Voice to Books Celebrates Women
[A note from the new curator: The Coachella Review’s Voice to Books column immediately caught my attention upon experiencing its multimedia content. How great was it that, each month, lovers of reading and writing wanted to take the time to specifically highlight underrepresented voices? As a newer contributor to TCR, I learned that the column needed new curation. I prayed someone would take up the mantle and continue its important work, and for weeks, I couldn’t get the column out of my mind, until I asked for the job. As a light-skinned, Irish, Indigenous American/Mexican Gay man, I’ve witnessed the whitewashing of my family’s culture and fought for my right to marry, but I also passively experienced privileges, as I appear to society little more than a cis, light-skinned man. This unique perspective is what I’d most like to contribute to VTB. Because I live both, I know both fear and entitlement, and I recognize the power in each to make positive change. More importantly, I am honored and committed to continue VTB’s mission to shed light on diverse voices through literature.]
In honor of the women who created and curated this very column, Daniela Z. Montes and A.E. Santana, Voice to Books would like to celebrate women around the globe who have been fighting for equality, safety, and recognition. The inauguration of International Women’s Day can be traced back to the early 1900s to women who demanded political and economic equality, and for the last one hundred years, it has been celebrated and evolved around the world to uplift and celebrate the achievements of women. While they aren’t sampled here, we’d like to recognize the many other marginalized groups of international women around the world, including Latinx and Middle Eastern women. It cannot be overstated that, in our increasingly globalized world, we depend on the equal treatment and recognition of women for a sustainable, equitable, and prosperous future. Be a part of that progress today by checking out some of these awe-inspiring authors.
Ace of Spades, by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Reviewed by Alicia Torrez
At first, Ace of Spades seems reminiscent of Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars, the soap opera for teens full of rich, fashionable children who live adult lives despite being in high school. For anyone who loves “trashy” teen drama, Ace of Spades is difficult to put down. And thank goodness for that because a quarter of the way in, Àbíké-Íyímídé quickly evolves this novel into something so much more.
Through character-building and suspense, the author transforms this story into one of teen culture, of power, and of what it’s like to be “othered.” The students at Niveus Academy, an elite private school, may seem superficial and drama-filled, and some of their character traits are predictable archetypes at first, but Ace of Spades is full of unexpected twists that ultimately shine a light on issues related to the historical oppression of women, people of color, and the LGBTQIA+ community.
The common mistreatment of underrepresented and marginalized communities within many systems in our country is even more evident and obvious in places like Àbíké-Íyímídé’s Niveus Academy.
Most stories from these kinds of places, both fiction and non-fiction, focus on the single story of the rich, white teen. But by including such characters as Chiamaka and Devon, who show first-hand what individuals from Black and Queer communities go through in a place like Niveus Academy, and adding a little extra drama, Àbíké-Íyímídé successfully immerses readers in a story that, while about race, isn’t only about race. It’s also about relationships, discovering oneself, thinking about the future, and considering one’s past. Ace of Spades is about real diversity, real stories, and real-world issues, all tied into a (little-bit-over-the-top) neat, little bow of a dramatic teen soap opera.
Fault Lines, by Emily Itami
Reviewed by Lisa Loop
Hiding one’s pain is the essence of sacrifice in this debut novel. The dreary boredom of conventional motherhood with its myriad, tiny, niggling demands frustrates Mizuki, a well-heeled Tokyo-housewife who once turned her back on expectation and her traditional family by working as a lounge singer in New York. Now, without her career, she doesn’t know where to put her ambition, because Mizuki’s conventional life is easy enough to leave at coat check. The moment she exits the elevator into a rainy night partying with foreign friends, one isItami presented with a restrained but sumptuous array of small dramas. Itami writes with a mixture of confidence and subtlety and a firm control over the vagaries of Tokyo’s varied society and complex topography.
A passionate mother yearning for her abandoned youth is a relatable dilemma, rarely managed with Itami’s level of finesse. The author writes Mizuki’s voice as both smooth and self-deprecating, deftly sketching it with well-chosen details. Still, her salary-man husband and risk-addicted lover are both written as victims of modern masculinity’s cruel binary, as caught in their own roles as she. Scenes with Mizuki’s children are quick and illustrative, toggling between adorable perfection and annoying defiance. These points are the novel’s real pull against freedom, with their miniature dramas and relentless plays for attention.
Itami has crafted a rare and lovely assortment of pleasures, proving herself a debut novelist of impressive wit and confidence.
Nothing but Blackened Teeth, by Cassandra Khaw
Reviewed by Yennie Cheung
Western character tropes meld with Eastern folk horror in a haunted house story in which a quintet of young-adult protagonists—the all-American rich jock, the comic relief, the queer misfit, the demanding pretty girl, and her doting fiancé—cart their emotional baggage to middle-of-nowhere Japan, where they spend a night in an abandoned Heian-era mansion, its fusumas (sliding doors) and shojis (paper screens) crawling with images of various yokai (entities)—tengu, kitsune, tanuki, and nekomata.
Those unfamiliar with these references may want to consult a search engine while reading this novella. Khaw doesn’t explain the architecture or the demons, which are commonplace not only in Japanese culture but also in the mind of the Malaysian main character, Cat, who grew up navigating streets where “superstition was a compass” in lands full of supernatural spirits. By not explaining all the apparitions, Khaw makes the refreshing choice of staying faithful to their narrator, normalizing Cat’s perspective rather than catering to the readers’ potential ignorance. Instead, the descriptions focus on details that make this particular haunted mansion spooky. Aside from the walls of moving demons, the house comes forebodingly alive with mushrooms growing on ancient books, insects hatching from the heads of old dolls, and an ohaguro bettari (demon spirit of a bride who was buried alive and is faceless aside from a mouth full of the titular blackened teeth), beckoning for fresh blood to keep her company. If anything is missing from Nothing but Blackened Teeth, it’s more pages, as the novella limits its expansion on the characters’ motivations and its ability to fully capitalize on the house’s ominous lure of both the characters and readers. But all that means is Khaw needs to write a sequel.
We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Reviewed by Michael Medina
The fight for gender equality is not over; it’s just become more indirect, hiding in our daily activities and systems. Through her own experiences as a woman of color from Nigeria, Adichie helps readers understand the why and how of the gender inequality battle. From the male valets who blatantly thank her male friend when she herself hands them a tip, to her compounding necessity to edit her dress code so as not to look too feminine, she gives clear-cut examples of the daily microaggressions that plague her. She easily breaks down what it feels like to be a woman in a world where systems of oppression are blind to one another, and substantial portions of society think women’s rights have been utterly won. Adichie speaks with a voice that is both thoughtful and Adept—one that informs the reader regardless of gender—and helps explain how society has prescribed “to what we should be, not what we are.”
We Should All Be Feminists pulls from experiences in Nigeria, a place where toxic masculinity is all too clear, where the word “feminist” carried immense social baggage for Adichie, even when she didn’t know what it meant. The author writes from a perspective that is both unique and unquestionably familiar. The unfortunate truths Adichie expresses are becoming increasingly important in a world that is becoming stagnant in their willingness to talk about gender equality. This work isn’t afraid to discuss contentious topics. While men tell her that she shouldn’t label herself a feminist and that her writing is making her unlikable, Adichie doesn’t ask, “Should I stop?” She asks, “Why do I have to be likeable?”
Voice to Books is a monthly short list of reviews from a variety of voices, created by Daniela Z. Montes and A.E. Santana and curated by Michael E. Medina. Interested in contributing a review to Voice to Books? Please send inquires to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Medina is a queer writer and purveyor of all thing’s storytelling (from theatre to podcasting to putting words on paper). Pursuing his MFA in creative writing at the University of California, Riverside-Palm Desert’s low-res program, he is a self-proclaimed nerdy social justice warrior who’s goal is to infiltrate heteronormative genres with queer, colorful, and inclusive themes.