DISCOVER YOUR NEXT GREAT BOOK
20 HALLOWEEN READS
to send shivers down your spine, including the folk-horror anthology The Gathering Dark. Dark
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Divided We Stand H.W. Brands In Our First Civil War, historian and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist during illuminates the intensely personal convictions of the Patriots and Loyalists the American Revolution.
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behind the book | ann mah. . . . . . . . . 4 Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis goes to Paris
feature | vampires . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Death is only the first chapter
feature | hometown mysteries. . . . . . 8 You can go home again—but should you?
feature | paranormal romances . . . 14 Sweet, sexy but never scary
shelf life | colleen hoover . . . . . . . . . 15 The literary life of BookTok’s favorite author
feature | halloween ya reads. . . . . . . 28 A thrilling, chilling trio of books
interview | hua hsu. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 A memoir of a formative friendship
q&a | ally malinenko. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29 A haunted house story like no other
q&a | kate beaton . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 The comics artist’s first graphic memoir
feature | graphics. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Two raw and real illustrated stories
feature | short reads. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 Exceptional fiction in under 200 pages
meet | theodore taylor III . . . . . . . . . 31 Meet the author-illustrator of Off the Wall
reviews fiction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 nonfiction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 young adult. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 children’s. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
COVER STORY: HALLOWEEN q&a | gennarose nethercott. . . . . . . . . 9
audio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Baba Yaga’s door is open in this debut novel
whodunit . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
column | the hold list. . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
book clubs. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Introducing our favorite witches
feature | dig into death. . . . . . . . . . . 11 Two morbidly fascinating nonfiction books
feature | horror. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 A tasting menu of terror
cozies. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 lifestyles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 romance. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 well read. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Cover and page 28 include art from The Gathering Dark © 2022 by Evangeline Gallagher. Design by Rosie Stewart. Reproduced with permission of Page Street Publishing.
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Wake up ladies, the Kingston brothers are back in town. Small town Alaska. Bush pilots. Three ex-military heroes. It’s a fight to save the people—and country—they love, and along the way, they’ll discover healing and become the heroes they are meant to be.
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B O O K P A G E • 2 1 4 3 B E L C O U R T AV E N U E • N A S H V I L L E , T N 3 7 2 1 2 • B O O K P A G E . C O M
behind the book | ann mah
An American icon’s year abroad Travel writer and novelist Ann Mah transports us to postwar Paris with young Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. In 2019, Ann Mah published an article in the and visiting Reid Hall, the Parisian center of New York Times about 20-year-old Jacqueline American study abroad since the 1920s. Bouvier’s year in Paris as a college junior. As I interviewed Jacqueline’s French host sisMah traced Jacqueline’s days up and down the ter, Claude du Granrut, who spoke of the bitter streets of Paris and into its museums and cafes, cold of the winter of 1950, describing the earshe revealed a new side of both the American muffs, scarves and sweaters they wore at home icon and the postwar city. to keep warm. Their ramThe article was the inspirabling apartment lacked heat: tion for Jacqueline in Paris, “It was broken,” she said. Mah’s novel about this for“Jacqueline put on gloves to mative year. Mah shares a study. I remember her always closer look at the process of being covered up.” She told me that she and Jacqueline fictionalizing this story—and the incredible moment when never spoke a word of English Jacqueline’s own voice began together, which I found espeto come through. cially touching, because ••• it illustrated how deeply A couple of years ago in Jacqueline cared about learnParis, I walked by a stately ing the French language. art nouveau building in the In du Granrut’s memoir, Le 16th arrondissement. On piano et le violoncelle, I read more about her mother (and the wall hung a plaque that proclaimed: “Jacqueline Jacqueline’s host mother), Kennedy-Onassis née Leethe Comtesse de Renty. She Bouvier (1929–1994), widow and her husband had been Resistance spies during the of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jacqueline in Paris 35th president of the United war; in the final days before Mariner, $27.99, 9780062997012 States of America, lived in the liberation of Paris, they this building as a student were captured and sent to Historical Fiction from 1949 to 1950.” It stopped concentration camps, where me in my tracks. her husband died. The war left her widowed and By this point I’d lived in Paris off and on for impoverished, with two daughters and a granda few years, and I had a pretty good sense of son to support, and as a result she had taken in the famous Americans who had lived in and boarders, including Jacqueline and two other loved the City of Light—but I hadn’t realized girls studying abroad through Smith College. Piecing together these details of Jacqueline’s they included the former first lady. As I gazed at the apartment building, which was large and time in France felt both thrilling and pain elegant, with a limestone facade that blended staking. And yet my original questions about seamlessly with its neighbors, I tried to imagine her still lingered. It occurred to me that the her as a student, 20 years old, pushing open the story of Jacqueline’s junior year abroad in Paris heavy wooden front door, buying a newspaper reached far beyond the scope of a travel article. at the corner kiosk, dashing down the steps of How could I learn more? Famously guarded, the metro. Suddenly I was overcome with a Jacqueline did not grant many interviews, and most of her personal letters remain private. As desire to know more about this young woman a result, her story has largely been told through who had decided to study in France only five years after World War II. What had drawn her the memories and observations of others. But to Paris? With whom—and how—did she live? the bright, adventurous young woman I had And how had her junior year abroad affected gleaned through snippets had her own voice, the rest of her life, if at all? and in this novel I have tried to let her speak. At first I heard her voice like a whisper, perI began writing a travel article, retracing Jacqueline’s footsteps in Paris. At the library, haps her famous little half-whisper. But after I checked out a stack of biographies, scouring listening to the French radio interviews she gave them for details about her year abroad, which as first lady—in which she spoke fluent French with clear precision—I realized she must have were few and far between. I re-created some of her adventures: sipping cocktails at the Ritz deployed that girlish tone as a guise, a protective Bar, riding horses in the Bois de Boulogne cloak. Perhaps such subterfuge was necessary
for a young woman of her milieu, one socially poised but financially precarious, dependent on her looks, charm and ability to please. Her self-assured voice in French challenged the caricature of Mrs. John F. Kennedy and allowed me to glimpse a quick, clever side of her. I couldn’t forget it, and in the end it guided me, even in moments of doubt and frustration, until Jacqueline seemed to be talking to me directly. Much of this book was written during the early days of the pandemic, which meant I couldn’t visit France, but every afternoon I retreated to my car, which was parked in the underground garage of my apartment building, opened my laptop and traveled to Paris. I tagged along with Jacqueline to museums and jazz nightclubs, country châteaux and cafes, and on long brisk walks through narrow cobblestone streets, until history started coming to life on the page and in my senses. I smelled the heavy smoke of her cigarettes, swallowed the icy brine of a raw oyster at Christmas, soaked up the delicate warmth of an early spring day in the Jardin du Luxembourg. I wept with her, too, when she left Paris and came to accept that she would never live there again. Yes, Jacqueline left France in the end. I don’t think that’s a spoiler, right? Most of us are familiar with the triumph and tragedy of the rest of her life, playing out as it did upon a global stage and recorded in history. But it was her year in Paris, the academic year of 1949 to 1950, that she called “the high point in my life,” and it has been an honor and a privilege to accompany her there and allow her voice to guide this story. I don’t pretend to know the woman who was Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, but I do feel a kinship with the 20-year-old American student in Paris named Jacqueline—and she is young, and happy, and carefree. —Ann Mah Visit BookPage.com to read our review of Jacqueline in Paris.
macmillan audio H The Angel of Rome
Voice actors Edoardo Ballerini and Julia Whelan deliver exquisite performances in the audiobook for The Angel of Rome (HarperAudio, 8 hours), Jess Walter’s gratifying collection of vignettes about human connection and the twists of faith and fate. In “Fran’s Friend Has Cancer,” Ballerini’s expert pacing balances humor and darkness as a husband bickers with his wife and realizes that an eavesdropper is recording their conversation. And in “Mr. Voice,” Whelan highlights the vulnerabilities of a girl raised by a stepfather who’s known for his popular radio personality, but whose big heart matters most at the end of the day. Ballerini and Whelan infuse these engaging stories with warmth and surprise. —Maya Fleischmann
JUMP INTO A
The Twilight World Renowned filmmaker Werner Herzog’s first novel, The Twilight World (Penguin Audio, 3.5 hours), is the fictionalized story of Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda, the real-life intelligence officer in the Imperial Japanese Army who defended Lubang Island in the Philippines for decades, unaware that World War II had ended. Herzog narrates the novel in his iconic German accent and with an exacting, measured delivery that captures Onoda’s fierce character. —Mari Carlson
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READ BY A FULL CAST
The Woman in the Library Sulari Gentill’s intriguing mystery-within-a-mystery, The Woman in the Library (Dreamscape Media, 9 hours), is performed with a measured sense of menace by Katherine Littrell, whose accents highlight the cultural differences between America and Australia. —Maya Fleischmann
H This Is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch In This Is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch (Penguin Audio, 6.5 hours), Australian journalist Tabitha Carvan offers an exuberant celebration of obsessions. Through her candid exploration of her own fascination with actor Benedict Cumberbatch, Carvan makes the case that women shouldn’t hide what brings them pleasure—rather, they should embrace it. Voice actor Tanya Schneider does an excellent job conveying the author’s humorous perspective. —Deborah Mason
Raising Raffi In his enlightening Raising Raffi (Penguin Audio, 6 hours), Keith Gessen shares how he’s been changed by the process of raising his son. He reads his own audiobook with candor and self-awareness, his New York accent punchy and quick when conveying the pressures of contemporary fatherhood. —Mari Carlson
by bruce tierney
Secrets of the Nile At the turn of the 20th century, English gentlewomen were meant to be seen and not heard, arm candy for their titled husbands. They were certainly not meant to be amateur sleuths. But Lady Emily Hargreaves becomes embroiled in a murder investigation (again) within hours of arriving in Luxor, Egypt, in Tasha Alexander’s 16th mystery starring the aristocrat, Secrets of the Nile (Minotaur, $27.99, 9781250819697). Lord Bertram Deeley, an antiquities collector of note and the Hargreaves’ host, is found dead on the dining room floor, the aroma of bitter almonds indicating that he was poisoned with cyanide. The Egyptian police identify a suspect in short order, but the suspect bolts, and truth be told, he didn’t fit the profile especially well anyway. As Lady Emily’s private investigation proceeds, it becomes apparent that many of the guests had reason to loathe their host; surprisingly, even her mother-in-law has a motive. In alternating chapters, Alexander tells the story of Meryt, a young female sculptor in ancient Egypt, whose work will play a prominent role in Lady Emily’s case some three millennia hence. Secrets of the Nile has it all: a glamorous locale, plucky heroine and supporting cast worthy of a Kenneth Branagh film.
The Furies John Connolly’s latest mystery featuring private investigator Charlie Parker offers an intriguing change of pace for his legions of readers. The Furies (Emily Bestler, $28, 9781982177003) is two masterfully crafted novels in one book, each covering a separate but interconnected case. The first novel, The Sisters Strange, tells the story of sisters Dolors and Ambar Strange and their relationship with Svengali-esque ex-convict Raum Buker. Raum is always on the lookout for an easy mark, and it seems as if he may have found it in Edwin Ellercamp, a collector of rare ancient coins. Edwin is soon found murdered, choked to death by a portion of his vast collection. Raum has no history as a killer, however, making the mystery of who murdered the collector one that will test Parker’s mettle like very few cases have. The second novel, The Furies, finds Parker in the employ of two women. The first is Sarah Abelli, a mob widow suspected of knowing where her husband hid a fortune before he was killed in prison. Extortionists have stolen mementos of her deceased daughter and will not return them until she coughs up the cash, which she maintains to anyone who will listen that she does not have. The other is Marjorie Thombs, whose daughter is trapped in an abusive relationship—a situation exponentially exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. As is the case with all of the Charlie Parker mysteries, there are supernatural elements—nothing to the degree of books by Stephen King or Anne Rice, but certainly enough to occasion some vague uneasiness if you are reading late at night.
Fall Guy Archer Mayor’s Fall Guy (Minotaur, $28.99, 9781250224187), the latest in his long-running series featuring Joe Gunther, field force commander of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, opens with a dead body in the trunk of a stolen car. The details of the car’s theft are suspect, however, as its GPS data mark it as being outside a strip club at the time that it was purportedly stolen from the owner’s driveway. Along with the dead body, the car contains a cell phone with evidence of the sexual abuse of a child. An interjurisdictional task force is formed to investigate, which allows Gunther and his subordinates to cross state lines—in this case, into nearby New Hampshire—to follow the clues. Gunther’s team, based in Brattleboro, Vermont, is more like a family than a collection of co-workers. Thirty-plus books into the series, the evolving relationships among the characters never detract from the police procedural structure. In fact, the web of connections enhances the story, showing how the various members of Gunther’s team deploy their strengths and shore up one another’s weaknesses to function as a well-oiled crime-solving machine. If you’re new to Joe Gunther, don’t be surprised if upon finishing Fall Guy you immediately seek out the previous books in the series.
H Sometimes People Die Former physician Simon Stephenson’s darkly hilarious mystery, Sometimes People Die (Hanover Square, $27.99, 9781335429254), harks back to classic English satire a la Kingsley Amis or Evelyn Waugh, perfectly updating their sarcastic yet somehow still endearing tone for modern- day readers. Stephenson’s unnamed narrator is a third-rate Scottish doctor in the third-rate London hospital of St. Luke’s. After being suspended for stealing opioids, St. Luke’s is the only place that will offer him a position, albeit one where he’s on probation. He’s still dealing with his addiction on the q.t., has little use for anyone else and typically thinks he is the smartest person in the room—but he usually isn’t. Nonetheless, he is pretty funny and occasionally displays a redeeming quality or two despite himself. Then patients in his ward start inexplicably dying, at far higher rates than one would expect, and he finds himself at the epicenter of the police inquiry into these suspicious deaths. When a suspect is finally arrested, our protagonist has his doubts and launches his own clandestine investigation. His sleuthing skills turn out to be little better than his medical skills, however, and things rapidly go wildly off course. With ten months of 2022 behind us, I am confident this will be a (or perhaps the) best book of the year for me.
Bruce Tierney lives outside Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he bicycles through the rice paddies daily and reviews the best in mystery and suspense every month.
by julie hale
Selections for armchair sleuths True crime writer Gage Chandler, the protagonist of John Darnielle’s Devil House (Picador, $19, 9781250862884), jumps at the opportunity to live at the “Devil House,” a building where two gruesome, possibly satanic murders took place in 1986. Blamed on some rebellious teenagers, the case remains unsolved. Once Gage moves in and starts researching the murders, he’s drawn into a deeper examination of the significance of his own work. At once a magnetic thriller and an intriguing look at the true crime genre, Darnielle’s novel is filled with rich themes for discussion, including the slippery nature of crime reporting and the demands of the artistic process. In Gilly Macmillan’s I Know You Know (William Morrow, $16.99, 9780062698605), Cody Swift seeks closure regarding his two childhood friends’ murders, which occurred 20 years ago in Bristol, England. Cody returns to Bristol in search of new information and launches a podcast to share his story. But then a body is discovered in the same place Cody’s friends were found, and soon a Is your book club full of true new investigacrime fans? Go meta with one of tion is underway. Macmillan these thrilling novels about true incorporates flashbacks to crime podcasters and writers. Cody’s childhood and episodes of his podcast in this sophisticated, multilayered mystery. Denise Mina’s Conviction (Mulholland, $16.99, 9780316528498) tells the story of Anna McDonald, who loses herself in true crime podcasts as she struggles to put her painful past behind her. After Anna’s husband leaves her for her best friend, Estelle, Anna connects with Estelle’s husband, singer Fin Cohen. Together they delve into the murder case that’s the subject of Anna’s favorite podcast and start a podcast of their own. When Anna realizes that she is linked to the case, a tragic chapter from her life is reopened. Mina’s skillful development of multiple plot lines and crack comic timing will give reading groups plenty to talk about. In Megan Goldin’s The Night Swim (Griffin, $16.99, 9781250219695), Rachel Krall, host of the popular true crime podcast “Guilty or Not Guilty,” travels to a small North Carolina town to report on the trial of swimming champion Scott Blair. Accused of raping the teenage granddaughter of the local police chief, Scott and his case have attracted national attention. While in North Carolina, Rachel is also drawn to a cold case involving the drowning of a 16-year-old that took place more than two decades before. As she works to unravel the two cases, she realizes that they share disturbing parallels. Goldin builds a mood of intense suspense in this searing look at how crime can impact a small community.
A BookPage reviewer since 2003, Julie Hale recommends the best paperback books to spark discussion in your reading group.
BOOK CLUB READ S F OR RING F ORSPFAL L JACQUELINE IN PARIS by Ann Mah A rare and dazzling portrait of Jacqueline Bouvier’s year abroad in postwar Paris, an intimate and electrifying story of love and betrayal, and the coming-of-age of an American icon—before the world knew her as Jackie.
MIKA IN REAL LIFE by Emiko Jean “This hilarious, tender, and very real novel is for every human trying to figure it out—basically, all of us.” —NANCY JOOYOUN KIM New York Times bestselling author of The Last Story of Mina Lee
ALL THAT’S LEFT UNSAID by Tracey Lien “An unforgettable debut, utterly compelling from start to finish. Original. Heartbreaking. Gripping. I just loved it!” —LIANE MORIARTY #1 New York Times bestselling author of Big Little Lies
MARPLE: TWELVE NEW MYSTERIES by Agatha Christie Legendary sleuth Jane Marple returns to solve twelve baffling cases in this brand-new collection, penned by a host of acclaimed authors skilled in the fine art of mystery and murder.
f William Morrow I BookClubGirl
by jamie orsini
H The Bullet That Missed The sleuthing pensioners of the Thursday Murder Club are back and better than ever in Richard Osman’s The Bullet That Missed (Pamela Dorman, $27, 9780593299395). Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron are trying to crack the cold case murder of TV presenter Bethany Waites. Ten years ago, Bethany was investigating a fraud operation, but her car was pushed off a cliff, and her body was never recovered. In a parallel plot, Elizabeth’s past catches up with her when a mysterious man tasks her with carrying out an assassination. This intricately plotted novel weaves its multiple mysteries together with aplomb. Osman’s wry humor continues to shine, especially in the sections of the story told through Joyce’s lively diary entries. This latest entry in the series may be the best one yet.
Peg and Rose Solve a Murder Fans of Laurien Berenson’s Melanie Travis canine mysteries will be thrilled with Peg and Rose Solve a Murder (Kensington, $26, 9781496735782), the first entry in a spinoff series featuring Melanie’s engaging aunts, Peg Turnbull and Rose Donovan. Peg and Rose are not friends. They’re sisters-in-law, linked by their love for Peg’s late husband, Max, who was Rose’s brother. After 40 years of fighting, Rose shocks Peg with an invitation to join the local bridge club. But just as Peg and Rose begin to build a tentative friendship, a member of their club is killed. Fans of the Melanie Travis series are already very familiar with these sisters-in-law, and in Peg and Rose Solve a Murder, they stand on their own as capable, witty women. When the women finally begin to trust each other, readers can see a great friendship starting to blossom—one that will hopefully form the backbone of this new cozy series.
A Killing in Costumes A Killing in Costumes (Crooked Lane, $26.99, 9781639100866), Zac Bissonnette’s first Hollywood Treasures mystery, balances a tightly plotted mystery with glamorous characters and a unique setting. Decades ago, married actors Cindy Cooper and Jay Allan starred as a couple in a popular soap opera. After they both came out as gay, Jay and Cindy lost their careers and ended their marriage but remained friends. They now own a struggling movie memorabilia store, and they jump at the chance to represent a silver screen legend in the sale of her costumes and memorabilia. When a vice president of the auction house competing for the collection is killed, Jay and Cindy become suspects in the investigation. The heart of the story lies in Cindy and Jay’s friendship, which has weathered new jobs and relationships, and every success and loss along the way.
Jamie Orsini is an award-winning journalist and writer who enjoys cozy mysteries and iced coffee.
feature | hometown mysteries
You can go home again—but should you? Sometimes the places you know best are the ones that pose the greatest threat. When the main characters in these two novels return to their hometowns after long absences, mysteries past and present collide.
narration will draw readers in as they sympathize with her plight.
Norwegian author Camilla Bruce’s The Witch in the Well (Tor, $26.99, 9781250302090) revolves around popular spirituality influencer Elena Clover, whose return to her hometown (referred to only as F–) ignites a feud with her former childhood friend Cathy over their town’s local legend, the titular witch. Cathy has been blogging for years about Ilsbeth Clark, who was accused of witchcraft, then tried for the deaths of numerous children in 1862. Ilsbeth was eventually acquitted, but believing the court made a mistake, the townsfolk threw her in the local well and drowned her. Elena, who believes that each person has a voice in their head that can converse with their soul, is convinced that Ilsbeth is that voice for her. She returns to F– to write her next book about Ilsbeth, which prompts Cathy to exact a series of petty retaliations. The book begins with an open letter to the community from Cathy, who contends that she has been wrongly implicated in Elena’s death. Bruce, who earned accolades for her previous thriller You Let Me In, expertly unravels the trio’s stories via Elena’s journal, Cathy’s blogs and Ilsbeth’s own archived accounts. The Witch in the Well is a compelling, creepy story of angst, obsessions and lost friendship. —G. Robert Frazier
In Jackal (Bantam, $27, 9780593499306), 30-something Black woman Liz Rocher reluctantly returns to her childhood home for the wedding of her longtime friend Melissa Parker. While she’s overjoyed at Mel’s newfound happiness and upcoming marriage, she’s less than enthusiastic about her return to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a predominantly white town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains that immediately rekindles haunting memories. Years ago, Keisha Woodson, one of Liz’s only Black friends, disappeared after a party in the woods. She was discovered dead, her heart ripped from her chest. Police were quick to close the book on the case, concluding that Keisha died from exposure and that her body was ravaged by a bear. But Liz has always had doubts. When Mel’s daughter, Caroline, also goes missing, Liz launches an investigation into the other Black children who have disappeared over the years. As suspicion, racial tension and even irrational fears of a legendary creature in the woods grow, Liz desperately tries to discover the truth and save Caroline before it’s too late. In her debut novel, Erin E. Adams transcends the typical hometown mystery with an effective blend of social and supernatural terrors. And Liz’s first-person
The Witch in the Well
Who wouldn’ t want to live in Baba Yaga’s house?
© KIRK MURPHY
q&a | gennarose nethercott
GennaRose Nethercott makes herself at home with Slavic folklore in her debut novel, Thistlefoot. Estranged siblings Bellatine and Isaac Yaga couldn’t be more different, both in their personalities and in their mysterious abilities. The restless Isaac embraces his gift for mimicry, while Bellatine lives a quiet life, fiercely resisting the urge to give life to inanimate objects. But when they reunite to collect a family inheritance, they get the shock of their lives: Their great-greatgrandmother has left them Thistlefoot, a sentient cottage with chicken legs.
Thistlefoot leans into that transformative ability: What if Baba Yaga is no longer a crone in the woods but a young Russian Jewish woman during World War I? Or what if Baba Yaga’s hut weren’t in Russia at all but modern-day America? It becomes a game of experimentation, with endless variants. These tales have already been re-imagined a thousand times, so what’s one more?
mobile theater. Cultivating a garden of yams and alfalfa in its sod roof. How did you go about creating the magic that each When you’re working in of the Yaga siblings has? magical realism, that deliFor readers who aren’t familiar with her, can you The siblings both have cious sense of the uncanny is these abilities that are give a brief synopsis of created by holding unfamilBaba Yaga and her imporintrinsically linked to who iar magic up against familiar, tance in Slavic folklore? they are and to this genreal-world details. In this case, the magic in Thistlefoot’s world is that trauma can Baba Yaga is a magical erational history they’re crone, hidden deep in the discovering. It was importliterally, physically alter a space—like causing a forests of Eastern Europe. ant to me that each power house to sprout legs. But to balance that, and to Lost in the woods? Maybe held tension in it, and that highlight the significance of that strangeness, it Baba Yaga will help you find the powers reflected who was essential that everything else in the world H Thistlefoot your way home. Or maybe the characters are at their remained rooted in our own logic system. So Anchor, $28, 9780593468838 she’ll devour you and discores. Bellatine, who sees I did a lot of research into what actual houses her power as a curse, is play your glowing skull on from Russian and Ukrainian shtetls would have Fantasy constantly battling with a pike. Depends on her looked like, including the materials and carpenmood, which is, to put it politely, finicky. She her ability. It turns her into a control freak, at try practices that would have been used. Yes, the lives in a hut on chicken legs that never stands war with her own body and the world around house is wild and whimsical and cartoony, kickstill, and she flies through the air in a mortar her. For Isaac, who has this incredible ability to ing around on these big chicken legs and laying and pestle. Like any good monster, she is built mimic other people, his power is part of his restgiant eggs and telling tall tales—but it’s also hisof opposites: She’s ferocious and motherly, less nature, his self-hatred torically accurate, down to supernatural and one with nature, feminine and and his desperation to be the smallest detail. “Writing from folklore beastly, helper and harmer. And I think it’s the anyone but himself. and fairy tales, to me, is Would you rather be able fact that she embodies all these elements, all this unpredictability, that makes her one of the What details were importanimate the inert or actually freeing rather to most famous figures in Slavic folklore. perfectly mimic anyone ant to you to include when describing and creating a you met? than confining.” What was it like working with preexisting living house? Probably animating the characters? Did it ever become confining? It was a unique challenge to create a being inert, just because it’s the more dramatic of the Writing from folklore and fairy tales, to me, is that is part setting, part character, part animal, two. One of my prized possessions is a handactually freeing rather than confining. Instead part vehicle, etc. First off, I wanted it to have made cotton and silk doll I sewed a few years of wrestling with a blank page and trying to real personality, a sort of arrogance, but also ago. Her name is My Beautiful Daughters, and conjure something from nothing, these archebe hospitable. It’s a fiercely protective being she has two heads. My friends all think she’s because it exists to be a haven for this famtypal figures serve as inspiration and guidance. cursed, but she’s my gal. Might be nice to wake her up for tea and a chat. Companions, of sorts. ily. Writers like Sholem Aleichem and Isaac —Chris Pickens A folk tale, a real folk tale, is designed to Bashevis Singer, who wrote such wry, winking shape-shift, to adapt to new eras and new conshtetl stories, inspired the house’s voice in its texts. That’s how they survive over centuries, first-person chapters. And of course, I had a Visit BookPage.com to read our by mutating again and again to remain ever lot of fun with the visuals. Covering it in velvet starred review of Thistlefoot and an curtains and paper lanterns when it becomes a relevant to each new culture that adopts them. extended version of this Q&A. Illustrations from Thistlefoot © 2022 by GennaRose Nethercott. Reproduced by permission of Anchor.
the hold list
Witches, menders and rebel healers Throughout history, female healers have been cast out, feared and labeled as witches, even though their work in herbalism and midwifery helped shape medicine as we know it today. In fiction, the witch—that wise, rebellious female character—can be even more disruptive, her healing gifts even more supernaturally powerful.
Nettle & Bone
Little Witch Hazel
Year of Wonders
T. Kingfisher’s dark (but still extremely funny) fantasy novel is full of female characters who carve out power for themselves: protagonist Princess Marra, who cherishes the peace of her convent home; the Sister Apothecary at Marra’s convent; and two frighteningly powerful fairy godmothers. But the only witch of the bunch is the dust-wife, and folks, she is an icon. A necromancer who tends a graveyard, the dust-wife can talk to the dead, keeps a demon-possessed chicken as a familiar and agrees to help kill Marra’s sister’s abusive husband. Despite her ruthless view of the world, the dust-wife values the optimism of other characters, even Marra’s fairy godmother, Agnes, a sweet older dear who gives only good health as a blessing and frets over baby chicks. The dust-wife and Agnes bicker their way to becoming ride-or-die besties, and I would read an entire series about their adventures. —Savanna, Associate Editor
If you look up charming in the dictionary, I’m pretty sure you’ll find the entry illustrated with a portrait of the titular hero of Phoebe Wahl’s delightful picture book, Little Witch Hazel. In four short tales—one for each season—Wahl captures the close-knit forest community to which Little Witch Hazel belongs. In “The Blizzard,” Little Witch Hazel makes her rounds, visiting a chipmunk with a toothache, a mole with an injured paw and Mrs. Rabbit and her four new kits. Wahl also conveys how the residents of Mosswood Forest care for Little Witch Hazel: Her friends Wendell and Nadine encourage her to take a much-needed break from her errands on an idyllic summer day, and later in the year, Otis the owl rescues her from a fierce snowstorm. With a classical tone, Wahl offers a still-revolutionary portrayal of a female healer and the difference she makes in her community. —Stephanie, Associate Editor
Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders fictionalizes the true story of a small English village that was nearly overcome by the bubonic plague in 1665. When the local rector convinces the town to close their gate to prevent the plague’s spread, young widow Anna Frith finds herself quarantined with a few hundred of her neighbors, watching their numbers dwindle over the course of an extraordinary year. Among those neighbors are Mem and Anys Gowdie, whose extensive knowledge of herblore gets them executed for witchcraft. But their dried herbs and foraged weeds, their tinctures and potions—the very things that had gotten them killed—are what had kept the pair from catching the Black Death. As Anna learns the Gowdies’ trade and brings their healing knowledge to the rest of the town, the novel becomes a moving portrait of women’s community-centered heroism in the face of unjust persecution. —Christy, Associate Editor
A Discovery of Witches Tenured professor Diana Bishop is a brilliant woman—a formidable entity in her own right—but she is also a witch with impressive magical powers. The hero of Deborah Harkness’ bestselling All Souls trilogy turned away from the magical community after her parents’ untimely death, swearing off her family legacy and instead creating a name for herself in academia. But her worlds crash together when she discovers a long-lost enchanted manuscript, which awakens an enormous power within her. Diana is the first person to have seen the manuscript in 150 years, and suddenly the whole magical community is after her. A centuries-old vampire named Matthew Clairmont becomes her protector, and she soon realizes that she can no longer hide from her destiny. She must embrace her power, her magical legacy and herself—her whole self. —Meagan, Brand & Production Designer
Each month, BookPage staff share special reading lists—our personal favorites, old and new.
Red Clocks Human interdependence is at the heart of Leni Zumas’ 2018 novel, which shifts among the stories of four adult women and one girl, all living in a small Oregon fishing town. But this is no gentle sisterhood novel, as Red Clocks finds female characters pitted against one another in an America where reproductive freedoms have been severely limited and single-parent adoption is outlawed. Gin Percival, a reclusive healer who’s feared as a witch by superstitious fishermen, lives firmly outside the expectations placed on women. She also provides herbal remedies and menstrual care for the women who visit her, which means she’s operating outside the law. Through Gin’s story, Zumas draws a connection between the 17th-century practice of blaming women for any misfortune and our contemporary society’s concern with women who buck social norms and don’t care one bit what you think about it. —Cat, Deputy Editor
feature | dig into death
by susannah felts
H American Wildflowers American Wildflowers: A Literary Field Guide (Abrams, $29.99, 9781419760167) exists at the intersection of two important movements: the protection of native plant populations from climate change and shortsighted development, and the decolonization of literature. Editor Susan Barba has gathered a captivating bouquet of plant-inspired writings, with prose and poetry from contemporary greats like Jericho Brown, Lydia Davis and Aimee Nezhukumatathil alongside the words of perennial canon-dwellers like Charles Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. What first drew me to this book were Leanne Shapton’s atmospheric watercolors of pressed flowers, which are as ephemeral as the specimens they interpret. A significant addition to the tradition of writing about plants, this anthology urges us to notice the lessons offered by the tiniest bluet.
The United States of Cryptids Speaking of overlooked (possibly) living things, I can’t get enough of the names of creatures featured in The United States of Cryptids (Quirk, $19.99, 9781683693222). Snarly Yow? Snallygaster? Woodbooger? Wait, back up. What, you ask, is a cryptid? It’s “a creature or species whose existence is scientifically unproven,” and that right there is a freakishly wide net, folks. But author J.W. Ocker’s emphasis is on the lively lore surrounding Bigfoot creatures, et al., and how these tales both shape and are shaped by the animals’ supposed stomping grounds. “Wherever cryptids are celebrated, the story is so much more important than the science,” he writes, and boy does he have a lot of fun telling said stories. There’s even a “world’s largest chainsaw-carved bigfoot” in a state otherwise light on cryptids (looking at you, South Dakota).
Toil and Trouble Toil and Trouble (Quirk, $19.99, 9781683692911) examines the ways in which women throughout history have found agency, self-expression, financial gain and political influence in witchcraft, tarot and other practices with a spiritual element. Remember Joan Quigley, astrologer to Nancy Reagan? She’s among the fabulous cast of characters included here, along with the witches who hexed Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler, spiritualist Achsa Sprague, Voodoo queen Marie Laveau and so many more. Ultimately, authors Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson (Monster, She Wrote) argue that the occult offers women a way to rebel against the patriarchal Christian constructs of womanhood. Anyone who has dabbled in the craft by way of #witchtok will deepen their knowledge immensely by reading this book. And with a final chapter titled “100% That Witch,” you know you’re going to learn a lot and have some fun.
Susannah Felts is a Nashville-based writer and co-founder of The Porch, a literary arts organization. She enjoys anything paper- or plant-related.
Take a walk on the weird side Lean into the season of death with two morbidly fascinating nonfiction books. Dying leaves, dying crops, the dying light of a crackling fire. If October fills you with macabre joy, you will find kindred spirits in the authors of these books.
H All the Living and the
We are not born with the innate knowledge that we, and all those around us, will die. At some point, someone has to tell us. Alternatively, if you are journalist and writer Hayley Campbell, you might absorb the concept of death while sitting in your father’s drawing studio as he studies the decomposition of a kidney. As the daughter of the artist who created the classic graphic novel From Hell, which fictionalizes the brutal Whitehall Chapel murders, Campbell grew up fascinated by death. In All the Living and the Dead (St. Martin’s, $29.99, 9781250281845), she takes readers on a tour of the professionals of the death industry, interviewing embalmers, executioners, midwives who work exclusively with stillbirths and more. In one chapter, Campbell assists two employees in a funeral home as they care for a body and prepare it for burial, and she is moved by their admission that they got into this line of work because of their desire for a meaningful occupation. Most of her subjects are driven by this kind of loving kindness for the deceased and their bereaved, but not all of them. In another chapter, she interviews the boss of a death cleanup crew that scrubs blood from carpets and removes other physical signs of death from a home. This business
posts exploitative photos of gruesome and sad scenes to Instagram for shock value and advertising. But for the most part, All the Living and the Dead shines a light on those with a tenderness for death, and Campbell is an equally entertaining and sensitive guide to these interesting people and their grisly but indispensable jobs.
Over My Dead Body It is this same appreciation for the dead, as well as for history, that drives journalist Greg Melville as he explores America’s cemeteries in Over My Dead Body (Abrams, $27, 9781419754852). Melville escorts us through 17 of America’s most notable burial grounds, from the mossy colonial graveyards of New England to sparkling Hollywood memorial parks, all with a perfect balance of geeky joy, deep reverence and a meticulous knack for research. Melville’s prose is pure pleasure mixed with wry asides, but even among his most amusing anecdotes, he never loses sight of the gravity that still vibrates through the stories of the dead. Upon visiting segregated cemeteries across the American South, underfunded and unmapped, Melville’s writing grows hot and indignant. The same tone arises again when Melville visits Arlington National Cemetery: A veteran himself, he flatly rejects the notion of war providing a glorious death, and he is not afraid to challenge this very American idea. For both Campbell and Melville, the dead continue to speak to us from beyond the grave. Are you listening? —Anna Spydell
feature | horror
A tasting menu of terror These thoughtful, well-crafted frights will scare readers on multiple levels. Horror takes many forms: from the terror of losing control of one’s mind to another entity, to the fear of things that move around unseen in the night, to the inescapable certainty that one day we must all meet our ends. Each of these stories features a different kind of horror, making for a perfect sampler platter for anyone wanting to dip their toes in the murky depths of dread.
H Leech In the far reaches of the North, in a chateau abutting a frozen forest and a forbidding mine, a doctor has died. For the powerful Interprovincial Medical Institute, the worrying thing is not the doctor’s death—the Institute’s bodies die all the time. An ancient parasitic life form, the Institute takes over promising young minds and guides them into the field of medicine; all of the unsuspecting human race’s doctors are being controlled by the Institute. What is worrying is that the Institute isn’t sure how the doctor stationed in the chateau died. To find out exactly what happened, the Institute sends a new body to investigate the chateau and its denizens. That doctor soon discovers another parasite, one that could upend life as they know it, threatening both the Institute’s supremacy and the humans it seeks to protect. Hiron Ennes’ debut novel, Leech (Tordotcom, $27.99, 9781250811189), is a chilling study of the loss of bodily autonomy, the terrors of a frigid winter wood and the undeniable creepiness of ancient homes that have long since fallen into disrepair. Despite being set thousands of years after an apocalypse, Leech is decidedly a gothic novel, complete with seemingly cursed family homes, the dark consequences of human progress and unknown dangers lurking in every crevice and icy forest. Tantalizing references to the monsters of humanity’s past, chiefly destructive airships and killer biological agents, feel almost mythic as they fill readers’ imaginations with possible explanations for what exactly went wrong. Full of trepidation and mystery, Leech is perfect for readers who wished that Wuthering Heights had been just a little more like Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation. Visit BookPage.com to read our Q&A with Hiron Ennes.
Motherthing Young adult author Ainslie Hogarth’s first novel for adults, Motherthing (Vintage, $17, 9780593467022), opens in the waiting room of an intensive care unit, and it doesn’t get less stressful from there. Ralph and Abby Lamb have moved in with Ralph’s mother, Laura, to help care for her. Plagued by her rocky relationship with her own mother, Abby had hoped to kindle a better relationship
with her mother-in-law but was instead met with distrust and cold condescension for being the woman who “took” Laura’s son from her. After Laura dies by suicide at the beginning of Motherthing, Abby thinks that her and Ralph’s obligation is over; they will sell the house and move away, free to start the perfect family that they deserve. But when Laura’s spirit begins to haunt the couple, driving Ralph into a pit of depression and tormenting Abby night after night, it is clear that Abby will have to dig deep if she is going to wrest the life of her dreams from the nightmare that her home life has become. Deeply dark and often funny, Motherthing explores the contours of what it means to be in a relationship with a mother (or mother-in-law) figure and the porous boundaries among grief, anger and the supernatural. Motherthing can be a difficult book to read on an emotional level, given Abby’s frustratingly optimistic “I can fix him/it/this” attitude, but its scares and surprises are well worth the discomfort it causes—as well as the sleepless nights it will engender.
H Lute The eponymous island of Lute (Tor Nightfire, $26.99, 9781250826084) by Jennifer Thorne stands apart from the modern world. Even as war lingers on their doorstep and climate change and water shortages ravage the lands around them, the islanders are sheltered and seemingly immune to the turmoil. In exchange for these blessings, the island extracts a tithe: Every seven years, at the height of summer, exactly seven of the people of Lute die on what is referred to as “The Day.” Nina Treadway is a transplant to Lute and lady of the island by virtue of her marriage to Lord Hugh Treadway. She doesn’t believe in the fairy tale, chalking it up to the superstitions of a quaint and isolated island. But as The Day dawns and brings a series of waking nightmares, Nina must accept her duties as the Lady of Lute in order to preserve the stability of the island she has come to love. Part idyllic fantasy and part Final Destination, Lute asks a question that harks back to works like Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”: What is the price of prosperity? While Lute’s citizens have willingly agreed to that price, it is steep and horrific. The novel’s pages are dotted with gore and loss, sure to pull on the heartstrings—and occasionally the stomachs—of even the most stoic of readers. However, despite the bloodshed and tension, Lute is equally about the creation of a haven away from the pressures of the modern world. More cynical readers might balk at the story’s hopeful tone and occasionally predictable plot turns. However, for those looking for a thriller replete with both terror and fantasy, Lute delivers in spades. —Laura Hubbard
feature | vampires
Death is only the first chapter Discover two vampire novels you can sink your fangs into. The season is upon us: Wrap a scarf around your neck— tightly—and crack open a book of undead intrigue.
mind. A Dowry of Blood whisks readers through human history, arriving at the dawn of the 20th century, drenched in blood.
A Dowry of Blood
House of Hunger
A queer, feminist reimagining of Dracula, S.T. Gibson’s A Dowry of Blood (Redhook, $27, 9780316501071) starts with its narrator, Constanta, reclaiming a small bit of power. She refuses to grant her abuser a name, instead referring to him as “you” throughout the book. Her abuser is a prototypical vampire, vulnerable to sunlight and silver, who sires new vampires by giving them his blood. He finds Constanta near death, grants her immortal life and, despite calling her his bride, sees her as a possession. Over the years, Constanta is joined by two other consorts—Magdalena, a politically savvy philosopher, and Alexi, a sprightly socialite and actor—who become her friends, lovers and allies. A Dowry of Blood focuses exclusively on Constanta, her abuser and his other spouses. This, along with several time jumps and Constanta’s stream-of-consciousness narration, creates a dreamlike haze. As each new consort enters the narrative, the house’s atmosphere transitions from cloistered and dank to frenetic with need and simmering rebellion. The story’s specificity ebbs and flows according to Constanta’s memory: Events she struggles to recall are blurry, but she hyperfixates on what she remembers in rich detail. In the tradition of the best vampire stories, Gibson uses her characters to explore how centuries of time would affect a once-mortal
In the fantasy world of House of Hunger (Ace, $27, 9780593438466) by Alexis Henderson, an industrial revolution is in full swing, condemning the ancient houses of nobility to a slow decay into irrelevance. The House of Hunger is one of these dying houses, but it’s still influential enough to continue indenturing bloodmaids like Marion Shaw, who is eager to accept the position when it is offered to her. At the House of Hunger, she will be treated well, fully fed and paid enough to keep herself and her brother afloat. But during her time as a bloodmaid, Marian’s blood will be harvested to grant health and beauty to the houses’ aristocratic members. Countess Lisavet, head of the House of Hunger, already has four other bloodmaids, and Henderson uses them to illustrate the dangers of Marion’s choice. Cecilia, the countess’s oldest bloodmaid, is consumed with desire for her and is extremely jealous when the countess’s eye turns toward Marion. Lisavet manipulatively distributes her favors, making her bloodmaids’ lives revolve around her until they find themselves defined by her attention. House of Hunger begins with dark secrets and ends with secrets darker still. Readers will be on the edges of their seats as Henderson slowly unveils the grotesque horrors at the heart of her inventive, gothic society. —Ralph Harris
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feature | paranormal romances
Sweet, sexy but never scary These paranormal romances pair perfectly with chilly nights and pumpkin spice.
If your ideal Halloween movie is less Friday the 13th and more Practical Magic, pick up one of these love stories along with your candy of choice.
A Ghost in Shining Armor Think life is full of bureaucracy? Try death! According to Therese Beharrie’s A Ghost in Shining Armor (Zebra, $16.95, 9781420153408), there’s a whole system that helps souls move on to whatever comes next. For some, this means lingering as ghosts, visible only to rare humans like Gemma Daniels who help them resolve unfinished business. For others, death comes with an opportunity to take on an assignment . . . and maybe change their fate. This is what happens to Levi Walker: If he succeeds as a guardian angel, he’ll come back to life. And the person he’s been assigned to help just happens to be Gemma. Gemma’s helped a lot of spirits; she saw her first ghost at age 18. If she doesn’t acknowledge ghosts, they stay insubstantial and invisible. But if Gemma acknowledges the spirit—touches them, talks to them or points them out to someone else—they become corporeal and visible to everyone. And because she accidentally acknowledges Levi, he now appears alive, leading to great confusion from her friends and family about the new man in her life. That scrutiny is the last thing she wants as she grapples with the knowledge that she has a twin sister (the heroine of Beharrie’s previous romance, And They Lived Happily Ever After). Levi was sent to help Gemma process the discovery that her twin was left in foster care while Gemma was adopted. There are plenty of hijinks, starting with Gemma and Levi’s impulsive meet cute kiss and continuing through fake dates, awkward cohabitation moments and all the banter and snark you’d expect from a rom-com. But Beharrie includes deeper character insights that balance the fluff. A Ghost in Shining Armor is as richly imagined as it is deeply moving, while being quite a lot of fun, as well. The tone can be a bit uneven in spots, but Beharrie’s endearing characters will carry readers through. —Elizabeth Mazer
H The Kiss Curse Erin Sterling’s witchy new rom-com, The Kiss Curse (Avon, $16.99, 9780063027510), is the much anticipated sequel to last year’s The Ex Hex. When Vivi Jones broke the hex she put on her now-husband, Rhys Penhallow, she affected his family’s ancestral power—power that just happens to infuse her hometown of Graves Glen, Georgia. Ever since, things have been out of whack, and Vivi’s
cousin, Gwyn, has noticed her own powers are waning. Rhys’ brother Wells has spent years diligently bearing the enormous responsibility of being part of their illustrious family. When he learns of the weakening magic in Graves Glen, he steps up to solve the problem. As one of the top witches in town, Gwyn takes it upon herself to figure out what’s going on. Wells and Gwyn are opposites in culture and personality—Wells puts duty above all else, whereas Gwyn thinks of rules as suggestions for other people—so when they share a surprising kiss early on in the novel, they insist it must have something to do with the town’s fluctuating magic. These witches should know better. The Kiss Curse is sexy and fun, fast paced and joyful. Sterling peppers in smart, clever world building details, and every sentence is packed with substantive description and imagination. —Dolly R. Sickles
Extra Witchy Readers who loved the spunky, charming witches of St. Claire, introduced in Ann Aguirre’s previous Fix-It Witches romances, will be thrilled to have a chance to dive back into her madcap world of magic and romance with Extra Witchy (Sourcebooks Casablanca, $15.99, 9781728262468). Having had two marriages end in divorce, Leanne Vanderpol may be twice burned, but she’s not remotely shy. When she meets Trevor Montgomery, she asks him if he’s interested in being her third husband. It’s a teasing pickup line at first, but it soon becomes a serious question. Leanne’s about to run for city council, but she knows single women struggle to get elected, especially ones with divorces in their past. A sweet, supportive husband could provide just the bump she needs to win over voters. Trevor is certainly sweet and supportive, but he’s also a little lost. A devastating breakup damaged his confidence, and his critical family discourages him from seeking treatment for his depression. He’s stunned that a woman like Leanne would have any interest in him, but she’s equally surprised to find a kind man who values her for her mind as much as for her lovely face. An accomplished woman and a more relaxed guy is always an appealing couple dynamic, and Extra Witchy is a perfect example of why. Trevor is magnificently endearing without seeming unrealistic, and Leanne is a fantastic heroine: smart, strong, refreshingly frank and relatable, with carefully hidden vulnerabilities. They’re both immediately likable individuals who make a truly adorable couple. —Elizabeth Mazer
by christie ridgway
H A Curse of Queens A Curse of Queens (Sourcebooks Casablanca, $15.99, 9781728230047) is the action-packed fourth installment in Amanda Bouchet’s Kingmaker Chronicles. When her pregnant sister is cursed, gifted healer Jocasta joins the team assembled to find a cure. She’s both thrilled and dismayed to learn that Flynn of Sinta will be part of the expedition. Jocasta has loved him since childhood, and unbeknownst to her, his heart belongs to her as well. But after losing his entire family, Flynn believes he protects them both from inevitable pain by not declaring himself. Bouchet excels at developing grounded characters with relatable frustrations and desires, even amid the adventure and magic of fantasy romance. Flynn’s longing for Jocasta is tender and touching, and Jocasta’s determination to succeed is understandable and admirable. Bouchet strikes a perfect balance between evocative Greek mythology-inspired world building and grand romance in this fabulous adventure.
The Belle of Belgrave Square Romance blooms within a marriage of convenience in The Belle of Belgrave Square (Berkley, $17, 9780593337158) by Mimi Matthews. Socially awkward heiress Julia Wychwood dreads balls and parties. Her parents intend to marry her to a widower she feels nothing for, so Julia impulsively turns to the only man she does feel something for: the notorious Captain Jasper Blunt. He’s known for being the Hero of Crimea . . . but also for his illegitimate children and the dark rumors surrounding his family estate. Julia elopes with him anyway, but Jasper’s murky past stands between them. His secrets ignite Julia’s curiosity, and the man ignites her in other ways, too. Will Jasper reveal enough of himself to win her love? A bookish heroine readers will identify with, subtle love scenes and some impish children make this romance a true delight.
Bad Girl Reputation Author Elle Kennedy explores what happens when a party girl and her bad-boy first love grow up in Bad Girl Reputation (Griffin, $16.99, 9781250796752). After her mother dies, Genevieve West temporarily returns home to the small town of Avalon Bay, which she’d fled a year ago to escape her self-destructive lifestyle. Gen doesn’t dare fall back into bad habits—especially her ex, Evan Hartley. She knows they’re bad for each other, but she can’t seem to stop having hot and heavy hookups with him while she’s in town. As she becomes further enmeshed with her old life, Gen wonders if she can stay in Avalon Bay and stay true to her new, better self. Thanks to Kennedy’s easy, breezy dialogue, readers will feel like they’re elbow-to-elbow with Gen and Evan at the bar and the poker table in this vibrant, feel-good and fresh romance.
Christie Ridgway is a lifelong romance reader and a published romance novelist of over 60 books.
shelf life | colleen hoover
Colleen Hoover secretly signs her books in bookstores The reigning queen of BookTok reflects on her life among the stacks. Colleen Hoover’s novels (Verity, It Ends with Us and many more) are among TikTok’s most recommended reads, racing up the bestseller list years after their initial releases. It Starts With Us (Atria, $17.99, 9781668001226), the eagerly awaited sequel to It Ends With Us, arrives October 18, and to mark its release, we asked Hoover a few questions about her bookstore bucket list and most cherished library memories. What are your bookstore rituals? For example, where do you go first in a store? Where do you go last before checking out? I always check out the new releases first. Then I check sections that might contain my own books so I can secretly sign them. I browse for a while and then love looking at all the nonbook-related stuff near checkout. I’m a sucker for journals and pens. Tell us about your favorite library from when you were a child. My school library was my favorite. We were only allowed to go as a class once a week, but I’d have my books read hours after visiting. I’m pretty sure I read every book in that library multiple times. Do you have a favorite library from literature? The Midnight Library! ;) While writing your books, has there ever been a librarian or bookseller who was especially helpful? When I first started writing, I’d write in the coffee shop of our local Hastings. The staff there were always so encouraging when I would come in to work. I did a lot of my early writing in that
© CHAD GRIFFITH
store and remember it so fondly. Do you have a “bucket list” of b o okstores and libraries you’d love to visit but haven’t yet? I’ve been lucky enough to visit or sign at my dream stores on tour. The Strand in NYC was a big bucket list place to sign, so when it finally happened, it felt very surreal. How is your own personal library organized? It used to be organized alphabetically, but now it’s by color. What’s the last thing you bought at your local bookstore? I actually founded our local bookstore, The Bookworm Box, which is a charity bookstore where all the books are donated and signed by the author, and all the proceeds go to charity. The last thing I bought was a set of my books for a girl who came by after hours when I happened to be there. Bookstore cats or bookstore dogs? Cats! What is your ideal bookstorebrowsing snack? You don’t eat food while touching new books! That’s a no-no.
Commit to memory
© DEVLIN CLARO
interview | hua hsu
Hua Hsu’s memoir immortalizes not just a formative friendship but the whole aura of the 1990s. For 24 years, Hua Hsu has been carrying around a padded envelope stuffed with memorabilia. Things like “a pack of Export A’s with two cigarettes left,” a funeral program, letters, cassette tapes, receipts, punchlines written on napkins, a paperback copy of Edward Carr’s What Is History? Hsu hastily gathered all of these things and more in the aftermath of the murder of his friend Ken, who was killed in a carjacking in 1998, the summer before their senior year at the University of California, Berkeley. “I’m an archivist at heart,” Hsu says during a call to his home in Brooklyn, New York. When his friend was killed, Hsu says he “just began writing everyVisit BookPage.com to read our thing down.” His obsessive cataloging even led his starred review of Stay True. college friends to choose him to deliver the eulogy at Ken’s funeral. Hsu has continued poring over his handsome, conventionally dressed, self-assured gathered notes and memorabilia ever since, trying fraternity member. Ken was a Japanese American to find a way “to capture certain feelings since those whose grandparents had been incarcerated in an days.” But until recently, he says, “it didn’t seem to internment camp during World War II, but comhave any possibility of becoming a narrative.” pared to Hsu, Ken had thoroughly assimilated, As he describes in his richly probing memoir, Stay down to the Abercrombie wardrobe. In this way, Ken True, Hsu grew up in Cupertino, California, the only seemed to represent to Hsu a different life path—one child of parents who came to the U.S. in the 1960s for he was initially skeptical about. “He was comfortable college and to escape a repressive regime in Taiwan. in his own skin,” Hsu says. “He was confident. . . . It He was an often solitary child who found expression started off as something I would just dismiss, and through and distinguished himself with his avid love then it became intriguing.” H Stay True of music, which he wrote about in vibrant personal One of Stay True’s many fascinating qualities is its Doubleday, $26, 9780385547772 zines. At Berkeley, he curated mixtapes for every examination of the differing ways Asian Americans occasion, like trips in his Volvo with Ken and others to embrace and reject American culture. In particular, Memoir pick up friends from the airport or even just for local Hsu writes lovingly of his parents’ experiences as food runs. Outside of curating the aesthetics of his personal identity, Hsu new immigrants. At one point, Hsu’s father was able to return to Taiwan spent those years tutoring inmates at San Quentin State Prison, volunteering to work as a well-paid professional. This being the pre-internet age, he as a mentor for youths in neighboring Richmond, California, and particicommunicated with his son via fax machine while he was in Taiwan, and the fatherly love expressed in those faxes is remarkable. At another point, pating in the growing Asian American-led political movements of the 1990s. Hsu says he hopes Stay True captures the feeling of that moment. “I Hsu describes his mother, no longer among the newest immigrants to her want the book to sound like what life was like then. It’s hard to describe to San Jose suburb, almost comically deriding the rudeness of more recent Chinese immigrants to burgeoning Silicon Valley. someone who didn’t experience America Online what boredom felt like at the time, or what the pace of life is like if you’re in college pre-internet, But Stay True’s focus remains on a friendship: its qualities, its vagaor just what it felt like to be at Berkeley. . . . I didn’t want it to be purely ries, its lingering questions and impacts, frozen and spotlighted by its nostalgic. I wanted it to feel like you’re just hanging out in this other time.” traumatic end. After Berkeley, Hsu went on to Harvard, where he continWithin these descriptions of pre-Y2K ued to obsess over his late friend while Northern California, Ken often seems “I didn’t want it to be purely nostalgic. feeling “marooned” on the East Coast. elusive. Hsu quotes his therapist and These days, he says he “doesn’t feel I wanted it to feel like you’re just another friend who asked him how close entirely at home anywhere,” but he’s at he really was to Ken, and foregrounding least acclimated to the East Coast. He is a hanging out in this other time.” that question was deliberate, Hsu says. staff writer for The New Yorker, and until “When you’re young, you’re just living day to day. Then if there’s some recently, he was an associate professor of English and director of American kind of fracture or trauma, you’re forced to step out of your context and Studies at Vassar College. In 2022, he became a professor of literature at examine what’s meaningful to you. There’s a way I took this friendship for Bard College, teaching writing and Asian literature. He and his wife have a granted. When I was writing in my journal, I was always returning to how 7-year-old son. Marital strife, he jokes, centers on alternate street parking to describe [Ken]: his voice, his laugh, his skin. You’d never have occasion and who will fulfill the work quota at the food co-op. So much has changed in the last 24 years—but creating this book after to do something like that if he were still alive. The question of closeness so much time and deliberation has not brought Hsu catharsis or closure, only becomes visible when it’s no longer there.” he says. “That feels too climactic. But it has given me a lot of peace.” Hsu, who arrived at Berkeley with alternative rock sensibilities and —Alden Mudge a deliberately oddball style of dress, did not immediately like Ken, a
by robert weibezahl
Less Is Lost Comedy is rarely granted the same measure of literary recognition or respect as works that are tragic, epic or historic, so Andrew Sean Greer’s 2018 Pulitzer Prize for his comic novel, Less, was a welcome surprise. It didn’t hurt that the contemporary satire unapologetically skewered the literary community as it chronicled the midlife breakdown of “minor American writer” Arthur Less. Greer tapped his singular skill for blending multiple tropes to amusing effect: the life-in-crisis travelogue, the quirky gay love story, a mysterious Brontë-esque narrator whose identity is kept under wraps until the end of the book. (The snazzy red suit Greer wore to the Pulitzer Prize ceremony won him even more fans.) As the title suggests, Greer’s new novel, Less Is Lost (Little, Brown $29, 9780316498906), is a sequel, picking up the misadventures (and misdirected travels) The companionable sequel of the hapless Arthur Less. Arthur is facing to Andrew Sean Greer’s both emotional and Pulitzer-winning novel, Less, literal upheaval: His former lover and mentraces a hapless writer’s tor, Robert Brownburn, has died, leaving a hole further misadventures. in his heart and revealing the startling fact that Arthur owes 10 years in back rent for the home where he believed he was living rent-free. Arthur has recently acquired an affectionate pug and a converted camper van from a much-lionized novelist with three initials in his name—so to stave off homelessness, he embarks in the camper van on a bizarre itinerary of marginally literary events that take him to, among other places, a hot springs retreat in the Arizona desert (which he proceeds to flood), the Navajo reservation, an antebellum plantation in Georgia and an island off the coast of Savannah where his long-estranged father is dying. Enroute across the country, Arthur fields abrupt, stress-inducing phone calls from his fast-talking literary agent. As he discovers the America that lies between the coasts, he also sort of—though not too definitively—discovers things about himself, most of them having to do with our need for love and human connection. As with Less (but no longer a secret), the narrator is Arthur’s beloved partner, Freddy Pelu, who has a magical capacity for seeing into Arthur’s heart and soul in ways Arthur himself cannot. And Freddy, it turns out, proves a third-person narrator in the manner of Nick Carraway, discovering things about himself as he ostensibly serves as Arthur’s Alice B. Toklas. Greer writes with an offbeat, gentle humor, and his narrative, in the voice of the somewhat enigmatic Freddy, is peppered throughout with well-observed irony and occasional profundity. Arthur Less himself, no doubt, would be stymied at the prospect of following up the success of a Pulitzer, but Greer clearly is made of sterner stuff than his fictional creation. And if Less Is Lost lacks some of the snap of the prizewinner, it admirably transports eager readers into the world of Arthur and Freddy with tenderness and wit.
Robert Weibezahl is a publishing industry veteran, playwright and novelist. Each month, he takes an in-depth look at a recent book of literary significance.
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q&a | kate beaton
From crude oil to a refined graphic memoir © STEPHEN RANKIN PHOTOGRAPHY
Award-winning comics artist Kate Beaton solidifies her reputation for storytelling prowess and remarkable range.
In 2005, in order to pay off her student loans, Kate Beaton left her home in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, to work on the Alberta oil sands, a vast region in Canada that contains one of the largest deposits of crude oil in the world. During this time, Beaton began writing “Hark! A Vagrant,” a witty, irreverent webcomic about history, literary figures and her own life. The beloved series has been collected into two bestselling books, Hark! A Vagrant and Step Aside, Pops. Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands, Beaton’s first full-length graphic memoir, is a beautiful and nuanced account of her time working in the town of Fort McMurray, as well as at various temporary work camps owned by several oil companies. It directly addresses the sexual harassment and violence that she and others experienced in the oil sands, as well as the toxic masculinity that permeates the work camps. We talked with Beaton about the difficulties of capturing the sometimes contradictory realities of such a complicated place. You started posting “Hark! A Vagrant” 15 years ago. How have you changed as a writer and artist since then? I’ve changed a lot. I was only 23 when I started making things that would be “Hark! A Vagrant.” I had gone through a lot in some ways, but I was very young and inexperienced, and I look at some of my old work and cringe at it, but this is the same for almost anyone making things in the public eye. Everyone is a young fool for a while, and the world changes around you, and you get older and hopefully not more foolish but the other way around. Right now I’m 38, and it has been a long time since I was a fresh face on the comics
scene. I’m more like the wallpaper or a wornout chair, but I like being that. No one is surprised I’m here. How did writing those comics affect your life in the work camps? Did you have any sense of how your career would unfold? After I had comics in my life, working in the camps got easier, because I had this thing that was just for me. Before I had that, I lost myself. It was just work and people chipping away at you in a certain way. Then I had comics and I’d go home to my little camp room after work and draw them and put them online, and here I was in a work camp in the oil sands, very alone in many ways, and I was connecting to people who saw me for who I was through my work. I felt like myself. And I didn’t want to give that up or lose that. As the book begins, you write about the tension between loving your home in Cape Breton and needing to leave it to find work. During your time in the oil sands, some of the most poignant, powerful moments—both good and bad—are the interactions you have with people from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Cape Breton. Talk to me about how you feel about these places. Do you see this memoir as being about Cape Breton as well as about Alberta? It makes sense that it is. Cape Breton has always exported workers. They leave for where the work is, and they leave together. To Boston, Sudbury, Windsor, Alberta— not always, but often you see it. And when they do, there is a shared history and a connection that is always happening. My grandfather went out on harvest trains in the 1930s, from Nova Scotia to the prairies. There were 1,200 people on the train, he said, and there was one car for schoolteachers. Women. Along the way, the men smashed up the train and looted. “They were full of the devil,” he said. How do you think
that car of women felt with those 1,200 men? I know how they felt. You think your story is new, you think you have something new to say, but really it is all something you are born into. My mother’s family all went to work in the car factories of Windsor, and they would come visit in the summer. And I would watch my aunts go crying into the car to go back and Grandma go silently back into the house with her private sorrow, and I would know that’s going to be me someday—or rather, that this is the choice I will have to make, to stay or to go wherever the work is. When it really was time for me to go, Alberta was where the work was, and I went. I thought nothing of it at all. And I had no idea, none at all, what I was doing. Then you come home and talk to your relatives about what happened when they left, and they all say the same thing: “We had no idea what we were doing.” “I’ve never been so cold.” “I’ve never been so lonely.” “Thank god I knew this other person from home.” You convey so much emotion through your characters’ facial expressions, images of massive equipment and views of the surrounding landscape, both natural and human. What’s your drawing process like when bringing scenes from your memory to the page? Oh, I had a lot of visual references. I can’t just draw an excavator from memory! But I knew what I was looking for in references—that was memory. You see those images again, and you can really smell it and feel it, being out there. I just wanted people to feel like they were there. There are so many people in the book—by my count, over 40 named characters! What are the challenges or joys of drawing so many different people? The challenge was that I drew a lot of people the same! And my editors made me go back and change some of them because people were getting confused— haha! But when you have a bunch of guys in hard hats, safety glasses and safety vests, they do
Illustrations from Ducks © 2022 by Kate Beaton. Reproduced by permission of Drawn & Quarterly.
feature | graphics
Full bleed Graphic storytelling gets raw and real. James Spooner’s punk-rock graphic memoir and Jordan Crane’s game-changing graphic novel take the panel to perfection.
H The High Desert
H Ducks Drawn & Quarterly, $39.95, 9781770462892
Graphic Memoir start looking alike. So that was challenging for sure. I was mostly concerned that I didn’t mess up on any of them and make people confused. Since your time in Alberta, you’ve lived all over Canada, as well as in New York. Now that you’re back in Cape Breton, how does it feel to be home? It feels natural. I liked being away in those places. I think it was a healthy thing. I learned a lot from being in cities like Toronto and New York. But I always felt like a peg on a board there too, like a thing that didn’t fit in the picture. Here, I feel like part of the painting. If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self who has just arrived in Alberta? What would you say to other young women thinking about working in the oil sands? My advice would be that you can actually ask for better money or apply for a better job. Someone told me that I wasn’t allowed to do either in the first year that I was there, and I believed them. And even the second year that I was there, I didn’t challenge the money that I was being paid, and I was in one of the lowest-paid tiers of people on site. I just didn’t know any better. And we are not really raised to know better or to ask for more when other people have no problem doing that. —Laura Sackton Visit BookPage.com to read our starred review of Ducks.
Punk rock has Black origins. This fact is at the heart of James Spooner’s 2003 documentary, Afro-Punk, which fostered a global movement of punk youth from Black and minority backgrounds. In Spooner’s graphic memoir, The High Desert: Black. Punk. Nowhere. (Harper, $26.99, 9780358659112), he recounts his first encounter with 1990s punk culture in Apple Valley, a dusty, rural town in Southern California. As the angsty biracial skateboarding son of a white single mom, Spooner discovered that the alternative scene could be for kids like him, and this punk community offered him a refuge from his troubled home life and Apple Valley’s widespread racism. Although Spooner first saw punk as a commodified style, amounting to nothing more than the latest records and edgy leather jackets, he came to recognize how this aesthetic functioned as an armor to conceal his own vulnerabilities: “This was more than a haircut; it was a way to take control over the teasing and slurs, all of which I internalized. Punk rock helped to set me apart from all the things I hated.” As Spooner met more people from the punk community, his understanding of punk likewise developed in more productive directions. He learned that punk doesn’t have to be limited to cynicism, nihilism and self-destructiveness. Rather, the energy of punk can be directed toward political resistance, community building and intersectionality. Throughout The High Desert, the voice of an older Spooner punctuates the narrative through analeptic black text boxes, offering historical context and a sophisticated political perspective (which Spooner’s younger self lacks) while acknowledging the authenticity of his teenage self’s frustration and isolation. Characters’ racist language isn’t censored; instead, Spooner’s older voice comments on it, and on his own behavior, imbuing The High Desert with important self-critical realism. The High Desert reclaims punk on behalf of Blackness and does so with electric style. Lyrics intermittently zigzag across the panels,
the background is always dynamic with life, and the characters’ facial expressions are riven with wrinkles, frowns and shadows. Spooner’s unorthodox coming-of-age story is a visual and musical achievement. —Sydney To
H Keeping Two Jordan Crane’s graphic novel Keeping Two (Fantagraphics, $29.99, 9781683965183), which took him 20 years to complete, pays very strict attention to form. Over the course of 300-plus pages, Crane rarely strays from a simple sixpanel grid, arranging the action in neat squares that move down and across the page with an almost mesmeric energy and speed. With this structure, a rhythm builds, as does an understanding between cartoonist and reader, so that when Crane begins to blur the lines between past and present, reality and memory, truth and imagination, you lean forward and hold on for one of the most memorable comics-driven rides of the year. Keeping Two follows a couple in the midst of what seems to be a minor argument, driven in part by a book the pair read aloud to each other during a long car trip. This book-within-the-book is about a couple coping with a profound loss, and the story’s themes of heartbreak and recovery immediately impact the lives of the couple reading it. They begin to imagine tragedies unfolding in their own reality, tragedies that may turn out to be all too close. Crane uses vibrant, hypnotic color, with bright greens suggesting life, growth and rebirth but also illness, nausea and unease. As the story swings between these two tonal poles, Crane’s intense focus on form and composition allows him to transition seamlessly between perspectives, often within the space of a single panel. The boyfriend’s household chore becomes his girlfriend’s reading life, becomes the life of the story she’s paging through and then back again— and the reader is never lost in these shifts. It all feels like part of an ever-fluctuating meditation on life, loss, love and all the states of uncertainty, panic and longing in between. Beautifully realized and assembled, Keeping Two is a remarkable work and one of the year’s best graphic novels. —Matthew Jackson
reviews | fiction
H Our Missing Hearts By Celeste Ng
Literary Fiction In her third novel, Our Missing Hearts (Penguin Press, $29, 9780593492543), the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere delivers a timely dystopian tale about Bird Gardner, a 12-year-old boy who is desperately trying to hold on to memories of his mother from before she left their family. Bird, who is called Noah by everyone except his mom, lives alone with his father in a small dormitory. Their world is a pristine society, having recovered from a period of time known as “the Crisis.” But an uneasy, gnawing feeling grows within the boy, especially regarding the lessons he’s taught in school. As Bird begins to awaken to reality, he also becomes aware of the ties between his mother’s poetry and the increasingly absurd protests that are happening around the country (thousands of pingpong balls released in the Mississippi River, graffitied red hearts appearing everywhere). When
H The Old Place By Bobby Finger
Popular Fiction Billington, Texas, might be a small town, but readers of Bobby Finger’s exquisite debut novel, The Old Place (Putnam, $27, 9780593422342), will quickly fall in love with this boondock burg and its makeyou-laugh, break-your-heart characters. “Even a town in decline never really stops growing,” writes Finger early in the novel. “People may leave, but their stories remain, reverberating in the bones of all those left behind.” That’s certainly the case in Billington, where generations of comings and goings pulsate with bitter secrets, old hurts and unresolved feelings—in other words, small-town drama at its best. The Old Place focuses on best friends and neighbors Mary Alice and Ellie. Both lost their sons immediately after the boys’ high school graduation, and Finger artfully doles out just enough tidbits from the neighbors’ pasts to keep tension high. Mary Alice has been forced to retire from teaching math at Billington High, and she hardly knows what to do beyond having
a mysterious package arrives for Bird, a poignant adventure follows, in which he searches for both his mother and the answers to the suppressed questions surrounding her disappearance. Celeste Ng is undoubtedly at the top of her game. The American society she depicts in Our Missing Hearts is overcome by fear, serving as a poignant critique of our own increasingly fraught and oppressive political landscape. In the novel, the Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act (PACT) is the overwhelming governing force, a Big Brother-esque law that “outlaws promotion of un-American values and behavior. Encourages all citizens to report potential threats to our society. And . . . protects children from environments espousing harmful views.” Bird’s mother is labeled a “Person of Asian Origin,” even though the president insists that “PACT is not about race.” And in a guidebook for “Young Patriots,” readers learn that “for people who weaken our country with
Ellie over for coffee every morning. Their new routine is upended when Mary Alice’s sister, Katherine, unexpectedly arrives from Atlanta, delivering bombshell news that Mary Alice has desperately been trying to avoid. The big reveal gradually builds toward an explosive conclusion at the much-anticipated annual church picnic. One of the most remarkable things about The Old Place is how Finger, a 30-something Texas native and Brooklyn podcaster (“Who? Weekly”), has so superbly captured the hearts and souls of this trio of 60-ish women. The novel is an extended meditation on the great joys and enduring heartaches of long-term relationships—and the hard work that’s required to maintain these bonds. Finger is fully cognizant of his characters’ many flaws, and his portrayal of Mary Alice and Katherine’s love-hate relationship over the years is particularly poignant. A broad supporting cast adds depth, drama and even romance to the mix. There’s also plenty of humor, with lines like “And then something wonderful happened: he sawed his damn finger off.” Mary Alice’s teaching replacement, Josie Kerr, is a newcomer to Billington, and she provides an outsider’s point of view. (She also seems like an intriguing candidate for a sequel.) Finger has created his own kind of Lake Wobegon: a vibrant literary locale that readers will be loath to leave. Here’s hoping for more tantalizing, tempestuous tales. —Alice Cary
un-American ideas, there will be consequences.” However, Ng’s focus on the unbreakable bond between mother and son elevates the story to more than a cautionary dystopian tale. As Bird searches for his mother, he racks his memories for pieces of her—such as the folktales she told him growing up— and from these fragments, he begins to create a new path for himself. His journey is through both history and language, and as he travels across the country, he finds help from an underground network of librarians and learns to root out the ideas that have infected his mind and the nation as a whole. Ng’s prose highlights the fateful and sometimes absurd connections between our world and the realm of ideas, reminding readers that what is in our heads will always reveal itself in our bodies. The result is a novel that will undoubtedly impact how we connect and live in this terrifying, beautiful world. —Eric Ponce
H The Book of Goose By Yiyun Li
Literary Fiction Friendships made in childhood have an intensity like no others, as they’re often rooted in immediate and sometimes inexplicable feelings of connection. This kind of deep relationship is the subject of Yiyun Li’s novel The Book of Goose (FSG, $28, 9780374606343). Not since Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend has a novel so deftly probed the magical and sometimes destructive friendships that can occur between two girls. Fabienne and Agnès grew up together in the countryside of postwar France. Memories of those days are reignited when Agnès, now married and living in the United States, hears from her mother that Fabienne has died in childbirth. As girls, they played together endlessly, with the dominant Fabienne always taking charge. When Fabienne suggests that they write a book together, Agnès complies, but it’s not a true collaboration: Fabienne dictates the story to the more docile Agnès, who has the better penmanship. Their book is a collection of frankly
feature | short reads told stories about the harshness of country life, and it attracts the attention of the village post master. Interest spreads as far as Paris, where the book is published solely under Agnès’ name, and the young author becomes a minor celebrity. Agnès is then sent to finishing school in London, where she falls under the tutelage of the controlling Mrs. Townsend. Now, years later, Fabienne’s death offers Agnès the opportunity to come to terms with the life she created for herself, so far away from Fabienne’s calculations and Mrs. Townsend’s grandiose expectations. Told by Agnès in brief, succinct chapters, The Book of Goose is an elegant and disturbing novel about exploitation and acquiescence, notoriety and obscurity, and whether you choose your life or are chosen by it. Through her characters, Li studies the sway of manipulation, like the power-shifting game of rock- paper-scissors—a motif that frequently pops up throughout the novel. And though Agnès never stops longing for the friend whose brilliance provided her life with a sense of wholeness, the reader might be excused for believing that it was Agnès’ game to win all along. —Lauren Bufferd
The Night Ship By Jess Kidd
Coming of Age Jess Kidd’s novels have an uncommonly stunning tactile quality, plunging the reader headlong into worlds that are both recognizable and strange. Her fourth book, The Night Ship (Atria, $28, 9781982180812), is the latest example of this gift. Part historical fiction, part coming-of-age story, it’s an elegantly told tale about two young people whose lives are divided by nearly four centuries but intertwined by circumstance, fate and one famous shipwreck. In the early 17th century, a girl named Mayken is on board the Batavia with her nursemaid, bound for the Dutch East Indies. Mayken isn’t interested in being a “fine young lady” for the duration of the voyage. She’d rather explore the underbelly of the ship and learn about the dark things lurking within the vessel. Centuries later, in the 1980s, a boy named Gil comes to the island where the Batavia crashed. Living with his detached uncle, Gil feels adrift and lonely. He finds comfort in new friendships and becomes fascinated by the story of the notorious shipwreck. Along the way, both children find something mythic to pursue. For Mayken, it’s a monster that may or may not be prowling the
No page wasted Enjoy exceptional fiction in fewer than 200 pages. Two intimate new novels keep things right to the point.
H A Minor Chorus What does it mean to write a novel in a world defined by the violence of colonization and white supremacy—a world that can’t be saved with mere words? What does it mean to want to write a novel at all, especially as you doubt yourself and recognize the contradictions in your desires and intentions? And what does it mean to be a queer Indigenous man living through these questions and their consequences? These are the quandaries at the heart of Cree poet Billy-Ray Belcourt’s extraordinary debut novel. A Minor Chorus (Norton, $15.95, 9781324021421) is a slim, sparse book, a genre-defying blend of fiction, critical theory and oral history. Belcourt’s unnamed narrator is a 20-something queer Cree man fed up with the overt and insidious racism of the academic realm. He abandons his dissertation, leaves his Ph.D. program and returns to his hometown in northern Alberta, Canada, to write a novel. While there, he speaks with various people from his past: an old classmate, a closeted gay elder and his great-aunt. Between these conversations, he recounts childhood memories of his cousin, another Cree man who’s just been arrested on a drug charge. The novel is intensely interior, sometimes dizzyingly so. The narrator is a scholar who constantly analyzes his own experiences, philosophizing and interrogating, but he’s painfully aware of the limits of academic thought. This tension sizzles and spits at the center of the book, and while the narrator never resolves that tension, he begins to dissect the rigid binaries between living in the world and thinking about it, creating experience and feeling it. Belcourt crafts sentences like only a poet can, each one precise and shimmering. He writes with ferocious intensity and beauty about Grindr hookups, queer Indigenous friendship, police violence, the open wounds of Canada’s residential schools, loneliness and longing. The narrator frequently invokes the work of other poets and writers—Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Roland Barthes, Carl Phillips—and in doing so, firmly places himself in a lineage of struggle and resistance, artistic rigor and poetic thought.
A Minor Chorus is a feat of technical brilliance, a novel that questions the worth of writing even as it asserts its own value. It is a slippery, scholarly work, rooted in the layered complexity of Indigenous life. —Laura Sackton
The Hero of This Book A writer’s parents have both died, and their physical space will be gone soon. Back at the family home near Boston, an estate sale will clear out belongings amassed by her parents during their lives. But their memory—especially that of her mother, most recently deceased—lives on with the writer. She wanders the streets of London, a meandering journey that takes her from the London Eye to museums to the theater. She is surrounded by people but rarely in conversation with them. Instead, she recalls a trip made with her mother, whose dramatic, colorful personality continues to keep the writer company. Though she never introduces herself by name, the narrator of Elizabeth McCracken’s The Hero of This Book (Ecco, $26.99, 9780062971272) welcomes the reader to join her in processing her mother’s death. McCracken slips between action, memory and internal monologue, seamlessly exploring her narrator’s world with no border between the internal and external. The writer intersperses observations about the writing craft with these recollections. The genre of the resulting tale is certainly up for debate: Is it autofiction? Memoir? A novel? McCracken even inserts cheeky asides about what makes a book fiction, further confusing the line between narrator and author. “I used to not believe in plot because I wasn’t interested: All my plots were about time,” she writes—and this novel follows that rule. “That might have been because not much had happened to me, not so much as a broken bone. Then a few things did befall me, and I understood plot in a different way: I discovered that a single event could alter the course of a life.” Readers who enjoy tales of quiet, internal reflection will find themselves right at home in this thoughtful exploration of the lived experience of grief. —Carla Jean Whitley
reviews | fiction bowels of the ship. For Gil, it’s the ghost of a girl who wanders the island. Kidd develops these parallel narratives delicately and intricately, with a precision that’s offset by the emotional intensity of her writing. In the early chapters, she makes stylistic connections between Gil and Mayken within the prose itself, then builds upon these initial associations as the story progresses. It’s an impressive juggling act, especially because neither Gil’s story nor Mayken’s ever undermines the other. Instead, they nourish each other, guided along by Kidd’s deft stylistic flourishes. From the smells of the ship to the texture of the kitchen counter in Gil’s new home, it’s all deeply immersive. And through it all, magic always feels just around the corner. Whether you’re a fan of ghost stories, historical novels or both, The Night Ship stands a good chance of sweeping you along in its wake. —Matthew Jackson
The Vicious Circle By Katherine St. John
Thriller Katherine St. John is a pro at crafting escapist thrillers. Her often gorgeous protagonists find themselves in remote settings, surrounded by people they’re not sure they can trust. It all makes for loads of nail-biting suspense, and St. John’s latest, The Vicious Circle (William Morrow, $27.99, 9780063224056), conjures up that same life-ordeath urgency amid opulence. This time, the setting is a wellness center named Xanadu, deep in the Mexican jungle. The luxurious compound offers much fodder for suspicion. (The bedrooms have no doors? What’s with all the chanting?) It also serves as the locus for St. John’s exploration of shared beliefs-turned-toxic groupthink and the fuzzy line between enigmatic mysticism and subtle manipulation. Former model Sveta Bentzen is shocked to learn that her estranged uncle, the famous selfhelp guru and Xanadu founder Paul Sayres, left his entire estate to her instead of his wife, Kali. All her life, Sveta has felt that she’s not enough, either for her loving but distant mother or her wealthy fiancé’s influential and scornful family. When she learns of her uncle’s death, she grieves the relationship they didn’t have and is determined to make the long, treacherous journey to Xanadu for the memorial service. Sveta’s confidence falters when lawyer (and handsome former flame) Lucas joins the trip, but she perseveres, hoping
to reach an understanding with Kali while Lucas handles the finances. The Xanadu residents welcome them, but Sveta suspects that hostility may lurk beneath Kali’s serenity—and that the circumstances of her uncle’s death may have been misrepresented, too. Fans of “The White Lotus” and Nine Perfect Strangers will relish Sveta’s race to find a way to escape Xanadu before it’s too late. Her hardwon journey to realizing her self-worth is as compelling as it is deliciously ironic: Who knew all you had to do to win confidence, love and inner peace is escape a creepy wellness center? —Linda M. Castellitto
H Shrines of Gaiety By Kate Atkinson
Historical Fiction There’s a certain joy in opening a Kate Atkinson novel—a feeling that every element matters and that each surprise will ultimately make perfect sense. Her latest novel, Shrines of Gaiety (Doubleday, $29, 9780385547970), takes us to London in 1926. The shadows of the Great War and the 1919 flu pandemic weigh heavily on the world. In response to these recent horrors, London’s nightlife is alive, well and effervescent. Enter Nellie Coker—club owner, mother, notorious schemer—who is just about to be released from prison. Everyone is curious to see her, though she rarely lets people get close. London’s Soho neighborhood serves as the backdrop for Nellie’s life, as well as for the lives of her sons and the people who work for her and against her. Each chapter shifts focus, showing a bit of a character’s story, a glimpse of an encounter, a fragment of a person trying to exist in a complex world. We even get a fascinating look at characters who work in law enforcement. Slowly, these moments overlap. Secrets, stories and debts come to the surface. As the fragments of the novel coalesce, readers witness interconnection, reverberations and consequences. Patience is required to see this puzzle through to its end, but there’s magic in seeing the whole unexpected picture. There’s also pleasure in how Atkinson seamlessly integrates historical figures and moments into her story. Nellie Coker is a fictionalized version of “Night Club Queen” Kate Meyrick, but the novel moves beyond its inspiration, allowing the imaginative possibilities to guide the tale. Other cultural and literary figures are bandied about in conversation, which firmly establishes the novel’s time and place.
The history and setting add nuance to Shrines of Gaiety, but Atkinson’s characters and their choices, curiosities and corruptions keep the story unfolding, making the resolution worth every second. —Freya Sachs
Mr. Wilder and Me By Jonathan Coe
Historical Fiction Mr. Wilder and Me (Europa, $27, 9781609457921) by Jonathan Coe isn’t so much a work of fiction as a fictionalization of some true events. The book covers the period when Billy Wilder, one of the greatest screenwriters and directors in old Hollywood, helmed one of his final films, Fedora (1978), about a Greta Garboesque former movie star. (One thing about reading not-quite-novels is that they inevitably send you down rabbit holes on Wikipedia and IMDb.) The book is narrated by a Greco British woman named Calista Frangopoulou, who serves as an assistant during the shoot and, later, earns renown as a film-score composer herself. She doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, so perhaps we can assume she’s fictitious. When the book opens, middle-aged Calista is living with her husband and one of their twin daughters in London. Her daughter is going through a bit of a crisis, and this jogs Calista’s memory of a time when she was about her daughter’s age. In the late 1970s, Calista was carefree, so much so that she and her friend swanned into a swanky Hollywood restaurant to have dinner with the eminent director while wearing cutoff jeans, T-shirts and flip-flops. Calista even yawns in the middle of the meal, which Wilder finds charming and inspiring. But Coe’s book isn’t so concerned with capturing a side of Hollywood or the process of moviemaking as it is with summing up a life and a fading era. The studio system under which Wilder and his peers have flourished is dying, and though he will live many more years after making Fedora, his glory days are over. But bitterness isn’t part of Wilder’s makeup, which is especially remarkable when you know that he barely escaped the Nazis, who slaughtered the rest of his family. Coe emphasizes the director’s kindness, humility and graciousness. Beautifully written and filled with compassion, humor and an abundance of knowledge about old Hollywood, Mr. Wilder and Me sheds light on lives that aren’t perfect but still well lived. —Arlene McKanic
reviews | nonfiction
H Rest Is Resistance By Tricia Hersey
Social Science Founder of the Nap Ministry Tricia Hersey has created a startling, generous new work in Rest Is Resistance (Little, Brown Spark, $27, 9780316365215). Grounding her debut book in Black liberation theology, abolitionist traditions and Afrofuturism, Hersey provides a blueprint for rejecting the demands of modern capitalism in favor of our collective health and social progress. Hersey delineates American society as one in crisis. Through research and personal anecdotes, she demonstrates how our culture has systematically prioritized the generation of wealth above our health, happiness and stability—and subsequently romanticized this dysfunction as “grind culture” or “hustle culture.” For Hersey, embracing rest is an inherent
H The Year of the Puppy By Alexandra Horowitz
Animals New York Times bestselling author Alexandra Horowitz has created another heartwarming and personal story about dogs that seamlessly incorporates captivating science. In The Year of the Puppy (Viking, $28, 9780593298008), Horowitz, a specialist in canine cognition and head of the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard University, follows the first year of a puppy’s life—her own family’s new puppy, as it happens. In part one, Horowitz describes the birth and early development of their puppy, Quiddity (Quid). Many owners never experience the early weeks—or even years, with many rescues—of their dogs’ lives, and this section makes fascinating reading as Horowitz meets not just her puppy but the puppy’s mom: Maize, a young dog surrendered to a shelter in Georgia when her owners realized she was pregnant. Maize was transported to New York, where she was fostered by an experienced woman named Amy who took on responsibility for the new mom and her pups—11 in all, it turns out. In part two, Horowitz and her family choose Quid as their own, and she traces the puppy’s
rebuke of a violent system built on coerced labor and white supremacy. It is an intentional opt-out of an ideology that demands the labor of Black women while deriding us as lazy. She is also quick to denounce the modern wellness industry that has commodified and individualized self-care as something that can be packaged and sold (candles, shakes, crystals, etc.). As part of this rejection of “shallow wellness work,” Hersey does more than just explain the problems of modern capitalism; she also provides practical methods of resistance through a variety of resting practices. Hersey argues that prayer, daydreams, sleep and intense laughter are not just enjoyable but sacred balms. But at the forefront of this work is the understanding that these spiritual practices go beyond the individual.
weekly development and integration into their family, where every experience is new: new people, new big dogs, new cat, new house. Training at the outset consists of taking Quid out to pee every two hours and rewarding her for positive behaviors—though the puppy often moves through 12 behaviors in 10 seconds. Fortunately, there are also naps. Horowitz writes with a gentle humor that any pet owner will appreciate. “After bringing a puppy home, that potential dog vanishes and is replaced by an actual biting, running, peeing, whining dog in our home every hour of every day,” she writes. “She bites the cat in the face and bothers the dogs, who have taken, rightfully, to just turning away in disdain.” The book is more than an entertaining personal narrative, however. Along the way, Horowitz draws on her extensive knowledge to offer insights into canine behavior. She goes beyond training-focused instructional manuals to show that often what humans label as “misbehavior” is actually normal puppy behavior. We expect dogs to live in our world. But, as Horowitz chronicles one year in Quid’s life, she gently urges us to become more aware of the incredibly rich and complex world dogs inhabit. The better we understand our pooches, the more likely we are to succeed at providing a wonderful home for everyone. It’s a given that for dog lovers, The Year of the Puppy is a must-read. But even cat lovers will find much to enjoy in this endearing scientific memoir. —Deborah Hopkinson
According to Hersey, cultivating rest honors the labor of our ancestors and promises a better world for our descendants. Hersey’s prose is exquisitely beautiful, dripping with lyrical grace and wisdom that make her background as a poet and scholar obvious. Audre Lorde, Octavia Butler and bell hooks are named inspirations for her craft, and their work echoes throughout Hersey’s thinking. “I don’t want a seat at the table of the oppressor,” Hersey writes as she dreams of a better future for us all. “I want a blanket and pillow down by the ocean.” Rest Is Resistance is a book to read and reread with a pen in hand and pad beside you; one that you will find yourself wanting to give to friends, co-workers and strangers. —Celia Mattison
By Cody Keenan
Memoir Many books have been written about the pressure cooker effect of working in the White House. But as chief speechwriter during some of the most pivotal days of President Barack Obama’s time in office, Cody Keenan has a unique story to tell. In Grace (Mariner, $29.99, 9780358651895), Keenan recalls an unimaginably intense week and a half during which the Supreme Court issued decisions on same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act and a white supremacist murdered nine Black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Keenan’s job was to help craft remarks that met the moment. What could President Obama say on gun violence that he hadn’t said after Sandy Hook, Aurora and so many other mass shootings? How would he frame a historic court decision that either affirmed or denied LGBTQ+ individuals’ right to marry their partners? And how would he respond to the result of yet another challenge to his signature health care legislation? Keenan divides his story into chapters, one for each day. It’s an extremely effective approach that adds tension to an already powerful story.
reviews | nonfiction Along the way, readers get a fascinating backstage pass to Keenan’s easy writing partnership with President Obama, an unparalleled writer and communicator in his own right who made every first draft better. Keenan also vividly describes daily life in the West Wing: a blur of meetings, emails and deadlines that started early and sometimes ended well after midnight. In particular, we spend a lot of time with Keenan as he hunches over his computer in his windowless office, where the light was “permanently neglected—a jaundiced fluorescence that never varied a wavelength.” (Most West Wing offices are anything but glamorous, as it turns out, and White House doctors actually supplied Keenan and his team with vitamin D pills to counteract the gloom of what he called “the Speechcave.”) It’s no spoiler to say that the Supreme Court upheld the legality of the Affordable Care Act and affirmed the right to marry. (Who can forget the White House lit up in rainbow colors that night?) And of course, President Obama’s speech at the Charleston memorial will long be remembered for his impromptu performance of “Amazing Grace.” What’s fresh here is Keenan’s wry, occasionally self-deprecating recollection of his role in these historic events. No matter your political persuasion, Grace is a generous, lively and worthwhile read. —Amy Scribner
H Fen, Bog & Swamp By Annie Proulx
Nature By and large, our enterprising ancestors hated swamps, which they saw as obstacles to travel and agriculture. In the timeless war between swamp folk and swamp drainers, most were firmly in the latter camp— supported with vigor by the government. Count Annie Proulx as one of the swamp folk. The acclaimed author of Barkskins and “Brokeback Mountain” turns her perceptive eye to the destruction of the world’s peatlands in Fen, Bog & Swamp (Scribner, $26.99, 9781982173357), a short, informative history that argues for their preservation and restoration. As a nonscientist, Proulx explains in accessible language how fens, bogs and swamps differ by water level and vegetation, and how crucial each of these ecosystems is to a balanced environment. The very short version is that they store carbon dioxide and methane, so when peatlands are disrupted, those gases are released and contribute to the climate change crisis, which is itself one of the things causing
those disruptions. Peatlands are also home to a staggering number of plant and animal species integral to a healthy ecological community. One of Proulx’s chapters is called “Discursive Thoughts on Wetlands,” which sums up her approach. She ranges widely, both thematically and geographically, from the small Limberlost Swamp in Indiana to the huge Vasyugan Swamp in Siberia. She considers plenty of archaeology (the Shigir Idol), history (the Battle of Teutoburg Forest) and literature (A Girl of the Limberlost) along the way, sprinkling in reminiscences of her own wetland encounters as well. Among the most interesting discussions are her explorations of the interactions between human and peatland, as in the ritual sacrifices later turned up as “bog bodies” by terrified peat cutters. In truth, Proulx argues, humans are able to coexist very well with peatlands if they harvest their bounty with respect. When the drainers win, they’re usually sorry in the long run. She notes that luckily, there are a number of promising restoration projects around the world, but they’re small. It turns out it’s a lot harder to re-create a swamp than to preserve one. —Anne Bartlett
H This Is What It Sounds Like By Susan Rogers & Ogi Ogas
Music Listening to music is a uniquely personal experience. It can evoke strong feelings and memories. It can unite us or be a source of debate. In This Is What It Sounds Like (Norton, $28.95, 9780393541250), Susan Rogers (cognitive neuroscientist and Berklee College of Music professor) and Ogi Ogas (mathematical neuroscientist and co-author of Journey of the Mind) explain why we connect with certain aspects of a record. As a producer for artists as distinct as Prince and Barenaked Ladies, Rogers calls on decades of expertise regarding the musical preferences of herself and others. This real-world experience is intertwined with both authors’ scientific explanations of how the mind processes music. It’s like two books in one: stories of some of our most beloved musicians, singers and songwriters, coupled with insights about how and why our brains decipher musical notes, melodies and lyrics in particular ways. Rogers refers time and again to an activity called a “record pull,” a music-sharing experience where friends discover things about one another by listening to their favorite records together. “Good record pulls feature as much storytelling as music,” she writes. Each chapter
features a record pull suggestion to help us understand how we connect with music. It’s a fun, informative exercise that will undoubtedly open many readers’ minds and increase their musical knowledge. In a tone that is both logical and approachable, the two authors explain that because each brain is wired to experience rewards from different facets of music, “it is misguided to suggest that anyone’s taste in music is superior to anyone else’s.” After reading This Is What It Sounds Like, lovers of all music genres will never listen to their favorite records the same way again. —Becky Libourel Diamond
H Looking for the Hidden Folk By Nancy Marie Brown
Social Science Nanc y Marie Brown’s Looking for the Hidden Folk (Pegasus, $28.95, 9781639362288) is a fascinating inquiry into the Icelandic belief in elves. Brown has a deep attachment to and knowledge of Iceland, its otherworldly landscape, its people and their beliefs. (She is the author of multiple Nordic cultural histories, and she has Icelandic horses and an Icelandic sheepdog on her farm in Vermont.) However, rather than defending elves’ existence, this compelling and highly readable book offers a thought-provoking examination of the nature of belief itself, drawing compelling connections among humans, storytelling and the environment. Looking for the Hidden Folk begins and ends with a visit from Ragnhildur Jonsdottir, a famous Icelandic elf-seer. While not everyone can see the Icelandic elves like Jonsdottir can, many people have witnessed the damage the elves have supposedly caused (putting boulders in the paths of cars, flooding roads, damaging bulldozers) when the elves’ homes in the rocky lava fields are destroyed in order to create highways for Iceland’s booming tourist economy. Brown chronicles the many ways elves protect their environment, guarding the land from unwise or hasty modernization. (Although it is apparently possible to negotiate with them.) How do we come to believe in the reality of unseen things? Quantum physics and dark matter are now principles of reality, previously unknown until they were discovered by scientists. Could it be, Brown wonders, that we can learn to see elves through a similar shift in perspective? By valuing elves as guardians of the land, might we learn to live more respectfully and sustainably in nature?
reviews | nonfiction If all this sounds a little high-concept, do not fear; much of the book is grounded in captivating stories from Icelandic sagas, particularly those that detail the relationships among the people, flora, fauna and geology of Iceland. In the end, Brown may believe more in elf stories than in elves, but that is precisely the point. Storytelling is the real, otherworldly magic of Iceland, a place where elves, humans, volcanoes and rocks are intertwined. —Catherine Hollis
H Waging a Good War By Thomas E. Ricks
American History Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Those of us who love peace must organize as effectively as the war hawks.” With this war analogy in mind, Pulitzer Prize winner and war historian Thomas E. Ricks gives us a new way to understand the civil rights movement in his illuminating, engrossing, deeply researched and vividly written Waging a Good War (FSG, $30, 9780374605162). Segregation was deeply rooted in midcentury America, and many white people were willing to go to extremes to preserve it. Thousands of the civil rights movement’s participants were jailed, many died, and others lived with fears of being bombed, shot, beaten and arrested. In response to these threats, strategic thinking, decision making, recruiting, training and communications all became crucial to the movement’s success, just like in the military. Self-discipline provided the movement’s foundation, along with careful planning and an understanding that the final step must be reconciliation. By drawing connections like these, Ricks argues that the civil rights movement was militant from the beginning, even though it was nonviolent. As a strategy, nonviolence was not passive resistance; instead, it was an aggressive way to demonstrate “superior skills in resisting.” And because it was so different from militant violence, it confused the foe. Each location where nonviolent actions took place presented unique challenges, and the movement’s leaders planned their approaches carefully. The bus boycott in Montgomery, sitins in Nashville, demonstrations in Birmingham and Selma, the March on Washington and other actions were not, for the most part, spontaneous. Reporters and television studios were invited to capture events so the public could read about, see and hear what was happening as Black citizens demanded equal rights.
King and John Lewis are major figures in the book, but we also learn about the crucial roles played by other important strategists such as Diane Nash, James Lawson and James Bevel. If you want to understand how the people of the civil rights movement went about changing the United States in the 1950s and ’60s, this is the book to read. —Roger Bishop
By Daniella Mestyanek Young
Memoir Escape, by definition, is rarely easy, and in Uncultured (St. Martin’s, $28.99, 9781250280114), Daniella Mestyanek Young illustrates just how difficult it can be. Leaving the Children of God, the cult she was born into, and surviving the U.S. Army, a group she chose to enlist in as a young adult, have both left many scars. Lucky for readers, she found her way through both experiences and then wrote it all down. The Children of God, founded in California in 1969 by “failed fifty-year-old preacher” David Berg, appealed to members of the counter culture as a spiritual path to inner peace. The author’s mother grew up in “the Family,” as their cult was known, and became pregnant at 14, but Mestyanek Young didn’t learn who her real father was until she was a teenager herself. By then, she had been beaten and sexually abused by various “Uncles,” who were aided and abetted by “Aunties,” who disliked Mestyanek Young’s constant questioning of and growing resistance to their many rules—including “sharing” sex as a form of God’s love. Women and girls were expected to serve men’s demands, and education for children was minimal, which made it especially difficult to transition to the wider world at age 15. As hard as it is to absorb the grotesque details of her childhood, so unflinchingly disclosed, reading about Mestyanek Young’s life after leaving the cult behind is no easier on the heart. Her career as one of the first female combatants in Afghanistan helped elevate her to a captain, while making her an easy target for soldiers unused to such parity. As the Army slowly learned to accommodate women, she was repeatedly warned, “Don’t get raped.” But what, she wondered, were the men being warned about? Mestyanek Young ponders not the differences between these two groups—God’s Army and the U.S. Army—but their similarities. Uncultured
vividly cautions readers to choose a group in which you can be yourself—and be free. —Priscilla Kipp
I’ve Had to Think Up a Way to Survive By Lynn Melnick
Memoir Ly n n Me l n i ck became a fan of Dolly Parton’s music after hearing “Islands in the Stream,” a duet with Kenny Rogers, while checking into rehab as a teen in the late 1980s. Parton was already decades into her successful country music career, with songs like this one also hitting the pop charts. But she was a joke to the people in Melnick’s Los Angeles circles. “Islands in the Stream” was the first Parton song Melnick had heard start to finish, and it became her gateway into a life of fandom. In I’ve Had to Think Up a Way to Survive (University of Texas, $26.95, 9781477322673), poet Melnick analyzes the 22-track Dolly Parton playlist that she’s listened to for the past decade. As she examines Parton’s work, Melnick excavates her own past and shares what this music has meant to her over the years. Parton is a symbol of femininity and goodness, and Melnick has been inspired by Parton’s triumphs as she’s faced numerous traumas and struggles: The cocaine and whiskey Melnick used to mask the memory of being raped at 9 years old. The abusive boyfriend who kept popping up years after she left him. Deaths of family and friends. The retraumatizing effects of living as a survivor in rape culture. While each chapter is personal, Melnick also brings outside analysis to her narrative, weaving together cultural criticism and academic research to place these songs in a broader context. And though Melnick describes herself as a die-hard Parton fan, she’s also willing to critique her hero. She examines some of the singer’s less admirable choices, such as naming a dinner show “The Dixie Stampede” or referring to the sex worker who inspired Parton’s look as “trash” and a “trollop.” In general, Parton has a knack for political neutrality, which can frustrate fans like Melnick. But Melnick also praises her idol’s charitable giving, her readiness to defend queer rights and the ways she has modeled what it looks like for a woman to make her own way in the world. I’ve Had to Think Up a Way to Survive is more than an artful memoir; it is thought- provoking cultural analysis of a beloved icon whose relevance endures. —Carla Jean Whitley
reviews | nonfiction
The Gospel of Wellness
By Maya Phillips
By Rina Raphael
Arts & Culture Once upon a time, in a galaxy not so far away, the hallowed institution of nerdom became mainstream. But for fans like New York Times critic-atlarge and poet Maya Phillips (Erou), fandom is more than cosplay, heated debates on social media or narrow-minded stereotypes centered on social awkwardness. In her debut essay collection, Nerd (Atria, $27, 9781982165772), fandom is an expansive, transformative source of self-enlightenment. Like many pop culture aficionados, Phillips’ first brush with fandom involved the original Star Wars trilogy. This early appreciation of George Lucas’ classic space opera opened the door to a lifelong love of other nerdy interests, such as comic books, anime, sci-fi and fantasy. However, the stories she cherished in childhood took on different forms as she grew older. In the chapter “Espers and Anxiety, Mutants, Magic, and Mind Games,” Phillips shows how the anime series Paranoia Agent reveals the nature of power and society’s treatment of mental illness, and how it has led Phillips to better understand herself and her mental health. Similarly, “Do You Know Shinigami Love Apples?” explores Phillips’ relationship to Catholicism and fandom’s hierarchy of belief systems. As a Black woman, Phillips recognizes that some of her most beloved shows, films and books lack well-rounded representation of race, gender, ability and sexual orientation. In recent years, creators like J.K. Rowling have faced backlash for betraying the seemingly progressive values of their art. Is it possible to divorce an artist from their work? For many people, the answer is emphatically no, but Phillips rejects binary thinking. This isn’t to say that she endorses the more problematic aspects of these creators and their fictional narratives. But as a fan and a professional critic, Phillips sees the value in pop culture’s ability to speak deeper truths about society. Navigating pop culture as a Black fan can be a frustrating exercise in otherness, she writes, but fandom can also be an act of reclamation. Phillips indulges in her obsessions through decades of pop culture, but she’s never afraid to critique and deconstruct. In this engaging compendium of cultural criticism, Phillips successfully proves that the complex discipline of fandom is a valuable piece of humanity’s flawed but hopeful history. —Vanessa Willoughby
Social Science The wellness industry offers a seductive promise: If you work hard, are dedicated and buy this shiny new thing, then you, too, can have the healthy, beautiful life you’ve always dreamed of. But for journalist Rina Raphael, that dream sounds too good to be true. In her new book, The Gospel of Wellness: Gyms, Gurus, Goop, and the False Promise of Self-Care (Holt, $28.99, 9781250793003), Raphael delves into the history of the wellness industry and explores why it’s booming—and what that means for society. With wit and a keen eye for research, Raphael explains that “the wellness industry isn’t well.” An industry that began with fad diets and exercise has morphed into a trillion-dollar behemoth that’s trying to sell health with a side of spirituality. In a world that feels totally off its axis, the wellness industry offers women (it’s almost always women) a feeling of meaning and control over their lives. Its products fill the vacuum left by a sexist medical industry that discounts and misdiagnoses women, forcing them to look elsewhere for answers. Stressed and overworked, women can’t individually fight the systemic issues facing them, but they can perhaps buy a Peloton or a jade roller. In doing so, as Raphael explains, the wellness industry convinces women that it’s possible to buy their way to a happy, stress-free life while allowing them to ignore the systemic issues that make them stressed to begin with. But there’s more. Raphael insightfully argues that wellness and health are industry code words that cloak their real meanings: thin. The purposeful conflation of being thin with being healthy is what drives the obsession with yoga, detox teas, expensive fitness classes, “clean” eating, $135 coffee enemas and vaginal steaming kits. But as Raphael reveals, an obsession with being thin often means ignoring what’s actually healthy. Throughout the book, Raphael attends many wellness events and speaks to industry leaders. Her descriptions of these interactions are where her writing shines most and comes alive. It’s also where the focus of the book comes into sharp view—where she shows the real human beings perpetuating the hype. All together, The Gospel of Wellness exposes the spectacle, the splendor and the emptiness behind the curtain. —Sarojini Seupersad
H American Sirens By Kevin Hazzard
American History American Sirens ( Ha c h e t t e, $30, 9780306926075) reveals the history of the emergency services that we all depend on but largely take for granted. Kevin Hazzard, a print and television writer who worked as a paramedic in Atlanta for nearly a decade, does an excellent job of transforming his research into a compelling narrative suitable to its gripping subject. While the book is replete with white-knuckle medical emergencies, the real story here is the inspiring saga of how the paramedic profession was born. Before the 1970s, emergency services were “slapdash and chaotic.” Hospital transportation might have been provided by the police, firefighters or a funeral home, with little regulation involved and a shocking absence of training. As Hazzard writes, “On any given day, the patient in an ambulance may have been better qualified to handle their own emergency than the person paid to save them.” In 1966, medical pioneer Peter Safar, known as the father of CPR, lost his 11-year-old daughter to an asthma-induced coma while he and his wife were away at a medical conference. He channeled his grief into designing and implementing an entirely new model of ambulance care, partnering with Freedom House, a grassroots organization in the Black, immigrant neighborhood of Hill District in Pittsburgh, to train ordinary people to administer lifesaving techniques. After intensive training, a group of Black paramedics took their first call on July 15, 1968, and went on to respond to nearly 6,000 calls in the Hill District that year, saving more than 200 lives. Their response abilities got better and better, and their curriculum was eventually chosen by the Department of Transportation to serve as the model for standardized EMS training. Astoundingly, Freedom House’s achievements were met with “the city’s unyielding resistance,” and their groundbreaking program was eventually turned over to Pittsburgh’s local government. A crew of lesser trained white men took over in 1975. Meanwhile, the longtime Freedom House paramedics who knew how to intubate in the field were asked to carry the bags. American Sirens is a stirring, ultimately heartbreaking story in which jaw-dropping medical innovation meets racial prejudice. After finishing Hazzard’s memorable account, readers will never hear an ambulance siren the same way again. —Alice Cary
reviews | young adult
H A Scatter of Light By Malinda Lo
Fiction Recent high school graduate Aria Tang West was looking forward to spending one last summer with her two best friends before starting as an astronomy major at MIT in the fall. But that was before some topless photos, taken by a boy without Aria’s consent, made their way to social media. The slut shaming that followed resulted in the ruin of Aria’s reputation—and the retraction of invitations to her friends’ summer houses. Instead, Aria makes her way from Massachusetts to Northern California, where she’ll spend a quiet summer with her beloved grandmother, Joan. A well-regarded artist, Joan enlists Aria to assist her in cataloging her late husband’s research files, some of which she hopes to incorporate into a sculpture.
By Aden Polydoros
Fantasy Toma lives on the outskirts of the Kosa Empire with her adoptive family of magically reanimated human corps es, which are known as upyri. When Mikhail, Kosa’s dethroned tsar, crash-lands near Toma’s homestead while fleeing proletarian revolutionaries, Toma’s upyri sister, Galina, is captured by the tsar’s pursuers. Toma will do anything to rescue Galina, even if it means diving into Kosa’s bloody political upheaval by helping Mikhail. The pair are soon joined by a charismatic boy named Vanya, who has been accused of witchcraft. Vanya is Strannik, one of Kosa’s persecuted minority groups, and he’s witnessed the atrocities committed by the empire firsthand. Together, Toma, Mikhail and Vanya must save Galina, reclaim the imperial throne and show the world who the true monsters are. In Bone Weaver (Inkyard, $19.99, 9781335915825), author Aden Polydoros draws inspiration from Russian history, Slavic folklore and Jewish culture to craft a detailed setting that feels fully alive, even as it’s constantly shadowed by death. The human politics at the
Aria definitely doesn’t have sex or romance on her summer agenda, especially after what happened back home, but she nonetheless finds herself drawn to Steph, an aspiring musician who works as Joan’s gardener. Aria’s attraction to Steph, who is genderqueer, calls into question everything Aria thought she knew about herself, but Aria’s sexuality is just one aspect of her journey of self-discovery during this life-changing summer. In an author’s note, Malinda Lo reveals that she’s been working on this bittersweet novel of love and loss for a decade. A Scatter of Light (Dutton, $18.99, 9780525555285) functions as a companion to Lo’s award-winning 2021 novel, Last Night at the Telegraph Club, and though fans will delight at cameos by a few of that novel’s characters, it’s absolutely not necessary to have read the
earlier book to understand and appreciate this one. However, A Scatter of Light is set in the summer of 2013 as the U.S. Supreme Court overturned California’s Proposition 8, an amendment to the state’s constitution that eliminated the right to same-sex marriage. It’s fascinating to compare this novel to the 1950s-set Last Night at the Telegraph Club, and to consider the vastly different experiences of falling in love as a young queer person at these two moments in history. Aria’s story is not just about discovering and embracing your sexuality. It’s also about what it means to be an artist, a friend, a daughter and a granddaughter, and about how identities of all kinds can converge and crystallize as part of the process of growing up. —Norah Piehl
center of the novel are grounded, while the monsters lurking around the edges provide an otherworldly contrast. Loneliness and family, life and death, divinity and heresy, the personal and the political—Polydoros interweaves them all as his trio of characters experience more of one another’s worlds. Polydoros also powerfully evokes absence through the gaps in Toma’s memories, Mikhail’s missing magical abilities and Vanya’s unknown mother. Yet what the characters are missing only motivates them to move forward, to survive and to protect the bonds they form with one another. Bone Weaver is a bloody and unflinching fantasy that balances its darkness with an unwavering cascade of love. —RJ Witherow
Kit promise to assume her identity. Contributing to the war effort gives Kit a chance to make a difference. She saves lives, makes friends and controls her own destiny— until she and her friends stumble upon a gruesome scene. A girl they work with has been viciously murdered, and she isn’t the perpetrator’s first victim. The police ignore obvious clues, so Kit and her friends set out to solve the crimes using their codebreaking skills, even though doing so means putting themselves directly in the murderer’s path. Ellie Marney’s The Killing Code (Little, Brown, $17.99, 9780316339582) is an engaging mystery with a vibrant cast of characters, including Moya, Kit’s glamorous supervisor and romantic interest; Dottie, Kit’s loyal roommate; and Violet, a Black codebreaker from the segregated unit whose friend was one of the killer’s first victims. Together they form a fearsome team as they use their expertise to develop a profile of the murderer. Fascinating scenes depicting how Kit decodes Japanese ciphers are sure to send readers to the resources mentioned in the author’s note, which includes two codes for them to crack. Marney (None Shall Sleep) knows how to pen suspense. Although seasoned mystery fans will likely guess the perpetrator before the reveal, Marney ratchets up the tension by focusing on how Kit and her friends take down the murderer, ending with a nail-biting showdown. Teens are sure to recommend this book to their friends; they might even do so in code. —Kimberly Giarratano
The Killing Code By Ellie Marney
Historical Fiction Kit Sutherland is a codebreaker, working to decipher Japanese codes at the height of WWII. Unbeknownst to her colleagues, Kit is also an impostor. She had been working as a maid to a fragile student at Arlington Hall, a prestigious boarding school. Just before her employer died, she made
feature | halloween ya reads
Thrills, chills and frights aplenty Warning: These YA novels may be accompanied by goosebumps, a feeling of lurking unease and a desire to sleep with the lights on. The only known remedy? Keep reading. People are the true monsters in two thrilling novels from acclaimed authors Tiffany D. Jackson and Lamar Giles, while shadows gather menacingly in an anthology of folk horror stories from popular YA authors including Chloe Gong, Erica Waters, Aden Polydoros and more.
most infamous moments—and twist she does. The Weight of Blood seizes readers quickly and never lets go. Long after the sirens have quieted and its fires have burned to ash, its heat lingers.
H The Weight of Blood
Jay Butler and his friends Connie and Zeke live in Karloff Country, a massive amusement park known as “the funnest place around.” Selected to live and work in the park’s residences, they’re safe from the ongoing climate disaster and societal collapse outside the compound’s walls. The final member of Jay’s friend group, Chelle Karloff, the biracial heir to her hateful grandfather’s massive fortune, lives a life of uneasy privilege on her family’s estate. The wealthy, white and seemingly progressive Karloffs provide a good life for the families under their proverbial roof. Everyone is grateful to live inside Karloff Country’s protective walls, and no one scrutinizes anything too closely— until families begin to go missing. Soon, rumors of conspiracies become reality. A place that once represented security becomes a cage to be escaped, and time is running out before Karloff Country’s gates close forever. Author Lamar Giles’ sixth YA novel, The Getaway (Scholastic, $19.99, 9781338752014), is sure to garner comparisons to Jordan Peele’s psychological thriller Get Out. Much like Peele’s film, The Getaway exists in a strange limbo. Its story is simultaneously propulsive and meandering, and Giles smartly utilizes Jay’s “go along to get along” attitude to create and dispel tension. Brief interludes from Zeke’s, Connie’s and Chelle’s perspectives act like security cameras, providing new perspectives from new angles and sightlines into previously hidden corners. Giles uses classic thriller tropes such as disturbing amusement park mascots to create an atmosphere of creeping dread, and artfully juxtaposes the artificial brightness of Karloff Country against scenes of graphic violence. Giles’ only misstep is the subtlety with which he depicts the true nature of the park’s politics. Although he heavily implies that people
Maddy Washington is living a lie. To protect herself from bullying in her town of Springville, Georgia, she avoids her peers whenever possible. But she’s also protecting a secret: Though Maddy passes as white, she’s actually biracial, forced by her father to hide her Blackness. When a rainstorm causes Maddy’s hair to revert to its natural state, the bullying that follows is caught on video. The footage goes viral, painting an ugly portrait of a former sundown town where Black residents are still expected to follow unspoken rules, including attending a separate, segregated prom—even in 2014. In response to the negative attention, students start planning Springville’s first integrated prom, unaware that the night will never be forgotten—but for very different reasons than they expect, because Maddy has another secret, and after the devastation occurs, all the survivors can say is “Maddy did it.” Inspired by the real-life town of Rochelle, Georgia, which held its first integrated prom in 2013, The Weight of Blood (Katherine Tegen, $18.99, 9780063029149) is an unflinching indictment of racism and cruelty in the Deep South. Critically acclaimed author Tiffany D. Jackson has described her seventh YA novel as “remix of Carrie,” and The Weight of Blood follows much of Stephen King’s horror classic beat for beat. But Jackson’s sophisticated framing elevates her book from a basic retelling to a brilliant de- and reconstruction. Even readers intimately familiar with Carrie will be on tenterhooks as they wait to discover how Jackson twists the story’s
of color are the true targets of the Karloffs’ cruel plans and many teen readers will read between the lines, others may need more clarity to understand the entirety of Giles’ large, extended metaphor. Regardless, The Getaway is an excellent addition to the quickly growing canon of YA social horror novels.
The Gathering Dark Something lurks in the shadows of the trees. An ancient being stirs. The dead are restless and hungry. A house carries a curse in its walls. A town echoes with whispered legends of burned girls. Enter the realm of folk horror with The Gathering Dark (Page Street, $18.99, 9781645676225), an anthology edited by YA author Tori Bovalino (The Devil Makes Three) and featuring original stories from Erica Waters, Chloe Gong, Hannah Whitten, Allison Saft, Olivia Chadha, Courtney Gould, Aden Polydoros, Alex Brown, Shakira Toussaint and Bovalino herself. Folk horror relies on disorientation and ambiguity to build a sense of terror. Its monsters creep through the dark but do not always make themselves known, so catharsis is not easily granted. These types of stories explore themes of memory, tradition and what we sometimes leave buried inside—which, for many readers, will hit uncomfortably close to home. Among The Gathering Dark’s best stories are Whitten’s “One Lane Bridge,” a master class in rising tension. Its terror stems not only from eldritch beings in the woods but also from the cruel ways friends can hurt each other without even trying. Waters’ “Stay” introduces a lonely girl who tends to the graves of her family, while Saft’s haunting “Ghost on the Shore” explores the nightmare of unresolved grief and loss without closure. For teens who grew up reading Alvin Schwartz’s iconic Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, The Gathering Dark will be the perfect shivery autumnal read. —Mariel Fechik
Facing the darkness, finding the light
© BILL WADMAN
q&a | ally malinenko
Ally Malinenko’s terrifying new middle grade novel is a haunted house story like no other. When a house appears at the end of Juniper Drive, Jacqueline “Jac” Price-Dupree’s reaction isn’t what you’d expect from most 12-year-olds, but Jac isn’t like most 12-year-olds. Ever since she was diagnosed with cancer, Jac has been haunted by the fear that it might return, so when Jac sees the house, she wonders if it’s a hallucination. If it’s a symptom. The house fills Jac with terror even before she winds up trapped inside it—and before Jac discovers that the house knows her name. Ally Malinenko’s This Appearing House is a surreal and horror-filled story about a girl who must confront her deepest fears and chart a path toward a new future.
that I wasn’t a warrior. I wasn’t brave. I was just doing what the doctors told me to do and I was hoping for the best. Having a major disease like cancer changes you. It fundamentally splits your life into “the before” and “the after,” and while that gets smoother over time, the split is always there, like a scar. I wanted Jac to struggle with learning how to let go, because it was something that I struggled with. Letting go and moving on are not always the same thing. I also wanted to show that Jac was angry, and that anger in the face of an unjust world was a perfectly OK response to have. Everyone looks to people who have been through trauma as some sort of inspiration. But we’re not. We’re just people that something happened to. We’re people who got unlucky and then H This Appearing House Katherine Tegen, $16.99, 9780063136571 very lucky.
Tell us about where Jac is at when we meet her. Jac is a pretty anxious kid. She’s been through a lot, and she is nearing her five-year anniversary from her cancer diagnoThis book isn’t your first sis. She’s still NED—no Middle Grade evidence of disease. Fun foray into writing horror. fact: We don’t use cured when talking about What keeps you coming back to this genre? cancer, because there is no cure. There is only I loved reading horror when I was younger. I no evidence of disease. started with Stephen King, when I would sneak Jac’s also angry. She’s tired of her mother a page or two off my oldest sister’s bookshelf, so worrying and hovering. She’s tired of the eleI’m definitely a horror fan. phant of a recurrence in the corner of the room I think I keep writing horror because I respect all the time. She’s lonely, and she’s asking the it. Horror trusts that kids can handle it. We universe a pretty big question. She wants to adults do so much gatekeeping and shielding know if she’ll get what everyone else gets. Will with kids and I always wonder why. Kids know she have a shortened life? Will she die young? the world is scary. Look at the last few years It’s a lot for a 12-year-old. alone! We don’t do them any justice if we pretend otherwise. Jac’s story responds to the cultural narratives Middle grade horror makes one promise: that exist around illnesses such as cancer. For It will take you into the dark but it will always readers who might not be familiar, could you always always bring you back to the light. We briefly describe those narratives? Why was it teach kids how to fight monsters so that when a important to give Jac a different story? monster eventually turns up in their life, they’ll I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 37, and know what to do. Honestly, it’s an honor. within the first couple of days I realized that warrior language (“you can fight this”/“you can beat In the house, Jac experiences a lot of truly territhis”) made me very tired. Because the truth was fying—and incredibly imaginative—horrors.
Read our starred review of This Appearing House on BookPage.com.
Which one are you most proud of? Which one was the scariest for you to write? I’m probably most proud of the teeth scene. I had to fight to keep it in the book because my publisher thought it was too scary. In the original version, Hazel was really choking, so this version is a little softened, but yes, plates full of teeth, mouthfuls of teeth. I loved it. The scariest one? At one point Jac is home and Jac’s mother is acting very strange. That one was probably the most unnerving to write because you don’t want to have your mother, of all people, turn monstrous. This was an intense and emotional book to read, so I can only imagine what it must have been like to write. How did you take care of yourself as you worked on this book? Does crying on the floor count as taking care of yourself? I kid. I think the one saving grace I had was that I had some distance between my diagnosis and writing this. I couldn’t have done it right after I was diagnosed. But with some distance, I realized that I had some things I wanted to share. A story I wanted to tell. Because, truthfully, even though it’s on the book jacket, the word cancer is only used once in the book. Because I never thought it was a “cancer book.” To me, it’s about trauma. About the elasticity of trauma and the work that goes into healing that trauma. That was the story I wanted to tell. Did you trick-or-treat as a kid? If so, what was your favorite candy to receive? If we were to trick-or-treat at your house this year, what would we find in our buckets? Halloween has always been my favorite holiday and I definitely went trick-or-treating, probably longer than most kids! Milky Ways are definitely my favorite chocolate, but I do love Starburst. Especially the orange ones. If you went trick-ortreating at my house, it’s M&M’S for everyone! —Stephanie Appell
reviews | children’s
H Lolo’s Light By Liz Garton Scanlon
Middle Grade How would a middle schooler navigate an unspeakable tragedy? That’s the subject Liz Garton Scanlon beautifully explores in Lolo’s Light (Chronicle, $16.99, 9781797212944), her second middle grade novel. Twelve-year-old Millie is thrilled when she gets her first babysitting job. Her older sister isn’t available, so Millie gets to watch their neighbors’ 4-month-old baby, Lolo. The Acostas make the job easy, putting Lolo to bed before they leave so Millie just needs to check on her. As Millie revels in her new responsibility, she feels “something shift, like that exact moment [is] the end of her being a kid and the beginning of her being real, full-grown Millie.” The night goes swimmingly and the Acostas return home to find that all is well. But the next morning, the world turns upside down, because overnight, Lolo dies of SIDS.
H Maya’s Song
By Renée Watson Illustrated by Bryan Collier
Picture Book Newbery Honor au t h o r Re n é e Watson chronicles the pivotal milestones and emotional touchstones of Maya Angelou’s extraordinary life in a series of lyrical free verse poems, lavishly illustrated with fourtime Caldecott Honor recipient Bryan Collier’s vibrant watercolor and collage artwork. Maya’s Song (HarperCollins, $19.99, 9780062871589), like Angelou herself, is an American treasure. Watson’s beautiful, heartfelt poems provide historical and emotional context, while a concluding timeline provides factual highlights. In 1993, Angelou became the first woman and first Black person to present an original poem at a presidential inauguration. She achieved another first in 2022 when she became the first Black woman to be featured on the U.S. quarter. Watson’s exquisite poems are enhanced by Collier’s evocative art. In his illustrator’s note, Collier invites readers to examine the way he uses color, especially blue, to illuminate Angelou’s tumultuous childhood, which included a sexual assault by her mother’s boyfriend. The trauma Angelou experienced left
Garton Scanlon clearly establishes that no one is to blame for this tragedy while also conveying Millie’s ongoing feelings of shock and anguish. As Millie grieves, she is also haunted—and comforted—by a light that seems to emanate from Lolo’s bedroom window whenever Millie walks past the Acostas’ house, which Millie believes is Lolo’s presence. Millie receives support from numerous caring adults, including her parents, her teacher, her school librarian and a therapist, as well as the Acostas. Garton Scanlon makes superb use of Millie’s seventh grade science project, hatching chicken eggs, as a focal point for Millie’s sorrow, depression and growing anxiety. As Millie’s teacher tells her, “You are trying to make sense of something very big and ancient and scary. You’re
trying to process how unbelievably fragile life can be.” Despite its heavy topic, Lolo’s Light is ultimately a hopeful book about healing that captures how much hard work, along with time, the process can require. Garton Scanlon infuses the story with perfect moments of humor, too, such as the many puns that arise during the science project scenes. (Millie’s science project group’s name, “the Egg-ceptionals,” is only the beginning.) In writing Lolo’s Light, Garton Scanlon undertook a monumental challenge. The result is a compelling novel that glows with understanding and empathy. —Alice Cary
her mute for five years. It’s impossible to tell Angelou’s life story without this event. Watson does so with sensitivity, telling readers that “When Maya was seven years old, / her mother’s boyfriend / hurt her body, hurt her soul,” placing the focus on Angelou’s recovery through literature, poetry and the love of her family. In her author’s note, Watson describes being moved to tears the first time she heard Angelou speak. “I have held Maya Angelou’s words close to me my whole life,” she writes. “Her words guide me, heal me, inspire me.” Young readers who meet Angelou through Maya’s Song will surely look at her face on the U.S. quarter with a better understanding of the remarkable woman who earned such a tribute. —Deborah Hopkinson
(Candlewick, $19.99, 9780763694340). Nonsense and absurdity take center stage as Scieszka and Rothman twist and spin six evergreen verses inside out and upside down. Each verse is transformed into multiple new versions; some change structure and switch mediums entirely. Among the renditions of “Humpty Dumpty” are a “boring” version, in which the famous royal horses and horsemen don’t “really have / to do anything” and a censored version with key words concealed by blue rectangles. “Jack Be Nimble” is presented in secret codes and Esperanto, a well-known constructed language, while “Hickory Dickory Dock” is written partially in Egyptian hieroglyphs and “Twinkle Twinkle” becomes a rebus picture puzzle. The ideal readers for this 80-page picture book will be elementary school children who are world-weary enough to want to poke fun at their toddler years. If those children also like solving puzzles, even better: The book’s abundant, inviting backmatter provides explanations of how to work with the many devices employed in the book, such as anagrams, Spoonerisms (“Nack be jimble. / Quack be jick.”), the NATO phonetic alphabet and more. The book is dedicated to Blanche Fisher Wright, who illustrated the popular The Real Mother Goose in 1916 and whose art is reproduced throughout these pages. Rothman inserts her own impish, comical drawings around reproductions of Wright’s work, such as in the “Jabberwocky” version of “Old Mother Hubbard,” where the title character appears with three heads. Rothman also populates the
The Real Dada Mother Goose By Jon Scieszka Illustrated by Julia Rothman
Picture Book Guided by Dadaism, an art movement that rej e cte d lo gic, author Jon Scieszka and illustrator Julia Rothman turn nursery rhymes on their heads in the playful, subversive The Real Dada Mother Goose
Visit BookPage.com to read our Q&A with Liz Garton Scanlon.
reviews | children’s
H The Door of No Return By Kwame Alexander
Middle Grade Kwame Alexander opens a planned historical fiction trilogy with The Door of No Return (Little, Brown, $17.99, 9780316441865), which takes place in 1860, near the end of the transatlantic slave trade. Kofi Offin lives in the Asante kingdom,
in what is now Ghana. He holds deep respect for Nana Mosi, his grandfather and the village storyteller, who always begins his stories by saying, “There was even a time . . .” In this time, Kofi has a crush on Ama, a girl in his class. In this time, Kofi and Ama’s teacher forces them to speak English instead of their native language, Twi. And in this time, Kofi’s older brother, Kwasi, will unintentionally alter the fate of their entire family, and Kofi will have to draw on all of his grandfather’s wisdom to survive. Alexander has been convincing readers that poetry is cool since his 2014 book, The Crossover, for which he won the Newbery Medal. Like many of Alexander’s earlier books, The Door of No Return is told mostly in enthralling, action-packed verse. Alexander has a deep awareness of the power of every word in a verse novel, and that awareness shines on every page. Typographic manipulation, such as changing the size of the text, is used sparingly, which makes those moments particularly impactful. The book is not entirely written in verse, however. Each chapter begins with a prose story narrated by Nana Mosi. These tales offer context
and foreshadowing in equal measure, culminating in a heartbreaking ode to storytellers, “The Story of the Story,” in which Nana Mosi warns that “until the lions tell their side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always celebrate the hunter.” Some of Alexander’s most beloved works, including The Crossover, incorporate sports as both subjects and extended metaphors. Alexander continues—and elevates—this approach in The Door of No Return through Kofi’s aptitude for swimming. Kofi receives his second name because he was born in the Offin River, where he now finds sanctuary after school. Every person who was enslaved came from a home with a rich history and unique culture. Their stories have been told in excellent books, including Sharon Draper’s Copper Sun; Nikole Hannah-Jones, Renée Watson and Nikkolas Smith’s The 1619 Project: Born on the Water; and Ashley Bryan’s Freedom Over Me. But many more are needed, and there’s no one better to add to this vital canon than Alexander. —Emily Koch
meet THEODORE TAYLOR III How would you describe your book?
What books did you enjoy as a child?
Who has been the biggest influence on your work?
What one thing would you like to learn to do?
Who was your childhood hero?
What message would you like to send to young readers?
© SARAH SCHULTZ-TAYLOR
pages with “Dada Geese,” who serve as guides through this madcap adventure. The Real Dada Mother Goose is a thoroughly entertaining book enhanced by detailed and plentiful backmatter. This handbook for creative mischief is sure to inspire many hours of Dadaist delight. —Julie Danielson
When Sam’s family moves from a bustling city to a small town, she feels like an outsider—until she discovers a group of graffiti artists who make her feel at home. Off the Wall (Roaring Brook, $19.99, 9781626722941), bestselling illustrator Theodore Taylor III’s authorial debut, is a heartfelt ode to creativity, community and the power of self-expression. The winner of the 2014 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent, Taylor has illustrated books by Lil Nas X (C Is for Country), Shaquille O’Neal (Little Shaq) and Mahogany L. Browne (Woke Baby). A web developer by day, Taylor lives in Richmond, Virginia.