Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Now Reading: January 2020

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Our fiction and nonfiction recommendations this month are all very different, and yet they also share many similarities as moving stories of injustice, mystery, and loss of family. Though they tackle hard topics, I think you'll do well to check out one of these Literary Mama staff picks.

Abigail Lalonde, Social Media Editor, recently finished Chanel Miller's important, though emotionally difficult, Know My Name: A Memoir. She says that "I can tell it's going to stick with me for a very long time. I believe this memoir should be required reading for all as Miller has an incredible ability to explain the emotional and physical impact of sexual assault. She also describes the feeling and additional impact of being a woman at the mercy of an ever-misogynistic society. Miller was first known to the public as Emily Doe, the sexual assault victim of Brock Turner, when in 2016 Buzzfeed published her victim impact statement. It immediately went viral. I remember reading that statement, and the subsequent news of Brock Turner's short sentencing for the crime he was convicted of having committed. I remember feeling enraged, which I also felt multiple times throughout Know My Name, specifically when Miller reveals how little she was told after the attack and how she was treated by the defense and the public. Miller bravely reveals her identity and covers her journey throughout the trial and after her ongoing healing process, when she found solace in art and writing. The level of writing in this book is inspirational. Miller crafts brilliant paragraphs while relaying an extremely painful part of her life. Yes, this is a hard book to read. The subject matter is a hard one to read, but it is so, so worth it."

Christina Consolino, Senior Editor, shares her enjoyment of a classic murder mystery by Jess Montgomery: "There's something about an advance reader copy of a book that excites me more than anything, and I'm pleased that I had the chance to read one of Jess Montgomery's The Hollows. The novel, second in The Kinship Historical Mystery series (and just recently published), is a sequel to Montgomery's highly acclaimed The Widows, and once again, the reader is fully immersed in the lives of Sheriff Lily Ross, Marvena Whitcomb, and Hildy Cooper. Set in 1926, the story begins with an accident on the rail line in Moonhale Hollow Village, an event that, of course, brings the sheriff to the scene. A elderly woman is dead, but as Ross investigates, it quickly becomes clear that the case holds many unknowns, and soon, she must ask: Was the woman's death an accident? A suicide? Or was it murder? The investigation leads Ross to uncover some surprising parts of Bronwyn County, a women's Ku Klux Klan meeting place and the Hollows Asylum for the Insane among them. Montgomery, a seasoned author, piles on the imagery with her descriptive prose and brings to life three strong, self-assured women who lead by example. The Hollows is a book about family, relationships, dreams, desires, loss, greed, and more. Hallie Ephron wrote of the book that it's 'a gripping, beautifully written novel,' and I couldn't agree more."

Amanda Fields, Publisher, is questioning the injustices that families are facing every day at America's southern border: "As a parent, not a day passes when I don't think of the children who have been separated from their families who have come to the United States for the purpose of protecting them. It's common to hear that one 'can’t imagine' what has been endured by families at the U.S. border. But this saying becomes more and more ridiculous, just another way to push aside cruelty and political games that kill. We can and should not only imagine but perceive this reality. This thought pursued me as I read the compact and chilling book, Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions. In this essay in four parts, Valeria Luiselli recounts her experience as an interpreter for undocumented children in New York. Luiselli is charged with collecting details about the children for use by their attorneys. I recommend it for a longer view of how the U.S. has gotten to its current immigration context as well as a sense of the day-to-day legal proceedings. Luiselli's writing is also powerful. No wonder her own child (whose questioning inspired the title) keeps asking her about how these children's stories end."

Felicity Landa, Fiction Editor, gives us a look inside the fictional, but all too real, world of a young homeless girl. She shares: "The Butterfly Girl by Rene Denfeld is the harrowing sequel to her 2017 novel The Child FinderBoth books follow the story of Naomi Cottle and her work as a private investigator who specializes in finding missing children. The Butterfly Girl follows the style of its prequel: Denfeld alternates between Naomi's perspective and the perspective of Celia, a young homeless girl Naomi meets on the streets of Portland, Oregon. Celia and Naomi are beautifully paired, their stories full of sorrow, loss, and an undying hope that permeates each chapter. Celia is running from her rapist, forced to the streets by a justice system that has failed her, and desperate to spare the sister she left behind from the same fate. Naomi also searches for a lost sister, one she had left behind in her childhood, after escaping a captivity she can no longer remember. The two converge, inexplicably drawn to each other. What I admire about Denfeld is not only her poetic prose and visceral descriptions but also her ability to honor her characters and breathe life to their powerful experiences. Denfeld writes of trauma and tragedy with bravery; she does not shy from details, nor does she attempt to shield her reader from the reality of lost children, and what happens to them when the world refuses to look for them. The Butterfly Girl is a truly special book."

Which books have you enjoyed reading over the holidays? Share with us in the comments or tweet us @LiteraryMama. You can also follow us on Instagram @Literary_Mama and Goodreads for more recommendations.

Amanda Jaros is a freelance writer living in Ithaca, NY. Her essay “Blood Mountain” won the 2017 Notes From the Field contest at Flyway Journal. Other work has appeared in numerous journals and magazines including, NewfoundLife in the Finger Lakes Magazine, Highlights for Children, and Cargo Literary. She holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Chatham University.

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