Welcome back to the bookish version of Six Degrees of Separation. Here’s how it works: Start with the book suggested by Kate over at booksaremyfavouriteandbest, and see where you end up by linking it to six other titles. It’s easy and it’s fun, and no two chains are the same!
This month’s starting point is the 2020 Booker Prize winner, Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart. Unfortunately, I read 62% of this one before I threw in the towel. For me, it was boring and uneventful; I wanted so much more from it. From the Goodreads description (you can read it here), it sounded dark, but I’m okay with dark stories. In fact, many of my favorite books can be described as dark, so that’s my focus for this installment of #6degrees.
First Degree: The first “dark” book that lives on my all-time favorites list is A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It is hauntingly beautiful – a deep character study into the life of Jude St. Francis. Your heart will be ripped out, ripped up, and pieced back together, but never quite as whole as it was before you started. You won’t ever forget this story, and you will feel all the feels – love, hope, despair, hurt, anger, sadness.
Second Degree: A Little Life is reminiscent of The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne. Cyril Avery is born in post-WWII Ireland. His mother gives him up for adoption when he’s just three days old. He struggles most of his life to find a place to belong – and let’s just say that Ireland and all her politics do not make it easy on him. As a child who realizes early on that he is gay – in a country and a time where that declaration is completely unacceptable – Avery endures many heartbreaking, confusing, and difficult times. He searches for a love and acceptance that many (even still today) take for granted. Avery’s transformation into a confident, secure, and happy man is a beautiful journey. He – like all people, really – has hardships. But ultimately, he realizes that those difficult times are where he learned to embrace and accept himself. Towards the end of his life he realizes that he wouldn’t be who he is without them; therefore, he wouldn’t change any of it. Cyril Avery has earned a place in my heart forever.
Third Degree: Another book that deals with heavy topics – specifically, grief – is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I have read this brick of a book twice, and I liked it even more the second time around. Tartt writes about grief so well. From its pervasiveness to the roller coaster of emotions that accompany it, Tartt portrays grief with such an accurate lens and I respect the honesty and rawness with which she handles the topic.
Fourth Degree: The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr is a debut masterpiece! The story of the Halifax plantation is layered with themes of love, racism, class, slavery, and white privilege. At the heart of the book is the love between Isaiah and Samuel…two enslaved Black men that find solace in each other, something that is increasingly threatened as the dark sides of “Empty” are revealed. The rich cast of secondary characters shine as well as they care for one another and try to ease the burden of life the enslaved exist under at Halifax.
Fifth Degree: Real Life by Brandon Taylor is a deep, deep character study that I didn’t think I cared for when I first finished, but have found as time has passed that I can’t get Wallace and his story out of my head. Overall, Real Life showed the nuance of racism and how society treats men of color. It also examined Wallace’s profound profound sadness, highlights his learned helplessness, and demonstrates the heaviness the world hands Black gay men. It’s a very slow burn, but as I mentioned above, I continue to reflect back on Wallace and his story often.
Sixth Degree: Betty by Tiffany McDaniel was one of my favorite books I read last year. Parts of her story are horrifyingly hard to read, but this is a coming-of-age family drama (with ALL the triggers, so be careful!) will stick with me for a long time! There were so many times I wanted to hold this sweet child and take the pain away from her. But when the book was finally finished, I realized she didn’t need me after all. She had more resilience and strength than I gave her credit for and she grew up to be just fine…even if she dealt with far more than she ever should have had to.
(Because of the dark nature of these books, please be aware that trigger warnings abound!)
In honour of the wonderful Beverly Cleary, we’ll begin next month’s chain (May 1, 2021) with Beezus and Ramona.