THE BENTONVILLE FILM FESTIVAL: A+ SHOWCASE OF WOMEN AND DIVERSITY

The Bentonville Film Festival is a diversity-focused yearly event founded by fem hero Geena Davis and ARC Entertainment executive Trevor Drinkwater.  In a surprising turn the festival is sponsored by Walmart in the small town of Bentonville, Arkansas. Geena Davis has long been a supporter of a fair and balanced showing of women in media, having found the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media after she starred in the must-see Thelma and Louise. Um, we LOVE women advocating for women!!

Screen Shot 2017-01-27 at 3.33.07 PM.pngThe festival has had Advisory Board members that include Shonda Rhimes, Viola Davis, Bruce Dern, and Natalie Portman just to name a few. Each member of the board and the juries are vocal supporters of taking film beyond the realm of middle age white men. Plus, check this: ALL films that win the Audience, Jury, and Best Family Film awards receive guaranteed theatrical distribution (!!). Yup, you can see festival winners in  AMC Theatres, on Lifetime, or on a DVD or video-on-demand-released by Walmart. In 2015, 87% of the films shown were distributed – which is great because it means people like you and me can see tons of diverse films super easily! In a market where women and diverse voices are still struggling to be seen and paid equally, this is an industry changing movement. There is also the added perk that you can watch film festival worthy movies-maybe with your favorite vinas-from the comfort of you own living room.

Screen Shot 2017-01-27 at 3.32.48 PM.pngIf all of these things don’t get you super excited about the Bentonville Film Festival, just know that they celebrated the launch with an A League of Their Own softball game. Come on – that is absolutely amazing and I get behind anything that brings my most loved feminist movie back to life.

 

Head over to the BFF website (we’re a fan of this unofficial abbreviation) to see past winners, submission requirements, and other news. Feminists, film lovers, and anyone who thought Geena Davis was the real star of Beetlejuice should all get behind this movement to make the movie industry more reflective of our modern world.

(All photos courtesy of the BFF website)

Originally Seen on Vinazine

WTF: THE WEIRDEST THINGS THAT HAPPENED IN 2016

okay-2016

There was no shortage of odd and unexpected in 2016. Some notable biggies include the Gotthard Base Tunnel, the Juno Spacecraft, and the final VCR production-so long Disney VHS collection. Here are a few favorites that my vinas and I chatted about while the kiddos conquered the playground.

STRANGER THINGS

This unexpected hit combined Sci-Fi, thriller, Winona Ryder, a girl who looked fab bald, plus a story that got everyone to ask “Are we in the Upside Down?” No one saw the 80’s throw back coming, but once you watched the first episode you just had to spend the weekend binging it – preferably with wine and vinas. Stranger Things was an unusual must-see.

RYAN LOCHTE VS. THE BATHROOM DOOR

We could have been talking about how amazing our female athletes did (Hello! Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky and the other 59 female medal winners – the most ever!), or about all those cupping marks on Michael Phelps. Or we could still be sharing photos of that hottie from Tonga. But no, the end of the Olympics was filled with talk of Drunk Lochte taking on his mortal enemy, the evil gas station bathroom door. Way to stay weird 2016.

CUBS WIN

Put this in the good-weird column. It has been a long forgone conclusion that the Cubs would never win the World Series. I mean come on, they kicked a goat out 108 years ago, so of course they would be cursed to eternal failure. But this out of left field year saw something that was absolutely worth talking about – a Cubs win. The Cubs hadn’t won the World Series since 1908, while their opponent, the Cleveland Indians, hadn’t claimed victory since 1948. To make that win even more amazing the series went 7 games, the final game had a rain delay, went into extra innings, and the Cubs retiring catcher David Ross hit a home run. Basically you needed your tissues handy as the Goat was finally put to bed. Plus, it turns out Parks and Recreation predicted the future??

POKÉMON GO

I’ll admit it, a few vinas and I spent the summer catching um all. Going for a jog to hatch a egg, hunting down that elusive Raichu at the Denver Zoo (ladies, they had a special Pokemon Go day, I kid you not), and spending way too much time at “the gym” were just some of the weird wonderful ways 2016 flew by. The fervor for the game has slipped away, but with promises of more updates, Pokemon trading, and some more battle options, I don’t plan on deleting my account any time soon. Oh, and it’s going to be on the Apple Watch too, so we can all look cool AF while hoping to stumble across a Mewtwo .

A GIANT SEA MONSTER

Maybe this one is just me, but a sea monster that stretch 5 stories long is pretty weird and amazing. Everyone has a favorite strange animal story that they repost on Facebook, but for me the giant sea monster found in Antarctica is just out of this world cool. It may have been the largest swimming creature, officially part of the mosasaur family, it is actually named Kaikaifilu hervei, after an almighty giant reptile legend from the Mapuche. Big. Weird. Amazing. Very 2016.

And there was something or other about an election this year. I guess there’s that too.

What do YOU think was the weirdest thing of 2016? Tweet us or tell us in the comments below!

Originally Published on Vinazine

Okay, Which One of These Iconic Duos Are You and Your Friend?

lucyethel_i_love_lucy

Which duo reflects you and your vina the best? Share it with her and see what she thinks!

LUCY AND ETHEL, PARTNERS IN CRIME

This is the ultimate vina duo that most people think of when they think of BFFs. Lucy and Ethel are one rocking pair of gals have no problem getting into trouble, scheming their way out of it, and then donning pill box hats like no other.  If you and your bestie get busted in Target for acting a fool, if you fudge the numbers to have yet another Starbucks outing, or if you have, in fact, worn matching outfits to any public function you may just be a Lucy and Ethel.

work-hard.gifTINA AND AMY, WORK WIVES

They work together, they play together, and they kick ass together. Tina and Amy met while members of The Second City Comedy Troupe in Chicago. Over time they have stared on SNL together, made movies, hosted the Oscars, and written books that give shout outs to the others, all while being moms, wives, and total lady bosses. Even when they have been apart, Fey staring in 30 Rock and Poehler on Parks and Rec, I can’t image one not supporting the other. If you happen to have that go to gal at work, a vina who you see just as much if not more than your spouse, she may be your work wife. Sometimes you might bicker, but at the end of the day you get through the trenches of office life with the support of each other. And maybe the help of an after hours cocktail.

150812132318-serena-and-venus-williams-2012-super-169.jpg

150812132318-serena-and-venus-williams-2012-super-169.jpgVENUS AND SERENA, TEAMMATES

We all need a vina at our back, someone to push us, someone to support us. These ladies aren’t just sisters, they are best friends, world champions, and total icons. Growing up they trained together, pushing each other to be better from a very young age, eventually reaching the top of the worlds’ tennis ranking in both singles and doubles. Oh, and they’ve got Olympic Gold Medals to spare. Wonder if your vina is your teammate? Go for a run together and see if you don’t go just a little bit faster? Do you both like to put in hours together at the gym? Have you gifted each other workout gear? How many race medals have your proudly earned at the same 10k? Yup, you’re teammates.

og1.jpg

og1.jpg

OPRAH AND GAYLE, ULTIMATE BFFS

Oprah and Gayle can do no wrong. These women have supported each other in business, out camping, in print, and on TV. Just read their interview on Oprah’s website and tell me you don’t have total BFF envy. While they might not be in the news as much together as they used to be, I totally believe that these too text on the regular. More than the best BFFs ever, they might even be long distance relationship goals. Do you and your favorite vina finish each other sentence? Take on any adventure with an open mind? Do you (only in your dreams) hang out with Beyonce? If so you two are the end all be all of BFFs. Can I hang out with you?

marily-and-ella2.jpg

Marily-and-ella2.jpgMARILYN MONROE AND ELLA FITZGERALD, CHEERLEADERS

This little know duo was a surprise to me, but also one that warmed my heart in this winter chill. While trying to make her name as a singer Marilyn started listening to a lot of Ella, hoping to learn from her unmatched skill. After becoming totally enamored with Ella’s voice, rumor has it that Marilyn was shocked that Ella was not allowed to perform at the most famous club in Hollywood, the Mocambo. Ella had struggled finding live gigs in the segregated South, but with a phone call Marilyn scored her a long running set in the same club that hosted Frank Sinatra. Marilyn was such a supporter she sat front row for ever single performance Ella did, every night, without fail. In an interview Ella calls Marilyn an “unusual woman,” but she clearly meant it with respect. If you’ve got a friend that you’d go to bat for, no matter what the odds are, you might be a Marilyn and an Ella. If you have mad respect for the others skill… you might be lucky enough to have found your Marilyn.

So, which iconic duo are you and your vina?? Send it along and see what she thinks!

Originally Posted on Vinazine 

Dog Eared Review: Only for a Moment

Pages: 79
Self published
Released:October 2016

 In this first collection of poetry from writer Tabitha Vohn there is a wide range of both skill and emotion. Known more of her prose, Vohn has ventured into poetry, which she says she’s been turning to since she was 15 years old. Unlike many collections of poetry this particular book includes a forward to put the rest of the writing into context. I personally have mixed feelings about the inclusion of the forward, which details the writer’s intention and her emotional connection to the work. I some books a forward is necessary, especially ones that work with historical events or obscure details, but on personal collections I tend to think they pull the readers out of the book. A forward for a collection such as this subconsciously tells the reader how to feel instead of allowing the reader to simply feel; it puts a barrier up between the writer and the reader, preventing the reader from seeing themselves in the poems.
But that is a lot of talk about a forward and not the actual poetry. Onward. The poems within the collection read in a very linear fashion, as evidence by both the evolution of skill and emotion. As informed by the forward the first section, titled “Every Word From Your Mouth is a Heart Song,” feels like juvenilia. Thematically the poet tackles the aftermath of a death that is close to her heart when she was a teenager. The poems themselves feel very much like they were written by a teenager. This may serve as a boon for the collection, helping to demonstrate sincerity, but it can also be a bit distracting. If you read with an open mind the raw youth of the poems is heartfelt, or you may find them distracting.
The later poems show more poise-it is clear that the writer’s skill grew other time. There is also a more nuanced use of imagery, especially in the section “Forest Tales.”
Overall I could go either way on this book. It’s decent enough and I enjoyed it, but not sure if I would dive in for a re-read.
Dog Eared Pages:
14, 18, 24, 27, 29, 35, 36, 38, 46, 48, 55, 57, 73

Dog Eared Review: Limousine, Midnight Blue

Limousine, Midnight Blue: Fifty Frames from the Zapruder Film by Jamey Hecht
Pages: 66
Publisher: Red Hen Press
Released: 2009

I am late to the game with this one- I found it buried in a pile of books I was organizing after my most recent move- and that is all the worse for me. This collection of sonnets is so so so worth your time. Each sonnet is inspired by, and titled after, a different frame of the Zapruder Film. Following the few seconds before, during and after President Kennedy’s assignation there is a lot of ground getting covered here. Yeah, I went there.
In all seriousness, each sonnet is carefully formed without being distractingly rigid, as is often the case with formal poetry. Within each poem there is a mix of the concrete details and this thoughtful, kind of trippy, existential look at death, American society, and personal relationships that is stunning. I could pick nearly any line from any of the poems to demonstrate this point, but my particular favorite stanza is “This is my song of promises and lies, making me deaf/to warnings and alarms. Shot one opened up my throat/so when the sudden angel came commanding me to sing/I could reply like Caedmon: I can’t sing.”
I dog eared most of this book, partially because of it’s excellent crafting, and partially because of the unique take on history. The emotional connection made between Jackie and JFK, between JFK and the time period, between the poet and the reader, between humanity and it’s struggles with death… it doesn’t often get better than this. I am a fool for letting this get lost in my hot mess of a home library, don’t make the same mistake I did.
Dog Eared Pages:
17, 22, 25, 31, 37, 38, 39, 41, 43, 47, 48, 49, 50, 52, 53, 56, 57, 60, 63, 65

A Letter to 13-Year-Old Me About Friendship

Dear Lindsey,

Hi, this is you. I’m writing you from 2016. We are almost 32 years old and we are basically awesome. We’ve got a house, a nice man, and a really cute kid. Sometimes we write, we almost always read, and we regularly fail at baking. Wine and coffee are our friends and we’ve moved across country twice. We’re mostly happy and we have quite a few things figured out, which is good. But enough about me, let’s talk about you. Thirteen is not easy, no matter who you are. Look up pictures of famous people at 13, you’ll see what I mean. I know you’re 13 and not keen on taking advice from other people, but just hear me out, please.

FIND GOOD PEOPLE BY BEING YOURSELF

This might seem frivolous, but just go for it in the make up department. Embrace that purple lipstick you keep hidden in your locker, even if you feel like you need to wash it off before mom picks you up. In the same vein, don’t shave your legs just because the other kids laugh at you. Yes, mom will make you wear the optional school uniforms (seriously, who has optional school uniforms?), and yes the other kids will laugh at you in your polos and khaki shorts. Here’s the upper, you will learn how to weed the bad people out of your life this way. The kids who comment on your hairy legs, creased blue slacks, and purple lipstick? Yup, trust your heart and cut them loose. You will always read people well, keep trusting that instinct. If shaving your legs makes you happy, go for it (but don’t steal Dad’s razor, get your own), if not, don’t do it. Dye your hair if you want, get neon bands on your braces, draw on your sneakers; you’re 13, it’s ok. Find people who like you for you. That’s the most important thing.

IT’S OKAY TO LET GO

On that note, it’s okay to let go of toxic friends, especially when you’re young. You’re in 7th grade and between this year and next some of your friends are going to be pretty mean. Take the advice from above and trust your gut – let them go. I know saying that doesn’t make it any easier, but it is the best you can do. The girl who finds “cooler” friends to eat lunch with won’t be as happy. The girl who calls your mom and lies and says that you’re self-destructive is doing so as a cry for help. You’ll have a bigger heart later and you’ll want to help her. For now pull an Elsa (that will make sense in about 20 years) and let it go. Embrace the new friends you make and be thankful that you’ve learned to how to be independent. It may be hard to learn in junior high, but independence will be a valuable skill when you’re grown up.

BE SMART ON THE WEB

The internet’s a brand new thing when you’re in junior high. You’ll spend way too long logging on to AOL, listening to that horrifying sound that is reminiscent to a monster living in your CPU, but stick with it. The internet is here to stay, and yes, it will get faster. I must be serious when I say stop talking to boys in chatrooms, though. They don’t like you like you think they do, and those flower doodles they make out of symbols mean nothing. You’re on there because you’re shy, naive, and those guys say nice things. You would be better served to try chatting with real boys, in person. Except Matt, he’s never going to like you. Just being real. Better yet, make online friends with other girls! The internet is great; it will play a big part in life later on.

DON’T BACK DOWN. EVER.

Yes, that first week of school you will correct your English teacher’s spelling error on the white board. He will never forget it, and he will yell at you when your Tamagotchi dies in class and you cry that you need to save it. That spirit though, that never back down thing you’ve got going, hang on to it. Go ahead and stand up for yourself against that boy who will make fun of you at soccer try outs, and tell that gym teacher where she can shove her scale when she wants to weigh you in front of the class (true story). Your biggest cheerleader in life will always be you, stick up for yourself. And on that note – stand up for your friends. Don’t let anyone bully your girls, and don’t bully others. Girls standing up for each other will get you through school and will be a valuable skill to have later in life. Try to live by this motto – community over competition. Always.

Teenage Lindsey just remember this: plenty of people love you. Some of them even like you. Be kind to yourself, and just as kind to those around you. This made sound cliché, but everyone is fighting a hard battle out there and a little kindness goes a long way. Don’t be afraid to be happy, or silly, or odd. Don’t be afraid to be tough.

Oh, and stop eating Funyuns at lunch. I love you, and I know they taste good, but they’re not making things any easier for you.

Love Always,

2016 Lindsey

What would you tell your 13-year-old self if you could? Tell us in the comments!

(Feature image via Free People)

Originally Seen on Vinazine

Celebrating The One and Only Rosa Parks Today

A VINA GUIDE TO ROSA PARKS DAY

On December 1st, 1955 Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. You probably don’t know this, but Rosa Parks had a serious problem with driver James F. Blake, who had ordered her to board at the back door and then drove off without her. (JERK) Parks then vowed to never ride a bus that he drove because of this, but on December 1st she boarded the bus not realizing he was driving. And history was made.

“I BELIEVE WE ARE HERE ON THE PLANET EARTH TO LIVE, GROW UP, AND DO WHAT WE CAN TO MAKE THIS WORLD A BETTER PLACE FOR ALL PEOPLE TO ENJOY FREEDOM.” – ROSA PARKS

While sitting in the front row of the segregated section of the bus, because Rosa did not give AF, a white passenger asked that all the black passengers in her row move to the back. The other passengers complied but Parks, who just taken a race relations class about nonviolent civil disobedience, made her stand. As a result of her action she was arrested, found guilty on December 5th, and fined a total of $14. That’s a lot of cashola back then. Obvi, like the badass he is, she appealed the decision. From December 1st, 1955 to December 20th, 1956 the Montgomery Bus Boycott swept the state and resulted in a Supreme Court decision that made Rosa Parks LEGEN… wait for it… DARY.  Ever since then, it’s been declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws requiring segregated buses unconstitutional.

In later years she had contact with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and participated in the Selma-to-Montgomery Marches. She and her family faced A LOT of hardships for her activism, but she never ever ever gave up. Pretty cool, huh.

Rosa Parks Day was initially thought of by the California State Legislature, where they decide to celebrate it on February 4, Park’s birthday, in 2000. Missouri followed suit in 2015 and declared February 4th a state holiday. Ohio and Oregon each made their own moves to celebrate Rosa Parks Day on the day she was arrested, December 1st. These four states have made the move to honor Parks for her NAACP activism, her brave civil rights stance, and her sheer grit in the face of opposition.

We have a lot of crazy stuff happening around the world (and in the good ol’ USA) and as those changes happen, we want you to keep this amazing lady in mind —  take some time out today to share your hopes for equality in our society using the hashtag #RosaParksDay. Stand up for what is right, in whatever way that’s uniquely you, and look out for your fellow vinas.

We are all in this together ladies, or as Parks once said “I believe we are here on the planet Earth to live, grow up, and do what we can to make this world a better place for all people to enjoy freedom.”

Thank you for being such a badass, Rosa.

How will you stand up for yourselves and your vinas today? Tell us in the comments!

Originally Posted on Vinazine

HOW TO BUILD THE PERFECT MOMMY GROUP

Your mommy group can become your best vinas, your comrades in arms, and that small sliver in sanity when your toddler is bouncing off the walls. Whether you are planning play dates or much needed wine nights, you need some wicked awesome moms by your side. In addition to those kid free vinas you’ve been pals with for years, every mom undoubtedly needs some ladies with kids around the same age in her life. It’s relaxing to hangout in another vina’s living room without fear of your kid breaking something priceless (it’s all been child proofed or broken by now- trust me) or being embarrassed by a tantrum. To quote Woody from that classic Toy Story, “Don’t have a mommy group? Get one!”

WHERE ARE ALL THE MOM’S AT?

We are everywhere, I promise you that. If you’re just starting on your quest to fill your Mommy Round Table, check out the local library. Story time is full of great stay at home moms who are looking for a little time away from the house with people who won’t judge their yoga pants. The closest park to your house is also a safe bet to find like minded vinas and their tots enjoying the sun. If your littles are in school chat up the pick up and drop off crowd- you all automatically have something in common to spark a convo. I really mean it, moms are everywhere, and unless the kiddos are melting down on the floor of the grocery store, we would love to talk for a minute.

CHECK EVERYONE’S SCHEDULES

Things totally change once you start making cute little human babies. Nap time, preschool days, and the availability of snacks become paramount to a successful day. Few things are more heartbreaking than meeting a great crew and then realizing that everyone has drastically different nap times/lunch times/witching hours (it is so a real thing, I swear it). A lot can be sacrificed for some much needed mommy breaks, but I for one won’t give my toddler’s nap. She needs her rest to avoiding acting like a banshee at dinner time, and I need to watch reruns of The Great British Baking Show. Now after dinner drinks are a different thing- there is always a way to make that work.

PLAN A PROJECT

Not sure how a new mom squad will mesh? Try planning a group project, like one of those nifty paint and wine outings. If chardonnay and a wonky painting of Hogwarts doesn’t help you bond I don’t know what will. If someone is feeling brave, try hosting it instead of going out. With mom’s flexibility is key, and a vina’s date night in just might fit the bill. A craft or a project will help give your night direction and smooth over any new friend jitters. Working on something together will also give you a chance to find more things in common than you expected. Maybe you all discover that Mod Podge decor isn’t your calling (but you can totally laugh about it), or you fall in love with the same six-pack of nitro stout. Or maybe you abandon the project half way and spend the night watching Outlander #sorrynotsorry.

SHORT ON TIME?

Try to set up a Facebook group together. I was part of a new mom’s group right after I had my daughter and we made ourselves a private Facebook group. We used our group to plan  outings, or at least invite any and all out for spontaneous coffee time. We shared recipes and photos of our kids. If someone got a duplicate of a book or a toy as a gift we could offer it to the others. Facebook is not a substitute for real time chat sessions, but it can absolutely make organizing them easier. Plus, having that safe space online is super helpful on those late mommy nights when you need a BFF. Or ten.

The first step is a smile though. Make eye contact with the other tired looking mom sitting with you in circle time. Offer a kind word the the kindred spirit who’s child has decided that the toilet paper aisle is a great place to pretend to be a snake. We are all in this together, so lets go hangout.

(Feature image via @livinglifesmoments)

originally published on VINAzine

5 Books About Inspiring Older Siblings

As the oldest child in my family, I am pretty biased in my believe that eldest siblings rule. We came first, we work hard, and we look great doing it! Some of the most famous people in the world have been oldest siblings, and many of our favorite fictional characters also showed up first. Beyond Bill Weasley, Winston Churchill, and every actor who has ever played James Bond, check out these other utterly fantastic big brothers and sisters.

Smile and Sisters: The Box Set, by Raina Telgemeier
Fall in love with Raina, who handily tackles the many challenges life throws her way. In Smile, she suffers an injury to her mouth that forces her to wear braces and headgear and basically everything else in the orthodontic world. After overcoming that major life event, Sisters find her trying to embrace her new role as a big sister. In these funny and engaging graphic novels, Telgemeier recounts her feelings on becoming on older sister, and navigating the teenage years with style and aplomb. (Ages 8–12)

Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters, by Barack Obama and Loren Long
Malia and Sasha Obama are of course the nation’s current First Daughters, but they are also beautifully illustrated young ladies in this sweet book by President Obama. Malia and Sasha, like Jenna and Barbara, and Chelsea before them, have spent their formative years in a unique house that is unlike any other. Oldest sibling Malia has some pretty historic role models to help her set a good example for her younger sibling. (Ages 6–8)

I am George Washington (B&N Exclusive Edition), by Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos
If you want to talk about awesome oldest kids, look no father than George Washington. You know, the General of the Union Army and, uh, the first President of the United States. He was the oldest of nine kids, including both full siblings and half siblings. Is it possible that leading this herd of kids around Ferry Farm in Stafford County near Fredericksburg, and later the famous Mount Vernon, helped shape him into the world-changing leader that we all know and love? I’m going to say yes. (Ages 5–8)

The Tale of Peter Rabbit: A Story Board Book, by Beatrix Potter
Peter Rabbit is the leader of this gang of mischievous bunny rabbits as they snatch vegetables from Mr. McGregor’s garden. He might not set the best example, seeing as he steals food and and loses his jacket. But, he is brave! Peter also learns his lesson, and he takes his lumps with a strong upper lip and a sense of pride. Like all good older kids, Peter helps to take care of his mom, is proud of their house and garden, and turns into a loving uncle to his nieces and nephews. (Ages 2–5)

Frozen Little Golden Book (Disney Frozen), by RH Disney
Queen Elsa. Queen. Yup, this oldest sister is queen of an entire kingdom — no mere princess here! She has an unbelievable magical power, and is able to inspire her younger sister’s great bravery and unfailing love. In true oldest sibling form, Elsa doesn’t let either guilt or being ostracized because she is different stop her from going after her dreams. With her inner strength and dignity, not to mention a fabulous dress and killer vocals, Elsa is an older sister like no other. (Ages 2–5)

Finding Dory Little Golden Book (Disney/Pixar Finding Dory), by RH Disney
This may be one of the biggest literary mysteries of our day: Is Dory the oldest, the middle, or the youngest in what is probably a very large family? Dory is brave, take charge, and caring, so maybe she is indeed the oldest sibling. She will also gladly follow Marlin into any adventure, so she could also be the middle child. Then again, she does love a good caring shoulder, some help from her friends, and has a thirst to prove herself — youngest sibling anyone? No matter where she lies in the family, we love Dory (but my vote is for oldest!). (Ages 2–5)

Who are your favorite oldest sibling characters?

As seen first on Barnes and Noble!

Summer Must Read: Grace by Natashia Deon

Grace, Natashia Deon’s debut novel from Counterpoint Press, is an emotional tour de force and an absolute must read. That may seem like a bold statement, but when a book balances the Civil War, racism, abuse, and a ghost story with almost effortless beauty, it is an accurate one. The novel is told from the point of view main character Naomi as she navigates her terrifying life as a child living in slaves quarters, a runaway teenager working in a whore house, and an ever watchful mother. Her daughter Josie is both blessed and cursed because of her parentage, as she too finds herself straddling two different worlds. Despite being separated by Naomi’s death, and the collapse of the South, their two lives intersect in the most unexpected, meaningful ways.

Deon creates a rich and diverse world in the South both before and after the Civil War. There are no stereotypes here: not in the woman who comes to own Josie, not in the madam a who runs the whore house, not in the blacksmith, not in the piano player. Each character is far more than their race, their religion, or the job that they hold. Even the most passing character feels like a flesh and blood person, weighed down with their own past and their own failings. The issues in Grace reach right down to what it means to be good, to be human, and to overcome. Considering the fact that the story spans two lifetimes, two states, and a whole host of tumultuous events, it is quite an achievement to craft the many multidimensional characters that populate this novel.

Without giving away too much of the plot, the bulk of the story is told by Naomi after she has died, and it jumps between her actual life and her spirit life. Allowing readers to see Naomi’s life, her death, and her ability to reflect on both of them is part of what makes this story unique. Everything is convincing; it seems right and logical and necessary to see both Naomi’s life and to watch her watch Josie’s life. This is a tall order to juggle as a reader, and a writer, but once you get into the rhythm of the book, it sweeps you away. The story encompasses many small details — who lives where, who knows whom, who passes who else in the forest — all of which eventually build into a startling climax. I finished Grace in almost one night because toward the end, it was nearly impossible to stop reading.

Hearing the story from Naomi’s perspective allows readers to encounter a lot of period language and slang, which helps you get into the setting and the mindset of the time. She is a self taught woman, having had only life and the Bible to guide her, so her speech and thoughts evolve in an organic way as the story progresses. It may take some readers a few pages to nail that voice in their heads, but I found that it made the book even more immersive. The attention to detail, from the way cellars and floor boards creak, to the minutia of doing laundry and cleaning, help remind readers of the way so many of us used to live. With thoughtful use of historical facts and details, along with vivid descriptions of the landscapes, I was always surprised and engaged.

I was able to get a hold of an advance ebook copy, but I plan on heading out to add the hard cover to my shelves at home. You should probably do the same, since soon enough everyone should be talking about Grace.

Grace is available in stores and online now.