Review: Flying Lessons & Other Stories by Ellen Oh

Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us. Flying Lessons & Other Stories includes a variety of characters — from different backgrounds, disabilities, ethnicities, sexualities. And so here’s a look of some of my favorite short stories featured in here:

Sol Painting, Inc. by Meg Medina

Twelve-year-old Merci Suarez is helping her father out at his work the summer before entering her first year at “fancy Seaward Pines School.” Her science loving brother, Roli, is also helping out. And when they arrive at their painting locating for the summer, it turns out to be their newly shared school. But the day takes a turn for the worse when some high school students walk in and destroy the hard work of Sol Painting, Inc. without even a hint of remorse.

“My brother has always been strangely good at reading my mind. Can’t he see how awful it felt to be unimportant, to watch Papi stand there like a chump?
“What did you want Papi to do, Merci? Pitch a fit and blow your free ride?”
Without warning, tears spring to my eyes. He pretends not to notice. Instead, he cups my scalp with his enormous hand and gives a squeeze. “Try to let this idea into your thick cranium. Papi chose to be invisible today so you won’t ever have to be.”

That last sentence really hit hard.

Medina is a great storyteller that managed to really give depth to her characters in such a short amount. With Roli’s passions and Merci’s dedication to the business, I was more than swept into their lives. I hope they receive everything their heart desires.

Main Street by Jacqueline Woodson

I love Woodson’s writing a lot, so I was truly pumped when I saw her as one of the contributors to this collection. Main Street is told from the point of view of a main white character, Treetop, befriending Celeste, who has brown skin in a predominately white town.

“I had never known anyone brown, and Celeste had never lived in a place where brown people didn’t.”

It is a sprawling look at race, harmful stereotypes, childhood friendships, and identity. And that ending left me feeling hopeful for the future.
I was also left wanting more of Jacqueline Woodson’s writing, so I’ve got to get her books into my hands very soon!

Oh, and just to give you an excerpt, here’s one of my favorite passages from the story:

“Last winter the snow fell so long and rose so high, my father hired a man from Keene to plow it. When the man arrived, his huge plow moved silently through the mass of snow. The silence surprised me. How could so much power exist inside such quiet? As I watched, pressing my head against the window, I said to my father, I want to move through the world that quietly. That powerfully.”

I’m in love with Woodson’s way with words.

Flying Lessons by Soman Chainani

About a month ago, Santosh’s sixty-nine-year-old nani informed (not asked) that she would take him on a three-week trip across Europe. “Less than a month later, I am alone on a naked beach.” To say that his grandmother was quite a character would be an understatement.

“In Berlin, she left me stranded in the middle of a dodgy parade. In Marseilles, she paid a fast-talking young cabdriver named Gael to take me out with his wild teenage friends while she shopped for shoes. And yesterday, on our first night in Spain, I dressed up in a suit and combed my hair so I’d look nice for the “theater,” only to end up cowering in the front row at an adults-only burlesque.”

But I ended up liking her so much more than expected, particularly after this next passage:

“Did you take Mom away too when she was young?” I ask later, struggling to crack a stone crab at dinner.
“Your mother is like your grandfather,” Nani says vaguely, already finished shelling and eating hers.
“What’s that mean?” I ask, trying to keep the slippery crab in the silver cracker.
“They’d rather stay home and do work.”
“Yeah, but that’s how they both make money—”
“And what do they do with it?” Nani fires. “Your mother hoards every dime as if she’ll live forever. Your grandfather hasn’t taken me to a movie or dinner or show or anywhere else in fifteen years. ‘We’re old now,’ he says. ‘We’re old.’ ”
“But he lets you spend as much money as you want—”
“Money!” She pounces. “What good is money to a bird in a cage?”

That last sentence left me speechless.

Since this was the title story and my first read by Chainani, I was quite excited to say the least. And the author did not disappoint: the characters were lively, complex, and the dialogue was gripping. And Kamla Sani (the grandmother) speaks the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I loved her.

I appreciate her so much that I need to share this next dialogue, because with one final sentence she managed to shift my whole point of view:

“Do you know why I brought you on this trip, Santosh?”
“So you could get away from Grandpa?”
She lets out a cackle. “No! Well, yes. But no. I brought you on this trip because you win too many awards at school.”
I stare at her blankly. “What?”
“Best in math, best in English, best in debate, history, science, chorus…How many awards can you win? Every year I come to the ceremony and watch you go back and forth to the stage, picking up all the trophies and making me and your mother carry them, because there are too many for you to hold.”
“Nani,” I say, losing patience. “What does winning awards have to do with anything?”
“Because when you’re older, no one cares how many awards you win, Santosh. People care if you have something to talk about. And right now, all you have to talk about are things from books.”16467132I’m not even joking with inserting that gif because that passage really was inspirational for me. Nani notices how receiving those awards year after year doesn’t make Santosh happy as it used to do, and so she offers up some really useful advice that I took to heart.

And as if this story couldn’t get any more hearts from me, it included a LGBTQIA+ storyline!! Props to Nani for fake fainting so that her grandson can talk to the cute boy he likes.

“Come, Santosh, darling,” she wheezes, adding a few hacking coughs, as if while fake fainting she also happened to contract tuberculosis. “Stay with your nani and this handsome boy who rescued me.”

Is there anyone better than her?? Nope…
I know for a fact that I won’t forget her anytime soon. And so I think it goes without saying that Flying Lessons was my favorite short story. (However, I need to have more clarity on that ending!! Help.)

Overall, I’m so glad this collection exist; I need more like it. Flying Lessons & Other Stories is the best thing that’s happened to me this week. And I have nothing but love for it.

5/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Flying Lessons & Other Stories , just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: Love Is Love by Phil Jimenez

Love Is Love is a collection of one- to two-page stories about the tragedy that took place on June 12, when 49 people were killed when a gunman opened fire in Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. It includes stories that mourn the victims, examine love and celebrate the LGBTQ community.

To say that I was anticipating this would be understatement — Love Is Love had incredible potential to become a complete game-changer. But I quickly found that instead of targeting its focus on highlighting #ownvoices, this anthology decides to voice a lot of straight white men feeling sad and not really using their privilege to speak up in their immediate communities. To paraphrase one of the contributors, I felt like they were inserting themselves into a story that wasn’t about them… the people who can actually contribute something to Love Is Love were being overshadowed quite heavily.

I’m just flummoxed over the fact that they would ask multiple straight white men to contribute to this collection when you could have featured #ownvoices who know what they’re talking about compared to this: love-is-love-3-bookspoilslove-is-love-4-bookspoils(Just one example out of quite a few.)

If you know this isn’t your story to tell, why are you still telling it??  It just really bothered me that these supposed allies put the main focus on themselves rather than on the people that actually got hurt and affected.

So in order to take my mind over how worked up this made me, I’m instead going to feature the 1 page stories that actually did contribute something more than “I don’t know what to say because I’m privileged as hell.” If I sound bitter, it’s because I am still a little bitter.

love-is-love-2-bookspoilslove-is-love-8-bookspoilslove-is-love-6-bookspoilslove-is-love-10-bookspoilslove-is-love-9-bookspoilslove-is-love-11-bookspoilsThat last one knocked the breath out of me.

Love Is Love was for the most part a heartrending and hopeful tribute to the LGBTQIA+ community. And I’m more than appreciative of the contributors that participated in this collection.

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Love Is Love, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: I See Reality by Grace Kendall

I See Reality is a collection of 12 short stories about real life. These heart-pounding stories ask hard questions about a range of topics from sexuality and addiction to violence and immigration.

Rating for each of the stories (with potential spoilers):

Three Imaginary Conversations With You by Heather Demetrios4/5 stars

This follows Jessa’s imaginary conversations trying to break up with her abusive boyfriend.

“I’ll open my mouth, but the words won’t come. Despite everything, I won’t want to break your heart. And I won’t want you to break mine. I just want us to … drift away from each other. I’ll wish there didn’t have to be words. Or that you, for once, could be the one who has to say the hard thing.”

This was a really hard read for me. Both emotional and physical abuse are topics that I find really difficult to read about. And Heather Demetrios definitely made me feel a lot while reading this short story. I felt both pain and pride and sorrow while reading from Jessa’s point of view— and I’m really glad with that ending.

A truly strong start that stayed with me till the end of the collection.

The Downside of Fabulous by Kristin Elizabeth Clark2.5/5 stars

We start out in Mr. Megars’ class, where Chris confides to the reader that he has a crush on Tom Waters. And Liz (his best friend and confidant) doesn’t believe him when he comes out to her.
To say that Liz really, really bothered me would be an understatement.

“What am I doing here, trying to assert my … gaytivity? And who the hell does Liz think she is to question me? I wrap the cord around my controller and slam it down on the TV stand.
“I wanted you to know this thing.” I raise my voice. “This one really important thing about me. I didn’t realize I’d have to pass the gay SAT to get your tiny mind to accept it!”

And since this story focused a lot more, in my opinion, on Liz rather than developing Tom and Chris— I ended up feeling underwhelmed.
I didn’t care for what Liz thought he should do to get Tom to notice him. And, frankly, she can stick her opinions and unasked advice up her ass.

Everything just went downhill after that, which really disappointed me.

The Night of the Living Creeper by Stephen Emond 3/5 stars

The opening paragraph to this one was fantastic:
“A warning to you, dear reader, this is a terrifying tale, a scary story, a haunting hullaballoo. Should you frighten easily, please turn back now. But for those who can’t deny their curiosity, what’s so grave that you should shut this book and place it on the shelf, you ask? Why, it’s a story about a creeper, of course.”

This tale is told from the point of view of a cat named Skittles, who’s observing her dorky, innocent human. For the purpose of this story she calls her Fairy.

The haunting ghostly creeper tale begins when Fairy and her friends decide to play an odd little game involving questions and answers, inappropriateness and giggles.Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 21.55.29

The conversations they had with one another tried to answer really important questions, but it felt a bit preachy and nonsensical. I didn’t feel like I was listening in on a real (and crucial) conversation, rather more like the author found a convenient way to drop information on sexuality and creepers.

But it did include illustrations, which always cheers me up.
Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 08.09.11

Makeshift by Kekla Magoon3.5/5 stars

“I still can’t believe any of this is happening. It doesn’t feel real.”

This tale opens with Kayse and her mother who have just moved into their new apartment in Harlem, New York. And the topic of domestic abuse was touched upon in a very resonating way.

“It’s temporary, I remind myself. We’ll only be here a little while. He’s going to have to pay her alimony, eventually. Or child support. He has to, right? They were married my whole life. He’s my dad, for Christ’s sake.”

I do wish that this story would have been longer, but other than that Makeshift really harrowed me.

“It’s only temporary. The bruise. The fear. The dent in our force field. The world outside doesn’t matter. Tomorrow doesn’t matter. Mom is here, and that’s more than nothing. For tonight it’s just the two of us, inside this wrapping paper bubble.”

Things You Get Over, Things You Don’t by Jason Schmidt3/5 stars

This follows the aftermaths of a school shooting. The events that were described felt a bit rushed, so I couldn’t fully understand what was happening until it happened. But I definitely had to take a breather after this one.

Coffee Chameleon by Jay Clark— no rating

This started out from the point of view of an addict. But it didn’t pull me in at all.

Hush by Marcella Pixley— no rating

Hush kind of creeped me out, so I gave up with only a few pages left. Also, the fact that I had no idea where it was going didn’t really help.

Blackbird by Trisha Leaver2/5 stars

Lilly is part of the tech crew for her upcoming high school musical.

“I knew every word to the song Rachel was belting out, could hit every note, transition seamlessly between breaks. Two years ago, that would’ve been me out there, anchoring the chorus. Two years and four schools back, that was me.”

But ever since her brother intentionally killed a girl, she’s been hiding in the shadows.

“I’d learned that trick a long time ago. Keep people out, make it clear you have no interest in talking to them, and they will leave you alone. Blissfully, agonizingly alone.”

Blackbird started out interesting enough, but I really, really didn’t appreciate the girl-hating in this one.

And it also had some insta-love, but at that point I didn’t even have high enough expectations to care.

Gone From This Place by Faith Erin Hicks3.5/5 stars

Faith Erin Hicks is one of the reasons why I picked up this collection. And it did not disappoint. I loved both the art and writing.

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 13.34.48.png

It was a really short story with a sweet ending.

The Sweeter the Sin by Jordan Sonnenblick3/5 stars

We follow David’s love-hate relationship with Elizabeth from freshman to senior year. To be frank, I wasn’t expecting to like it, but The Sweeter the Sin was a quick and compelling read. (Even if I didn’t really understand what was happening towards the end.)

The Mistake by James Preller3/5 stars

The Mistake follows Angela’s decision to terminate her pregnancy. The tale is told from both Angel’s point of view and of her boyfriend’s, Malcolm.

The premise of this story really had me from the beginning, but unfortunately the writing wasn’t really to my liking. It felt like it was trying too hard to be poetic. There were also random poems thrown in that I didn’t really care for.

“Then you appeared, then you appeared …
I wasn’t unhappy
Wasn’t happy neither
Just drifting
Aimless you know
A sail in any old wind”

But I really liked Angela and would’ve loved to have gotten more from her point of view.

“Oh Mal, can’t you see? I am the poem.
I am strong, and brave, and beautiful. And though my bones feel heavy, and my heart aches, I will be the one who writes the next verse.
I am the one who decides.”

The Good Brother by Patrick Flores-Scott3.5/5 stars

This story describes the process of immigration and its unfairness towards two brothers.

“José, you crossed four days too late to be eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.”

And when the hearing doesn’t go in José’s favor, his twin brother Javier (who took his place in court) gets deported to Mexico.

“You got blinders on, Jos.
I know that’s what it takes to succeed in this country. Narrow your vision so you don’t see the shitty mess this place is. So you can believe in right and wrong … good and bad. Justice. And you can chase the fantasy. I’m sure that can actually work, Jos … if you got papers and parents who got papers.”

This story, in its short amount of pages, really punctured me. I have to know more about what will happen next for José and his family.

To sum up, some stories really resonated with me and some didn’t— but that’s why I love reading anthologies. And I See Reality was no exception.

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying I See Reality, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!