5.6 min readBy Published On: May 20th, 2023Categories: Features0 Comments on Caught Reading in May – Southie Edition

Book 1:
Did You Hear About Kitty Karr

By: Crystal Smith Paul

I wasn’t sure what I’d think about this novel when it was given to me.  It wasn’t exactly what I’d pick up at the bookstore, but at the same time it kept catching my eye on the bookshelf and when I was finally ready to put down my thrillers – I snatched it up.  I’m SO GLAD I did.  I also saw that it was picked as  a Book of the Month choice, so if you didn’t grab it for May, I highly recommend it as an add-on in a future month.

At the start of this book, we are met by three sisters – each one beautiful and talented in their own right.  They’ve reunited to sort through Hollywood icon, close family friend and next-door neighbor -Kitty Karr’s home estate.  As far as they know, she was a legend that mostly enjoyed an extremely private life but valued a friendship with their grandmother.   Elise, a main character and one of the sisters, takes on a leading role of sorting through Kitty’s belongings and attempting to ensure that her last wishes are respected.   She welcomes the distraction from her own life – complete with a cheating husband and social media fallout due to posting about Black Lives Matter – and falls deep into Kitty’s hidden journals.

We are drawn back in time to 1934 and the start of Kitty’s origin story.  Her mother, Hazel, as well as many others in their community work in the homes of prominent white families – serving as cooks, maids, nannies and more.   We watch her navigate a life that suffocates her joy and her innocence – where she dreams of Hollywood and a better life.  As she continues to grow, we begin to see the choices that Hazel makes to ensure that her daughter has a future that can only happen far away from Virginia.  Decisions are made that set Kitty on a path to California.  A large part of this book focuses on relationships between families and what it means for a mother to want the best for their child.

As the book continues through the years, we learn about Kitty’s younger years in California and how she was able to get a job on a Hollywood set – as a phone operator and eventually moving on and up to a screenplay writer.  We read about her love life – those that throw her to the side and those that take her under their wing without letting go.  We learn what it means to love with restraint.  We read about her female friendships, those in the sisterhood she’s had to let go and the qualities of those who will remain lifelong- even showing up in Elise’s chapters at Kitty’s funeral reception.  One of the things I liked most was watching how the celebrity and Hollywood icon status of Kitty Karr grows throughout the novel and the choices she makes.

Without sharing too much information,  this story also highlighted what it meant for some to participate in “passing” and what that meant for themselves, their opportunities (or lack of), the reasoning behind doing so, and how this all connects to the future.  I thought it was extremely important to read about – but also heartbreaking and angering at some points.  I am not sure what parts of this novel were based on actual people or groups, but there are many pieces I assume are.  I thought the author was thoughtful and shared information that might not have been known to all readers,  I appreciate it and it encourages me to look for more stories.

Book 2:
Paper Names

By: Susie Luo

I usually send CaughtinSouthie reviews in the middle of the month and I’m a few days late!  However, shout out to any and all that are celebrating #AAPI month!  To celebrate, I’ll share one of my picks – Paper Names by Susie Luo.

The story has three main characters whose lives are intertwined through family and circumstance.  Tammy is introduced as a young girl, moving from a crowded apartment in a NYC borough, with chapters full of descriptive smells and sights.  She struggles as the daughter of immigrants, not knowing where she fits in.   She loves her family, but at the same time, she’s growing up in a whole new culture that her parents just do not understand.  This is the situation and circumstance for so many first-generation Americans.  As chapters progress, we learn how she struggles in life as the dutiful daughter, but at the same time wants to figure out who she is without the pressure from their expectations.   Her father, Tony, came from a small village in China – after his intelligence allowed him to be one of the few to advance in higher education.  He used the opportunities given to become an engineer, meet his higher-class wife and eventually move to the United States.  However, it was not a seamless transition – especially due to the language barrier – and we initially meet him working  as a door man in a wealthy Manhattan building.   He is trying to do the best for his family, but is disappointed in himself and where life’s taken him – including encounters where people speak slowly to him or talk like he’s not standing right there,  and where he takes out his anger on his daughter at night. The last main character is Oliver, a wealthy resident in Tony’s building – that barely spoke to him before a single moment of violence on the sidewalk brings them together.   Each character you’ll root for, you’ll feel for, you’ll love and you’ll hate.  It’s a roller coaster, but not the same as a thriller per say – it’s more the ups and downs of familial conflict, love and the impact of every single decision we make.

I thought this was an extremely quick read that pulls at your heart strings and opens your eyes to the immigrant experience.  At its’ core, though, it’s a story that I do think CaughtinSouthie readers will enjoy.  There were definite points I think many can relate to, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one if you pick it up.

If you got this far, thank you!  Let us know what you think via the comments on @caughtinsouthie or catch me at @glossinbossin / @josiegl on Instagram.

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