Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath

I’m not going to review this book.  Instead, I’ll just share some of my favorite quotes.  Rivera’s writing is just so quotable.  Suffice it to say, this is an important book.  It’s important to brown kids and queer kids and to those who question their place in the world.  It may be even more important to old white hippie ladies and privileged young people who forget to question our biases and the role acceptance plays in ones life.

If you know a kid who needs this book, buy it for them.  Buy a copy for the public library.  There will be thought police who try to keep this one under wraps for its subject matter and language.  That makes it all the more important that we spread copies of the book around.

Now, some words of wisdom from Gabby Rivera.

“It looked like the Salvation Army of bookstores, and who doesn’t love a little dig through salvation?”

“You want answers. Make your own religion out of doubt and curiosity. Don’t go running after one God.”

“…God was at best an elevated spiritual feeling and at worst one of the most brutal myths people have created.”

“Libraries had zero tolerance for bullshit.  Their walls protected us and kept us safe from all the bastards that never read a book for fun.”

“The underbelly of America creeped me out; the sociopathic patriarchy was still some old devil who never got put down.”

“You said reading would make me brilliant, but writing would make me infinite.”

Art and Politics

At the Oklahoma Book Festival, a young lady in the audience asked me if I accomplished anything by mixing art and politics.  I had the feeling she didn’t think much of the practice, although I may have read her wrong.

The fact is, making art has always been political.  Think about this: when a dictator puts down his thumbs on the necks of citizens, who are among the first to be targeted?  Artists and intellectuals!

Artists and scholars are both critical thinkers.  They create ideas out of disparate pieces of thought. They make connections, then they make something new out of bits and pieces of the old, out of those sudden revelations of connectedness.

This is not what I told the young lady.  I’m a slow thinker, taking my time to pull all ideas together before I write them down…or spit them out.  What I did say was that I was pretty sure my poetry didn’t change many minds about politics, but as a political minority in Oklahoma, maybe someone out there like me would feel less alone.

I feel the same way about the political essays I write for Oklahoma Observer.

Here’s the answer I wish I’d given her, the one that came to me well after the fact:

Logic hasn’t worked to change regressive economic and political thinking in Oklahoma. Maybe art can.

Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe

If I gave stars with my book reviews, Jo Watson Hackl’s Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe would get a whole constellation.  It’s the best middle grade mystery I’ve read since I discovered Sheila Turnage’s Newbery Honor Book, Three Times Lucky.

Hackl’s character, Cricket, drags you along from the first paragraph:

“Turns out, it’s easier than you might think to sneak out of town smuggling a live cricket, three pocketfuls of jerky, and two bags of half-paid-for merchandise from Thelma’s Cash ‘n’ Carry grocery store.”

And there’s the humor:

“Even at a time like this, it’s important to keep moisturized.”

Head out the door of that Mississippi store with Cricket (the human) and Charlene (the cricket).  On the journey your traveling companions will enlighten you about the nature of art, self-reliance, and loyalty, and how to live with and love someone who has a mental illness.

The setting is real. The characters are believable.  And there’s a little history thrown in, to boot, about this neck of the Mississippi woods.

Love this book!!!