Summer Reading, Part III

Continuing to reflect on my summer reading choices, I move on to the next book club book (my first pick for this group): Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes.

I had gotten this book as an advanced reader copy at ALA two years ago. I can remember being stopped by multiple people, when they saw it in my stack, to ask where I had gotten it. It was a seriously hot title. But I didn’t read it. Then Nikki Grimes came to Politics & Prose, a local independent bookstore, and I went. It was amazing. I bought a copy and had it autographed for my mother-in-law, who loved the book. But I didn’t read it. I wanted to read it and yet I kept not prioritizing it. So choosing it as our book club pick forced me to finally read it. Thank goodness! It is a memoir and it is written in poetry form. Nikki Grimes’s story is a difficult one and she is a powerful, evocative writer who tells that story vividly. She writes it as if she, at that age, is telling the story. You are seeing through young Nikki’s eyes as you read. It is quite a book.

Thanks to one of my book club buddies, I also read Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story.

We had been discussing mental health issues and books about that topic (I recommended Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness by Pete Earley). It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a young adult book. It’s categorized as fiction but is clearly highly autobiographical. Vizzini writes about spending five days on an adult psychiatric ward at a NYC hospital when he was in high school and had thoughts of suicide. The book is very entertaining but it is also enlightening. The reason my friend recommended it was because she had found it to be such a vivid picture inside the head of someone facing severe anxiety and depression. Knowing that Vizzini later died by suicide made the book a little harder to read but it is definitely one I’m glad I read and one that will stick with me for a while.

At my sister’s recommendation I read Olive Kitteridge and Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout. Olive Kitteridge is one of those titles I’ve seen again and again and thought, “I really should read that,” and just hadn’t. Both books revolve, somewhat, around the title character who is an older woman living in a small town in Maine. They are somewhere between short story collections and novels.


I found myself loving Olive, in spite of all her flaws. A part of me is glad I didn’t read these earlier. Being middle aged, rather than young, when reading them gave me a very different perspective, I think.

One more for this reflection post, The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga.

This is a middle grade book. It’s intense. It’s told in two voices, two former best friends who are no longer friends because the brother of one shot and killed the sister of the other in a school shooting, before killing himself. The premise is that the brother’s sister, feeling immense guilt, wants to figure out time travel to go back and stop him. I wasn’t sure if this would be a fantasy or a realistic fiction novel. I didn’t really care, to be honest. The two voices were exceptionally well done. I was worried that Warga had set up such a difficult, complex story and premise that there was no way she could end it well. I needn’t have worried. From beginning to end I was pulled in on this one and on board the whole time. (There’s a lot more with both of their families and with peers that I haven’t even mentioned. It’s a book that is doing a lot of work for its young readers and it does all of it without getting preachy or condescending or trite.)

Looking back at these titles, I’m happy with the choices. Ned Vizzini is a white man (making that the second book by a white male author this summer!) so normally I’d have passed on his book. His perspective on mental health is one I’m glad I didn’t skip. The Olive Kitteridge books were lighter and, as one who believes in doing some light reading, I’m fine with that. Both Warga and Grimes are authors of color. All in all, it feels like I’m doing okay reading widely. Although I’m definitely opting for a lot more fiction than nonfiction.

Leave a Reply