Book Review Everyday People: The Colour of Life

Geneva Pattison

Everyday People: The Colour of Life, edited by Jennifer Baker, is an anthology of short stories that showcases the work of both emerging and well renowned writers of colour and indigenous writers from across the globe. Each tale in the book explores the depth and variety of the human experience through stories surrounding familial issues, cultural values, political discord and a myriad of personal trials.
The anthology is wonderful for readers who don’t have a preferred literary genre, there’s something for everyone’s tastes, while remaining a powerful social commentary on diversity. Thematically, the stories range from modern-takes on Sci-Fi, to reinvented ancestral otherworldliness, to focusing on the everyday occurrences that are often stranger and more unbelievable than any piece of fiction could be.
Touching down first on UK soil, the book opens with an imaginatively brilliant story, Link, written by Courttia Newland. The protagonist Aaron must traverse the precariousness of teenage years while balancing the responsibility of concealing a mysterious higher power he seems to possess. While Aaron struggles to find his place in the world, we learn that he is part of something much bigger, something that might just change the face of the world as we know it.
The tale is set against the background of urban London, and the author has encapsulated snippets of the everyday life of the brimming, varied and sometimes harsh city beautifully. Born in 1973, Newland is himself a London native and was a rapper involved in the emerging Drum and Bass scene in the late 90’s, before moving to the world of literature.
He has previously held the position of writer in residence at Trinity College Dublin, published eight books and has been nominated for various awards, including being longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Story Award.
A Sheltered Woman, by Yiyun Li, is a cross-generational story that takes us from modern day America to China of the past, and back again. The main character, Aunty Mei, is a live-in nanny for new mothers who has never had any children herself. Taking her job very seriously, Mei tries to distance herself emotionally from the children she works with by making a rule of only staying with the families for one month after the child’s birth.
The family Aunty Mei currently finds herself with, causes her to have to reevaluate her approach to childcare, re-examine her hardened view of the world and reflect on her strange family history. Mei must leave her eccentric and sheltered upbringing in China in the past and finally allow herself in her golden years to trust people and let love in.
There are so many nuanced layers to this seemingly mundane tale, it takes you by surprise. Although it is a short story, the depth to each character’s personality is palpably exciting, so much so you want to follow them beyond the last page.
Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing China, before moving to America in 1996 to pursue a Masters in immunology. In 2005 Li went on to get a MFA in creative nonfiction and fiction and has been writing ever since. Her writing has graced the pages of the New Yorker and The Paris Review, and she is a past recipient of the Guardian First Book Award and the Whiting Award, along with numerous other accolades to her name.
Another very touching story in this collection comes in the shape of If a Bird Can Be a Ghost, by Allison Mills. We are introduced to Shelly the protagonist, as her grandmother teaches her how to catch ghosts in her hair. “If you carry ghosts in your hair, then you can cut them off when you don’t need them anymore”, we learn that otherwise, they plant themselves deep within you and never leave.
Shelly is fascinated with her grandmother’s house call ‘ghostbusting’ job, but her mother is worried about overexposing her daughter to the world of the dead. Young Shelly’s world is turned upside down overnight, which causes her to gravitate more and more towards the world of ghosts and less towards the land of the living.
Shelly’s grandmother provides matriarchal wisdom on real world issues such as cop cars, “never get in the back of a car with doors you can’t open”, and also spiritual wisdom in relation to letting go of the weight of grief. This marvellous story is about loss, acceptance and finding courage in times of great doubt. The author, Allison Mills, is a Cree and settler writer from Vancouver. Her first novel, The Ghost Collector was released in 2019 and her writing has appeared in Apex Magazine.
The book, Everyday People, is a celebration of diversity, inclusion and visibility. An added bonus towards the end of the book, is the thoughtfully curated thirty-six page reading list of contemporary works by women, non-binary and transgender Indigenous writers and writers of colour. The inclusion of this list is a reminder that we need to go beyond conversations of inclusivity, or preformative inclusivity, and actively seek out and support works by writers who may be eclipsed by mainstream publishing.Literature isn’t just about genre, style, or saleability. It’s about the true representation of all voices, the broadening of perspectives and enrichment of mind and spirit.
Editor Jennifer Baker encompasses the soul of the collection beautifully in her introduction, in saying, “The name of this anthology is not meant to solely focus on the racial composition of the writers or characters but to showcase the larger story and relationships depicted as well as the landscape—be it in New York City, Maine, Alabama, Great Britain, South Korea, Ghana or Sri Lanka. As the Sly and the Family Stone song of the same name goes, “I am no better and neither are you / We are the same whatever we do…”
Everyday People: The Colour of Life– A Short Story Anthology, published by Atria Books, is available in selected bookshops and on Amazon at £8.99.