“We Don’t Swim Here” Review

The heads of two young people, both Black, are on the cover facing away from each other. One is clearly visible while the other is almost entirely blurred out. The background of the cover is dark greenish blue water at the top and solid black from the middle down.Written by Vincent Tirado
Published by Sourcebooks Fire, May 2023
320 pages
Completed: May 20, 2023

“Bronwyn is only supposed to be in rural Hillwoods for a year. Her grandmother is in hospice, and her father needs to get her affairs in order. And they’re all meant to make some final memories together.”

“Except Bronwyn is miserable. Her grandmother is dying, everyone is standoffish, and she can’t even go swimming. All she hears are warnings about going in the water, despite a gorgeous lake. And a pool at the abandoned rec center. And another in the high school basement.”

“Anais tries her hardest to protect Bronwyn from the shadows of Hillwoods. She follows her own rituals to avoid any unnecessary attention—and if she can just get Bronwyn to stop asking questions, she can protect her too. The less Bronwyn pays attention to Hillwoods, the less Hillwoods will pay attention to Bronwyn. She doesn’t get that the lore is, well, truth. History. Pain. The living aren’t the only ones who seek retribution when they’re wronged. But when Bronwyn does more exploring than she should, they are both in for danger they couldn’t expect.”

This was a really fun read. I was one of those books where once I started I just kept going and finished it all in one go. I loved all of the characters and the central mystery was great. The town was suck in a trap of its own making from the past act and couldn’t see a way out of it because so much had gone into covering up what that act actually had been that only a few left knew the full story. I really enjoyed the resolution of everything though there was on plot point I wish had been explained. I believe I know the answer given what is said throughout the book but it’s never explicitly said nor does anyone in the town seem to realize the truth of that plot point of everything that’s gone on. Though to be fair the main characters are teens and it’s the kind of story where adults don’t entirely know what they should know. It works either way.

“Land of Big Numbers” Review

Four images in the shape of China are shown on the cover in various colors one half covering the other downwards. The title of the book is over the images.Land of Big Numbers
Written By Te-Ping Chen
Published by Houghton Mifflin, February 2021
256 pages
Completed: May 20, 2023

“Gripping and compassionate, Land of Big Numbers traces the journeys of the diverse and legion Chinese people, their history, their government, and how all of that has tumbled—messily, violently, but still beautifully—into the present.”

“Cutting between clear-eyed realism and tongue-in-cheek magical realism, Chen’s stories coalesce into a portrait of a people striving for openings where mobility is limited. Twins take radically different paths: one becomes a professional gamer, the other a political activist. A woman moves to the city to work at a government call center and is followed by her violent ex-boyfriend. A man is swept into the high-risk, high-reward temptations of China’s volatile stock exchange. And a group of people sit, trapped for no reason, on a subway platform for months, waiting for official permission to leave.”

“With acute social insight, Te-Ping Chen layers years of experience reporting on the ground in China with incantatory prose in this taut, surprising debut, proving herself both a remarkable cultural critic and an astonishingly accomplished new literary voice.”

I enjoyed all of the stories in this book one way or another. Some were a little confusing – but I’m pretty sure that was a the point in at least one case. Things were happening for basically no reason at all besides government regulations. Each story was interesting with good characters to learn about. That said to some degree I did feel like there could have been more variety in the stories told or at least more depths to the “why” of things if there was a specific cultural element to everything. Not that things have to be explained to outsiders but I felt like something was missing from some of the stories.