Terrible Awful Beauty

Terrible Awful Beauty

by Angela Voras-Hills

The night Trump was elected, I lay in bed awake all night, wondering if a nuke would reach the Midwest. I was sure we would all explode before the night was over. Lots of people were afraid in different ways, but my fears always culminate in the explosion of the world. Have you seen the movie Melancholia? That is always where my mind ends up.

When I was pregnant, I was afraid of falling. I was afraid the baby wasn’t kicking. I went to the doctor a lot to be sure she was still alive. But then, she was born, and the fears were bigger. There was not a squishy waterball around her body to protect her if she fell. I was afraid if a knife was in the same room as her. I was afraid of stairs. I was afraid of sleeping and of not sleeping. Don’t get me started about crossing roads.

Two Months Before My Son Leaves for Belgium, We Visit the Zoo

 

And a few months before that, the airport is bombed. I get message
message message: am I letting him go? And maybe I’m to blame,
because I never told them I’d once caught him running on the roof
of our third-floor, that he was once hit so hard by a car his shoes
flew from his feet into air (a story I heard as his friends joked
about the lady who’d hit him, who’d cried and hugged him in the road,
making sure he was ok), or when, just three days before the bombing,
a high school kid scrawled plans to shoot everyone on a bathroom stall.
And so, two months before my son boards a plane to Belgium, we feed
giraffes, and he poses with peacocks. He wants to see reptiles and primates,
his sister wants elephants, crocodiles, never stops running until she sees a baby
kangaroo—we all stop and watch him hop around his mother
who lays on the concrete floor, bored. He cleans her ears, jumps
on her head to engage her in play, and she swats him away. He is already
half her size, but clearly still a baby. He doesn’t give up until finally
she stands, and I say I think he’ll climb into her pouch! My son doesn’t
believe the joey will fit, and I tell him he will fit, and then, an illusion—
the pouch one minute tucked against the kangaroo’s belly, stretches,
touches the ground as the joey climbs in head-first, shuffles and turns
settling in. After that, there is little to see. Black paws peek from the belly.
The mother nibbles her fingers, drags her baby toward a food bowl, and I
follow her eyes down the dark corridor toward the metal door bursting
open, the light blasting in, my daughter running out into it.

Most moms I know spend a lot of time at Target. The Dollar Spot. The end-cap clearance. The Starbucks. They go for toilet paper and spend $100. I am occasionally a mom who does this, and I don’t call this out to judge, but to say, when I am afraid, I go to Target. It feels safe there. (Though I’ve seen enough shooting footage at Walmarts to know better.) It’s easy enough to drink a latte, push my kids in the cart while they play with a random toy I won’t buy, and pick out a pretty thing or two that will make my life easier.

When I spend a lot of time at Target (or, more recently, internet shopping), I write nothing. I let all of my anxieties be swept away by faux eucalyptus wreaths, bamboo potato bins, vetiver candles— the promise of an organized home, manageable children, an “Instagram-worthy” life. But when I get these things home, I am unsatisfied. Most things I buy, I return within a week.

Haunted

 

Living alone, I’d call my mom, make her listen
as I moved room-to-room
looking in closets, behind doors,
under the bed, anywhere

a man could fit. I plugged my curling iron in
each day before showering, imagined
identifying a man in a lineup
by his melted cheek,

his missing eye. By then, I’d seen enough
Law & Order reruns to play each scene
out until sentencing. Ever since
I was a kid, I’ve wanted things

to be fair, believed hand-on-my-heart
in liberty and justice for all, but I’ve also
been so afraid. Mostly of a death
I’d have to live through—

drowning, fire, kidnapping that ends with me
tied up in a hole filling with dirt.
My daughter is scared of ghosts,
believes they’re in each

corner of her dark room. I tell her
they’re not real, but once playing Ouija
at the cabin with cousins,
we contacted The Blue Ghost

and the light above us flickered blue/
burnt out, left us in dark woods alone.
So who’s to say? I’ve never walked
through a haunted house,

staged or otherwise, but my cousin
pissed her pants inside one, left
a puddle someone had to clean.
One year, the gun club

sponsored a haunted hayride, and I rode
through the forest, hay splintering
my ass through jeans, and when
a man jumped out of the dark

with a chainsaw buzzing at us, I thought,
“God, who knows if this is really
part of it? Who gets paid
to behave this way?”

This was years before a man
shot into a crowded concert
from a hotel window in Vegas
and before so many

defended his rights. I watch TV,
try to believe “these stories are fictional
and do not depict any actual
person or event.” My daughter

asks about monsters, and I say they’re not
real, but news breaks, and she knows
I’m lying. If ghosts are real,
what do they expect

from a four-year-old? By now,
you’d think we’d all have heard
the unsettled dead. You’d think
something would’ve changed.

It took me a while to recognize this cycle of consumerism and fear, and especially how it is encouraged among women, particularly mothers, and it is fed by social media. The amount of money a mom can spend on “baby gear,” and the sheer volume of stuff one can buy for a tiny human being who can only roll over, is a testament to this.

A few years ago, I watched the video The House in the Middle, which is a PSA made by the Civil Defense Department in the Fifties and sponsored by a paint company. The video suggests that if you (the housewife) keep your house clean (and well-painted), your family could survive a nuclear attack. Can you imagine? All you need to do is keep a clean house, and ta-da! Your family survived the nuke. From there, I read bomb-shelter shopping lists. I looked at fallout shelter meal plans. I looked at photo after photo of how mannequin families “survived” nuclear tests. All of these mannequins looked just like me. They looked like every mother I knew: cooking dinner, stocking the pantry, decorating the fallout shelter with new bedding, encouraged to buy things and stay busy.

The Mannequin Refreshes the Facebook Mom Group While Sitting on the Toilet

 

A pregnant woman has been reading— childbirth
sounds awful, bringing baby home is terrifying,
she wants someone to tell her it’s not. Someone
say it’s beautiful. And they do. 97 comments
gushing about the beauty, assuring her yes, it’s hard,
but you will only remember the joy of those first days,
they go so fast. The mannequin has had enough
babies to mostly remember the awful, the weight
of body after body escaping her own, she can barely
read the comments without feeling cheated
out of forgetting, so she scrolls past them, another
mom wants recommendations for a nutritionist,
her husband won’t let their toddler eat sugar, natural
or otherwise, and her toddler is losing so much weight
so fast now that he’s weaning, and that’s as far
as the mannequin gets before the door bursts open,
and a photo appears in her Facebook feed, and it’s
her baby a year ago, and here’s her baby today, and
she sees he was beautiful—the baby on the duvet,
stretching in his new skin, now wobbling in
on chubby legs, such terrible, awful beauty.

Jareen Imam author photo

Poet, community organizer, and instructor Angela Voras-Hills grew up in Wisconsin. She earned an MFA from the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is the author of the poetry collection Louder Birds (2020), selected by Traci Brimhall for the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize.

Voras-Hills has received grants from the Sustainable Arts Foundation and Key West Literary Seminar as well as a fellowship from the Writers’ Room of Boston. She cofounded The Watershed: A Place for Writers, a literary arts organization, which evolved into Arts + Literature Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin. She lives with her family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

2021 Editors’ Choice Poems: Week 1

2021 Editors' Choice Poems

Week 1

We were so happy to receive a significant number of submissions to BMP Voices National Poetry Month 2021 — in only the first week. Editor C. Kubasta’s theme seems to have resonated with poets, and in this first week, we discovered a theme within the theme.

This set of nine poems, this week’s Editors’ Picks, speak out to specific but very different audiences and seem to reach out to connect in order to share what these audiences may need to hear after a year of global pandemic. A thirteen-year-old poet gives us insight into the experiences of young people during this time, protest poetry indicts a complicit United States, a Mainer wife squares her chin and maintains her space, two poets imagine hauntings and ghosts in very different ways. Masks and quarantine bookend change and grief.

Thank you to these poets for sharing our collective experiences and the powerful experiences unique to different communities.

Ruth & Mary Ann
Brain Mill Press Publishers

Poetry Month Contest

Submit 1-3 poems of any form or style that speak to Remembering/Reckoning as a response to the traumas of 2020

“Roosters”

by Alanna Shaikh

I’m used to roosters
I’ve always lived in cities; when I hear an outdoor sound, I know it’s roosters
Roosters or stray dogs
Drifting off in bed I hear them
ooo-uh-oo-oo, faintly or loudly but always clear
in the dark of night tending my bladder
in the morning as I cling to my blankets
as I eat lunch by the window

This new city though.
First, it has no roosters.
I never hear them, not ever.
Next, it has other birds; it teems with them.
exuberant choirs of birds
festivals of birds and
determined rusty squeak of palm squirrels

Now, I fall asleep to cooing, trilling, that squirrel squeak
I wake and sleep and urinate to choruses
I know a chirp from a tweet from a squawk
The small hours are all hoots and chirrups

It’s a new thing, this abundance
My ears need time.

Alanna Shaikh headshot

Alanna Shaikh is a first-generation Pakistani immigrant. Her poetry is influenced by the landscape of Northern New York state where she grew up, daily life and the literature in the seven countries she’s lived in, and her work in global health and pandemic response. Her poetry has been chosen for publication by Eclectica Magazine and the Norfolk Coast Guardian.

“The Ghost at Home”

by Jareen Imam

I found her standing in the corner,
or maybe I should say, she found me.
She was watching me as I worked late into the evening.
My face illuminated by the pale blue light
shining from my overheated laptop.

I think she mistook me for one of them, initially.

You’re up later than usual, she finally said.
This is normally my time to haunt.

Just give me another hour, I responded.
I’m working on a PowerPoint my boss wants.

She sighed as she threw the white bedsheet off her ghastly frame,
huffing and puffing before she vanished into thin air.
The next night, she found me again,
but this time she was sitting on my bed.

Are you working late again? she complained.
When is this going to end?
I’ve got a schedule to keep up with, she moaned,
as she showed me her planner

Haunt 30-something-year-old woman
between the hours of midnight to 2 A.M.
Make sure to instill feelings of inadequacy, the planner read.
A footnote was scribbled at the bottom, reading:
Extra 10 percent commission if woman dreams about
never getting married.

I couldn’t help but chuckle as I read her notes.
You don’t have to worry about doing these things, I said.
I already feel so alone.

Jareen Imam author photo

Jareen Imam is an award-winning American journalist who has worked for media companies such as NBC News, CBS News, and CNN. During 2020, she led a global team of journalists who investigated and reported on stories about the pandemic, the death of George Floyd, BLM protests, voting issues, the U.S. presidential election, and more. In 2020, while reporting for NBC, she endured the death of her grandmother, the separation from her family—many of whom worked as frontline healthcare workers and took care of those infected with Covid-19—and a painful breakup from her long-term partner. It was also the year she started to write poetry again after a 20-year hiatus.

“Grief Is the Ghost”

by Anne Marie Wells

"Grief Is the Ghost" poem
Jareen Imam author photo

Anne Marie Wells (She | Her) of Jackson, Wyoming is a queer poet, playwright, and storyteller navigating the world with a chronic illness.
AnneMarieWellsWriter.com

FB|IG @AnneMarieWellsWriter
TW @AMWWriter

“Parable of the Drought”

by Merridawn Duckler

I was rattling the inside of an old saltine tin when you came home. We’re out of tears, I said. Again, I said. You put the bags down in a huff. They were supposed to last until the party, you said, where do they go? We both know the answer to that. You spent them. Pretending it’s for others, to be donated or sent overseas. But it’s crap. Everyone knows you cried up all those tears for yourself. My eyes have been dried for fifteen years. My mouth is like a ghost lake. Sadness scurries in rat feet at the bottom of my well. A soul could drop a rock in there and hear no echo. Whereas you are a fountain, bountiful crocodile. The world is your blue handkerchief, wrung once and snapped out fresh. I am sad, I said, I’m broken. I walked to the other room and saw you absorbed in the images, taking a screen shot and superimposing it on your face. What do you want now, you said. I tried to explain to you about my hollow. My dust. You turned your face to me. Goddamn, you are beautiful. I’m so sorry, you said. And your eyes filled up with tears

Jareen Imam author photo

Merridawn Duckler is a writer from Oregon, author of INTERSTATE (dancing girl press) and IDIOM (Washburn Prize, Harbor Review.) New work in Seneca Review, Women’s Review of Books, Interim, Posit. Fellowships/awards include Yaddo, Southampton Poetry Conference, Poets on the Coast. She’s an editor at Narrative and at the philosophy journal Evental Aesthetics.

Twitter@MerridawnD
Instagram@merridawnduckler

“[2020] The Divided States of Attica”

by henry 7. reneau, jr.

"Grief Is the Ghost" poem
Jareen Imam author photo

henry 7. reneau, jr. writes words of conflagration to awaken the world ablaze, an inferno of free verse illuminated by his affinity for disobedience, is a discharged bullet that commits a felony every day, is the spontaneous combustion that blazes from his heart, phoenix-fluxed red & gold, exploding through change is gonna come to implement the fire next time. He is the author of the poetry collection, freedomland blues (Transcendent Zero Press) and the e-chapbook, physiography of the fittest (Kind of a Hurricane Press), now available from their respective publishers. Additionally, his collection, The Book Of Blue(s) : Tryin’ To Make A Dollar Outta’ Fifteen Cents, was a finalist for the 2018 Digging Press Chapbook Series. His work is published in Superstition Review, TriQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, and Rigorous. His work has also been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.

“Lucency”

by A Whittenberg

Amongst a breathless, debilitating, incapacitating panic
attack, I told myself not to panic and… without warning, I was
suddenly all right.

Jareen Imam author photo

A Whittenberg is a Florida native who has a global perspective. If she wasn’t an author she’d be a private detective or a jazz singer. She loves reading about history and true crime. Her other novels include Sweet Thang, Hollywood and Maine, Life is Fine, Tutored and The Sane Asylum.

“We Stand”

by Keira Schaefer

2020 broke the limits
Tearing our boundaries apart
Like Buffalo trampling the plains
Through nothing but darkness
Our world was the midnight sky
2020 overwhelmed our healthcare workers
Many lost beloved friends and family
Others lost their job, and the ability to pay rent
We thought we lost the world
But we had each other
Now, in 2021, we stand together
We raise higher than the ocean’s tides
Although we are still apart
The light, the sun, the new day is coming
Through hardship we are more united than ever
We stand, we raise, we unite

Keira Schaefer is a thirteen-year-old girl who has a passion for poetry. She loves to express her feelings and emotions through her literature. Other than writing poems, she enjoys gymnastics, playing harp, ice skating, and photography.

“Sea Change”

by Nancy Cook

The sun is midsky when he cuts the diesel.
Now he can hear the tonguelap of water ripples
against cedar plank, feel a shadow of sweat
forming on his brow. A line of pelicans whips
across the horizon and he sees, without looking,
tricolored bullet buoys in neat order, bobbing
at water’s surface in a subtle play for attention.
He senses the sadness all around. In times past,
on days such as this, the water would talk to him.
Now it has nothing to say. The fishing is good,
the weather is fine, but all the world is as quiet
as winter. He unpacks the sandwich the wife
has wrapped in waxed paper: ham and cheddar
and mustard on rye. She’s thrown in some chips,
a folded napkin, and a sliced apple sprinkled
with sugar like she used to do for the kids.
A cold beer would taste so good right now.
He reaches deep into the cooler for a Dr Pepper.

He ends the day early with a light haul. On town
streets bereft of tourists, still he savors whiffs of
rendered butter, partakes with phantom taste buds
the sweet succulence of boiled lobsters. It is one
pleasure that doesn’t age. Before joining the wife
at the church, he showers and shaves. This evening
is the annual strawberry festival, which every year
she organizes. She is a pillar as they say, always
in public her chin lifted, daring and determined,
one ear cocked as if to say I’m listening. And though
tonight, socializing will be minimized, face masks
mandatory, she’ll oversee the sale of two hundred
fruit pies, baked in honor of the state bicentennial.
Keeping busy is a way of life. They all respect that.

Two dozen tables are set up in the churchyard
under hulking shade trees. Broad leaves like titans’
hands block the ebbing sun. The dusk feels heavy
with sadness. As if reading his mind, the wife says,
Even with the church locked up, light’s passing through
the stained glass. There’s secrets older than memory.
Sins to be forgiven. He doesn’t know that some mornings
she takes the deer path down to water’s edge. There
she stands on the old dock, hands deep in the pockets
of her oversized Mac, and watches for the fog to lift.

Jareen Imam author photo

Nancy Cook is a writer, teaching artist, and completely recovered lawyer. She serves as flash fiction editor for Kallisto Gaia Press and also runs “The Witness Project,” a program of free community writing workshops in Minneapolis designed to enable creative work by underrepresented voices. She has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has been awarded grants from, among others, the Minnesota State Arts Board, the National Parks Arts Foundation, the Mayo Clinic, and Integrity Arts and Culture. Her first chapbook, Written in Nature, is forthcoming in 2021.

“Safekeeping”

by Tracy Mishkin

We go to some essential job, our faces swaddled
in fear. Masks leave us lightheaded, but sometimes
we wear two because there are worse things.
In the produce section, we struggle to open plastic bags.
We must have licked our fingers back before all this.
And touched our faces.

Walking the dogs feels good. We shout hello
to every stranger, for nothing is stranger
than this year. We used to pick up trash, but now
it’s masks and tissues scattered in the grass.
That neighbor we haven’t seen in months says
the pandemic is a hoax. Six feet isn’t far enough.

A vet we’ll never meet says the big dog has cancer,
and every three weeks she hops behind the wheel
as though it’s normal for dogs to drive. “Shotgun,”
we say, and she moves over. We do a piss-poor job
of watching the road. When we brake hard,
we throw out an arm to stop her from hitting the dash,
the way our fathers tried to protect us, remembering
a world before seat belts.

Jareen Imam author photo

Tracy Mishkin is a call center veteran with a PhD and a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Butler University. She is the author of three chapbooks, I Almost Didn’t Make It to McDonald’s (Finishing Line Press, 2014), The Night I Quit Flossing (Five Oaks Press, 2016), and This Is Still Life (Brain Mill Press, 2018). She lives in Indianapolis with her family and fewer than ten cats and dogs. You can read more of her work at tracymishkin.com

Top photo by bennett tobias on Unsplash

“Black Girl Unlimited” Shows the Magic of Surviving and Thriving

In 2013, D.C. native Cashawn Thompson coined the phrase “Black girl magic” to celebrate the resilience and accomplishments of Black girls and women. Since then, the phrase has become a movement to acknowledge Black women from various fields and backgrounds. With her novel Black Girl Unlimited, author Echo Brown gives Black girl magic to a character that is partially inspired by Brown’s own experiences.

Echo Brown is a poor, dark-skinned Black girl who lives on the East Side in a small apartment, with little food. Her parents have drug addictions. She is also a wizard who can create portals to the West Side, where schools have plenty of resources for students and families are white and rich. Moving back and forth between both worlds, Echo is soon forced to give up parts of herself to fit in, and a dark veil threatens to engulf her. Now, Echo must call upon her magic to fight to be her fullest self.

With her novel Black Girl Unlimited, author Echo Brown gives Black girl magic to a character that is partially inspired by Brown’s own experiences.

One of the most notable things about this book is how honest it is. It doesn’t sugarcoat the many factors that influence the lives of Echo and those around her, including poverty, drug addiction, mental illnesses, colorism, sexual violence, and misogynoir. When the book opens, Echo’s house is on fire, and her mother, April, is passed out in a cocaine-induced coma. Echo is six years old. Yet the book is also honest in showing the magic that can come from Black people doing what they must to survive and thrive. Echo’s mother, April, is in fact the first person shown to be a wizard in the novel, providing for her children by making something out of nothing.

The book is also honest in showing the magic that can come from Black people doing what they must to survive and thrive.

The magic in this book is powerful because of how it is shown in the narrative. Through the use of elements of magical realism, Brown depicts magic as a force that can bestow something, change perspectives, and inspire others. Each chapter is organized into lessons that Echo learns as she comes of age and develops her magical abilities through experience and with the help of other wizards, who are family, neighbors, and friends. One of these abilities involves being able to see the light and darkness within others, which allows Echo to empathize more with others and be in touch with herself. Seeing the darkness is especially significant because of how Echo and other characters battle depression, which is symbolized by a black veil.

Yet the magic is only as powerful as the characters who use it. Significantly, the relationship between Echo and her mother involves multiple roles. Echo and April are mother and daughter and teacher and student, and what connects them is a complicated love rooted in intergenerational trauma. Both Echo and April experience the same trauma in different ways, and that affects their relationship and how they move through the world. Reading how the two of them experience and cope with trauma can be harrowing, but it can also provide comfort.

In addition to the characters who are wizards, there are also other notable characters who impact Echo in positive and negative ways. Echo’s brothers, Dre and Rone, give her a reason to survive and cultivate her magic to its fullest potential. On the other hand, Black male characters like Prince Mack and Mr. Coleman hinder Echo through actions and words that embody misogynoir, classism, and colorism. There are also characters like Tiffany, a Black girl who initially bullies Echo before she stops and takes a hard look at herself. Taken as a whole, the Black characters in this book are all flawed and relatable in some way.

Overall, Black Girl Unlimited is a brutal and beautiful read that shows there is magic in surviving and thriving.

One final aspect of this book I enjoyed was seeing Echo gradually learn to speak up for herself and others through her magic and as a budding writer. A poignant chapter shows Echo finally tapping into her true potential using poetry and magic. It is a communion of sorts that brings Black youth together in a dazzling way and left me feeling less burdened and more hopeful.

Overall, Black Girl Unlimited is a brutal and beautiful read that shows there is magic in surviving and thriving. To quote a poem from Dr. Maya Angelou, “Nobody, but nobody can make it out here alone.” Black Girl Unlimited demonstrates that the most vulnerable Black people can be powerful if they have the resources to grow and help each other.

Full cover flat illustration by Noa Denmon.

“Black Enough” Showcases Blackness Joyfully and Honestly

The myriad experiences that Black people have are enough to make a tapestry. Due to racism, respectability politics, and other factors, only certain experiences get acknowledged. In the young adult fiction anthology Black Enough, sixteen Black young adult authors examine the ways contemporary Black teens exist with their Blackness. The anthology is edited by author Ibi Zoboi, who also contributes a story to the book.

As a whole, the anthology does a good job of including stories that show Black teens from different walks of life. In addition to race, its Black teen characters also embody different socioeconomic classes, genders (and gendered expectations), and sexual orientations. Authors like Jason Reynolds and Tracey Bapiste showcase distinct writing styles that make their stories appealing to read. While these aspects give the coming-of-age stories included in the anthology strong appeal, those hoping for stories outside contemporary settings may find themselves disappointed. Furthermore, the lack of content warnings for sensitive topics such as sexual assault, death, and self-harm may trigger some readers.

Nonetheless, several stories stand out in this anthology. “The Ingredients” by Jason Reynolds is a really fun conversation between Black boys walking home from the pool who are hungry for something to eat. The conversation flows naturally from their time at the pool to what kind of sandwich they dream of eating. The dialogue is true to life and filled with joy and vivid detail that will make you smile—and maybe crave a sandwich.

Another well-written story is Tochi Onyebuchi’s “Samson and the Delilahs,” which tells the story of a Nigerian American debate team student who ends up joining a heavy metal band. The internal struggle of the main character, Samson, who is torn between his family’s cultural beliefs and his own interests, is palpable in his thoughts and dialogue. It was wonderful to see how Samson eventually learns to bridge the two.

A story that I personally resonated with is Nic Stone’s “Into The Starlight,” a romance between bougie, wealthy Black girl Mackenzie Davis and “ghetto” Black boy Mak. This story not only features honesty between these two as lovers but also takes class and respectability politics into account. It asks where the line between “bougie” and “ghetto” are, whether there is a gray area, and if the line should matter at all.

I also liked “Oreo” by Brandy Colbert, which tackles themes similar to “Into The Starlight.” Instead of class and respectability politics, it discusses class in terms of how some Black Americans end up losing or literally moving away from their roots in their aspiration for the wealth and opportunities given to white people. The story gives the term “Oreo” a deeper meaning than the one I personally knew, which is a Black person with so-called white personal interests. It also shows how Black parents and other Black family members can influence each other for better or worse.

Black Enough showcases and comments on Blackness in an authentic and thoughtful way.

Many of the stories in this book show how some of the internal conflict that Black teens have about their Blackness can be due to what their family—whether a mother, father, aunt, or uncle—has taught them and how that clashes with personal interests and white American culture. Leah Henderson’s “Warning: Color May Fade” has a Black female visual artist trying to break free from her parents’ expectation that she attend law school while also staying true to her Blackness. “Kissing Sarah Snart” by Justina Ireland features a Black gay girl who is learning to revel in her queerness while dealing with her mom’s mental health issues and her dad’s respectability politics. Every story ends differently, but all of them include Black teens learning to just “be.”

Given individual personal tastes, some stories will inevitably be more appealing than others, but this is the case with any anthology. Black Enough showcases and comments on Blackness in an authentic and thoughtful way. Although aimed at Black teens, Black adults can also take something from this collection of stories. If you need an introduction to some of the newer Black young adult authors out there, this book is a good place to start.

“Tristan Strong Destroys the World” Is a Magical Tale of Intergenerational Trauma

Kwame Mbalia’s Tristan Strong Destroys the World begins one month after the events of the first book. Tristan Strong and the mythical world of Alke are traumatized—but their battles are far from over. When folk hero John Henry is attacked by a mysterious enemy and Tristan’s grandmother is kidnapped, Tristan must journey to Alke once more to save what’s left of the realm before its stories are lost forever.

One of the things that immediately grabbed my attention about this novel is the fact that Tristan is traumatized by his previous adventures. He has nightmares and distracted thoughts even when he needs to go save the world of Alke again. This is compelling, because I haven’t read a lot of books that show the effects of a grand yet dangerous adventure on a hero’s psyche. In most sequels, the hero seems perfectly fine emotionally and is ready to tackle the next adventure. It is wonderful for young readers to see that it is okay not to be okay, even when you’re a hero.

In addition, Tristan’s trauma allows him to better empathize with the residents of Alke, the world of beings from African and African American myths and folktales. Alke has literal scars and emotional ones, and things only get worse for it as the plot thickens. Yet there is also beauty, life, and history in Alke, and to see Tristan search for and attempt to protect those aspects of the world is poignant and emotional. By telling and collecting stories of Alke’s history, Tristan is able to put his skills as an “Ananseem” to good use in order to get to the heart of Alke’s current problems.

I haven’t read a lot of books that show the effects of a grand yet dangerous adventure on a hero’s psyche. … It is wonderful for young readers to see that it is okay not to be okay, even when you’re a hero.

Part of Alke’s history lies within characters old and new. This second book in the Tristan Strong series sees the return of spunky doll Gum Baby and crafty trickster god Anansi (albeit in phone form), but it also introduces new characters like the mischievous and mouthy boy Junior. The introduction of new African and Black women characters in this book makes up for the lack of them in the first one. There is adventurous folk hero Keelboat Annie, resourceful juke joint owner Lady Night, and regal goddess Mami Wata. And I would be remiss to fail to note that Tristan’s grandmother, Nana, also has a larger role in this book as Tristan’s source of strength and inspiration.

Alke’s history consists of elements rooted in African American history and culture. These elements range from the painful and ugly to the lively and the resilient, embodied in everything from the new antagonist, DJ Culture Vulture, to the jollof rice served at Lady Night’s juke joint. A personal favorite of mine is the SPB, the portable smartphone version of Alke’s Story Box and the new home for trickster god Anansi. It was fun to see more of the phone in action after the events of the first book, especially through the new “Diaspor-app” that allows Tristan to see how Alke’s stories are connected to the Diapora.

Combining Alke’s history, Tristan’s trauma, and Alke’s current issues, Tristan Strong Destroys the World offers a compelling tale of intergenerational trauma and recovery. Whether it be through family, history, or a bit of both, many African Americans deal with intergenerational trauma in one way or other. Not only is this story a good way to teach the concept to younger readers, but older readers can also learn something from it as well.

Tristan Strong Destroys the World offers a compelling tale of intergenerational trauma and recovery. … Not only is this story a good way to teach the concept to younger readers, but older readers can also learn something from it as well.

Tristan Strong Destroys the World is a powerful sequel to its predecessor. There is more magic, action, and stories to learn from than ever before. If the ending is any indication, things are going to be even more epic in the next book of the trilogy. For now, though, readers who enjoyed Tristan Strong’s first adventure can join him once more and have their world rocked.