Book Review: NOTHING MORE DANGEROUS, a teenager confronts prejudice in his small Missouri town as he investigates a missing persons case

Esken, Allen - Nothing More Dangerous (4)๐—›๐—ฎ๐—ฝ๐—ฝ๐˜† ๐—ฝ๐˜‚๐—ฏ๐—น๐—ถ๐—ฐ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ถ๐—ผ๐—ป ๐—ฑ๐—ฎ๐˜† ๐˜๐—ผ ๐™‰๐™ค๐™ฉ๐™๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™œ ๐™ˆ๐™ค๐™ง๐™š ๐˜ฟ๐™–๐™ฃ๐™œ๐™š๐™ง๐™ค๐™ช๐™จ ๐—ฏ๐˜† ๐—”๐—น๐—น๐—ฒ๐—ป ๐—˜๐˜€๐—ธ๐—ฒ๐—ป!

In 1976, freshman Boady Sandenโ€™s widowed, depressed, and overwhelmed mother sends him to St. Ignacius high school, a private Catholic school, after getting into trouble with the wrong crowd. He is friendless and awkward, drawing band logos in a notebook to avoid the attention of the popular boys who enjoy tormenting him. With only his dog and his next-door neighbor, Hoke, as company, Boady dreams of leaving Jessup, Missouri behind and is only waiting until he turns sixteen.

That same year, Lida Poe, an African American bookkeeper at Ryke Manufacturing disappears, and town gossip says she left with $100,000 of embezzled funds. Rykeโ€™s home office sends Charles Egin to manage the plant and clean up the operations. Charles, his wife, and his son, Thomas, Boadyโ€™s age, move across the street from Boady on rural Frog Hollow Road.

Boadyโ€™s been so busy keeping his head down, heโ€™s noticed little about the tensions in town, but when the black family moves across the street, he is drawn into the racial battlefield of the community and confronted with the prejudices both his classmates and he himself hold. With a new awareness of the secrets people hold, he sees new dimensions in Hoke, Wally Schenicker, his boss at the drywall company down the road, and even his mother.

As Boady and Thomas hone onto the mystery behind Lida Poeโ€™s disappearance, Boady is forced to choose loyaltiesโ€”and the wrong decision may be deadly for him, his friends, and his family.

๐™‰๐™ค๐™ฉ๐™๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™œ ๐™ˆ๐™ค๐™ง๐™š ๐˜ฟ๐™–๐™ฃ๐™œ๐™š๐™ง๐™ค๐™ช๐™จ deftly combines mystery and bildungsroman, charting Boadyโ€™s growing compassion, both for others and himself and challenging assumptions about race, personality, and motivation. While I found this a compelling read, I was incensed by the injustice Boady both uncovered and experienced. The rural mid-1970s Missouri setting focuses the mystery and allows Esken to bring race to the forefront, with discrimination more overt and the Civil Rights Legislation still just over a decade old. At the same time, the themes are highly relevant to todayโ€™s society.

For me, the dialogue, though, was a bit of a challenge. I trust that the author reliably represented the local dialect, but it was slightly awkward. I also wish that some of the minor characters such as Mrs. Elgin and Diana, one of Boadyโ€™s classmates, had been given more development. However, this is definitely a worthwhile book for readers who enjoy coming of age stories, literary mysteries, or novels about social issues.

๐‘ป๐’‰๐’‚๐’๐’Œ ๐’š๐’๐’– ๐’•๐’ ๐‘ต๐’†๐’•๐‘ฎ๐’‚๐’๐’๐’†๐’š ๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐‘ด๐’–๐’๐’‰๐’๐’๐’๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐‘ฉ๐’๐’๐’Œ๐’” ๐’‡๐’๐’“ ๐’‘๐’“๐’๐’—๐’Š๐’…๐’Š๐’๐’ˆ ๐’‚๐’ ๐’‚๐’…๐’—๐’‚๐’๐’„๐’† ๐’“๐’†๐’‚๐’…๐’Š๐’๐’ˆ ๐’„๐’๐’‘๐’š ๐’Š๐’ ๐’†๐’™๐’„๐’‰๐’‚๐’๐’ˆ๐’† ๐’‡๐’๐’“ ๐’‚๐’ ๐’‰๐’๐’๐’†๐’”๐’• ๐’“๐’†๐’—๐’Š๐’†๐’˜.

Book Review: THE GRAPES OF WRATH, timeless

When I was young, my grandfather gave me a copy of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and said every self-respecting Oklahoman should read the novel. Since I did just about everything he said, I read the book. But that was a very long time ago, and while I always considered it an an amazing book, I forgot much about it.

For that reason, I was thrilled Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939, was the first book in the #yearofsteinbeck buddy read hosted on Instagram. In the book, set during the Great Depression, the Joad family, long-time tenant farmers in Oklahoma, packs all their belongings that will fit onto a jalopy, burning or abandoning the rest. Theyโ€˜ve literally tractored off their land, forcing them out of the only livelihood they’ve ever known. However, with handbills from fruit growers in California advertising for jobs, they are optimistic that as soon as they make the journey across Route 66, they will no longer face poverty and hunger.

Steinbeck weaves intercalary chapters throughout the novel that serve as short stories, offer foreshadowing, and provide context for the Joads’s journey as they join almost 500,000 other refugees fleeing drought and despair for for the elysian California.

With stark but beautiful language and powerful symbolism, Steinbeck imparts the harrowing reality of the migrant “Okies,” yet he also imparts the strength that comes from family and community ties, emphasizing the humanity and empathy of the poor while criticizing the heartless cruelty of those who are disenfranchised from the land and the laborers.

Despite all the tragedy in The Grapes of Wrath, the novel closes on an optimistic note of largesse. However, I find it lamentable that the issues explored by Steinbeck are still so prevalent, albeit with different migrant groups replacing the Okies. Our society can and should do better. I encourage others to read it: the book remains timely, relevant, and brilliant.

Book Review: THE LAST ONE, a blurred line between reality and reality television

I read The Last One by Alexandra Olivia about two years ago, and I still think about it, so it seemed a perfect book to share for #throwbookthursday.

One of twelve contestants in a reality game show, Zoo navigates checkpoints in a remote wilderness area. But as she completes the challenges marked with her assigned color, she encounters widespread devastation that she forces herself to believe is constructed as obstacles to the contestants. The alternative would be unbearable.

Early in the The Last One, the nearsighted Zoo loses her glasses, and after that, her vision betrays her as much as her reality. As someone who is extremely blind without glasses or contacts, the idea of navigating a challenging wilderness without sight is harrowing!

I thoroughly enjoyed the world created by Alexandra Olivia and the questions it raised about loyalty, obedience, the role of the media (and reality television) as well as the challenges and necessity of perseverance in the face of mounting despair.

Book Review: FISHNET, exploring the world of sex work in the context of a missing persons case

Kirstin Innes

Happy U.S. Publication Day to Fishnet!

Six years ago, Fionaโ€™s independent, younger sister, Rona, unexpectedly called for help. Fiona welcomed her into her apartment, pleased Rona finally needed her. But, the next morning Rona was gone. Fiona and her parents havenโ€™t heard from her since.

Now, Fiona is an underemployed single mother who lives in a flat above her parents. For the first time, Fiona receives new information about Rona: she learns that before Rona disappeared, she was working as a prostitute. At the same time, the building occupied by Sanctuary Base, a haven for sex workers in the city center, has been acquired by the Jackson Group, and theyโ€™ve contracted with Fionaโ€™s company to help with development.

Fiona takes the opportunity to search anew for Rona, but as she dives into the work of sex work, her assumptions about the women and the industry are upended. Rather than victims without choice, she finds an organized group of determined, ambitious, and intelligent women who decided to become sex workers rather than pursue other careers. At the same time, others insist that prostitution degrades women and lobby for stricter laws. (Set in Scotland, the laws around prostitution are different than in the U.S.) As Fiona is seduced by the allure and glamourโ€”and steeliness of the women she meets, she dissociates from her work, her family, and even her daughter.

While Fiona may initially focus on the alluring aspects of sex work, Fishnet provides a wider view. Although ultimately the novel comes down to giving women choice over how to use their bodies, it does acknowledge that sex work can be risky and that women are stronger when they work together. In addition to providing Fionaโ€™s perspective, the book includes excerpts from fictional blogs and ads written by sex workers which I thought added to the narrative. At times, it sounded slightly didactic, but I think that is because so many readers will come to the book anti-prostitution, and Innes wants to challenge that position.

Beyond presenting the question of sex work, the novel addresses Fionaโ€™s malaise, and Innesโ€™s descriptions of her office life are amusing. Additionally, the structure is unusual and surprising, so the reading is never boring, though how could it be with a subject like this!?

Thanks to NetGalley and Gallery/Scout Press (a division of Simon & Schuster) for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: TANGERINE, two friends reunite in Tangier

Christine Mangan

1956, Tangier, Morocco. Alice Shipley, fragile and nearly housebound, is the opposite of her husband, John, who thrives in the spotlight but who is comfortable living off of Alice’s sizable trust fund. Lucy Mason, her college roommate, whom she hasn’t spoken with in a year is the last person she expects to see at her apartment door.

Alice and Lucy had been estranged since a tragic accident their last year of college, but Lucy wanted to put the past behind them and regain the intimacy they once shared. Although Alice is unsure of their relationship, she is so unhappy she tolerates Lucy’s insinuation into her life with John. But then, John mysteriously disappears; Alice is unsure if it is related to his secretive government job, Lucy, or something Alice herself did.

Tangerine poses questions of identity, trust, and betrayal, and while interesting, I thought the Moroccan setting was the most compelling aspect of the novel. As for the plot itself, it reminded of The Talented Mr. Ripley, and in interviews I did see the author was influenced by Patricia Highsmith, as well as other books and movies I’ve seen. It had interesting elements but was more derivative than I expected.