Friday, June 25, 2010

Mini-Reviews: Tryin' to Sleep in the Bed You Made, Sag Harbor, Children of the Waters

Tryin' to Sleep in the Bed You Made by Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant 1997 St. Martin's Press

IQ "Coming of age in this foreign place, with people who knew only what she wanted them to know about her, made her feel unique and special instead of just odd, and she, too, abandoned the little girl nobody wanted to claim." Pat pg. 37

This is a story of friendship between two best friends, basically sisters. Gayle and Pat have grown up together. They trust each other, they have shared countless secrets with one another and each has big dreams. However these dreams threaten to pull the friends apart....

I know that's a short summary but that's basically what the book is about: best friends and a whole lot of drama. That's probably the main thing I didn't like about the book, all the drama. I just find it hard to believe that so much tragedy and mishaps can happen to two friends. I was excited to hear there's a sequel, but at the same time I'm skeptical, how much more drama can they have?? At times, I grew quite frustrated with Gayle and Pat (usually Gayle), thinking that they were running headlong into trouble and why couldn't they see that? But I've never been in their situation, so I can't really say. I could barely tolerate the character of Gayle. She was so incredibly naive and it drove me crazy. BUT then, DeBerry & Grant made me care about her. Let me tell you, I was not expecting to actually LIKE Gayle, but by the end of the novel I did. I thought that was a miraculous feat on the part of the authors, because I was ready to give Gayle a verbal tongue-lashing (ahem, mentally of course since she can't hear me).

Other than Gayle being mostly intolerable, all the drama and times of extreme frustration, I really enjoyed Tryin' To Sleep in the Bed You Made. As frustrating as they are, Gayle and Pat are realistic. They are so flawed, but they can be quite sympathetic. They are great examples of characters growing throughout the course of a novel. Their ups and downs are ones that I think any woman could relate to, it's a great novel for friends to read together. Even though I didn't like all the drama, it kept me riveted. I HAD to keep reading to know that everything would turn out ok for Pat, Marcus, their parents and Gayle (and let me tell you, that was not always the case to my immense sadness). It's interesting that much of the drama is either an indirect or direct result of one tragic incident that has left it's mark on all involved. It happens quickly, but the effects are not fully realized until much later. There are still some loose ends so I will be reading the sequel. I highly recommend this novel, I think it's chick lit at it's best. I wonder how the two author best friends write together? They pulled it off extremely well.

Disclosure: From the library!

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead 2009

IQ "We always fought for real. Only the nature of the fight changed. It always will. As time went on, we learned to arm ourselves in different ways. Some of us with real guns, some of us with more ephemeral weapons, an idea or improbable plan or some sort of formulation about how best to move through the world. An idea that will let us be. Protect us and keep us safe. but a weapon nonetheless." Benji pg. 158-159

Benji spends each summer in Sag Harbor, New York. He is one of the only Black students at his all-white private school, but during his summers in Sag Harbor Benji is no on longer one of the few. He is surrounded by other wealthy Black people. Benji's parents and his friends' parents only "come out" on weekends, so for the three months of summer, Benji and his friends are free to do whatever they wish, five times a week. The story takes place in 1985, the summer Benji is convinced he will change. He will become cooler to both Black and white people, girls and guys.

I must admit that I got this book a long time ago (less than a year ago but I'm not sure how long) and then I put it down and had no desire to pick it back up. Colson Whitehead has a wonderful way with words but there was waaay too much time spent on details in this book. Perhaps part of it is because I wasn't around in the '80s, the book is marketed to adults even though the main protagonist is a teenager (15). There are a lot of '80s references and I do mean A LOT, I knew most of the music references but there were mentions of one-hit wonders and video games (I may live under a rock but I had no idea what game D&D was)and other things that I knew nothing about. At times this book dragged on and I couldn't keep the people straight. There are too many storylines that don't really go anywhere. The novel ended too abruptly for me.

However, I did get an excellent taste of what Sag Harbor is like. I didn't know much about life in Sag Harbor and I was fascinated by it, a community of wealthy upper/middle class Black people. The main character, Benji, is not a snob, which was a relief. He's unbearably awkward at times, but mostly very nice and easy to relate to. Like so many other Black teenagers he's stuck in between two worlds: the mostly white world of school and the summers at Sag Harbor, where he must get an education in being Black. He has to learn to straddle both worlds. He also learns about kissing girls, shooting guns, family, drinking and so much more. A nice coming of age story that could have used a little less detail and more of a purpose. Benji is funny and the book has many quotable lines. Some elements were introduced to the story that seemed to serve no purpose (in my opinion). I've read in other reviews that this is not Colson Whitehead's finest and I think I will give one of his other novels a try.

Disclosure: 'Tis mine.

Children of the Waters by Carleen Brice 2009
One World/Ballatine Books

IQ "She was only telling the truth because she didn't want him to blow it. But she also had to admit: boldness felt good." Trish pg. 197

Trish is recently divorced and struggling with raising her biracial son (Will) on her own. She's white and events are happening that make her question whether or not she (a white woman) can raise Will (someone the world will only see as a Black man). She discovers a secret that that turns her life upside down, her younger sister did not die in a car crash with their mother, she is alive and well. Trish's mother died due to an overdoes and Trish's grandparents gave the baby up for adoption because she was Black (technically biracial). Billie never suspected she was adopted and she's proud of her heritage, she wants nothing to do with Trish and her white ancestors. On top of the adoption surprise, Billie learns that she's pregnant. Billie wants to be pregnant, but her partner Nick is not ready to be a father and Billie's lupus might make the pregnancy dangerous. On the surface, Trish and Billie seem to come from two different worlds, but they share an undeniable connection....

Children of the Waters is an amazing read. Carleen Brice is unafraid to talk about tough subjects through her characters. The dialogue never feels forced, the conversations are genuine ones that people have with one another. The author does an excellent job in maintaing a neutral stance, Trish and Billie feel so differently about some things; faith, race and even family. But the author doesn't belittle either one of them, each of them is a strong, lovable and valid character. I especially admire how the author handles the issue of race, I thought that I would automatically be on Billie's side, since I'm half African American. I figured I could relate to her better on the race relations side of things. But I found myself agreeing with Trish about a lot of things too. Billie often dismissed her as naive about the ways of the world based on skin color, but I found Trish's idealism refreshing. I especially appreciated the look at racism held by African Americans, Billie is light skinned and the envy of darker skinned African American women, including her own mother (who has very dark skin). The issue of colorism is still prevalent today and I was glad to see it addressed and I was pleased that Trish was neither too understanding (or perhaps the better word is overeager, as in she was trying too hard to show that she understood black people) nor clueless about this issue.

The story is both entertaining and heartbreaking, the writing is lovely and the characters will remain with me. I saw so many people I knew in real life through the characters of Billie and her parents, Trish, Will, Nick. I was pleased to learn more about lupus, a disease that I know so little about. I don't know what to say about this book other than the fact that it's a must-read. I loved reading about Billie and Trish separately, I was sucked right into their life's drama (which was not overly dramatic). But what I loved even more was when their stories intersected. Sure at times I was upset with some of the characters (ahem Nick, Will, Trish), but it was a good kind of upset. I truly came to care about these characters and I was sad to finish this book and not know that everyone got a happily ever after (SPOILER: Highlight to read.
Mainly I wanted to know that Billie would have another child or adopt with Nick and that Trish would become an amazing vet and find a man. OK so the story ended rather happily but I needed to be absolutely sure! Haha)*End of Spoiler. The author navigates many complex topics with ease, the dialogue is real, the descriptions spot on (I learned a lot about Denver!) and there are no easy answers.

Disclosure: Received from the author in a giveaway. When I won the book, I knew very little about Carleen. I read her blog a bit but rarely commented. However, as I have continued blogging (and reading. Believe me I was so incredibly frustrated that school kept me from finishing this book) I have gotten to know her better and it is a complete honor to know this amazing author. She autographed Children of the Waters with a personal message and I will treasure my copy always, it means a lot. I only wish my review could do the book justice. Thank you so much Carleen!

This time with my mini reviews I did a little more. I did a summary paragraph and then two paragraphs of review. Do you like that better or do you prefer one summary paragraph, one review paragraph?

As a reminder, I do min reviews for adult fiction because I'm afraid that I miss many deeper meaning in adult books. With min-reviews I can keep it simple, go into more detail if I want, or just say what I liked/disliked.


  1. I think you hit the nail on the head re: Whitehead & his detailed-ness. That's the reason why I couldn't finish Sag Harbor. I gave it the ol' college try a few times, but I just couldn't get through it.

    BTW, D&D is a role playing game called Dungeons & Dragons. I'm not overly familiar w/ it myself, but I have a lot of useless info stored in my head about things like that, ha!

    Oh! & you shouldn't limit yourself to mini reviews for adult fiction. I highly doubt you'll miss anything. :)

  2. I like the new color on your blog – very appropriate. The only problem is that the words are lost on the girl’s face. Try a different font color? The black writing on white is good – easy to read.

    Good to see your Sag Harbor review. I also thought there was too much detail at times, but I enjoyed the 80s references since I’m close to the same age as the author. D&D is Dungeons and Dragons, and it predated computer and video gaming but same type of demographics. Those boys would be on Xbox now. You captured what I liked about the book very well and did a fine job explaining the issues you had with the writing.

    Thanks for introducing me to the other authors.

    I didn’t mention it in my review this week, but the protagonist of White Cat by Holly Black is part Indian and the MC and his handsome brothers have olive skin and dark hair. Race/ethnicity isn’t really discussed in the narrative although there are parallels to racial discrimination in how people who can work magic are treated by other people.

  3. Glad you are willing to give Whitehead a second try, I suggest The Intuitionist

  4. I'm excited to read Carleen's book. I have two biracial older sisters and it would be interesting to read about the dynamic between these two sisters.

  5. I second Doret's rec for the Intuitionist by Whitehead. Amazing book.

  6. Have you read Caucasia by Denny Senza? It's also about biracial sisters.

    Whitehead having too much detail is a really nice way to say the book is pretentious. I couldn't get through the first chapter. But this is why I tend to avoid adult literature.

    Oh, and I read the first book YEARS ago, probably when it first came out. Definitely full of drama, but a really good read. My friends and I read it at the same time, so we got to talk about it with each other.


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