Review of What My Bones Know, by Stephanie Foo

What My Bones Know

A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma

by Stephanie Foo
read by the author

Random House Audio, 2022. 10 hours, 3 minutes.
Review written December 22, 2022, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review
2022 Sonderbooks Standout:
#1 General Nonfiction

This book is amazing. It’s full of helpful information about healing from complex trauma, and it also tells a compelling story about a resilient person trying to cope with awful things in her history.

Stephanie’s a journalist. So when she got a diagnosis of Complex PTSD, she documented her journey of trying to cope and trying to heal.

Once we find out what her childhood was like, the listener of this audiobook isn’t at all surprised by her diagnosis. Her parents subjected her to horrific abuse — and then abandoned her when she was a teen. That she came to have a functional life and successful career is amazing.

But Stephanie was thrown by her diagnosis. She began reading about C-PTSD, which develops from chronic trauma over a long period of time that a person has to deal with on a daily basis and never feels safe. Her reading told her that C-PTSD has permanent negative effects on people’s lives, and she became afraid that she was incapable of good relationships or a happy life — that everything she did would be destructive.

And there were some low points in her journey and some unhelpful therapists and methods of therapy. But the book progresses to where she came to understand and make peace with her background and learned ways to connect with others and build a meaningful, happy life. In the audiobook, she includes recordings from very helpful sessions she had with an expert on C-PTSD. The book builds to her wedding — where she realized she’d built family and community, and then to the time of the pandemic — where she learned that the coping skills she’d learned as a child were actually superpowers when faced with an actual crisis. They aren’t all bad.

And all of this was fascinating storytelling, combined with deep insights about life and coping and building relationships and healing. A truly wonderful book. You’ll get something out of this no matter what your background.

stephaniefoo.me

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Review of All Boys Aren’t Blue, by George M. Johnson

All Boys Aren’t Blue

A Memoir-Manifesto

by George M. Johnson
read by the author

Macmillan Audio, 2020. 5 hours, 12 minutes.
Review written November 9, 2020, from a library eaudiobook

In this book, George Johnson talks about what it was like for him growing up Black and queer, even in a loving and supportive family.

His storytelling style is interesting and engaging, though a little repetitive in spots. He had me on the edge of my seat when I listened to him tell about getting his teeth kicked out when he was five years old. His stories of his family, especially his grandma, are warm and loving.

When he talks about sexual coming-of-age, he gets way more detailed than what this middle-aged heterosexual white woman wanted to hear. But this book isn’t written for heterosexual middle-aged white women. It’s written especially to other Black and queer folks to find out they aren’t alone. He even talks about how little information he had about gay sex and how he hopes he can help others go beyond trial and error with a few less errors.

I’m glad this book is out there, and even for those not in its target audience, it’s a story of a boy growing up as an outsider and finding his way with the help of community.

iamgmjohnson.com
us.macmillan.com/audio

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Review of Freeing Jesus, by Diana Butler Bass

Freeing Jesus

Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence

by Diana Butler Bass

HarperOne, 2021. 285 pages.
Review written July 25, 2022, from my own copy, purchased via amazon.com
Starred Review

In Freeing Jesus, Diana Butler Bass tells us her life story — and how her life experiences affected the way she looked at Jesus.

She goes through six names for Jesus, which fit how she saw him during six stages of her life. I thought it was interesting that they were the same six names — even “Way” and “Presence” — my pastors used in a sermon series on names of Jesus.

Her journey had many similarities to mine, about a decade before me. I know the Christian college she refers to, because I went to a nearby Christian university that was a sports rival with it.

But it also got me thinking about the ways my views of Jesus have changed — and many of those ways were similar to the journey she describes. I like reading about her wrestling with the theology she was taught, because I’ve wrestled with some of the same ideas. Here’s a passage I marked because I love the way she expresses these transcendent ideas:

Jesus was born a savior, and he saved during his lifetime. “Fear not!” “Peace on earth!” He did not wait around for thirty-three years and suddenly become a savior in an act of ruthless, bloody execution. Indeed, the death was senseless, stupid, shameful, evil. It meant little other than silence without the next act — resurrection — God’s final word that even the most brutal of empires cannot destroy salvus. This is no quid pro quo. Rather, Easter proclaims that God overcomes all oppression and injustice, even the murder of an innocent one. At-one-ment means just that. Through Jesus, all will be renewed, made whole, brought back into oneness, reunited with God. Salvation is not a transaction to get to heaven after death; rather, it is an experience of love and beauty and of paradise here and now. No single metaphor, not even one of Paul’s, can truly describe this. We need a prism of stories to begin to understand the cross and a lifetime to experience it.

I love this concept she spells out at the end of her book:

We know Jesus through our experience. There is no other way to become acquainted with one who lived so long ago and who lives in ways we can barely understand through church, scripture, and good works and in the faces of our neighbors. In these pages, I have shared six Jesuses whom I experienced through something I call “memoir theology” (not theological memoir). Memoir theology is the making of theology — understanding the nature of God — through the text of our own lives and taking seriously how we have encountered Jesus.

This spoke to me because I’m working on a book about Psalms that uses my own experiences to illuminate the different types of Psalms. But she demonstrates with this book how much richness is added to her insights by looking at them through the lens of experience.

And after she said that, she points out that even though many church “fathers” wrote theology in the context of memoir, it was taken seriously because only certain (mostly male) perspectives were taken seriously. But she points out that all our experiences matter:

There is an old Berber proverb: “The true believer begins with herself.” Your experience of Jesus matters. It matters in conversation with the “big names,” when you argue with the tradition, and when you read the words and texts for yourself. It matters when you hear Jesus speaking, feel Jesus prompting, and sink into despair when Jesus seems absent. It all matters. The Jesuses you have known and the Jesus you know matter.

Read this book to think about who Jesus is in the light of one woman’s life story, with inspiration to reflect on how Jesus has touched your own life story. Think about who Jesus is and how he has touched your life.

dianabutlerbass.com
harpercollins.com

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Review of Playing with Myself, by Randy Rainbow

Playing with Myself

by Randy Rainbow
read by the author

Macmillan Audio, 2022. 7 hours, 2 minutes.
Review written July 21, 2022, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

I love Randy Rainbow! If you lean at all liberal politically, or maybe if you just enjoy show tunes, I hope you’ve seen his parody videos. They usually deal with current issues, but often include other fun content. He has a new one out, written with Alan Menken, called “Pink Glasses” about being willing to be yourself, using his trademark pink glasses as a symbol.

If there’s anyone out there who still doesn’t believe that some people are born gay, this audiobook is solid refutation of that world view. From childhood, Randy Rainbow (Yes, that’s his real name.) loved Broadway show tunes and dressing up and acting out the female parts. This is the story of his unconventional route to fame — making parody videos in his bedroom.

In the audiobook, Randy’s mother makes a special appearance as he interviews her about his childhood. I thought that chapter was especially fun.

But I found the whole thing adorable and inspiring. Yes, there’s profanity peppered throughout — at a similar level as in his videos. Also a touch of adult humor here and there. But overall, it’s a story of a kid who was bullied in school for being gay and overweight and having a funny name — going on to smashing success in part because of his exhaustive knowledge of Broadway show tunes.

It’s fun hearing about his unlikely path to stardom and his unbridled joy in getting appreciation from his idols such as Barbra Streisand and Patti LuPone. This audiobook felt like hearing a friend tell his story and just made me so happy for him as he found a true expression of his unique talents and a way straight into people’s hearts (well maybe not exactly straight), including mine.

randyrainbow.com

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Review of Conversations with People Who Hate Me, by Dylan Marron

Conversations with People Who Hate Me

12 Things I Learned from Talking to Internet Strangers

by Dylan Marron

Atria Books, 2022. 257 pages.
Review written June 15, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

I am so impressed with this book and so inspired by it.

As it happens, the morning before I picked this up, my pastor had preached about empathy. He said that when we interact with people we disagree with on the internet, we tend to look at them at a distance, through binoculars, focusing on our broad differences. But empathy comes close and sees people as individuals, in all their humanity and particularities.

The amazing thing Dylan Marron has done is achieved empathy even on the internet.

I was excited about this book because I enjoyed Dylan’s videos for Seriously.TV a few years ago. He’s a gay person of color, and made wonderful points from a progressive perspective, and I was onboard and cheering for his side of the debate.

But he, amazingly, brought things beyond debate to empathy. As you may guess, the videos that I liked so much had plenty of people who felt the opposite and told him so in no uncertain terms. But Dylan explains in this book that since the videos were posted on Facebook, he was able to look at the commenters’ Facebook pages and find out these were humans saying harsh things, not monsters.

And that started a project that became a podcast, “Conversations with People Who Hate Me.” He found detractors who said harsh things (though ruled out the death threats) and engaged them in conversation. Found out about who they were as people. It wasn’t about debate, but was about empathy, about seeing people with different opinions as humans worthy of respect.

Dylan tells that story in his book, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch. I’m not sure I could do it. Dylan does point out that he’s coming from a place of privilege, and some people are so abused, it’s too much emotional work to try to have empathy for their abusers. But I’m coming from a place of privilege, too, and I simply have a hard time looking past opinions I think are despicable. I easily forget that they are humans who hold those opinions for reasons. And Dylan Marron inspired me to try, showed me that it’s not impossible, and has given me an amazing example of human kindness.

He didn’t necessarily change minds with these conversations. And that wasn’t the point. But he did achieve the goal of the participants in the conversations seeing each other as fellow humans, and not as enemies.

The book does outline lessons he learned and things he noticed along the way. There are many obstacles to finding empathy, and he didn’t always make it past those obstacles. But there’s so much beauty in the attempt.

It all goes back to what my pastor talked about — empathy. One of the lessons that Dylan learned is that empathy is not endorsement. He still disagrees with many of the people he interacted with. But he sees them and knows human details about them and thinks of them as friends. And that’s amazing to me — and I want to learn to do it myself.

In his last chapter, he discusses how “snowflakes” make a good metaphor for his guests, in all their unique individuality.

And just as snowflakes are breathtakingly beautiful up close, my guests are breathtakingly beautiful up close, too. From the moment they first say “Hello” I am able to appreciate them as individuals and it is at this close range — voice to voice — that it becomes clear that they aren’t my enemies at all, no matter how vehemently we may disagree. Hearing Josh’s laugh, or Frank’s accent, or learning the tiny detail that E was applying for jobs around the time of our call, allowed me to see them as human, and this opened the door for empathy. And as I walked through that door, my fear dissipated.

I highly recommend this book, partly for the reasons Dylan Marron writes in the final paragraph:

One conversation will not heal the world. Empathy alone will not cure what ails us. Inspiring words will not protect us from harm. But in an era when we feel increasingly isolated, when we speak to each other on platforms that divide us by rewarding competition over connection, conversation is a tiny, enormous, mundane, epic, boring, thrilling, simple, complex act of rebellion that builds a bridge where there wasn’t one before.

simonandschuster.com

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Review of The Heavenly Man, by Brother Yun with Paul Hattaway

The Heavenly Man

The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun

by Brother Yun
with Paul Hattaway

Kregel Publications, 2020. First published in the United Kingdom in 2002. 338 pages.
Review written May 28, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

This book is the amazing true story of the life of Brother Yun, a pastor in the Chinese house church movement. The story of Brother Yun’s faith is full of miracles from start to finish. His family first accepted Christ when Yun was a child, after his mother received a vision and then his father was miraculously healed of cancer.

Brother Yun devoted his life to Christ when he was still young. One of the early miracles he experienced was when he prayed earnestly for a Bible, and one was then brought to him. The entire book testifies over and over to the great power of God.

After Brother Yun became a pastor, he was imprisoned in China three times. Each time, he was tortured horribly. At one point in prison, he followed the Holy Spirit’s guidance and miraculously went without food or water for 74 days.

And despite all the torture, all the difficulties, his passion for Jesus, commitment to tell about him, and determination not to betray his brothers and sisters all shine through. During his third time in prison, he experienced a miracle like Peter’s as the doors of the prison were standing open and he walked right past the guards to escape, with his broken legs cured as he walked away.

Brother Yun’s story is told in his own voice, with interludes from his wife, telling how things were for his family when he was imprisoned. Both attest to miracle after miracle and God’s faithful care.

After the escape from prison, Brother Yun miraculously made his way to the West. He still preaches to those who haven’t heard, especially as part of the “Back to Jerusalem” movement, which plans to send millions of missionaries from China.

I was amazed that Chinese Christians don’t want people in the West to pray that their persecution will stop. Here’s one place where Brother Yun talks about this:

Don’t pray for persecution to stop! We shouldn’t pray for a lighter load to carry, but a stronger back to endure! Then the world will see that God is with us, empowering us to live in a way that reflects his love and power.

This is true freedom!

This book is riveting reading. As a western Christian reading it, of course I’m struck by how different my life is from Brother Yun’s. It’s a story of God’s power and the Lord’s amazing faithfulness. And amazing stories of how God is changing lives today.

The one thing I didn’t like was that, because this was originally published in 2002, that’s when the story ends. I am completely sure that Brother Yun did not stop following God twenty years ago, and I would like to know what happened next.

asiaharvest.org

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Review of In Search of Safety, by Susan Kuklin

In Search of Safety

Voices of Refugees

written and photographed by Susan Kuklin

Candlewick Press, 2020. 246 pages.
Review written July 5, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Like the author’s book Beyond Magenta, which featured the stories of transgender teens, this book takes an in-depth look at individual refugees stories, with photographs. This paragraph at the front of the book explains it well:

Refugees are people who are forced to leave their country because they are being persecuted. From 1980 to 2018, the number of refugees resettled in the United States each year was between 50,000 and 100,000 people. In 2019, that number dropped to 30,000 people, and in 2020 it dropped again to 18,000. Many of them are from Southeast Asia, the former Soviet Union, Bosnia, the Middle East, and Africa. Some have resettled in the Midwest because housing there is reasonably priced and jobs are relatively plentiful. The five refugees featured in In Search of Safety are from Afghanistan, Myanmar, South Sudan, Iraq, and Burundi. One refugee had been a translator for the U. S. military. Another recently escaped the horrors of captivity by fundamentalist militants. And three spent years in refugee camps, growing up in countries other than their homeland. They all survived wars. They all were carefully screened by several security organizations, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United States State Department, and the United States Department of Homeland Security. They have all been resettled in the state of Nebraska, where they have been warmly welcomed. This book tells their stories

Some of the stories here are indeed horrific. But hearing detailed stories puts a face on a desperate situation and helps the reader understand that refugees are by no means just looking for a hand-out.

The five stories are told with multiple chapters each, with many photographs, and in the refugees own words. The group that sponsored them to come to Nebraska, Lutheran Family Services, is also featured, and we see what good work they do.

These stories will tear at your heart, but also make you rejoice that people in need were welcomed to a new home.

candlewick.com

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Source: This review is based on a book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Choice, by Dr. Edith Eva Eger

The Choice

Embrace the Possible

by Dr. Edith Eva Eger
with Esmé Schwall Weigand

Scribner, 2017. 288 pages.
Review written April 5, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

This book was published five years ago, but it still has a long holds list at the library. In fact, I had to read it in two sections, because I’d been reading only a chapter at a time, and in the middle I had to return the book and put it on hold again.

The story is powerful, inspiring, and transformational. This book is a memoir by a Holocaust survivor — but it also contains powerfully encouraging words about healing from trauma by a doctor of psychology.

Here’s how Dr. Eger finishes the Introduction:

Whether you’re in the dawn or noon or late evening of your life, whether you’ve seen deep suffering or are only just beginning to encounter struggle, whether you’re falling in love for the first time or losing your life partner to old age, whether you’re healing from a life-altering event or in search of some little adjustments that could bring more joy to your life, I would love to help you discover how to escape the concentration camp of your own mind and become the person you were meant to be. I would love to help you experience freedom from the past, freedom from failures and fears, freedom from anger and mistakes, freedom from regret and unresolved grief — and the freedom to enjoy the full, rich feast of life. We cannot choose to have a life free of hurt. But we can choose to be free, to escape the past, no matter what befalls us, and to embrace the possible. I invite you to make the choice to be free.

Like the challah my mother used to make for our Friday night meal, this book has three strands: my story of survival, my story of healing myself, and the stories of the precious people I’ve had the privilege of guiding to freedom. I’ve conveyed my experience as I can best remember it.
The stories about patients accurately reflect the core of these experiences, but I have changed all names and identifying details and in some instances created composites from patients working through similar challenges. What follows is the story of the choices, big and small, that can lead us from trauma to triumph, from darkness to light, from imprisonment to freedom.

You couldn’t ask for a more dramatic story as an illustration than Dr. Eger’s. We hear her heart-wrenching story during the Holocaust, and then she’s honest about the difficulty it took her to heal from that trauma.

If she can heal from her trauma, then surely we can heal from ours.

Her message is consistent: “You can’t change what happened, you can’t change what you did or what was done to you. But you can choose how you live now.”

Here’s to choosing freedom! This book will help you do it.

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Review of Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe

Gender Queer

A Memoir

by Maia Kobabe
colors by Phoebe Kobabe

Oni Press, 2019. 240 pages.
Review written January 30, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Alex Award Winner
2020 Stonewall – Israel Fishman Nonfiction Award Honor Book

I decided to put this book on hold after a person called me from the other side of the country and yelled at me because they said our library carried pornographic materials, speaking of this book in particular. (A different branch had used an image of the cover in a display.)

Now I’ve read the book and, reader, it is not pornographic. Our library has the book in the adult section, and I thought that was them avoiding controversy, but I see that the awards it has won are awards for adult books. Amazon lists the age as for 18 and up. The Alex Award is for adult books that appeal to teens. The Stonewall – Israel Fishman Nonfiction Award is for adult nonfiction books with LGBTQ content. So I will also list this book in adult nonfiction, with the note that this book will be of interest to young adults who have questions about their own gender and orientation.

Gender Queer is the story of Maia Kobabe’s lifelong quest to understand her own gender and sexuality. And in explaining it, the reader comes to understand her perspective. We learn about pronouns and why e strongly prefers e/em/eir. We learn what it means to not feel like a girl or a boy.

It’s in graphic novel format, so there are pictures along the way. Getting eir period was a horror to em, and the comics convey that. Getting a pap smear felt like violence, and you can see that in the pictures. And the page that is most cited as pornographic is when e and eir girlfriend tried strapping a dildo to em, but e wasn’t comfortable with that. It’s a comic book drawing, and it’s not going to titillate anyone, and it’s illustrating the author’s own story, with all of eir struggle to find eir place and know eirself.

There’s a lot here that will help any reader understand transgender people of any pronouns better. E is honest and forthcoming about eir journey, and I can only imagine how wonderful it would be for anyone on a similar journey to read this and know they are not alone.

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Review of Barracoon, by Zora Neale Hurston, read by Robin Miles

Barracoon

The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”

by Zora Neale Hurston
read by Robin Miles

HarperAudio, 2018. 4 hours, 25 minutes.
Review written August 22, 2020, from a library eaudiobook

A barracoon is an enclosure used to hold people who were abducted and then shipped to America to be enslaved. In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston interviewed Cudjo Lewis, the last living survivor of the last ship that had brought captives from Africa. This book tells his story.

Cudjo Lewis was eighty-six years old in 1927 and had outlived his children and his wife, so his story is a tough one. I did enjoy listening to this rather than reading it, because the narrator Robin Miles did a wonderful job reading his dialect so I could listen to it smoothly, and I think that reading it might have made me stumble. As it was, she captured the character of this old man remembering an eventful life.

The Introduction at the beginning is dry, and I almost gave up, but the narrative once Cudjo starts his story is gripping. He was an older teen when his whole village was slaughtered or abducted in Africa. Then there was a secret voyage across the ocean, since shipping captives from Africa was then illegal. He was enslaved for five years. After they told him he was free, those who had come from Africa were looked down on by the American-born freed people, so they formed their own town and built their own church and school. He wanted to go back to Africa, but it was far too expensive, so he made the best of life in America.

A lot of the book is devoted to what his life was like in Africa. He was not yet considered a man when he was abducted, but he was old enough to remember experiencing his entire childhood in Africa.

The story of his children’s deaths is hard to listen to, though at least he had grandchildren left and one daughter-in-law. He was sexton of his church and clearly had a community looking out for him. I like the way he’d tell Zora Neale Hurston to stay away for a few days when he planned to work in his garden. She didn’t insert herself into the narrative much, but I did like hearing about them sharing peaches and watermelons together. He appreciated someone listening to his stories – and now you can hear them, too.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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