Not To Be Overlooked
Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of a wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. The column covers fiction and non-fiction with reviews by Katie (Rainbow Milk) and Jacqueline (Jewels That Made History).
Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez
Published by Dialogue Books, April 2020
Rainbow Milk is a debut from brilliant author Paul Mendez, published by Dialogue Books in April 2020. With a fair bit of publicity and a lot of praise under its belt, Rainbow Milk is certainly worth getting stuck into. Not to mention it is extremely refreshing to see wider representation finally happening in the publishing world, making it even more important to support authors like Mendez and publishers like Dialogue Books.
This debut follows the story of a young Black man who’s making a fresh start in London after being brought up in a Jehovah’s Witness household. Nineteen-year-old Jesse McCarthy turns to sex work in order to understand his own identity, his class, his culture and his own concept of love.
The first fifty pages of this novel are written in the Jamaican dialect of Norman Alonso, a humble Jamaican man who has moved to London with his family to start afresh. Alonso’s story showcases the struggles of the Windrush Generation who moved from the Caribbean to Britain around the 1950s. Immediately, the narrative explores blatant and ruthless racism. The staggering thing about these first fifty pages is how they slowed down my reading and challenged me to absorb a different accent which really drives home the message of change and understanding. Beyond these pages, Jesse’s story as a Black British man, scrutinised by a white stepfather, takes the forefront.
I’ve read a lot of reviews calling this a coming-of-age novel, which I agree with on some level, but it’s also a novel about what young Black people shouldn’t have to continue facing when they’re coming of age.
The narrative feels quite uncomfortable at times, but in the most powerful way. It isn’t indulgent and fantastical; it’s real and important. Rainbow Milk digs up what many mainstream novels don’t: sexually transmitted diseases, losing faith, male relationships and questioning sexual preference. The dialogue is stunning while the narrative is brutal and tender in equal measure.
A particular favourite moment of mine is when Jesse listens to Joy Division’s ‘Disorder’ for the first time:
‘Plosive drums at the beginning, pumping like the heart of a black boy being chased into a dark tunnel by white thugs . . . These were the echoes of his childhood . . . this was the sound of the streets, the factories and the warehouses.’
This book calls out to those who have faced injustice, the working class, the people who feel like they don’t belong. It really is a beautiful read.
Jewels That Made History: 100 Stones, Myths, and Legends by Stellene Volandes
Published by Rizzoli International Publications, October 2020
Jewels That Made History: 100 Stones, Myths, and Legends by Editor-in-Chief of American Town & Country, Stellene Volandes, is an absolutely gorgeous book, both in design and content.
Spanning centuries, from 1292 B.C. to 2019, Volandes covers quite a bit of ground in just 222 pages. One area Volandes delves into is royal jewellery, and rightfully so, as there is a wealth of subject matter. While there are subjects that readers may already have a bit of familiarity with such as the initial pendant of Anne Boleyn, the pearls of Queen Elizabeth I, the coronation jewels of Queen Elizabeth II, and the engagement and wedding jewellery of Diana, Princess of Wales, the Duchess of Cambridge, the Duchess of Sussex, and Princess Eugenie, Volandes also makes a point of touching on some lesser known stories of royal jewels. Readers will learn about many things, such as how the first engagement ring came into being in 1477, that “push presents” go as far back as 1810, and how the Duke of Windsor wanted to have all the jewellery he had given to his wife destroyed after her death.
Other areas that take precedent are the jewellery of Hollywood, where Elizabeth Taylor is front and centre, and the intersection of jewellery and politics. Perhaps the most interesting titbits, however, come from the smaller subjects – comparatively speaking – of the various jewellery houses (Cartier, Tiffany, Van Cleef and Arpels, etc.) and instances of jewellery being used as a central plot point in film and literature.
With Christmas fast approaching, Jewels That Made History: 100 Stones, Myths, and Legends would make a wonderful gift for anyone interested in jewellery and history in general.