Reflections on Our Birth Story

Julio and me a couple of hours before things got really real.

Sometimes, I catch myself feeling homesick for the most intense points in my life. For example, when I studied abroad in college and experienced acute loneliness or when I was depressed after a bad breakup in graduate school and lived on the couch. After my father died, I was not ready to be on the other side of his funeral. I wanted to stay in the protective bubble between his passing and the wake, because I sensed that when we had to go back to living, when we were no longer in the all-encompassing immediacy of our grief, it would be a difficult transition. In these periods, the experience was totally consuming, a terrible oasis from multi-tasking and the distractions of everyday life. The emotional rawness was transformative, and it is as though a part of my psyche stayed there while the rest of me moved forward with my life. In quiet moments, these parts tug on me with a feeling that is strangely like nostalgia. I have no doubt that I have left a piece of myself in the labor and delivery unit. This time, however, the experience was all-consuming but also joyful and empowering. 

In The Fourth Trimester, Kimberly Johnson recommends that women write about their birth experience within 48 hours of delivery as a way to process and incorporate the experience and what it means to them. I read her book after that 48-hour window had closed, but of course, my notebook was in my purse and I journaled about birth during sweet newborn naps at the hospital. Johnson also explains that after delivery, a woman may need to close her birth energy, which can be difficult if a birth experience was traumatic on one hand or exhilarating on the other: “Often if women have had a revelatory birth experience, there may be an inner hesitancy to seal their system back up, lest they lose contact with the bliss and transcendence that they encountered during the birth.” 

For a week after giving birth, I did feel hesitant to move on, because the experience had been so intense and ultimately positive that I felt a little stuck in that headspace. I was riding high on adrenaline and oxytocin. I was a little bit in love with birth and with the people who attended my daughter’s birth. “You were amazing,” I told the nurses, the midwife, my husband. I think I told the baby she was amazing, too. 

She was amazing—my silent partner in labor. In fact, many of the natural birth resources I used emphasized the role of “the passenger” among the four Ps of birth (passenger, passage, powers, and psychology). On Birth Kweens, a funny and informative podcast that helped me prepare, the hosts (a midwife and a doula) often remind listeners that birth never goes according to plan. In one episode, they half-jokingly assert that no one knows how birth is going to go except for the babies, and they aren’t telling us ahead of time. After our daughter’s delivery, I have thought a lot about what I read and heard about babies sending signals to get the birth that they need. 

Preparing for Natural Birth After Induction

As I noted in my post on our single umbilical artery, I had an induction of labor at 40 weeks. I tried every natural method possible to encourage spontaneous labor at home, because I felt very committed to having an unmedicated, intervention-free delivery and, statistically, having an induction increased my odds of some sort of intervention. When I discussed my concerns with the midwife, she was reassuring that having the induction was meant to prevent an emergency situation for the baby that would be a reason for a cesarean section. She cautioned me, however, that inductions tend to take a long time; commonly, when women opt for epidurals after induction, it is not because of pain, it is because they are exhausted. I did not want an epidural because I wanted to be able to move through my labor. To me, the nuts and bolts of delivering with an epidural actually sounded much less appealing than the pain. That’s just me.

So, I prepared my head for a long haul. I studied my coping techniques from the Birth Kweens and Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel. Julio and I talked about visualizations and using sports psychology to get through the tests of endurance and stamina. “I can do anything for one minute at a time,” became my mantra.

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(Book Review) Say It Louder! Black Voters, White Narratives, and Saving Our Democracy

Say It Louder! Black Voters, White Narratives, and Saving Our Democracy by Tiffany D. Cross

This book is a little bit of a bait and switch. It is packaged like a more academic nonfiction title, but it’s actually much heavier on personal narrative than I expected. Fortunately, the voice behind that narrative is smart, highly informed, and funny. In Say It Louder! Tiffany D. Cross reflects on her experiences working in news media to explain how the perspectives of white voters are over-emphasized, skewing the narrative when it comes to Black voters, or erasing them altogether.

One of the most enjoyable parts of this book is how direct and funny Cross is about racism and the media. For example, she writes “Too many would describe Trump’s outright racist remarks as having ‘racial undertones.’ If someone can tell me the difference between a person who makes comments with racial undertones and someone who is an outright racist, I’ll send you a free copy of this book” (10). She also treats us to metaphors like “Trying to keep up with the anarchy that the Trump administration brought is like trying to catch confetti” (2).

Cross uses this wit to take the media to task for the “racial undertones” of their reporting on MAGA demonstrations, white economic anxiety, and police brutality, and in segments such as “The Good Stuff” on CNN. I think that one of the strongest, most revealing parts of the book is the section on white economic anxiety and how it was reported on by the media in 2016, when most of the white voters who voted for Donald Trump were not working class and the working class is increasingly a majority BIPOC. She also does a great job of explaining how the continued emphasis on Ohio as a swing state, despite its declining population, represents an emphasis on the interests of white voters.

Through examining these issues, as well as voter suppression in Ohio and Florida and the dearth of Black journalists at major outlets, Cross argues that “media coverage enables the erasure of Black folk from democracy” (154). Although Cross makes a compelling and detailed case, the argument is not very clearly structured. I think that is the book’s one big flaw. The conversational tone is a major plus in terms of readability and my enjoyment of the book, but it does tend to bounce from topic to topic.

If you have read One Person, No Vote by Carol Anderson, Say It Louder! makes a good complement to that text. If you have not read much about voter suppression, I would recommend reading up on that in addition to this text, but Cross makes a solid case for how the media is complicit in the damage being done to our democratic process.

Thoughts on the Cuties Controversy After Actually Watching the Film

Angelica and Amy in Cuties

This week #CancelNetflix was trending on Twitter in response to the release of a French film by Afro-French director, Maimouna Doucoure, Mignonnes, or as it is called here in the U.S., Cuties. The film focuses on an eleven-year-old immigrant from Senegal who becomes “fascinated” by a dance troupe and their provocative style. Those who want to cancel Netflix over the film are accusing the streaming service of distributing child pornography. Although I watched the widely-circulated clip of the group’s racy performance and was very uncomfortable with it, I hesitantly watched Cuties because I suspected that the outrage was lacking context. 

What I found was that Cuties is a fairly tame coming of age story with several moments of uncomfortably sexual content that, when taken in context with the rest of the film, build toward a critique of the models of femininity girls are presented with as they mature. A key to this critique is how much of the film is focused on Amy watching other girls and women. She watches her mother and other women in her community as they model a specific, traditional femininity shaped by their Muslim faith and their culture in Senegal. As Amy’s mother and Auntie begin to teach her how to be a woman in their culture, she starts to grow increasingly upset by the burden her mother carries, represented by the pain caused by her polygamous father taking a second wife. Amy watches the Cuties modeling a rebellious, precocious version of young femininity. And, she watches women in music videos perform an even more sexualized version of this same femininity. In the women and girls Amy watches, she therefore sees two extreme versions of womanhood. The film makes this contrast explicit in its last minutes when it lingers on a shot of Amy’s racy dance costume and the traditional dress she is supposed to wear for her father’s wedding, both laid out on her bed.

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Our Single Umbilical Artery (SUA) Pregnancy Experience

single umbilical artery

Image of single umbilical artery from

There was really no point in my pregnancy that I was not afraid I was going to lose the baby. In part, that fear stemmed from the emotional rollercoaster that pregnancy after loss can be under the best circumstances. And, in part, it arose from finding out that the baby and I had a single umbilical artery.

We found out about the SUA at our 20 week anomaly scan, and the doctors were moderately reassuring. I am a researcher by training, however, and when I went in search of more information on my own, what I found was just frightening. And I couldn’t find any stories from families—just a bunch of medical journal articles that kept me up at night with visions of stillbirth. So, I wanted to share our story to put something a little more personal out there, in case you find yourself in this situation. DISCLAIMER: please do not take this as medical advice. I’m not that kind of doctor. This is just our family’s story.

What is a single umbilical artery?

I had never heard of it before, but a single umbilical artery affects an estimated 1 in 100 pregnancies. Not that rare, really. Basically, a typical umbilical cord is made up of one big vessel and two arteries. One of the midwives told me that it looks like a smiley face. The vessel is what brings the blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the baby. The arteries are what carry waste away from the baby. In theory, having just one of those arteries does not have to affect the baby whatsoever. At least 75% of these babies come out just fine and you’d never know that there was a SUA unless it was found on the ultrasound or until cutting the cord. A lot of doctors don’t even check for it.

When paired with other anomalies, however, a SUA can be a soft marker for chromosomal abnormalities. On our 20-week scan, they also saw a “bright spot” on our daughter’s heart. I knew something was up, because the sonographer, who isn’t allowed to really say anything, asked twice if I’d had a Quad Screen done. Again, on its own, that bright spot means nothing, but with the two put together… The doctor (a specialist, not my usual provider) told me that with those two markers and my age (ahem, I am only 33, thank you very much), he’d put the chance of Down Syndrome at about 1 in 300 and he recommended that we do genetic testing.

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(Book Review) The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

the black kidsThe Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

The Black Kids is set in Los Angeles in 1992, beginning just before the verdict in the Rodney King trial is handed down. Seventeen-year-old Ashley and her prep school friends are busy preparing for the prom. Underneath the dayglow exterior of their lives, though, Ashley has a lot of thoughts about race and her white friends’ often hurtful attitudes. She is also dealing with the prospect of her nanny moving back to Guatemala and a protracted conflict between her parents and her radical older sister, Jo. Then, the verdict and the riots bring so many personal conflicts in Ashley’s circle to a tipping point.

In 1992, I was in kindergarten. If the history of Rodney King and the riots over the officers’ acquittals is not something in your memory either, this book is not a good first source to learn about it. What it does really, really well is use the context of that history to draw out how race and privilege impact Ashley’s life and her relationships. Whereas she and her sister benefit from the cushy life their parents have worked hard to give them—a very sheltered home and attendance at a prep school—their cousin grows up in one of the neighborhoods heavily impacted by the riots and the looting. When the family comes together, their different perspectives illustrate how the events might affect people differently based not only on race, but also on class and location. Ashley also focuses on Latasha Harlins (122-23), whose murder by a convenience store owner who was acquitted, was another—often forgotten—tipping point leading up to the riots. Lastasha’s story is personal to Ashley in a way that emphasizes the book’s focus on the intersection between gender and race. Furthermore, Christina Hammonds Reed manages to work the 1921 Tulsa Massacre into the family history in a way that feels organic and packs a huge emotional punch, an example of generational trauma.

My favorite part of the book is its focus on the intersection between Ashley’s gender and her race. As the book starts out and she and her friends are busy partying and preparing for prom, her thoughts turn several times toward what it’s like to be a girl. For example, after explaining that one of her friends used to collect insects, she muses: “It’s a bit morbid, if you ask me, taking beautiful things and pinning them down to be admired. But that’s kinda like what happens to some girls between junior high and high school, being pretty gets in the way of being a person” (12).

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Books on School Integration and Racism

Children of the Dream

School busing has been in the news again as a result of the conflict between Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his runningmate Kamala Harris during the primary debate last year over Biden’s stance on busing in the 1980s. School integration has long been a complicated part of race relations in the United States. In 1954, the Supreme Court handed down their ruling in Brown v Board of Education, which stated that state-sponsored school segregation was unconstitutional (because it violates the 14th amendment). The resistance to integrating the schools stemmed in part from those invested in segregation (racists) knowing that integration of the schools would result in the integration of much of the culture (Johnson 1). Children would become friends with each other and that would have an integrating effect on their social circles for the rest of their lives. Integration builds empathy and humanizes those who children may have been raised to hate or fear.

The effects of busing as a tool of integration have been debated for years (for example, you can read more at NPR, The Washington Post, and Politico), but the experts largely agree that school integration does have positive effects on the achievement gap and undermining systemic racism, we just didn’t give it a chance for long enough.

Now, as conversations about anti-racism abound, taking another look at school integration is a good idea. Fortunately, there are plenty of books for doing just that. Just last year, two books came out that look at integration specifically: The Long Ride by Marina Tamar Budhos, a middle-grade novel about forced busing in New York City in 1971, and Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works by Rucker C. Johnson with Alexander Nazaryan, an academic examination of school integration and the consequences of failing to fully invest in policies to support it. Johnson and Nazaryan argue for “three powerful cures to unequal educational opportunity: (1) integration, (2) equitable school funding, and (3) high-quality preschool investments—all of which were tried before but abandoned, partly out of resistance, but also out of a lack of collective patience and wholesale integration of the policies themselves” (12). This book is a pretty academic take (it’s written by an economist), driven by data on education policy, so it is not a “casual” read, but the argument is cogent and persuasive and the authors make it even more relevant through the connections they make between educational inequality and other forms of systemic racism (they specifically examine the cases of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Freddie Gray in their intro).

Another book that may be of interest is Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations about Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum, which focuses on the psychology of racism. Three chapters in “Part II: Understanding Blackness in a White Context” examine the development of racial identity over the course of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood and can help elucidate how segregation reinforces racism.


The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell (1954) depicts Ruby Bridges being escorted to school by U.S. Marshals in New Orleans.

Books about Civil Rights Era school integration

There are also many books about the history of school integration during the 1950s, including Remember: The Journey to School Integration by Toni Morrison and Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges. A large number of books focus on Ruby Bridges or the Little Rock Nine, whose integration of their schools in New Orleans and Little Rock, respectively, became iconic images of the Civil Rights Era. I actually wrote about Ruby Bridges in my dissertation, and coverage of her story continues to be a popular way to discuss Civil Rights with young children.

a girl stands at the door

A Girl Stands at the Door: The Generation of Young Women Who Desegregated America’s Schools by Rachel Devlin is a newer (2018) book that I am very excited about. In the book, Devlin looks at the history of school integration as a grassroots movement that was largely led by girls and young women and their families, whose court cases put pressure on the federal government to act. This book does a fabulous job of centering Black girlhood, which, along with the role of Black women, often gets sidelined by the “great men theory of history,” no matter how much girls contributed to the high profile protests of the era.

Taken as a whole, these books make clear at least two important points. 1) The history of school integration is one that young people have been at the center of as active participants, not just pawns in policy wars, and 2) school integration is a vital part of dismantling systemic racism. We just have to figure out how to do it well and stick with it.

(Book Review) The Only Good Indians

the only good indiansThe Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones  (Mild spoilers ahead)

During the Indian Wars, Philip Sheridan, an army officer, was quoted as saying “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” That terrible saying was later picked up by Theodore Roosevelt, who said, “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every 10 are.”

Stephen Graham Jones makes a nod to that horrible history in the title of his new novel, The Only Good Indians. The novel centers on a group of four friends who commit a transgression against tribal rules and nature while on a hunting trip just before Thanksgiving and, ten years later, are made to pay for it by one of the victims of their hunt. Basically, a young, pregnant elk who they shot on land reserved for the elders is coming back to get them. Animal lovers, there are a couple of parts in this book that are going to be hard for you.

I thought that the first half of this novel was nearly perfect. Jones establishes the haunting of Lewis, one of the aforementioned friends, in a way that, like The Turn of the Screw, has the reader (and Lewis) questioning if he is just losing his grip on reality. There are some terrifying, hard to stomach images, but they stem from accidents that are really pretty mundane. The result is a highly atmospheric, tense, and downright scary ghost story.

Along with the scary bits, I think Jones also does a great job developing his characters. Lewis has a rich inner life, which builds that uncertainty over whether he is being haunted or not. Meanwhile, the two main female characters in this first half: Lewis’s wife, Peta, and coworker, Shaney, take up less of the narrative,  but there are hints of well-rounded, interesting characters beyond how they relate to Lewis himself.

And, there was some fun, odd humor in the mix as well. One of my favorite moments came when Lewis is trying to figure out what is happening to him and ends up making himself a grilled cheese, after contemplating something that reminded him of gross cheese. It is such an weird, vivid moment:

“At the kitchen table he stands before the elk bundle—the hairy burrito—for maybe thirty seconds, finally pushes a finger into it. It’s mushy and rough at the same time, smells like some soft cheese that was on the table at a party once, that he knew better than to eat.

‘Cheese,’ though. Now he’s thinking cheese.

It’ll wreck his digestion, but, figuring that’s the least of his concerns right now, he makes a grilled cheese for breakfast…” (87).

At other moments, the humor comes from the headlines Lewis writes in his head about his day-to-day life. For example, after he cleans up the kitchen: “the headline scrolling across the back of his forehead: INDIAN MAN FIRST IN HISTORY TO PICK UP AFTER HIMSELF” (88).

In the second half, the book loses steam. It continues with more of the story focusing on Lewis’s remaining friends, and dipping into the consciousness of the young elk. I found this second half less tense and therefore less scary. I could see an argument that this portion of the book brings resolution to the plot that began ten years before, but I think in widening the scope of the story, the horror is diluted and the writing gets less intimate and engaging. Even still, the first half of this book includes images and writing that will stick with me for a long time. It was an excellent read. If you have a large TBR pile going, I think this book would be great to pull out on a blustery day in late Fall. The setting around Thanksgiving time lends itself to the scary atmosphere.

Further Resources:

Live Stream of Author Event at the Tattered Cover

Women’s Suffrage Books to Read for the Centennial and Election Resources for 2020


Me at a march August 26th, 2019 to kick off the Women’s Suffrage Centennial.

On August 18th, 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified by Tennessee, the last state that was needed to take the “Susan B. Anthony Amendment” across the finish line. On August 26th, 1920, it became the law of the land: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Summer 2020 was meant to be full of celebrations, lectures, and marches, many of which have moved online because of the pandemic (see Digital Resources), but I have been really grateful that the House Museum Book Club that I am part of has kept going over Zoom. This year’s theme was women’s suffrage and many of the books have been great. I have also been checking out books from my local library. Here are my favorites, in case you also want to brush up on your suffrage history.


Image from National Parks Service. Silent Sentinels picketing outside the White House to pressure Woodrow Wilson to act on suffrage.

  • Why They Marched: The Untold Stories of the Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote by Susan Ware. I particularly appreciate how this book includes women of color, working-class women, and Anti-Suffs in the history of women’s suffrage. Often, the history of racism and classism in the suffrage movement is skimmed over and Ware does a wonderful job of acknowledging that history and also illustrating how black and working-class women were important to the movement.
  • The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine Weiss cinematically tells the story of the fight to get the 19th Amendment ratified in Tennessee, including how the last vote was tipped by a letter to a young state senator from his mother. This story also gets into great detail about the tensions between the two arms of the suffrage movement led by Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt.
  • The Women’s Suffrage Movement (Penguin Classics) includes primary documents from the movement from Seneca Falls forward. Reading history books is a great way to learn about the details and nuances of suffrage history, but reading texts written by the key figures in that history can help build a better depth of understanding and context.
  • Mr. President, How Long Must We Wait?: Alice Paul, Woodrow Wilson, and the Fight for the Right to Vote by Tina Cassidy is a fabulous biography of Alice Paul and her prolonged conflict with President Woodrow Wilson. Paul was such a firecracker and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about how she got her start with the British suffragettes as well as her “militant” fight for suffrage in the U.S. She was a tiny, athletic Quaker and a fascinating character.
  • Miss Paul and the President: The Creative Campaign for Women’s Right to Vote by Dean Robbins takes that history of Alice Paul and Woodrow Wilson and breaks it down for younger readers. It is a cute picture book version of the history for any young readers you have learning with you.
  • Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for Their Rights by Mikki Kendall is a graphic novel that provides a complicated overview of women’s history globally and includes a section on the suffrage movement that does a great job of dealing with the issues around race in that history.

There is so much good content out there on women’s suffrage; this is just a few highlights. If Why They Marched gets you interested in Ida B. Wells, you could do a whole deep dive on her. There is a ton of great history online about suffrage in different regions, because the struggle for the vote looked very different in the west than it did in the south. Spend some time reading and you’ll always find that there is even more to learn.

Digital Resources

If you are looking for more information, activities, or events around the Women’s Suffrage Centennial, I think your first stop should be checking with your local history center or League of Women Voters, if you have them. I think these resources are also wonderful:

Vote This Year.

“To the wrongs that need resistance, To the right that needs assistance, To the future in the distance, Give yourselves.”  —Carrie Chapman Catt

suffrage over silence pie

Source: Suffrage Over Silence

These celebrations are not happening in a vacuum, however; 2020 is an election year and one in which the president is already trying to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the results for no truth-based reason. Do your feminist foremothers and Civil Rights heroes (<3 John Lewis) proud and make sure you and those in your circle are registered to vote and vote. Do not procrastinate, either. Vote early if you can. If you are voting by mail, give your sweet ballot plenty of time to get to the election board. Do your research on local elections. Be smart. Be educated. Be a participant.

There are plenty of resources that can help you figure out what you need to do this election. and Suffrage Over Silence include information on getting registered to vote and receiving a ballot in each state. Ballotpedia is a wonderful tool for learning about what is on your ballot, with information from both sides of the debate on the ballot issues. This can be really helpful, because sometimes the language on those ballot issues is confusing and makes it hard to parse what you’re actually voting for or against.

You can call your senator and ask them to support the HEROES Act, which, in addition to continuing economic support in response to COVID-19, includes “$3.6 billion in election funding to expand vote by mail and safe in-person voting locations and $25 billion in funding for the United States Postal Service to help protect this election.” While you’re on the line, you could also discuss restoring the Voting Rights Act. The House passed a bill meant to do that in December and recently moved to have it renamed after the late, great Rep. John R. Lewis, but the bill has been held hostage by the Senate, led by Mitch McConnell (who is up for reelection this year, btw). If we cannot all vote and do so safely, we do not have the democracy that we so cherish. If voter turnout scares you, then maybe elected office is not for you.

If you are interested in the ongoing fight against voter suppression, I cannot recommend enough the book One Person, No Vote by Dr. Carol Anderson. It should make you so mad, but it is an incredibly detailed and clear picture of how voter suppression is still happening.

(Book Review) This Is My America by Kim Johnson

This Is My AmericaThis Is My America by Kim Johnson

This Is My America reminds me of if you crossed The Heartbeats of Wing Jones with The Hate U Give with Just Mercy. At the center of the story are two murder mysteries. While seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont is consumed by getting Innocence X (clearly a stand-in for The Innocence Project) to take up the appeal of her father, a wrongfully-convicted man on death row, her brother Jamal ends up the primary suspect in the murder of their classmate and his sort-of girlfriend, Angela. In order to prove the innocence of the men in her family, Tracy has to uncover an ugly truth that Angela stumbled on—the one that likely got her killed. There’s also a love triangle in this book for readers who are into that sort of thing (not me), but even romance aside, This Is My America is a thought-provoking page-turner that young adult readers and adults can both enjoy.

Back in June, I watched a panel from the Juneteenth Book Fest called “Capturing the Moment: What it Means to Write Black Stories Right Now.” A point that stuck with me, made by Angie Thomas if I’m remembering correctly, is that there are a lot of books out right now for young people that include elements about white supremacy and police brutality, but these books also have a lot more to say about Black people’s lives and experiences and so it is reductive to only focus on the parts relevant to current events. For example, in The Hate U Give, Starr is really into her sneakers. There are elements that focus on Black joy and family life that should not be overlooked.

This Is My America directly engages with many topics that connect to the broader theme that Black Lives Matter. Tracy teaches workshops on knowing your rights and what to do when you get pulled over. Although Johnson changes their names, she references cases of people such as Kalief Browder. The Klan ends up being a large part of the latter half of the novel, whereas the first half focuses a lot on the racism involved with the death penalty. There are many important issues for young people to think about as they read this book: police brutality, capital punishment, intergenerational trauma, how White people can cope with racist violence in their family’s history, and being a better ally. There are also prominent themes about courage, the moral responsibility to speak up, friendship, and family. Plus, the story features really sweet family moments, particularly between Jamal and his little sister Corinne. And there’s a murder mystery involving student journalists and teen girls acting like Nancy Drew. It’s a great, compelling book that I highly recommend.

(Book Review) Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century

dorothy dayDorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century by John Loughery and Blythe Randolph 

Servant of God Dorothy Day is a difficult figure to pin down, both in Catholic culture and in American history more generally. Raised a-religious in a working-class family, as a young woman, she ran with a hard-partying group of writers and had both an abortion and a daughter “out of wedlock.” Then, she converted to Catholicism, a decision that was mystifying to her family, friends, and her daughter’s father. Day became a prominent voice speaking out for the rights of workers and for the poor, and founded the Catholic Worker. Arrested for protesting with suffragists outside the White House, Day never voted. She was a tough critic of the government, consumerism, the Vietnam War, and also of the Church and its establishment.

Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily. -Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day was long considered a longshot for colonization, but in 2000, she was named a “Servant of God” and an inquiry into her sainthood was opened by the Archdiocese of New York. (Crux: If canonized, Dorothy Day would be a saint for a ‘polarized’ world).  She has also been name-checked by Pope Francis alongside Thomas Merton and Martin Luther King, Jr. as an example of American morality. I think she’s an incredibly interesting figure for our moment in the church and in American public life. Dorothy Day had a devoted interest in many of the issues that we find ourselves dealing—or failing to deal—with this year, including poverty, segregation, and homelessness.

Loughery and Randolph’s biography starts with Day’s final arrest while protesting with Cesar Chavez, then goes back to the beginning of her life, following her turbulent story through its many turns, drawing on Day’s own writing as a source of both information and analysis.

Like Day’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness, I found this biography incredibly dense and difficult to get through. If you are interested in Day’s life and her message, however, I do not think that you can find a better source than this book. The authors do an excellent job of getting into the details of Day’s life that are often hard to find in her own writing. They use her writing, however, to provide insight into how Day reflected on her life and the issues that mattered to her. What I like best about this biography is that the authors frame it with the paradox that Day’s life can present. Bishop Barron often talks about the both/and of Catholicism and I think this biography explores how Day could seem contradictory, but usually, that tension stemmed from her seeking for God and how better to serve him and other people. The portrait of her commitment to justice and the Gospels is as beautiful as it is difficult.