4 out of 4 stars
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Having had a painful and traumatic childhood due to bullying, Heather Ricks turned to writing fictional short stories as catharsis. The final product, titled Songs from Ugly: Discovering Chords of Beauty, is a collection of six short stories with three author’s notes interspersed throughout; the book covers a variety of themes, such as outer-versus-inner beauty, racism, and emotional healing.
A brilliantly structured compilation, the fictionalised stories are arranged in chronological and thematic order: first, we see how Ricks handles her memories of being bullied as a child for being unable to adhere to societal norms of physical beauty; next, she speaks about the racist atmosphere that pervaded her childhood community; and finally, we learn how she worked through her issues and eventually recovered. Each section flowed seamlessly and beautifully into the next, and the holistic reading experience definitely touched me deeper than if I were to read each section separately.
To be frank, I have never come across a book that is so powerful, evocative, and emotional; in addition, the fact that Ricks is able to draw out such a wide spectrum of emotion in a mere 140 pages is even more spectacular. She is obviously talented at storytelling, and I think knowing that the short stories draw heavily on her personal experiences only increased my appreciation of her work.
Moreover, with Ricks’s descriptive ability, the images, sounds, and atmosphere in all of the stories were conveyed with startling clarity. In fact, I found my own emotions rising and ebbing according to the climaxes and dips of each story. It was almost an out-of-body experience – that was how immersed I was. When the main characters were suffering from psychological pain caused by their family members’ inability to practise empathy, my heart clenched. Thereafter, when they managed to overcome these obstacles and come to terms with their true selves, my heart soared.
Not only were the descriptions top-notch, Ricks’s discussion of the themes present in the stories were also deep and thought-provoking. For example, in “Colour of Redemption”, which tells the story of a girl’s grandmother narrating to her the story of the murder of a white pastor by a coloured man, Ricks cleverly subverts the underlying racist assumption by having the grandmother reveal an earth-shattering truth (which I wish I could reveal but cannot, since it is a major spoiler). Hence, with this revelation, the reader is forced to question their innate assumptions about race. This aspect certainly made me appreciate the book even more.
In summation, it should be obvious by now that I thoroughly loved reading Heather Ricks’s Songs from Ugly: Discovering Chords of Beauty, and the book undoubtedly deserves a rating of 4 out of 4 stars. My one and only gripe is that this collection is too short; I would love to read more stories from Ricks. I found a couple of very minor, almost imperceptible, punctuation errors, such as misplaced commas and missing hyphens. Nonetheless, in no way did these errors detract from the flow, clarity, and beauty of the writing. In fact, most of the book was very well edited. Also, if I could, I would recommend this book to everyone who has not read it, but for the sake of specificity, there are some mentions of abuse, rape, bullying, and minor religious references for those who are sensitive.
Songs from Ugly
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