August 2017 Book List

hobbit

The Angel of History, Rabih Alameddine

Another Day in the Death of America, Gary Youngeanother

The Kingdom of Ash and Briars, Hannah West

A Hero of France, Alan Furst

Optimists Die First, Susin Nielsen

Top Prospect, Paul Volponi

Photo of Hobbit House at Holden Village during family’s August stay

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March and April 2019 Books

lostLost and Wanted, Nell Freudenberger (2019)

Helen is known for the theory she and her Harvard classmate developed explaining fifth dimensional physics in black holes, and has explained physics in best-selling books. She now works as a physics prof at MIT, raising her son Jack as a single mom. Helen’s bonds with Jack are a delight to read, and though Helen thinks doing math is easier than relationships, both are rich in the novel that is now in my top ten. The story begins when her college roommate and best friend dies after a long-term illness. The two women lived on opposite coasts. Charlie, a creative and impulsive African American, studied literature and theater, succeeding as a screenwriter and producer in L.A. Charlie’s husband and daughter move to Boston temporarily, and Helen gets unexplainable texts from her dead friend’s phone. This books is well-written, intelligent, and emotional in a way that resonates deeply.

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, Patrisse Khan-Cullors when(2018)

This memoir doesn’t develop anger as much as understanding. Khan-Cullors documents her life to explain her interest in social activism. She went to a magnet school in L.A., drawing motivation from the contrast between accepted white privilege and the injustices she saw her family members suffer. Hidden codes, segregation, and a prison system which penalizes drug use and mental illness contribute to the racism she experiences. Her studies led her into community organizing, and her anger over and love for the victims of racism is well told in this story that weaves the names of men and women killed by police into her personal story of becoming a mother. I began the book hoping for a history of Black Lives Matter, and ended satisfied with what Khan-Cullors provided instead: a personal story of how an intelligent woman transformed her awareness of oppression into a rallying cry against injustice.

an.JPGAn Absolutely Remarkable Thing, Hank Green (2019)

Late one night in NYC, April stops to admire a new piece of street art, a giant robot dressed in metallic samurai armor. She calls her old friend from art school to shoot a video of it, and the video goes viral, earning them significant money. Their lives change as they get a lawyer and then an agent, media coverage, a book contract, and even a meeting with POTUS (a female!). Social media, the lure of fame, and the storm of polarizing us/them comments change April.  She begins accepting others’ admiration, substituting it for love or rich relationships. Green is a smart guy able to communicate some great ideas in simple prose, and this deserves the awards it has garnered.

Home Ice:Reflections of a Reluctant Hockey Mom, Angie Abdou (2018)home

Abdou is not a gentle quiet narrator, but a conflicted mother battling out what it means to encourage her 9 year old son to play hockey. Abdou looks at the sport’s dangers and violence, its economic costs, its racism, the toll it takes on marriage and family, and the nasty loud negative parents. Against the cold ice rinks, with their bitter coffee and male preferences, she asks whether her son’s development and her pride in him can stand up against the negatives. She weaves in research, citing many published sources that reinforce her own clear specific descriptions. She also reconsiders her assessment of youth hockey, not in an annoying way, but showing how her heart and her own strengths and weaknesses add to the dilemma. The accidental hero of the story is Ollie, whose outbursts, joys, and insights make her laugh, cry, and persevere.

orca.JPGOrca: How We Came to Know and Love the Ocean’s Greatest Predator, Jason Colby (2018)

This history of our perceptions on orca killer whales centers on the 1960s. Before then, whales were either the catch of fishermen, pests to be shot, or the biggest predator of the seas, inspiring annoyance, apathy, or fear. After Ted Griffin caught and swam with an orca, the world’s thinking changed, sometimes with startling immediacy. Griffin has been valorized and vilified, and Colby shows reasons for these judgements, siding with a reasoned and forgiving stance. Orca rights have, ironically, been given because of hunters, fishers, and catchers. Not only that, these rights have been given by the game department and former killers, who often refuse to admit their prior culpability. Colby explores many stories of many people involved in the transition. Although he includes some scientists and science, this book is more personal.

Children:

The book in the book in the book, Julien Baer (2019)book

Thomas goes on vacation with his parents, and their day is pictured in sunwashed colors and typical beach imagery. Exploring on his own, he finds a book with a similar story but in a new place, and so on, in a meta-mirroring technique that is light and fun. Everything is wrapped up cleverly at the end of this creative book for kids. This may be a spoiler, but I like that it introduces science fiction.

arnoArno and the Mini-Machine, Seymour Chwast (2019)

“Get back on the path!” and “You will study hard and be good children”  chirp omnipresent speakers and machines. Arno is a middle grade boy living in the technological future 200 years from now. The drawings of this colorful book show bright flat colors that match the ‘happy’ message chirped by machines. I especially enjoyed Arno’s dog Lem, Polyfoam Poodle model 473. But Arno sees his first bird, and tries to dismantle the machine strapped to his own chest which controls his days. A hard look at a future dystopia with bright visuals as contrast.

Young Adult

Corpse & Crown, Alisa Kwitney (2019)corpse

Agatha is training to be a nurse in an alternate history of Victorian London, where Oliver Twist, the Artful Dodger, and Frankenstein (a Bio-Mechanical) all coexist within a corrupt system. Agatha sees how the poor lack health care, and fights to help them, while her employer requires her to keep the English Queen alive by devious means. What larks ensue in this literary mash up include monsters with humanity and humans without it. This is a fun and clever book to recommend for young readers looking for fantasy.

pioneerThe Pioneer, Bridget Tyler (2019)

Jo and her family are astronauts chosen to settle a new planet for humanity. The contract for colonizing requires that a planet have no sentient life, and the pioneers were told the planet called Tau Ceti e fit their needs. The Pioneer resonates with unspoken references to the movie Avatar and the history of colonialism on Earth. Many things have been kept secret from the crew that lands to set up their home base. Beautiful descriptions, complicated ethical questions, and a diverse cast of characters make this adventure interesting.

Tigerbelle: The Wyomia Tyus Story, Wyomia Tyus and Elizabeth Terzakis (2018)tyus

I didn’t know who Wyomia Tyus was when I began. She was raised in small town Georgia and went to Tennessee State to run for track coach Edward Temple, who brought her to the Olympics twice. She won the 100 meters in both 1964 and 1968. Tyus talks with gentle understatement about what it took to win, and the inequalities of race and gender, endorsing Colin Kaepernick and #BlackLivesMatter, tracing these movements back in history to her friends Tommie Smith and John Carlos, whose raised fists she saw. Tyus clearly loved and respected Coach Temple, keeping their relationship strong until the end of his life. This easy to read book sheds light on a quiet athlete often forgotten.

kingdomThe Kingdom, Jess Rothenberg (2019)

A murder has been committed, and this book begins during the trial, with flashbacks that trace the timeline of Ana, the accused. The murder happened in The Kingdom, a futuristic Disneyland, staffed with android/humans and featuring newly created members of extinct species. Ana is a princess, happy in her role under the dome creating happiness for kids. Happy moments in StoryLand between children and their princess heroes are contrasted with rats, both literal and figurative, who prey behind the facade. For example, the android princesses are programmed to say yes, and there are indications of sexual predators. Nobody (especially not Ana) is prepared for what seems to be happening to her, evolving with thoughts, feelings, and questions that seem human. The courtroom  sections include video, interviews, and the trial transcript. The Kingdom provides young people with an interesting look at beauty and perfection and what it means to be human.

King of Scars, Leigh Bardugo (2019)king

Ravka’s king is charming by day, but can transform into a  monster at night. His fierce general takes him out into the country in search of a cure. The fantasy begins with high tension, and maintains this level of drama with conflicts between good and evil, spy and military, politics and personal needs. Many characters were introduced in Bardugo’s series before, but this book can be read on its own. I’d only read one of her books before, but found this fun and engrossing. This book is for those who like fantasies that emphasize friendship, morals, and girl power.

Friendroid, M.M. Vaughan (2019)

friI loved this middle-grade book, told in two voices. Danny is a middle school boy living in poverty, with no friends at school, instead mastering the game Land X, and being supported by a loving (and hence annoying) mother. Slick, his nickname for the new boy at school (Eric to his parents, when they take the rare moment to actually acknowledge him), loves playing the same game, and they exchange tips. Popularity is Eric’s easily won goal, but making friends with Danny will ruin more than that, since Danny discovers that Slick is an android. This well told story is grounded in the reality of middle school, and carefully plotted with a diversity of core characters.

Honor Bound, Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre (2019)honor

I jumped into the second book of a series like protagonist Zara Cole jumped into her Honor program, neither of us knowing what we’re getting into. Luckily, this book made it easy to slip into space, on a ship that was a living and thinking being, bonded to its pilot. Hunted by bug swarm predators called the Phage, Zara and her team go to the Sliver, home to criminal alien expatriots, to recover from their battles. She’s clever, at home with criminals, always up for a fight, and learns new things intuitively and quickly. She needs all of this in order to survive. Though her morals aren’t always admirable, she tries to understand alien life rather than follow her human instincts to find slimy reptilian life disgusting. Her adventures have lots of action and creativity.

perfThe Perfect Assassin, K.A. Doore (2019)

This  fantasy features the newest class of trained assassins, sworn to do the bidding of the drum chiefs of Gahlid, a city built high above the swirling desert sands. At the end of his training Amastan wonders if he really can bring himself to kill. His inner conflicts are insignificant, though, when compared to the murderous evil ghosts of the dead , known as jaan, who soon attack his town. The drum chiefs may be behind a spate of deaths, motivated by political reasons. Amastan is sent to spy with his colleagues, and finds himself attracted to one of his informers. The convoluted tale is hard to put down, filled with adventure and rooftop travels, and the ethnic diversity and the social acceptance of homosexuality add to my appreciation.

An Affair of Poisons, Addie Thorley (2019)affair

In an amazing first chapter, Mirabelle, a teenage potions master in seventeenth century France, creates a poison so her mother can kill a corrupt leader of the Sun King’s court. When it is instead used to kill the King himself, and then incite rebellion, she is both awed and frightened. This fast pace and high conflict is impossible to maintain, and the conflict doesn’t really get more complicated than that start suggests. Chapters alternate between Mira’s point of view, critical of absolutism and aware of the mass suffering, and that of the teenage bastard son of King Louis XIV, also an outsider in the chain of command, but unaware of life outside the court. Magical creatures, alchemy, and French settings like Versailles and the Paris sewers are the elements that Thorley astutely weaves together in a historical fantasy. Sequels may show Mira and Josse dealing with their romance and growing political awareness.

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February 2019 Books

snow 1

Being a librarian’s blog on what she enjoyed reading. For this month, most were read on Snow Days.

Younger Readers/ Middle School

Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry, Neil deGrasse Tyson

astrodeGrasse Tyson explains physics, time, and space in bite size pieces with sidebars, graphics and enthusiasm. The big questions are dealt with in chapters on space, light, galaxies, dark matter and dark energy, and aliens. Tyson’s silliness and energy are apparent and I think the age range (9-12) could be expanded!  I recommend this, knowing that it will encourage people to be scientists. The author set out to encourage astrophysics, and this book is so short, it shouldn’t intimidate anyone. With comparison to everyday items we all know, like a box of Cheerios, or chapstick, or a kitchen table, ratios and ideas, space becomes knowable.  I ended with an appreciation for the wonderful world I live in, not an emotional reaction I always have to science books.

Beastkeeper, Cat Hellisen (2015)

Sarah’s family falls apart when her mom leaves them. Her dad starts losing his identity beastand takes her to live with grandparents she’s never met. They live in a dilapidated castle in the middle of a lost forest, and curses control their lives, her parents, and soon will control hers. Sarah set out to untangle the witchcraft with the help of an ancient teenager and some talking animals. This update on Grimm fairy tales is well done, dark and modern. Sarah is likeable, lost, and surprisingly brave.

Young Adult

The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo (2018)

poetXiomara is pushed around, misunderstood, and lets her fists speak for her when her voice fails.  Her mother and the stifling gender expectations of church block her from developing her identity anywhere besides her notebook. She stands up for her twin, the brainy Xavier, and he encourages her to develop as a spoken word/slam poet. The novel, entirely in verse, shows how one Afro Latino girl comes into her own in today’s Harlem. I love how the church functions in this novel; it’s more complex than you might expect. This is a great story for girls, or for those who want to understand them!

The Music of What Happens, Bill Konigsberg (2019)

Jordan, a white boy who works to pay off his mom’s debts by running a food truck,music doesn’t know what he’s doing. Max, one of his first customers, quickly realizes Jordan could use his help. Max is a closet foodie and chef, but to most he’s just the high school jock, a ‘dude.’ When Max opens himself up, both boys show their vulnerability and Konigsberg gracefully shows the boys’ relationship develop. Characters consider masculinity and femininity with nuance that romantic comedies don’t always allow for. This is a fun book, with diverse characters, LGBTQ issues, and I will promote it for high school readers.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea, Tahereh Mafi (2018)

verySophomore year means Shirin is starting at a new school, her third high school. She has chosen to wear the hijab, and in the year 2002, this means she is harassed at school and during her walk to and from school by racists, including teachers who question and suspect her. When her biology lab partner shows an interest in her, she treats him the way she does everyone else. To protect herself, she avoids eye contact and any interaction not absolutely required. Her better adapted older brother, however, draws her out by starting a breakdance group at school, Shirin’s first and only extracurricular. And Ocean, her biology classmate, refuses to accept her repeated withdrawals, though she knows their attraction can only lead to more pain. This novel captures the emotional roller coaster of high school, the idiocy of popularity, and the joys of finding what you are good at and knowing which people truly see you. Although I am disappointed that the teachers and coaches portrayed are all idiots and racists, I can see myself recommending the book for its romance and recognition of racism.

Expelled, James Patterson and Emily Raymond (2017)

The book’s inciting incident is a social media post of a photo showing the school’s startingexp football player drunk, with a topless girl and and a masked boy peeing in the background. Nobody questions the photo, but the mask owner and the Twitter account are not the villains. Theo and best friend Jude (my favorite character) set out to find who let them take the fall. And now they are expelled, they have plenty of time on their hands. Two other expelled kids join them in seeking the truth. The story has many entertaining moments, though a flawed ending goes into a dark territory inconsistent with the rest of the story.

Once & Future, Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy (2019)

onceThe King Arthur story repeats itself over and over throughout history, with Merlin and Morgana helping and obstructing a new Arthur character each time as he negotiates similar relationships. Now imagine that the latest Art is Ari, who pulls Excalibur out of a rock on a decimated Earth before flying off into space. In this space epic fantasy, evil is the commercialism of the Mercer corporation, and the King is Ari, a girl!  This is so fun, and characters represent a variety of genders and sexualities. Some parts are magic, much like the original, and don’t make much sense, but that’s the original, too. This quest was made for readers like me, who like King Arthur stories, T. E. White, science fiction and young adult stories. Ari’s quick character growth makes sense, and it is a delight to watch her triumph.

snow 2

The Last 8, Laura Pohl (2019)

 Clover Martinez was taught by her abuelo to fly, and she always finds joy when she islast piloting a plane. This book begins and ends in the sky. At the beginning, Clover flies above a world like ours, soon to go to a science fair in her small Montana town. But then thousands of spaceships land around the world, turning everything upside down. The title refers to the only people who still survive 6 months later, and Clover is one of them. These teenagers gather at Area 51, and Clover is surprised to find herself becoming a leader. This post apocalyptic book is well paced, with great dialogue, personal conflicts that develop the science fiction premise, and I couldn’t put it down. While I think the main audience is young adult, it could go younger.

Where I End & You Begin, Preston Norton (2019)

whereNorton has created a great name for his protagonist. Ezra Slevin is teen misfit afraid to even speak to Imogen, the girl he has a crush on. A solar eclipse creates Freaky Friday-style magic, and he and Wynonna Jones, the cool confident girl who’s Imogen’s best friend, swap bodies. Their swaps repeat randomly. Wynonna and Ezra find out each other’s secrets, and the craziness you’d expect ensues. Also, they are required to be part of the school’s production of Twelfth Night, as discipline for breaking into school on the night of the eclipse. It may sound like there’s too much going on, and there almost is, but Ezra and Wynonna learn about each other, and break open their friends’ thoughts on gender and sexuality in this teen comedy with lots of low humor and some fart jokes.

Adult Titles

Newcomer, Keigo Higashino (2001)

This excellent mystery has just been translated from the Japanese. Unlike so manynewcomer fictional detectives, Kyoichiro Kaga is not psychologically flawed or traumatized. His patient intelligence follows a detail until it is finally explained, providing insight into a Tokyo neighborhood along the way. Persistent curiosity leads Kaga into many lives, and the novel is separated into chapters based on settings. In each, he encounters and ultimately understands and usually improves lives. For example, he traces the sticky cakes found at the crime scene of the murdered middle-age woman to the bakery that made them, tracing the people who bought them, and how they went from person to person to end up in her apartment. The story is ingenious, as each clue and story eventually leads to the murder being solved.

The Library Book, Susan Orleans (2018)

libraryTwo people brought this book to me after reading it themselves, and the snow days gave me the opportunity to delve into it. Orlean writes her narrative around the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Public Library downtown. The book stacks burned for a whole day, and fire and water ended up destroying or damaging a million books. This book describes the day, the reaction, and the recovery, as well as delving into book burning throughout history. Susan Orleans includes her own use of libraries, describing visits to the library with her mother and with her son. Near the beginning, she writes of her childhood library trips with her mom:”Our visits to the library were never long enough for me…dreamy, frictionless interludes that promised I would leave richer than  arrived.” She interviews scores of fascinating librarians (I want to be like them!), traces the history of this library system, and discusses the role of libraries as information and community centers. I think she get libraries right! I laughed when she wrote about librarians as passionate, liberal, and “opinionated.” While the mystery of how the fire began is not resolved here, the book is engaging as it discovers other interesting characters and themes to explore.

Maid, Stephanie Land (2019)

Land has written her own account of struggling with poverty as a single mom. She setsmaid out to smash notions that the wealthy have of lazy people living off welfare. When she lets a friend know she’s used food stamps, that friend says to her, “you’re welcome.” Land bites her tongue, but anyone who reads this books and thinks the poor should thank the wealthy for paying their taxes has missed the point. The tone of the book is balanced and intelligent, using description and detail to portray the difficulty of making a living without extra family support when circumstances knock you down. The author is resilient, accessible, and the book will be on the Summer Reading list I make.

The Humans, Matt Haig (2013)

humansThe book begins with Professor Andrew Martin, esteemed mathematician at Cambridge, running naked through the town. The first person narrator is actually an alien inhabiting his body. The Vonnadorians do not want Earthlings to know the secret of prime numbers Andrew has just discovered. Our narrator arrives, and Andrew dies in shock at the sight of the rounded alien, who then sets out to find if the professor has shared his findings with anyone else, knowing he must kill them also. Initially disgusted by all the protuberances on a human body, he slowly adapts to his identity as Andrew, and forms relationships with Andrew’s family, starting with the dog, and expanding to the teenage son and the wife. It is impossible not to laugh as the alien is puzzled by human mores, and his ability to leave his hive-mind superiority for a “mid-level intelligence” life is beautifully created. This is a fun look at the philosophical questions on what it means to be human and to love. This is not science fiction, since too many things make no sense, but a playful comedy that is life-affirming.

Less, Andrew Sean Greer (2017)

Arthur Less is a not quite successful author whose funny mishaps will had me snortingless and laughing. Famous for once being the younger lover of a genius writer, he’s settled for less, and now wants to avoid the pain of attending the marriage of his own younger lover. He fears impending middle age, and so creates a schedule of world travels by accepting teaching positions, interviews, and ceremonies that take him far from home. These adventures he hopes will help him write his next novel, a gay version of Ulysses. If this book is the result, the language holds up, and the violence has been traded for humor. Less has the charm of Odysseus in his slim frame in its favorite blue suit, worn out from episodes of bad luck that develop his sweet nature.

Wonderful Feels Like This, Sara Lovestam (2013)

wonderfulSteffi loses herself at home by listening to jazz, a respite from the girls who bully her at school. Her older sister seems well-adjusted, with friends who visit and talk about which boys they like, but Steffi fills her time with listening for the walking bass line in old jazz artists, and teaching herself the bass, as well as guitar and clarinet. She is suddenly aided by an unexpected ally who lives in a retirement home. Alvar left their small town to go to Stockholm as a teenager to play jazz during World War One. He plays his records, tells his stories, and encourages Steffi. This is a sweet story of growing up and the importance of art.

 

Snow Photos from Bill Purcell

 

January 2019 Books

— a librarian’s blog on what she’s enjoyed reading this month —

ala

Young Adult titles

Love, Hate & other Filters, Samira Ahmed (2018)

Maya Aziz tries to submit to her Indian immigrant parents and their desires, but herlove dreams are different: she doesn’t want an arranged marriage and she doesn’t want to go to nearby college to study law or medicine. Her interests are in film, and she nearly always has the camera her dad gave her to capture the moment (or sometimes, to duck behind). As she struggles to find her voice, she makes some rookie errors and falls in love with the Wrong Guy. The minute I finished the book, I wondered if it’s already been optioned for a movie. Islamophobia, 80s movies, and a cool best friend would make this a sure hit.

Eliza and her Monsters, Francesca Zappia (2017)

elizaI’m reading lots of YA contenders for the Evergreen Award. Two of the books I hope make our next cuts I just read. Eliza and her Monsters centers around a girl who writes a successful webcomic. Eliza has kept her identity as the series creator hidden at school, and struggles with relationships in real life. The new boy at school is a fan who posts clever comments about her comic. She pretends to be a fellow fan and Eliza and Warren are soon eating lunches together. As he slowly breaks some of her barriers, she has less and less time to write. She still can’t open up to others, including her family. Zappia includes several pages of the monstrous comics Eliza writes, extending the appeal of the romance with something new as Eliza’s world gets turned upside down.

Nyxia, Scott Reintgen (2017)

Nyxia, the cool title of this book, is the name of an amazing substance that exists on a far-nyxiaaway planet. Nyxia can be used to create just about anything, from walls to weapons to bones, and a powerful company has recruited a group of hard-scrabble teenagers to mine the substance. On their training camp in space, Emmett competes with his peers, as only the top scoring kids will get to mine and become millionaires. A ruthless taskmaster creates challenges that are dangerous, cruel and have high stakes. Cunning and strength may not be enough to win, as evidenced when competitors make friends and discover hidden secrets. The impoverished teens, an underrepresented group in YA books, add to the adventure’s value.

Letters to the Lost, Brigid Kemmerer (2017)

lettersJuliet is mourning the death of her mother by visiting her mom’s grave and leaving letters. One day, she picks up a letter she wrote, to find that someone has responded at the bottom. The two words make her furious, and she writes a letter about how she feels violated. Declan found Juliet’s letter when mowing the cemetery grass, his assigned service. An outcast at school, Declan has spent time in juvenile detention after drunkenly totalling a truck. Both teens are lost, emotional, and their relationship progresses quickly on paper. Both grow and develop their talents, either in photography (Juliet) or car repair (Declan). The question of whether they can reveal their identities to each other continues to loom. Can a rich academic girl and a poor delinquent with a bad reputation get together?

Superb: Life after the fallout, Avid Walker, et al (2017)

This graphic novel has cool adventures and great drawings. After an asteroid explosion superbleads to falling debris, people are mysteriously ‘enhanced’ with super powers. At school each morning, kids go through scanners that check them for any enhanced signs. If discovered, students are captured. The government organization charged with identifying the enhanced may or may not be corrupt. Jonah, an enhanced teen with Down’s syndrome, hasn’t been discovered and he takes on a superhero persona, Cosmosis. His friend Kayla finds him when he’s seriously injured from his latest exploits flaunting the system. Her ability to help is compromised, since her parents work for Foresight, the sinister corporation that imprisons the enhanced. The story then backtracks to the times before and just after the asteroid disaster. I hope the sequel further explores Jonah’s character.

Between Two Skies, Joanne O’Sullivan (2017)

betweenThis extraordinary novel for middle school readers and older is filled with lyrical and beautiful prose. Evangeline lives and fishes on the bayou, comfortable with the land, the water, her home, her family and her friendships. The novel begins before Hurricane Katrina, and shows when debates begin about whether the family should evacuate before the predicted storm. Relocated to Atlanta afterward, they try in different degrees to adjust. Her parents especially struggle as her mother embraces a new life that her father can’t find fulfillment in. Evangeline misses the water back home, and the bayou has formed her identity. Romance, school, and family issues are not as important as it is for Evangeline to get home when she feels adrift.

Forget Me Not, Ellie Terry (2017)

Calliope and her mom move, again. In the book’s first pages, Calliope meets Jinsong, aforget neighbor boy, at the apartment’s washing machines, and the two narrate alternate chapters. Their immediate friendship is questioned by classmates. When kids at their middle school see Callie twitch, she’s bullied as the new kid and an outsider. Callie doesn’t want anyone to know she has Tourette Syndrome, a neurological disorder. A dysfunctional mother who runs through men and towns at a high speed adds to Callie’s problems. This book has interesting characters, serious conflicts, impressive diversity, and precise images associated with a book of poetry. The book’s conclusion mirrors its beginning, with a move. But now Callie and Jinsong plan to stay in touch.

24 Hours in Nowhere, Dusti Bowling (2018)

24Bowling’s earlier book Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus was a favorite of mine last year. 24 Hours in Nowhere shares the setting of the desert of Arizona and a middle school protagonist. Gus is the victim of bullies, and the new girl at school comes to his rescue. Her defense leads to the loss of her dirtbike, so Gus resolves to get it back for her. He strikes a deal with the bully to recover the bike if he finds gold in 24 hours. He sneaks out at night to hunt for gold in a collapsed mine, and the chapters cover his surprisingly dangerous search. Three other kids join Gus in the mines by and the adventure challenges and changes them. Farfetched, funny, and emotional, I think this could appeal to many 6th graders, whether they need plot, danger, or characters to hook them in.

The Inexplicable Logic of my Life, Benjamin Alire Saenz (2017)logic

Salvatore, called Sal, feels lost in his senior year. He’s always known he was adopted, but he’s now curious about his biological dad. He doesn’t really want to go to college. Sal is also befuddled by sudden angry feelings that lead him to use his fists, and fears the imminent death of his grandmother, whose cancer has reappeared. With an amazingly sensitive father and a super-cool best friend who’s a girl, he makes it through and this book will move you to tears frequently. Issues of race, poverty, adoption, LGBTQ are all problems that family and love can ultimately overcome.

See You in the Cosmos, Jack Cheng (2017)

seeAlex takes care of his mom (making meals, cleaning the house); his dog, who needs to be fed carefully to avoid digestive issues; and himself, buying train tickets to attend a robot convention in the desert, where he will test out his homemade design. He records his life into an iPod in short bursts meant to inform an alien about life on Earth. The transcribed recordings are this book,  not such an odd proposition when you realize that Alex is only 11 years old. He’s smart, naive, fearless and lovable. His book addresses the chaos of his home life with the good humor of an unreliable narrator. He amasses adult friends in the robot road trip, and this would be a good read for any oddball middle school reader.

The New York Times Book of Politics, Andrew Rosenthal (2018)

I saved of a copy of The New York Times when it announced Barack Obama’s election,NYT and on the day my daughter was born. What makes a NYT story important varies for each person, and this book’s contents are arranged around 7 threads, including Presidents (Obama story included), race, war, scandals and others. It purports to cover 167 years, but many stories seem chosen because the event was momentous, though the reporting was not. For example, Truman winning an election over Dewey was noteworthy, but the 6 page article was boring. Articles are presented without introduction or context, though some had follow up comments at the end. On the other hand, the 1966 story from R.W. Apple from the war in Vietnam was detailed and impactful. It was interesting to get of-the-moment stories such as when Lincoln was dying, or the afternoon just after Kent State shootings. This book could not solely serve to form an understanding of the paper, the media, or political history, but for $30 may serve as a supplement to such studies. I wish there were more photos and introductions to the stories.

Adult Titles

New People, Danzy Senna (2017)

newMaria is about to have it all: she’s almost completed her thesis on the Jonestown massacre, and beginning to plan her wedding to Khalil, a loving and successful techie of the dot-com era. Both Maria and Khalil are biracial (Maria has more street cred), and their relationship is chosen to be featured in a documentary on racially mixed “new people.” But as the cameras start to record the perfect couple, Maria starts falling apart. She feels drawn to an African American poet. She finds his dark skin and general demeanor attractive. This initial attraction magnifies into an obsession, and Maria’s transgressions escalate with urgency into creeping on her un-reciprocated fantasy. As she spins down the rabbit hole, conniving into his apartment building, and masquerading as a nanny, I kept thinking something would stop her from going over the edge. No spoilers, though. Cultural details and allusions throughout address the issue of race.

 

December 2018 Books

 

Young Adult Titles

famousFamous in a small town, Emma Mills (2019)

Sophie lives in small town Indiana, and she is happy there. Although she is, by her own admission, the most average clarinet player, she’s a leader in the marching band and its campaign to raise the funds needed to march in the Rose Bowl Parade. Her plan is to lure the most famous success story of the town, country music star Megan Pleasant, back home for a concert to raise the money. Sophie’s got a set of friends she’s known all her life, and when a neighbor brings his lost half-brother August home, it’s clear he’s keeping a secret. It’s not so clear that Sophie is, though. Uncertain of her future after senior year, Sophie spends the summer before it preserving and cherishing her friends, sometimes to their annoyance. This is Mill’s forth successful YA novel, and her snarky dialogue and interesting friendships enliven the romance.

Trell, Dick Lehr (2017)

Trell is a happy well adjusted African American teenager determined to fix the biggesttrell wrong in her life: her father Romero Taylor is serving a life sentence for a murder he did not commit. Her dad has recently enlisted a new lawyer, and Trell’s her summer intern. With her persistent mother, they also enlist an older journalist to pursue justice. The beginning and the end are good enough to excuse the sluggish middle section and the awkward journalist (the book is written by a Boston journalist!).

Slider, Pete Hautman (2017)

sliderDavid is good at eating. He decides to develop his strength in this area and earn money by competing in eating contests.  This presents a perfect amount of grossness for a thirteen year old boy. Winning is crucial and urgent because he’s accidently charged $2000 on his mom’s Visa, and maybe she’ll forgive him if he can pay it back.  Meanwhile, he is watching his two best friends wander past friend territory and his little brother, Mal, needs him to help deal with the tantrums of his autism. The middle school story is sweet, though it’ll turn you off eating pizza for a while.

Your Own Worst Enemy, Gordon Jack (2018)

Student council elections are probably usually pretty dull, but not when you mix in theenemy drama of the current political scene with an unhealthy dose of teen competition.  Stacy is the obvious choice, but when her best friend Brian has a crush on the new girl who has the audacity to run for the same office, she gets suspicious. And the school stoner is persuaded to run and is boosted by the masses who expect him to turn the school upside down. Shenanigans, mishaps, and convoluted plot twists are only to be expected today, right? Scenes of mass student protest humorously echo the latest federal election.

 

Books for Adults

Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead (2016)

undergroundCora wants to follow her mother in escaping Georgia. She lives in the slave house with the other crazy women, and when Caesar, a new slave on the plantation, asks her to run away with him on the underground railroad, she doubts her ability to survive. Caesar, however, picked her because he admires her willpower. The story goes to South Carolina, North Carolina, Indiana, and the territories west, following several narratives besides Cora’s, in a fantastic tale that merges historical reality with an actual train that runs through tunnels underground. The story is strong, the pains and triumphs are heart-rending, and Whitehead’s creativity expands the boundaries of the traditional novel. I agree with NPR that this book is an American masterpiece.

Mooncop, Tom Gauld (2016)mooncop

Living on the moon may be a fantasy for many, and this graphic novel shows with few words what the reality might be like. One settler takes her dog for daily walks, another settler works in a donut shop, and the protagonist is a police man without much crime to investigate. The story is quiet, funny and profound, definitely to be appreciated by adults and some thoughtful teens.

deathA Death of No Importance, Mariah Fredericks (2018)

This period murder mystery of the wealthy class is told by a smart maid, Jane Prescott, newly employed by the newly rich. The Benchley’s lack the pedigree of their daughter’s fiance Robbie Newsoms, and when he is found dead, they become suspects. Prescott heads off on her own to quietly investigate, forming alliances with a reporter and an under-employed chemist, in a story that never hesitates.  Anarchists fill the news of the 1910s, and are also suspects in the crime. Prescott’s voice is authentic, her mind is sharp, and the ending of the novel is quite satisfying.

Salt Lane, William Shaw (2018)

Alex Cupidi is an abrasive detective, assigned to work with a young assistant when shesalt transfers from London to nowhere.  She lives with her daughter at the end of a road in a summer town, loving the winters when nobody is around. But this summer, her daughter is strange and distant, and two dead bodies have appeared in unlikely locations, with no known identities. Away from home for long hours investigating, Alex invites her mother to come stay, though they’ve not gotten along for decades. The crimes come close to her personal life, and Alex needs the help of locals who understand how the community and the waters move.  It seems natural that everything connects, and I highly recommend this murder mystery to the many fans of dysfunctional English detectives.

 

 

 

Best Books Read in 2018

As major publications and critics announce the Top 10 Lists or best of the year, I want to add my nominations.  I read over a 100 books this year, though not many were published in 2018. Following are three lists: the top 10 books I read written for adults; the top 10 for teens; and a couple notable picture books. The books are listed in no particular order; it was difficult enough for me to narrow it down to these 23. The unique benefits of these particular lists are that most are easily available, either in paperback or without a waiting list at your local library.  

Merry Christmas! May you have the time over the holidays to enjoy the pleasures of reading a good book.

Best books for Adults

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror, Mallory Ortberg (2018)

merryHorror is everyday as the title suggests, but Ortberg spins good tales all the more shocking because they begin in ordinary life. Her feminist fables transform the Grimm brothers mythology with force and violence and a bit of joy. This book disrupts the stories we learned as children, like The Velveteen Rabbit and the Old Testament stories. Imagery also modernizes and horrifies. I squirmed when a voice becomes “a crawling black thing across the floor” and when the frog prince has breath that smells of old coins. Several gender inversions are likewise creative. Witty and vicious and delightful, these stories demonstrate how literature can shake you up with its emotional impact.

singSing Unburied Sing, Jesmyn Ward (2017)

A National Book Award winner, Sing Unburied Sing is a contemporary journey, developed with echoes from many other stories, including Homer and August Wilson’s play cycle. Teenage Jojo has been brought up by his grandfather in the African American poverty of Southern Mississippi. His drug addicted mother Leonie has been mostly absent, but now asks him to ‘be the man’ in a road trip. Leonie has decided to fetch her husband from the jail at Parchman Farm when he is released. She will bring her best friend and her two children. Leonie’s narration reveals how she is haunted by memories of her brother, killed by racist teens long ago. Pop, the grandfather, objects to this family trip, but must stay behind to nurse his dying wife. Pop himself was once imprisoned at Parchman, and a boy he tried to protect there becomes a driving force in this novel of how the past haunts the present. The book’s developing tragedy has the aura of car sickness, a literal issue for the youngest child. Jojo struggles to fulfil his promise to Pops to protect those he loves.

River of Teeth, Sarah Gailey (2017)

riverWinslow Houndstooth travels the Wild West assembling his operations team. He has to face down aggressive saloon attacks, poisoned drinks, and paid killers. Otherwise, this 1880’s Western is based on an alternative history: hippopotamuses have filled Louisiana marshes — a government attempt to provide a food source — but they’ve gone feral. Houndstooth and his crew are hippo wranglers! This adventure combines traditional Western tropes with fantasy, and the cast of characters includes two powerful, complex females. I appreciated that there is a non-gendered character, too. It’s short, fun, and there’s a sequel for fans like me.

The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai (2018)

greatMakkai’s literary novel begins with a funeral and throughout shows people surviving tragedy. Her “great believers” are the two narrators, with interrelated stories in different decades. In 1985, Yale Tishman is a handsome gay man in Chicago, enjoying a long term relationship that should protect him from the disease that has just killed a good friend. Fiona is the little sister of that friend, and she befriended Yale before her brother’s death.Yale and Fiona created a strong supportive friendship which helped them as the AIDS crisis developed. Now in 2015, Fiona is struggling with a soured relationship with her daughter, staying in Paris with an artist from her brother’s circle. Makkai has written a poignant and vibrant novel with detailed specifics of time and place to show the importance of friendship.

Half-Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan (2011)

halfI loved this jazz novel, travelling between Weimar Berlin and 1990’s Baltimore. Before Hitler’s rise, Berlin hosted a non-stop party, and American jazz flourished. But under Hitler, the country outlaws live jazz. Sid is an expat bass player who knows he’s not genius, but his presence is important because it holds his band mates together. In need of protection is Heiro Falk, a German jazz prodigy in their band, as well as other players with African heritage. Their racially mixed band hides from the Gestapo, or ‘Boots’ in their slang. With a mysterious girl, lots of long-kept secrets, and a Louis Armstrong cameo, loose ends don’t resolve until a filmmaker documents their story. Edugyan’s book tells a moving story of art and friendship in a lively jazz parlance.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Seanan McGuire (2017)

downDown Among the Sticks and Bones is about Jacqueline and Jillian, age 12, twins who go down a set of stairs which magically appeared in their grandmother’s trunk. After a decade of meeting their parents’ expectations, they break out (there’s no rule against this) to go under their home and enter the predatory Moors. They are not prepared, though, to deal with truly evil figures or even to make decisions in this sinister fantasy land, a twisted version of lions and wardrobes. With McGuire’s occasional sketches and some witty narrative parentheticals, this slim modern book should join the dark fantasy classics on the shelf. McGuire is a local author, and I hope to see her at bookstore readings.

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones (2018)

americanThis novel tells the story of a marriage, beginning with the newlyweds having their lives upended. The young black groom is accused of a rape he did not commit. When Roy is sentenced for 12 years, his wife Celestial continues to love and supports him. The two characters tell alternate chapters leading up to his arrest, and then the genre changes. The second section is their letters during his imprisonment.  Over time, Celestial finds herself slowly pulled into a new life without him. The suspense at the end comes from wondering if the marriage will resume or end. And if it ends, will it be a fade-away or a violent collapse? Big issues of race, parenthood and social class complicate their marriage and personal lives.

Fever Dream, Samanta Schweblin (2017)

feverThis novella is one conversation, mysterious and ominous, between Amanda and David. Amanda took her daughter to a vacation home in Argentina, then was so frightened she tried to leave. Amanda is now in the hospital and David has her retell her story, saying, “We’re looking for worms.” I’m not sure quite what he means, but this novel likewise worms its way into your psyche. David seems malicious, though he asks only for more detail, pointing out when ‘this is the important part.’ Amanda talks of polluted water, deaths, and split souls. Magic realism brings the thrilling story into hyperfocus, and every word and every moment counts.

The Silence of Our Friends, Mark Long, et al (2012)

silenceJack and his wife raise their kids in 1960s Houston, surrounded by racists and trying to teach their children another way. A white reporter and cameraman, Jack befriends Larry, an African American professor and civil rights organizer. Larry struggles to trust Jack, who often remains silent. In one episode, the two break the color line by dining at each other’s homes. Their friendship is rarely easy, and the graphic novel format pictures events, no inner monologue or explanation needed. Jack is pressured by his paper to not tell the truth about protests he’s seen, so his version of a policeman’s shooting won’t be heard until he is called to testify in court. The book ends with Martin Luther King’s death and several pages of silence. Once again, a graphic novel says more in visuals than paragraphs of text could. Long and Powell, local writer artists, work together to create a another great book that connects big issues to the details of individual stories.

Exit West, Mohsin Hamid (2017)

exitHamid describes the arc of a love affair in world of magic realism. Saeed still lives with his parents when he meets Nadia, who wears a protective burka, though she’s not Muslim. Saeed prays every day, while Nadia rebels with drugs and rule-breaking. When their unnamed country descends into civil war, streets and the internet are blocked. Their romance adapts to the horrors and violence developing in their hometown. Their story is then interrupted with vignettes of other couples who go through certain doors around town into other countries. The two buy passage across one of these magical thresholds and Nadia promises Saeed’s father that she will protect his son. Away from home, the two are sometimes bound by physical attraction, sometimes by loneliness, and sometimes by duty. Their fantastic journey in this adult novel develops with complexity but never sacrifices character development.

Best Books for Young Adults

Dear Martin, Nic Stone (2017)

dearJustyce is a top student and a star debater with a chance to go to Yale next year. Everything looks good about his future, until an early moment jeopardizes it. He walks out in the middle of the night to stop his ex-girlfriend from attempting to drive drunk. As he tosses her into the back seat and buckles her in, a siren sounds, and he’s slammed into the car and cuffed. The cop gives him no chance to speak, having already decided from his dark skin and hoodie that he’s guilty of a crime. Luckily Justyce recalls his mother’s advice and sits quietly until he’s set free the next day. But this incident leads him to start writing letters to Martin Luther King, Jr. for advice. His life gets further complicated by his attraction to his debate partner, a white girl his mom warns him to avoid. Stone’s characters are well-developed, and the dialogue explores issues of race with confidence and care. If a couple scenes are a bit didactic and episodes occasionally looks like playscript, those imperfections are slight when compared to the power of the story and its emotional realism.

Daughter of the Pirate King, Tricia Levenseller (2017)

pirateAlosa is the daughter of the Pirate King, and since he wants a long lost treasure map, she is sent to recover it. She goes into disguise and becomes a captive on an enemy ship to locate the map. She is powerful even in captivity, with fighting skill, leadership ability, and intelligence (as well as an ego to match). When Riden, her attractive captor, seems to fall for her, she’s still manipulative even though she feels a similar attraction.  Abundant romantic angst does not cause her to lose her tough persona. This may have been written for middle schoolers, but my new favorite escapism will be reading Levenseller.

Picture Us In the Light, Kelly Roy Gilbert (2018)

pictureSometimes getting what you want most doesn’t solve your problems. Danny Cheng, the main character of Picture Us In the Light, loves art; he has been drawing portraits for years and is hoping his portfolio gets him early acceptance into his dream school, the Rhode Island School of Design. Early in the book, Danny gets his acceptance letter, and he and his supportive family celebrate. But he finds this acceptance (and the scholarship he’s offered) doesn’t provide the satisfaction he expected. Tensions rise with other problems: Danny’s dad refuses to discuss a mysterious box his son found, and a close friend refuses to talk about her depression. Then, his dad loses his job, the family moves to a cheaper city outside the wealthy Silicon Valley and Danny switches schools. The story develops issues of immigration, suicide, religion, socioeconomic status, diversity and LGBTQ, but these issues are intrinsic to the characters’ stories, not its defining characteristics. His parents’ secrets and a bit of romance add to the heartbreak. Kelly Loy Gilbert’s book is beautiful, with images and metaphors smoothly woven into a character driven story of emotional depth and hope.

Long Way Down, Jason Reynolds (2017)

longLong Way Down dramatizes a crucial decision for one urban teen. Will, the African American narrator, saw his brother killed yesterday. Shots rang out, and everyone hit the ground, but Sean was hit, leaving behind a bloodstain and their crying mom. In his now empty bedroom, Will gets out his older brother’s gun. He will honor his brother by following the three rules Sean taught him: don’t cry, don’t snitch, and get revenge. The story is told in free verse as Will rides the elevator down to the first floor. This may not seem like much of a story, but on each floor a new person who is tied to Will’s past enters, and Will’s resolve on his course of action is shaken. The ending should be a spur to conversation, about race, violence, and revenge.

Autoboyography, Christina Lauren (2017)

autoTanner wants to float through his last year of school, but his best friend August persuades him to join her in The Seminar, an intense class in which students produce a book in 4 months. The class has a special guest, Sebastian, who wrote a book in last year’s class that is to be published. When Tanner and August first see him, both fall in love with this Mormon model of perfection. Nobody, not even August, knows that Tanner is bisexual, but when the boys’ attraction heats up (and it does– this is romance, with covert glances, heated kisses, love letters and more) she needs to be told. Instead, Tanner uses their secret romance as the fodder for his writing, but then cannot share it because Sebastian is not willing to reveal he’s gay. Tanner’s parents are fantastic, the romance is sweet, and the church is, somehow, not totally lambasted.

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team, Steve Sheinkin (2017)

undefeatJim Thorpe’s life, especially his years at the Carlisle School playing football, is the focus of this nonfiction book. Carlisle was a boarding school created by Pratt, an Army captain, to destroy the Indian identity and force young people to assimilate; more people ran away than ever graduated. Sheinkin also reviews the early development of football. While all these topics seem to indicate an information-dense text, Sheinkin tells a strong narrative story, and Thorpe’s struggles and successes are engaging. The short chapters and many photos and diagrams makes it an easy book to read, appropriate for middle school readers, the uninformed of football history, and anyone else who cares about sports, Olympics, Native Americans, and success stories.

Noteworthy, Riley Redgate (2017)

noteJordan spends the first 25 pages of this novel angry and frustrated that for three years now she hasn’t been cast in her art school’s musical. She’s a scholarship student, and her parents wonder if she’d be better off coming home, going to public school, and getting a job to help out the family finances. Telling physical details and a large vocabulary bring Jordan’s predicament to life with skill. In desperation, she auditions for a male a capella group, creating a new persona as Julian. I know in the real world this mask would be exposed before the three months she plans to wear it, but she’s an actor, and Riley Redgate is a master storyteller. Amid all the charming shenanigans, Jordan starts asking herself important questions about gender and wealth. The rich kid prep school milieu is enriched with minorities, gays, lesbians and trans. There’s romance, but friendship is the greater lesson, and the challenges of family expectation and misunderstanding. Although I usually balk at unbelievable story lines, I read every word of this enlightened novel for teens.

What to Say Next, Julie Buxbaum (2017)

whatKit is not recovering well after the death of her father. When her friends are on a different wavelength, her grief leads her to sit with David in the school cafeteria. David has Asperger’s and usually sits alone to avoid the taunts of his peers. His unfiltered honesty acts as a balm for Kit who is disgusted by the shallowness and euphemisms of her friends. David narrates every other chapter, and it is both hilarious and painful to compare their perceptions. David’s older sister has helped him to make a notebook to record life advice: he writes reminders that certain people cannot be trusted; brief descriptions of his classmates to help him remember their names; explanations of idioms, etc. David also relies on his sister’s advice to develop the first friendship he’s ever had. A sweet romance develops.

Foolish Hearts, Emma Mills (2017)

foolishFoolish Hearts is light young adult romance. Claudia is enrolled at an upper-class private school for girls because her dad teaches there and she’s quite smart. Claudia’s concerns are with friendship, boy bands, and romance. She has one best friend, and that’s always been enough. But she overhears a private conversation at a party when she is hiding, and is exposed, which earns her a powerful enemy. Then a failed group project with this girl means she’s got to participate in the school play to make amends. Midsummer Night’s Dream, produced with the boy’s school next door, brings opportunities and changes that she’d rather avoid. Claudia has a great and cutting humor, and is supported by well-developed and flawed friends and siblings in this sweet coming-of-age.

The Red Bird All-Indian Travelling Band, Frances Washburn (2014)

redSissy Roberts lives with her parents on the Pine Ridge Reservation, working as a waitress at one of the two cafes in town, watching rodeos, and singing in bars that cover their floors with sawdust. It’s 1969 and she was the smartest girl in high school, but doesn’t have the money to leave. When a Native is found dead outside the bar the title band played at, Tom Holm, an FBI agent, shows up to investigate. He especially wants to ask Sissy questions. She’s not a suspect, but as everyone in town tells her their troubles, Holm thinks she can help him. Sissy’s too smart, though, to not know that she’ll live with the consequences if the secrets of her bandmates and friends are exposed.  The investigation is the catalyst to Sissy’s own coming-of-age. As a former South Dakota resident, I see in Washburn’s prose the empty spaces and beauty I remember from the state, though I don’t have Washburn’s Lakota perspective. Sissy’s voice is understated, accepting, and impossible to walk away from. This may have been written for adults, but I think its nature lends towards young adults, though an interest in 1960s music might help.

3 Amazing Children’s Books

The Day War Came, Nicola Davies (2018)

dayThis picture book begins with a girl’s regular morning, waking up with her family, then going to school, learning about volcanoes and then drawing birds. But on this ordinary day, war interrupts school: the violence is suggested with black lines criss crossing over several pages. She walks, runs, and travels to escape. In a new country, she peers longingly through a school’s window, seeing other children study volcanoes and draw birds. She is turned away at the door, and young readers see her pain. When a boy shows up in the refugee camp carrying a chair for her so she can go to school, he spreads hope and welcome and color. Davies was inspired by a true story of a lone refugee child denied school. Our goals ought to be to have resources for everybody and show empathy.

We don’t eat our CLASSMATES, Ryan Higgins (2018)

we don'tI was thrilled by this book, and the children I read it to also liked it. We laughed, giggled, pointed out details in the drawings, and then reread it. Penelope is a much loved T. Rex nervous about her first day of kindergarten. When she goes in the classroom door, she is surprised to find that her classmates are all children! And children, she knows, are delicious. Clever artwork, humor, and a surprising sensitivity combine to make a book amazing!

Jane, the fox, & me, Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault (2012 in France, English translation 2013)

janeJane is for any girl who has been bullied, with delicate drawings adding poignancy. Helene is traumatized by nasty graffiti in the bathrooms about her weight, and so she hides in books. At this particular moment, she is reading Jane Eyre and it is a delight to follow her understanding as she reads. Her thoughts on Jane break up her story with the only color pages, in a style distinct from the rest. A required class trip to nature camp brings the social conflicts to a head.

 

November 2018 Books

Books for Adults:

red

The Red Bird All-Indian Travelling Band, Frances Washburn (2014)

Sissy Roberts lives with her parents on the Pine Ridge Reservation, working as a waitress at one of the two cafes in town, watching rodeos, and singing in bars that cover their floors with sawdust. It’s 1969 and she was the smartest girl in high school, but doesn’t have the money to leave. When a Native is found dead outside the bar the title band played at, Tom Holm, an FBI agent, shows up to investigate. He especially wants to ask Sissy questions. She’s not a suspect, but as everyone in town tells her their troubles, Holm thinks she can help him. Sissy’s too smart, though, to not know that she’ll live with the consequences if the secrets of her bandmates and friends are exposed.  The investigation is the catalyst to Sissy’s own coming-of-age. As a former South Dakota resident, I see in Washburn’s prose the empty spaces and beauty I remember from the state, though I don’t have Washburn’s Lakota perspective. Sissy’s voice is understated, accepting, and impossible to walk away from.

The Mere Wife, Maria Dahvana Headley (2018)

Headley’s book shows monsters and heroes in our current world. As in Beowulf’s story, merethe two intertwine. I was stunned by this story even before it descended into the fantastic. First, it gives the narrative to the women, who were minimally represented in the original. The first and central narrator is Dana Mills, seen in the prologue as a terrorist’s victim on a news feed, setting up the tale’s brutality. Dana escaped death when the screen went black, and she now lives off the grid. She went into a tunnelled mountain near her old family home, now destroyed. Herot Hall, a glossy suburb, has been built on top of its ruins and is home to Willa, the second narrator. Willa spends her days at the gym, or with mommy groups, or preparing for her husband’s return from work with elaborate grooming and lots of cocktails. Dana’s son Gren, who lives in a cave with her, is curious about Willa’s same age son, and they become secret friends. Their children and Willa’s husbands (the second is Ben Woolf) are not the only male characters, but this book is about women and about words. Headley brings myth into the contemporary world. I relished its creativity, and squirmed in its violence.  This brilliant twisty clawed story is a worthy reclamation of a gory Old English tale I have treasured and I want to share it with Beowulf fans, and readers who value irony, twists, and word play.

Woman on the Edge of Time, Marge Piercy (1976)

womanConnie is either mad or she has mastered time travel. She’s victimized by poverty, her dominating brother, and her niece’s abusive boyfriend. Choosing to fight back lands her in a hospital and the men lie so that she is then put in a mental asylum.The ward mistreats her, and while she makes friends with other patients, her most important  connection is with Luciente. Luci is a woman from the future who brings Connie through time to her home in the future. Mattapoisett, Lucia’s home, is an agrarian utopia where private ownership is almost nonexistent, gender roles no longer restrict, and families function well due to a massive reorganization. The book is feminist, ecological, and imagines futuristic slang. One word I wish had taken hold when it was first published is ‘per,’ which works as a non-gendered pronoun. Connie’s sanity leads me to think of the book as more fantastical than about psychological illness, but the ending doesn’t make this clear.

Missing, Presumed, Susie Steiner (2016)missing

Detective Manon is aware of her biological clock ticking, as she spends evenings on first dates with losers, returning home to listen to police radio alerts. One night she hears of a missing person. Edith Hind, young, wealthy, and gifted, disappeared without a trace from her Cambridge apartment. Manon is determined to solve the case in the important first 72 hours. Her investigation leads her to the younger brother of a perhaps related murder victim, and introduces her to an attractive informant. Their involvement leads her away from what becomes a sensationalist news story. Manon’s strengths and neediness make her a complex character who I hope to read about again.

Children’s Books:

The Day War Came, Nicola Davies (2018)

dayThis picture book begins with a girl’s regular morning, waking up with her family, then going to school, learning about volcanoes and then drawing birds. But on this ordinary day, war interrupts school: the violence is suggested with black lines criss crossing over several pages.  She walks, runs, and travels to escape. In a new country, she peers longingly through a school’s window, seeing other children study volcanoes and draw birds. She is turned away at the door, and young readers see her pain. When a boy shows up in the refugee camp carrying a chair for her so she can go to school, he spreads hope and welcome and color. Davies was inspired by a true story of a lone refugee child denied school. Our goals ought to be to have resources for everybody and show empathy.

Books for Young Adults:

The Lines We Cross, Randa Abdel-Fattah (2017)

lines

Mina, an Afghan survivor of a refugee camp, moves from the inner city with her family so she can attend a private school outside Sydney, Australia. A scholarship student, she encounters wealthy students who are anti-immigrant. One, Michael, starts reconsidering his belief in his parents politics when he sees how it hurts the new girl he finds attractive. Mina calls Michael on his racism, but she refuses to argue with him, telling him it’s his responsibility to figure it out. As attraction grows between them, individual and systemic racism is exposed with both nuance and dramatic specific repercussions. This character driven story should be in all teen libraries.

Dare Mighty Things, Heather Kaczynski (2017)

dareCassandra is a super successful 17 year old in 2043, partly because she’s genetically engineered. She wants to win a competition for a secret space mission loosely connected to NASA. Prospects are invited to a competitive space camp designed to eliminate candidates quickly with life-challenging obstacles. Our unlikeable heroine starts with no regard for others, but her selfish determination falters when competitors build friendships which cross racial and cultural barriers. A surprising plot twist at the end explains some of the mysterious events at space camp and set up a sequel.

Ship It, Britta Lundin (2018)

“To ship” means to put fictional characters from books, t.v., or movies, into new shipromantic relationships.  Claire is a fan-fiction writer who thinks the two male stars in her favorite series belong in a homosexual romance.  These stories make up several of the chapters of this book, some of which are quite steamy. Other chapters take place at school, at home, or in the world of fandom. The other narrator is Forrest, who got his first big break playing the lead in the series.  When they meet at a comic con in Utah, Claire suggests her romantic theory and he rudely disdains it. Claire’s fury leads her to post on social media, and the story goes viral. Claire is chosen to tour with the show to other cons to improve the show’s media. She goes in the hopes of changing the storyline of Demon Heart. Along the way, Claire faces her own bisexuality with awkwardness and humor. This book will be loved by fans of Geekerella, with LGBTQ romance, fandom, and a recognition of racism in what otherwise might seem pure fantasy.

Books for Middle School Readers and YA

undefeatUndefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team, Steve Sheinkin (2017)

Sheinkin reviews Jim Thorpe’s life, especially his years at the Carlisle School playing football. Carlisle was created by Pratt, an Army captain, to destroy the Indian identity and force young people to assimilate; more people ran away than ever graduated. Sheinkin also writes about the early development of football. While this seems like an information dense text, Sheinkin has set it up with a strong narrative, and I was engrossed by Thorpe’s struggles and successes. The short chapters and many photos and diagrams makes it an easy book to read, appropriate for middle school readers, the uninformed of football history (like me!), and anyone else who cares about sports, Olympics, Native Americans, and success stories.

Of beetles and angels, Mawi Asgedom (2002)

Mawi Asgedom was born in Ethiopia, taken to the squalid safety of a Sudanesebeetles refugee camp, and then brought to the US by a church in Wheaton, IL. His father, a generous and respected doctor in their homeland, becomes a college janitor and struggles to impart his values to his three children in their new country. Mawi’s memoir includes several youthful delinquencies as well as triumphs. While his life is filled with tragedies, both before and after his immigration, he graduates from Harvard with honors on a full scholarship. Mawi’s success despite the upheavals, poverty, and racism is an uplifting true story, and an appropriate book for discussion for tweens and teens.

Greetings from Witness Protection, Jake Burt (2017)

greetingsI am so glad this book was recommended to me.  I sometimes laughed so hard I had to put the book  down. Nicki is a snarky preteen foster kid, hoping her father will get out of prison and reclaim her, when US Marshals show up and make her a counter offer.  The family of a witness they hope to protect will be more difficult to find if she joins them. So she changes her name, and meets her new mom, dad, and little brother, and they train for weeks. They settle in North Carolina,  where they are instructed to be average and moderate in everything so as to not attract attention. One hilarious way Nicki works to remain unnoticed is by earning a B- average; she does her math homework, then erases a careful percentage, and figures out how she could make errors in her work so her grades aren’t too high.  The fear of having their identities revealed, and the difficulties of a new home and new family make the pages fly by. This is suitable for young readers; one violent scene does enough damage to validate WITSEC’s caution, but maintains the quirky humor of the rest of the book, and the danger is quickly over.

Bubbles, Abby Cooper (2017)

Sophie is 12 when she starts seeing literal thought bubbles above people’s heads. At first, bubblesshe retreats, finding it too stressful to know so much. But when her best friends need her help on a school project about risk-taking, she tells her mom what she sees. Her mom takes her to a therapist, Dr. Llama, and their visits are at first hilarious and later, revealing.  Sophie’s mom, her friends, and her therapist are all good people who help her through her troubles, and the book is a gentle reminder of how we help each other. Middle school never seems very dangerous in this sweet book, with the odd thought processes of its mixed race protagonist leading to eventual success.

 

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Harriet and I on the way to the library last month.

October 2018 Books

The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai (2018)

greatThis well-written novel begins with a funeral.  I want to name a new genre; Post-tragic literature would address how people survive after a tragedy when the story isn’t really comic, and this would be its epitome.  In The Great Believers, two narrators at different times tell their stories, crafted in a way that intersects and develops the other.  Yale Tishman is a handsome gay man in Chicago in 1985, enjoying a long term relationship that should protect him from the disease that has just killed a good friend.  Fiona in 2015 is the little sister of that friend, and she bonded with Yale and friends before Nico’s death.They supported each other as the AIDS crisis developed. Now Fiona is struggling with a soured relationship with her daughter, staying in Paris with an artist from her brother’s circle. With vibrancy and telling detail, friendships help them recover from pain and restore the desire for life and joy. Makkai has written a poignant treasure I highly recommend.

The Leavers, Lisa Ko (2017)

I read a total of 3 excellent novels this month. The second concerns a missing mother. leaversDeming Guo’s Chinese mother disappears when he is still young. Deming is left with another family in NYC They put him in a foster home, and Deming is adopted by white professors upstate. His new parents change his name and bring him up in a town where he is the sole Asian. Now flunking out of college, Daniel (Deming’s new name) flounders, wondering where he fits and feeling unwanted.  Then a childhood friend reappears with a new clue about his mother. Will finding out what really happened solve his issues? We know it won’t be a fairy tale ending. Ko’s novel is very satisfying, a tale of cultures in conflict and the specific injustices wrought upon immigrants.

Daughter of the Pirate King, Tricia Levenseller (2017)

pirateAlosa is the daughter of the Pirate King, and he wants a treasure map, so she goes into disguise as a captive on an enemy ship to locate the map. She is powerful even in captivity, with fighting skill, leadership abilities, and intelligence (as well as ego). When Riden, her attractive captor, seems to fall for her, she’s still manipulative even as she feels a similar attraction.  Tons of romantic angst does not cause her to lose her tough persona. This may have been written for middle schoolers, but my new favorite escapism will be reading Levenseller!

Overturned, Lamar Giles (2017)

I’d describe Overturned as Noir Young Adult in Las Vegas, perfect for a movie. Nikki’s overfather is famous gambler and he’s taught her to be a great poker player, surprising others with her skills as a young African American girl at the card tables. Nikki gambles to build her savings to pay for college tuition while her dad is in jail. After he gets out, tragedy leads her to investigate the mystery around her father, which will require her poker skills and more. I liked the pacing, the unreality of Vegas, and the Dashiell Hammett voice.

Geekerella, Ashley Poston (2017)

geekThe book and the cover are both so cute, spoofing off the Cinderella story. Elle lives with her horrible stepmother and stepsisters after her dad dies.  She escapes by getting a job on a food truck, and watching Starfield reruns over and over, a show she loved with her dad. She blogs fan fiction and her suspicions of the planned movie reboot.  She considers going back to the big con (costumed convention) her dad started, and makes it a goal when she finds out about a cosplay costume contest, with the winners going to a Cosplay Ball. Meanwhile, she has started a conversation with a boy based on a wrong telephone number. Every other chapter is from Darien’s point of view, as he plays the hero of the movie, Prince Carmindor, and falls in love with the girl he met on the phone. Tensions build as readers realize Elle’s blogs have been blaming Damien for ruining the still unreleased remake, and they will meet at the ball. Don’t expect realism, but these two geeks recreate a fairy tale suitable for young teens and romance readers.

Oddity, Sarah Cannon (2017)

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Ada is in charge of her middle school sneak squad, afraid of nothing in this absurd and eerie story of a town that battles monster puppets, robot bunnies, and blobs. Saddened by her sister’s disappearance, Ada challenges the town’s powers and runs headlong into an even more mysterious side of the town she loves to outwit. This preteen African American leads her buddies with quickness and aplomb aplenty.

Song of the Current, Sarah Tolcser (2017)

songCaroline was raised by her father, a river boatman guided by the god of rivers. Worried that she never had the help of a god, she nevertheless determines to transport a cargo he refuses.  That is more work than she expected, but her friends and her determination help her succeed against political enemies, greedy mercenaries, and evil magicians. Romance ensues (spoiler alert needed for reading level: lots of not-too-explicit sex).

 

September 2018 Books

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, Dusti Bowling (2017)

insigAven, born without arms, has had a great life with amazing foster parents. But now, she’ll start middle school in a new town. Her family has moved to Arizona to manage a theme park, and she’s getting stared at and questioned all the time.  Her old community accepted her long ago, but now she’s afraid to try out for soccer or eat in the lunchroom (she eats her lunches outside or in the girl’s bathroom). When she tries to hide in the library during lunch, she finds Connor, also hiding because of his disability.  Together, they attempt to solve a mystery from the theme park’s past, help each other grow, and be brave. Aven is very forthright, and the book was a joy to read, with humor, quirkiness, and nothing maudlin. This book has an amazing message on the value of friendship. It is suitable for middle school, with no bad language, parties, alcohol, or sex.

Goodbye Days, Jeff Zentner (2017)

Carver goes to three funerals in one week, and then has his first panic attack.  His threegood best friends died in a car accident on their way to meet him, and he feels responsible for their deaths: he sent the driver a text just before the crash. He’s not the only one to blame himself: one boy’s sister and another boy’s father also accuse him.  The sisters presence makes going back to school painful for Carver. Soon after the book begins, that dad goes to court, and Carver’s family employs a lawyer for him. This strange gloom is lightened by three things: a new friend, Carver’s super-cool older sister, and his memories of stupid boy moments with his friends. A goodbye day is to remember those who died,  friends and family honor their memories by revisiting their favorite places. Zentner’s protagonist wants to be a writer, and his story blends lovely insights and a literary appreciation of words and image. It is, obviously, a tear jerker. No drinking, no sex, a few bad words, and several references to masturbating. Recommended for high school.

Notes from My Captivity, Kathy Parks (2018)

notesAdrienne Cahill is smart, sarcastic, and doubtful. She thinks her stepfather, a professor, has wrongly bought into the legend of a Russian couple who disappeared into the wild, now suspected to be living a hidden survivalist existence in Siberia.  However, she goes along on his summer trip to find them, planning to write an article debunking the myth, and use it to get into a prestigious college. Unfortunately for Adrienne, her stepfather was right, and she’s captured by the couple, named the Orsinovs. They are now a family with several children, including a boy her own age. Adrienne is determined to escape. She plots her escape even as she grows attached to the family, learning bits of Russian while they learn English words. Danger looms, several important characters die, and magical things happen before she thinks through the impact of her discoveries. Not for middle school. An interesting addition for high school libraries, this blends adventure, survival, and a bit of philosophy.

Meet Cute, Jennifer Armentrout, et.al. (2018)

I enjoyed this anthology of short stories. Several contemporary authors wrote first meetmeeting stories of teen romance, and many of these depart from romance expectations: grief, subways, and a trip to Mars all get in the way. Some end in kisses, and others in goodbye. Character are straight, trans, and LGBTQ, white, black and brown; none are flat or simplified. Nicola Yoon, Meredith Russo and writers I didn’t know, like Nina LaCour, Katie Cotugno, and Kass Morgan, all show their mastery of the short story.  Reading this was fun, and I will be looking for more books by these authors. (Still, I would not give it to a middle school student because of sexuality and party scenes.) I am ready to recommend this to several students!

Book of Ages: The Life and times of Jane Franklin, Jill Lepore (2013)

janeThis is the best book I read this month, though it may not have widespread appeal.  Lepore reconstructs as much as she can from the scant remainders of Ben Franklin’s sister’s life. Jane was educated to read but not write, married before she was 16, and suffered the loss of almost all of her children. The first surviving letter she wrote was written when she was 45, after which Lepore has amassed a collection. These letters reveal how she cared for her children and then grandchildren, and how her opinions on life, religion, and politics developed. They have a sense of humor and wisdom that was shared with her brother. Ben was a lifelong support for Jane, both financially and mentally, and both shared a love of books and letters.  Book of Ages demonstrates how historians work, and is a suitable sequel to both Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own,and Ben Franklin’s Autobiography.

The Divided Earth: The Nameless City #3, Faith Erin Hicks

This is a series conclusion that does NOT disappoint! Kai is out in the city, protected individed Rat’s group of friends. Erzi is in charge of the occupied city, and the idea of power dominates his mind.  On one spread, evil seemed to be rationalized away — the bad guys all had horrific childhoods, but then one of heroes speaks up. Despite her tough childhood, she chose to act heroically. And so the difference between heroes and villains is a personal choice (I love it).  Rooftop settings are accompanied by beautiful skies, interesting perspectives, and the same marvelous characters, growing and revealing new aspects of their pasts. This story has more fights and blood than past books, but the focus is still personal as Kai and Rat meet a larger alliance of characters and countries.

House Rules, Rachel Sontag (2008)

houseSontag grew up in a household that looked functional from the outside, but her memoir reveals how abusive and controlling her father was. She tells about her mother waking her up in the night so her father could interrogate her for hours. Each excruciating detail describing these incidents is presented without judgement, an effective strategy.  Rachel was fed and clothed, taken on vacations and never hit, but her parents rarely demonstrated any love or trust. Locking up phones, recording conversations with her, and dictating letters of apology are all common behaviors for her crazy micromanaging father, and all are condoned by an addicted mother medicated into a daze. When Rachel found the courage to leave, I was cheering for her. She concludes by writing about developing supportive relationships with her mother and sister as an adult. If you liked The Glass Castle, this is a similar memoir of family dynamics.

The Monogram Murders, Sophie Hannah (2014)

Three dead bodies are found in locked hotel rooms, obviously positioned and withmonogram monogrammed cufflinks in their mouths. This is the Sophie Hannah’s delightful sequel for Hercule Poirot.  The man and his little gray cells are the same as found in so many of Agatha Christie’s mysteries. Scotland Yard Inspector Edward Catchpool narrates a mystery that makes little sense to him, as he does not understand the patterns Poirot sees. It is clever and twisty, and I was glad to have Poirot resurrected by a new, and a bit different, writer.

Ginny Moon, Benjamin Ludwig (2017)

ginnyGinny goes to school in Room 5 with the other special kids, some with learning differences, and some without working limbs, like the boy who has a crush on her throughout the book. Her autism is shown in her narration, as she misunderstands meanings. Her unreliable narration creates conflict when what she says is accepted as truth by those around her.  When the book begins, Ginny is locking a toy doll in a suitcase, and her adopted parents, now pregnant, decide she cannot be trusted when the baby is born. Meanwhile, Ginny repeatedly attempts to meet her abusive birth mother. Ginny is quirky, brave, and the book’s storyteller. This novel is billed as YA, but I have my doubts. Spoiler alert: Ginny was abused, deserted, and probably sexually molested.  Her new “forever” parents hit her, too. While I don’t want YA to present stereotyped adults, I think hitting an autistic child should preclude them from being the heroes. When they decide to keep Ginny, I cringe.

Girl Made of Stars, Ashley Blake (2018)

What if your twin brother was accused of rape? Mara runs a feminist newspaper at hergirl school, and she seems to have everything going for her. She also has a great girlfriend, her former best friend. Mara’s friendships and editorial position crumble when Hannah, her friend and her brother Owen’s girlfriend, accuses him of rape. Conflicts develop further when their parents support her brother, while she suspects he’s guilty but keeps silent. This story addresses modern issues of gender, sexual assault, and slut shaming, showing their impact with nuance on a teenage girl who breaks everyone’s expectations.

People Like Us, Dana Mele (2018)

peopleKay and her girlfriends plan to skinny dip after the Homecoming Dance when they find a dead body at the lake. The deceased is a fellow student at their elite school, but Kay and her popular crowd don’t know her.  Or, they say they don’t know her. Boarding school breeds backstabbing and bullying, complicating this who-dun-it. After Kay hides the truth from investigators, she gets messages from a webpage the dead girl set up in order to get revenge. Kay follows its orders to take down her friends in order to be avoid being outed herself. Kirkus calls this a “fizzy read.” It has death, alcohol, sexual references and parties, with modern social media and LGBTQ characters. It’s too racy for 9th graders, I think, but a book I’ll get for the library.

 

August 2018 Book Comments

we don'tWe don’t eat our CLASSMATES, Ryan Higgins (2018) A Picture Book I don’t usually review children’s books, but I’ve read two this month that are the best. I was thrilled by them, and the children I read them to also liked them. In this one, Penelope is a much loved T. Rex nervous about her first day of kindergarten.  When she goes in the classroom door, she finds her classmates are all children! And children, she knows, are delicious. Clever artwork, humor, and a surprising sensitivity combine to make a book amazing!

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Mixed: a Colorful Story, Arree Chung (2018) Another Picture Book I picked this book for the message, but the colors and the detailed drawings charmed me and my nephew. Pages turned slowly as we examined each color. We talked to our family about this cool book, and rereading was a delight. Increasing complexity showed the benefits of diversity better than any lecture.

merryThe Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror, Mallory Ortberg (2018) Horror is not my everyday, but Ortberg spins good tales that begin in ordinary life. Fables are given additional punch with force and feminism.  I was so impressed that I immediately passed my library copy on. I highly recommend this book for its smooth disrupttion of the stories we heard as children. Witty and vicious and delightful, this should shake you up.

River of Teeth, Sarah Gailey (2017) Winslow Houndstooth travels the river Wild West assembling his operations team.  He has to face down aggressive saloon attacks, poisoned drinks, and paid killers.  But this 1880’s Western has an alternative history: hippopotamuses have filled Louisiana marshes (a government attempt to provide a food source) but they’ve gone feral.  Houndstooth and his crew are hippo wranglers! This lark combines traditional Western tropes with fantasy, and the cast of characters includes two powerful, complex females. I appreciated that there is a non-gendered character, too.  Short, fun, and there’s a sequel!!

highHigh-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fat of American Public Housing, Ben Austen (2018) Austen has written a history of Chicago’s infamous public housing high-rise. I grew up in Chicago’s suburbs and when I became aware of Cabrini-Green in the 1980’s, it was past its prime.  A segregated site, built just before factories and warehouses moved out of a neighborhood, the projects became known for crimes and drugs. Without the screening of its early days, the high rise filled with mothers and their children, women who volunteered to help each other with childcare, but couldn’t overcome a mismanaged government system, racism, a lack of programs,and changing political leaders who regarded them only as election fodder. I like the reference to FDR on page 262: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” Austen’s story, which blends history with personal stories of several who lived in these projects, shows many reasons we have not progressed.

Down and Across, Arvani Ahmadi (2018) YA Scott — real name Saaket abandoned afterdown being bullied by school mates — escapes his aimless life to pursue his new obsession, the Macarthur winner who wrote a book on grit, something he knows he lacks. When his parents go to Iran for a month, he hops a bus to D.C. and bumbles into the professor’s office. Her dismissal of him is to be expected, but Scott also meets two fantastic rule-breaking allies, Fiora and Trent.  These two accept him, encourage his growth, and help out in amazing ways; musingly, Scott reminds himself that his life is not a book by John Green.

beautyThe Beauty That Remains, Ashley Woodfolk (2018) YA Three teens narrate the struggle after a friend or sibling dies.  Social media factors in each story, and chapters include tweets and messages. Logan’s voice is clearest, as is his struggle.  His ex-boyfriend committed suicide, and Logan closes himself off and steals hard alcohol to cope. I confused the other two characters, both female. The three are united by a teen band, and many scenes take place at an all ages concert venue. The book reminds me of the supreme importance of music when I was young.

The Jigsaw Jungle, Kristin Levine (2018) This book falls a little young for high school, but Ijigsaw read every word, albeit quickly.  Claudia’s father, a teacher, leaves home abruptly after school gets out in the summer. He sends a postcard a week later saying he’s trying to figure things out, which angers both Claudia and her mom.  His next mail to them is a puzzle piece. Claudia and her dad’s family always did puzzles together, so when she is shipped off to her grandpa’s, she takes to the attic and its stacks of puzzles to connect the clues about her dad.  The story is told through the scrapbook she creates tracing her detective work, with emails, receipts, and transcripts of family movies. Middle schoolers should get pulled in by the plot, and touched by family relationships that build and that destruct when — spoiler alert– a parent comes out of the closet.

howHow to Walk Away, Katherine Center (2018) Maggie’s perfect life explodes in a place crash, and she’s got 6 weeks in a hospital to recover, according to insurance.  Her long lost sister shows up in that hospital room looking for a place to stay, while her fiance is noticeably missing. In addition to her parent’s support, she has a physical therapist to work with, though he will not smile, chit-chat, or heap her with praise.  Maggie finds his Scottish accent endearing, and breaking his crustiness becomes a mental challenge to counter the physical challenges of recovery. Hope, romance, and chick-lit laughter help her gloss over her depression and recovery.

The Story of My Teeth, Valeria Luiselli (2015) Last spring, I went on a hunt for books by storyauthors in South America and Africa, and found praise for this little novel.   Luiselli was commissioned to write a book about the disconnect between an art gallery and the factory which sponsors it, in a “wasteland” area outside Mexico City.  She’d write a chapter about Gustavo ‘Highway’, send it to the factory workers to read, get their feedback, and write another chapter. Gustavo is a fantastic character and narrator, a former factory guard turned HR and then auctioneer, and his story definitely does show the disconnect between worlds.

August 2018 List

we don'tWe don’t eat our CLASSMATES, Ryan Higgins (2018) A Picture Book

Mixed: a Colorful Story, Arree Chung (2018) Another Picture Book

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror , Mallory Ortberg (2018)

River of Teeth, Sarah Gailey (2017)river

High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fat of American Public Housing, Ben Austen (2018)

Down and Across, Arvani Ahmadi (2018) YA

The Beauty That Remains, Ashley Woodfolk (2018) YA

The Jigsaw Jungle, Kristin Levine (2018)

How to Walk Away, Katherine Center (2018)

The Story of My Teeth, Valeria Luiselli (2015)

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