By Anya Shukla
MORE THAN HALFWAY DONE WITH THE BIPOC BOOK LIST! YIPPEE YAY YAY! I did not realize how long this challenge would take… or how excruciatingly slowly I read when I have to take notes/write a review afterward. Thankfully, we are now at the other side of the 52-book peak. (Of course, all the survival books I’ve read say that the descent is the hardest part. So.)
Looking back at the books I’ve reviewed so far, I’ve realized that I’m exceedingly nice: I’ve given many books 5 stars. What’s the point of a grading system if I’m just passing everyone?
I’ll start being harsh with the next book, though, because this one is well-deserving of a glowing review.
Review: In “Heart Berries,” Terese Marie Mailhot explores past and present relationships through a series of essays—many of which are written as letters to her lover, Casey. Mailhot primarily reckons with trauma experienced by herself and her loved ones, although she interweaves other topics throughout, such as the “whiteness” of the healthcare system and exploitation of her family from outsiders.
Mailhot’s distinctive, fragmented writing style distinguishes “Heart Berries” from the typical memoir. Her book may be short, but it packs an emotional punch. My Rating: 5/5.
What I Loved: The voice! Mailhot writes in such a fierce, brilliant way: “My story was maltreated. The words were too wrong and ugly to speak. I tried to tell someone my story, but he thought it was a hustle. He marked it as solicitation” (pg. 32). There’s a harsh simplicity to her sentences: “what I notice with you is that I look outside whenever I’m close to a window, and I wonder how many women feel that way. I feel things I would rather feel alone” (pg. 48). No words! So good! I cannot!
My notes from this book read: “You can write like this? You can take words and make magic like this, with just the bare minimum?” Mailhot distills down each moment to just its simplest elements, and she captures exactly what she needs to get her point across—no more, no less. And by filling in the gaps between her sentences, I almost feel like I’m writing the story with her.
In an Atlantic article, Mailhot notes that she broke all the “established” rules of memoir writing in creating “Heart Berries”: “I can hear workshop leaders in white graduate programs telling me to slow down…” Instead of following a prescribed formula, she believes that “everyone has their own narrative voice—and more than any hard-and-fast rules, they should follow that.” Mailhot diverges from the formula so beautifully that I think we should all follow her advice.
What I Didn’t Love: Because these essays aren’t in linear order, it becomes the teensiest bit hard to follow the sequence of events. (Being very vague here so I don’t spoil anything!) I only fully understood what happened after reading about Mailhot in a Wikipedia article. It’s a choice that works for the book but makes it difficult to grasp everything on the first read. Which is just an incentive to read this book over and over again.
A Quote I Would Like On Goodreads: “Nothing is too ugly for this world, I think. It’s just that people pretend not to see” (pg. 59).
Up next: “The Education of Margot Sanchez” by Lilliam Rivera.