Quantcast

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Book Review: Broke: Hardship and Resilience in a City of Broken Promises by Jodie Kirshner

Did you read and love the amazing book Evicted? First of all, you should. And then this is the perfect follow-up. In a similar fashion, Ms. Kirshner looks at Detroit, and its perfect storm of job losses, property value tanking, crime rising, infrastructure crumbling, and the spiral that creates.

From afar, we all might think why do people stay there, but she follows a half-dozen residents to fully explain that. It's hard to just abandon a house that your family has owned for three generations. Especially when you can't afford to fix it up or--more crucially--to move. People forget, moving is expensive. Also it's hard to leave a neighborhood you once loved, where your kids grew up, where you once had hopes and dreams. The few remaining residents aren't losers who didn't get out while the getting was good--they're warriors, the last bastion of hope for this city. They're maintaining entire blocks single-handedly. They're alerting friends and family of abandoned homes they can move into and protect from vandals (yes, they're squatters, but is that worse than the house being literally ripped apart for its pipes and water heaters?). Some even see hope and opportunity. With the housing values so incredibly low, people who never could have afforded to buy a house before, now might be able to. Although the legal hoops make getting a conventional mortgage seem like a walk in the park. (And no, you can't get a traditional mortgage in Detroit. It doesn't matter how good your credit is, or how much money you have in the bank. No underwriter will insure it, so no bank will lend it.) Admittedly, also some carpetbaggers have arrived, both in the form of out-of-towners who have romanticized Detroit as a noir land of opportunity, and of absentee landlords, often flippers (but not the kind of flippers who fix up the house first).

But these personal stories serve to illuminate the larger picture. This could happen to any single-industry city. If something bizarre happened to the internet, this could happen to Silicon Valley. And it has happened to a lesser scale to other rust belt cities, from Buffalo to Cleveland (where my sister pays 1/5 the rent I do for a very similar apartment.) Diversification is the best bulwark against devastation, and then smart management if that's too late. Hopefully a city's state won't screw it to the extent Michigan did Detroit (in fact, I think Ms. Kirshner lets Michigan somewhat off the hook for some of the financial shenanigans that went on there. I think the state could have been pilloried some more and they'd have deserved it.) It's a cautionary tale, but also hopefully a story that will increase empathy for those not in booming coastal cities, for those who are struggling are often victims of circumstance and bad timing. This is an eminently readable, important book about a very American problem.

This book is published by St. Martins Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Book Review: Ellie, Engineer: In the Spotlight by Jackson Pearce

I just love these Ellie Engineer books! In this one, we really see one of my favorite aspects of the books, as it's set at a pageant. Kit often goes along with what Ellie likes to do but this time Ellie joins Kit for one of her favorite things: a kids pageant. Their friend Toby tags along too even though he can't compete (but that doesn't prevent him from trying his best to win Miss Congeniality!) Their moms take advantage of the long weekend with kids' supervised activities to have a Girls' Weekend, which is how this all comes together.

Anyway, as Ellie works on a light-up, foldable skateboarding ramp for Kit's talent, and laments that engineering doesn't lend itself well to a talent contest so she has to go with ballet, her second-best talent, the story gets underway. She meets the nasty Queen Bee of the pageant circuit, Melody, who promptly accuses Kit of theft when her precious rabbit, the highlight of her winning magic show, disappears. With the help of Ellie's engineering skills (although actually more her logic skills), Melody's rabbit is found in the nick of time, Kit's ramp lights up just right, and naturally--I know you knew this was coming--Ellie does end up showcasing her engineering skills (AND her ballet skills) in her talent after all.

For me the very best thing about this series, beyond the great friendships with girls and boys, the way they are so good at compromising and empathizing, and even beyond the engineering, is how ungendered they all are. Aside from the fact that it's a pageant and Toby can't participate (I was a little surprised he didn't fight that!), it's wonderful to see the more "girly" character of Kit doing skateboarding for her talent, and the more "tomboyish" Ellie doing ballet and being fairly excited about the whole pageant. I mean, Ellie didn't care about winning (and was bummed when Melody called her out on wearing her toolbelt on stage), but she still thought the weekend would be fun. It's so refreshing to see these variations on the usual highly-gendered kids activities and interests, just presented without comment, as if of course a girl interested in engineering would also dance ballet. Love.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

This book is published by Bloomsbury, which is distributed by Macmillan, my employer.

Friday, November 1, 2019

My Month in Review: October

The Month in Review meme is hosted by Nicole at Feed Your Fiction Addiction.

I note the non-Macmillan books in this post with a star.

Books completed this month:
Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales
Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux (audio)*
The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves (audio)
The Hollows by Jess Montgomery
Best Friends by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
Displacement by Kiku Hughes
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell (audio)*

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
The Truffle Underground: A Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and Manipulation in the Shadowy Market of the World's Most Expensive Fungus by Ryan Jacobs (audio)*
Check, Please!, Book 2: Sticks and Scones by Ngozi Ukazu [annoyingly I am "still reading" this because even though I work at the publisher, only the first half of the book is available to me pre-pub.]
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
When Did the Statue of Liberty Turn Green? And 101 Other Questions about New York City by Jean Ashton*

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
Yale Needs Women by Anne Gardiner Perkins--I picked this up at NAIBA.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett--my book club book. I bought this at Browseabout Books in Rehobeth Beach, DE.