Nah, that’s not right. But read on for two reviews of outstanding new books.
A Review of Lucky Red (Claudia Cravens)
Released on June 20, 2023
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Lucky Red by Claudia Cravens helped me linger in that cow(girl) state of mind originally inspired by Yellowstone–then continuously fed by a whole heap of country music and whatever spinoff the Yellowstone folks throw my way.
And while Bridget, the orphaned protagonist in Lucky Red doesn’t start with anywhere near the badassery of Beth Dutton, by the time it all winds down, she’s getting there. And that’s probably what’s endearing about Bridget: she’s an absolute trainwreck for a huge chunk of the book. But, like most of us eventually do, she finds her way.
I had the absolute pleasure of listening to Claudia Cravens talk about Lucky Red in a virtual event, where she reminded me that the “sporting women” (read: whores) in westerns don’t get to tell their own story (usually). And, honestly, in most people’s imagination, given how our society is so steeped in patriarchy, it’d likely be a story about a man riding in on his horse to save the lovely lady from the whorehouse and bring her, breasts heaving with love and gratitude, into respectable society.
That is not Bridget’s story. Could’ve been. But Bridget (and Claudia Cravens) have a better imagination than that. This is a queer, feminist western if there ever was one. With one hell of a flawed protagonist.
But at the end… well, there was a lot to love about the end.
You should absolutely read it. Preferably around a campfire, if you’ve got one.
A Review of Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim (Patricia Park)
Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim, by Patricia Park, has one of the best written high school aged protagonists I’ve encountered in a long time. It’s comfortable to hang out in Alejandra Kim’s head with her–even when her thoughts are colliding with each other like bumper cars. She’s real and slightly angsty. She’s also stuck hard in the model minority myth at her Quaker private school, where almost no one knows that she’s from Queens or that her father died suddenly her junior year. And she inhabited a totally different (more boisterous, confident) personality when she was just Alejandra Kim, the Korean girl born in Queens–whose parents happened to grown up in Argentina. But even then, no one quite got her immigration story, and what it was like to try to corral all the pieces of her into something readable by American culture.
I found myself nodding along as Ale scrolled through her thoughts on the gentrification of her Jackson Heights neighborhood (including some head-scratching ideas about parenting the folks moving into the neighborhood seem to have and the sky-high price of a fancy lavender latte, which she admits is definitely an acquired taste). There’s a heap of discussion about race, and class, gender, political correctness, and racial melancholia. But none of it feels stilted or like Patricia Park is trying to teach us something through Ale’s character. The writing is never preachy, probably because Ale isn’t presented as a victim or as someone who has all the answers and is just waiting for her classmates to catch a clue. She’s struggling to understand the world around her–and find her place in it–as much as everyone else.
Park’s depiction of Alejandra as a child of immigrants is laced with tenderness, frustration, confusion, blame, and ultimately acceptance. The journey Ale takes toward understanding her parents as people is heart-breaking and tender. And as she begins to make decisions based on who she is becoming, and reckons with the pain in her past, she makes choices that she’s able to fully own–some good, some bad, but all hers.
I loved this book. I’d love to see high school classes read and discuss it–particularly classes in liberal, predominantly white high schools who might find out they have more to unpack about racial assumptions than they might believe they do. There’s always more work to be done–and Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim invites folks to do that work in a way that’s approachable, real, disarming, and just a really, really good read.
If you want to listen to Alejandra Kim (like I did; the narration is FABULOUS), you can support Bookish by listening through Libro.fm.