Cardyn Brooks reviews two new reads for the summer sun
contemporary adult multicultural romance
Dafina Books, an imprint of Kensington Books 29 May 2018
Touched by You contains all of the elements that made me an Elle Wright fan after reading Her Kind of Man in her Edge of Scandal series: a multifaceted community rendered in a broad array of black and brown people who are complicated as they persevere. In this first entry in the Wellspring series, Brooklyn and Carter’s love story introduces readers to the company town of Wellspring, Michigan. Population: messy. It contains all the soap opera juiciness of a daytime drama with its layers of social commentary about social class disparities, localized economic monopolies, and resources for underserved segments of the population such as people who are homeless and mentally ill.
It’s the emotional range and depth of her characters that hook me the most. There’s a tangible sense of profound connections between siblings, extended families, and friends. Carter’s expressions of his grief differ from Brooklyn’s, and yet both resonate as believable. Brooklyn’s self-awareness keeps her twenty-something angst from being too distracting, while Carter’s flashes of hypermasculinity occur in contexts of protecting vulnerable targets from harm. It’s so refreshing to read a romance with an ethnically diverse cast of characters who are dealing with a variety of challenges like human beings who happen to be brown and black among other traits.
Religious beliefs are included in organic and subtle ways. The running thread bout short hair, natural hair, wigs, and weaves rings true in the tradition of Chris Rock’s Good Hair documentary. E. W.’s compassionate affection for most of her characters projects clearly from each page.
There were a few place where the tech expert aspect of Carter’s profession seems to contradict his access to information. It was the same thing in a few scenes with Brooklyn. Internet search engines are a fact of present-day life. It’s noticeable when characters behave as if that isn’t true.
The small cliffhanger linked to a multi-pronged scandal is reminiscent of some elements from Alisha Rai’s* Forbidden Hearts trilogy. The teaser for Parker, Jr.’s love story does its job of generating anticipation for the next installment. There are still questions that need answers.
[Incidental profanity usage occurs maybe a handful of times.]
*Her “Toxic male Syndrome” panel group discussion for this year’s Book Con June 2—3 in NYC with Jasmine Guillory and others should generate some meaningful discourse in this #MeToo and Time’s Up social climate shift.
contemporary multicultural non-fiction
Fordham University Press May 2018
In Latinx Literature Unbound (with detailed end notes and an exhaustive list of works cited), Prof. Ralph E. Rodriguez reveals himself to be the best kind of teacher: the perennial student who is as engaged in each mis/step on the path toward answers to his questions as he is with finding the answers to those questions.
His conversational writing style invites readers to join his personal struggle as he wrestles with the concept and consequences of ethnic identity labels.
After explicit and repeated proclamations of his respect for the benefits and practical necessities of studying texts as categorized by ethnic identity and other superficial, mutable signifiers, Prof. Rodriguez proceeds to challenge the assumptions made when ethnic identity is treated as a finite, static trait. In Latinx Literature Unbound, he peels back multiple layers of how ethnicity is manufactured and assigned, projected and imposed by individuals, families, communities, government entities, and societies to create parallel existences and simultaneous levels of consciousness in individuals. On page 22 he ponders how these unique, personal amalgams impact belief, disbelief, volition, and readers’ expectations.
In his concluding remarks, Prof. Rodriguez mentions a non-conformist group of writers known as the Back Porch Collective and his interest in studying them in-depth. His attitude of intellectual exploration of the artistic composition process reminded me of conducting a laboratory experiment, which is why the following overview of Latinx Literature Unbound is presented in the format of my loose interpretation of the Scientific Method using the author’s words to inform each aspect of inquiry.
- Stating the problem
From page 3: The ways that criticism circumscribes what we [as readers, reviewers, members of the publishing industry, literary scholars, sociopolitical pundits, etc.] talk about when we talk about Latinx literature and how we talk about it.
(Bracketed text is my addition.)
We critics may not mean to create a canon, but our critical acts generate one.
Page 14: In the following pages, I mean to unbind this literature from this, at times, limiting aesthetic rubric.
- Forming the hypothesis
Page 2: What is it that labeling a work of literature Latinx allows us to know?
Page 3: What is an appropriate and justifiable scale for organizing a corpus or network of literary texts?
- Observing and experimenting
Page 6: Consider various demographic, analytic, and imaginary approaches to Latino unity and diversity.
Page 9: In its grand lumping together of these diverse populations, [the umbrella label of] Latino likely conceals [and/or distorts?] more than it reveals about these heterogeneous communities and their cultural productions.
(Bracketed text is my addition.)
- Interpreting data
Prof. Rodriguez deconstructs specific works from authors of novels, short stories, and poetry and examines them within and outside of the context of commonly applied Latinx qualifiers related to author identity, cultural authenticity, and marketing categories.
On page 18 he says he uses genre as “a systematic way to put categorically similar texts in conversation with one another and to analyze how their formal features generate a host of meanings within and across texts.”
- Drawing conclusions
Page 24: When a novel fails to conform… to what readers believe are acceptable political, racial, social, gender, sexual, and other practices, we often deem it fraudulent and inauthentic; we consider it a sell-out.
Page 15: Moreover, this policing can lead to a cult of ethnicity that has deleterious effects on the literature, for, wittingly or not, it places a burden of representation on the writer. Publishing houses come to expect Latinx writers (all ethnic writers for that matter) to write on a certain set of themes, and if they do not, an agent or editor will often tell them that it’s not ethnic enough, stifling their imaginations by forcing them into knowable boxes.21
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