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  • Kate Hamer teaches us about love and souls in ‘The Doll Funeral’

    A quote from Shakespeare’s Richard II begins this supernatural coming-of-age novel: “…even through the hollow eyes of death I spy life peering”. On her thirteenth birthday, Ruby discovers that cruel Mick and passive Barbara are not her real parents. Instead of letting the information devastate her, Ruby is elated. Surely her real parents must be out there, somewhere, searching for her? Blowing out her candles, Ruby wishes only for one thing: for her parents to come and find her. What follows this fateful wish is a journey deep into the woods, where Ruby meets three siblings just as lost and lonely as she is, and the answers to questions she never thought to ask.

    The novel’s narration is divided between thirteen-year-old Ruby in 1983, living in the Forest of Dean with her adoptive parents; her birth mother Anna, pregnant, terrified, and seventeen-years-old in 1970; and the imaginary Shadow boy, Ruby’s one constant companion. It becomes clear very early on that there is something different about Ruby: she can see and talk with the dead. Ghosts and spirits seek her out, some helpful, some less so, some as overlooked as Ruby feels.

    A gripping exploration of how the past can haunt us, even when we do not know the whole truth of where we come from, The Doll Funeral exists on a cusp for its majority. We meet Ruby at the threshold of her teenage years. She is looking for family, for home, for everything she has never had. The quest for these essentials takes her deep into the woods, to a long-forgotten mansion and the three children trying to survive in its cluttered, death-cold interior. It is with these three siblings that she begins to understand what home really is.

    In 1970, Ruby’s young birth mother faces her own struggles, chief among them whether or not to put her baby up for adoption. Anna is convinced that the baby’s father, Lewis, would never accept either of them. In the end, she decides to keep the baby, and Lewis tries to do the right thing, proposing to Anna and whisking her and Ruby off to London for a fresh start.

    The fairytale nature of the narrative creates intrigue, setting up mysteries it is in no hurry to solve. As the narrative progresses, the timelines condense. The truth about what became of Ruby’s young parents is revealed: a tragic tale of a loveless marriage and post-partem psychosis that ends with a car accident on the roads within the forest. The origins of Shadow and his connection to Ruby are similarly exposed, and every gap filled in. While the pace suffers slightly in the middle, when each of the three narrations reach their tipping point, the end is worth every minute. “I was a scavenger for family,” Ruby tells us. “And what I found was love and souls.”

    As haunting as it is captivating, The Doll Funeral is an unexpectedly moving tale of finding yourself and what it means to come home. An excellent read for anyone who has ever searched, longed for, and lost.

     

    Reviewed by Grace Smithwick

    Faber and Faber Ltd, Melville House

    Published On: August 15th 2017

    ISBN: 057131385X 

    336 Pages

     

  • An Artful And Unique Telling by author Julie Buntin.

    Marlena is Julie Buntin’s debut novel about two teenage girls growing up on the edges of a forest in rural Michigan. It’s the raw coming-of-age story of Cat, a girl from the suburbs of Detroit and her growth as a character when she’s unwillingly thrown into a little nothing of a town where she meets Marlena, her “manic, beautiful, pill-popping” neighbor. Throughout the novel Cat conforms herself to Marlena, no longer wanting to be “Catherine," the private school girl who coughs at the smell of cigarette smoke, but Cat. Marlena’s friend. Marlena is entertaining, Cat is interesting, this is very much a character driven story, and I really enjoyed every moment of it.

    The novel is told through a distanced and mature retelling of Cat’s young teen years with chapters flipping from her life in Silver Lake and her current adult life in New York. Buntin artfully uses anchoring points throughout the “younger” chapters of the novel that keeps reminding the reader that this is a memory. I’ll admit that the first couple times that happened I was a bit thrown off. A voice would suddenly break into the telling that didn’t match the already established voice of fifteen-year-old Cat but once I realized who that voice was and what it was doing for the story, it really strengthened the moment.

    This is Cat’s story, from the first time she sets foot in Silver Lake to her being an adult with a career in New York, but she’s oftentimes overshadowed by Marlena. Marlena is a wild child from the very first time the reader sees her in the passenger seat of her boyfriend’s pickup. Her personality is bright and eccentric yet tainted with a darkness that Cat couldn’t really grasp until she was older. Cat was just along for the ride, moulded by Marlena’s unique allure. It would have been easy for Cat to become a background character; she's quiet and often times unsure of herself, but Buntin kept her at the forefront of the story. The voice of the character kept her interesting even if, seemingly at first, the character herself wasn’t. The first person narrator was a perfect choice and Buntin did a great job with it.

    This is a story of more than just sex, drugs, and lost childhood. It’s about friendship, family, and self-discovery. It’s about loss and growth and everything in between. I think this is a story worth listening to and the artful and unique telling kept me reading even when I knew that I should go to bed.

     

    Reviewed by Cali Luisa Lemus

    Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.

    Publication Year: 2017

    ISBN-10: 1627797645

    Number of Pages: 274

     

  • Kristen Sollée Gives A Crash Course On Witches and Feminism in "Conjuring The Sex Positive"

    In Kristen J. Sollée's book, Witches, Sluts, Feminists, she writes: “The witch is at once female divinity, female ferocity, and female transgression. She is all and she is one. The witch has as many moods and as many faces as the moon.

    Most of all, she is misunderstood.

    With a pretty straightforward title, Witches, Sluts, Feminists leaves no questions as to what you should expect to find in its pages. From the “All-American Witch”, AKA what really went down in Salem, to the “Political Witch-hunt” of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election, this book will leave you with the what, why, and how of the words witch, slut, and feminist in our history. Albeit, “our” means mostly “American” in this case, but Sollée states right off the bat in her introduction that the Christian, Anglo-European view is so prevalent in the media’s perception of the witch that she decided to pick apart the biggest offender.  

    Witches, Sluts, Feminists is a history lesson with a contemporary feel. It will educate you without overwhelming you with dry facts. It will answer questions such as “when did ‘witch’ become a negative term?” or “how has the internet changed witchcraft and the feminist movement?” with a plethora of sources, 225 in the 200 pages to be exact, from historians to witch-identifying people to historians who are also witches.

    Sollée’s voice is snarky, and her comments are brief but amusing. She never makes herself the focal point. This is not a person on her soapbox, shouting her beliefs at you for 200 pages. She is merely the vessel for the dozens of voices woven into the passages, telling their stories, findings, research, their histories. It is a cumulative journey, each sentence building on the last, each chapter carrying you further through time, showing you a history of adversity and of perseverance, leading you to the present-day identities of witches, sluts, and feminists.   

     

    Reviewed by: Ash Dietrich 

    Publisher: ThreeL Media

    Publication Date: May 22, 2017

    ISBN: 9780996485272

    Length: 200 pages

     

  • A Review of Hey, Liberal! By Shawn Shiflett (Chicago Review Press Incorporated, 2016)

    By Claire Martin, Interviews Editor

    Hey, Liberal! may just be coming out when we need it most. Although writer Shawn Shiflett (Hidden Place) takes us back to the north side of Chicago in 1969, his brand new novel remains strikingly relevant to today’s issues.    

    Simon Fleming carries us through his ever-moving world during the late '60s. At just thirteen years old, he’s sent by his family of civil rights activists to attend Dexter High School, a chiefly African American institution, where he is one of few white students. His father, a prominent minister, answers the swelling call for change by insisting that his son be part of the fight for equality. With all the excitability of being a freshman, he takes on young romance, steers around watchful parents, makes a new set of friends, and even finds a spot on the baseball team. But in the midst of rising pressures throughout the city, Simon is involuntarily swept into the sparks of the riots. So when Officer Clark, a bigoted burnout of a cop working at Dexter, tries to buddy up with him, he realizes that passivity to his advantages will still make him enemies. Upon recognizing the separation from his friends, teammates, and peers, he must push forward to understand his intrinsic place in the community.

    Shiflett uses Simon’s character to expertly convey the great complexity and incredible tension of the '60s. In one poignant passage toward the end, Simon finds himself in the midst of a riot with a young African American woman silently walking next to him in hopes that he would block shattering glass. All the while, Simon is musing to himself.

    “A chunk of something whizzed past, nearly clipped his chin, and punched a jagged hole through the front door window of a flower shop. He flinched, recovered, and glanced inside the store just in time to see the gray-haired crown of someone’s head disappear beneath a counter display of bouquet arrangements. Too fucking close for—

    He noticed that the girl, after jolting from the near miss, must have fallen behind. Not my problem. Would she have cared about . . . But he hesitated, questioned if doing so made him a sap, just long enough for her to catch up to him again, and they moved on, their forward progress calibrated by necessity, convenience, pride, and even a baffling unity. In an instant, the sum total of his experience clicked. He was older.”

    It’s exactly this kind of reflection that propels the importance of Simon’s story. By throwing a curious and compassionate boy into the world of Dexter, two impossible to ignore racial realities of 1969 collide, and Simon becomes the unique platform to take us there. His imperfections highlight his growth, confirming that progress is not always linear, but often the result of taking responsibility. The title of Hey, Liberal! is a lesson that stands on its own. It suggests with certainty that Simon’s political battle cry is nothing more than a statement until he earnestly learns what it means to stand tall in a complicated time. We finally see him do this when he starts acting from an angle of genuine understanding, and Simon shows us a place of resonance that we are still grappling with as a nation today. Hey, Liberal! brings us into a world where we have space to explore our inherent roles in society and all of their essential and valuable nuances. Not only that, but it can be done through humor, poise, and unwavering honesty.  


    Claire Martin is studying Fiction Writing at Columbia College Chicago. You can find her working on creative essays, wandering through Printer’s Row after hours, and becoming fully nocturnal.