Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

Sadly, I’ve decided to DNF this one.

I was really, really excited to read Red Clocks. The hype on bookstagram, the amazing reviews, and so many recommendations had me impatiently waiting at #45 on the library waitlist. When I picked it up from the local branch, I felt like I had won the lottery and eagerly sat down to read. Then, things got difficult.

There are four main points of view, written in nondescript third person, about The wife (Susan), the daughter (Mattie), the mender (Gin), and the biographer (Ro). The biographer starts off the story, writing a biography of a female polar explorer named Eivor, while also trying to get pregnant while being a single high school teacher. She is limited on how she can conceive because of government laws and regulations, so she is hoping that despite the negative outlook, her AI (artificial insemination) will succeed. Then we learn about the mender, a woman who lives off the land as much as possible, doting on her animals and living as a hermit who occasionally helps people with their ailments- even if it’s not considered legal. Then there’s Mattie, a high school student who is romantically involved with a guy who isn’t committed to the relationship, and yet still winds up pregnant and not sure what to do about it. Last, there’s Susan, a mom of two who isn’t happy in her marriage, and is desperately trying to get her husband to agree to couple’s therapy.

Each of these woman are subject to the same restrictions newly inflicted by the government, in which abortion is illegal, in vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights to every embryo. It’s not a far-fetched idea this day and age, so Zumas explores what it would be like if women’s rights were no longer theirs.

It sounds absolutely absorbing, but I have had the hardest time getting to 100 out of the 351 pages in this book. The formatting is strange to me, and though the language itself is blunt and beautiful, the formatting is rather abstract. I thought because the points of view were separated, I wouldn’t have a hard time keeping the characters and their storylines straight, but somewhere around page 50, when additional sub-characters are being added and discussed, I started to lose focus. Sometimes, when this happens, I can speed-read through a few pages and get to another part that brings everything back into focus. It’s a trick I’ve used to keep me from getting bogged in subtext. However, it didn’t work for me this time, because there is so much going on with these characters. It’s like the action is fast-paced but the writing is slow. It’s also categorized as sci-fi, and though I have loved realistic dystopian novels, there’s something that my brain just isn’t absorbing here.

Either way, I’m extremely frustrated. I wanted to love this book. I wanted it to be the mind-blowing feminist novel experience that everyone else seems to gather from it. However, I just can’t seem to get through it. So, I’m going to have to table this one, and hope that if I come back to it, I’ll be able to get through the whole thing.

Please forgive me, Leni Zumas & fans. I wish I was as intellectually ready for this book as you all!

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Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

This audiobook came highly recommended to me by my book club buddy, Megan! She was cracking up at the humor of the novel and shared a segment during a past meeting, and she has great taste in reads so I decided to check it out. She also mentioned it was a recommendation by Reese Witherspoon’s book club, Hello Sunshine. Sold!

(Photo Credit: Google Images)

The novel introduces us to Nikki, a 20-something Sikh woman who has gone against her traditional Indian upbringing. She’s a law school drop out, tending bar in London, and single despite her family’s urging to find a husband. She’s not sure what she wants out of life, but after her father suddenly passes away, she decides to take a second job to help her support her widowed mother. While checking out a local community board, she finds an advert looking for someone to teach an English creative writing class to local Punjabi widows.

The widows aren’t exactly what Nikki expects. They’re not all little old grannies, only one knows how to actually read and write in English, and though they are modest, traditional women, they are eager to explore a more modern expression of their bedroom experiences and fantasies. As a joke, Nikki had bought a racy book of erotica for her more conservative sister, and the widows found it in the stack of writing workbooks meant for the class. After Nikki confronts her class about the misunderstanding, the widows convince Nikki that those stories are the kind they wish to learn to write. In an effort to liberate these women from their repressed expression, she agrees, thinking that maybe this is how she can be reconnected with her community while still maintaining her modern views.

Then, we learn about the Brotherhood, a group of extremely conservative Sikhs who keep a watchful eye on the morals of the community. Anyone who seems to disrespect (whether they meant to or not) their religion and community becomes a target of extreme punishment. Nikki and her class, who have now formed a strong bond, have to be extremely careful not to let the secret slip about the content of their writing, least the Brotherhood find out.

Meanwhile, there is also a parallel story about one of the widow’s daughter, Maya, who died in a suspicious manner, as well as a mysterious man whom Nikki becomes romantically involved with. As the ending draws near, the story lines come crashing together like waves, and I was completely drawn in.

I  loved the audiobook narrator, Meera Syal. Her voice is like butter, and yet the changes in her tone for dialogue and breaks in the story were easy to understand and made it easy to focus on the tale. I also think listening to the audiobook certainly helped with understanding certain cultural words that I probably would have stumbled over if I was reading. I liked being able to hear the pronunciation.

Jaswal’s story is both funny, thrilling, entertaining, and downright steamy! I really enjoyed it, and though I’d recommend it, you should be warned that there really are erotic stories included in this book! There’s clever dialogue that takes the “audience rating” down a notch, but the title is not misleading. I’d say it’s definitely not suitable for the youngsters, but certainly a fun read for women.

(Photo Credit: Google Images)

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Today’s review lends courtesy to the Not Your Momma’s Book Club, as it was the group’s book pick for the month. I thought it sounded like an interesting historical fiction novel, which you all know I love, so I was pretty excited to read it. The only problem was, it’s such a recent release that I ended up being like, 62nd on the hold list at my library, and I don’t like paying for new books when I don’t know if I’ll like the author or the book for sure. So I thought, well maybe an e-book or Audible had a cheaper copy. Negative on the e-book, but lo and behold, I hadn’t signed up for the free 30-day trial of Audible (this is not a promo)! So, I did that and downloaded Before We Were Yours, my first Audible download. It took me a little to get used to the narrator’s voices, but once I got into the story, I couldn’t stop listening.

(Photo Credit: Google Images)

The book alternates between Memphis, TN in the 1930’s and present time in Aiken, SC between characters Rill and Avery.

In the 1930’s, Rill Foss is twelve-year old girl, who lives in a shanty boat, the Arcadia, on the Mississippi river with her parents, Queenie and Brownie, and her four younger siblings- Camilla, Fern, Lark, and Gabian. They live a simple life on the river, and evoke the magic of nature, love, and music within the family. One stormy night, her mother goes into labor, and Rill stays nearby with Brownie and the midwife, witnessing her mother struggle to deliver twins. It’s a difficult birth, and even the midwife insists on getting her to a hospital before mother and babies lose their lives. Torn about leaving the children and going out into the storm with Queenie in such a state, but finding no alternative, Brownie leaves Rill in charge of her young siblings. Shortly there after, the local police raid the river town of the local children and bring the children to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, deeming them orphans and falsifying paperwork and information. Desperately, Rill tries to keep her siblings together but it’s a futile challenge. The woman who runs the home is a child trafficker- kidnapping, scamming, scheming, blackmailing, and brokering these children to wealthy upper-class and high profile couples. Though the children know the truth, they are beaten, punished, and threatened into submission, or if they continue to deny their “new identities”, they suspiciously die or disappear, never to be heard from again. Rill knows that she has to get back to the Arcadia with her siblings, no matter what the sacrifice.

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(Photo Credit: Google Images)

In present day Aiken, Avery Stafford is a poised, educated, ambitious and savvy lawyer, raised in a political family and groomed to follow in her senator father’s footsteps. Her parents and her have a complicated relationship, as they are more traditional, having expected her to go to college and get a “MRS. degree” and settle down, like her sisters. Avery is engaged, but she’s comfortable with her fiancé, and they aren’t in a rush to the altar. However, when her father’s health starts to decline from cancer, she’s under a lot of pressure to start making decisions- about her wedding and her career path. She decided to spend some time away from her life in Washington, DC to help with her father’s platform appearances in Aiken, and the discussion about nursing home care comes up. While visiting a local home, she meets a woman named May Weathers, who happens to know Avery’s grandmother, Judy. Finding this odd, since her grandmother’s altzhiemer’s has catastrophically impacted her social outings and Avery had never heard of May before, she visits Judy, only to find more questions than answers. She knows there is a secret in her grandmother’s past, and becomes obsessed with finding out the truth. Time is of the essence, and she needs to find answers before her grandmother’s secret is lost in the past.

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(Photo Credit: Google Images)

I finished the audiobook a few days prior to writing the review, because I needed some time to digest this one. The things that Rill and her siblings went through are absolutely horrendous to me, and it made me ill to know that though this story is a work of fiction, it’s based off the true accounts of survivors that were adopted out by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. It’s a heavy subject to handle, and the novel is haunting. Wingate’s story, right down to the last page of her author’s note, had me in an emotional choke hold. There were moments when I know I made audible gasps, clenched my fists, and released sighs of relief. The suspense of the story lines are wagered just so, revealing everything piece by piece until things come full circle in the end.

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(Photo Credit: Google Images)

Thought Piece: Podcasts I Really Enjoy

I’ve recently discovered the joy of podcasts- I know, I know, I really do live under a rock.

I was under the impression that they cost money to buy off iTunes (which is false) and I thought they would kill my data (nope, just my battery). Once I got that all cleared up, I was like a woman possessed, downloading and subscribing to anything that looked interesting, asking my friends for recommendations, and being “that guy” who walks around with earbuds in, not speaking to anyone but laughing and smiling. My neighbors probably thought I was losing it while I was outside doing yardwork, haha.

I thought it would be fun to share what I’ve been listening to, and see we have any favorites in common!

  1. Small Town Murder

Host comedians James and Jimmie dive into small town murders (obviously). They do some really impressive research on each town, including demographics and real estate reports in comparison to the national averages, and start from the beginning of each story, from the childhood background of the murder to the way that their trials were handles, etc. It’s fascinating if you are into true crime, but crudely funny (and there is a disclaimer- if you don’t have a rough sense of humor, it’s probably not for you and that’s TOTALLY okay!) For a chicken like me, it’s a great cross of Law & Order and comedy, so I don’t get too scared!

2. All the Books!

Don’t know what to read (and my blog just isn’t doing it for you? *wink*) ? Check out All the Books! The host is so knowledgeable about what is hot right now in many different genres, and seems to be the human-Goodreads. She’s awesome, and my TBR pile wishes she would stop (haha, just kidding, I don’t want her to stop!) recommending all the books!

3. Fearless Rebelle Radio with Summer Innanen

Image result for fearless rebel radioI love Summer. She is sassy, she is smart, and she always hosts some of the coolest guest speakers out there in the world of body positivity. Her topics never hold back and I’ve enjoy every episode that heard so far!

 

4. HGTV & Me

Image result for hgtv & meRebecca and her friends and family crack me up. I love HGTV, and whether you do or don’t, you know you’ve watched it at least a handful of times. Rebecca goes into details about the shows found on the HGTV channel, and is spot on with the entertainment value of the shows.

5. Radio Free Dystopia

Image result for radio free dystopiaFor Dystopian novel fans, this podcast is eerie but awesome. They talk about books in the dystopian genre, and then relate it to the world we are living in, or could be living in if etc. were to happen. It’s fascinating and really intelligently put together, meaning it doesn’t sound like a bunch of conspiracy theorists, haha. They went on a hiatus in August 2017, but I’m hoping that they’ll come back for more. If not, the episodes that have done are still totally worth giving a listen to.

6. This American Life

Image result for this american lifeThis is such a hodge podge of interesting discussions and stories and interviews that I’m not going to be able to sum it up properly, so I’m just going to say check it out! My fave episode so far: Words You Can’t Say, from February 4th, 2018.

7. UnF*uck Your Brain

Image result for unf*ck your brainKara is pure gold. She’s unapologetic, she’s smart (Harvard grad y’all), and really makes you think about how people are conditioned to think, as well as coaching you on how to retrain your mindset. I’m completely intrigued to see what she comes up with every episode.

 

8. MuggleCast: The Harry Potter Podcast

Image result for mugglecast podcastOMG, this podcast! I’m really late to how awesome this is, but obviously better late than never. Three guys host a discussion all about Harry Potter, and it’s both funny and interesting and obsessive all at once. Perfect for your HP fix!

(Photo Credit for all photos: Google Images)

So these are my top so far! What do you all listen to? I’m totally taking recommendations!

March Wrap-Up!

As always, I’m shocked at how quickly this month went by. I had planned to take it easy this month, and I’m glad I did. I only knocked out 5 books this month, but I got a ton of spring cleaning and home projects done, as well as started volunteering at a local riding stables (and getting some much needed saddle time in!). I had intended to read six, but I plan my blog posts by my layout in Instagram, and sort of miscounted this month… haha oops! Anyways, here they are:

  1. Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham
  2. A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay
  3. Every Last Cuckoo by Kate Maloy
  4. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
  5. The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Next, I wanted to talk a little about a new thing I’d like to start doing in my blog- thought pieces! It’s a crazy world we live in, and there’s so much to talk about. Many times, the books that I’m reading make me think of something that I’d love to talk about more, but it’s not completely relevant within the book review or monthly wrap ups. I try to keep this blog pretty streamlined and simple, but I decided that once a month, I want to share a little somethin-somethin from my brain on whatever topic that inspires me- whether it’s a current event, a crafting project, an article I read, bookish tips, etc.

I think it’ll be another good way for you all to get to know me (while keeping to my bookish niche) and help open up more discussion (because I really am a talker).

For an example, I read this article, “Where Millennials Come From”, in The New Yorker a while ago, and it actually made me pretty defensive but actually ponder my Millennial-ism.

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(Photo Credit: Google Images)

I had so many thoughts and reactions to it that I thought it’d be interesting to discuss and see what others thought. So here are my thoughts:

  • Millennials can’t afford to go to college, but also can’t afford not to go (special cases exempt.)  We need college degrees to get higher paying jobs, just to afford paying off our college debt. It’s a catch 22. At the same time, there are a lot of openings in trade labor, and it’s difficult to find willing mentors and programs to learn these trades, so the alternatives are going to college, or going immediately into the job force. In which case, we’re blamed for taking all the jobs.
  • “Anxiety has overtake depression”- There is so much more social pressure these days, I’m not surprised by this at all. We grew up in a recession, with rapidly evolving technology, where everyone is expected to be successful and healthy and competing against everyone. That stress isn’t easy to handle.
  • Speaking of, we’re selfish and focus too much on self care? How about trying to deal with today’s stresses in a positive way? You’d think it would be encouraged to care about mental health.

As a Millennial, I hate to see our generation negatively deduced- especially because the older generation always tends to saddle the younger generation with it’s problems and say that it’s their fault. Those are just a few of the things that struck a nerve with me- and I’d like to hear your thoughts as well. Not every thought piece will be so heavy, I promise- but this one was the shortest example I had in my “think tank”. I hope you all will come to enjoy my random bits every month.

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(Photo Credit: Google Images)

Finally, I leave you with a book tag that I’ve been intending to do for months and have never gotten to- the Twenty Questions Book Tag, from the ladies at Thrice Read.

1. How many books are too many books in a book series?

I get a little over it after four books, but if the series is so amazing I can’t put it down- well then, there are never too many. (Here’s looking at you, J.K. Rowling.)

2. How do you feel about cliffhangers?

It’s a surefire way to agitate me, lol.

3. Hardcopy or paperback?

If I’m collecting, I like the look of hardcovers in a series, but otherwise I’m not picky.

4. Favorite book?

Hmmmm…. I still really couldn’t choose!

5. Your least favorite book?

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. God, that was the worst book I had to read in AP English.

6. Love triangles, yes or no?

Meh. I think they’re cliche, but if it’s not the center of the plot, I’m okay with it.

7. The most recent book you just couldn’t finish?

The Last Heiress by Mary Ellis- I just couldn’t get into it, so I DNR’d it.

8. A book you’re currently reading?

Safe Haven, by Nicholas Sparks

9. Last book you recommended to someone?

I just recommended Every Last Cuckoo by Kate Maloy to my bestie!

10. The oldest book you’ve read? (Publication date) 

According Goodreads, the oldest book on my read list is Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind, from 1937. I may have read older, but I’m not sure exact publication dates on the classics- and I’m too lazy to really search, haha.

11. The newest book you’ve read? (Publication date)

Rose & Poe by Jack Todd, published on October 17, 2017. I have a handful of 2018 books on my TBR, but I’ll get to them mid-year at the pace I’m going so far.

12. Favorite author?

Oh God, another favorite I couldn’t possibly choose!

13. Buying books or borrowing books?

Borrowing. I only buy if I’m completing a collection or have read the other so many times, I know I’ll enjoy their new book unread.

14. A book you dislike that everyone else seems to love? 

Based on my Instagram demographic, everyone really seemed to enjoy Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, and it definitely wasn’t something I’d rave about.

15. Bookmarks or dog-ears?

*Hangs head* both. I know I shouldn’t dog-ear, but sometimes I’d rather do that than lose my place.

16. A book you can always reread?

Any of the Harry Potter books, obviously.

17. Can you read while hearing music?

Yes, but eventually I turn it down in increments until you can barely hear it if I’m that absorbed in the book.

18. One POV or multiple POV?

I like both, but I do enjoy multiple points of view. I think it’s interesting to see all sides of the story.

19. Do you read a book in one sitting or over multiple days?

I have read books in one sitting before, but that’s a rarity. I usually read over multiple days.

20. One book you read because of the cover. 

House of Echoes by Brendan Duffy. The cover was haunting and creepy, so I thought it would be an interesting book.

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Alright, that wraps up the fun this month! Thank you again to all my followers for being patient with me this month while I took a reading-breather. You guys are the best!

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

The proverbial skeleton is about to be out of the closet! Latham kept me hanging on the edge of my seat and turning pages, determined to figure out who the body was before it was fully revealed…but I truly couldn’t figure it out until the very end.

Rowan Chase is woken up to the sound of construction. When she gets up to investigate, she finds something more mysterious than the renovation. The workers have found a body long dead in her decades-family-owned servants house. Unused but for storage for almost a century, the workers were converting the building into a man-cave for Rowan’s father. Quickly the workers leave, and Rowan calls up her best friend James to help her investigate. When they start looking at the remains, they noticed a wallet, a gun with “Maybelle” inscribed on it, and the messy remaining mix of lime and blood.

in 1921, William Tillman is a young man in the midst of racially tumultuous Tulsa. He’s the son of a Osage woman and a blue collar man, trying to impress his crush Addie and his best friend, Clete. While at a speakeasy dubbed the Two-Knock, Addie and a black man named Clarence walk in, and Clete immediately urges Will to run him off for talking to a white woman. Will is drunk and belligerent, but even then he knows that he doesn’t think this is right- however, he causes a ruckus, picks a one-sided fight, and Clarence is forced to leave. Clete runs to the crooked police, which trickles to the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan (or wanna-bes), and Clarence is killed. Will knows this is just as much his fault as Clete’s and the others.

As Rowan tracks down the past on her house, the town, and the skeleton in her back yard, Will recounts the time leading up to the Tulsa race riot of 1921. In alternating chapters, the reader is piecing together the clues that will reveal who the skeleton is, while Latham describes a dark and scary time in American history, and reminds us that history often repeats itself if we let it.

My in-real-life book club picked this for our monthly read. We wanted a female author or a strong female lead, and out of a strong pile of books fitting the bill, we chose Dreamland Burning and got both. I’m curious to see what the members of the group thought about the book, but I was definitely absorbed in it by 50 pages in. I will say that both main characters bothered me at first- their privilege was showing and made them a little unlikable in the beginning for me- but once I got into the unraveling of the story, I realized that both Rowan and Will were able to change for the better and I was so proud of them by the end.

I plan to do some more reading up on the events in this book, but I did do a few searches, and what I have found about the riot is nauseating. There are images of the KKK, images of the town on fire, articles with info disputing how many people of color were killed that night, and even worse things. I highly suggest this read, as it is such a good mystery and a great way to open discussion on race, class, and historical context, but I also would say to keep in mind that this book, though fictional, is still based on a true, horrible event. It’s certainly one that’ll open anyone’s eyes.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

I’m almost at a loss of words when it comes to this book. How could anyone read it without their heart shattering?

I guess to start, I’ll be the first to admit, politics are not my favorite subject. I’ve never liked confrontation, and I rarely paid attention to international conflicts. On September 11, 2001, I was a terrified fourth grader who didn’t understand what was happening in the world- but I was mollified by the promise that American soldiers were going to protect me from the terrorists. Growing up, I realize and confess, I was put in a privileged American bubble and only heard scraps of information about the war on terrorism and the conflict in the Middle East, mostly because I didn’t seek out information.

Now, as an adult (who is still working on adulting) I’d realized that I needed to wake up and pay attention to what is going on in the world. I read the headlines every day from various media outlets (because contrary to popular belief, just because it is on the internet doesn’t mean it must be true), and form educated opinions about current events. I still keep many of those opinions to myself, but I’ve come to enjoy discussing what is happening in the world- although at times (especially under our current administration) it tends to get me down- with family and friends.

At any rate, I Am Malala has been on my TBR for a long time. I knew it was a must read, and I had heard about Malala in the news, so I was somewhat familiar with her story… or so I thought, anyway. Reading Malala’s story in her own words not only educated me on the adversity in Pakistan and it’s turbulent history, but also the culture of a woman’s life under the reign of the Taliban.

(Photo Credit: Google Images)

Malala introduces herself and her family, starting from the day of her attack and working backwards. Her grandfather was a traditional Islamic man who was known for his ability to give amazing speeches in their community. He raised his son to also be a strong man of faith, and despite troubles with a stammer, helped to make him a renowned public speaker as well. As Malala’s father was also a fierce believer in children’s education, and eventually started his own school despite financial and economic hardships.

When Malala was born, her father rejoiced despite the common belief that boys were more prized than girls. Malala grew up in her father’s school and loved the educational environment. She would listen to the teachers tell stories, and when old enough, became a devoted pupil. She was interested in politics and history of her country, and intrigued by human rights. In Pakistan, females were not encouraged to go to school for both religious and economic reasons, with the common mentality being that education was meant for males, and a waste of resources and money on females. There was also the traditional belief to practice purdah, where the females of the household are completely covered and hidden from males that aren’t close family. Malala’s family was more modern in this context. Her father wanted education available to girls, allowed Malala to not cover her face, and encouraged her to speak out for the right of female education.

When the Taliban took over Swat (the area where Malala lived), extreme politics overturned the government, and Malala and her father became a target for speaking out against them. Their school was repeatedly told to shut down and disallow girls, and fined for absurd reasons. The town was terrorized by militant groups raiding homes in search of forbidden property like DVDs, CDs, and TVs- anything that could counter the propaganda being promoted by the leader of the Taliban. Anyone found- or accused- of speaking against the Taliban was targeted and either killed or flogged in public and left to die in the streets. Everything was done in the name of Islam, stating that the reasoning could be found in the Quran- yet many were uneducated and couldn’t read the original Arabic text, therefore relying on the translations and interpretations. Eventually, war came to the area, displacing millions of people in Swat- including Malala and her family. Through the tragedy, Malala and her father stayed true to their beliefs that peace, not violence, was the answer, and that education should be available to everyone.

(Photo Credit: Google Images)

When the Taliban was driven out of Swat and Malala’s family returned home, normalcy was still difficult to find, and everyone was still living in fear. However, Malala put on a brave face and continued to speak out- reaching locally and internationally- advocating for female education, ignoring the threats on her life. Though she was only fifteen, she was wise beyond her years and had faith in the Islam she knew, not the one projected by extremists. Then, one seemingly normal afternoon, Malala was shot.

As Malala tells her own story, I struggled to fight the heartbreak. This teenager lived in a paradise that she watched transform into a living hell, and survived the nightmare of it all, not losing an ounce of her faith or giving an inch in her beliefs. She is an absolute inspiration, and I was both in awe and shock as she recounted her short 16 years on earth. I personally would go to bed at night after reading a few chapters and have nightmares just from what I had read. As I said before, I live a privileged life, and even my imagination can’t handle what Malala went through.

I absolutely think I Am Malala is a must-read. We owe it to her, and to those who went through, and continue to go through, the fight on terrorism and the fight for basic human rights.