Mean Baby by Selma Blair

The picture shows the book on a marble-topped table. The cover is a picture of author Selma Blair, her hands on the top of her head, looking skyward.

by Carmen J.

You may know the actress Selma Blair from her notorious same-sex kiss in Cruel Intentions or her frenemy role in Legally Blonde. Most recently, she has been a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) advocate, following her diagnosis in 2018. She is also the creator of an ability-inclusive beauty brand, Guide Beauty. And even if you knew none of this or all of this, her 2022 memoir Mean Baby shows us another side of Selma Blair: gifted writer.

Mean Baby takes us on a sometimes-meandering journey of Blair’s childhood marked by trauma, her adventures in the career pursuit of acting, motherhood challenges, addiction battles, family and romantic relationships, and her MS diagnosis and advocacy. Between the pages, you’ll uncover an impressive writer with an eye for exposing the good, the bad, and the ugly of a life well-lived. Although not a light-hearted read nor a page-turner, you will find Blair’s detailed accounts are those to savor and reflect upon. Mean Baby showcases the life of a survivor, thriver, and fighter with the vivid writing of a robust storyteller.  

Mean Baby is available from HCLS in print and large print, and as an e-book and an e-audiobook from Libby/Overdrive.

Carmen J. is a teen instructor at HCLS East Columbia. Among her favorite things are great books, all things 80s, shamelessly watching The Bachelor, gardening, and drinking anything that tastes like coffee.

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

The book cover depicts a girl in a peach bathing suit with lavender, white, and gold flowers and greenery, floating on her back against a blue watery background, as if in a swimming pool. Her arms and legs are outstretched in a formation resembling the starfish of the title.

by Carmen J.

I know you are going to find this hard to believe, but our society isn’t kind to people that are overweight. People like me. While I’m over here living my best life and admiring the body positive messages from the Lizzos and Ashley Grahams of the world, there is still much work to do when it comes to fat acceptance and body shaming.

On this year’s Summer Reading list (coming soon!), there is a gem of a book called Starfish. It highlights this message in bright lights. The debut novel by Lisa Fipps centers around Ellie, an 11-year-old, who is bullied for her weight. Not just by her classmates but also by her own family. From her sister, who nicknamed her Splash for her body’s impact when she swims, to her so-called well-intentioned mother researching bariatric surgery and dieting articles, Ellie is sent the consistent message that she doesn’t fit in. She doesn’t fit in with her peers; she doesn’t fit in the right clothes. 

In the water, Ellie is weighless and free – free of societal pressures, free of side eyes and judgment. There are no what-ifs or “if you only lost weight” or “your face is so pretty,” etc. 

Yet, it’s not all doom and gloom for Ellie. She finds refuge and support in her new therapist and her father, who advocates for her, even when advocacy leads to arguments with Ellie’s mom. Her new neighbor, Catalina, sees Ellie for her true self and beyond her physical appearance.

What sets this beautiful story apart from other similarly told stories is that the happy ending isn’t one where the main character finally loses weight and suddenly becomes liked by all. (As if a smaller-sized body guaranteed a happier life or popularity, which unfortunately is never guaranteed.) I won’t spoil the story for you, but I think you’ll find in Starfish an out-sized, hearty message with positive rippling effects on our youth.

Carmen J. is a teen instructor at HCLS East Columbia. Among her favorite things are great books, all things 80s, shamelessly watching The Bachelor, gardening, and drinking anything that tastes like coffee.

Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir by Tyler Feder

The book cover depicts an illustration of a woman in pink sweater and blue jeans dancing with the translucent, ghostly image of her mother, who is represented by a gravestone at their feet which reads "Mom, 1961-2009."

by Carmen J.

I hate to state the obvious, but an unfortunate fact of life is that we will gradually lose the ones we love. In this year alone, I’ve had the reality check of all reality checks as I said goodbye to my sister-in-law, my daughter’s great grandmother, my best friend from high school’s parents, my best friend from my first job out of college, a former colleague (RIP Joe McHugh), and two icons: Kobe Bryant and Chadwick Boseman. Yes, 2020, I’m going to have to ask you to leave, please?

In Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir, the author writes about her experience losing her mother when she was 19 and dealing with the 10-year aftermath of grief. The writing and illustrations are insightful, poignant, and humorous at the same time. The author’s mother died of cancer and the author vividly describes the myriad of emotions caregivers endure, so readers can connect to her story on many levels.

Like the author, I lost both my father and sister to cancer, and I found myself nodding in heartfelt agreement at many of Feder’s descriptions of losing a parent and enduring the magnified heartache of cancer. In particular, she captured the reality of the endless trips to the hospital for treatments and cancer’s physical and emotional tolls on the ill and their families.

As a reader, I connected with Feder’s reflections on how death can be so difficult to talk about for some. No one really knows the exact right thing to say when you hear that someone has died. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and unexpected, much like death itself. I laughed at the author’s inflections of humor and her ability to find humor even in her darkest days.

I’m lucky I still have a living mother. As we celebrated her 80th birthday this year, my thoughts trickled to the thought of what life may look like some day without her. I hate that image. As Feder highlights in the book, I, too, consider my mom to be a rock star and an undeniable force in my life. More time is always what we want with those we love and, selfishly, it’s never enough.

Put this book in the hands of someone who is hurting from recent loss, has someone succumbing to illness, or anyone in need of finding the right words of comfort.

Carmen J is a teen instructor at HCLS East Columbia. Among her favorite things are great books, all things 80s, fall weather, Halloween, and pumpkin spice everything.

I’m Not Dying with you Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

Black cover with faces of two young women, Black on left and White on right. Face on right is upside down. All text appears rightside up and upside down and mirrored.

By Carmen J.

With the stories of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor – to name but a few – making headlines and sparking the continued need for police reform and racial unity, the timeliness of this title is both powerful and serendipitous.

I’m Not Dying with you Tonight (available as a book, eBook, and eAudiobook) opens with a familiar setting as we go back to school figuratively and under non-pandemic circumstances: a football game at McPherson High School. We meet Lena, the African American It-Girl of her class who knows everyone. She’s not sure, though, about the whereabouts of her much older boyfriend nicknamed Black, a wannabe music artist who proves to be unreliable in the eyes of Lena’s sage friend LaShunda. Lena and LaShunda have plans to watch the Dolls – the school’s dance team – perform at the game, then Lena wants to hook up with Black. Just a typical Friday night, right? Wrong.

Meanwhile, we also meet Campbell, who is a new student, Caucasian, and hard at work at the concession stand. Overwhelmed by the long lines and lack of help, Campbell does her best to juggle the hungry and thirsty crowds of students – both her McPherson schoolmates and those of their biggest rival, Jonesville High. She needs to work this one shift and wait for her teacher, Ms. Marino, to give her a ride home after the game because her father made plans to visit his fishing cabin. Again, normal Friday night plans? Wrong, again.

Things quickly take a dark turn when a white boy from Jonesville calls a black McPherson student a racial slur. Fists fly and, wait, were those shots fired?

The fast-paced story’s chapters are told alternately from Lena’s and Campbell’s point of view. Two smart and strong young women, brought together in an unusual circumstances as they face racial unrest and become unlikely allies.

Much of the beauty of I’m Not Dying with You Tonight lies in the subtlety of what is said versus what is left unsaid and open to interpretation. Jones and Segal paint real portrayals of teens and the racial inequities they face while writing the way teens really speak. As Black Lives Matter continues to shine a much-needed light on the value of diverse reads, add this one to your reading list and to your conversations.

Carmen J is a teen instructor at HCLS East Columbia. Among her favorite things are great books, all things 80s, fall weather, Halloween, and pumpkin spice everything.

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