Monday, January 8, 2018

It All Comes Down to This - Karen English

Summary: It’s 1965, Los Angeles. All twelve-year-old Sophie wants to do is write her book, star in the community play, and hang out with her friend Jennifer. But she’s the new black kid in a nearly all-white neighborhood; her beloved sister, Lily, is going away to college soon; and her parents’ marriage is rocky. There’s also her family’s new, disapproving housekeeper to deal with. When riots erupt in nearby Watts and a friend is unfairly arrested, Sophie learns that life—and her own place in it—is even more complicated than she’d once thought. (Summary from goodreads, pic from amazon)


My Review: One of the things I love about reading is that it transports you to other times, other places, other worlds, other lives. This seems obvious, right? Then why don’t more people read?! It blows my mind when someone is like, “Oh, I don’t know how you have time to read! I’m just SO BUSY with my life that I can’t bother to crack a book!” Meanwhile, I’m getting my judgy eyes and thinking about all the time I see them hanging out on Facebook or commenting on their stupid TV shows they watch or whatever. Now, don’t get me wrong. I also hang out on Facebook/Instagram/whatever and when I’m done I’m often like “Please give me back that time I wasted!” And I also have shows I enjoy watching with my husband at night. But I consciously try to make time each day to read. I don’t always get to read, and most of the time I don’t get to read as much as I’d like to, but I am a firm believer that reading is the way to experience things, experience places, and learn things that cannot be learned any other way. Those who don’t read are missing out on SO MUCH! But I don’t need to preach to you, dear readers of this blog, do I? Because obviously you’re readers or you wouldn’t be here. So we can just all get our judgy eyes on together and selfishly read all the books that we can with the little time that we’ve got.

One of the reasons I love historical fiction is that it takes you to a place you’ll never get to go to. Even if history repeats itself (and by jove, let’s all hope that it doesn’t in so many incidences) it will never be like it was at that time with those people. It just can’t be. We ourselves are living in a unique time and place. But that discussion is deeper than I’d like to go in this little book review. It All Comes Down to This is such a book that transported me to a time and place that I will never experience. For one thing, 1965 will never happen again (obviously). For another, I’m not African-American and don’t have the experience of that either. I think my favorite quote in the book, and one that summed it up quite nicely is this, “Jennifer once asked me what it felt like—to be Negro. I said I couldn’t really explain it. Just that you remembered what you were all the time. All the time. From the time you got up in the morning until you went to bed at night. But you really remembered it when you were the only Negro around.”

I’ve read other books about African-Americans during this time period (and others as well), but this book is different in that the main character, Sophie, comes from an upper middle-class family in a slowly integrating white neighborhood. This made all the difference. For one thing, Sophie does experience racism in a lot of ways—her peers treat her as beneath them even though her parents are well-educated and she has the same privileges as they do (such as music lessons, live-in help, etc). Also, Sophie is experiencing normal coming-of-age things like changing friendships, siblings leaving, the reality of parents and their flaws, etc., but she does it all in a backdrop where she is often alone because of her race. Most interestingly, though, is that during the famous race riots in LA during this time, she is as removed from them as other people in her neighborhood, and yet they treat her as if she knew what was going on because she is also African-American. I found this fascinating, actually, and I loved reading what she thought and how she was as confused as they were, yet had some realizations through her sister and a friend.

I didn’t find Sophie as relatable as some other coming-of-age female characters I’ve read. She had some self-proclaimed quirky things about her, but I didn’t really find them to be all that quirky or even exceptional. She seemed pretty normal to me, which would have been fine, except that English had obviously tried to make her seem to be an outsider not only because of her race but also because of her personality, which she wasn’t really. The beginning of the book was slow-going as far as getting to know her personality as well. It just wasn’t that captivating. As it went on, it got better and once the excitement started there was a lot to learn, but much of the book was just normal life for any tween kid that age at any time.

I enjoyed this book for its candid look at the difficulties of living during this time, especially for a girl in these circumstances. I feel like I learned quite a few things that I didn’t know before.

My Review: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There are a few incidents of language by the adults, some discussion of puberty, and a subplot of an affair but this book is clean.

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