Review by Tess Tabak
A newly discovered short story by Sylvia Plath is cause for celebration. “Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom” follows a young girl as she discovers her train is bound for a mysterious destination. The train ride starts as a seemingly normal but dreary metaphor for 1950s life – everyone onboard is crisp and proper, not talking to each other, and Mary feels isolated despite being surrounded by people. Though the cause for the train ride is never revealed, we can guess that she’s heading off to college.
However, as the piece goes on, it’s clear there’s something more sinister at play. We learn that the “Ninth Kingdom” will be the final stop, and once the train reaches its destination there will be no returning.
The piece is raw compared to the work Plath would go on to write (such as her classic, The Bell Jar), but a crude Plath story is still riveting. I read this piece in one sitting. “Mary Ventura” will be of special interest to Plath’s fans. You can see the source of her later writings in it – a girl watching in grim awareness as everyone else is numb to the world, offered a ray of hope at the end. She describes the world in lush detail, yet still manages to convey a sense of dread. “Mrs. Ventura touched a handkerchief to her painted red mouth, started to say something, stopped. There was, after all, nothing left to say.” Continue reading
Review by E. Kirshe
After spending 18 years in prison, Jodi returns to her home in West Virginia’s mountains. Dealing overwhelmingly with redemption, as well as home and maybe more importantly, place, this well-paced novel also beautifully tells a story of imperfect people trying to stitch together their broken lives.
“Until a week and a half ago she had thought she would not return until her death- a body shipped back to a family that barely rmemebered it, a body to be laid back into the mountains to rest- but now here she was not just a body but a jumble of wild thoughts and emotions, coming home.”
Sentenced to life in prison at age seventeen, Jodi didn’t leave behind much of a life to re-build, but she does have dreams of creating one- settling down on her grandmother’s beautiful and wild stretch of land in the mountains where she was raised. Jodi does, however, have one piece of unfinished business, fulfilling a pact she made with Paula, her dead girlfriend, to rescue her brother from their abusive family home.
Just a few pages in you’ll know that Maren is an incredibly skilled, poetic writer. After a beautifully detailed greyhound bus ride (literally every detail in this book is beautifully written), Jodi’s first stop is in a small town to pick up Paula’s brother Ricky, who is now a troubled grown man. In the same span of just a few days (all of this happening before Jodi has to be home to make her first parole meeting) she also meets and quickly falls for Miranda Golden, wife of a faded country star and, though still in her twenties, mother of three. This cobbled together group heads off to Jodi’s land all with the insane hope of creating a new run at life. Continue reading
Illustrated by Damon Smyth
Review by Tess Tabak
In this powerful new graphic novel, David F. Walker presents Frederick Douglass’s story in a compact narrative that young readers and adults alike can enjoy. With illustrations by Damon Smyth and short lessons that contextualize the history around Douglass’s life, this work will give readers a broader understanding of the end of slavery, and the events leading up to it.
Best known for his work on superhero comics like Luke Cage and Cyborg, Walker does justice to this real life hero’s story. In our Q&A with him, he discussed the importance of telling stories like this, and the need for black heroes, both fictional and historic.
I think Walker’s graphic novel, geared towards young readers, is crucial in making Frederick Douglass’s story accessible for kids. Last year, I was tutoring a 7th grader on the Civil War. I asked him when slavery had ended in America– he answered, with a straight face, that “racism ended in 1980 when Martin Luther King ended slavery”. He believed that, after months of covering slavery in school and despite living in one of the most diverse cities in America. Reading Douglass’s first memoir with him was a painful experience. Not only did he struggle over almost every single word of the text, he had no context for when the events happened. Slavery (and the 20th century, apparently) was a far off fantasy, an abstract myth. Continue reading
When I was a little girl, there was nothing I wanted to be more than a teenager. Continue reading
Review by E. Kirshe
Mandela and The General focuses on one stitch in Nelson Mandela’s legacy. In 1994, as the first post-Apartheid elections approach, and black South Africans are ready to take power with Mandela as their president, a militant faction of white South Africans – the Freedom Front – are ready to riot and fight to the death if need be. Attempting to avert a massacre Mandela held a series of secret meetings with Constand Viljoen- a former general of the South African army and later leader of the right-wing Freedom Front party.
“We must strive to find a political solution that reconciled White fears with black aspirations.”
As leaders of opposing factions they have the pull to keep their people from becoming violent and through reason, Mandela convinces Viljoen to reel his people in, to create true peace and not “the peace of graveyards.”
The book is told mainly through Viljoen’s recollections pulled from an interview author John Carlin conducted with him. The focus is on Viljoen, how he agreed to head the “white resistance”, how his twin brother helped broker the talks, and how Viljoen ultimately came to think of Mandela as “the greatest of men”. The story also serves to underpin what made Mandela capable of fostering this respect even from an enemy.
Spending the holidays in the Detroit airport is an overrated experience, no matter how many faces of happy customers they have pasted in the corridors. Mark and I hadn’t seen his parents and siblings for three long years and we were looking forward to some great big hugs and long-awaited homemade pecan pie, only to be found in the confines of Dayton, Ohio. To make a long story short, we never made it there. The rest of the saga made a Chevy Chase Christmas look like a free honeymoon in Hawaii.
Now, Dad did warn us that they were having a little snow back there — courtesy of some lovely photo attachments sporting him toying with his neat little snow blower on the driveway. Since we get about two snowflakes every three years here in Southern Oregon, I thought the whole thing looked like a precious Rockwell painting. “Just a little snow,” as it turned out, stretched from their doorstep right up to New York City. Unaware of the rapidly deteriorating weather, we put a few magazines and a book in a carry-on and headed to the Medford airport. Continue reading
What does Luke Cage have in common with Frederick Douglass?
Answer: more than you might expect. At New York Comic Con in October, David F. Walker discussed the parallels between black heroes from fiction and real life, and the importance of both. “I wouldn’t be up here on stage talking to you if it wasn’t for the fictional heroes [like Luke Cage] and the historical figures like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.”
For the past few years, Walker has been bringing humanity back into black superheroes, such as giving Cyborg back some of his body. Recently, he turned his hand towards a hero from history, penning The Life of Frederick Douglass, a graphic novel designed to give an overview of Douglass’s life to young readers, or anyone who’d like to know more about history. It will be released January 8th from Ten Speed Press.
We spoke to David F. Walker about #BlackLivesMatter, the history of racism, and the importance of black representation.