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YALSA 2020 Best Fiction for Young Adults

YALSA 2020 Best Fiction for Young Adults

The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) announced its 2020 Best Fiction for Young Adult. Here is the list of titles that made it to top ten.

For more information, please visit

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager
by Ben Philippe

Seventeen-year-old Norris Kaplan has just had his world turned upside-down. When his mother has to relocate to find work in her field, Norris finds his identity as a Black, French-Canadian hockey fan challenged by his new existence in the suburbs of Austin, Texas. While on the surface this is a classic fish-out-of-water tale, there are many more layers to the story. Lots of different elements of identity are brought to bear in Norris’s narration: his Haitian/immigrant heritage, racial identity, and viewpoint on American high school stereotypes. The protagonist’s smart and funny demeanor will engage readers, even when he makes obviously bad decisions. Norris is particularly adept at letting his assumptions about his peers impact his ability to relate to them as individuals, either as friends or romantically. The authorial decision to have the “outsider” be the character influenced by stereotypes rather than the opposite makes for a very compelling reversal that ultimately works. The unresolved ending allows teens to revel in the messiness of high school social blunders and see the value in doing the hard work of making amends. VERDICT A witty debut with whip-smart dialogue that will find much love among fans of authors like John Green and Jason Reynolds.—Kristin Lee Anderson, Jackson County Library Services, OR

Girls on the Verge
by Sharon Biggs Waller

Camille has just wrapped a successful summer with her theater troupe and is ready for a prestigious theater camp with her crush. Then one missed period becomes two, and Camille faces the  truth: her first sexual encounter, a one-time thing, has led to pregnancy. Camille knows she can’t have a baby now, but she doesn’t want to involve her parents, and her best friend, Bea, can’t reconcile her religious views with Camille’s decision. Complicating the  situation are Texas’ prohibitive abortion laws: it’s a year after Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster and Governor Rick Perry’s restrictive bill. Desperate, Camille turns to Annabelle, a girl  she admires but hardly knows, who offers to drive her to Mexico for pills that will induce an abortion. At the  last minute, despite her reservations, Bea decides to come as well. Waller (The  Forbidden Orchid, 2016) hammers home the  immense difficulties that girls  in Camille’s situation face. The  story occasionally has the  unnerving feel of a dystopia, despite taking place in the  recent past: Camille travels hundreds of miles, crosses into dangerous border towns, and faces the  judgment of legal and medical professionals as well as people she knows. The  narrative sometimes treads into the  expository, but Camille’s story is absolutely essential, as is the  underlying message that girls  take care of each other when no one else will. — Maggie Reagan (Reviewed 4/1/2019) (Booklist, vol 115, number 15, p70)

by Mindy McGinnis

All it takes is one prescription to kick-start a student athlete’s frightening descent into opioid addiction. After surgery following a car accident, Ohio softball phenom Mickey Catalan is prescribed OxyContin for pain. When she starts to run out of the Oxy she relies on to get through her physical therapy, she gets pills from a dealer, through whom she meets other young addicts. Mickey rationalizes what she’s doing and sees herself as a good girl who’s not like others who use drugs (like new friend Josie, who uses because she’s “bored”). Mickey loves how the pills make her feel, how they take her out of herself and relieve the pressures in her life. Soon she’s stealing, lying, and moving on to heroin. Her divorced parents, including her recovering addict stepmother, suspect something is going on, but Mickey is skilled at hiding her addiction. A trigger warning rightfully cautions graphic depictions of drug use. In brutally raw detail, readers see Mickey and friends snort powders, shoot up, and go through withdrawal. Intense pacing propels the gripping story toward the inevitable conclusion already revealed in the prologue. An author’s note and resources for addiction recovery are appended. This powerful, harrowing, and compassionate story humanizes addiction and will challenge readers to rethink what they may believe about addicts. VERDICT From the horrific first line to the hopeful yet devastating conclusion, McGinnis knocks it out of the park. A first purchase for all libraries serving teens.—Amanda MacGregor, Parkview Elementary School, Rosemount, MN –Amanda MacGregor (Reviewed 03/01/2019) (School Library Journal, vol 65, issue 2, p115)

Like a Love Story
by Abdi Nazemian

When Reza, a  closeted teen, moves from Toronto to New York City (“by way of Tehran”) in 1989, the city feels like  the epicenter of the AIDS crisis. In a  heart-wrenching and bittersweet unfolding of events, he gravitates toward Art, the only openly gay student at his school, and to Art’s best friend, Judy, who represents everything he feels that he should desire. Though Reza tries his hardest to keep his attractions secret, dating Judy despite his chemistry with Art, he finds that he can’t live a  lie, whatever that might cost him. A  first-person narrative moves among the three characters as they discover their inner truths at a  time that sometimes feels apocalyptic for their community and loved ones. Under the nurturing guidance of Judy’s gay activist uncle, the characters subtly investigate different family dynamics. The intense and nuanced emotions evoked by the characters’ journeys help to give this powerful novel by Nazemian (The Authentics) a  timeless relevance. Ages 13–up. Agent: Curtis Brown, Curtis Brown Ltd. (June) –Staff (Reviewed 04/22/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 16, p)

Lovely War
by Julie Berry

Berry (The Passion of Dolssa) brings to life wartime horrors and passions with commentary from Olympian gods in this love story filled with vivid historical detail. To show her husband, Hephaestus, the real meaning of love and its connection to war  and art, Aphrodite (with the help of Apollo, Hades, and Ares) tells the emotion-packed WWI saga of two besotted couples drawn together by music and war : British pianist Hazel and soldier James; African-American jazz musician Aubrey and Colette, a Belgian war  orphan with a remarkable singing voice. After James reports to duty, Hazel follows, taking a wartime volunteer position in France. There, she meets Colette, who is still reeling from her wartime losses, and introduces her to Aubrey, who quickly steals Colette’s heart. James and Aubrey witness horrors on and off the battlefield, and Hazel and Colette cling to each other during the best of times, such as when Hazel has the opportunity for a brief reunion with James, and the worst, as when Aubrey goes missing. Berry’s evocative novel starts slow but gains steam as the stories flesh out. Along the way, it suggests that while war  and its devastation cycles through history, the forces of art and love remain steady, eternal, and life-sustaining. Ages 12–up. (Mar.) –Staff (Reviewed 12/24/2018) (Publishers Weekly, vol 265, issue 52, p)

On the Come Up
by Angie Thomas

–Aspiring rapper Bri records “On the Come Up ” to protest the  racial profiling and assault she endured at the  hands of white security guards at her high school. The  song goes viral, and Bri seizes the  opportunity to follow in the  footsteps of her late father and lift her family out of poverty, but her loved ones worry, especially when some listeners paint her as an angry black girl inciting violence. Tension mounts as Bri’s mother loses her job, Bri’s relationship with her beloved aunt and musical mentor splinters, and a new manager dangles the  prospect of fame and wealth—at a price. Set in the  same neighborhood as Thomas’s electrifying The  Hate U Give, this visceral novel makes cogent observations about the  cycle of poverty and the  inescapable effects of systemic racism. Though the  book never sands over the  rough realities of Garden Heights, such as gang warfare, it imbues its many characters with warmth and depth. While acknowledging that society is quick to slap labels onto black teens, the  author allows her heroine to stumble and fall before finding her footing and her voice. VERDICT Thomas once again fearlessly speaks truth to power; a compelling coming-of-age story for all teens.—Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal –Mahnaz Dar (Reviewed 02/01/2019) (School Library Journal, vol 65, issue 1, p77)

Patron Saints of Nothing
by Randy Ribay

Integrating snippets of  Tagalog and Bikol, author Ribay displays a deep friendship between two 17-year-old cousins: Jay, born in the Philippines but raised in the United States since infancy, and Jun, born and raised in a gated community in Manila. Jay, considered white in an all-white school, is starting to get acceptances (and rejections) from colleges and finds out while playing video games that Jun, with whom he corresponded for years via “actual letters—not email or texts or DMs,” is dead. His Filipino father doesn’t want to talk about it, but his North American mother reveals that Jun was using drugs. Jay blames his uncle, a police chief, for his murder after researching the dictatorship of  Rodrigo Duterte (the book includes a handy author’s note and a list of  articles and websites), who has sanctioned and perpetrated the killing of  between 12,000 and 20,000 drug addicts by police and vigilantes since 2016. Jay, armed with his stack of  letters, returns to Manila to search for the truth. Ribay weaves in Jun’s letters so readers witness Jun’s questions and his attempts to reconcile the inequity around him with his faith. Jay follows Jun’s footsteps into the slums of  Manila, the small house of  his activist aunts, and the Catholic parish of  his uncle, a village priest, and learns painful truths about his family, his home country, and himself. VERDICT Part mystery, part elegy, part coming of  age, this novel is a perfect convergence of  authentic voice and an emphasis on inner dialogue around equity, purpose, and reclaiming one’s lost cultural identity.—Sara Lissa Paulson, City-As-School High School, New York City –Sara Lissa Paulson (Reviewed 06/01/2019) (School Library Journal, vol 65, issue 5, p84)

by Akwaeke Emezi

Carnegie Medal–nominee Emezi (Freshwater for adults) makes their young adult debut in this story of a transgender, selectively nonverbal girl named Jam, and the monster that finds its way into their universe. Jam’s hometown, Lucille, is portrayed as a utopia—a world that is post-bigotry and -violence, where “angels” named after those in religious texts have eradicated “monsters.” But after Jam accidently bleeds onto her artist mother’s painting, the image—a figure with ram’s horns, metallic feathers, and metal claws—pulls itself out of the canvas. Pet , as it tells Jam to call it, has come to her realm to hunt a human monster––one that threatens peace in the home of Jam’s best friend, Redemption. Together, Jam, Pet , and Redemption embark on a quest to discover the crime and vanquish the monster. Jam’s language is alternatingly voiced and signed, the latter conveyed in italic text, and Igbo phrases pepper the family’s loving interactions. Emezi’s direct but tacit story of injustice, unconditional acceptance, and the evil perpetuated by humankind forms a compelling, nuanced tale that fans of speculative horror will quickly devour. Ages 12–up. Agent: Jacqueline Ko, Wylie Agency. (Sept.) –Staff (Reviewed 06/17/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 24, p)

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them
by Junauda Petrus

Trinidadian native Audre uses the labels placed upon her as a shield, fearing those around her will discover the real reason her mother sent her to live with her distant father in Minneapolis: she was caught wrapped in the arms of another girl. Struggling with her own questions surrounding her sexuality and depleting health, Mabel holds no faith that she’s going to have anything in common with Audre, the daughter of a family friend who’s just arrived from Trinidad and has a bit of a church-girl reputation. But they find themselves drawn to each other in inexorable ways. Told through unflinching prose and poetry laced with astrological themes, Petrus’ work breaks the mold of traditional writing and uses unconventional dialogue and voice to bring life to the story of two authentic, unapologetic Black girls as they face the hardest truths head on and discover everlasting love that reaches even the most distant corners of the cosmos. Through the intersplicing of poetry, Petrus provides compelling depth to both Audre and Mabel while conveying the powerful message that those we love on earth remain with us through a connection that can only be described as celestial. Striking an agile balance between humor and heartbreak, Petrus delivers an immersive queer romance set in in a world much like our own but touched with the slightest tint of magic realism. — Tiana Coven (Reviewed 8/1/2019) (Booklist, vol 115, number 22, p60)

With the Fire on High
by Elizabeth Acevedo

In this stunning sophomore novel from National Book Award and Printz winner Acevedo (The Poet X), Afro–Puerto Rican and African-American Emoni Santiago, a high  school senior, lives in Philadelphia with  her two-year-old daughter, Emma—nicknamed Babygirl—and paternal grandmother, ’Buela. A talented cook, Emoni balances school, work at a local burger joint, and motherhood—including shared custody with  her ex-boyfriend, Tyrone—with  moments in the  kitchen, where her “magical hands” create dishes that allow the  eater to access deep, surprising memories. But she’s not sure what to do with  her passion, or after high  school, until enrolling in a culinary arts elective helps her to hone her innate cooking skills in the  classroom and during a hard-won weeklong apprenticeship in Spain. As she gains practice at leadership and fund-raising, she also cautiously develops a budding relationship with  new student Malachi, a boy who respects Emoni’s boundaries. Acevedo expertly develops Emoni’s close female relationships, which are often conveyed through the  sharing of food and recipes, and which shape and buoy Emoni’s sense of her own direction and strength. With  evocative, rhythmic prose and realistically rendered relationships and tensions, Acevedo’s unvarnished depiction of young adulthood is at once universal and intensely specific. Ages 13–up. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (May) –Staff (Reviewed 03/04/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 9, p)

For the full list of 2020 Best Fiction for Young Adults, please visit

-list by E.D.

Walker's Bookshelf Youth Services

100th Anniversary of the 19th Ammendment

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gives women the right to vote. Here’s a list of books you can borrow to explore the history of women’s suffrage.
We also encourage everyone to exercise their right to vote.

Voting Down the Rose: Florence Brooks Whitehouse and Maine’s Fight for Women Suffrage
by Anne B. Gass

Voting Down the Rose is a lively account of Maine native Florence Brooks Whitehouse’s efforts to win women voting rights in the decisive final years of the campaign, 1914-1920. Considered radical for picketing the White House, Florence helped win women suffrage against a backdrop of conservative views of women’s roles, political intrigues, WWI, and the 1918 influenza epidemic (Publisher).

The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote
by Elaine Weiss

Weiss (Fruits of Victory) chronicles the  crucial and contentious struggle to make Tennessee the  final state to ratify the  19th Amendment during the  sweltering summer of 1920. She traces the  history of the  suffrage movement, and profiles the  principle players. Social, political, regional, economic, and racial factors complicated the  fight. Suffragists were disunited; Carrie Catt (protégé of Susan B. Anthony) created the  National American Women  Suffrage Association, which warred with Alice Paul and Sue White’s radical National Woman’s  Party. Tennesseans and other Southerners used trickery to prevent the  imposition of yet another national amendment to invite federal election oversight and threaten white supremacy. Corporate interests believed female voters would threaten their corrupt stronghold over state government. President Woodrow Wilson courted women’s  votes to gain support for the  League of Nations, and waffling presidential candidates used the  suffrage issue to suit their advantage. VERDICT This well-researched and well-documented history reveals how prosuffragists sometimes compromised racial equality to win white women’s  enfranchisement, and that, although the  19th Amendment was ratified, there exists to this day an ongoing battle to effect universal, unrestricted suffrage. Essential for all libraries and readers interested in this vital issue. [See “Editors’ Spring Picks,” p. 29.] –Margaret Kappanadze (Reviewed 02/01/2018) (Library Journal, vol 143, issue 2, p113)

The Secret History of Wonder Woman
by Jill Lepore

New Yorker writer Lepore (David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of History , Harvard Univ.) presents an engaging, well-researched look at the  unconventional family behind the  character and stories of Wonder Woman . The  author focuses on the  character’s creator, William Moulton Marston, and his family: Elizabeth Holloway Marston, his wife and partial inspiration for the  character; Olive Byrne, who lived with the  couple in a polyamorous relationship; and Margaret Huntley, who also lived with the  family on and off through the  years. Also featured are the  family’s four children: two with Holloway Marston and two with Byrne. Marston was a psychologist, one of the  originators of the  modern lie detector, and a fervent propagandist of  female sexual power, if not necessarily female emancipation. Lepore handles her potentially thorny topic well and manages to avoid being salacious or gossipy. Readers looking for an exploration of Wonder Woman  herself would do better to try Tim Hanley’s Wonder Woman  Unbound . Lepore uses the  character more as a touchstone to guide her exploration of the  Marston family. VERDICT Fans interested in the  background of the  character and readers who appreciate well-written popular history  will enjoy this thought-provoking volume. [See Prepub Alert, 4/21/14.]— Hanna Clutterbuck, Harvard Univ. Lib., Cambridge, MA –Hanna Clutterbuck (Reviewed September 15, 2014) (Library Journal, vol 139, issue 15, p96)

All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation
by Rebecca Traister

As Beyoncé sang, “Now put your hands up!” Today, only 20 percent of  adults under the  age of  29 are married, compared with nearly 60 percent in 1960, a dramatic shift in which unmarried women  played a major role. In this compelling narrative, Traister (Big Girls Don’t Cry: The  Election That Changed Everything) investigates how scores of single women  have contributed to important social and  political movements that have changed U.S. history—before and  after Betty Friedan and  Gloria Steinem. A thoughtful journalist, Traister explores the  history of the  “spinster” and  explains how issues such as class, race, sexuality, and  religion have impacted single women  throughout time, and  how they in return have influenced the  workplace, personal space, and the  concept of  family. In addition to her painstaking research, Traister includes stories from the  unattached ladies  themselves in more than 100 interviews and  draws on pop culture references such as Sex & the  City and  Bridesmaids. While the  image of the  free, independent woman  is considered a modern sensation, Traister reveals that she has always fought for the  right to own her self-identity as well as for the  rights of  others. VERDICT This fast-paced, fascinating book will draw in fans of  feminism, social sciences, and  U.S. history, similar to Gail Collins’s When Everything Changed. [See Prepub Alert, 9/28/15.] –Venessa Hughes (Reviewed 02/15/2016) (Library Journal, vol 141, issue 3, p121)

A Lady Has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks Out for Women’s Rights
by Kate Hannigan

Hannigan presents an invigorating account of the life of Belva Lockwood, taking readers from her childhood in Niagara County, N.Y., to her career as one of the first women lawyers in the U.S. to her 1884 run for president (“Are women not worth the same as men? Belva spent her whole life asking that question.”). Working in her distinctively crackled folk style, Jay depicts powerful moments of resistance and courage from Lockwood’s life—whether storming into a classroom or protesting before the Supreme Court. Endnotes provide a timeline of Lockwood’s life and beyond, highlighting significant events in the ongoing fight for women’s rights and concluding with Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential run. Ages 9–12. Author’s agent: Jennifer Mattson, Andrea Brown Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Lorraine Owen, the Organisation. (Jan.) –Staff (Reviewed 11/20/2017) (Publishers Weekly, vol 264, issue 47, p)

Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragist, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles
by Mara Rockliff

A car made up of bright primary colors—yellow hood, blue doors, and red luggage compartment—transports suffragists Nell Richardson and Alice Burke, a kitten, and readers across the United States all in the name of “Votes for Women!” Throughout, the pacing is excellent, and Rockliff begins the adventure with a litany of items found inside the petite yellow vehicle (“tools,/spare parts,/a teeny-tiny typewriter”) and introduces Richardson and Burke and emphasizes their determination to get the word out (“V. for W.!”). Readers will follow the two women (and their kitten) from New York City to Philadelphia, through a blizzard, a stop at an all-yellow luncheon, a stint in a circus parade, and more as they drive down South and along the U.S. and Mexican border all the way to California and back. Rockliff communicates the boundless energy of these two figures and adds touches of humor to lift the narrative; this small but significant historical moment is presented as accessible and fun without undermining the importance of Richardson, Burke, and the fight for women’s equality. Hooper shows the women working together (a concluding image of Richardson handing Burke a daffodil is wonderful), the curiosity and interest on the faces of passersby (mainly white folks), and the dress and style of the times. While this is an excellent introduction to the efforts of suffragists, when discussing this text and the Nineteenth Amendment, librarians may want to clarify that statements such as “At last, American women had won the right to vote” (mentioned in the back matter section titled “Winning the Vote”) did not always reflect the reality of African American women and other women of color, who often faced legal and illegal barriers to vote (especially in the South) until well into the 1960s. VERDICT Prepare for the arrival of the “little yellow car” into the hearts of readers; this charming and vibrant account of two lesser-known figures will bolster historical collections.—Della Farrell, School Library Journal –Della Farrell (Reviewed 07/01/2016) (School Library Journal, vol 62, issue 7, p95)

A Time for Courage: The Suffragette Diary of Kathleen Bowen
by Kathryn Lasky

Kat Bowen records her days in Washington, DC, in a diary from her mother. A typical 13-year-old from a well-to-do family, she expresses her dreams and hopes as she recounts her thoughts on school, homework, relationships, parties, and her special bond with her cousin Alma. As the early days of 1917 pass, Kat becomes increasingly aware of the political issues that are prevalent, particularly the inevitable involvement of the U.S. in World War I and women’s suffrage. Her physician father is quietly supportive of his wife’s activism in the movement, while his brother-in-law, Alma’s father, demeans it and forbids the women in his family to participate in any way. Kat soon joins her mother sewing banners and bringing hot bricks for warmth on the picket line. Lasky entwines some of the real characters of the day with her fictional figures. She gives a good overview of the harsh treatment these women endured during their picketing and imprisonment and touches on divorce, the plight of African-American citizens in the South, and President Wilson’s disinterest in rights for women. Kat is well developed into a young woman whose exposure to the politics and consequences allow her to mature and decide what true liberty and justice for all really means. A historical note and reproductions of photos are appended.–Rita Soltan, Baldwin Public Library, Birmingham, MI –Rita Soltan (Reviewed August 1, 2002) (School Library Journal, vol 48, issue 8, p190)

The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba
by Margarita Engle

This engaging title documents 50-year-old Swedish suffragette and novelist Fredrika Bremer’s three-month travels around Cuba in 1851. Based in the  home of a wealthy sugar planter, Bremer journeys around the  country with her host’s teenaged slave Cecilia, who longs for her mother and home in the  Congo. Elena, the  planter’s privileged 12-year-old daughter, begins to accompany them on their trips into the  countryside. Both Elena and Cecilia are inspired by their guest’s independence, Elena to wonder if she can avoid eventual marriage and Cecilia to dream of freedom for her unborn child. Using elegant free verse and alternating among each character’s point of view, Engle offers powerful glimpses into Cuban life at that time. Along the  way, she comments on slavery, the  rights of women, and the  stark contrast between Cuba’s rich and poor. The  author takes some license with the  real Bremer’s journey; Elena is fictional, which the  author is careful to point out in her author’s note. She also includes a reference list for readers who want to learn more about Bremer. The  easily digestible, poetic narrative makes this a perfect choice for reluctant readers, students of the  women’s movement, those interested in Cuba, and teens with biography assignments.—Leah J. Sparks, formerly at Bowie Public Library, MD –Leah J. Sparks (Reviewed February 1, 2010) (School Library Journal, vol 56, issue 2, p129)

Walker's Bookshelf

Starred Review: Circe

by Madeline Miller

Countless writers have taken inspirations from characters in Greek Mythology for their quintessential characterizations everyone could easily recognize. Written in first-person narrative, Madeline Miller’s Circe follows the life of its titular protagonist as she navigates the world around her.

In Homer’s The Odyssey, Circe plays a minor role as one more obstacle that Odysseus needed to overcome. Miller, on the other hand, takes Circe’s story and turns it into an epic tale that spans thousands of years (gods are immortal, after all). Born as the daughter of Helios, the god of the Sun, Circe does not exude the beauty of her naiad peers or other gods—she is a lesser god among other lesser gods. According to her father, “Circe is dull as a rock” . . . or so he thinks. Circe discovers where her true power lies. When she uses it against one of her fellow nymphs, Circe is exiled to an isolated island called Aiaia. In exile, Circe hones her craft and makes a name for herself.

It is a feat to write a novel that spans a thousand years while making the story organically flow, and Miller has done just that. Her narrative never loses its cadence and, as readers, we find ourselves completely taken by Circe. The way Circe’s character develops feels authentic, and, it is where the strength of this novel lies. Miller’s version of Circe is one of the most captivating and genuine fictional characters I’ve come across.

There is a beautiful fluidity in Miller’s writing style. The story transforms from the ethereal world of gods to something intimate that all of us could identify with. Even though Circe is a goddess, Miller’s portrayal of her is deeply human—with all the strength and flaws that comes with being one. In Circe, Miller explores relationships, love, and mortality with a certain dynamism and tenderness that strikes our very core. One of the most poignant moment in the book that stuck with me is when Circe confronts Trygon for his tail, which serves as a poison to gods, in order to protect her son, Telegonus, from Athena.

“I felt the currents move. The grains of sand whispered against each other. His wings were lifting. The darkness around us shimmered with clouds of his gilded blood. Beneath my feet were the bones of a thousand years. I thought: I cannot bear this world a moment longer.

Then, child, make another.”

Miller’s Circe makes us appreciate the ground beneath our feet—the world we live in—with all its beauty and atrocity. Miller casts a powerful spell on her readers, and it is one that lingers for a long time.

Walker's Bookshelf

Beautiful Book Cover Thursday

Brighten up your day with today’s #beautifulbookcoverthursday post, featuring three titles that you can borrow or request now!

Three Flames
by Alan Lightman

Novelist and physicist Lightman has traveled twice yearly since 2003 to Cambodia to work with his Harpswell Foundation which empowers women leaders in Cambodia and Southeast Asia. In his first novel in seven years, Lightman’s opening dedication directly spotlights Harpswell’s “strong and courageous young women,” some of whose stories have inspired his intimate examination of a Cambodian family’s post-Khmer Rouge lives, driven by survival, redeemed by resilience. Each of six chapters, named for each family member, is paired with a pivotal year. Mother Ryna in 2012 confronts her father’s murderer. In 2009, teenage, pregnant eldest daughter Nita plots to escape her much older husband. Marriage eludes only son Kamal in 2013. In 2008, middle daughter Thida is forced to become a debt equalizer. Father Pich, a young man in 1973, earns rejection from his parents. In 2015, youngest daughter Sreypov refuses a future constrained by the “three flames :” never air family problems, never forget parental sacrifices, always serve the husband. After four decades of submission, defiance just might break the family’s cycle of desperation and humiliation. — Terry Hong (Reviewed 9/1/2019) (Booklist, vol 116, number 1, p56)

The Sweetest Fruits
by Monique Truong

He began life in 1850 as Patricio to his Greek mother, immigrating at two from the  island of Lefcada to the  Emerald Isle, his father’s birthplace, where he became Patrick. By 19, he landed in New York, made his way to Cincinnati, and married a formerly enslaved woman who called him Pat, although as a struggling journalist, he was known as Lafcadio. His restlessness pushed him to New Orleans, then Martinique in the  West Indies, until he settled on his final island, Japan, where he became Koizumi Yakumo and lived with a samurai-descendant wife and, eventually, their four children. More than a century since his 1904 death, Lafcadio Hearn remains one of Japan’s preeminent literary expatriates. Truong, whose family’s violent 1975 displacement from Vietnam when she was six makes her intimately familiar with peripatetic longing, stupendously imagined the  life of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’ Vietnamese Parisian cook in her award-winning debut, The  Book of Salt (2003). She displays similar ingenuity in her extraordinary new book (an eight-year effort) presenting Lafcadio Hearn through the  four most important women in his life: his willful Greek mother, his determined first wife, his protective last wife, and his tenacious first biographer, Elizabeth Bisland. By reclaiming these exemplary women’s voices, Truong enhances history with illuminating herstory too long overlooked. — Terry Hong (Reviewed 8/1/2019) (Booklist, vol 115, number 22, p25)

Dead Astronauts
by Jeff VanderMeer

Vandermeer’s follow-up to Borne (2017) explores the multiple pasts and futures of the City and the sinister Company that twists and destroys countless living things. The fragmented narrative centers primarily on the dead astronauts  at the crossroads from Borne, revealed to be three revolutionaries consisting of former Company workers/experiments Chen and Moss and the formerly lost-in-space Grayson. As these three lovers and companions come to the latest version of the City and the sinister Company, the established patterns of their war across realities begin to shift, with factors such as the demented and tortured Charlie X, a mysterious blue fox, a vast leviathan, and the dark bird known as “”the duck with a broken wing”” all come into play. The varied points of view and stylistic shifts of the narrative allow the reader to experience reality through the eyes of different characters, human and otherwise, and the struggle of different forms of life trying to survive unites the vignettes that form the bulk of the novel. Highly recommended for those interested in sf invested in ecological concerns and speculative fiction that plays with narrative form. New readers will want to read Borne before diving in to its multi-dimensional sequel. — Nell Keep (Reviewed 11/1/2019) (Booklist, vol 116, number 5, p31)

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Black History Month Week 1


February is Black History Month. To celebrate, we are featuring books that are written by African American and black writers each week.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf
by Marlon James

As with his Man Booker Prize-winning A Brief History of Seven Killings, James’s first foray into fantasy demonstrates epic sweep, an intensely layered structure, and raw if luscious language that pins readers to the page with enough concrete detail to discourage a breezy skim-through. Placed firmly in the genre by its dark magic, unstoppable twists and turns, dangerous kingly aspirations, and imperfect but essential fellow-creature bonding, the narrative is refreshingly distinctive in its grounding in African history and folklore. Its protagonist is the Tracker, a tough-talking loner whose sense of smell leads him to his quarry and here to a momentous task. The opening pages show the Tracker as a young man leaving home both to escape his family and confront his people’s enemies, as he refines his skills, discovers a shocking secret about his parentage, helps a group of children (e.g., Smoke Girl, Giraffe Boy) abandoned for their weirdness as cursed, and meets the sardonic, shapeshifting Leopard , with whom he forms a close but testy relationship. But the journey’s the thing, as the Tracker is later engaged by a slaver to find a kidnapped child, reputedly the son of a North Kingdom elder who riled the king and was slaughtered with his family. In his efforts, the Tracker grudgingly allows himself to be joined by the Leopard , the Moon Witch Sogolon, the perfidious Nyka, and others. As they move through the Darklands and subsequent fraught territories toward the Southern Kingdom, they encounter witches and demons, flesh-eating trolls, splendidly dressed mercenaries, vampires, necromancers, ancient griots, and a wise, magisterial buffalo. References to harsh pansexual encounters often shift events forward, and the entire story is framed as a tale told to an inquisitor, though we are a long way from understanding from whence he came—this is the first in the “Dark Star” trilogy. VERDICT As the Tracker realizes, “The only way forward is through,” and it’s the same for readers. Highly recommended for fantasy lovers who welcome a grand new challenge, as James launches an unglorified if gloriously delivered story that feels eminently real despite the hobgoblins, and for literary readers, eager to see the world—and James’s particular talents—in a new light. [See Prepub Alert, 7/31/18; Editors’ Spring Picks, p. 22.] –Barbara Hoffert (Reviewed 02/01/2019) (Library Journal, vol 144, issue 2, p68)

Girl, Woman, Other
by Bernardine Evaristo

Shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker Prize, Anglo-Nigerian writer Evaristo’s (Mr. Loverman, 2014) courageous and intersectional novel explores Black British identity and unfolds in a single night, or over the course of 100 years, depending on how readers look at it. It opens with the story of Amma, a formerly fringe, lesbian playwright whose newest work, The Last Amazon of Dahomey, opens tonight at London’s National Theatre. Her daughter, Yazz, uber-confident thanks to Amma’s emotionally affirming parenting, goes next, followed by Dominique, Amma’s longtime friend and one-time partner in artistic consciousness- and hell-raising. Following chapters expand the novel’s web three characters at a time (a table of contents lists their names, but it’s exciting to be surprised by the revelation of who will take center stage) until there are 12: 11 women  and 1 nonbinary person. Evaristo uses minimal punctuation and fluid paragraphs for a high-velocity style of exposition. And, oh, what is exposed. Hearing from mothers and their children, teachers and their students across generations, readers might expect that they’ll get to see just what these characters can’t know about one another, but they won’t imagine the dazzling specificities nor the unspooling dramas; they will be entertained, educated, and riveted. — Annie Bostrom (Reviewed 11/1/2019) (Booklist, vol 116, number 5, p17)

Call Me American: A Memoir
by Abdi Nor Iftin

Nor Iftin’s experience was the “gory terrorism” of Mogadishu, Somalia, the setting of Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down. His pastoral parents retreated to the city when drought decimated their herds. A brief period of prosperity soon descended into warfare with Islamic terrorist activity infiltrating the city and affection for American  ways endangering one’s life. Nicknamed “Abdi American ,” the author had a love of Western movies that was dangerous. He quickly parlayed that affinity into learning English fluently and met reporter Paul Salopek, who featured him in a 2009 Atlantic article. Opportunities for public radio reporting generated American  connections that finally led him to resettle in Maine. While focusing on his life in Somalia, the horror and tribulations of his family become explicit. Sadly, the volume ends with President Trump’s stance on immigration, which prevents Nor Iftin from visiting his family in Somalia and them from joining him in America. VERDICT A harrowing success story of escaping terrorism, overcoming government bureaucracy, and experiencing pure luck, this insightful debut yields an inside look at a largely forgotten conflict that continues to rage. –Jessica Bushore (Reviewed 05/01/2018) (Library Journal, vol 143, issue 8, p72)


The Old Drift
by Namwali Serpell

Serpell’s debut is a rich, complex saga of three intertwined families over the  course of more than a century. The  epic stretches out from a single violent encounter: in the  early 20th century, a British colonialist adopts North-western Rhodesia (now Zambia) as his home, settling in the Old Drift , a settlement near Victoria Falls, where the  colonist gets into a fateful skirmish with a local hotelier. After this, readers first meet Sibilla, the  hotelier’s granddaughter, a woman born with hair covering her body, who runs away to Africa with a man who frequents the  wealthy Italian estate at which her mother is a servant; then, in England, there’s Agnes, the  colonialist’s granddaughter, a rich white girl and talented tennis player who goes blind and falls in love with a student who, unbeknownst to her, is black; and Matha, the  servant’s granddaughter, a spirited prodigy who joins a local radical’s avant-garde activism. In part two, Agnes’s son, Lionel, has an affair with Matha’s daughter, which leads to a confrontation that also involves Naila, Sibilla’s granddaughter. Serpell expertly weaves in a preponderance of themes, issues, and history, including Zambia’s independence, the  AIDS epidemic, white supremacy, patriarchy, familial legacy, and the  infinite variations of lust and love. Recalling the  work of Toni Morrison and Gabriel García Márquez as a sometimes magical, sometimes horrifically real portrait of a place, Serpell’s novel goes into the  future of the  2020s, when the  various plot threads come together in a startling conclusion. Intricately imagined, brilliantly constructed, and staggering in its scope, this is an astonishing novel. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. (Mar.) –Staff (Reviewed 01/07/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 1, p)

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Non-fiction Friday: History Books

Non-fiction Friday: History Books

Renowned historian David McCullough once addressed the graduating seniors of Wesleyan University and said, “History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” If you’re looking for titles that explores the past to help understand the present, here is a list of recently published history books you can borrow now.

This Land is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving
by David J. Silverman

What it’s about: the complex 50-year alliance between the Wampanoag tribe and European colonizers that ended with King Philip’s War, a three-year conflict that almost completely annihilated the Wampanoag.

Why you might like it: This impassioned narrative centers the Wampanoag people’s experiences, offering insights into why the alliance was brokered and how the tribe persisted in the face of devastation. 

Don’t miss: profiles of Wampanoag activists, including Frank James (1923-2001), who established the National Day of Mourning in 1970. 

The Ship of Dreams: The Sinking of the Titanic and the End of the Edwardian Era
by Gareth Russell

What it is: an extensively researched, evocatively detailed account of the Titanic‘s fateful voyage as experienced by six first-class passengers.

Featuring: Lucy Leslie, Countess of Rothes, who rowed a lifeboat full of passengers to safety; Jewish American immigrant Ida Strauss, who chose to die with her husband rather than board a lifeboat without him.  

Don’t miss: Author Gareth Russell’s debunking of many of the popular conspiracy theories and falsehoods about the ship’s sinking.  

Highway of Tears: A True Story of Racism Indifference and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
by Jessica McDiarmid

What it is: a heart-wrenching exposé on British Columbia’s Highway 16, known as the “Highway of Tears” because of the disappearances or murders of many Indigenous girls and women in the area.

Why it matters: Journalist Jessica McDiarmid’s “powerful must-read” (Booklist) illuminates how these unsolved and under-reported crimes are a microcosm of the systemic forces that continue to fail vulnerable Indigenous populations throughout Canada.

Checkpoint Charlie: The Cold War, the Berlin Wall, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth
by Iain MacGregor

What it’s about: how Cold War tensions spurred the construction of Checkpoint Charlie, the border crossing separating East and West Germany that became a powerful symbol of the era.

Why you might like it: This dramatic, well-researched account was published to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

What sets it apart: never-before-seen interviews with border guards, intelligence operatives, and escapees.

Broke: Hardship & Resilience in a City of Broken Promises
by Jodie Adams Kirshner, foreword by Michael Eric Dyson

What it is: an eye-opening portrait of Detroit, Michigan following the city’s 2013 bankruptcy filing. 

What’s inside: profiles of seven Detroit citizens trying to make a better life while facing poverty, urban blight, and government negligence. 

Try this next: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist (and Detroit native) Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit: An American Autopsy similarly surveys the lives of everyday citizens navigating the Motor City’s tumultuous changes. 

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The Parade

In Dave Eggers’ The Parade, the reader is not told where the story takes place, other than it is a country somewhere in the Middle East which has been ravaged by war. There is constant danger from renegade rebel factions, requiring very strict security rules for foreign workers who are paving dirt roads to reconnect rural people to urban centers.

The main character, known only as “Four,” works with one other person known as “Nine.” They have virtually no verbal interaction or even eye contact with locals. Small personal connections often tend to encourage desperate, or unscrupulous people to extort, kill, kidnap, or steal from the workers. While any form of anomaly or impediment slows the progress of the road building, Four has always managed to finish his assignments on time. Nine, on the other hand, proves to be irresponsible and negligent: engaging with the locals, eating their food, attending their parties, sleeping with their daughters, and leaving Four and the RS-80 paving machine unsupported. Four manages to pave and yellow-stripe 25 or more kilometers each day on his own, hating Nine more and more as company rules are violated again and again.

Circumstances arise which force Four to trust a local man, Medallion, who offers much needed help. Four is in a constant state of anxiety as questions of ethical right and wrong pile up in his mind. He is not an unkind man, but the breakdown of a postwar society makes these questions hard to answer.

For a short book (less than 200 pages) this leaves an indelible image of the human suffering that goes on well after military troops have been pulled out.

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Winter Weather Whodunit

There is something about mystery/crime fiction that goes well with the winter season. If you crave the gritty, atmospheric, and claustrophobic feeling that this book genre offers, here is a list of recently published books that you can borrow from the library now.

The Butterfly Girl by Rene Denfeld

In Denfeld’s second novel, Naomi Cottle returns and focuses her attention on a case close to her. Naomi wants to find her missing sister, whom she left behind when she fled captivity as a child. But how would Naomi solve the mystery if she cannot remember the time before or during her captivity? While in Portland, Oregon, figuring out the mystery of her missing sister, Naomi learns that missing girls are ending up dead. The story explores how people deal with traumatic experiences. This mystery is for those who enjoy fast-paced and compelling stories in the style of Harlan Coben’s Runaway and Lisa Gardner’s Love You.

Heaven, my Home by Attica Locke

Nine-year old Levi King has disappeared. His family has ties to the Aryan Brotherhood. His father, Bill “Big Kill” King, is known for killing a black man but never being convicted for it. Levi was last seen on Caddo Lake in Jefferson, a community steeped in antebellum history. When African American Texas Ranger Darren Matthews is sent to investigate, his initial suspicions are confirmed that there is more to the child’s disappearance than familial problems. Attica Locke’s second novel does not disappoint. It is a well-written and compelling crime novel that explores the mindset and culture of a small-town community in the Southwest. If you enjoy crime stories by Walter Mosley, Greg Iles, and Thomas Mullen, you will enjoy Attica Locke’s Heaven, My Home.

Gallow’s Court by Martin Edwards

Set in London in 1930, Rachel Savernake, a 24-year old heiress turns her interest to sleuthing. When she beats Scotland Yard in solving a recent murder, Rachel attracts the interest of both police inspectors and Fleet Street reporters, specifically one by the name of Jacob Flint, who has started looking into the case a bit more. Jacob slowly finds that Rachel has something to hide. This atmospheric mystery is intricately plotted with suspense that will keep readers turning the page. If you like Rhys Bowen and Agatha Christie, you will enjoy Martin Edwards’ latest novel.

The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup

The Chestnut Man is Soren Sveistrup’s (creator and writer of the Danish TV Series The Killing) first foray into writing novels. He covers all the bases about what makes a great crime fiction story. Set in Copenhagen, a woman is found murdered with a small doll made of chestnut beside her. Newly paired Detectives Naia Thulin and Mark Hess are asked to investigate the case. When they find a fingerprint of a missing girl on the chestnut doll, both Detectives Thulin and Hess know that they have serial killer on the loose. With unexpected plots and twists, Sveistrup leaves his readers with bated breath as we follow the unlikely heroes as they race to catch the killer known as the “Chestnut Man”.

The Truth Behind the Lie by Sara Lovestam

Swedish children’s and young adult author, Sara Lovestam’s debut mystery novel first appeared in 2015 and won both the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy Award and the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere. The story revolves around two characters who live on the fringe of society. Kouplan, an undocumented Iranian refugee, is struggling to survive in Stockholm, Sweden. He decides to place an ad online claiming that he is a private investigator, even though he has neither credentials nor any prior experience. When Pernilla’s six-year-old daughter goes missing, she sees the ad online and decides to hire Kouplan. Despite his fears of the police and deportation, Kouplan diligently investigates the missing person’s case. Lovestam’s novel slowly builds and readers will find themselves invested in its two fully-realized characters, Kouplan and Pernilla.

Bad Axe County by John Galligan

In 2004, Heidi White has just given a speech as the Wisconsin Dairy Queen when she learns that her parents have been shot on their farm. The police concludes that it was a murder-suicide, but Heidi believes that is not the case. Fifteen years later, Heidi finds herself the first female sheriff of Bad Axe County, Wisconsin. Still known as the Dairy Queen, she not only struggles with endless crimes in the town but also with sexism. Upon hearing that the old sheriff of Bad Axe County is dead, Angus Beavers, a long-time native who used to be known as the local baseball star, returns home and pursues a cold murder case. Slowly, John Galligan brings the stories of these characters together in a mystery that involves misogyny, human trafficking, child abuse, and murder. A portrait of the midwest that’s never seen before, Galligan’s Bad Axe County is all you could ask for in atmospheric noir fiction.

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The Bletchley Circle

The Bletchley Circle

The Bletchley Circle Season 1 & 2 featuring (left to right) Rachael Stirling (Millie), Anna Maxwell Martin (Susan), Sophie Rundle (Lucy), and Julie Graham (Jean).
The Bletchley Circle Season 1 & 2 featuring (left to right) Rachael Stirling (Millie), Anna Maxwell Martin (Susan), Sophie Rundle (Lucy), and Julie Graham (Jean).

If you entirely missed the television series originally broadcast in the US on PBS called The Bletchley Circle a few years ago, I am not surprised.  Like me, you were likely still consuming and enchanted by Downton Abbey, and had never even heard of The Bletchley Circle.  No worries, you are not alone!  I recently discovered it and am very excited to share it with you!  

Rachael Stirling (Millie) in front of the data board.
Rachael Stirling (Millie) at the data board.

This series that first aired in 2012 was cancelled after its second season broadcast in 2014.  Britbox, a channel available for streaming video (both on Amazon and directly from, decided to bring back the series in 2018, producing the third season it would title The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco.  Although each season does build on the previous one, each season can also stand alone and make sense, so you do not absolutely have to go in order.  The library currently has all 3 seasons in circulation. 

The ladies in season 1 at the data board looking for patterns to predict the next murder.  Will they figure it out in time?
The ladies in season 1 at the data board looking for patterns to predict the next murder. Will they figure it out in time?

This captivating mystery series based on women who worked as code-breakers during WWII, both of UK and US nationalities is unique and powerful.  The Bletchley Circle follows four very smart women after The War as they seek to catch serial killers and solve mysterious deaths of female friends or acquaintances, through code & cipher breaking, pattern identification, and intelligence gathering. They prove they have both the nerves and intelligence to be taken seriously by the police with whom they are dissatisfied.

Season 3 produced in 2018 brings back Julie Graham (Jean) and Rachael Stirling (Millie), and introduces Cristal Balint (Iris) and Chanelle Peloso (Hailey).
Season 3 produced in 2018 brings back Julie Graham (Jean) and Rachael Stirling (Millie), and introduces Crystal Balint (Iris) and Chanelle Peloso (Hailey).

Set in the early to mid 1950s, the women both in the UK and in the US navigate the cultural limitations by pushing back on societal pressures and standing up for themselves until they are heard.   Based on the real women of the Bletchley Park code breakers of WWII, this series brings to light the plight of so many women post-war, who found themselves suddenly out of work, society pressuring them to return to their pre-war roles.  The supporting characters encourage and celebrate the women’s intelligence and need for something more, as they refuse to disengage from “utilizing their mind,” as they seek purpose, while uncovering truth and finding justice. 

Crystal Balint as Iris and Chanelle Peloso as Hailey in Season 3, San Francisco.
Crystal Balint as Iris and Chanelle Peloso as Hailey in Season 3, San Francisco.

This is quite different from other familiar mystery series.  It is worth a look! You just might find yourself hooked!  

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Library Passes

Looking for places to visit and things to do? Walker Memorial Library offers library passes for local museums, parks, and cultural sites for free or at a discount.





  • 50% discount on general admission for up to four people.
  • Visitors with this pass are welcome to attend any and all programs that are free with admission.
  • This pass is not accepted on the first Friday of each month. The Museum & Theatre offers $2 admission from 5pm to 8pm on this day.
  • Website:


  • Visitors who are four-years-old and up will be charged $3.50 admission fee. Maine Wildlife Park only accepts cash or checks.

All library passes are generously provided by the Friends of Walker Memorial Library and can only be used once a day. Please check each museum, park, or cultural site for their operating hours. For more questions, please check at the front desk or contact the library at 207-854-0630 or

If you’re interested in joining the Friends of Walker Memorial Library, please visit or e-mail