From the Shelf
Revisiting A Wrinkle in Time
In the months leading up to the release of the A Wrinkle in Time movie, we've asked authors of middle grade and young adult titles to revisit one of the first four books in Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quintet. For March, Nic Stone (Dear Martin), looks at A Wrinkle in Time.
|photo: Nigel Livingstone|
My first time reading A Wrinkle in Time, I... didn't get it. It was fifth grade, maybe sixth, and all I really knew was that this girl Meg Murray was trying to get her dad back and there was a bunch of stuff in the book that felt... funny.
I liked Meg though.
I liked her fire and her fury and her fierce determination.
She reminded me of me (even though that whole Aunt Beast encounter was mad strange and all I understood about a tesseract was that the aftereffects didn't seem real fun).
Then, after the film was announced, I read A Wrinkle in Time aloud to my four-year-old. As I reread, many of my original sentiments were reaffirmed: the creatures on Ixchel are strange (though I now appreciate Aunt Beast's care for Meg) and I'm still totally fine with never experiencing fifth dimension travel. Ever.
There's still Meg.
Meg, who understands very little about the things happening around her and who is subjected to negative forces on almost every planet, Earth included. Meg, who, despite that lack of understanding and those negative forces, keeps fighting, her heart and mind fixed on what she believes in.
To me, that's really the point of A Wrinkle in Time. As an adult, I find myself constantly faced with things I don't understand: evils like racism, sexism, homophobia, fear of the other. Black Thing(s). ITs in various iterations.
But hope is out there waiting to be found. Joy. Love. Peace. Friendship.
I believe they're there. And--okay, fine: even if I have to travel through the fifth dimension to find them (ugh!), I will.
It's certainly what Meg would do. --Nic Stone
In this Issue...
by Zachary Lazar
A journalist becomes wrapped up in the life of an inmate at Angola Penitentiary, finding parallels with his father's murder and questions about the realities of justice.
by Joy McCullough
Seventeen-year-old Artemisia Gentileschi struggles to make her way as a woman and a painter in a time where women are seen as little more than property.
by Brittney Cooper
Brittney Cooper's essay collection Eloquent Rage unleashes her passionate fury and urges readers to work for a better, more just world.
Review by Subjects:
07/20/2018 - 6:30PMWe will be closing early this evening due to the Capitol Hill Block Party.
Treasures Found in Old Books
Atlas Obscura shared "the best things found between the pages of old books."
Brad Parks, author most recently of Closer Than You Know, "has spent the last decade writing his novels at local Hardee's fast food restaurants," and now the chain is presenting him with a commemorative Lifetime Achievement Award plaque, the Staunton News Leader reported.
The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon "was written in the 11th century, but it's basically a modern day blog," Bustle suggested.
Scottish cartoonist and illustrator Tom Gauld considered "the archaeology of the book tower" for the Guardian.
Bookshelf featured Ernesto Maria Giuffré's Libro verticale bookcase.
Rediscover: Cynthia Heimel
Feminist humor columnist, playwright, television writer and author Cynthia Heimel died on February 25 at age 70. She began her writing career in the late '60s at Distant Drummer, a counterculture magazine in Philadelphia, before moving to the SoHo Weekly News, New York magazine, then the New York Daily News. She published her first book in 1983, Sex Tips for Girls, which mixed satirical takes on popular women's magazines like Cosmopolitan with actual feminist sex advice. Heimel later had columns in the Village Voice, Vogue and Playboy, of all places, the first one about women by a woman (it ran until 2000). She wrote A Girl's Guide to Chaos, a play that later became a book, in 1986. Heimel eventually moved to Los Angeles to write for the TV series Kate & Allie and Dear John.
Douglas Adams once described Cynthia Heimel's work as "like P.G. Wodehouse if he wrote about sex." She collected more of her simultaneously lighthearted and enlightening columns in If You Can't Live Without Me, Why Aren't You Dead Yet? (1991), Get Your Tongue Out of My Mouth, I'm Kissing You Goodbye! (1993) and If You Leave Me, Can I Come Too? (1995). Twenty years after Sex Tips for Girls, Heimel wrote a sequel, Advanced Sex Tips for Girls: This Time It's Personal. The original Sex Tips for Girls has never gone out of print. It is available in paperback from Touchstone ($14.99, 9780671477257). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Luis Alberto Urrea: An Epic American Dream
|photo: Joe Mazza Brave-Lux|
Born in Tijuana, Mexico, and now living near Chicago, Luis Alberto Urrea is a Mexican-American author whose novels include The Hummingbird's Daughter, Into the Beautiful North and Queen of America. His nonfiction The Devil's Highway was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His latest novel, The House of Broken Angels (Little, Brown, $27; reviewed below), focuses on a modern Mexican-American family in San Diego.
You have written some extraordinary books, both fiction and nonfiction, about the Mexican-American experience, but The House of Broken Angels seems to be your most personal work in capturing multicultural family life in modern America.
You are dead-on. Sometimes you feel like you're writing with your own blood and sometimes, as Jim Harrison told me, God hands you your novel. The way in which my big brother died two years ago was very much reflected in the process of mortality in The House of Broken Angels. What struck me at the time was how much a celebration of one man's life it was. How a single working-class dad changed the world in his own small way. And, of course, that "small way" was in every way epic. So the novel is a hymn to our daily lives, how sacred they truly are. Finally, the tone of the recent presidential election made me know I had to speak up for the de La Cruz family.
The interplay between "Big Angel" de La Cruz and his half-brother "Little Angel" is so funny and heartwarming. Little Angel is half-gringo, and this lends itself to an examination of white culture versus Latinx culture. Is this tension between the two cultures something you experience in your own life, and, if so, how do you navigate it as a writer?
Of course, I experience this. It's the gift that keeps on giving. I'm not looking so much at an examination of white culture versus Latinx culture as an examination of American culture. In the age of the president fantasizing about "bad hombres" and hordes of Mexican rapists, I am examining what it means to be an American. With a Latinx last name, things turn political on you whether you want them to or not. It has all made me very aware of the human border that divides every kind of people, sometimes from each other. The great Rudolfo Anaya once told me that if I could make my Tijuana grandmother the grandmother of a reader in Iowa, that I would have committed the most profound political and theological act through my art. I took it to heart and have never stopped trying to foist my abuelita on readers.
You touch on generational differences in your novel, differences between foreign-born immigrants trying to assimilate and first-generation offspring of immigrants trying to create their own identities. But there's also a sense of reconciliation at the end.
I believe every family has its own code, has its own negotiation with this identity issue. Some want to preserve the homeland in the heart at all costs. Some need to negotiate the tides of change and embarrassment and even shame. I don't believe there is a blanket answer. It's profoundly personal. My own father was terrified that I would lose my Mexican-ness. My North American mother was terrified that I would lose my American-ness. Why do I write about the border? Because it is right here, inside each one of us. I could not prescribe an answer to any family, except what I am ultimately preaching in my book. As Big Angel tells his daughter: "All we do, mija, is love. Love is the answer. Nothing stops it. Not borders. Not death."
As Big Angel's health declines, his daughter Minnie takes over many important roles in the family that the sons seem incapable of handling. Is this just her character and strong-mindedness or is there a more deliberate feminist angle at play? Perhaps a subtle critique of the machismo of the past?
There is always a tweaking of machismo in my books. See The Hummingbird's Daughter or Into the Beautiful North. Strong women raised me, often in the absence of the men. So I do see a very strong matriarchal thread. It takes the "Americanized" Little Angel to make the case to his brother about the new matriarch in the family who can take his place.
The House of Broken Angels arrives in contentious political times. Your novel humanizes not only Mexican-Americans already in the country but the act of immigration and the challenges of transnational life. What do you think Americans need to know about Latin America and immigration that they're just not getting?
That question encapsulates my entire writing career. Not only my work, but my life. My readers know that I have been railing against dehumanization of any kind in every book. It's very easy to look up statistics about what your food would cost if the farmworker wasn't picking it. It's very easy to look up the actual immigration laws and make up your own mind. The American people need to be reminded that the marginalization of the other is the crime. It's a pernicious and dangerous crime. I believe in grace. But I also believe a little touch of honesty might help save the world.
In The House of Broken Angels, Big Angel is coming to terms with his own death, yet there is such magic and beauty and romance surrounding the event. Do you feel you belong to the tradition of magical realism in Latin American literature? How does your writing style reflect your worldview?
I love this question! I think all my writing reflects my worldview, yes. As far as magical realism goes, I'm not sure what to say about that. I do not consider myself a magical realist. And García Márquez himself said he essentially stole William Faulkner's vibe. I can tell you that being raised with a few million Mexican relatives means that one witnesses things and hears stories that might not be in the usual curriculum. Everybody believes in ghosts, miracles, apparitions, hauntings. I was told my aunt could fly. Nobody questioned it. And I don't think that this is limited to being Mexican. I am sure any Irish reader knows exactly what I am talking about. Chinese readers know exactly what I am talking about. The world is alive with a kind of magic if we only had the eyes to see. Sometimes the wonders are quite subtle, perhaps a kiss on a dying brother's forehead. But if we are paying attention, those small kisses are absolutely vast and heartbreaking. --Scott Neuffer
The House of Broken Angels
by Luis Alberto Urrea
The Mexican American family in Luis Alberto Urrea's richly rendered novel The House of Broken Angels is distinctly American: a melting pot of cultures, languages and individuals united in a common dream of perseverance. The novel's protagonist, "Big Angel" de La Cruz, stricken with cancer and bound to a wheelchair, celebrates what will be his last birthday with his children, grandchildren and extended family. Relatives have already converged on San Diego for the funeral of Big Angel's mother, and he's determined to survive just a bit longer, to offer a day of joy and remembrance instead of another funeral.
In this emotional dynamic of impending death, the history of the de La Cruz family unfurls. Big Angel recalls his childhood on Mexico's Baja Peninsula, his courtship with his future wife and the picaresque shenanigans of his philandering father. Paralleling Big Angel's story are those of his children and extended family. His daughter Minnie is tough-minded and takes care of her father. His son Lalo, an Iraq War veteran, is less resilient, struggling with drugs and crime. Big Angel's two stepsons propel the plot forward as their past involvement in gang violence catches up to the entire family. And the relationship between Big Angel and his younger half-brother, "Little Angel," who is part gringo, provides the novel's funniest and most tender moments.
The House of Broken Angels is a big-hearted family saga. It captures "the golden bubble available to everyone," that is, the warm inner gratitude for life that follows grief. "Love is the answer," Big Angel tells his daughter. "Nothing stops it. Not borders. Not death." --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: The joys and sorrows of a multigenerational Mexican American family come to poetic life in this extraordinary novel.
by Amy Bloom
White Houses, Amy Bloom's first novel based on historical characters, tells the story of the love and friendship between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok. The women's relationship was so open that "Hick" was widely known as the "First Friend," yet discreet enough that their intimacies continued unchallenged for years. Bloom's (Lucky Us) copious research infuses the tale on every page but never overshadows her storytelling.
Hick's first-person narration provides authenticity, as do the historic references throughout. (Young Tip O'Neill, "that vile Joe Kennedy," Churchill and J. Edgar Hoover make appearances.) The book opens on April 27, 1945, just after FDR's death, and the women's stories surface through reminiscences. Hick had an impoverished South Dakota childhood and scraped her way up to AP reporter on the Lindbergh kidnapping case, which lead to an assignment in 1932 covering Eleanor. Hick recalls, "I never envied a wife or a husband, until I met Eleanor. Then I would have traded anything I ever had for what Franklin had... polio and all." She then quietly moves into the White House, covering the family as a member of the administration.
The women lead parallel yet intertwined lives, "sometimes requiring me to slip out and stroll back in," Hick notes. "We touched under tablecloths, beneath napkins, behind the newspaper." Their independent spirits--Hick a self-sufficient journalist, Eleanor the tireless activist and tolerant wife--led to an ebb and flow of their affair, but they remained devoted until Eleanor's death in 1962. White Houses gives a fresh look at an iconic first lady, her feisty lover and a significant era in 20th century American history. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: Amy Bloom's novel about the relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok imagines the intimacies of their friendship.
The Queen of Hearts
by Kimmery Martin
In former ER doctor Kimmery Martin's debut novel, The Queen of Hearts, two female physicians find cracks in their rock-solid friendship when a face from the past returns, bringing buried secrets to light.
As a third-year medical student in the late 1990s, Zadie fell hard for chief resident and notable bad boy Nick Xenocostas, known as Dr. X. Their white-hot, secret relationship consumed her even through a series of tragic events that still haunts Zadie and Emma, her best friend since they were teens at summer camp.
More than a decade later, Nick belongs to a closed chapter Zadie and Emma never bring up, one that nearly put an end to their friendship. Now both successful doctors--Emma is in trauma surgery and Zadie's a cardiologist--the two have also embraced marriage and motherhood. Zadie finds it hard to maintain her composure, as an often-alone mother of three school-aged children and a toddler, and Emma struggles with the impostor syndrome ingrained by her dirt-poor childhood as a miner's daughter. When Nick lands a partner position at Emma's practice, the women are thrown for a loop.
Martin writes impressively about the inside of the human body, but even more incisively about the landscape of the metaphysical heart. Furthermore, Martin wisely plays the chaotic toddler for laughs, but saves plenty of rage and tenderness for the lost battles of youth that shaped the two women and their friendship, yet remained lodged like shrapnel in wounds that never truly healed. Bittersweet and graceful, The Queen of Hearts marks Martin as a fresh voice filled with promise. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: Two female physicians find their longtime friendship threatened when the male doctor who almost ended it years ago moves to their town.
Mystery & Thriller
by Zachary Lazar
Like author Zachary Lazar, the unnamed journalist narrator in Vengeance is introduced to the Louisiana Penitentiary at Angola when he goes to watch the inmates rehearse and produce the passion play The Life of Jesus Christ. During his time at this former slave plantation, now a maximum-security prison, he befriends Kendrick King, a young man serving a life sentence for a murder he claims he did not commit.
The journalist's interest in King's case leads him to investigate the crime and King's life. He interviews members of the young man's family, reads news stories and pores over case reports. The complexity of the case becomes evident the more the narrator learns, presenting possible scenario after possible scenario, but rarely any definitive answers.
Lazar (I Pity the Poor Immigrant) blurs the lines of reality and imagination in this captivating, provocative novel that reads like nonfiction. The stark depiction of Angola, the largest maximum-security prison in the United States, strikes the reader with such force that the sting leaves an emotional mark. The black-and-white of good and bad, right and wrong, meet head-on, and a muddy gray oozes out. The narrator, whose father was murdered by a contract killer, then realizes: "I believe that something could have been done to prevent it, I don't believe that anything could have been done to rectify it."
Vengeance is empathetic without being sentimental in the treatment of its characters, both in and outside the walls of the prison. Lazar's novel is a beautiful specimen of storytelling while simultaneously challenging its audience to reach deep and question the very core of their beliefs. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: A journalist becomes wrapped up in the life of an inmate at Angola Penitentiary, finding parallels with his father's murder and questions about the realities of justice.
A Grave Issue: A Funeral Parlor Mystery
by Lillian Bell
Author Lillian Bell launches a lively mystery series starring Desiree Turner, a TV reporter axed from her job after a hot microphone incident went viral. Returning to Verbena, Calif., a small town near Sacramento, Desiree rejoins her sister Donna, brother-in-law Greg and their Uncle Joey. They all live and work together at the family-owned funeral home. The Turners deal in grief, including their own, since the widowed father of Desiree and Donna died in a surfing accident. A year later, the sisters still struggle with his disappearance.
When Rosemarie and Alan Brewer's beloved pet emu dies, the couple blames the unruly shepherd dogs belonging to neighbors Lola and Kyle Hansen. Their conflict escalates into a fistfight between the wives; soon after, Alan is found murdered. While the Turners tend to Alan's funeral, Kyle Hansen, who was like a second father to Desiree and Donna, becomes the prime suspect in Alan's homicide. Inquisitive Desiree starts a quest to exonerate Kyle and learn more about the murder victim, who was the manager of the Verbena Union Bank. Desiree discovers that Alan harbored many secrets and had a long list of enemies.
Suspenseful subplots and red herrings unravel this smartly crafted comic mystery that assembles a well-conceived cast of suspects embroiled in the stifling absurdities of small-town life. Bell cleverly ties up loose ends, while leaving some stragglers that are sure to rouse reader enthusiasm for the next installment. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A fired TV reporter turned mortician investigates the death of a small-town banker who made enemies and harbored secrets.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
The Rending and the Nest
by Kaethe Schwehn
The Rending and the Nest opens on an eerie post-apocalyptic landscape in what used to be Minnesota: the majority of the world's population has disappeared in an instant known to survivors as the Rending. Piles of items from "the Before" are scattered mile-high across the countryside. Mira and her best friend Lana are scavenging one of these Piles several years after the Rending when Lana announces she is pregnant. Hers is the first pregnancy post-Rending, and a reason for hope in this strange new world. But when Lana gives birth to an inanimate object--and other women start to do the same--this moment of hope becomes a new kind of horror, as the survivors are forced to face the disturbing reality of their new lives in ways they could never have imagined.
Kaethe Schwehn (Tailings) builds her story slowly at first, giving readers time to adjust to a world that is eerily recognizable and yet entirely foreign. As the novel develops, this slow pace gives way to a furious speed that is reflective of the ever-shifting understanding Mira and her friends have of their new world. Their landscape offers no "why"; the Rending remains unexplained from start to finish, the world "a driftless, invisible unknown." But by accepting the event as something that just is, Schwehn--and her characters--are free to explore more important questions about what it means to really live: Is surviving enough? If not, what makes a life worth living? And what stories do we tell ourselves--and one another--to make it so? --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: In a post-apocalyptic Minnesota, Mira and her best friend Lana are among a handful of survivors facing questions of motherhood, community and meaning.
Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower
by Brittney Cooper
Most Americans are familiar with the image of the sassy, finger-wagging black woman: bold, pragmatic, unafraid to tell it like it is. But, writes Brittney Cooper, sass is often a polite cover for its more inflammatory cousin: rage. "Black women turn to sass when rage is too risky," Cooper explains, because "owning anger is a dangerous thing if you're a fat Black girl like me." In Eloquent Rage, Cooper articulates her fury at the ways American society has demeaned, dismissed and damaged black women, and urges her compatriots to keep up the fight.
Inspired by and grounded in black feminist theorists such as bell hooks and Audre Lorde, Cooper (Beyond Respectability) takes a more conversational but no less intellectual approach. She shares her experience as a gifted black child (and wary friend of white girls), the joy she found among other blerds at Howard University and her struggle to build her academic career (and maybe even find love) while dealing with racism, sexism, self-doubt and survivor's guilt. Her subjects range from the politics of black haircare to the Black Lives Matter movement. Her icons include Michelle Obama, Beyoncé and her own straight-talking grandmother. "Black women's rage is a kind of power that America would do well to heed if it wants to finally live up to its stated democratic aims," Cooper insists. Her eloquent rage--both thoughtful and ferocious--calls on her fellow Americans of every color to join her in the furious, necessary struggle for a better world. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Brittney Cooper's essay collection Eloquent Rage unleashes her passionate fury and urges readers to work for a better, more just world.
Young China: How the Restless Generation Will Change Their Country and the World
by Zak Dychtwald
The parents of Chinese millennials (all 400 million of them) have created one of the best educated, most aspirational generations in China's history. A millennial himself, Zak Dychtwald bummed all over the country in 2012 to become fluent in Mandarin and make friends with his Chinese peers. Young China is his account of his language-impaired efforts to meld into the youth culture of a growing world power. Easily integrating statistics, interviews and the nuances of tonal Mandarin, he paints a picture of a country that "now graduates the most college students of any country in the world." The stats on China are staggering: for example, it has "the largest online matchmaking business in the world" and Alibaba's 2016 "online sales on Singles Day were more than Brazil's total projected e-commerce sales for the year." Take that, Tinder and Amazon!
Dychtwald is an entertaining guide through Chinese dorms, cafes and karaoke bars, touching on young people's almost universal quest for financial success, marriage and children. Along the way, Dychtwald observes students' 90-hour weeks cramming for college entrance exams and the LBGT underground with its "shape marriages" of lesbians and gay men for appearances. All told, Young China is the story of a generation not much different from its counterpart in the West--except the "China dream" of its youth is not to build their homeland's future but to revive its past glory. As one of Dychtwald's roommates puts it: "We remember rags. Now, as a country, it feels we are returning to riches." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: In this chronicle, millennial Zak Dychtwald reflects on his year traveling in China to learn Mandarin and understand fellow millennials.
Psychology & Self-Help
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
by Steven Pinker
In 2011, Steven Pinker published The Better Angels of Our Nature, arguing that violence has declined over time and humans are actually enjoying the most peaceful time on Earth. Since then, the United States and other nations have elected right-wing populist leaders who challenge this peace. Using divisive rhetoric steeped in fear rather than fact, they claim our best days are behind us. Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, asserts that our best days lie ahead--provided we embrace the ideals of progress.
In Enlightenment Now, Pinker presents a wealth of data to show that where its ideas were allowed to flourish, the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries marked a dramatic increase in the quality of life. A majority of citizens worldwide thrive in democracies, without fear of persecution. Education has led to greater individual wealth and a march toward equal rights for women, the LGBTQ community and people of color. Advances in science have eradicated diseases, increased access to food and led to countless other improvements. Over time, humans have slowly shifted away from superstition and toward rational, evidence-based decision making. Yet some in the West--many of whom have benefited from progress the most--denounce "unfettered" capitalism for inequality, "elite" education for upending traditional values and many other hallmarks of an advanced society.
Pinker urges us (on both the political right and left) to reject ideology and tribalism, to look beyond the daily onslaught of negative news and to challenge preconceived notions and romantic ideals. By embracing the spirit of Enlightenment, he believes, the future is not bleak but bright. --Frank Brasile, librarian
Discover: This timely and deeply researched celebration of progress across all aspects of life is essential reading in a political climate that threatens to derail it.
Nature & Environment
A Wilder Time: Notes from a Geologist at the Edge of the Greenland Ice
by William E. Glassley
In Greenland, the ice pack is receding, exposing layers of rocks that have lain hidden for millennia. Geologist William Glassley describes "some a fraction of an inch thick, some thicker than houses, colored in a palette of earth tones and off-whites, greens and blue-blacks and reds, fold back on one another, pinch and swell, stretch to paper thinness, then thicken again, telling stories we ache to know but can barely read." He is working with two colleagues to decipher those stories embedded in the earth. They suspect that billions of years ago the land was a sheer zone where two ancient continents collided, creating a mountain range the size of the Himalayas. They need to analyze the rocks, however, to know if this hypothesis is true.
A Wilder Time is far more than dry geological inquiry, though. It is a poetic, metaphysical and philosophical treatise on the wildness of life on earth. Glassley ponders the connections between humans and reindeer as he nibbles on reindeer lichen. He sniffs a piece of rock and wonders what new life forms might be created as freshly released atoms drift on the breeze. And he delights in the taste of a piece of glacial ice frozen for thousands of years. His enthusiasm for geology is palpable. His love of the wild is tangible, and his way with words beautiful. Throughout, he re-creates the dramatic moments and discoveries he and his team encountered in this under-explored section of the world. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: A geologist's love of rocks and nature abound as he scrambles over Greenland in search of answers to Earth's mysteries.
Children's & Young Adult
Blood Water Paint
by Joy McCullough
Seventeen-year-old Artemisia Gentileschi lives for the moments when she connects "the brush to the paint to [her] breath to the canvas." Her father, Orazio Gentileschi, is a professional painter of "mediocre" talent. Artemisia labors as his apprentice, touching up his commissions with "strokes/of [her] own choosing," while always striving to better her craft. It's Artemisia's skill that brings in the clients who pay for their bread, but she's virtually invisible, as Orazio Gentileschi, rather than Artemisia, signs the finished art.
In this "world of men"--17th-century Rome--women are merely "beauty/ for consumption." So when Agostino Tassi, who's been engaged to give her art lessons, actually seems interested in Artemisia's skill, she's easily smitten. All too soon, though, "Tino" shows his real interest is in taking Artemisia for his mistress. Devastated, the girl spurns him, and Tassi rapes her: "I've no authority," the fictional Artemisia recounts, "He is teacher, I am student,/ man and girl/ power, nothing..../ The sudden realization/ of what's going to happen next/ descends."
The real Artemisia brought charges against Agostino Tassi, even though she knew it was unlikely she would win. This piece of historical fiction, told in luminous verse and based on transcripts from that trial, tackles issues of gender and power in a way that is relevant today. In the novel, Artemisia's mother, before her death, told her daughter stories of two women, Susanna and Judith, who triumphed over the monumental injustices they faced because of their gender. Susanna and Judith serve as Artemisia's spiritual mentors, and from them she draws strength to paint her own path. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: Seventeen-year-old Artemisia Gentileschi struggles to make her way as a woman and a painter in a time where women are seen as little more than property.
Mary Had a Little Lab
by Sue Fliess , illust. by Petros Bouloubasis
Sue Fliess (How to Trap a Leprechaun) introduces a little girl with brains, ambition and tons of creativity in a rhyming picture book that would make even Dr. Seuss jealous.
Mary loves science, which doesn't make her the most popular kid in the class: "Mary had a little lab./ She tested and created./ While other kids were at the park,/ she built and calculated./ Inventing can be lonely, though." Since she doesn't have any friends, Mary decides to get a pet. But Mary is an inventor. She doesn't visit the local animal shelter or dog breeder to find her new companion; instead she visits a farm to clip a tuft of wool from a sheep. Back in her lab, Mary devises the "sheepinator," an elaborate, Willy Wonka-like machine, and "[s]he pushed the wool into the chute/ and poured the mixture in./ Then pumped the pedals with her feet/ to give it all a spin." And, presto, Mary has her very own sheep.
Readers will singsong along to the tempo of the popular nursery rhyme as Mary's classmates beg her to make sheep for them. Predictably, mayhem ensues. The initial temptation is to speed through the tale to find out what happens--there are sheep everywhere--but the brilliantly detailed and delightfully zany illustrations from Petros Bouloubasis slow the pace. His illustrations pay attention to features as simple as the rivets in the sheepinator or the tape holding pictures on the wall and as amusing as the sheep helping carry groceries or buffing the kitchen floors. This focus on a fully formed illustrative world makes the picture book as fascinating visually as it is plotted. Mary Had a Little Lab is an innovatively fun celebration of smart girls. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: A brainy, science-loving little girl teaches her classmates how amazing nerds can be.
by Kheryn Callender
Caroline Murphy has always heard that her birth during a hurricane cursed her with bad luck, and in her 12th year of life, the story seems true. At the Catholic school she attends on St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Caroline has no friends and teacher Missus Wilhelmina loathes Caroline because her skin is "darker than even the paintings of African queens hanging in the tourist shops." At home on Water Island, a speedboat taxi ride away, Caroline lives with her father and the hole her mother made in their lives when she suddenly left. A constant presence in Caroline's life are the spirits. One, "the woman in black," is particularly disquieting--completely black except for "eyes shining like two full moons in her face"--and Caroline suspects the spirit took her mother. Then she meets Kalinda Francis, a new classmate from Barbados with dreadlocks and a confidence that sends her straight to the head of the pecking order. Caroline is shocked to realize Kalinda can see spirits, too, but even more shocked when the popular girl becomes her close friend. However, Caroline will never feel whole unless she finds her mother, and her growing romantic feelings for Kalinda threaten their bond.
This tender, character-driven exploration of first loss intersecting first love balances sympathetic characters with a setting unfamiliar to many readers. The smooth integration of island details grounds the narrative and provides a sobering backdrop for the elements of magical realism. Kheryn Callender's commitment to remaining within a preteen's scope of understanding preserves the narrative's simplicity and authenticity. Though readable for grades four through seven, ages 10 through 13 may most appreciate this empathetic and emotionally mature coming-of-age drama. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services division manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: Kheryn Callender's sensitive debut stars a preteen girl from the Virgin Islands who searches for her mother and falls in love with a female classmate.