From the Shelf
Write that Book You've Been Putting Off
In her stellar interview with the Paris Review, Toni Morrison spoke of her pre-writing ritual: a cup of coffee as daylight arrives. "Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process."
Few writers coax the rest of us to get up and simply get started--to become that conduit--as memorably as Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anchor, $16). Lamott's hilarious homage to "Sh***y First Drafts" and merely making a routine out of showing up are enough to get a pencil in hand or fingers on the keys.
Casting for inspiration? Cull from your own life; as Emily Dickinson advised, "Tell all the truth but tell it slant." Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola's Tell It Slant: Creating, Refining, and Publishing Nonfiction (McGraw-Hill, $20) is a definitive text for expanding ideas of what creative nonfiction can be, with insight and encouragement in spades.
Got kids writing at home? See Walter Dean Myers's Just Write: Here's How! (HarperCollins, $7.99). Myers's titles number over 100, and the six-time Coretta Scott King Award-winner and two-time Newbery Honoree offers clear-headed advice and candor about writing for young adults: "My own life showed me the value of stories, and I've spent my career trying to write the books I wanted to read as a teen."
Or try your hand at writing for the screen with Blake Snyder's classic how-to Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need (Michael Wiese Productions, $22.95). The title isn't hyperbole; entertaining and eminently readable, it'll have you drafting in no time.
So write what you know, or what you don't, what you've wanted to read or what you want to watch. (But first: coffee.)
In this Issue...
by Lynn Steger Strong
A powerful novel of what it means to be a woman who wants for more than what she has, even if she's not certain she deserves it.
by Sarah Weinman, editor
This spine-tingling true-crime anthology transcends the genre by looking beyond killers and victims and at systemic and institutionalized depravity.
A veteran sportswriter scores a touchdown with his history of the National Football League on its 100th anniversary.
Review by Subjects:
From Rainy Day Books
08/25/2020 - 7:00PMLIVESTREAM AUTHOR EVENT OVERVIEW: Adib Khorram, Award-Winning Author of Darius the Great is Not Okay, will be In Conversation with Natalie C. Parker about his New Hardcover Darius The Great Deserves Better. ABOUT ADIB KHORRAM: Adib Khorram lives in Kansas City, Missouri. When he isn't writing (or at his day job as a graphic designer), you can probably find him trying to get his hundred-yard freestyle under a minute, learning to do a Lutz...
FragranceX highlighted "15 literary perfumes for book lovers of all genres."
CrimeReads wondered: "Why do so many physicists write crime novels?"
"Four-year-old lands book deal for his 'astonishing' poetry," the Guardian reported.
The CIA used this novel as a propaganda tool. Mental Floss revealed "10 Facts About George Orwell's Animal Farm."
"The Internet's greatest archive of food history needs a new curator," Gastro Obscura reported.
"How Vladimir Nabokov wrote Lolita, 'my most difficult book': a 1989 documentary." (via Open Culture)
Rediscover: Love Medicine
Native American writer Louise Erdrich's debut novel, Love Medicine (1984), follows five Ojibwe families on fictional reservations in North Dakota and Minneapolis. It begins in 1981 with the death of June Morrissey on her way home for Easter Sunday, and ends in 1985 when her former husband reunites with their son. The chapters between are layers of interconnected stories beginning in 1934. These alternating first-person viewpoints focus on the Kashpaws, Lamartines and Morrisseys, with appearances by the peripheral Pillagers and the Lazarres, as their lives intersect across generations in positive and negative ways--even as a love triangle. Erdrich's characters struggle with individual and tribal identities, as well as what it means to belong to a community. She wrote several more books about the families introduced in Love Medicine: The Beet Queen (1986), Tracks (1988), The Bingo Palace (1994), Tales of Burning Love (1997), The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (2001), Four Souls (2004) and The Painted Drum (2005).
Erdrich has twice revised Love Medicine since its initial publication, first in 1993 then 2009, sometimes adding or removing whole chapters. Among many other accolades, it won the 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award. A paperback of the latest version of Love Medicine was published in 2016 by Harper Perennial ($16.99). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Reading with... Legna Rodríguez Iglesias
|photo: Laura Rodríguez|
Legna Rodríguez Iglesias was born in Camagüey, Cuba. Her work includes the poetry books Mi pareja calva y yo vamos a tener un hijo, Miami Century Fox and Transtucé; the story collection La mujer que compró el mundo; and the novel Mi novia preferida fue un bulldog francés, released in English as My Favorite Girlfriend Was a French Bulldog (McSweeney's, July 14, 2020, translated by Megan McDowell). Among her awards are the Centrifugados Prize for Younger Poets, the Paz Prize, the Casa de las Américas Prize in Theater and the Julio Cortázar Ibero-American Short Story Prize. Spinning Mill, a chapbook of her work, was recently published in English translation by CardBoard House Press (translated by Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann). She lives in Miami, where she writes a column for the online journal El Estornudo.
On your nightstand now:
I don't have a nightstand. I have a crib next to the bed with a baby inside. A flesh-and-blood learning book. A love book.
Favorite book when you were a child:
I can list a long list of favorite books that I read as a child. But I am going to simplify it to two unforgettable titles, which are already classics of children's literature:
Momo by Michael Ende
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Your top five authors:
I'm not sure if those authors must be alive or dead, so I will say five living authors, constantly changing:
And then five dead authors, who also change:
Book you've faked reading:
The Magic Mountain, too fat for my 18 years old.
Book you're an evangelist for:
When you read Faulkner novels, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. novels and Carson McCullers novels, for example, you spend a lot of time thinking about those stories, not because of what they tell, but because they are written in such a way that characters could be yourself. Light in August, Breakfast of Champions and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, they could be enough to spend a good part of my life thinking about them. Then another good part of my life talking about them. Not interpreting them, but talking about all the rash, all the sputum, all the wonder they caused.
Book you've bought for the cover:
I remember the opposite, having stopped buying very good books from Cuban authors in ugly Cuban bookstores, for some horrible cover. I hope that thanks to the cover of my book, everyone buys it (joke).
Book you hid from your parents:
Book that changed your life:
Almost all, the moment I read them, they change it for me. Never forget the way my mind changed, my body, everything, while reading The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter or Light in August, for example. I became someone else and everyone knew it.
Favorite line from a book:
Sitting beside the road, watching the wagon mount the hill toward her, Lena thinks, 'I have come from Alabama: a fur piece. All the way from Alabama a-walking. A fur piece.' --from Light in August by Faulkner
Five books you'll never part with:
I hope to be able to keep with me each of the books of all the aforementioned authors--each and every one crossed the Caribbean Sea with me when I left Cuba. In each of my foreign moves they have accompanied me; they are my curse.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
I can think of many, but right now, due to its validity and currency, I would like to read Breakfast of Champions for the first time, by Kurt Vonnegut, another of my top authors.
by Lynn Steger Strong
In Lynn Steger Strong's Want, a deep sense of need and desire thrums beneath perfectly concise, staccato prose that tells the story of a woman caught in the frustrations (and fury) of living a life she never imagined for herself.
Elizabeth and her husband have several degrees, two children and a mountain of debt. On the brink of declaring bankruptcy, the two cobble together jobs to try to make ends meet. But keeping up appearances is starting to push Elizabeth over the edge. She leaves work to walk the city for hours on end. She texts her best friend from high school, with whom she has a fractured, nearly non-existent relationship as an adult. She contemplates asking her wealthy but eternally disappointed parents for money. Most importantly, she wants. She wants to understand the world, and her place in it. She wants to have a dream, a vision, hope. "I want to not be someone who says no all the time to every impulse," she says to herself, to no one, to anyone who will listen. "I want to not make every choice because it is my only choice."
The word "want" appears in the text more than 200 times in Strong's aptly titled novel, taking on every possible nuance and definition associated with it. The pages crackle with a sense of desire, of need, of desperation and hope and longing in this smart story of a woman who wants--no, needs--to find herself, rather than acquiescing to what others want for and from her. Want is a novel of modern womanhood that is not to be missed. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: A powerful novel of what it means to be a woman who wants for more than what she has, even if she's not certain she deserves it.
The Wild Laughter
by Caoilinn Hughes
Few nations felt the sting of the global recession that began in 2007 more than Ireland, when its roaring "Celtic Tiger" economy imploded. Caoilinn Hughes (Orchid & the Wasp) sets her second novel--a taut, acerbic family drama--against the backdrop of that economic cataclysm in her native land.
Like many of his countrymen, farmer Manus Black falls for the lure of a can't-miss investment in apartments in Spain and Bulgaria, only to lose all when the real estate market collapses. Overnight he's transformed from a comfortable, if hardworking, landowner to an impoverished debtor staring financial ruin in the face in a heavily mortgaged house "that had gone up in value by three hundred percent in a decade and dropped nearly that again in year." By the fall of 2014, his financial woes are compounded by the relentless advance of terminal cancer, an affliction that leads him to hint to his sons, Cormac and Doharty, the novel's narrator, that he wants their assistance in hastening his departure from the world.
The Black siblings are loyal to their imposing father, and dutifully go about trying to carry out his last wishes. But when their hastily researched and haphazardly executed plan goes awry, legal consequences ensue, compounding the tragedy of Manus's death and heightening the tensions that frequently bubble to the surface in the family. With frequent flashes of humor, "the thing austerity couldn't touch," Hughes skillfully captures the flickering tension between brothers separated by two years. The Wild Laughter is a compact but potent novel that explores its themes of love, loyalty and sibling rivalry with keen insight. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer
Discover: In Caoilinn Hughes's keenly observant second novel, a dying father's last wish provokes a family crisis.
The Nesting Dolls
by Alina Adams
Just follow the rules and everything will be all right. That's what Daria Gordon tells her two young daughters--and herself--when her family is snatched from their home in 1930s Odessa, Ukraine, and taken to a Siberian work camp. But conditions at the camp are appalling, and Daria is forced to make impossible choices to survive. Daria's granddaughter, Natasha, a brilliant mathematician, has always heard a similar refrain: work hard and you will be rewarded. But when she's denied a place at university because she is Jewish, Natasha begins to make different and potentially dangerous choices. In her sweeping debut novel, The Nesting Dolls, Alina Adams braids together the stories of five generations of strong women, extending all the way to Daria's great-great-granddaughter, Zoe, in present-day Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.
Like her grandmothers, Zoe has heard a particular set of messages her entire life: work hard, don't shame the family, find a nice Russian Jewish boy to marry. While she's helping plan her grandparents' anniversary party, Zoe meets Alex, an entrepreneur who seems to check all her family's boxes. But the more she gets to know Alex, the more Zoe wonders if he's really right for her--and the more she wonders whether she'll find happiness by following everyone else's rules. Bittersweet, richly detailed and often wryly entertaining, The Nesting Dolls is a compelling family saga, a commentary on the sacrifices women make for their loved ones and an incisive glimpse into the effects of the Soviet state on its citizens' lives. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Alina Adams's debut is a sweeping historical saga following five generations of women in a Russian Jewish family.
The Aunt Who Wouldn't Die
by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay , trans. by Arunava Sinha
As spare as it might initially seem, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay's wickedly entertaining novel, The Aunt Who Wouldn't Die, manages smoothly to illuminate gender inequity, cultural biases, socioeconomic disparity and familial dysfunction through a three-generational ghost story.
At 18, Somlata is wed to her 32-year-old husband, the "blissfully unemployed" youngest of an aristocratic family in serious decline. In the crumbling, sprawling household, Somlata discovers the newly dead Pishima, the family's tyrannical de facto matriarch. Married at eight, widowed at 12, Pishima endured a long life of isolated deprivation. In death, her ghost entrusts Somlata with a secret wooden box of vast riches, not as a gift, but as postmortem revenge against the family members who were more jailers than caregivers. Only Somlata can see and hear Pishima, who is now unabashedly raging, rude, even lewd. Between Pishima's taunting and needling, Somlata claims her own agency, unexpectedly silencing her detractors, manipulating the extended family toward recovery, reclaiming her philandering husband, birthing the long-awaited next generation and eventually providing Pishima some semblance of peace.
The Bengali octogenarian author's novel arrives in the U.S. with significant history already attached. Originally published in 1993, the novel--considered a contemporary classic--was adapted as the film Goynar Baksho in 2013 by director Aparna Sen. Award-winning translator Arunava Sinha clearly relished his work here, especially in resurrecting Pishima, whose post-death vocabulary becomes impressively profane: "It's not every day that a translator can dip into the gutter running through their heads in search of suitable words while performing a literary enterprise," Sinha muses in his ending note. For lucky English-speaking readers, that performance proves to be a splendidly engrossing feat. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Amidst an aristocratic family's downfall, three generations of women claim agency--in life and in death--in this delightful and short Bengali novel.
Mystery & Thriller
by Lauren Beukes
"You can't imagine how much the world can change in six months." Oh, but yes we can! With remarkable prescience, Lauren Beukes's Afterland takes on an "unprecedented global pandemic" with chilling results--and surprising comic relief threaded throughout. Six years after the success of Broken Monsters, the South African author sets another disturbing novel in the U.S., creating an epic odyssey of a mother's determination to save her tween son. Their worst threat to safety, alas, is her own sister.
It's 2023, three years since the Human Culgoa Virus, "a highly contagious flu that turns into an aggressive prostate cancer in men and boys," ravaged the world. Twelve-year-old Miles is one of a dwindling set of survivors. Back when life was normal, Miles and his parents, Cole and Devon, flew from their Johannesburg home to spend a Disneyland vacation with relatives. Four months later, cousin Jay is dead. Then Uncle Eric, father Devon. Billions fall. In the government's effort to protect survivors and their immediate families, Miles and Cole end up in California's Ataraxia, "the fanciest prison in the world." Cole just wants to go home to South Africa. When Cole's sister, Billie, arrives, they hatch a plan to break out.
Their success is tempered when Billie reveals the contemptible reason for her ready assistance: harvesting Miles's sperm for black-market riches. Cole's reaction is to swing a tire iron at Billie, and then grab Miles to take to the road. Miles must become Mila for the two years on a cat-and-mice chase across the U.S. that offers titillating thrills, schadenfreude and, most surprisingly (and necessarily), even a few take-me-away snorts and shrieks. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Lauren Beukes's prescient Afterland recounts an odyssey across the U.S. during an "unprecedented global pandemic" by a mother and son who just want to get home to South Africa.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Or What You Will
by Jo Walton
Jo Walton's Or What You Will is a clever and curious book that uses stories to ponder the nature of storytelling. Sylvia, author of 30 books over a 40-year career, is working on a new novel set in the same location as some of her earlier works: Thalia, a Florence-like city in a Renaissance-resembling time. But this novel is getting away from her, slowly filling with stories of her own life, the muse that lives inside her head interjecting himself into her writing more frequently. As Sylvia writes, both she and her muse face down their own mortality, even as the Thalian novel grows and spins and fills into itself, full of semi-historical detail and literary traditions (including a cast of characters drawn straight from the pages of various Shakespeare plays).
It takes no small amount of trust to fall into the world that Walton (My Real Children; The Just City) builds here, especially as Or What You Will alternates between the story of Thalia, as told by Sylvia; and the story of Sylvia, as told by the voice in her head; and the story of how the two intersect, as told by some combination of both of them. Walton, like Sylvia and her nameless muse, seems to value "the readers who press on and find it worthwhile, who may frown and blink now and then but keep reading... slip into the reading trance, the stories we spin you." That trust is not misplaced, as the narratives Walton and her quirky narrators tell in Or What You Will promise to delight any reader who appreciates a good story--with an enchanting side of snark. --Kerry McHugh, freelance writer
Discover: A story-within-a-story explores the life of a writer, the nature of imagination and immortality in a clever, fantastical novel.
Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession
by Sarah Weinman, editor
In "The Ethical Dilemma of Highbrow True Crime," Alice Bolin concedes that fans of the true-crime genre (herself among them) are arguably "consuming real people's pain for fun." Where does this leave readers of Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession, in which Bolin's essay appears? With a clear conscience. The anthology transcends the genre with not just its high-grade writing but also editor Sarah Weinman's (The Real Lolita) commitment to looking beyond true crime's traditional focus on bad actors and those they act on.
Some of those folks do feature in Unspeakable Acts. Among the most notorious: serial killer Ted Bundy is the subject of Sarah Marshall's "The End of Evil," and a daughter's revenge on a mom with Munchausen syndrome by proxy is outlined in Michelle Dean's "Dee Dee Wanted Her Daughter to Be Sick, Gypsy Wanted Her Mom to Be Murdered," which spawned the Emmy Award-winning Hulu series The Act. But neither killers nor victims get the spotlight in "What Bullets Do to Bodies," Jason Fagone's profile of longtime Philadelphia trauma surgeon Amy Goldberg. And Melissa del Bosque's "Checkpoint Nation," which reports on abuses by the U.S. Border Patrol, deconstructs not a psyche but a system that, like a serial killer, preys on the vulnerable.
Because of the varying approaches to true crime in Unspeakable Acts, the essays will elicit a range of emotions: some of the 13 pieces are infuriating, many are flabbergasting and most are heartbreaking. All are devastating. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: This spine-tingling true-crime anthology transcends the genre by looking beyond killers and victims and at systemic and institutionalized depravity.
Prison by Any Other Name: The Harmful Consequences of Popular Reforms
by Victoria Law , Maya Schenwar
"The book you hold in your hands requires your full attention," writes Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow) in the foreword to Prison by Any Other Name by journalists Victoria Law and Maya Schenwar. Truer words have never been spoken. Law and Schenwar make an impassioned case for how popular prison reforms are actually expanding, not shrinking, the state of mass incarceration in the United States--research that is as important as it is timely.
The United States remains "the most incarcerated nation," with roughly 2.3 million people currently held behind bars. Costing a staggering $182 billion per year, it comes as no surprise that Law and Schenwar are able to point to the many instances of bipartisan support for prison reform. But these reforms--including electronic monitoring, house arrest and extended probation--have expanded the concept of incarceration beyond the bounds of the physical prison: "From unremitting 'treatment' requirements to the stifling protocols of the sex offender registry, many of the structures outside of prison [bear] uncanny resemblances to the prison itself: control, punishment, and a constant reminder that your body is not your own--that once the system has you in its clutches, you are the state's to manipulate."
This forms the crux of Law and Schenwar's argument, as they expound on the myriad ways that prison reforms are stretching the boundaries of incarceration in the United States. Drawing on statistics, detailed research and personal anecdotes from people whose lives have been affected by incarceration, Prison by Any Other Name is both eye-opening and challenging. Encouraging readers to center the human lives caught in the broken, racist system in place today, this is crucial reading for anyone with a mind for justice. --Kerry McHugh, freelance writer
Discover: Timely and important research reveals the ways that prison reforms are serving to increase incarceration in the U.S., leading the authors to make a plea for abolition instead.
White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity
by Robert P. Jones
What happens when religion is coopted and corrupted? How is its hierarchical status quo maintained? Robert P. Jones, CEO and founder of Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), explains what's at stake with a prophetic voice backed by complex history, data analysis and personal experience (as a product of the South).
Slavery has been called America's original sin, and Jones (The End of White Christian America) lays out the whys and whens of this legacy. He begins with the current moment "between an old and new order" and ends with a call to reckoning. In between, he explores historical context; for instance, many of the myriad monuments now in contention were the result of a campaign by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in the early 20th century to reframe the "Lost Cause" as a God-ordained political and cultural victory.
With religion too often interpreted to prove and sustain white supremacy, the United States has justified colonialism, slavery and systemic racism. And while Southern Baptists are Jones's primary focus, Catholics and mainline Protestants alike have been complicit in creating and maintaining a racist theology, both overtly and subtly, he says. "Reckoning with white supremacy, for us, is now an unavoidable moral choice." The easy way for whites is confession (without repentance) as a transaction for Black forgiveness, thus continuing "normalcy." But white believers (as well as nonbelievers) must get through defense mechanisms and blindness. "Allowing the waves of the past to crash on the shores of the present until the rhythm is familiar enough to ring in the ears... is a critical step and challenge for white Christians who are preoccupied with personal sin and salvation but unburdened by social justice." --Marilyn Dahl
Discover: A religion researcher makes a prophetic call to white Christians for deep reflection, repentance, reconciliation and justice.
Yes, I Can Say That: When They Come for the Comedians, We Are All in Trouble
by Judy Gold
Censoring comedians during a time of hyper-political correctness is a serious topic, but two-time Emmy Award-winning standup comedian Judy Gold (25 Questions for a Jewish Mother) tackles the subject with insight, reason and laughs on every page. Gold offers an illuminating history of how censorship of comedians has been around for decades, and has only increased in recent years. Some censorship landmarks discussed include Lenny Bruce's on-stage arrests; Howard Stern's battles with the FCC; CBS's cancellation of the top-rated Smothers Brothers variety TV show; and Kathy Griffin's death threats, FBI investigation and being placed on a no-fly list because she held a Trump mask doused with ketchup. Gold quotes Jon Stewart: "I don't understand why in this country we try to hold comedians to a higher standard we do not hold leaders to."
"The best comedy lives on the edge of what's acceptable," Gold writes. "Jokes are nourished by tension; laughter is a release." Her compelling, well-researched and hilarious book on the freedom of speech from a comedian's perspective offers her an opportunity to spotlight numerous comedians' funniest and most biting material.
Gold's four decades as a standup comedian gives readers an insider's perspective on the industry, the clubs, the audience and other comics. She calls Joan Rivers "the funniest and most fearless of women," while Bill Cosby is "a hypocritical and arrogant rapist prick." Her chapter on beloved-then-reviled comedians like Cosby, Louis C.K. and Roseanne is thoughtful and original. Yes, I Can Say That is a hilarious showcase for edgy comedians and a thoughtful look at standup comedy and the First Amendment. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Judy Gold's decades as a standup comic give her authority and insight to tackle the subject of censorship on stage and spotlights hilarious material by edgy comics at their best.
Children's & Young Adult
Gridiron: Stories from 100 Years of the National Football League
by Fred Bowen , illust. by James E. Ransome
Seasoned sportswriter Fred Bowen (Speed Demon) celebrates the National Football League's (NFL) centennial anniversary with a rousing look at the organization from its rag-tag start in Canton, Ohio, to its current status as "the most popular sports league in the United States." Through the ups and downs, wins and losses, Bowen deftly chronicles the evolution of an institution that changed the face of U.S. sports.
Bowen breaks the book down into quarters, to mirror a football game. The first quarter kicks off with the NFL's rocky beginnings: no statistics kept, no championship game and no standout star until Red Grange, the Galloping Ghost, joined the Chicago Bears. "People came to see Red Grange but ended up falling in love with this new game--professional football." The following quarters include the birth of the Super Bowl and sudden-death overtime, the first African American MVP and the arrival of the draft. Bowen couples each topic with wonderful nuggets of trivia, like the fact that "a game official had his whistle freeze to his lips" in 1967 during the Green Bay Packers-Dallas Cowboys NFL championship game in Wisconsin, dubbed "The Ice Bowl."
Accenting Bowen's spirited prose are rich, life-like watercolor illustrations by Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner and three-time honoree James E. Ransome (The Creation; The Bell Rang; Before She Was Harriet). He expertly captures action and emotion in his brushstrokes, adding to Bowen's report the way a sports photographer would a newspaper story. This symbiotic pairing pays an enthusiastic, respectful homage to U.S. football's professional league. Sports enthusiasts of any age are sure to find it a winner. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: A veteran sportswriter scores a touchdown with his history of the National Football League on its 100th anniversary.
This Is My America
by Kim Johnson
This debut YA novel is an incisive condemnation of the racist criminal justice system, mass incarceration and capital punishment.
Seven years ago, Black teen Tracy Beaumont's father was unjustly convicted of murder and is now on death row. Recently, Innocence X (an organization modeled after Bryan Stevenson's Equal Justice Initiative) finally agreed to take on her father's case. But when her scholar athlete brother, Jamal, is accused of murdering the white girl he was secretly dating, he goes on the run and the Beaumont family once again becomes the focus of their Texas town's ire. As Tracy and Innocence X get closer to proving her father's innocence, Tracy also begins to work on clearing her brother's name. The more she learns, the more she finds Jamal and their father's fates are very much intertwined.
Kim Johnson has been a social justice advocate since her teen years, and her experience informs every line of This Is My America. By turns hopeful and heartbreaking, the novel will likely impassion those new to the fight for social justice and empower those already immersed in it. Readers will be outraged by the inhumane and heinous treatment that the Beaumont family endures, especially as things come to a head in a shocking climax in which a burning cross is erected in front of their home. The author frankly captures the Beaumonts' pain and resilience, echoed in the many families who continue to endure similar brutal injustices. As each chapter unfolds, every reveal impels readers forward, until the community's long-held secrets come to glaring light. --Shelley Diaz, supervising librarian, BookOps: New York Public Library & Brooklyn Public Library
Discover: Kim Johnson's YA debut is a necessary add to all shelves, especially those focused on anti-racism and #BlackLivesMatter.
City of Secrets
by Victoria Ying
Secrets will out in thrilling ways as a wary orphan and an adventure-prone heiress face deadly peril in this action-packed first authored graphic novel from Victoria Ying (Diana: Princess of the Amazons).
Built in layers like a wedding cake, the Grand Capital City of Oskars needs a way to keep communication flowing through its levels. Madame Alexander oversees a staff of young women who connect calls at the Switchboard Operating Facility, a building with six stories of lever-and-gear-operated moving platforms and staircases. When Hannah, the spitfire daughter of the Switchboard's wealthy owner, stumbles across Ever Barnes, an orphan boy hiding in the facility, her efforts to befriend him fail miserably. After the brutal murder of his father and his own narrow escape, Ever is alone in the world but committed to protecting his family's secret: a hidden vault in the Switchboard that supposedly contains a way to protect Oskars. He trusts no one, but when Hannah saves his life from another murder attempt, Ever thaws. Soon they become allies in an uncertain world where loved ones and Switchboard operators alike hide deadly secrets, and only their friendship and ingenuity can stop the city's enemies.
Action comes first in this dazzling maze of spies, secret societies, deadly assassins and steampunk set pieces, culminating in an unpredictable climax with an anime-inspired twist. Ying winds the suspense tightly then leaves readers to wonder who is fair or foul. Crimson and gold accents over sepia-washed backgrounds evoke a feel of Victorian luxury, and the youth and energy of her lead characters resonate in her fluid portrayal of motion. Although Ying resolves the immediate crisis, nefarious villains still lurk in and outside Oskars, and hints of further secrets leave her room to pull the lever on a sequel. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: An orphan boy protects the secrets of a clockwork building in this action-packed, steampunk-infused graphic novel.