Tag Archives: Betrayal

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver

Execution of Noa P. SingletonThe timing is horrifyingly surreal: capital punishment emerged as a major topic this week, from the tragically innocent, to the mistreated guilty – and somehow, unrelatedly, I managed to choose this title. Once begun, I couldn’t stop until the final page.

“In this world, you are either good or evil,” Elizabeth L. Silver‘s powerhouse debut opens (with the chill factor markedly heightened by Rebecca Lowman who narrates with unrelenting control). “The gray middle ground, that mucous-thin terrain where most of life resides, is really only a temporary annex, like a gestation or purgatory,” explains Noa P. Singleton, Silver’s unflinching protagonist. “[Y]ou must choose one way of life or the other. … For me, it happened on January 1, 2003.”

At 35, Noa is sitting on death row in the Pennsylvania Institute for Women. Before her 10-year incarceration, she was the smart-girl jock who ran varsity track and graduated salutatorian, then studied biochemistry and engineering at UPenn. She waitressed, substitute taught, tutored, and was a lab research assistant – until she became a murderer. During her five-day trial, she didn’t defend herself: “I know I did it.”

Six months before “X-day” – as in execution – Noa receives two unexpected visitors: Marlene Dixon, a high-power attorney who is also the mother of Noa’s victim, and Oliver Stansted, a newly-minted young associate from Marlene’s office. Marlene has recently started a nonprofit organization, MAD: Mothers Against Death. After an agonizing decade of suffering the loss of her daughter, Marlene claims she no longer wants to witness another death; shockingly, she announces her intention to have Noa’s capital punishment commuted to a less terminal incarceration. All she asks for in return from Noa is to find out what really happened to her pregnant daughter that fateful 2003 New Year’s Day.

During those months that Oliver and Marlene work on Noa’s appeal, Noa begins to write the story she never told anyone. She recalls her childhood with a single mother who was better at marrying and discarding husbands than caring for her daughter. She remembers her closest childhood friend Persephone, and her first high school lover Andy. She recalls her estranged father’s jarring return into her life. And finally, she replays that fateful final day in Sarah Dixon’s stuffy apartment.

The revelations come fast and furious, plunging readers into that “gray middle ground,” making impossible any clarity between so-called good and evil. From the shattering secrets held in Noa’s name to Marlene’s crumbling façade as the perfect grieving mother to Oliver’s inexplicable devotion to Noa’s case, lawyer-turned-newbie-author Silver pulls off a superbly calculated novel about naive misjudgment, desperate consequences, and impossible justice.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Nonethnic-specific

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich AsiansSuspend your disbelief before you open this book (or stick in your ears, so energetically read by actor Lynn Chen). You might also consider duct-taping your jaw shut because Manhattan-based Singaporean author Kevin Kwan insists on the veracity of the excesses in his outrageous, hilarious, train-wreck tragic debut novel: “So many aspects of and stories in the book I actually had to tone down!” he told Vanity Fair in an interview last year. “The reality is simply unbelievable. They say truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, but there’s such a thing as believability when you’re writing a novel. I did a lot more simplifying and cutting out of the decadence and the excess than I did of adding it on … [My] editor was like No one will believe this. And I would say, But this really happened, and she’d reply It doesn’t matter. You’re going to lose readers because it’s going to seem so unreal that people would spend this much money, or do something this excessive.”

Now that you’ve been duly warned by the author himself, let the way-over-the-top eye-rolling, name-dropping, back-stabbing begin. What could have been just an old-fashioned, simple love story of poor little rich boy falling in love with the wrong (-classed) girl of his dreams, becomes a decadent confection of wealth and overprivilege gone awry.

Nick Young, NYU history professor, is going home to Singapore to be his childhood best friend’s best man. He asks his girlfriend, Rachel Chu – NYU economics professor – to join him. Oh, the implications of such an invitation! His cousin Astrid duly advises him to warn Rachel about their unique family… but, of course, he doesn’t.

Rachel, who endured a peripatetic childhood with a single mother who eventually found stability as a real estate agent in northern California, is naive enough to believe that frequent flyer miles could upgrade the happy couple into a Singapore Airlines suite for their journey east. By the time she lands in Nick’s entitled world (private jets, yachts, islands, couture duds in seven-figure euros, servants given as royal gifts), she’s caught in a viper pit filled with spoiled heiresses and unrepentant social climbers who abuse then dismiss her as unworthy competition for Asia’s most eligible bachelor. Even worse, the young pale in comparison to the craziest rich Asian mothers …

Against such stupefyingly shallow odds, can true love survive?

Regardless of your net worth or specific Asian affiliation, Kwan’s multigenerational saga will have you both cringe-ing and nodding in recognition, not to mention more than the occasional guffaw of shock. While the staggering fortunes represented here are what might appear in The Economist or Forbes, the dysfunctional antics of the immeasurably wealthy become fodder for farcical reality shows and grocery-aisle gossip rags. But, of course, timing is everything … because on beaches, long flights, and weekend veg sessions, Crazy Rich Asians provides just the right disposable distraction.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013


Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Chinese, Chinese American, Singaporean, Singaporean American, Southeast Asian

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

Double BindThe title here is your first warning: Oxford Dictionaries describes ‘double bind’ as “[a] situation in which a person is confronted with two irreconcilable demands or a choice between two undesirable courses of action.” Think on that, then brace yourself as you open the cover (or hit ‘play’ to allow narrator Susan Denaker to lull you into false complacency): between these pages, you’ll lose all control of what’s real and what’s not.

To tell you too much would be such an injustice, so if you’re already a Chris Bohjalian groupie (my favorite hapa Armenian American writer and general go-to-when-I-need-a-good-story-stuck-in-the-ears), just read it without any further preamble, because that’s always the best way to discover new stories. If this is your first Bohjalian from his 16-thus-far (#17 coming in July), congratulations for picking a mind-blowing powerhouse, so go start already.

If you’re still with me, let’s start with Bohjalian’s opening “Author’s Note” in which he carefully lays out what’s true: the executive director of a Vermont homeless shelter shared with Bohjalian a box of “remarkable” black-and-white photographs taken by a once homeless man, Bob “Soupy” Campbell; both were “mystified” how such an obviously accomplished artist could go from capturing images of celebrities and newsmakers of the 1950s and 1960s to becoming homeless in Vermont. “We tend to stigmatize the homeless and blame them for their plight,” Bohjalian writes. “We are oblivious to the fact that most had lives as serious as our own before everything fell apart.” In deference to Campbell, Bohjalian includes some of his luminous photos throughout this book. He adds, “Obviously, Bobbie Crocker, the homeless photographer in this novel, is fictitious.”

The “Prologue” then begins with grave violence: “Laurel Estabrook was nearly raped the fall of her sophomore year in college.” She was 19, biking on a dirt road not too far from school when two men in a van attacked her. In the midst of this description – unrelenting in careful details – of the most pivotal moment of Laurel’s young life, Bohjalian slips in two unexpected phrases you should not miss on page 3: “George Wilson (shot Jay Gatsby as he floated aimlessly in his swimming pool)” and “…even if she hadn’t grown up in West Egg …” Hold on to those clues …

By prologue’s end, the narrative intentions are set: At 26, Laurel works at a Vermont homeless shelter and is in possession of a box of photographs belonging to 82-year-old Bobbie Crocker, a former shelter resident who has just passed away. The photos fall into three categories: instantly recognizable famous people and places; a girl on a bike on an all-too-familiar dirt road; and scenes from the country club of Laurel’s childhood “once owned by a bootlegger named Gatsby” that include photos of society doyenne Pamela Buchanan Marshfield as a girl with an anonymous young boy about whose identity Laurel instantly “has a hunch.” Laurel must decipher the multi-layered story literally laid out before her, realizing she is somehow implicated.

Puzzled yet? [And no, you don’t need to be a Gatsby aficionado, just know the basic story of invented identities and unattainability. Literary heresy aside, Gatsby bores me, except when Elevator Repair Service performs it as their phenomenal eight-hour stage spectacle renamed Gatz.] Just beware: Don’t get too presumptuous too quickly – even as Bohjalian reveals clues in plain sight, full understanding probably won’t come until you go back and reread. Reality has rarely been so clearly, cleverly camouflaged.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2007

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Armenian American

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina

Interrogation of Ashala WolfAs I feel I know so little about the literature of our Down Under friends, I admit I’m surprised to find I’ve posted almost 30 titles with Australian origins here on BookDragon thus far. If you were to pop-quiz me on Aussie authors, my instant answers would be Marcus Zusak (Mr. Book Thief himself), Oscar-winning writer and illustrator Shaun Tan, and graphic novelist Diana Thung. I certainly couldn’t name a single indigenous Australian author … until now.

Meet Ambelin Kwaymullina, an award-winning children’s writer and illustrator, who makes her novel debut with Ashala Wolf, Book 1 of the Tribe series. [Lucky Australian readers had The Tribe Book 2: The Disappearance of Ember Crow hit shelves in November 2013, with the second half of the series scheduled for 2014 and 2015; Stateside readers can only hope the next three titles will follow sooner than later.] Kwaymullina comes from generations of storytellers of the Palyku people of western Australia’s Pilbara region. “Aboriginal people of Australia have the oldest continuous living culture on earth,” she writes in her illuminating “Author’s Note.” “We are not a single homogenous group; we are many nations, and we hail from diverse homelands. We call our homelands our Countries.”

From her vast heritage, Kwaymullina creates the brave new world of Ashala Wolf, who “carries that ancient bloodline and has the deep connection to [her home] Firstwood that present-day Aboriginal people have to their Countries.” Somewhere, sometime in a post-apocalyptic future, children become the greatest threat to an all-too-controlling government desperate to keep what’s left of the world’s Balance. These children can start fires, cause earthquakes, shift clouds, fly, and more. Branded as Illegals when their abilities begin to surface, they’re shackled with power-inhibiting collars and imprisoned. Somehow, a few manage to escape. Firstwood is their Illegal haven, home to the Tribe and its 16-year-old leader Ashala. She’s a powerful Sleepwalker, which allows her to do anything in her dreams. In trying to save one of her own, she’s been caught at novel’s opening and is facing interrogation by an insidious official determined to break her with ‘the machine’ which will invade her memories and reveal all her secrets …

Yes, Interrogation might be labelled sci-fi dystopia, but its narrative twists and turns – not to mention its mind games, literally! – shatters any predictability. “[I]n writing about the Tribe,” Kwaymullina says, “I thought about the way the [Aboriginal] Elders draw you into a tale that is always more than it first appears. I thought, too, about the generations of Palyku women who have gone before me …” In blending past and future, Kwaymullina has undoubtedly found her own present Balance.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2012 (Australia), 2014 (United States)

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, Australian

Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian

Secrets to EdenThe day after Alice Hayward is baptized, she’s found strangled in her own home; her husband George is on the couch with a bullet through his head. The apparent murder/suicide understandably has the couple’s tight-knit small Vermont town in shock, especially causing a crisis of faith for Reverend Stephen Drew.

Into Haverhill swoops an angel of sorts – at least a renowned celestial expert with two inspirational bestsellers to buoy her lofty (some might say loopy) status. Eerily enough, Heather Laurent is one of two surviving daughters who lost their parents to a gruesome murder/suicide decades back when they were teenagers. Which gives Heather much to talk about with the 15-year-old Hayward daughter, Katie. Meanwhile, deputy state attorney Catherine Benincasa is certain the Hayward tragedy needs further investigation, and at the top of her must-be-questioned list is the good Reverend Stephen.

The prolific Chris Bohjalian (my favorite hapa Armenian American writer, whose 17th title – Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands – hits shelves July 8) has become my latest go-to aural author, encouraged as I am with his repeat cast of dependable narrators, especially the versatile Mark Bramhall who is part of this title’s marvelously convincing quartet. Stephen, Catherine, Heather, and Katie, each get their unique say – although I can’t help wishing that Alice, too, might have had the chance to voice herself beyond snippets from her journal. Indeed, even after the whodunnit-reveal, only the two corpses will know the whole truth of that fateful evening … and their ‘secrets of Eden’ will remain forever buried in separate graves.

That sort of ponderous ambiguity is what keeps me going back for more books Bohjalian: what’s on the page (or stuck in the ears) is a many-layered story that always demands deeper engagement.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2010

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Armenian American, Nonethnic-specific

The Circle by Dave Eggers

CircleThanks to Annie, her college roommate and best friend, Mae’s escaped from her stupefying utilities job in her “wretched” hometown and entered the Circle, an enviable high-tech company (think Google + Apple + steroids) where Annie is one of the “Gang of 40”-power wielders.

Mae begins in CE – Customer Experience – where every call is scored and anything less than 100 is followed up with inquiries about improvement. Those numbers control Circlers’ lives far beyond work: personal worth becomes measured in smiles, zings, posts, responses, and rankings. The Edenic campus subsumes you: it’s abuzz 24/7 with concerts by the famous, epic parties, workshops that can take you virtually anywhere, and even luxurious dorm rooms so you never have to leave.

Initially drawn away from the halcyon Circle walls – her father is ill, her parents are struggling with inadequate health insurance – Mae is gently chided for not being more involved in her new enCircled life. But Mae succumbs to the unrelenting pressure to participate, quickly moves up the Circle rankings, until her very words (coached as they are) are literally cast in steel writ large: “SECRETS ARE LIES,” “CARING IS SHARING,” “PRIVACY IS THEFT.” When she embraces a life of total “transparency,” she’s catapulted into an unimaginable reality of neverending performance.

As intriguing and timely a premise as Circle presents, Dave Eggers (the bad boy-genius who wrote A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and founded that legendary once-indie-now-almost-mainstream-literary-empire that is McSweeney’s) falters markedly here. Too much of Circle just doesn’t work [choose What is the What or Zeitoun instead]. Eggers’ doom-and-gloom-techno-warning-in-a-shiny-package is heavy-handed, clumsy, and incessantly whining. Less than a quarter through, we get the warning signs loud and clear, but must tediously wait for Mae to catch up (but will she?). Throwing in a hoodie-d object of lust feels merely desperate, and you can’t help but wonder why Mae is so blind to his not-very-mysterious identity. That obsession at least provides a modicum of distraction from her cringe-inducing encounters with former foster child Francis. And the whole subplot of ex-boyfriend Mercer (who creates light from discarded animal parts – go ahead and ponder that) as the sole voice of reason just might cause your rolling eyeballs serious damage.

Perhaps the most intriguing detail here is that if you choose to go aural, you might be surprised to learn that African American male actor, Dion Graham (who turns out to be the best part of all that is Circular), narrates this morality tale told from the point of view of a young, small-town, presumably white woman. Perhaps Graham’s casting is merely habit – Graham appears to be Eggers’ go-to narrator for all his titles – but his smooth voice underscores a visceral layer of creepazoid, interchangeable, lack of individuality. So much so that it might be the only reason not to lectio interruptus until the less than satisfying end.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Nonethnic-specific

Ripper by Isabel Allende, translated by Ollie Brock and Frank Wynne

RipperJust as her latest book was hitting shelves, the near-deified Isabel Allende opened mouth, inserted foot during an interview on NPR and set off a firestorm of negative reaction. On mysteries, she intoned, “I will take the genre, write a mystery that is faithful to the formula and to what the readers expect, but it is a joke.” Uh-oh. Two-and-a-half weeks later (after at least one bookstore returned all copies to her publisher), she was out apologizing, insisting her own comments were the joke. They say no press is bad press, but …

Having already loaded Ripper on my iPod before her ‘joke’ grabbed headlines, curiosity made me hit that ‘play’-button. I would have loved a studio sneak peek to see what sort of faces narrator Edoardo Ballerini must have made while recording what became the final 14.5 hours; to his credit, except for briefly stumbling over a Scottish accent, Ballerini admirably slogs through the almost-500 pages.

“My sleuth will not be this handsome detective or journalist or policeman or whatever. It will be a young, 16-year-old nerd,” Allende revealed in that infamous interview. [Call me wrong, but Amanda seems to be 17 here, referenced thusly on pages 30, 146, and 190.] “My female protagonist will not be this promiscuous, beautiful, dark-haired, thin lady. It will be a plump, blond, healer, and so forth.”

What Allende should have also warned was that she was throwing in just about every stereotype: the ex-vet Asiaphile who can’t satisfy his dragon-lady S&M girlfriend (because he couldn’t finish that “manual” with “something beige in the title – or maybe it was gray”), the arrogant old rich man who falls for someone of the wrong net worth, the innocent good girl corrupted by the popular big-boy-on-campus, the Asian houseboy (although he has the glorified title of ‘butler’ – so that at least one person can say, ‘the butler did it’; he didn’t), and on and on! Oh, she even adds ghosts (magic realism made Allende mega-famous, after all) – including one named Sharbat, “like the girl with green eyes on the famous National Geographic cover“!

So that ‘nerdy’ sleuth, Amanda, and her grandfather/”henchman,” Kabel (an acronym of his real name Blake), regularly play a computer-facilitated game called Ripper with a group of motley teens scattered around the world. They’re the first to discover that the gruesome murders plaguing San Francisco are the work of a serial killer, long before Amanda’s father – “deputy chief of homicide detail” – and his team catch on. Meanwhile, Amanda’s long-divorced mother Indiana – that “plump” protagonist – is caught between two men, leaving her rather oblivious to the rest of reality; after eight murders, she goes missing …

Mystery/thriller aficionado I’m not, but I had the whodunnit figured out as soon as the character appeared, with hours upon hours to go as yet. Because the murderer was so obvious, I convinced myself I couldn’t possibly be right, so I gritted it out to the bitter end; thank goodness at least I was multi-tasking because I’m never, ever going to get those hours back! Finally finished, I guess I can only claim temporary insanity.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2014

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, .Translation, Latino/a, South American

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

InterestingsMeg Wolitzer‘s latest bestseller begins with an intricate overview of the hierarchy of privileged teenagers. In the summer of 1974, six 15- and 16-year-olds meet in Boys’ Teepee 3 at Spirit-in-the-Woods, an arts-focused summer camp for the entitled, and baptize themselves the titular Interestings.

Four of the six – exceptionally advantaged siblings Ash and Goodman, gifted dancer Cathy, only son of legendary folk singer Jonah – are the anointed ones: “like royalty and French movie stars, with a touch of something papal.” On the fringe is the “touchingly ugly” Ethan, the one truly brilliant artist who is an animating genius. The last of the six, Julie Jacobson, a scholarship student from Long Island who can’t believe she’s been invited into this “hot little nucleus,” will emerge from the tent with a new name, Jules, and complementary reborn identity as Ash’s best friend and Ethan’s unrequited love.

Over the next four decades, these six lives will intertwine and overlap. Jules will serve as the primary narrator, her perspective clouded by both envy and loyalty. Ash and Ethan surprise everyone by choosing each other and detailing their wealthy glamorous lives in thick, vellum envelopes every year; Jonah will choose robotics over music after being drugged as a child by her mother’s not-famous-enough-lover who steals his youthful nonsensical tunes; Cathy will leave the dance world for a financial empire that literally collapses on 9/11; Goodman will have to find an alternative life; and Jules will bear her less-than-stellar life from her fourth-floor walk-up (although her life does eventually include an elevator).

As the Interestings mature, they bear witness to almost a half-century of quotidian Manhattan life in the latter 20th-century-into-the-21st: the many layers of class and privilege, the AIDS death sentence until it isn’t, the lure of the Moonies, the advent of a media-savvy generation of really rich, the neverending gender gap in business and arts, growing autism diagnoses, victims of multiplying global economies, the different degrees of legal as defined by income bracket.

At almost 500 pages or nearly 16 hours stuck in the ears (adeptly read by actor Jen Tullock), getting to know the Interestings requires commitment. Temporary adoption that might be, by story’s end, whether you disdain or admire Jules, wish less control for Jonah, believe Kathy or Goodman, forgive Ash, or understand Ethan, one thing remains true: “… as if the world itself were an animated sequence of longing and envy and self-hatred and grandiosity and failure and success, a strange and endless cartoon loop that you couldn’t stop watching, because, despite all you knew by now, it was still so interesting.” True that.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Nonethnic-specific

We Are Water by Wally Lamb

We Are WaterOver the past couple weeks, I’ve been a bit of an ethnic voyeur, picking up bestselling ‘mainstream’ titles in search of their APAness. I confess I picked up Wally Lamb‘s latest purely because I somehow learned the protagonist is named Annie Oh – Oh usually being a Korean last name. ‘Oh’ turns out to be Annie’s moniker only by (first) marriage, that Annie was born Anna O’Day. Her husband Orion is the official Oh, an Italian Chinese hapa whose only inheritance from his Chinese American father is his last name.

At almost 600 pages or over 23 hours stuck in the ears (the eight-member cast is superb, and includes Lamb himself reading Orion’s chapters), Water is not a light commitment. Here’s the skeletal overview: Annie’s second marriage is imminent, this time to a woman. To get to the wedding on time, over half a century of exposition must be revealed; Water then concludes with what happens three years after the blessed event.

The novel is sprawling, with complicated overlapping narratives that revolve around (essentially) little orphan Annie who survives a horrific past, is rescued by Orion, raises three children together, discovers her violently angry artist soul, falls in love with her gallery owner, and must finally face her demons on her wedding day. Intertwined stories include an African American artist who is murdered by a KKK member, the aging artist who first discovered Annie’s work whose son then gives Annie’s youngest daughter her major break, a monstrously abusive cousin who was both victim and victimizer, a manipulative student who ruins her professor’s career, and so much more – all compounded with issues of class, gender, politics, religion, and race, oh my.

While the novel occasionally felt overly detailed and therefore long (did I really need to know that the pantry had grape jelly to put on the muffins?), I admit that actively connecting the APA dots throughout proved to be a fascinating process. From the “effeminate Korean cashier” who is also the “hostile Korean boy” at the corner grocery where Annie gets her cigarettes, to the fact that the 1882 Exclusion Act can be so casually mentioned, to wondering if I’ve read the Chinese American history texts Orion orders from Amazon, added quite a different layer to my usual ‘let-it-just-sink-in-and-then-react’ usual intended approach.

By book’s end, this experimental literary engagement proved so engrossing, I’m in the middle of doing it again: stay tuned for the Moonies and an HIV-positive Japanese American lawyer in Meg Wolitzer’s much-lauded The Interestings.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Hapa, Nonethnic-specific

Hidden Girl: The True Story of a Modern-Day Child Slave by Shyima Hall with Lisa Wysocky

Hidden Girl Hall“If this book leads to even a single rescue, then my time in bondage was worth it,” Shyima Hall writes in the penultimate paragraph in the final chapter of her new memoir. That “time in bondage” she refers to is four long years during which she was a slave. This is not a long-ago story. This is a 20th-into-21st century nightmare: “when you are a slave, your life belongs to someone else. It is an unimaginable existence for most people, and I am glad of that. I hope that soon no one will ever have to feel the overwhelming sense of loss, frustration, exhaustion, hunger, demeaning words, and physical abuse that I did.”

In her native Egypt, Shyima El-Sayed Hassan was born in 1989 into a large family living in extreme poverty. She was the seventh of 11 children of an abusive, usually-absent father and a powerless, desperate mother. She knew little of her older siblings, although she remembers being sexually molested by older brothers. She helped care for the younger children, whose names she is no longer “100 percent sure about.” And yet she remembers those early childhood years with longing and love.

At 8, Shyima’s parents sold her to a wealthy family; her enslavement was the price for a theft committed by Shyima’s older sister when she was a servant in that home. At 10, the captor family moved to southern California, smuggling Shyima into the U.S. with a hired attendant (who traveled first class, while Shyima went solo in steerage). For two years, she lived in “a tiny windowless storage room in the three-car garage” of a luxurious home in an exclusive gated community. Shyima, who had been one among substantial staff in the five-floored mansion on the sprawling compound in Egypt, was now alone in serving her captor family of two parents and five children. Two years later, when she was finally rescued from her captors, her English vocabulary consisted of three words: hi, dolphin, stepsister.

In spite of being ‘free,’ Shyima knew virtually nothing of the world outside her captors’ home. What most children, most human beings, took for granted – school, friendships, hobbies – were all unknown experiences for Shyima. She would endure two foster homes, and an adoptive family that gave her an American last name but little else, until she was able to choose her own life as a young adult.

As wrenching as Shyima’s life story is, as literature, her memoir ultimately disappoints. Co-written with author Lisa Wysocky, whose previous titles are mostly equestrian-focused, Hidden Girl tends toward uneven, repetitive, pedestrian at best. How unfortunate that such an important story – more 17,000 new slaves are trafficked into the U.S. each year; a mere 2% are eventually rescued – gets mired in such a mediocre narrative. That said, perhaps content trumps style here, and aware readers can work together to make Shyima’s wish – to “put an end to the terrible custom of slavery” – come true: “I hope that it is sooner rather than later.”

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2014

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Egyptian, Egyptian American