Posted in book reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Home Girl by Alex Wheatle

BOOK REVIEW: Home Girl by Alex WheatleHome Girl by Alex Wheatle
Published by Black Sheep on September 3, 2019
Pages: 288
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program
Goodreads
four-stars
Synopsis

This isn’t my home. Haven’t had a proper home since . . . This is just somewhere I’ll be resting my bones for a week and maybe a bit. This time next year you’ll forget who I am. I haven’t got a diddly where I’ll be by then. But I’m used to it.
New from the UK-based best-selling black British author and winner of the Guardian Children’s Book Award, Home Girl is the story of Naomi, a teenage girl growing up fast in the foster care system. It is a wholly modern story which sheds a much-needed light on what can be an unsettling life—and the consequences that follow when children are treated like pawns on a family chessboard.
Home Girl is fast-paced and funny, tender, tragic, and full of courage—just like Naomi. It is Alex Wheatle’s most moving and personal novel to date.


I received this book for free from LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This book appealed to me on so many different levels. First, the description itself got me interested. But being a foster parent I’ve become more and more interested in stories telling the tale of both those in care and their carers. So when I got the notification I’d won a free ARC through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program, I was super pumped! I just wish I’d been able to read it sooner!

Well, sort of…

I can’t get Naomi out of my head and have cried twice since finishing the book. Which is silly ’cause…fictional character!?!

Oh, well. Such is life when you live in fictional worlds, I guess. But this one definitely hit a little too close to home and forced me to deal with some of my own prejudices and issues as well.

The Story:

We’re introduced to Naomi, a 14-year-old white girl, as she’s being moved from her current foster placement. Her worker is trying to find her a new home but it’s proving difficult. While it’s not specifically addressed in the book, finding placement would be hard for no other reason than her age. But add to that she’s got attitude, a thick file, and that she’s being removed for accusing yet another of her carers of being a “prick fiddler,” and you’re looking at a kid who’s more likely to end up in a group facility than in a foster home.

It’s not right, but there it is.

So Naomi is giving her social worker a hard time while she’s trying to find an emergency placement for her. As a last resort, Naomi is placed with a black family on a temporary basis. Surprising to all…this is the best “home” Naomi has ever had and is the best fit for her. (Side note: As far as I know, we don’t have limitations or special classes or forms that have to be completed when accepting placement of a different race here. I’m guessing this is only a thing where the book takes place but it’s central to the story so felt it needed to be said here in the review.)

Colleen, her foster mom, spends hours on Naomi’s hair. She bonds with the two younger children in the house, and even when she acts up, Tony and Colleen are understanding. They don’t overreact and help her work through her issues.

And boy does Naomi have some issues! Her mother committed suicide. She was the one to find her and Naomi blames herself for not stopping her mother’s death. Afterward, she ends up caring for her alcoholic father at a time she desperately needed to be cared for herself and she had to grow up way too fast.

While I deeply enjoyed this read, it does have me questioning some of my own “issues.” The biggest one? Race in foster care. While staying with Tony and Colleen, Naomi has to deal with some prejudices about Tony and Colleen accepting a white placement when there are so many black kids who need a good home. I’m bi-racial and all of our placements have been bi-racial. While I don’t consciously think “I’m gonna say yes to this kid because we’re the same race,” I’m sure it does play a part. When we were taking time off but still receiving requests, there were times I had the thought “they’re white, someone is going to take them.”

Again, it’s not right. But there it is. I live in WV. There are a lot of white people. (And definitely more white foster parents than non-white foster parents. 🤷‍♀️)

The Characters:

People in foster care are complicated.

And I’m not just talking about the kids. The foster parents, the bio parents, the workers from every agency involved with the kids – even the judges and GALs – they’re ALL complicated. No matter how uncomplicated a life a person lived before getting involved in the foster care system (no matter how they became involved or what role they play(ed) in the system), once you get sucked in… COMPLICATED!!!

Life is a great big messy ball of one conflicting emotion and trial after another. It’s never-ending and there’s always something!

So for a writer to tackle a book like Home Girl, where they’ve got characters in every level of the system – kids, bio parents, foster parents, workers, secretaries, teachers, etc. – they’ve got to create some insanely complicated characters to deal with the complicated issues.

And I think that for the most part, Wheatle managed to do this.

I say for the most part because there were times when things were just unbelievable and characters didn’t react in a way I expected them to. Now, I understand that this is a book and part of why I love reading is that the characters get to do and say things I never could… but these weren’t always my fav characters.

For instance, while I loved Naomi, she could come across as TOO whiney and too self-involved. And the majority of other teen foster kids in the book act this way too. I know this is something that can happen with kids in care, but the opposite also happens. These kids are more aware of the world and what it can throw at them than most. So while they definitely can come across as selfish or too self-involved, it’s been my experience that kids in care (or who have been in care) have more compassion for others than those shown in Home Girl. It was kind of like the author went overboard on the “bad” kids. (Hope that made sense.)

I loved the adult characters!! Naomi’s worker was fabulous and I thought Tony and Colleen were great foster parents.

Conclusion:

Overall, I enjoyed Home Girl. It’s definitely worth the time reading. The story was great and I liked the writing, although the characters irked me at times. It wasn’t so much that it took me out of the story though, so there’s that. Since I’m one of those people who love character-driven stories and usually think the characters “make” the book, for me to say I loved it even though I didn’t love the characters is really saying something!

What do you think? Have you read Home Girl or do you think it’s something you’ll enjoy? Leave a comment below and/or find me on Twitter!

four-stars
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Beautiful Revolutionary by Laura Elizabeth Woollett

Beautiful Revolutionary by Laura Elizabeth WoollettBeautiful Revolutionary by Laura Elizabeth Woollett
Published by Scribe on July 30, 2018
ISBN: 1947534637
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program
Goodreads
four-stars
Synopsis

The thrilling new novel inspired by Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple from the author of The Love of a Bad Man.

Following her conscientious-objector husband Lenny to the rural Eden of Evergreen Valley, California, Evelyn wants to be happy with their new life. Yet as the world is rocked by warfare and political assassinations, by racial discrimination and social upheaval, she finds herself disillusioned with Lenny’s passive ways — and anxious for a saviour.

Enter the Reverend Jim Jones, the dynamic leader of a revolutionary church called Peoples Temple. As Evelyn grows closer to Jones, her marriage is just the first casualty of his rise to power.

Meticulously researched, elegantly written, and utterly engrossing, Beautiful Revolutionary explores the allure of the real-life charismatic leader who would destroy so many. In masterful prose, Woollett painstakingly examines what happens when Evelyn is pulled into Jones' orbit — an orbit it would prove impossible for her to leave.

I received this book for free from LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


I just finished reading “Beautiful Revolutionary” by Laura Elizabeth Woollett and it’s put me in a very weird mood. I don’t even know what to say about this book right now.

Before reading this fictionalized story about the events surrounding the Lyndens, Joneses, Peoples Temple and Jonestown, the only thing I really knew was that a bunch of people drank some poisoned generic Kool-Aid and died because their leader, Jim Jones, told them to.

After reading “Beautiful Revolutionary,” I feel oddly compelled to learn everything I can about these disturbing events and how so many people were led so far astray.

The book opens with the Lynden’s on their way to start a new chapter in their life. Newly out of college, newly married, and their dreams of a happy life fully possible. But Evelyn Lynden quickly grows tired of her housewife duties and her husband. Their lives take a dark turn when Evelyn, a minister’s daughter, takes them to Sunday service at Peoples Temple. It’s here where they, and so many others, meet and fall under the spell of Jim Jones.

Even knowing where the characters in this story would ultimately end up, I still found myself dumbfounded when I got to the end. I recommend “Beautiful Revolutionary” for anyone who has a fascination with cults, Jonestown, or who is just looking for a fascinating historical fiction novel.

Have you read “Beautiful Revolutionary” or have any thoughts about Jonestown or book recommendations based on this review? Leave me a comment below and thanks for visiting!

four-stars
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American Pop by Snowden Wright

American Pop by Snowden WrightAmerican Pop by Snowden Wright
Published by William Morrow on February 5, 2019
ISBN: 0062697749
Genres: General (Adult) Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program
Goodreads
four-stars

This post contains affiliate links you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.

Synopsis

The story of a family. The story of an empire. The story of a nation.

Moving from Mississippi to Paris to New York and back again, a saga of family, ambition, passion, and tragedy that brings to life one unforgettable Southern dynasty—the Forsters, founders of the world’s first major soft-drink company—against the backdrop of more than a century of American cultural history.

The child of immigrants, Houghton Forster has always wanted more—from his time as a young boy in Mississippi, working twelve-hour days at his father’s drugstore; to the moment he first laid eyes on his future wife, Annabelle Teague, a true Southern belle of aristocratic lineage; to his invention of the delicious fizzy drink that would transform him from tiller boy into the founder of an empire, the Panola Cola Company, and entice a youthful, enterprising nation entering a hopeful new age.

Now the heads of a preeminent American family spoken about in the same breath as the Hearsts and the Rockefellers, Houghton and Annabelle raise their four children with the expectation they’ll one day become world leaders. The burden of greatness falls early on eldest son Montgomery, a handsome and successful politician who has never recovered from the horrors and heartbreak of the Great War. His younger siblings Ramsey and Lance, known as the “infernal twins,” are rivals not only in wit and beauty, but in their utter carelessness with the lives and hearts of others. Their brother Harold, as gentle and caring as the twins can be cruel, is slowed by a mental disability—and later generations seem equally plagued by misfortune, forcing Houghton to seriously consider who should control the company after he’s gone.

An irresistible tour de force of original storytelling, American Pop blends fact and fiction, the mundane and the mythical, and utilizes techniques of historical reportage to capture how, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s words, “families are always rising and falling in America,” and to explore the many ways in which nostalgia can manipulate cultural memory—and the stories we choose to tell about ourselves.


I received this book for free from LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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My review:

Since American Pop started out with my least favorite part of the book, I’m going to start with what I liked least about reading it. (Only fair, right?)

What I Least Enjoyed about American Pop

The book immediately jumps into the lives of the ENTIRE Forster family during a New Year’s Eve party in 1939. The Forster’s have yet to fully embrace the downhill slide of the vast Panola Cola dynasty. Because of where the story begins, you’ve got a LOT of characters coming at you fast! I was only able to keep up with who’s who by using the handy-dandy family tree at the beginning of the book. Without it, I’d have never been able to make it through the first chapter.

There’s a lot of hopping around from one family member to another and also from one time period to another… So if you’re distracted, you’re going to get lost! If you’re not paying attention, you’re going to miss something! I got really confused on multiple occasions and was super close to DNFing it all together.

What I Most Enjoyed about American Pop

I gave it four stars, so American Pop has to have something going for it, right…

Pretty much everything after the confusing beginning was pure joy to read! I generally read multiple books at the same time, switching among them throughout the day, but I couldn’t even force myself to pick up another book until I finished this one!

Funny, sweet, sad, ironic, uplifting & depressing are all words that could be used to describe American Pop. As my kids would say… it has ALL the feels.

The Forster family is pretty much the definition of dysfunctional:

The Forsters, like most southern families, typically had one of two intentions when conversing among themselves: to make each other laugh or to make each other bleed.

They all have secrets they unsuccessfully hide from both the world and each other. (Okay, maybe sometimes successfully? Semi-successfully, is that a thing?) There isn’t a well-adjusted person in the bunch!

After a while, I actually got used to the way that the story goes from one snippet in the family’s history to another, switching between family members and time periods.

Every emotion you can imagine, I felt it while reading this book. Love, hate, fear, excitement, sadness, grief, joy…it was a roller coaster of tears and laughing to the point of more tears!

One of my favorite story lines… You find out at the very start that one of the Pancola heirs, Houghton Forster, is in a strained marriage. Then you read the story of how he met his wife and it’s so sweet and cute. They’re so happy and you cannot figure out what in the world happened to change it all. I wept, cheered for, and admonished Houghton throughout the book.

The characters are all amazing, but one of my favorite’s is Branchwater, the family fixer. His loyalty to the Forster’s is beyond even their own and I just wanted to hug him so many times!

While I ended up loving American Pop, it’s not going to be for everyone. I think it’s definitely worth the read, despite the confusing beginning, but I’d caution anyone with triggers of violence or rape not to read it.

four-stars