The Backlist Book Club // Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

The Backlist Book Club // Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Side note: I’m really loving this book club. I mean, it’s my own book club, but I love that it’s opening me up to so many amazing books. This month’s is no different.

Also, read this on audio. The narrator does an amazing job with bringing this book to life. He does accents and voices. It’s like watching a movie and it’ll make you continue reading with abandon.

Behold the Dreamers is the story of a young Cameroonian family coming to America in hopes of living that big “American Dream”. It follows the Jonga family; Jende is the father who recently landed a job as a chauffeur for a very rich NY family and Neni, his wife, is a stay-at-home mother who also splits her time going to school. She wants to become a pharmacist; a job she couldn’t imagine having back in Cameroon. Both of them are here to pursue a new life with tons of opportunities for their children. They strongly believe that they’ll overcome their poverty and retire in ten years to a little home outside of New York City.

However, things take a turn for the worse when two major events happen in the Jonga’s life. First is the notice that Jende’s overstayed his visa welcome and he needs to return to Cameroon. Second is the Edwards family and how their world affects the Jonga’s world.

This book is more than just an immigrant story. It’s a part of the book and you see the process for someone like the Jongas. You actually see both sides of the story; the legal and the illegal. It reminded me of the arduous citizenship process my grandmother went through when I was in school. She had been sponsored by my father for a green card when I was in 1st grade and didn’t get her full citizenship until I graduated high school. I would drive her to the immigration office almost every week when the day finally neared.

But there’s also this 180º view of the Edwards family through the eyes of the Jongas. I really loved the juxtaposition of both of these families. On one side, you see what kinds of issues the super rich experience. Issues like losing your job, feeling like you’re on the wrong path for your life, and suspicions of adultery.

On the other side, you see The Jongas living in a one-bedroom apartment in Harlem. You see them try to make ends meet with odd jobs here and there. All of this while your American status is being questioned. Not to be a jerk, but it feels like the Jongas are going through more serious stuff than the Edwards. Both are validly difficult, but it seems tough when your hard work to stay in America is thwarted because you’re legally not allowed here.

At some point, there’s a catalyst between the Edwards and the Jonga families. The Edwards family starts falling apart when their eldest son, Vince, decides to move to India. The other major part is how Clark loses his job with the Lehmann Brothers during the 2008 financial crisis. There’s also Cindy’s suspicions about her husband and how her obsession with the truth turned into more bad news for Jende.

As Jende’s court hearing for immigration looms nearer, Neni starts to get desperate to stay. Both of their paths towards American citizenship changes. Jende gets really tired of the immigration system. He’s tired of waiting for court dates and hearing judges deny his family asylum. He doesn’t want to see his family live in poverty, but that’s all he can imagine for them in America. He’s slowly deciding to return to Limbe while Neni is desperately clinging to the hope they’ll be in America.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I do want to say that it feels real. It feels like the decision many new Americans make because their financial situation doesn’t change or they’re also tired of fighting the immigration system. Jende and Neni are better off than when they initially came to America, but to continue to stay in America means always scraping by, always waiting for court dates, fighting a broken system, and not providing as much to Liomi, their son.

I’ll admit, I was a little sadden by the ending and how everything worked out. I was happy that they were doing what felt best and coming out on top a little. I can only imagine this is the same kind of life many immigrants live, but at the same time happy to win out over a system that’s desperate for change.

I absolutely loved this novel from beginning to end. I thought it was funny and light-hearted at moments and serious and frustrating in others. It makes you consider immigration in America. It makes you wonder if life in America is all that people assume. It shows that the American Dream comes with a stiff price and that’s for both immigrants and its citizens.

The Backlist Book Club // March 2019

The Backlist Book Club // March 2019

Last month, I ran a poll on my Instagram on what should be the Backlist Book Club February pick. It was between The Underground Railroad and Behold the Dreamers. The majority picked The Underground Railroad.

I’m so thrilled that they picked that book because it was amazing and really pulled my February together for me. Now that it’s March, it’s time to pick a new book. For March’s Backlist Book Club, we’ll be reading Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue.

Because this is The Backlist Book Club, no books get left behind. Because this was the second choice, I want to make sure I don’t go another year without reading it. I’m super excited about this one and I’m going to share the synopsis below.

The one change I will be making in my book club rules is my readathon. It seems like my weekends are much busier than I thought and I can’t commit to sitting on my butt all weekend and reading the book. Therefore, I’ll still announce when I’ll be reading the book and you’re more than welcome to join me, but I won’t be as diligent with the updating on social media while I do it. I think it’ll be easier for me to pay attention to the book than pay attention to my phone.

Of course I’ll still be hosting my discussion on my page and I’ll be writing my final thoughts at the end of the month. Here’s the important dates:

  • I’ll be reading March 16 – 17, 2019
  • Discussion post and my final thoughts are March 29, 2019

Who’s ready to dive into this beautiful book with me this month?

Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.

When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.

Introducing: The Backlist Book Club

Introducing: The Backlist Book Club

I’m so excited about this because 1) I’m starting a book club 2) I’m finally reading those dang books I’ve had on my shelves for years.

The objective of the Backlist Book Club is to read the books we’ve had on our shelves for years. Every month, I’ll announce a book published any time before the current year. For example, in 2018, anything published in 2017 and older is game to read. However, I do want to outline some other important pieces of the book club:

  1. We will mostly choose standalone novels. It’s tough to start a brand new series or read a book mid-series if everyone else isn’t reading it too. There’s a ton of standalone books I haven’t read yet and I want to get into those instead.
  2. I’ll announce the book prior to the month it’ll be read and then live-read the books on social media mid-month. It will always be around the 15th of the month. You’re more than welcome to join me in reading that weekend, but if you can’t make it, use hashtag #thebacklistbookclub to join in on the fun.
  3. The authors will be a mix. I was thinking of doing only authors of color or only female authors, but in truth there are some books that I want to read off my shelf that follow neither category. I do want to be mindful of who we’re reading, so it’ll always be a little bit diverse.
  4. The books should be accessible. Because I’m choosing books that were published prior to the current year, these books should be accessible through your library holds and the like. Hopefully. If anything, I’ll find you deals for books and share them with you.
  5. I want this to be our book club. Being inundated with brand new books all the time means books you wanted to read get put on the back burner. I want this to be an effort for all of us to continue choosing books on our shelf. Also, I want this book club to be about us. This means that I want you to help in the process of picking books in the future. For now, I’ll just pick the books off my shelf and I’ll introduce polls on Twitter for new reads.

Finally, I’m announcing our first book for December. This book was published in 2017, been sitting on my shelf for the last six months and making its debut on my TBR. That book is…

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

32956365Lucy is faced with a life-altering choice. But before she can make her decision, she must start her story—their story—at the very beginning.

Lucy and Gabe meet as seniors at Columbia University on a day that changes both of their lives forever. Together, they decide they want their lives to mean something, to matter. When they meet again a year later, it seems fated—perhaps they’ll find life’s meaning in each other. But then Gabe becomes a photojournalist assigned to the Middle East and Lucy pursues a career in New York. What follows is a thirteen-year journey of dreams, desires, jealousies, betrayals, and, ultimately, of love. Was it fate that brought them together? Is it choice that has kept them away? Their journey takes Lucy and Gabe continents apart, but never out of each other’s hearts.