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interview | genevieve gornichec. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
fiction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Giving a voice to an unsung figure in Norse mythology
2021 Debuts to Ignite Your Book Club On Sale Now
nonfiction . . . . . . . . . . . 21
interview | anna malaika tubbs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
young adult. . . . . . . . . . 27
Celebrating the women who raised Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and James Baldwin
children’s. . . . . . . . . . . . 29
cover story | black history month . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 America’s Black forefathers and foremothers inspire new dreams
interview | chang-rae lee . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
A vibrant picaresque novel leaps over generational divides
whodunit . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
q&a | nancy johnson. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
audio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Social commentary has never been more riveting to read
romance. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
q&a | lynne bertrand. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
“Drives home a lightning bolt of empathy.” —BARBARA KINGSOLVER
On Sale February 16
book clubs. . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Mapping the City of the Uncommon Thief
sci-fi & fantasy. . . . . . . . . 8
feature | black history for young readers . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
lifestyles . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Four vital tales from African American history
meet | don tate. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
well read. . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Meet the author-illustrator of William Still and His Freedom Stories
the hold list . . . . . . . . . . 14 “A stellar debut from a huge talent.” —LYDIA KIESLING, author of The Golden State
Cover design courtesy of One Signal Publishers / Cover illustration by Monica Ahanonu
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B O O K P A G E • 2 1 4 3 B E L C O U R T AV E N U E • N A S H V I L L E , T N 3 7 2 1 2 • B O O K P A G E . C O M
On Sale March 16
“Fierce . . . Daring and devastating.” —FIONA MOZLEY, author of Elmet, finalist for the Booker Prize ALGONQUIN BOOKS
by bruce tierney Serpentine
Cases don’t come much colder than the 36-year-old murder of Dorothy Swoboda, whose burned-beyond-recognition remains were found in a similarly scorched late-model Cadillac down a steep embankment off of Los Angeles’ serpentine Mulholland Drive, thus providing the title of Jonathan Kellerman’s excellent Serpentine (Ballantine, $28.99, 9780525618553). Now, all these years later, the case has been assigned to LAPD Lieutenant Milo Sturgis, who enlists consulting psychologist Alex Delaware as backup. Neither expects much to come of further investigation. The cops back in the day had their suspicions, but nothing panned out. Nowadays the case files are sketchy, and the best line of inquiry seems to be to interview some of the original investigating officers and witnesses and see what insights they might have had that never made it into the official case files. Only problem is, Milo finds that virtually everyone with any insight into the case has met an untimely death. There is no statute of limitations on murder, so it would appear that someone is doing his (or her) level best to stay one step ahead of this latest investigation, and in this case “level best” makes for a scorching good read.
Before She Disappeared Lisa Gardner’s thriller Before She Disappeared (Dutton, $27, 9781524745042) introduces us to Frankie Elkin. For a time, Frankie struggled to find some purpose in her life, some reason to keep moving forward while in recovery for alcoholism. She discovered her niche as an advocate for missing persons, seeking out those who have disappeared, the unimportant, the hitherto forgotten. She does this on a volunteer basis, taking no payment, propelled along by a remarkable success rate, at least by one metric: She is very good at finding people. Unfortunately, the subjects of her searches routinely turn up quite dead. There is hope yet for her new case, however. Haitian teenager Angelique Badeau was a stellar and motivated student, intent on a career in medicine. Then, nothing. She disappeared nearly a year ago, leaving virtually no trace. As Frankie’s investigation progresses, it offers an up-close look into some of the issues that plague American society today—racism, antipathy toward immigrants and the trafficking of young women—while providing a blistering narrative and sympathetic characters (even an annoyingly endearing cat!). Before She Disappeared is billed as a standalone, but I’m thinking it would be the perfect setup for a terrific series.
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Knock Knock It’s likely that regular readers of this column are familiar with my gushing over mystery novels from Europe’s frozen north, a subgenre known as Scandinavian noir. After the death of his longtime writing partner Börge Hellström, Swedish writer Anders Roslund returns with Knock Knock (Putnam, $27, 9780593188217), his first solo novel and the next installment of his and Hellström’s gripping series featuring police superintendent Ewert Grens and undercover informant Piet Hoffman. Every cop has one nagging case that they were unable to solve, a case that remains within their being, waiting for some kind of closure. For Ewert, it was the murder of a family 17 years ago in which only a 5-year-old girl was spared, although she was unable to yield any usable clues to the killings. Now there has been a break-in at the same apartment, and Ewert, who is on the verge of retirement, would like nothing more than to see this case resolved before he rides off into the sunset. Meanwhile, Piet, having been outed as an informant, is being blackmailed by lethal munitions brokers, his family threatened to the point that they must go into hiding. Roslund cleverly interlaces these two disparate storylines, and readers will marvel at just how much action can take place in a period spanning only three days. Knock Knock has handily reaffirmed all my Scandi-noir gushing.
H Blood Grove It is a fair bet that if Walter Mosley has a book coming out during any given month, a) it will get reviewed here, and b) there’s an excellent chance it will be the best mystery of that month. Case in point: his latest, Blood Grove (Mulholland, $27, 9780316491181). Private detective Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins is nudging 50 years of age in this novel, which is set in late1960s Los Angeles. The Vietnam War has taken its toll on the nation. Hippies are tuning in, turning on, dropping out. Racism is rampant. And in the middle of this uneasy milieu, Easy gets approached by a vet suffering from what we now call PTSD. The vet spins an incredible story: He went to the aid of a screaming woman in distress at a remote hilltop cabin, stabbed her attacker and then lapsed into unconsciousness. When he awoke, there was no woman, no stabbed man, really no indication whatsoever that any of his memories were anything more than a hallucination. Nothing is quite what it seems in this place, in this time, in this book. Lurking just beneath the surface are a heist gone bad, a gangster or three on the vengeance trail and a trio of lethal ladies. And there are all manner of ’60s cultural references, from Lucky Strike cigarettes to Edsel cars to free-love clubs—not to mention a character who bears more than a passing resemblance to real-life record producer Terry Melcher, who was briefly associated with Charles Manson. I read it all in one sitting, as I just could not stop turning the pages.
Bruce Tierney lives outside Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he bicycles through the rice paddies daily and reviews the best in mystery and suspense every month.
by anna zeitlin
H I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are Co-creator and star of the musical comedy T V show “Crazy Ex- Girlfriend” Rachel Bloom presents a kooky collection of essays that are every bit as hilarious, brash and humiliating as you’d expect from a woman known for singing big Broadway-style numbers dedicated to stalking and antidepressants. I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are (Hachette Audio, 5 hours) is a book made to be listened to, from Bloom’s original songs that detail her experiences growing up as a musical theater kid to her sample audition monologue in which she jumps from accent to accent in an absurd demonstration guaranteed to snag the attention of any casting directors out there. With a background in comedy, Bloom knows how to deliver a joke, and her narration is funny, touching and real.
Dolly Parton, Songteller Any fans of Dolly Parton’s music will be delighted by Dolly Parton, Songteller (Recorded Books, 5.5 hours). The country music superstar goes deep, revealing the stories behind many of her greatest songs and digging in to family history, musical feuds and the interactions with fans that have inspired her songwriting. Parton’s narration feels natural and off the cuff, like listening to stories from an old friend—and isn’t she the most beloved old friend? It’s no surprise that an artist known for writing songs that tell rich stories would make for a captivating storyteller. Only on the audiobook can you hear clips of the songs she discusses, which makes the yarns around them all the more special.
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Long Time Coming The bestselling author of Tears We Cannot Stop taps into current events and calls for a reckoning with race in Long Time Coming (Macmillan Audio, 5 hours). Delivering a harsh but hopeful message, Michael Eric Dyson bears witness to the recent killings of Black men and women by the police and puts their violent deaths in context, tying them to history and our present moment. He zooms in on five hugely pivotal tragedies of racism, breaking down each element to its core as a way to understand it, preserve it for the ages and move forward. In particular, his recounting of George Floyd’s killing is haunting and vital. A professor at Georgetown University and an ordained minister, Dyson delivers hard-toswallow truths with powerful and knowledgeable authority.
Anna Zeitlin is an art curator and hat-maker who fills her hours with a steady stream of audiobooks.
by christie ridgway
H Big Bad Wolf Contemporary life looks different in the alternate reality of Suleikha Snyder’s Big Bad Wolf (Sourcebooks Casablanca, $8.99, 9781728214979), where the existence of shape-shifters and other supernatural beings has recently been revealed to the public. Lawyer and psychologist Neha Ahluwalia’s new client is Joe Peluso, an ex-soldier and wolf shifter who committed murder in an act of vigilante justice. He’s big, brooding and so attractive that she can’t suppress her longing for him. When Joe manages to break out of jail, Neha is at his side, and he can’t turn her away. They hide out and then seek help from an underground team of supernatural beings devoted to people who, like Joe, were turned into shifters by the government. Big Bad Wolf is filled with cinematic action and blazing passion, but the characters (including an intriguing pansexual vampire) are well drawn, and the world building is first-rate despite the breakneck pace. Snyder’s vision of how the political and social order would change in the wake of such paradigm- shifting news is spot on. Readers of sexy paranormal romance will thoroughly enjoy this first in a new series—and clamor for more.
A Lady’s Formula for Love A Victorian widow and scientist pursues her passion in A Lady’s Formula for Love (Berkley, $16, 9780593200629) by debut author Elizabeth Everett. Lady Violet Hughes has established a social club for ladies, the real function of which is to mask a collective of women interested in math and science. When Violet’s stepson asks her to use her scientific prowess for a secret government project, he also provides her with a bodyguard, Arthur Kneland, to protect her and the club. Violet is fascinated by the taciturn Arthur and even more by his rare smiles. Arthur is smitten as well, but he resists; he can’t afford distraction if he’s going to keep Violet safe. Though the pair are worlds apart in intellectual interests and social class, their hearts find common ground. Arthur represents a beloved romance trope: the silent hero who becomes a skilled linguist in the language of love. Sensual and tender love scenes and secondary female characters seeking their own empowerment make this an entertaining, standout debut.
H Wild Rain Adventure awaits in the Wyoming Territory in Wild Rain (Avon, $7.99, 9780062861719) by Beverly Jenkins. Rancher, horse-breaker and all-around badass Spring Lee (who stole many a scene during her first appearance in Jenkins’ Tempest) rescues an injured man during a blizzard. She brings Garrett McCray to her cabin, where she learns he’s a reporter from the District of Columbia who’s traveled all the way to Wyoming to interview her famous brother, Dr. Colton Lee. Garrett soon finds himself as intrigued by the independent and accomplished Spring as he is entranced by the surrounding moun-
tains. The two discuss their families and personal experiences as a Black man and woman from very different parts of the country, and face down bigotry together in the neighboring community of Paradise. Spring is an engaging, action-oriented character, and she’s met her match in the more cerebral and softer-edged Garrett. Their love story is sigh-inducing, the scenes of passion sizzle, and the enriching historical details of the Black experience—including Garrett’s service in the Union Navy during the Civil War—make this a romance not to be missed.
Whether you’re a longtime romance fan or are jumping in to the genre for the first time, celebrate Valentine’s Day with a love story. Driven An ex-FBI agent hunts a serial killer who appears to be back from the dead in Driven (Zebra, $8.99, 9781420153019) by Rebecca Zanetti. Angus Force shot the murderer himself and was grievously wounded in the process, but now women are dying in the same gruesome manner as before. As he and his team, the secret Deep Ops Unit, investigate the new deaths, the clues begin to point to Angus. Could he actually be responsible? Nari Zhang, the team’s on-staff psychologist, knows he’s innocent, even though it’s clear he’s a man driven by pain and guilt. She sticks close to help uncover the truth, even after it becomes clear that the killer has her in his sights. Angus is the sort of grim, wounded hero that every romance fan wants to see healed, but smart and self-aware Nari protects her heart even as the two reluctant lovers come together in spicy scenes that match the pulsing suspense. The story moves fast, and there’s an unexpected twist or two, as well as a scene- and booze-stealing German shepherd that provides a little levity to this dark and satisfying romantic thriller.
The Duke Heist The Duke Heist (Forever, $8.99, 9781538719527) by Erica Ridley introduces a new series via a delightful family of orphans. As the six adopted siblings of a wealthy and eccentric baron, the Wynchesters are determined to recover a painting dear to their hearts and to their dearly departed adoptive father. Chloe Wynchester takes point on the plan to retrieve the artwork from the newest Duke of Faircliffe, Lawrence Gosling. Rebuffed initial overtures mean she must resort to more nefarious undercover measures—something familiar to a woman who survived her childhood by picking pockets. A chance encounter leaves Lawrence in Chloe’s debt and begins an association that allows love to blossom. But the impoverished duke needs a respectable heiress to restore his family’s fortunes and make up for his father’s mistakes, and the scandalous Chloe wants a man to love her for herself, not her bank account. Both will have to learn valuable lessons about self-respect and the limitations of society’s rules before finding their happy ever after. Ridley’s motley crew of Wynchester siblings is as charming as it is unforgettable, signaling more great romance ahead. The Duke Heist is everything a Regency romance fan hopes for.
Christie Ridgway is a lifelong romance reader and a published romance novelist of over 60 books.
by julie hale
Flights of fantasy Danvers, Massachusetts, site of the 1692 witch trials, is the setting of Quan Barry’s enchanting novel We Ride Upon Sticks (Vintage, $16.95, 9780525565437). The year is 1989, and the teenage girls on the Danvers Falcons field hockey team are desperate to get to the state finals, so they sign a pact of sorts with the devil. The pact seems to work, as the team hits a winning streak, and all manner of witchy teenage mischief ensues. As many ’80s references as a “Stranger Things” fan could desire and a group of unforgettable female characters make this a delightful read, and Barry’s exploration of gender roles and female friendship will spur Fight the winter doldrums spirited discussion in your with four fresh takes on the reading group. In TJ Klune’s fantastisupernatural. cal tale The House in the Cerulean Sea (Tor, $18.99, 9781250217318), Linus Baker, caseworker from the cold, impersonal Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY), must decide if a group of enchanted youngsters poses a threat to the future of the world. When he befriends the odd bunch (which includes a gnome, a strange blob and the actual Antichrist) and falls for Arthur Parnassus, their kindhearted and devoted caretaker, Linus’ loyalty to DICOMY wavers. Klune contributes to the tradition of using speculative fiction to obliquely discuss the experiences of marginalized groups in this funny, inventive and gently told novel. Stephen Graham Jones’ chilling The Only Good Indians (Saga, $16.99, 9781982136468) tells the story of Lewis and his three friends, Native American men who left the Blackfoot reservation in search of a different life and who share a bond from a traumatic event in their childhood. When Lewis is visited by an ominous elklike figure, mysterious deaths start to occur, and the men realize that their past has—literally—come back to haunt them. Jones’ atmospheric novel is compelling both as a horror novel and in its treatment of guilt, social identity and the complexities (and dangers) of assimilation. The canny, surprising ways he combines Native history and traditions with horror tropes will give your book club plenty to talk about. J.D. Barker and Dacre Stoker offer a spine-tingling supplement to Bram Stoker’s iconic Dracula with Dracul (Putnam, $9.99, 9780593331194). Bram is the main character and narrator of Barker and Stoker’s Ireland-set tale (and yes, Dacre Stoker is the real-life great-grandnephew of the Victorian author). As a boy, Bram has strange encounters with his nursemaid, Ellen Crone, who seems connected to a series of local deaths. When Bram and his sister, Matilda, learn years later that Ellen is a member of the bloodsucking undead, they find themselves in the center of a terrifying mystery. Reading groups will enjoy making connections between Stoker’s original story and this creepy companion novel as they examine the conventions and devices of both supernatural narratives.
A BookPage reviewer since 2003, Julie Hale recommends the best paperback books to spark discussion in your reading group.
BOOK CLUB READS SPRING FOR WINTER MY DARK VANESSA by Kate Elizabeth Russell “ My Dark Vanessa is utterly truth-rattling, humane in its clarity and chilling in its resonance. An absolute must read.” —GILLIAN FLYNN, #1 New York Times bestselling author
ALL THE WAYS WE SAID GOODBYE by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White “A sweeping historical novel about the strength of women who find themselves in impossible situations.” —POPSUGAR
BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME
by Julia Claiborne Johnson “Johnson’s rollicking comedy sizzles... brims with the clever banter and farcical situations of a classic Capra film.” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (STARRED)
THE SHAPE OF FAMILY by Shilpi Somaya Gowda “A deeply involving story of a family falling apart...rings so true.” —EMMA DONOGHUE, bestselling author of Room
f William Morrow I BookClubGirl
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by chris pickens
H Remote Control A beautiful, sad, enthralling novella set in a futuristic Africa, Remote Control (Tor.com, $19.99, 9781250772800) is a refreshing oasis of creativity. One day, an object fell from the sky and Fatima forgot her name. The encounter imbued her with terrible, destructive powers, and she gave herself a new name: Sankofa. With a fox companion and a reputation for bringing death to everyone she meets, she searches endlessly for the object in the hope of finding answers to the innumerable questions in her mind. Hugo Award winner Nnedi Okorafor is no stranger to the novella; her Binti trilogy is a laudable (and much lauded) example of how freeing the form can be. Remote Control never includes any detail that isn’t needed, and Okorafor’s word choices have a simple beauty. They’re elegiac, like a translation from a text recently restored to us from the sands of time. I implore you to discover this lovely, captivating story for yourself.
The Mask of Mirrors Lush, engrossing and full of mystery and dark magic, The Mask of Mirrors (Orbit, $16.99, 9780316539678) by M.A. Carrick is sure to please fantasy readers looking to dial up the intrigue. In this first installment of a new trilogy, Renata Viraudax, a thief and con artist, travels to the city of Nadezra to infiltrate House Traementis, planning to take advantage of their weak position within the aristocracy. But she slowly discovers a sinister magical threat and an underbelly of corruption that threaten the stability of the city. Can she find the right allies in a place where everyone’s running a con of their own? The richness of Nadezra—the class systems, the detail with which things like clothing are rendered—is a joy, but the story itself also brims with intrigue, wonder and real pain. Jump in and get swept away.
The Echo Wife
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When I read Sarah Gailey’s Magic for Liars, I was drawn in by their wit and nimble control over their prose. Their new novel, The Echo Wife (Tor, $24.99, 9781250174666), delivers a tight, thrilling and funny ride. Evelyn Caldwell, a brilliant pioneer in human cloning technology, isn’t happy. She’s haunted by her divorce from her cheating husband, with whom she shared her research. Martine is a clone of Evelyn, designed to be everything Evelyn is not: gentle, submissive and calm. When Martine calls Evelyn in the dead of night asking for help, the two women are forced to find a way to survive together. Gailey’s writing is controlled, visceral and especially dazzling when Martine and Evelyn are in a room together. Fans of “Big Little Lies,” The Island, Frankenstein and “Killing Eve” will love this gripping, skillfully told firecracker of a book.
Chris Pickens is a Nashville-based fantasy and sci-fi superfan who loves channeling his enthusiasm into reviews of the best new books the genre has to offer.
interview | genevieve gornichec
© DAINA FAULHABER
In many ways, Loki is the least interesting person in the novel. He’s certainly far less interesting than Angrboda, the woman who can see Ragnarök coming but knows she can do nothing to stop it. After graduating from Ohio State University, Gornichec became involved in Viking Age Living History, a community that re- creates the customs, fighting styles and arts and crafts of Viking life. Her experience with the group helped to root her book in historical reality. Originally, she described Angrboda as wearing heavy, ornate brooches and beads, inspired by the jewelry that archaeologists have found at Viking burial sites. But after struggling to do daily chores around camp in similar clothes, Gornichec knew she needed to simplify the witch’s clothVisit BookPage.com to ing. Away went the brooches and beads, read our starred review. replaced by a more sensible ensemble. Gornichec’s command of detail in The Witch’s Heart is immense, pulling readers in and making them examine not just Angrboda’s deepest, most unsettling worries but also the tiniest, most mundane moments of her life. Indeed, some of the most beautiful scenes in the book are the smallest—Loki snoring in bed or Angrboda’s efforts to make her cave more suitable for habitation with help from her huntress friend, Skadi. The grand background of foundational epics such as “Beowulf” is still there, but Gornichec grounds the story in its practicalities. Because the Norse pantheon can only end with Ragnarök, Gornichec always assumed that she knew exactly how The Witch’s Heart would end. Her editor, Jessica Wade, didn’t quite A hypnotic debut gives voice to an unsung figure of Norse mythology. agree. “She said, ‘I know what you’re trying to do here, and I think that you could craft an ending Genevieve Gornichec’s debut novel, The Witch’s Heart (Ace, $26, 9780593099940), was one month in the writing but 10 years in the making. that’s more satisfying to your readIn the fall of 2011, she needed to write a term paper for a college class on Norse ers . . . without compromising the source material.’ ” Gornichec says mythology. Her professor said the paper could be about anything . . . except Loki. Luckily, the professor had said something else that drew Gornichec’s attention, that her editor’s intervention “single- about the relationship between female figures in Norse mythology and the handedly saved everyone” from the concept of fate and death. The comment led her to Loki’s mate, Angrboda, a original ending by encouraging her to witch-mother with the gift of prophecy. build something that is instead more “bittersweet” and “satisfying.” Gornichec ended up writing a paper that connected Angrboda to other Gornichec hopes that readers will female figures in the mythology—eventually. “Before that,” the author says from her home in Ohio, “I wrote The Witch’s Heart in three weeks for NaNoWriMo walk away from her book wanting [National Novel Writing Month] in the wee hours of the morning while I should to know more, ready to ask and find have been working on that paper.” answers to questions about the more In The Witch’s Heart, Angrboda is trying to build a new identity for herself mysterious figures of Norse mytholat the edge of existence after being thrice burned for refusing to give Odin the ogy. “A couple people have asked me if secrets of the future he desires. But then Loki comes along. Despite her initial I’m ever going to do a Sigyn companmistrust of the trickster god, Angrboda falls in love. The witch raises their three ion novel of some sort or if I’m ever improbable children—the goddess Hel, the Midgard Serpent Jörmungandr going to write her side of the story,” and the wolf Fenrir—in her cave in the forest. At first she is safely hidden from she says, referring to Loki’s AsgardOdin and the burden of knowing what fate has in store for her children, but ian wife. “And my answer to that is her sheltered life won’t last. She of all people knows that she can’t hide forever. no.” She encourages fans to write Ragnarök (the apocalyptic end of the world in Norse mythology) is coming, and that story themselves, to “explore on everyone must play their part. their own and find their own concluLike John Gardner’s Grendel or Madeline Miller’s Circe, The Witch’s Heart sions.” Because, as she notes, what shifts the focus of a well-known myth to a secondary character with stunning and is The Witch’s Heart but “an alterheartbreaking results. The novel actually started as a “love letter, to Loki, really,” nate universe mythology fan fiction, really?” but by the end, Gornichec realized that she’d “really made him suck” and that —Laura Hubbard the story was more of a love letter to “Angrboda . . . and all the other characters.”
The witch comes out of the woodwork
by susannah felts
H Craft in the Real World Matthew Salesses’ Craft in the Real World (Catapult, $16.95, 9781948226806) is a book whose time has come, and not a moment too soon. A critique of longheld assumptions about how creative writing should be taught, it is “a challenge to accepted models,” including “everything from a character-driven plot to the ‘cone of silence,’ ” which silences a manuscript’s author while their piece is being workshopped. Salesses, who is the author of three novels, invites the reader to rethink the very notion of what constitutes craft and offers alternatives to a workshop model proliferated by, and largely for, white men. The world has changed, and the writing workshop must catch up. An essential addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in creative writing, Salesses’ text provides a compassionate approach sure to bring a new generation of authentic voices to the page.
The Mighty Bean All hail the humble bean: Nutrient-rich, central to cuisines worldwide, inexpensive, easy to cook and with a low carbon footprint, beans are truly a power food. With her new book, The Mighty Bean (Countryman, $22.95, 9781682686379), Judith Choate, author of An American Family Cooks, is our guide through the vast world of legumes, beginning with a bean glossary. (What wonderful names these little guys have: Rattlesnake! Eye of the goat! Black valentine!) With recipes ranging from Texas caviar to West African peanut soup to white bean gnocchi with bacon and cream, this cookbook travels the globe through “pulses” (another name for beans, and a tidbit I’m delighted to have picked up here) and encourages experimentation. I’m feeling inspired to shop the Rancho Gordo site ASAP.
by robert weibezahl
The Conjure-Man Dies Eighty-nine years ago, in 1932, a 35-year-old African American physician and writer named Rudolph Fisher published The Conjure-Man Dies: A Harlem Mystery (Collins Crime Club, $15.99, 9780008216474), the first known crime novel by a Black American. Fisher died only two years later, when he was still tragically young, so we will never know what later works might have secured his place among golden age mystery writers. On its own, however, this trailblazing work of fiction is notable for its depiction of Harlem’s African American society and culture in the 1930s. Its characters are exclusively Black and, most significantly, so are its crime-solving police detective, Perry Dart, and his forensics expert physician sidekick, John Archer.
The first known mystery novel by an African American writer returns to print, transporting readers to 1930s Harlem.
I first heard the word cottagecore from my 12-yearold daughter, likely my informant for all trends henceforth. For the uninitiated, cottagecore is a way of being—an aesthetic, a vibe, if you will— exalting the soothing textures and gentle rhythms of pastoral life. “It focuses on unplugging from the stresses of modern life and instead embracing the wholesomeness and authenticity of nature,” explains Emily Kent in The Little Book of Cottage core (Adams, $17.99, 9781507214633). A cottage core existence might include relaxing tasks such as baking bread, gardening and pouring your own candles—though I have to wonder how truly calm one may feel when feeding a sourdough starter or smoking the hives or coping with tomato blight. (Forgive me. I’ve suffered my share of frustrations during various vaguely cottagecore endeavors.) But simply brewing a cup of proper English tea is entry-level cottagecore that anyone can enjoy.
One of the first Black men in the police force to be elevated to detective, the assured and perceptive Dart admits that “in Harlem one learns most by seeking least—to force an issue was to seal it in silence forever.” The mystery unfolds largely through his dogged and wily interrogation, and the plot is marked by a number of unexpected twists, particularly one halfway in when, after African psychic and “conjure-man” N’Gana Frimbo has been murdered and sent to the medical examiner, his body disappears, calling into question the very nature of the crime they’ve been investigating. The narrative itself is typical of the wider genre during this period, heavy on explicatory dialogue and a bit short on action. Still, Fisher’s way with description is commanding. “Out went the extension light,” he writes. “The original bright horizontal shaft shot forth like an accusing finger pointing toward the front room, while the rest of the death chamber went black.” Likewise, the banter among his ragtag cast is both musical and, at times, extremely amusing. “You’re an American, of course?” Dart asks one suspect. “I is now,” she responds. “But I originally come from Savannah, Georgia.” The memorable Harlem denizens that people the novel include a self-proclaimed (i.e., unlicensed) private eye, a dimwitted numbers runner, that haughty Georgia churchwoman and Frimbo’s mortician landlord. With its sharp Harlem rhythms and abundance of wise-talk, one can easily imagine the jaunty black-and-white film that Hollywood might have made of this novel, had Hollywood been interested in making films centering authentic Black characters during the early 20th century. The novel was, however, turned into a play two years after Fisher’s death. If you’re interested in more of Fisher’s writings, this book also includes Fisher’s last published story, “John Archer’s Nose,” which reunites Dart and Archer. This story hints at what might have come to pass for this Holmes and Watson pairing had its creator not died of cancer, which he likely developed from his professional experimentation with X-rays at his private practice as a radiologist in New York. Falling in and out of print over the years since it first appeared, The Conjure-Man Dies is now happily welcomed back to its rightful place both in the history of crime fiction and the wider canon of Black literature.
Susannah Felts is a Nashville-based writer and co-founder of The Porch, a literary arts organization. She enjoys anything paper- or plant-related.
Robert Weibezahl is a publishing industry veteran, playwright and novelist. Each month, he takes an in-depth look at a recent book of literary significance.
The Little Book of Cottagecore
interview | anna malaika tubbs
Mothers of the movement A new scholar uncovers the critical influence of the women who raised Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and James Baldwin.
© ANNA MALAIKA TUBBS
For Anna Malaika Tubbs, finding the inspiration ivory tower, where emerging scholars to write her first book was a numbers game. After are often encouraged to make their work watching Hidden Figures, the 2016 biographical “as elitist and complicated and boring as possible,” as she puts it. Because the drama about Black women who worked as mathematicians at NASA during the space race, Tubbs left activism of King, Baldwin, Malcolm X the movie theater feeling both enraged and inspired. and their mothers was intended to “I wanted to do something where I helped this issue benefit all people, Tubbs considered of uncovering more ‘hidden figures,’ ” she says from it unreasonable to write a text that was her home in Stockton, California. She wanted to accessible to only a few. “I’m just not write about women who “were there right in front willing to play that part,” she says. In fact, The Three Mothers is the first of us that we just weren’t paying more attention step down what Tubbs calls the “public to, or who were intentionally being kept from us.” With a background in sociology and gender studintellectual path” she has always wanted ies, Tubbs was well positioned for the task. But she to take, sharing knowledge with people also knew that, in order to entice readers, she would both within and outside the academy. need more than her sharp research skills; she would With its conversational style and anecdotal imaginings of moments for which need a hook. So she turned to Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin and Malcolm X, three of the most firsthand information is scarce, The brilliant leaders of the 20th century. Then she looked Three Mothers tells a captivating story at their mothers: Alberta King, Berdis Baldwin and of women traumatized by the nation Louise Little, respectively. they and their sons would ultimately help transform. When Tubbs learned that these women had been In addition to shedding light on the lives of born roughly six years apart (though some accounts Alberta, Berdis and Louise, Tubbs also illuminates of their birth years vary) and that their sons were Black motherhood in general. Tubbs, who became born within five years of one another, she knew she a mother herself while writing the book, intimately had uncovered an important connective thread. She understands what an undervalued vocation mothfollowed it, and the result is The Three Mothers, erhood can be. Tubbs is the partner of Stockton’s a book that maps how misogyfirst Black mayor, Michael Tubbs, noir (the unique intersection of and people often congratulate her Visit BookPage.com to read racism and misogyny experienced high-profile husband on the birth our review. by Black women) shaped the lives of “his” son while saying little to of three young civil rights activacknowledge the roles that she ists long before they raised sons or her mother-in-law have played who would become leaders in in the mayor’s personal and politthe movement. The Three Moth ical success. Tubbs suspects this is ers discusses Louise’s work with because many people still assume Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro that Black motherhood is neither Improvement Association, Alberan intellectually rigorous nor ta’s family history of faith-based actively anti-racist endeavor, but activism and Berdis’ early years she hopes her book can change as a poet and spoken-word artist. that. “Black motherhood is about As such, the book is part biogracreation, liberation and thinkphy, part history and part running ing about the possibilities of the social commentary on the events of world that we can be a part of,” the past century. People might pick she says. “So many times our kids it up because they are interested are painted as not human, and of in these iconic men, but what they course we see them as the most will discover is an extensive and incredible humans in the world. rewarding history of 20th-century Therefore, we have to change the world to see it the way we do.” Black women. The Three Mothers Tubbs intentionally wrote The Flatiron, $28.99, 9781250756121 This is illustrated time and time again in The Three Moth Three Mothers in language that is Biography counterintuitive to her academic ers as Tubbs explores how each training. After countless days in woman worked to make her son special collections archives, poring over newspaper see himself differently from the world’s harsh percepclippings, letters and interviews, Tubbs wanted to tions. For instance, Louise would reteach school create something accessible to those outside the lessons to Malcolm and his siblings to incorporate
“Black women hold the truth and the key to the future.” multiple languages and Afro-diasporic history. When a frightened young King and his father were harassed by white store clerks and policemen, Alberta would comfort her son but remind him that his father’s refusal to be treated like a second-class citizen was the right thing to do. And when a young Baldwin and his siblings were terrorized by his stepfather, Berdis stepped in, continually reminding her son that family solidarity and the fair treatment of others were important in spite of the abuse. In each of the book’s eight sections, Tubbs makes clear that, without these mothers’ instruction, none of the men born to them could have been the leaders they ultimately became. Though Tubbs is both excited and anxious about this spring—she will defend her doctoral dissertation and launch her debut book within weeks of each other—she feels that now is the perfect time for her work to enter the world, and she has high hopes for The Three Mothers. “I want it to be that declaration that Black women hold the truth and the key to the future. People are quite open to that idea, maybe for the first time,” she says, citing the recent inauguration of the first Black woman U.S. vice president as proof that the conversation is ripe for change. There’s no doubt that The Three Mothers will be at the forefront of that changing conversation about Black womanhood, perhaps leaving readers as inspired and determined as Tubbs was when she walked out of the movie theater nearly five years ago. —Destiny O. Birdsong
cover story | black history month
Looking back as Six books reveal the dreams of America’s Black forefathers
Our national conversation about anti-Black racism made 2020 a pivotal year—painful for many, cathartic for others, memorable to all. Now a new year brings new opportunities to listen to Black voices and stories. Pick up one of these titles to deepen your knowledge of our country’s past, and join the chorus of voices advocating for a better future.
Ida B. the Queen Ida B. Wells gets the royal treatment in Ida B. the Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells (One Signal, $27, 9781982129811), written by Michelle Duster, Wells’ great-granddaughter. From the 1890s through the early 20th century, Wells was a pioneering activist and journalist who fought racism by publicizing heinous acts of violence toward Black Americans during the Jim Crow era. Crafted with empathy for and intimate knowledge of this American icon, the book recounts Wells’ many groundbreaking achievements, which caused the FBI to dub her a “dangerous negro agitator” in her time. Unlike in a typical biography, however, Duster integrates her own perspective of her great-grandmother into this narrative, inspecting her family’s legacy along the way. Duster also outlines the cultural impact Wells had on her contemporaries, such as W.E.B. Du Bois, and draws a throughline from Wells’ defiant voice at the turn of the 20th century to the struggle for Black lives today. In addition to its compelling content, this book is also drop-dead gorgeous. Vibrant illustrations of Wells and other important history makers, such as Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Malcolm X and Bree Newsome, add even more color to their colorful lives. Wells was righteously indignant and wise beyond her era, and Duster translates her drive to today’s racial discourse with insight and grace.
H Four Hundred Souls If you’re looking for a single work that spans the entirety of the Black experience in America, pick up a copy of Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619–2019 (One World, $32, 9780593134047), edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain. This comprehensive meditation on Black history in the United States features 90 noteworthy Black authors and poets ruminating on the last 400 years—beginning with the date of the first recorded arrival of enslaved people from Africa on these shores. Each author reflects on five years in America, focusing on a different “person, place, thing, idea, or event”—such as Phillis Wheatley, Oregon, cotton, queer sexuality and the war on drugs. At the end of each 40-year section, a poet captures that historical period in verse. With contributions from huge names in the community of Black thought leaders, such as Nikole Hannah-Jones, Isabel Wilkerson, Angela Davis and Jamelle Bouie, just to name a few, the scope of the writing is immense and powerful, the content both celebratory and harrowing. You may feel drawn to this book because of its heavy-hitting roster of big names, but look forward to widening your familiarity with more up-and-coming writers, too. With so many authors and topics represented in these pages, you’re sure to gain new insight about every tumultuous period in our nation’s history.
Julian Bond’s Time to Teach One valuable yet often overlooked leader in the fight for Black equality is finally getting his due in Julian Bond’s Time to Teach: A History of the Southern Civil Rights Movement (Beacon, $29.95, 9780807033203). The late author’s lectures from his prolific teaching career, assembled here for the first time, are full of firsthand lessons from his direct involvement in the civil rights movement.
As one of the founding members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Bond participated in myriad sit-ins and protests in the Southern United States and even worked directly with Martin Luther King Jr. Later he became an elected member of both the Georgia House of Representatives and the Georgia Senate and then began teaching at institutions such as Harvard, the University of Virginia and American University. As a lifelong activist, Bond not only protested for Black civil rights but was also an early advocate for LGBTQ rights and rights for disabled people, long before any legislation, courts or popular thought addressed these needs. Reflecting his storied life of activism, Bond’s lectures offer a road map of the history of the United States and white supremacy, covering the formation of the NAACP, the treatment of Black soldiers through World War II, the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case and other milestones. Along the way, he meticulously details the daily efforts to build and expand the Southern civil rights movement throughout the 20th century, highlighting the contributions of many underrecognized individuals. During his life, Bond wanted to educate the world about the history of the Black experience, as well as about the nuts and bolts of starting and maintaining a protest movement. With this posthumous collection, and with the help of the editors who assembled it, he can finally share his teachings with the broad audience he deserves.
H A Shot in the Moonlight Imagine being woken up in the middle of the night by a mob outside your house, calling your name, accusing you of crimes that you didn’t commit. Then imagine that they start throwing explosives and firing guns at your house, at your family. You defend yourself and your home as best you can, and one of the assailants dies from the intervening fight. Suddenly you find yourself, a Black man, a formerly enslaved person, fleeing through 1890s Kentucky, trying to stay out of the hands of lynch mobs. With the Ku Klux Klan and newspapers calling for your execution, you’re forced to put your life in the hands of a lawyer who fought to uphold slavery. This complicated tale is masterfully told in Ben Montgomery’s A Shot in
cover story | black history month
we move forward
and foremothers and inspire new dreams for a more just world. the Moonlight: How a Freed Slave and a Confederate Soldier Fought for Justice in the Jim Crow South (Little, Brown Spark, $28, 9780316535540). Montgomery, the Tampa Bay Times journalist who covered the Dozier School for Boys (which would later inspire Colson Whitehead’s novel The Nickel Boys), guides us through the events that took place on the night of January 21, 1897, at the home of George Dining. A Shot in the Moonlight reads like a riveting thriller, with multiple moving pieces and conflicting perspectives, but historical artifacts such as newspaper excerpts and first-person accounts also give it journalistic depth. Set during an era when being Black and accused of a crime was almost a guaranteed death sentence, this gripping history offers hope through the actions of an unlikely cast of characters who sought to save a man from a cruel and vindictive fate.
prevented the project from flourishing. This chronicle of what went wrong, and who wanted it to go wrong, outlines both missteps by the city’s planners as well as outside obstacles that contributed to the experiment’s failure. Even so, McKissick’s shining vision for Soul City will inspire readers to dream of what kinds of communities we could create next.
The Black Panther Party For education that’s easy on the eyes, snag The Black Panther Party: A Graphic Novel History (Ten Speed, $19.99, 9781984857705) by David F. Walker (The Life of Frederick Douglass). Beautifully illustrated by Marcus Kwame Anderson and supremely informative, this graphic novel offers a digestible history of the Black Power movement and the Black Panther Party, correcting many negative assumptions about them while still addressing their flaws. The book especially excels in illuminating the motives of the party’s founders, Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton. Their original aims were to improve community security, defy the tactics of racist police departments, provide free community breakfast and offer support to underserved youth. However, the party’s faulty decision-making, along with efforts by police institutions and the FBI to sabotage the party every step of the way, led to its ultimate unraveling. A breeze to read and a feast for the eyes (and mind), this book is perfect for every burgeoning revolutionary. —Matt Gifford
If you’re looking for something lower octane that still offers an intriguing exploration of what could have been, take a trip to Soul City: Race, Equality, and the Lost Dream of an American Utopia (Metropolitan, $29.99, 9781627798624). Author Thomas Healy tells the story of Soul City, North Carolina, an intentional community founded in the 1970s by the Black lawyer Floyd McKissick, aimed at helping Black people achieve the American dream. While not an exclusively Black community, Soul City was intended to be a place for Black people to grow, prosper economically and exercise their hard-won civil rights outside of segregated cities. Envisioning a city whose main streets were named after the likes of Nat Turner, John Brown and Dred Scott, McKissick lobbied for help from the federal government to pursue his municipal dream, and surprisingly, the Nixon administration eventually granted him the seed money. However, despite years of effort, the town is now little more than a blip on the historical radar. And by some dark irony, Soul City’s largest industry today is the operation of a for-profit prison. So what happened? Was Soul City doomed from the beginning, like so many ambitious utopian experiments? As Healy shows, it’s not that simple. Soul City’s bumpy background is littered with statewide backlash, legislative resistance and financial undercutting, which
the hold list
It’s February, so we’re doing love stories Typically in this column, the BookPage editors try to pick a topic that is an unexpected challenge—like books to read in public or our preferred characters to partner with for a zombie apocalypse. This month’s theme is perhaps the broadest it’s ever been, as these five books are all love stories, though not necessarily in ways you’d expect.
My Life in France
Wives and Daughters
In my opinion, Jazz is the most underrated of Toni Morrison’s books. As expansive and bold as Song of Solomon, as ardent and poetic as Tar Baby and almost (almost!) as tragic as Beloved, Jazz is a story of overwhelming, destructive passion. It was published just a year before Morrison won the Nobel Prize, and she was clearly at the height of her powers, with all her skills on glorious display in every passage. Take the descriptions of Joe Trace’s affair- addled conscience, or the tense yet loving exchanges between Alice and Violet, or Golden Gray’s surreal backstory. Each of these storylines shows the disastrous effects of love gone awry. Jazz is not a sweet love story, but that doesn’t diminish its beauty. The humanity, the depravity and the tragedy all elevate the story, and the characters are treated with the utmost sympathy. As with the finest of novels, the real love story isn’t on the page; it happens between the reader and Morrison herself. —Eric, Editorial Intern
Is there another book more overflowing with love stories than My Life in France? Julia Child’s memoir about her years in Paris, Marseilles and Provence is a three-pronged romance about her love for France, her love for cooking and her love for her husband, Paul. (In the film Julie and Julia, Paul is played by Stanley Tucci, which makes him even more lovable.) From the moment Child sits down for her first meal in France—marveling at wine being served with lunch and wondering aloud what a shallot is—until, having established a French home-cooking empire, she lounges with James Beard at her summer home in Provence, she is a marvel of wit, candor and unpretentious enthusiasm for the pleasures of food. In an age when you might feel compelled to drape your excitement with a layer of irony, so as not to seem uncool, it’s cheering to read the story of one woman whose small dreams blossomed as she watered them with sincere love. —Christy, Associate Editor
The sheltered daughter of a country doctor, Molly Gibson finds her perfectly happy life upended when her father marries the snobbish, shortsighted and dictatorial Hyacinth Kirkpatrick. But there is a silver lining: her utterly fabulous, breezily charming new stepsister, Cynthia. In a lesser book, Cynthia would be an 1830s version of a Jane Austen mean girl, like Caroline Bingley or Mary Crawford. But due to author Elizabeth Gaskell’s ceaseless, penetrating empathy, Molly and the reader come to understand how Cynthia’s wit and flightiness serve as defense mechanisms, and how under all her glamour and coquetry, she is still just a teenage girl doing her best. Molly and Cynthia fall in and out of love with various gentlem en, but the most tender relationship in the novel is between the two of them—two girls who have found the sister they always wanted and who see the best in each other even when no one else will. —Savanna, Associate Editor
We all love a love story, but let’s be real: Damage can be done when we take too many cues from fictional narratives. Caridad, the fabulously complicated Latina scholar at the heart of Lorraine M. López’s novel, is particularly caught up in the messaging of classic love stories, and she spends this dramatic, often funny tale sorting through serial relationships and beloved books by white men. As she seeks answers to who she is, she calls upon works by Henry Miller, Gustave Flaubert, Leo Tolstoy and other notable dead white guys who wrote about women but danced around topics like female sexuality and motherhood. Classic literature lovers may recognize The Darling as an homage to Chekhov’s 1899 short story “The Darling,” but Caridad stands on her own in this tale of self-discovery, ambition and desire. As she tests the limits of her romantic relationships, it becomes clear that the most complicated entanglement is when you love a book but cannot agree with the vision of its creator. —Cat, Deputy Editor
Near the end of the criminally underrated film That Thing You Do!, Guy Patterson (played by Tom Everett Scott) asks Faye Dolan (played by Liv Tyler), “When was the last time you were decently kissed? I mean, truly, truly, good and kissed?” There are so many reasons to love Julie Berry’s historical fiction masterpiece Lovely War, not least of which is its delicious narration by Aphrodite, the goddess of love, but at the top of my list is this: It features the best kiss I’ve ever read. After being separated by the horrors of a world war, YMCA volunteer Hazel and British sharpshooter James reunite in Paris for one magical evening of dinner in a cozy cafe, dancing alone in a park with no music and then finally—well, I won’t spoil it. “There’s nothing like the rightness of it,” says Aphrodite. “Nothing like its wonder. If I see it a trillion more times before this world spirals into the sun, I’ll still be an awed spectator.” You will, too. —Stephanie, Associate Editor
Each month, BookPage staff share special reading lists—our personal favorites, old and new.
interview | chang-rae lee
Oh, the places you’ll go! “I’m certainly not known as a humorist,” Korean American author Chang-rae Lee says of the origins of his multilayered, wildly comic coming-of-age novel, My Year Abroad. “But my wife thinks I’m quite funny, even if I haven’t been in my books. Every book of mine is a response to the last one. I just get so dead and bored and want to break out. This time I wanted to laugh, and I wanted Tiller to show his personality, so I thought, OK, I’ll just go with it.” Tiller is the novel’s one-of-a-kind narrator, a 20-something college student who’s more unformed than his years. His mother left the family when he was little, and he has, as Lee says, “mommy issues.” And though Tiller’s father is “a good guy,” Tiller thinks of himself as an orphan. Lonely and disaffected, Tiller plans to spend a year studying abroad in Italy, but the summer before his trip, while working “I wanted to throw everything as a fill-in golf caddy in a New Jersey suburb near at him . . . to make the book his home, he meets Pong less realistic and more wild.” Lou, an entrepreneurial Chinese immigrant, an energetic deal-maker and a force of nature. Pong takes Tiller not to Europe but to Asia on the trip of his life. Pong, Lee says, was the original protagonist of the story. His character is based on an acquaintance Lee made during his years spent living and teaching at Princeton University. “This guy embodied a certain energy we older immigrants have lost,” Lee says. “I was fascinated by him. I was so taken with his courage for doing deals and his curiosity about everything high, low and in between. He had this hunger for life. I was really into a character who is in command of such things.” But while Lee was in the early stages of writing the novel, he debated how to tell the tale, and he eventually realized that another, younger perspective was needed. My Year Abroad interweaves Tiller’s crazy adventures in Asia with his life a year later, as he struggles to take responsibility for both himself and the lives of his troubled partner, Val, and her 8-year-old son, whom Tiller has come to love. Lee says this novel, his sixth, took longer to write than his previous books, partly because in 2016 he left Princeton to take a position in Stanford University’s writing program. Lee now lives in San Francisco with his wife, a retired architect and talented ceramicist. During this COVID-19 moment, Lee’s daughters are also at home, one studying in her second year of college and the other working remotely for her job in Austin, Texas. “I feel there’s more balance in my life here,” he says. “I grew up in an Asian American family on the East Coast. I have a whole network of friends there. But the West Coast is definitely more Asian American-inflected. Personally, culturally, artistically, there’s a draw here that’s different than on the East Coast. There’s a whole new added layer here that I enjoy.” The move to America’s left coast does seem to have had a liberating effect. Part of Tiller’s worldly education involves over-thetop, taboo-bursting sex. The sex is more implied than graphic, but it’s enough of a departure from earlier novels that Lee’s wife, his first reader, said to him, “ ‘Um, is this what you’re into?’ She thought maybe I had a secret life,” Lee says, laughing. “Tiller is a person who doesn’t know what he likes and dislikes. I wanted to throw everything at him and of course, for comic effect, to make the book less realistic and more wild and surreal. The whole thing is about extremes. Extremity in service of trying to figure out how you are alive.” My Year Abroad Lee says his daughters have not yet read the book, but he credRiverhead, $28, 9781594634574 its them and his young writing students with helping him figure out Tiller’s thoughtful, comic, youthful voice. “The slang, the Coming of Age
© MICHELLE BRANCA LEE
Chang-rae Lee’s vibrant picaresque novel leaps over generational divides to share lessons learned.
tonality—I hear that all the time. I’ve traveled extensively through Asia. I’ve been to Shenzhen, Macao, Hong Kong, Hawaii, the places [I write about]. Either through nature or practice or both, I’ve always been a good observer and listener.” Observation and learning form the beating heart of the novel, which is dedicated to the author’s own teachers. “So much of the book, the relationship between Tiller and Pong, is about mentorship,” Lee says. “I think back to particular librarians when I was in elementary and middle school. My parents were immigrants, and my mother didn’t really speak English. Basically, I was raised in the library. Those librarians and a few teachers in high school and college and even graduate school gave me not just knowledge but also encouragement and, sometimes, a reality check.” —Alden Mudge Visit BookPage.com to read our starred review of My Year Abroad.
q&a | nancy johnson
The fragile hope of 2008 Financial insecurity, racial injustice and the income gap—social commentary has never been more riveting to read than in Nancy Johnson’s novel.
Your acknowledgments refer to “the still waters and the turbulent tides of this journey to publication.” Describe that journey, as well as your initial inspiration for the book. In November 2008, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer, and I convinced him to vote early. So this man who survived the Great Depression, World War II and Jim Crow cast the last vote of his life for America’s first Black president. Even at the end of his life, he was lucid enough to know we had made history. He was hopeful for the future he was leaving to me. I still recall people saying we’d entered a post-racial era after electing Barack Obama as president, but I knew that was a fallacy when I saw how deep the racial divide had become. I was interested in writing a novel that explored the complicated issues of race and class at that time in our history. It took me 6 years to write The Kindest Lie as I juggled a demanding full-time job. Whenever a literary agent rejected the book, I often took it as a rejection of this important story I had to tell. Was it too bold? Was it too Black? Maybe. Maybe not. Sometimes I needed to revisit the story, deepen characterization and build tension. But as a writer, it’s personal. Our souls are on the page. Ultimately, my story found the right agent to champion it and the right home with an editor who helped me bring it to life. For that, I’m immensely grateful. In 2019, you wrote an article titled “What White Writers Should Know About Telling Black Stories.” Did you make an early decision to have both a Black and white narrator? We’re always debating who should write what and who has the right to tell which stories. I’m a great believer in creative freedom, but with that freedom comes an awesome responsibility—a responsibility to honor the truth of people who have a different background or life experience from your own; a responsibility to be intentional about avoiding harm. Which of your narrators came first, Ruth or Midnight? Ruth came to me first as a narrator and was most familiar to me as a Black professional often straddling
© NINA SUBIN
Nancy Johnson is an award-winning television journalist who makes her fiction debut with The Kindest Lie (William Morrow, $27.99, 9780063005631). Set against the backdrop of President Barack Obama’s 2008 election, it’s the story of Ruth, a Yale-educated Black chemical engineer who returns to her Indiana hometown, which is suffering from the economic recession, as she searches for the son she placed for adoption when she was 17. There she strikes up a friendship with Midnight, a white boy living in poverty and yearning for love after his mother’s death.
worlds. The challenge was to make her as complex as possible. For example, she clicks the car door locks in fear of her own people as she drives through her hometown. She doesn’t like what that says about her, but it’s real. Much of the novel hinges on two wonderfully portrayed women trying their best to hold their families together: Ruth’s grandmother, Mama, and Midnight’s grandmother, Lena, who are friends. Did you draw inspiration from matriarchs in your own family? Those are definitely two of the most powerful women in the book. They’re fiercely protective of the people they love, and they’re doing their best under tough circumstances. Mama Tuttle and Lena are compilations of many strong women I’ve known and read about. As an only child, I was a lot like Midnight, peeping around corners listening to old folks talk. I picked up on mannerisms and snatches of conversation, likely hearing a lot that wasn’t meant for my ears. Abandonment is a big element of the story. As Mama tells Ruth, “Sometimes leaving is the best way. The only way.” Do you agree with Mama? Was it a struggle to write the ending to a story with such complex issues? I believe you can put time and distance between yourself and a place or person, but you’ll always be tethered to your past. You can’t outrun it forever. Writing this book didn’t answer the big life questions; it just raised more. I rewrote the ending many times, trying to strike the right tone. The ending is hopeful with some ambiguity about where the characters go from here. I was never going for happily ever after. More than anything, I wanted the ending to feel inevitable and true. —Alice Cary Visit BookPage.com to read our starred review of The Kindest Lie and full Q&A with Nancy Johnson.
reviews | fiction
H Milk Blood Heat By Dantiel W. Moniz
Short Stories Often the most powerful elements of fiction are the emotional truths mined from the most difficult experiences. Whether a story is grounded in the most mundane of daily occurrences or rooted in something much more uncanny, it will always feel true in the hands of a storyteller who understands the often unsettling rhythms of the mind and heart. Milk Blood Heat (Grove, $25, 9780802158154), the debut collection of fiction from Dantiel W. Moniz, is thoroughly tethered to this kind of emotional truth. Throughout 11 short stories— all set in Florida, all focusing on transformative experiences in the lives of women—Moniz weaves tales that are as profound as they are unnerving,
Faye, Faraway By Helen Fisher
Popular Fiction In Helen Fisher’s debut novel, Faye, Faraway (Gallery, $27, 9781982142674), Faye mourns her late mother 30 years after her mother’s death, describing grief as a feeling that’s “like a missing tooth: an absence I can feel at all times, but one I can hide as long as I keep my mouth shut.” Faye has a good life in London, where she’s a mother to two young daughters, Evie and Esther. She’s married to Eddie, an all-around good guy who’s studying for the ministry, though she can’t picture herself as a vicar’s wife. She loves her friends and her career testing product designs for blind people. Still, there’s a hole at the center of her life, left by the death of her mom when Faye was 8 years old. When Faye finds an old photo in which her 6-yearold self is sitting in an empty toy box, she’s surprised to encounter the same box later in Eddie’s study. Eddie has brought the tattered box down from the attic to fill with textbooks, but Faye returns it to the attic, feeling possessive about the box and aggrieved by the loss of her mother. When she hits her head on a lightbulb and shatters it, she steps into the box to avoid the broken glass. Once in the box, she falls through time to her childhood home in the mid-1970s, where her mother is asleep, as is 6-year-old Faye. The rest of this gentle time-slip story is composed
as moving as they are surprising. Each of the stories in this collection is anchored by Moniz’s gorgeous, precise prose, whether he’s portraying a pair of best friends shaken by tragedy in the title story, a woman seeing spectral images of her lost baby in “Feast” or a girl coming to terms with the power of generational connection in “An Almanac of Bones.” Though they share certain geographic and thematic connections, the tales are quite diverse in their perspectives and casts. What unites them, and what keeps us turning
the pages through scenes of tragedy and self-discovery, rebellion and reconciliation, trauma and agency, is the singular voice guiding each character. In nearly every paragraph, Moniz unfurls some new observation that nestles down in your brain and sits, steeping like tea leaves, until each story has formed a cohesive, powerful emotional experience. It’s a magical sensation that reveals astonishing talent. Milk Blood Heat is a slim but mighty volume of short fiction, one that announces Moniz as a transfixing voice capable of limning often staggering emotional truths. —Matthew Jackson
of Faye’s interactions with her young mother, Jeanie, and her own younger self, and then her return to the present, where she ponders what to do about this new ability. Faye’s voice is charming, funny, sometimes philosophical and occasionally digressive. Her first-person perspective is in direct conversation with the reader, asking us if we’re still with her and assuring us that she understands if we’re not. Faye, Faraway is a welcome escape. —Sarah McCraw Crow
The morning comes, and with it a kind of comfort and thankfulness that allows soft-spoken Emmett to reveal to Tallie not only his name but also the pain that brought him to the bridge. Tallie, though she seems perfectly put-together, isn’t any less heartbroken than Emmett. The two start sharing their deepest feelings with each other, making their chance encounter extend into a whole weekend together. Interestingly enough, their revelations don’t include the basic details that Tallie is a therapist or that Emmett has a pretty sketchy public profile. Both are still afraid on some level to completely reveal their identities. Cross-Smith places mental health at the heart of this story, bringing attention to the importance of asking for help when navigating the complicated twists and turns of life. This Close to Okay is a fast-moving, drama-filled roller coaster that will keep you guessing about how things will turn out for these two lost souls. —Chika Gujarathi
This Close to Okay By Leesa Cross-Smith
Popular Fiction Set in author Leesa Cross-Smith’s native Kentucky, This Close to Okay (Grand Central, $27, 9781538715376) is the story of two strangers coming together to sort out their fears and disappointments. While driving home from work one rainy October evening, Tallie Clark, 40 and divorced, spots a man preparing to jump from a bridge. A therapist by trade, she doesn’t hesitate before rushing out of her car, ignoring the traffic and the rain, to dissuade the man from jumping. Thankfully Tallie’s bravado in approaching the stranger catches him off guard and delays him long enough that he agrees to back off and get a cup of coffee with her. He won’t reveal his name or much else, but that doesn’t stop Tallie from inviting him to her home to spend the night.
H Bride of the Sea By Eman Quotah
Family Saga The opening premise of Eman Quotah’s debut, Bride of the Sea (Tin House, $16.95, 9781951142452), is intriguing: Muneer and Saeedah marry, move from Saudi Arabia to the United States and, as the relationship deteriorates, decide to divorce, going against Muslim
reviews | fiction tradition. As their world crumbles, Saeedah abducts their daughter and disappears. The novel only gets better from this setup, transforming into a family saga that spans from 1970 to 2018. This ambitious tale moves between Saudi Arabia and the United States, touching on the Gulf War, 9/11, increased Islamophobia in the U.S., the beginning of women being allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia and other moments of social and cultural upheaval. Through it all, the secrets, desires and fears of Muneer, Saeedah and their daughter compose a complex picture of how society and the individual shape and inform each other. When society’s expectations render certain decisions impossible, how can an individual choose to live? This question shapes the novel, from Saeedah’s choice to run away with their daughter and Muneer’s search for her, to considerations of journalistic integrity and how familial ties bind and dissolve over time. Impressive, too, is the sense of place, the ways that bodies of water connect characters to each other. The details of each country are so richly and vividly imagined that as characters travel, so does the reader. Structurally and syntactically, Bride of the Sea is a gem. The shift from the opening in 2018 to the events in 1970 is abrupt, and these moments fuse again as the novel concludes. Quotah structures these connections to maintain the reader’s sense of wonder, to keep you reading through the loop as you learn of each character’s identity and fate, their secrets and stories. —Freya Sachs
The Four Winds
By Kristin Hannah
Historical Fiction Like a wise and imaginative teacher, Kristin Hannah imbues past events w i t h re l e v a n c e and significance in her novel The Four Winds (St. Martin’s, $28.99, 9781250178602). In 1921, as a sickly, homebound teen, Elsa dreams big. One night she sneaks away from the protective eyes of her family and thrills at the attention paid to her by Rafe Martinelli, a dashing Italian immigrant. When she becomes pregnant by Rafe, Elsa is disowned by her parents, and Rafe’s family takes in the young couple. Soon Elsa becomes an indispensable member of the Martinelli farm. But when Rafe abandons his family and dust storms begin to ravage the land, Elsa and her children journey to California in search of a better life. What they find is devastation, not of the landscape but of human souls, ground down by
mistreatment. Elsa finally realizes her big dream, becoming a warrior matriarch who fights for justice. The story builds to epic proportions over its four distinct parts. The spare writing in the 1921-set first section imparts the starkness of Elsa’s childhood and the barrenness of the landscape, like a Dorothea Lange photograph come alive. The second part, set in 1934, depicts family tensions as Elsa’s rootedness chafes against Rafe’s desire to leave the floundering farm. Their daughter, Loreda, exacerbates their differences through her tenacious yet rebellious spirit. In the third part, set in 1935, the drama of deprivation gives way to the thrill of the open road on the way to California. Mother-daughter sparring allows their relationship to grow, and they’re supported by fellow women in the migrant camp. But the greatest adventure awaits in the final part, amid violent protests against cotton growers in 1936. Anger over failed crops, failed marriages and failed dreams finds a worthy outlet in the migrant workers’ collective resistance against injustice. At a migrant worker school in California, feisty and eager 13-yearold Loreda is too preoccupied with the troubles of the present to endure boring history lessons, and it’s not long before she becomes an activist for change, following in her mother’s footsteps. With biting dialogue that holds nothing back, The Four Winds is classic in its artistry. Overtones of America’s present political struggles echo throughout the novel’s events. These indomitable female characters foreshadow the nation’s sweeping change through their fierce commitment to each other and to a common, timeless goal. —Mari Carlson
By Brandon Hobson
Family Drama Once in a while, you come across a book that seems to exist in its own bubble of spacetime. It may be set in the present, but its roots reach deep into the past. The location may be a real place, like Oklahoma, but as you read, you’re not really sure if it’s set anywhere in particular. A word for such a story might be numinous, which ably describes Brandon Hobson’s splendid The Removed (Ecco, $26.99, 9780062997548). The story revolves around the Echota family of Quah, Oklahoma, as they prepare for a bonfire to commemorate the death of their son Ray-Ray. Many years before, the teenage Ray-Ray was the victim of what’s called a “bad shoot” in police lingo. The remaining family consists of mother Maria; her husband, Ernest; their daughter, Sonja; and
surviving son, Edgar. Maria is patient and caring as Ernest sinks deeper into what everyone believes is Alzheimer’s disease. Sonja is a restless loner, hooking up with and discarding younger men. Edgar, just as unsettled, is an addict. The family is mired in profound grief and trauma, including trauma from the forced removal of their Cherokee ancestors to Oklahoma in the 19th century. It’s not surprising, and may not even be a coincidence, that the anniversary of Ray-Ray’s death is also the anniversary of the beginning of the Trail of Tears. Things start to change when Maria fosters a teenager named Wyatt. Exuberant, smart and talented, Wyatt can’t help but remind her of Ray-Ray. To Ernest, Wyatt is Ray-Ray reincarnated. And why couldn’t he be? In this novel, the ghosts of ancestors narrate entire chapters, animals may be familiars, Edgar stumbles into what seems like a smog-filled purgatory, and the very wind and water seem to be sentient. Hobson, a National Book Award finalist for his novel Where the Dead Sit Talking, weaves strands of the past and present so skillfully that events that would be improbable in the hands of another author are inevitable in The Removed. More than anything, in the case of the beleaguered Echota family, Hobson understands William Faulkner’s adage, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” —Arlene McKanic
H Milk Fed
By Melissa Broder
Literary Fiction Milk Fed ( S c r i b n e r, $ 2 6 , 9781982142490) will make you hungry. I began reading it at breakfast, and before I knew it, I had consumed an entire box of Chocolate Cheerios. It’s about food and Jews and sex—an irresistible combo meal. With hints of Jami Attenberg’s mishpucha and spiced with Jennifer Weiner’s chutzpah, it is graphic, tender and poetic. Melissa Broder’s approach is perfectly sautéed lesbianism, a rom-com that turns serious. Rachel is an assistant at a Los Angeles talent management firm who is disordered about food. She considers a clove cigarette and a cup of diet hot chocolate a meal. But beyond her restrictive relationship with food, she also has an unresolved appetite for sex and love. Not coincidentally, she meets her love interest at the counter of her favorite frozen yogurt shop, Yo!Good. Miriam, the Yo!Good server, is an Orthodox Jew, a “zaftig girl” who “surpassed plump, eclipsed heavy.” Their romance begins with the seduction of a frozen
reviews | fiction yogurt hot fudge sundae, sprints past Sabbath dinner and then slow-dances into kisses, third base and noisy orgasms. To Rachel, Miriam is either a golem or a gift. Being a “Chanel bag Jew” rather than a “Torah Jew,” Rachel accepts the gift, and while she once admitted that “God isn’t, like, texting me Hi or anything,” she learns to appreciate God as well. “I’m down with it,” she says. Rom-coms are never without their complications, and as Rachel begins to consume obsessively, her actions are not without fallout. Deep down, Rachel longs not to love but to be loved, a consequence of issues with her withholding mother. “Why did it feel so much safer to be wanted or needed than to be the one who wanted or needed?” Rachel says. For those who enjoyed Broder’s The Pisces, much of Milk Fed will be welcome in its familiarity. But this is an even better book that’s enhanced by its Jewishness, its ripeness, its dreams. —Grace Lichtenstein
when he developed special needs. The presence of a neighborly father and son, both elderly, serves as a constant reminder that Areum will not have the chance to take care of his parents when they are old. Translated into English by Chi-Young Kim, My Brilliant Life is told in poetic, succinct vignettes, ranging from the stories that Areum writes for his parents to narrations of his present. The text never teeters into gawking over Areum’s ailments, and he remains fixed as a curious, emotionally adept protagonist trying to navigate the awkwardness of being a teenager. Areum’s reckoning with his fate makes for a wrenching story. This slim book has so much heart, packing quite an emotional investment into its 208 pages. As fleeting as Areum’s fictional life may be, he will not be a character easily forgotten. —Leslie Hinson
H The Rib King By Ladee Hubbard
My Brilliant Life
By Ae-ran Kim Translated by Chi-Young Kim
Family Saga Areum’s parents were 16 when he was born. Now they are 32, and Areum is 16, but it is he who is confronting old age. He has a rare syndrome called progeria, which makes him age roughly eight times faster than the average child, so he is a teenager in the body of an 80-year-old. As a gift to his parents, he decides to write down the stories they’ve told him over the years. He hopes to finish before his 17th birthday, which will likely be his last. Areum struggles with self-doubt as he writes, even scrapping an early iteration of the project before he gains the inspiration to write again. This inspiration comes from a pen pal, and Areum, stuck in the hospital for the rest of his life, develops a crush. He wants to experience life like a “normal” kid, even saying that he wants to make mistakes and be disappointed, because other kids get those opportunities. But Areum’s reality is that while he develops this relationship, he also deals with arthritis and begins going blind. Author Ae-ran Kim considers age versus maturity in My Brilliant Life (Forge, $24.99, 9781250750556), which was originally published with the title My Palpitating Life in South Korea in 2011 and then adapted into a film in 2014. Areum’s parents are children when he is born, and they are in their early 30s when he dies. His existence in their lives caused them to grow up quickly, and even more so
Historical Fiction In the era of the belated (and semi-involuntary) retirement of the likes of Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth, Th e R i b K i n g (Amistad, $27.99, 9780062979063) could hardly be more prescient, as it centers on a Black man who is the face of a food brand. The novel’s first half takes place near the beginning of World War I, a time when the Civil War was no further removed from memory than the Vietnam War is from our minds today. And while the formerly well-to-do white Barclay family is inclined to behave less spitefully toward people of different races, they are by no means paragons of enlightenment. Much as in the Depression-era classic My Man Godfrey, it turns out that the key to solving the family’s financial ills may be held by the overlooked butler, in this case August Sitwell. He agrees to deliver a recipe for—and to be the public image of—a meat sauce that establishes him nationwide as the Rib King. Fast forward a decade, and one of his former co-workers, Jennie Williams, has a product of her own to sell, which sweeps her unwillingly back into the Rib King’s orbit. In this half of the book, Ladee Hubbard’s talent really shines as Jennie navigates a maze of intrigue involving revenge, betrayal, economic exploitation, racial conflict and the often brutal exercise of power. Hubbard’s depiction of a shadow economy bracketed by race is compelling and insightful, reminiscent of playwright August Wilson’s finest work.
Woven into this narrative is a captivating depiction of Black feminist agency at a time not long after white women had gained the right to vote. It’s little wonder that Hubbard won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for debut fiction in 2018. Ultimately the reason to read The Rib King is not its timeliness or its insight into politics or Black culture, but because it accomplishes what the best fiction sets out to do: It drops you into a world you could not otherwise visit and makes you care deeply about what happens there. —Thane Tierney
Let’s Get Back to the Party By Zak Salih
Literary Fiction In 2016, Sebastian Mote is living a solitary suburban life as a high school art history teacher. Newly single, he throws himself into his work, serving as adviser to his northern Virginia s c h o o l ’s n e w l y formed LGBTQ social group. In Let’s Get Back to the Party (Algonquin, $25.95, 9781616209575), we flash between the hot, sticky months of summer 2016, when Sebastian marvels at the ease with which the younger generation proclaims their sexuality, and memories of his adolescence, when as an insecure boy he found solace in the beauty of paintings and sculpture. His only friend was skinny, quiet Oscar Burnham, another boy questioning his sexual identity. They furtively explored their feelings, but when Oscar’s family moved away, he left Sebastian behind, no letters, no calls. At a wedding in which Sebastian is his friend’s plus-one, he catches a glimpse of Oscar. A stilted conversation ensues, and Oscar spends the entire reception scrolling through a gay hookup app. Stung, Sebastian realizes he still feels abandoned by Oscar all these years later. Their lives become entwined again as each grapples with what it means to be a middle-aged gay man, bookended by the generation that bore the brunt of the AIDS epidemic and by the kids who have come of age in a more open-minded America. Oscar and Sebastian are each pulled into a platonic yet complicated relationship with someone of another generation: Sebastian with a younger student and Oscar with an older writer made famous for his sexual exploits in 1970s New York. Zak Salih’s first novel is a gorgeously written meditation on being a gay man in America now. He imbues Sebastian and Oscar with complexity and flaws, two men unsure about the path their life is meant to take. Salih offers a cleareyed exploration
reviews | fiction of the sometimes fine line between friendship and romance, and how past slights can rear their heads in the most unexpected ways. Set shortly after the Supreme Court’s historic marriage equality ruling and during the year of a divisive presidential election and the Pulse nightclub massacre, Let’s Get Back to the Party is a raw and captivating debut. —Amy Scribner
The Paris Library
By Janet Skeslien Charles
Historical Fiction One might wonder if anything new can be written about Paris, but Janet Skeslien Charles reminds us of the city’s evergreen appeal and unbounded potential for stories with The Paris Library (Atria, $28, 9781982134198), which tells of the very real, very beloved American Library in Paris and the role it played during World War II. The year is 1939, and Odile Souchet is nervously reciting the Dewey Decimal System as she prepares for a job interview at the American Library. It’s not common for young ladies of her class to get jobs, but Odile is in love with books as if they were walking, breathing bodies, and she wants nothing more than to be a librarian at a place she has loved since her childhood. It’s no surprise to the reader when she lands the job. The comfort and whimsy that young Odile once experienced at the American Library are still very much alive. However, everything changes when the Germans occupy Paris and threaten to destroy everything she holds dear. Together with the rest of the staff, Odile joins the resistance, delivering books to Jewish readers banned from entering the library. When the war eventually ends, instead of rejoicing, Odile learns of betrayals that make it impossible for her to remain in the city she loves or to work in a place she had come to know as her sanctuary. The book skips ahead to 1983 Montana, where we find Odile living alone. In all these years of calling a small American town her home, she hasn’t managed to shake off the mystery surrounding her. When a school assignment connects a lonely and curious teenage girl named Lily with Odile, a friendship is forged, and the two slowly confront the consequences of present and past choices. What makes The Paris Library such a tender read is Charles’ firsthand experience at the American Library, where she was the programs manager. This is where she first discovered the stories of the brave librarians who fought the Germans with nothing
more than books. Her meticulous research brings these figures to life with Odile as their narrator. Furthermore, Charles’ Montana roots help shine light on the small-town life that Lily can’t wait to escape. Together the two storylines provide wonderful insight into relationships and friendships that transcend time and place. —Chika Gujarathi
apprehension from the first page. Intricate and edgy, Good Neighbors (Atria, $27, 9781982144364) is a descent into depraved suburban drama, perfect for fans of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Stephen King-style thrills. —Maya Fleischmann
By Laird Hunt
By Sarah Langan
Popular Fiction In this disquieting tale by threetime Bram Stoker Awa rd w i n n e r Sarah Langan, neighbors have a falling-out amid a natural disaster, unleashing a frenzy of madness, malice and misunderstandings throughout a quiet Long Island community. Before the drama really begins, something is already amiss on Maple Street. Gertie Wilde realizes that her family is the only one that Rhea Schroeder, the neighborhood queen bee, hasn’t invited to the community’s Fourth of July picnic at nearby Sterling Park. While Gertie and Rhea exchange words, their daughters Julia and Shelly are in the midst of their own feud until a sinkhole opens in the park, sending everyone scurrying.
Sarah Langan takes readers on a descent into depraved suburban drama. The hole, a microcosm of the larger climate crisis, is cordoned off, and the neighborhood children are warned to stay away. Then a child falls into the hole, which sets off a disturbing chain of events as stories and secrets spread throughout the tightknit community. Langan weaves interviews and news clips into her tightly written, fast-paced narrative, conveying the infectious spread and mutation of stories goaded by media sensationalism and attention-seeking neighbors. As gossip and rumors swell and proliferate, the stakes grow exponentially as well. The richly complex main characters reveal flawed pasts and duplicitous natures as the story transforms into a witch hunt, trying to discern which of the suspects may be responsible for the child’s erratic behavior before she fell. Horrific claims pit the children against their parents and the adults against one another. Langan skillfully casts this suburban neighborhood in sinister light, building a sense of discord and
Laird Hunt has a reputation for sensitively chronicling women’s lives, as in Neverhome, his Civil War tale of an Indiana woman who becomes a Union soldier. He returns to the Indiana setting in his delicate new novel, Zorrie (Bloomsbury, $26, 9781635575361), a powerful portrait of longing and community in the American Midwest. Zorrie Underwood is born in the early 20th century. After her parents die of diphtheria, she is raised by a stern aunt who tells her “people [are] born dreaming of devils and dark roses and should beware” and slaps Zorrie if she wakes up crying. These experiences would cow a less hearty soul, but not Zorrie, who can beat almost every boy in school at arm-wrestling. When she is 21, her aunt dies and leaves her with nothing, so Zorrie sets out on her own. The most consequential of her early jobs is at the Radium Dial Company, where she decorates clock faces with paint containing a translucent powder that glows. Along with her colleagues, she is unaware of its toxic effects. Soon she gets a job splitting and stacking wood for elderly couple Gus and Bessie. She marries their son, Harold, “the best-looking fellow Zorrie would ever see.” Hunt movingly documents their life on the farm, from picnics and watermelon seed-spitting contests to Zorrie’s continuation of her work during a pregnancy that ends in a miscarriage. Hunt chronicles the events of Zorrie’s life with swiftness and precision, including Harold’s death during World War II and, most enigmatically, Zorrie’s acquaintance with Noah Summers, whose wife is confined to a state hospital for setting their house on fire. Hunt tells their stories with a quiet sensitivity rarely seen in modern American fiction. Late in the novel, when thinking of her neighbors and the world at large, Zorrie realizes “it was silence and not grief that connected them, that would keep them forever connected, the living and the dead.” Despite occasional dry passages, Zorrie is a poetic reminder of the importance of being a happy presence in other people’s memories. —Michael Magras
reviews | nonfiction
H American Baby By Gabrielle Glaser
Social Science In 1961, 16-year-old Margaret Erle fell in love, got pregnant and was sent to a Staten Island maternity home. She gave birth to a boy she named Stephen, but as an unwed mother, she wasn’t allowed to hold her child. She and her boyfriend, George Katz, were saving money to elope (against their parents’ wishes) and wanted to keep their son. Despite their repeated resistance, social workers forced them to sign away their parental rights, and their son was adopted by a loving couple and renamed David Rosenberg. Fast forward to 2007, when journalist Gabrielle Glaser met Rosenberg in Oregon for an article she was writing about his kidney transplant. Rosenberg revealed that he hoped the article would somehow help him connect with his birth mother. Then in 2014, he called Glaser to say that he had finally located Margaret Erle Katz. George had passed away by then, but his birth parents had indeed married and had three additional children. Rosenberg jubilantly
Between Two Kingdoms
By Suleika Jaouad
Memoir Twenty-two-yearold Princeton grad Suleika Jaouad was working as a paralegal in Paris when symptoms of acute myeloid leukemia sent her home to Saratoga Springs, New York, to live with her Swiss-born mother, an artist, and her Tunisian-born father, a French professor at Skidmore College. Raised to roam the globe, Jaouad found that her world had suddenly shrunk to a hospital room at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where she underwent a stem cell transplant and other grueling treatments, which she began chronicling in a New York Times column called “Life Interrupted.” Her engrossing memoir, Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of Life Inter rupted (Random House, $28, 9780399588587), paints a more complete portrait of her experiences during and after treatment. Jaouad was supported by her parents and a new boyfriend, who put his life on hold for several years to care for her. The ups and downs of their relationship eventually became fraught. She was also buoyed by other cancer patients her own age,
added, “She’s loved me my whole life.” Glaser realized that Katz’s story represents the experiences of more than 3 million young women who became pregnant in the decades between World War II and 1973, the year that abortion became legal in America. Her resulting chronicle, American Baby: A Mother, a Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption (Viking, $28, 9780735224681), tells a heart-wrenching tale that will resonate with many. “Stephen was part of a vast exercise in social engineering unlike any in American history,” Glaser writes. These closed adoptions made tracking down birth parents or adopted babies nearly impossible
including two gifted, beloved friends, an artist and a poet. As she relates these stories, her honest and reflective voice spares no one, not even herself. Later Jaouad was stunned to discover that “the hardest part of my cancer treatment was once it was over.” She no longer had her support system, and she felt paralyzed by fear. In an effort to reenter the world after treatment, she set out on a 100-day, 33-state solo pilgrimage to connect with an intriguing array of people who had reached out to her during her illness, including a California mother who had lost her adult son to suicide, a bighearted cook on a Montana ranch and a Louisiana death row inmate named Lil’ GQ. She learned valuable, unexpected lessons from all. Jaouad’s cancer treatment narrative and travelogue are equally compelling as she deftly mixes moments of grief, anger and despair with joy, gratitude and hefty doses of self-deprecating humor. For instance, as a brand-new driver, the first thing she did when setting out on her journey was drive the wrong way down a New York City street. Not long afterward, she had to look up a YouTube video to help her set up her tent. Between Two Kingdoms is a thoughtful book from a talented young writer who never sugarcoats or falls prey to false hope. As Jaouad writes, “After you’ve had the ceiling cave in on you—whether through illness or some other catastrophe—you don’t assume structural stability. You must learn to live on the fault lines.” Her message will ring helpful and true to many, regardless of the challenges they face. —Alice Cary
before DNA testing. To make matters worse, unscrupulous agencies often lied to both birth mothers and prospective parents. Rosenberg’s parents, for instance, were told that his birth mother was a gifted science student who wanted to continue college rather than become a mother. In truth, Katz longed for and worried about her son every day of her life—for a while they unknowingly lived just blocks away from each other in the Bronx—and her anguish rings loud and clear on the page. The results of Glaser’s extensive research read like a well-crafted, tension-filled novel. Even though its form is vastly different from Dani Shapiro’s personal DNA memoir, Inheritance, both books deal with reconciling the past and uncovering long-buried secrets. American Baby is a powerful, memorable story of “two journeys, a lifelong separation, and a bittersweet reunion” shedding light on a chapter of history that changed the lives of millions of Americans. —Alice Cary
Four Lost Cities
By Annalee Newitz
History When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, thousands of people were forced to relocate. Some returned; others never did. As the city rebuilt, it changed, through both loss and revitalization. Fifteen years later, hurricanes still threaten New Orleans, but the city certainly endures. Keep that trajectory in mind if you ever visit a magnificent urban archaeological site such as Angkor Wat or Pompeii. As Annalee Newitz shows in the marvelous Four Lost Cities (Norton, $26.95, 9780393652666), an ancient city’s fate was determined by complex interactions of politics, the environment and human choices—all of which offer insight into the challenges of climate change and disease that we face today. Along with Angkor in Cambodia and Pompeii in Italy, Newitz’s four cities include Çatalhöyük in Turkey, the Neolithic site of one of the world’s first cities, and Cahokia, a Native American city that was located in the St. Louis metro region. Newitz takes us along on visits to all four locations, exploring their histories and cultures through interviews with
reviews | nonfiction the archaeologists doing cutting-edge research at each site. Spanning different epochs and continents, these cities were of course quite different during their respective eras. Angkor and Cahokia were essentially spiritual sites surrounded by low-density sprawl; Pompeii and Çatalhöyük were densely packed. Pompeii was a trading town; the others were predominantly agricultural. But all faced significant environmental challenges, such as climate change, flooding, drought, earthquakes and volcanic eruption. What’s perhaps most astonishing is how long they lasted in the face of these calamities. Like New Orleans, they were rebuilt, time after time, by their creative, adaptable citizens. Through this brightly written, lucid narrative, Newitz shows us that these cities were never “lost” and rediscovered. Even when their people ultimately moved on, they took their cultures and memories with them. As we struggle with our own difficult urban realities, Newitz argues, it’s worth considering their resilience. —Anne Bartlett
Hitler and Stalin
Let Me Tell You What I Mean
By Joan Didion
By Laurence Rees
European History Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin never met, but between 1939 and 1945 they had a strong relationship, briefly as allies and then as enemies. In his riveting Hitler and Stalin: The Tyrants and the Second World War (PublicAffairs, $35, 9781610399647), Laurence Rees, historian, bestselling author and acclaimed BBC documentary producer, brings this six-year period vividly alive. Rees has devoted his professional life to World War II and Holocaust history. What sets his newest account apart is that he interviewed more people who had direct experience working for these two men than any other historian to date. Rees’ skillful incorporation of these eyewitness accounts, carefully checked for reliability, gives a “you are there” feeling to events. The most important connection between Hitler and Stalin was that each believed he had uncovered the secret of existence, but those “secrets” were definitely distinct. Hitler’s starting point was race—that the Jewish people were responsible for all that was wrong in the world. Stalin, inspired by the work of Karl Marx, became a revolutionary. Each hated the other’s belief system, though Stalin was a keen reader of Mein Kampf. Rees gives us detailed, nuanced portraits of these two men. Hitler was charismatic, but only to those
who agreed with him. Stalin exercised power through his profound understanding of working through committees. Hitler expressed a vision but was not realistic about implementation, while Stalin was much more detail oriented. They both demonstrated contempt for weaker nations and ruthlessly pursued actions that showed their total disregard for the lives of their supporters as well as their enemies. During their leadership, they were responsible for the deaths of at least 27 million people, but because they were suspicious of others, they were emotionally isolated from the suffering they caused. Rees also notes that because of the infamy of Hitler and the Holocaust, less attention has been paid to Stalin’s horrendous crimes, which has allowed him to escape the level of censure that he deserves. There are other fine, very long biographies of these dictators. However, this excellent book for the general reader is shorter and gives an authoritative and very readable understanding of who Hitler and Stalin were and what they did. —Roger Bishop
Essays Joan Didion is not so much a chronicler of American culture as its velvet-gloved eviscerator. With spare and penetrating syntax that strips all excess from her narratives, she has, over the last seven decades, gone straight to the withered heart of the matter in novels and essays that have become legendary. Two of her nonfiction books, Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album, have taken on well-deserved iconic, even mythic, status. Didion, who is now 86, has not published anything new in a while (her memoir of her daughter’s death, Blue Nights, appeared in 2011), but for the last few years she has been digging through her archives and notebooks and selecting fragments and abandoned pieces that offer a glimpse into her working process and her earlier self. Let Me Tell You What I Mean (Knopf, $23, 9780593318485) gathers 12 previously uncollected short pieces mostly written for magazines in the 1960s and ’70s, with a few dating to the tail end of the last century. As a group, these essays are wide-ranging in subject, yet each displays the distinctive voice Didion has honed with precision. Whether she is profiling the studied perfection of then-first lady of California Nancy Reagan or the cultural significance of Martha Stewart on the cusp of her historic initial public offering, Didion allows her subjects to speak for themselves,
inviting us to read between the lines and draw our own conclusions. At the height of the turbulent 1960s, this pioneer of new journalism could zero in on the discomfiting comfort of a Gamblers Anonymous meeting (“mea culpa always turns out to be not entirely mea”) or convey a proud veteran’s ambivalence about his son’s impending service in Vietnam during a 101st Airborne Association reunion in Las Vegas. Fans of Didion’s incisive fiction will delight in her candid reflection on why she abandoned the short story as a viable form early in her career. Not unexpectedly, Let Me Tell You What I Mean is secondary Didion at best, but even minor offerings from this prose master are hard to dismiss—and equally hard to resist. —Robert Weibezahl
The Doctors Blackwell By Janice P. Nimura
Biography Florence Nightingale and Dorothea Dix loom large as women who reformed health care in the 19th century— in the fields of nursing and mental h e a l t h, re s p e ctively—but Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell have remained largely unrecognized for their roles in medical history. No longer, though, for Janice P. Nimura’s compelling biography The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine (Norton, $27.95, 9780393635546) reclaims the sisters’ enduring contributions to medicine and to women’s history. In breathtaking prose and exhaustive detail, Nimura chronicles the lives of the Blackwell sisters— their childhood in England, their immigration to America, the challenges they faced as they made their way in the medical profession and their eventual establishment of institutions that would provide both access to quality medical care for women and a place where women could study medicine in order to practice it. Attracted to healing as a teenager, Elizabeth saw medicine as a noble vocation, but as she sought to embrace her calling she encountered resistance at almost every turn. Eventually she was able to graduate from Geneva Medical College in New York, becoming the first woman in the U.S. to earn a medical degree, after which she set up a practice in New York City. Emily followed in her older sister’s footsteps, attending Rush Medical College in Chicago and the Medical College of Cleveland, where she became the third woman in the U.S. to receive a medical degree. In 1857, the two sisters founded the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and
reviews | nonfiction Children, and in 1868 they opened the Women’s Medical College in New York City, where Elizabeth taught courses on sanitation and hygiene and Emily taught obstetrics and gynecology. By 1900, the college had trained more than 364 women, and the sisters’ work led to thousands of women becoming educated in the medical field. Nimura’s compelling biography not only recovers the lives and work of Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell but also provides a colorful social history of medicine in America and Europe during the mid- to late-19th century. —Henry L. Carrigan Jr.
H We Had a Little Real Estate Problem
By Kliph Nesteroff
Humor Native Americans have had an image problem for as long as non-Native people have had a say in it, from the Pilgrims to P.T. Barnum to Andrew Jackson to Hollywood movie producers. In the media, Indigenous people have been cast as savage, ignorant and unfunny, except as the butt of jokes. There is a sad logic to that: What would Native Americans have to laugh about? White settlers tried to vanquish them, denied them their culture, language and tribal lands, portrayed them as caricatures of their authentic selves and trapped them by systemic racism that fosters roadblocks to work and education. As the groundbreaking stand-up comedian Charlie Hill once said to a white audience, “For so long you probably thought that Indians never had a sense of humor. We never thought you were too funny either.” Richly researched and told through the vibrant voices of the comics themselves—including Cherokee citizen Will Rogers and his son Will Rogers Jr., Osage member Ryan Red Corn, Kiowa member Adrianne Chalepah, Oneida member Charlie Hill and more— Kliph Nesteroff’s extraordinary We Had a Little Real Estate Problem: The Unheralded Story of Native Americans and Comedy (Simon & Schuster, $27, 9781982103033) chronicles a legacy deserving of inclusion in the history of comedy in the U.S. and Canada. Supporting players include Olympian, actor and member of the Sac and Fox Nation Jim Thorpe, who protested stereotyping in Hollywood Westerns in the 1930s and ’40s, demanding “only American Indians for American Indian parts.” Thorpe’s list of acceptable Native American performers, however, inspired the U.S. government to investigate whether those listed were truly Indigenous or if they were immigrants who were in the country illegally,
according to Variety: “Italians, Mexicans, Armenians, and other swarthy-skinned foreigners have been passing themselves off as Indians, figuring no one could then question their entry.” With the arrival of television, Native comedians- to-be, inspired by shows like “The Tonight Show,” began learning their craft at far-flung casinos and truck stops in the middle of the night. Pay was pathetic, and audiences were sparse and unsure of how to react to a funny Native American, though fellow Indigenous people had no trouble relating to their own. In the 1970s, Charlie Hill, David Letterman, Jay Leno and Robin Williams shared the sidewalk line for a spot on the stage of the Comedy Store, a famous comedy club in Hollywood where scouts would come to spot new talent who, in turn, would help other aspiring comics—as Letterman did when he invited Hill onto his show as his first Native American guest. —Priscilla Kipp
By Ethan Kross
Self-Help In Bu d d h i s m it’s referred to as “monkey mind”— that cascade of often critical and judgmental self-talk that runs in a ceaseless loop in our heads. In Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It (Crown, $28, 9780525575238), experimental psychologist and neuroscientist Ethan Kross provides a useful introduction to some of the intriguing research on this phenomenon and offers a toolbox full of constructive techniques for quieting our persistent inner voice or, better yet, turning it in a positive direction. When he received an anonymous threatening letter several years ago, Kross, who directs the Emotion and Self-Control Laboratory at the University of Michigan, first turned inward to investigate how our default biological state creates an “inescapable tension of the inner voice as both helpful superpower and destructive kryptonite.” Any attempt to silence that voice, he explains, is doomed, but through a process of trial and error, most people can find some method of transforming it from foe to friend. Relying on a host of laboratory studies and compelling anecdotal evidence—like the story of major league pitcher Rick Ankiel, who suddenly lost the ability to control a baseball but reinvented himself as an outfielder—Kross is an amiable guide through this fascinating and complex territory. He illustrates the value of the simple act of distancing—visualizing oneself as a third-party observer or invoking mental
reviews | nonfiction time travel—to gain perspective on how a momentary crisis might appear to a neutral party or with the benefit of hindsight. In one experiment, something as simple as a temporary shift from negative “I-talk” to referring to oneself in the second or third person provided dramatic benefits. And in one revealing chapter, Kross explains how placebos and rituals can help tame the worst aspects of the inner voice. “The challenge isn’t to avoid negative states altogether,” he concludes. “It’s to not let them consume you.” Anyone seeking help along that road will find Chatter a useful traveling companion. —Harvey Freedenberg
The Good Girls By Sonia Faleiro
True Crime The past several years have ushered in a wave of social upheaval and, in turn, a people’s revolution, whether by marching in the streets or by quietly but decisively reforming outdated values. These changes aren’t limited to the United States, however. India has also seen its share of shifting attitudes, particularly toward women, girls and sexual violence. In 2012, though India was listed as one of the most dangerous places in the world to be female, its citizens were shocked into outrage by the rape and murder of a young medical student as she returned home from watching a movie. Mass protests and publicity stirred the government to reconsider how its justice system tried sexual crimes. In the wake of these events, journalist Sonia Faleiro traveled to India to investigate and document the status of Indian girls and women. Before she arrived, however, a second incident tore through the country: Two teenage girls in Uttar Pradesh, a low-caste, high-poverty farming region, were found hanging from a tree in an orchard not far from their homes. What erupted afterward lay bare caste divisions, family strife, political corruption and stubborn attitudes toward women, girls and sexual purity. The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing (Grove, $26, 9780802158208) is a thoughtful, careful narrative of these events and an examination of the many issues influencing this tangled case. Faleiro reconstructs scenes using multiple thorough interviews with the people who were present, and she takes care to never insert herself into her retelling. Through her, however, the reader comes to know the people involved. Padma and Lalli (renamed in the narrative due to Indian law prohibiting the release of the names of victims) were two girls who bear so many of the utterly familiar hallmarks of teenage girldom.
Their families, friends and neighbors, in whom love, tradition and despair interweave, become familiar as well. The reader also comes to know the cultural topography of India as a country in flux, where tradition and the rigid “safeguarding” of women hold fast in some corners, while in others women wear jeans and ride public transportation while their parents plan to send them on to higher education. Even as corruption and hope vie with one another politically and poverty touches everything, The Good Girls never loses sight of the human heart of its story. It brings us close to these people and their problems and heartaches and, in so doing, makes us examine our own. —Anna Spydell
By Simon Winchester
History Land is something many of us take for granted. It’s here, under our feet, grounding us and giving us a sense of home. But as Simon Winchester (The Map That Changed the World) elucidates in his comprehensive new book, Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World (Harper, $29.99, 9780062938336), it’s actually a precarious, ever-changing reality that has been stolen, purchased, defended and damaged by human activities. Weaving together elements of history, geography, geology and science, Winchester paints a raw, in-depth picture of the land that encircles our glorious planet, which is in crisis due to the looming effects of human-induced climate change. He touches on a vast number of topics that have impacted the land since the dawn of civilization, dividing the book into sections that focus on borders, ownership, stewardship, war and restoration. For example, in terms of land’s borders, things aren’t always what they appear to be. The “longest undefended border in the world,” over 5,000 miles between the U.S. and Canada, isn’t really undefended since there is “an array of unseen and unseeable electronic gadgetry” that guards the U.S. Other borders have been the cause of great pain and suffering, such as the Radcliffe Line drawn by British lawyer Sir Cyril Radcliffe in 1947, fracturing India and Pakistan. Land has also played a big role in cultural clashes, and Winchester does not mince words as he describes such social injustices as the horrendous treatment of Native Americans by Europeans. These injustices include land theft, cruel policies like “Indian removal” and the infamous westward passage known as the Trail of Tears.
But Winchester also discusses plenty of positive and beneficial ventures related to land, such as the huge task of mapping and sizing the world, as well as amazing engineering projects such as the Zuiderzee Works in the Netherlands, one of the most impressive hydraulic engineering projects on Earth. Ultimately Land is a truthful, revealing exposé, paying tribute to the territory we all share. —Becky Libourel Diamond
By Emily Rapp Black
Memoir To outsiders, Emily Rapp Black seemed to have overcome the death of her son and dissolution of her first marriage through finding a new partner and getting pregnant. “Congratulations!” they exclaimed. “You’re so strong and brave!” These sentiments, though well-meaning, haunted their recipient. At one point, Black did not want to communicate with anyone who had not recently lost a child. “There are few people who can go to that place with me,” she said while on tour for her second book, The Still Point of the Turning World, which explores the illness of her son, Ronan. Sanctuary (Random House, $27, 9780525510949), Black’s third book, probes the concept of resilience, extracting it from dewy notions of rebirth and foregrounding the enduring pain of life after trauma. Taking cues from the history of the word resilience—including the natural processes of butterflies (resin in their wings enables them to fly) and Viking ship construction (resilient ships were the ones that could absorb small wrecks)—Black ultimately aims to shed the shallow and damaging notions of resilience that outsiders continually tried to stick onto her story. To combat the lonely feelings that arose in response to these words, Black did the only thing that felt natural: She wrote about her experiences and researched everything she could find, scouring history, the natural sciences and, inevitably, self-help. In all, Black offers a memoir of the dear grief she bears for her son, sharing, for example, what she did with the clippings from his only haircut. At the same time, she details her intense feelings of new love and the elated exhaustion of early parenthood. When Black’s daughter, Charlie, was born, she was a joy and a balm. And Charlie, now a toddler, seems to know better than most about the hole that exists in their family, about a brother who is missing and the mother who deeply and steadfastly loves both of her children. If you are someone feeling a hurt that will never go away, someone who would be affirmed and
reviews | nonfiction comforted by real stories of people moving forward while wounded, then Black’s new memoir will be a balm to you, too. —Kelly Blewett
H When Harry Met Minnie By Martha Teichner
Memoir One of the delights of life in a big city is the chance encounter. For Martha Teichner, one such interaction changed her life, and When Harry Met Minnie: A True Story of Love and Friendship (Celadon, $26.99, 9781250212535) is her heartfelt tribute to that singular experience. Like many dog owners in Manhattan, Teichner—an Emmy-winning correspondent for “CBS Sunday Morning” since 1993—likes to take her bull terrier, Minnie, to the Union Square farmers market. Also like many dog owners, she recognizes others’ canines but not always the humans holding the leash. And so, when a golden retriever named Teddy and a man named Stephen say hello, it takes her a moment to place the man and a moment more to process what he’s saying: His friend Carol is dying of cancer and needs to find a home for Harry the bull terrier. Would Martha be interested? It’s a surprising, sad request but one the author relates to; she’s loved and lost several wonderful dogs and understands the anguish Carol must be feeling at not only her own declining health but also the possibility of Harry’s death if a new owner isn’t found. Teichner’s dog Goose has also recently died, and she’s been looking for another male bull terrier to keep Minnie company. Although it feels fated that Harry will become hers, Teichner is worried: about Carol’s feelings, about her ability to properly care for Harry, about how mercurial Minnie will react. She agrees to see how they all feel about each other, with Stephen as chauffeur and aide. What follows is a sweet and poignant getting-to-know-you process. Day visits turn into trial sleepovers for the dogs as Teichner and Carol text each other about their humorous canine- dating dance. As the women become dear friends, ever aware of the time limit on their togetherness, they assiduously analyze Harry’s many quirks and medical needs and watch with a mix of delight and sorrow as the dogs become pals as well. When Harry Met Minnie is often a heart-rending read—humans and animals suffer, die and grieve. It’s also studded with wry wit, meaningful musings on friendship and fascinating insights into the author’s and Carol’s lives and work. Teichner already has fans
from her decades at CBS, but she’s sure to gain even more with this lovely, moving ode to the beauty and pain of loving our fellow creatures, whether human, canine or otherwise. —Linda M. Castellitto
conceive, carry and bear a child. And as the book reached its closing pages, I found myself wanting to cheer as Berney and her partner become the parents they always wanted to be. —Kelly Blewett
H The Other Mothers
By Jennifer Berney
Memoir From a young age, writer Jennifer Berney knew she wanted a baby. Her longing is palpable and moving in The Other Mothers: Two Women’s Journey to Find the Family That Was Always Theirs (Sourcebooks, $16.99, 9781728222837) as she expresses her desire to care for another little creature, to nurture a life and see it thrive. But her partner, Kellie, is less sure, and Berney shares their story, relating how she and Kellie stayed present with each other as they felt their way through the decision to start a family. It’s a decision that cannot be rushed and requires both women to be patient and steadfast. Once they agree, the book moves on to explore the unique concerns of two women pursuing pregnancy and making a family. Questions of where to acquire sperm, how to aid conception and how to know if you are receiving adequate medical care unfold through a series of well-drawn scenes. As a queer woman living in Seattle, Berney expects that medical spaces will be designed with her in mind. The truth proves far more complicated—and infuriating. From impersonal and patriarchal sperm banks to maddening appointments with dense doctors, the journey often feels like a roller coaster. To contextualize her experiences, Berney investigates the history of queer family-making in the Seattle area and finds that informal community networks often facilitated the donation and fertilization processes. Such networks declined during the AIDS epidemic, but in Berney’s present-day story, as the months lengthen, she and her partner begin to pursue similar avenues within their community. Unlike the impersonal and expensive medical experts, these people truly understand the couple—and want to help them. In all, this is a beautiful book about love, family, identity and queer community by a gentle and observant writer. Berney is attuned to her body as it goes through the process of fertilization and loss, pregnancy and birth, and as it responds to the people she loves, whether her mother (who can make her heart race) or her partner (who makes her breathe deep) or her friends. As someone who had a child in the last year, I found myself nodding and tearing up as Berney describes what it feels like to want,
By Richard Thompson Ford
History D o es fashion matter? In his new book, Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fa s h i o n Ma d e Histor y (Simon & Schuster, $30, 9781501180064), Stanford Law School professor and author Richard Thompson Ford argues that it absolutely does—and not just to so-called fashionistas but to everyone, whether they realize it or not. Over the centuries, people have been praised and punished alike based on their manner of dress. As Ford explains, “Medieval and Renaissance-era sumptuary laws assigned clothing according to social rank” and “the laws of American slave states prohibited black people from dressing ‘above their condition.’ ” What someone wore could be a life-ordeath decision, he notes, pointing to Joan of Arc as an example. She was found guilty of heresy for wearing traditionally masculine attire in battle and was burned at the stake, making her “one of history’s first fashion victims” circa 1431. In addition to exploring how gender roles influence fashion rules, Ford looks at religion, politics, race and class as they relate to dress codes and their inherent contradictions. For example, a “hoodie sweatshirt is threatening on Trayvon Martin but disarmingly charming on Mark Zuckerberg.” And high heels? They originated as men’s riding shoes, later became a means of controlling women by “literally hobbling them” and are now often seen as signifiers of confidence and empowerment. Fashion’s very flexibility is what makes it exciting, of course. It’s “a wearable language” and means of expression that, depending on the beholder, can be thrilling or confusing, threatening or comforting, which black and white photos demonstrate throughout the book. In Dress Codes, Ford has created a thorough and well-thought-out history of fashion from a legal and societal perspective. Whether exploring cultural appropriation, praising Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s lace neckwear or cautioning social media users that “every triumph or crime of fashion lives on in a digital archive,” the author is knowledgeable and passionate about his topic. Readers will come away with a new understanding of—and critical eye for—what we wear and why. — Linda M. Castellitto
q&a | lynne bertrand
The reluctant fantasist Lynne Bertrand reveals how she created the world of City of the Uncommon Thief, one of the most unusual fantasy settings you’ll ever read. Set in a walled, quarantined city made of a thousand towers, City of the Uncom mon Thief is the story of three teenagers who find themselves drawn into a tangled web of lies and magic after one of them steals a pair of “uncommon” knitting needles, or “knotting spikes,” as they’re called in the book’s unique parlance.
© JO CHATTMAN
Your previous books were picture books. Why did you begin writing young adult? My initial idea was a picture book about a mob of urban waifs living in a gone city and their discovery of a cellar full of knitted animals that were alive. That story was too much to be contained in a picture book’s short form, so over the years, I took it apart and reworked elements of it. In YA fiction, you can go anywhere, use all the words, consider with honesty any thought. To be 13, 15, 17 is to be human times 10. It’s a time of unprotected freedom, death, work, love. That’s a good place for a writer. One of the questions in the book is what or who is “common” or “uncommon.” What drew you to this idea? I think of City as a reluctant fantasy. I didn’t intend to include anything magical, but I felt about the knotting spikes the way Bilbo feels about his ring: I had to have them. At the same time, I was determined to keep it under control, to understate that magic. I felt the whole city’s agreement with me on that. Nobody wants any trouble in the city. Nobody wants anything out of the ordinary to happen, because this is already a disastrous, walled-in non-place, and everyone is hanging on by their fingernails. So I called the spikes “uncommon” as a way of saying “nothing to see here,” nothing magical or rare or stupendous or otherworldly. As soon as that word, uncommon, was on the page, it became a way of exploring the things we dismiss. It’s easier to sort and discard in some binary way (common versus rare) than to look twice and see what a rare thing some piece of art, some story, some idea, some person, some animal, some tool, really is. How did you go about creating the setting of the city? What would it be like to stay inside forever? How would you get food if you couldn’t go out? What if something scared you so much you locked the doors and, for centuries, never unlocked them? What if you didn’t know where you were in place or time? Those questions were on my mind. And then I let the city manifest those questions. Buildings too high. Locks too permanent. Food once a year. Work that had to save you. Holidays celebrating the sunless passing of time. Social constructs that kept everyone just sane enough. And then I thought about what the children would do and what the teenagers would do in such a construct.
What works inspired this book? The biggest influences were the epics and myths I read in school, especially tales of the Greeks and Romans, and most of all The Odyssey. I didn’t even realize what I was writing with this book until I recognized fragments of an invocation to the muse, of a beginning in medias res, of a hero story, of wisdom characters. My efforts then became more intentional—to write on a grander scale, to add a representative from some sort of pantheon that had been lacking, to get comfortable with a vast map. I love the nostalgia, the big genealogies, the journey, the question of heroism and the clash of good versus evil in epics and legends. In such stories, or in a city the size of this city, once you let go and face the things that frighten you, you’re as gone as Odysseus. You have to tie yourself to the mast or outsmart the Cyclops in the cave, because how else are you going to get home? Storytelling is a key cultural practice in your book. Why? My father is a preacher. Like anyone who’s grown up in a temple, mosque, church or synagogue, I was a of “The Book.” Narrative “Stories can change child is the treasure, the currency of the world, carry you sacred cultures. If the house is on fire, you grab the Book on through hell, bring your way out. In college when I studied levity, remind you of the Bible as literary narrative, what’s possible.” it was like discovering secret passages in a house I grew up in. Of course, I was also reading other books all my life. What began as faith through narrative extended to become another kind of faith in narrative. Stories can change the world, carry you through hell, bring levity, remind you of what’s possible.
City of the Uncommon Thief Dutton, $19.99, 9780525555322
Fantasy Visit BookPage.com to read our starred review.
I was fascinated by the way you subverted notions of heroism—what a hero looks like, what they’re called, where they come from. What do you think makes someone a hero? At 2 a.m. when I can’t sleep, I watch Instagram videos—of a cop saving a street dog off the high truss of a suspension bridge; of some powerful 20-year-old athlete hiking through the wasteland that was southeastern Australia in 2020 to save one kangaroo. I watch videos about people who choose, as their life’s work, to organize food, security patrols, showers and extra blankets for people who live in the tunnels and underpasses of a city. Generally speaking, a lot of people euthanize street dogs. Poachers jack kangaroos. A lot of us fear the disenfranchised humans who live under bridges. I’ve never been asked this question before, but I think heroism could be described as the high-risk leveraging of your own power on behalf of someone else who doesn’t matter to plenty of other people. It involves sacrifice and has the potential to look foolish. We mainly tell the stories of heroes who succeed, but success isn’t a requisite for heroism, and there are other stories that shouldn’t be forgotten. —Luis G. Rendon
reviews | young adult
H Concrete Rose By Angie Thomas
Fiction Angie Thomas returns to the Garden Heights neighborhood in Concrete Rose (Balzer + Bray, $19.99, 9780062846716), a powerhouse prequel that explores the life of Maverick Carter, the father of The Hate U Give’s protagonist, Starr. As the book opens in 1998, Maverick is a carefree 17-year-old kid. He’s happy to spend time with his girlfriend, joke around with his cousin and deal a bit for the King Lords alongside his best friend—just enough to help his mom bring in a little extra cash, since his dad has been in prison for nine years. But when Maverick finds out he’s the father of a 3-month-old boy, his world changes in an instant. He accepts his responsibility on the day he receives
By Kristin Cashore
Fantasy Fans of Kristin Cashore’s previous books set in the fantastical world of the Seven Realms (Graceling, Fire and Bitterblue) will pick up Winter keep (Dial, $19.99, 9780803741508) with certain expectations. Breathe a sigh of relief now: Winterkeep does not disappoint. Told in multiple narrative voices, not all of which are human, and featuring both new and returning characters, Winterkeep begins with a mystery. Why did a ship carrying Queen Bitterblue’s envoy to the nation of Winterkeep sink before its passengers could convey a critical message about zilfium, a powerful but environmentally destructive fuel mined there? Bitterblue, along with her adviser Giddon and spy Hava, depart on a diplomatic voyage to investigate, but very little goes as planned. In a seemingly parallel story set in Winterkeep’s renowned academy, a politics and government student named Lovisa—whose parents represent the continent’s two political parties, the earth- conscious Scholars and the practical Industrialists— goes in search of a mysterious hidden object. And at the bottom of the ocean, an enormous, many- tentacled creature of the deep who has grown fond of sunken ships and sparkly treasures begins to sing. There’s no straightforward good and evil in Winterkeep. Instead, there are cats and keys and
the results of the paternity test and begins to raise the child, even as the boy’s mother disappears. As the weight and exhaustion of fatherhood begin to add up for Maverick—on top of balancing high school, work, relationships with his friends and maybestill girlfriend, and the sudden, violent killing of someone who was like a brother to him—Thomas chronicles the makings of a character that readers have only previously known as a mature man and father figure. Along the way, Maverick wrestles
with loyalty, revenge, responsibility and the siren song of the streets— one that promises a fast life down a hard road to ruin. Thomas also reveals the meanings behind Maverick’s name and his children’s names and deepens our understanding of the resonance of Tupac’s lyrics in these characters’ lives. The Hate U Give became a literary phenomenon because of the depth and authenticity of Thomas’ characters, and those elements shine once again in Concrete Rose. Though it can be read as a standalone work, this prequel adds so much to our understanding of The Hate U Give that reading them together will be especially rewarding. —Justin Barisich
cake, telepathic foxes and flying airships, dolphins that speak only in images, locked drawers and very interesting teas. And lurking in the background are tales of the Keeper, a monster of myth who keeps the land and sea in balance and rises up in fury if the balance is disturbed. By transporting the action to a new stage, Cashore ensures that Winterkeep is as accessible as possible to readers unfamiliar with her previous books, though there’s much here to reward longtime fans. Winterkeep is a tale full of plotty intrigue and characters who must uncover truths within themselves even as they navigate a world of secrets around them. The detailed world building, slow-burning suspense, emotional tenderness and nuanced perspectives on gender and sexuality, all of which have become Cashore’s calling cards, are all on full display and as enjoyable as ever. —Jill Ratzan
to deliver. At 17, Lily Hu is also living two lives. A good student and obedient daughter, she knows she likes girls and has begun to fall for her new friend, Kath. She also knows she can’t be open about their relationship, but the gay nightclub she’s been sneaking out to—full of white faces and casual racism—is hardly a safe haven either. Malinda Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club (Dutton, $18.99, 9780525555254) is a work of historical fiction that’s as meticulously researched as it is full of raw, authentic emotion.
H Last Night at the Telegraph Club
By Malinda Lo
Historical Fiction San Francisco’s Chinatown in the mid-1950s contains two worlds folded into one another: Its tightknit community looks out for its own interests, but many of its businesses serve white tourists in search of a particular experience that the community feels obligated
Lily Hu is a 1950s heroine that readers will love. The book is divided into sections, with timelines that highlight historical events and situate the lives of Lily’s family members among them. Senator McCarthy’s antagonism toward Communism has made neighbors afraid of one another, and his movement also targets people who are gay and lesbian. If Lily and Kath’s relationship is discovered, the consequences for Lily’s family will be disastrous. Lily’s parents’ own stories are complicated and full of difficult choices, and they want their daughter to choose the easier path that their sacrifices have made possible. But Lily is a protagonist to be reckoned with. Her aunt’s work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory sparks her fascination with space exploration. When her relationship with Kath leads to heartbreaking consequences, Lily is steadfast and faces them head-on. Lo’s writing is packed with sensory details; her descriptions of midcentury San Francisco are gorgeous, and she vividly brings its lesbian subculture to life. Among these excellent details are the pulp novels Lily reads, which allowed queer people
reviews | young adult to see themselves on the page (though such representations always ended in suffering), as well as popular music that revealed how gender could be a playground, even in a period with rigid masculine and feminine roles. Shout it from the highest hills: This is a beautiful, brave story, and Lily is a heroine that readers will love. —Heather Seggel
H The Girls I’ve Been By Tess Sharpe
Thriller “This is survival,” says Nora O’Malley, a teenage con artist holed up in a bank that’s being robbed. She’s nervously plotting her escape with her girlfriend, Iris, and ex-boyfriend and best friend, Wes. There are others trapped in the bank as well, but they can’t help—not like Nora can. Not like Rebecca, Samantha, Haley, Katie and Ashley can. See, they’re all one and the same, a Rolodex of all the identities Nora has known since she was a child. To Nora, the men with guns in the bank are just more men to con, more men she has to survive.
Not since “Veronica Mars” have hardscrabble swagger, enormous grief and teenage noir combined so satisfyingly. Nora was born into a life of lies and violence. Her mother, a con artist with predilections for abusive men and the finer things in life, bestowed different identities on her daughter, giving her personalities and hair colors to match. Nora learned to assume roles such as the good girl or the victim—whatever it took to win over a mark. As Nora calls upon the skills her mother taught her in order to outwit the trigger-happy bank robbers, author Tess Sharpe unveils the stories of Nora’s past identities and recounts how Nora’s older sister, Lee, drew her away from their mother to begin a new life. Not since “Veronica Mars” have hardscrabble swagger, enormous grief and teenage noir been combined into such a satisfying piece of storytelling. The Girls I’ve Been (Putnam, $18.99, 9780593353806) is a heart-wrenching, perfectly paced, cinematic thriller with a Netflix adaptation helmed by “Stranger Things” star Millie Bobby Brown already in the works.
One scar at a time, Sharpe reveals the connections among Nora, Lee, Wes and Iris. She examines their wounds with care, rather than picking at them for shock value or cheap thrills. Every act of violence these characters have experienced, no matter how small, adds weight to their actions and deepens our understanding of who they are. Nora is an astonishingly strong protagonist, though as this thrilling book argues, she shouldn’t have to be. Like many who have experienced abuse, Nora has often felt that she had no choice but to survive. “I told you,” she says to Iris. “I’m someone who survives. We’re going to survive together.” The Girls I’ve Been is a romance, a tragedy and a story about reclaiming agency and power. It is a triumph. —Luis G. Rendon
Fat Chance, Charlie Vega
By Crystal Maldonado
Fiction Charlie Vega lives in the shadow of her thin, beautiful best friend, Amelia. Charlie is used to guys flirting with Amelia while ignoring her. Even her own mother pays more attention to Amelia than to Charlie. After a humiliating incident at a school dance, Charlie falls for Brian, a sweet guy from her art class. Romance blooms, which prompts unexpected jealousy from Amelia and disapproval from Charlie’s mom, who thinks Charlie should set her sights on a thinner guy. During a heated argument, Amelia’s hurtful comments drive a wedge between the friends and make Charlie question her feelings for Brian. Through Charlie’s conversational first-person narration, Crystal Maldonado explores the pressure placed on fat people to conform in a society that equates beauty with being thin and the way this pressure intersects with Charlie’s race and gender. While Charlie embraces her fat and Puerto Rican identities, she’s far from immune to feelings of insecurity about her body or the desire to be thin. Charlie’s mother, who lost a dramatic amount of weight after Charlie’s father died, causes some of those feelings. When she buys a scale and insists that Charlie weigh herself daily, Charlie refuses and is subsequently grounded. Maldonado’s depiction of the way that beauty expectations can come not just from peers but also from family rings true. Charlie’s relationship with Brian is sweet and tender, but like many first loves, it’s also full of awkwardness, self-doubt and jealousy. As Charlie and Brian become closer, she and Amelia begin to drift apart, forcing the girls to have tough conversations about their friendship.
Fat Chance, Charlie Vega (Holiday House, $18.99, 9780823447176) is an accomplished debut, and its nuanced depictions of first love, a complex mother- daughter relationship and fat acceptance make it stand out. —Kimberly Giarratano
Love Is a Revolution
By Renée Watson
Fiction Nala’s priorities for the summer before her senior year do not include activism, but they do include finding love. So when she begrudgingly tags along to an Inspire Harlem event with her cousin Imani and meets charismatic Tye Brown, she decides an interest in social justice might not be so bad after all. But as she feigns a full slate of volunteer commitments and an in-depth knowledge of social movements (not to mention a vegetarian diet), Nala quickly realizes she’s in over her head. Her relationship with Imani becomes strained, and she finds herself sacrificing more and more of her real self in exchange for Tye’s love. As her lies finally unravel, Nala learns that loving herself is the real revolution. In Love Is a Revolution (Bloomsbury, $18.99, 9781547600601), Newbery Honor author Renée Watson (Piecing Me Together) spins a fresh teen love story. Though Nala and Tye’s budding romance takes center stage for much of the book, readers are most likely to see themselves in Nala’s relationships with her friends, her family and herself. From Nala’s efforts to impress Tye by achieving a “Black-girl- natural chic look,” to her secret ice-cream-andadvice meetings with her grandmother’s boyfriend, to her feminist dance parties with her friend Sadie, Watson builds this book on small, detailed moments that bring each character into focus. The authenticity and specificity of these relationships make the growing rift between Nala and Imani feel real and immediate as both girls learn to love themselves and each other. Nala’s lies are eventually exposed, forcing her to reckon with who she actually is versus what she wants others to believe about her. Watson handles this moment with respect and nuance, propelling Nala to the right path without pretending the journey will be easy. Readers who have struggled with identifying who they are or who they’re supposed to be, navigating evolving relationships or practicing “radical self-love” will find Love Is a Revo lution to be an inspiring guide—not to mention a delightful read. —Norah Piehl
reviews | children’s
H Red, White, and Whole By Rajani LaRocca
Middle Grade Reha, an Indian American girl, narrates Rajani LaRocca’s Red, White, and Whole (Quill Tree, $16.99, 9780063047426, ages 9 to 12) in first-person free verse as she navigates what she describes as “two lives. / One that is Indian, / one that is not.” It’s 1983 and Reha, an only child, is in middle school. The differences between her two cultures— the American culture she experiences at school and the Indian culture that surrounds her at home— make her feel like she’s being pulling in opposite directions with more force than ever. But Reha adores her parents and doesn’t want to disappoint them. She studies hard and tries not to complain about feeling different. She intends to be a doctor when she grows up, even though she is afraid of blood. When her mother, Amma, gets sick with leukemia,
Amari and the Night Brothers By B.B. Alston
Middle Grade Things are not g o i ng w e l l f o r Amari Peters. Her scholarship to tony Jefferson Academy is being revoked on the last day of school because she shoved a classmate after being subjected to continuous bullying. And as if she didn’t have enough to worry about, her older brother, Quinton, has been missing for six months after starting a secret job. The police have stopped looking for him, assuming he was involved in illegal activities and met an unfortunate end, but Amari refuses to give up. So much more awaits Amari in debut author B.B. Alston’s lively fantasy adventure, Amari and the Night Brothers (Balzer + Bray, $17.99, 9780062975164, ages 9 to 12). She is soon whisked away to tryouts at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, the top-secret agency where her brother once flourished. To become a Junior Agent, Amari must pass three quests, and she plans to investigate what’s become of Quinton as she does so. Alston maintains a rapid pace as he creates a magical world full of dangers that lurk around every corner and drops delectable details with obvious delight. Fantasy readers will love watching Amari master illusions and spells and discover the “truth”
Reha begins to feel guilty about her secret desire to not be so different from her classmates. She bargains with God and tries to be perfect so that her mother will get better. The poems in Red, White, and Whole are vibrant and lyrical, clear and smooth. In her first novel in verse, LaRocca (Midsummer’s Mayhem) showcases the best of what verse can do, telling a story that is spare, direct and true, every word and idea placed with intentional care. Reha’s narration shines with honest emotion, and
about creatures like leprechauns, dragons and the abominable snowman. There’s a whole world of misunderstanding out there, and sadly, Amari’s new school isn’t much different from Jefferson Academy. It’s also filled with privileged, bullying classmates who are intimidated by Amari’s intelligence. Thankfully, she makes a few trusted friends, including Dylan, whose twin sister becomes Amari’s archrival and whose older sister disappeared with Quinton. Amari’s reaction to an instructor who tells her he’s never seen “a worse prospect” for the Bureau encapsulates her determination: “I’m tired of being underestimated,” she retorts. “You’re wrong about me.” Fans of blockbuster middle grade fantasy sagas will adore this empowering, action-packed series opener featuring a confident Black heroine who is just beginning to discover her own gifts. —Alice Cary
By Vikki VanSickle Illustrated by Anna Pirolli
Picture Book You might think that, if a mouse were to become a graffiti artist, they would use creamy yellow paint in tribute to delicious cheese. But the prolific and eponymous(e) spray-painter i n A n o ny m o u s e (Tundra, $18.99, 9780735263949, ages 3 to 7) favors
its tenderness calls out to readers and invites them to feel what she feels at every turn. LaRocca brilliantly incorporates references to 1980s American pop culture and traditional Indian culture. Despite how difficult it is for Reha to feel like she fully belongs anywhere, she is richer because of her access to multiple sources of wisdom and stronger because she has learned to navigate a variety of cultural norms. Reha’s friendship with Rachel, whose Jewish faith plays a similar role in her life, is a smart parallel. Packed with evocative details of tween life in the ’80s, Red, White, and Whole is a sensitive comingof-age story with all the makings of a new middle grade classic. —Autumn Allen
a bright berry pink that pops against the brown and beige city buildings and streets where they live and work. As digitally drawn by Italian illustrator Anna Pirolli, Anonymouse’s striking and funny acts of guerrilla art offer encouragement to other urban-dwelling animals who are surrounded by high-rises and concrete, rather than trees and grass. In the painter’s tiny paws, satellite dishes become big-headed flowers, trompe l’oeil technique turns a dumpster into a chic raccoon cafe, and a well-placed image of a pink-winged bat alerts a traveling colony of the flying mammals that a nearby warehouse is a prime hangout spot. Anonymouse paints high in the sky and deep down underground, sending out cheeky signals to ants, birds and dogs alike. Animals and humans frolic in the faux shade of painted trees, enjoying the literal and figurative color added to their lives by the stealthy artist. But alas, Anonymouse must eventually move on. As the bright pink paint fades to a soft rose glow, the animals know their lives have been forever changed, and even more exciting, they begin to create art themselves. Regardless of whether Canadian author Vikki VanSickle drew inspiration from the activist-artist Banksy or the Swedish artist collective Anonymouse, she has created a charming and clever rodent rebel whose work, she writes, “always made the animals of the city think.” Anonymouse is a poetic and visually witty paean to the power of creativity and the ability of art to inspire and unite us. Readers will enjoy wondering what Anonymouse could be up to right now and will surely consider their own surroundings in a new, imaginative light. —Linda M. Castellitto
feature | black history for young readers
Black history now Four books introduce vital stories from African American history that every young reader should know.
© CRISTI SMITH-JONES
In the pages of these books, young readers will meet American heroes and Author Carole Boston Weatherford begins by celebrating the successes of heroines who made important contributions to a history we all share. Some the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma, also known as Black Wall lived long ago, some are still alive today, but each has left their indelible mark. Street. It was a place where commerce and community thrived through more Do you know about the remarkable life of William Still, “the Father of the than 200 businesses, including beauty shops, movie theaters, soda parlors, Underground Railroad”? If you don’t, as Don Tate explains in William Still and two Black-owned newspapers and the largest Black-owned hotel in the counHis Freedom Stories (Peachtree, $18.99, 9781561459353, ages 6 to 10), it’s because try. Floyd Cooper’s illustrations convey the hustle and bustle of this boomwhite abolitionists usually glorified ing, prosperous area and show the their own heroism while diminishexpressive faces of Greenwood’s ing the efforts of African Americans. residents filled with pride. Then, in a spread dominated by Born in New Jersey, Still was the son of formerly enslaved people who shadow, Weatherford explains, “All were forced to leave behind two of it took was one elevator ride, one their elder sons when they escaped seventeen-year-old white elevator enslavement in Maryland. At just operator accusing a nineteen-year8 years old, Still helped a neighbor old Black shoeshine man of assault avoid slave catchers and escape to for simmering hatred to boil over.” safety, an experience that defined the The horror that follows is rest of his life. As a young man, Still depicted with care, mindful that worked for the Pennsylvania Socithe book’s readers will be children. ety for the Abolition of Slavery and Many readers will feel angry at the assisted freedom-seeking people on injustice and violence that white the Underground Railroad. After a police officers, city officials and chance reunion with one of his older Tulsa residents inflicted on the brothers, who had escaped and made Black community in Greenwood. his way north, Still began recording Cooper’s illustrations shift powerthe testimonies of every person who fully as expressions of fear and passed through his office in case the sadness replace pride on Greenstories helped family members find wood residents’ faces. Lola, the daughter of photographer Cristi Smith-Jones, re-creates a each other. Still concealed his records after the passage The book ends in Tulsa’s modern-day Reconcilportrait of civil rights leader and U.S. representative of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 to protect himself and iation Park with a reminder of “the responsibility Barbara Jordan in That They Lived. the people he’d met, but he published them in 1872. we all have to reject hatred and violence and to Tate’s short sentences and accessible language convey the urgency of Still’s instead choose hope.” Detailed notes from Weatherford and Cooper root the work, and his illustrations sensitively communicate the danger and terror Tulsa Race Massacre in the context of anti-Black violence throughout American faced by enslaved people. Nighttime scenes bathed in ominous blue washes history. Cooper’s grandfather lived in Greenwood at the time of the massacre, a revelation that adds a deeply personal dimension to the book. Unspeakable are particularly effective. There’s plenty of hope here, too. One particularly deserves to be read by every student of American history. wonderful spread shows Still’s words like rays of light beaming from a copy of his book. “Stories save lives,” Tate writes. “William’s stories needed to be told, Packed with evocative language and energetic illustrations, Jump at the Sun: so slavery’s nightmare will never happen again.” The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston (Caitlyn The nightmare of racism did not end with abolition, however, and Unspeak Dlouhy, $17.99, 9781534419131, ages 4 to 8) is a fabulous showcase of not only able: The Tulsa Race Massacre (Carolrhoda, $17.99, 9781541581203, ages 8 to Hurston’s storytelling abilities but also those of author Alicia D. Williams and 12) is an extraordinary account of the worst racial attack in American history, a illustrator Jacqueline Alcántara. Its vibrant opening lines offer a promise on 16-hour massacre in 1921 that destroyed thousands of homes and businesses which the book more than delivers: “In a town called Eatonville—a place where and left as many as 300 people dead. magnolias smelled even prettier than they looked, oranges were as sweet as
feature | black history for young readers
I loved reading our “Better Homes and Gardens Illustrated Medical Encyclopedia.” I guess I’ve always loved nonﬁction— even though the book tu turned me into a hypochondriac.
“William Still and His Freedom Stories” is about a man who helped hundreds of freedom-seekers escape from slavery. He recorded their stories to help reunite them with their families.
meet DON TATE
My aunt Eleanora E. Tate. She is an author. She wrote a book that was made into a movie. When it debuted at the library, she spoke about her work. That inspired me to become a book creator too.
My Grandpa was a hard worker and a great provider. He taught me to “do it right, or don’t do it at all.” He was a janitor.
I would like to learn how to play chess better. My dad taught me to play when I was a kid. But he always beat me (really bad), so I gave up and stuck to drawing.
© SAM BOND PHOTOGRAPHY
they were plump, and the people just plain ol’ got along—lived a girl who was Cristi Smith-Jones’ daughter Lola re-create the image in full costume. attracted to tales like mosquitoes to skin. Zora was her name.” Every page of this book has been tailor-made to appeal to young people, from Williams focuses on key moments throughout Hurston’s life when she was Riley’s thoughtful profiles to the way Smith-Jones stages each portrait to honor inspired by her mother’s advice to “jump at de sun. You might not land on de the spirit of its subject rather than merely imitate the original photograph. Her sun, but at least you’d get off de ground.” As Williams chronicles Hurston’s attention to small details is extraordinary, such as Shirley Chisholm’s hornjourney toward literary greatness, she intersperses biographical details with rimmed glasses and Duke Ellington’s pocket square. lively commentary and poetic descriptions. Her writing sings and soars. A variety of both historical and contemporary figures is included, and Riley relates fascinating stories about each of them. Muhammad Alcántara’s illustrations playfully complement Williams’ prose and bring this tale to life on sunny pages filled with Ali, for instance, might never have become a boxer if his These books reveal bright colors. Whether Hurston is running through the Florbike hadn’t been stolen when he was 12. After he told police ida swamps of her childhood or dancing the Charleston in officer Joe Martin, “When I ﬁnd whoever took my bike, I’m how Black history Harlem, her zest for life shines through. gonna whup him,” Martin introduced him to boxing lessons. is being made An author’s note explains that Hurston died in 1960 and Fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to give up her bus was buried in an unmarked grave until 1973, when Alice seat to a white man on March 2, 1955—nine months before every day. Walker honored Hurston with a tombstone inscribed with Rosa Parks did the same. “It felt like Harriet Tubman was “A Genius of the South.” Jump at the Sun will leave readers pushing me down on one shoulder and Sojourner Truth was in awe of the life of this national treasure and eager to discover more of her pushing me down on the other shoulder,” Colvin later recalled. “History had me glued to the seat.” Every profile ends with a takeaway, such as “Claudette wonderful words for themselves. Colvin taught us that you are never too young to make a difference.” Books that tell childhood stories of notable people are beloved by young readers, and That They Lived: African Americans Who Changed the World “We want to show [young people] that every important or powerful or talented (Wayne State University, $16.99, 9780814347546, ages 8 to 12) makes a fantastic or beautiful person in the world was once a child,” write Riley and Smith-Jones addition to this category. Rochelle Riley profiles 20 Black leaders, including in a foreword. To look closely at the young faces in Smith-Jones’ photographs activists, scientists, athletes and artists, and accompanying each brief biogand then at the luminaries to which they pay tribute is to gain a powerful underraphy are two photographs: The first is a well-known image of the profile’s standing that Black history is being made every day—even today. —Alice Cary subject, and in the second, either Riley’s grandson Caleb or photographer
Don Tate’s William Still and His Freedom Stories (Peachtree, $18.99, 9781561459353, ages 6 to 10) chronicles the extraordinary life of the man who collected the stories of thousands of people who escaped slavery on the Underground Railroad. In addition to his work as an author and illustrator, Tate, a two-time Ezra Jack Keats Award winner, is a founding host of the Brown Bookshelf, a blog dedicated to the range of Black voices who create books for young readers. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his family.
Make reading a daily habit. Brush your teeth. Comb your hair. Read.