THE STONE SKY (2017)

downloadUpon finishing the The Stone Sky, the first thing I did was return to my review of The Fifth Season to refresh myself on why I was confused about my own thoughts on it. I was confused because I enjoyed reading it, couldn’t put it down, loved the characters, loved the writing, had no complaints whatsoever, but despite all of that, did not feel consumed by it. I even said that I didn’t think it would stick with me in a long-term way like all my favorite books do. I struggled to express this well the first time, and I’m not sure I’ve done a much better job now, but I bring it up again for this reason: The Stone Sky consumed me. Or more specifically, the last three chapters did.

One thing I repeatedly noticed as I read this trilogy is how I was reading faster than my brain could keep up with. There are many sections in the book that get almost technical in their description and explanation of the geological events that are occurring, and I would fly through all of it whether I fully comprehended what I was reading or not. I don’t think it’s inherently bad to read in this way, it’s the way I tend to read a lot of page-turning fiction, but it is definitely a shallower, surface-level method of reading. The point of explaining this, however, is to emphasize that the moment I started the third to last chapter of The Stone Sky, I was suddenly reading slowly…one sentence at a time…one word at a time. I had been racing through this crazy chaotic emotional turmoil of a trilogy, and then the last 60 pages hit me so hard that I stopped in my tracks and had to slow down and take in every single word. There are many great novels that don’t need their endings or don’t truly have one, and their effectiveness is found in the telling or in the small moments or in the overarching message. The Broken Earth trilogy, in contrast, is made complete by its ending. The ending is the heart of the story, and I wasn’t able to fully love the story until I reached it.

There’s so much about The Stone Sky and the entire Broken Earth Trilogy as a whole that is remarkable. One of the most notable is something I also talked about after reading The Fifth Season, which is that it forces you to see the injustices of your own reality more clearly by making you look into another’s as an outsider. It’s been a troubling year to say the least, and The Stone Sky throws punch after punch of reminders that our country and our leaders are going the wrong direction. Making the wrong choices. Choosing the wrong priorities. Jemisin shows us how much worse-off the world can become if we continue to follow this path, while also showing us that it is never too late to change course. And this is what the ending encapsulates in a remarkable 60 pages. It’s tragic, gripping, emotional, realistic, but ultimately so full of hope. Heart-wrenchingly full of hope. How often does that happen? How often do we get to be crushed and then uplifted by a realistic conclusion? It’s a rare thing and it’s the difference between loving a book and being consumed by it.

Links: N K Jemisin .com | Goodreads | Amazon

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BROWN GIRL IN THE RING (1998)

download (1)I had some doubts about Brown Girl in the Ring for the first 150 pages or so of reading it. My main concern was that the entire novel would be predictable – tropes were introduced that had the potential to unfold in a boringly predictable way. But as the conflicts took shape and began to reach resolution, Hopkinson blew me away with her creativity and particularly with her powerful feminism. There’s a lot of reviews that complain about Brown Girl in The Ring having an identity crisis. Is it sci-fi? Fantasy? Neither? Is it Jamaican or is it Canadian? The other recurring complaint I saw was about the protagonist being annoyingly immature. My response to these complaints are, respectively, I don’t care! and you’re wrong. Allow me to explain further.

I’m not sure how I’d categorize Brown Girl in the Ring in terms of genre, but frankly, I don’t care. If pressed, I’d describe it as a blend of science fiction dystopia and magical realism. Whatever it is, it worked for me. I could maybe understand the complaint that Hopkinson’s exploration into the science fiction themes just barely scratch the surface, except that this isn’t what the book is primarily about (more on this later). The setting is Toronto and the majority of characters are Jamaican immigrants or children of immigrants. This is drawn from Hopkinson’s own experience as a Jamaican immigrant who lived most of her adult life in Canada. I found the merging of cultures in Brown Girl in the Ring to be unique and interesting and not at all cluttered. As for the immaturity of the protagonist, I have a lot to say in response.

The protagonist, Ti-Jeanne, is immature in many ways at the start of the novel. She has a child that she isn’t prepared to care for and has very little interest in caring for. She blames her grandmother for all of her frustrations, and she can’t control her attraction to her good-looking, sweet-talking, ex-boyfriend: Tony. But even at Ti-Jeanne’s most immature, you can see her potential for growth. One of my favorite feminist moments in the novel happens early on when Ti-Jeanne still thinks she’s in love with Tony. Tony asks why Ti-Jeanne left him (it was because of the baby), and just as Ti-Jeanne is about to open up to him and tell him “all her worries about whether Tony would have been able to help her provide for the child,” he interrupts her and says, “I would have let you keep the baby, no matter whose it is. I love you Ti-Jeanne” (73). Moments earlier Ti-Jeanne was swooning over Tony, but as soon as he says this, her response is shock. She thinks, “He would have ‘let’ her keep the baby? The moment had passed. She gave Tony the glare that always threw him off balance.” This scene introduces feminism as a central element to Brown Girl in the Ring, and I quickly saw the novel as, above anything else, a feminist one. The central characters to the plot are Ti-Jeanne, her mother, and her grandmother, and the way these three generations of women navigate conflicts with each other, surpass obstacles, grow together, and support themselves in an unforgiving place is remarkable. It’s a powerfully feminist novel, and that, above all else, is what Brown Girl in the Ring is about. So to those who critique it for not being science-y enough, or not exploring the nuances of the dystopian setting enough, or whatever else, I think they’re missing the point of the novel entirely.

Links: Nalo Hopkinson .com | Goodreads | Amazon