Thursday, September 19, 2019

B&N YA Book of the Month: Riots and Race Relations

                 Image result for i'm not dying with you tonight

Barnes and Noble hosts a YA (Young Adult Genre) book club on the second Thursday of every month at all locations across the country. I found out about this two Sundays ago when a manager at the One Loudoun location encouraged me to come after I got him and half his staff chasing a misplaced copy of  Fawkes by Nadine Brandes across the store for half an hour. It's not my fault. I just asked about it, and then they were Committed. It was terrifying and thrilling to watch. Guy Fawkes was Not getting away from these agents of literary justice.

Wow bunny trail.


This month's Barnes and Noble YA Book of the Month is ***drummmmmmrollll***

I'm Not Dying With You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal.

After receiving said invitation from said dedicated manager, I was like...okay. I will come to the group. But I am not attempting to read this book. You can't make me. Not in half a week. Not with everything else I've got going on.

Three days later I did a little research just so I would be mildly prepared for discussion. This research involved skimming blurbs online, watching Booktube reviews, and READING THE ENTIRE BOOK.

What can I say? I just sorta Checked to see if the library had it, and they did, and One Thing Led to Another....and you know how it is.

Kimberly Jones is African American. Gilly Segal is Caucasian, but grew up in Israel. They met, became friends, and decided to co-write a YA book about race relations. This Sounds Good Already, Right? I'm Not Dying With You Tonight follows on the heels of books like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which have really defined the ever-growing contemporary YA race relations canon. More on The Hate U Give later.

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If you take a look at the cover here, you'll see that the authors' names correspond with the artwork depending on which way you orient the book. If you hold it with Kimberly Jones's name right-side-up, then Lena's face is also right side up along with her bold, red version of the title (as in the photo).
But. If you hold the book with Gilly Segal's name right-side-up, then Campbell's face is also right-side-up, along with her peach script version of the title. I like this cover. I like it a lot. Like all great book covers, it communicates So Much about the story and how its authors present it.

I'm Not Dying With You Tonight was inspired by the riots that took place in Baltimore in 2015. It alternates in perspective between Lena, a fierce, confident, fashion-savvy, type-A girl who knows what she wants out of life and Campbell, shrinking violet, new girl in town, runner, and the only child of a broken family. Lena and Campbell go to the same school, but until the night in question, they're nearly strangers.

When a fight breaks out after a football game, Lena and Campbell find themselves trapped in a concession stand together as the fight escalates into a riot that spills into the streets of the city. Just watching the escalation--thoughtless words, pent-up anger loosed, misunderstandings, accidents, retaliations of greater and greater violence, destruction of property, trampling, and looting--is a terrifying study in human nature.

I think what really got me were the reactions and assumptions of two different people to the arrival and involvement of police officers.

If you've ever wondered what it would be like to be trapped in the middle of a riot, trying to get from point A to point B, and in some sort of danger because of the color of your skin, whatever color it is, then this is the book to read. I was on the edge of my seat fascinated at how it all unfolded, and seeing the scene through two completely different pairs of eyes lent a whole new level of chaos and compassion to the story.

What I appreciate most about this book is that it shows without telling. It's not a sermon or an op-ed. It's not even a complete story. It's just a window on a landscape. It presents two different, equally valid and equally flawed lines of thought that have to make some semblance of peace with each other. It depicts the riot not as a randomized incident but as a volcanic eruption that had been building in the hearts of the people involved for some time.

Because Segal and Jones don't attempt to offer any answers, this book is in a unique position to present facet upon facet of the problem without (I think) oversimplifying. This is in contrast to Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give, which, admittedly, I haven't read yet (I Know, SHAME). But I Have Watched the Movie. Twice. Apologies to Angie Thomas if I judge her work too harshly by its film adaptation!!


I did really appreciate The Hate U Give. It made me think in ways I never have before. It made me want to pay more attention. It elicited so many good conversations. But. Because it did what books are generally supposed to do, and gave a complete story with a complete message, it, by necessity, had to oversimplify the issues, and because of that, the story and its message felt a bit contrived and a bit forced. Maybe the book was better.

However. When you start to stack these stories on top of each other. Take The Hate U Give with On the Come Up by Angie Thomas, and Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds and Black Enough (various authors) And I'm Not Dying With You Tonight, and Anything else you've read and want to add to that pile, you start to get a better picture.

That's what I'm encouraging today: Listening to people tell stories. Stories are Such a Precious and Unique way to get inside someone else's head. Even if they're wrong or half-right or just a little bit right or just a smidge off the mark, you Still learn So Much by sitting down and listening. And who knows, maybe you'll start to see the world in a way you never thought you would or wanted to. Not listening is really the only excuse we have for not understanding because people are talking and talking in articulate, talented and riveting ways.

The way I figure, if you can read Watership Down and somehow come to a deep understanding of the subtleties and inner workings of Rabbit Society, then you can certainly read to better understand a different race, class, culture, subculture, worldview, etc. etc. etc.

What's Watership Down, you ask? Oh dear, we have so much work to do.

All that to say, I give I'm Not Dying With You Tonight four out of five stars (liked it a lot, recommend) and would for sure read another book by Segal and Jones if they give it another go.

Let me know what you think! Have you read any good books lately that took you completely out of your own shoes and put you in someone else's? I'd love to hear about it. Leave a comment!

P.S. I plan to keep up with reviews of Barnes and Noble YA Books of the Month from here on out; so stay tuned!

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