The Nitty Gritty: A Short History of Women

Holy Good Lord.

My feelings about this book are complicated at best. If you’d asked me any time over the past several weeks (and yes, I actually stretched out the reading of this novel for w-e-e-k-s, even though its only 237 pages) what I thought, I’d have told you I hated it. With oomph. And some cuss words.

A Short History of Women stretches from 1880 to 2007 and follows the female lineage in one family, as they navigate womanhood and its complexities. And, let’s be honest, there are plenty of complexities to being a woman. The book was broken into sections specific to a woman (and a time) in the lineage: The Suffragette, The Professor, The Junior Leaguer, The 80s Power Exec, and The Yale Freshman.

Ultimately, I suppose the trouble started because the sections written from the perspective of The Suffragette and The Professor (The Suffragette’s daughter) felt so performative. I just kept thinking, “You aren’t Virginia Woolf, lady,” Which may or may not be a fair critique. (I love Virginia Woolf, for what it’s worth. And admitting that I felt this way about the first half of the book makes me feel not-real-smart. And yet.) I couldn’t find any thing to grab onto in those chapters. They felt empty and pointless. Maybe that was the point? Woman’s life as a void? A search for meaning and purpose? Maybe.

I finally started vibing with the book when we got to the next generation (The Junior Leaguer). The exploration of her journey toward self-realization happens when she’s older–in her 70s maybe. She was a housewife of the 60s & 70s (which, to square with my world view/experience, put her right between my grandmother & my mother). I fell in love with the plight & fight of First Wave feminists in college–and this character was all of the plight and none of the fight. Like she was bewildered by her own existence: “I am a hollow bone.” It was poignant and sad. And hers was a fight against futility that seemed familiar–like maybe I was raised to be that person and escaped at the last minute.

But the best part about her was the fight she found in herself toward the end of her life. The chaos she created in her own little world, simply to feel alive. I’m a sucker for women coming to realizations later in life. The idea that it’s never too late to discover who you really are. And she talks about rage a lot (which is something I uncovered in myself only after I became a mother–an odd paradox, but a truth. And I love being a mother, so the rage was particularly both unwelcome and potent).

And, toward the end, the exploration of the mother-daughter dynamic, the push and pull of closeness and separation, the painful and intriguing knowledge that all human beings remain in some way unknowable and mysterious, no matter the love in which you hold them… I fell completely in love. With the characters. With their shortcomings. With how much they wanted. And how much they might have. Or not.

Everything seemed possible toward the end. An unfurling of possibility and self-determination. A breaking open.

I still hated the first part of the book. But the slog was almost worth it for the way the end made me feel. That push and pull toward the characters–the complexity of being drawn toward the things I want/value in my own life and wanting to banish or deny the feelings/experiences I don’t want/wish I didn’t have.

It most assuredly has made me think about being a woman, what I want to carry forth and leave behind, and what I hope to pass to my own daughter. Maybe that’s enough.

I’m Improbable? No, You’re Improbable!

My current life is highly improbable. Maybe that’s why I find it so beautiful. It’s a bit of a mystery to me how I got here. But, yet, here I am.

From the time I was 8 years old, adults constantly nudged and prodded me toward leadership roles. But I was having none of that. I had no intention of leading anyone anywhere. Because, not only did I not think I was capable, I also didn’t want to be seen. Other kids, they were smarter, more popular, more stylish, more together… I just wanted to settle into being (relatively) smart, blending into the background. Leadership takes confidence. And all I was confident of was that I was the world’s biggest dork.

Even in college, I chose the path of least resistance–for my studies at least. I opted to major in literature, with the idea that I’d teach high school English. Not because I really wanted to teach. I just couldn’t think of anything else I might be good at. Which is about the world’s worst reason to be a teacher. But it seemed accessible and didn’t require much vision on my part. (It would’ve been a disaster, by the way. Teaching really is a calling. And I did not have it. They would’ve eaten me alive).

But somehow a few of my undergraduate professors convinced me that grad school was a good idea (my parents seemed less sure. They though perhaps I should just go on and get a job). Grad school was both a good idea and all kinds of humbling. And, concurrently, I was navigating my path toward addiction at breakneck speed. It took me 6 years in total to get my Masters degree. It’s supposed to take 2. It took me a hella long time to pull my shit together enough to write that thesis. But I did it.

And then I quit. Without perusing my doctorate. Not because I didn’t want it. I still want the damn thing. But because I knew I’d have to contend with folks smarter than me in my classes and later compete with said smart people for a job.

Path of least resistance.

I took various communication jobs I hated. They paid the bills. I was okay at them. I didn’t really want to do any of them.

Then I taught writing at the University of South Florida. I was pretty good at it. But more importantly to me, I loved it. I loved the students. Loved my colleagues. Loved mentoring and working on the textbook. I felt totally alive.

But, when the director encouraged me to get my PhD so I could move beyond adjuncting (which is a ton of work for an itty bitty amount of pay, and virtually zero professional recognition), I said no. Because I didn’t think I was worth the investment. It would’ve cost too much (even though I was spending thousands and thousands of dollars a year to drink myself into oblivion). I didn’t want to move where the tenure track job might take me. But really, I just didn’t believe I deserved more than I had.

After I got sober, after I gave birth to our daughter, when I was ready to remake myself (career wise), I knew I wanted to write. Not teach people how to write. But actually write words on a page, which ideally folks would pay me for.

The problem?

I hadn’t worked in the field in a decade.

So, I took a contract job writing about hangers. Luxury hangers, to be exact. No, not airplane hangers. You’re thinking too exotic there. Hangers to hang one’s clothes upon.

I was writing SEO content, so I had to carefully consider words to describe and refer to hangers–but I couldn’t use the same word too often or the search engines would flag the content. It was like a game: a thousand ways to describe a hanger.

No one said it was an exciting game.

For these efforts, I earned approximately $2 an hour.

But, I’m nothing if not stubborn. So I kept at these weird contract gigs, earning about $50 a week until I had some writing samples collected. Which was a crucial part of the plan. Because, when a friend called with a potential gig with a multinational client, I had writing samples to send her–even if they were about those godforsaken hangers.

I got the gig.

To be clear, the only reason I got this gig, which in turn led to another friend offering me a gig with her agency–thus kicking off my writing career–is because my friend took a chance on me.

Every writing job I got after that fell into my lap. Someone would refer a friend or a client to me. Or hand me a lead to pitch. I brought approximately zero percent of my business in on my own.

Let’s be real clear here: this is not a humble brag. This is me telling you that even when I was doing something I was good at, I did not have the confidence to market myself or my craft. At all.

After 3 years or so, I’d collected enough steady clients providing me with ongoing work and leads for new work that I finally started making some decent money writing.

Just in time for me to decide I didn’t want to do it anymore.

Which sounds bananas, right?

But, even though I was good at writing and I generally enjoyed doing it, I just couldn’t see this being my long-term path. It just didn’t resonate and bring me joy the way I’d thought it would. I suppose, ultimately, I didn’t feel fulfilled. Which turned out just fine, because then I got this wild bookstore idea.

Let’s review real quickly, so we’re all on the same page: I’m the same kid that refused any sort of stab at leadership (informal or otherwise) because I believed I was too dorky to be effective. If I was going to put myself out there at all, I relegated myself to runner-up position, not the spotlight. I quit grad school without pursuing a PhD, not because I wasn’t interested but because I might fail if I had to compete. I’d carved out a niche for myself as a writer, but could’t ever find the confidence to market myself.

Obviously, I’ve got some real risk aversion going on here.

And yet. I knew.

When I told my partner, Simon, that I wanted to open a used bookstore in EAV, and he responded with enthusiasm instead of taking my temperature and tucking me in for a long nap, I knew. I knew this, this was the right thing.

I had no zero clue how I’d get from the inception of the idea to an actual brick and mortar store. I didn’t have any business or retail experience to speak of.

And still.

I’d finish one step in the process, look around, and ascertain the next right thing. And then I’d do that.

All the toxic things I’d always believed about myself, all the reasons I’d fabricated about why I couldn’t do whatever… I just kind of said fuck it and did exactly what I wanted to do. Exactly what felt right.

It was like a switch flipped.

I definitely got pushback from some grown-folk I respected who I thought would support me. They did not. In fact, they actively discouraged me. I did it anyway.

Not because I am strong. But because I was tired of limiting myself. Tired of being afraid of failure. I was tired of a half-ass stab at life.

And so.

I opened myself to all the encouragement I received–from people I knew and people I didn’t (yet). I let myself believe that my little contribution to our southeast Atlanta community would be met with goodness and support (it has been). And I finally tuned out the inner voice that tells me I am not enough–and listened to the Universe as things fell into place one at a time and I received confirmation after confirmation that YES. This is right. This is what you are called to do. Now go the hell forth and do the damn thing.

And so, with the help of so many good souls who sent money, and good vibes, and donated books and helped in huge and small ways, I now have this bookstore–that is so much bigger than me. That brings joy–and books!–to other people. That is the calling I’ve been looking for my whole life.

Because I got out of my own way and opened myself up to the possiblities.

It’s improbable that this risk-adverse human would own her own bookstore. But the improbable has turned out to be just what I needed.

Which is to say, if I can do this thing, anyone can do anything.

Note: I saw Glennon Doyle’s post (linked above) come across Facebook last night, and it made me laugh–but it also made me think about the ways in which my story is a bit improbable, too. Maybe we’re all improbable–and that’s the magic of it all.

Book Nerd Love (a Thank You)

Almost 2 years ago, I got this wild idea to open a bookstore.

What could be better for an extrovert with an immense enthusiasm for both people & books, right?

Except that I tend toward the risk-adverse. And I have a well-documented history of sticking with what I’m good at. Running a business? Well, that was uncharted territory…

Opening a bookstore involved writing a business plan (I resist even making a to-do list), figuring out funding (I’d rather eat a bug than think about finances 90% of the time), and securing a commercial space (a daunting task requiring contracts and commitment and other scary stuff).

If I’d attempted to embark on this bookstore adventure at any other point in my life, I wouldn’t have gotten past the daydreaming stage. But an incredible alchemy spiritual lessons I’d internalized from some folks who don’t even know they are spiritual teachers and the pull of committing to a neighborhood like EAV and putting down roots to serve the community–well, it made me brave(r).

And, really, the Universe kept nudging things into place to bring this little venture to life. Every time I got nervous or wondered what the hell I was thinking, another piece would magically just fall into place. To the point that opening a bookstore felt like a calling–an answer to a question of community and place, a real labor of love.

From its inception, so many folks pitched in to make Bookish happen. In big ways and small ways, they offered support, money, encouragement, connections. When the Grand Opening finally happened, and the store was packed with southeast Atlantans–most of whom I didn’t even know yet–I felt it… that knowledge that community spaces are always bigger than the people that run them. And that Bookish really was going to be a place centered on connection and community.

That connection, and the dedication of loyal customers to spreading the word about Bookish, is what has carried us through this pandemic. We’ve been delivering books to people’s doorsteps since we closed to the public on March 15th. We’ve Facetimed with our customers to show them what we’ve got in stock that hasn’t made it on the website just yet (pivoting from zero online presence to getting an e-commerce site up & in a groove has been something real special). We’ve texted recommendations (complete with pictures!) to customers looking for books to keep their kids entertained or something they can escape into to shut out the pandemic world for just a bit. We’ve ordered (and sold) what feels like a metric ton of antiracism books. And we’ve fielded special orders through just about every communications means possible (except carrier pigeon).

People have rallied around Bookish, and we’ve been happy to respond by keeping the community in books throughout the pandemic.

The bottom line is Bookish has been fortunate, and I know it. And I’m so very grateful.

So, when the air conditioner broke just over a week ago, I figured it would suck but I could figure it out. And then our trusty AC guy called with the repair bill. I knew it was going to be pretty shitty when he asked if I was sitting down.

Damn.

When the number came in at over a thousand dollars, I cussed the folks who leased me a building with an 20+ year old AC unit, and I railed against commercial leases in general (you really don’t want to get me started on this particular topic. It makes me a tad stabby).

And then I thought back to 2 of my favorite customers who, on separate occasions completely independent from each other, made me promise if finances got dire I’d ask for help.

I suck at asking for help.

But staring this AC bill in the face didn’t leave me a whole lot of wiggle room.

I thought, when I posted the GoFund Me to Keep Bookish Cool, that I’d raise a couple hundred dollars. Which would at least put me in a financial position that felt less precarious. It was a relief just to consider not having to swing the whole bill. I felt lighter.

And then the donations started coming in. Some in $10 increments. Some closer to $100. Every single one felt like a tremendous gift. I watched the number steadily rise. And I kept blinking back tears. Because what was even happening?!? I started looking at the names of donors… and they were my neighbors, my customers, people from Parkside (hey, Pandas!), folks from Burgess-Peterson Academy, people I know well, and people I don’t. But all of whom I now love. Because within a few hours the GoFundMe was 100% funded.

The amount of gratitude I feel isn’t easily quantifiable. To ask for help and have the whole community rally around me has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life.

It’s the most clear affirmation that Bookish truly means something to the community–that it really is so much bigger than me & my dream. And that investing in community is 100% where it’s at.

Not that I ever really doubted… but still.

So, for every friend (whether they be long-distance or an ATLien, new or old), every customer (regular or less frequent flier), every person who loves the idea of Bookish even though they’ve never been in the door, every EAVer who supports local business always–because it’s what we do, every single soul who donated even a dollar to this campaign–THANK YOU.

Everyone needs a bit of hope every now and again. And I don’t think I knew how much I needed y’all’s light until you gave it so freely.

The love that poured in through this GoFundMe has buoyed me. And it’s also paid for an AC repair AND July’s rent.

I am humbled. I am grateful. So from one book nerd to another: THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of Capitalism in America–A History

I was in the library, minding my own business, when Capitalism in America: A History called out to me. No kidding. I saw it and tried to walk away. But I was pulled back to the shelf—completely against my will.

I am whole-heartedly uninterested in economics. And I’m skeptical of capitalism, in general. Also, it was written by Alan Greenspan, so I figured I’d die of boredom before finishing all of its 450 pages. 

Good news! I’m still in the land of the living. And I couldn’t get enough of this book. It’s strong history component keeps it infinitely readable. Which, co-author, Adrian Woolridge likely deserves the credit for—since he’s a historian and a journalist. Capitalism in America broke down the basics of the upward and downward trends of a capitalist economy in a way I could digest without my eyes glazing over. 

But the best part was that the argument so skillfully posited in the book ran counter to some of my most deeply held beliefs. So, it did what great books should do: it made me think and question my position. Ultimately, it made me want to know more and prompted a desire to seek out an alternative viewpoint to Greenspan’s. Which means reading more about economics. By choice. How very odd.

In case you couldn’t tell, I loved this one. It’s a great primer on both American History & economics. And it’s surprisingly engaging. And you’ll feel smarter if you read it. Pinky swear.

For The Love of Words

I spent the last 2 days hanging around writers, booksellers, and publishers.

I think, as humans, one of the very best things we can do for ourselves is find our little group of like-minded weirdos. Everybody is weird (some prefer “unique,” but whatever). Being in a group of similarly weird people makes you feel connected and understood. You don’t have to explain yourself, or search for just the right words to make someone understand your point of view. Your Weirdo Tribe is just going to GET IT.

Me, I walk through the world thinking about words about 85% of the time. See, weird. But I’m a writer and an aspiring bookseller–that’s, like, ALL the words.

But 2 things happened during my sojourn with these bookseller/writer types that gave me that blissful feeling when you see something of yourself in someone else–when the very innermost parts of you feel represented and seen:

#1: One of the presenters from Southern Fried Karma (“a multi-media production company developing projects in music, films and books”–but c’mon, isn’t that just the best name?!?) started talking about the power of books to establish community. Because we know that reading builds empathy. And empathy paves the way for community and connection. The more you read, most often the wider your worldview. The more you see similarities and understand the way other people experience the world, the less strong your impluse to “other” people. The more likely you become to reach out, to seek diverse communities, to support people–even those seemingly unlike yourself.

And that’s precisely what the dude from SFK was expressing when he told the story about white supremacists coming to his small, Georgia town to have a rally–and the black and white communities uniting to keep out the white supremacists, creating a space where hate could not thrive. And as he talked about the power of books to create this kind of empathy, to unite two seemingly disparate communities in rural(ish) Georgia, he began to tear up.

And OH. MY. GOD. Yes.

I tear up when I talk about books all the time. Because they are so powerful. And stories–every story–can change the world (that’s why the tagline for Bookish is “Every Story Matters.”) And hell yes, that’s something to get emotional over.

We need change. Books ARE that change. We just need to get them into the hands of the people and remind them about the magical ability of stories to change lives.

#2: On the Bus Tour of Atlanta Bookstores, I met an author from North Carolina who’s debut novel is coming out this Summer. That’s a BIG DEAL. We chatted about how tough the writing process can be (there are no bon-bons involved. It is NOT, in fact, a cakewalk). And I gave her the brief rundown about the progress on my middle grades novel. Honestly, I’d never talked to someone who was just a short stretch ahead of me on the road to becoming published. Most folks I meet are either established authors… or they are going to write an book someday. But this woman had just emerged from the trenches of rewriting, revising, and editing… and now she had a BOOK that other people were going to READ. I just found it all so hopeful. Like maybe it would happen for me, too.

The next day, the same woman was a presenter at the conference I attended. She spoke about the blurry line between memoir and fiction that is autofiction. And that was amazing in and of itself, because I’ve been thinking about memoir writing, but hesitating because–for real, y’all–once upon a time, I drank so much that my memory isn’t entirely trustworthy. But autofiction opens up a whole new world where things can be true AND not true. Whoa.

But, also, in describing the ways that readers react to autofiction (often by trying to determine how much of the fiction is “true” and how much authority you really have two write about certain themes), she shared part of her story with us. And I swear, it was just like my story. And nothing like my story. And the things she said made me feel so visible, and I thought she was so brave to have shared them, that I ran right up to her afterwards to give her a hug. Because how often does someone tell your story that isn’t your story and remind about so much of what was and what isn’t but what always is?

Rarely. And oh my Lord, is it a gift.

Stories are so much bigger than us. They take on a life of their own. They reach people in ways we can’t begin to fathom. And they do change lives. Hell, they can change the whole world.

(And, yes, I totally cried the whole time I wrote this. Whatever.)

Let’s Get Stuff DONE

Productivity has been taking up a lot of my brain space lately.

I know. I know. Snooze fest.

But really, it’s more about life management. And coping. Just stick with me.

I’m relatively new to planning anything in my life. I totally wish I was kidding. But I’ve always had some sort of ad hoc organization system in my head–and resisted putting anything on paper. Or into the ether on my new fangled ‘puter.

But 2019 brought me into the land of the organized with an Ink + Volt Planner (courtesy of my best friend, who really gets me, you know??). And I am totally getting shit done. It’s a miracle.

But, I’m also learning about my own work flow. And my need to shift focus when I get stuck on a project. Which means that things don’t always go exactly as planned. And that’s okay. (Right?!?)

Yesterday, I had big plans to knock out a chunk of client work. But first, I needed to clear out some of the books taking over my house. (For those who haven’t been following along, there are 3 major things going on over here: starting a used bookstore, freelance writing, and editing a book manuscript).

The books have infiltrated the kitchen! Send reinforcements.

I started on the books first thing in the morning. And totally got sucked in. Sorting and boxing the books is a process. It involves taking all the books out of the boxes I brought them home in, sorting them into categories, wiping them down with a magic eraser, scraping stickers off of them & removing goo, and reboxing them.

It looks absolutely nothing like this.

Simon, my sweet, long-suffering husband, works in the room where the books wait to be sorted and boxed. That means he’s always stepping over boxes of books to even get to his desk. So, while he was out of town for work, I really wanted to clear some stuff out of that room. Because marriage.

I was making real progress. Boxes to be taken to the storage unit started accumulating by the door. Then I looked at the time and realized I should have already started the client work*. But I also knew that, if I shoved the books back in the room without completing my sorting and reboxing task, I’d feel defeated. Like I’d wasted hours and hours and got nothing done. And Simon would still come home to a workspace that was a flaming hot mess. So, I ignored my original plan and stuck with the books. Until 11:30 pm.

Photographic evidence of the weird assortment of randomness that goes along with boxing the books: scraped stickers, a skull eraser, sandpaper, and an old hotel key used to scrape said stickers.

What’s currently blowing my mind: I feel really accomplished even though I totally blew off something on my to do list. Whoa.

Here’s something else to add to my current mind scramble: I’ve been getting up each day at 5 am to revise my book manuscript. And it’s been going brilliantly. Until yesterday. When I became convinced I was a fraud that shouldn’t even be allowed to write the copy on the back of a cereal box. Everything about the manuscript felt hollow and lame.

So, I left it alone this morning. I purposely slept in until 6:45 am.

Wha???? BUT THAT WASN’T IN THE PLAN. (Obviously, spontaneity is an issue for me. I’m working on it)

This book I’m working on is kind of a big deal to me. It’s middle grades fiction. And I love it.

And making the commitment to revise it every day felt–and still does feel–right. But I’d reached a point in the narrative that wasn’t well executed in the initial draft. So it needs a lot of work. Which requires a whole new level of focus. And I’m gonna need to regroup for that. And look at it fresh. The story and the characters deserve that. Hell, I deserve that.

So, I didn’t touch it today. Instead, I’ve had two relatively leisurely cups of coffee and am about to get around to that client work I meant to do yesterday.

So, yeah, work flow and mini-burnout and getting shit done… That’s what’s been up over here. I’m digging being in a place in my life where enough is going on that I have to learn to strike a balance. It’s carefully managed chaos. But it’s mine. And I kind of love it.

*No clients were blown off in The Epic Sorting of the Books. It was a self-imposed deadline. I’m WAY too much a Virgo to ever miss an actual deadline.

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

Stephen King has been a favorite of mine since I was 12. I was spellbound then, as I am now, by his masterful storytelling (I mean, c’mon, The Shining is second to none). I fell in love with his horror stories, but I’ve come to realize that he can write anything. And that’s real talent.  

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams offers a collection of Stephen King’s short(ish) stories. The bizarrely imaginative plots range from a monster car (which is very different than a monster truck, trust me) to an ill-fated fireworks display. My favorites, though, were about an otherworldly Kindle and a sanity threatening Cookie Jar. Really.  

Each story has a brief intro, where King explains his inspiration for the story (literary or otherwise). I love that these intros acknowledge that other writers have influenced King’s craft over time… and none more so than the ones he really immerses himself in. Which is likely why so much of the creative work I’ve done recently is heavily Stephen Kingesque. He’s the kind of storyteller whose style and way of envisioning the world colors your own reality. Or at least it colors mine.  

I get drawn back to King for the power of his stories but I stay because he’s a magician with words. I didn’t love every story in this collection. But the ones I did love return to my consciousness over and over again. They have staying power. And they are something to aspire to. 

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I pulled this novel out of a stack being cleaned, sorted, and packaged for the bookstore. I try not to do that very often. If I did, we’d be inundated with books  (we already are, truthfully). But I’ve heard about this book since high school, and somehow managed not to have read it yet. So, out it came.

I guess I expected fireworks. The book is pretty famous, after all. But it took me a minute (or a few chapters) to get into it. And then, I was in.

It’s not a page-turning, wait with baited-breath kind of story. It is honest. And uncomfortable. It’s sweet and rough, gut-punching and tender. It’s human. Painfully and beautifully so.

What makes A Tree Grows in Brooklyn so brilliant–and powerful–is the unflinching deconstruction of deeply held notions about poverty, simply by describing daily life for the working poor. Smith constructs a compassionate (but still relatively neutral) narrator to traverse class customs and behaviors, breaking down stereotypes and offering the reader insight.

Francie, the child of an alcoholic father and a work weary mother, feels injustices deeply. She can also get “drunk” on a flower or a perfect night sky. My favorite line in the book is Francie’s: “The last time of anything has the poignancy of death itself.”

Yes! I’ve felt this my whole life, but I’ve never known anyone else to give voice to that feeling. Until now. And that might be one of the best gifts of a good book.

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of The Book of Qualities

A sweet friend gifted me this book. Out of the blue. Because he thought I should have it.

The gesture made me a little teary. But, page by page, it meant even more that he’d chosen me for this book. Because it’s lovely. It speaks with such a gentle honesty.

It’s a treasure, this book. I loved it so much that I wanted to draw it out, to savor it bit by bit. So I limited myself to two–maybe three–qualities per day. Right before bed. Reading it was a balm. And it offered me poignant insight that I often dwelled upon as I drifted off to sleep.

Each quality of the human condition–worry, pleasure, competition, forgiveness, intensity  (99 in total)–gets a personality, a style of dress, a mode of moving through the world, an energy, and a smattering of favorite things:

Change wears my sister’s moccasins… He likes to come up quietly and kiss me on the back of my neck when I’m at my drawing table…Change is very musical, but sometimes you must listen for a long time before you hear the pattern in his music.

The “negative” qualities spoke to me the most. I began to understand them differently and to look on them with a new tenderness. After all, they are my teachers; it seems only right to respect them, even if I can’t always welcome them.

I finished the book weeks ago.

It’s still on my nightstand, where I can keep it close.

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of Stef Soto, Taco Queen

A taco truck + protective parents + tween angst = Stef Soto’s seventh grade year.

Middle school is a train wreck, no matter who you are. But as a kid, you don’t know that. The popular kids seem to have discovered the key to survival, while you’re fumbling around trying to hide zit on your nose (or in this case, the smell of taco sauce in your hair).

Add one old taco truck and a set of overprotective parents (few things are EVER as embarrassing to a seventh grader as their parents) and you’ve got Stef Soto’s life wrapped up in a tortilla.

As much as I love middle grade fiction, Jennifer Torres’ novel missed the mark for me because I’m not a seventh grader. Torres captured the self-absorption of being a tween so well that I found myself rolling my eyes at Steph. She exasperated me the way that seventh graders often exasperate their parents. Which is perfect, really.

At 12 years old, I would’ve found pieces of myself reflected in Stef Soto, for sure. I knew what it was like to feel wrong so much of the time and to constantly work to throw off the labels my peers had stuck me with. But Stef also would’ve taught me things, like how fragile the American Dream can be. And that sometimes an entire family has to invest in that dream for it to succeed. All eye rolling aside.

Stef Soto is perfect just the way she’s written. She’s honest, angsty, eye-rolling, grateful… She’s learning. And she gives other kids space to do the same.