Category Archives: Reviews

“It’s like you had to split yourself in two to watch yourself”: 21 Moments in Lauren Levin’s The Braid

Lauren Levin‘s poetry collection The Braid (Krupskaya Books, 2017) is described by its publisher as “a fever dream of pregnancy and early parenting in the era of the police state.” Here are 21 moments and meditations, strung together from from this whirlwind text.

1. The Braid opens wondering, “what it means / to say we want our work to be vulnerable when we’re the ones who make it.” (13)

Vulnerability is the ultimate braveness, admitting one’s own insecurity.  Telling the truths we are not sure we can understand.  Standing in our uncertainty and being willing to speak from there. It is guts. This book has guts.

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books + Literature, Reviews

A Tactile Encounter: A Review of Slabs by Brittany Billmeyer-Finn

Slabs Timeless Infinite Light Brittany Billmeyer-Finn

The book fits in your hand: it can go inside the back pocket of your jeans. It is truly portable, and the tactile encounter of the book, I believe, conditions the reading experience. There is that feeling of manageability, contrary to its title, Slabs, that is being invoked by poet Brittany Billmeyer-Finn‘s second collection, released in 2016 from Timeless, Infinite Light.

The book is arranged in two parts. The language is fragmentary—as a reader, it seems as though I am eavesdropping. The conversation has been going on long before the reader opened the book, and now we are entering in and out of the narrative at any given point. What is beginning? What is ending? How do I situate and locate myself in relationship to the text?

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books + Literature, Reviews

“United, In Spite of Everything:” A Review of Julia Alekseyeva’s Soviet Daughter

https://static.microcosmpublishing.com/catimages/img_9990_lg.jpg

Julia Alekseyeva’s Soviet Daughter is an intergenerational memoir, a graphic novel that weaves the history of Khinya “Lola” Ignatovskaya, Alekseyeva’s great-grandmother from Soviet Russia, with Alekseyeva’s own story of coming-of-age in America. Lola—a fierce, independent, intelligent, and rebellious woman—draws us right in from the very beginning. Although violence, tragedy, and loss color Lola’s life, her headstrong and resilient spirit blazes through these hardships, giving us a heartfelt—but also empowering—narrative. Alekseyeva herself is also an indomitable spirit—Soviet Daughter demonstrates how female badassery can define and even steer family history and legacy, giving us a Marxist feminist analysis of war, labor, and domesticity.

In addition to witnessing the Russian Revolution during her younger years, Lola also gives a female perspective of World War II. Soviet Daughter intervenes into the genre of the androcentric war narrative, illustrating that the positionality of the male solider/comrade is not the only valuable perspective surrounding these events. Lola herself challenges the Marxist distinctions between the “productive” and “reproductive” labor spheres. Although Lola initially begins working in the household as a child and fulfills the feminized role of a reproductive laborer, growing up, she enters the productive workforce—becoming a factory worker and typist—all while still sustaining and supporting her family in the home. Lola shows how these labor spheres are not really separate and that powerful women throughout history have traversed these dichotomous theoretical frames. Lola—and countless other women during war—are not merely “left behind” by their husbands and fathers, but perform key productive and reproductive labor that maintains not only their households, but the very fabrics of the nation-state. Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under Art + Comics, Books + Literature, Reviews

Two Books About Beauty: Khadijah Queen’s I’m So Fine and Sarah Jean Grimm’s Soft Focus

Khadijah Queen and Sarah Jean Grimm

“A very flat-chested woman is very hard to be a ten.” As we all know by now, the President of the United States said those words on the Howard Stern Show in the nineties. I still can’t get past that. I’m not sure if it’s because our president, like most middle school boys, believes in a rating system where women are appraised based on their physical traits, or if it’s because, as a flat-chested woman, I’m bummed I’m not a “ten.” I know that’s a sick thing to think, but of course being feminist doesn’t mean one is entirely free from the intense ideological beauty standards of our society. I think this is what it’s like to be an intelligent, feminist woman today: you can recognize the bullshit, you can feel angry, and you can also want to be recognized within that admittedly-bullshit system as a desirable object. I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On by Khadijah Queen and Soft Focus by Sarah Jean Grimm are two brilliant new poetry books that simultaneously celebrate and eviscerate the complicated landscape of American womanhood. While both books explore the traditional trappings of femininity—makeup, clothing, hairstyles—along with our newer gendered societal norms—selfies, Instagram, clickbait, celebrity culture—on a deeper level, Khadijah Queen and Sarah Jean Grimm each peel back the layers of multiple selves, masks, and metaphorical armor most women wear every day in order to simply survive.

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books + Literature, Reviews

“Healing is Sparse and Concealed:” A Review of Cristy C. Road’s Indestructible

Cover of Cristy C. Road's Indestructible.

Indestructible, via Microcosm Publishing

As a queer brown girl, adolescence was cruel and oftentimes ruthless. But in Cristy C. Road’s Indestructible: Growing Up Queer, Cuban, and Punk in Miami, queer brown adolescence is rebellion, self-discovery, and self-determination. Indestructible is an illustrated novel exploring the intersections of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality within the feminist punk rock scene of 1990s Miami. For Road, punk subculture was more than loud music and DIY fashion. It provided avenues for subverting misogyny and normativity, in reconstituting female pleasure and sexuality, and in navigating the cultural barriers and discrepancies between America and Cuba. Set in a typerwriter-esque font and Xerox-style printing that mirrors zine-making, Indestructible redefines the growing-up narrative, giving it a new form, a dissonant voice, and a queer aberrant body.

The memoir begins with Road expanding the interpretation of coming-of-age, stating, “[T]he enticement of adolescence [goes] beyond any new pubes and first kisses” (11). For Road, adolescence was first orgasms, defying white and Cuban beauty standards, and negotiating the collisions between girl/womanhood and queerness. Road poses the questions I was too afraid to ask as an adolescent: “‘Why do women compete?’ ‘Why do men abuse power?’ ‘Why doesn’t anyone think it’s normal that I masturbate?’ ‘Why does the way I pee, the way I fuck, or the way my chest looks dictate the language that’s acceptable for me to use?’” (28). These questions are not only explored and answered through Road’s various musings and conversations, but the many one-page and two-page black-and-white spreads illustrate the experimentation, aberration, and resistance of queer punk bodies to normativity and authority. The bold, black lines that curve around brown female bodies and the intricate patterns and textures of clothing aid in transporting the reader into Road’s world of Latinx punk subculture. Art and DIY manifesting in and on punk bodies was essential to the movement, and Road does a stunning job demonstrating this reality through graphic storytelling. Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books + Literature, Reviews

#Girlgaze: The Girls Behind the Camera

#girlgaze

On the day of the inauguration, I spent a few hours with photographs by young women artists at the #girlgaze: a frame of mind exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography in LA. It was my personal West Coast protest: what better place to focus my attention for a few hours than on a diverse, global array of girl artists. 

It felt political to enter a space designed with the aesthetics of a teenage girl’s bedroom in mind–all neon pink, selfie-generating machine, and Lana del Ray on the playlist–and to call that space not lesser-than, not derided, not frivolous, but art. Important art.

The Girlgaze project, a multimedia digital platform “that generates visibility and creates community for the next generation of female photographers,” was founded by Amanda de Cadenet, along with an impressive team of collaborators. Their mission is to “support girls behind the camera.” Their manifesto, posted at the entrance to the show, reads:

We are taking back the word girl. We are pushing back against the cultural projections and traditional gender roles imposed upon girls from the outside world, media and culture. Instead, we aim to represent the intelligence, creativity, complexity and diversity of girls’ experience—across nationality, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, and economic background—by taking the camera into our own hands. It is up to us—those who identify with being a girl—to show our perspectives, tell our stories, and determine our own identity, sexuality, and beauty.

I interviewed one of the artists in the exhibit, Abby Berger, who, at sixteen years old at the time of her acceptance to the show (though she’s now seventeen), was one of the youngest #girlgaze artists. Abby, who lives in New Orleans, is also the daughter of a friend of mine. I remember when my girlfriend shared with me that her daughter’s photography was gaining some notoriety on Instagram. A few months later, this friend told me Abby’s work would be shown in Beverly Hillsand I knew immediately that she meant the #girlgaze exhibit.

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under Photos, Reviews, We Were There

The Nuclear Family / The Nuclear Bomb: Revisiting Kate Zambreno’s O Fallen Angel in Trump America

O Fallen Angel Kate Zambreno

The first time I read Kate Zambreno’s O Fallen Angel was in 2012, not too long after it was first released on Chiasmus Press in 2010, and it felt like something I’d been starving for: the story of a girl raised by a housebound Mommy whose constant care is a form of creepy control, whose love is both dollifying and cannibalizing. The girl—Maggie—is stifled and self-seeking and, with limited tools with which to construct a self, self-destructs instead.

O Fallen Angel is Zambreno’s first book—she went on to garner a larger readership with her novel Green Girl and her critical book Heroines, both of which establish Zambreno as a formal innovator who is in constant conversation with dead critical theorists and Hollywood starlets, who returns from these conversations with new language with which to write the experience of the girl. Compared to Green Girl and Heroines, O Fallen Angel feels young, but in the best way—it’s desperate, searing, hurting, angry and unforgiving.

When I first read the novel five years ago, I loved it because I related so hard. Finally there was a mother in literature who wanted to “freeze [her children] when…they’re at the age before they start disagreeing with you,” who wanted to keep her self-harming girlkid out of therapy because psychologists “blame everything on the Mommy.” Maggie’s Mommy’s dollification is so extreme it even leads her to fantasize about Maggie’s death—in death, “finally Maggie will let Mommy dress her…and finally Maggie will be her girl yes her girl.” Finally there was a girl in literature who, raised by such a mother and just like me, was so unequipped to live her own life that she was fired from all her waitressing jobs, that she sought self-worth in the beds of brooding, bohemian boys, that she got rejected from in-patient psychiatric care because even her suicide plan wasn’t specific enough. And maybe it’s true that we see girls like Maggie in stories from Mary Gaitskll and her acolytes, but O Fallen Angel is the first book that I’ve read that is some degree of diagnostic, that shows the reader how the girl got that way.

And maybe—like the therapist of Mommy’s fantasies—Zambreno’s narrator blames the Mommy, but Mommy’s story, albeit judgmentally, gets told, too, and so O Fallen Angel gives us an intergenerational story of women teaching girls how to accept oppression, how to self-oppress, and why.

O Fallen Angel is told in the form of a triptych, narrated closely in turns to Mommy, Maggie, and the god Malachi. Mommy’s sentences are long and smushed together, free of the constraints of commas and periods, often including rhyming folk-wisdoms and bits of Bible verses that seem to be Mommy’s only external reference points with which to make sense of the world, but for Mommy they are enough. Maggie’s references expand to include fairy tales and Hollywood movies from the 50’s and 60’s, clearly inherited from Mommy, which have taught her to be prince-seeking; that the only way out of her Mommy’s American Dream is to latch her sense of self to a boy who looks like Marlon Brando and run to the other side of the proverbial tracks. Maggie’s also got what she’s learned from her brief stint as a psychology major. Maggie is drugging and slutting but she’s also reading desperately, reading in order to discover or assemble a self, but the thing is she’s too young and too sheltered; she hasn’t read enough to have left her hometown ideology behind for good, she hasn’t read enough enable her to know how to move around safely in Chicago, the city to which she’s relocated.

In 2012, maybe I hadn’t read enough, and I was reading desperately, self-seekingly, too, and I glossed over the cultural differences between Maggie’s family and my own, made the book into a book about me. But it’s 2017 now and I’ve gone through my Saturn return, and O Fallen Angel is being re-released on Harper Perennial in the very same month that Donald Trump has been inaugurated into the U.S. Presidency, and it feels like a different book. It’s no longer just a book for sad girls raised to be selfless dollies by controlling moms—it turns out to be a book about those 53% of white women voters so many of us were so shocked to learn about, and many others weren’t; a book about the constant and attentive labor those women do to uphold patriarchy and racism and corporate capitalism and anti-environmentalism as the True American Values, the constant and attentive labor they do in service of their own oppression. If the election had gone another way, the characters in this book might seem quaint, obscure, like a dying breed. Instead, the timing of O Fallen Angel’s re-release fuckedly transitions it from Sad Girl Cult Classic to Great American Novel in écriture féminine. In Mommy’s colliding sentences, we’re able to see how thoughtless associations and oft-repeated phrases and rhymes take the place of logic: Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books + Literature, Reviews

Dark Continent Dubfeed: On Vidhu Aggarwal’s The Trouble with Humpadori

Vidhu Aggarwal The Trouble with Humpadori

The smashing spectacle of Bollywood, the feminine grotesque of Gurlesque mashed with the colors and sounds of sci-fi and fantasy comics—all these obsessions assemble in Vidhu Aggarwal’s electric debut poetry collection, The Trouble with Humpadori (The Great Indian Poetry Collective Press, 2016). Aggarwal’s poetic range includes text art, sound, video and live performance.  Aggarwal, both an artist and Professor of Postcolonial/Transnational Studies, surely embodies a new kind of artist-scholar. In her book, Aggarwal creates the interstellar character Humapadori (“Hump” for short) who acts as a messenger for extraterrestrial beings, a medium sent down from the cosmos. Move over Ziggy Stardust. It’s time for Humpadori’s time to occupy the international stage.

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books + Literature, Reviews

To All the Young Adult Novels I’ve Read Before: A Look at Jenny Han’s Lara Jean Song Covey Series

 

Jenny Han's series about the charming Lara Jean Song Covey

I was skeptical when I first picked up Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, the first volume about Lara Jean Song Covey, a Korean American girl living in the suburbs of Virginia with a single dad and two sisters. I don’t usually read young adult fiction, but when I saw that the novel was about a biracial girl, I decided to give it a go. It’s not everyday when Asian American girls are stars of YA novels, and as a scholar of Asian American Studies and literature, I knew I had to give the world of YA a shot.

Lara Jean is a dreamy-eyed baker, scrapbooker, middle child, and high school junior. Dreamy-eyed because instead of running around chasing boys, she writes a heartfelt letter to every boy she has ever loved and stows it away in her hatbox. She is a master at the art of scrapbooking, claiming: “A good scrapbook has texture. It’s thick and chunky and doesn’t close all the way.” She looks up to her older sister, Margot, and cares for her younger sister, Kitty, completely devoid of the middle child syndrome that plagued me during my teen years. She is kind, creative, intelligent, prone to accidents, and gets a little too lost in her head sometimes, but other than that, she is a charming, well-rounded character. Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books + Literature, Reviews

How to Not Tell a Rape Joke–Adrienne Truscott’s Asking For It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy And Little Else!

Performance still from ASKING FOR IT

Performance still from ASKING FOR IT

Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy And Little Else! is a performance that’s very much about performance. It’s a one-woman show where the performer runs out into the audience to steal sips of audience member drinks, leaving lipstick trails on our cocktail glasses. The character that Adrienne Truscott portrays is a party girl who just wants to go out and have fun. Along the way, she encounters a bartender who wants to get her blackout drunk so that the men at his bar can have their way with her… again. When told from this character’s perspective, the idea is horrifying. Then you start to realize how nonchalantly this “joke” could be told from a comic’s mouth into a microphone. Truscott’s anonymous character is the female butt of a misogynist joke manifested in the flesh. She’s the embodiment of the woman whose body and misery is someone else’s punch line. Truscott wants the audience to remember that the woman on the receiving end of a rape joke is in fact a real human being who statistically is out in the world being assaulted somewhere right now.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Funny Feminism, Reviews, We Were There