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Beyond the Book Articles
Society and Politics

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Hidden Dangers: War's Legacy of Unexploded Ordnance (02/21)
Author Paul Yoon's novel Run Me to Earth describes Laos as a beautiful landscape marked forever with unexploded ordnance (UXO) left in the wake of war from 1964 to 1973. Concealed explosives impact every character in the novel. The legacy of landmines and other unexploded munitions endures in the 21st century, not just in Laos but ...
Habitat for Humanity (02/21)
In Maria Padian's How to Build a Heart, the narrator and her family are offered the opportunity to own a brand-new home thanks to Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat for Humanity was founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller while they were living on a communal farm in Americus, Georgia. They understood that decent housing is probably a ...
The Family Disease: The Effects of Substance Abuse on Children (01/21)
Danielle Geller's memoir Dog Flowers portrays how both of her parents struggled with substance abuse. Her mother, Tweety, drank heavily, stopped cold turkey and suffered seizures. Her father, Michael, had a long history of drug use, psychotic episodes and violence. National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) data estimates that 8.7 ...
Collecting, Hoarding and Minimalism: America's Obsession with Stuff (01/21)
Heart of Junk, the debut novel from Luke Geddes, is set in the fictional Heart of America antique mall in Kansas. The vendors in the mall hope to make some money selling off bits of their collections—Barbies, postcards, glassware, furniture and more. Geddes uses each collection to tell the reader something about its owner, as well ...
West Virginia's Mysterious Cold Cases (01/21)
In The Third Rainbow Girl, Emma Copley Eisenberg examines an unsolved double murder that took place in West Virginia in 1980. Her focus is not so much on the murder itself but on the long term impact on the community as a whole. In the USA, an estimated 200,000 murder cases since the 1960s remain unsolved. Each one of these leaves a ...
Nuclear Disarmament and World Peace (10/20)
In Life Undercover, CIA recruit Amaryllis Fox is tasked with disrupting the trade in black-market weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear materials. Since the first (and, to date, only) nuclear bombs to be used in war were dropped on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the world has experienced a proliferation of ...
Charles Koch and Market-Based Management (10/20)
Charles Koch, the driving force behind Koch Industries and heavily quoted in Christopher Leonard's book Kochland, developed a philosophy he dubbed 'Market-Based Management' (MBM). Koch considers these principles a guide to all of life and not just a business strategy. For this reason, all his employees are required to not only memorize ...
Bangladeshi Migrant Workers in Malaysia (10/20)
Tash Ah's We, the Survivors is centered around a Malaysian man who has recently been released from prison, where he served time for murdering a Bangladeshi migrant worker.

Malaysia and Bangladesh are two Southeast Asian countries that have enjoyed a long and mostly amicable history; records show that Bengalis (native to Bangladesh) ...
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) (10/20)
In his memoir Children of the Land, author Marcelo Hernandez Castillo recounts applying for and receiving DACA. This is a temporary immigration status that alleviates some of his worst fears about being deported as an undocumented college student.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a program administered by the United ...
Migration, Labor, and the Philippines (09/20)
As a young teen in the Manila slums, Rosalie, the central figure in Jason DeParle's A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves, dreamed of a path out of poverty. 'Nursing, that's my choice to help and curing sickness,' she wrote to DeParle. 'And to earn money and go abroad.'

When Rosalie scored her first overseas job almost a decade later&#...
Income Inequality in New Orleans (09/20)
In Margaret Wilkerson Sexton's The Revisioners, mixed race protagonist Ava moves into her aging white grandmother's ostentatious New Orleans mansion in order to help out, and also to save money so she can one day afford to buy a home of her own. Throughout the novel, Sexton paints a vivid picture of the income inequality evident in ...
The Dehumanization of Refugees in Europe (08/20)
According to the UN Refugee Agency, over 40,000 refugees arrived in Europe in the first seven months of 2019, the vast majority from the war-torn nations of Afghanistan, Syria, Morocco and Iraq. Another 668 have died or gone missing on their journey. The total number of arrivals for 2018 was 141,472, with 2,277 dead or missing. While ...
Interactive Narratives in Digital Media (08/20)
Computer-based role-playing games (RPGs) of the sort Zachary covets in The Starless Sea became popular in the early 1980s with the introduction of Wizardry and Ultima. Both of these games series borrowed liberally from table-top role-playing games, in particular, Dungeons & Dragons, that had become popular during the 1970s. In turn, ...
The Reality (and Rarity) of False Sexual Assault Allegations (08/20)
The Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen features a character, 17-year-old Nofar, who makes a false claim of attempted rape as payback against a man who verbally abuses her in an ice cream parlor. Though it's a compelling premise that leads down a horrifying road for all involved, this isn't the kind of book that should be read as an ...
Whitehead's Disturbing Inspiration: The Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys (07/20)
Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys sketches a horrific portrait of a brutal reformatory school, the Nickel Academy, where staff members routinely torture and terrorize the institution's teenage students. The events of the story are unsettling, and even more so given that Nickel is a fictionalized version of Florida's first juvenile ...
Microaggressions (06/20)
In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo devotes a chapter to racial microaggressions, or everyday instances of racism. As opposed to macroaggressions, which encompass obvious racist behavior such as the use of racial slurs, microaggressions are subtle, sometimes unconscious and often seemingly unremarkable actions that contribute ...
Foster Care (05/20)
In Kathryn Glasgow's How to Make Friends with the Dark, 16-year-old Tiger learns that her mother is dead, and almost equally upsetting, she can't even go somewhere familiar to stay while she figures out how to adjust to being an orphan; with no known father or other relatives, she is relegated to the legal responsibility of the state of ...
The Controversy of Capital Punishment (04/20)
In David R. Dow's thriller, Confessions of an Innocent Man, the protagonist is sentenced to death for the murder of his wife. Since the murder is committed in Texas, one of the 30 U.S. states that still allows capital punishment, he is sent directly to death row. There he awaits his execution among the 200+ other residents. From 1976 to ...
Why Young Adults Are Choosing the Suicide Option (03/20)
Two decades before I was born, a cousin of mine entered seminary and killed himself within the week. No one in the family discussed it. He was dead. No need to talk about why. But death by suicide has undergone a radical cultural shift. It is no longer absurdly kept secret.

In Sally Rooney's Normal People, Connell fantasizes about ...
History of the First Lady (02/20)
Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard describes the budding romance between future President Abraham Lincoln and the woman who would become his wife and First Lady, Mary Todd.

Although the role of the President of the United States is described in depth in the US Constitution, the 'job' of First Lady is one that has evolved over the ...
Student Debt (02/20)
In Sounds Like Titanic, author Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman recalls the extreme lengths she went to in order to fund her education, including selling her eggs and touring the country with a crooked classical music composer. The price of tuition for a 4-year private college in the United States was, on average, $34,740 for the 2017-2018 ...
Nonviolent Activism (02/20)
In Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan, high school juniors Chelsea and Jasmine learn that 'art is never just art,' so they decide to 'use art to make a statement, to create change.' The girls experiment with multiple forms of activism, sometimes with guidance, and even misguidance, from teachers, mentors, community leaders, ...
The Five Confucian Virtues (02/20)
In Yangsze Choo's The Night Tiger, the two main characters, Ji and Ren, are named for two of the five virtues that make up the ethical system of Confucianism. Confucianism is a spiritual/philosophical tradition born out of the teachings of Chinese philosopher Confucius (who is believed to have lived circa 551-479 BCE), and it has been ...
Property Ownership, Race and Upward Mobility (02/20)
In The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother's Life in the Detroit Numbers, Bridgett M. Davis explains how property ownership was the key determinant in creating opportunity and prosperity across generations of her family. However, historically, there have been hefty barriers to property ownership for people of color in the United ...
U.S. Support of Totalitarian Regimes in Central and South America (11/19)
The setting of Idra Novey's Those Who Knew is an unnamed island with a contentious intertwined relationship with its neighbor to the north, which supported the regime of a brutal dictator years before the events of the novel take place. The latter country would appear to represent the United States, and the circumstances reflect the ...
Finding Employment After Prison (10/19)
In Sugar Run, the principal protagonist Jodi McCarty has just been released from prison after serving a nearly 20-year term. She finds life as a free woman more difficult than she imagined, largely due to her inability to find gainful employment. This is a common issue with newly released inmates, and one of the leading causes of ...
Poverty is Expensive (10/19)
Contrary to many deeply guarded beliefs about people living in poverty in the United States, most who can't afford the necessities of life are, in fact, employed. The United Way calls these people Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE). More than 34.7 million families in the United States (10.6%) fell into this category in ...
Maternity Leave in America (10/19)
Early on in The Golden State, Daphne details the havoc wrought upon her life by her university job's standard maternity leave policy, per state regulations: 'six weeks off at 50 percent of your salary.'

Surprisingly, her California university's meager policy ranks among the best in the nation. The Family and Medical Leave Act...
Living Off the Grid (09/19)
In Jonathan Lethem's The Feral Detective, New York City journalist Phoebe Siegler ventures into the often perilous world of people living a hardscrabble existence in a California mountain range. She is trying to find a college-age girl who may have become enthralled with the notion of a life independent of modern society and its ...
Persecution of Dissidents in Putin's Russia (09/19)
The political activists in A Terrible Country live in fear of arrest due to the threat of harsh sentences and even bodily harm that is frequently the result of protesting the Putin regime. Putin has a long history of silencing his detractors, using both legal and illegal means, with many critics ending up imprisoned in a gulag (a forced ...
Deaths of Despair (09/19)
The deceased was a middle-age white man who liked to be called Horsey. A working-class Ohioan who left school after 11th grade, he toiled as a mechanic, then as a laborer and then he bounced around from job to job, barely making a living until he died of an opiod overdose. His death wasn't unusual. In 2015, Princeton economists Anne ...
Real-Life Nowhere Girls (09/19)
According to the New York branch of the National Organization for Women, 93% of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attackers. 60% of those assaults are never reported. Only 16.3% of men who are accused of rape will be prosecuted with only 3% spending a single day in jail. 18.8% of black women will report sexual assault in their ...
Gender Bias in the Field of Law (05/19)
The protagonist of Jeanne Winer's Her Kind of Case is a criminal defense attorney who has been in the legal profession for over 30 years.

While female lawyers aren't rare, law is still an area where women are underrepresented (as are minorities of both genders). According to a 2016 New York Bar Association report, women make up just 25...
Universal Basic Income (05/19)
Author Alissa Quart argues in her book Squeezed, that a Universal Basic Income is one possible solution for job insecurity, particularly for stay-at-home parents and domestic workers who are often shut out of the economy and for workers whose jobs may be phased out due to automation.

But what exactly is UBI? Basically, it's a program ...
Changing Sentiments on Gun Control After Parkland (04/19)
Jennifer duBois' The Spectators is centered around the fallout after a mass shooting at a school, an incident that was rare in the 1990s when the novel takes place, but has become seemingly ubiquitous over the past two decades (See School Shootings & Conspiracy Theories for statistics). Each of these shootings is accompanied by a public ...
Refugee Resettlement in Sweden (03/19)
Camilla Grebe's novel focuses on Sweden as a haven for asylum seekers. The ongoing crisis of refugees from Syria has been particularly visible in Sweden, which accepted more than 160,000 migrants (primarily from Syria but also from Afghanistan and Iraq) in search of asylum in 2015 alone, the most of any other country per capita. Since the...
On the Front Line of Transracial Adoption (03/19)
The protagonist and her husband in Rumaan Alam's novel That Kind of Mother are a white upper middle-class couple who adopt a black infant. They love and raise him alongside their own biological son, and treat them as brothers. Race plays a key role in almost every aspect of their lives. The story takes place in Washington DC in the ...
The League of Women Voters (03/19)
Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947), the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) when Tennessee voted on the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, was instrumental in getting the act passed. During the 1920 NAWSA convention, she proposed a national League of Women Voters—six months before the ...
The Stonewall Riots and the Movement for LGBTQ Equality (03/19)
In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn was raided by the New York City Police Department, ostensibly for operating without a liquor license. This was a flimsy pretense, however, since the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) refused to grant liquor licenses to any bar that served homosexual customers, and the ...
How to Get a Green Card (03/19)
Like millions of others, several of the characters in Luis Alberto Urrea's The House of Broken Angels emigrated from Mexico to the United States, some illegally, some following U.S. protocol to obtain permanent residency. Immigration has become a particularly contentious topic over the last few of years but most of us have little ...
Black Incarceration and Sentencing (03/19)
In An American Marriage, Roy is wrongly accused of rape and receives a twelve-year sentence. His only crime, Jones writes, was to be a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Indeed black men suffer on both counts: they are incarcerated more often than their white counterparts and receive longer sentences. According to the ...
School Shootings & Conspiracy Theorists (02/19)
Rhiannon Navin's novel Only Child is in part inspired by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that took place on 14 December 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.  On that date, 20-year-old Adam Lanza murdered his mother at their home and then drove to the school, fatally shooting 20 six- and seven-year-old children and six adult staff ...
Uncle Sam Needs You: America's All-Volunteer Military (02/19)
The United States military draft ended under Nixon in 1973 as the Vietnam conflict wound down. Since then, recruitment has been entirely voluntary. Aspiring soldiers usually go through an enlistment process, like Matt Young did in Eat the Apple. Service choices include: Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Air Force, or National Guard.

...
Scotland Yard (01/19)
In Charles Finch's The Woman in the Water, set in 1850, amateur private detective Charles Lenox works closely with Scotland Yard to solve a pair of murders. At twenty-three, he is barely older than the law enforcement agency.

Established in 1829 by an Act of Parliament introduced by then Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel, the London ...
Albanian Communism (01/19)
Bashkim Hasani, who is Elsie's boyfriend and Luljeta's father in Xhenet Aliu's novel Brass, was born in an Albanian work camp, one of many which were set up under Communist rule.

The Albanian Communist Party was founded in 1941 with the help of Yugoslavia's communist leader, Josip Tito. An Albanian communist politician, Enver Hoxha, ...
The Keystone XL Pipeline (01/19)
The Keystone Pipeline is a 36-inch-diameter oil pipeline between Alberta, Canada and Texas. It transports 550,000 barrels of crude oil from Canada to refineries and distribution centers in the United States every day. It was constructed in three phases, with the first – stretching to southern Nebraska and then across to two ...
The NSA and its Affiliates (10/18)
The National Security Administration (NSA) is the direct descendant of the group established to decode enemy communications during WWII featured in Code Girls. Established by U.S. President Harry Truman in 1952, the NSA is the government agency responsible for signal intelligence — 'Intelligence derived from electronic signals and ...
Hurricane Katrina's Racial Implications (10/18)
New Orleans was, and is, a city with a majority African-American population (nearly 67% in 2005), and the racial implications of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina have come to define the way many people think of the storm. 68% of the storm's nearly 700 victims were black, as were an overwhelming number of those whose homes ...
Where Do Terrorists in the US Come From? (09/18)
As detailed in Lalehi Kadivi's novel, A Good Country, the Boston Marathon Bombing took place on April 15, 2013. Three people were killed and over 260 others were injured including at least 16 who lost limbs. Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tzarnaev, two brothers aged 24 and 19, had manufactured home made bombs contained in pressure cookers which ...
The Life and Times of a Human Smuggler (08/18)
We have heard a lot about illegal immigration in the past few months – it is a hot topic of discussion and debate, vast amounts of time and money are spent on controlling, limiting or shutting it down across the border between the US and Mexico. However, there are many stories of migrants who make it across: Isabel Allende's In the ...
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