Audiobook review: My Broken Language by Quiara Alegría Hudes

3 reasons you should listen to My Broken Language on audiobook

This year’s One Book, One Philadelphia book was My Broken Language by Quiara Alegría Hudes, a Philly native. I listened to the book on Audible. Here are my 3 reasons you should read the book as an audiobook.

I read the book on Audible because it was on back order on the Free Library Overdrive app. When I looked for the book, there was a six-week hold. That meant I would not be able to read the book until after the One Book program ended. That’s not uncommon with audiobooks. They are expensive resources for libraries, even though many readers like myself have found great comfort in them during the pandemic. There are often long wait times for audiobooks. Three to six weeks is typical.

Dreaming of a library

As part of the One Book celebration, the Free Library provided a discussion guide. I decided to answer this question, and wrote copiously in my notebook, but I then realized the answer went completely off the rails, and I am trying my best to rope it back in using the questions as headings. Let me know how I did.

“I was dreaming…of a library I might fit into. One with space to hold my cousins, my tías, my sister, mi madre. An archive made of us, that held our concepts and reality so that future Perez girls would have no question of our existence or validity” (235).

What and who would a library of you and yours hold? What at the Free Library reflects you and yours? What, or who, would you add?

One Book, One Philadelphia discussion guide

What and who would a library of you and yours hold?

Books. The library should hold books. All kinds of books: hardbacks, paperbacks, ebooks, and audiobooks.

Ah, who am I kidding? Libraries house more than just books.

Modern libraries are public spaces. Did you know that we have a fully equipped teaching kitchen? It’s amazing. The Culinary Literacy Center is a first-of-its-kind space. They offer cooking classes (I learned to make hummus there) and ESL courses that use cooking to teach English. The library also offers prison and re-entry services. And of course the libraries serve as cooling centers during the summer when the city declares a heat emergency.

But the what and who of me and mine is a harder question to answer. I am already reflected there. It’s my friends who are missing. It was the hardest thing about coming back to the States, and something I still grieve — even five years later. I was thrilled to discover that my friend Jenny Bhatt has one of her books in the library. Jenny has built a strong community of South Asian authors, translators, editors, and readers through her Desi Books initiave. So, it’s fantastic to see her work Each of Us Killers included among our collection. It’s a fantastic short story collection. You should get yours today!

What at the Free Library reflects you and yours?

In sixth grade, I lived down the street from a public library. I went there almost every day after school. In seventh grade, I worked in my school library. It was the best job I ever had. Sorting books, helping other students find books, watching the Thriller video as a treat at the end of the year.

Michael Jackson’s Thriller

I have always fit in at the library. My aunt was a school librarian. I even considered an MLS at one point, but there were too few places that offered it at the time. Fitting in was never an issue. I see myself on every shelf and in every space. My image was and is always reflected back to me.

Not every child has that experience. This famous infographic from 2018 illustrates how often children of color see their own reflections in the books they read. I got disco balls and mirrored ceilings. Other kids did not even see their whole faces reflected back, let alone their whole selves.

Huyck, David and Sarah Park Dahlen. (2019 June 19). Diversity in Children’s Books 2018. sarahpark.com blog. Created in consultation with Edith Campbell, Molly Beth Griffin, K. T. Horning, Debbie Reese, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Madeline Tyner, with statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison:  https://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/literature-resources/ccbc-diversity-statistics/books-by-about-poc-fnn/. Retrieved from https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2019/06/19/picture-this-diversity-in-childrens-books-2018-infographic/Released for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0 license). 

In My Broken Language, Quiara Alegría Hudes explores the very different worlds she inhabited and how her experience was reflected back at her. I was particularly struck by the dissonance of her time at Yale and Brown. Fortunately, she had a fantastic faculty advisor who encouraged her to lean into her “broken language.”

What, or who, would you add?

The library spaces were always open to me. But as I write this over the weekend, those spaces in Philly are closed. Because all the libraries in Philly are closed on the weekends due to staffing shortages and budgets cuts.

And it makes me sad.

Not for myself. I can access books whenever and however I want. But, much like Quiara, I was that young kid who found shelter within the library walls. My love of thrillers came about when I stumbled onto Ian Fleming’s James Bond at age 11. I remain a Bond girl to this day. I grieve for the kids in this city who do not have that safe space on the weekend. A space to learn and grow and just be. A space to fit into.

How often do they get to discover themselves among those same shelves like Quiara and I did? Do they see themselves reflected back in their book choices?

This One Book book choice and its companions like the others before it reflect the diversity of this city. But it also shows how limited the resources truly are. As I wrote this, I checked the book availability. The ebook has 65 copies, with 0 available. The book has 21 copies with 0 available. The audiobook has 45 copies with 6 available. Hey wait! There are available audiobooks! Grab yours now!

The demand is there. As it should be for a book about Philadelphia, written by a native Philadelphian that was featured on One Book, One Philadelphia.

And yet.

And yet.

And yet.

The doors remain closed. The spaces remain empty.

If you are asking me what or who to add, to the board of directors, I reply:

Add weekend hours. Let kids explore on the weekends as so many of us once did. At least the neighborhood branches. The smaller ones that cater the community. Research shows that public libraries reduce crime. The Parkway branch is a big and beautiful building, but I would happily see it remain closed if that meant that Fishtown, or Olney, or Kensington were open.

I would have told you this in person during the public comment period for your last meeting, but you scheduled it during Bloomsday, which was lovely, Perhaps next time, try to coordinate the schedules just a little bit better.

I stand with the library staff and the Friends of the Free Library when I say: Add more hours. Give the kids a refuge. Help them find a library to fit into.

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