black history month readathon · readathon · review

Black History Month Readathon Summary

It feels surreal that we’re approaching March already, which means it’s time for a summary on my readathon for Black History Month. I read all of the chosen books except for The Merciless Ones, which I’m about a third of the way through right now. I tried to pick books with varying genres for the month, and truthfully I think I’m just not in the mood to read YA fantasy, unfortunately, which is why it’s taken me quite a while to get through this, even though I loved The Gilded Ones and was highly anticipating this sequel. I plan to power through it, because I’m at a point where the plot is picking up, and I have only heard great things about this book.

I already wrote reviews for When The Reckoning Comes and The Black Queen, so I’ll do mini reviews for the rest of the books below.

I think this is one of the harder readathon themes I have chosen or will ever choose, because even in books where Black women are empowered, there is such a daunting heaviness to them. There were plenty of times where I had to put down what I was reading (especially Yellow Wife) because the subject matter was so depressing. The books I chose discussed so many heavy topics, too: how public education fails Black children; abuse; slavery; the struggle of cultural identity; substance abuse and the government’s responsibility for the crack epidemic that ravaged Black communities; gentrification; and so much more.

These books all have wildly different plots, but the overarching theme of all of them is the amount of blatant racism Black people encounter every single day, in every single instance of their lives. Even in The Merciless Ones, in a fantasy land with mythical creatures, Deka recounts a time when she wished for lighter skin and eyes, to be more socially acceptable and “normal.”

These stories take place in present day, the 1800s, in fantasy worlds, and yet they all manage to drive home the point that just because slavery was abolished 150 years ago doesn’t mean Black people haven’t been facing the effects of systemic racism their entire lives.

Black History Month is such an excruciatingly important time, and it feels unfair that it’s the shortest month of the entire year. In February, support Black-owned businesses, educate yourself on history, read books by Black authors, listen to Black podcasts, watch Black tv and movies, join causes and uplift Black voices. But also, don’t forget to do this every month. Being an ally means that the significance and history of Black people spans so much more than just one month.

Clap When You Land – ★★★
(contemporary, young adult)
A bunch of my friends liked this book when it first came out, but the biggest reason for my hesitancy was that I generally cannot stand books written in poetry or verse format. I find them extremely jarring and difficult to focus on because of the text layout, and that’s exactly what happened with this book. The plot itself was interesting, and heart-wrenching at times, but I just couldn’t connect with it. I also found the voices of the two characters to be too identical to differentiate which chapters were from whose perspective. Their lives were completely different, and I had to go off clues of what they were talking about to remember who was who. The summary gives away the entire plot, which left little to be discovered in the 430 pages of this book. That being said, I do think this is a good book, and I understand why it received the ratings it has. This was definitely an “it’s not you, it’s me” situation.

The Weight of Blood – ★★★
(horror, young adult)
I went into this not realizing it was a retelling of Stephen King’s Carrie, and I normally would have loved it except that it’s too identical. The difference here is that Maddy is a white-passing biracial teen, and her dad is the abusive, religious zealot. There are, of course, a lot of racial injustices that drive the story, but this felt similar to The Black Queen in that the main characters both get lost in the story. I haven’t read Carrie in a long time, but I’m familiar with the story and have seen the movies a handful of times each to have really appreciated how much less petty high school drama there was in King’s work. Maddy was the main character, but by the end she was still a total enigma to not only her classmates and father but also to the reader. I wish more time had been given to her to better understand her, as this story touches on her mother’s Haitian roots, her father’s upbringing, and their relationship leading up to Maddy’s birth. Knowing exactly how this story is going to end, both simply because it’s a retelling and there’s a podcast element that takes places after Maddy destroys everything, left very little in the way of surprises. There was no tension, no big twists, just lots of high school mean girl drama. This story had so much potential, and I was sad to see it went a direction that dulled it.

Black Girl Unlimited – ★★
(fantasy, young adult)
I’m clearly in the minority of readers who didn’t love this. Magical realism tends to be pretty hit or miss with me, but I was curious because this book has such high ratings and I even saw reviews where people said this book made them cry. I enjoyed that this is largely autobiographical, but the magical elements were unfortunately the weakest parts for me. Initially I expected the magic to be metaphorical, but then I was confused because it definitely existed. The magic made the story feel all over the place, and it became too jarring to connect with. The story would jump between two different scenes without any warning. I would have much rather just read a non-magical version of Echo surviving instead. Her writing is beautiful and strong, but it got so muddled down by the fantasy pieces of the story.

Yellow Wife – ★★★★
(historical fiction)
This was easily the most challenging story to stomach, as it tells the story of Pheby, a slave born on a plantation who becomes the mistress of the man who owns a slave jail. The story of the Devil’s Half Acre is a true story, and is worth reading more about if you’re unfamiliar, even if this book does a great job educating readers on the story. The title of the book is the overarching theme of the book, which is how biracial slaves were treated by their white masters and even other Black slaves. Pheby is biracial, the result of a plantation owner raping her mother. She goes through life with more privileges than the darker skinned slaves at her side, including a promise that she’ll be free to get an education, and eventually becomes the mistress to a wealthy, powerful man. However, Pheby quickly learns that regardless of her skin tone, she is no better than the slaves kept in the jailhouse. This was a harrowing, emotional story about a woman fighting for her beloved, for her children, and, eventually, herself. My heart broke for Pheby endlessly, but what I adored most was how hopeful it felt in spite of everything, since she constantly exhibited it herself.

Monday’s Not Coming – ★★★★
(young adult, mystery)
This story is marketed as a mystery, but I truthfully was so engrossed in the characters and their lives that I kind of forgot about that part. There are so many different levels and subplots with everyone that I became more invested in those, and finding out what really happened to Monday was put on the mental backburner. I loved Claudia and was surprised by some of the genuine, sweet elements in this otherwise heavy story. There were a few minor points that got glossed over at the end, and there were a handful of unanswered questions, which left the story feeling slightly unfinished. The ending took a different path than I was expected, and unfortunately I think the focus was so much heavier on that ending than truly resolving everything it should have. I also thought Claudia’s voice was much more childish than it should have been. There were some seriously heavy topics mentioned, and I kept having to remind myself that the girls were way older than they appeared to be dealing with such situations.

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