From the Shelf
Boarding School Secrets
Though it's been years since I've stepped into a classroom, back-to-school season still brings with it a longing to mark the transition somehow; this year, for me, that's come in the form of boarding school novels.
In The Lying Game (Scout Press/Gallery, $16.99), Ruth Ware (The Woman in Cabin 10) unravels the story of four women, fast friends at boarding school prior to their unexplained expulsion. The events leading up to that moment shape the lives of each woman, just as they also bind them together, seemingly for life--especially when a decomposing body is discovered near the school grounds in the present day.
Secrets also swirl in Phoebe Wynn's haunting debut, Madam (St. Martin's, $17.99), though it's Miss Christie, the newest faculty member at the elite all-girls school on the Scotland coast, who's kept in the dark this time. The more she learns about the school, the more she realizes she's set herself--and her students--up for inescapable horrors that fly in the face of her feminist ideals.
The students in Elizabeth Thomas's deliciously creepy Catherine House are older, invited to attend the eponymous school after high school; in exchange for a free education, students are asked to remain on campus, cut off from the outside world, for three years. It's exactly the kind of isolated setting that is rife for secrets-- exactly what new student Ines finds upon her arrival.
In her adult debut, Plain Bad Heroines (Morrow, $27.99), emily danforth uses the boarding school setting to great effect, probing questions of what is real and what is imagined in a meta novel about a cursed school and a group of actors making a movie about it. It's the queer gothic boarding school novel I didn't know I needed, a perfect transition from back-to-school reading to the spooky season that October brings. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
In this Issue...
by Jai Chakrabarti
Jai Chakrabarti's transporting debut novel interweaves time, geographies and histories to give provenance to an unlikely romance.
by Jonathan Santlofer
Based on actual events, this rollicking thriller finds a New Yorker traveling to Florence to read the long-lost journal of his great-grandfather, who was behind the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa.
by Steve Sheinkin
A riveting middle-grade chronicle of the events surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Review by Subjects:
09/18/2021 - 12:00PMJoining us from afar - Windhoek, Namibia - and not so afar, as Zoom has its virtually intimate ways, is Namibian writer and photographer Rémy Ngamije with his sweeping, captivating debut novel, The Eternal Audience of One (Scout Press). “At once a millennial caper and a loving homage to all that is lost in exile, The Eternal Audience of One is nothing short of brilliant. The humor in this stunning novel will keep you glued, but it is the wisdom – elegiac and mature -- that will keep you...
09/20/2021 - 7:00PMSeattle University philosophy professor Paul H. Kidder this evening celebrates publication of his newest book, Minoru Yamasaki and the Fragility of Architecture (Routledge) with this virtual presentation. This amply illustrated book is a searching look at Minoru Yamasaki’s life and work, which spanned pivotal moments in both U.S. architectural and national history. Seattle has some interesting history here, as well - including iconic Seattle structures such as the Pacific Science Center, the...
09/20/2021 - 7:30PMIt is planned that the three co-authors - Rob Reich, Mehran Sahami, and Jeremy M. Weinstein, Stanford professors, all - of the new book, System Error: Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot (Harper) will all be on hand at ye old Town Hall - 1119 Eighth Avenue - for this live, in-person program. "System Error is a triumph: an analysis of the critical challenges facing our digital society that is as accessible as it is sophisticated. Best of all, the authors offer actual solutions for a...
09/20/2021 - 7:00PM**This event has been postponed** A debut author who is well-known to many for her award-winning work as an international television news correspondent, Clarissa Ward was on her way to Seattle a year-and-a-half ago when the pandemic came along and altered pretty much everything, including the initial publication of her extraordinary book, On All Fronts: The Education of a Journalist (Penguin), to say nothing of public, in-person appearances such as was scheduled here. We are grateful that we’...
09/21/2021 - 7:00PMIf Sumana Roy is doing this program from Siliguri, India, it will be 7:30 Wednesday morning for her as she gives lucky readers here an introduction to her most extraordinary book, How I Became a Tree (Yale University Press). First published in India four years ago, it has quietly, steadily built a readership there, and wherever readers might encounter it. Now, U.S. readers will have a chance to read one of the most ardent, poetic, beautifully written books in the present growing grove of...
09/21/2021 - 7:00PMTuesday, September 21 at 7 p.m. :: Live/In-Person at Boon Boona Coffee Wednesday, September 29 at 7:30 p.m. :: Live/In-Person at Town Hall Seattle (and Livestream) These two evenings, noted above, mark the launch of a debut book, by one of the vital, essential journalist voices here in Seattle today, Marcus Harrison Green. The founder/publisher of the South Seattle Emerald and a columnist with the Seattle Times, he has not only put his own writing on the line, but has helped give a forum for...
09/21/2021 - 12:00PMAuthor Naomi Hirahara will appear in conversation with Densho’s Brian Niiya to discuss her new mystery novel, Clark and Division. Set in 1944 Chicago, Clark and Division follows the story of a young woman searching for the truth about her revered older sister’s death, and brings to focus the struggles of one Japanese American family released from mass incarceration at Manzanar during World War II. Naomi Hirahara and Brian Niiya, who share a decades-long friendship, will talk about the...
Words About Nonsense
Merriam-Webster offered a "thoughtful guide to words about nonsense."
The New York Public Library shared book recommendations for "remembering 9/11 with kids & teens: 20 years later."
Open Culture featured Benedict Cumberbatch reading "the best cover letter ever written."
CrimeReads spoke with author Paul Vidich about "moral dilemmas and the allure of spy fiction."
Bookshelf shared photos of a "Nefertiti-inspired Egyptian bookcase."
Rediscover: Poetry After 9/11
Twenty years ago, Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians witnessed the destruction of the World Trade Center from the roof of their apartment in Hoboken, N.J. In the aftermath of the attack, poetry appeared all across New York City, from telephone poles and bus shelters to newspaper editorial pages. Johnson's book blog, MobyLives, was inundated with poetry submissions. He and Merians collected work from 45 poets as the first book of their new publishing venture: Melville House. "It certainly seemed a more New York response than President Bush's call for vengeance," Merians said. The success of Poetry After 9/11: An Anthology of New York Poets helped Melville House grow into the left-leaning literary powerhouse it is today.
The poems collected in Poetry After 9/11: An Anthology of New York Poets were all written in New York within a year of the September 11 attacks. It includes entries by Pulitzer Prize winner Stephen Dunn, Best American Poetry series editor David Lehman, National Book Award winner and New York State Poet Jean Valentine, poets laureate of Brooklyn and Queens, the first ever Nuyorican Slam-Poetry champion, plus a poem and introduction by National Book Award finalist Alicia Ostriker. It is available from Melville House ($14.95). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Steve Sheinkin: Doing Homework for a Living
|photo: Erica Miller|
Steve Sheinkin writes fast-paced, cinematic nonfiction for young readers. His books include Born to Fly: The First Women's Air Race Across America; Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon, which was a 2012 National Book Award finalist and a Newbery Honor Book; and Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown (reviewed below). Here, Sheinkin discusses with Shelf Awareness his love of writing nonfiction and how entertaining doing homework can be.
What has been your favorite time period to write about? Which time period have you not tackled yet but would like to?
The best thing about my job is that I get to skip around in time. If I had to pick a favorite, I'd say the Cold War, the setting for Fallout. You have this global showdown between rival powers during the golden age of spy vs. spy action--priceless elements for storytelling. Also, I lived through some of it. That definitely adds another layer for me. In terms of un-tackled time periods... I'd love to go further back, to colonial times, or maybe to the years right after the Revolution.
What is the easiest and hardest part about writing nonfiction for young readers?
You'd never know it from reading a textbook, but it's easy to find exciting true stories to tell. And the research, the nerdy detective work, is actually fun. Kids often accuse me of doing homework for a living, and I admit it. But the thing is, I get to pick the assignment, and that makes all the difference. The hardest part is figuring out how to work the needed background information into a story without killing the momentum.
Speaking of momentum, your books remind me of TV shows or movies--with details being presented over time, then culminating in a big reveal. How do you make it all flow so seamlessly?
Thanks, that's nice to hear. My brother and I grew up dreaming of being a famous brother movie-making team, and we even made a feature film in the 1990s, a political satire called A More Perfect Union (ignore any reviews you find online). I still use some of the screenwriting techniques from back then to help me structure my stories. I still write all my scene ideas on old-school index cards, using different-colored cards for the different storylines, and then build a storyboard on the wall, moving the cards around, adding some and cutting others, until the story starts to flow. It's like a puzzle, but you get to decide how it fits together. Once the storyboard works, I know the book can work.
Did you know when you started working on Fallout that your focus would be the "brink of World War III"?
Yes, I knew I was headed in that direction. I've learned that with narrative nonfiction, you absolutely need to know your ending before you begin. You need to know what you're building toward and work backward from there to figure out a structure. In Bomb, the question was, "Can anyone really build this thing?" In Fallout, it's, "Will we really be crazy enough to use it?" So, the Cuban Missile Crisis is an obvious climax with all the elements of a global thriller, and the highest stakes imaginable.
You include so many stories from historical figures who, I think, most people have never even heard of, like Harry Seidel, who secretly moved people out of East Berlin. How did you find these stories?
Oh man, Harry Seidel. A world-class East German cyclist turned Berlin Wall escape tunneler--that's an entire movie right there! Finding stories like this is what makes my job so much fun. As I say when I visit schools, I always start with libraries and good old-fashioned books. Just find a nonfiction book on a subject you're interested in (in this case, the Berlin Wall), and take notes on the people and storylines that are most intriguing. Then you can start to narrow the search, to hunt for more details on those figures, using other books, online sources, newspaper archives, interviews--whatever it takes.
Is there a story that didn't make it into Fallout that you can share with us?
Picture a small wedding on a lawn in Florida, summer of 1959. After the ceremony, the young couple descends into a hole in the ground.The couple--Maria Rodriguez and Melvin Mininson--had won a contest held by a company called Bomb Shelters, Inc. The prize: a free honeymoon in Mexico, if the couple agreed to spend the first two weeks of their marriage in an underground concrete box. The company wanted to show that, with the right shelter, people could live in ease and comfort in the days following a massive hydrogen bomb attack. So, we have this great scene of the wedding, and this young couple descending into the ground--it's a reality show from hell!
Why do you think Fallout will resonate with today's readers, and what would you like them to take away from it?
First and foremost, I hope the book will be an exciting read. There's lots of action, lots of spies and science, superbombs and the space race and it all comes together in the most dangerous moment in all human history. I really believe true stories can be just as much fun to read as novels, and I'm trying to prove it. In terms of takeaways, my number-one goal is always to make readers curious. I hope they'll come away wanting to know more, inspired to dig deeper into whatever part of the story they found most compelling.
Finally, what's next for you?
Lots of exciting things in the works. I wrote a graphic novel adaptation of Bomb, and it's being illustrated by the amazing Nick Bertozz--I can't wait for people to see his art, and what it adds to the story. I've got another historical graphic novel script in the works, a story set in the 1850s, as well as my first picture book. And I'm plugging away on another narrative nonfiction project, focused on what I think is the most incredible escape story I've ever come across. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
A Play for the End of the World
by Jai Chakrabarti
Time, geographies and backgrounds flow effortlessly through Jai Chakrabarti's exquisite debut novel, A Play for the End of the World. At its core is the provenance of a possible love story between two strangers in New York City. Interwoven into this uncertain romance are two all-too-real, grievous world events--the Holocaust in Poland and the Communist Naxalite insurgencies in 1970s West Bengal, India. The eponymous play--Dak Ghar by Rabindranath Tagore--staged 30 years and thousands of miles apart, will prove to be the unlikely connector between the two shattering histories.
Jaryk Smith arrived in the U.S. in 1946, at age 13. He wasn't alone--he had Misha by his side. They were each other's "only family" since meeting at the orphanage founded by Janusz Korczak, known as Pan Doktor, who cared for hundreds of Jewish children in the Warsaw ghetto. Jaryk was one of Korczak's orphans; Misha, a decade older, was a frequently helpful orphanage graduate-of-sorts. In July 1942, Korczak staged a production of Dak Ghar; he hoped the play, "about a dying child living through his imagination while quarantined," might "help his orphans reimagine ghetto life and... prepare them for what was to come." Nine-year-old Jaryk was Amal, the dying child.
After decades shared together as Americans, an upcoming production of Dak Ghar, tragically, separates Misha and Jaryk, when a visiting Indian professor at Columbia enlists them to help stage the play in a rural Indian village threatened by a corrupt government targeting insurgents.
Chakrabarti, born in Kolkata and living in Brooklyn, N.Y., creates a gorgeous international, intercultural mosaic. Elegantly assured, Chakrabarti's storytelling proves revelatory. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Jai Chakrabarti's transporting debut novel interweaves time, geographies and histories to give provenance to an unlikely romance.
The Great Glorious Goddamn of It All
by Josh Ritter
In this gutsy folktale of a novel, author and singer-songwriter Josh Ritter (Bright's Passage) takes readers into treacherous forests and lawless towns to witness the last days of the era of the lumberjacks.
At 99, retired lumberjack Weldon Applegate lies in a hospital bed, though not for reasons of old age. He was "in my prime, full of Rainier and vinegar, fixing to live forever" until his mortal enemy, the son of a clear-cutting sawmill tycoon, had other ideas. In what may be his last words, Weldon relates the exploits of his youth in the Prohibition-era timber town of Cordelia, Idaho, where the dream of logging a dangerous strip called the Lost Lot lured his father to his death. Orphaned, 13-year-old Weldon has little choice but to pick up an ax and join the loggers on his father's claim. Standing in his way is Linden Laughlin, a giant of a woods boss with a reputation to rival Paul Bunyan's and the sadistic streak of a demon, who wants the Lost Lot. Laughlin leaves a trail of dead jacks in his wake, and Weldon must grow up quickly to survive.
Filled with memorable characters and told by a charmingly irascible narrator, Ritter's folkloric tale raises the spirit of a lost age. Bootleggers, witches and legends walk the town of Cordelia, and Ritter builds a fierce and hungry forest primeval that captures the imagination. Infused with song and history, The Great Glorious Goddamn of It All feels like the seed of a new mythology. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: Set in Prohibition-era Idaho, Ritter's fierce folktale about the last lumberjacks is both dark and vibrant.
Weird Women: Volume 2: 1840-1925
by Lisa Morton and Leslie S. Klinger, editors
In the second volume of Weird Women, editors Lisa Morton and Leslie S. Klinger offer another thought-provoking collection of 16 short horror and science fiction stories by both iconic and overlooked women writers. In "The Lifted Veil" by George Eliot, a man falls under the mysterious and deadly spell of his brother's fiancée. Meanwhile, in "The Dead and the Countess" by Gertrude Atherton, a priest struggles to perform the last rituals for a dead countess. In the collection's perhaps best-known piece, "Spunk," the incomparable storyteller Zora Neale Hurston recounts the suspicious tale of one woman's unusual courtship through the eyes of the porch-gossips who can't stop watching her.
Covering not only 75-plus years but a broad expanse of regional writers, Weird Women: Volume 2 offers a tasting flight of sorts for English-language horror and science fiction enthusiasts. While better-known writers like Harriet Beecher Stowe are included in the anthology, so are gems such as Mrs. S.C. Hall's "The Drowned Fisherman," which have disappeared from the mainstream literary canon. And while most of these stories include macabre subject matter and neo-gothic tones, other pieces, like Edith Wharton's "The Fulness of Life," are more lightly satirical. Most striking, however, are these stories' abilities to masquerade as genre fiction while treading politically and culturally controversial ground. From reevaluations of the femme fatale to condemnations of the unseen evils of men, these "weird" works display their authors' expertise in covertly commenting on the real and gendered horrors that undergird society. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A testament to the value of those short pieces that don't conform to the literary norm, Weird Women: Volume 2 is an eclectic collection of haunting stories.
by María Amparo Escandón
L.A. Weather is a lovely, compelling and occasionally brutal novel by María Amparo Escandón (Esperanza's Box of Saints) about a family on the brink of disaster, in a city similarly on edge. Captivating, sympathetic, funny characters and never-ending surprises (that even those involved compare with a telenovela) form a world for readers to get lost in.
Patriarch Oscar Alvarado has become a shell of his formerly assertive self; his wife, Keila, a sculptor, is losing patience. Their daughters are Claudia, an author and television chef; Olivia, an architect and mother of twin girls; and social-media maven Patricia. The Alvarados are a close-knit family of successful, high-powered professionals, bridging Oscar's Catholicism, Keila's Judaism and their shared Mexican-American heritage in Los Angeles, a vibrant city beautifully evoked by Escandón's loving descriptions of food, traffic and culture.
In L.A. Weather's opening pages, a horrifying accident befalls Olivia's daughters (parents beware), prompting various responses to trauma and launching the story directly into the Alvarados' family dynamic and cascading failures. Oscar's obsession with drought and wildfire may at first seem random, if not nonsensical, but it reflects a secret he's been keeping from his family, and serves as symbol for their shared concerns. When Keila announces she wants to divorce him, their daughters protest vehemently, although it is soon their own respective marriages that threaten to catch fire. The city crackles with heat as one crisis or shenanigan after another ensues.
Discover: In a novel alternating between fun and heartbreak, a prosperous, big-hearted, messy family struggles to weather literal and metaphoric disaster in 2016 Los Angeles.
Mystery & Thriller
The Last Mona Lisa
by Jonathan Santlofer
Into the pantheon of great art heist stories leaps The Last Mona Lisa, Jonathan Santlofer's novel of intrigue, romance and murder. It's set in Florence, Paris and New York and centered on a cast of art scholars, forgers and--those most nefarious of public servants--librarians.
One day, New Yorker Luke Perrone receives a curious e-mail from Italy: before his "sudden death," a professor requested that Luke be contacted about a recent discovery--"what may have been your great-grandfather's journal," which is now at Florence's Laurentian Library. Luke, a painter and assistant art professor, has spent two decades researching Vincent Peruggia, "my family's most infamous criminal," the man behind the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. Luke is only too happy to cross the pond and hunker down at the library, unaware that at Interpol headquarters in Lyon, a criminal intelligence analyst has him under communication surveillance. Like Luke, the analyst is obsessed with Peruggia, especially the matter of whether the painting that was returned to the Louvre two years after the Mona Lisa's theft is a fake.
Based on actual events, The Last Mona Lisa is an unflaggingly cinematic caper pulled off with brio by a pro: Santlofer (The Death Artist; The Widower's Notebook) has a seasoned thriller writer's mastery of plotting and pacing. While he's at it, Santlofer uses his chops as an artist to make characters sound knowledgeable about art technique and history, especially regarding Leonardo's painting of the world's most enigmatic smiler. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: Based on actual events, this rollicking thriller finds a New Yorker traveling to Florence to read the long-lost journal of his great-grandfather, who was behind the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa.
The Dark Remains
by William McIlvanney , Ian Rankin
William McIlvanney, the father of tartan noir, made his mark on crime fiction with 1977's Laidlaw, the first book in a trilogy revolving around rule-snubbing detective Jack Laidlaw. McIlvanney died in 2015, leaving behind an unfinished manuscript and an opportunity for a from-the-beyond collaboration with his obvious literary heir, Ian Rankin, author of the Rebus series (Rather Be the Devil; Standing in Another Man's Grave; Saints of the Shadow Bible). In The Dark Remains, the Scottish masters make poetry out of the putrefaction that undergirds their unsparing story.
A prequel to Laidlaw, The Dark Remains finds the detective cutting his teeth with the Glasgow Crime Squad, which is investigating the murder of lawyer Bobby Carter, a hireling of gangster Cam Colvin. Carter was found stabbed behind a bar that's the acknowledged turf of Colvin's rival, mobster John Rhodes, which leads to much conjecture about whether Rhodes is behind the hit or being framed.
Unfolding across six days in 1972, The Dark Remains delivers a fully formed story and a fully fleshed Laidlaw, whose physical and verbal muscularity is achingly offset by his vulnerabilities (to migraines, to the lure of women who aren't his wife). Detective Sergeant Bob Lilley, Laidlaw's partner, takes a crack at deciphering the man: "He really believes there's truth to be found on the streets that exists nowhere else." This isn't to say that Laidlaw sees truth as a path to justice: "The law's not about justice," he tells Lilley. "It's a system we've put in place because we can't have justice." --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: Titans of tartan noir Ian Rankin and the late William McIlvanney have produced a cracking prequel to the latter's venerated Laidlaw trilogy.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina
by Zoraida Córdova
Zoraida Córdova's The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is a gorgeous work of magical realism that follows the Ecuadoran and Ecuadoran American Montoya family on a spellbinding journey as they fight for their home and their future against dangers from an obscured past.
Orquídea Divina, bruja matriarch of the Montoya family, has outlived several husbands, built an unusually productive farmstead and raised a large family of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The novel begins as she summons the entire family back to Four Rivers to "collect" as she prepares for death, with short cinematic chapters following various family members as they receive invitations. The author juxtaposes scenes from Orquídea's early life with present-day events; most notably, at the beginning, Orquídea is in one chapter a half-feral girl fishing in Ecuador and the next an aged woman becoming a tree as her family surrounds her.
Córdova (Incendiary) adeptly depicts this large family, but focuses on three of Orquídea's grandchildren so that readers are quickly caught up in their struggles and dreams. Seven years after the family disperses, people start dying and a mysterious, menacing figure appears to each of the three cousins. Desperate for answers, they reunite and travel to where it all started--Orquídea's first home in Ecuador. As the cousins unearth long-buried secrets and connect with their ancestors, Córdova gives readers Orquídea's experience of the events that would shape her life and that of the Montoya family for decades to come.
The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is a magical story with complex characters, masterful plotting and a sprawling family encompassing a range of Latinx experiences. Readers will be captivated. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels
Discover: Readers will eagerly follow the fiercely devoted Montoya cousins as they trace their witchy grandmother's past to preserve their future.
Along Came a Lady
by Christi Caldwell
Along Came a Lady, the launch of the Regency series All the Duke's Sins, is a deeply emotional tale featuring two illegitimate offspring of upper-crust society. When the Duke and Duchess of Bentley hire lovely Edwina Dalrymple to prepare the duke's bastard son to enter society, Edwina is certain that this success will guarantee her business reputation. But first, she must travel to rural Staffordshire and convince her new charge, Rafe Audley, to leave the coal mines and return to London. She assumes he will happily agree, for after all, who would not choose the richness of a life as a duke's son over the dangerous life of a miner?
However, Rafe has already rejected the overtures of five men sent to retrieve him. He hates the duke for failing his family and wants nothing to do with him. Rafe has every intention of chasing away the duke's latest envoy, but there's something about the lovely and very earnest Edwina that charms him.
When Rafe's sister and Edwina join forces, Rafe reluctantly cooperates, but London and the duke's household hold surprises for all of them. Perhaps, they discover, being born out of wedlock isn't the insurmountable barrier they had always believed it to be.
The colorful settings of rough coal mine, village and London's elegant streets provide vivid backdrop for this well-crafted story. Rafe and Edwina are both honorable, stubborn, ultimately vulnerable and extremely likable people. Readers will be fully engaged in this delightful novel as the pair struggle to navigate the web of society expectations and gender prejudices to reach a happy ending. --Lois Faye Dyer, writer and reviewer
Discover: In this moving and well-crafted novel, a determined lady and a duke's stubborn bastard son learn they have much to learn about life and love in Regency England.
Biography & Memoir
Three Girls from Bronzeville: A Uniquely American Memoir of Race, Fate, and Sisterhood
by Dawn Turner
Journalist and novelist Dawn Turner (Only Twice I've Wished for Heaven; An Eighth of August) has spent her career writing about politics, race and class in Chicago and across the United States, including coverage of Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. In Three Girls from Bronzeville, those same themes become the lens through which Turner explores her childhood memories, as well as those of her sister and childhood best friend, whose lives started so similarly and diverged in remarkable and heartbreaking ways.
"To understand what will happen to us," writes Turner, "you have to know the place that has begun to shape us." That place is Bronzeville, a historic Chicago community known as the "cradle of the city's Great Migration, the epicenter of Black business and culture." This three-square-mile community is increasingly affected by systemic disinvestment, racially motivated policing and the opioid epidemic. Against that backdrop, Turner recalls growing up with her younger sister, Kim, and best friend, Debra, doing the things kids do: sneaking notes in classes, making up adventures in the neighborhood, trying to do right by their parents. Somewhere along the way, though, their three paths diverged: Turner, heading to college and marriage and a successful career; Kim, struggling with alcoholism and dead of a heart attack at far too young an age; and Debra, caught in the throes of addiction and sent to jail for murder.
Turner expertly combines memoir and social history in her analysis of the many systems that made Bronzeville into the place it is today--and how those same oppressive systems shape the lives of even society's youngest neighbors. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: A seasoned journalist turns an incisive lens on her own past to understand how race, politics and class shaped the lives of three young Black girls.
by Ian Frazier
For years, Ian Frazier has been good-naturedly stuffing the New Yorker's Shouts & Murmurs section with observations filtered through a range of hilariously moronic, incompetent and self-important fictional personas. Cranial Fracking contains 43 choice Frazier humor pieces from the past decade and longer, almost all of which were Shouts & Murmurs, and many of which flambé the newsworthy, or at least news-making, stories of their day.
Frazier seems to have a keen understanding of everything from globalism to arts funding to Prince's oeuvre to the toddler's brain ("CLAIM: Walking backward is better than walking forward"). But the discerning reader will pick up on a favored theme: the self-interest of the unreasonably rich ("Certain billionaires have evolved traits specially adapted to saving rain forests. Others have inherited characteristics well suited for preserving woodlands and open spaces near their multi-thousand-square-foot fourth homes").
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that Frazier (The Cursing Mommy's Book of Days; Hogs Wild) has been in the game for a while, a couple of pieces in Cranial Fracking address the daunting prospect of growing old. In "Of Younger Days," Frazier's narrator rhapsodizes, "I had just turned sixty-three when I began the hesitant, sweet, shy courtship of my first real girlfriend. My wife was furious, of course." And only a philistine would not be moved by the collection's lone poem, "Lines on the Poet's Turning Forty." Here's a snippet: "The big four-oh./ Yes, that is soon to be my age./ (And not fifty-eight. No way. That Wikipedia is a bunch of liars.)" --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: This collection, almost entirely comprised of Shouts & Murmurs pieces from the New Yorker, secures Ian Frazier's status as a shrewd social commentator masquerading as a great wit.
Children's & Young Adult
Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown
by Steve Sheinkin
Three-time National Book Award nominee and Newbery Honor author Steve Sheinkin recounts the "most intense years of the Cold War" with a cinematic writing style that is keenly detailed.
In 1948, three years after the end of World War II, the Soviets and Americans, former allies who "crushed Hitler" and won the war in Europe, are clashing over postwar plans. The two countries find themselves "locked in a struggle for power and influence over the world" as American leaders encourage the establishment of democratic governments and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin pushes for the spread of Communism. Thus, the Cold War begins. In Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown, Sheinkin (Born to Fly; Undefeated) presents a well-researched, engrossing account of the events building to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the "single most dangerous moment in human history." Sheinkin engages readers with both the big and small events of the Cold War by using dialogue, a conversational tone and descriptive language. His documentary-style writing is a bird's-eye view of incidents that marries lesser-known historical figures with high-profile events, showing the human aspect of the war.
A sense of urgency is apparent as Sheinkin moves through the events that brought the world to the brink of World War III. Switching rapidly between the viewpoints of Washington and Moscow, Sheinkin recounts the story as if it were a chess match between two grandmasters. In an epilogue, Sheinkin tells readers what happened to the major players in the years following the "eyeball-to-eyeball" moment in Cuba, and briefly touches on what ended the standoff between the two greatest powers in the world. Look no further for informative and entertaining nonfiction. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: A riveting middle-grade chronicle of the events surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Obie Is Man Enough
by Schuyler Bailar
Schuyler Bailar's powerful middle-grade debut highlights the triumphs and struggles of an adolescent transgender competitive swimmer.
After Korean American Zechariah-Obadiah "Obie" Chang begins identifying as a boy, he endures transphobic epithets hurled by his coach, abandonment by his two best friends and both physical and verbal assaults in the boys' bathroom. Traumatized but proud of himself and fueled by his passion for swimming, he joins a new team and learns to face school without his old friends.
Obie frequently updates two private lists: "People who believe I'm man enough" and "People who don't." While his parents and brother remain staunch believers in his maleness, the inhabitants of both lists shift, paralleling the conflicts in the narrative and hinting at Obie's allies and changing relationships. Despite joining a new team, Obie continues to be bullied when he encounters his old coach and teammates at swim meets. When a family member dies, though, Obie discovers that his new cis male teammates support him and they swiftly become allies.
Bailar, the first trans athlete to compete in any sport on an NCAA Division One men's team, includes a message and content warning to trans readers, a letter to cisgender readers, a glossary of LGBTQ+ terms and mental health resources. He encapsulates the mind of a seventh-grader by punctuating the traditional narration with Obie's text conversations with peers. Additionally, Obie's journal realistically encompasses thoughtful processing, anxiety about trying on "male" swimsuits and visiting the boys' restroom, and sweet wonderings about his crush. Bailar also dovetails the book's narrative with an evolving personal essay about how Obie's Korean heritage has shaped the young man he is growing to be. It mirrors the setbacks, growth and ultimate successes Obie experiences. --Kieran Slattery, freelance reviewer, teacher, co-creator of Gender Inclusive Classrooms
Discover: This heartfelt middle-grade novel follows a Korean American transmasculine swimmer committed to thriving in his cultural and gender identities.