In order to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and following Mayor Michael T. Foley's statement on March 15th, the library will be closed to the public until further notice. We are encouraging our patrons to please hold onto their checked out items until the library re-opens. There will be no late fees. Please visit the list of digital library resources you can access from the comfort of your own home.
The gist of the story: This is a modern fairy tale about an unlikely love story between Moshe Fisher and Arrienne Christie as well as a compelling story that explores post colonial Jamaican history.
Why you might like it: With a strong sense of place, a touch of magical realism, lyrical writing, and well-crafted dialogue, this is a powerful novel that interweaves social history and romance.
Reviewers say: “It’s a novel of colonialism and its tragic aftermath of racism and economic despair. But most of all, the book is a journey. The characters so vivid, their depictions so intimate, that the skin of the pages themselves almost pulse beneath the reader’s fingers. A powerful journey into the souls of two lovers, two countries, and the people caught in the wakes of empires (Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2019).”
Starring: An eclectic cast of characters, all sent on an inventive treasure hunt across Boston by an unconventional billionaire’s final request.
For fans of: Literary and pop culture references; ghost stories; inheritance drama; loners; bankers who used to be theater kids; Edgar Allan Poe; cape-wearing gentlemen; scavenger hunts; camp, whimsy, and eccentricity. And, of course, Ellen Raskin’s classic kids’ book The Westing Game.
Read this next: Ernest Cline’s nostalgic, sci-fi scavenger hunt, Ready Player One.
What it is: A modern re-telling of the creation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, featuring Mary as a narrator, as well as a modern-day tale in which a trans doctor falls for a professor working to chain AI to a fusion of body parts.
Why you might like it: Ever questioned what makes us human? If so, this one’s for you.
Reviewers say: “As the subtitle declares, this is a love story, paralleling the relationship between Mary Shelley and Percy Shelley and that between Ry and Victor. The forthright description of non-binary choice forms a replete example of embracing transgender experience, and both Victor Stein and Victor Frankenstein are finally shown to be illusory characters, adding spookiness. Highly recommended (Henry Bankhead, Library Journal).”
Starring: 44-year-old Joe O’Brien, a cop with a recent diagnosis of Huntington’s disease, his wife, and their four children, who must decide whether or not to be tested for this incurable hereditary condition.
What happens: As Joe’s health worsens, youngest daughter Katie is, at 21, just starting her adult life, and she isn’t sure if she wants to know what her future holds. How the O’Briens cope is both heart-wrenching and riveting.
Why you might like it: If you’ve read and enjoyed Lisa Genova’s Still Alice, you will like this book. This is also similar to Danielle Steele’s Silent Night and Jodi Picoult’s Lone Wolf.
What it is: The interconnected stories of four friends coming of age in working-class Rhode Island and recognizing the restrictions placed on black men in America.
Narrated by: Gio, Dub, Rye, and Rolls, each with their own advantages, flaws, and struggles, who get out of Pawtucket, or don’t, on their own or with the help of the women in their lives.
Reviewers say: “The stories are by turns comedic, bawdy, heartbreaking, and grisly. What links them all is the heady style deployed throughout; language with the same taut rhythm and blunt imagery as the best hip-hop yet capable of intermittent surges of lyricism that F. Scott Fitzgerald in his own precocious stories of youthful romance and remorse could summon. The publisher says Holmes is working on his first novel. This collection makes you thirst for whatever’s coming next. (Kirkus Reviews).”
What it’s about: When 28-year-old Lillian Breaker accepts a job working for her former roommate, Madison Roberts (who is now wife to a senator eyeing a chance to be secretary of state), Lillian has no idea what she’s in for. Lillian’s job is to be the governess for the senator’s twin children, ten-year-olds Bessie and Roland. What’s the catch? The twins randomly burst into flames when agitated. Lillian guides the children in how to control their emotions.
What happens: Lillian, whose life has stalled ever since she was kicked out of school, has no experience with children. And yet she starts to love these two unloved kids. The relationship that develops between Lillian and the twins is something readers will easily identify with.
Why you might like it: Flawed, quirky characters and offbeat humor make this a wry, engaging read. If liked Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, you will enjoy this book.
Book buzz: Nothing to See Here was selected for the Today show’s book club.
There are a lot of ways that we, as readers, connect to literature. By providing a window into the past, historical fiction not only helps us understand a particular historical time period but also encourages us to empathize with others from a different time and a different place.
Here is a list of historical fiction novels you can borrow in the library now.
Belgium, 1943: Ordered to produce pro-Nazi propaganda, a group of journalists and resistance fighters instead publish a parody newspaper mocking the Fuhrer, knowing full well it will be the last thing they ever do.
Why you might like it: Inspired by true events, this well-researched novel boasts a briskly paced storyline, a balanced blend of humor and suspense, and an LBGTQIA-diverse cast that takes turns narrating.
For fans of: Paul Goldberg’s The Yid, which similarly unspools a madcap scheme to thwart fascists by a group of marginalized intellectuals.
What it’s about: The harrowing 1,500-mile, nine-month journey undertaken by the African servants of Scottish missionary Dr. David Livingstone as they transport his body to the coast of Tanzania.
Narrated by: cynical Halima, the band’s cook, and loyal Jacob Wainwright, educated by missionaries following his manumission.
What sets it apart: Livingstone is a minor character in Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah’s novel, which “captures the diverse cultural milieu of colonial Africa with compelling detail” (Kirkus Reviews).
Ethiopia, 1935: Orphaned Hirut joins the fight against Italy’s invading army by serving as bodyguard to the “Shadow King,” a stand-in for exiled Emperor Haile Selassie.
What sets it apart: Not only does this lyrical novel by the author of Beneath the Lion’s Gaze depict a lesser-known conflict, Hirut’s journey from servant to soldier offers a change from war stories that portray women exclusively as casualties or refugees
One of the great ways to discover books is to look at literary awards. If you’re looking to explore new stories, here is a list of the National Book Award Fiction that you can borrow in the library now.
Trust Exercise by Susan Choi – National Book Award Fiction Winner
“That whole thing about fiction not being the truth is a lie,” one character admonishes another in Choi’s fifth, and finest, novel. Returning to the multilayered teacher-student power struggles seared into My Education (2013), Choi’s Trust Exercise should immediately put readers on alert: it will appear four times as a title—of the novel itself and as the repeated title of the book’s three sections. Despite being a reference to a soul-baring acting exercise , “trust ” will have little correlation to truth. “Trust Exercise ” number one introduces Sarah and David, two 15-year-old students at a suburban performing-arts high school, precariously entangled with each other, overseen (manipulated) by their magnetic theater teacher, Mr. Kingsley. “Trust Exercise ” number two picks up 14 years later, after more than 100 pages, revealing number one to be a large portion of Sarah’s newly published novel, and its last page is where Sarah’s former best friend, Karen, stopped reading. What happened (or not) thus far gets deconstructed, then expanded, culminating in a series of dramatically (of course) orchestrated reunions. “Trust Exercise ” number three will render all that came before unreliable while exposing tenuous connections between fiction, truth, lies, and, of course, people. Literary deception rarely reads this well. — Terry Hong (Reviewed 2/15/2019) (Booklist, vol 115, number 12, p25)
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James – Finalist
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)
Who killed Driss Guerraoui? Was it an accident, a hit-and-run in the wee hours of the morning? Or was it murder, a brutal act against the Moroccan immigrant who might pose a threat to a neighborhood business in a small Mojave-desert town? The mystery at the center of Lalami’s (The Moor’s Account, 2014) novel brings together an intriguing set of characters, including Driss’ daughter, Nora, a struggling composer who returns home to the remnants of her family. There’s Maryam, Driss’ wife, who misses her native country; Iraq War veteran Jeremy, who is battling his own demons while trying to help Nora; and African American detective Coleman, who is trying to work out the mechanics of the case while facing her own domestic challenges. Now and then the story is nearly drowned out by the nine narrating voices, yet Lalami impressively conducts this chorus of flawed yet graceful human beings to mellifluous effect. “I didn’t know which version of the past I could trust, which story was supported by the facts and which had been reshaped to fit them, whether out of grief or out of malice,” Coleman worries. An eloquent reminder that frame of reference is everything when defining the “other .” — Poornima Apte (Reviewed 2/1/2019) (Booklist, vol 115, number 11, p26)
In her dazzlingly original debut novel, Phillips imagines a cold, desolate climate inhabited by characters who exude warmth and strength. This cinematic setting is the far eastern Russian peninsula, Kamchatka, where white Russians and indigenous tribes uneasily coexist. In the chilling opening chapter, two sisters vanish after a day at the beach, and though a witness describes seeing them with a man in a shiny black car, the authorities come up empty. Three years earlier in a village many hours further north, a Native girl also disappears, but she is dismissed as a runaway. Phillips cleverly weaves these two incidents through subsequent chapters that cover a year in the lives of her many vividly drawn characters, illustrating the subtle effects of racism on the investigation. Themes of dark and light pervade the narrative. Outsiders, those with darker skin or hair, are blamed for an uptick in crime. Prejudice blinds people to the truth until two grieving mothers, brought together by a photographer with a penchant for nosing into other people’s business, manage to see past their differences to their shared loss and courage. VERDICT Phillips, a Fulbright fellow whose work has appeared in Slate and the Atlantic, has written a knock-out novel that combines literary heft with a propulsive plot. [See Prepub Alert, 12/3/18.] –Sally Bissell (Reviewed 05/01/2019) (Library Journal, vol 144, issue 4, p89)
Brodesser-Akner’s sharp and tender-hearted debut centers on hapless 41-year-old New York hepatologist Toby Fleishman, recently separated from his driven wife, Rachel, and alternately surprised and semidisgusted to find his dating apps “crawling with women who wanted him,” who prove it by sending him all manner of lewd pictures. After an increasingly rocky 14-year marriage, Toby has asked Rachel, who owns a talent agency and makes a lot more money than he does, for a divorce, because she is always angry and pays little attention to their two preteen kids. But then, as Toby is juggling new girlfriends, dying patients, and unhappy children, Rachel disappears, leaving Toby to cope with logistics more complicated than he anticipated. The novel is narrated by Toby’s old college friend Libby (a device that’s occasionally awkward), a former magazine journalist now bored with life as a housewife in New Jersey. Though both she and the novel are largely entrenched on Toby’s side, Libby does eventually provide a welcome glimpse into Rachel’s point of view. While novels about Manhattan marriages and divorces are hardly a scarce commodity, the characters in this one are complex and well-drawn, and the author’s incisive sense of humor and keen observations of Upper West Side life sustain the momentum. This is a sardonically cheerful novel that readers will adore. (June) –Staff (Reviewed 04/01/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 13, p)
Parsons’s debut crackles with the frenetic energy of the women who stalk its pages. In opening story “Guts,” Sheila has just started dating “almost-doctor” Tim, whose particular brand of condescending masculine practicality destabilizes her already-erratic lifestyle. In “Foxes,” a recently divorced mother recounts her courtship and marriage to her ex-husband, whom she calls “the fool,” as she listens to her young daughter spin a story featuring knights and inky enemies, and the two stories begin to intertwine and mimic the cadences of each other. “Foxes” kicks off a dazzling run of stories , including “The Soft No,” in which a pair of siblings must navigate neighborhood politics as well as their unpredictable mother, to “We Don’t Come Natural to It,” in which two women’s pursuit of beauty becomes a vortex of self-inflicted violence, control, and mistrust. In the title story , a young woman watches as her former lover evolves into someone she realizes she never knew, while she must navigate the breakup in a way that doesn’t out her sexuality. Parsons’s characters are sharp and uncannily observed, bound up in elastic and electrifying prose. This is a first-rate debut. (Aug.) –Staff (Reviewed 06/10/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 23, p)
A woman confronts an intruder—and her own motherhood—in this gripping, shape-shifting second novel from Phillips (The Beautiful Bureaucrat). With her husband out of the country, paleobotanist Molly is home with their two young children when she hears footsteps coming from the living room. She’s ready to dismiss it as house noise and put the kids to bed until her daughter asks, “Who’s that guy?” The answer will shake Molly to the core and send her down a metaphysical rabbit hole that reads like a fever dream of every mother’s fears. Molly is convinced the fossil quarry she is helping to excavate has unleashed a sinister force and that one of the found objects—a Bible that suggests God is female—has led some suspicious visitors to the site. Whether Molly’s true enemy is real or a manifestation of her deepest anxieties is a lingering question that Phillips, with incisive detail and linguistic dexterity, suggests comes with the territory of parenthood. VERDICT Is this literary work a story of magical realism, a straight-up horror novel featuring home invaders and shadow-selves, or a product of Molly’s exhausted imagination? Of course, it’s all of the above and makes for an unforgettable—and polarizing—reading experience. [See Prepub Alert, 1/23/19.] –Michael Pucci (Reviewed 06/01/2019) (Library Journal, vol 144, issue 5, p106)
/* Starred Review */ This first novel by poet Vuong (Night Sky with Exit Wounds, 2016) is narrated by Little Dog, a Vietnamese refugee who grew up in Hartford with his mother and his maternal grandmother, Lan. A writer now, he addresses his story as a letter to his mother, who cannot read, “”to tell you everything you’ll never know.”” He recalls her painful attempts to toughen him and his simultaneous rage for all that frays her—work, memories, difficulty communicating. At 14 he gets a job cutting tobacco, and there meets Trevor. Two years older, Trevor works to escape his alcoholic father and makes Little Dog feel “”seen—I who had seldom been seen by anyone.”” Their covert love blooms brilliantly as Trevor, battling his own demons, handles Little Dog with bewildering warmth. This plot line is its own speeding train, while Little Dog’s letter also reveals the family’s inextricable legacy from the Vietnam War. In Vuong’s acrobatic storytelling, Lan’s traumatic wartime tale unspools in a spiraling dive, and a portrait of Trevor emerges in the snapshots of a 10-page prose poem. Casting a truly literary spell, Vuong’s tale of language and origin, beauty and the power of story, is an enrapturing first novel. — Annie Bostrom (Reviewed 4/15/2019) (Booklist, vol 115, number 16, p21)
“As it had ever been with Nickel , no one believed them until someone else said it,” Whitehead (The Underground Railroad) writes in the present-day prologue to this story, in which construction workers have dug up what appears to be a secret graveyard on the grounds of the juvenile reform school the Nickel Academy in Jackson County, Fla. Five decades prior, Elwood Curtis, a deeply principled, straight-A high school student from Tallahassee, Fla., who partakes in civil rights demonstrations against Jim Crow laws and was about to start taking classes at the local black college before being erroneously detained by police, has just arrived at Nickel . Elwood finds that, at odds with Nickel ’s upstanding reputation in the community, the staff is callous and corrupt, and the boys —especially the black boys —suffer from near-constant physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Elwood befriends the cynical Turner, whose adolescent experiences of violence have made him deeply skeptical of the objectivity of justice. Elwood and Turner’s struggles to survive and maintain their personhood are interspersed with chapters from Elwood’s adult life, showing how the physical and emotional toll of his time at Nickel still affects him. Inspired by horrific events that transpired at the real-life Dozier School for Boys , Whitehead’s brilliant examination of America’s history of violence is a stunning novel of impeccable language and startling insight. (July) –Staff (Reviewed 01/31/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 6, p)
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.
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.
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 has been celebrated as Women in Translation month since 2014, when book blogger Meytal Radzinksi brought attention to the underrepresentation of women’s work in translated literature. One of the great powers of the written word is its ability to articulate the human mind across boundaries and to envelop us in other worlds. With so many phenomenal women writers across the globe, our shelves are expanded to include an exciting and diverse array of books when translators bring us women’s words from many languages.
One of our Adult Summer Reading Categories this month involves reading a translated book, so if you’re in the midst of the challenge or just looking for an interesting new read, check out this list of works by women translated into English. From short stories and little novels that tug on the heart strings, to surrealist fiction and thrillers, these books transcend genres and show how many exciting literary talents are at our fingertips through the acts of imagination and translation.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles, Hiro Arikawa (translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel)
Arikawa’s The Travelling Cat Chronicles creeps in on little cat feet, starting as a whimsical novel narrated by a feline companion and gradually becoming both sad and heartwarming. Satoru brings his cat Nana on a road trip across Japan, visiting old friends and trying to find his beloved pet a new owner. What memories lurk in Satoru’s past and why must he give away Nana? Answers unfold throughout this little book that has become a bestseller around the world.
The Dry Heart, Natalia Ginzburg (translated from the Italian by Frances Frenaye)
In a review of the recent republication of Ginzburg’s novella The Dry Heart, the New York Times declared, “Natalia Ginzburg can only sound like herself,” one of the highest compliments to bestow upon any writer. “The Dry Heart begins and ends with the matter-of-fact pronouncement: ‘I shot him between the eyes.’ As the tale―a plunge into the chilly waters of loneliness, desperation, and bitterness―proceeds, the narrator’s murder of her flighty husband takes on a certain logical inevitability. Natalia Ginzberg transforms an unhappy tale of an ordinary dull marriage into a rich psychological thriller” (Bookmarks). The original English translation was published in 1952, but the 2019 edition is already garnering much attention.
The Vegetarian, Han Kang (translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith)
The Vegetarian is Kang’s English language debut and the first Korean translation to win the Man Booker International Prize. The novel is told in three parts, conveying the story of two sisters, one of whom (Yeong-hye) decides to break with tradition and become a vegetarian. The slim novel probes family relationships and veers toward the Kafka-esque. Kirkus Reviews describes it as a book that “insists on a reader’s attention, with an almost hypnotically serene atmosphere interrupted by surreal images and frighteningly recognizable moments of ordinary despair. … An unusual and mesmerizing novel, gracefully written and deeply disturbing.”
Convenience Store Woman, Sayaka Murata (translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori)
Sayaka Murata has written ten novels, but Convenience Store Woman is the first of her works to be translated into English. It is “an offbeat exploration of what we must each leave behind to participate in the world” (TheNew York Times). Protagonist Keiko has always been on the margins but feels more at ease in the structures of the convenience store job she has held for eighteen years. The story now finds her involved with a cynical male coworker and follows the repercussions. In her Akutagawa-prize winning novel, Murata deals with the question of conformity: What is the right choice to make for oneself when the pressures to have one’s life follow a socially acceptable narrative arc feel terribly constricting?
Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, Dorthe Nors (translated from the Danish by Misha Hoekstra)
In this Man Booker International Prize finalist, middle-aged Sonja lives in Copenhagen, where she is learning to drive for the first time and translating Swedish crime novels for a living. Isolated from her family, potential friends, and the rural area of her childhood, Sonja finds herself living a dejected life of indirect action: nonconfrontationally avoiding her abrasive driving instructor and writing postcards to the sister who seems to want nothing to do with her. Sonja seeks a kind of solace in the memory of the rye fields she traversed as a girl while fighting against episodes of vertigo and her own despondency. In unembellished prose, Nors conveys both sadness and humor. Kirkus Reviews describes her as “an exquisitely precise writer, and in rendering her heroine’s small disruptions and, yes, victories, she is writing for, and of, every one of us.”
Fever Dream, Samanta Schweblin (translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell)
Argentinian writer Samanta Schweblin’s debut novel Fever Dream has been described as “terrifying but brilliant” (The Guardian), evoking precisely the nightmarish quality its title implies. The novel begins with a woman named Amanda lying in a hospital with a boy—not her son—by her side. What ensues is “a haunting story of broken souls, toxins, looming environmental and spiritual catastrophes, and the ties that bind a parent to a child” (from the publisher).
The Murmur of Bees, Sofía Segovia (translated from the Spanish by Simon Bruni)
Segovia’s The Murmur of Bees, her first work to be translated into English, melds historical fiction and magical realism and has been likened to the work of Isabel Allende. Booklist describes it as “a gorgeous novel of family, friendship, land, and murderous envy.” The story takes place during the Mexican Revolution of 1918, following the enveloping story of the young child Simonopio, who can both divine the future and is protectively followed by a swarm of bees. Segovia follows Simonopio’s extraordinary journey in its relationship to his family and town.
Flights, Olga Tokarczuk (translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft)
Tokarczuk’s critically acclaimed Flights won the 2018 Man Booker International Prize and has been described by The New Yorker as “a cabinet of curiosities that must include itself in the cabinet” as it grapples with themes of “mobility and curiosity.” According to World Literature Today, “Tokarczuk describes the book as a constellation novel, in reference to its complex, nonlinear structure. It is a fiendishly difficult book to describe. Flights combines essayistic reflections, fictional stories, and fictionalized histories, varying in length from thirty-odd pages to a paragraph or two, interwoven around two main themes: travel and the preservation of the human body.” The result is a book that oscillates between fiction and thought experiment, beckoning the reader through to see what thread holds these flights together.
Aetherial Worlds: Stories, Tatyana Tolstaya (translated from the Russian by Anya Migdal)
Tatyana Tolstaya’s Aetherial Worlds was longlisted for both the National Book Award for Translated Literature and the PEN Translation Prize. The Moscow-based writer’s book includes eighteen stories that are grounded in reality but take flight into the titular aetherial worlds, covering both the personal and the political. From the publisher: “A woman’s deceased father appears in her dreams with clues about the afterlife. A man falls in love with a marble statue as his marriage falls apart. A child glimpses heaven through a stained-glass window.” These are just some of the glimpses into realms both sorrowful and strangely hopeful.
“They reach, grown people, for something beyond, way beyond and way, way down underneath tissue. They are remembering while they whisper the carnival dolls they won and the Baltimore boats they never sailed on. The pears they let hang on the limb because if they plucked them, they would be gone from there and who else would see that ripeness if they took it away for themselves? How could anybody passing by see them and imagine for themselves what the flavour would be like?”
– Jazz, Toni Morrison
From the publication of The Bluest Eye in 1970 to her death at age 88 this week, author Toni Morrison has let her words dangle in front of us, there to be appreciated, to help us imagine their flavour and meaning. If it’s possible to be a self-less writer, perhaps this was Morrison’s greatest feat, beyond her Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, and countless other accolades. There is a sense of compassionate education throughout her work, a powerful examination of both the beauty and horror of the human experience that forces readers to confront truth and to revel in the resonance of her language. Morrison’s work has always dealt heavily with reality, particularly concerning racism, misogyny, and poverty, yet there is a quality of magical realism that permeates many of her novels that makes her handling of these issues markedly unique. Morrison’s novels can be—and have been—the subject of endless critical examination. At the same time, they can be immediately absorbed into the veins.
Morrison’s books have won the highest honors, found their way into countless high school classrooms, and made it into the realm of popular literature as Oprah’s Book Club picks and bestsellers. She has written for adults, she has written for children. She has written to express pain, she has written to raise awareness. She has written about the Black experience for both those who can identify and those who can learn from it. She has written to give voice to herself, she has written to give voice to others. As an editor and educator, Morrison has also worked to enliven the thoughts and words of others.
Whether you are looking to re-engage with an old favorite or discover a work you’ve never read, here are a number of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books by one of the world’s most accomplished writers.
Morrison encapsulates the horror of slavery and the consuming passion of motherhood in a single act of defiance by a runaway slave. The pivotal event occurs when Sethe, the slave, murders her infant daughter rather than permit her recapture. The story of Sethe’s violation, her determined escape, and its horrific consequences is slowly played out in memory and gossip, as Morrison hints at the terrible secret in the woman’s past — a legacy so dreadful that she has alienated the black community, driven off her two sons, and sent her remaining daughter into her own form of exile. – Booklist
Eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove, an African-American girl in an America whose love for blonde, blue-eyed children can devastate all others, prays for her eyes to turn blue, so that she will be beautiful, people will notice her, and her world will be different. – NoveList Plus
In Morrison’s short, emotionally-wrenching novel, her first since 2012’s Home, a mother learns about the damage adults do to children and the choices children make as they grow to suppress, express, or overcome their shame… Nobel laureate Morrison explores characteristic themes of people held captive by inner struggles; the delusion of racism; violence and redemption. – Publishers Weekly
Frank Money was damaged emotionally as well as physically while fighting in Korea, then returns home to an America as racist as ever. What saves him from utter despair is the need to rescue his equally damaged sister and bring her back to their small Georgia town, a place he has always despised. But thinking over the past both near (the war) and far (his childhood) allows him to rediscover his sense of purpose. – Library Journal
In Harlem, 1926, Joe Trace, a door-to-door salesman in his fifties, kills his teenage lover. A profound love story which depicts the sights and sounds of Black urban life during the Jazz Age. – NoveList Plus
Morrison… unravels the mysterious chain of being in a black American family in this book of genealogical revelations. Powerful confrontations dominate the action, as a young son leaves his northern home on a quest for personal freedom that unexpectedly divulges the emotional riches of his roots. – Booklist
At the heart of Sula is a bond between two women, a friendship whose intensity first sustains, then injures. Sula and Nel are both black, both smart, and both poor. Through their girlhood years, they share everything. All this changes when Sula gets out of the Bottom, the hilltop neighborhood where there hides a fierce resentment at the invisible line that cannot be overstepped. – NoveList Plus
On a tropical island paradise, six people interact with each other in all the tender or hateful ways that human beings are capable of. Rich and poor, black and white, young and old, male and female, each has something to teach the others — and each has something to learn. – NoveList Plus
What is race and why does it matter? Why does the presence of Others make us so afraid? America’s foremost novelist reflects on themes that preoccupy her work and dominate politics: race, fear, borders, mass movement of peoples, desire for belonging. – NoveList Plus
Nobel Prize-winning novelist Morrison presents a rich collection of essays from 1976 to 2013, primarily speeches given at college convocations, lectures series, conferences, commencement addresses, and symposiums, among other occasions. Topics vary, reflecting the intellectual curiosity and pursuits of the author. – Library Journal
In this first story for children by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, parents, teachers, and other adults determine the boundaries of personal freedom for Patty and Mickey and Liza Sue, three feisty kids “who just can’t handle their freedom….” The Big Box will leave readers cheering for Patty and Mickey and Liza Sue—and for all children who let their innocence and ingenuity shine. – From the inside cover
Little Cloud likes her own place in the sky, away from the other clouds. There, the sky is all hers. She is free to make her own way and go where she wishes. Can Lady Wind show Little Cloud the power of being with others? Will Little Cloud agree there is strength in unity and change her ways? – From the publisher
End your year with a good book! Here are our staff’s top three books of 2018. Happy reading!
Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield The Thames River is the setting for this fairy tale mystery. A girl is found in the river. Is she the girl who disappeared three years ago, or is she the girl whose mother reportedly drowned her in the river? Is she someone else entirely? Her story is intertwined with the stories of an odd set of characters straight out of a fairy tale. This book captivated me from the first page. It cast a spell over me, just as the strange girl seemed to cast a spell over many of the folk who encountered her. I didn’t want the story to end, and I hope that Diane Setterfield will weave more stories along the Thames with these characters.
The Overstory by Richard Powers The Overstory by Richard Powers was the most unusual book I read this year, and it has bubbled up in my consciousness many times since I finished it. The novel takes several seemingly unconnected storylines and reveals how the life of each character has been touched or altered by the presence of trees. I enjoyed the stories, and how they came to be woven together. I learned more about trees than I ever imagined I could learn through a novel. In the end, this novel is a love song to trees, and to the lost ancient forests of the earth. I will never look at a tree the same way again.
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black The Cruel Prince is the first in a planned trilogy by YA author Holly Black. A human girl and her twin sister are stolen away to grow up in the home of the man who killed their parents. Black creates a beautiful and terrible Faerie world populated with immortal creatures that thrive on intrigue and treachery. The girls attend school with the children of Faerie royalty, and much like high school in the human world, they have to deal with taunts and ridicule, as well as unexplained kindnesses and secret attraction. Jude is a formidable main character, striving to achieve power in this foreign world by her own means, and risking everything for it. I was so surprised when the girls, with their Faerie half-sister, ride out across the ocean and come ashore at Two Lights, then travel overland to hang out at the Maine Mall!
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Slaughterhouse-Five tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, a man who is “unstuck in time”. Throughout the story, Billy relives moments of his life—the present time with his wife and kids, his time as a chaplain’s assistant in World War II, his experiences during the Dresden bombing of 1945, and his experiences with aliens on the planet Tralfamadore. In the absurd structure of Billy’s narrative, Vonnegut explores the unbearable weight and the devastating effects of war. As one would expect with a Vonnegut novel, Slaughterhouse-Five is witty, satirical, and filled with black humor. While Vonnegut’s novel serves as a criticism on war, Slaughterhouse-Five deftly explores how order and meaning is found in an otherwise incomprehensible world. There is hope, and as the Tralfamadorians like to say, “So it goes.”
America Is In the Heart by Carlos Bulosan Carlos Bulosan’s semi-autobiography chronicles the struggles of Filipino immigrants in America during the 1930s. Bulosan explores the lives of Philippine peasants and farmworkers. He describes in heartbreaking detail the harsh realities confronted by those Filipinos who emigrated to America, seeking a better life. America Is in the Heart’s narrative is simple and accessible with an encompassing emotional depth which one can easily relate to. Despite the terrible experiences of migrant workers, Bulosan remains faithful to the America he idealizes—a country that promises opportunity for all, regardless of the color of one’s skin. America Is in the Heart’s message remains relevant, even today.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier Dark, unsettling, and suspenseful—Daphne du Maurier’s novel, Rebecca, has all the characteristics of a good thriller. The story is told from the perspective of a young unnamed narrator, who becomes the second wife of the wealthy and the dashing Maxim de Winter, owner of the lavish and beautiful, Manderley. The newly married Mrs. de Winter is dreamy, extremely romantic, and terribly shy. Her insecurities are further exacerbated by the shadow of Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca. She obsesses and fantasizes about Rebecca—who she was, what she did, and how she acted. Du Maurier’s writing is dreamlike and brooding, creating a setting that one can easily get lost in. We feel the darkness and the menace that makes Rebecca very compelling. Much like its affect on du Maurier’s unnamed narrator, Rebecca will haunt its readers and leave them breathless.
Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbo Jo Nesbo’s stand-alone novella, Blood On Snow, tells the story of Olav, a hired-killer whose ability to love elicits a great deal of empathy from the reader without resorting to tired, cliched, stereotypes. The atmosphere and images are dark, gritty, and engrossing, as one would expect when reading noir fiction. The writing is sparse and eloquent. What becomes of Olav and the heart-wrenching ending compensates for the novel’s tendency to be predictable. It is important to note that Blood On Snow is not, in any way, a Harry Hole novel. It is vastly different in both style and tone. Take it for what it is. Blood On Snow is a good, fast-paced thriller.
My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovci Pajtim Statovci’s debut novel, My Cat Yugoslavia, is a story of two people searching for identity, love, and a sense of belonging. The book has two narrators, a mother and a son (Emine and Bekim) . Bekim’s struggle lies within his sexuality and the fact that he is a refugee who grew up in Finland. While Emine’s struggle lies within her culture’s lifelong traditions. As a young girl, Emine is aware that her marriage will be arranged and that her life will be shaped by it. Statovci writes with conviction and with brevity. My Cat Yugoslavia is a beautiful allegorical tale of immigrants living on the fringes of society, not knowing where they fit or what will become of them.
Confessions by Kanae Minato Vengeance is the main theme of Kanae Minato’s debut novel, Confessions. Yuko Moriguchi’s daughter has been murdered. Police have ruled it was an accident. When Moriguchi decides to investigate, she discovers the murderers were two of her students. On her last day of work as a teacher, she decides to seek vengeance. With the story’s alternating perspectives, Minato delves deeply into the lives of characters who are each affected by the murder. Told in a sparse and direct manner, with unexpected twists, Confessions is a fast-paced and clever psychological thriller.
Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros Caramelo is about three generations of a Mexican-American family. The novel resounds with history, family and love. The colorful tapestry of many voices is woven together through the caramelo rebozo, or shawl, which has been passed down through generations of Reyes women. Every summer Celaya Reyes and her family journey from Chicago to Mexico City to visit the awful grandmother. Along the way, Celaya absorbs the stories of her family. The delightful descriptions of her family are so evocative, the characters became real, and I felt as though I was in the car with them, bouncing along the highway to the other side.
Seaweed Chronicles by Susan Hand Shetterly Seaweed Chronicles is a beautiful contemplation of seaweed and evocation of the Maine coastline, intertwining a rich pallet of stories of people from Maine coastal communities, depicting the interconnectedness of all things, and the interactions of seemingly disparate ecosystems. It is an important look at how our exploitation of marine resources has put our coastline and our world in danger. Seaweed is passionately depicted as vital both ecologically and economically. Everything we take from our environment has to be balanced against sustainability and the future health of our planet. Now walking along a beach, I keep a special eye open for seaweed, looking upon it with greater understanding and a deeper gratitude for its beauty and importance in Nature’s cycle. I am in awe.
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver Unsheltered tells the story of two families from two centuries both living at the same small- town street intersection. Both are living during times of seismic societal and environmental change. Both live their lives by following the rules and trying to build a solid foundation for their own lives and their children’s. The foundations of their lives are crumbling at the same time the foundations of their houses are. They become unsheltered both physically and metaphorically. I felt drawn into the lives of the characters and found myself contemplating my own shelter, its place on the street, in the city, on the planet; its past and tenuous future in my care. I wonder about the previous owner, her history and the history of our house. Then I wonder about the future – the house’s future, my family’s future, the planet’s future.
Baby Teeth by Donny Cates This ongoing comic series is about a teen, Sadie, who gives birth to a child who is far from normal. The baby, who she names Clark, won’t drink milk, but does love a bloody snack. The blood, though, has to be from one of his relatives. If that wasn’t bad enough, an assassin shows up and tries to kill Clark, because he thinks Clark is the antichrist. It only gets weirder from there. Featuring inter-dimensional portals, demon raccoons, secret societies, and a whole lot of other terrifying things, this is a non-stop horror adventure, and I loved every minute of it.
Game On! by Dustin Hansen I grew up playing Mario and Duck Hunt on the original Nintendo, followed by Super Mario World on the Super Nintendo, Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis, Mario Party on the Nintendo Gamecube, and the list goes on and on…. This book provided me a lovely trip down memory lane. It takes the reader through the history of video games starting with Pong. Each section contains images from the games being discussed, a history of the game, information about the game play, and other interesting tidbits. This was a fun and informative read for anyone who likes video games.
Illegal by Eoin Colfer This beautifully illustrated and poignant graphic novel explores the plight of refugees and undocumented immigrants around the world. Young Ebo has been left on his own. His older brother has left Africa to try and find his sister in Europe. Now Ebo wants to try and follow him. In order to do so, he first needs to find enough money to get to the city, and then find a way to get on a boat. In order to get to Europe they have to endure an incredibly hot hike across a desert with no food, as well as survive an overcrowded boat that eventually springs a leak. While the story itself is fictional, thinking about all the people that live through similar experiences is heartbreaking and eye opening.
Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver I find words and nature to be the two greatest sources of healing, yet words often fail to adequately wrap their forms around our landscapes. Mary Oliver has been rising to this challenge for decades, carving words into the earth without marring it. Devotions, a hefty volume of new and selected poems, celebrates Oliver’s songs of nature and the self. Written between 1963 and 2015, Devotions serves as an assurance that in our post-industrial and contentious age, being human does not mean we cannot love the limbs of trees as though they are our own, nor does inherent sadness mean that we cannot face life with uncontrolled joy. Oliver reiterates throughout her verse that attention to the details of our natural surroundings is a balm and salvation.
The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman Twenty-three years after the publication of her well-loved novel, Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman has followed up with a prequel that can be enjoyed by both new and familiar readers. This time we visit the Owen sisters and their brother growing up in New York City at mid-century, decades before they become the elderly aunts of Practical Magic. The novel traces through the literal landscape of the 50s and 60s while simultaneously flirting with the fantastic, in what has become Hoffman’s signature synthesis of the earthy and the occult. The Owens siblings contend with the power of prophecy and the titular rules of magic while navigating the very human terrain of attempting to love and come into one’s own being. Hoffman is not the first writer to explore through narrative the question of whether, we would follow love despite knowing that it would bring agony to ourselves and others, but she finds lyrical, entertaining, and magical ways to explore these themes.
The Flourishing of Floralie Laurel by Fiadhnait Moser Moser’s debut novel strikes the balance that often characterizes middle grade readers, encapsulating both the gravity and lightness that reflect the vicissitudes of real life. In 1920s England, young Floralie Laurel finds a letter from her missing mother and, with the use of a flower dictionary, deciphers the hidden meaning which aids her quest to rebuild her family. Part mystery, part ode to all things botanical, this magical realist tale takes Floralie on an adventure that leads her to make alliances with a gardener, a librarian, and a mute poet as she seeks to find her mother and fill in the holes in her own story. The integration of floriography, mental illness, and the challenges of artistry allow for new perspectives within classic parameters of orphanages and adolescent journeys.
I’m Sad by Michael Ian Black I really enjoyed this picture book by comedian/children’s book author Michael Ian Black. It’s about a flamingo who is feeling sad. Flamingo’s friends, a potato and a little girl, try to cheer him up, but sometimes Flamingo is just feeling sad and that’s the way it is. The illustrations by Debbie Ridpath Ohi are simple, yet hilarious and you can’t help but laugh at some of the things the potato says. It’s nice to read a children’s book that says it’s okay to be sad.
Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa The main character of this book is a teenage half-human/half-Kitsune (a magical creature that can turn into a fox and likes to play tricks) girl named Yumeko. She is an orphan who was raised by monks at the Silent Winds Temple. When an Oni (a giant ogre) and his army of demons attack the temple, Yumeko is sent on a mission to stop an ancient dragon from being summoned. This was a fast-paced and interesting book and I can’t wait for the next in the series!
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor I picked up the first Binti book because it had won both the Hugo (2016) and Nebula Awards (2015) and I love good science fiction. The Himba people in Nigeria tend to remain in their homeland for their entire lives, but Binti is offered a full scholarship to Oomza University, the best school in the literal galaxy. She decides to leave home and take her spot at the school. On the trip to Oomza University her ship is attacked by aliens called the Meduse. I recommend all three books in the series, but the first book really starts the series off with a bang!
Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu Amidst a market that is currently full of titles collecting the lives and accomplishments of amazing women throughout history (and rightfully so!), Brazen stands out. Even if you feel relatively well-versed in feminist history, you will learn new things and about new people from this book. The art is cute and clean and expressive without being overwhelming or cluttered. The diversity of characters from different cultures, races, identities, and backgrounds is excellent. The depth of information on the women Bagieu highlights is amazing, especially considering that each little mini-biography fits onto just a few pages.
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon A futuristic sci-fi novel that takes place on a spaceship where human culture mimics the power dynamics of the antebellum south, An Unkindness of Ghosts is an amazing examination of race, power, and identity. The cast of characters will draw you in and create a resonant picture of what it means to be “othered” in a myriad of ways—through trauma, gender, race, perception, ability. The science of this world is well thought-out, and the plot will satisfy those who enjoy a vision of a world where the marginalized can push back against an oppressive society to create change.
Dreadnought by April Daniels If you like superhero stories that don’t shy away from hard questions, then Dreadnought is for you. The book focuses on Danny, a transgender teenage girl who is transformed into the super powered hero Dreadnought when the previous Dreadnought passes the mantle on to her. The mantle’s transformation of Danny into her ideal self—a strong, powerful woman—is wonderful and life-changing…except for the fact that she is not out to her parents, who immediately want to change her back. Initially, I feared that this book’s apparent “magical girl transformation” transition story might serve to enforce any number of negative transmisogynistic stereotypes, but Daniels—a trans woman herself—has Danny deal with these issues thoroughly, and doesn’t shy away from the viciousness and terror that transphobia and hatred bring to Danny’s life. Danny is ultimately a victorious character, who revels in her freedom and power as the new Dreadnought and fights to find her place in the world. The super-powered fights and battle scenes are written in a way that make them exciting but also easy to follow, and the cast of characters and heroes will satisfy the cravings of Marvel fans in search of more stories.