Not to be Overlooked introduces a variety of a wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. Our second column covers fiction and nonfiction with reviews by Katie (Another Day in the Death of America), Alicja (I Am Unworthy), and Jacqueline (He Is Mine and I Have No Other).
Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge
Published by Guardian Faber, June 2017 (paperback edition)
I bought Gary Younge’s Another Day in the Death of America around two years ago but, in light of recent protests, have only just sat down to read it. The Black Lives Matter movement has of course always been important and I should have read it back when I bought it, but I was ignorant to the cause for so long. Reading Younge’s work has come hand in hand with acknowledging my own privilege as a white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman. It has certainly prompted me to support BAME authors like I should have been all along (and not only non-fiction!)
Another Day in the Death of America follows the stories of ten young lives lost to gun violence across eight states all in the same twenty-four hours.
‘Like the weather that day, none of them would make big news beyond their immediate locale because, like the weather, their deaths did not intrude on the accepted order of things but conformed to it.’
Younge makes it clear from the beginning that this book explores multiple angles of gun violence in America, from gangs embedded within communities to parental responsibility. Moreover, it is a logical exploration of gun control and the horrendous laws that are constantly passed. Yet the oppression and poverty faced by BAME communities cannot be ignored.
It is extremely important, right now and always, to acknowledge your own privilege and pick up a book like this, however uncomfortable, to expose yourself to facts that need shouting about. ‘Two of the most likely outcomes for a black male under the age of twenty-five’ in America ‘is prison or death’. This is almost unimaginable, yet it is a reality; a reality that has been around for years and years.
Younge has done something special here. I implore everyone to read this book and understand that unnecessary murder is happening to real people, to sons and daughters, to people who should not be remembered as just that, right now.
I Am Unworthy by Angela Mack
Published Independently, July 2020
I Am Unworthy is Angela Mack’s debut novel following the story of two teenagers, Izzy and Joshua, as they navigate the Gilleford Sixth Form College. While the growing friendship and feelings that develop between these two characters could be seen as a simple ‘boy meets girl’ narrative, Angela Mack’s novel attempts to tackle heavier issues, from bullying and abuse, to feeling like you are unworthy of a better life. Making it, at moments, more appropriate for more mature readers.
The interchanged first-person narration allows the reader to get to know better both Isabel and Joshua as they grew closer and learn to trust each other. Joshua’s character development is especially visible throughout the book as he overcomes, at least in parts, his trust issues. His hardships are juxtaposed with Izzy’s seemingly perfect life. Izzy’s character feels a certain kinship with Joshua as she decides to help him and his two younger brothers, despite not knowing the full story at the time. She too has not had it easy for the past few years, even if her family life is far less complicated than Joshua’s. The characters in Angela Mack’s debut are troubled and flawed. Both Isabel and Joshua are going through a lot, with Joshua dealing with more hardships than a typical seventeen-year-old. They both make mistakes and that makes them more real.
Despite handling the heavy topics of violence and abuse, I Am Unworthy remains truthful of depicting teenagers as they are: lost, insecure and not entirely sure where they are going. Ultimately, friendship remains at the heart of the story in Angela Mack’s book, underlying the importance of trust and love.
He Is Mine and I Have No Other by Rebecca O’Connor
Published by Canongate Books, May 2019 (paperback edition)
Despite first being published in 2018, He Is Mine and I Have No Other came on my radar earlier this year thanks to the #readirishwomenchallenge2020. The debut novel by co-founder and publisher of The Moth, Rebecca O’Connor, set against the backdrop of rural Ireland in the 1990s, tells the story of Lani Devine and Leon Brady. O’Connor masterfully puts readers into the world of her protagonist, Lani, as she experiences her first love. Lani superficially falls in love with Leon, before they ever properly meet, when she sees him regularly visit a gravestone in the cemetery near her house. There is an instant attraction between the two when they finally meet at a disco and soon after they enter into a relationship.
On the surface, it may seem that He Is Mine and I Have No Other only deals with the simple subject of adolescent love. However, O’Connor delves deeper by adding a layer of damning secrecy around the mysterious Leon and what Lani draws out of him during their relationship and its aftermath. The novel asks readers to consider the larger notions of keeping secrets, and in doing so, who that both protects and harms overall.
At only 230 pages with short chapters of just a few pages a piece, He Is Mine and I Have No Other is a quick read that will appeal to readers who enjoy relationship-centric novels like Sally Rooney’s Normal People and psychological mysteries like The Temple House Vanishing by Rachel Donohue.