Every Tuesday new books are released and my reading pile is continually growing (See all photos in this post!). I follow lots of book websites and Facebook pages along with many published lists to decide what I want to read and review.
Sybil Steinberg, former book reviewer and contributing editor at Publisher’s Weekly presents her picks twice a year at the Westport Library in Westport, CT, one of the most highly ranked libraries in the nation.
I really enjoyed New People and was intrigued by who the description, “new people”, referred to. Maria and Khalil are a seemingly happy, engaged couple living in Brooklyn, both light skinned, mixed race. Khalil, a technology consultant, comes from a solid, intact family unit and is close with his parents and sister who is darker skinned than he is. Maria has no relatives; she was adopted by a black woman who was hoping to raise a “mini me” and has since passed away. She is spending her time writing her dissertation on Jamestown and busy learning about the mass suicides, how this could happen, and how those people kept going as long as they did. Maria’s previous boyfriend was white and although something about him made her despise him as a person, they had unrivaled physical chemistry. She now is planning her wedding to Khalil, but is distracted by her attraction to a black poet who she keeps running into.
Maria has done something in her past that is dishonest and cruel to Khalil. He is unaware and loves her very much. Now that she is obsessed with another man she makes questionable decisions which lead her into some dicey circumstances but the details are not revealed to Khalil so the reality of who she is and what she does in her life remain hidden. She has been and continues to be deceitful, yet for me, she is still likable and worthy of compassion.
I believe Maria’s studying of Jamestown, the people who were looking for their true selves and a place to belong in this world, and the music that enriched, was a representation of her personal quest for belonging. With a college friend she doesn’t even remember, she has a brush with Scientology, as she allowed this former classmate to perform some tests on her, and then she feels a pull, back to the ideal life of Khalil and his family. She looks white but feels black so her identity is unclear as she seems to be searching for people she can relate to, often feeling disconnected. Maria’s bad judgement and and questionable decisions lead to some unusual situations that were humorous and uncomfortable. New People, referring to mixed race people, this story of identity, relationships and communication was enjoyable, short and easy to read and I highly recommend it.
As Seen on Goodreads:
From the bestselling author of Caucasia, a subversive and engrossing novel of race, class and manners in contemporary America.
As the twentieth century draws to a close, Maria is at the start of a life she never thought possible. She and Khalil, her college sweetheart, are planning their wedding. They are the perfect couple, “King and Queen of the Racially Nebulous Prom.” Their skin is the same shade of beige. They live together in a black bohemian enclave in Brooklyn, where Khalil is riding the wave of the first dot-com boom and Maria is plugging away at her dissertation, on the Jonestown massacre. They’ve even landed a starring role in a documentary about “new people” like them, who are blurring the old boundaries as a brave new era dawns. Everything Maria knows she should want lies before her–yet she can’t stop daydreaming about another man, a poet she barely knows. As fantasy escalates to fixation, it dredges up secrets from the past and threatens to unravel not only Maria’s perfect new life but her very persona.
Heartbreaking and darkly comic, New People is a bold and unfettered page-turner that challenges our every assumption about how we define one another, and ourselves.
About the Author:
Danzy Senna is an American novelist, born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts in 1970. Her parents, Carl Senna, an Afro-Mexican poet and author, and Fanny Howe, who is Irish-American writer, were also civil rights activists.
She attended Stanford University and received an MFA from the University of California at Irvine. There, she received several creative writing awards.
Her debut novel, Caucasia (later republished as From Caucasia With Love), was well received and won several awards including the Book-Of-The-Month Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction, and the Alex Award from the American Library Association.
Her second novel, Symptomatic, was also well received. Both books feature a biracial protagonist and offer a unique view on life from their perspective.
Senna has also contributed to anthologies such as Gumbo.
In 2002, Senna received the Whiting Writers Award and in 2004 was named a Fellow for the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers.
Danzy Senna is married to fellow writer Percival Everett and they have a son, Henry together. Their residences have included Los Angeles and New York City.
I highly recommend reading The Best of Us , just make sure you have a box of tissues. Joyce Maynard finds the love of her life in her 50s, many years after being divorced and raising her children as a single mother. She and Jim, her new love, had a wonderful connection and were enjoying life to the fullest. And then their future was shattered when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She stood by him, provided hope and continued to look for treatments and solutions until the end. Her love story is beautiful and devastating as she chronicles the time before she meets Jim, during their love affair and his battle with this devastating disease, and afterward when she must pick up the pieces. She talks about the years being divorced and on her own, how she was looking for connection and to feel that unconditional love, when she decided to adopt two girls from Ethiopia. Their relationships and interactions were not what she had expected, and after struggling to provide a good home and feel love from these girls, a little over a year later she chose to find them a different home and say goodbye. Then she met Jim and love blossomed. When he became ill she was his dedicated nurse and advocate. Her commitment to Jim is admirable and heartfelt, and with writing that is emotional and passionate she shares her personal journey.
Joyce Maynard had been vilified in the media for giving up her adopted daughters and in her book she talks about their challenging family life which makes clear her reasons for placing the girls in a different family. I am supportive of her decision and appreciate her honesty and candor as she revealed details about the difficulties of this heartbreak. She is relentless with her unwavering support and love for Jim as he wins and loses small battles during the fight and ultimately loses the war to pancreatic cancer. I admire her strength and courage as she stays by his side to fight for more days together.
Joyce Maynard has been through so many ups and downs in her life and she communicates her love, pain and everything in between through her life affirming experiences, written with great emotion and clarity in this beautiful memoir, The Best of Us. I highly recommend it.
As Seen on Goodreads:
In 2011, when she was in her late fifties, beloved author and journalist Joyce Maynard met the first true partner she had ever known. Jim wore a rakish hat over a good head of hair; he asked real questions and gave real answers; he loved to see Joyce shine, both in and out of the spotlight; and he didn’t mind the mess she made in the kitchen. He was not the husband Joyce imagined, but he quickly became the partner she had always dreamed of.
Before they met, both had believed they were done with marriage, and even after they married, Joyce resolved that no one could alter her course of determined independence. Then, just after their one-year wedding anniversary, her new husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. During the nineteen months that followed, as they battled his illness together, she discovered for the first time what it really meant to be a couple–to be a true partner and to have one.
This is their story. Charting the course through their whirlwind romance, a marriage cut short by tragedy, and Joyce’s return to singleness on new terms, The Best of Us is a heart-wrenching, ultimately life-affirming reflection on coming to understand true love through the experience of great loss.
photo credit: Catherine Sebastian
About the Author:
A native of New Hampshire, Joyce Maynard began publishing her stories in magazines when she was thirteen years old. She first came to national attention with the publication of her New York Timescover story, “An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life”, in 1972, when she was a freshman at Yale.
Since then, she has been a reporter and columnist for The New York Times, a syndicated newspaper columnist whose “Domestic Affairs” column appeared in over fifty papers nationwide, a regular contributor to NPR and national magazines including Vogue, The New York Times Magazine, and many more. She is a longtime performer with The Moth.
Maynard is the author of seventeen books, including the novel To Die For and the best-selling memoir, At Home in the World—translated into sixteen languages. Her novel, To Die For, was adapted for the screen by Buck Henry for a film directed by Gus Van Sant, in which Joyce can be seen in the role of Nicole Kidman’s lawyer. Her novel Labor Day was adapted and directed by Jason Reitman for a film starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, to whom Joyce offered instruction for making the pie that appeared in a crucial scene in the film.
The mother of three grown children, Maynard runs workshops in memoir at her home in Lafayette California. In 2002 she founded The Lake Atitlan Writing Workshop in San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala, where she hosts a weeklong workshop in personal storytelling every winter.
She is a fellow of The MacDowell Colony and Yaddo.