Books

‘Why Was It So Hard?’: How the Pandemic Changed Our Children

THE STOLEN YEAR: How Covid Changed Children’s Lives, and Where We Go Now, by Anya Kamenetz

No societal shift has impacted my adult life as profoundly as the extended closure of schools during the pandemic. At first, I mourned my career, which I gave up to facilitate the purgatory of Zoom “school” for my first grader. Then I mourned my family’s precarious, hard-won harmony, which dissolved into endless fights about time, work and space. Finally, I mourned the faith I’d held, without ever recognizing it as such, in public institutions. I discovered I no longer believed in school. I no longer believed in many of the systems I’d taken for granted as mostly valuable and functional. I spun out into despair, then anger, then a flat, terrible resignation.

Anya Kamenetz’s book “The Stolen Year: How Covid Changed Children’s Lives, and Where We Go Now” hauled me back to that time. It is a relentless account of ruptures in so many Americans’ lives, from mental health crises to hunger to academic failures and accidents (in one of the most startling anecdotes, a 7-year-old boy is shot while breaking into a building when he should have been in school). Kamenetz’s reach and aim as a reporter are admirable: She travels from San Francisco to Oklahoma to St. Louis to Washington, interviewing a racially and socioeconomically diverse group of parents, as well as dozens of experts, professionals and activists. She elegantly incorporates studies and data. Her prose is tight, smooth and swift. “The Stolen Year,” however, reads more like a catalog of events than a probing, multidimensional narrative.

This stems from the way the book is structured: as a series of sections no more than a few pages long, and many much shorter, grouped loosely by subject. Many of these sections slightly conflict with one another and gesture toward different conclusions and arguments. A brief overview of the failure of second-wave feminists to prioritize affordable child care is followed by an even briefer one about Black feminists who wanted the right to stay home, then by another about how care work can’t be monetized. Further on, a section on how mental health providers were overwhelmed during the pandemic precedes one that points out some people actually had more access to mental health care. The effect on the reader of these discrete fragmentary bursts is of staring down at a plot of scattered fossils, trying to figure out what beast they represent.

6 New Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar📚 Reading in Boston

6 New Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar📚 Reading in Boston

In this week’s roundup, Salman Rushdie ponders his literary work and his life, a historian revisits the Mexican drug trade and a Belgian artist vigorously renders her life in charcoal and ink in a touching graphic memoir.

Here are six new paperbacks we recommend →

6 New Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar📚 Reading in Boston

LANGUAGES OF TRUTH: Essays 2003-2020, by Salman Rushdie.

Rushdie’s collection gathers nearly two decades of writings on literature and life, including a defense of the (often criticized) magical elements of his novels, remembrances of friends such as Carrie Fisher and Christopher Hitchens, and his experience contracting Covid-19 in 2020.

6 New Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar📚 Reading in Boston

ALL THE FREQUENT TROUBLES OF OUR DAYS: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler, by Rebecca Donner.

Donner’s biography of Mildred Harnack, who was executed by the Nazis in 1943, uses archives, interviews, diaries and other sources to present a textured account of her life as a resister.

6 New Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar📚 Reading in Boston

CHOUETTE, by Claire Oshetsky.

This debut novel tells the story of a professional cellist in Sacramento who has an affair with an owl and gives birth to a humanoid owl-baby, forcing her to grapple with the dual responsibilities of mother and artist while staving off pressure to make her daughter conform to societal expectations.

6 New Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar📚 Reading in Boston

PRETENDING IS LYING, by Dominique Goblet. Translated by Sophie Yanow.

Goblet, a Belgian painter and sculptor, employs charcoal, pencil, ink and splotches of oil to render layered memories of trauma, pleasure and dark humor in this graphic memoir. Our reviewer, Sheila Heti, called it “tender, affecting and complete.”

6 New Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar📚 Reading in Boston

THE DOPE: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade, by Benjamin T. Smith.

Smith’s sweeping history of the drug trade opens with the 1908 arrest of a marijuana wholesaler in Mexico City and chronicles the violence, corruption and greed on both sides of the border that helped fuel the industry’s rise.

6 New Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar📚 Reading in Boston

OUT, by Natsuo Kirino. Translated by Stephen B. Snyder.

This reissued 1997 Japanese crime novel follows a woman who, after being fired from her last job for demanding equal rights with male coworkers, starts working nights at a boxed lunch factory, where she becomes an accomplice to the murder of a colleague’s abusive husband.

Published on August 19.

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