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Book Nook - 05-03-2019

Tuesday, March 05, 2019
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

Ghetto Girl
The Hate U Give, the first novel by Angie Thomas, a scathing account of racism, seen from the point of view of a teenage black girl, was a huge bestseller, and a hard act to follow. But her second, On The Come Up, is every bit as powerful and affecting as the first, and has an equally sassy sixteen-year-old protagonist Brianna.

The book is set in the same black ghetto of Garden Heights as the first--and the incident of an innocent black boy being shot by a white cop and the riots that follow, is referred to here.  Brianna’s story has startling similarities with the recent Bollywood movie, Gully Boy; she too wants to take the hip-hop way out of poverty.

Brianna’s rapper father Lawless was gunned down by gangsters, and went into the hip hop hall of fame. To cope with the trauma, her mother Jay took to drugs and abandoned Brianna and her older brother Trey at their grandparents’ home.  She returned, however, and stayed clean to look after her kids, but it is a hand to mouth existence.  When she loses even the low-paid job she had, the power is cut off because they can’t pay the bill, and the fridge is almost empty. Jay has to swallow her pride and accept food given as charity at Christmas.

Trey is the dutiful son, who interrupts his education to work in a pizza parlour and support his family. Brianna has inherited her father’s talent for rapping, and hopes she will make it big. She wins a rap contest at a popular joint called the Ring, that launches her, but she needs much more to reach real stardom.

Thomas has not just captured colourful ghetto speak, she has populated Brianna’s world with marvellous characters, like her Aunt Pooh and her boyfriend Scrap who become drug dealers for want of better opportunities. Brianna’s best buddies are Sonny and Malik, called the Unholy Trinity by their mothers who are also friends and always willing to help each other. There is a shady agent, Supreme, who has no qualms about selling the image of blacks as hoodlums to white music executives who want to perpetrate the stereotype for profit. As Supreme tells Brianna, “You know what white kids in the suburbs love? Listening to shit that scares their parents… You scare the hell outta their folks, they’ll flock to you like birds.”  

An incident at school unnerves Brianna, but also gives her instant success, through a song she uploads—On The Come Up.  Two guards at her school snatched her bag to search and when she resisted, they threw her on the floor and handcuffed her. It is captured on video, that obviously racist act and Brianna’s incendiary song leads to a riot at the school, and she finds herself sucked into the very situation she was fighting against—having people believe she is a ghetto rat and drug dealer.

Angie Thomas was a teen rapper herself, so her portrayal of this cut-throat world is accurate and moving, peppered with raw humour. Brianna navigates with strength and grace through tough times, a broken heart, a budding romance and the struggle to make it on her own terms.  A heroine like that is hard to find. Brava!

On The Come Up
By Angie Thomas
Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins
Pages: 465

 

Excerpt of On The Come Up
Aunt Pooh knocks on the side door. Feet shuffle and someone hollers out, “Whois it?”

“P” is all Aunt Pooh says.

Several locks click, and when the door opens, it’s like that moment in Black Panther when they go through the hologram and enter the real Wakanda.

It’s like we just stepped through a hologram that showed everyone else a trap house and into a studio.

It’s not the fanciest, but it’s better than I expected. The walls are covered in those cardboard cup holders that restaurants give when you have multiple drinks to carry. Soundproofing. There are several computer monitors at a table, with drum pads, keyboards, and speakers nearby. A mic sits on a stand over in a corner.

A potbellied bearded guy in a wife beater sits at the table.

“Whaddup, P?” he says with a mouthful of gold. His words come out slow, like somebody turned down the tempo on his voice.

“Whaddup, Doc?” Aunt Pooh slaps palms with him and the other guys. There are about six or seven of them. “Bri, this is Doc, the producer,” Aunt Pooh says. Doc nods at me. “Doc, this is Bri, my niece. She ’bout to murder this beat you got for her.”

“Hold up, you made that for this li’l girl?” some guy on the couch asks. “What she gon’ do, spit some nursery rhymes?”

There go the smirks and snickers.

This is that stale and predictable shit Aunt Pooh warned me about when I first told her I wanted to be a rapper. She said I’d have to do double the work to get half the respect. On top of that, I gotta be just as cutthroat, and I better not show weakness. Basically, I gotta be one of the guys and then some in order to survive.

I look dude on the couch dead in his eyes. “Nah. I’ll leave the nursery rhymes to you, Father Goose.”

“Ooh,” a couple of the guys say, and one or two give me dap as they crack up. Just like that, I’m one of them.

Doc chuckles. “He wish this beat was for him, that’s all. Check it out.”

He clicks some stuff on one of the computers and a bassheavy up-tempo beat blasts through the speakers.

Well, damn. It’s nice as hell. Reminds me of soldiers marching for some reason.

Or the hands of a school security guard patting me down for drugs I didn’t have.

Rat-tat-tat-tat ta-ta-tat-tat.

Rat-tat-tat-tat ta-ta-tat-tat.

I get my notebook out and flip through. Shit. Nothing I’ve got seems to go with this beat. It needs something new. Something tailored to it.

Aunt Pooh bounces on her heels. “Oooh-weee! We really gon’ be on the come up once this drops.”

On the come up.

“Dun-dun-dun-dun, on the come up,” I mumble. “Dundun-dun-dun, on the come up.”

I close my eyes. The words are there, I swear. They’re just waiting for me to find them.

 

Perilous Polly
Bestselling author Laura Lippman’s twenty-third novel, Sunburn, is a twisty-turny romantic thriller, with a beautiful and sexy redheaded protagonist, who, after a bad marriage, decides to take control of her destiny, and uses her magnetism to manipulate people—a classic femme fatale.

Polly Costello, walks out on her second husband, Gregg and daughter suddenly, intuiting that he was about to abandon her with the kid. She lands up at the one-horse town of Belleville and takes up a job as a waitress in a bar. It turns out that she had killed her abusive first husband, went to  prison and was released by a governor’s pardon. Only a crooked insurance agent knows that Polly has a fortune from insurance and a malpractice claim, waiting for her to collect it. He hires a private detective, the good-looking Adam Bosk, to trail her and find out her plans. Adam gets a job as a chef in the same bar to get closer to Polly, discovers that she is not so easy to crack and ends up falling hopelessly in love with her.

However, he is never sure if she loves him too, or is just using him. Still, he is willing to give up his old life and settle down with her; she shows willingness to do the same, but she keeps him and the reader guessing.

Lippman gradually builds up the stormy weather outside and in the emotional turbulence between Polly and Adam and then turns up the heat till the explosion takes place. The bitter-sweet ending is totally unexpected. Polly is an admirable woman, who is aware how tough it is for an impoverished woman like her to get by in a man’s world, but has the smarts to research exactly how to kill a man with a knife to his heart, so that he dies with one blow. If it’s her life on the line, she knows what she has to do to survive.

Sunburn
By Laura Lippman
Publsher: Morrow
Pages: 304

 

Excerpt of Sunburn
She steps out of room 5 into a bright, hot morning, unseasonably hot, just as the weekend at the beach had been, but at least there the breeze from the ocean took the edge off. People said how lucky it was, getting such a hot day in early June, when the water is too cold for anyone but the kids. School not even out yet, lines at the most popular restaurants were manageable. Lucky, people kept saying, as if to convince themselves. Lucky. So lucky. Is there anything sadder than losers trying to convince themselves that they're fortunate? She used to be that way, but not anymore. She calls things the way they are, starting with herself. When Gregg had started talking about a week at the beach, she had assumed a rental house in Rehoboth or Dewey. Maybe not on the beach proper, but at least on the east side of the highway. Well, they had been close to the beach. But it was Fenwick, on the bayside, and it was a two-story cinder block with four small apartments that were basically studios. One big rectangular room for them and Jani, a galley kitchen, a bathroom with only a shower, no tub. And ants. Wavy black lines of ants everywhere. "It's what was available, last minute," Gregg said. She amended in her head. It's what was available, last minute, if you're cheap. There had to be a better place to stay along the Delaware shore, even last minute. Jani couldn't sleep unless the room was in complete blackout. So they kept her up late, to nine or ten, because the alternative was to go to bed together at eight, and lie there in the dark without touching. The first night, about two, Gregg made a move. Maybe a year or two ago, it would have been sexy, trying to go at it silently in the dark. But it had been a long time since she found anything about Gregg sexy. "No, no, no, she'll wake up." "We could give her a little Benadryl." That had given her pause, made her wonder if she should change her plans, but no, she had to go ahead. The next day, she did ask him if he would really do that, give Jani a Benadryl. He insisted he was joking. She decided to believe him. If she didn't believe him, she would have to stay. And there was no way she could stay.

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