White Picket Fences: Turning toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege by Amy Julia Becker

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Tyndale House provided me with a complimentary copy of this book from NavPress for an honest review.

White Picket Fences: Turning toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege by Amy Julia Becker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

And now, as I confront the harm to me, to my friends and family, and to countless others by a social structure that has been built on exclusion, do I want to get well?

It’s a loaded question author Amy Julia Becker asks in White Picket Fences: Turning toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege. I didn’t choose to read this book because I think I’m the target audience for it. I’m not. But I was interested in hearing this author’s perspective.

Yet, when it comes to those who are the closer targets for this book, it will likely require some “pushing past” to even pick it up and open it.

Pushing past the indifference or skepticism that says privilege isn’t a big deal, or that it might not be a real thing, or that it’s merely a divisive or hot button term attached to a political agenda. Pushing past the fear-based discomfort that says to avoid the topic, or the fear-based hopelessness that says privilege is so longstanding, so ingrained, and so prevalent that there’s no point in trying to change things now.

If you are indeed someone who flinches at the mention of privilege, know that this isn’t a book meant to demonize you. To make you feel guilty about your skin color or for being born to a particular social status. And be advised that the author doesn’t limit her discourse here to the subject of race.

It feels a little severe to call it a “discourse,” though, and it almost seems out of place to say I enjoyed it. But for someone who mostly reads fiction, this book often made me feel like I could have been reading an understated but affecting contemporary novel. Becker has a lovely writing style, and she addresses tough, complex issues with grace and nuance.

A book well worth pushing past discomfort to read.

 

The End of Youngblood Johnson by Aaron Johnson

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

The End of Youngblood Johnson by Aaron Johnson with Jamie Buckingham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Immediately I felt the rush in my stomach. I knew I had killed myself. I tried to get up but could not move. Youngblood Johnson was dying.

For someone who doesn’t read a ton of memoirs, it’s almost strange how engrossed I get whenever I read this one from the 1970s, The End of Youngblood Johnson by Aaron Johnson (as told to Jamie Buckingham.) I’ve read the book three times now.

I mean, if it were a movie, it might be one I’d personally pass on watching. Heroin addiction is absolutely no joke, and Johnson’s earlier life as a junkie wasn’t any joke either. Add in some broken families, poverty, violence, pimps and prostitutes, crooked preachers, crooked cops, jail time–and you’ve got anything but a pleasant, feel-good story on your hands.

Yet, this is a real story. A story of faith that someone actually lived. And, no, the memoir isn’t exactly a pretty one, but life isn’t always pretty.

I don’t read books that seem messy for the sake of mess, books that go into salacious or gory details apparently just to shock my senses. But there are a lot of people who won’t know or imagine just how far redemption can reach if redeemed folks gloss over or remain silent about the dark places they’ve been redeemed from.

So, no, this isn’t a book for the faint of heart. It’s a tragic but ultimately touching and memorable account of one man’s passage from darkness into light.

 

I Will Not Fear: My Story of a Lifetime of Building Faith Under Fire by Melba Pattillo Beals

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Revell provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.

I Will Not Fear: My Story of a Lifetime of Building Faith Under Fire by Melba Pattillo Beals

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Despite the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against it, racial segregation in public schools was still prevalent in Little Rock, Arkansas for years afterward. In 1957, nine African American students were chosen to integrate the city’s all-white Central High School. Those students became known as the Little Rock Nine. One of their number, author Melba Pattillo Beals, recounts this matter and more in her memoir, I Will Not Fear: My Story of a Lifetime of Building Faith Under Fire.

As the title indicates, this isn’t just an account contained within the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, but it spans much more of the author’s lifetime and experiences. Even so, issues of prejudice and equal (or unequal) rights, including gender inequality, appear frequently throughout this story of adversity, faith, and perseverance.

This isn’t a book about detached, historical “figures” but about people. It’s not a testimony of immediate victories for social justice, or complete accord within the black community. Beals wasn’t even always sure she was doing the right thing by being a part of integration.

The author makes interesting points, including how racism isn’t merely about donning conspicuous white hoods or blatantly calling black people “niggers.” Subtle racism is just as vicious, and also treacherous, particularly when it’s institutionalized or otherwise trickier to call out and combat. Still, one of my biggest takeaways from the book is that when it comes to injustice and other challenges, you have to know when it’s time to hold your peace and simply keep on living, and when it’s time to speak up and fight.

Again, this book is about much more than racism and civil rights, but I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in social justice, Christian memoirs, or both.

 

Gone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung by Min Kym

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Blogging for Books provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.

Five Gold Stars

Gone

Gone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung by Min Kym

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

No violin meant more to former child prodigy and then professional soloist Min Kym than the 1696 Stradivarius she found at age twenty-one. When, years later, thieves steal her violin from her, they essentially steal much more than a wooden instrument. Min Kym relates her story of losing her violin and finding her voice in her memoir, Gone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung.

This author brings not only music but also her instrument itself to life through her words, so that her violin is thoroughly personified on the page. I’ll confess that the extent of it made me uncomfortable at times, as I don’t believe I’ll ever feel so deeply for an object.

But, as a writer and a bibliophile, it’s not like I don’t get it. (I mean, you may not see me when I hug a novel I’m reading or kiss the spine of one of my own books when it’s finally in print, but know that I do get it.)

I won’t pretend that I understood all of the author’s musical language, or that I recognized all of the renowned names she mentioned–some I did, some I didn’t. I also had a little trouble following the logical flow of her thoughts, here and there.

Yet, it’s those intangible but very real somethings she taps into through music, those indescribable places where the soul takes flight… Whether one has the experience through music, literature, or dance, through culinary arts or through connecting with loved ones–even if we haven’t the words to truly do those places justice, the experiences are universal.

This memoir is a journey, one with soaring highs, desolate lows, and crucial discoveries, and it closes on a note of hope that makes the journey all the more worth it.