From the Shelf
Funny in Real Life: Nonfiction for Laughs
Laughter, they say, is the best medicine. Cliché or not, up your humor intake with the following funny books.
"I've been waiting all my life to ruin this moment," writes voice actor and comedian H. Jon Benjamin in Failure Is an Option: An Attempted Memoir (Dutton, $16). In it, Benjamin catalogues a life of various failures: failed jobs. Failed romantic pursuits. Failed parenting moments. Failed bodily control in one particularly disastrous incident involving a rental car. It's a veritable variety show of Benjamin's signature dry humor, with hybrid forms like e-mails and sex diagrams studding the mix.
The legendary David Sedaris has published decades of bestsellers--but some of his finest, most bittersweet work can be found in Me Talk Pretty One Day (Back Bay, $16.99). Especially memorable is "The Youth in Asia," wherein Sedaris wrestles with several deaths in the family: his pets', and eventually, his mother's. For instance, when he must euthanize a beloved cat, Sedaris has her cremated. But: "She'd never expressed any great interest in the outdoors, so I scattered her remains on the carpet and then vacuumed her back up." Expect laughter to mingle with tears.
Then settle into The Portable Dorothy Parker (Penguin Books, $24), edited by Marion Meade. It features the original collection of Parker's work as arranged by Parker herself, along with additional writings, interviews and letters. Parker's talents spanned genres: poetry, short stories, novellas, screenplays, reviews. And critics have long lauded her work; she co-wrote the Oscar-nominated 1937 screenplay of the oft-remade A Star Is Born. Her reputation as one of the smartest, saltiest comedic writers in United States history is well-deserved. A classic Parker quip: "The two most beautiful words in the English language are 'check enclosed.' "
In this Issue...
by Jennifer DuBois
With beautifully wistful prose and keen generational insight, The Spectators is both a character study and a panorama of collective, urban identity.
by Sarah Blake
Naamah is a mystical reimagining of the story of Noah and the great flood, featuring lyrical prose and a strong female protagonist.
by Mitali Perkins
In her young adult novel Forward Me Back to You, Mitali Perkinsgracefully tackles two teens navigating trauma, identity and first love.
Review by Subjects:
01/18/2020 - 7:00PMThe author of a well-received fiction debut, Catalina, Liska Jacobs visits with The Worst Kind of Want (MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux), an open-eyed novel of a woman who goes from the U.S. to Italy on a family mission only to find herself drawn into an entirely different world from the one she’d been living in. “The Worst Kind of Want transported me to Rome and blessed me with an addictive, sexy story about a woman who tries to turn her pain into a fleeting, forgettable recklessness. If only...
01/18/2020 - 11:00AMJoin us for this fun hour of readings from picture and storybooks... Go to the castle in the children’s section...and the stories begin!
01/18/2020 - 10:00AMSaturday University Silk Roads Past and Present Lecture Series. This morning the Saturday University morning autumn series on the Silk Road in Asia concludes with David Bachman, professor of political science at the University of Washington and former chair of the China Study Program there. He will present a lecture on “The 21st Century Silk Road: China’s Belt and Road Initiative.” Presented by the GARDNER CENTER FOR ASIAN ART AND IDEAS, in partnership with the UNIVERSITY OF...
01/19/2020 - 3:00PMCome learn about writing for young adults, from a literary agent and an author, with the Authors Guild. Kathleen Ortiz, a Seattle-based agent with New Leaf Literary in New York, and Lish McBride, a well-published YA writer, tell us about this rapidly expanding publishing market. All are welcome, Authors Guild members or not. Kathleen Ortiz is a literary agent who has over a decade of experience in the industry, both as an agent and licensing expert. She focuses on a diverse list of picture...
01/20/2020 - 7:00PMA Winter's Evening of Music, Poetry and Storytelling with Claudia Castro Luna, Michelle Dodson, Hilary Field, Merna Ann Hecht & Lena Khalaf Tuffaha. Weaving together original music and poetry, classical guitarist and composer Hilary Field with poets Claudia Castro Luna and Lena Khalaf Tuffaha will share poems about struggle and their means to survive. Storyteller Merna Ann Hecht and cellist Michelle Dodson will offer stories and music with the theme of bringing hope forth in dark times...
01/21/2020 - 7:00PMFollowing journalist and novelist Fatima Bhutto, here a few months ago with her book on pop culture in India, the United Emirates, Turkey, and Latin America, is William Wheeler, with another in Columbia Global Reports’ books of long-form journalism. He visits with what is his first book, State of War: MS-13 and El Salvador’s World of Violence. "In State of War, his gripping, electrifying study of the brutal Salvadoran gang culture, William Wheeler dramatizes with almost painful immediacy a...
01/21/2020 - 6:30PMThis month’s selection for reading and discussion is Ada Hoffman’s novel, The Outside (Angry Robot). Learn More
Game of Thrones Theme Tours
Mental Floss booked "13 Game of Thrones-themed tours you can take around the world."
CNN gathered "9 facts about librarians you probably didn't know."
Open Culture featured "David Bowie songs reimagined as pulp fiction book covers."
Two Dutch street artists "recently painted a literary trompe l'oeil mural on an apartment building in Utrecht, Netherlands," Colossal reported.
From Samuel Johnson to J.G. Ballard, author Madeleine Bunting shared her picks for the best books about islands in the Guardian.
Rediscover: Jonathan Baumbach
Experimental novelist, academic and film critic Jonathan Baumbach died on March 28 at age 85. He earned a Ph.D. in English from Stanford University in 1961 and went on to direct Brooklyn College's M.F.A fiction program between 1975 and 2001, among other positions. Baumbach published his first novel, A Man to Conjure With, in 1965. When his third novel was rejected 32 times, Baumbach and Peter Spielberg founded Fiction Collective, an author-run, nonprofit publisher of avant garde work. Its successor organization, Fiction Collective 2, still releases an average of six books a year.
Baumbach's novels, known for their nonlinearity and dreamlike imagery, include Reruns (1974), Dreams of Molly (2011), Babble (1976), Chez Charlotte and Emily (1980), Separate Hours (1990), What Comes Next (1968), Seven Wives: A Romance (1994) and The Life and Times of Major Fiction (2007). His son, filmmaker Noah Baumbach, wrote and directed The Squid and the Whale (2005), which was based in part on his own life, with his father as the inspiration for the character played by Jeff Daniels. Jonathan Baumbach's most recent book is a short story collection called The Pavilion of Former Wives (Dzanc, $16.95, 9781941088616).
The Writer's Life
Kwame Onwuachi: Shifting Between Worlds
|photo: Rey Lopez|
In Notes from a Young Black Chef: A Memoir (Knopf, reviewed below), chef Kwame Onwuachi (with co-writer Joshua David Stein) explores his experiences growing up at the intersection of multiple cultures and cuisines. Onwuachi traces his life both in and out of the kitchen, reflecting on a youth that crossed continents--and, for a time, the law--and a career that by his late 20s already included competing on Top Chef, cooking in prestigious kitchens and opening several restaurants of his own.
What did an average day look like for you, balancing writing with being a chef?
That's a loaded question! I tried to find time before service, in between service--literally any free time, I had to either get something down on paper or talk to my co-writer. There was always something, every single chance I got.
A theme throughout Notes from a Young Black Chef is how often you have had to shift between different versions of yourself. How has this ability shaped you as a chef?
You have to slide between different worlds as a chef. You have different people you have to inspire and influence. You have your diners: you have to go out there and talk to them a certain way and inspire them. And you have your staff, who you have to continue to inspire as well. Shifting through the worlds never really stopped. Only the bigger you get, the worlds you have to shift between get farther and farther away from each other.
One of the images I was struck by from your time living in Nigeria was the RV that your granddad took on a road trip across the U.S., then brought back to Nigeria with him. The idea of home being moveable and changing is so compelling. What gives you a sense of being home now?
I would say that doing what I love to do gives me a sense of being home. I've traveled all around the country doing pop-ups, across oceans cooking--whether it's Hong Kong or Mumbai or L.A. or San Francisco. One thing that keeps me grounded is being in the kitchen. It gives me the sense of home. It reminds me of my childhood. I found so much security standing next to my mother in the kitchen for so long that that has never left me.
There have been strong women in your life who have supported their families through their cooking. I've also read about your admiration for the incredible restaurateur Leah Chase. Can you say a little about that, and about your own work supporting women and people of color in your industry?
I feel it's important for me as a minority to support other minorities. The thing about Leah Chase is that she's not only an African American chef who's had her own restaurant for so long (and during the Civil Rights movement), but she's also acted as a backbone for our societal growth as a people.
Having a restaurant now as a person of color is difficult; I can only imagine how it was in that time period. And to continue to cook amazing food on top of that and to continue to be in the restaurant as much as she has is really inspiring. It's the way that my mom inspires me when I think I have it tough and I look back to her. She was a single mom supporting two children in New York City. That's crazy, you know? I get a lot of inspiration through people persevering. It makes me keep going as well.
Your first job as a teenager was at a McDonald's. Later, referring to when you were selling drugs in college, you write, "We had everything we wanted, could buy anything we wanted, could eat at Burger King three times a day every day." Out of curiosity, when was the last time you had McDonald's or Burger King?
Ha! I ate at Wendy's like three weeks ago. I was having a bad day; I forget what happened. On a bad day, usually I will eat either chicken wings and pork fried rice or some sort of fast food. So I had Wendy's. I had a Baconator or something like that, with chicken nuggets and French fries. It was great. But I haven't eaten at Burger King in years.
A couple quick ones. First, if you were to make a "Nutcracker" (the cheap Hawaiian Punch cocktail you briefly sold to fellow college students) now, what would be in it?
Oh, man! I always think about putting it on the menu! I think it would be in the same vein. I'd call it a Nutcracker, but there would be elderflower juice in there, or elderflower cordial. Mangosteen juice. All my favorite fruit flavors now, or fruit-forward flavors now, with a Bacardi eight-year rum. Shaken, with lots of ice.
What was the last cookbook you cooked from?
I think the last cookbook I cooked from was The Art of Fermentation--not actually a "recipe" recipe.
What are you having for dinner tonight?
I probably won't have anything. I'm working the line, so I'll be tasting through the line making sure the food tastes good. So that will be my dinner! --Katie Weed
by Jennifer DuBois
Jennifer duBois's The Spectators presents one enigmatic man, Matthew Miller, through the perspectives of two very different people: his estranged male lover and his publicity assistant on his TV talk show. Semi, who knew Miller as an altruistic, political hopeful in 1970s New York, grapples with the aftermath of the AIDS epidemic and his own survivor's guilt. Meanwhile Cel attempts to cope with the fact that a recent school shooter connected his actions to the public's obsession with The Mattie M Show, the reality show she works for. As Semi tries to recover his lost, exuberant youth and Cel struggles to find her way as a 20-something in an unforgiving city, the reader is left to wonder how Semi's idealistic ex-lover could become the opaque host of the decade's most controversial and sensational show.
While never shortchanging the intimate insights of her two primary characters, duBois manages to use these same perspectives to paint a kaleidoscopic portrait of New York City. Semi and Cel are well-crafted individuals who are clearly products of their times and peers. DuBois excels in recognizing them as more than just vehicles through which Matthew Miller can be realized. Nevertheless, these two perspectives illustrate more than just one man; in fact, it is in telling the story of their involvement with this man that Cel and Semi are ultimately able to sketch the emotionally poignant, nostalgically haunting parameters of New York City itself. This feat is made possible by duBois's breathtaking prose that, particularly in Semi's sections, renders the reader nostalgic for something they may never have experienced, and which may not yet have even ended. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Discover: With beautifully wistful prose and keen generational insight, The Spectators is both a character study and a panorama of collective, urban identity.
There's a Word for That
by Sloane Tanen
Janine Kessler is a former child actor who lives with her many anxieties in a tiny New York City apartment. Her father, Marty, an award-winning director, has always supported her. So when Marty ends up in Directions, one of California's most posh rehab facilities, yet again, Janine reluctantly comes to help. For the first time in years, Janine ends up spending time with her sister, Amanda, who has always resented her, and Amanda's beautiful teenage twin daughters--although one is slightly more gorgeous than the other, which has led to more tension.
And then, to the surprise of Janine and Amanda, they discover that Marty had a wife they never knew about. His first wife, Bunny Small, the wildly popular author of the Henry Holter books, one of the most popular kids' fiction series in the world, has been out of his life for decades--until she too is admitted to Directions. As Marty and Bunny get reacquainted, hilarious drama ensues in both the Kessler and Small-Holter families. Readers will be amused as Janine wrestles with her past, and Marty and Bunny look toward the future, leading to all sorts of hijinks.
In There's a Word for That Sloane Tanen has brought together a cast of rich, self-indulgent characters, and made them surprisingly accessible, a bit like a literary version of Arrested Development's Bluth family. Tanen, the author of a series of illustrated books that includes Bitter with Baggage Seeks Same, has an eye for human foibles and a knack for sharp, funny dialogue. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: Three generations of the Kessler family have to deal with snarky, comical drama when patriarch Marty Kessler is admitted to rehab.
Stella Maris and Other Key West Stories
by Michael Carroll
Stella Maris, Michael Carroll's follow-up to his debut short story collection, Little Reef, offers more tales set in the sex-drenched city of Key West, Fla. One story narrator sums up the city's appeal: "The town is full of strangers with their stories, all horny mostly. Key West is sexy-ish." Among the characters are aging gay men dealing with illness; young gay tourists bored with their surroundings and their choices for sexual partners; and the eternal war between waning and raging libidos.
Many of the same characters appear in several of Stella Maris's eight stories, creating a strong tapestry and community. One such character is Perry Knight, an esteemed gay writer with a rapidly dying readership. "His first crop of readers had died of AIDS a while ago," writes Scott, his younger husband. "Now old age was hacking away with scythe precision at their survivors, but only those who still read." Scott is trying to finish a memoir about their life together but fears revealing too much. In the story "Key West Funeral," numerous people attend the funeral of a former Marine and beloved drag queen and compare conflicting notes on the man they knew. In "Stella Maris, Star of the Sea," a man who has recently lost his wife starts to make tentative moves toward accepting his homosexuality and carnal drives.
Carroll's spare but evocative prose cast a haunting spell. Although death and dying is the uniting factor in all of these tales, there's still humor, passion and desire simmering below. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Carroll's second short story collection offers interconnected tales full of lust, longing and death.
Soon the Light Will Be Perfect
by Dave Patterson
Dave Patterson's first novel, Soon the Light Will Be Perfect, is a rough-edged coming-of-age story. Set in a poverty-stricken Vermont community at the beginning of "the desert war," it spotlights a family in crisis within a town in despair.
The narrator is a 12-year-old boy. Along with his older brother, father and mother, he remains nameless, although more peripheral characters have proper names. As the story opens, the family has recently moved out of the trailer park--an important social step up--and they have given away their old kitchen table in an act of charity. The father is supposed to be building a new one, but this project serves as a metaphor for larger troubles.
The 15-year-old brother gets a girlfriend and distances himself from the narrator, although the boys still smoke weed together in the garage, where the kitchen-table project progresses slowly. This is a devout Catholic family, and guilt plagues the young narrator, whose burgeoning sexual interests, for example, give him trouble. His mother's suffering at the hands of cancer, chemotherapy and radiation seems senseless.
While Patterson's gift for description brings beauty to this novel, the tone is bleak. The father labors helplessly; the sick mother delivers food to those needier than herself but also covers up a small crime, as her younger son sneaks cigarettes and self-flagellates. Soon the Light Will Be Perfect is an ambitious work about what it is to be young and facing problems that challenge the most capable adult. At its end, much remains unresolved, just as in life, but readers can recognize just how true that ending rings. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: This sensitive debut novel about everything that can go wrong as one grows up will touch any reader who remembers being 12 and beset by the world.
The Peacock Emporium
by Jojo Moyes
Jojo Moyes (Me Before You; Still Me) originally wrote The Peacock Emporium more than a decade ago. With this new edition, American readers can enjoy the story of Suzanna Peacock and her infamous mother, Athene.
Athene Forster was an "it" girl in the 1960s, a debutante who took London society by storm with her scandalous activities. Suzanna has always struggled with her mother's legacy, and her own strong resemblance to Athene.
Suzanna and her husband, Neil, who lost his job, have had to move back to the country to be supported by her parents, much to her dismay. Suzanna's relationship with her family, which has never been easy, has deteriorated. Furthermore, her marriage is tense, so she decides to open a small shop in town, hoping to find an outlet for her frustration and a way to redeem herself in everyone's eyes.
Told in alternating chapters that depict the lives of Suzanna and Neil, her parents and several patrons of the Peacock Emporium, Moyes neatly weaves together story lines across many decades. As Suzanna begins to connect with the patrons of her quirky little shop and learn their stories, she comes to realize surprising truths about her life, and the things she's always believed to be true. Readers who already love Moyes are sure to like The Peacock Emporium, and new readers will enjoy the blend of contemporary and historical fiction. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: A daughter struggles to live up to her mother's infamous legacy in this reissued early novel from Jojo Moyes.
My Coney Island Baby
by Billy O'Callaghan
Two lovers, Michael and Caitlin, fight against the frigid weather as they walk along the bleak, deserted Coney Island boardwalk. The skyline is "a bullying slob of grey running into grey, slaughtering detail and definition." The air, "mean with cold," highlights their intimacy as they brace together against the wind, draw close and speak into each other's breath. Then Michael softly says, "Barb's got cancer," and realization breaks through the veneer--Michael and Caitlin are married to others, carrying on an illicit affair.
Billy O'Callaghan begins My Coney Island Baby with a lyrical struggle of a couple against nature, allowing the reader to invest in their relationship before providing any opportunity to drop the hammer of judgment. He then winds through Michael and Caitlin's histories--separately, within their respective marriages and through their monthly meetings over the course of their 25-year relationship, fleshing out the humans that underlie the indiscretions.
O'Callaghan won the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Award for his short fiction, and his prose displays minute attention, finding beauty and meaning in the smallest of details, every page a goldmine of life reflected in its elements, even those that are worn down and busted. The work is infused with musicality, from the jazz saxophone scoring Michael and Caitlin's first meeting to the resonant sounds of an infant on life support. Over the course of the day, Michael and Caitlin's secret but sustaining relationship must bear up to new facts and long-denied decisions. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: Over the course of an afternoon in their haven of a rundown seaside motel, a couple must face their lives, choices and the future of their decades-long affair.
by Stewart O'Nan
Stewart O'Nan has perceptively mined the lives--and quiet dramas--of the Maxwell family of Pittsburgh, Pa., in two previous books. In Wish You Were Here, O'Nan introduced the family matriarch, Emily Maxwell, one year after the death of her husband, Henry. Emily offered her adult children--a floundering son and his family and an alcoholic daughter on the brink of divorce and her children--one last rendezvous at the family's summer home in upstate New York. In Emily, Alone, O'Nan thoughtfully presented Emily, years later, in her 80s, entrenched in widowhood and forced to re-invent herself again when her sister-in-law, a beloved companion, physically declines. In Henry, Himself, O'Nan offers a prequel to the previous Maxwell family books, focusing on the life of Henry, the patriarch, who has been absent thus far.
This story is set in 1998. Henry, a 75-year-old retired engineer, is slowing down and taking stock of his life--marriage and fatherhood, his work, what he's proud of and what he regrets. As in the other books, living through the mundane of everyday life resurrects memories of the past and raises existential questions. Henry considers his worth, whether he is a good person and what the future holds for him and Emily and the complicated lives of their offspring who chronically bewilder and disappoint.
O'Nan is a graceful, meticulous writer. Carefully chosen details woven into a stream-of-consciousness narrative magnify small, ordinary moments that ultimately lead toward profound enlightenment. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A husband, father and grandfather from the Greatest Generation poignantly comes to grips with his life and its meaning.
Mystery & Thriller
Oscar Wilde and the Return of Jack the Ripper
by Gyles Brandreth
The seventh book in Gyles Brandreth's Oscar Wilde mystery series, Oscar Wilde and the Return of Jack the Ripper, is the first that is not told from Wilde's viewpoint. Instead, this witty and fast-paced outing is recounted by Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes and a real-life friend of Wilde. Not surprisingly, this deliciously twisty mystery works just fine as a stand-alone thriller. And although this entry is a bit darker than the previous mysteries, it is still an enjoyable romp. There are plenty of charming scenes between the two bantering friends, and Wilde's clever and acerbic observations are constantly entertaining.
Six years after the notorious Jack the Ripper murders in London's impoverished Whitechapel district, Chief Constable Melville Macnaughten contacts the two amateur sleuths about a new murder that appears to be the work of the same psychopath. Except this murder has taken place in an alley behind Tite Street--where both Wilde and Macnaughten have homes. With the permission of the police, the duo studies the case files of the first five victims and start eliminating previous suspects and interviewing new ones. Meanwhile, Wilde's messy personal life brings him dangerously close to ruin when his devoted and loving wife begins circling the same orbit as his latest male infatuation.
Fans of Doyle and Wilde will find the pair fully developed and fascinating company. And Brandreth's extensive research into the Whitechapel Murders produces a solution that is sound, satisfying and original. A delightful police procedural not to be missed. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde play sleuths to track down the identity of Jack the Ripper in this smart, sly and gripping police procedural.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Sarah Blake
Poet Sarah Blake's (Mr. West) novel Naamah transforms the story of Noah and the ark, creating a haunting tale of female agency. Naamah, Noah's wife, is the focus of this story about the great flood to destroy humanity, and God is noticeably absent from this retelling. "That's what I like to call the flood sometimes. The great abandonment.... Him abandoning us," one character says. Namaah's faith fights with her skepticism about God's plan. She admits she is "humbled by the flood, but how long can someone reasonably be asked to experience humility?" Visitations from angels and intense, erotic dreams interrupt and enrich her drudgery on the ship.
Since the flood story is one of rebirth, Naamah is perfectly suited as the main character. Here she is a sensual, forceful woman who is an equal partner with her husband in what seems like a quixotic command from an angry God. Her experience as a mother and midwife foreshadows the rebirth that happens when the floodwaters recede and humanity has another chance to rise. But finally on land, saved, Naamah still questions God. "I don't think our faith in Him should determine how we live our lives," she tells her daughter-in-law.
Blake's lyrical prose sweeps over the reader as inexorably as the water around the ark, but her genius is in making Naamah's life as relevant as if she were alive today. The reimagining of this patriarchal tale into a feminist allegory is a stunning achievement, sure to intrigue fans of Circe and Home Fire. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: Naamah is a mystical reimagining of the story of Noah and the great flood, featuring lyrical prose and a strong female protagonist.
Biography & Memoir
Notes from a Young Black Chef: A Memoir
by Kwame Onwuachi , Joshua David Stein
"Flavors," Kwame Onwuachi writes, "are my first language," and since childhood, his life has been shaped by flavor. In the frank and fascinating memoir Notes from a Young Black Chef, co-written with Joshua David Stein, Onwuachi shares seminal stories and recipes from his culinary life.
Onwuachi grew up in the Bronx, N.Y., in a household scented with his mother's Creole and Jamaican cooking. Following his parents' divorce, he alternated staying with his abusive father and his supportive but financially struggling mother. When she was laid off from her accounting job, she started a catering company, and money became tighter--catering was literally a "feast-or-famine business."
That didn't stop Onwuachi from entering the same business himself after an adolescence that included, among other adventures, a two-year stint in Nigeria; a go at college that resulted in getting kicked out for selling drugs; and a gig cooking on a ship in the Gulf Coast following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Finally came culinary school, where entering the highest echelons of his industry also meant reckoning with being a person of color in it. He likens his experience at the Culinary Institute of America to attending Hogwarts, and he parlayed his kitchen wizardry into eventually running multiple restaurants. But conflict always struck: his relationship with his father fizzled. On Top Chef, Onwuachi lost. His first restaurant failed.
Through it all, Onwuachi focuses on his first language of flavor--and his memoir and the recipes within tell that story with humility and heart. Readers will hunger for more. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: Chef Kwame Onwuachi's memoir offers a portrait of his life in the Bronx, Nigeria and finally the American South.
Children's & Young Adult
Forward Me Back to You
by Mitali Perkins
In Forward Me Back to You, junior Katina King is the reigning "middleweight, under-seventeen Northern California Brazilian jiujitsu Grappling champion" and on track to a bright future. When a classmate--whom she refers to as "wolf"--attempts to sexually assault her, she smartly uses her skills to fight back. Unfortunately, since there is no evidence he attacked first, the wolf faces no repercussions. As a result, Kat withdraws and develops a deep mistrust of men, constantly feeling the stare of their "canine eyes." Kat's concerned mother sends Kat to Boston to spend a few months with her Grandmother Vee; while there, Kat attends a church group gathering and meets Robin. Adopted by a white couple from an Indian orphanage at (approximately) three years old, Robin, now 18, is suffering an identity crisis.
Kat and Robin decide to join their youth group's trip to Kolkata, where Robin was born. The intent of the trip is to volunteer with survivors of human trafficking, but Kat and Robin have very different personal reasons for going: Kat, to pad her college applications; Robin, to find his "first mother." The experience proves more enlightening than expected--Kat slowly rebuilds trust and Robin learns more about himself than his "first" family.
Mitali Perkins (You Bring the Distant Near) expertly explores personal identity, faith, trauma and ethnocentrism, cleverly using a dual narrative to depict Kat's and Robin's individual points of view. Perkins also uses the teens' experience in Kolkata to highlight the way many view service when done in cultures other than their own. Forward Me Back to You respectfully tackles heavy issues with a poignant, honest and refreshing outlook. --Tasneem Daud, blogger and booktuber, Nemo Reads
Discover: In her young adult novel Forward Me Back to You, Mitali Perkinsgracefully tackles two teens navigating trauma, identity and first love.
The Lost Horse
by Mark Nicholas
"People came from far and wide to see the sculpture of the man and his horse." Then one day, the bronze horse vanishes! Detectives search high and low, combing through nearby villages, to no avail. Where could this valuable horse have gone?
Lyra, a lonely girl living in the far-away forest in a house "taller than any of the trees surrounding it," is astonished when a bronze horse appears outside her window: "A horse... My wish came true!" Together they pick flowers, take walks and play hide and seek. Despite their lovely adventures, though, "every now and then, Lyra [thinks] the horse [looks] sad," as if he is "missing something." When a great bronze man appears looking for his horse, Lyra knows what the horse was missing: "his friend." Though she understands, she is sad to lose him. Until, that is, the horse speeds back to the city's museum, bringing both her and the bronze man with him. Greeted as a hero who returned the lost horse, Lyra is welcomed into the city, where she discovers a wide world to explore; she promises to visit her sculpted friends often.
The Lost Horse is illustrator Mark Nicholas's (The Story of Tantrum O'Furrily) whimsical picture book-writing debut. Nicholas uses a muted gray palette for his illustrations, Lyra's red dress and a few scattered flowers the only pops of color. Lyra's red edges blend into the gray background, giving her the illusion of depth and movement, and the horse and man are dreamlike in their rendering, little more than shadowy, elongated sketches against a more defined backdrop. Nicholas's sweet story explores the importance of companionship and empathy and highlights the adventures possible when in possession of an imaginative spirit. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor
Discover: As the world outside looks for a missing horse sculpture, a girl meets her dream companion in Mark Nicholas's imaginative and beautifully illustrated picture book.
Megabat and Fancy Cat
by Anna Humphrey , illust. by Kass Reich
Anna Humphrey and Kass Reich's fast-talking, short-nosed fruit bat worries he's lost his Favorite Pet status in this follow-up to Megabat, Megabat and Fancy Cat.
It's Megabat's first Christmas in Canada and he's having trouble understanding the human traditions: "The man is too fattish and oldish to be climbing stairs?" Friend Daniel explains that Santa comes down the chimney because he doesn't have keys. "Santa is being a rotten robber!" Megabat exclaims. But gifts? Megabat understands gifts. He is immediately enamored with one of Daniel's presents, a "bunny-rabbit soft," "creamy white" purebred cat named Prudence. Unfortunately, when Megabat "really, really" likes something, he tastes it. Prudence, skittish in her new environment, runs from the slurping bat tongue and launches herself at the Christmas tree, bringing it down "with a glittery, howling crash." Megabat soon finds that, whether it's knocking over the tree, spilling paint (because Megabat painted her) or breaking a porcelain Christmas village (because Megabat scared her), it doesn't matter what bad things Prudence does--the family grows ever fonder of her. Convinced Daniel can't love both Prudence and him, Megabat hatches a scheme to get rid of the cat.
Humphrey's second early chapter book in this series is just as sweet and wacky as the first. Megabat's version of English is charmingly off-kilter and Reich's graphite illustrations of the adorably expressive animals match the text in exuberance and silliness. Megabat hopefully has many more adventures to come and, if we're lucky, Prudence will be by his side. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: In Humphrey and Reich's follow-up to Megabat, the charming fruit bat attempts to get rid of the family's new cat.