s unimaginable to be living it. But this incredibly researched piece of stunning non-fiction absolutely deserves it’s National Book Award (and the four other awards it won).

Author Katherine Boo married into Indian culture and became fascinated by the startling clash of affluence so close to extreme poverty that she saw in Mumbai, particularly in the Annawadi slum on the other side of the road from the Mumbai airport. For years, Katherine spent her days among the residents of this slum, chronicling their struggles and successes, their joys and pain, their complications and hopes. While obviously life in the Annawadi slum is horrendously difficult, what this book does so well is show us privileged white Americans that that’s not all it is. Katherine profiles several Annawadian families over these 250 pages, including a family with a productive garbage picking business, a young woman who hopes to become the first female college graduate from Annawadi, and her mother who plans on taking on the roll of the “slum-lord” of the community. It’s not about feeling sorry for these people. It’s about seeing their strength in spite of and because of their surroundings. It’s about noticing their humanity, recognizing pieces of them that are in all of us. It’s about realizing our complicity in creating a world where realities like these exist.

That’s not even to mention her writing, which is SO DAMN FANTASTIC, it’s breathtaking.

Everyone should read this book, but be wary of when. This is not a quick or enjoyable read, so if that’s what you’re looking for, look again. But oh-so-worthwhile.

2.5 star

 

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Attempts at Activism

51j12b62vzalIt’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired, & Get Going!, by Chelsea Clinton (2015)

Opening Line: “What’s the first thing you remember reading?”

I fell for the pretty cover design on this one. Saw it in the airport, loved the colorful dots, seemed like an inspiring title.

Chelsea Clinton (yes, that one) takes on the world with this one book. Or she attempts to, anyway. Designed as an introduction to all the major problems facing our world, she attempts to engage and inform young people so that they will take these problems on to solve them. An inspiring undertaking, indeed, perhaps a necessary one. But cover to cover, it’s a bit dry.

Broken into four parts, Clinton goes after what she sees as the four major problems facing us: poverty, equal rights, illness, and the environment. She examines each problem, providing lots of troubling statistics, in addition to a couple of profiles of young people who are combating those problems. She gives LOTS of specific ways for readers to help, ranging from telling their family and friends what they’ve learned in this book, to starting fundraisers and writing senators.

In general, it’s an impressive undertaking, and a good-intentioned one at that. It will be these young readers who will be responsible for fixing all these problems and changing the world for the better. But there are some issues with it. The first thing I noticed that I disliked was the voice. Clinton often talks directly to the reader, interjecting with personal details from her experiences. Instead of making me feel connected to the author and the problem, it felt forced and a little insincere. Also, I think this book tackled way too much. Each problem felt glossed over, and I didn’t feel like I learned much I didn’t already know. Perhaps that wouldn’t be true for her intended audience, but for me, I found myself wishing for deeper coverage on each subject.

I can see the purpose of this book. It will be great, for example, for a couple of former coworkers of mine who do a unit on activism in their 6th grade ELA classes. But past that… I’m not sure I see middle schoolers grabbing this one off the shelves and sharing it with friends.

1 star