In this Unabridged Podcast Book Club episode, we discuss Mira Jacob's graphic memoir Good Talk. We talked about this amazing memoir and also shared our pairings, including Craig Thompson’s Blankets, James McBride’s The Color of Water, and Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Hey, Kiddo. If you're interested in discussing this one with us, be sure to join us on March 15th on Instagram to participate in our book club chat.
Ashley - Robert Jones, Jr.’s The Prophets
Sara - Carlos Hernandez’s Sal and Gabi Break the Universe
Ashley - Craig Thompson’s Blankets
Jen - James McBride’s The Color of Water
Sara - Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Hey, Kiddo; check out episode 67 where we discuss this one!
Other Mentions and Additional Resources
Langston Hughes's poetry
Hena Khan’s Amina’s Voice
Hena Khan's More to the Story
Craig Thompson's Carnet de Voyage
So Many Damn Books — Episode 118: Mira Jacob (GOOD TALK) and Toni Morrison's SULA
Give Me One - First Thing You Plan to Do After Quarantine
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Ashley said, "So, one of the books that I'm reading is Robert Jones Jr.'s The Prophets. I am listening to this on audio thanks to Libro.fm. This is set in the deep south on a plantation that uses slaves. It explores the perspectives of a lot of the people who are enslaved on the plantation and also the slave owners. It is a fascinating story. The prose is really lyrical, and the central story is about Samuel and Isaiah. They have grown up together. They are in love, and yet they have a complicated relationship. Each of them has a very different response to slavery and recognizing that they are going to spend their life in slavery. So Samuel—his rage is really outward, he is always on the cusp of losing control in some way, and he also is very good at masking his emotions, whereas Isaiah is always looking for the joy in every situation and has a very different disposition, and yet they have a very great partnership. And so you're seeing that at the center. But there's also a lot of other stories of a lot of the other people on the plantation that you are experiencing as well. They make the situation for Isaiah and Samuel a lot more complicated.
"One of the things I find really fascinating, early on is a character, Amos. He's not as big of a character, and yet he is interested in spreading Christianity. He's doing it in a lot of ways to leverage his own power on the plantation, and he also is looking to exploit and kind of corrupt the relationship that Samuel and Isaiah have, largely to leverage his own power. So it's a lot about power dynamics and how those play out for everyone on the plantation. I think that part is really fascinating. But I have heard really great reviews of this one, and I can certainly see why it's getting such acclaim. It is a masterpiece in many ways and has a deep dive into a lot of different people's perspectives on a plantation. So again, that's Robert Jones, Jr.'s The Prophets."
Jen said, "I am reading Hena Khan's Amina's Song, and this is the sequel to a book that Ashley talked about on the podcast earlier that she loves, so I wanted to read Amina's Voice and then I saw that Amina's Song was available on NetGalley. So, I requested that and then went back and read Amina's Voice which I also loved. I just think this one is such a great follow up. So Amina is a middle-school girl. She is, at the beginning of Amina's Song, in Pakistan with her family visiting her dad's brother and his family. That is the first time in a long time that she's been there since she was very tiny, and she is just having the best experience. Her cousin is an older girl, and Amina just really looks up to her and loves her so much and loves learning about the culture. She talks about being nervous because she had heard so many stories about what the country was like. So that is something that I think the book deals with really well—is how sometimes the news stories that we hear about different places—that that's all you think of. So her cousin, Dora, is scared to come to the United States because of all of the news stories that she's heard about the US, about school shootings and about violence and about guns, and Amina is talking about the fear that she had before her family traveled. So that, from right out of the gate, is just this amazing conversation that I think is getting at something really important. Yet it's handled in a way that is very accessible to middle schoolers.
"I think that's one of the things that I've been impressed about most is that Khan is addressing these issues that we need to talk about, in a way that is approachable and engaging for kids. So it does not feel like after school special, cheesy. It is instead this this girl who wants to do the right thing, who is trying to figure out the world who wants to share what she loves about her culture and her religion and her country of origin with her classmates when she gets back to the US and is just trying to figure out the best way to do that while she's still working through all of those things, too. So I just I love that so much. Oh, my goodness. So yeah, that is Hena Khan's Amina's Song. Again, it's the sequel to Amina's Voice, and I think you could read it on its own, but you shouldn't. You should just read both because they're short."
Sara said, "So, I am reading Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez. This is the story about Sal, who is a middle schooler. He's an aspiring magician, and he has recently moved to Miami with his dad who is a calamity physicist and scientist and his stepmother who he only calls American Stepmom throughout. I think her name was Lucy because his dad just said her name in dialogue dialogue. So, they moved to Miami. He has just started this new school, which is a performing arts school. So it's really, it's a great school, like they have all these really awesome programs for visual arts and dance. Of course, he wants to be a magician, and it's just this great environment. He also has this interesting capability of being able to visit the multiverse and pull things out of other realms that he that he wants, and/or needs. Sometimes for his magic. I don't want to give away too much because it is just really funny. The family unit is just so amazing, and the school that he goes to, I mean, as a teacher, it sounds like a school that any teacher would want to teach at and any student would want to go to. So, it's like this utopian school. The teachers are all just really eclectic and have these really awesome personalities. It's just really funny, but it's also heartfelt and I am just loving it. I have to thank Jen for even bringing it to my attention. It is one of the Rick Riordan Presents books that he does for his imprint that he has created, and it is phenomenal so far. I really highly recommend it. I really want my son to read it. I think he will like it because it there's some irreverence in it, but it's very mild and it's just great. So I highly recommend it. I'm about halfway through, so I'm looking forward to finishing it and it is great on audio. I have both the physical copy and I'm listening to it on audio, but I really am enjoying the audio book. I'm curious to see—like I said I haven't gotten to the end, but I'm curious to see if it'll be a series because I could definitely see where it would be. Sal, who is the main character is just a really likable, unique character. I could see where you could get him in a lot of different situations, and it would be really, really great."
Main Discussion: Mira Jacob's Good Talk
Jen, Ashley, and Sara talked about their overall impressions of Good Talk.
Jen said, "So I, I absolutely loved every single page of this book, and I will call it highly anticipated. I have wanted to read it: Ashley has talked about it multiple, multiple times, and I had listened to Mira Jacob on an episode of So Many Damn Books, and I really liked the way she talked about her methods and putting this together. I think it's tough to describe the art until you see it on the page. It is kind of these cutouts layered over art and photographs. It looks so beautiful and it is so striking and interesting the way she chose to put it together. But I think I just loved every conversation that happens in the book, and the fact that she and Z and she and her husband and she and her in-laws—everybody is just trying to work toward a better understanding. These are really hard questions, and I think I found it so identifiable,
to just consider how people's choices make us feel about them and how she then is going to act to them in return. I know that's really abstract, and I'm trying to save something for "What Worked for Us," because I always go to in depth in this Overall Impressions part. And then I'm like, 'Oh, no, what am I going to talk about?' But I just I just really loved it. I think I need to read it again because I felt like it was one of those books that I couldn't absorb fully the first time, but I also, upon finishing it, went immediately to my husband and told him he needs to read it because I think she just does a great job of addressing some of the issues that I think are the issues at the forefront of our world right now in a really approachable and thought-provoking way. So, I loved it."
Ashley said, "Well, it is no secret that this one is one of my most favorite books. I have been actively trying to get Jen and Sara to read it since I read it and declared it one of my favorites in 2019. So, I'm very excited to be having this discussion and could not love it more. I think a lot of what Jen said resonates, and I can be more specific as we go along. But I think I appreciate—Mira Jacob has such an powerful way of examining herself and always thinking about how she can do better, and I think that I just really admire her for that. I admire it in the book. I admire it on her social media. I think that we see how even though she articulates so clearly the frustrations that she has with the limitations of others, and the ways that people choose things that hurt us, and certainly it all comes out with the election for Trump, that she examines all of that and does not look away. But she also never stops thinking about how she can be a better person. I think that's really hard to do, and it's something that I certainly can keep working on in my life, but that's just what really struck me in the first reading of the book and reading it again. I think that there are a lot of things I love about the way that she shows things as they are through conversation and exactly how it's described as a memoir in conversation and looking back at these conversations that she's had with all these different people. But at the center of that is her as a person looking to make sense of the world around her and also her place in it. And I just think that's, I think that's amazing. So yeah, I love it."
Sara commented, "Well, I don't really have too much to add to both of your glowing endorsements because I also loved it. I texted both Ashley and Jen, when I was about halfway through, and then when I was finished, I mean, I just loved it. I just found it very impactful. I found the way that she used the graphic elements in the book to be just—and the choices she made—to be just very unique. They just really were impactful. I liked that she, kind of along the lines of what you were saying, Ashley, I liked the way that she examined how other people were making choices, which affected her and the way that she felt as a person, but also that, she went back and examined some of her actions and understood that she had made some mistakes. She acknowledged her own mistakes or her own growing when she was younger, and some of the things that she did that were not unsimilar to some of the things that she was dealing with, throughout her life. So I just, I thought it was really complex. I think that she was able to, in very few words, really relay a whole lot of joy and pain in a really concise and beautiful way. So also all the stars for me. I loved it."
Check out the episode to find out what else Ashley, Jen, and Sara had to say about Good Talk.
Ashley said this about her pairing, "I went with Craig Thompson's Blankets. This is one I've talked about before, but it's been quite a while. It was one of the very first graphic novels I read. It reads a lot like a graphic memoir, but it's one of the first ones that I read. I borrowed it from Jen. She had recommended it, and graphic novels and memoirs are still pretty new for me. I chose it because I think he also explores relationships really well and looks at an individual and then the way that all of these relationships with other people create and impact the main character. Like I said, I mean, it reads a lot like a memoir, but I don't think he technically calls it that. But I think that the reason I wanted to choose it for a pairing is just that. I think he also has a lot of introspection in the way that he writes, and he does a lot of self analysis. And so you see that and then also, I think there's a strong similarity in the sense that he does all the drawing. He's a really phenomenal artist. So it's hand drawn, but he does a nice job of telling the story through the art. So I think in that way, it's really similar as well. So again, that's Craig Thompson's Blankets."
Jen said this, "All right, so mine is not a graphic novel or graphic memoir. I was really tempted. I have some others. Maybe I'll do a Bookish Fave. But I wanted to do James McBride's The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother. This is James McBride, who is a fabulous novelist, but it is his memoir that alternates between his perspective and his mom's perspective. So she emigrated with her family from Poland to Virginia—Suffolk, Virginia—and experienced horrible abuse that McBride did not learn about the the full extent of until he was interviewing his mom for this book. She ended up fleeing her family because of the abuse and marrying a black man who was McBride's father. This was in, I think it was in the 50s, and may have merged into the 60s. I can't remember. It starts in the 50s, and so that is a time when that was not accepted. She was Jewish, and so she did face some discrimination because of that, but more because she was in this interracial relationship. McBride when he was a child was trying to work through what it meant to be biracial, in this time where that was not accepted, and the title comes from the fact he asked his mom what color God is, and she says that he's the color of water. So, it's this beautiful moment where I think that's so nice. I think she just did such a good job, when she wouldn't have had much support doing so, in helping him to understand his identity.
"He's one of, like, 14 kids, and actually, his father died very early. She married another man who was also Black and had more kids, and dealt with the, you know, the same issues all over again. She is so strong. She gets her kids through high school and college. Most of them are doctors and lawyers and dentists. McBride says he's sort of the black sheep of the family. He's this amazing jazz musician, and this famous author who's won the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, but he's the black sheep of the family because his brothers and sisters have these more conventionally successful jobs. I think what I love about this book so much is it's empathy. I think you can genuinely see McBride trying to figure out who his mom is and wanting to understand her, so it's almost the opposite of what Jacob does in Good Talk. It's she is trying to figure out how to talk to her son about all of these things. Well, McBride is trying to figure out how his mom did that for him and to figure out what makes his mom tick. And yeah, just to work through it. So I think they come from similar places, even though the perspectives are quite different. Again, I think just dealing with the fact that he has so many questions about his identity and race and religion makes it have a lot of similarities with Good Talk. So that is James McBride's memoir, The Color of Water."
Sara said, "My pick is one that we've actually covered on the podcast. So, we can include the link in the show notes to that episode, and I think I've talked about it before, but I just felt like it was such a good match for Good Talk, and that is Jarrett J. Krosoczka's Hey, Kiddo. This is also a graphic memoir about his childhood and his mom's struggle with addiction, and then how that impacted his life. I think what really stood out to me as as to why it would be a good pairing for Good Talk is the the impact of the visual graphics that are in Hey, Kiddo, the graphics in Good Talk had a similar effect on me because Krosoczka does all of his own artwork. We were fortunate enough to get to see him and get to hear him speak about creating the artwork, but also about his own personal story. It was really impactful, and I just think that they would be a good match, because they're just both visually stunning. But also, again, another author who is able to say so much with the visual and then just not that many words, and it is just great. "
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