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Book Review :: A Sky of Paper Stars by Susie Yi

A Sky of Paper Stars by Susie Yi book cover image

A Sky of Paper Stars by Susie Yi is both satisfyingly predictable and enticingly surprising. The story centers on middle-schooler Yuna and her attempt to detach from her Korean identity and fit in among her American schoolmates. Not finding the acceptance she craves, Yuna wishes to return to Korea, a place she left when she was just a baby and visited infrequently.

Memories of her halmoni (grandmother) and the stories her mother tells her about growing up there make Yuna believe she would be better off living in Korea. She makes the dreaded wish to return as she folds her 1000th tiny origami star and blames herself when news comes of her halmoni’s death. Burdened with the guilt that she has brought this untimely end, Yuna’s hand seems to turn to paper. Yuna travels to the funeral in Korea where she meets family she cannot even remember and who share memories of their halmoni that Yuna has no part in, causing her to feel even more isolated. As the shame over her wish grows, the transformation of her body to paper begins to creep up her arm. The only remedy, Yuna decides, is to complete an unfinished jar of paper stars her grandmother began folding. Once she reaches 1000, Yuna believes her wish will be reversed, and her halmoni will be restored.

Flashbacks in the novel shift from full-color images to blue or sepia tones, while the remaining present-day images throughout use deep, rich hues and dark brown rather than black linework to create a warmer overall tonality to the story. There are beautifully rendered full bleed pages to represent dream/surreal/imagination (I could envision a whole wordless book of these works by Yi). It’s these more fantastical elements of the story that help connect three generations of women and set the final emotional tone of the novel. The ending is heartwarming and surprising, enticing the reader to close the book and start all over again.

A Sky of Paper Stars by Susi Yi. Roaring Book Press, September 2023.

Reviewer bio: NewPages.com Editor Denise Hill reviews books based on personal interest.

Book Review :: Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch by Rivka Galchen

Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch by Rivka Galchen book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

In Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch, Rivka Galchen uses the story of Johannes Kepler’s mother, whom her neighbors accused of being a witch, to explore how easily people will bow to societal pressures. Katharina is a woman like many in the early 1600s: unable to read or write, but knowledgeable of the natural world. She is also a widow in possession of property. That combination makes her an ideal target for her accusers. Galchen also creates a seemingly innocent bystander—Katharina’s neighbor Simon, who serves as her guardian in the absence of her children—to take down her testimony. The reader watches the world through Simon’s eyes, as well as Katharina’s account of her experiences, and the reader also watches Simon react to the pressures the townspeople put on him. Through Simon, Galchen raises the question of who is willing to stand beside the accused even to their own detriment, as well as exploring what it feels like to be the accused. In her recreation of a time that seems so different from our own, Galchen reminds readers we will all have such moments—both of bearing witness and of standing up for ourselves—turning a time-bound tale into one that is terribly relevant.

Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch by Rivka Galchen. Macmillan, June 2021.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: README.txt: A Memoir by Chelsea Manning

ReadMe.txt: A Memoir by Chelsea Manning book cover image

Guest Post by MG Noles

Chelsea Manning’s astonishing new book README.txt: A Memoir reads like a spy novel of the highest order. Imagine John Le Carre or Graham Greene at their best, and you will get a sense of how good the memoir is.

As Ernest Hemingway writes, “A writer’s job is to tell the truth.” Manning seems to follow this credo throughout her gripping memoir. Rich in detail, Manning examines her life through multiple lenses: from the lens of a lost trans kid in Oklahoma, from the lens of a talented Army operative analyzing war, and from the lens of a person entirely disenchanted with the horrors she witnesses firsthand on the ground in Iraq.

As her story as an intelligence analyst unfolds, Manning decides to leak documents showing episodes in which the military kills innocent civilians in the Iraq war. Not only do the soldiers kill them; they celebrate it. This is the turning point, the denouement, of her life. It is her truthfulness and her inability to turn a blind eye to this inhumanity that leads to her undoing.

The documents she leaks expose the hideous underbelly of war and cast the U.S. government in a negative light. As a consequence, she endures the hell of a court martial and a lengthy imprisonment. She comes through it bruised but not broken. Though she says she is still unable to tell us many of the details of her experience, she tells us enough to paint a vivid picture of a whistleblower’s life, and the consequences of telling the truth. Her ultimate conclusion: “The U.S. intelligence community is in a very poor position to be trusted with protecting civil liberties while engaging in intelligence work.”

Manning’s book is a watershed and a gripping read.

README.txt: A Memoir by Chelsea Manning. MacMillan, October 2022

Reviewer bio: MG Noles is a writer, history buff, and nature-lover.