Seven Days in June with Eva and Shane

Seven Days in June by Tia Williams – A Five-Star Book Review

“I wish you the most brilliant, weird, and wonderful things, every day of the world.”

Tia Williams, Seven Days in June (pg. 113)

This might be one of my all-time favorite book quotations now, and it encapsulates everything I feel about Seven Days in June, a brilliant novel by Tia Williams that has been sitting on my to-be-read shelf for far too long.

Eva’s life is full in Brooklyn. She is a celebrated Black author with her bestselling he erotic fantasy series Cursed; friends with vibrant, inspiring women like her editor Cece and renowned poet Belinda; and, most importantly, a devoted mom to her precocious pre-teen daughter Audre. All Eva has is focused on giving Audre a better life than what Eva experienced during her childhood.

Yes, her life is full but it’s far from perfect, something that Eva has come to accept. She deals with her invisible disability–debilitating migraines that bring her to her knees–in silence, taking precautions and hiding her emergency painkillers outside of her inner circle. And, while Cursed has been her life’s work for 14 novels, she feels trapped in the fantasy world of Gia and Sebastian because those stories sell copies and there’s a movie deal on the table. Eva wants to move beyond those stories and explore her own family’s stories, those of her mother Lizette, grandmother Clotilde, and great-grandmother Delphine.

But, one steamy day in June, a man walks back into Eva’s life from decades before, and all is no longer fine. Shane, an award-winning novelist himself, disappeared from her life after a heady, drug-infused week of their senior year in high school. Now he wants to make amends, and Eva starts to question all that she’s known.

What I Loved About Seven Days in June

There is so much to love about this book. Ms. Williams pours emotion onto the page and lets you sit with the characters as they feel happiness, doubt, pain, and heartbreak. Those characters and the representation of not just race but also disabilities, mental health, and poverty are what made me love this book with ferocity, but really, every bit of this novel is perfect, in my opinion.

The Characters

Eva is a beautiful protagonist, one who isn’t perfect but is endearing in every way. Her devotion to Audre is palpable, as is her love for Shane, even when she tries to deny that love. Through flashbacks, we see how Eva developed into a fierce but tender woman despite her mother’s neglect, and we see how writing became a survival mechanism for her. Also, Ms. Williams did an excellent job of showing us how trapped Eva felt in continuing Cursed, a sure-thing for her finances, rather than pursue what she really wanted to write about. I loved Eva’s character, her nuances and flaws. She is a character I would want to meet in person, learn from, and be friends with.

Shane is just as imperfect and endearing as Eva. We learn so much about his troubled, heartbreaking past in the book’s flashbacks, but we also see how he has started to rebuild his life, first by choosing to become sober and then by teaching at inner-city schools, despite his resounding literary success. Shane hasn’t written a new novel in awhile, but everything he’s written has been praised–and it’s all been written for Eva. Shane is a deeply feeling man who places so much of the world’s burden on himself.

Audre is the picture of a 12-year-old girl about to explode into womanhood. She’s dramatic with a capital D, but she’s also incredibly intelligent and insightful, and she’s determined to use those gifts for the good of others. After all, she runs a side business of Snapchat therapy sessions for her friends. Every scene with Audre was like a burst of color and emotion.

While Eva, Shane, and Audre are the main characters in the book, the secondary characters like Cece, Belinda, Ty, and Lizette bring so much to the story. They are fully realized characters, with their own strengths and flaws. Ms. Williams spends time with each, and I appreciated how even the characters with the shortest presence in the book were still well-developed and realistic, not just acting in the background of the story.

The Representation

From the descriptions of the Black literati celebrations to the way Eva plaits Audre’s hair, this book gives beautiful representation to Black identity and experiences. Throughout her novel, Ms. Williams addresses whitewashing, generational trauma, and the systemic injustices that occur as children are born into poverty. Yes, this is a love story between Eva and Shane, but it is more than that.

Disability and mental health play key roles in Seven Days in June as well. Eva hides her migraines despite their crushing daily presence. Flashbacks show both Eva and Shane self-harming and using alcohol and drugs to numb their pain. In the present, Shane uses running to keep himself from turning back to alcohol, but he still keeps the burden of others on his shoulders and feels deep shame and guilt if he cannot help them.

Seven Days in June is more than a romance novel. Yes, it is steamy and brings all the feelings when you read about Eva and Shane’s past and current interactions, but it is a story about growth and identity as well. I loved the characters and the representation in this novel, and I can’t wait to pick up another book by Ms. Williams.

Six Years Later… Grieving My Dad and How It’s Changed

Friday marked the sixth anniversary of my dad’s death. In many ways, I’ve defined the past six years by his absence. While he would have hated the term “daddy’s girl,” I was definitely that. I’m the youngest child (by a lot), and I spent a lot of time with Dad. We had similar interests; he is the one who taught me to love reading. He taught me to work hard and never to accept anything less than 100% from myself. And, he was the one I could talk to most freely about my mental illness. He didn’t understand every nuance of my depression, anxiety, or eating disorder, but he listened and oftentimes didn’t give advice. He just let me talk so that I put words to the pain and sometimes work things out on my own. When I was fighting the idea of having to take medication for my mental health, he was the first to use the metaphor: “If you had diabetes, you would take insulin every day and wouldn’t be ashamed of it, would you? This is the same thing, just for your brain.”

So, I loved my dad deeply. I know that I’ve built him up to a hero’s status in my mind, but that is who he is to me. He was not perfect and never claimed to be. I didn’t always agree with him, we had plenty of arguments, and my teenage self was embarrassed by him often; things that I think are all normal in a father-daughter relationship.

Anyway. I woke up this Friday morning early, thinking about how six years ago I was awakened by my phone ringing with my brother on the other end of the line to tell me that Dad had passed away. I hugged my husband and went upstairs in my parents’ house to tell Mom, in the dusky darkness of a February morning, that he was gone.

It wasn’t unexpected. Dad had his first stroke years before and had rallied, beaten prostrate cancer, and then experienced multiple transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs or mini-strokes). Within the last six months of his life, he’d fallen and could no longer live at home without 24-hour support. I desperately didn’t want to let him go, but I didn’t want to see him suffer anymore. None of us did. When I got home that Monday night before his death, I immediately went to his care facility and stayed up all night with him. I just wanted more time. I hadn’t lived in the same state as Mom and Dad for 10 years. We saw each other three to four times a year, depending on everyone’s schedule and when we could gather all the kids.

But, he wasn’t the same Dad I knew anymore, this husk of a man in a hospital bed. He would have been raging at us all in frustration because of how much he’d declined. He would have been furious with himself. Still, it was so hard.

How My Grief Has Changed

One of the trite statements people tell you after you lose someone is that grief gets easier the longer someone is gone. I appreciate their support and their desire to comfort, but I disagree. Grief doesn’t get easier. It changes. For me, my grief of losing Dad was a huge, raw wound I carried on my body for at least a year. Slowly, that wound started to scab over, but it was still there. But I don’t believe that it has dissipated or lessened. I think it’s morphed into a part of my being. It’s like that patch of skin on my elbow that I don’t think about every day, but I know it’s there, and when it itches, I’m keenly aware of that small part of myself. Sometimes all it takes is a simple brush of the hand against my skin to calm the itch, like when I share a memory of Dad and blink away tears. But other times, the itch is rampant, and I scratch it until it bleeds. The only thing that helps is balm and bandages, and the only thing that helps with my grief is wrapping myself in a blanket and lying there with my memories and my tears.

I’d planned on doing many things on Friday to honor Dad, to change the narrative of it being a day of itch-scratching and solitude. But, my body had different plans, with a painful migraine and interrupted sleep all night. Still, I did take a long walk to move my body — something Dad firmly believed in — and I hugged my loved ones. And, I know that it’s not just about memorializing February 17, 2017; I know it’s about living a life that he wanted for me: one that is physically and mentally healthy, full of love for my family, and with a strong work ethic to achieve goals.

My Brain Hates Me

I have had a headache for four months. That’s not hyperbole. For 120-plus days, I have had some sort of pain in my head.

The doctor first diagnosed me with tension headaches, which wasn’t a real surprise given the amount of stress I hold onto. I had a bout of tension headaches in April, so that November diagnosis seemed to line up. But then they got worse. Worse like someone is drilling an ice pick into the crown of my skull while simultaneously punching me on both temples.

About three weeks into getting no relief from the original prescription I had for tension headaches, I gave in and called the doctor again. Yep, these pounding pains around my skull and behind my eye are migraines. Again, not much of a surprise because I used to get them as a teen, and there’s a history of migraines on my mom’s side of the family.

But nothing is working. I’ve taken more sick time in the past month than I have in years because I can’t bear to sit in front of three computer screens. I didn’t even get relief on our Christmas vacation! Being stuck in bed crying because there’s too much light coming through the cracks in the curtains? Not fun. Most days, if I make it through 8 hours of work, I immediately go to bed and hide under the covers.

I finally got in to see a neurologist this past week, and he confirmed what I already know: yes, they’re migraines. But now we have to exhaust several different prescriptions before we get to try what he thinks will really work: Botox injections.

The good news is that my CT scan came back clear, so there aren’t any readily apparent physical issues outside of the migraines (read: no clearly visible tumors or masses). The neurologist has ordered an MRI, which I get next week, just to rule anything else out. So, I’m paying all of my insurance deductible within the first seven weeks of 2023. Yay?

It’s odd to have something else wrong with my brain. I’m used to having mental health problems. While I hate dealing with anxiety and depression, I’m accustomed to them and I’ve accepted that I’ll have to deal with those diagnoses for the rest of my life. But another issue in my brain? And one that’s just as difficult to treat? Seriously?

I know that on the grand scheme of health concerns, I am very lucky, but that doesn’t take away the frustration I feel when I’m knocked out by a migraine and can’t function at home or at work. It makes me feel weak and helpless. I have so many goals I want to reach in 2023, but I’ve had to slow down on some because of this pain.

You Have Entered Beartown

Beartown by Fredrik Backman – A Five-Star Book Review

Beartown is a mainstay in book club conversations and on Bookstagram, with so many reviews raving about the power of this book by Swedish author Fredrik Backman. It took me until 2023 to understand why.

I had trepidations about reading this book when I first heard about it. Ice hockey? Sexual assault? A tight-knit community’s reactions to one girl’s accusation of rape against the star hockey player right before the championship game? I didn’t think it was a book I’d enjoy, but while it took me several weeks to read it, the payout was so amazing.

What I Loved About Beartown

Beartown is a definite five-star book for me, with so many aspects that I loved. Here are a few.

The Themes of Beartown

On its simplest level, Beartown is laid out like the plot of a 1990s Lifetime Movie of the Week: the high school star athlete sexually assaults a vulnerable teenage girl, and the aftermath of this violence impacts everyone from the victim and perpetrator to the parents and townspeople surrounding them. But Backman weaves in themes of family, friendship, community, and justice in such a way that it is much more than an old TV movie starring Tori Spelling. He accomplished this by using multiple points of view, crafted with precision in beautiful prose and an awareness of the fragility of all that he includes.

The Writing of Backman

Backman wrote this book in Swedish, so I read the English translation. But, friends, the beauty of his words transcends languages. Not only are his syntax, diction, and skill on pointe, but also the level of detail and precision in descriptions are so impressive. And Backman is the king of foreshadowing, leaving important touchstones throughout the book to know you’re in safe hands as he guides you through the story.

The Relationships of the Characters

Every relationship within the community of Beartown is nuanced with tension and emotion. From the current l teammates and the adults who once skated the ice together, to the business owners and sponsors, to the parents and children and friends, there are layers of interactions, histories, and feelings.

My Personal Connection

I was sexually assaulted at 18, just two weeks into my freshman year at college. The perpetrator was a college boy who’d gone to high school with my dorm roommate, and he was a member of the fraternity associated with my sorority. I was embarrassed and frightened, in denial for the most part. I’d been so desperate to be liked, I kept my mouth shut. Other than making light of the bruises on my arms, I didn’t tell anyone the truth about what happened until three months later during an emotional breakdown fueled by vodka and desperation.

So I deeply empathized with Maya in this story, and it brought up many emotions surrounding the responses from family and friends when I finally explained what happened. This is probably why I resisted reading this book for so long, but what Backman wrote resonated with me on many levels, and I deeply appreciate his tender, honest look at what happens to those impacted by trauma.