Monday, December 22, 2014

Review-itas: Life through the 20th century

Bud, Not Buddy
Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis, is about a 10-year-old orphan boy living through the Great Depression in Michigan.  Bud's mother passed away when he was six and he never knew his father.  But in his suitcase filled with his most prized possessions, he has fliers that his mother saved over the years.  The fliers show a jazz band, and Bud's sure that his father is in that band, so he sets off to go find him.

I read Curtis' The Mighty Miss Malone earlier this year and quickly decided that I should read all of his other books, on audiobook if possible.  Bud, Not Buddy is my second Curtis book and Deza Malone even has a cameo!

I like the way Curtis writes about a black child's experience of the Great Depression.  While the Great Depression was difficult for everyone, it was particularly hard on people of color who were passed over for jobs, often couldn't own property, and were discriminated against in many ways.  I think Curtis does really well in bringing these important facts to life in ways that would make children curious to learn more and have a discussion with their parents or a teacher about how people experience the same world differently.

As with The Mighty Miss Malone, I liked how Curtis showed examples of different family structures.  Bud is an orphan but has many happy memories of growing up with a single mom.  He meets a stranger who is a proud father of a growing (and very fun) family, and a jazz band that acts as a family.  While I didn't love Bud, Not Buddy as much as I did The Mighty Miss Malone, I did enjoy learning even more about the Great Depression and am looking forward to Curtis' perspective on other important historical events in American history.

Brown Girl Dreaming
Jacqueline Woodson's memoir in free verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, is set in the 1960s and moves from Ohio to South Carolina to New York.  I did this book on audio.  I do better with poetry in audio since I don't worry so much about whether I am getting the pacing and the rhythm right.  Like pretty much everyone else, I loved it.

Woodson's stories tell of her early childhood growing up during a tumultuous time in American history, struggling with school, and falling in love with words and the art of story-telling.  I wish I had read this in physical form because the poetry is stunning.  I love the way Woodson confused facts and stories - she would hear something and then immediately incorporate that fact into a story about herself.  It wasn't lying, it was learning the art of the story, and she excelled at it.  This excerpt sums up very well the way I felt reading this book - I didn't want it to end, either:

“I am not my sister. 
Words from the books curl around each other
make little sense
I read them again
and again, the story
settling into memory. Too slow my teacher says.
Read Faster.
Too babyish,
 the teacher says.
Read older.
But I don't want to read faster or older or
any way else that might
make the story disappear too quickly from where
it's settling
inside my brain,
slowly becoming a part of me. 
A story I will remember 
long after I've read it for the second, third, 
tenth, hundredth time.” 

Aya:  Life in Yop City, by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie is about 3 teenaged girls growing up in boom-time 1970s and 1980s Ivory Coast.  Aya is dedicated to going to medical school and doesn't let anything distract her from that goal.  Her friends Adjoua and Bintou, however, are more easily distracted.  The three of them deal with a lot of family drama (seriously - everything from paternity drama to secret second family drama to homosexuality and everything in between).

I am a little torn about this book.  On the surface, it's like a soap opera, with twists and turns on every level.  I don't know much at all about what life is like in a polygamous society, but it seems very complicated!  It was so interesting to learn about such a foreign culture, from the funeral parties to beauty pageant, from polygamy to witch doctors.  Everything was new to me!

On another level, though, the book touches on some really important themes.  For example, Aya wants to be a doctor, but her father just wants her to get married to some rich guy.  Aya's girlfriends seem sexually liberated and like they just want to have fun in life, but they both deal with very real consequences of their promiscuity while the men seem to get off pretty easily.  Aya's mother wrestles with the knowledge that her husband sleeps with many other women but gets very little sympathy because every man does that.  And the two gay men in the book struggle with their homosexuality and what to do, knowing that they will never be accepted.  And there are more examples of this - the beauty pageant, Aya's friend's impending marriage to a much older man, the catcalls every woman faces each time she walks down the street...

This is why I think perhaps the translation was a little lacking.  The translator did a great job of getting the humor and wit across in each panel, but it was harder for me to understand the deeper issues and social commentary that were under the current here.  Was Abouet just writing a fun drama?  Or did she have more meaningful messages that she wanted to share?  My opinion is that the latter is true (but I also probably look for feminism everywhere).  In any case, this book is worth reading just for the immersion in another culture and the fantastic, vivid art.  And, PS, it was made into an animated movie!  I'll have to try and find it (with subtitles).


  1. I read Bud, Not Buddy before reading Miss Malone and love it more. I think it depends on which book you read first. :-) Curtis does a nice job of showing readers what life was like for African Americans and he does it with little details that end up standing out.

    Brown Girl Dreaming is such a lovely book. I was telling the publisher that the cover should be a poster. I would definitely hang it up in my home.

    You've made Aya sound so interesting, I'm going to see if I can get a copy of it. Happy Holidays.

  2. I love the books you've listed, though I am not familiar with Aya, which I will definitely be on the look out for. Thanks for reminding readers of these wonderful books and I hope you have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  3. I did not know Aya has been turned into a movie! Hmm, I may have to see if I can find it.

  4. That was a great part, in Brown Girl Dreaming, where she couldn't really tell the difference between what happened to her and what she was telling herself.

  5. I got both volumes of Aya for Christmas! I'll be sure to let you know what I think.

  6. I really need to read Bud, Not Buddy someday. That's one of my daughter's favorite books.


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