Grown: A Review

“Because if I keep denying the memory, it’ll make it untrue.”

Grown by Tiffany D. JacksonEnchanted Jones thought she had everything figured out. She isn’t what anyone would call happy at her new school, but she makes it work. She has swim team and she has her best friend Gabriella. With Gab’s help Enchanted auditions for BET’s version of American Idol. It doesn’t go well.

But it does bring her face to face with legendary R&B artist Korey Fields who is even hotter in person and could be Enchanted’s own ticket to stardom. It starts with secret texts and flirting. Then there are singing lessons and an invitation to go on tour.

It ends with Enchanted beaten bloody and Korey Fields dead.

Enchanted wishes she could forget the events leading up to Korey’s death. But she can’t do that any more than she can remember what happened that night.

Did Enchanted plunge the knife into Korey’s chest? Was she the only one who wanted him dead? With more questions than answers Enchanted will have to piece together the pieces before Korey’s livid fans–or the police–do it for her with Enchanted as the culprit in Grown (2020) by Tiffany D. Jackson.

Find it on Bookshop.

Jackson’s latest standalone is a tense mystery as Enchanted navigates her sudden infamy while still trying to process the abuse she suffered at Korey’s hands. (Please note the content warnings in this book for: mentions of sexual abuse, rape, assault, child abuse, kidnapping, and addiction to opioids.) The case in the book is heavily influenced by the sexual abuse allegations leveraged against R. Kelly over the past two decades as covered in the documentary Surviving R. Kelly.

Grown is a crushing read. It’s easy to see the red flags in retrospect with the shifting timeline that starts with Enchanted discovering Korey’s dead body. It’s much harder for Enchanted to see them as she is drawn in to Korey’s orbit and desperate to be seen as a young woman instead of the little girl her family still sees.

Grown offers a scathing commentary on how quickly the media is willing to blame young Black girls like Enchanted saying they are grown and know what they are doing while excusing predatory behavior from influential Black men like Korey. While this story is by no means an easy read, Jackson’s writing is on point as this taut and suspenseful story builds to one surprising twist after another.

I do also want to talk about how mental illness is explored in the book. This is a spoiler so click read more to my thoughts or back away to avoid them:

Continue reading Grown: A Review

Week in Review: September 12: Quarantine Week 26: In Which I Spent An Entire Week Dealing with Chair Drama

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Blog Posts of The Week:

Tweet of the Week:

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How My Week Went:

I need a new desk chair and my mom and I need new recliners in our living room and that has consumed most of my life. A new desk chair has been acquired and is coming. Recliners continue to be up in the air because furniture shopping is the worst.

When We Left Cuba: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“In the end life always comes down to timing.”

When We Left Cuba by Chanel CleetonFlorida, 1960: The Perez family lost everything in the Cuban Revolution. Like many former sugar barons, Emilio Perez and his family had to flee their home, leaving everything behind, when Castro came into power.

Like the rest of her family, Beatriz assumes it will be a brief exile when the family first settles in Florida. As time passes and the weeks turn into months and years, Beatriz watches in dismay as her sisters and even her parents begin to make new lives for themselves in this new country.

Beatriz is much more interested in revenge. When she is recruited by the CIA, Beatriz jumps at the chance to choose a different path for herself trying to get close to Castro and reclaim everything his regime stole from her.

As she learns more about the means the CIA is willing to use to justify their ends and watches the Cold War threaten to warm, Beatriz also has to reconcile how she can let go of everything her family lost while embracing the new opportunities–and maybe even new love–available to her in the United States in When We Left Cuba (2019) by Chanel Cleeton.

Find it on Bookshop.

When We Left Cuba is a companion to Cleeton’s previous novel Next Year in Havana which tells the stories of Beatriz’s sister Elisa and grand-niece Marisol.

Beatriz narrates this story of heartache and longing primarily set in the 1960s with a framing story set in 2016. How you feel about this book may also depend heavily on how you react to one of Beatriz’s love interests. Without naming any names, I will say I could not stand him and that made a lot of the book a struggle for me.

While Elisa’s story explored the moments leading up to the Cuban revolution, When We Left Cuba is more concerned with the aftermath as Beatriz tries to come to terms with everything her family has lost.

As she rails against the Castro regime, Beatriz is also able to pursue a different life filled with espionage and, later, university studies and law school–things a sugar princess would have never been able to consider in Cuba.

Compared to the tantalizing glimpse readers get of Beatriz in Next Year in Havana, this book is in some ways underwhelming. Beatriz is still working on becoming that capable, independent woman–a transformation that unfortunately mostly happens off the page here.

When We Left Cuba is an excellent return to the Perez family. An empowering story of espionage, romance, and learning how to live on your own terms.

Possible Pairings: In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova, Telex From Cuba by Rachel Kushner, The Secrets We Kept by Laura Prescott, Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan, Dreams of Joy by Lisa See, The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

Beauty Mark: A Verse Novel of Marilyn Monroe: A Review

Beauty Mark: A Verse Novel of Marilyn Monroe by Carole Boston WeatherfordEveryone knows about Marilyn Monroe’s difficult life and tragic end.

Few people know the traumatic start of her life watching her mother struggle with schizophrenia, moving through foster care, and even teen marriage.

While evidence of her transition from brunette pin-up model to blonde bombshell is immediately obvious, the road that got her there has never been explored from her own perspective. Until now in Beauty Mark: A Verse Novel of Marilyn Monroe (2020) by Carole Boston Weatherford.

Find it on Bookshop.

Weatherford’s latest verse novel explores the turbulent and often sad life of Marilyn Monroe from her start as Norma Jeane Baker to her death at 36 from an overdose. After a prologue the day of her infamous “Happy Birthday” performance for President John F. Kennedy, the poems move roughly chronologically from Monroe’s early years to her death.

Because it is a verse novel and not a true biography, Beauty Mark is frustratingly lacking in concrete facts. Important figures in Monroe’s life like her first acting coach, Natasha Lytess, are often referenced only to be dropped without explaining their role later in Monroe’s life.

Similarly, while touching upon key points in Monroe’s filmography the choices Weatherford makes in what (and whom) to mention feels largely arbitrary. River of No Return is discussed but co-star Robert Mitchum is never mentioned nor is the complex plot which includes an assault attempt–something, presumably, that would have been of note to Monroe given her own history of sexual abuse. (Lytess also created complications on set but her presence is never mentioned.)

Some Like It Hot is discussed at length with a full plot summary and, again, no mention of co-stars Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Nor is this a choice to center Monroe in her own story as other actors (male and female) are mentioned throughout.

A life, even one as tragically short as Monroe’s, covers a lot of ground. Unfortunately in Beauty Mark the authorial choices for what to cover at length (the nude calendar photo scandal in 1952) and what to gloss over (the reasons behind Monroe’s constant move from one foster home to the next as a child) are never made clear either in the text or in supporting back matter.

Beauty Mark is an interesting if ultimately uneven verse novel that gives Monroe her voice and works to move her from sex object back to genuine and complex person. Recommended as an introduction but not for anyone hoping to find a true biography or in-depth life story.

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration.*

Week In Review: September 5: Quarantine Week 25: In Which I Can’t Believe It’s September

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Blog Posts of The Week:

Tweet of the Week:

Instagram Post of the Week:

How My Week Went:

September really took me by surprise and I still haven’t recovered from the transition to a new month. It’s been the kind of week where objectively I have done almost everything I meant to/needed to do. But it still doesn’t feel like enough. Which isn’t a great feeling but I’m trying to ride it out. I think part of it is also still the whole trying to work and act like everything is normal during a global pandemic. My favorite summer show Big Brother started last month and, sadly, the season has been a major train wreck so I can’t even rely on trash reality TV as a respite from ~pandemic stress~.

Next Year in Havana: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Next Year in Havana by Chanel CleetonMarisol Ferrera has grown up on stories of Cuba’s beauty, hearing her grandmother Elisa’s fond memories of growing up there again and again.

Elisa and her sisters were sugar queens, daughters of Emilio Perez one of Cuba’s infamous sugar barons. After years of walking the fine line between working with President Batista without ever angering his regime, the tides have turned. With Fidel Castro in power the only option the family has is to leave. At the airport in 1959 they think it will only be a short trip, a season abroad until Fidel is ousted.

In Miami in 2017 the family finally receives the news they have waited for. Fidel is dead. The Cuban exiles are free to return home. Elisa didn’t live long enough to see that day. Instead, it’s Marisol who will travel to Cuba for her grandmother.

Marisol is there to scatter Elisa’s ashes but she soon learns that Havana is not the city her family left behind decades ago. Poverty stands in harsh contrast to the island’s beauty. Political dissent is just as dangerous as it was before. And even Marisol’s grandmother still has secrets to reveal in the city of her birth.

As she discovers Cuba for herself Marisol will unearth old family secrets and define her own relationship with this country that has been the backdrop of all of her family’s hopes for decades in Next Year in Havana (2018) by Chanel Cleeton.

Find it on Bookshop.

Next Year in Havana alternates between Marisol’s story in 2017 as she travels to Havana for the first time and Elisa’s story of the month’s leading up to her family’s departure for Miami in 1958. This novel is a standalone but readers interested in learning more about the Perez family can also check out When We Left Cuba which is a companion novel about Elisa’s sister Beatriz.

Cleeton expertly balances two timelines as the stories intertwine with Marisol’s discoveries in Cuba. Seeing Cuba for the first time and learning more about her grandmother’s past, Marisol begins to understand that the Cuba she has always imagined pales in comparison to both the good and the bad of Cuba’s modern reality.

Elisa, meanwhile, learns that nothing about revolution is black and white–especially her own families role in it while her father tries to stay on Batista’s good side and Elisa herself begins an affair with a revolutionary.

While some reveals are far from surprising, the dual story line works well and is used to good effect to develop both protagonists. While some of the secondary characters lack definition Beatriz jumps off the page (in both storylines!) making her lead role in the companion book all the more exciting.

Next Year in Havana is as evocative as it is well-researched to bring Havana–both past and present–to life while hints of romance and mystery add urgency to this character-driven story. Ideal for readers looking to travel through the pages of a book and fans of sweeping family sagas. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova, Telex From Cuba by Rachel Kushner, Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno, Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan, Dreams of Joy by Lisa See, The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine