Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions by Valeria Luiselli

Luiselli_TellMeHow_9781566894951_1024x1024An essay in 40 questions, beginning with “Why did you come to the US? Where are your parents?”

In Tell Me How it Ends, Valeria Luiselli shares her experience as an interpreter for refugee children from Central America arriving in the United States. As she fills out the intake questionnaire with each child, she attempts the impossible task of reducing the traumas of their life into a few blank lines.

The maddeningly concise questions minimize the underlying tragedy—the fact that thousands of children with the right to political asylum, the right to a dignified life free of violence and persecution, are quickly filtered through the US legal system. Often, they are deported as “illegals” before receiving legal support or due process to obtain refugee status.

Luiselli’s work is a testament to her commitment to making these stories known and heard. Many of the questions she asks the children are unanswerable, beyond comprehension, or too sad to muster a coherent response, but the call to action for the rest of us is much clearer:

 “And perhaps the only way to grant any justice—were that even possible—is by hearing and recording those stories over and over again so that they come back, always, to haunt and shame us. Because being aware of what is happening in our era and choosing to do nothing about it has become unacceptable. Because we cannot allow ourselves to go on normalizing horror and violence. Because we can all be held accountable if something happens under our noses and we don’t dare even look.”

This book gives readers the opportunity to bear witness to the suffering of others, understand why families and children will continue to flee oppressive conditions, and hopefully inspire readers to take action against dehumanizing policies.

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“And once you’re here, you’re ready to give everything, or almost everything, to stay and play a part in the greater theater of belonging.”

Everything’s Trash, but it’s Okay by Phoebe Robinson

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In her distinctive comedic style, Phoebe Robinson’s essay collection gives us her perspective on how our society has fallen into a state of absolute trash, while also pointing out some things that are not trash.

Examples of trash: mistreatment of women of color in male-dominated career fields, the failures of non-intersectional feminism, trying to find a life partner via dating apps, fake pockets and tiny pockets in pants.

Despite living in a world where we are inundated with reminders of our failure to achieve a level of mutual respect and tolerance of one another, Robinson reminds us all of two crucial things. Firstly, to take a critical look at how we participate in a toxic patriarchy. Secondly, to laugh and find humor in the midst of all the trash. Robinson speaks candidly about some of her personal low points and models the ways that we can leverage hurtful experiences to participate in positive change. She talks about serious issues with comic relief and a desire to not just make people laugh, but also encourage readers to engage with moments of discomfort and shame in a meaningful way.

If you’ve listened to Robinson on one of her podcasts, 2 Dope Queens or Sooo Many White Guys, her book induces an equal amount of laughing out loud and affirmative snaps.

My favorite excerpt from the book, Phoebe’s tough-love pep talk to feminism:

“Feminism, you honestly just have to do better. I know you’ve heard this a million times and a million ways, but you have to figure it the fuck out and do better. Yes, you. The onus is not on those you’ve consistently excluded to fix this. And trust me, it needs fixing, and I’m not talking about relying on repeating the same “remedies” of the past. Meaning, I don’t need the sorries. I’m not interested in the #NotAllWomen defense. I have no desire to engage with your expression of guilt as a sign that the state of things bothers you. Show us it bothers you by behaving differently. Act as if you understand that inclusiveness is what feminism should have been about since day one. And not because you’re hoping you’re going to get a pat on the back for doing what you should’ve done in the first place. Okay? …Give me something to root for. Give me and all women of color, queer women, trans women, lower-class women, something to root for. Most importantly, give us love, because while you’ve been hard on us, the love has been in very short supply. Give us the love we deserve and we’ll root for you forever.”

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we are never meeting in real life. by Samantha Irby

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I read this essay collection because Roxane Gay, one of my feminist heroines, said it was amazing, and she never disappoints. It made me laugh and cry and cringe within the same essay. The subjects are broad– normalizing the experience of being treated poorly in relationships during her twenties; disregarding money-saving tips in the most gloriously irresponsible ways; her evil cat, Hellen Keller, and more.

The author’s self-deprecating humor is woven into even the most humiliating and depressing situations, and her excellent use of ALL CAPS as a writing tool for emphatic expletives and strong opinions kept me laughing throughout. Irby’s writing is unapologetically vulnerable and self-confident in the best way. Chances are that this book will make you feel uncomfortable, but you should read it anyway.

All this might be easier if I could punch something, but I’m not a punch-something person. I’m a “sit in the dark in the bathroom with a package of sharp cheddar cheese slices” person.”

 

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