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Bea's Book!: Home

 The SWIC Library book club, Bea's Book! was created to celebrate diversity!  

Bea’s Book! is named in memory of longtime Southwestern Illinois College librarian, Bea Fries. Bea held the position of  librarian at SWIC for forty-five years from July 1967 until May 2012. Her generous bequest to the SWIC Library established the  Bea Fries Memorial Library Fund. Through this fund, a great deal of library materials are acquired each year for all to enjoy! 

Hispanic Heritage - Fall 2022 Selection

The Taste of Sugar by Marisel Vera

An unforgettable novel of love and endurance and a timeless portrait of the reasons we  leave home, The Taste of Sugar “is a real contribution to the literature about the immigrant experience of yesterday—and today” (María Amparo Escandón). With her lush prose and stylistic verve, Marisel Vera emerges as a critical voice for a history too long overlooked.  more info… Published 2020.   

Recognized as one of 12 best Latino books of 2020 by NBC News and named the Chicago Reader’s 2020 Best New Novel by a Chicagoan.

SWIC Students, Faculty and Staff can request a FREE copy of the book.

Watch this QUICK VIDEO on how to place a book request. Once requested, library staff will pull your item from the shelf and email you that it's ready for pick up at the library's front desk. You will need your SWIC ID to check items out of the library. The typical loan period for library items is 4 weeks. See our current library hours.



M a r i s e l   V e r a


Dear Reader,

My sisters appreciated “The Taste of Sugar,” and I said that one of the reasons I really wanted to write it was for people like us, and also my kids. But my generation, we were the first teenagers in Chicago who were Puerto Rican; in the newspapers and TV they would call us thugs, you know, things like that. And it was really hard growing up in Chicago as Puerto Ricans. Sometimes your relatives said your Spanish wasn’t great, they would say you’re not really Puerto Rican. They would call you American, but you go out in the world, you’re not called American — you’re Puerto Rican. You don’t know where you are, you’re kind of like in quicksand. Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States. (Although Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, they don’t have voting rights and the island is classified as unincorporated territory more than 120 years since it was annexed during the Spanish-American War.) When you know your heritage, when you know where you came from, that gives you something, a connection to your ancestors. My parents made sacrifices and their parents made sacrifices and they suffered things that were out of their control and why? This is why, this is why we came here. I think that when you know Puerto Rican history, you also learn American history and you learn the truth about your country. And I think we have to know the truth about our past.

This novel is the first exodus of Puerto Ricans who left Puerto Rico for work; it was kind of government sanctioned. When my parents came in Operation Bootstrap, that was the second exodus. (Operation Bootstrap was a series of federal programs during the mid-20th century to industrialize Puerto Rico’s economy.) The Puerto Ricans who left because of Hurricane Maria, that’s the third exodus. It changes throughout the years, but fundamentally, the reasons are the same.

For Puerto Ricans, I just want “The Taste of Sugar” to be a celebration of our culture and our history, our ancestors, and for people who aren’t Puerto Rican, I hope that they will come through with an open mind and a willingness to learn the history of Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico and the basic history of why Puerto Ricans left the island, because this has to do with now.  more from this interview..   more news..




M a r i s e l   V e r a

Why do people need stories?
People need stories for all sorts of different reasons—to understand others, different cultures, and even to learn about themselves. Not only do we need to read a variety of stories, we all need to tell stories to each other and to listen when people share their stories with us. We are always changed, even if only a little, by stories.
The stories that my parents told me, especially my mother, helped train me to become a storyteller. Mami’s stories helped me to imagine the jíbaro life up on a mountain that was so different from my own life en el barrio. When she told us that we should be grateful to have rice and beans for dinner because there were times when she and her family were hungry despite her father being a farmer, I imagined myself in her place, barefoot and hungry. I was lucky to hear my mother’s stories, because although I was a voracious reader from a very young age, I didn’t read about any Puerto Rican girls growing up en el barrio.
For many Puerto Rican readers of The Taste of Sugar, reading about people like their ancestors is both a revelation and a celebration. A reader said that after reading the book, he understood the men in his family. Another reader told me that for the first time, she felt seen. Puerto Ricans don’t often read about themselves in novels. It’s extremely important that we see ourselves in stories written in the English language because ever since the United States made Puerto Rico a colony in 1898, the U.S. government has been trying to erase our identity, our culture, our language, and our history. We, Puerto Ricans, must claim the historical truth of our ancestors and our homeland that we can learn about through stories.
How does your writing navigate truth? What is the relationship between truth and fiction?
If you were to read the fact that 5,000 Puerto Ricans migrated to Hawaii in the early 1900s to work in the sugar plantations, you’d probably think, “Oh, 5000, that’s a lot of people,” and most likely, you’d soon forget about it. But if you read about Vicente Vega and Valentina Sánchez in The Taste of Sugar and how they lose their coffee farm due to circumstances beyond their control—the 1898 U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico during the Spanish American War, the policies and tariffs that the American military government imposed on Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans, and the 1899 San Ciriaco hurricane that ripped up most of Puerto Rico’s coffee trees—tossing them aside like matchsticks, you’d remember. And you might care.
The events in The Taste of Sugar are still factual, but you might have a deeper understanding of the real impact that U.S. colonialism inflicted on Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans through the fictional story of a young coffee farming couple. You might get to know Vicente and Valentina, grow to care about them, maybe even love them. You go along with them on the journey and experience the hardships that the Puerto Rican migrants experienced at the mercy of the American sugar planters, who treated them like cattle, rather than people. You feel for them because you see them as human beings who love and hope and dream the same way you, the reader, loves and hopes and dreams. This is the beauty, the magic, the grace—the gift of the novel. The “real” world would be a much better place if we all read “fictional” novels, especially if we gave ourselves over to stories written by writers unlike ourselves, writers from other cultures—from other countries.
What was the first book that made an impact on you?
Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas shook me when I was 16 years old. Finally, after the hundreds of books I’d read by then, here was finally a book about being a Puerto Rican in a big city, living in two cultures and two languages and not belonging to either. I could relate, even though Piri wrote about being an Afro-Puerto Rican in New York City during the 1960s, while I was a light-skinned Puerto Rican girl growing up in 1970s Chicago.
Down These Mean Streets is a gritty story that tells how Piri’s life was especially difficult because in his family, everyone was light-skinned except for his father and him. We all know that the reality of the world we live in is that life is easier for you if you aren’t Black. Down These Mean Streets was the first book I read about being Puerto Rican, about what it is like to live in a society that disdains you or even hates you and wishes you weren’t there.
What does your creative process look like? How do you maintain momentum and remain inspired?
When I begin a new novel, I choose something that really intrigues me, that I’m willing to give several years of my life exploring and thinking about. I conduct extensive research at the same time that I’m writing the book, and that helps keep me fascinated. In this way, calamities, political upheavals, and tragedies are good for a writer. The details I learn help me to create the world of the novel. My love for history—especially Puerto Rican history—and my need to write about Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans inspire and motivate me every day because I believe my stories are needed by Puerto Ricans like me.
I envy writers who are able to write detailed synopses with the plot all planned out, with character lists filled with descriptions, etc. Each time I’m about to start a new novel, I try to be that writer, but after 10 minutes, I realize, yet again, that I can’t be that writer because I don’t want to be that writer. For me, plotting is incredibly tedious, and it takes the fun out of writing.
People are always showing up when I’m writing, uninvited the way Puerto Ricans are used to. They appear, wanting to take me somewhere, demanding that I hear them—that I tell their stories the way they want their stories to be told.
In The Taste of Sugar, Raúl Vega, father of Vicente, came to me one day and said, “I want to tell you about the one and only time I fell in love.” For days, I tried to ignore his demand, but if you’ve read The Taste of Sugar, then you know that Raúl Vega is not the kind of person that will accept no for an answer. Finally, I agreed to a single page, and he left me alone after that.
The story comes to me in bits and pieces, and often in no particular order, which makes structuring the novel a challenge. When I first begin a novel, I only have a very vague idea of the story that I am writing because it is revealed to me in revision. In my daily writing, strangers turn up, and things happen that I could never have planned. It’s exhilarating and risky, even a little scary, like jumping without a net to catch you—I love that. With every draft, I discover what I want to say and why it’s important to say it. In The Taste of Sugar, I thought the novel was about Puerto Rican coffee farmers losing their land and migrating to Hawaii to work in the sugar plantations, but with revision, I realized that it was really about colonialism.
For The Taste of Sugar, when I learned that 5,000 Puerto Ricans went all the way to Hawaii during a time before plane travel, I had to learn why. What was going on in Puerto Rico? I learned that two devastating calamities—the 1898 U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico and the 1899 San Ciriaco hurricane—were primarily responsible for this major exodus, the first in a series of government-sponsored migrations.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing your book?
Back in 2015, I wrote in The Taste of Sugar about the devastation that the 1899 San Ciriaco hurricane inflicted on Puerto Rico and the United States’ government’s callous indifference and inadequate aid to the Puerto Rican people. When Hurricane Maria in 2017 devastated Puerto Rico, the U.S. government and President Trump treated Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans with similar contempt. It was shocking in its eeriness. I went around saying, “Ay bendito, it’s just like Hurricane San Ciriaco.” More proof that after over a hundred years of being a U.S. colony, the United States doesn’t really give a damn about Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans.
The Taste of Sugar is not singular among your works that explore the particular burdens that Puerto Ricans and members of the diaspora have faced throughout history. Why is it important for you to write about the experiences of Puerto Ricans and how they figure in American and world history?
While my mother was the main storyteller in our immediate family, I learned about yearning from my father. He left Puerto Rico, like a million other Puerto Ricans, because there weren’t (and still aren’t) jobs on the island. Papi worked on the assembly line in Chicago factories most of his adult life, and when he died in his early 50s, my brother and I attributed it to the noxious fumes from his work as a welder.
One of the reasons I write is that I’ve always felt the injustice of the circumstances that didn’t allow him to fulfill his dream of returning to the mountain in Puerto Rico, buying a piece of land where he could build himself a casita, and raise chickens and grow coffee. My father worked so hard for so little money, and ultimately, he was rewarded with unemployment, poor health, no health insurance, and an early death.
In the United States, he was discriminated against because he was too brown, uneducated, spoke broken English, and because he was Puerto Rican. Papi never had a real chance to fulfill his dream, and it was fundamentally because of the policies of the U.S. government.
Many people, including Americans in the United States, don’t even know where Puerto Rico is on the map, or even if the people are U.S. citizens (they are), or understand why at least a million Puerto Ricans aren’t bowing down in gratitude to the United States for designating Puerto Rico a colony and bestowing upon it second-class citizenship and taxation without representation.
Puerto Rico is very important in the grand scheme of things because it is the laboratory where the United States first tries out plans that they want to implement in other parts of the world. From the U.S. military’s decades-long daily bombing of the people-occupied island of Vieques, to population control on Puerto Rican women in the form of sterilization (one-third of Puerto Rican women were sterilized by 1980), to testing Agent Orange, the list goes on. We should be paying attention to Puerto Rico right now.
After the great San Ciriaco hurricane devastates the island of Puerto Rico in 1899, your protagonists Vicente Vega and Valentina Sanchez are lured to Hawaii, another U.S. territory, on false promises of prosperity by way of the sugar trade. What was something especially striking that you learned about the United States’ colonial projects when juxtaposing these territories in your writing? How did the act of writing aid you in engaging with history?
What surprised me the most in my research is that Puerto Ricans are faced with a similar situation today as in 1900—they have no say in their own country, there are no jobs, economic conditions are dire, and land is being bought up by Americans and American corporations and Puerto Ricans are being pushed out.
I didn’t intentionally juxtapose the two territories—that was the work of the United States when it invaded Puerto Rico and overthrew the Hawaiian government and claimed the islands for themselves. I took the historical facts of the 1898 U.S. military occupation of Puerto Rico and the 1899 San Ciriaco hurricane, how these two devastating calamities cumulated with American businessmen giving Puerto Ricans a good shove off their own island.
The American sugar planters had a special interest in recruiting Puerto Ricans for the Hawaiian sugar plantations because they wanted to “whiten” the race of their cane workers. They wanted to bring in another nationality to weaken the organizing of the Japanese workers who had been there for years and were beginning to protest the difficult conditions and ill-treatment. The disdain and prejudice of the U.S. government toward both the people of Hawaii and the people of Puerto Rico is blatantly clear in newspaper articles and editorials of the late 19th and 20th centuries, certainly, in Hawaiian and Puerto Rican newspapers.
I was telling someone the other day that I have only just understood that I have been in training to write historical fiction from a very young age, beginning with my mother’s stories about growing up poor on the mountain in 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s Puerto Rico. I have always loved history, and once I claimed for myself that I was a writer, I claimed Puerto Ricans and Puerto Rican history as my subject. But it wasn’t because I knew so much Puerto Rican history—it was because I didn’t know much. My parents didn’t know much either because that’s what happens when you are a colony: your history is erased. Now I’m learning about my ancestors and my ancestral homeland, and through writing, I am able to imagine their stories, my ancestors’ stories, Puerto Ricans’ stories. I’m blessed.
What’s a piece of art (literary or not) that moves you and mobilizes your work?
From early childhood, I felt a connection with Puerto Rican music. My father would play música típica or jíbaro records, and my parents and the aunts and uncles and even us little kids would dance to it at family parties. Later, it was salsa. My favorite songs weren’t love ballads or boleros—I connected with songs about yearning or nostalgia for a past, or about promises made and not kept, or down-on-their-luck people, like Héctor Lavoe’s “El Día de mi Suerte,” where he sings about how he’s still waiting for his lucky day.
When I first began work on The Taste of Sugar, I listened to songs about the political repression of Puerto Rico by the United States. One favorite was a song in the bomba genre—Black Puerto Rican music—that snuck through the United States’ censorship because the Americans didn’t understand the Spanish lyrics about the United States bombing the island. Right now, I am compiling a fantastic soundtrack that is inspiring the work on my new novel The Girls from Humboldt Park.
Which writer, living, or dead, would you most like to meet? What would you like to discuss?
I think it would be Anton Chekhov. He had such a profound understanding of human beings. The first time that I read Peasants, I connected to that story in such a profound way that I felt my heart a little broken. I like a little heartbreak in fiction. In that story about Russian peasants, I saw my people: Puerto Rican jíbaros like my ancestors, migrants like my parents.
Chekhov was a 19th-century Russian in a continent on the other side of the world writing about Russians, but he could have been writing about Puerto Ricans. I’d like to discuss serfs and jíbaros with Chekhov. I bet he would be very interested to learn about the travails of the Puerto Rican people, past and present.
What did it mean for you to publish a novel during such a tumultuous time? What changes to your publication plan did you have to make in the midst of a pandemic?
Liveright, my publisher, was concerned about the publication of The Taste of Sugar bumping against the 2020 presidential election, so I worked on edits while on vacation with my sisters in Italy, so that the manuscript would be ready for a June 2020 publication. Then the pandemic hit, but Liveright decided to go ahead with publication. It was a blow not to be able to have in-person events and to meet my readers, but we’ve done the best we can with virtual events and social media. I’m grateful for the great reviews.
On another level, the publication of The Taste of Sugar couldn’t have come at a better time for Puerto Ricans on the island or in the diaspora. The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act H.R.2070 (PRSDA) is waiting to be voted on in Congress. After 123 years of U.S. colonialism, Puerto Rico deserves a serious self-determination process, and only Puerto Ricans should decide the future of Puerto Rico. The Taste of Sugar narrates the early days of the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico and its subsequent colonization, and how being a colony was detrimental to the Puerto Rican people. Not much has changed, and I hope that The Taste of Sugar can help people to understand why only Puerto Ricans must decide on the political status of Puerto Rico and maybe even write their representatives in support of PRSDA. That would be very gratifying.






1 | Locate Puerto Rico and Hawaii on Google maps and locate places mentioned in the book including Utuado and the mountain of Cerro Morales, Ponce, Oahu and Honolulu. 

2 | Learn more about the Hurricane of San Ciriaco

        Remembering the San Ciriaco Hurricane of 1899

        The Hurricane of San Ciriaco: Disaster, Politics, and Society in Puerto Rico, 1899–1901

        Hurricanes: Science and Society

3 | Visit the author’s website at to learn more about Marisel Vera’s work and the book.



1 |  According to Vera, many Puerto Ricans living at the turn of the twentieth century were “analfabetos,” people who “couldn’t read or write or do simple arithmetic, and were easily swindled by ladrones, the merchants and government officials who could” (p. 19). Were there moments in your journey with this book when you came across words you did not already know? How did you navigate those moments? What similarities and differences do you see between the way you engaged with words unfamiliar to you and the ways Vera’s characters made sense of words unfamiliar to them?

2 |  Eusemia, young and starving, imagines that inside her belly lives an always grumbling monster. “The monster,” Vera writes, “became a steady companion” throughout Eusemia’s life (p. 25). In addition to hunger, what other monsters accompany the lives of Vera’s characters? What feeds these monsters? What tames them?

3 |  In chapter two, “French Mademoiselles Circa 1889,” Vera writes, “Valentina was determined that she would be the romantic heroine of her own adventure” (p. 30). Does her dream come true? In what ways?

4 |  How do characters cope with being separated from people and places they adore? Are there moments when characters resist separation? What are those characters willing to risk to reach their desired destinations?

5 |  “Vicente never shared with others his conversations with the coffee trees,” writes Vera, “but it wasn’t because he thought his brother Luisito would laugh at him, or that his father might question his sanity; it was because it was between him and the trees” (p. 41). Drawing from this novel or from your own experience, what does intimacy look like? Feel like? Sound like? Taste like? Do intimate relationships grow organically, or do they require tending? With whom or what in your life can you share intimacies?

6 |  Vera writes that Vicente, sharing a bed with Valentina for the first time, “was discovering how much he cared about her, and it scared him a little” (p. 66). Over the course of their marriage, what do Valentina and Vicente discover about their affections toward one another? What do they find out about themselves by being together and by being apart?

7 |  When Valentina comments on the beauty of the tablecloth Inés is sewing, Inés replies, “It’s a pattern of my own invention” (p. 81). Where in the novel do you see characters practice creativity? What flowers in these moments?

8 |  “I don’t think the subject of multiple lovers is appropriate for the wife of my son,” Angelina tells Valentina in Chapter Seven, Luna de Miel (p84). In Valentina’s world, which expressions of sexuality are too taboo to discuss and which are socially accepted? Why is this so? How do Angelina and Valentina uphold or challenge these norms in their own relationships? What about other characters?

9 |  As Raulito boards the boat to Hawaii, an agent for the Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association stops Raulito and says, “They don’t want black men in Hawaii” (p. 235). How do characters who align with whiteness try to exclude Raulito from spaces they run? What are these characters’ means of enforcing their will? With whom does Raulito find community and how do those people include Raulito in their spaces?

10 |  On their voyage to Hawaii, Valentina tells Lourdes, “Ay Lulu, I wish you could have been a silly girl like me” (p. 256). Consider Lourdes or any other young person in this story. How are this character’s curiosities in conversation with the lives of the adults in this story? What can you learn from this particular young imagination?

11 |  How do credit systems compel the Vegas, their ancestors, and other laborers the Vegas come to know to live by the rules of those Vicente considers “Inside Men”? How do these systems shape the ways Vera’s characters relate to one another in their day-to-day lives? In what ways do they resist these systems? How do these systems live on today and in what ways do you see others, or you yourself, resisting them?

12 |  There are many pairs in The Taste of Sugar that seemingly contrast: Spain and the United States, Mikioki and Valentina, ron caña and okolehao, to name a few. Discuss one of these pairs, or another you notice from your reading. How are they in conversation with one another? Taken together, what story do they tell?

13 |  When Valentina comments on the beauty of the tablecloth Inés is sewing, Inés replies, “It’s a pattern of my own invention” (p. 81). Where in the novel do you see characters practice creativity? What flowers in these moments?

Puerto Rican Recipes!

Whip up some delectable Puerto Rican dishes to eat while you read 
your copy of The Taste of Sugar—or serve them to your book club!


Authentic Puerto Rican Arroz Con Pollo

Allow me to introduce you to my mom's classic Puerto Rican Arroz con Pollo; a flavorful one pot dish made with rice, veggies, and chicken.

Ingredients: chicken drumsticks, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne, oil, sofrito, yellow onion, bell pepper, garlic, pimento olives, tomato sauce, cilantro, peas, rice, chicken broth.

Get the recipe


Pernil (Puerto Rican Pork Shoulder)

Learn how to make Pernil, a traditional Puerto Rican pork shoulder marinated with adobo seasoning, garlic, and lots of fresh oregano.

Ingredients: oil, garlic, oregano, adobo, salt, pork shoulder, orange juice.

Get the recipe



Asopao de Pollo (Puerto Rican Chicken Stew)

Asopao de Pollo is a deliciously hearty Puerto Rican chicken stew made with sofrito, adobo seasoning, and rice. It's the perfect meal for a cold winter night, or whenever you're feeling under the weather.

Ingredients: oil, chicken thighs, adobo, sazon, sofrito, bell pepper, carrot, celery, bay leaf, tomato sauce, chicken stock, rice, peas, pimento olives, lime.

Get the recipe


Empanadillas (fried Puerto Rican turnovers)

These Puerto Rican Empanadillas are made with fried buttery pie dough stuffed with seasoned ground beef, peppers and olives.

Ingredients: flour, butter, sofrito, tomato sauce, ground beef, pimento olives, sazon, adobo, cumin, oregano, oil.

Get the recipe


Plantain Fries

Learn how to make these perfectly crispy plantain fries at home in a matter of minutes! They're a fun spin on French fries, made with a classic Puerto Rican ingredient.

Ingredients: green plantains, oil.

Get the recipe




Authentic Puerto Rican Quesitos (in 30 minutes!)

Today we're making a popular Puerto Rican dessert called Quesitos that are made with puff pastry and cream cheese. Quesitos come together in under 30 minutes and are perfect served hot with a cup of café con leche or tea as a treat for breakfast or dessert.

Ingredients: cream cheese, puff pastry, egg, sugar, water, confectioners sugar.

Get the recipe


Arroz con Leche

This Puerto Rican style Arroz con Leche is a comforting dessert made with long grain rice, whole milk, butter, brown sugar and spices. It's surprisingly easy to make at home and comes together in under an hour!

Ingredients: white rice, cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg, whole milk, brown sugar, butter, cinnamon.

Get the recipe

Native American Heritage - Fall 2022 Selection

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

Taken from their families when they are very small and sent to a remote, church-run residential school, Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie and Maisie are barely out of childhood when they are finally released after years of detention. With compassion and insight, Five Little Indians chronicles the desperate quest of these residential school survivors to come to terms with their past and, ultimately, find a way forward. more info... Published 2020. 

WINNER: Canada Reads 2022  WINNER: Governor General's Literary Award for  Fiction WINNER: Amazon First Novel Award WINNER: Kobo Emerging Author Prize & Finalist: Scotiabank Giller Prize  Finalist: Atwood Gibson Writers Trust Prize Finalist: BC & Yukon Book Prize  Shortlist: Indigenous Voices Awards  National Bestseller; A Globe and Mail Top 100 Book of the Year; A CBC Best Book of the Year; An Apple Best Book of the Year; A Kobo Best Book of the Year; An Indigo Best Book of the Year 

SWIC Students, Faculty and Staff can request a FREE copy of the book.

Watch this QUICK VIDEO on how to place a book request. Once requested, library staff will pull your item from the shelf and email you that it's ready for pick up at the library's front desk. You will need your SWIC ID to check items out of the library. The typical loan period for library items is 4 weeks. See our current library hours.



M i c h e l l e   G o o d


Dear Reader,

“I think this is the story I was intended to write,” says Good, a Canadian author, lawyer and member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. “I’ve been thinking about residential schools and their impacts in many ways since I was a child.” Both her mother and grandmother were residential school survivors, so Good says she grew up hearing stories of their time in the schools. “It really is something that possessed me, if you will,” says Good. “[Residential schools] were a key component in the destruction of a culture. It’s something that has captured my psyche since childhood.”

Good says that although she did not attend residential school herself, the experience was “imprinted” in her DNA, and that the effects of residential schools are intergenerational. “Even though I didn’t go to residential school, I know I’m impacted by my mother’s experiences,” says Good. “Our communities are suffering because of the harm inflicted in these schools. People need to understand that.” While she doesn’t look at the writing of the book as a form of healing, she does look at the novel as something unique: a love letter to everyone who suffered and survived in residential schools. Good hopes the novel will help everyone who thinks reconciliation has been achieved in Canada understand that there’s still a long way to go. more ... 

B i o g r a p h y

Michelle Good is of Cree ancestry, a descendent of the Battle River Cree and a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation. She has worked with indigenous organizations since she was a teenager and at forty decided to approach that work in a different way obtaining her law degree from UBC at 43. She has practiced law in the public and private sector since then, primarily advocating for Residential School Survivors.

She graduated from UBC with a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Creative Writing MFA in 2014 where her novel Five Little Indians first started taking shape. Her poetry, and short stories have appeared in a number of publications. Her first novel, Five Little Indians won the HarperCollins/UBC Best New Fiction Prize and her poetry has been included in Best Canadian Poetry in Canada 2016 and Best of the Best Canadian Poetry in Canada 2017. Michelle is currently working on her second novel. 

Michelle Good and Christian Allaire discuss the novel Five Little Indians



1 | Learn about The Survivors’ Flag, an expression of remembrance, meant to honor residential school Survivors and all the lives and communities impacted by the residential school system in Canada. Each element depicted on the flag was carefully selected by Survivors from across Canada, who were consulted in the flag’s creation.  

2 | Learn more about the history of the Residential Schools from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

3 | Read the statement and watch the video - apology to former residents of Indian Residential schools.

Statement of apology to former residents of Indian Residential Schools - On Wednesday June 11, 2008, the Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, made a Statement of Apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools, on behalf of the Government of Canada.

The Day of the Apology (video) - Highlights from June 11, 2008, the day the Prime Minister of Canada issued an apology for the Indian Residential Schools system.




1 |  What do you know of the author’s connection to the Residential School system in Canada? How has their life experience impacted the writing?

2 |  What was your previous knowledge of the Residential School system before reading the book? Had you watched survivors’ testimonies, or read The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report?

3 |  Why do think Good chose to depict the character’s life after they had left the school, and not during their experience there?

4 |  Each character in the book shows us a different method of coping, healing, and living with the trauma inflicted by the Church and the Canadian government. Which character's story impacted you the most?

5 |  How can the effects of the schools be felt throughout the victims’ lives and generations after?

6 |  The precipice of the novel centers around showing the true effect of intergenerational trauma. As Michelle Good has said herself, “Trauma is almost like osmosis. When you’re living with people that have trauma responses, you learn those.” Despite being a common and important thread to each character, this is especially seen between Clara and Kenny as they grow up, begin to have kids and try to rebuild a life after the school. How did their trauma manifest and effect their development as they moved through adulthood?

7 |  The novel highlights this further through the trauma within families. Maisie highlights this when she says, “the rest of us ran too, right into that crowd of grown-ups who were supposed to be our parents.” Why was this phrased this way? What does it mean? Discuss the stories of parents throughout the book and the trauma that they too experienced.

8 |  In keeping with this concept, Kenny is reunited with another child from the school, whilst working as a picker on an orchard. There is an exchange prior to picking up their paychecks;

“Yeah, well, we’re back in the same place again, aren’t we?” Kenny motioned toward the foreman, his khakis still spotless, blowing on a whistle and yelling for everyone to hurry up.

What is the symbolism of this scene? What does it represent about the structures at play for Indigenous Peoples?

9 |  Five Little Indians highlights the systemic racism that lives within the foundational structures of society. This is shown through each character’s interactions with the police and judicial systems, as well as health and medical services, in post Residential School system life. Some examples include when Maisie is in the hospital or when Howie is moving through the prison system. Discuss these interactions with your group and how systemic racism and oppression are prevalent both in other elements of the book and in North America today.

10 |  Maisie is a particularly tough exterior character, explained in the book description as having, “internalized her pain and continually placing herself in dangerous situations.” Finally, Maisie has a vulnerable moment with a healer within her community and states, “We were children, me and Lily, and neither of us survived, even though I’m still walking.” What does this mean? How does this manifest in her actions and the ways she interprets the world?

11 |  Discuss with your group the symbolism of the pinching, not only its act but when it came up in the book. Why do you think this was included? What did this add to the story?

12 |  a) The impact of the residential school system is continuously whitewashed and portrayed as something of the past, despite the last school closing in 1996.  Many call into question the failure of the education system as having a role in this. Discuss your experience, if any, in learning about the Residential School system prior to reading this book. Was this topic ever discussed within your family, your school, your friend groups, your workplace? b) Did you learn something new in reading Five Little Indians, if so, what?

13 |  What is something that you can take from reading this book, that be applied in your everyday?

14 |  Who would you recommend Five Little Indians to? Why?


An Inspired Playlist


Mike Bern – “Apatapasiq”

The song is about the experience my Aunt and Uncles went through in the Shubenacadie Residential School. Wolastoqey Language is sung “Apatapasiq Wasisok” Children come home. Dedicated to my family and all the Residential School Survivors.


Jayli Wolf – “Child of the Government”

“All the children that were misplaced can never get back what was stolen from them. Survivors try their best. My dad and I are lucky because we were able to find our way back home to our blood family, to our community, to each other even,” says Jayli Wolf, “But that’s not the story for everyone. Some kids were sold to the USA, or even as far as Australia. Some survivors have since learned that their biological families have passed – those ties are broken forever. I am lucky that I found my way back home, but now the work starts. Now the reclamation begins for me.”  – Jayli Wolf


Khu.éex’ – “Residential School”

Like many of our pieces, when we began recording this piece, we didn’t know what it was about. Many times, we don’t know what our pieces are actually about until we’ve finished recording them and the piece shows us what it is. It wasn’t until we recorded the basic track and were listening to the playback in the studio in 2016 and hearing the pain and fear in the music that we understood this piece was about what kids experienced in the Residential School/Boarding School system and how the fallout from this effected our families and communities in massive ways.


Gord Downie – “The Stranger” 

“The Stranger” is the first full chapter and song of The Secret Path. Adapted from Gord Downie’s album and Jeff Lemire’s graphic novel, The Secret Path chronicles the heartbreaking story of Chanie Wenjack’s residential school experience and subsequent death as he escapes and attempts to walk 600 km home to his family.


Shawnee – “Warrior Heart”

A Two-Spirit Mohawk musician and winner of CBC’s 2020 Searchlight Award for “Canada’s best undiscovered talent” has long shed light on the struggles faced by Indigenous communities. Last year, she performed her 2017 song “Warrior Heart” at Parliament Hill’s Canada Day event to bring awareness to the nationwide suicide crisis in Indigenous communities.


Gary Fjellgaard – “I Apologize”

Song written and sung by Gary Fjellgaard at the St Joseph’s Mission Residential School Reunion held May 17 to 19 2013. Inspired by the apology of Prime Minister Harper to Residential School Survivors. One of a number of videos created during the Truth and Reconciliation testimony gathering May 2013 in Williams Lake.


John Wort Hannam – “Man of God”

This song was inspired by reading Edmund Metatawabin’s book titled, “Up Ghost River”. All us non-indigenous people should read it. It studied the Residential School system at university but Edmund’s book brought it to life in his book. Edmund’s story is horrific and oddly hopeful, but ultimately triumphant.


Cindy Paul – “He Can Fancy Dance”

Cindy Paul’s rich vocals and rhythms combine for a melodic and insightful journey through your imagination and into your heart. On a small ranch near Fort Vermilion, Alberta, a young girl of Metis/Cree decent discovered the power of combining her voice with a guitar. By fifteen, she was composing her own songs, and at twenty one, walked into a studio, paid for an hour session and walked out with her first demo. This was the beginning of a lifelong friendship with Barry Allen at Homestead Recorders and Cindy Paul’s dream of recording her own songs. This song was written in 1990 and was inspired by a Residential School survivor. In the spring of 2015, a video of “He Can Fancy Dance” had been shared over a million times on social media which propelled the official release of This Northern Girl for international sale.


These videos contain both parts of a special presentation called

“Every Child Matters: Truth and Reconciliation”

courtesy of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation



LGBTQ - Fall 2022 Selection

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

In his latest work, Atta flawlessly captures the pain, rage, and resilience of a boy growing to manhood while feeling like an outsider in his own life. Michael, a British boy of Greek Cypriot and Jamaican descent, feels caught between worlds: Black and White, masculine and feminine, straight and gay.  more info… Published 2020.   


Winner of the Stonewall Book Award; Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal; Shortlisted for the Jhalak Book Prize. 

SWIC Students, Faculty and Staff can request a FREE copy of the book.

Watch this QUICK VIDEO on how to place a book request. Once requested, library staff will pull your item from the shelf and email you that it's ready for pick up at the library's front desk. You will need your SWIC ID to check items out of the library. The typical loan period for library items is 4 weeks. See our current library hours.




Dean Atta

Hi, Dean! Thanks for chatting with us! Why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a debut novelist from London, England. I currently live in Glasgow, Scotland, with my boyfriend Tom. I’m super excited to have my first novel published in North America. From my perspective, living my whole life in the U.K., it feels like we get a lot of cultural imports from North America but I’m not sure it happens as much the other way round. I grew up listening to lots of Hip Hop and R&B music from The States, and when I started getting into spoken word poetry what I first found on YouTube was Def Poetry Jam. Poetry was my route into becoming a writer, which is why I’ve written this novel in verse.
The Black Flamingo is all about Michael finding his wings – can you tell us a bit more about your inspiration and process of writing Michael’s story?
I was inspired by the sighting of a real black flamingo in Cyprus in 2015, I felt a deep affinity with the bird and what I felt it represented: standing out from the crowd. My mum’s family is from Cyprus and my dad’s family is from Jamaica. Michael also has this same dual-heritage identity, which helped me write authentically about his struggles to find his place within his two families but also within British culture and society. My process was to write a series of poems, in which Michael learns different lessons about himself and society. I wrote most of the book out of sequence, then tied them together. I took inspiration from other recent verse novels by Elizabeth Acevedo and Jason Reynolds. Claudia Rankine’s lyric essay Citizen was also a major influence. Michael experiences a number of racial microaggressions, although he never names them as such. Throughout the writing process I had to be careful to keep my adult voice and knowledge out of the book, and stay true to Michael as a child and teenager.
The Black Flamingo is filled with deep truths and doesn’t shy away from the hard topics of growing up and accepting your beautiful self – what do you hope readers take away from Michael’s story?
I didn’t want this story to look away from difficult topics, such as race and sexuality. But there are times in the story when Michael doesn’t fully understand what he’s seeing or experiencing. At these points, it’s up to the reader to bring their own experience and understanding to the story and form their own opinions. Michael and other characters make mistakes and have misunderstandings, get hurt, and hurt others. I guess I want the reader to take away that it’s okay to make mistakes, so long as you learn from them.
You’ve been writing and performing for a long time. What draws you to poetry? And how did you get started?
I think poetry is my first language. I’ve always loved music, and as a child I would write out the lyrics of my favourite songs into a notebook. After that I started writing my own lyrics, which over time I began to think of as poetry. For me, poetry is a direct line to my heart. I’m pretty articulate in a conversation but I can best tell you how I feel about anything if I write a poem about it.
You also lead workshops for younger audiences to help them get started – do you have any tips for our readers who might feel anxious about starting with poetry?
One of my favourite ways to begin is a simple process called free-writing. You set an alarm for 5 or 10 minutes and then write non-stop without lifting your pen from the page. It works best if you do it with pen and paper because if you do it on your phone or computer there is a greater temptation to edit. The point of a free-write is not to stop and think about what you’re writing, just to keep writing until the alarm sounds. Some fun starting lines for a free write are “I remember…” and “I come from…” When you’ve completed your 5 or 10 minute free-write, look at what you’ve got and pick out any lines that you find interesting, and use them to carry on crafting.
And I know that this may be a really hard question, but is there a line of a poem that stuck with you throughout the years or maybe even inspired you to pursue being a poet?
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Maya Angelou’s poetry spoke to me when I was younger, and still does. Her poem “Still I Rise” is so powerful, and those opening lines set a tone of defiance and strength. I feel proud with The Black Flamingo to have written a story so close to my heart, and provide positive representation of black queer characters, who are often left out of history and mostly have tragedies written about us. I hope my writing has some of the strength and defiance of Maya Angelou’s.
The world has been in an uproar these past few months. Do you have any tips on distraction techniques or how to channel that inner storm into your writing?
I’m using poetry as a way to write about how I’m feeling right now, and I think others could benefit from doing so too, even if they don’t consider themselves to be poets. For me, there’s no point trying to distract myself from this global pandemic, I’m leaning into it and writing about fear, death, love and loss. We experience these things all the time, it’s just that we have a shared sense of them right now. I can’t escape thinking about Coronavirus because my boyfriend Tom is a doctor working in a hospital, so he is on the front line. Politicians around the world talk about beating Coronavirus in similar ways that they would talk about fighting a war. And if we look at the two world wars of the 20th Century, poetry is so important for us to understand how people felt at that time.
Beyond The Black Flamingo, what’s next for you?
I’m working on new books but I’m not allowed to talk about any of them. I’m mostly looking forward to hearing from readers in North America, I really want to know how this book translates for them, what readers find familiar in Michael’s story and what they learn from it?
Last but not least, do you have any bookish recommendations for our readers?
I’d wholeheartedly recommend Almost American Girl by Robin Ha. I was so blown away with this beautiful graphic novel. I felt there were some similarities to The Black Flamingo, with the main characters both having single mothers, and both experiencing language as a barrier to fitting in, but ultimately both finding people with whom they have shared interests, and with whom they feel like they belong.

From, Q&A: Dean Atta, Author of ‘The Black Flamingo’, The Daily Nerd


Poetry from The Black Flamingo | Dean Atta Live Performance





1 |  Michael has different names at different points in his life—some he is given, some he chooses for himself. How do the different names relate to Michael and his relationships? What different names or nicknames do you have for different parts of your life?

2 |  Identity impacts Michael is so many ways—his mixed heritage, his sexual identity, his family roles (son, brother, grandson, etc.). Which identities impact your life the most and how so? Despite his mother insisting that he isn’t “half anything” (pg. 35), Michael often feels he doesn’t neatly fit into his identities. When does he feel this way? When have you?

3 |  When Daisy asks Michael to protect her from the lesbians (pg. 176) at the club, Michael angrily calls out her homophobia; yet he is far less decisive about calling out her racism. What do you make of this difference in response? Later when Daisy apologizes and comes out to Michael (pg. 247), she admits to internalized homophobia. How else does internalized oppression impact Michael’s relationships and identity?

4 |  Look at ways that Michael uses flamingos in his story and his poems, including his stage name. What makes this an effective metaphor in his story? What other metaphors and similes does Michael use to write about his experiences?

5 |  In “Men Are Sandcastles” on pg. 240, Michael compares men to pebbles and the patriarchy to the bucket that gives them rigid but unstable form. Have you heard of the patriarchy? Describe it. How does it shape Michael and the other men in the book? Why do you think this poem appears between Michael losing his virginity (pg. 225-227) and buying his first pair of heels (pg. 243)?

6 |  When Michael cuts his locs (pg. 268), he says “I’m shedding / something other / people use to define / me, falling to my feet.” How do people in the book use Michael’s locs to define him? What parts of you (how you present, activities you do, places you’re from) do people use to define you positively or negatively?

7 |  In the poem “How to Do Drag” (pg. 330-331), Michael writes in one stanza “Don’t punch / or kick downward at groups in society / with less power or privilege than you” (pg. 331). What does he mean by this? Where have you seen Michael or other characters “punch down” in the book? Why is it important not to “punch down,” specifically for a drag performance?

8 |  Performance is a major theme in Michael’s story. What different kinds of performance are happening and how do they impact Michael’s life? In his two poems “How to Do Drag” (pg. 330) and “What It’s Like to Be a Black Drag Artist” (pg. 334), Michael writes about how performance can be more authentic than reality. Do you agree? What kind of performance is a part of your life?



Celebratory Pride Recipes!

from LGBTQ Chefs and Cooks
Everyone of these flavor-packed recipes is loud and proud! Eat while you read your copy of The Black Flamingo—or serve them to your book club!


House of Xtravaganza Double Cheeseburger 

Will Coleman


Sweet Potato Shakshuka with Spicy Butter and Pickled Onions 

Yotam Ottolenghi



Maple-Black Pepper Wings 

Tiffani Faison



Creamy Pappardelle with Chicken and Bacon 

Antoni Porowski



Granola-Greek Yogurt Snacking Cake 

Will Coleman



Hummingbird Cake 

Art Smith



Puff Puff 

Zoe Adjonyoh

Taken from, Today Show's, 36 celebratory Pride recipes from LGBTQ chefs and cooks

Who can participate?
Bea's Book! is self-guided. You can participate individually, pair up with a friend, or form a group. It is open to Southwestern Illinois College students, faculty and staff as well as the community. Everyone is invited! 

How many books do I read?
You can read as many as you like. One to three award-winning books are selected each semester. Descriptions of each book are found on this page. 

How to participate?
Review the book descriptions and determine which book(s) you'd like to read! You can request a free copy through the library's loan system (see the 'How to Get Book' TAB on this page). Book Club TABS contain discussion questions, author information and much more to enhance your experience! Participate individually, with a friend, or better yet - gather a group and discuss your thoughts together!

Want more information?
Talk to a friendly librarian. We're excited to meet you!  Stop by anytime the library is open. Can't make it to the library?  Contact us via email with your questions - we'll be in touch soon!