Reviews of the Week with Hanif Abdurraqib, Amber Tamblyn, Kate McGovern, and More!

Every weekday we feature a different review on Booklist Online. These reviews are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, or in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight.

A poet and music fan’s devotional to a groundbreaking hip-hop group; the touching story of an imaginative girl overcoming fear; a blazing and relevant call to action; a confounding choice made by someone facing a terminal illness; the honest and inspiring testimony of someone living with depression. Love, passion, and empathy are in the air as we roll out the Reviews of the Day from this week, February 11–February 15, below.

Monday, February 11

 Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest, by Hanif Abdurraqib

Abdurraqib’s profile of A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ) is much more than a musical biography; it’s also a deeply personal tribute to the classic hip-hop group, some of which takes shape in open letters to Q-Tip and the other members of the crew. Although the origins of ATCQ and their bitter breakup is a story loaded with drama on its own (it was the subject of a documentary in 2011), exploring the group’s history is only a part of what Abdurraqib (They Can’t Kill Us until They Kill Us, 2017) does here. The book comes to life when he speaks from his own experiences: discovering ATCQ’s early albums growing up and how he was impacted by other classics of the genre in the 1980s and ’90s; how being a dedicated music fan in his youth was critical in shaping his peer group (“not entirely uncool but who were also decidedly not the cool kids”); and his undying love of the cassette format.


Tuesday, February 12

 A Monster like Me, by Wendy S. Swore

For as long as she can remember, Sophie has identified herself as a monster. She either shrouds her face with her long hair or hides behind her Big Book of Monsters to keep others from seeing the hemangioma on her face. She knows that people will think if she’s disfigured on the outside, she must be on the inside, too. Now, starting in her new school in Portland, she’s speechless when a lively girl in her class (never even looking at her mark) declares they will be best friends. Smart, but self-consciously quiet, Sophie thinks she can identify other people as various types of monsters, witches, or fae folk. Bullies may surround her, but Sophie must confront her own fears. Will she ever allow herself to be “just a human girl?”


Wednesday, February 13

 Era of Ignition: Coming of Age in a Time of Rage and Revolution, by Amber Tamblyn

Hot on the heels of her debut novel, Any Man (2018), actor-director-writer Tamblyn offers this collection of essays on U.S. activism as she’s lived it over the last five years. Tamblyn describes the exhilaration of campaigning for Hillary Clinton with her daughter gestating peacefully inside her womb. She is candid about the paralyzing fear she felt when American politics took a hard right turn, and open about how postpartum medical problems detracted from her productivity as both a mother and an activist. Tamblyn shares heartbreaking stories of living in the epicenter of the Hollywood #MeToo movement, even speaking candidly of her own husband’s (comedian David Cross’) faults and her frustrations with heterosexual partnership in an era when even good men can’t properly navigate feminism. Also exploring the dysfunctions of white supremacist feminism, Tamblyn is clear about her own shortcomings as an intersectional ally, and she begs fellow cis white women to be as self-critical.


Thursday, February 14

 Fear of Missing Out, by Kate McGovern

People freeze embryos and tissue cultures for safekeeping. What about freezing a body at death in the event that future medical advances could mean reviving the deceased if a cure for the illness is found? Astrid, narrator of this compelling story, happens upon the little-known science of cryopreservation when considering clinical trials and other possibilities for dealing with her brain tumor recurrence. Her friend Chloe supports the inquiry into cryopreservation and raises money online for a road trip to Arizona to find out more about it. Astrid’s boyfriend, Mohit, is skeptical, but goes along on the trip for support. This provocative twist on a story of life-threatening disease is just one aspect of a powerful account about a teenager’s fight to live. While taking us through Astrid’s worsening symptoms and struggle to maintain a normal front at school, McGovern (Rules for 50/50 Chances, 2015) also captures a parent’s raw grief and the emotional burden of an impending death on close friends.


Friday, February 15

 The Scar: A Personal History of Depression and Recovery, by Mary Cregan

Cregan was a 27-year-old book designer in New York when she gave birth to her first child. All seemed well until two days later, when her daughter, Anna, died, and Cregan fell into a deep depression. Things got so bad that she attempted suicide. It took her many years to confront her past, but confront it she does in this remarkable book, which goes against everything she learned as a child growing up in a large Irish-Catholic family (“It was best not to draw attention to oneself”). She recalls her own suffering—refusing the “shame and stigma” still associated with mental illness and suicide––but also examines the history of depression, or melancholia, as it was called, from Hippocrates to Kay Redfield Jamison as well as the emergence of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and even the origin of the color blue.



About the Author:

Michael Ruzicka, Office Manager, was raised in suburban Los Angeles, received a BA in Creative Writing/Poetry at UC Santa Cruz, then moved to Birmingham, AL, where he spent five years owning an independent bookstore and earned an MLIS. He has brought his librarian skills to Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive, Battle Ground Academy, The Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Michael is very excited to be a part of Booklist and call Chicago his home.

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