Home Home – Lisa Allen-Agostini

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

“Most adults don’t believe children can get anxiety, but believe me, we do.” 

Lisa Allen-Agostini’s Home Home, 2017 CODE Burt Award for Caribbean Young Adult Literature finalist, is a brief but stirring lesson in what it means to make a family, and how home can be anywhere with deep and devoted roots. Kayla, whose stern disciplinarian mother has sent her to Canada, isn’t so sure she can ever get used to the Edmonton cold, even on an average summer day. She bundles herself up in excessive layers, keeps herself company in her own room at her aunt’s house. Aunt Jillian and her partner Julie are the first lesbian couple that fourteen year-old Kayla has known; she loves them but isn’t so sure how to feel about ‘the LGBT thing’. Throw in a best friend thousands of miles away; a cute boy who gives Kayla serious butterflies, and Kayla’s battle with mental health: it all seems like too much for even a smart, resourceful girl to manage. How, in the midst of this maelstrom of sickness and uncertainty, can Kayla be sure of exactly who she is?

This isn’t a detached look into the life of a chronically depressed teenager. Allen-Agostini brings us into the complex, often chaotic inner world of Kayla, and shows us this protagonist as a living, breathing girl child. Kayla navigates her mostly-hermitic world using the contemporary technology anyone her age might. Her Skype calls with Akilah are a touchstone to a familiar life, which the writer brings into sharp auditory focus: we can hear the “burbling, bubbling” Skype ringtone every time Akilah calls; we can feel the importance of that sound, no matter how annoying Kayla finds it. We hear its reverberations in her everyday life. 

Allen-Agostini’s portrait of Kayla, a girl who both knows her own mind and fears it, makes Home Home indispensable reading for young people, and for older people who want to know their youth better. In her obsessive Buzzeed video watching; her love of old-school hip hop; her quest to find the place she belongs, Kayla is a young person worth rooting for, worth believing. It’s a convincingly-hewn message of this slender, strongly-mapped novella: every young person who struggles deserves not only awareness, but faith, and loving trust. 

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The Art of White Roses – Viviana Prado-Núñez

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

To live in oppressive times is a kind of emotional suffocation, a constricting of freedom that applies both to the confines of your country, and the limitations of your hope. The Art of White Roses, winner of the 2017 CODE Burt Award for Caribbean Young Adult Literature, explores what it means to feel like a prisoner in your own island, and what it means to grow hope in a seemingly barren place. 

The time is 1957. The place is Marianao, Cuba, and the US-backed Batista regime is a heavy boot on the populace: university students are disappearing; eyes are averted from terrible goings-on; corruption becomes synonymous with daily bread. Thirteen year old Adela Santiago witnesses it all: that which she understands, that which she doesn’t. She plays dominoes with her brother Pingüino, makes ropa vieja with her mother before sunrise on Sundays, writes about José Martí at her schooldesk: all of these seem like signposts of a normal life, but Adela knows better. She knows about los desaparecidos. She pays attention, and senses Cuba is on the brink of something explosive and dangerous: something that gleams with the fire of revolution. 

Prado-Núñez gives us a capsule of society in the Santiago clan: a supposedly conventional nuclear family made of hardworking parents; an eccentric grandfather; precocious yet dutiful offspring. So much of The Art of White Roses‘ storytelling strength lies in a series of subversions: the author’s treatment of family loyalty and complexity might be its crowning, subversive gem. In carefully-drawn, sensitive examinations of familial devotion, treachery and trauma, Prado-Núñez assembles for her reader a palette of human cynicism and optimism at its finest, and its most intense. 

At the centre of this domestic diorama stands Adela, a protagonist who summons empathy and affinity, a weather vane of conscience in troubled times, an archivist whose love for her Cuba provides some of the book’s most memorable lines: 

“It came to me so vividly, the Havana of my mind. I could taste the salt of the popcorn burning my tongue, could smell the heavy sweat-scent of the ocean. That Havana was mine, and it would always be mine, except it wasn’t.” 

What a narrative triumph Prado-Núñez presents for us, this fragmented, faithful ode to a place caught in the crossfires of toxic rule and feverish change, a suburb of Havana where a girl dreams in a blue house, feeling the world shift beneath her feet, feeling herself change, in unavoidably bittersweet response. 

Leaving by Plane Swimming back Underwater by Lawrence Scott

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Eight of our handpicked selections is a gem — a compact companion of short fiction that’s immense in the crafting of its interior worlds, full of light, memory and music, orchestrated by a master hand: Lawrence Scott’s Leaving by Plane Swimming Back Underwater.

Such is Lawrence Scott’s craftsmanship in his newest collection that you might mistake it for sleight of hand – but make no mistake, the symmetry and ineffable majesty in these short stories is real, and so immediate as to be tangible. Whether tackling the shadowy past of Trinidad’s colonial spectres, or lambasting church and state alike in side-slapping picong, doused and flavoured liberally with satirical flourishes, Leaving by Plane Swimming back Underwater is a treasury of experience, musing on faith and its absence with equalizing strokes of conviction. Whether you’re agnostic or avowedly spiritual, you’ll want to hearken to the confessional and shrine of the vistas Scott so lovingly fashions.

These stories pay attention to Trinidad’s natural splendour, and to the wider beauty of the Caribbean archipelagic chain. Even when human monstrosity threatens the security of personal and national cares, nature persists. The many men, women and children in Scott’s resplendent yet rooted prose cling to nature for succour, asking of the landscape, the rolling hills and vast seas greater questions than there are ready answers. In the concluding lines of “A Dog is Buried”, the protagonist hurls a desperate plea to the ocean depths, and receives a chilling, ancient response:

” ‘What? What did she promise them?’ I shouted above the breakers on the black rocks. The answer was the repeated boom of the sea with its long memory of raping, killing and burying, the blood from the gutted fish staining the rocks.”

Penitents and preachers, lonely urchins and lost souls: all manner and make of voices converge on these pages that are a skilfully woven tapestry of past and present, guilt and comfort, desolation and divine grace.

We recommend it for: those seeking to round out their Lawrence Scott collections, eager for his latest since Light Falling on Bamboo; readers of Oonya Kempadoo, Anton Nimblett and Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw; literature lovers who appreciate elegant prose marriages of the sacred and the secular.