The Farewell

Movie poster image of 8 multigenerational family members, 3 sitting on the couch, 5 standing behind the couch. The film title, "The Farewell" is noted as is a subheading, "Based on an Actual Lie." The seal for 2019 Sundance Film Festival official selection is displayed.

Review by Cherise T.

Continents apart, but only a cell phone call away, Billi, a New Yorker, and Nai Nai, her paternal grandmother in China, enjoy a close relationship. As The Farewell begins, we fall into the humor, complexities, and challenges of cross-cultural families. Viewing the film from the perspective of Billi, played by the versatile actor Awkwafina, we soon learn that Nai Nai has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Most of the family believes traditional Chinese wisdom that it is best to allow a family member to live out her life unburdened by the knowledge she is about to die. Billi strongly disagrees. Little Nai Nai, the grandmother’s sister, has been Nai Nai’s caretaker and takes charge of covering the truth. Together, the family creates a contrived family celebration so that everyone may be together in China to secretly say goodbye to Nai Nai. 

The Farewell feels authentic because the screenwriter and director, Lulu Wang, has recreated a beautiful journey from the truths of her own life. Little Nai Nai is played by Lulu Wang’s real-life aunt. When the family visits their deceased grandfather’s grave, the scene is filmed at the actual gravesite. We recognize the roles played out in most families – the responsible son, the guilty son, the matriarch, the awkward cousin, the daughter-in-law, the granddaughter who has yet to bring a spouse and grandchild into the family.

I highly recommend the film for its emotional depth, at turns both sad and optimistic, excellent performances, and solid script. Please also consider listening to Lulu Wang telling her family’s story on This American Life, but save the “What You Don’t Know” podcast episode for later if you don’t want to know the film’s ending.

The film is rated PG and would be appreciated by viewers aged 13+. Watch as many as 10 films per month, including The Farewell, on kanopy, one of the HCLS streaming service subscriptions.

Cherise T. is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

A dirty white peeling wall with faded areas where there had been framed photos. An electrical cord is plugged into an outlet in what appears to be an otherwise empty room.

By Cherise T.

Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2017, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City tells the story of our national rental housing crisis through the lens of the Milwaukee area. Matthew Desmond focuses on two landlords renting the lowest quality properties to eight impoverished residents and families struggling against homelessness. Researching the 2007-2008 economic crisis, Desmond documents how even during the Depression finding affordable housing was nowhere near as difficult as it is today. Currently, paying for housing can cause a descent into poverty because, “the rent eats first.” Due to the limited options available to renters with low incomes, lack of enforced regulations of landlords, and limited local and federal resources to support struggling families, serial eviction has become commonplace.

When I studied the resources to present Undesign the Redline tours at HCLS, I learned about how where one lives and where one is allowed to live impacts a person’s access to good education, rewarding work, and leisure options with family and friends. Structural and systemic racism in the United States controls residential opportunities. Evicted delves into the connection between redlining and housing poverty. Landlords are legally allowed to offer substandard housing. Renters are subjected to a system that favors landlords and offers limited housing subsidies.

This narrative nonfiction title will appeal to readers interested in history and statistical sociological studies as well as those who prefer to follow personal stories. A sociologist, Desmond lived in low income housing as he met the characters who fill his book. Sherrena is a black landlord who gets to know her tenants, assisting them with groceries, for example, but she and her husband also need to make a profit. Doreen is a black single mom caring for three generations under the roofs of smaller and smaller properties even as her family grows. Scott is a white, drug-addicted, former LPN who cannot even afford a rental in a deteriorating trailer park. Arleen is a black single mom who has to apply almost 100 times before a landlord agrees to house someone with multiple children and a history of serial evictions.

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.” Eviction tells its stories with sympathy and an abundance of well-researched urban housing realities. It offers insight, data and potential solutions to the problems it describes. There is also an excellent study guide provided by the publisher for use by students and book groups.

Cherise T. is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks.

Everything Hamilton

Antique paper background with black image of heroic figure pointing to the sky from on top of a star.

Review by Cherise T.

Alexander Hamilton.

My name is Alexander Hamilton.

And there’s a million things I haven’t done

But just you wait, just you wait…

If this stanza makes your heart beat faster or maybe even brings tears to your eyes, then Hamilton: The Revolution, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, is the book for you. “Splurge” and download the audiobook as well since Mariska Hargitay’s narration is outstanding. Like the musical itself, words come at the reader fast, and it’s an adventure deciding where to plunge in first. The text, the personal side notations, the primary source materials, and the graphics are a treasure and a joy. The libretto alone would fill a Hamilton fan’s heart, but the book also includes an abundance of stories about the creation of all aspects of the musical. We see the development of the show from the perspectives of creatives and cast members. The vintage-style photographs of the cast taken by Josh Lehrer using a camera lens from the mid-1800s are gorgeous. The book is a celebration of the full arc of the production’s evolution, from Lin’s first rap for the Obamas in 2009 at the White House, through the off-Broadway production, and all the way to opening night on Broadway in 2015. There’s nothing like being in the room where it happens.

On July 13 at 7 pm, author Richard Bell is going to discuss some of the history surrounding Alexander Hamilton. Register with an email address to receive an immediate registration confirmation. You will receive the link to the online class in the confirmation email. If you prefer to call in by phone, please register for the class online, then email askhcls@hclibrary.org to request the dial-in information at least 1 business day in advance.

With Disney+ streaming Hamilton this July, University of Maryland Associate Professor of History Dr. Bell explores this musical phenomenon. He discusses what this amazing musical gets right and gets wrong about Hamilton, the American Revolution, the birth of the United Sates, and about why all that matters. It includes an examination of the choices Hamilton’s creators made to simplify, dramatize, and humanize the complicated historical events and stories. We will also talk about Hamilton’s cultural impact: what does its runaway success reveal about the stories we tell each other about who we are and about the nation we made?

Dr. Bell is the author of Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped Into Slavery and their Astonishing Odyssey Home. The book tells the gripping and true story about five boys who were kidnapped in the North and smuggled into slavery in the Deep South – and their daring attempt to escape and bring their captors to justice. The book is available to borrow as a physical book and as an eAudiobook via Overdrive/Libby.

Cherise T. is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

An orange and black floral border frames a photograph of a thatched African cottage on dry scrubby ground. The title and author appears against the pale blue sky. A scroll at the bottom announces that is an international best-selling series.

Review by Cherise T.

Ready to jump into a new series and listen on digital audio without a waitlist? Explore Howard County Library System’s Always Available Audiobooks by RBdigital and get started with Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. This series is so beloved that HBO produced a limited series and McCall Smith will release the 21st book in the series this coming October. The first 19 books in the series are available on audio with no holds.

Botswana is never more beautiful and filled with mysteries than when viewed through the eyes of Precious Ramotswe. Always ready to chat, commiserate, and give advice, Mma Ramotswe knows she is the perfect woman to open a detective agency. With cases ranging from a child who may have been abducted by a witch doctor to a possible philandering husband, the mysteries are always engaging. The stories are gentle with limited menace.

As I read this first book in the series, I knew that I would always be ready to settle into a cup of bush tea and a search for answers. Precious is a fearless, “traditionally built” woman who is empathetic, willing to see the best in people, but never gullible. She’s a great judge of character, as we learn right away when she hires Grace Makutsi as her assistant. They are a formidable team whose relationship and banter never cease to entertain us. I also enjoy rooting for Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, the owner of the Speedy Motors mechanic shop, whose heart clearly melts every time he sees Precious. Thankfully, Precious drives a little white van that is often in need of repairs.

Please know that it’s easy to get set up with RBdigital on your device. We even have an online tutorial. You will have three weeks to listen to your book and may borrow up to six titles per month. I’ll bet you’ll soon be ready for book two, Tears of the Giraffe.

Cherise is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks.