‘Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl’ – Jeannie Vanasco

This was a fascinating, if depressing, book.
Jeannie is a creative writing lecturer who specialises in memoir writing. She recounts a number of students who tell her stories of rape. Some of those have ended badly. But all of them share the common experience of someone taking away an individual’s right to control what happens to them.
There’s no doubt this is a book that will strike a chord with many readers. Some will feel anger, others will empathise…but, I imagine all will feel a sense of amazement at the way this experience is recounted.
We follow Jeannie through a very unusual experience. She decides to write about the man who raped her fourteen years ago. At the time he was a good friend, but they’ve not really spoken since. He is not the only person to have assaulted Jeannie, and he wasn’t the first, but she gets in touch with him to try and talk to him about the experience.
The story itself was not one you’d expect to find pleasant reading, but I was absorbed to follow her process as she creates this book. Sometimes the narrative felt muddled, yet this reflected the subject/feelings with which she was struggling.
I’m still undecided how I feel about the perpetrator of this crime, or her decision to engage with him. However, reading about her experience and the way she/those close to her respond to this was compelling stuff. There’s no easy way to view such crimes when we see who might do such things/see how common it seems to be, but it certainly stops such things being swept under the carpet and blaming victims for their experience.
Thank you to NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication.

 

‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and other lessons from the crematory’ – Caitlin Doughty

I think there comes a point in everyone’s life when they have to face the thorny issue of death. Until then, it’s one of those things that we know will happen to us but are happy to ignore until we have to. Daft really, considering it’s one of the things we can count on happening.

Having recently had our first close encounter with death as a family the issues of how to celebrate the life of a loved one at a time of immense grief was pertinent. I was intrigued to see what Doughty shared with us about her experiences.

The thing that struck me first was the way Doughty recounted the ins and outs of daily life in her profession. There was a fascinating amount of detail given about what happens to the body after death and the ‘tricks of the trade’. I loved the sense of discovery we went on with Doughty as she explored her own feelings about death, and the details about how other cultures respond to death was interesting. I also felt Doughty was genuinely open to getting us as a society to examine our attitudes to death/funerals and the customs we associate with this very natural event.

The nature of detail given means it will not appeal to everyone. For many, keeping the experience as sanitised as possible will be just fine but it made me question some of the assumptions we have about what will happen to our bodies after we die. It certainly provokes thought.

‘I Am Malala’ – Malala Yousafzai

i am malala

 

There can’t be many people who haven’t heard of Malala Yousafzai, the teenager who was shot by the Taliban for fighting for her right to be educated.

This book – now told in more of her own words – takes us back to the beginning of the story. We learn that Malala had written, under a pseudonym, a blog for the BBC about life in Pakistan and how daily experiences that many of us take for granted were affected by the changing political environment.

For teenage readers this is an interesting insight into a politically complex situation, telling us a story that you cannot help but be moved by.

As an adult I was amazed by the strength of character shown by Malala’s family as they come under pressure to shut down access to education for females. I admired the strength of will that was clearly shown by the whole family to try and ensure that everyone in their province would get access to what many of us see  as a fundamental right. I also admit to being more than a little humbled by the personality of such a young girl who, thanks to her family support, was determined to fight for what she believed to be right when it would have been all too easy to give up.

Though the novel is not well-polished, that isn’t important here. Malala’s voice shines through, and I felt it was important to get a sense of the girl behind the image. Her voice is engaging and honest. I enjoyed reading about how her family coped with the daily struggles of being uprooted from everything they knew, and I honestly believe that this is a book everyone ought to read.