When We Make It by Elisabet Velasquez Book Review

Book Description

An unforgettable young adult debut novel-in-verse that redefines what it means to make it, touching on themes of mental illness, sexual assault, food insecurity and gentrification, in the Nuyorican literary tradition of Nicholasa Mohr and the work of contemporary writer Elizabeth Acevedo.

Sarai is a first-generation Puerto Rican eighth grader who can see with clarity the truth, pain, and beauty of the world both inside and outside her Bushwick apartment. Together with her older sister Estrella, she navigates the strain of family traumas and the systemic pressures of toxic masculinity and housing insecurity in a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn. Sarai questions the society around her, her Boricua identity, and the life she lives with determination and an open heart, learning to celebrate herself in a way that she has been denied.

When We Make It is a love letter to girls who were taught to believe they would not make it at all. The verse is evocative and insightful, and readers are sure to be swept into Sarai’s world and rooting for her long after they close the book.

Review

Thank You to Penguin Random House for the advanced copy of this book as well as the finished copy so that I am able to review.

Thoughts and Themes: I really enjoy reading books in verse because of how different the stories go and how much emotion can be packed in. I like how Sarai is questioning so many of the things around her in this book and her place amongst everything and everyone.

I really liked how this story took you around the places Sarai was living in but also introduced you to her culture. I liked getting introduced to her culture through each verse and learning more about her and her family.

Characters: In this book you get introduced to several characters through their interactions with Sarai. You get to meet her mother, sister, and some of the other adults who briefly are in her life. While each character is introduced to you briefly, I think you get a good image of the role that everyone plays in Sarai’s life.

I really liked getting to know Sarai through the whole book and how she thinks of the world and of others. I also liked getting to see the relationship that Sarai has with her sister throughout this book. I thought it was great to see how she doesn’t want to be anything like her sister but she also really respects her sister. I liked that we get to see both Sarai and her sister’s relationship with their mother but also how far away their mother is from them emotionally.

Writing Style: This book is written in prose and I really liked that choice. I liked how none of the pieces were long and it gave you the sense of how Sarai was always going from one place to the next physically or emotionally. There were so many pieces that I really enjoyed in this book and it was just great to be able to explore Sarai’s world through poetry.

Author Information

ELISABET VELASQUEZ is a Brooklyn Born Boricua.

She is a mother of two.

Her poems are an exploration of her life. 

Velasquez has performed at Lincoln Center Out Of Doors, Pregones Theatre, Bushwick Starr Theatre, The Bowery Poetry Club, Brooklyn Museum, Museum Of Natural History, The Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Rutgers University, Williams College, Adelphi University, Pace University, Princeton University, James Madison University, Harvard University and The Amber Rose Slut Walk 2017. 

Her work has been featured on  TIDALNBC, Now This, Huffington Post, Latina Magazine, Vibe Magazine, Muzzle MagazineCentro Voces. She is a VONA Alum, 2017 Poets House Fellow. She is the winner of Button Poetry’s 2017 Poetry Video Contest. She is a 2019 Frost Place Fellow. Her work is forthcoming in the anthology : WHAT SAVES US Poems of Empathy and Outrage In The Age Of Trump edited by Martin Espada.

The Black Flamingo Book Review

This book follows Michael from his childhood up to his life in university. This is a coming of age story of a gay mixed (Jamaican and Greek-Cypriot) Black teenager who is finding who he is and does so through poetry and drag.

Thoughts: It is great that this book starts from Michael’s early childhood years and shows how even then he is trying to figure out who he is. He knows that he would rather play with dolls and kiss the boys and he understands that it makes him different than other boys. His peers then turn against him because they suspect that he is gay and this is the moment in which we first hear him say out loud that he is gay.

I love how throughout this book you get an idea of who each person introduced to the story is. I like the relationships that are shown and built in the little time that they are given. I really enjoy how Michael builds a friendship with the other outcast in his school and how she accepts him just as he is. I love hearing all the stories between Daisy and Michael and how they grow up together.

I like how this book addresses many topics from racism, homophobia, and what it is like to have an absent parent. I like how these topics are brought up throughout different parts of the story and Michael reflects on these past moments of his life. I like how we hear about each moment in which his thoughts about racism, homophobia, family, and friendship shift and why they shift in a certain direction.

I paused as he is trying to understand why his rights don’t travel with him and why “people like him” are treated differently depending on where they are in the world. I feel that that moment is such a hard part to realize growing up. It reminded me of when I first realized how much privilege I have being born and raised in Los Angles and not fearing being queer until my parents told me I should be scared.

Another part that I felt was impactful was the conversation that Michael’s uncle has with him as he is going to drop him off at college. I think it was important that he included what his uncle said about what it means to be Black and how Michael had never thought in those ways until that moment. I thought it was important that we see each moment in which his thought process surrounding race and racism change.

It was interesting to see as everyone refers to Daisy as his girlfriend and Michael constantly has to say that they are just friends. I like the complexity of their friendship and how he feels like Daisy is a part of his family. I thought it was so important that he showed how their friendship shifted when he realizes that Daisy is homophobic and how she tries to defend herself because she accepted Michael. I really enjoy that there is an instance of internalized homophobia shown through a conversation between Daisy and Michael. I think it was important that this was brought up even if it was a brief moment.

I love the ending of this book. Its just so beautiful and I cried. Just the permission to be yourself and whatever that means to you got to me. The permission to define your sexuality on your own terms and that it’s never too late to come out was great.

You can get this book at Eso Won Books or look for it at your local library.

We Come Apart Book Review

Goodreads Summary: Nicu has emigrated from Romania and is struggling to find his place in his new home. Meanwhile, Jess’s home life is overshadowed by violence. When Nicu and Jess meet, what starts out as friendship slowly blossoms into romance as the two bond over their painful pasts and their hope and dreams of a better future. But will they be able to save each other, let alone themselves?

Thoughts: I decided to read this book because I wanted to read something quick at the end of 2019 but winded up finishing this in 2020. I’m so glad that I decided to try something new because prose was such a great way to tell this story. I like the way this story discusses issues such as family, friends, domestic violence, and immigration.

I loved being able to hear both Jess and Nicu’s perspectives because I think that really lets you feel for both of them. I like how you hear both of their feelings toward each other and how for most of the story they keep secrets from each other. I thought it was great to only hear those secrets during the time that you were hearing from each of the characters.

I loved how their story slowly intertwined with each others until they came apart. I was disappointed by the ending though but I should have seen it coming just because of the title of the book. This book tugs at your heart throughout the whole story and even long after you are done.

I recommend this to those of you who enjoy books written in prose and those of you who like friends to lovers stories.

You can get this book at Barnes and Noble or look for it at your local library.

Sanctuary Somewhere Book Review

Goodreads Summary: Seventeen-year-old Osmel dreams of being a meteorologist. His world is shattered when he finds out he is undocumented. Osmel fears his dreams for college and career are now impossible. Then, ICE begins raiding the orchards his family works in. Will Osmel and his family ever find safety and peace in the place they call home?

Thoughts: I stumbled upon this book at the library and since it was prose I figured I’d read it since it would be a quick read. I’m so glad that I decided to read it.

Sometimes books written in prose confuse me and the story gets lost but not this one. I love how the poems just flow into each other and how smooth the transitions are. The style of writing for this book allows you to feel for the characters as they struggle through day to day things.

I love the plot of the story and how complex Osmel’s identity is after he finds out hes undocumented. I think his feelings about it all are so real and raw which makes the story beautiful. I’m so glad they explore the complexity behind his feelings.

I recommend this to those of you who enjoy poetry or young adult books.

You can get this book at Barnes and Noble or look for it at your local library.