With the Holidays upon us, most of us think about spending time with our family. Here are some young adult titles that focus on family stories and prove how important familial bonds are.
The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake
The premise: A modern re-telling of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the novel chronicles the story of a wild, sixteen-year-old named Violet. After her younger brother was sent to the hospital in Vermont and her partying got out of control, Violet’s parents sent her to live with her Uncle in the coast of Maine. There, she finds herself intrigued by her great-great-great-grandmother who was the sole survivor of a shipwreck and was the founder of the town.
Why you might like it: While the themes explored are heavy subjects, the book’s tone at times are funny and the characters feel authentic. If you like books such as All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven or It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, you would like The Last True Poets of the Sea.
Bonus: Even though it’s a fictional town, it is set in Maine.
What happens: Set in the 1980s, this a moving tale of the Finney family as it chronicles their journey through struggles and hardships. It explores family dynamics and posits questions about one’s identity.
Reason to pick it up: The characters are well-developed that we could easily relate with; the book is suspenseful and fast-paced.
What critics have to say: According to Booklist, “Mathieu masterfully invests readers in the the characters’ origin stories, emotions, and motives. Her descriptions of the various settings over time and space are vivid and pulsating, immersing the audience in the psyches and nostalgia of each narrator.”
The Revolution of Birdie Randolphby Brandy Colbert
What it’s about: High-achieving 16-year-old Birdie tries hard to live up to her strict parents’ expectations, even if it means hiding how close she’s getting with Booker (a sweet guy who spent time in juvie) and her Aunt Carlene (who just got out of rehab, again). As it turns out, though, Birdie’s not the only one keeping secrets.
For fans of: the authentic characters and complicated-yet-caring families in books by Angie Thomas and Elizabeth Acevedo.
Even though the term dystopian was first coined in the 1740s by historian George Claeys, dystopian fiction novels did not become fully defined until the turn of the twentieth century. Written in 1921, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s social satire We laid the foundations for the genre that is now ubiquitous: dystopian fiction.
Zamyatin’s We imagines a future devoid of free-will and individuality. The ruler of OneState, the “Benefactor”, has discovered the equation for happiness—absolute and complete subjugation of the state’s citizens. Within the glass walls of the state, everyone is known by their designated numbers; everyone adheres to a regimented schedule (inspired by the concepts of industrial efficiency by Frederick Winslow Taylor); everyone wears the same uniform; and everyone’s thoughts are regulated by the Benefactor. “Imagination” and “having a soul” become synonymous with the word disease.
Written as diary entries by the book’s narrator, D-503, We’s narrative is erratic and peppered with undertones and ellipses. This may seem like a criticism. But oddly enough, it adds a certain weight to the messages that Zamyatin is trying to convey: first, the significance of human individuality; second, the intrinsic part of what makes us human is our inherent primal instincts; third, a perfect society is unattainable due to humanity’s complicated nature; lastly, in every totalitarian regime, there will always be revolutionaries.
Zamyatin’s We is an emotionally-charged book. As D-503 begins to discover his own individuality and begins to experience cognitive dissonance, the narrative takes on a more hallucinatory and disjointed tone, making the book even more riveting. For such a short novel (less than two-hundred pages), Zamyatin includes a lot of nuance about the human condition and posits questions about human nature and society to which there are no easy answers. It is no wonder that authors like George Orwell took inspiration from Zamyatin’s novel. In this current socio-political climate, We remains as relevant as ever.
Vox by Christina Dalcher
Language and women’s facility with it are the focal points of linguist Dalcher’s chilling dystopian tale and first novel. Jean McClellan and her family live in a U.S. taken over by religious extremists who have forced the female population to wear electroshock bracelets that deliver painful charges to any woman who speaks over 100 words a day. Jean, a scientist whose research centered around a neurological condition that causes aphasia, is forced to watch in virtual silence as her three sons become indoctrinated and her six-year-old daughter tries to speak as little as possible. Jean’s marriage grows strained as her husband goes along with the new regime. She is then offered a potential respite when government officials come to her for help after the president’s brother is diagnosed with the very condition for which she had been seeking a cure before women were forbidden to work. With its focus on the vitality of communication and human interactions, Dalcher’s tale is a fresh and terrifying contribution to the burgeoning subgenre about women-focused dystopias spearheaded by Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. — Kristine Huntley (Reviewed 7/1/2018) (Booklist, vol 114, number 21, p21)
With apocalyptic fiction having become so popular a genre, how does one approach it with originality, avoiding the too-familiar reference points? Embracing the genre but somehow transcending it, Ma creates a truly engrossing and believable anti-utopian world. Ma’s cause for civilization’s collapse is a pandemic. Shen Fever spreads through fungal spores, causing its victims to lethargically repeat menial tasks, ignoring all external stimuli, including the need for sustenance. Prognosis is terminal. Candace Chen, a rare survivor of the outbreak, blogs anonymously as NY Ghost on a slowly disintegrating internet, capturing the horror of what has happened in her photographs of an empty New York City, where she lived when “the fevered” started dying. The narrative flashes back to Candace’s life before the end, working for a book-manufacturing company in the Bibles department; spending free time watching movies with her on-and-off boyfriend, Jonathan; and longing for the seemingly fulfilled lives of other millennials her age. Candace’s story also crosses that of a group led by a former IT specialist named Bob, who seems to be suffering from a messiah complex. Ma’s extraordinary debut marks a notable creative jump by playing on the apocalyptic fears many people share today, as we live in these very interesting times. Pair Severance with Adam Sternbergh’s similarly disturbing Shovel Ready (2014). — Ruzicka, Michael (Reviewed 6/1/2018) (Booklist, vol 114, number 19, p36)
This first novel from award-winning short story writer Mackintosh is set on the edge of a postapocalyptic world. Three sisters, Grace, Lia, and Sky, live in a moldering spa hotel with their mother and a father called King. The parents have kept the young women isolated from the mainland, where environmental toxicity and gender wars have ravaged the female population; Grace’s pregnancy can only be the result of incest. The hotel somehow has running water and a pool, and the girls languish in shabby luxury. Occasionally, damaged women arrive on the shore, and the mother gives them a water cure , which involves salt water purges and muslin wraps. The tension ratchets up when King fails to return from a trip to the mainland for provisions, and their insulated women’s world is violated when two men and a boy wash up on the beach. VERDICT This image-laden and lyrical first novel, its short chapters interspersed with brief, disturbing messages from women from the mainland, imagines a societal breakdown that has inflicted most of its harm on women, which seems both frightening and inevitable, offering a dark, extended metaphor on toxic male/female relations. [See Prepub Alert, 7/9/18.] –Reba Leiding (Reviewed Winter2018) (Library Journal, vol 143, issue 21, p71)
The cool weather of autumn has arrived, and with it, so do the atmospheric books. With the right blend of thrilling mysteries and spine-chilling tensions, suspense and thrillers are perfect for those foggy mornings and chilly nights. Here are some of our recommendations.
What it’s about: survival and resilience in the face of harrowing circumstances; the hunt for a killer who continues to evade the authorities while children’s bodies pile up; the failures of the legal system to protect those who need it the most.
Who it’s for: fans of private-eye mysteries; readers who can handle darker topics such as life on the street and child abuse.
Series alert: The Butterfly Girl is the second entry in the Naomi Cottle series, which follows the titular detective as she looks for missing children, including the cold case of her own younger sister.
Bye bye baby: Michael and Angela Frazier are enjoying a quiet dinner at home when Michael’s ex-wife Erica unexpectedly appears at their door, saying her daughter Felicity has been kidnapped and by the way, Michael is the girl’s father.
The search begins: Michael takes off with Erica to look for the child that he’s secretly always wanted, but each step towards Felicity reveals secrets that threaten the future of his marriage to Angela.
What sets it apart: the intensifying, intricately plotted narrative unfolds over the course of a single high-stakes 12-hour period.
Picture it: a charming cottage in rural Sweden, where Sam and Merry Hurley have recently settled with their infant son Conor, leaving behind their fast-paced Manhattan lives.
Beneath the surface: Sam is keeping secrets from Merry, Merry is keeping secrets from Sam, and nobody’s secrets can stay buried after a visit from Merry’s captivating childhood friend Frank.
Reviewers say: This “unblinking look at beautiful people with ugly secrets has the voyeuristic fascination of a Bergman film” (Booklist).
Stolen Things by R.H. Herron
Starring: Cop-turned-911 dispatcher Laurie, who takes a call from her own daughter, JoJo.
What happens: Jojo’s rape, the murder of a man, and the disappearance of another teenage girl all seem connected to a pro football player who, like the two girls, is an activist against police brutality. And Laurie and JoJo seem best poised to save the missing girl.
Want a taste? “‘My daughter.’ The man’s words were a garbled gasp. ‘She’s gone.'”
What happens: After the death of his wife, Tom Kennedy moves with his young son to a new town, hoping for a fresh start. But Featherbank has a dark past: 20 years previously, a serial killer known as “the Whisper Man” lured away young boys. And now it’s happening again.
Why you might like it: Dark and haunting, this intricately plotted thriller has supernatural overtones, well-depicted characters, and a menacing atmosphere.
For fans of: Sharon Bolton’s The Craftsman, another eerie tale of history repeating itself.
What it is: A twist on the traditional locked-room thriller; a story about the team-building exercise from hell.
Starring: Wall Street colleagues Sylvie, Sam, Jules, and Vincent, who share a tangled web of connections, rivalries, and dark secrets.
What goes down: The four investment bankers share an elevator on their way to a training exercise, only to find that the elevator is the exercise and that they’ll have to work together if they want to survive.
With its ability to take one from a different place or a different time, science fiction and fantasy novels are for those who are looking for the ultimate escapist reading experience. Here are some of the new titles we recommend.
What happens: Assigned to the case of a suicide victim who claimed her son’s existence had been erased, investigator Barry Sutton follows leads to the outbreak of a memory-altering disease and the technological innovations of a controversial neuroscientist.
Why read it: For those who would like to introduce themselves to the science fiction genre, this is a thought-provoking and riveting book that reads like a suspense.
Who would like it: Long-time Michael Crichton fans will enjoy Blake Crouch.
What is it about: When a wise-cracking, curse-spewing narrator identifies himself as a Seattle-born talking crow named S.T. who’s just witnessed an eyeball popping out of his “MoFo” owner’s head, readers willing to get on board this bizarrely captivating debut novel will know they’re in for a bumpy ride, seat belts not included (Booklist).
Would you like it: If you’re looking for quirky stories or a good adventure story with engaging characters, Hollow Kingdom might be for you.
For fans of: Nora Robert’s Year One and Jeff VanderMeer’s Borne.
What happens: After 18-year-old Casiopea Tun accidentally reanimates Hun-Kamé, Lord of Shadows, she must accompany the Mayan death god on a quest to regain his stolen body parts and defeat his brother.
Why you might like it: the evocative 1920s Mexico setting; a slow-building romance; and a quest storyline that unfolds like a dark fairy tale.
About the author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of Signal to Noise and Certain Dark Things.
Kim Young-ha is an acclaimed writer in Korea. His works
have been translated into English and other languages. Diary of a Murderer
is a collection of four short stories ranging from suspenseful thrillers to
ruminative explorations of human nature.
The book opens with a thrilling titular story about a
seventy-year old man, Kim Byeongsu, who is a former serial killer suffering
from a severe case of Alzheimer’s disease. Kim Byeongsu has not killed in a
while, and when he meets his adopted daughter’s new boyfriend, he knows exactly
what he is—a fellow serial killer. Battling with short-term memory loss, he
makes it his mission to protect his adopted daughter and to kill one last time.
“Diary of a Murderer” portrays a person who is slowly losing control of
his faculties. Written in short snippets that resembles diary entries, one can
get a sense of the paranoia, claustrophobia, obsession, and neurosis that is
gradually seeping into the protagonist’s psyche.
It is evident that Kim has a knack for creating
captivating and flawed characters. He enthralls by letting his readers into the
troubled mind of his characters. For instance, in the second story, “The Origin
of Life,” Kim interweaves unrequited love and abusive relationship with human’s
need to survive. When the romantic protagonist, Seojin, comes back to his
hometown, he begins to wonder the origins of life and gets involve with his childhood
friend, Ina, who is married to an abusive husband. Then, in the third story,
“Missing Child”, Kim explores how environment can mold a person’s identity by
delving into parenting. The story chronicles the tragic journey of a married
couple, Yunseok and Mira, whose child was kidnapped while they were in a
supermarket. Ten years later, they discovered that their child was alive,
living under a different name, and was raised by another woman who had
committed suicide. Together, these two stories and the struggles of each
characters add pathos to a book filled with visceral fervor, creating a
To make Diary of a Murderer more compelling than
it already is, Kim crafts a final story where the search for passion and
inspiration takes on metaphysical concepts. “Once there was a man in a mental
hospital convinced that he was a cob of corn” is how “The Writer” begins. Kim
subtly pokes fun at the relationship between the writer and the publisher as
well as the writer and his works. At one point, the titular character, “the
writer,” receives an advice from an old friend to “write an
unintelligible, chaotic book that’s unpublishable. Write something like James
Joyce’s Ulysses”. “The Writer” questions what makes a writer a great one. The
story ends with characters transforming into “two enormous chickens” and the
protagonist repeatedly saying, “I’m not a cob of corn.” “The Writer” is a
well-told mind-bending narrative with searing black humor and uncanny
Kim Young-ha’s Diary of a Murderer is unconventional, original, and refreshing. It taps into the intrinsic instinct of human nature, and it depicts a distorted reality where serial killers are lovable fathers, where love stories become survival stories, and where obsession and passion don’t have a definitive distinction. Diary of a Murderer is only 200 pages long with the titular story taking half of the book; and yet, each story feels as though it could have been turned into a standalone novel.
In these wildly imaginative, devilishly daring tales of the macabre, internationally bestselling author Mariana Enriquez brings contemporary Argentina to vibrant life as a place where shocking inequality, violence, and corruption are the law of the land, while military dictatorship and legions of desaparecidos loom large in the collective memory. In these stories, reminiscent of Shirley Jackson and Julio Cortázar, three young friends distract themselves with drugs and pain in the midst a government-enforced blackout; a girl with nothing to lose steps into an abandoned house and never comes back out; to protest a viral form of domestic violence, a group of women set themselves on fire.
But alongside the black magic and disturbing disappearances, these stories are fueled by compassion for the frightened and the lost, ultimately bringing these characters—mothers and daughters, husbands and wives—into a surprisingly familiar reality. Written in hypnotic prose that gives grace to the grotesque, Things We Lost in the Fire is a powerful exploration of what happens when our darkest desires are left to roam unchecked, and signals the arrival of an astonishing and necessary voice in contemporary fiction.
In her thrilling new book, Lauren Groff brings the reader into a physical world that is at once domestic and wild—a place where the hazards of the natural world lie waiting to pounce, yet the greatest threats and mysteries are still of an emotional, psychological nature. A family retreat can be derailed by a prowling panther, or by a sexual secret. Among those navigating this place are a resourceful pair of abandoned sisters; a lonely boy, grown up; a restless, childless couple, a searching, homeless woman; and an unforgettable, recurring character—a steely and conflicted wife and mother.
The stories in this collection span characters, towns, decades, even centuries, but Florida—its landscape, climate, history, and state of mind—becomes its gravitational center: an energy, a mood, as much as a place of residence. Groff transports the reader, then jolts us alert with a crackle of wit, a wave of sadness, a flash of cruelty, as she writes about loneliness, rage, family, and the passage of time. With shocking accuracy and effect, she pinpoints the moments and decisions and connections behind human pleasure and pain, hope and despair, love and fury—the moments that make us alive. Startling, precise, and affecting, Florida is a magnificent achievement.
From the start of this extraordinary debut, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s writing will grab you, haunt you, enrage and invigorate you. By placing ordinary characters in extraordinary situations, Adjei-Brenyah reveals the violence, injustice, and painful absurdities that black men and women contend with every day in this country.
These stories tackle urgent instances of racism and cultural unrest, and explore the many ways we fight for humanity in an unforgiving world. In “The Finkelstein Five,” Adjei-Brenyah gives us an unforgettable reckoning of the brutal prejudice of our justice system. In “Zimmer Land,” we see a far-too-easy-to-believe imagining of racism as sport. And “Friday Black” and “How to Sell a Jacket as Told by Ice King” show the horrors of consumerism and the toll it takes on us all.
Entirely fresh in its style and perspective, and sure to appeal to fans of Colson Whitehead, Marlon James, and George Saunders, Friday Black confronts readers with a complicated, insistent, wrenching chorus of emotions, the final note of which, remarkably, is hope.
The eleven stories in Will Mackin’s mesmerizing debut collection draw from his many deployments with a special operations task force in Iraq and Afghanistan. They began as notes he jotted on the inside of his forearm in grease pencil and, later, as bullet points on the torn-off flap of an MRE kit. Whenever possible he incorporated those notes into his journals. Years later, he used those journals to write this book.
Together, the stories in Bring Out the Dog offer a remarkable portrait of the absurdity and poetry that define life in the most elite, clandestine circles of modern warfare. It is a world of intense bonds, ancient credos, and surprising compassion—of success, failure, and their elusive definitions. Moving between settings at home and abroad, in vivid language that reflects the wonder and discontent of war, Mackin draws the reader into a series of surreal, unsettling, and deeply human episodes: In “Crossing the River No Name,” a close call suggests that miracles do exist, even if they are in brutally short supply; in “Great Circle Route Westward Through Perpetual Night,” the death of the team’s beloved dog plunges them into a different kind of grief; in “Kattekoppen,” a man struggles to reconcile his commitments as a father and his commitments as a soldier; and in “Baker’s Strong Point,” a man whose job it is to pull things together struggles with a loss of control.
Told without a trace of false bravado and with a keen, Barry Hannah–like sense of the absurd, Bring Out the Dog manages to capture the tragedy and heroism, the degradation and exultation, in the smallest details of war.
The non-fiction genre is a broad literary landscape that covers a whole spectrum of stories from memoir to history to travel writing. To learn more about the process that goes into writing non-fiction, we have invited various Maine writers to discuss their craft.
Pilgrimage to Paris: the Cheapo Snob’s Guide to the City and the Americans Who Lived There Tuesday, October 8 @ 6pm
Jayne Boisvert is the author of the new guide book Pilgrimage to Paris: The Cheapo Snob’s Guide to the City and the Americans Who Lived There. It offers an enjoyable and unique way to discover Paris.
Mining the Past in Words and Images Thursday, October 22 @ 6pm
An illustrated talk about writing, painting, and history with Eleanor Phillips Brackbill and Michael Torlen. Eleanor and Michael will discuss their creative processes and how they each wrestle with the truth. They will explore how memory, oral history, family stories, and historical facts and the interpretation of those facts influence and shape their writing and painting projects.
Implosion: Memoir of An Architect’s Daughter Tuesday, October 29 @ 6pm
Elizabeth Garber is the author of Implosion: Memoir of an Architects Daughter that delves into the life of her father, Woodie Garber, and the collision of forces in the turbulent 1970s that caused his family to collapse.
Voting Down the Rose: Maine’s Fight for Woman Suffrage Tuesday, November 5 @ 6pm
November 5 is the 100 year anniversary of Maine’s ratification of the 19th Amendment. Celebrate it with Anne B. Gass as she discusses her book, Voting Down the Rose: Florence Brooks Whitehouse and Maine’s Fight for Woman Suffrage.
Jessica Francis Kane’s Rules for Visiting combines a dose of wit with a plethora of botanical facts as gardener May Attway undertakes a journey to reconnect with a set of old friends. While May covers quite a bit of mileage in her odyssey, the book makes equal mental strides as she contemplates whether the kind of hospitality Odysseus received in myth is possible in this day and age. The novel feels light but emotionally affecting, inviting readers to question what it means to know or care about people in a world where over-connectedness and Twitter feeds actually lead to disconnect. You can know the growth habits of a tree, you can feel its bark, you can seek solace in it. And May does. But are there still ways to know a friend so deeply in the age of social media? As May’s story unfolds, her reasons for self-isolation and difficulty forming new bonds are slowly revealed. Kane cleverly provides self-help advice in fictional form, as her flora-loving character navigates what it means for us both to relate to others and to accept who we are and what we’ve been through. ~NORA
“We deserve love. Thick, full-bodied and healthy. Love.” – Patrisse Khan-Cullors, When They Call You a Terrorist
Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele’s When They Call You a Terrorist is a powerful memoir full of love, hope, and healing.
Growing up poor in Van Nuys, California, Cullors witnessed her brothers and their friends being searched by police for no apparent reason other than they were black. She witnessed her father routinely being in and out of prison for drug use. She watched how her brother, Monte, was affected by torture experienced in prison. She discovered what it was like to have one’s home raided by police when her husband was mistakenly identified as a robber being sought. Despite all of this, Cullors remained optimistic. She involved herself in local community organizations whose mission was to provide support to those who were most in need. Together with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, Cullors helped found the Black Lives Matter Movement, an organization which helps shed light on the inequality and racism which still exists today.
Cullors’ story and the origins of the Black Lives Matter Movement is both tragic and uplifting. Cullors, together with Bandele, reminds us that strength will always be found in love and hope, no matter the situation. When They Call You a Terrorist is simply a must-read. ~ENICA
Set in 1544 London, The Alchemist of Lost Souls is the latest Bianca Goddard mystery by local author Mary Lawrence. The absorbing tale of murder and intrigue, based around a magical, glowing stone, is enhanced by its rich, historical detail, as well as by the inclusion of colorful medieval words interspersed throughout. The author vividly depicts life in Tudor London, inspiring readers to imagine what life was really like without modern sanitation, household appliances and medical knowledge. Superstition, magic and fantastical elements are pervasive and feel very authentic. I enjoyed a deepening acquaintance with Bianca, her relationships and her empathy with the people in her life. The river Thames courses through the novel and becomes a part of its exciting denouement. I found myself caught up in Bianca’s world and holding my breath to the very end. ~KAREN
My Beautiful Birds, by Suzanne Del Rizzo, is a beautiful picture book that follows Sami, a boy from Syria, and his family who have escaped to a refugee camp. Sami is worried about whether his pet pigeons have also been able to escape. Del Rizzo uses paint and clay to make the book’s illustrations and the resulting images have a beautiful three-dimensional look to them. The story is based on an actual refugee child from Syria who kept birds. My Beautiful Birds is a beautiful and moving book. ~KATE
Very well known and professionally respected in the American art world, Jim Stegner begins to fall apart after the violent death of his beloved teenaged daughter. It doesn’t help that he is alcoholic, arrogant, and has a short fuse. It is not surprising that he has murdered two men. The really interesting part of the story is the unraveling of why he allowed himself this behavior and whether he was justified in each case. None of the characters are either good or evil, even the brutal brothers he kills are shown to have a sympathetic backstory. The beating of a small horse sets Stegner off on his soul searching and very tense, dangerous, and unwanted adventure. The story is riveting . ~MARTHA
August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day. The library is working with the Westbrook Recovery Liaison Program to recognize and remember members in our community who have been lost to an overdose. We ask you to join us by decorating a square quilt in their memory. Materials are provided for and located on the 2nd floor of the library by the Reference Desk.
A finished quilt will be displayed in the community to reduce the stigma of substance use disorder and to raise awareness of overdose.
All decorated squares must either be returned to the library or to the Westbrook Public Safety Building (570 Main Street) by September 15, 2019.
If you have any questions, please call (207) 303-4009.
Winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize and 2019 National Book Critics Award for Fiction, Anna Burns’ Milkman follows the story of an eighteen-year old unnamed narrator, exploring what her life is like in a community living under oppression and divided by conflict.
Even though Anna Burns did not specify where and when the novel is set, one could easily surmise that it took place in Northern Ireland in 1970s during the height of The Troubles. In fact, Burns’ novel is devoid of any specific details or proper nouns. The eighteen-year old unnamed narrator is referred to as “Middle Sister”; her younger sisters are “wee sisters”; her potential lover is “maybe-boyfriend”; communities and countries are known as community “over the border” or country “over the water”. By choosing not to give any names or specifics, Burns depicts a fractured community stripped of their identity. The political conflict and tension force people to put each other into categories— “us” against “them”—which then leads to the depersonalization of violence. Any digression from what is considered “normal” is an act of rebellion. For instance, when Middle Sister takes the habit of reading while walking, the community placed her under the category of “beyond-the-pales”.
Bombings and shootings are considered mundane by the community where Middle Sister lives. Everyone sees and hears about these kinds of horrendous acts that they become part of the daily gossip, desensitizing people to them. Even though Milkmanis an exaggeration of a besieged and conflicted community, one could easily compare it to current times. Reminiscent of the today’s social climate specifically dealing with sexism and violence towards women, Milkman deftly examines how these acts—regardless of physical contact or not—psychologically and physically affects a woman.
In the book, Middle Sister becomes the target of stalking and sexual harassment by a paramilitary potentate known as “Milkman” who took an interest in her. As Middle Sister contemplates while being stalked at and harassed by Milkman, “At the time, age eighteen, having been brought up in a hair-trigger society where the ground rules were – if no physically violent touch was being laid upon you, and no outright verbal insults were being levelled at you, and no taunting looks in the vicinity either, then nothing was happening, so how could you be under attack from something that wasn’t there? At eighteen I had no proper understanding of the ways that constituted encroachment.” As the novel progresses, Milkman relentlessly pursued Middle Sister—as she observes—to the point of feeling that she has been “thwarted into a carefully constructed nothingness by that man.”
Milkman’s triumph lies in the voice of its narrator, Middle Sister. It is fresh, original, witty, funny, and satirical without losing the seriousness and urgency that the story is trying to convey. The narration is dense with long sentences that takes a bit of settling into; but, don’t let this dissuade you into reading it. Once you’ve gotten used to it, you will find that the book is incredibly absorbing and engaging.
At its core, Anna Burns’ Milkman is about the importance of freedom and one’s personal identity—how easily both can be stripped off by a person or an outside force inciting fear. In a society rife with violence and separated by political conflict, survival means being aware and not losing sight of one’s humanity, even if it means being one of “beyond-the-pales”. Milkman deserves all the acclaim it received.
When I feel like reading an atmospheric and gritty crime fiction novel, my mind takes me to the cold and snowy landscape that is Scandinavian or Nordic noir. Jane Harper’s gripping debut novel, The Dry, shows that the heat of the Australian outback is as good place as any for a good mystery story.
Set in a parched climate of Kiewarra, a small fictional town in Australia mired with poverty, The Dry opens with a ghastly murder scene. Following the track of the blowflies in the sweltering heat, we find that they are not feasting on the carcasses of dead animals but rather the bloody remains of three dead people. To the residents of Kiewarra, it seems like the case is a simple one: murder suicide. Kiewarra’s long-time resident, Luke Hadler, is driven mad by the seemingly endless drought and decides to kill his wife and his young son. When federal agent and former Kiewarra resident Aaron Falk unwillingly returns to his hometown, he slowly finds that nothing is what it seems. Falk ends up investigating the case with a local sheriff named Raco, unearthing secrets and unwanted memories for everyone, including Falk himself.
Taking inspiration from Australia’s the Big Dry, a severe drought in the mid-1990s, Harper sets the grounds for a story that is brimming with tension: farmers on the verge of poverty, the river running dry, and neighbors turning against each other. The sweltering heat hovers over the entire book as if a cloud never giving way to rain. As Federal Agent Falk and Sheriff Raco close in on the investigation, the pressure around the residents of Kiewarra gradually mounts and the heat becomes incredibly suffocating, an aspect that stands out throughout the novel. The premise, the setting, and the atmosphere remind one of a good western story: a stranger comes into a small town and begins to stir up a hornet’s nest. The fact that this is Jane Harper’s first foray into crime fiction novels makes The Dry even more impressive.
The Dry provides a glimpse of the severe drought’s economic impact on communities like Kiewarra in Australia and how it psychologically affect its residents. At the whim of nature, the landscape could become as disorienting as it is frightening. Jane Harper worked as a journalist for 13 years, she mines the wealth of information she gathered and turns it into an astounding page-turner. With its unexpected plot twists, The Dry will keep you gritting your teeth and guessing to the very end. It is not surprising that a film adaptation is currently in production.