June Staff Picks: Netflix, When We Were Birds, and more!
Words By F(r)iction Staff
When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo
Set in a fictionalized Trinidad, When We Were Birds alternates perspectives between Yejide, a woman inheriting matrilineal powers to communicate with the dead, and Darwin, a Rastafarian man that breaks his vows and leaves his mother to take the only job available: digging graves. Exploring themes of grief, heritage, love, and kinship, When We Were Birds does not shy away from the heaviness of death and its pervasiveness in a city built on slavery. Author Ayanna Lloyd Banwo invites us to sit closely with death, ghosts, and the spiritual realm, but also grounds us with the joy of being in a body and being in love.
This was one of those books that I couldn’t read casually. The novel required unhurried time and my trust that the watercolor-like details would come into focus as I delved deeper into the story. In other words, it requires a bit of patience to get into, but it’s worth it. If rainy weather has you stuck indoors, pour yourself a cup of tea, and settle in for this stormy yet hopeful read.
I just started listening to the new Sigur Rós album Átta, their first in ten years. I’m a long time fan and fell out of love with the band a few years ago. I think I just over played them while they were inactive. But then I scored cheap tickets to see them live last year. I was pulled all the way back in! The band debuted a handful songs on their 2022 world tour. But I found them incredibly dull—little piano and vocal tracks, too stripped down for my taste. When they dropped the first single from Átta, “Blóðberg,” I was again disappointed. It was too slow and a little boring. I was afraid they were going to retread the ground they laid on 2013’s Valtari, a sleepy yet atmospheric project that languished in its ambiance. Valtari was great and it needed no sequel. To my great delight, Átta is no sequel. It is similar to Valtari in its slowness and the absence of great crescendos the band is most known for. Átta reveals a new side of Sigur Rós that is wrapped entirely in strings. The album was made with a forty-one piece orchestra. It’s a gorgeous listening experience, yet easily Sigur Rós’s saddest record. It’s funerial, has an air of grief, and a hint of hopelessness about the world we live in. Just look at that cover art. It’s an obvious political statement from the queer frontman of otherwise apolitical group. It’s very much so an of-the-moment album, one that demands start to finish listening as there aren’t many stand out tracks—it all blurs together in a good way.
Netflix’s Never Have I Ever is a series that gets binged in our household when a new season drops. On the day it premieres, we start watching it and the only reason we stop is for sleep. Each season is about the high school career-driven student Devi Vishwwkumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and her dealing with the psychological trauma of having watched her father Mohan (Sendhil Ramamurthy) pass away in front of her.
I found that the show not only had an honest portrayal of talk therapy in Devi’s sessions with her therapist Dr. Jamie Ryan (Niecy Nash) but an honest portrayal of school & family and the trouble Devi gets into by avoiding telling the truth to spare hurting others. Devi may be an above average student but the hook of Never Have I Ever is when she is an average teenager who makes mistakes, fights with her mother Rhyah (Sarayu Blue) and works on mending relationships with best friends, boyfriends & classmates.
The show is also one of the funnier shows I have watched on tv. Credit to co-creators Lang Fisher & Mindy Kaling, and their cast and crew for their amazing balance of comedy and drama with this series. The rest of my Staff Pick could be a list of the amazing cast, who all have in-depth characters and storylines. And as a celebrity hook, nothing demonstrates the dramedy nature of this show more than the fact that it’s narrated by tennis legend John McEnroe. When I found out why he was the narrator, it was in an episode both heartfelt & heartbreaking.
Never Have I Ever ends its final season with closure on Devi’s high school career and an incredible focus on herself and self worth before sending her off into the real world. I highly recommend this show for everyone since we can all relate to the high school part. But as someone who related to the trauma and mental health awareness of the show, each episode seemed a reminder to keep moving forward, but take note of who I currently am now.
Vanya is in strife again, but this time she didn’t start it. Ish. Painted Devils picks up almost immediately where Little Thieves left off, but all the best stories reflect a version of reality, and Vanya’s had a life of internalizing she’s not good enough. She’s off to track down her family, and you thought a love interest (as much as we adore Junior Prefect Emeric Conrad) was going to solve Vanya’s trauma?
Or to put it more simply, she stays put. She’s ended up in Hagendorn, and she’s the head of a made-up cult with a made-up goddess. (Vanya just needed help picking up some rubies and then it Became A Thing).
Until the goddess manifests and demands Emeric as a blood sacrifice.
Painted Devils delivers on all that Little Thieves set up and more: the emotional through-line, character development, fantasy elements, and world-building. Come for the gods, stay for Vanya’s journey.