Cover Image: Valentine

Valentine

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A very intense read.  The story is built in layers around the stories of several women in Odessa, Texas in 1976.  A town dominated by the actions and consequences, what few there are, of the men who have lived their whole lives in the oilfields of Texas.  The book starts with the brutal rape of a 14yr old girl of Mexican descent.  In 1976 Texas border towns, being Mexican and a woman meant you had no standing in the community.  As the white women in Odessa take up the call for justice for this young woman, we get a harsh look at life on the edge of poverty.  Elizabeth Wetmore has done an excellent job of building the characters and their community, I can see these men and women as they debate the future of their town.  An absolutely wonderful book that I am happily recommending to everyone I know.  Read this book, you won't be sorry.
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Wetmore does a beautiful job of depicting the harsh and bleak landscape of a Texas oil town in the 1970's. Her writing is evocative, lyrical, and gritty and I loved the intertwined stories of this cast of women and girls. They're very different but they all feel real. I have a feeling this is a read that will stick with me. 

I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Published by Harper on March 31, 2020

Valentine is a close study of female characters in or near Odessa, Texas, during the oil boom of the 1970s. With one or two exceptions, men play a limited role; they work and get drunk and behave badly with women. Men in Odessa die from accidents and drugs; women die because they are killed by men. “You raise a family in Midland, but you raise hell in Odessa.”

Suzanne Ledbetter scolds her daughter for crying when she hurls her baton into the air and it falls on her eye. Never let them see you cry, she says. Suzanne peddles Avon and Tupperware because she refuses to be judged in the way the city judges its poor residents. When she dies, she wants people to say that she was “a clever businesswoman, that she toed the line.” Suzanne copes by taking what she can get while avoiding public confrontation of the forces that keep her in her place. Her pride is all that matters.

Karla Sibley is 17 and bone tired because her baby still won’t sleep through the night. She works at a restaurant where male customers complain that she never smiles. When Dale Strickland makes a drunken effort to punch her, the female owner tells her not to overreact because “we don’t want anybody reaching for his gun.” Maybe the other customers will kick Strickland around in the parking lot to teach him a lesson (or just for fun), but he’ll be back. The other waitresses think how nice it must be for Strickland and his kind “to move through the world knowing everything will work out for them in the end.”

Mary Rose Whitehead’s jaundiced view of men is confirmed when a 14-year-old girl named Glory Ramirez flees Strickland after he rapes her. Glory takes shelter in Mary Rose’s home while Mary Rose faces down Strickland with a rifle she’s not sure is loaded. Mary Rose becomes the victim of the racist locals who threaten and malign her for testifying against Strickland. She despises the members of the Ladies Guild who stand behind Strickland and regard Glory as a slut because she's poor and Mexican. When Mary Rose testifies, the male judge is condescending and the defense attorney argues to all-male jury that the rape was just a misunderstanding. Mary Rose’s experiences with men are so disturbing that she ultimately can’t distinguish men who are evil from those who are harmless. She is surprised to learn “how easy it is to become the thing you most hate, or fear.” How her experience will affect her judgment is a question that underlies the novel’s best and most suspenseful scene.

In a moment of crisis, Corrine Shepard thinks “that she is an old woman completely unprepared to stop the world from coming apart at the seams.” As Corrine listens to men at the country club bemoan the loss of “their war against chaos and degeneracy” that followed Nixon’s resignation, she thinks men are the same everywhere. “She figured she could parachute into Antarctica in the dead of night, and she’d find three or four men sitting around a fire, filling each other’s heads with bullshit, fighting over who got to hold the fire poker.” The exception in Corrine’s experience was her husband Potter, but he died. Every night after his death she drinks too much, then sits in Potter’s truck, garage door closed, wishing she had the nerve to start the engine and end her life. The one time she did start the engine, Debra Ann, a pesky neighborhood child, opened the garage door to ask one of her unending questions.

Debra Ann's mother, Ginny Pierce, intended to come back for Debra Ann after she left Odessa, but never stopped for long in any one place. Debra Ann fills her life with imaginary friends until she discovers a real one, a gentle man who lives in a drainpipe. She provides a necessary balance to the novel, both in her innocent refusal to view all men as evil and by reminding women that they are the compassionate gender, the ones who help and forgive. But maybe that’s not true of all the women in Odessa. The novel suggests that some women react to violence by saying enough is enough.

Valentine is in part a story about the value of empathy for those who suffer, and of responding to wrath with mercy. But it is primarily a story of the emotional and physical pain that women endure at the hands of men, particularly in places where women are not valued as equals, where men make all the rules.

Elizabeth Wetmore captures a setting that is dry and dusty, a place that would have nothing if it didn’t have oil. Men come for work, live in “man camps,” and only stay until the boom ends, when they move on and leave the women behind. Wetmore repeats some of the local jokes about Odessa near the novel's end. The jokes are ugly, like the landscape, reflecting the bleak, unjust, and humorless life that the female characters endure.

Valentine is tense and depressing, but Wetmore’s surehanded prose tells a moving story that never becomes sentimental. It derives power from its avoidance of melodrama. Life is hard and for some of the characters, it is unlikely to ever be better. The female characters differ in age and ancestry, but they share an understanding, if not an acceptance, of their vulnerability in a harsh male world. Still, at least one character offers a message of hope, an unwillingness to be satisfied with survival, a determination to shape her own fate. The opportunity to understand and care about the diverse lives of these complex women makes Valentine a novel that will bear rereading.

RECOMMENDED
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Yes, it start's out the day after a young teen's rape, but it doesn't stay there. It's a character driven novel that orbits around race, gender, and integrity in Odessa, Texas in 1976 as seen through the female perspective only.

"Gloria could be any of our girls,...."

"Why don't we give a shit about what happens to a girl like Glory Ramirez?"

Rape details are not disclosed. The emotional and physical aftermath on Gloria (also known as Glory) are affirmed, but Gloria is given only 3 chapters in the book. It tends to focus on the emotional effects. There were not a lot of gruesome details.

This is primarily a literary novel that basks in a bounty literary elements. If you are looking for a quick read, this is not it. Each sentence was constructed to drive home a deeper meaning, intensify the essence of a character, or to advance the atmosphere. There were moments during the first half, that moved at a slower pace because of the excessive use of language. In the end, those longer descriptions and narrations really made me feel like I knew these women though. Some of them I won't forget.

Chapters alternate point of view without pattern and are told from women living in Odessa during this time. The main characters are typically effected by that night Gloria was raped, either as distant witness or a community member. But, other women chime in with chapters (unrelated to Gloria's case) to solidify a setting that reflects gender inequity.

I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley. Opinions are my own.
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Set in 1976 Odessa, Texas, the book begins with the brutal rape of 14 year old Gloria Ramirez on Valentine's Day. Women in this part of the state are isolated from the changing times experienced by others in the rest of the country and continue to face life as doled out by the white, patriarchal society. Ms. Wetmore does a wonderful job of telling the concurrent story of women and their families affected by poverty, trauma, injustice, racism, sexism. She paints a vivid picture in the reader's mind of their respective plights. I struggled a bit through the middle parts of the book because of so many great characters competing for my attention.

Thanks to NetGalley and Harper Books for an ARC of this book. My review is voluntary.
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Wetmore's novel is a timely examination of sexism and racism in a small community.  Using a historical lens, Valentine traces the connections among a group of women in West Texas in the 1970s.  Against the backdrop of an oil boom, these women fight their way through daily life, dealing with physical and emotional abuse, poverty, teenage motherhood, and judgmental neighbors.  

The novel is well-written, and the female characters are compelling.  I felt their need to be seen and understood.  I also felt their helplessness.  I can't lie: Valentine was hard to read at times.  But I think that speaks to Wetmore's convincing portrayal of the time and place.  

I definitely recommend Valentine for those who appreciate good literary fiction and aren't afraid to wade into the trenches with women fighting for their place in the world.
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Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore was an atmospheric novel that sweeps you up right away. I can’t believe this was a debut, the author’s writing is excellent and I thought the story was compelling. I love a book that takes place in the 70s.

SO good! Look here:

It’s February 1976, and Odessa, Texas, stands on the cusp of the next great oil boom. While the town’s men embrace the coming prosperity, its women intimately know and fear the violence that always seems to follow.

In the early hours of the morning after Valentine’s Day, fourteen-year-old Gloria Ramírez appears on the front porch of Mary Rose Whitehead’s ranch house, broken and barely alive. The teenager had been viciously attacked in a nearby oil field—an act of brutality that is tried in the churches and barrooms of Odessa before it can reach a court of law. When justice is evasive, the stage is set for a showdown with potentially devastating consequences.

Such a great novel! The storyline, the characters, everything about it was complex and riveting and reminded me a little of Jane Harper’s books.  If you don’t believe me, check out all the four and five-star reviews. Valentine would make an excellent series on Netflix, Hulu etc.

This comes out on March 31, pre-order here.
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A book set in Texas during a time where men were the authority as they made all the money and worked in very male dominated industries.  Told through multiple perspectives, but all women, they describe the life and times where living is hard but especially hard if you are a woman.  

This was a difficult read for me.  One due to the change in perspective and the amount of perspectives and two because the subject matter in and of itself was just hard to read.  I am not faint of heart, but these women were going through it and it was hard to read.  

I think this book has a very defined audience and I would recommend to any reader to read multiple reviews before diving into this one.
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DNF -  The writing is skilled and the scenes are vivid. But I had a hard time following the multiple POVs. The story dragged in parts and didn't hold my interested. I would still recommend others give this a try considering hte rave reviews it's getting. Perhaps it's just not the right time for me and this novel.
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The triggering event of Valentine, by Elizabeth Wetmore, is thankfully not explicitly described. Instead, this book deals with the aftermath of the rape and beating of Gloria Ramírez through the eyes of two white women and a white girl. This might be a strange choice, but it provides an interesting look into the mindset of people who seem to be caught on the outside of a community who are more than willing to pass off what happened as a “misunderstanding” and a “lovers’ quarrel.” The community can’t understand why one of the women, a witness, wants to testify and ruin a young man’s life. Meanwhile, another woman struggles to adjust to a life as a widow and a young girl shifts for herself while the adults ignore here. Valentine is a book of extraordinary emotional depth.

Mary Rose opens the door of her ranch home on the outskirts of Odessa, Texas, one morning in 1976 to find Gloria, beaten and bloody, on her doorstep. She takes the girl in and grabs Old Lady, her shotgun. Shortly after, the man who hurt Gloria shows up. He demands that Mary Rose turn over Gloria, that he and his “girlfriend” had just had a fight. Mary Rose refuses. Who knows what might have happened if the sheriff hadn’t showed up to arrest the man? The perspective of the book then shifts to Corrine, who has just lost her husband. He had died in a “hunting accident” after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. We also hear from Debra Ann, known as D.A., who spends much of the summer of 1976 stealing supplies for a homeless Vietnam veteran.

Because we spend so much time away from Glory, Valentine creates more of an impression of the struggles of the women who live hard lives in West Texas. The wind always blows. It’s dry and not much grows there. The men work dangerous jobs, then blow off steam with drinking and fighting and sex. Odessa and the other oil towns read like the end of the road or a place to escape from, if at all possible. And yet, for D.A., it’s the only place she knows. She makes the best of it as she roams around the neighborhood. Mary Rose feels proprietary about her ranch. Corrine never imagines life anywhere else. Her entire life is in West Texas. Everything holds memories for her, even if there doesn’t seem to be much of a future there.

Another strong theme that develops in Valentine is a deep anti-Mexican racism. Mary Rose—who is subject to threatening calls at night that keep her from sleeping—hears comments from people who say things like “you know how those girls are.” When Glory slowly ventures out into the world again, a young boy makes jokes to her using racial slurs that he’s clearly heard from adults. We know that Glory and Mary Rose are in the right, so it’s hard to see so many people willing to brush off Glory’s rape with racism and sexism.

Although Valentine takes place over the course of one summer, it feels as wide and hot as a West Texas summer. The days seem endless as the landscape bakes around the characters. By the time the trial rolls around at the end of the summer, it feels like years have passed with Mary Rose has had to cope with sleeplessness, threats, a new baby, and separation from her husband. Corrine slowly emerges from her grief and rejoins the world. D.A., meanwhile, becomes more and more independent even though she craves affection from others. I had no idea that Valentine would end so dramatically. The ending is the perfect conclusion to all the pent up emotion that had been building all summer.

My dad grew up partly in Odessa, Texas and in a neighboring town in the 1960s and 1970s. He never talked about it much other than to mention the heat and the tarantulas. He joined the navy to get out of Texas; he only made a few trips back. One of those trips was a family trip. As soon as I got out of the car, I accidentally stood on a red ant hill. I remember that my brother was always in danger of heatstroke. I was fascinating for me to read about characters who were a part of the country in a way that I never could be. (I don’t do well in heat and humidity.) I grew to admire Mary Rose and Corrine and D.A. These women bear a lot of hurt, but they endure. I marvel at characters and people who stand for what’s right and who don’t let excuses, prejudice, or expediency dissuade them from their position.
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Summary: Fourteen year old Gloria Ramírez wakes up bruised and battered on the ground in the middle of nowhere, west Texas. Her mind and body feel as torn and lost as her scattered bits of clothing. Near the truck she climbed into the night before, her rapist lies sleeping in a drunken stupor. She slowly gets to her feet and trudges through the oil patch toward a distant farmhouse, hoping to find help before the man wakes up.

The farmhouse, part of a failing cattle ranch, is currently occupied by a very pregnant Mary Rose and her school-aged daughter, Aimee Jo. Her husband is out trying to keep the cows alive on their hardscrabble plot of land. The only thing that keeps them from completely failing is their oil leases. But the oil is also a curse as it poisons the ground and the air, making it even harder to survive.

Finding battered Gloria on her front step is the last straw for Mary Rose. She is angered and frightened, fearing for her own safety out on the plains. She knows she must eventually testify in court: she alone stands between Gloria and justice. The gossips and the good old boy establishment blame the young Hispanic girl for her own rape. Mary Rose gathers her strength and moves into town with Aimee. There, we meet the remainder of the novel’s characters, all people struggling with the challenges of daily living.

Comments: Valentine is an remarkable debut novel. The meticulous word crafting, combined with clarity, detail and empathy, breathe life into the characters and the settings. I could feel the hot, dry sun on my skin and smell the sulfurous air, while my heart ached for Gloria. The secondary characters also come to life with distinct personalities, an incredible feat for a new novelist.

Valentine gives the reader an unsparing view into the lives of those who live on the borders and margins. Elizabeth Wetmore writes with deep compassion for her characters and unflinching honesty about their circumstances.

Very highly recommended for readers of Literary Fiction.

My Rating: 5 STARS +
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When I started this book, hands down I was giving it 5 stars. About half way through I felt a disconnect and decided i could only give this book 3 stars. 

Gloria is a fifteen year old, Mexican Girl, that has been brutally raped on Valentine’s night in Odessa, Texas. Gloria is the girl that changes her name immediately after being raped to Glory because all she hears in her head is her rapist, Dale Strickland, screaming Gloria over and over. She can’t stand to hear the name Gloria ever again. 

Alma, Glory’s mother an illegal alien,  is taken away and deported back home to Mexico without saying goodbye to her distraught, broken daughter. As Alma is being deported she thinks to herself  “Glory - the name she insists on. Glory, the extra beat that has been severed. She misses it.” 
 
Valentine, a debut novel by Elizabeth Wetmore, is written not sparing any language and it is very blunt and to the point. I loved this about the book. It made the characters so real and made the reader feel totally engrossed and connected to the characters, and the time period. When I began reading this book I was mesmerized. I loved  every word on every page. About half way through the book I began to feel disconnected. I feel the author started to loose focus and started to ramble on about things that didn’t really pertain to the big picture. The book is divided into chapters about different women. There were too many characters to follow with no real point. I  feel that if the author stayed focused on Glory and two other women she would have had a more powerful novel, one that easily connected everyone and made a strong point. The saying too many cooks spoil the broth applies here. That being said because I loved Wetmore’s  writing style I will definitely look forward to reading her next book. 

Thank you NetGalley and HarperCollins Publishers for an ARC of his book in exchange for an honest review. It will be out March 31, 2020
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Wow! I cannot believe this is a debut novel. I was so invested in this story and this town. I cannot wait for more from Wetmore!
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In Odessa, Texas on Valentine's night 1976. Gloria Ramirez is 14 years old and gets in a truck with a 25 year old man she doesn't know. She is brutally beaten and raped. The next morning begins her struggle for survival by knocking at the door of a woman who can't deny her entry. The women of Odessa tell this story of survival. Each woman has her own struggles- widowhood, a mother who walked away from her daughter and husband (that daughter has her own voice in this book), the woman who opened her door to have her own life change, the neighbor who escaped her poverty stricken childhood. These women tell of racism, brutality, a male dominated society and judicial system. The book is dark, but I always wanted to read more. Have we changed much since the 1970s?
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In the barren stretch of Texas west of Odessa, the day after Valentine's day aches with women who have bruises and men with hangovers who forgot what havoc they inflicted on their prey. In 1976, the usually quiet town filled up with men looking to make money off the recent oil boom. Some brought their families, but most came alone to work long hours and drink their cash away long into the night.

The women who live out of town have to be healthy and independent. They hold up the house, the land, and their children. The characters in this novel show their metal when it is needed. Some leave as soon as they have money for the train out. Others stay and fight for what they think is right.This heartbreaking novel gives us women who are determined to survive, no matter what it costs them.

The hell many of the women live through, trying to survive, is written in tender prose with a deep understanding. E.W. describes what life is when you are considered an object to use and be thrown away. Sometimes, I felt claustrophobic in this expanse of Texas. I wished for every woman to leave for a better life and to give that to their daughters. VALENTINE is a deeply felt tribute to young women who are still in danger and to those of us who can help them.

Thank you to the author, Harper, and NetGalley for the e-ARC of this novel.
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I think I’m going against the grain on this one, because I was just proud of myself for sticking with it and finishing the entire book, I came close several times on calling it quits. I would go back and read the reviews and just knew it was going to improve and take off, but unfortunately for me, that just didn’t happen. 
The story is told from multiple viewpoints from several different women, but the main story with Glory was completely overshadowed with the tangents we went off on with the other characters. I felt this entire tale was way out there, if we would have centered around at least one of the storylines and not reached in so many directions the flow would have kept my attention. I loved Corrine and Potter’s story, he and she were both sweet lovable characters and Mary Rose had a heart of gold with a personality plus. But those were the only characters I came to care for. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any haunting emotional power in this one. 
I do thank the publisher for giving me the opportunity to receive this book from HarperCollins Publishers through NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. This is a 3-star book.
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I was desperate to get my hands on this book. It’s powerful and a lot to swallow: what women deal with in this world, have always dealt with from men and patriarchal society and yes, other women; and the avenues they take to exist without being crushed, the dark humor they bring, the hope that survives despite the big and small cuts men don’t feel, will never feel. Set against a desolate Odessa, TX, background, the writing is gorgeous and the story telling makes it feel far from a debut novel. Books like these are important, and I know saying that automatically makes some people not want to read them or some people want to read and shit on them, but I'm saying it anyway. If you are not a fan of books about hard things or unhappy endings or nuanced writing in which you can hate the situation or a character but still admire the writing and see what the author is doing, this book is not for you.

Thanks to Netgalley for the free copy for an honest review
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It’s early in the morning of the 15th of February, 1976 as this story begins, and Gloria Ramirez is sitting outside of a pickup truck on the ground, while the young man who brutally assaulted her physically and sexually earlier sits, passed out from all the alcohol he drank, inside his truck. She counts the seconds passing, watching and waiting for the right moment to make a run for the nearest place where she can hide. Not an easy feat where the land is so flat it is hard to measure the distance by looking at it, but when she sees a farmhouse in the distance as light begins to fill the sky, she begins, as silently as possible, to make her way there. All the while hoping that she can get there before he wakes up, and that whoever lives there will help.

When Mary Rose Whitehead answers her door, pregnant with her second child, and a nine year-old daughter inside when they hear the knock on the door. When she opens the door she sees two blackened eyes, one swollen, the scrapes, cuts and bruises covering the rest of this girl standing on her porch, calls for her daughter to first bring her the rifle, and then to call the Sheriff, and only then turns to ask the girl what her name is. Minutes later, she notices the cloud of dust kicked up by the last minute turn of a pickup truck, and she ushers the girl inside her house. Things happen quickly; so quickly that she forgets to ask her daughter if she had called the sheriff.

This story is shared from several perspectives and points of view, from Gloria’s - who changes her name to Glory in an effort to separate this life-altering moment from who she was from who she will become in the years to come – to Mary Rose, along with a host of others. This writing is stunningly impressive; the story took my breath away, even more so since this is a debut novel. I didn’t want to put it down, and resented everything that pulled me away from time to read it.

I loved that despite the darkness one would expect from how this begins, there is so much more to this story that offers hope and promise, that shows the good that does exist, and reminds us of all that is lovely and good in this world, despite the darkness that remains.

It’s early in the year, I know, but I doubt I’ll read a more impressive debut novel in the remaining months.


Pub Date: 31 MAR 2020


Many thanks for the ARC provided by HarperCollins Publishers / Harper
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Valentine is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. The writing is excellent and keeps you turning pages. Characters are so well developed you become invested in each of their lives. I could not put this book down and I believe you will find the first chapter so enthralling you have to continue. I loved this book and feel it will become a best seller if promoted.
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First, let me just get this petty detail out of the way before I move on to more important things: I’m sick and tired of literary fiction authors refusing to use quotation marks. Why must they insist on making the reading experience unnecessarily difficult and inaccessible? Stop it! Stop throwing dialogue in the middle of a paragraph with no indication that someone is speaking!

Anyway. By far the best aspect of this book was its setting. Elizabeth Wetmore uses vivid imagery and descriptive language that transported me to West Texas in 1976. It was positively atmospheric: the desert, the wildlife, the oil fields, the town of Odessa. The characters were complex and varied, with clear, distinct voices. Wetmore alternates between the perspectives of seven different women – yes, all women, and I really don’t think she could have effectively told this story any other way – and offers a slice (or more) of each of their lives. I didn’t love that she wrote one character’s chapters in first person, one (weirdly) in first person plural, and the rest in third.

Two of the characters’ perspectives, Glory and Mary Rose, revolve around the aftermath of Glory’s rape and how their lives have changed as a result. But the other characters’ perspectives sometimes felt like they were telling a different story, one where what happened to Glory lurks in the background but certainly isn’t the main theme. I still enjoyed those chapters, but I wish the book had been more focused. Wetmore touches on subjects of racism and misogyny, weaving them naturally into the story. She makes insightful, relevant points about being a woman in a patriarchal world, and she does so more deftly and gracefully and poignantly than many authors before her.

Normally I’d have plenty to say after a book like this, but I’m finding myself at a loss for words. This is definitely a book that will make you think, and feel, and maybe change your perspective. Even if there were some things here and there that I thought could have been tweaked, I would still highly recommend it.
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