Sunday, October 30, 2016

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

So Plato talked about these beings that used to exist that had four legs and four arms and two heads. They were totally self-contained and ecstatic and powerful. Too powerful, so Zeus cut them all in half and scattered all the halves around the world so that humans were doomed to forever look for their other half, the one who shared their very soul. Only the luckiest humans find their split-apart, you see.
It's been a rough couple of weeks, and I needed a good YA novel to sink my teeth into. This one did not disappoint. Nelson gives us the story of Noah and Jude, twins who are split apart by the paired ravages of high school and a family tragedy. Nelson divides the chapters between the two, and traces their journey away from each other and then back together artfully. Their voices are completely different--Noah thinks in crazy, almost psychedelic images, Jude is much more grounded and down to earth, but the complement each other nicely and the book has balance.

Noah starts the story as the odd one: an outsider who draws and paints like his life depends on it. He falls in love with the boy next door--a kid with a telescope on his roof and a bag full of meteors he drags through forest looking for more. Jude starts out perfect and blonde and popular; she surfs and parties with older kids, and dresses in skirts so short they drive her mother crazy. Then, as the bottom falls out of their lives, they switch places. Noah stops drawing, starts running cross country, and gets himself a girlfriend. Jude shaves her head, folds into herself, and disappears into her own artistic pursuits.

This has all the makings of a great YA novel--weird, misfit kids, tragedy, redemptive romance--but it goes deeper than most. Nelson has written two characters who are broken in ways that are real and serious and feel close to home (even if you're not a closeted gay sixteen year old). Their brokenness is heartbreakingly written, but their journey back to wholeness is more compelling than I'm used to. They find themselves not just through romance, but through art and family and nature documentaries, and small, tiny details. I struggle with the standard YA formula (broken kid finds love despite all the odds and is fixed) because I think kids who need those redemption stories the most can't see themselves in them. Love, even improbable love, seems so far out of reach, that it doesn't feel like it could ever be a solution to them. This book is different. Noah and Jude are both talented artists, and their art plays a huge role in their return to themselves; the idea that something inside them led them out of their holes feels very different from the books where romance is what pulls them out. That isn't to say that romance doesn't feature prominently. Nelson writes teen romance beautifully--it's not overwrought, but it's big and overwhelming in all the ways first love really is. It's a little corny, but teenagers in love always are.

The best relationship in the book (and there are many) is Noah and Jude's with each other. It's the one you root for most, and the one that feels like the biggest uphill journey. At the end, as things are getting close, Nelson throws several wrenches in the system, and you're convinced they'll never make it. Noah, though, never seems to lose hope:
This is us. Our pose. The smush. It’s even how we are in the ultrasound photo they took of us inside Mom and how I had us in the picture Fry ripped up yesterday. Unlike most everyone else on earth, from the very first cells of us, we were together, we came here together. This is why no one hardly notices that Jude does most of the talking for both of us, why we can only play piano with all four of our hands on the keyboard and not at all alone, why we can never do Rochambeau because not once in thirteen years have we chosen differently. It’s always: two rocks, two papers, two scissors. When I don’t draw us like this, I draw us as half-people.

I loved this one. Nelson writes beautifully and fills the novel with little gems--images and moments and reflections--that add up to a fabulous read.

Irmina by Barbara Yelin

Barbara Yelin's Irmina is a graphic novel reconstructing the author's grandmother's life during WWII. In 1934, Irmina leaves her family in Germany to train as secretary in London and falls in love with Howard, an Oxford student from Barbados. The story unspools from there as Irmina, forced to leave London because of the war, is drawn into the Nazi machinery, first as secretary, then as the wife of an architect employed by the regime.
The book is based on journals and letters, and Yelin's drawings recreate scenes in gorgeous detail. Some of her two page spreads, like the one pictured here, are so beautiful they could stand on their own, and her vignettes have beautiful movement to them. Her drawings are much closer to artful sketches than comic book frames, and I found myself getting lost in them for pages on end and forgetting to read the words (especially the letter excerpts which are recreated in spidery script beneath some of the frames).

When we first meet Irmina, she is bold and brave. She stands up to men at parties, falls in love with a black man, and seems to recognize and stand up to the strains of misogyny and racism surrounding her; after her sudden return to Germany that force seems to slowly seep out of her. She initially questions the promises being made by the Nazis, but her resolve is slowly broken, and we are supposed to see how a person, even a fundamentally good person, can break under the weight of a totalitarian regime. My one struggle with the book was how hard that transition was to believe. Because we don't have much internality (just snippets of letters and flashes of facial expression), we are left to intuit what's happening to Irmina.

The book ends with a reunion, one that forces us to consider all the paths untravelled. There are small flashes of hope and redemption, but despite it's aesthetic beauty, there is a deep, abiding sadness throughout. It's not hard to read like other WW2 narratives--it doesn't focus on the massive horrors of the Holocaust or the sweeping violence of war--but the smallness of the scope makes it differently devastating.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark

So great was the noise during the day that I used to lie awake at night listening to the silence. Eventually, I fell asleep contented. filled with soundlessness, but while I was awake I enjoyed the experience of darkness, thought, memory, sweet anticipations. I heard the silence. 
In A Far Cry from Kensington Muriel Spark gives us Mrs. Hawkins, a war widow living in London in the 1950s. Mrs. Hawkins has "a job in publishing," lives in a boarding house filled with colorful postwar characters, and spends the majority of the book in an epic battle with a gentleman named Hector Bartlett.

In Mrs. Hawkins words: "Hector Bartlett, it seemed to me, vomited literary matter, he urinated and sweated, he excreted it." Her distaste for Mr. Bartlett and her nickname for him--"pisseur de copie"--gets her fired from a multitude of publishing jobs, but she seems undaunted in her quest to destroy Bartlett's literary career. She moves seemingly effortlessly from job to job, not letting any version of The Man get her down. Mrs. Hawkins and her sharp, occasionally sarcastic observations of the people around her are a delight, and her ability to hover above the various unfolding dramas and retain a somewhat distant voice makes her both reliable and loveable as a narrator.

Spark wades into some fairly deep water; Mrs. Hawkins works for a man who seems to be a devout member of some version of Scientology, and (after one of her many firings) a Communist publication, but she does so with wit and humor and avoids getting too serious--even when dealing with the death of one of her characters. This might come off as superficial or cavalier from another writer, but Spark gives Hawkins the depth she needs to navigate these waters.

One of the central transformations of the book is Mrs. Hawkins weight loss (achieved, she tells us, simply by only eating and drinking half as much as she used to), and the transformation is not just physical. Hawkins tells us: "I carried an ample weight with my five-foot-six of height, and was healthy with it. It was of course, partly this physical factor that disposed people to confide in me. I looked comfortable." She attributes all kinds of benefits to her weight: she gets jobs, seats on the bus, friends. As she begins to shed the pounds and these benefits subside, her character changes in subtle ways. She gains confidence, starts doling out advice more forcefully, and, of course, finds love. She is less obsessive about this physical change than a protagonist today would be; she's very matter of fact about both the physical and emotional changes, and it made me like her all the more.

My favorite thing about Mrs. Hawkins, though, is the advice she gives to her readers, her friends, and her foes. This advice ranges from weight loss to effective writing and is simultaneously practical and ridiculous (as the best advice often is). Some of my personal favorites are as follows. To everyone: "It is a good thing to go to Paris for a few days if you have had a lot of trouble, and that is my advice to everyone except Parisians." To competent women: "My advice to any woman who earns the reputation of being too capable is to not demonstrate her ability too much." To those wishing to concentrate more: "If you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat."

As in Loitering with Intent, Spark has woven in just enough mystery and intrigue to keep you going. This time, the mystery centers around threatening warnings sent to the Polish seamstress who lives downstairs; it unfolds a little bit more slowly, but is no less exciting.

I really enjoyed this one. Mrs. Hawkins is smart and funny and approachable and you love and hate all the same people she loves and hates. You root for her as she moves in and out of jobs and embarks on her first romantic relationships since the death of her husband. Overall, a fun, great read!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro

Unconnected to the life of love, uncolored by love, the world resumes its own, its natural and callous importance. This is first a blow, then an odd consolation. And already I felt my old self - my old, devious, ironic, isolated self - beginning to breathe again and stretch and settle, though all around it my body clung cracked and bewildered, in the stupid pain of loss.

A very short version of this review would be: I agree with Chris.  Here is a longer version: Munro gives us the coming of age story of Del Jordan--we watch her grow into her sexuality, but also her mind, her faith, and her understanding of the world around her. The cover of the book led me to believe that this book was going to be somewhere on the level of a cheap romance novel--usually books where Cosmo provides the review on the cover and uses the phrase "one girl's very special growing up" are not for me--but it had significantly more depth than expected and was a wonderful read.

Del's transition into adulthood takes many forms. Her first experiences with love and sex are presented with a casual honesty that make them feel that much more real and resonant; she feels the same odd combination of too far behind and too far ahead that most teenagers feel, and Munro captures the confusion and brutality of young love beautifully. Del wrestles with her own brilliance as well, watching the isolation her mother has created for herself by being intelligent, while hoping to use her own mind to escape Jubilee. Again, like many teenagers, her romantic and academic worlds speed up at the same time and complicate and build off of each other, and the tensions Munro creates were beautifully crafted and painfully real: "Well-groomed girls frightened me to death. I didn't like to go near them, for fear I would be smelly. I felt there was a radical difference between them and me, as if we were made of different substances." There are so many lines like this in the book; lines where Munro perfectly captures not only what it is like to be a teenager, but also what it is like to be a woman. I literally have this exact thought several times a day as a thirty year old in New York City, but the thought is just as believable in the mind of a teenager in a provincial Canadian town.

The women in this book are fabulous. In a slim volume, Munro has created an entire cast of fascinating, intricately thought out women: the kind of attention to character you rarely see given to more than one or two women in a novel three times this size. There are Del's aunts, the gatekeepers of Jubilee propriety; her best friend, Naomi, who veers off towards a version of the aforementioned "well groomed" womanhood much faster than Del; Fern Dogherty, their tenant and a former opera singer with a possibly seedy past. Each chapter brings a new addition, and even the women who appear for just a few pages are rich in detail and thought or giggle provoking. Of all of the women, Del's mother, Ada, an embattled, clearly brilliant woman is my favorite. Trapped in a cow town and constantly trying to bring some sense of sophistication to her own life and to her daughter's, she is permanently at odds with the small world of Jubilee. Knowledge (mostly in the form of encyclopedic trivia) is her only escape, and she earnestly tries to spread the love by selling encyclopedias, an past time which even then seems outdated and odd:
Knowledge was not chilly to her, no, it was warm and lovely. Pure comfort even at this stage of her life to know the location of the Celebes Sea, and the Pitti Palace, to get the wives of Henri VII in order, and be informed about the social system of ants, the methods of sacrificial butchery used by the Aztecs, the plumbing in Knosos. She could get carried away, telling about such things; she would tell anybody. "Your mother knows such a lot of things, my," said Aunt Elspeth and Auntie Grace lightly, unenviously, and I saw that to some people, maybe to most people, knowledge was just oddity; it suck out like warts. 

Munro's novel, so rich in women (and bright, thoughtful, interesting women at that), is the perfect antidote to a world in which Donald Trump is being given a daily platform to spew his misogyny. The title comes from a speech Ada (seemingly about how getting pregnant will ruin your life). She proclaims: "There is a change coming I think in the lives of girls and women, Yes. But it is up to us to make it come." While the changes Munro and Ada were hoping for are not yet fully here, books like this get us a little closer.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Progress of Love by Alice Munro

Fifty years too late to ask, Sam thinks.  And even at the time he was too amazed.  Edgar became a person he didn't know.  Callie drew back, into her sorry female state.  The moment of happiness he shared with them remained in his mind, but he never knew what to make of it.  Do such moments really mean, as they seem to, that we have a life of happiness with which we only occasionally, knowingly, intersect?  Do they shad such light before and after all that has happened to us in our lives--or that we've made happen--can be dismissed?

I was blown away by Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and WomenIt was one of those books that made me feel, this is what literature ought to be.  But it wasn't really representative of Munro's body of work, which is defined by the short story.  (Lives, though separated into titled stories, is really a novel about a single character, Del Jordan.)  So I've been excited to read a collection of Munro's stories--do they have the same kind of depth and power?

Mostly, yes.  The stories of The Progress of Love tread similar ground as Lives.  They center around small moments in domestic life which have immense consequences, like ripples in water.  Sometimes those consequences are literal ones, other times they are merely shades of feeling which resound throughout the lives of the characters.  Many of these stories stretch over several years, and some decades.  In Lives, Munro argued that the depth of experiences in ordinary lives is as profound as any other, calling these lives "deep caves paved with kitchen linoleum."  The Progress of Love reads, sometimes, like an elaboration on this essential thesis.

One of my favorites was "Miles City, Montana," about a couple on a road trip who endure a frightening moment when their young daughter almost drowns in a swimming pool.  Another, "The Moon in the Orange Street Skating Rink," is about a pair of brother who run away from a town where one of them has impregnated a young servant girl, only to find her having followed them, disguised as a girl, on to the train on which they were making their escape.  It turns out to be a happy moment, full of the promise of a new life (in Toronto!), and a moment of sheer joy which the rest of their lives have trouble matching or living up to.  In "Miles City, Montana" it's a moment of fear and shock, but like "The Moon," both moments seem to open briefly on another plane of life, one which is lived more intensely, and exists parallel to the ordinary one.  Another story, "Fits," is about a practical housewife who seems not be affected by the discovery of a murder-suicide in the house next door.  It, too, is about the way this other kind of life sometimes intrudes upon our own.

Other stories don't succeed as well.  I was baffled by the extended dream sequence in "Eskimo," which otherwise takes place on an airplane.  The longest story, "White Dump," is full of incredible moments--my favorite is a grandmother, swimming naked in a lake, who watches a group of hippies steal her cigarettes and destroy her bathrobe on the shore--but is such a chronological jumble that it's difficult to piece together in a meaningful way.

The one most similar to Lives--and therefore, I thought, one of the strongest--is "Jesse and Meribeth," which captures the nature of friendship between young girls, like Lives did.  (At least, it seems to me to capture it, though maybe Chloe can confirm when her review of Lives goes up.)  Jessie invents an affair with an older man to impress her friend Mary Beth, only to be rebuked by the man who has correctly intuited something of Jessie's family life:

Isn't it true that all the people I know in this world so far are hardly more than puppets for me, serving the glossy contrivings of by imagination?  It's true.  He has hit the nail on the head, as Aunt Ena is fond of saying.  But hitting the nail on the head in a matter like things, in a matter of intimate failure, isn't apt to make people abashed and grateful and eager to change their ways.  Pride hardens, instead, over the nakedly perceived fault.  Pride hardens, pride deals with all those craven licks of sweetness, douses the hope of pleasure, the deep-seated glow of invitation.  What do I want with anybody who can know so much about ne?  In fact, if I could wipe him off the face of the earth now, I would.

It's these finely modulated expressions of human thinking that I find most powerful about Munro's work.  There's nothing particularly earth-shattering about them--no formal boundary-pushing, no experimentalism--but she does it better than almost anybody.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara

Julian English sat there watching him, through eyes that he permitted to appear sleepier than they felt.  Why, he wondered, did he hate Harry Reilly?  Why couldn't he stand him?  What was there about Reilly that caused him to say to himself: "If he starts one more of those moth-eaten stories I'll throw this drink in his face."  But he knew he would not throw this drink or any other drink in Harry Reilly's face.  Still, it was fun to think about... Yes, it would be fun to watch.  The whole drink, including the three round-cornered lumps of ice.  At least one lump would hit Reilly in the eye, and the liquid would splash all over his shirt, slowly wilting it as the Scotch and soda trickled down the bosom to the crevice at the waistcoat.  The other people would stand up in amazed confusion.  "Why, Ju!" they would say.  Caroline would say, "Julian!"

Appointment in Samarra begins with Julian English, a member of the social elite in the medium-sized town of Gibbsville, PA, drunkenly throws a drink in the face of a man he dislikes.  This relatively minor crime sets into motion a series of events that leads to Julian becoming a social and professional pariah, the dissolution of his marriage, and eventually--spoiler alert--his own suicide.

I knew that about the novel going in, and expected it to be something like the short-lived NBC series The Slap--about how the repercussions of a small misdeed snowball into something dramatic and chaotic.  But that's not really the way that it plays out in Appointment in Samarra.  O'Hara teases us with the possibility that the social world will collapse around Julian.  Julian worries, for instance, that his assault on Harry means that the Catholic bloc in Gibbsville has turned against him, customers he needs as a Cadillac dealer.  O'Hara introduces a minor mobster, and gives him immense "screen time" to suggest that somehow Julian will end up in trouble with the mob--and he does, but it blows over quickly.  No, it's not the actual collapse but the threat of collapse that causes Julian, a hard drinker and a weaker man than he would confess to, to get drunk, and climb into his own car, running in the driveway.

Fran Lebowitz called O'Hara "the real F. Scott Fitzgerald."  You can see what she's talking about: the corruption of the social scene, the burden of wealth, it's all there.  But The Great Gatsby, for all its essential sadness, takes place on a grand stage.  It's a tragedy in the Greek sense; the downfall of a great man.  The sadness of Appointment in Samarra is of a different kind.  Julian's suicide is affecting because it seems so pointless.  His marriage would have survived.  His social standing would have too, but if it hadn't, what then?  Gibbsville is hardly New York City--it's more like the small, snow-covered Midwestern towns that Nick Carraway dreams of returning to.  In his intoxication, Julian wants his suicide to be what a lot of suicides want--a grand gesture that will alter the landscape of those around him.  In the end, the smallness of the landscape makes the gesture small.  When it's all over, there's no catharsis to be had here; just a bitter taste in your mouth.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Losing Battles by Eudora Welty

As he plodded on through the racket, it rang behind him and was ahead of him too.  It was all-present enough to spill over into voices, as everything, he was ready to believe now, threatened to do, the closer he might come to where something might happen.  The night might turn into more and more voices, all telling it--bragging, lying, singing, pretending, protesting, swearing everything into being, swearing everything away--but telling it.  Even after people gave up each other's company, said goodbye and went homie, if there was only one left, Vaughn Renfro, the world around him was still one huge, soul-defying reunion.

Eudora Welty loves family reunions.  Sometimes they're farcical, like the Peacocks piling into the courtroom in The Ponder Heart, or Fay's inimical family showing up unasked for at the funeral in The Optimist's DaughterSometimes they're intricate and profound, like the wedding party in Delta WeddingThe family reunion in Losing Battles lies somewhere between those poles when they flock to the small town of Banner to celebrate Granny's 98th birthday.

For Welty, family is inescapable, so you might as well learn how to embrace it.  The defining hallmark of Southern culture, you might say, is its love of family--the Beechams and the Renfros who spend the whole of the novel swapping stories they already know certainly think that way.  Almost all of Losing Battles is dialogue, and it covers three main stories: 1.) the complex and convoluted story of how Jack Renfro ended up in jail, 2.) speculation about the parentage of Jack's wife, the orphan Gloria, and 3.) the story of Miss Julia Mortimer, the old Banner schoolteacher who terrorized everyone as a child, and who has recently passed away.

The family figures out, to their delight, that Gloria may be the daughter of a troubled cousin of theirs.  She insists it's not possible, but they force her to eat watermelon and claim her birthright:

She struggled wildly at first as she tried to push away the red hulk shoved down into her face, as big as a man's clayed shoe, swarming with seeds, warm with rain-thin juice.

They were all laughing.  "Say Beecham!" they ordered her, close to her ear.  They rolled her by the shoulders, pinned her flat, then buried her face under the flesh of the melon with its blood heat, its smell of evening flowers.  Ribbons of juice crawled on her neck and circled it, as hands robbed of sex spread her jaws open.

"Can't you say Beecham?  What's wrong with being Beecham?"

Gloria's insistence on being parentless, on being apart, is suspect.  To have no family is to be no one, and the trade-off that allows you to create your own identity is one of little worth to the Beechams.  It's only later that they realize that if Gloria and Jack are cousins, their marriage may be invalid, but in the end it doesn't matter--the family has been brought full circle, and into another kind of reunion.

Even for Welty, whose work is strange in lots of subtle ways, Losing Battles isn't like anything I've ever read.  Only late in the novel does Welty give into her love of obscure descriptions of inner life, when all the family is asleep except for the young boy, Vaughn.  The rest of the book is almost all storytelling, and hums with Mississippian vernacular.  The members of the family are never well individuated, except for Gloria and Jack, but that's all right; like Vaughn observes, the voices of a family combine to make something greater than the sum of their parts, which he associates with the nature of the world.

Not everything lands--I couldn't tell what was going on, for the most part, with a long interlude where a car gets stuck on the side of the mountain.  I get the impression, as I did with Delta Wedding, that these characters are so alive and real to Welty that only flashes of that life really makes it to the page.  But it is frequently beautiful and thoughtful, and if you grew up in the South like I did, the dialogue is a welcome kind of music.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood...and the Rest of Y'all Too by Christopher Emdin


The title of this book implied that it might be intended for me: a white lady who teaches in the (very gentrified) hood. The title was right! This book felt like it was written just for me at just the point in my career when I was ready to hear it. I fed myself a steady diet of Linda Darling Hammond and Lisa Delpit (who Emdin refers to as the "O.G.") when I first started teaching, but faced with the reality of standardized tests and a tyrannical principal, I didn't make room for them in my practice. Now, nine years later, I feel more prepared to take on the challenge of making my classroom a more culturally competent place, and this book was the just the right place to start my journey.

Emdin makes the case that many have made before him: our schools put white, middle class teachers (mostly women) at the helm of classrooms made up of black and brown children; they impose militaristic discipline and test and test and test students to the point where schools have become a place where students can't help but feel alienated, misunderstood, and unsuccessful. Those feelings translate into a myriad of behaviors and outcomes that trigger more militaristic discipline and the cycle deepens. Early on, Emdin quotes Adrienne Rich, who gets at the heart of the problem: "When someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked in the mirror and saw nothing." Emdin goes into depth about the many ways we are failing to acknowledge the reality and the humanity of our neoindigenous students (his word for poor black and brown students--a nod to the history of oppression that all people of color carry with them in our country), and offers some productive, specific strategies and solutions for the white folks he names in his book's title.

This book was hard for me to read. I've been teaching for a long time, and I like to think of myself as not only a good teacher, but also a good person. I consider myself open minded, progressive, and I try not be racist whenever possible. Emdin slowly and specifically pointed out many of the ways in which I still need to grow as a teacher and a person. Recognizing those areas of growth required me to acknowledge the ways in which I am not entirely the person I think I am, which is not the easiest thing to grapple with at the start of a new, tumultuous school year. I found myself pushing back a little--questioning the pedagogy behind his moves, accusing him of making excuses for students of color--but as I kept reading, those defenses fell away. His use of anecdote (I'll describe a real doozie in a moment) and clear, measured prose forced me to reconsider. Emdin makes it as easy as possible. He gives readers a road map--specific, well thought out strategies that feel productive and real and manageable (and more meaningful than just adding a black woman writer to my syllabus and calling it a day). His strategies build on each other, each one forging a stronger classroom community and laying the path for better communication and understanding.

Beyond the strategies, two pieces of the book stuck with me. In the first, Emdin describes the ways in which trauma manifests itself in our children, and, more importantly, the ways in which adults in positions of power interpret and manage those manifestations. He describes how in tenth grade, he and his sister walked into their building just as gunfire erupted outside. His sister, panicked, screams at him to hit the ground and he freezes. She ends up tackling him to the floor, but when they get upstairs his mother berates him until he understands: when you hear gunfire, you get down. Days later, someone drops a pile of textbooks in the hallway, and Emdin drops out of desk to the ground. He is, of course, chastised by his teacher and sent to the principal's office:
There was no way to describe that the trauma of my experience from the previous week was what caused me to jump under the desk in fear for my life. There was no way that the teacher or the principal could ever understand what I was feeling in that moment unless they had experienced it, and so I coolly grabbed my jacket and books, put on a smile for my friends, winked at the teacher , and walked out of the classroom. 
I think of how many moments like this I know about in my students' lives and how many I don't. How many times what I perceive as misbehavior is a reaction to something bigger, outside of both of our control. Emdin doesn't give much beyond building empathy to deal with situations like this, but just being more mindful and reflective has changed how I react to behaviors like these.

The second piece that has stuck with me is the parallel Emdin draws between our urban schools and The Carlisle School, a boarding school in the late 19th century that took Native American children away from their communities in an attempt to "help" them assimilate into white culture. The parallels between what is now widely acknowledged to be a giant, racist mistake and the system that I go to work for are terrifying, but most worrisome of all is this:
This tension between educators who saw themselves as kindhearted people who were doing right by the less fortunate, and students who struggled to maintain their culture and identity while being forced to be the type of student their teachers envisioned, played a part in the eventual recognition that the Carlisle School was a failed experiment. 
My school is a loving, caring community, and in many ways it's a great place to work and to go to school. But we still have a vision of what our students are "supposed" to be that needs to challenged and re-thought in the context of their home cultures. We have mental models about what is appropriate and what is successful that are very white and very affluent and not always applicable to the lives of our students. Charter schools and more militaristic public schools have even more troubling parallels to the Carlisle School's methods.

One of the tensions that played out in my head as this book progressed was that while these standards we've set for behavior and the benchmarks we've set for success may be racist and classist, they still are very real societal standards that my students will have to deal with once they leave school. Emdin touches somewhat on how to tackle this with students--you frame it as a game that they need to know the rules to--but I still had trouble figuring out how to both celebrate and uplift my students for who they are at their core while getting them ready to be successful in a world that isn't going to celebrate or uplift them.

Overall, this was a fantastic read. It was difficult for all the right reasons and has meaningfully changed the way I approach teaching and interacting with my students. If you too are a white person who teaches in the hood, this book is for you. And stick with it even when you bristle! You're probably wrong...