Page 1





Generations of change in The Female Persuasion


A season for growth, healing and transformation


Nothing left to lose in the Mississippi Delta


JAMISON Literary lives shaped by substance abuse in an unforgettable memoir of recovery and survival

APRIL 2018

APRIL 2018

A M E R I C A’ S B O O K R E V I E W

12 features 7

book reviews



A noir legend’s final novel


t o p p i c k : Circe


by Madeline Miller

Step into spring with five hopeful books




Shattering myths about alcoholism and creativity


t o p p i c k : The Sun Does Shine

by Anthony Ray Hinton



t o p p i c k : The Astonishing Color

of After by Emily X.R. Pan


t o p p i c k : Hello Lighthouse

by Sophie Blackall

The mentor we always wanted



Four exceptional new collections



Desperation in the Mississippi Delta



RICHARD POWERS Listen to the trees


SHAKESPEARE Two new takes on the Bard’s tragedies




Storied careers of song and stage



Meet the author-illustrator of Am I There Yet?




Fighting monsters, literally and figuratively



Meet the author-illustrator of Alma and How She Got Her Name

columns 4 5 6 7



8 9 10 10


Cover image by Beowulf Sheehan





Michael A. Zibart

Hilli Levin

Penny Childress



Julia Steele

Savanna Walker



BookPage is a selection guide for new books. Our editors evaluate and select for review the best books published in a OPERATIONS DIRECTOR Elizabeth Grace Herbert variety of categories. BookPage is editorially independent; only books we highly recommend are featured. ADVERTISING OPERATIONS

Stephanie Koehler

Sukey Howard

Sada Stipe




Cat Acree

Allison Hammond

Mary Claire Zibart




Lily McLemore

Roger Bishop

Sharon Kozy


To advertise in print, online or in our e-newsletters, visit or call 615.292.8926, ext. 37.

SUBSCRIPTIONS Public libraries and bookstores can subscribe to BookPage in quantities for their patrons. Subscription information for libraries, bookstores and individuals is available at BookPage is also available on Kindle or NOOK. All material © 2018 ProMotion, inc.

B O O K PA G E · 2143 B E LC O U R T AV E N U E · N A S H V I L L E , T N 37212

B O O K PA G E . C O M


not to be missed

LISTENING READ BY MOZHAN MARNÒ and JEREMY BOBB “[Scottoline is] a virtuoso of suspense, fast action, and intricate plot.” —The Washington Post

columns Journey of revenge The Which Way Tree (Hachette, 8 hours), Elizabeth Crook’s fifth novel, evocatively narrated by Will Collyer, is an extraordinary adventure yarn set in the Texas hill country in the chaotic aftermath of the Civil War. This strange tale of true grit during hard times is told in letters written by 16-year-old Benjamin Shreve to the presiding judge in a case of heinous murder

READ BY THE AUTHOR Former FBI director James Comey shares his never-before-told experiences from some of the highest-stakes situations of his career in the past two decades of American government.

READ BY STEPHANIE RACINE “Marvelous...A provocative true-or-false thriller!” —A.J. Finn, author of The Woman in the Window


READ BY KATHLEEN M C INERNEY “Kathleen McInerney does a terrific job bringing the characters to life.” —AudioFile on Ladies’ Night



and robbery. Though he hasn’t had much schooling, Benjamin has read Moby Dick (pay heed to that, as he might say), and he writes in a 19th-century, Texas-tinged style that captures both his youthful earnestness and strong sense of duty. It all started years before, when a panther mauled his younger half-sister, Samantha. Her mother, a former slave, was killed while attempting to save her. Like Ahab and his whale, destroying the panther becomes Samantha’s abiding obsession—and possibly everyone’s undoing. The tale is so vividly cinematic that Robert Duvall has already purchased the movie rights.


“Narrator Scott Brick’s smooth voice flows with the twists and turns of Berry’s political thriller.” —AudioFile on The Lost Order



Roy Hawkins, a British-American spy working for MI6, was there on June 14, 1940, when the City of Light went dark and the Nazi flag flew atop the Eiffel Tower. Though he desperately wants to stay in France, he’s told to go to New York as part of a new espionage operation the Brits are setting up in Rockefeller Center. That’s for openers in Lawrence Dudley’s action-packed spy thriller, New York Station (Blackstone, 10 hours), read with pizazz and purpose by Christopher Lane. On the trail of a Nazi agent trying to attain U.S. submarine secrets, Roy goes to Saratoga Springs, Florida, a haven for mob-run gambling and the

rich and powerful, including a popular rabble-rousing isolationist backed by the Reich. But soon, Roy uncovers a Nazi plot to get rid of Franklin D. Roosevelt by subverting the upcoming presidential election. That this plot sounds eerily familiar to the turmoil playing out in today’s political sphere only makes Dudley’s tale all the more pertinent and thought provoking.

TOP PICK IN AUDIO Ted Conkaffey and Amanda Pharrell, an oddball pair, are the only private investigators working in an out-of-the-way region of the tropical, croc-infested Top End of Australia. They’re investigating the disappearance of a local author who writes superselling, sort-of-Christian, post-apocalyptic novels. It’s a weird and interesting case with clever twists, but it’s Ted and Amanda and their harrowing histories that make Crimson Lake (Macmillan, 13 hours), Candice Fox’s latest atmospheric thriller, so compelling. Before arriving in the boonies, Ted, a former drug squad detective in Sydney, was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was accused, but not convicted, of the horrific rape of a 13-year-old girl. Hounded by the press and self-righteous vigilantes, he goes to ground in Crimson Lake, where he meets Amanda, whose troubling history includes spending eight years in prison for the murder of a high school classmate. Euan Morton’s compelling, perfectly paced performance adds depth to this dark, intriguing dissection of how prosecution can morph into persecution, justice can be jettisoned and innocence trampled.

THE HOLD LIST BookPage e­ ditors share curated lists of the best books—old and new—on a variety of subjects. Feed your TBR!

Gateway to poetry Despite its recent resurgence in popularity, poetry retains a lingering reputation for being inscrutable. But as poetry readers know, its lyrical gifts can be an antidote to many of life’s woes, offering calm waters of meditation, razor-sharp cultural critique or a playful celebration of language. For National Poetry Month, we present our favorite collections of popular, timely and accessible verse.

Get Bu ed zz

on New Paperbacks from Perennial

“Hits a perfect emotional note: bittersweet and honest, comforting and regretful.” —Kirkus Reviews

NO MATTER THE WRECKAGE by Sarah Kay Kay’s TED talk garnered over 10 million views and introduced her heartfelt spoken word poems to a global audience. This illustrated debut collection offers vignettes about her life from a curious and intimate perspective. In “B” she tells her daughter: “But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.”

CITIZEN by Claudia Rankine Citizen is a book-length poem remarking on everyday moments of racism. Rankine’s genre-bending work touches on microaggressions in academia, pop culture and sports in a conversational style: “there exists a medical term—John Henryism—for people exposed to stresses stemming from racism. They achieve themselves to death trying to dodge the build up of erasure.”

AIMLESS LOVE by Billy Collins Collins’ popularity rests on his accessible, witty verse that offers both subtle observation and a gentle chuckle. Aimless Love collects new poems and dog-eared favorites, including two of the best poems about dogs you’ll ever read. One is heartfelt—but the other is darkly funny: “I am the dog you put to sleep, / as you like to call the needle of oblivion, / come back to tell you this simple thing: / I never liked you—not one bit.”

AND STILL I RISE by Maya Angelou Angelou’s 1978 collection contributes insight and inspiration to enduring issues of race, womanhood and identity. The poems speak to a determination to overcome difficulty with an emphasis on strength and community. These words have eternal power: “You may write me down in history / With your bitter, twisted lies, / You may tread me in the very dirt / But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”

“A witty, poignant, and uplifting story of two lives criss-crossing over the years, with near-miss after nearmiss . . . I couldn’t put it down.” —Sophie Kinsella, author of the Shopaholic series

“A clear-eyed, wise, and poignant tale of losses and gains, told with tremendous empathy and grace.” —Therese Anne Fowler, author of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

“Sometimes the best stories in the library aren’t found on its shelves . . . [Halpern] mines the setting for comic and tragicomic gold.” —Marilyn Johnson, author of This Book Is Overdue!

DEVOTIONS by Mary Oliver Take a deep breath with this meditative, spiritual collection, which reflects on Oliver’s decades-long career. Each poem offers a quiet, connected step toward a mindful appreciation of nature and the bonds between all living things: “I was enjoying everything: the rain, the path / wherever it was taking me, the earth roots / beginning to stir. / I didn’t intend to start thinking about God, / it just happened.”

“Utterly charming and laugh-out-loud funny.” —Susie Steiner, author of Missing, Presumed and Persons Unknown

Discover great authors, exclusive offers, and more at

    @harperperennial




Rest in peace? Not in Hillerman’s desert After Tony Hillerman’s daughter, Anne, inherited the LeaphornChee franchise, she managed an impressive feat: She brought female characters to the forefront while keeping the stories true to Tony’s vision of Navajo-influenced mysteries steeped in the lore of the Old West. As her latest novel, Cave of Bones (Harper, $26.99, 320 pages, ISBN 9780062391926), opens, tribal police officer Bernadette (Bernie) Manuelito is supposed to give a speech to a group of troubled girls. Upon arriving at the site, however, she becomes drawn into a search-and-rescue operation for a missing girl and a male counselor. When the girl turns up, she is visibly traumatized, so Bernie goes on a walkabout in the desert to see what’s what. She discovers a cave containing a human skeleton and tribal artifacts, exactly as the girl said. What Bernie could not antic-

ipate is the connection between this ancient burial site and a modern-day series of crimes, including murder. Cave of Bones has a terrific storyline that’s suspenseful and atmospheric, with strands of Navajo folklore woven into every

in any sense a sequel) to his bestselling Norwegian by Night, is the story of Oslo police inspector Sigrid Ødegård, who was involved in the questionable shooting of a suspect, something that happens less often in Norway than, for example,

page. I grow more impressed with each installment of this series.

in America. Acquitted of all wrongdoing, she is still uneasy about her actions and decides to take a leave of absence. This dovetails neatly with her father’s plan: He has booked her a flight to America to launch a search for her brother, who has apparently gone missing. Upon her arrival, she is dismayed to discover that her brother is a prime suspect in the slaying of a prominent African-American professor. The American cops have a different way of handling investigations than Norwegians, and Sigrid quickly finds herself at odds with many aspects of American life, particularly race relations with regard to police work. A canny and often wry look at the differences between Europe an and American perceptions, American by Day should be on your short list for entertaining reading.

SCANDI COMES STATESIDE American by Day (HMH, $26, 352 pages, ISBN 9781328876652), Derek B. Miller’s follow-up (but not




“A luscious and uplifting tale of personal redemption in the tradition of Eat, Pray, Love.”

—  N O W I N PA P E R B A C K



The title of Martha Grimes’ latest Richard Jury novel, The Knowledge (Atlantic Monthly, $26, 368 pages, ISBN 9780802128010), refers to two separate but connected entities: The first “knowledge” is the commitment to memory of every London address and landmark, some 30,000 of them, in order to pass the test to become one of London’s famous black taxicab drivers; the second is a pub of the same name, known only to London taxi drivers, its location so secret it rivals Camelot. As the book opens, Scotland Yard

detective Jury learns of the murders of a married couple, the husband of which he had quite liked. Jury takes the killings personally and enlists the help of his street urchin contacts, a sort of updated version of the Baker Street Irregulars. The killer makes good his escape to East Africa, but not as cleanly as he thinks, for one of the “irregulars” is in his company. By turns witty, irreverent and intriguing, The Knowledge—number 24 in the series—is sure to entertain new fans and those of long standing as well.

TOP PICK IN MYSTERY Picture Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe’s wisecracking and nose-thumbing sidekick, plucked from his New York brownstone and transplanted to 1920s Calcutta, and you’ll have a pretty good image of Captain Sam Wyndham, a former Scotland Yard officer whose first-person perspective offers a noir voiceover to Abir Mukherjee’s brilliant new novel, A Necessary Evil (Pegasus Crime, $25.95, 384 pages, ISBN 9781681776712). At the sunset of the Raj, the many small kingdoms of post-British India are vying for dominance. Intrigues abound, and Wyndham is on hand for one of the most egregious—the murder of the crown prince of Sambalpore, the first in a series of slayings that threaten to tear the small kingdom apart. The key to the solution lies within the zenana, the area where the king’s wives and concubines live and gossip, and where the only men allowed are eunuchs (a sacrifice Wyndham is not prepared to make to solve the case, at least not yet). Riddled with jealousy and a regular user of opium, Wyndham is an intriguing protagonist, offering crisp narration that’s sometimes slightly arrogant, sometimes amusingly self-effacing. Add in clever dialogue that’s laden with double entendre, and what more can a hardcore whodunit fan ask for?


A crime fiction legend


or 10 years, Max Allan Collins has skillfully and loyally acted as literary executor for pulp mystery master Mickey Spillane, who left behind a number of unfinished manuscripts after his death in 2006.




Honoring the centenary of Spillane’s birth, The Last Stand (Hard Case Crime, $22.99, 288 pages, ISBN 9781785656866) presents something special for fans: one of Spillane’s earliest unpublished novellas, completed by Collins, paired with Spillane’s last completed novel. How do these two stories encompass Spillane’s career? The novella, A Bullet for Satisfaction, dates to the early 1950s, the time of his first great success. It represents all the controversial elements that made Mickey such an innovator and superstar, specifically the level of sex and violence, but also his mastery of fast-paced narrative and first-person. Mickey mellowed as he grew older, and the rage and frustrations he brought home from military service in World War II—which were infused in Mike Hammer and his other early protagonists, and are so apparent in Bullet—were muted in The Last Stand. But he remained interested in male bonding, male-female relationships and strength of character. There’s also an element of vengeance, but not coming from the hero this time. The Last Stand is a very different kind of Spillane novel. It’s quieter, with an emphasis on adventure over mystery. In your introduction to the book, you describe it as a “barely concealed rumination on coming to terms with aging.” How would you describe Spillane at this point in his writing career? Mickey, I think, viewed himself as semiretired. He only wrote when he felt like it, more for fun than commerce—which I think was always true, though he liked to say his inspiration was “an urgent need for money.” On the other hand, at the same time he wrote The Last Stand, he was working on his final Mike Hammer novel, The Goliath Bone (2008). He portrayed Hammer as an older man preparing to marry his longtime secretary and partner, Velda. Spillane frequently spun stories of vengeance. Why? Vengeance is the specific theme of I, the Jury (1947)—Mike Hammer swearing revenge over the corpse of an army buddy who’d saved his life in combat. That so resonated with readers that Mickey realized this theme could separate him from run-of-the-mill mystery writers—he brought emotion into play. The crime fiction landscape has changed quite a bit since Spillane’s first Mike Hammer novel, I, the Jury, was published. Where do you see Spillane’s (and Hammer’s) legacy in contemporary thrillers? Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is an obvious descendant, just as in Spillane’s day James Bond and Fleming were his. You see Mickey’s fingerprints all over everybody who followed him and Mike Hammer, from Peter Gunn and Billy Jack to Mack Bolan and Jack Bauer. Shaft was a black Mike Hammer, even initially advertised that way. Fleming was sold as the British Spillane. Any tough hero with emotion who breaks the rules can point back to Mickey and Mike.



In Nigella’s domain At My Table (Flatiron, $35, 288 pages, ISBN 9781250154286), Nigella Lawson’s 12th cookbook, is subtitled “A Celebration of Home Cooking.” Yet all of her books to date have celebrated her joy in being an untrained home cook who brings “pleasure, comfort and flavor to life,” and in her new book, she does it again. Relaxed and inspiring, our enduring Domestic Goddess just lets the recipes roll—

no chapters, no breaks. One recipe leads to another in a fabulous culinary continuum: Golden Egg Curry follows an Easy Egg Tortilla Pie; Radiatori with Sausage and Saffron flows into a recipe for garlicky Meatballs with Orzo; stress-free Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder leads to complexly flavored Pork with Prunes, Olives and Capers; and a Sunken Chocolate Amaretto Cake sits beside Double Chocolate and Pumpkin Seed Cookies. Lawson’s clear and explicit instructions, infused with her enthusiasm, underscore the Nigellian mantra: “Life is complicated; cooking doesn’t have to be.”

AT HOME IN VENICE Skye McAlpine moved to Venice when she was 6 years old, and her happiest memories center on food. Life in her parents’ home played out around the dining table, and she continues the family tradition in her own household, which she shares with her husband and son. She guides us through the recipes Venetians have passed down for generations and cook in their own homes in A Table in Venice: Recipes from My Home (Clarkson Potter, $32.50, 288 pages, ISBN 9781524760298), which includes more than 150 gorgeous photos and evocative reminiscences galore. The dishes McAlpine cooks

over and over again are as romantic and exotic as the legendary canaled city itself. From an astoundingly easy, astoundingly good classic Bigoli (or Spaghetti) in Salsa, made in minutes with onions and anchovies, to subtly sweet Spinach with Pine Nuts and Raisins or a verdant Garden Pea and Pancetta Risotto, this is simple, fragrantly fresh, colorful food that’s always veramente Veneziano.

TOP PICK IN COOKBOOKS There was a time when lettuce + dressing = salad, when even the idea of a salad cookbook would have seemed a bit odd. But times have changed, and Saladish: A Crunchier, Grainier, Herbier, Heartier, Tastier Way with Vegetables (Artisan, $24.95, 208 pages, ISBN 9781579656959), Ilene Rosen’s imaginative ode to all salads great and small, is proof positive that a salad cookbook can take you places you’ve never been before, make your taste buds sing and set a new standard for creative combinations. This fabulous book will rev up your repertoire and recharge your “saladish” sensibilities. The former savory chef at New York’s ever-popular City Bakery, Rosen has arranged the more than 80 recipes in her book by season, though you’ll probably want to make many of these salads—like bright and bracing Gem Lettuces, Avocado, and Tomatillo with Buttermilk Dressing; Tex-Mex Cornbread Salad; Cucumbers with Black Sesame Seeds and tangy Sweet Lime Vinegar; and Baby Carrots with Carrot-Top Pesto— throughout the year. A natural innovator and experimenter, Rosen will send you on an exciting salad journey.


The prodigal Cahill is back— and ready to confess

columns Hot off the presses A Swedish journalist finds danger and romance in High Risk (Kensington, $15.95, 544 pages, ISBN 9781496706232) by Simona Ahrnstedt. Reporter Ambra Vinter’s latest assignment takes her back to the small town north of Stockholm where she grew up as a neglected foster child. Unsettled by her return during the dark Swedish winter, she strikes up a conversation


HERO’S RETURN Caught up in the past, this couple is drawn deep into a twisted game of intrigue. And the consequences could prove fatal for them both…

with an attractive man in a hotel bar. Ex-special forces operative Tom Lexington enjoys the encounter, but he’s nursing a broken heart. As time passes, however, he spends more time with Ambra. Love seems possible, but there are obstacles in the way: their pasts, an old flame and the risks Ambra takes as she attempts to unmask a child abuser. This intense tale tackles other social subjects as well, including cyberbullying and misogyny. Readers will root for these characters as they grapple with moral questions and how far they’re willing to go to right terrible wrongs. Sexy, sophisticated and set in an alluring locale, High Risk offers plenty of grit and suspense.


“In her Cahill Ranch series, Daniels has created an intriguing setting and a cast of characters that prompt reader loyalty.” —RT Book Reviews on Outlaw’s Honor •

The wheels of progress threaten new love in the kisses-only historical romance The Weaver’s Daughter (Thomas Nelson, $15.99, 320 pages, ISBN 9780718011888) by Sarah E. Ladd. Textile manufacturing is changing in early 19th-century Yorkshire, England. Henry Stockton returns from war with scars without and within, but he’s determined to support his grandfather in his dream to modernize the family’s wool mill. The changes infuriate the area’s weavers, who feel the mechanization threat-

8 18_026_BookPage_HerosReturn.indd 1


2/14/18 3:23 PM

ens their traditions and their livelihoods. Lines are drawn in the village, and Henry finds himself on the opposing side from the lovely Kate Dearborne. Kate’s father forbids the tentative friendship between the pair, but as the conflict heats up between village factions, Kate must reach out to the man her father considers an enemy. Loyalty, love and forgiveness all have their place in this story, which is rich with historical detail. Readers will sympathize with the characters’ inner struggles as they face the difficulties that come when a way of life must transform.

TOP PICK IN ROMANCE A wandering woman lands in the small town of Laurel Springs, Texas, in Mornings on Main (HQN, $15.99, 320 pages, ISBN 9781335062956) by Jodi Thomas. Raised by a rootless, constantly traveling father, Jillian James has followed in his footsteps, making no friends and hardly any memories. But in Laurel Springs, she takes a temp job at a quilting store that puts her in close contact with elderly owner Eugenia, her grandson Connor and his rebellious teen daughter, Sunnie. They are all better for it, but Jillian is still determined to move on. She always does, after all. But Connor’s roots run deep; he’s both the newspaper publisher and mayor of Laurel Springs, with a child and a beloved older relative in town. So as he and Jillian gently explore their connection, their fledgling romance can only be bittersweet as its end date looms. Mornings on Main is a tissue-worthy book to treasure.


New in paperback A finalist for the 2017 National Book Award, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (Vintage, $16.95, 400 pages, ISBN 9780307742483) explores the horrific deaths that took place on the Osage Indian Reservation in the 1920s. Thanks to oil found on their reservation, members of the Osage Indian Nation enjoyed lives of prosperity.

But between 1921 and 1926, the tribe was the target of a sequence of mysterious murders. When the FBI stepped in to investigate, J. Edgar Hoover sought help from an ex-Texas Ranger named Tom White, who assembled a group of undercover agents. What they uncovered was a shocking plot that left more than 24 people dead. Author David Grann (The Lost City of Z ) is a master of the nonfiction narrative form. With expert research and reportage, he writes with flair and an eye for detail in this gripping look at a dark chapter in American history.

TRUE OR FALSE? Inspired by whodunits à la Agatha Christie, Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders (Harper Perennial, $16.99, 512 pages, ISBN 9780062645234) is an inventive work of detective fiction. Susan Ryeland is the editor of a series of bestselling mystery novels by Alan Conway, whose books are often set in charming English hamlets and feature celebrated crime-solver Atticus Pünd. Because the novels are blockbusters, Susan looks the other way whenever Conway acts strangely. When she begins his new manuscript, she finds Pünd applying his investigative skills to

a murder at a stately home called Pye Hall. Conway’s narrative features the standard cast of shifty characters, but when Susan starts to read between the lines, she comes to believe that there’s a darker reality to the story— one involving an actual murder. Horowitz, author of the 2015 James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis, weaves a wholly original tale from the elements of traditional suspense fiction, breathing fresh life into a venerable genre. Magpie Murders is a must-read for mystery fans of any generation.

TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS With Anything Is Possible (Random House, $17, 304 pages, ISBN 9780812989410), Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout delivers a luminous group of stories set in the same world as her 2016 bestseller, My Name Is Lucy Barton. Rich in its exploration of family and community ties, this collection of intertwined narratives focuses on the residents of Amgash, Illinois, where Lucy once lived. The varied cast of characters includes the Mumford sisters (one of whom tracks down her restless mother in Italy), a tortured Vietnam vet and a school janitor whose beliefs are thrown into question when he tries to assist a lonely man. Lucy also makes an appearance, revisiting the town she left behind 17 years ago to pay a painful visit to her siblings. Strout’s characters grapple with the weight of the past even as they consider the promise of the future. Poignant and probing, this is a novel that’s sure to inspire rewarding discussion.

Fresh Book Club Reads

for the spring MY DEAR HAMILTON by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie “My Dear Hamilton is a masterpiece that is both intimate in detail and epic in scope—a triumph!” —Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author

AMERICAN PRINCESS by Leslie Carroll A behind-the-scenes look into the life of Meghan Markle and her romance with Prince Harry— a dishy, delightful must-read.

MY OXFORD YEAR by Julia Whelan “Full of humor and romance, My Oxford Year has it all—I loved it!” —Jill Shalvis, New York Times bestselling author

THE BAKER’S SECRET by Stephen P. Kiernan “A tale beautifully, wisely, and masterfully told.” —Paula McLain, New York Times bestselling author

 @Morrow_PB  @bookclubgirl  William Morrow  Book Club Girl







Just take it line by line

Frond objects

As a commercial genre, poetry has been on life support for decades. But as an art form, the reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated. All manner of writers and readers still embrace the form, and we celebrate National Poetry Month each April, which has become the goto time for publishing books about poetry. This year’s crop includes How to Read Poetry Like a Professor (Harper Perennial, $15.99, 224 pages, ISBN 9780062113788), in which Thomas C. Foster shares a lifetime’s worth of knowledge acquired and honed as a professor of English. Appropriately subtitled “A Quippy and Sonorous Guide to Verse,” this user-friendly primer offers a nut-and-bolts tour into the mysteries of what Foster dubs “a (slightly) alien life-form.” Foster believes that, for most people, the problem “isn’t so much not liking poetry as feeling somehow overmatched, as if it were a contest and the other side had better equipment and more skill.” How to Read Poetry Like a Professor is an attempt to level that uneven playing field, if you will. And like an athlete, the poetry reader needs to be well drilled in the fundamentals to fully succeed. Foster supplies that foundation, beginning with rudiments that many of us may have learned in school but have probably forgotten (if we were even paying attention in class that day). Basic concepts such as meter, assonance and consonance, rhythm and rhyme, couplets and quatrains are explored in fun, nonthreatening terms. Poetic forms, from sonnets to villanelles to odes, are explained. Patterns of words, the poet’s intentions, imagery and symbolism—all are neatly compacted into this concise and entertaining guide. What Foster wants most is to

Designer Erica Tanov describes herself as a “refined hippie—attracted to the loose, natural, and raw—yet . . . also drawn to articles with a hint of glamour and opulence.” She specializes in adopting the patterns, textures and mysteries of the natural world, letting tree bark, fern fronds and other natural elements inspire her interiors and

small decorations and gifts for friends. Morgan also includes projects for home goods, like napkins and a plant cozy, and personal belongings like accessory cases. A final chapter explains the stitches for all of the aforementioned projects, and the book comes with a handy set of iron-on pattern sheets.

creations. In Tanov’s exquisite Design by Nature (Ten Speed, $35, 232 pages, ISBN 9780399579073), she illustrates how a vintage lace curtain mirrors a decomposing leaf; exposed denim selvages bring to mind “a foggy day at the beach”; and tassels and fringe summon “the languorous quality of lichen.” For those who love the intricacies, imperfections and ephemerality of the natural world, this book will feel like a familiar, gorgeous friend, and Tanov’s essays are beautifully composed, too.



demystify poetry. And with chapter titles such as “What the Heck Is It?” and “Is Verse Ever Really Free?” he is not afraid to have a little fun while supplying readers with solid information. He is a big advocate of reading poetry aloud and encourages us to set aside any self-conscious apprehension we may have about doing so: “In speaking it and hearing it, we learn to feel poetry,” he writes. As one would expect, Foster draws on dozens of familiar examples to make his case, from the prologue of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare’s sonnets to the modernist works of e.e. cummings and Robert Frost, but he also reaches more far afield: Paul Laurence Dunbar, Billy Collins, Woody Guthrie and Paul Simon all make appearances. Disappointingly, examples by female poets are a bit scant, and they skew mostly toward the usual suspects—Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Christina Rossetti. Poems, Foster writes, are “occasions to explore the divinity of experience and the miracle of imagination.” As in his best“In speaking selling book How to Read it and Literature Like hearing it, a Professor, we learn to Foster’s enthusiasm is infecfeel poetry.” tious—despite his Ivory Tower credentials, he is not some dusty academic, and he has clearly enjoyed teaching and sharing his love of literature with his students during his long career. How to Read Poetry Like a Professor is not unlike that freshman English class that everyone vies to enroll in—entertaining and informative without being intimidating. The curriculum is on point, and in the end, you’ll have the tools to truly “get” poetry, with all its manifest themes and variations.

HOOP! THERE IT IS There’s no question that hand embroidery is having a moment. Entering the cluster of books that offer a modern take on this craft is Hoop Dreams: Modern Hand Embroidery (Abrams, $24.99, 128 pages, ISBN 9781419729263) by Cristin Morgan, a former accessories designer (peep her work on Instagram at @marigoldandmars). This book begins with a focus on designs that are perfect for displaying in the same simple wooden hoop that holds your fabric taut during stitching. (You might think of this as embroidery’s take on industrial-style furnishings, where objects previously considered to be strictly functional take on an aesthetic appeal.) Wildflowers, confetti made from French knots, a rainbow, monograms—each of these projects would make lovely

I have a love-hate relationship with creativity guides. They can be repetitive and pat at their worst but truly life-changing at their best, sparkling with lightning-bolt ideas and inspiration. Creative Quest (Ecco, $27.99, 288 pages, ISBN 9780062670557) is firmly in the second camp, in part because Questlove—Grammy-winning co-founder of the Roots, DJ, culinary entrepreneur, the list goes on—feels a lot like I do. Long interested in but skeptical of books about creativity, he set out to do something different. Powered by the pistons of Questlove’s ever-curious mind and his decades of experience in varied artistic projects with top entertainers, thinkers and creators, this book feels fresh and personal. Credible research is buttressed by “here’s how it played out for me” stories, and his humor and geniality shine through, making this feel a bit more memoir-ish than the typical creativity guide. “I won’t make grand claims,” he says. “But I will make this one: if you use this book properly, you’ll learn something, even if what you learn is that you already believed your own version of many of these insights.” In perfect Questlove fashion, he continues, “That’s one of the secrets that maybe a savvier marketer would save for a bonus track but I’m sequencing first.”



Overcoming hardship and hitting refresh


pring is a time for renewal—a period of promise that brings with it a sense of fresh possibility. These five new books celebrate the season and deliver inspiring perspectives on personal growth, healing and inner transformation.

In her uplifting memoir I Will Not Fear: My Story of a Lifetime of Building Faith Under Fire (Revell, $16.99, 208 pages, ISBN 9780800729431) bestselling author Melba Pattillo Beals tells the story of how her spiritual beliefs helped her find a path forward during a troubling time in American history. Growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, Beals endured death threats and harassment from white supremacists. On September 25, 1957, along with eight other African-American students, she integrated Little Rock’s Central High School, becoming part of the group dubbed the Little Rock Nine. “That day, I confronted for the first time the reality of what I was facing,” Beals writes. “I questioned whether I had what it took to live through the integration process over the long haul.” She found the fortitude necessary in her Christian faith. Beals went on to become a successful journalist and reporter, and while building a career, she also raised a family. Her poignant memoir serves as a testament to the dynamic influence of faith and how it can be harnessed to improve individual lives and heal broken communities. Filled with stories of victories both great and small, Beals’ memoir is a true spiritbooster.

LEARNING TO LET GO If you’re struggling with negative emotions or bad habits (and who isn’t?), you’ll find relief in Dean Sluyter’s Fear Less: Living Beyond Fear, Anxiety, Anger, and Addiction (TarcherPerigee, $16, 336 pages, ISBN 9780143130277). In his new book, Sluyter, an expert on stress management and

meditation, offers advice on how to break self-sabotaging habits, from obsessive overthinking to digital-device addiction. He also includes solutions for coping with deep-seated sources of anxiety, like aging and death. By combining spiritual teachings from across the centuries with current research, he shows readers how to embrace everyday life and build self-esteem. Sluyter’s approach taps into both the body and the mind,

There’s Hope: Healing, Moving Forward, and Never Giving Up (St. Martin’s, $26.99, 288 pages, ISBN 9781250115522), she reflects on her personal journey and explores the heartening accounts of others who have transcended hardship and found happiness. Smart interviewed a wide range of subjects for the book, from notable women like Ann Romney, who has struggled with multiple sclerosis, to survivors like Bre Lasley, a stabbing victim who

providing simple meditation techniques and stretching exercises that are easy to integrate into a daily routine. “If, after a little practice,” Sluyter says, “you fear less—even one percent less than before—then you’re already coming out of the darkness and into the light.” With his help, you can banish negativity and adopt new habits that will improve your all-around attitude.

founded the support group Fight Like Girls. The result is an empowering narrative that gives readers guidance for working through resentment, fear and sadness. “I think hope is something we can create for ourselves,” Smart writes, “and it can be a stronger force than anything life throws at us.” Readers in search of a bright side will find it here.

PAIN INTO TRIUMPH In 2002, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart made national news when she was abducted and held captive for nine months by religious zealot Brian David Mitchell. She chronicled the horrors of her kidnapping in her bestselling memoir, My Story (2013). Using her past trials as a point of departure, Smart has built a life based on positivity. Now president of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, she works as a victim advocate. In Where

COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS “I have spent much of my life worried that I was an ingrate,” bestselling author Diana Butler Bass admits in Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks (HarperOne, $26.99, 256 pages, ISBN 9780062659477). Bass had long associated gratitude with the disagreeable notion of “debt and duty,” and so in her new book, she set out to increase her understanding of what it means to be thankful. In the process, she cultivated her own life-changing

sense of gratitude. Mixing sociological research with warm personal anecdotes of appreciation for the everyday, Bass examines why individuals find it challenging to maintain a practice of gratitude and reveals how thankfulness can serve as the foundation of a healthy community. “Gratitude is not about stuff,” Bass stresses. “To choose gratitude is to hear an inner urging toward thanks, to see the grace in life, and to respond.” As Bass’ story proves, it’s never too late to start being grateful.

LEARNING LOVE Bestselling author Geneen Roth wrestled with body-image issues for years before realizing that being thin did not equal being happy. She tried various approaches to self-improvement until her path to inner peace took an unexpected turn: Roth found that when she quit working on herself, she finally felt comfortable in her own skin. In This Messy Magnificent Life: A Field Guide (Scribner, $26, 224 pages, ISBN 9781501182464), she opens up about the move from self-improvement to self-acceptance—a critical shift that allowed her to find true fulfillment. Roth, whose 10 previous books include Women Food and God, has appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “The View.” In This Messy Magnificent Life, she shares insights into her struggles with food along with practical suggestions for overcoming the fears and anxieties that so often stand in the way of self-acceptance. Roth says a willingness “to relinquish the Project of Me and stop trying to fix what had never been broken” made it possible for her to live contentedly in the now. Her advice: Stop waiting for “someday.” Now is the time to celebrate the qualities that make you unique and to be bold in your pursuit of personal bliss. This book will help get you started.


cover story


Shattering the “tortured artist” myth


t takes a talented writer to seamlessly blend memoir, biography, literary criticism, psychology and sociology into a meaningful whole. Add in the writer’s own battle with alcoholism, and the accomplishment becomes even more impressive. That’s what Leslie Jamison, author of the highly regarded 2014 essay collection The Empathy Exams, has done in her deeply felt new book, The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath. In a recent telephone call to her home in Brooklyn, she was eager to discuss the legendary, often romanticized connection between addiction and creativity. “I knew from the very beginning that I didn’t want to write a straight memoir,” she explains. “I wanted to write about recovery. . . . Part of what’s always felt so central to the experience of recovery to me is the idea of opening outward and connecting to the lives of other people and finding resonance. . . . The idea of putting my life into a much larger chorus is part of what recovery felt like.” The genesis of The Recovering was in fragments Jamison wrote in 2010, the year her current sobriety began. She continued working on the book after garnering her Ph.D. in English Literature at Yale, after which she cultivated


By Leslie Jamison

Little, Brown, $30, 544 pages ISBN 9780316259613, audio, eBook available



a flourishing writing career and gave birth to her first child. Her goal in the book, she says, is to present “a complicated excavation of the messy truth that I see of the tortured alcoholic or addict artist, both honoring the difficulty of the lives that produced that art and honoring the creative possibilities of the other side of addiction, of what sort of generative possibilities lie in recovery.” In The Recovering, Jamison offers insight into the lives of a group of writers—some well known, others less so—and their struggles with addiction and recovery. In sympathetic profiles of authors like Raymond Carver, David Foster Wallace and Denis Johnson, which are gracefully woven into her own narrative, Jamison provides “models who found sobriety and recovery incredibly generative.” Many of the creatives that Jamison profiles experienced more nuanced addiction narratives than the one in which, as she says, “sobriety swoops in and is a creative fairy godmother and gives you a new creative life.” In writing about the tragic career of poet John Berryman, whose agonizing and embarrassingly public battle with alcoholism ended with a leap from a Minneapolis bridge in 1972, she describes a man who wrestled with an unfinished novel about recovery while trying and failing to stay sober. But as Jamison explains, in shaping the book from a journalist’s perspective, it was also important to avoid confining her attention only to creatives. In addition to deep archival research into the lives of her artist subjects, she spent more than a year interviewing former patients at a rehabilitation facility known as Seneca House, which was established in the early 1970s near the Potomac River in Maryland.

“I wanted there to be stories of recovery in the book that weren’t about famous people, people for whom recovery had been transformative,” she says. These revelatory accounts introduce ordinary people who “had turned both their addicted lives and their sober lives into stories that made sense to them.” For all of The Recovering’s biographical depth and literary sophistication, Jamison’s vividly rendered account of her “The idea of own addiction and recovery putting my is exceptionlife into a ally engagmuch larger ing. Without solipsism or chorus is self-pity, she part of what spares few recovery felt details of her behavior, like.” which features staggering quantities of alcohol, frequent blackouts and dangerous misadventures in places as far-flung as Nicaragua. Through each episode, the memoir has the immersive feel of compelling fiction. The irresistible quality of that candor stems in part from what Jamison admits is nostalgia for “those early days of falling in love with the drinking, when intoxication still felt intoxicating.” That attraction emerged despite the physical and emotional ravages of her drinking days and all their “demoralizing or shameful or brutal or secretive” moments. She spares little mercy for herself in describing her disastrous relapse, an abortion and persistent conflict in the life she shared with her poet boyfriend, Dave, as sober a counterpart to Jamison as one could imagine. In telling her own story



so unsparingly, Jamison hopes to “humanize the process that’s at the core of addiction,” one that can “look so inscrutable and deeply frustrating from the outside, and show what it looks like to crave something that’s destroying you.” Also central to Jamison’s recovery story was Alcoholics Anonymous. In one of the book’s lighter scenes, she recalls the jarring moment when a meeting participant bellowed, “This is boring!” as she shared the tale of her alcoholism for the first time. That incident and others reveal the theme of storytelling at the heart the book: “I think it’s hard to stay mired in self-pity or obsessive attention to your own life when you’re just literally sitting in a room listening to other people talk about what they’re going through.” It’s in that spirit of shared storytelling that Jamison prepares to embark on a 14-city, coastto-coast book tour this spring. Among other things, she’s hopeful that The Recovering can be part of the urgently needed conversation about the problem of opioid addiction in the United States. “People are hungry for ways of talking about the addiction crisis that aren’t just policy talk, that are story-based,” she says. “There’s something about personal narrative that gives us a way into those questions.”


spring reading

“Masterful…. The Stars Are Fire explores what happens in the secret spaces between married people…. Lingers long after the last page is turned.” —USA Today

A Best Book of the Year

“Beautiful…. Will abruptly break your heart. That’s what Richard Russo does, without pretension or fuss, time and time again.”

The Washington Post, NPR, and Entertainment Weekly

“A comic and often precarious journey.... Told in a hilarious deadpan that recalls Gish Jen and Nora Ephron.”

—The New York Times

—O, The Oprah Magazine

“Searing…. A love story through and through.” —Vogue

“A funny, bittersweet story of marriage, full of regrets and temptations.” —People



Read excerpts, print reading group guides, find original essays and more at




Take them seriously


eg Wolitzer is the mentor we’ve always wanted. Since 1982, her novels and short stories have explored friendship, romantic love, sex, money, feminism, family and just about every emotion you can name.

Her 10th novel, The Female Persuasion, is an absorbing story of ideals and ideas, betrayal and loyalty. It’s a tapestry of relationships: parents and children, employers and employees, husbands and wives. But at the novel’s core are the winding paths etched by close friendships. “The maxim is to write what you know,” muses Wolitzer from her New York apartment. “But for me, it’s write about what obsesses you. I am so absorbed by my friendships—they have been the sources of such deep, deep pleasure and meaning in my life, how could I not write about it?” The star of The Female Persuasion, Greer Kadetsky, is a shy freshman when Faith Frank comes to speak at her college in 2006. Frank has been a pillar of the women’s movement since the 1960s and created the Loci Foundation, a speaker’s forum dedicated to sharing women’s stories. During a chance encounter in a restroom, Greer introduces herself to Frank, who, much to Greer’s surprise, responds warmly. Their encounter sets Greer on a new


By Meg Wolitzer

Riverhead, $28, 464 pages ISBN 9781594488405, audio, eBook available



path, and a few years after graduation, she is offered a job working with Frank. As Greer starts to establish her own voice as a speaker and a writer, she grows distant from her boyfriend and comes face-to-face with her ambitions. For Greer, working for Frank signifies the first time she’s felt both seen and heard. Like her young protagonist, Wolitzer benefited significantly from adults taking an early interest in her creativity. “I’ve always looked up to certain older people who knew what they were doing, who I admired,” Wolitzer says. “I don’t think I thought of them as mentors at the moment, but of course they were.” She found one of her earliest mentors at home: her mother, the novelist Hilma Wolitzer, who encouraged Wolitzer to take chances without worrying about the outcome. With her mother’s support, Wolitzer began writing at a young age. “I just always wanted to be a writer,” she says. “There was a brief moment when I wanted to be a psychiatrist, but given that my math and science skills were subpar, it probably wasn’t something I should have pursued.” When she was 12, she sold a story to Kids, a national magazine for young writers. “I even went into their offices in the city to be a guest editor,” she says. “It was so exciting to be taken seriously.” From grade school through college, she continued to benefit from the positive ways in which women influence and mentor one another. The Female Persuasion is dedicated to a group of such women, one of whom was her English teacher, Mrs. Kidder. “She treated the students with deep intellectual respect,” Wolitzer says. “It turned out later that her son was Tracy Kidder, the [Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction] writer. It is wonderful to see that as she was nurturing her students, she was nurturing a

writer right at home.” In college, Wolitzer studied writing under John Hawkes, John Irving and Mary Gordon. She later encountered writer and filmmaker Nora Ephron, who directed an adaptation of Wolitzer’s book This Is Your Life. “Nora invited me into the process,” Wolitzer says. “I went to casting sessions with her, and we went to comedy clubs to hear women comics around the city. I saw the way Nora took such care and love for what she did.” Mentorship is not the only hot-button topic in The Female Persuasion, which shines “Fiction a gentle, proballows you ing light on ambition and to ask more power—and questions on the quesand not have tion of when to walk away. the answer, But these are to . . . move not new issues away from for Wolitzer, whose earlier the fire of the burning novels The Wife and The moment.” Ten-Year Nap touch on many of the same themes. “I have been struggling with questions about power, gender and misogyny for a very long time, both as a writer and as a person,” she says. The novel’s opening chapter deals with an assault on a college campus, a topic that feels as if it’s taken from today’s headlines. But as Wolitzer is quick to point out, “A novel is not written in a 24-hour news cycle. It’s more like a threeto five-year news cycle. I was writing, and the world was moving fast. . . . Fiction allows you to ask more questions and not have the answer, to listen to people and move away from the fire of the burning moment.” Although Wolitzer has focused



on women’s lives before, the characters of Faith and Greer offer thoughtful insights into secondand third-wave feminism, and the intersectionality that continues to positively influence the women’s movement today. The introduction of Kay, a skeptical but spirited teenager, at the end of the novel is a reminder that political movements remain meaningful only when allowed to evolve. When asked if different generations of feminists can learn from one another or are destined to battle it out, Wolitzer chooses to embrace the former vision. “I think the media embellishes the idea of a constant catfight between women. Yes, there are differences, but when I look, I see commonality, overlapping issues and a genuine desire to work for a fairer, more equitable world.” Wolitzer’s novel acknowledges that people are working together to find unity and fuel change. “One of the things that I loved about writing this book was that I could stand on my own little rock and look at the world through the eyes of the older generation and the younger generation. . . . I am genuinely moved by people who legitimately want things to be better, even if they are going about it in different ways. I wanted to capture that in my novel no matter what age my characters are.”


Celebrating National Poetry Month


e live in a country that loves poetry. Today, 44 states have acting poet laureates, and April is acknowledged as a time for recognizing the beauty and power of verse. We’ve rounded up a quartet of terrific new poetry collections—the perfect picks for National Poetry Month. An electrifying group of impasthis intimate yet epic collection, sioned poems, Not Here (Coffee Smith aims to counteract that House Press, $16.95, 120 pages, rush. Incorporating 19th-century ISBN 9781566895095) is the correspondence and other docusophomore offering from up-andments (including the Declaration coming poet Hieu Minh Nguyen. of Independence), Smith sets up Writing from the first-person pera dialogue between history and spective, Nguyen reflects upon his the present that allows readers to cross-cultural, Vietnamese-Amermuse on the passage of time. In ican roots and explores the nature THE UNITED STATES WELCOMES YOU of sexual identity. Why and by whose power were you sent? Intergenerational friction is the subWhat do you see that you may wish to steal? ject of “Nguyễn,” a Why this dancing? Why do your dark bodies provocative look at Drink up all the light? What are you demanding the burden of family expectations, in That we feel? Have you stolen something? Then which the narrator’s What is that leaping in your chest? What is homosexuality is an The nature of your mission? Do you seek affront to his traditionally minded To offer a confession? Have you anything to do mother—an offense With others brought by us to harm? Then “soiling the lace- / Why are you afraid? And why do you invade white landscape of her desires.” In an Our night, hands raised, eyes wide, mute arresting tableau of As ghosts? Is there something you wish to confess? forbidden affection, the speaker and a Is this some enigmatic type of test? What if we male companion Fail? How and to whom do we address our appeal? are “two flies / drowning in a dish “The United States Welcomes You” from Wade in the Water. of honey.” The narCopyright © by Tracy K. Smith. Reprinted with the permission rator of “Punish,” a of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota. poem about forgetting and forgiving, grapples with composing the long piece “I WILL a painful scene from his boyhood: TELL YOU THE TRUTH ABOUT “I’m trying to understand that THIS, I WILL TELL YOU ALL memory / is not a technology, a ABOUT IT,” Smith condenses and full charge / will get you nowhere, assembles statements from Afriif you’re stuck / tracing the perimcan-Amereters of your dull nostalgia.” icans who In this accomplished collection, served in Nguyen practices an abundance of the Civil poetic approaches and modes. For War. Says the reader, the richness of expresone veteran, sion is intoxicating. “I always signed my A DIALOGUE WITH HISTORY name while “History is in a hurry,” U.S. Poet in the army Laureate Tracy K. Smith writes / by making in her majestic new book, Wade my mark / in the Water (Graywolf, $24, 88 I know my pages, ISBN 9781555978136). In name by

sound—” It’s a pleasure when Smith narrows her scope for more personal works, like the lovely poem “4½,” a snapshot of life with a demanding young daughter: “Just the tussle of her will against mine, / That scrape and crack. Horn on rock. Rope / Relenting one fiber at a time.” Overall, this is a formally varied, masterful collection from the nation’s poet laureate.

A VISIONARY COLLECTION In her ninth book of poetry, Blue Rose (Penguin, $18, 80 pages, ISBN 9780143131250), former California Poet Laureate Carol Muske-Dukes probes both the personal and political realms to produce visionary works that plumb the limits of language. Her pieces often feature tightly packed stanzas alive with assonance and unexpected enjambments. In the taut title poem, she portrays childbirth as a metamorphic process, from which the newborn emerges looking “danger blue, yet to me her color was like / something never imagined: if-flower of myth, / blossoming on the isle of the color-blind.” Tracing humanity’s preponderance for vengeance back to the fall, “Creation Myth” features a God who’s confused by what he has wrought: “Should he have / allowed Satan to arm Adam & Eve at the outset? / Should he

have accepted the wager: that in no time / they’d zero in on each other—shooting like snipers / from the Tree of Knowledge?” This wide-ranging book includes a powerful triptych about gun control and tributes to Simone Weil, Adrienne Rich and Mark Twain. Muske-Dukes’ facility and breadth of vision make Blue Rose a standout volume.

BEARING WITNESS Spare, plain-spoken poems marked by unobtrusive beauty comprise Night School (Penguin, $20, 112 pages, ISBN 9780143132356), the 13th collection from Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Carl Dennis. A writer who’s attuned to nature—images of lakes, woods and snow-covered trails recur in the collection—Dennis looks deeply at the world and encourages readers to practice “the task of witnessing.” In works that express empathy for the human condition, the poet seems to be wrestling with himself—who he is now and who he should be—while speculating about the experiences of others. In “Blind Guest,” the narrator thinks about loaning his eyes to a sightless man: “For an hour or two, I can try to dwell / On the good it might do him to escape / The pervading dark.” A poem called “A Letter” comes as no surprise, as Dennis seems the sort of meditative correspondent who’d treasure the traditions of snail mail: “To fold the pages twice and insert them / Into an envelope seems to make them / More of a gift.” In an era of sensory overload, Dennis’ closely observed, perceptive collection is itself a gift.




A novel like a bullet train


ichael Farris Smith, author of the gritty, riveting novel The Fighter, credits two big influences for his decision to become a fiction writer after returning to his native Mississippi.

The first, he says in a call to his rented writing studio in Water Valley, Mississippi, was his decision to leave Mississippi and work in Switzerland and France after college. “It’s a cliché to say it changed me, but it changed my life,” he says. “I was just sort of drifting around. I didn’t have any passion for anything. But there I felt connected, and it got me out of old habits.” In high school and college, Smith was not much of a reader. His interest was in competitive sports. But in the cafés of Paris and on trains riding to work, he began to read the classics of modern American literature—Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and, later, Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers. He saw connections between his own experiences and the internal experiences described by those writers. For Smith, who now lives in Oxford, Mississippi, with his wife, who works as a social worker, and their two school-age daughters, the other big influence was “when I discovered Larry Brown, the Oxford firefighter-turned-novelist. What I found was many similarities


By Michael Farris Smith

Little, Brown, $26, 256 pages ISBN 9780316432344, audio, eBook available



between him and myself. His characters, the things that drove them, the choices they made. I knew the back roads he was talking about. I knew the problems those characters were having, and the thought occurred to me that I have plenty to write about if I want to write.” The setting for The Fighter, Smith’s fourth work of fiction, is the vividly described poor, rural towns and back roads scattered throughout the Mississippi Delta. In the opening section—“Round One”—Jack Boucher is driving alone on one of those roads in the dark, planning to repay his large debt to an unforgiving fight and vice promoter named Big Momma Sweet. Jack, well into middle age, is past the tail end of a long career of cage fighting, a brutal, bare-fisted full-contact sport. Jack is filled with a sense of urgency to save the land that his foster mother Maryann, the first of several real and imagined guardian angels, entrusted to him but which he has allowed to pass into foreclosure. In a lovely preamble and throughout the novel, we learn how Maryann took in and nurtured Jack, who was abandoned as an infant and spent years in and out of miserable foster homes before coming to Maryann. She is now near death, and Smith describes the visits between Jack and Maryann with great empathy. “I think the relationship between Jack and Maryann is the most tender relationship I’ve written in my novels,” Smith says. “I came upon emotions while writing the novel that I was really surprised by. My first instinct was to back away. But then I just really wanted to embrace it. There is something of a miracle for both Jack and her in that relationship.” Also on the road that dark night is a beautiful 23-year-old carnival worker named Annette. She is traveling with the Outlaw Carnival, a group of mostly ex-cons and grift-

ers. Her particular talent is cheating customers who bet on the strange configurations of her tattoos. She is a lost and searching young woman, or as Smith says, “Annette is using this church of coincidence in her own theology to help herself believe that there is an answer for her somewhere.” The fateful coincidence that really launches the convergence of these two lost souls is when Annette and the carnival boss happen upon the steaming wreck of Jack’s truck and an envelope of money, but no Jack. From there the story unfolds with velocity. “Writing The Fighter was the most momentum-filled experience I’ve ever had writing a novel,” Smith says. “I sat down “I came upon in Septememotions while ber or October, and writing the novel that I was in March it was done. really surprised It was a bullet train. by. My first instinct was to I just never looked up. back away.” And I loved it. It taught me about what work ethic and consistency can do. I just couldn’t wait to get there in the morning. It had that propulsion and that energy. But it also absolutely exhausted me. The issues I dealt with in The Fighter—the subject matter and the intensity of it—really drained me emotionally.” For a reader, a singular pleasure of this novel is Smith’s use of language. It is both hard-edged and lyrical. “My father is a Southern



Baptist Preacher,” Smith says. “I think the lyricism of the language had a lot to do with growing up in the church and being around gospel music all the time. The power and imagery of that music really influenced me.” Also because of his father’s work, Smith “lived in a bunch of different places in Mississippi,” and his previous novels explore some of those places. More recently, he’s “gotten to know the Delta. It’s such an interesting place. When I had that image of Jack Boucher driving through the night, I thought, I know where he’s going. He’s going to the Delta.” In The Fighter, Smith writes about a violent and unforgiving world. And yet there is also grace and, in the end, the possibility of mercy. “I know people talk about my work as dark and being about the downtrodden,” Smith says. “Well, there are a lot of downtrodden people walking around. There’s a tremendous divide between the rich and the poor, and it’s growing. But we are all looking for an answer. I know The Fighter is fierce, but I think the book is about hope. I always respond to dark and bleak nature with the idea that there is hope.”






Goddess of magic casts her spell

Viking $27, 352 pages ISBN 9780735222694 Audio, eBook available



Madeline Miller’s enthralling second novel may be about a goddess, but it has a lot to say about what it means to be a woman. In Circe, the acclaimed author of The Song of Achilles (which won the Orange Prize in 2012) unfurls the story of the legendary witch from Homer’s “Odyssey” with lyric intensity. Circe grows up in the palace of her father, the sun god Helios, listening to stories of the legendary fall of the Titans and conflicts among the gods. Like all immortals, Helios is ruthless, capricious and obsessed with maintaining his status. Circe, a goddess without exceptional beauty or discernible power, is sidelined in his court, unworthy of even being married off. It isn’t until Circe falls in love with a mortal that she realizes she has the ability to bless or harm others through transfiguration—a discovery that causes her to be labeled a By Madeline Miller threat. Helios exiles her to a remote island; there, she is able to further Little, Brown, $27, 400 pages develop her skills with pharmakeia, the art of using plants and herbs ISBN 9780316556347, audio, eBook available to perform magic. FANTASY Though sailors occasionally attempt to seek shelter on her island’s shores, Circe protects herself by transforming any men with bad intentions into pigs. As centuries roll by, key encounters with gods and humans alike punctuate her isolated existence—a meeting with Medea and a shocking midwifery scene are particularly mesmerizing. Eventually, Circe’s connections with others force her to embrace her powers, breach her exile and choose her destiny. Miller, who studied classics at Brown University and teaches high school Greek and Latin, paints a vivid picture of classical Greece: the mindset of its people, the beauty of its landscapes, the details of daily tasks. The elemental allure of mythology, with its magic and mystery and questions of fate and free will, is presented here with added freshness that comes from seeing this world Visit to read from a female perspective. Like its heroine, this is a novel to underestia Q&A with Madeline Miller. mate at your peril.

TANGERINE By Christine Mangan

Ecco $26.99, 320 pages ISBN 9780062686664 Audio, eBook available


A novel should stir the emotions, and Tangerine, the debut novel from Christine Mangan, does just that. It made this reviewer boiling mad. And that’s a good thing. A reader could be forgiven for imagining Tangerine as a Patricia Highsmith spinoff—Mr. Ripley Goes to Morocco. Its villain is a psychopath who would give Tom Ripley—not to mention Hannibal

Lecter—pause. Why, Ripley even rhymes with one of the protagonists’ names: Alice Shipley. The other protagonist is her former Bennington roommate, Lucy Mason, who’s shown up out of the Mediterranean blue on the doorstep of Alice and her husband’s home. It is best not to spoil the story and reveal the identity of the baddie. Is it Alice’s miserable, sexist, condescending, unfaithful husband, John? Or is it Joseph, an oily grifter who meets Lucy when she first arrives in Tangier? Is it Alice? Is it Lucy? Is it Alice’s rich, chilly aunt? At first, Lucy earns some sympathy after she barges in on Alice and John like Blanche DuBois; she is sure to suffer the same fate, since John is such a creep. Then it seems that Joseph has sinister

intentions he’ll inevitably act on. Mangan keeps readers guessing for a surprisingly long time, but as the story goes on, it appears the truth was hiding in plain sight. The ending will send you back to the beginning to pick up on all the clues you missed. Speaking of the book’s ending and my ensuing anger, be warned: There is not even a hint of justice prevailing. The miscreant isn’t all that smart or talented, but is simply ruthless in the way of a cold-blooded reptile or politician. Readers will hope that Mangan, like Highsmith, writes a series of books about this villain, if for no other reason than to see whether the lowlife gets his or her comeuppance or slips away one more time. —ARLENE MCKANIC

Growing up in the shadow of his larger-than-life father—the artist Bear Bavinsky—Pinch has always been in the role of admirer. It’s the role, in fact, of nearly everyone in Bear’s orbit: his many wives and lovers, his 17 children, his ardent fans. They admire his work, marvel at his big personality and ignore his infidelities and shortcomings as a parent of children scattered around the globe. Pinch grows up in Rome, his mother a Canadian potter who manages to beguile Bear for a few years before he decamps for New York and his next family. Pinch is a quiet boy, not fully embraced by the Italian children in his neighborhood because of his exotic North American background and unorthodox family. He turns to the canvas, first mimicking his father’s distinctive style before finding his own point of view. By the time he is a gawky 15-year-old, he is painting daily, his own kind of awkward teenage love affair. “Pinch hesitates at the brink—then kisses color to canvas, first a peck, bristles probing as he stoops to the easel, which he has not yet raised to his new adolescent height.” But then Pinch brings a painting to New York for Bear’s assessment. “Son of mine, I think the world of you. You know that,” Bear tells him. “So I got to tell you, kiddo. You’re not an artist. And you never will be.” Pinch tucks his canvases away, settling into a life of academia, only returning to painting decades later in a risky attempt to cement the Bavinsky legacy—his father’s and his own. Tom Rachman is the author of the indescribably good 2010 bestseller The Imperfectionists. The Italian Teacher is another superbly poignant novel featuring deeply


reviews imperfect people making deeply human decisions. It is about loyalty, the power and pretension of art and, most of all, the ties that bind. —AMY SCRIBNER


Thomas Nelson $15.99, 400 pages ISBN 9780718084257 Audio, eBook available


There is nothing like the nervous anticipation of an impending storm to make a person think about all they value in life and how to protect it. In Lauren K. Denton’s new novel, Hurricane Season, the weather is just the beginning of what’s keeping Betsy Franklin awake. Living on a dairy farm in southern Alabama with the love of her life, Betsy has truly found her happy place. But the ominous weather forecast from the Gulf of Mexico isn’t the only thing ruffling the feathers of her otherwise serene existence—she has also received a call from her younger sister, Jenna, with an unexpected request. Jenna, a single mother of two and a coffee shop manager in Nashville, has received a once-ina-lifetime opportunity to rediscover her passion for photography at a world-famous artists’ retreat. Could this be her chance to make something of herself and provide a better life for her daughters, Addie and Walsh? To find out, Jenna’s only option is to give up her job and leave Walsh and Addie in the care of Betsy, with whom she hasn’t exactly been close. Between Betsy and her husband dealing with their little guests (and their own marriage and unfruitful parenthood) and Jenna chasing her artistic calling (which keeps taking longer and longer), Denton artfully explores the struggle between caring for one’s own dreams and helping someone else achieve theirs. Any reader who values the comfort of family, the possibility of second chances and the simple


FICTION truths of love and sisterhood will devour Denton’s novel. In many ways, Hurricane Season feels like the calm before a storm that changes everything—for the better. —CHIKA GUJARATHI

TOMORROW By Damian Dibben Hanover Square $26.99, 336 pages ISBN 9781335580290 Audio, eBook available


“You are the soul of all men,” a man tells the canine narrator of Tomorrow, written by Damian Dibben, an actor, screenwriter and bestselling author of the History Keepers, a children’s book series. This dog is more than a best friend; he is a loyal companion for more than three centuries, remaining by his master’s side as he works as a chemyst, mathematician, doctor and metallurgist in European castles, courts and field offices. After they’re separated in Venice in 1688, the dog continues to wait and look for his master. When Vilder, another long-living man, thinks he’s spotted the master in 1815, he leads the dog on a search through the Waterloo battlefield and beyond. By the time we learn the dog’s and master’s names toward the end of the book, they have already made indelible marks on everyone they’ve met, including readers. The dog’s search for his master is also a search for what endures through the ages. The master encounters Galileo, Queen Henrietta Maria (nicknamed Generalissima by her inner circle), Louis XIV (in the era of “grand hair, heeled shoes, exaggerated cuffs, coloured stockings and everywhere—attached to elbows, knees and ankles—bows and fussy spills of ribbons”) and famous British poet Lord Byron. While these powerful people rise and fall, the arts provide abiding inspiration and comfort for the hopeful master and dog wherever—and whenev-

er—they are. They delight in their senses, particularly smell, which is excellently rendered by the canine narrator. In London, the dog finds a “universe of odours . . . the all-pervading rye-starch smell of painted timber, here the air was spiced with exotics: sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, coffee and chocolate.” With a hint of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and a dash of W. Bruce Cameron’s A Dog’s Purpose, Tomorrow confronts big questions about life’s purpose and celebrates life’s pleasures. —MARI CARLSON

THE OVERSTORY By Richard Powers Norton $27.95, 512 pages ISBN 9780393635522 Audio, eBook available


Powers never loses the trees. Each human character suffers a deadly ordeal of some kind. One literally dies for 70 seconds. Others come very close to dying or (no less terrible) bear witness to the violent death or near-death of a loved one. These dreadful brushes with mortality allow them to hear the trees’ difficult truths. In the second half of The Overstory, the individual stories become intertwined and contrapuntally complicated. Laws and lives are both broken. There can be no happy ending. But to paraphrase Václav Havel, hope is not the same thing as optimism. The Overstory dramatizes this idea on the grandest scale. I have never read anything so pessimistic and yet so hopeful. —MICHAEL ALEC ROSE

Read a Q&A with Richard Powers on page 19.

STRAY CITY “Listen. There’s something you need to hear.” This early line from National Book Award winner Richard Powers’ vast, magnificent and disturbing new novel could be its epigraph. These words are spoken in the voice of the trees, who are the real protagonists of the story. The beauty of the trees, their antiquity, their shocking imperilment at our hands, their desire to communicate to us the imminent threats to our mutual survival—all these truths join in one song of celebration and lament. The first half of the book presents a set of individual stories—an array of human temperaments and predicaments as manifold as Charles Dickens’ or Leo Tolstoy’s. There’s a maverick botanist and a cynical sociologist, a billionaire video-game inventor and a wounded Vietnam veteran, an artist from Midwestern pioneer stock and a burned-out undergraduate. And more. The trees deliver to all nine characters an annunciation as epoch-making as any in the Bible: We bring you tidings of great joy, and also we are all totally fracked. Through this forest of interconnected human beings,

By Chelsey Johnson Custom House $25.99, 432 pages ISBN 9780062666680 Audio, eBook available


Chelsey Johnson’s Stray City brings an original angle to the trope of exploring the family you’re born into and the family that you choose. More than a coming-out novel (though it’s that, too), this debut is an insightful and entertaining love letter to the LGBTQ community in Portland, Oregon. Estranged from her family in Nebraska, Andy (Andrea) Morales has created a home and community for herself in Portland’s small but thriving lesbian community in the early 1990s (think fanzines, mixtapes, dive bars and riot grrrls). But after a bad breakup, she hooks up with Ryan Coates, the drummer in a band on the verge of making it big. What should have been a one-night stand turns into a relationship—after all, it feels so good to be wanted. Andy keeps



The biggest question in literature


he 12th novel from Richard Powers is magnificent and troubling, a symphonic tour de force with both human and tree characters that leave readers with a new reality. We asked Powers four questions about The Overstory. Here we share merely one question and one answer—perhaps the most important one of all.

To what degree (if any) do you consider your work to be a moral or didactic project? Am I mistaken in feeling that The Overstory isn’t just a novel, but maybe a blueprint for being inducted into the “shimmering council” of the trees—something like a viable evangelism? Or does this idea just piss you off? Goodness—what better way to start an interview than plunging into one of the most highly charged questions in the history of literature! Centuries of great writers have filled volumes exploring the proper position of the literary author along the spectrum of moral detachment and commitment. In the mid-19th century, the warring camps had their spokespeople in Tolstoy, who advocated for fiction that would raise consciousness and make readers into better people, and in Flaubert, who preached a moral detachment, urging writers to be like a remote, objective, hands-off God—“present everywhere and visible nowhere.” In the last century, when I was growing up, the American version of this war was playing out between John Gardner and Gore Vidal. Vidal was the champion of aesthetic, belletristic freedom— the author who was above the fray, committed only to the free play of exploration and possibility. Gardner, in his controversial and influential book On Moral Fiction, wrote that fiction ought “to test human values, not for the purpose of preaching or peddling a particular ideology, but in a truly honest and open-minded effort to find out which best promotes human fulfillment.” Here’s the interesting thing: Don’t both these positions sound attractive and defensible?

If I were to name the prevailing aesthetic of the present concerning literary fiction, I’d say it leans toward the belletristic. Moral passion hasn’t been cool for some time; much better to gird yourself in irony and fatalistic detachment. Or to put it more sympathetically, contemporary literary fiction strives for the dialogical, where the conflicting moral positions of all the characters in the story are both defensible and flawed. But look at the standout books—the great war novels and postcolonial novels “We humans and novels are deeply, of polipassionately tics, social showdown addicted to and human ourselves. We abuse—and think we’re you’ll see the only game a different story. These of interest in books know town.” what’s wrong with the world and what it would take to better minister to the human condition. In short, novelists are always trotting across a swaying, pencil-thin tightrope. How to be “moral” without being “didactic”? I happen to believe that collectively, we humans are deeply, dangerously deranged, and that only a profound shift in consciousness and institutions regarding the significance and standing of nonhumans will keep us viable in this place and lift our awful sense of moral abandonment and species loneliness. More than that, I believe that vital, vivid fiction can play a unique role in producing that shift in consciousness. But my chal-



lenge is precisely the one faced by my character Patricia Westerford as she stands up in front of an auditorium that has hired her to talk on sustainable human futures. She looks out on her audience as she makes her points, feeling them turn restive with the desire to “kill all the preachers!” The trick to evangelism, in this case, is to make induction into “the shimmering council” of the nonhuman seem like a startling, mysterious and compellingly desirable thing. And the way to do that, it seemed to me, is to tell all kinds of very specific, vital, surprising and unusual stories about a wide variety of people discovering how the spectacular depth and richness of the nonhuman world surpasses our understanding of it, many times over. We humans are deeply, passionately addicted to ourselves. We think we’re the only game of interest in town. The stories that will do us some good, this late in the day, are the ones that can direct our attention, for a moment, to all the astonishment that isn’t us. Ultimately, the long battle for the heart and soul of fiction may depend less on an author’s willingness to explore a prescriptive moral position than on that author’s willingness to break out of merely human stories into a celebration of wonder and astonishment and humility and awe. If people come away from my book with a new appreciation for the giant Methuselahs to whom we owe our existence, I will be happy indeed. Visit to read more of our Q&A with Powers.

Hot new look, more great content!




More reviews. More interviews. More BookPage.

emailed twice a month 19

reviews the relationship secret for as long as she can, but when she discovers that she’s pregnant, she decides to keep the baby, much to the astonishment of her friends. But as grateful as she is for Ryan’s attention, she can’t hide her ambivalence about him as a life partner. A decade later, Andy is happily settled with her lover, Beatriz, but her precocious daughter, Lucia, has begun asking questions about her biological father. Andy must decide how to resolve past decisions with the life she’s worked so hard to attain. According to Johnson, Stray City began as a short story about Ryan, in which he’s stranded in a van in rural Minnesota with a guilty secret. The more Johnson worked on it, the more she was curious about the pregnant girlfriend he’d left behind in Portland. Johnson’s love of Portland and its “strays and refugees” is what gives Stray City its singular charm. Though the story dips into the grim reality of homophobic hate crimes (Brandon Teena and Matthew Shepard were both murdered in the ’90s), Stray City never loses its quirky point of view or Andy’s fresh perspective. —LAUREN BUFFERD

THE EIGHT MOUNTAINS By Paolo Cognetti Atria $23.99, 224 pages ISBN 9781501169885 Audio, eBook available


Considering its wealth of details and the intimacy of its first-person voice, it’s hard to believe that The Eight Mountains by Paolo Cognetti is a work of fiction and not a memoir. The novel’s narrator, Pietro, is from a middle-class family that holidays in the foothills of the Dolomites along Italy’s northeastern border. Here he meets Bruno, a cow herder from a poor family, and the two boys form a tight bond. Like Pietro, the author divides his time between Milan


FICTION and his cabin in the Italian Alps. Because of this, mountaineering, the outdoors and homebuilding are described throughout The Eight Mountains with such specificity that these sections are part instruction manual, part diary: “Four screws were necessary for each bracket, which meant thirty-two holes in all. According to Bruno these numbers were crucial: the whole viability of the roof depended on them.” Descriptions of nature are especially delightful: “I startled roe deer foraging in the abandoned pastures; bolt upright with their ears at attention, they would look at me in alarm for an instant, then flee to the woods like thieves.” The Eight Mountains evokes a hunger and passion for the outdoors that is entwined with the boys’ enduring friendship and their bond with Pietro’s father. (Pietro often feels that rugged Bruno is the son his aloof, intense father always longed for.) This is juxtaposed with an aching sense of melancholy when Pietro’s and Bruno’s lives unspool in adulthood, as money concerns and failed relationships take hold. A literary sensation in Italy, this isn’t so much a page-turner as a novel that draws you in, gets into your soul and never leaves. —J E F F V A S I S H T A

AMERICA IS NOT THE HEART By Elaine Castillo Viking $27, 416 pages ISBN 9780735222410 Audio, eBook available


In the current political climate, the need for novels that cast light on the immigrant experience is greater than ever. American literature has had its share of such works in recent years, from Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers to Lesley Nneka Arimah’s magnificent story collection, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky. The latest is Elaine Castillo’s debut novel, America Is Not

the Heart, a timely book about a prominent family from the Philippines and the circumstances that lead them to America. The novel—its title a play on America Is in the Heart, a 1946 semi-autobiographical novel by Filipino-American author Carlos Bulosan—begins with Paz, who is studying to become a nurse. While still in the Philippines, she meets her future husband, Pol De Vera, a talented orthopedic surgeon and “the Don Juan of the hospital.” Once they move to California, their roles reverse: Paz becomes the family breadwinner, while Pol works as a security guard. Their lives change further when, in 1990, they invite Hero, their niece thought to have died years earlier, to stay with them on a tourist visa. Hero’s story is the focus of the novel, as she develops a close friendship with Roni, the couple’s 7-year-old daughter, and accompanies Roni on visits to faith healers who seek to cure the child’s eczema. Hero begins a relationship with Rosalyn, the daughter of one of the healers. Castillo incorporates snippets of the Tagalog, Ilocano and Pangasinan languages throughout her tale, and some of the novel’s most memorable scenes depict the decade Hero spends with an armed resistance group that fights against dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ government. If Castillo overdoes some details—she references food too often—America Is Not the Heart is still an earnest contribution to the ongoing discussion of immigrant life in America. —MICHAEL MAGRAS


Doubleday $26.95, 352 pages ISBN 9780385541695 Audio, eBook available


Ariel Lawhon’s two previous historical novels delved into the Jazz Age in New York City (The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress)

and the final flight of the Hindenburg in 1937 (Flight of Dreams). In her latest, she imagines the last months of Russia’s royal Romanov family—Czar Nicholas II; his wife, Empress Alexandra; their four daughters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia; and their son, Alexey—following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Lawhon focuses on Anastasia, the youngest daughter, illuminating those harrowing months in late 1917 and 1918, beginning when the imperial palace is taken over by the revolutionary army. The family is put under house arrest, limited to the few rooms not occupied by soldiers, and their activities are closely monitored. Lawhon recounts their haunting journey east into Siberia by train, when the girls, including Anastasia, are raped. The family is housed in an abandoned army barracks in the “godforsaken outpost” of Tobolsk. Their lives become even more unbearable when the Red Guard takes command, their mission to cruelly punish the family for their former excessive lifestyle. From Tobolsk they are sent further east to the town of Ekaterinburg, where, in July 1918, the whole family is executed by firing squad. Or—did Anastasia somehow miraculously escape the massacre? Threaded in and out of the chapters recounting the last days of Anastasia and her family is the story of a young woman who, two years later, is pulled from a canal in Berlin and claims to be Anastasia Romanov. She has scars that could be from bullet wounds, and she bears a remarkable resemblance to the young Romanov duchess. Those who refuse to believe her story give her the name Anna Anderson and see her merely as a fortune seeker. Lawhon’s extensive research traces Anna’s steps backward from 1970, when a Hamburg court determines that her claim is “not proven.” In the years leading up to this moment, she is institutionalized, interviewed by Anastasia’s family and contemporaries, and romanticized in plays and movies. The truth of her own sad story

FICTION is revealed only at the conclusion of Lawhon’s mesmerizing saga, which encompasses over 50 years and travels from revolutionary Russia and interwar France to the United States in the 1970s. Though DNA evidence has finally proven what happened to the Romanov family, Lawhon’s labyrinthine tale remains fascinating to the end. —DEBORAH DONOVAN

WE OWN THE SKY By Luke Allnutt

Park Row $26.99, 368 pages ISBN 9780778314738 Audio, eBook available


Everything changes in a couple’s life when they go from being “just us” to “we three.” Rob meets Anna at Cambridge; love and marriage ensue; and then there’s Jack. Winsome, beautiful Jack loves tall buildings, taking pictures with his very own camera and eating special cheese on toast. He is adored by his parents, who are in awe of him—after all, it was so hard to conceive. In We Own the Sky, first-time novelist Luke Allnutt creates an arresting intimacy between this family of three. The center around which Rob and Anna now spin is Jack. Work and friends and all the rest that used to define their lives fade to the background, especially after 5-year-old Jack’s stumbles and fainting spells lead to an upending, devastating diagnosis. From that moment, their lives are thrust into a world of hospital visits and online support forums, where Rob and Anna seek advice from parents who have been down this road before. In time, Rob and Anna start to approach Jack’s illness with very different attitudes, and the divide begins to crack them apart. Funny, heartfelt and honest, We Own the Sky is hard to put down but equally difficult to pick back up. Allnutt excels at capturing the full range of emotion and how

a single moment can crystallize your whole life—dividing it into “important” and “not important,” before and after. When a softhearted taxi driver won’t accept Rob’s payment for their ride after yet another doctor’s visit, Allnutt writes, “Sometimes love comes from the strangest places. People don’t realize how much they can break your heart.” In writing We Own the Sky, Allnutt proves that sometimes authors don’t know their heartbreaking power either. —MELISSA BROWN


Putnam $26, 336 pages ISBN 9780735214347 Audio, eBook available


between ingénue and “a certain age.” The cult hit she starred in 20 years earlier (the aptly titled show “Alter Ego”) is about to be fêted at a fan convention, and she’s feeling the disconnect between her heroic character and her present-day hot mess. Stewart, the critically acclaimed author of The Myth of You and Me, toggles back and forth between the two star-crossed lovers, both of whom are keen to attempt fence-mending but are kept apart by circumstance until a dramatic and (dare we say it?) heroic gesture dramatically flips the script. Stewart’s copious research brings the less exotic elements of stardom (insecurity, on-set tedium, lack of privacy, fluctuating finances) into sharp relief, and her characters are far more believable than most who share the small screen with Charlie and Josie. —T H A N E T I E R N E Y

COUNTRY DARK In the 1966 introduction to the paperback edition of his novel Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” These are wise words for any of us to follow, but especially for TV actors Josie Lamar and Charlie Outlaw, the protagonists of Leah Stewart’s What You Don’t Know About Charlie Outlaw. And what exactly don’t we know about Charlie? At the outset, tons, but we get to join him on his journey of self-discovery and psychic rehab after a magazine interview goes sideways, provoking a breakup with longtime partner Josie. Unlike most of us who nurse our romantic wounds more locally, Charlie has traveled to a tropical island, which sets the backdrop for not only soul-searching but also kidnapping. While his fame has not preceded him, his American citizenship has, making him an attractive target for The Gang That Couldn’t Think Straight. Meanwhile, back on the mainland, Josie is struggling to find her place in the world as an actor and a woman in that prickly hammock

By Chris Offutt

Grove $24, 240 pages ISBN 9780802127792 eBook available


Award-winning writer Chris Offutt is the author of the New York Times notable book The Good Brother (1997), as well as several excellent story collections and memoirs. His bleak, savage depictions of rural down-andouters combine the literary style of James Dickey with the noir chops of Daniel Woodrell. He owns a well-deserved reputation as a writer’s writer. Fresh off his 2016 memoir, My Father, the Pornographer, Offutt returns with his second novel, his first in over two decades. While Country Dark, a tale of family loyalty and violence in the hills of Kentucky, does not measure up to those past efforts, it’s still a slick bit of backwoods devilry. The book spans around 20 years in the life of Tucker, a Korean War veteran, and his wife, Rhonda.

Sliced into four sections and arranged chronologically, it opens in 1954 as 17-year-old Tucker walks the last 100 miles home after his discharge from the army. In the course of a day or two, Tucker confiscates a salesman’s pistol, saves 14-year-old Rhonda from rape— which, coming at the hands of her brutal uncle, means Offutt isn’t exactly slaying a hillbilly stereotype—and proposes marriage. Leap ahead a decade: Tucker is running moonshine and scrambling to take care of his wife and five kids. Four of the children have such serious intellectual disabilities that state workers decide to institutionalize them. This doesn’t sit well with Tucker, a man fiercely protective of his family, and the threat touches off a violent chain of events that will alter the lives of everyone involved forever. Tense and atmospheric, Country Dark is firmly rooted in time and place, with the verisimilitude expected from a writer who has made the shadowy hills of Kentucky his own. —IAN SCHWARTZ

THE BALCONY By Jane Delury

Little, Brown $26, 256 pages ISBN 9780316554671 Audio, eBook available


With the exceedingly rare exception of literary genius, a first novel from even the most gifted short story writer is a risky effort, and not always successful. This is why Jane Delury is deserving of recognition: With immense storytelling gifts and spare but luminous prose, she is one of the few writers whose debut will have readers begging for a second novel. The Balcony unfolds in 10 nonchronological chapters—each of which could be a perfect short story—that introduce a cast of characters spanning several generations from 1890 to 2009. From great loves and fleeting lust to hunger and genocide, each




The play’s the thing


wo new adaptations of King Lear and Macbeth revisit the Bard’s vision of power and its corruptibility, drawing deeply from the well of his obsession with greed and ambition.

Tessa Gratton’s The Queens of Innis Lear (Tor, $26.99, 576 pages, ISBN 9780765392466) mines a magical landscape tortured by madness, while Macbeth by Jo Nesbø (Hogarth, $27, 464 pages, ISBN 9780553419054) casts its namesake character in a 1970s Scottish noir. The Queens of Innis Lear turns Shakespeare’s tragedy into a sweeping fantasy that pulls back the curtain on a family soaked in bloody conflict. When the king of Innis Lear turns away from the island’s traditional earth magic and forces his kingdom to rely on star prophecy, the splintering of his family begins. But it is the king’s descent into dementia that creates a climate ripe for betrayal and sows the seeds of discord between his three daughters. Elia, the youngest and most devoted daughter, is shunned and exiled by her father when she refuses to proclaim her love for him. When Lear’s warrior daughter Gaela joins forces with her cunning sister Regan to claim the throne, the stage is set for war. Moving among them is Elia’s childhood friend, the scorned bastard Ban, whose loyalty shifts between the players with deadly precision. Gratton’s literary landscape is lush and full of unique magical elements. The trees, winds and waters of Innis Lear whisper to the inhabitants of the island, especially those who refuse to respect the prophecies of the stars. This beautiful retelling of King Lear probes the nature of madness and power within a


stunning new fantasy world. Set in the gritty industrial wasteland of the Scottish coast, Nesbø’s Macbeth turns “the Scottish play”—Shakespeare’s definitive exposition on the thirst for power—into a violent police procedural. Duncan is a visionary chief of police poised to bring down both a notorious biker gang and the mysterious drug lord Hecate. Aided by SWAT team leader Macbeth and Narcotic Unit leader Duff, Duncan plans to eradicate the drug trade. But Macbeth falls under the spell of his paramour, Lady, as she whispers of his potential for advancement. Lady’s stratagems play into Hecate’s plans to gain a puppet within law enforcement. As Macbeth’s star ascends through murder and mayhem, he descends further into madness. The latest in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, in which acclaimed authors put their own spin on Shakespeare’s works, Macbeth perfectly pairs a modern master of crime fiction with Shakespeare’s bloody tragedy. While retaining most of the original character names from Macbeth, Nesbø masterfully crafts fully fleshed players from each original role to present a visceral, contemporary exploration of ambition and corruption. From the mists of a mystical isle to the grime of a decaying city, Gratton and Nesbø retell two of the Bard’s best-known plays with refreshing vision and respect for the original tales. The Queens of Innis Lear and Macbeth are wonderful returns to the works of Shakespeare.

reviews character’s story is connected to a once lavish estate (including a servants’ cottage, a manor and, of course, a balcony) in the French countryside. Families appear, then reappear in later chapters: “A Place in the Country” introduces the Havres, whose descendants and lasting heartbreak thread throughout several other sections. The actions of a World War II resistance hero affect the lives of his grandsons, whose own children continue to bear the weight of choices made before them. The Balcony beckons readers to abandon preconceptions about generational legacies, motherhood and the ideal, pastoral French village. Benneville, the fictional setting of Delury’s novel, was nearly destroyed by bombs during World War II and, a generation later, is a hardscrabble, industrial exurb of Paris in the midst of gentrification. As Delury describes, it’s far from charming: “This was not exactly the country—Benneville had grown since Jacques was a boy, moving closer to Paris on a wave of concrete.” The final chapter of The Balcony is written in a dramatically different freeform style, and some readers will wish for a more satisfying ending without Delury’s sudden embrace of a quirky, unconventional structure. However, this is a small concern, and readers are more likely to lament that the novel has come to a close, leaving them longing for more. Delury is sure to win the hearts of all those who appreciate a smart, elegantly written story. —KAREN ANN CULLOTTA

VARINA By Charles Frazier Ecco $27.99, 368 pages ISBN 9780062405982 Audio, eBook available


FICTION with the tiny revolver given to her by her husband, Confederate President Jefferson Davis—was one she chose not to embrace. Told in a nonlinear fashion to one of her long-lost children, renowned author Charles Frazier’s new novel, Varina, recounts her life both before and after the nation’s bloody Civil War in mesmerizing fashion. Her journey begins as a teenager when she marries the already widowed “Jeff” Davis as a matter of convenience, believing that doing so will result in a secure lifestyle on his Mississippi plantation. Through periods of on-again, off-again romance, Varina and Davis have several children. She even rescues a black child, James Blake, from a beating and makes him part of the family. When Davis enters politics and is appointed president of the Confederacy, Varina’s complicity makes her equally culpable. With Richmond falling to Union forces, Varina is forced to take the children and flee south. Varina relates the group’s slow, arduous travels on the country’s back roads, contending against inclement weather, disease, roving brigands and bounty hunters. In an uncertain time when refugees—“hungry, desperate rebel soldiers and freed slaves alike”—are unsure what is to become of them, Varina inspires her family to “just keep going one more day and one more day after that.” Frazier, best known for his National Book Award-winning novel Cold Mountain, returns to form with this emotional and often harrowing depiction of a complicated woman. While Frazier paints Varina as a strong mother and staunch defender of her husband, he skillfully shows the consequences of her complicity in Davis’ decisions. Frazier contrasts that with her later life as a writer in New York as she strives for the reconciliation of a fractured nation, even if it means admitting “that the right side won the war.” —G. ROBERT FRAZIER

The First Lady of the South, Varina Davis, made the best of her life one day at a time. Her only other option—to take her own life

Visit to read a Q&A with Charles Frazier.


ELASTIC By Leonard Mlodinow


Defining life on death row REVIEW BY DEBORAH MASON

In 1985, Jefferson County, Alabama, suffered a string of armed robberies. The robber would attack restaurant managers, take their cash, force them into the cooler and then shoot them in cold blood. Two managers died; the third survived and gave a description of the attacker to the police. Based on this identification, the sheriff’s department arrested Anthony Ray Hinton, an African-American man out on parole for auto theft. But Hinton had an ironclad alibi: At the time of the third robbery, he was at work 15 miles away, with a security guard who noted Hinton’s whereabouts throughout his shift. Furthermore, Hinton took and passed a polygraph test. He was innocent. Yet the district attorney pursued Hinton’s conviction with the grim determination of the furies, aided in his dogged efforts by an incompetent defense attorney, By Anthony Ray Hinton a racist jury and a judge who ruled in the State’s favor at every turn. St. Martin’s, $26.99, 272 pages Hinton was eventually tried, convicted and sentenced to death for the ISBN 9781250124715, audio, eBook available two murders. He spent 30 years on death row before being released MEMOIR in 2015. Hinton tells his story in his harrowing, powerful memoir, The Sun Does Shine. This book is filled with questions that infuriate. Why did the DA ignore the evidence of Hinton’s innocence? Why would the State ignore prosecutorial misconduct and refuse to consider new exonerating evidence? Why spend so much time, effort and money to execute a man for a murder he demonstrably did not commit? Yet The Sun Does Shine is also filled with grace. Through his faith in God, the love of his friends and mother, his commitment to the other inmates on death row and the unstinting support of his appellate attorney (Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative), Hinton maintained his soul in a soulless world. His experience gives him a peerless moral authority on the death penalty, and he raises powerful questions about the practice. Hinton’s voice demands to be heard.

LOOK ALIVE OUT THERE By Sloane Crosley MCD $26, 256 pages ISBN 9780374279844 Audio, eBook available


Hannah Horvath—Lena Dunham’s character on HBO’s “Girls”— famously declared, “I think I might be the voice of my generation. Or at least, a voice of a generation.” But while the erstwhile Hannah never lived up to that sweeping statement, Sloane Crosley is getting close, consistently delivering since her bestselling 2008 debut essay collection, I Was Told

There’d Be Cake. With her hilarious and astute observations, Crosley’s writing has garnered comparisons to heavyweights like Nora Ephron and David Sedaris. Her latest collection covers everything from fertility to vertigo, and it carries a newfound heft that can only be gained with age and experience. Like Sedaris, Crosley allows her essays to unfurl slowly and deliciously. Judging by the opening sentence of “If You Take the Canoe Out” (“The strongest impulse I’ve ever had to ride a baggage carousel was at the airport in Santa Rosa, California.”), I assumed that the essay would be about traveling. It sort of is, but it’s also about writing, marijuana and swingers. The most personal essay in the collection may be “The Doctor Is a Woman,” in which Crosley

recounts having her eggs harvested and frozen. “[O]ne day I was walking up my apartment stairs, flipping through my mail, when I came across a thin envelope with the cryobank’s logo,” she writes. “My eggs had never sent me actual mail before. Camp is fun. We are cold.” Once she’s endured the frankly horrifying process of attaining the eggs, Crosley is uncertain of her next move. “They are just floating fractions of an idea,” she writes. “I know that. But I had never seen a part of my body exist outside my body before. I felt such gratitude.” Crosley’s writing crackles with wit and humanity. Look Alive Out There reaffirms her place as one of the most generous essayists writing today. —AMY SCRIBNER

Pantheon $28.95, 272 pages ISBN 9781101870921 Audio, eBook available


We live in a time of great change, driven by the exponentially increasing power of computers. In order to thrive in this whirlwind of change, we need to rely on what Leonard Mlodinow calls elastic thinking. But there’s a problem. In his new book, Elastic, Mlodinow writes, “The technological advancement that makes elastic thinking ever more essential also makes it less likely that we’ll engage in it.” Mlodinow shows us the components of elastic thinking, like embracing eccentricity and novelty, letting go of cognitive filters, practicing mindfulness and even mindlessness. Along the way, Mlodinow provides a primer on the brain’s structures and brain research, showing us how we think and what, exactly, thought even is. Does this book sound heavy? It’s not. Mlodinow is a lively guide, and his writing on this complicated subject is clear and easy to follow. (He’s also a theoretical physicist who’s written several bestselling science books, collaborated with Stephen Hawking and written for “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”) To illustrate his points, Mlodinow offers a wide range of anecdotes made possible by elastic thinking, such as the illuminating moment that led Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein and the reasons behind the Allies’ success in the World War II Battle of Midway. He also interviews an array of people—not just scientists but also those who, in his view, exemplify some aspect of elastic thinking, people like Judy Blume and Seth MacFarlane. Elastic thinking is what makes humans human, Mlodinow asserts, and it’s something we’re far better at than computers and artificial intelligence, which is reassuring for us. While Elastic isn’t exactly a self-




The men behind the curtain


n the 1946 Broadway production of Annie Get Your Gun, Ethel Merman famously belted out, “There’s no business like show business.” Music theater legends Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Rodgers and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber would no doubt agree.

Rodgers and Hammerstein transformed the world of sound and stage, lighting up Broadway with one legendary success after another—think Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific and The Sound of Music—and doing their lyrical, tuneful best to revolutionize musicals in the 1940s and 1950s. Villainy, tragedy and romance colored their productions, creating a new mix of sentiment and gravitas, studded with catchy, memorable tunes and innovative melodies. Come backstage in Todd S. Purdum’s Something Wonderful (Holt, $32, 400 pages, ISBN 9781627798341) as he introduces the musical stars and up-and-comers of the day—Mary Martin, Yul Brynner, Julie Andrews and Gene Kelly, to name a few. Become part of the Big Black Giant (show business’s apt moniker for the audience) and live the drama of opening nights, when anything could happen—and often did, from train wrecks to triumphant debuts. Discover the complexities of the duo’s very different personalities and their decades-long partnership, all tied into the entangling business of Broadway. It’s all here in Purdum’s book. From describing the real-life moment that inspired “Some Enchanted Evening” to detailing the drafts for “Edelweiss,” Purdum has produced Something Wonderful indeed. The iconic composer Andrew Lloyd Webber celebrates his


70th birthday with the publication of his memoir, Unmasked (Harper, $28.99, 528 pages, ISBN 9780062424204). Filled with wit, self-deprecating humor and dollops of gossip, Lloyd Webber chronicles his decades of work in musical theater. The prolific composer (Evita, Cats, Phantom of the Opera and Sunset Boulevard, among others) claims Richard Rodgers as his hero, and like him, Lloyd Webber has become rich, famous, controversial and revered. Knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1992, he has earned seven Tonys, three Grammys, a Golden Globe and an Oscar. Lloyd Weber goes behind the scenes during a time when the Beatles were changing 1960s London and the song “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris first fused rock with orchestral music. Lloyd Webber ran with the idea of applying this new sound to a musical, while friend and lyricist Tim Rice took his story material from the Bible. Together they created Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. While some critics were agog at such seeming irreverence, audiences loved the sound and lined up for the shows. “Even if I haven’t got near to writing ‘Some Enchanted Evening,’” Lloyd Webber modestly concludes, “I hope I’ve given a few people some reasonably OK ones. I’d like to give them some more.” Wouldn’t that be something wonderful?

reviews help book, it does offer quizzes to help readers determine their levels of elastic thought, and each chapter offers exercises and suggestions for building elastic thinking skills. —SARAH McCRAW CROW


Liveright $28.95, 416 pages ISBN 9780871404473 Audio, eBook available


twins were born and the political upheaval in 1830s America when the twins were taking their show on the road. Many of the subjects are timely today, such as the racial injustices the twins faced as Asian immigrants, often doubly worse for them due to their conjoined state. As Huang points out, “[T]o them, being human meant being more than one, inseparable from the other—never alone in life, death, happiness, pain, procreation, or even answering the call of nature.” Inseparable is an engaging look at the lives of two singular people. —BECKY LIBOUREL DIAMOND

As conjoined twins, Chang and Eng Bunker could easily have chosen to live as recluses, away from the public’s gawking stares. But instead, they traveled the world as entertainers. In Inseparable, Chinese-American professor Yunte Huang (Charlie Chan) faithfully chronicles their incredible story. Born in Siam in 1811, Chang and Eng Bunker were the namesakes for the term “Siamese twins.” In their late teens, they were discovered by an enterprising Scotsman who convinced them to join him on an exhibition tour of Europe and America. The 19th century was a time when “curious freaks” were put on display. As noted by Huang, these carnival acts were “indubitably the birthplace of American mass entertainment.” But the twins became adept and engaging performers. Financially savvy and frugal, they were able to save their earnings and settle in North Carolina, where they married two sisters and fathered a total of 21 children. This specific factor has long been a curiosity, and Huang surmises the twins’ lovemaking logistics and technique, referencing previous biographies, medical commentary and even the autopsy notes in which the lead doctor asked the widows “the most sensitive question about their sex life.” Throughout the book, Huang provides historical perspective by noting other global events of the time, such as a slave uprising in New Orleans the year the

Visit to read a Q&A with Yunte Huang.


HMH $25, 208 pages ISBN 9781328787309 Audio, eBook available


The mind is a precious thing to lose. Dr. Barbara K. Lipska, the director of the Human Brain Collection Core at the National Institute of Mental Health, learned this terrifying truth firsthand. In January of 2015, a melanoma diagnosis turned her once nimble mind into a war zone. With alarming quickness, the metastatic melanoma in Lipska’s brain attacked her frontal lobe, the area of the brain responsible for behavior, personality, learning and voluntary movement. She began to transform into a distant stranger, experiencing symptoms that mimicked dementia and schizophrenia. Friends and family members wondered if this new version of their beloved mother, wife, friend and colleague would permanently replace the woman they once knew. Lipska waged a tough battle against her faulty brain, and remarkably, through radiation and immunotherapy, she recovered.

NONFICTION As a medical professional whose career revolves around analyzing the molecular and genetic structure of the brain, it seems a cruel trick of fate that Lipska was struck by a disease that affected her own brain function. In The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind, Lipska recounts her ordeal with equal parts raw honesty and clear-eyed conviction. Her brush with death changed her physically, mentally and emotionally, and lead to a realization that the tragedy of an unlived life should be feared more than death itself. Lipska writes, “I’ve become more aware of living. I try harder than ever to find meaning in ordinary things every day.” While this sentiment could seem trite in other memoirs, Lipska avoids sentimentality and doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that her descent into “madness” resulted in collateral damage among her loved ones; she was somewhat safe in the eye of the storm. Lipska’s memoir makes clear that, in many ways, our brains are still a mystery. —VANESSA WILLOUGHBY

DENMARK VESEY’S GARDEN By Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts The New Press $28.99, 464 pages ISBN 9781620973653 Audio, eBook available


Robert Barnwell Rhett Sr. certainly had a knack for speedy reinvention. The Charleston, South Carolina, newspaper owner was among the most vehement proponents of slavery and secession before the Civil War. Yet only a decade later, he was denying that slavery was the main motive behind the conflict. Rhett helped lead the way for generations of white Southerners who propagated the “Lost Cause” myth: the gauzy tale of kindly slave masters who had fought only for states’ rights. It was a pervasive myth in white Charleston, where “willful forgetting,” as authors Ethan J.

Kytle and Blain Roberts call it, became a way of life. The married historians’ book Denmark Vesey’s Garden is a remarkable exploration of the radically different memories of antebellum Charleston that coexisted for 100 years. In white Charleston’s memory, your granddad wasn’t a slave trader, and slaves were happy “servants.” Old plantations were marketed to visitors as “gardens.” Black Charlestonians begged to differ. Immediately after the war, when it was still safe, they held citywide freedom festivals. Later, with Jim Crow laws grinding them down, they taught black history in segregated schools, quietly telling their grandchildren how they really felt about Old Master. Starting with the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the two worlds finally collided. Change was slow and fitful, but it was real. One emblematic example: A statue of Denmark Vesey, the leader of an 1822 slave rebellion, was erected in a public park in 2014, though not without contentious debate. Kytle and Roberts caution against complacency in the face of racism. Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who killed nine African-Americans in Vesey’s old church in 2015, had visited the city’s historical sites ahead of the massacre—and learned all the wrong lessons. —ANNE BARTLETT



the title of your new book? Q: What’s 

Q: Describe the book in one sentence.

the most challenging part Q: What’s  of adulthood?

something you wish you knew when you were Q: What’s  younger?

Q: If you were a character in a book, who would you be? Q: What’s one thing you would like to learn to do?

Q: Are you there yet?

By Eileen McNamara

Simon & Schuster $28, 416 pages ISBN 9781451642261 Audio, eBook available


If you’re sitting down with the audaciously titled Eunice: The Kennedy Who Changed the World by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Eileen McNamara, you may find yourself exhausted by vicariously participating in the life of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the woman who most famously founded the

AM I THERE YET? Instagram sensation Mari Andrew shares essays and illustrations on navigating life in Am I There Yet?: The Loop-de-loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood (Clarkson Potter, $19.99, 192 pages, ISBN 9781524761431). Andrew’s relatable tales offer insight and humor on topics from heartbreak, love, loss and rejection to career confusion and questions like, “Where exactly am I going?” The modern quest for meaning has never been more on point.


reviews Special Olympics but also served as cheerleader-in-chief for the Kennedy political dynasty. Shriver, the fifth of nine children born to Joseph Kennedy Sr. and his wife, Rose, never stopped working for the causes she believed in. The book’s full title serves as a pointed reminder that had she been a man, Shriver would have been fully encouraged to ascend to the political heights achieved by her male family members, such as her brother, John F. Kennedy. The Kennedys have fiercely controlled their family’s reputation, making honest biographies a challenge. But following Shriver’s death at 88 in 2009, members of the Shriver family provided McNamara with access to 33 boxes of private papers that open a window into a remarkable life, warts and all. Most amusing among the papers are Shriver’s notes to herself, including tips on how to make small talk at the many parties she attended. But access isn’t everything, and McNamara wields a deft touch as she recounts Shriver’s role in the Special Olympics and extending rights for the developmentally disabled, which was surely influenced by the tragic story of her older sister Rosemary, who was born with intellectual disabilities and sent out of public view after a botched lobotomy. Audaciously titled or not, Eunice leaves no doubt that its subject truly changed the world. —KEITH HERRELL

NATURAL CAUSES By Barbara Ehrenreich

Twelve $27, 235 pages ISBN 9781455535910 Audio, eBook available


We all know what it takes to be healthy—or at least we think we do. The advice comes at us from all directions: Crush your workout! Learn to meditate! Eat vegan! In her latest investigation, Nat-


NONFICTION ural Causes, the sharp-tongued Barbara Ehrenreich, whose bestselling Nickel and Dimed scrutinized the inner workings of the American economy, approaches the proclamations of the healthand-wellness culture with a wary eye. Ehrenreich examines the cellular activity in the human body in order to discover if everything we do to control our health is really worth doing. Ehrenreich has the science chops to do a serious study—a Ph.D. in cellular immunology comes in handy when exploring the world of macrophages and neutrophils. What she finds is surprising. Our immune cells, it turns out, are not always the good guys defending the body against invaders. Sometimes, they attack or help the attackers (like cancer) spread their influence. With a scientist’s keen eye, Ehrenreich precisely explains the intricacies of the immune system. She’s equally at home in other disciplines, too, moving seamlessly from biology and philosophy to history and poetry. Her book is richly layered with evidence, stories and quotations from all of these disciplines and sprinkled with barbed humor. Ehrenreich lets nobody off the hook, skewering Silicon Valley meditators and misogynist obstetricians with equal vigor. It’s impossible to read this book without questioning the popular wisdom about the body and its upkeep. At the very least, you’ll be able to make better decisions about how to work out, whether to have that mammogram and when to just order the steak. —SHEILA M. TRASK

NO WAY HOME By Tyler Wetherall St. Martin’s $26.99, 320 pages ISBN 9781250112194 Audio, eBook available

Tyler Kane. By age 9, her family had lived in nine homes. By age 12, she began to understand why. Her name wasn’t Kane after all, she learned, but Wetherall. Her family’s frequent moves to different continents weren’t adventures—they were hiding from authorities. Wetherall and her siblings were the children of a fugitive. Their parents began to reveal the truth as it became inevitable. Wetherall would notice a black car following her outside of her mother’s house, and every visit to her father was shrouded in mystery. On Wetherall’s 12th birthday, Scotland Yard finally caught up to her father. But even as her dad served prison time for his crimes, she remained unsure about what he had done that landed him there. Wetherall and her sister dreamed up potential scenarios. Surely it was more than tax evasion. But could their father have done something as serious as kill a person? And if he had, how would they react? Their father had shared literature that seemed designed to increase their empathy for people on the run—Les Misérables, for example. But The Fugitive was off limits. Had he done something they would be able to forgive? Wetherall’s captivating No Way Home is a reminder that our actions affect not only our own paths but also the lives of everyone close to us. Our stories are intertwined with our loved ones’ lives, no matter what distances—or steel bars—come between us. —CARLA JEAN WHITLEY

AIR TRAFFIC By Gregory Pardlo Knopf $26.95, 272 pages ISBN 9781524731762 Audio, eBook available



Life was an adventure for young

How are families shaped by race, economics, genetics, love, jealousy and rifts? These are the questions Gregory Pardlo ponders

in his highly anticipated memoir, Air Traffic. “In studying my family’s destruction, I am studying my own,” he writes in a raw, telling statement. Pardlo enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame in 2015, when his second book of poetry, Digest, won the Pulitzer Prize. Air Traffic is a narrative digest of his life and those of his family members, several of whom also experienced dramatic rises and falls. The poet delves deeply into a mosaic of memories, chronicling growing up black in Willingboro, New Jersey, in the 1970s and the battles he, his brother, father and other relatives have fought with depression, alcoholism and mental illness. The Pardlos seemed firmly entrenched in middle-class security until August 5, 1981, when President Reagan fired more than 11,000 striking air traffic controllers, including Pardlo’s father. Gregory Sr. never quite recovered from the blow. Meanwhile, during his teen years, the author’s “self-image was caught in a bitter custody battle between Alex. P. Keaton and Jimi Hendrix,” yet his adult years morph into a yo-yoing stream of failure and success. The book’s powerful final chapter, “On Intervention,” offers a fascinating account of how Pardlo’s younger brother, Robbie, became the subject of the A&E reality show “Intervention” in 2010. Robbie shot to fame as a musician, once singing backup for Whitney Houston and forming the R&B trio City High, known for its Grammy-nominated hit, “What Would You Do?” Robbie’s drinking, however, caused his life to implode. “Alcoholism was the Muzak of our familial dysfunction,” Pardlo explains. “Most of the time we didn’t even notice it.” Ironically, the intervention helped the author, not his brother, find his way to sobriety. However, Pardlo writes, “There can be no happily ever after for a recovering drunk like me.” That being said, Pardlo seems to be defying the odds, turning his pain into mesmerizing poetry and prose. —ALICE CARY








A lyrical debut that soars REVIEW BY HILLI LEVIN

What is the color of grief? When 15-year-old Leigh thinks about the answer to this question after her mother’s suicide, she feels empty— translucent. She’s an artist, and every feeling she experiences has a corresponding color. There’s so much Leigh is struggling to understand—the depression that lead to her mother’s death, her frustrating romantic feelings for her best friend, her family’s long-buried secrets and her own Taiwanese-American identity. But the most puzzling of all is how her mother turned into a beautiful red crane, and what the bird’s nighttime visits mean. The first message she can interpret urges her to visit her maternal grandmother and grandfather (Waipo and Waigong) in Taiwan, where she can immerse herself in her mother’s world of Mandarin and Taiwanese culture as she’s always longed to do. By Emily X.R. Pan The Astonishing Color of After is Emily X.R. Pan’s debut novel, and Little, Brown, $18.99, 480 pages it gracefully explores the depths of a teen’s trauma without ever feeling ISBN 9780316463997, audio, eBook available overly dramatic or saccharine. The thread of magical realism is woven Ages 12 and up through this story so skillfully that the reader will join Leigh in accepting it almost immediately. The story is centered on a heart-wrenching FICTION mystery (how should Leigh interpret the last line of her mother’s suicide note and her spirit’s puzzling transformation?), yet Pan’s prose is as warm and free-flowing as Waipo’s oolong tea, making this story a surprisingly uplifting one.


Caitlyn Dlouhy $17.99, 192 pages ISBN 9781481422253 eBook available Ages 12 and up


Grace King is determined to avoid turning into her mother, who left when she was still a child. Since that day, Grace’s father has been doggedly researching a cure for the schizophrenia that his beloved wife suffered from. He has become distant and consumed by this goal, and he’s missing signs of the same disease manifesting in his daughter. But Grace is smart and independent, and her internship at her father’s lab helps her discover a potential breakthrough in schizophrenia research. How-

ever, the events leading up to her discovery are thrown into doubt by the unraveling of her own mind. Can Grace’s findings be trusted, and can she be trusted to know what is truly real? Printz Award winner An Na’s brilliant new work is a slim yet power-packed read. She digs deep into the mind of a teen with schizophrenia, immersing readers in Grace’s scattered thoughts, hallucinations and delusions. The dizzying pace of the narration at times leaves the reader confused about what is truly happening around Grace and what is not. Through short chapters divided by seasons, readers witness the progression of Grace’s illness as her reality becomes more and more distorted. An incredibly immersive story that is both excellent and unsettling, younger teens would benefit from reading The Place Between Breaths with an adult. — E R I N A . H O LT

Welcome to the City of Sin, where secrets hide in every shadow.


Knopf $19.99, 272 pages ISBN 9781524700386 Audio, eBook available Ages 12 and up


If you think you’ve read everything there is to read about the Holocaust in young adult fiction, think again. True, Vesper Stamper’s debut novel, What the Night Sings, contains scenes that have come to be staples of the genre: a Nazi raid, an overcrowded train journey, prisoners starving in concentration camps. But Stamper frames these familiar motifs with a question not often addressed in Holocaust literature: What happens after liberation? Gerta is a singer and a violist who has lost her family and her

The journey of a lifetime becomes the fight for her life.

18_046_BookPage_TEEN_April.indd 1

27 2/14/18 2:24 PM

reviews voice. Roza is relearning to play the piano with damaged hands. Lev finds solace in his prayers. Micah is scouring Europe for survivors who are willing to build a new life in British-occupied Palestine. As each character begins to heal in body, soul and spirit, they wrestle with difficult questions about their identities, their relationships and their futures. Suffused with detailed descriptions of Jewish life and customs, What the Night Sings is illustrated with Stamper’s sepia-tone drawings, and her background as an artist shines as she uses light, shadow and repetition to depict everything from meager food rations to a glorious wedding gown. Do not miss this stunning debut. —J I L L R A T Z A N

Visit to read a Q&A with Vesper Stamper.

AND SHE WAS By Jessica Verdi Point $18.99, 368 pages ISBN 9781338150537 eBook available Ages 13 and up


Tennis is Dara’s life—she’s been playing for as long as she can remember, so she’s stoked to have the chance to compete internationally. She’s eager to get a passport, but she’s a bit nervous to ask her mom, Mellie, for her birth certificate; Mellie has always been reticent about the identity of Dara’s father. Dara secretly uncovers the document, only to realize she doesn’t recognize the names of her father or her mother. Her mind reels— has she been kidnapped? Adopted? What she knows for sure is that she’s been lied to. When Dara confronts Mellie, she learns the shocking and initially disconcerting truth—Mellie is transgender and was actually Dara’s biological father. Feeling betrayed, lost and uncertain of her past and future,


TEEN Dara takes off with her best friend, Sam, to find her biological mother’s parents and learn more. When Dara meets them, she immediately feels loved and accepted. But as she learns more—from her grandparents and also from the simultaneous stream of constant and honest emails from Mellie—Dara comes to the crux of the matter as she posits, “Could it be possible that where I come from and who I am are two different things?” And She Was is a stunning and timely novel that presents a raw story of what it means to be transgender. This is an important and conversation-sparking addition to any YA collection. —SHARON VERBETEN

EMERGENCY CONTACT By Mary H.K. Choi Simon & Schuster $17.99, 400 pages ISBN 9781534408968 Audio, eBook available Ages 14 and up


Penny is thrilled to make the 79mile drive to Austin, Texas, where she’s about to begin her freshman year of college—far away from everything she’s been itching to leave behind. Sam runs a coffee shop near her new campus and lives in the shop’s storage room upstairs. He has plans to become a documentary filmmaker, but first, he has to figure out how to put his past behind him. When Penny and Sam meet, they swap numbers in case of emergency. But soon they find themselves texting nonstop, growing closer to one another than to the friends they see in real life. But will Penny and Sam’s digital-only relationship be enough to help them through some of the toughest transitions they’ve ever faced? At first glance, Mary H.K. Choi’s first novel is a lighthearted young adult romance. But dig a little deeper, and her bubbly prose reveals a poignant slice-of-life story built around a diverse group of

vulnerable characters dealing with complicated issues. Though the narrative voice feels sprawling and occasionally forced, the character voices crackle as Sam, Penny and their friends relate to each other in a sharp, witty way that readers will recognize and enjoy. Emergency Contact is a bittersweet peek into the lives of two teenagers who come together in the right moment to help each other deal with life’s curveballs.

the kinds of murders and tragedies fueling the Black Lives Matter movement. Teen readers will be left with much to contemplate and with no easy answers. As Marvin concludes, “This is only the beginning of a long fight. It’s my turn to speak up and resist.” —ALICE CARY

Visit to read a Q&A with Jay Coles.



Little, Brown $17.99, 304 pages ISBN 9780316440776 Audio, eBook available Ages 14 and up


Putnam $17.99, 384 pages ISBN 9781524741709 Audio, eBook available Ages 14 and up



Jay Coles’ powerful, anguished debut novel, Tyler Johnson Was Here, inspired by so many tragic headlines, is already garnering worthy comparisons to 2017’s award-winning The Hate U Give. Of particular interest is the fact that Coles is a 22-year-old recent college graduate, composer and professional musician whose writing was inspired by the police brutality experienced by his family and community. The story centers on twin brothers Tyler and Marvin. While a college recruiter from MIT courts Marvin, Tyler gets involved with “a legit thug” in their neighborhood in Sterling Point, Alabama. When the boys attend a warehouse party that’s raided by police, they lose track of each other in the ensuing chaos. One of the officers shoots Tyler, and a video surfaces that shows the unarmed teen saying, “Leave me alone. I’m just going home.” Marvin is left to grapple with grief, guilt, hate, anger, the legal process and the fight for justice. What this novel may lack in nuance, it makes up in heart, soul and ambition, providing an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at

Necessity is the mother of reinvention, or so Kay Donovan believes. After feeling responsible for two tragedies at home, Kay enrolls in boarding school at Bates Academy in hopes of a do-over. A new crop of friends (mean girls with money) and her newfound soccer stardom give Kay the popularity and edge she’s always wanted. But all of that is threatened when Kay and her friends discover the dead body of Jessica Lane, a fellow student and artsy social activist, whom none of the girls say they knew. In her wake, Jessica has left behind a revenge website with a countdown clock that only Kay can access. Kay’s task? Take down her new friends or risk her own dirty laundry being aired. Dana Mele’s People Like Us is a dark and delicious boarding school murder mystery that delivers. Lack of parental supervision, difficult home lives and extreme wealth create the perfect atmosphere for secrets, lies and a page-turning read. A murder is just the beginning. What these characters will do to hide their dirtiest deeds easily eclipses the killing that sets this thrilling tale in motion. — K I M B E R LY G I A R R A T A N O



Zombies aren’t the only monsters here


or Justina Ireland, the dark history of the American Civil War and the fantastical concept of zombies aren’t nearly as far apart as most people think.

“My brain works in concentric circles, and I always think of zombies as leading to upheaval and change, as signaling the end of an era and the beginning of a new one,” Ireland says. “And the Civil War did the same thing historically—derailed everything. The only difference is that you’re defending yourself from your neighbor rather than a ravaging horde.” Ireland is speaking from her home in York, Pennsylvania, about an hour from both Gettysburg and the city of Baltimore, where her third novel, an artful blend of alternate history and horror titled Dread Nation, takes place. The Battle of Gettysburg, which resulted in the largest number of casualties in the entire Civil War, “seemed like the perfect terrible moment for things to get even worse,” says Ireland. “War is horrible enough because you’ve just lost someone, but there’s a whole new level of trauma when your dead friend is trying to eat your face.” When Dread Nation opens, we meet the smart, fiery, impulsive Jane McKeene, who’s been training


By Justina Ireland

Balzer + Bray, $17.99, 464 pages ISBN 9780062570604, audio, eBook available Ages 14 and up


for years at Miss Preston’s School of Combat for Negro Girls. Jane was born the same week that the zombies—known as “shamblers”—first rose from their graves. Since Jane is biracial, she was sent to combat school as required by the Native and Negro Reeducation Act—in order to “groom the savage” out of her. Though she’s one of the top students, Jane isn’t content to become a bodyguard for the daughter of a rich, white family. When Jane and her rival—the demure, rational, beautiful Katherine—are invited to the mayor’s house as a reward for their lifesaving zombie-combat heroics, they soon discover that the zombies aren’t the only evils they’ll have to face down, nor are they the most sinister. “A good zombie story is never really about the zombies,” Ireland says, and while dealing with various hindrances, her characters develop a “consciousness of knowing that they live in a country that doesn’t necessarily value them the same way it values other people.” Throughout Dread Nation, the author incisively and repeatedly broaches racism, classism, sexism and religion as tools for social control, as well as the politicization of zombies and the use of pseudoscience to try to justify it all. “I’ve always found it interesting how people can do both good work and terrible work with the same passages of the Bible. And these are still things we do today—we still use religion and science to push our own prejudices and beliefs, to wield ideologies that promote our own personal agendas.” Therein lies the power of a well-written zombie story: It can provide an opportunity for society to talk about how our truest selves come out during difficult situations. “I think that’s something a lot of zombie literature gets wrong,” Ireland says. “When

things get bad, we all of a sudden expect people to change drastically from the people who they were. But if they are inherently selfish and already doing what they can to survive for themselves, then they’re only going to cling more tightly to the old ways of life, rather than letting them go and adopting new ones.” Consider the civil rights movement, post-Civil War Reconstruction or any opportunity for people to make a big change. “[People] want to protect the things they like, who they are and their identity,” Ireland says. “And I don’t think that’s ever changed throughout history. They “There’s opted for the a whole small changes because they new level were more of trauma comfortable when your as a society.” For many dead friend of these same is trying to reasons, eat your Ireland found the world of face.” Dread Nation to be a difficult one to explore. “Time travel’s not fun for people of color,” she says. “It’s like asking, ‘What terrible era can I go live in?’ But real people survived it, and that merits depicting.” Before she’d even begun writing Dread Nation, Ireland’s desire to communicate these suppressed stories was confirmed in the most authentic and motivating way possible. During a visit to a predominantly black school, Ireland brought copies of her two previous



books, Vengeance Bound, which features a white main character on the cover, and Promise of Shadows. A student noticed that Ireland’s book jackets did not feature a person of color and raised her hand to say, “No disrespect, miss, but why’d you write a white girl? I can’t find books with people like me in them.” Ireland was mortified. “I had to go back and do some self-examination,” she says. “I want to be able to go to a school and proudly hold up a black girl on the cover and say, ‘I wrote this book. I hope you like it because I wrote it for you.’ And every time I sit down at the computer to write, I can hear that little girl’s voice.” With Dread Nation, Ireland wanted to write the best book she could. She was also thinking of the kind of readers she wanted to invite into her world (which she plans to revisit in a follow-up novel). “I just wanted this book to land in the hands of people who need to see themselves reflected. I wanted to find something that resonates with people and makes them sit up and take notice of a world they hadn’t paid attention to before—and that it leaves them feeling refreshed and alive.”


reviews T PI OP CK



A sweet ode to the sea REVIEW BY JULIE DANIELSON

By Sophie Blackall

Little, Brown, $18.99, 48 pages ISBN 9780316362382, eBook available Ages 5 to 8


WHO WILL BELL THE CAT? By Patricia C. McKissack Illustrated by Christopher Cyr

Holiday House $17.95, 32 pages ISBN 9780823437009 Ages 4 to 7

When Coretta Scott King Award winning-author Patricia McKissack passed away in 2017, she left behind a legacy of more than 100 children’s books. In the posthumously published Who Will Bell the Cat?, McKissack revisits a thought-provoking fable. When Marmalade—a cold, sick and hungry tabby cat—seeks shelter in a barn one winter evening, the resident mice take pity on her and nurse the cat back to health. Despite the care she received, Marmalade begins to terrorize the mice as soon as she’s feeling better. Scared but not deterred, the mice convene, and Smart Mouse


“On the highest rock of a tiny island at the edge of the world stands a lighthouse.” Thus opens Sophie Blackall’s exquisite new picture book, Hello Lighthouse, a song of praise dedicated to lighthouses, love and finding your way in the dark. A bearded lighthouse keeper carefully tends to the structure and its internal workings. But he’s lonely, so he faithfully writes to his love and throws his bottled letters into the rocky waves. Later, his wife arrives at the little lighthouse by ship, and readers watch as their lives unfold and their family grows. Blackall’s text, capturing years but never rushed, flows rhythmically like so many ocean waves lapping the rocks. Design choices, including the trim size, cover art, dust-jacket art and title font, contribute to this book’s tender and reverent tone. An informative note on the closing endpapers pays tribute to the work of keepers. The rich colors and calming repeated patterns, playful perspectives (many of them aerial) and textured, precise details of Blackall’s illustrations (how she captures movement in the ocean waves) make this one of the most dazzling picture books you’ll see this year. Illustration © 2018 Sophie Blackall. Reproduced by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

offers a solution: Put a collar with a bell around Marmalade’s neck, and the sound will warn them of her approach. But who will bell the cat? Many mice try and fail—Wee Mouse, Tiny Mouse and Teeny Mouse narrowly escape—and even the nearby Rat Pack is no help. While the mice are devising their next plan, four humans move into the house next door. Realizing they don’t have to be friends with the humans in order to seek their help, the mice strategically drop the collar where a little girl can find it. Soon, she finally succeeds and fastens it around Marmalade’s neck. Illustrator Christopher Cyr’s digital art plays with chiaroscuro to make this tale deliciously ominous. Marmalade’s luminous eyes shine menacingly in the barn’s shadowy corners, while diffused sunlight radiates around the scheming— and later victorious—mice. But what to do about those humans? McKissack lets the mice—and clever children—ponder this dilemma on their own. —ANGELA LEEPER

were limited. After a failed nursing career (she would get queasy), Titcomb heard of a new field of work called librarianship. Glenn traces Titcomb’s path to becoming the head of the Washington County Free Library in Maryland and highlights the literacy programs she founded. In language easily understood by capable readers, Library on Wheels is both entertaining and informative. With original photographs and color prints from the era, the book feels like a scrapbook, which makes it fun to read. Don’t skip the final pages, which include an interesting author’s addendum, endnotes, select bibliography and an index. —J E N N I F E R B R U E R K I T C H E L

THE PARKER INHERITANCE By Varian Johnson Arthur A. Levine $16.99, 352 pages ISBN 9780545946179 eBook available Ages 8 to 12


Twelve-year-old Candice is spending the summer at her late By Sharlee Glenn grandmother’s old cottage in Lambert, South Carolina, while her Abrams Atlanta home is being renovated. $18.99, 56 pages ISBN 9781419728754 Her parents’ divorce, while amicaeBook available ble, has left Candice feeling adrift. Ages 8 to 12 It can be lonely to resettle in a new town, even temporarily. But then Candice meets Brandon, a shy, self-proclaimed book nerd like herFor most Americans today, it’s self. While rummaging through the hard to imagine a world without a attic, the two unearth an old letter from the city’s mysterious benefaclibrary, but there was a time when libraries were scarce. Before the tor that contains clues to a treasure hunt. The prize is a substantial Works Progress Administration sent packhorse librarians to reach sum of money. Candice is eager rural Appalachia in the 1930s, there to solve the mystery, not just to alleviate her boredom but also to was the bookmobile. The first of these was created by a Maryland li- vindicate her grandmother—Lambrarian in 1905. Part library history bert’s first African-American city and part biography, Sharlee Glenn’s manager—who was forced out of Library on Wheels: Mary Lemist her job when she tried to solve this Titcomb and America’s First Book- very puzzle. Armed with ingenuity and a love of reading, Candice and mobile is an interesting look at a Brandon bike throughout town, forgotten piece of America’s past. interviewing longtime residents Glenn’s book begins by looking closely at the life of Mary Lemist and combing through the town’s Titcomb, who was born in a time archives. when career paths for women With a nod to The Westing Game,


CHILDREN’S Varian Johnson has penned a smart mystery that deftly explores the history of racial segregation in the South, modern-day discrimination, friendship, love and bullying. Interspersed throughout the novel are the historical narratives of those at the center of the puzzle. Their unique voices and compelling backstories enrich the plot and provide context for the mystery. Beautifully written, this complex story will captivate an adult audience as well. — K I M B E R LY G I A R R A T A N O

YOU GO FIRST By Erin Entrada Kelly

Greenwillow $16.99, 304 pages ISBN 9780062414182 Audio, eBook available Ages 8 to 12


Fresh from winning the 2018 Newbery Medal for her previous novel, Hello, Universe, Erin Entrada Kelly brings readers another beautifully written story of hard-won friendship. Charlotte Lockard and Ben Boxer may live hundreds of miles apart—she’s in Philadelphia, he’s in Louisiana— but they have plenty in common. Both are passionate about their interests. Both excel at online Scrabble (which is how they met). Both are having a hard time navigating their first year of middle school, and they’re experiencing family crises. And even though they don’t know it, both Charlotte and Ben are each other’s only real friend. Charlotte is busy navigating shifting allegiances at school and her father’s illness at home. Meanwhile, Ben launches a student council campaign, in part to distract himself from his parents’ divorce. When Charlotte and Ben chat during their Scrabble games, they inevitably overstate their happiness and understate their loneliness—but will their long-distance friendship give them the courage to be more authentic, both online and in real life? Kelly’s novel takes on some challenging topics, from divorce

to aging parents to bullying. Both Charlotte and Ben are flawed— they misrepresent themselves and are sometimes unkind—but these flaws are also what make their stories feel honest and real. For the kids who read this story, Charlotte’s and Ben’s stumbles will make their journey toward happiness so much more satisfying.

meet  JUANA MARTINEZ-NEAL the title of your Q: What’s  new book?

would you describe Q: How  the book?


REBOUND By Kwame Alexander


has been the biggest influence on your work?

Illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile HMH $16.99, 416 pages ISBN 9780544868137 Audio, eBook available Ages 10 to 12

Q: What 

your favorite subject in school? Why?


“It was the summer of 1988, / When basketball gave me wings / and I had to learn / how to rebound,” says 12-year-old Charlie Bell. Though he dreams of heroics on the court, truth is, he’s not that good and avoids playing. His father just died, and he’s become closed off and consumed by grief. Frustrated, Charlie’s mother sends him off to his grandparents’ home for the summer. Charlie doesn’t want to go, feeling that “soaring above / the sorrow and grief / seemed impossible.” But because he’s only 12 years old, Charlie doesn’t understand that he’s not the only one suffering a loss. Charlie lost a father, but his mother lost a husband, and his grandparents lost a son. This novel-in-verse, the prequel to the Newbery Medal-winning The Crossover (2014), includes comic-style illustrations by Dawud Anyabwile that portray Charlie’s hoop dreams, Granddaddy’s pithy reflections on life and plenty of homespun philosophy drawn from basketball. As Charlie begins to open up to the world and his place in it, he rebounds with the love and support of his family and friends. Charlie finds many things over the course of the summer—a restored sense of joy, a new sense of normal and his game. —DEAN SCHNEIDER

Q: Who was your childhood hero?

books did you enjoy as a child? Q: What 

one thing would you like to learn to do? Q: What 

message would you like to send to young readers? Q: What 

ALMA AND HOW SHE GOT HER NAME Author-illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal takes readers on a charming genealogical journey in Alma and How She Got Her Name (Candlewick, $15.99, 32 pages, ISBN 9780763693558, ages 4 to 8). When Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela wonders about her long name, her father shares the inspiring and moving stories behind each branch of her Peruvian family tree.


BookPage April 2018  

Book reviews, Author interviews

BookPage April 2018  

Book reviews, Author interviews