Behold the Dreamers // Imbolo Mbue

While Behold the Dreamers may be a fictional narrative, it is a powerful look into being an immigrant in America as told by an author who actually experienced the process firsthand.  It contains insightful commentary on racism and white privilege in America in a behind-the-scenes way.  Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers describes the hope that Obama gave African-Americans and African immigrants when he first entered the White House.

“Even in New York City, even in a place of many nations and cultures, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, preferred their kind when it came to those they kept closest. And why shouldn’t they? It was far easier to do so than to spend one’s limited energy trying to blend into a world one was never meant to be a part of.”

-Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers

From the back cover:

Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son.  In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers.  Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at their summer home in the Hamptons.  With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ facades.  Then the financial world is rocked with the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the global economy.  Desperate to keep Jende’s job, which grows more tenuous by the day, the Jongas try to protect the Edwardses from certain truths, even as their own marriage threatens to fall apart.  As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.

This novel really contains two stories- one of a wealthy Manhattanite business executive who loses his job and all hell breaks loose (basically), and the other of a hardworking, hopeful immigrant family struggling to make ends meet but doing everything they can to stay in America.  These stories have been told before, but it’s the creativity Mbue uses to craft her novel that makes it extraordinary.

Sometimes I find myself struggling to really immerse myself into stories that are narrated in third person, but Behold the Dreamers gave me no trouble at all.  I think part of it is because of the superb character development.  I just had to keep reading to find out what was going to happen to Jende, Neni, and all of the characters I became invested in.  Even side characters like Neni’s college professor had a purpose in the end.  Mbue did a fantastic job of tying up all the loose ends to create a satisfying conclusion to her tale.

Read this one if you miss Obama (because who doesn’t?!).

You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon.

The Nix // Nathan Hill

I went into this book with very few expectations, and I can honestly say I was blown away.  Nathan Hill’s The Nix grabbed me from the beginning and refused to let go.  The story was original and enjoyable, but the incredible writing is what made me return; Hill is overwhelmingly skilled at crafting sentences and paragraphs that tug at your heartstrings and force you to keep reading (even when you should be writing a research paper).  This is one of those books that kept me up until two a.m. reading on a weeknight, that I pulled out to read in the few minutes between classes, that I put in my bag for the five-minute ride to the grocery store “just in case.” I couldn’t get enough.

From the back cover:

It’s 2011, and Samuel Andresen-Anderson hasn’t seen his mother, Faye, in decades- not since she abandoned the family when he was a boy.  Now she’s reappeared, having committed a crime that electrifies the nightly news and inflames a politically divided country.  The media paints Faye as a 1960s radical, but as far as Samuel knows, his mother was an ordinary girl who married her high-school sweetheart.  Which version of her is true?  Two facts are certain: She’s facing some serious charges, and she needs Samuel’s help.

“The things you love most will one day hurt you the worst.”

-Nathan Hill, The Nix

One of the things I loved most about The Nix was the way the characters’ stories were woven together.  The book had ten parts, switching between the summers of 1968, 1988, and 2011.  We see the main character Samuel as a child in 1988 and as an adult in 2011, but we also see his mother, Faye, as a teenager in 1968.  Hill would reveal something about a character, and then go back in time to show it happening.  This excellent character development strategy reflects how important it is to refrain from judging a person based on what you’ve heard about them.  For example, the reader would learn what everyone thought of Faye as a teenager, and then it would go back in time to when Faye was actually a teenager and show what really happened.  This way of storytelling reminded me heavily of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

Reading The Nix really made me think about the world that we live in.  Hill included a lot of political and social commentary into this novel.  His description of student Laura Pottsdam and her obsession with “iFeel,” a social media platform similar to Twitter and/or Facebook, was disturbingly accurate and inspired me to take a step away from my own online accounts.  Hill also reflected on the current political state of the nation in a somewhat humorous way; the novel’s Governor Sheldon Packer seemed to be an exaggerated version of President Trump himself.  There were a few seemingly unimportant “side” characters, such as Laura and the video-game-obsessed Pwnage, but these characters added to Hill’s frighteningly realistic setting by stressing our current societal ideals on humanity.

“Sometimes we’re so wrapped up in our own story that we don’t see how we’re supporting characters in someone else’s.”

-Nathan Hill, The Nix

I can say with confidence that The Nix is one of my favorite books of the year! I cannot wait to see what Nathan Hill comes up with next.

You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon.

All the Light We Cannot See // Anthony Doerr

From the back cover:

Marie-Laure LeBlanc lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works.  When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea.  With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined.  Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance.  Marie-Laure and Werner, from warring countries, both having lost many of the people they loved, come together in Saint-Malo, as Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.

“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”

-Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

It’s taken me a while to gather my thoughts on this one.  I have to admit, All the Light We Cannot See really intimidated me for the longest time (as any massive, Pulitzer-winning, WWII novel would).  It was a slow read for me with not much happening in terms of plot, but the characters and the writing are why I kept returning.  Doerr pens elegant, well-crafted sentences and his characters are not only vividly-described but heart-breakingly beautiful as well.  I quickly grew to adore Marie-Laure and found myself flipping through the pages to find her next chapter.

“What do we call visible light?  We call it color.  But the electromagnetic spectrum runs to zero in one direction and infinity in the other, so really, children, mathematically, all of light is visible.”

-Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See focuses on themes of interconnectedness, with the various characters crossing paths at different points in their lives.  There are so many untold stories from the war, and Doerr hints at this throughout the novel.  You would never think that two characters as different as Marie-Laure and Werner would come together, but they did.  I felt like the majority of the book was leading up to their meeting, and then when it finally happened… I was disappointed.  It wasn’t a big meeting, more like a small introduction.  I know this isn’t a plot-driven book, but there was virtually no plot at all, and I could definitely sense that it was missing.  Luckily, the beautiful prose made up for the lack of story.

Overall, I can say that I enjoyed this book… but not as much as I thought I would.

You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon.

The First Post

Hey there and welcome!  I’m Hannah, an eighteen-year-old college student and bookworm.  I really like to talk about books so I started this blog (finally) as a space to share my thoughts.  I’m striving to write atypical reviews, focusing more on what the books made me think and feel rather than a strictly-formatted, star-rated “book review.”  I’ll probably throw some quotes and pictures in there too.

I’m hoping that through this blog I can help people connect with books they might like, but I’m also excited at the chance to improve my writing skills. Plus, being an English major is time-consuming, so I need an excuse to read books that aren’t required for class!  Hopefully this blog will do just that for me.

Thanks for stopping by.  I hope you stick around.