BJ’s Top Reads from 2020
The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede This was a great way to start the reading year off right. Such a wonderful book to read. This is the true story of the day of the 9/11 attack when the US airspace was shut down. The planes that were flying toward the US had to land somewhere, and many landed in the small town Gander, NewFoundland. The residents of Gander took in the 7,000 stranded passengers for a week, opened their homes and their hearts and assisted these strangers until they figured out when they’d ever be allowed to travel home again. The broadway play Come From Away was also based on this story, and I had gone to see it on our Ride the Rails weekend, and I am now inspired to travel to Gander, Newfoundland--which we'll do in July.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides I did not see the ending coming on this one. Theo is a psychotherapist who starts work at a new hospital drawn to working with a famous patient, Alicia. Alicia was an artist who shot her husband and has since stopped talking—she did not participate in her own defense and hasn’t spoken for years. It’s Theo’s mission to get her to talk again. But when she does talk will she tell the truth about what happened the night her husband was killed.
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo This is the story of a teenage transgender girl. She starts a new school where nobody except her dad ever knew her as a boy. But because the school is in the deep south, for obvious reasons she keeps her secret to herself. This book was a fascinating insight into the world of transgender people. It gave me a glimpse into what it’s like to be trans, and how it all works. An awesome read.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood 432 pages. This was the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale and I loved it. I originally read The Handmaid's Tale back in the 90s and at the time I was obsessed with the story, and was like "Oh this is a compelling piece of fiction. Then I saw the show on Hulu and thought "Holy crap, this could actually happen!" I devoured every episode of the show, and the Testaments picks up where the show leaves off. It's about 16 years after the events that are currently taking place in the show. I always felt that the Handmaid’s Tale never really ended. The show on Hulu, while hard to watch, is incredibly well done in that it has extended the story beyond the original book. And man, did I love this book. It’s given me the closure I’ve been wanting in such an unexpected way. Brava, Ms. Atwood. Highly recommend!
North of Normal by Cea Sunrise Person I started this one on a Thursday and finished it on Saturday. Give me a memoir about someone’s messed up childhood and say goodbye for me for 2 days. Cea Person describes her childhood growing up off grid in the Canadian wilderness after her grandfather has advocated for wilderness living for years. But that’s not the weird part. Her family believes in free love, her mom is constantly high, and all she wants is a normal life. But the problem is Dad is not in the picture and Mom jumps from guy to guy, and let’s just say these guys aren’t exactly upstanding citizens. Cea has to figure out how to establish her own normal in a very chaotic life with people who have no interest in living in a house and getting a job. She struggles through her childhood periodically attending schools with other kids who live in a house and whose parents have actual jobs. A fascinating read.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson 368 pages This was not exactly a vacation read but extremely eye opening. Bryan Stevenson is a young attorney who founded the Equal Justice Initiative after visiting a death row inmate in Alabama who was wrongfully convicted. He makes it his life’s work to help those who have been wrongfully convicted to get off of death row. The inmate who inspired him to start on this mission was Walter McMillian. The evidence against Walter was largely fabricated and flat out absurd and Bryan Stevenson managed to get him a retrail and off of death row. An incredibly insightful read.
The Man She Married by Cathy Lamb 329 pages. The story opens with Natalie and Zack, a couple, in a fight. He tells her that he can’t tell her why, but he says that their lives are in danger. She leaves the house and drives to work when she’s in a car accident where the driver of the other car intentionally hit her. While she’s in a coma she can hear what people are saying and she’s trying to piece together what exactly is going on and why she was intentionally targeted. The rest of the story as she’s recovering she’s trying to remember what happened the morning of the accident and what really is going on with her husband. Interesting concept.
The Grace Year by Kim Liggett 416 pages. I was obsessed with this one. Imagine Handmaid’s Tale meets Lord of the Flies. In the county all the 16 year old girls are rounded up every year and sent off to a camp to live on their own in the middle of nowhere for a year to rid themselves of their "magic" and purify themselves to get ready for marriage. Nobody talks about the Grace Year, what happens in Grace Year stays in Grace Year, and not all the girls make it back in one piece—if they make it back at all. Tierney goes on her Grace Year and learns the truth about what goes on during the Grace Year, will she get home and convince the county to make changes?
We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez 368 pages Whoah! It’s the story told by Pulga and Pequena, two Guatemalan teens, who make the journey from Guatemala to the US, they travel the length of Mexico aboard La Bestia. La Bestia is a network of freight trains that migrants climb on top of to make the journey more efficiently up the length of Mexico The train is also called El Tren de Muerte because many migrants have been killed or disfigured by this train. The story is enlightening, fascinating, and gave me whole new perspective of what it means to come to the US in search of a better life. And I already have a perspective on that because my parents are immigrants. After I read it I googled pictures of La Bestia and sat with my mouth hanging open looking at the pictures of these people clinging to the top of the train cars as it speeds across the harsh landscape. Truly amazing read.
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell This one was brutal and raw. Vanessa was 15 when she had a fling with her English teacher at her boarding school. She is obsessed with him, to the point where once the affair is discovered she takes the fall for him and gets expelled from the school to keep him out of jail. But it doesn’t end for her there. She remains entirely besotted with him, to the point where she doesn’t even think of dating anyone else. When it comes out that the teacher has had dalliances with other girls, and as she grows older she senses she is less attractive to him because she is getting older and he’s only attracted young teen girls. The affair has stunted her for sure, she deals with alcohol abuse and a lack of direction in her life as in adult. When the new accusations come out in 2017 she has a choice as to whether she should stand up and say Me Too or should she stand by her man.
The One by John Marrs Imagine if a dating site like Match or Eharmony matched love connections using DNA. This story is about several different characters who were matched with other people based on DNA and in all cases the person they were matched with weren’t what they were expected. Like one man, who was engaged to a woman, learned he was matched to a man. Another woman, who is a detective, was matched to a man who is actually the serial killer she’s tracking. This book was super interesting and well worth the read.
added on 01.08.21