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CLAIRE MESSUD

The author of The Emperor’s Children returns with an ambitious family saga.

‘OUTLANDER’ MEETS JOHN LE CARRÉ

Kaliane Bradley’s debut is a time-travel romance to savor.

AAPI MONTH

Celebrate culinary traditions with four mouthwatering new books.

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cover story | cozy fantasies

A bucolic island, a dazzling underwater world and an alpine tea shop beckon to readers in search of charming magical retreats. page 10

features

feature | police procedurals

Two new mysteries explore the aftermath of murder from the perspectives of the perpetrators’ families and the dogged detectives who pursue the truth.

q&a | kaliane bradley

Outlander meets John le Carré in Kaliane Bradley’s dazzling debut.

interview | aarathi prasad

Aarathi Prasad’s captivating history of silk brims with a sense of wonder and discovery.

feature | bestseller watch

Mark your calendars: May brings new titles from blockbuster authors like Ruth Ware, Stephen King and John Grisham.

q&a | claire messud

The acclaimed author’s latest saga follows the French Algerian Cassar family, who find themselves bit players in the global shifts after World War II.

interview | darcie little badger

Darcie Little Badger discusses the strange, beautiful world of Sheine Lende, the prequel to her acclaimed debut, Elatsoe.

Meet Cathy Wu, author-illustrator of Popo and Meimei Can Help

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feature | meet the author
columns romance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 audio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 whodunit . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 book clubs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 lifestyles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 sci-fi & fantasy 11 the hold list . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 reviews fiction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 nonfiction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 young adult . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 children’s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29

romance by christie ridgway

HMy Season of Scandal

Julie Anne Long exquisitely captures sensuous, romantic longing in My Season of Scandal (Avon, $9.99, 9780063280953). Country miss and physician’s daughter Catherine Keating is embarking on a London society husband hunt from the charming Grand Palace on the Thames boardinghouse. Living one floor above her is Lord Dominic Kirke, a fiery, justice-seeking politician with a notorious reputation. They should have nothing in common, and yet they find in each other like minds and hearts. Dominic tries to keep clear of Catherine, believing his worldliness and tarnished past will hurt her prospects, but they are drawn together at every ball. The resolution will induce sighs and perhaps a few happy tears, as what romance reader can resist a tale starring a jaded hero and an innocent but plucky heroine?

The Good Ones Are Taken

The ever-popular friends-to-lovers trope is front and center in Taj McCoy’s The Good Ones Are Taken (MIRA, $18.99, 9780778305422). Maggie’s full life is only lacking one thing: a man to love. Well, that’s not entirely true. There’s Garrett, her best friend, but back when they were teenagers, they decided not to cross the line into romance. But with Maggie’s duties as maid of honor for her two besties coming up, she feels pressured to find a Prince Charming and determinedly puts herself out there. She doesn’t quite fit with anyone until she takes a closer look at Garrett—yet can she risk ruining what they have? Set in Los Angeles, The Good Ones Are Taken is fun, fresh and filled with good food, great clothes and scorching love scenes. Readers will want to hang out with Maggie and company while rooting for her happy ending.

Earls Trip

Jenny Holiday’s tongue-in-cheek Regency romance Earls Trip (Kensington, $17.95, 9781496745071) showcases her trademark charm, humor and well-developed characters. Three aristocratic friends (two earls and a viscount) depart London for their annual sabbatical. But after a last-minute request from an old family friend, Archibald Fielding-Burton, the Earl of Harcourt, rescues sisters Clementine and Olive Morgan from a conniving blackguard— and then brings the two women along on his getaway with the guys. Archie and Clementine, once childhood friends, soon discover a passion they didn’t expect and don’t particularly welcome, at least at first. While Holiday peppers the story with amusing set pieces and cute, anachronistic chapter titles, there is true heart to this tale of a man and woman coming to understand, appreciate and admire each other as much as they love each other.

Christie Ridgway is a lifelong romance reader and a published romance novelist of over 60 books.

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HCome and Get It

Come and Get It (Penguin Audio, 13 hours) follows the colliding stories of students, resident assistants and professors at the University of Arkansas—and it’s full of intrigue, betrayal and a lot of drama. The audiobook is read by Nicole Lewis, who also lent her voice to Kiley Reid’s hard-hitting debut novel, Such a Fun Age.

Lewis’ narration drips with nuanced sarcasm. Word choice and accents matter in Come and Get It, and Lewis takes full advantage of the audiobook format to give characters their own unique voices, expertly acting out their evasions, backhanded compliments and double-entendres. Listening in feels like hearing a friend share a piece of enthralling, complicated gossip from their undergraduate days. Listeners will get lost in the story: Reid writes unabashedly about the unique dramas of university life, and Lewis’ dynamic choices as narrator make it difficult to turn the audiobook off.

Interesting Facts About Space

Interesting Facts About Space (S&S Audio, 8.5 hours) is a character study of Enid, a 26-year-old woman whose life might be falling apart. We meet Enid when she begins to suspect she has a stalker. As she tries to differentiate between her paranoia and real signs of threat, Enid simultaneously juggles a constellation of self-esteem issues, convoluted family dynamics, a technological bug at work and a confusing dating life. Natalie Naudus lends an articulate, emphatic voice to the firstperson narration, impressively capturing Enid’s varied shades of introspection, from reminiscence to anger to rueful comedy. At the center of this novel is the question of what it is to be normal. Is it an inner feeling or dependent on outside perception? Is it an ideal as distant as outer space, or is it actually achievable?

H Root Fractures

Award-winning poet Diana Khoi Nguyen traverses deeply personal emotional landscapes in her second collection, Root Fractures (S&S Audio, 2 hours). Nguyen’s poems, as the title suggests, trace her family’s fractures, from their origins in Vietnam, to her father’s attempts to resettle and assimilate in California, to her brother’s self-erasure from the family. Movingly read by Nguyen herself, the audiobook offers a close approximation of attending a poetry reading. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of producing this audio version was that Nguyen often incorporates photographs and unique text treatments in her written work. The audiobook of Root Fractures comes with a PDF of these poems, and clever techniques, such as muted sound to approximate grayed-out text or multiple tracks to replicate overlapping text, make the auditory experience a beautiful complement to the visual one.

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audio READ BY THE AUTHOR READ BY KATHLEEN MCINERNEY READ BY
READ BY JULIET
PAUL DATEH, HELEN LASER, & JOHN PIRHALLA READ BY JANUARY LAVOY READ BY JANUARY LAVOY READ BY EUNICE WONG AUDIOBOOKS TO PUT A MACMILLAN AUDIO
IN YOUR
JESSICA CLARKE
AUBREY
SPRING
STEP

H Death and Glory

One would not necessarily expect a detective novel set in 1894 London to be concerned with unfinished business regarding the U.S. Civil War, a conflict that had been over for the better part of 30 years. But author Will Thomas does not let any of that stand in his way in his latest historical mystery, Death and Glory (Minotaur, $28, 9781250864925). Private enquiry agents Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn have been called in by Scotland Yard and the crown. Their assignment? Arrange face time with the prime minister and four former Confederate leaders. Elements of the Confederacy are still alive and well in Central America, itching for a chance to rewrite history, and the four representatives hope to hold the prime minister to a past promise. In the closing months of the war, the Confederacy ordered and paid for an ironclad warship along the lines of the Merrimack and the Monitor; Great Britain was officially neutral, so it presented no diplomatic problems to take the order. However, the war drew to a close before delivery could be made. Now these so-called envoys must be dealt with in some form or fashion—a task riddled with pitfalls, some of which are deadly and not the least of which is determining if they truly are who they say they are. Fans of Thomas’ depiction of Victorianera London and his delightful use of surprising, offthe-wall cameos by historical figures will have their expectations repeatedly exceeded.

H Lost Birds

Anne Hillerman took over the Leaphorn & Chee mystery series after the death of her father, renowned Western author Tony Hillerman. The title of her latest, Lost Birds (Harper, $30, 9780063344785), refers to hundreds of Native American children who, under the midcentury Indian Adoption Project, were adopted by white families and separated from their tribal communities and heritage. Retired Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, now a private investigator when the mood strikes him, has been retained to find the family and birth identity of a woman who possesses nothing more in the way of clues than an old photo of a Southwestern rock formation and a hand-woven baby blanket. (Note: Have a box of tissues ready. Seriously.) Meanwhile, married Navajo cops Jim Chee and Bernadette “Bernie” Manuelito pursue an investigation of their own: a huge explosion at a school and the concurrent disappearance of its caretaker, a longtime acquaintance of Leaphorn. Subplots abound, weaving the main characters together and displaying their near-supernatural bonds with one another, with their Navajo Nation home and with their history. Hillerman has shown endless respect for the work of her father in her writing, but also brings a female perspective to the stories, featuring Bernie more prominently and offering a look at the issues facing Native American women today. Tony’s legacy is in safe, loving hands.

Missing White Woman

Kellye Garrett’s stark Missing White Woman (Mulholland, $29, 9780316256971) offers a Black woman’s perspective on the investigation of, and public reaction to, the disappearance and subsequent murder of a white woman. Jersey City, New Jersey, may not sound like a dream destination for a romantic weekend with your sweetheart, but it does serve up some lovely views of the Manhattan skyline after dark. At first, it is idyllic for Breanna Wright and her boyfriend, Tyler Franklin, offering Bree a break from her humdrum daily life in Baltimore. And then on the last day, the idyll is totally ruined: Bree pads downstairs and finds the bloodied, badly battered and quite dead body of a blond white woman, and Tyler is nowhere to be found. Then the investigation begins, recounted to us by Bree, and it becomes painfully clear that a) the attention and dedication put in to solving the disappearance and subsequent murder of a white woman is quite intensive, much more so than if the victim had been Black, and b) when there are Black people central to—or even peripheral to— the investigation, they receive a lot more unwanted attention from the police than white people. Clearheaded and opinionated, Breanna is a compelling guide through the morass. The troubling, eye-opening but still highly entertaining Missing White Woman would be a superb choice for a book club, guaranteed to stimulate lively discussion among the participants.

H Death of a Master Chef

Police Commissaire Georges Dupin returns in JeanLuc Bannalec’s latest mystery, Death of a Master Chef (Minotaur, $28, 9781250893055). Dupin is visiting the Breton port town of Saint-Malo to attend an meeting about advancing cooperation among various local police forces (yawn). In a local food market where Dupin is judiciously sampling the wares, a murder takes place virtually right under the commissaire’s nez. Although he gives chase, he quickly loses sight of the suspect. But no matter; everyone knows that the murder victim was well-known chef Blanche Trouin, and everyone also knows that the killer was Lucille Trouin, Blanche’s sister and a famed chef in her own right. The pair had long stoked the fire of the longest running sister-feud since Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland. This will not be the last murder: The victim’s husband meets his untimely demise soon after, followed in short order by a close friend. The case(s) will give the various Breton police departments a textbook opportunity to test out their skills at working together—let’s just say that Commissaire Dupin is not best pleased about that element of the investigation. French mysteries are like French cars (I know this from experience via my elderly but well-loved Peugeot convertible), cushy and très confortable, a bit slow from a standing start, charmingly quirky. With Death of a Master Chef, Bannalec delivers on all counts.

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by bruce tierney whodunit
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.

The past haunts the present

Two new mysteries explore the aftermath of murder

.

H Under the Storm

In November 1994, the rural Swedish community of Marbäck was forever changed when Lovisa Markstrom’s body was found in the ruins of a fire, and her boyfriend, Edvard Christensson, was charged with her murder.

There was never any doubt that he did it. As rookie policeman Vidar Jörgensson muses, Edvard’s father was a violent man, and in Marbäck, “sons turn out like their fathers; daughters like their mothers.”

H The Hunter’s Daughter

On the opening page of Nicola Solvinic’s standout debut, The Hunter’s Daughter (Berkley, $28, 9780593639726), Sheriff’s Lieutenant Anna Koray greets the reader with the following: “The first time I killed a man was on Tuesday.”

Edvard’s 7-year-old nephew, Isak Nyqvist, simply can’t fathom that his beloved uncle could have done such a thing. But Isak’s parents tell him he must keep quiet about it. And so, in Christoffer Carlsson’s intricately crafted Under the Storm (Hogarth, $19, 9780593449387), a mantle of grief settles on Isak’s small shoulders, setting him on a life path marked by unresolved anger.

Under the Storm has three parts. The first draws readers into the initial investigation. In the second, which takes place nine years later, a more experienced Vidar reexamines the case in the wake of possible new evidence. The third section, set in 2015, brings together the tragedies and tribulations of the preceding 30 years as Isak and Vidar push toward the truth, no matter the cost.

As in his internationally bestselling American debut, 2023’s Blaze Me a Sun, Carlsson demonstrates impressive character development and a knack for slow-building suspense as he invites readers to consider the shock waves that can emanate from one horrible act.

That terrible result to a domestic violence incident brings Anna’s past crashing into the present, opening a Pandora’s box of memories that were locked away via hypnosis 30 years ago. Solvinic, a career criminologist, reveals that said memories are of Anna’s father, a serial killer known as The Forest Strangler. Anna (re)discovers her father was responsible for the deaths of at least 27 young women, each of them bound with poison ivy and arranged in horrifying flower-filled tableaux. Anna’s been living under an assumed identity since his capture. Even as she reels from the discovery, she learns that someone is killing in their rural Midwestern county once again, with an MO very similar to her father’s. Making matters even worse, the killer’s been taunting Anna with their knowledge of her true identity.

For most of The Hunter’s Daughter, Anna straddles the territory between a repressed state and full knowledge, unsure whether she can trust her boyfriend, her colleagues or herself. It makes for an engrossing, hallucinogenic read that vibrates with increasing tension as Anna relentlessly works to determine whether biology and destiny are one and the same.

May is AAPI Heritage Month

Set in India, Parini Shroff’s The Bandit Queens (Ballantine, $18, 9780593498972) tells the story of Geeta, who struggles to earn a living as a jewelry maker after her violent husband leaves her. Gossiping villagers believe that she killed him, and Geeta realizes she has entered dangerous territory when other women approach her to get rid of their own abusive spouses. Shroff’s compassionate storytelling is enlivened by touches of comedy. Themes like domestic violence and the dynamics of marriage and family will inspire thoughtful dialogue among readers.

Book clubs will love digging in to these suspenseful reads by Asian American and Pacific Islander authors.

In Soon Wiley’s When We Fell Apart (Dutton, $17, 9780593185162), Min, a young Korean American man, seeks clarity after the sudden death of his girlfriend, Yu-jin. When Min learns that she killed herself, he is determined to find out why. A dedicated student with bright prospects, Yu-jin seemed to be thriving, but she had secrets. As Min delves into her past and the circumstances surrounding her death, he comes to terms with his own sense of self. Wiley’s hypnotic thriller is a standout thanks to nuanced characters and a rich portrayal of the experience of being caught between two cultures.

Mia P. Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobo (Berkley, $18, 9780593201671) is narrated by Lila Macapagal, a young woman who returns home to Illinois to help with her aunt’s Filipino restaurant, Tita Rosie’s Kitchen. A disagreeable food critic—and old flame of Lila’s— has been giving Tita Rosie’s bad reviews. When he dies after eating there, suspicion falls on Lila. With the backing of her meddlesome but well-meaning aunts, Lila tries to solve the mystery of his death. The first entry in Manansala’s delightful Tita Rosie’s Kitchen series, Arsenic and Adobo is seasoned with humor, drama and tasty culinary references.

In Kismet (Thomas & Mercer, $15.95, 9781542034258) by Amina Akhtar, Ronnie Khan’s life changes when she meets wellness influencer Marley Dewhurst, who convinces her to leave New York and spend time at a glamorous wellness retreat in Sedona, Arizona. At first, Ronnie enjoys the healthy lifestyle, but her visit takes a terrifying turn when local influencers are murdered. Akhtar crafts a clever thriller that’s also a funny sendup of wellness culture. Book clubs will enjoy exploring topics such as self-image and ideas of perfection.

A BookPage reviewer since 2003, Julie Hale recommends the best paperback books to spark discussion in your reading group.

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book clubs by julie hale
police
feature |
procedurals

A culinary tour of Asia

With both sweeping and granular detail, three cookbooks and one memoir offer a scrumptious sampling of Asian cuisine .

H Zao Fan

How complicated can breakfast possibly get? In Zao Fan: Breakfast of China (Interlink, $35, 9781623716950), Michael Zee writes that the enormity of Chinese cuisine is “both terrific and terrifying”—and what is usually the simplest, smallest meal of the day is no exception. Yet Zee demonstrates a knack seldom seen in English-language cookbooks for succinctly yet fully conveying the vastness and complexity of Chinese cuisine throughout the delightful recipes featured in Zao Fan. From fried Kazakh breads to savory tofu puddings, Zee provides in-depth yet accessible insight into a thorough swath of breakfast foods.

Rarely does a writer’s passion for their subject matter leap as vividly as it does from these pages, which are chock-full of recollections of personal visits to restaurants and observations of traditional techniques. Zee accompanies the recipes with his own photos of the dishes in all their gorgeous mouthwatering glory—meat pies sizzling on a griddle, a bowl of Wuhan three-treasure rice, neat rows of Xinjiangstyle baked lamb buns—which provide an authentic sense of immersion, as do his portraits of daily life in China. The neat, color-coded organization of the recipes into logical categories such as noodles and breads provides a remarkable sense of cohesion, making Zao Fan an absolute must for cooks across all skill levels.

Koreaworld

“You are about to read the story of a culinary revolution,” Koreaworld: A Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, $35, 9780593235942) proclaims as it launches into a frenetic exploration of Korean and Korean-inspired food spanning from Jeju Island to North Virginia. After focusing on more traditional offerings in its first half, this animated celebration jumps to new interpretations of Korean food, such as banana milk cake and Shin Ramyun with pita chips. Authors Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard provide their own musings on different preparation styles—using 7UP to flavor pickles, for example—while peppering in cultural history and modern context. The authors spotlight chefs throughout Korea and the U.S. and all their various influences, which span a bevy of cuisines, from Jewish to Chinese.

The sheer volume of restaurants and people profiled causes the book to meander in a fashion that sometimes feels scattered, but the abundance of eclectic detail will appeal strongly to diehard Korean food enthusiasts. Hong and Rodbard’s familiar rapport with many of their subjects lends a personal feeling to Koreaworld that is accentuated by Alex Lau’s stylish, energetic photography. Anyone interested in

exploring the wild, exciting new frontiers of Korean food will find this book a fresh delight.

H

Noodles, Rice, and Everything Spice

Cookbooks often languish on our kitchen shelves, but the exuberant illustrations of Noodles, Rice, and Everything Spice: A Thai Comic Book Cookbook (Ten Speed, $22.99, 9781984861603) will have you turning to its recipes for years to come. Thai Belgian cartoonist Christina de Witte sought to further connect with her Thai heritage by taking language lessons, which is how she met Mallika Kauppinen, who started teaching Thai via Zoom after moving to Finland from Thailand. The result is this unique cookbook, in which cartoon versions of de Witte and Kauppinen lead you through the fundamentals of Thai cooking and an array of common recipes whose steps are whimsically drawn out. Tools, ingredients, stirring guidelines, timers, heat levels and more are diagrammed in a manner that provides both joy and exceptional clarity unmatched by most cookbooks.

Short comics offer context—the origin of guay tiaw, or “boat noodles,” for example—or pull you into a slice of Kauppinen’s childhood. Our guides are present throughout, drawn onto photos of their meals—floating in a pool of curry, grabbing fistfuls of rice and engaging in other such hijinks. This vibrant cookbook truly captures Thai cuisine—you can almost taste its bold flavors just through reading.

Chop Fry Watch Learn

Michelle T. King’s relationship with beloved Taiwanese chef and cooking show host Fu Pei-mei began in childhood, with the constant presence of Pei Mei’s Chinese Cook Book in her parents’ kitchen. In Chop Fry Watch Learn: Fu Pei-mei and the Making of Modern Chinese Food (Norton, $29.99, 9781324021285), this personal connection with Fu allows King, a “Chinese American by way of Taiwan,” to illuminate the often misunderstood nuances within the relationship between food and “a people like China’s—riven by decades of war, dislocation, upheaval, and migration.”

King weaves history lessons, personal anecdotes and firsthand interviews into the thoroughly researched Chop Fry Watch Learn to paint the extent of Fu’s legacy. She cycles through subjects ranging from historical Chinese attitudes towards food to the complicated relationship between Taiwan and China throughout the 20th century, to the muddiness of diaspora identity, to broader ideas surrounding domestic labor, feminism and globalization. King argues that food binds it all together, and readers are sure to find her diligent biography compelling.

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by
lifestyles
yi jiang

The explorer who came in from the cold

Outlander meets John le Carré in Kaliane Bradley’s dazzling debut .

In The Ministry of Time, an unnamed narrator serves as “bridge” (read: guide and guardian) to Victorian polar explorer Graham Gore, who’s been transported to present-day London. What at first seems to be a fish-out-of-water comedy unfolds into a meditation on the lure of bureaucracy, an exploration of the liberation and trauma of Graham and his fellow “expats,” and an unexpected love story between Graham and the bridge.

Why did you choose for the bridge to remain nameless? There’s a hierarchy of names in the book. The bridge never names herself to herself: She sees herself as the still, universal point of the turning narrative. The expats, whom she monitors, studies and obsesses over, she names in full: Graham Gore, Margaret Kemble, Arthur Reginald-Smyth, etc. Other people are major enough “characters” in her narrative for her to name, but she doesn’t name them “in full,” because she doesn’t imagine them in the same level of detail. Then there are people referred to by their jobs, like the Secretary and the Brigadier, who are not even people to her, but functions of institutions—another telling example of how she views the world and authority.

it has made her obsessive about always having control, stability, protection. The specific way she has channeled this is into a fondness for bureaucracy, and a certain moral blind spot about the methods one might use to maintain control over a situation or a person.

“If you want to be a ‘good immigrant,’ to what extent should you allow yourself to be exploited by your host state?”

Of all of the members of the Erebus and the Terror, why did you choose Graham Gore? Our eyes met across a crowded Wikipedia page . . . I was watching “The Terror,” a 2018 show about the Franklin expedition, and I was trying to keep track of who was who in each episode by checking the fan wiki. Graham Gore appears in the first two episodes and I was intrigued by his name, so I looked him up. That was really all it took. I loved the pen portrait drawn by his commander, James Fitzjames: “a man of great stability of character, a very good officer, and the sweetest of tempers.” Who could resist?!

Were the other expats based on real figures as well?

Early on, the bridge thinks about paperwork and the safety it provides. Do you see a connection between this and the way the bridge connects with bureaucracy? The bridge is fixated on the idea of control, and excessive documentation, choosing and fixing a narrative, is one way she maintains this. Though she would never admit this— would probably consider it a sign of character weakness— she has had to deal with the inherited trauma of a profound and terrifying lack of control, and

H The Ministry of Time Avid Reader, $28.99

The other expats are all entirely fictional! For Maggie and Arthur, I chose the Great Plague of London and the First World War because these events occupy such a major place in the British collective imagination. Given that one of the things I was keen to explore in the book is the way that history, as a narrative construct, informs national and personal identity, I wanted to offer them as representatives from British history who in fact completely break from stereotype and expectation.

Where did the concepts of “hereness” and “thereness” come from?

I was inspired by a beautiful and important book, Time Lived, Without Its Flow by Denise

Riley, which was written in the aftermath of the death of Riley’s son. It is an extended meditation on the ways that grief can take you out of the normative flow of time, so you exist in a different, frozen version of time to the people around you—there, not here. I was also thinking about the idea of a lost home that exists only in memory or stories. Even when those places are no longer “here,” they are always just “there,” in retelling, just out of reach. The physiological consequences of time travel, of choosing to be “here” or “there” and so visible or invisible to modern surveillance technology, can also be exploited. Imagine a spy who can be invisible on CCTV! If you want to be a good immigrant, to what extent should you allow yourself to be exploited by your host state? As Y-Dang Troeung says in her memoir, Landbridge, the question asked of refugees is never “Are you grateful?” but “How grateful are you?”

What drew you to food (and cigarettes) as a way to build the connection between Gore and his bridge?

Almost every meal cooked by Graham in the book is one that my fiancé has cooked for me or that I’ve cooked for him. (I also stole some of my fiancé’s jokes for Graham, such as calling electric scooters “a coward’s vehicle.”) They are meals that remind me of what it feels like to be in love. Rather less romantically, I would REALLY like to have a cigarette. Imagine being a Victorian and getting to chain-smoke all day without knowing about the consequences. Dreamy.

—Laura Hubbard

Visit BookPage.com to read our starred review of The Ministry of Time and an extended version of this Q&A.

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q&a | kaliane bradley
9781668045145 SCIENCE FICTION
© ROBIN CHRISTIAN

COME ON IN

A bucolic island, a dazzling underwater world and an alpine tea shop beckon to readers in search of charming magical retreats .

The Honey Witch

Marigold Claude is the least talented woman in her artsy family. She’s resigned to her fate as a spinster, flouncing away from suitors and fleeing balls to dance barefoot with spirits beneath the full moon. So when her grandmother offers Marigold the chance to be the next Honey Witch, the protector of the isle of Innisfree, the decision feels easy.

Marigold doesn’t feel like she belongs in her town, but Innisfree, with its magical guardians and abundant plant life, could be home.

The title of Honey Witch, however, comes with consequences: An Ash Witch wants the isle for herself and has cursed the Honey Witches to live without romantic love. It isn’t until her grandmother dies that Marigold realizes how lonely a curse that can be—especially once Lottie, a beautiful, grumpy skeptic who refers to magic as “mythwork,” arrives in her life and upends everything she thought about love.

But the Ash Witch is waiting for a moment of weakness. If Marigold doesn’t learn how to control her magic and break the curse, her island, her family and the feisty woman who holds her heart are all at risk.

“Wild women are their own kind of magic” in Sydney J. Shields’ debut novel The Honey Witch (Redhook, $18.99, 9780316568869). The pacing of this ambrosiac fantasy might leave diehard romance fans wanting more—Lottie is not involved in the first third, which rushes the sweetly erotic love story—but the whimsical world is more than enough to keep most readers enthralled. Shields’ descriptions of elements such as the landvættir spirits that guard Innisfree and the blossoming gardens of Marigold’s familial home are impeccably lush. The coziness of the setting is offset by grief and a sense of impending disaster. Marigold spends much of her time reminiscing on loneliness and lost love, and even as the book buzzes towards its predictable, happy finale, the

curse and the Ash Witch’s arrival bring destruction and terror.

At its heart, however, The Honey Witch focuses on the internal strength of its characters and how “anyone can be capable of something impossible.” Shields’ warmhearted fantasy will satisfy readers of sapphic romances who love the alternate historical world of “Bridgerton” or who grew up rewatching Halloweentown and Practical Magic

H A Letter to the Luminous Deep

Sylvie Cathrall’s A Letter to the Luminous Deep (Orbit, $18.99, 9780316565530), the first in a planned duology, is a poignant epistolary adventure set in an underwater landscape filled with academics, explorers and artists. Through letters, log entries and other documents, various narrators describe their society, their passions, their families and, most importantly, the mysterious disappearances of eloquent recluse E. Cidnosin and the socially anxious yet brilliant scholar Henerey Clel. The primary correspondence takes place between Sophy, E.’s sister, and Vyerin, Henerey’s brother, who have bonded through their shared grief and wish to learn more about what actually transpired between their siblings.

Cathrall’s whimsical water world is filled with remarkable settings like the Cidnosins’ Deep House, a home well below the ocean’s surface that is as mysterious as it is beautiful, and academic institutions such as the Boundless Campus. Each character’s voice is distinct, and readers will blush and giggle along with Sophy and Vy as they track E. and Henerey’s relationship as it evolves from friendship into passionate love. One of the most memorable aspects of the book is watching Sophy and Vy’s own relationship grow. While Sophy is insatiably curious about E.’s past, Vy is a bit more cautious when it comes to learning more about his brother. As Sophy and Vy realize how important this shared cause is to them, readers get to see them develop their own wonderful friendship.

While the plot largely focuses on love both romantic and familial, the elegant letters exchanged by Sophy and Vy hold sinister memories as well, clues leading up to the seaquake that shattered Deep House, after which E. and Henerey disappeared. There are many secrets to uncover, from a mysterious object found just outside Deep House, to E. and Sophy’s strained relationship with their brother, Arvist, to Sophy and her wife’s discoveries in the Ridge, home to deep-sea

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monsters. It’s up to Sophy and Vy to put the pieces together to heal the hearts and souls of their families and themselves.

Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea

When royal guard Reyna almost dies in service of wicked Queen Tilaine, she decides that it’s time to hang up her boots and take up an offer from her longtime girlfriend, Kianthe, to run away and open a bookshop. Is it technically treason? Yes, but Reyna is an expert swordsperson and Kianthe is the Arcandor, the most powerful mage in the world. With their talents, they’re sure they can stay beneath the queen’s radar.

Together, the two women flee to Tawney, a tiny mountain town on the border of the Queendom. Despite being plagued with dragon attacks and bandits, it offers the perfect sanctuary for the couple to craft their dream store, which features wooden floors, abundant plant

Ghost Station

In S.A. Barnes’ slow-simmering creepfest Ghost Station (Tor Nightfire, $27.99, 9781250884923), the stress of deep space travel can do things to a person. If longtime spacers develop a condition called ERS, they’ll start to see things that aren’t there, hear voices that no one else hears. Dr. Ophelia Bray has been assigned to a small exploration team investigating an ancient, lifeless planet. As the explorers investigate the planet, stranger and stranger things begin to happen. Ophelia and the crew are going to have to trust one another to figure out what’s happening to them if they hope to escape alive. Barnes’ excellent Dead Silence stood out for its atmosphere and sheer scariness, and fans of that novel will be more than happy with her follow-up. In this golden era of sci-fi horror, Barnes leads the charge with her thoughtfully crafted characters, top-notch pacing and an ever-present sense of dread.

The Book of Thorns

Hester Fox’s The Book of Thorns (Graydon House, $18.99, 9781525812019) is about two women who can hear flowers: Englishwoman Cornelia and Belgian maid Lijsbeth, who have escaped their abusive homes and found themselves on opposite sides of the Waterloo battle lines. Fox confronts Cornelia and Lijsbeth’s individual traumas head-on. They bear profound scars and are, in their own way, survivors, although both would balk at being called such. The Book of Thorns has a happy ending, in its own way: Both Cornelia and Lijsbeth find people they love, who love them back and who would never cause them pain. Fox does not hide from the fact that nobody who fought at Waterloo came out unscathed, whether they were breathing by battle’s end or not. But Fox also reminds us that, even in fields tilled by cavalry charges and fertilized with gunpowder, flowers can grow.

Remedial Magic

Ellie is content with her life working as a librarian. But when an impeccably dressed, impossibly handsome woman appears in the library, Ellie’s world is set off its carefully controlled tracks. She learns that she has magical powers and is teleported to the citystate of Crenshaw, where the strong are required to stay and learn to control their abilities, and the weak are often stripped of their magic and cast out. Despite the draw of Prospero, the mysterious witch from the library, Ellie wants nothing more than to go back to her ordinary life. There’s just one problem: She’s also the solution to a prophecy concerning the salvation—or destruction—of Crenshaw itself. From its sapphic romance to Crenshaw’s internal politicking, Melissa Marr’s Remedial Magic (Bramble, $17.99, 9781250884138) combines the aesthetics of a classic fish-out-of-water story with the sensibilities of a book for and about adults.

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sci-fi & fantasy

Spinning threads of science and history

Aarathi Prasad’s captivating history of silk brims with a sense of wonder and discovery .

When biologist and writer Aarathi Prasad learned that a piece of fabric woven from threads produced by a Mediterranean mollusk called Pinna nobilis had been found outside Budapest in a tomb of a woman mummified in the style of the ancient Egyptians, she got on a plane.

The museum holding the remains and most of the documentation of the discovery had been destroyed in a Nazi bombing during the 1940s, but she was undeterred. “I called the museum,” says Prasad, “and asked, Is there any chance you have anything? They said, Yes, yes, come and see. . . . My daughter asked, ‘Are you some kind of spy?’ I landed in Budapest and went directly to the museum. It was closed. They let me into the basement. [The mummified woman] was wrapped in hemp, very well preserved, they said. But did you find any silk? [I asked.] They said yes, when the sarcophagus was opened there was very fine fabric covering her. But it disappeared as soon as the lid was lifted.”

studies, ‘Oh, I’ve never let school get in the way of my education.’” Tara has also dismissed her mother’s experimental efforts to grow silkworms herself. “They poop a lot,” Prasad admits. “My daughter was disgusted.”

“Traditional science books often feel like textbooks. Human stories bring them alive.”

Prasad’s interest in silk arose first “through science, through the application of silk in regenerative medicine, creating new parts for the heart or applying it to rebuilding the body in a more organic, less invasive way.” Her book profiles the contemporary scientists working at the cutting edge of bioengineering animals like goats (so far unsuccessfully) to produce silk with the strength of a strand of a spider’s web, or experimenting with ways to incorporate silk into biomedicine or even as alternatives to plastics. “I was surprised in talking to these scientists to discover that they found the environmental impact more interesting than the surgical or biological applications,” Prasad says. “Because to them it’s a material that could and should be applied to planetary sustainability.”

The unusual, hermaphroditic Pinna nobilis mollusks anchor themselves to rocks using distinct, transparent threads that spawned a regional weaving culture likely dating back to before the Phoenicians. The mollusks themselves had been a robust part of local diets until human-induced sea warming resulted in massive die-offs and imposed harvesting limits. That’s just one example in hundreds of fascinating facts and stories Prasad relates in her illuminating Silk: A World History, a book born out of her own obsessive pursuit of knowledge. “I have heard it said that scientific study can take away a sense of wonder because science reduces a miraculous organism into mere mechanical parts,” she writes. “I have never found that to be true. Perhaps I find miracles in mechanisms.”

Prasad devotes much of the lively middle of her book to the biology, culture and elusive history of Pinna nobilis silk, seeking to resolve how long people have been weaving mollusk silk fabric. “It’s so intriguing,” she says. “Chances are this fabric was widely used around the Mediterranean. It existed. Then for a while no one knew it existed, and now we are trying to prove it existed. In the meantime, the animals these threads come from are critically endangered because of human activities. There’s a big metaphor about life somewhere in that.”

That outlook is the almost polar opposite of the attitudes of many of the Western scientists Prasad profiles in the opening section of Silk. Curious, eccentric and sometimes obsessed, these were men (and some women) of their times: the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. As such, their interests reflected a colonizer’s point of view.

“European science has actually been quite extractive,” says Prasad. “So I fell down this rabbit hole of colonial history. I learned this from my India book [In the Bonesetter’s Waiting Room] as well. Countries colonized by the British and the French had their own systems of knowledge cut off. The British asked their military men and doctors to do etymology on the side. They said, essentially, go out and find the coal, go find the trees, go find the animals and plants. That’s how they made their money. There was a lot of abusive behavior, not even mentioning slavery. And how would scientists from Europe know about plants and animals in another country? By speaking to local people. But it is impossible to know who those people were because they were never named.”

Normally Prasad’s research is not so dramatic. She is now an honorary researcher at University College London, and her current project is as a geneticist on archaeological digs in Rome and Pompeii. She raised her daughter, Tara, now in her early 20s, as a single parent while holding down academic and research jobs. Employment and parenting meant she usually worked on Silk and her two previous books, one on Indian medicine and the other on how science is altering conception, in the early mornings and late evenings. Tara has traveled with her on many research forays, to India and “into different, difficult situations,” Prasad says with a hint of pride, “so that she now tells people trying to advise her on her

Prasad’s awareness of cultural appropriation and the dismissal of Indigenous expertise percolates through the book, adding voltage to her depiction of the pursuit of knowledge about silkworms. The most common silkworm, Bombyx mori, was at the center of global trade. “The fact that it was bred for so long in homes and factories specifically for its silken cocoons,” Prasad writes, “made this caterpillar so docile, prevalent, and immobile that it would also become the focus of intense scientific study.” As described in magnificent detail here, Bombyx mori would become one of the first insects to be analyzed in precise anatomical detail in the 17th century by Marcello Malpighi. Silkworm studies also led an early researcher to propose a germ theory of disease before Louis Pasteur’s widely known discoveries. Later researchers would discover that the patterns on silk moths and other moths absorb sound energy from predatory bats using

interview | aarathi prasad
H Silk William Morrow, $32.50 9780063160255
SCIENCE

echolocation to hunt. The moths mimic the sound waves, allowing them to create a cloak against detection.

“Traditional science books often feel like textbooks. Human stories bring them alive,” Prasad says, explaining her decision to nest the science in her early chapters within miniature biographies of the researchers and their cultures. “I grew up in the Caribbean and came to England as a teenager. I loved history but I had to choose at some point between history and science, and I chose science. In England I learned about the Normandy landings in the Second World War— not that there were Indians and Africans fighting in the war. Just the European perspective. Whereas in Trinidad, I learned about slavery and the Aztecs and all of these cultures that weren’t ours. Sometimes we have to educate ourselves because what we’re taught in schools is not necessarily going to give us the full story.”

Blockbuster May releases

Here are the thrillers, rom-coms and memoirs you’ll want to keep on your radar this month .

May 7

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May 21

She adds, “In writing the book, I was astonished to find so many women who were natural historians. Why has hardly anyone ever heard of them? Their work was used but rarely acknowledged.”

Prasad found one of these women, Maria Sibylla Merian, particularly captivating. A 17th-century Dutch illustrator and naturalist, her drawings were used by Linnaeus to classify more than 100 species. But her observations were often dismissed by male scientists. “She got on a ship and sailed with her daughter across the Atlantic,” Prasad says. “She was the first person to go to study nature as a scientist. Other people went for other reasons. Darwin went as a doctor. She went for science and nothing else. . She was a single mother too, and she wanted to see with her own eyes.”

Visit BookPage.com to read our starred review of Silk

May 28

Coming Home by Brittney Griner Knopf, $30, 9780593801345

The two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA star shares the story of her 10-month detainment in Russia and her journey home.

Last House by Jessica Shattuck William Morrow, $28, 9780062979896

Jessica Shattuck (The Women in the Castle) returns with a sweeping historical saga mapping the lives of one family in the decades following World War II.

The Paradise Problem by Christina Lauren Gallery, $28.99, 9781668017722

A grocery chain heir. A starving artist. A marriage that’s a fraud—until it isn’t. No one writes romance like this bestselling duo.

Mind Games by Nora Roberts St. Martin’s, $30, 9781250289698

The latest from Nora Roberts, the bestselling author of over 200 novels, follows a woman with a telepathic connection to her parents’ killer.

One Perfect Couple by Ruth Ware Scout, $28.99, 9781668025598

Fans of “Love Island” and “Too Hot to Handle” will enjoy this dark spin on reality TV, where five couples find themselves trapped on an island with a killer.

You Like it Darker by Stephen King Scribner, $30, 9781668037713

This collection of 12 new short stories from master of horror Stephen King includes “Rattlesnakes,” a sequel to Cujo

Camino Ghosts by John Grisham Doubleday, $29.95, 9780385545990

John Grisham returns to Camino Island, this time to tell the tale of a developing company, its opposition and a curse. Publication

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are subject to change.
dates
© TARA LUMLEY-SAVILE

In The Burning Girl and The Woman Upstairs , Claire Messud mesmerized readers with her psychologically astute character portrayals. This Strange Eventful History, her much anticipated sixth novel, draws from the stories of generations of Messud’s own French Algerian family and their reckoning with their position in colonial history.

While This Strange Eventful History is a work of fiction, in the afterword, you note that your characters’ “movements hew closely to those of [your] own family.” Would you say more about the process of composing a novel inspired by your family history? Was your experience writing this book different from previous novels? This novel is more ambitious in scale than anything I’d attempted previously—it spans seven decades and five continents. The places that the characters live at various times in the novel aren’t random—they’re the places where members of my family lived, at the times in which they lived there. The novel is shaped, then, by basic facts; and in some cases by historical incidents. I did a lot of research, in particular for the first half of the book—a good bit involving family documents, but also lots of plain old historical research.

For Claire Messud, all the world’s a stage

The acclaimed author’s latest saga follows the French Algerian Cassar family, who find themselves bit players in the global shifts after World War II.

like—what we believed in, and what our parents believed in—I needed to write a novel that began with the Second World War. Because that cataclysm, of course, determined everything that followed.

Would you tell us about your choice of the novel’s title?

“I’d been preparing all my life to write this book.”

The title is a line from near the end of Jaques’ famous soliloquy, “All the world’s a stage,” in Shakespeare’s As You Like It: “Last scene of all, / That ends this strange eventful history, / Is second childishness and mere oblivion; / Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” The novel is framed around François’ life—from the age of almost 9 until his death, over seven decades (“and one man in his time plays many parts, / His acts being seven ages”). I chose the title both because it refers to that speech (which is reflected in the novel’s form) and because the shape of François’ life, and of the lives of his family members, are, to me at least, strange and eventful, without being grand or important.

The Cassars’ unhappiness seems to be linked both to a scandalous secret and to being out of sync with history writ large. In your view, what is the relationship of your characters’ lives to larger forces of history?

The novel follows three generations of the Cassar family, beginning in Algeria as its colonizer France fell to the Nazis in 1940 and ending in Connecticut in 2010. What impelled you to explore this longer arc of family history?

In his retirement, my devoutly Catholic French grandfather wrote for my sister and me a family memoir about the years before and during the Second World War (covering 1928-1946). He called it “Everything that we believed in”—because he wanted to try to convey to us, his granddaughters, whose secular North American upbringing was so far from his own, what their lives had been like. I’ve realized, over the past decade or so, that the world in which I grew up—the world of the late 20th century, shaped by the postwar years that preceded it—has vanished. In order to explain to people of my kids’ age what it was

The Cassars’ unhappiness both is and isn’t linked to a scandalous secret; each member of the family has their own relation to that secret, and for some it’s not unhappy at all—quite the opposite, indeed! I hoped to convey that events are simply themselves, and how we understand them makes all the difference. If you’re devoutly religious, for example, something will look a certain way, and if you’re not, it looks different. The same of course goes for any of our beliefs.

The family is perhaps not so much out of sync with history as simply at the mercy of it. In this case, the family are French colonials in Algeria, and must make their lives elsewhere when Algerian independence comes. Again, each family member has a different reaction to that situation: Gaston and Lucienne put their faith in God, as he says, “like the birds on the breeze”; François creates a

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© LUCIAN WOOD

life far from France and never speaks of the past; while Denise shapes her life’s narrative around what she experiences as loss. This, I think, reflects the broader reality that each of us is always at the mercy of history’s great events—consider our lives just in the past few years, my goodness!—and that the only thing we have any control over (and sometimes precious little control at that) is how we understand and contend with our challenges.

Uprooted by war and the collapse of French colonialism, the Cassars move frequently, from Algeria to Massachusetts to Argentina, Australia, Canada and France. Your depictions of these places are vivid and precise. What kind of research did you do in composing the novel? How much arises from memory and how much from invention? I did a lot of research—and I was fortunate to have a lot of help. This is the first time in my life that I’ve worked with research assistants. Over the many years that I worked on the novel, several amazing people helped me discover all kinds of things: political and military history about France, World War II and Algeria, but also what Amherst College was like in the early 1950s; what CEI, the business school outside Geneva, and its environs looked like; and about the man who ran it from the beginning—a great idealist. I’m very grateful to these brilliant helpers. I read lots of published books, of course, as well as my grandfather’s memoir (which is close to 1500 pages handwritten) and many family letters, spanning decades. For example, while I don’t have any letters my dad wrote when studying at Amherst, I have all the letters that his family wrote to him from Algeria. It was an amazing experience to unfold the onionskin sheets and know that nobody had read these pages since my dad tore open each letter back in 1953, and then stuffed them back in the envelope—reading them, time collapsed.

Chloe, the youngest Cassar, is the only character to narrate in the first person. From childhood, Chloe sees herself as a guardian to her family and a storyteller. She is curious, sometimes to the point of being nosy. She aspires to be a writer. Do you feel a particular kinship with Chloe?

other places, do you think of yourself as an “American writer,” or as something else?

I’m certainly more of an American writer than anything else—I’ve lived most of my life here (happily, I might add!). Also, the idea of what an American writer is has wonderfully expanded a lot over the last 30 years. Many writers with unusual, complicated histories now count ourselves as American writers, I think. I hope so, at least.

Your novel contains some of the most beautiful sentences I have recently read. They are long, elaborate, stately and often inward-dwelling in a way that feels deliberate. Could you tell us about your choice of sentence structure?

“Events are simply themselves, and how we understand them makes all the difference.”

Thank you so much—I’m so glad you liked the sentences. I don’t know that it’s so much a choice as almost a sense that the sentences come through me—I hear them in my head, their rhythms, like music. I can feel when a word is off, or the syntax. I have an innate feeling of the shape of a sentence—of each sentence, and of how they sit together as well as each on its own. For me that’s a big part of what writing is—the music of the language, interwoven with meaning. They’re inseparable.

Yes, I’d be lying if I didn’t confess to a certain kinship with the character of Chloe—of course, that’s partly why her sections are in the first person. But they’re also in the first person because the understanding is that she’s the speaker in the prologue, and that she’s writing the book, as it were. I wanted the novel to reflect in some way her evolution, along with the narrative’s, from more traditional third person storytelling to increasing interiority and subjectivity. Hopefully that’s something the reader can feel in the changing rhythms of the prose as well as in the voice.

You once described yourself, in an article about Thanksgiving for Bon Appétit, as “the only American” in your family, born in the U.S. “by chance.” Having been shaped by living in so many

At what point do you share drafts of your work in progress, and with whom?

Historically I’ve shared work earlier, but this time around, I simply had my head down, mostly. I’d written about 100 pages over several years and couldn’t find the space to do it properly while teaching full time, so I took an unpaid leave to write the rest of the book. That meant I had a bit less than eight months and no time to loiter. I write by hand, on graph paper, pretty small, and nobody can really read my manuscripts, or not without effort. So I had to type it into the computer before anyone could read anything. My husband is my first reader, and eventually he read parts of it, and then ultimately the whole thing. Luckily for me, we know each other well at this point; he’s great at being a cheerleader at the right moments, and then offering real criticism when that’s what’s called for.

What were the biggest challenges and satisfactions of writing This Strange Eventful History?

That’s a good question—I think they are linked, in fact. As I mentioned, the scale of this novel is bigger than anything I’d written before; finding a form that would enable me to take on such a long stretch of history, while still exploring the characters’ interiority and while not having the book collapse under its own weight—that was for me a central challenge. I can honestly say that I’d been preparing all my life to write this book, and I couldn’t have managed it earlier, for all sorts of reasons. So there’s real satisfaction simply in having got the book written, at last!

—Alden Mudge

Visit BookPage.com to read our starred review of This Strange Eventful History.

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H This Strange Eventful History Norton, $29.99 9780393635041 FAMILY SAGA

On the move

Does warmer weather and the approach of summer have you feeling restless? Pick up one of these stories featuring journeys great and small

A Series of Un/Natural/ Disasters

If pressed to categorize a book of poetry as fiction or nonfiction, most people would probably choose fiction. Poetry has a reputation for being airy and fantastical, dwelling in the realm of emotions and dreams, not in the “real world.” Yet documentary poetry is explicitly concerned with informing readers about real events. Cheena Marie Lo’s A Series of Un/Natural/Disasters (Commune Editions, $16, 9781934639191) uses statistics and phrases pulled from the news to trace human responsibility for the outcomes of devastating “natural” events like hurricanes. Lo compares ecological processes like seasonal migration with the movement of evacuees in response both to the destruction caused by a storm and the failure of systems expected to provide help. At the same time, Lo points to the recovery of nature as a model for community recuperation through mutual aid. Read it alongside Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler—another powerful documentary book of poems that chronicles state failure and human resilience during and after Katrina.

—Phoebe, Associate Editor

The Best We Could Do

I was introduced to The Best We Could Do (Abrams ComicArts, $19.99, 9781419718786) in a college English class. As a 20-something with lots of emotions about parenting and intergenerational trauma, I found author-illustrator Thi Bui’s story at exactly the right time. This graphic memoir flows between present and past. In the frame story, Bui is anxious that her flawed relationships with her parents will define how she interacts with her newborn son. In an effort to alleviate her anxiety, she sits down with her parents and attempts to figure out how they became who they are, journeying with them through their childhoods in war-torn Vietnam, their harrowing migration as refugees and their imperfect restart in America. Told through beautiful watercolor illustrations and sparse, emotionally-wrought text, Bui’s memoir does not offer easy answers to questions about trauma, immigration and family. However, The Best We Could Do is a tremendous lesson in empathy and a testament to healing through human connection.

—Jessica, Editorial Intern

One Last Stop

Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop (Griffin, $16.99, 9781250244499), is a clever, emotionally resonant take on a time-slip romance with an utterly dreamy love interest: ’70s punk feminist Jane Su, who is trapped outside of time on the New York City subway. As they proved in their already-iconic 2019 debut, Red, White & Royal Blue, McQuiston understands that in order for readers to wholeheartedly invest in a heightened scenario, it helps to have characters who are going through things that are eminently relatable. August Landry’s quest to rescue Jane is balanced by the travails and triumphs of her job at Pancake Billy’s House of Pancakes (one of the best fictional diners ever?) and the slow blossoming of her relationships with her roommates into something like family. It’s an achingly sweet portrait of a closedoff loner finding community for the very first time, and an ode to being young, broke and happy in NYC. It all culminates in a perfect finale, where August must draw on her new connections to pull Jane free and secure their happily ever after.

—Savanna, Managing Editor

The Wandering Earth

Our whole planet is migrating in the title story of this collection by Cixin Liu. Faced with proof of the sun’s imminent death, humanity seeks to escape obliteration by installing giant plasma jets to propel the Earth toward a new solar system. As mankind’s home is transformed into one massive spaceship, an unnamed protagonist narrates the tragedy and chaos that unfolds with straightforward melancholy. As changes to Earth’s orbit cause boiling rain to fall and oceans to freeze, the cataclysmic, sublime journey of “The Wandering Earth” will batter you with alternating waves of beauty and terror. And don’t expect a reprieve after finishing this first story: The next nine continue to pummel the reader with Liu’s staggering imagination and rare talent for combining grandiose backdrops with personal stories suffused with emotion, such as that of a man climbing a mountain made of water, or a peasant boy growing up to become a space explorer. Poetic and profound, The Wandering Earth (Tor, $19.99, 9781250796844) stands among the best science fiction.

16 BookPage staff share special reading lists—our personal favorites, old and new. the hold list

H All Fours

Menopause is profoundly misunderstood and misrepresented, in part because the generations who’ve been through it aren’t, generally speaking, inclined to talk publicly about it. Only in the last decade or two have people so openly discussed infertility and miscarriages. Perhaps we can hope that once this younger generation enters perimenopause, it will no longer feel like such a mystifying hormonal event horizon. But so far, there have been few works of contemporary fiction about menopause, and even fewer that are as erotic and funny as All Fours (Riverhead, $29, 9780593190265), the first novel from artist, filmmaker and author Miranda July in nearly a decade.

July’s protagonist is an unnamed artist who plans to drive across the country from Los Angeles to New York City, leaving her husband and child for several weeks. Instead, she stops at a motel a mere 30 minutes away. Beginning

The Silence of the Choir

Translated by Alison Anderson

LITERARY FICTION

Cliche tells us that reading a work in translation is like taking a shower in a raincoat. Some stories, however, are powerful enough to permeate that language barrier, to bypass the cliche and completely pierce us. Mohamed Mbougar Sarr’s The Silence of the Choir (Europa, $18, 9798889660200), translated by Alison Anderson, is one such powerful book. Taking place in a small town in Sicily, this story lives up to its title, bringing together a rich and varied group of voices. This polyvocality allows Sarr to explore the main issue of the book, immigration, without becoming either heavy-handed or diminishing: In an increasingly metropolitan world, immigration is an issue that impacts everyone, and all voices have something to say about it, whether we want to hear them or not.

The story centers around the ragazzi (Italian for “guys”), a group of 72 immigrant men who have arrived in a small town in the Sicilian countryside called Altino. A group of workers

with an expensive and exquisite redesign of her motel room, followed by a charged relationship with a guy who works at Hertz, she sets out on a no-holds-barred pursuit of desire, selfhood, sex and liberation.

A character arc is typically shaped by an incendiary realization, but July’s artist experiences such revelations on a weekly, if not daily, basis. She holds a misconception, she unlearns it, she reframes and continues on. This process structures All Fours like a classic quest narrative, as new emotional and sexual adventures open up after each self-discovery.

and steep, and from the valley below bursts a golden light that washes out anything that might be in the distance. For many women, menopause is that cliff: dangerous, distant and a bit unreal. July’s protagonist hurtles toward it inelegantly but honestly—and that commitment to honesty at the expense of normalcy is what makes this book queer. The cost of the unconventional life she seeks is significant; look at the conversations that must be had, the choices that must be made to disrupt the status quo in favor of living truthfully.

The cover of All Fours is an image of a cliff by Albert Bierstadt, a 19th-century German American painter. Bierstadt’s cliff is shadowed

from the Santa Marta Association has taken them in, though each worker has different feelings about the ragazzi and their fate. For one, Dr. Salvatore Pessoto is a cynic who finds it hard to have empathy for the ragazzi, especially considering how unlikely it is that any of them will be allowed to stay in the country. The doctor is chastised by his coworkers: a nun, Sister Maria, and her childhood friend, a lawyer named Sabrina, both of whom have devoted their lives to helping people, though in different and sometimes conflicting ways. Meanwhile, we also hear from the ragazzi themselves, like Fousseyni Traoré, who, upon first awakening in Altino, is unsure whether he is actually alive. Once the ragazzi realize they have reached safety, they rejoice, having completed the arduous, deadly journey across the Mediterranean.

There are many other characters in Altino whom Sarr introduces us to, each adding to The Silence of the Choir’s complex diorama of immigration. One of the most enjoyable is old Giuseppe Fantini, a retired, reclusive poet who hasn’t written in over a decade. From Giuseppe, we get a beautiful, delicate view of Altino and its people, reminding us that no matter who currently calls a certain place home, no one and nothing is ever fixed. Sarr delivers a moving, dynamic story, shedding light on the joys and consequences of contemporary immigration.

Because there is no end to her quest (that’d be death, the real cliff), there can be no victory, but All Fours is undeniably victorious.

H Funny Story

CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Daphne and her fiancé had the perfect meet cute: On a windy day in a park, Peter chased down her hat. They fell in love, and moved back to his lakeside hometown of Waning Bay, Michigan. Everything was picture-perfect— until Peter’s bachelor party weekend, when he realized he was in love with his childhood best friend, Petra. And so Daphne finds herself adrift in a town where she knows basically no one, bearing witness to her ex-fiancé and his new fiancée’s disgusting displays of love. The only person who can understand her grief is Max, Petra’s ex. Daphne proposes they become roommates, and soon, they hatch a scheme. What if they post some easy to misinterpret pictures and make Petra and Peter think they are together?

In our introduction to the leading couple of Emily Henry’s Funny Story (Berkley, $29, 9780593441282), a frustrated Daphne is annoyed that Max is listening to Jamie O’Neal’s “All By Myself” at top volume, stoned. It’s not exactly love at first sight, but

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they’re both deeply charming and relatable, showcasing Henry’s skill at crafting engaging yet realistic characters that immediately hook readers’ hearts. You want Daphne and Max to heal. You want them to bump into their exes and make out so hard that everyone is a little uncomfortable. (But who cares! Peter and Petra should suffer!) Henry also expertly sidesteps the worry-inducing pitfalls of having a couple bound, at least initially, by grief. No one wants a happy ending undercut by the characters using each other as an emotional scratching post. Thankfully, Max and Daphne’s relationship is simply one part of their individual healing journeys, not the entirety of them. With a supporting cast of helpful family and friends, meaningful and passionate purpose in their community and a little bit of therapy, all things are possible. The work they each put in on their own only makes the love story more satisfying. With her signature laugh-out-loud banter and flawed but lovable characters, Henry has created another novel that’s everything her readers have come to expect, without falling into predictable patterns. Funny Story is Emily Henry at her best.

Long Island

HISTORICAL FICTION

A knock at the door can change everything. Such a small, everyday act can have enormous power to set off a chain of events one would never have considered possible.

Colm Tóibín’s Long Island (Scribner, $28, 9781476785110) revisits Eilis Lacey more than 20 years after the events of his 2009 novel, Brooklyn, which introduced readers to this selfpossessed, elusive young woman. She now has a daughter and a son who are almost grown, and sends their pictures to her mother in monthly letters. Then, a knock at the door upends Eilis’ marriage to Tony Fiorello. The revelation of his indiscretions drives her back to Enniscorthy, Ireland, to avoid the coming fallout and also to celebrate her mother’s 80th birthday. While there, she inevitably crosses paths again with Jim Farrell, the love she left behind all those years before. Jim is still unmarried, though he is secretly courting Eilis’s friend Nancy, who is now a widow. The last time Eilis left Brooklyn for Ireland, after her sister Rose’s death, Tony was so worried she wouldn’t return that they married before she sailed away. Now, Tony

must wonder again if she’ll come back to him. As in Brooklyn, Eilis makes her own decisions and thus makes her own life.

A close observer of human nature, Tóibín writes with great depth of longing, teasing out even the smallest interactions so that the reader feels the moment’s wistfulness or indecision keenly. No gesture or sigh escapes his notice. Tóibín’s dialogue captures a wealth of feeling, but often it is what is unsaid, contained in the pauses, that grips the reader’s attention. We hold our breath as Eilis and Jim and Nancy make their plans and promises. Long Island is purely character driven, which may not thrill readers who prefer a faster pace. In its compelling interiority, though, there is plenty of beauty to savor.

H Bad Habit

Translated by Mara

COMING OF AGE

In her first work to be translated into English, Spanish poet, playwright and author Alana S. Portero captures the complexities of trans girlhood and adolescence. Set in the working-class San Blas neighborhood of Madrid in the 1980s and 1990s, Bad Habit (HarperVia, $26, 9780063336124), is full of chaotic, messy, vibrant life. The unnamed protagonist, a trans girl who possesses an unshakable knowledge of herself but lacks a way to express it safely, has a singular first-person narrative voice. Her campy humor, biting observations and poetic musings will leave a lasting impression on readers.

Portero balances long, meaty passages of self-reflection with vivid scenes grounded in sensory detail. The resulting mix reads like a fictional memoir, a woman baring her soul with a wink. It even follows the expected beats of a coming-of-age memoir: the protagonist’s childhood and early realization that her gender is at odds with how the world sees her; her first bittersweet experience of love; her teenage exploits in Madrid’s downtown party scene; her painful attempts to blockade herself in the closet; her tentative forays into trans life.

Portero writes about the intersections of gender, sex, desire and longing—intersections that collide in the body—with incredible thoughtfulness and nuance. She also beautifully portrays trans sisterhood and found family.

Many trans women play important roles in the protagonist’s life, often in surprising and unpredictable ways. These women are lonely, crass, loving, tough and each distinct. The care they give one another radiates off the page, even, and especially, when the narrative gets grim.

Sometimes Mara Faye Lethem’s translation feels a bit clunky; occasional oddly constructed sentences may take a moment to untangle. But this hardly matters, because the prose overall is so fresh. The protagonist’s ability to see herself and the people in her life both up close and from a distance is irresistible. Bad Habit is queer fiction at its painful, honest, celebratory best, rejoicing in the beauty of trans lives while simultaneously acknowledging the violence that the world too often thrusts upon them.

The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club

HISTORICAL FICTION

For her third novel, The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club (Dial, $29, 9781984801319), Helen Simonson returns to the English seaside, this time in the summer of 1919. The Great War has ended, the flu epidemic has passed and the men have returned. But for Constance Haverhill, the war’s end has brought an end to the work she’d loved: keeping the books for an estate. Now her prospects are uncertain; her mother died of the flu, her brother is pointedly unwelcoming and she’s stuck serving as a companion to the elderly Mrs. Fog at a seaside hotel.

But soon, Constance’s lonely summer is interrupted by the trouser-wearing, motorcycleriding Poppy Wirrall and her brother, Harris. The siblings and their mother are staying at the hotel while their grand house is renovated. During the war, Poppy and other young women delivered messages and supplies via motorcycle, and now they’re trying to build a motorcycle taxi business. Harris, a veteran who lost a leg flying bombing missions, is suffering and moody; he wants to fly again, but the world is telling him he can’t.

The story follows Constance, her new friends and a large cast of secondary characters through the summer, as they struggle to find their way in a culture that’s still shocked by women riding motorcycles, despite all the

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changes the war brought. Throughout, the novel weaves in issues like racism, jingoism, the repercussions of war and the limitations that class expectations put on women. Which is not to say that this is a heavy novel; the flatly villainous characters who cause trouble— several upper crust Brits and a late-arriving American—add levity to some scenes, although the novel’s tone is generally more introspective, without the comedic punch of Simonson’s debut novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand Readers may wish that the novel spent more time with the Motorcycle Club women and their hopes and efforts and discontents, rather than with subplots that meander away from the motorcycles and aeroplanes of the title. Still, The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club brings to life a historical moment when both everything and nothing had changed, along with a summer’s worth of fresh seaside descriptions, romantic entanglements and a bittersweet, fitting ending.

H The Spoiled Heart

LITERARY FICTION

Some writers have a gift for making ordinary lives as compelling as anything you’d find in an epic adventure. This ability to chart the human condition goes beyond technical proficiency or what we’d generally consider literary merit. Sunjeev Sahota has this gift, and his latest novel, The Spoiled Heart (Viking, $29, 9780593655986), wrings maximum emotional impact out of a seemingly unremarkable life.

The Spoiled Heart centers on Nayan, a working-class man living in England who was devastated by a tragic loss two decades earlier. Ever since, Nayan has thrown himself into his union, and into caring for his aging father. He’s never wanted much of a romantic life, until the standoffish and oddly beguiling Helen Fletcher returns to town. Nayan finds himself drawn to Helen, even as she seems determined to push him away, and as a union election threatens to consume his world. What draws Nayan to Helen? What drives him to keep pushing, both for her and for success as a union leader? What makes a man like Nayan tick?

These are the questions that Sahota’s narrator, an acquaintance and eventual friend of Nayan’s, sets out to answer, and it’s

through this narrator’s eyes that the particular brilliance of The Spoiled Heart becomes clear. By framing Nayan’s story through the eyes of another storyteller, Sahota digs deep into the psyche of his protagonist, while asking provocative questions about whose story this really is and how much of it is true. There’s an element of voyeurism that lends something thrilling and incisive to the whole story.

Sahota’s prose is as precise, confident and startlingly wise when describing the depths of tragedy as the banalities of a transaction in a local shop. Nayan’s internal life, as a broken man who’d rather fix others than himself, is rendered in powerful, stealthily profound sentences, and all the while it’s accompanied by the sense that the author is building to something bigger, darker and more revelatory. When Sahota finally reaches that moment in The Spoiled Heart’s final pages, it feels both shattering and strangely inevitable.

The Spoiled Heart is one of those books that will take root quickly and grow in your soul. It’s another powerful achievement for Sahota, and a novel that even readers who are leery of contemporary realism will enjoy.

The Alternatives

Caoilinn Hughes’ third novel, The Alternatives (Riverhead, $28, 9780593545003), follows four sisters, all doctors of various sorts. When one of the four goes missing, the others set out across the Irish countryside to find her.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and general global instability in the background, the Flattery sisters have a lot to navigate. Haunted by their childhood and the early death of their parents, they all feel isolated and alone, each finding her way in the world as a single woman in her 30s. When the oldest sister, Olwen, goes missing, the other three come together on a quest to find her. In the process, they discover more of who they are, the values they share and how they can connect.

While all four sisters are concerned with the future of the Earth, each has her own particular sphere of expertise: cooking, philosophy, geology and politics. They also share a concern about the patterns within their family history.

Each sister’s voice is clear, purposeful, realistic and hopeful. When the sisters come together, The Alternatives becomes even more engaging as their stories overlap, growing increasingly complex and intertwined.

The prose is strong, with narrative shifts that allow the reader both internal and external access to these women and their concerns. A true strength of the novel is the way Hughes balances ordinary details with those that surprise and raise the stakes, keeping the reader hooked.

H Blue Ruin

LITERARY FICTION

A well-stocked bookstore would have no trouble filling an entire section with novels about art and artists, from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray to Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye . Even connoisseurs of art-themed fiction, however, are unlikely to have encountered a protagonist like Jay Gates, the down-on-his-luck artist at the center of Hari Kunzru’s brilliant new novel, Blue Ruin (Knopf, $28, 9780593801376). For anyone who has tried their hand at creating art, Blue Ruin offers satisfying criticisms of the capricious industry’s spotty record of anointing winners and losers.

Jay is a British man of Jamaican ancestry in his 40s, who was once a promising art student. At the start of the novel, he’s a COVID-19 survivor and undocumented immigrant in upstate New York, sleeping in his beat-up car and eking out a living by delivering groceries.

On one delivery to a craftsman cottage overlooking a lake at the end of a mile-long driveway, the masked person awaiting his arrival turns out to be Alice, a woman who was briefly Jay’s girlfriend in art school. Alice left Jay for his best friend, Rob, and Alice and Rob have now been married for 15 years. After Jay collapses from fatigue, Alice invites him to stay in a barn on the property until he recovers. Also isolating there are Marshal, Rob’s gallerist, who espouses conspiracy theories and calls COVID-19 “a Chinese bioweapon”; and Nicole, Marshal’s 20-something “trophy girlfriend.”

Coincidence is a dangerous narrative tool to mess around with, but Kunzru pulls it off in Blue Ruin thanks to the subtle characterizations and intricate layers with

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which he expands his premise. Buried resentments and jettisoned ambitions come to the fore as Kunzru explores themes of racism, opportunism and the inequities of privilege and hardship. The result is an exceptional work that finds new variations on the familiar chestnut that people aren’t always what they seem.

Real Americans

FAMILY SAGA

It’s the mid-1960s, right at the start of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, and the Red Guards are methodically demolishing the cultural heritage of China. Books are burned, artifacts are smashed, history is erased. But two plucky biology students, Mei and Peng, are determined to rescue a lotus seed from the university library.

This isn’t just any seed. It is a seed from thousands of years ago, allegedly dropped from the sky by a dragon as a gift for a longago emperor, with the power to confer a wish on its recipient. But the emperor died before getting to make that wish. Mei, a scientist by nature, is skeptical of the legend, but she wants to protect the seed from the Red Guards, so she takes it.

Here, Rachel Khong’s multigenerational saga Real Americans (Knopf, $29, 9780593537251) splits into three narratives, following Mei, her daughter and her grandson through 60-odd tumultuous years after she immigrates to America. The narration isn’t linear; Mei, who plays the pivotal role at the book’s brief outset, largely recedes into the background until the final third of the book, when, as an elderly retired geneticist, she reflects on her life choices and how they have affected her family: “Aren’t we lucky? Our DNA encodes for innumerable possible people, and yet it’s you and I who are here. . In this place, on this small blue rock, innumerable miracles: redwoods, computers, stingrays, pianos, you and me.”

Through intervening events and discoveries, Khong implicitly asks a very pertinent question: What does it mean to be a “real American”? Is it enough to be born in the U.S.? Can you assimilate from a foreign country, a foreign culture? Is there something in our genetics that binds us inevitably to the lands of our

ancestral origins? Real Americans’ answers are at once complex and compelling, as science and philosophy sit cheek by jowl with history and elements of magic. As the three narrative strands merge, their denouement is unexpected yet perhaps predestined: the fruit of a seed planted long ago.

We Were the Universe

Kit, the protagonist of Kimberly King Parsons’ We Were the Universe (Knopf, $28, 9780525521853), is in trouble. Her 3-yearold daughter, Gilda, is horribly spoiled. Kit’s mother, Tammy, is a hoarder. Her husband, Jad, seems saintly but is simply passive in the face of Gilda’s commandeering of their lives. Worst of all, Kit’s sister, Julie, is dead.

Kit is the last person you’d think would break herself on the wheel of domesticity. Still quite young when the book begins, she was once a smart, snarky, adventurous girl from Wink, Texas, who lusted after men and women (and still does). She enjoyed her booze and drugs: She credits LSD trips for getting her through unmedicated childbirth. She played bass guitar in a band with Julie and their friend Yesenia. All of the girls liked altered states of consciousness, but unlike the other two, Julie became hooked. The band collapsed. Julie lived with their mother in squalor. Then, she died.

What’s puzzling for the reader and alarming for Kit’s friends and family is that, though Julie’s death occurred in the last days of Kit’s pregnancy, it’s only now that Kit’s grief is starting to drive her crazy. Parsons, author of the short story collection Black Light, gives us some clues as to why. Mothering Gilda has ground Kit down to a nub. Does she long for or dread the day when this tantrum-throwing, co-sleeping, still-nursing gremlin will stop needing her, when Gilda, like Julie, will leave? A brief scene near the end of the book throws a klieg light on the last days of the sisters’ relationship. Without revealing what happens, it becomes clear that Kit has been living life as penance: performing motherhood as an endless martyrdom, abjuring the things that gave her joy (even if they weren’t exactly good for her), eclipsing her once-vibrant self. If you’re in the market for a sad yet funny

yet hopeful book, We Were the Universe might be it.

Whale Fall

A dead whale is a harbinger of transformation in this mesmerizing coming-of-age story.

It’s 1938. Eighteenyear-old Manod lives on a remote island in the British Isles that is situated five to 10 hours from the mainland by boat, depending on the weather. Here, nature dictates how bountiful or brutal life will be for the isolated island community that lives off the land and sea. Men’s desirability is based on their ability to forage seaweed and the value of their livestock, while girls are married by 16 and often left widows by 25, because the sea is dangerous and none of the fishermen can swim.

The dead whale’s appearance is followed, about a month later, by an English couple, Joan and Edward, ethnographers from the mainland who are keen to gather content for a book about the island. Manod, literate in English and Welsh, and hopeful for an escape from social expectations, becomes their eager assistant. But her interactions with the idealistic Joan and the handsome Edward make her reexamine her dreams and her understanding of island life.

Whale Fall (Pantheon, $27, 9780593700914) is a rich and quietly compelling novel that vividly captures the community’s transformation. Entrancing descriptions illuminate the raw beauty of the island through seasonal changes. Manod is a memorable protagonist; her ability to live this challenging life while entertaining aspirations for herself and her sister beyond getting married and staying on the island shows great complexity and strength. Manod’s interactions with Joan and Edward are profound in their subtlety, demonstrating the cultural divides possible within the Commonwealth. Debut author Elizabeth O’Connor’s metaphoric use of the decaying whale masterfully depicts the gradual erosion of the island way of life, picked apart by scavengers.

Poignant and poetic, Whale Fall is a compelling read for fans of M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans, Tove Janssen’s The Summer Book and Claire Keegan’s Foster

—Maya Fleischmann

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H The Demon of Unrest

AMERICAN HISTORY

There’s no such thing as a spoiler alert when a story’s subject is taught in most every American history class across the country. Injecting hold-your-breath suspense into a narrative history, particularly one in which we already know the story’s ending, is a task that Erik Larson has mastered. In the Garden of the Beasts took on Nazi Germany on the cusp of war; The Splendid and the Vile explored Winston Churchill’s stewardship of under-siege England. In his new book, The Demon of Unrest: A Saga of Hubris, Heartbreak, and Heroism at the Dawn of the Civil War (Crown, $35, 9780385348744), Larson turns his attention to the immediate aftermath of the election of Abraham Lincoln and the unlanced boil where the war began: Fort Sumter.

H The Way You Make Me Feel

ESSAYS

In a time of rising anti-Asian hate and a renewal of antiBlack racism, Black and brown solidarity is of critical importance. Political pundits and activists alike have emphasized the urgency of financial, political and even ecological unity among these various ethnic and cultural groups. But in The Way You Make Me Feel: Love in Black and Brown (Penguin Press, $29, 9780593492826), Nina Sharma calls for another type of Afro-Asian solidarity. In 16 bold, rich essays, Sharma unfurls the chronicle of her love affair with a Black man named Quincy. (Some readers will immediately recognize the dreadlocked man as Quincy Scott Jones, author of poetry collection The T-Bone Series.) Here, we journey to the center of a love story that is as much about romance as it is about Sharma’s Indian identity and wrestling with anti-Blackness.

Sharma adds color and nuance to her essays by braiding TV reviews with cultural commentary and memoir. In the powerful “Not Dead,” she discusses her experience

Larson covers just a few months of American history—but perhaps the most consequential few months. Lincoln, Jefferson Davis and other wellknown figures from the period play key roles, but so too do a British journalist on assignment, a young private stuck in the besieged fort and a Southern society woman watching the events unfold. They aren’t key characters in the grand arc of the Civil War or the country’s history, but they did write a lot down. Their accounts help Larson propel the narrative without relying entirely on the stories of people who have already been the subject of hundreds or thousands of other books.

watching “The Walking Dead” and analyzes one particular episode—the one in which the only Asian character in the series, a Korean American father-to-be named Glenn, is killed. She writes of her emotional journey following that episode, how she struggled to eat the meal Quincy lovingly made: “Our Sunday ritual. It wasn’t that my hunger was gone. I’d just had enough.” The episode made her think about another murdered Asian American man, real-life Vincent Chin, who was bludgeoned to death in Detroit in 1982. With grace and grit, she enters the narratives of these two individuals, and uses them to consider her own mortality as a South Asian American.

But in the main, this is a book about love. Sharma shows us that she’s got range, moving seamlessly from a discussion about racism on a national scale to making out with Quincy, for example. Readers will appreciate Sharma’s diaristic recounting of their lovers’ spats and her reflections on the central tension in their relationship: that in the American caste system, a Black man and Indian woman simply do not fit any accepted narrative.

With writing that is at once humorous and profound, The Way You Make Me Feel confronts the paradoxical realities of race and the family, and calls for greater solidarity by way of love.

There are obvious parallels to the current moment: a refusal to accept the results of a presidential election, threats to march on the Capitol, a tendency toward civility and appeasement in the face of existential threat and other more subtle links to the present. Some of the connections are unavoidable; others, Larson perhaps injects as a result of recency bias. Even after a century and a half of books about the subject, it remains remarkably unclear what course of action key figures should or could have taken to avoid America’s bloodiest war. Maybe we’ll never figure that out, but The Demon of Unrest is a damn good read.

Dogland

ANIMALS

“One last job” is a popular story trope, from the prolific criminal’s last heist before going straight to the world-weary detective’s final case before turning in their badge.

In Dogland: Passion, Glory, and Lots of Slobber at the Westminster Dog Show (Avid Reader, $28.99, 9781982149321), it’s a muchlauded samoyed named Striker who’s on the verge of retirement, and his big finale is the 2022 Westminster Dog Show.

Tommy Tomlinson, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of The Elephant in the Room, leads readers behind the scenes and in front of the judges as he crosses the country touring 100plus dog shows, a three-year-long venture he affectionately calls “Dogland.”

With wry wit and fascinating detail, Tomlinson explores what it takes to be a contender for Best in Show. For example, dogs must first compete in often ill-attended smaller shows, called clusters, to gain experience and name recognition: “If Westminster is the Super Bowl, clusters are the regular season.” The dogs must be the best of “breed

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standard,” as if “humans decided that George Clooney was the consummate man, and we measured all other men by which ones were the Clooneyest.”

“Are those dogs happy?” is a question on the author’s mind as he tours the swirl of training, grooming and “for your consideration” ads in trade publications. Tomlinson spends copious time with Striker and his handler, Laura King, traces the history of canine competition and takes a look at dog shows in popular culture. (Perhaps not surprisingly, “People I talked to in Dogland seem ambivalent about [2000 mockumentary] Best in Show.”)

There’s no ambivalence in the connection between Striker and his handler, forged via countless hours together and a remarkable 111-show-winning partnership. Tomlinson’s love for dogs shines through in a moving essay about his late pooch Fred, and his playful “Pee Break” interludes that rank dogs in art, advertising and the like make Dogland ever more jovial. To wit, those lucky enough to meet a show dog mustn’t pet the dog’s carefully coiffed head, but rather “go for the scritch under the chin.” Wise words from a winning read.

Another Word for Love

MEMOIR

“They say love is patient and kind, but they never say what else is true: that love is also anxious and fearful, desperate and forever on unsure footing,” award-winning journalist Carvell Wallace writes in his debut memoir, Another Word for Love (MCD, $28, 9780374237820). Known best for his intimate celebrity profiles, Wallace now turns his pen to exploring his own childhood as the son of a single mother. With honesty and candor, Wallace reveals how the poverty and abuse of his youth impacted his views on masculinity, desire, sex and love. Another Word for Love is an excavation of his personal history that asks and answers questions about living and loving as a queer, Black man.

Wallace is a brilliant storyteller and masterful student in the language of love. But what about the things that get in the way of loving and being loved? Wallace has a lot to say here, too. For many Black Americans, like Wallace’s complicated mother, the act of loving is often superseded by the pursuit of survival. As Wallace becomes a parent himself, his essays

chronicle the history of police brutality and racial violence in America, frequently asking, How can we teach our children to love in the face of fear and death? It’s here, in Wallace’s frank examinations of family and community building, that his writing truly dazzles.

Wallace’s tumultuous childhood meant he was always on the move, setting down in cities across the country without planting roots. Throughout his travels, he traversed different parts of his identity and uncovered messy, tender truths about himself and other men. From discussing the importance of Solange’s When I Get Home to unpacking letters between Pat Parker and Audre Lorde, navigating a kink space and sharing harrowing stories about the harm he’s caused others, Wallace’s prose is always sharp, witty and honest. Ultimately, though, Another Word for Love offers this radical declaration: Pursuing love is an act of defiance. No matter what trauma or complexities fill your story, love is all of our birthrights.

H Rebel Girl

Kathleen Hanna’s memoir, Rebel Girl: My Life As A Feminist Punk (Ecco, $29.99, 9780062825230), is a timely refresher on resilience, the power of protest art and the tender humanity that we must not lose. Hanna, influential frontwoman of bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, reluctant leader of the Riot Grrrl movement of the 1990s and one of the most notable feminist artists of the past 30 years, recounts her heady and social protest-fueled life in the Seattle and Washington, D.C., music scenes. Like a comic book hero, Hanna has seemed to gather superhuman strength with every blow she receives, surviving a difficult childhood and dodging death threats during Bikini Kill’s rise to indie stardom, all while churning out ever more powerful and furious music.

Rebel Girl unapologetically reveals the vulnerability behind that image, discussing the trauma and illness Hanna endured while being hailed as a feminist savior, assaulted by infuriated misogynists and torn down by fellow Riot Grrrls for being human.

It’s now common to find books that document the angsty cultural soup of the ’90s, slickly packaged to inspire nostalgia for the sense of apathetic cool that’s attached to the

decade. Where Rebel Girl diverges from these, and succeeds, is in Hanna’s refusal to unhook the headiness of the time from its more complicated aspects. She does not shy away from unappealing truths about the era, particularly the violence directed toward her and other women from within the overwhelmingly white and male punk scene, and the problematic aspects of the Riot Grrrl movement, with its lack of intersectionality and eventual dissolution into backbiting and purity politics.

Hanna is equally straight-shooting when she reflects on her own failures and culpability, acknowledging them in a way that is refreshing and constructive. By illustrating how you grew, you can show others how to do the same. With Rebel Girl, Hanna intentionally busts open her feminist idol identity, liberating herself from our perceptions and serving some hard-won wisdom.

The Way That Leads Among the Lost

SOCIAL

When anthropologist and Stanford University professor Angela Garcia went to Mexico City to study a new urban development, she instead discovered families threatened by the violence of the drug war committing themselves or their family members to anexos, coercive drug rehab programs run out of private homes. There, staff members inflict beatings and emotional abuse unironically called “treatment.”

The chance that you’ve heard of an anexos is slim; a quick Google search elicits few results, the top result of which is an academic paper by Garcia herself. In her new book, The Way That Leads Among the Lost: Life, Death, and Hope in Mexico City’s Anexos (FSG, $29, 9780374605780), she studies these complicated places and the social forces that have created them. Based on direct observation and interviews, Garcia shows the diverse experiences that brought them there: A trans woman named Sheila self-admitted and becomes a den mother to young teen residents; an introverted 14-yearold with the nickname Catorce was dropped off by his mother before she left town; and teenage Daniel was violently apprehended after his desperate mother called an anexos for help about his drug addiction.

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The stories of anexados vary, but the essential reason the centers exist is the same: The violence inside the walls of an anexos is less severe than that outside. As Garcia observes life in these makeshift drug rehab centers, she reckons with her own past abandonments, familial addiction and homelessness. Garcia is careful not to run a straight line from the violence of these programs to the healing of their participants. More often than not, people either spend long periods of time living in the anexos, or they are in and out of them as they vacillate between safety and danger, flush and broke.

Yet anexos serve a purpose to many in the communities where they exist. Garcia reflects on the pain many parents feel sending their children to anexos, knowing they’ll suffer violence within, but otherwise unable to keep them from the threat posed by the drug war in their neighborhoods. The Way That Leads Among the Lost is both a heavy and enlightening history of how anexos came to be, and a compassionate look into the lives of those impacted.

H Ascent to Power

BIOGRAPHY

Harry S. Truman had served only 42 days as vice president when Franklin D. Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. Truman had been a respected senator, best known for creating a commission that saved millions in government spending during World War II, but despite FDR’s ailing health, the president had done nothing to prepare his successor to assume the highest office in the country. In a pointed diary note from May 6, 1948, Truman wrote, “I was handicapped by lack of knowledge of both foreign and domestic affairs—due principally to Mr. Roosevelt’s inability to pass on responsibility. He was always careful to see that no credit went to anyone else for accomplishment.”

How Truman moved to end the war and met many other challenges with long-range implications in both international affairs and domestic policy is the subject of David L. Roll’s sprawling, insightful, well-researched and engagingly written Ascent to Power: How Truman Emerged From Roosevelt’s Shadow and Remade the World (Dutton, $33, 9780593186442). This period, Roll writes, “spawned the most consequential and productive events since the Civil War.” Skillfully presenting often conflicting accounts of events

as perceived by key figures, Roll shows that despite numerous missteps, controversies and public criticism, the Truman administration’s record of achievement is ultimately impressive.

As the Cold War developed, Truman broke from FDR’s friendly approach to the Soviet Union, blaming the nation for “destroy[ing] the independence and democratic character” of Europe. Truman boosted U.S. military strength “as a means of preventing war.” Although he faced strong opposition from Congress, Truman continued to pursue New Deal policies and introduced a courageous civil rights agenda far beyond anything ever proposed by a previous president. His international affairs initiatives, which became known as the Truman Doctrine, helped revive the economies of Western Europe and Japan, and “made bold and risky decisions that led to the liberation of millions of human beings” abroad—though Roll also admits that Truman’s support of Zionism came “at great cost to the lives of Palestinian Arabs.”

In 1952, Winston Churchill told Truman, “You more than any other man saved Western civilization.” Ascent to Power’s carefully crafted narrative superbly shows how he did it.

H A Fatal Inheritance

There are families whose histories are riddled with cancer: little boys and their young fathers dying from brain cancer, toddlers succumbing to eye cancer while their young mothers are diagnosed with breast cancer. Lawrence Ingrassia, an award-winning business journalist, comes from one of those families; he lost his mother, three siblings and a nephew to cancer. His family had no idea why were dealt such a horrific hand. Environmental factors? A virus? The rotten luck of the draw? It never occurred to them to blame their genes. Until recently, most experts believed that genetics played no role in cancer. In A Fatal Inheritance: How a Family Misfortune Revealed a Deadly Medical Mystery (Holt, $29.99, 9781250837226), Ingrassia tells the story of how wrong these experts were.

While many researchers have investigated possible genetic links to cancer, Ingrassia focuses on the work of doctors Frederick Pei Li and Joseph Fraumeni Jr. Their research eventually led to the discovery of what is now known as Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, a rare inheritable

genetic mutation that increases the risk of many forms of cancer. People with LFS are likely to have cancer at a young age, even in infancy, and frequently can develop more than one type. Ingrassia’s family carries the mutation, although he didn’t inherit it.

Ingrassia weaves in the stories of his and other Li-Fraumeni families, never allowing the reader to forget the human suffering that spurred the research. His sister Gina’s story is particularly devastating. Months after Angela, the youngest Ingrassia sibling, died from abdominal cancer at 24, Gina developed a nagging cough. She was young, a long-distance runner and a nonsmoker. Her doctor thought she might have an infection. Instead, newly married and still grieving the death of her baby sister, Gina was diagnosed with a large cell lung carcinoma usually seen in smokers in their 60s. She was only 32 when she died.

Ingrassia bravely and honestly details the suffering endured by the dying and their families and acknowledges their fear, anger and confusion, as well as the many unanswerable questions around this genetic disorder. In this compassionate book, Ingrassia grants his subjects the dignity of being remembered not only for their deaths, but for their all-too-short lives.

H Disability Intimacy

Disabled existence is a near-constant exercise in ingenuity. Writer and activist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha calls it “picking the lock of our lives.”

Sussing out where we fit, with whom and when we can finally just be is all part of our lifelong search for belonging, partnership and access that’s specifically cripped.

Disability Intimacy: Essays on Love, Care, and Desire (Vintage, $19, 9780593469736) is the latest anthology edited by author and activist Alice Wong (Year of the Tiger). Its 40 contributors explore the myriad ways we disabled folks long for, cultivate and savor intimacy. Yep, it’s about sex. And friendship. And activism. And pets. And art. And the self.

True to the principles of disability justice (a term coined by artist Patty Berne, creator of the disability justice-based performance project Sins Invalid), Disability Intimacy is intersectional and multifaceted, illuminating

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prismatic points where all the people, experiences and places we call beloved converge.

In this memorable follow-up to her Disability Visibility anthology, Wong has curated a collection of essays from multiply marginalized disabled people, including writers and activists who are LGBTQ+, poor, multiracial and of color. In every case, Disability Intimacy contributors offer new ways to consider how the many facets of identity shape intimacy needs, desire and relationships. An essay by journalist s.e. smith meditates on the thoughts and emotions that come up during physical therapy; Rabbi Elliot Kulka explores the liberation found in rest while parenting. “My body is the oldest story in the world,” writes Naomi Ortiz. “Part broken, part brilliant, all nuance, disability offers a layer of perspective that is unique and profound.”

Taken together, the perspectives in Disability Intimacy honor our collective grief over intimacy lost (or never shared). They celebrate the joy of found community and chosen family that comes with discovering similar lived experience. And they make you think about love, closeness and heartbreak in more complex and nuanced ways.

Disability is far from a monolith; readers may relate to and enjoy some parts of this collection more than others. That’s part of what makes Wong’s collections so affirming and real. This provocative, funny and insightful book will appeal to anyone looking for a deeper understanding of disabled identities, a greater appreciation for their own disabled ingenuity, or both.

The Internet of Animals

NATURE

The Internet of Animals: Discovering the Collective Intelligence of Life on Earth (Greystone, $28.95, 9781771649599) is a bonkers, delightful read if you are interested in any of the following: space and satellites, animal migration and behavior, analog versus digital technology, and the many complications that come from following through on the whiff of a very good idea.

Scientist Martin Wikelski had such an idea decades ago: Tag large numbers of animals and track them digitally via satellite. He envisioned a global community of animal researchers all

pursuing projects using the same satellite and tracking technology, and making some portion of the reams of resulting data public. In a moment of either brilliance or dark insight into the troubles ahead, he dubbed the project ICARUS: International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space. From the beginning, this was a project that aimed to fly near the sun and see the world anew.

But like the mythic story of Icarus, there were unforeseen complications: identifying the technology needed to create a satellite, fine-tuning the technology needed to tag the animals effectively, and finding global collaborators. This story of scientific advancement is also, like so many others, tied up in cultural differences, funding, politicking and geopolitics. A project that Wikelski thought would take only a few years has taken decades, and it’s still unfolding. Still, his good idea remains as captivating as ever.

Wikelski probes the mysteries of the animal world and shares vivid anecdotes of field research, from unusually sociable rice rats in the Galapagos Islands, to a wandering egret who made friends with a family in Bavaria (when he was supposed to be migrating to a different continent). Wikelski situates these stories within the big questions about animals and how they live on Earth—what they know innately and what they could tell us, if they only had a way. He convincingly argues that these questions should animate us all, and his vision of creating a way for animals to communicate what they are remains a vital, galvanizing example of how human ingenuity and persistence can make a difference in how we understand the world around us.

Tits Up

Thornton (Seven Days in the Art World) documents her research in the memorably titled Tits Up: What Sex Workers, Milk Bankers, Plastic Surgeons, Bra Designers, and Witches Tell Us About Breasts (Norton, $28.99, 9780393881028). Her firsthand insight is woven throughout the book, with chapters focused on the “hardworking tits” of sex workers, “lifesaving jugs” of breast milk donors, “treasured chests” that undergo surgery, “active apexes” of the lingerie industry and “holy mammaries” enshrined in religious mythology.

Many women aren’t satisfied with what nature has given them, or they become disenchanted with the effects of gravity, aging or nursing. Thornton goes into detail about how this view has differed throughout history and in various cultures. As she points out, in Anglo American culture, “saggy is a sin” that often leads to surgical procedures, but in Mali, “‘she whose breasts have fallen’ is a respectful term for an older woman.”

Thornton’s research and interviews are exhaustive, entertaining and enlightening. There are heartbreaking stories, like one about a mother who lost her baby but donated her breast milk; historical links, like the 1968 bra burning phenomenon; and inside information about how the many different variations in breast sizes and shapes cause conundrums for bra and swimsuit manufacturers. In tandem, Thornton addresses a central question: How is it that we look at breasts so much but reflect on them so little?

Backed up by research, interviews with experts and plenty of fascinating facts, Tits Up is a revelatory look at many different facets of this oh-so-vital body part. As elucidated by the founder of the “Fool’s Journey” pagan retreat Thornton attends, “Every breast has a story. Let’s work on changing the narrative.” One thing for sure, you’ll never think of boobs in the same way again.

After author and sociologist Sarah Thornton had a double mastectomy, she opted for breast reconstruction covered by her insurance. But she didn’t get the B-cup “lesbian yoga boobs” she had described to her surgeon. Instead, she got D-cup “silicone aliens” that “didn’t feel female or even human.” She relates this experience with humorous flair, but the result was scholarly: “I now had an overwhelming desire to understand breasts, excavate their meanings, and map out routes to their emancipation.”

H The Dead Don’t Need Reminding

Julian Randall’s The Dead Don’t Need Reminding: In Search of Fugitives, Mississippi, and Black TV Nerd Shit (Bold Type, $30, 9781645030263)

is a dazzling ghost story that braids intimate narratives with cultural commentary

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to explore the author’s own past, present and future.

Randall, a Chicago-born poet and author, opens The Dead Don’t Need Reminding in Oxford, Mississippi, where he is attending an M.F.A. program. There, living in the South for the first time in his life, he reflects on the origins of plantation-style architecture in the university’s modern-day fraternity houses and endures violent encounters with racists. He seeks out the history of his Southern-born great-grandfather who “fled his home under threat of tar and feather.” Throughout, he riffs on Miles Morales, Jordan Peele, “BoJack Horseman” and many more cultural touchstones to tell stories of his lineage, of himself and of the places that shaped his family.

While there are tender notes in his writing, Randall never avoids the violence of our American history and present, writing that “white supremacy is a death cult, a religion for the feral.” And, “America is a gaping mouth with an insatiable appetite for Black suffering, Black labor, Black cool, Black flex, Black silence, Black death.”

This is a story not just about a Black man surviving a visit to the Deep South, but about him staying alive long enough to learn where he came from. Our narrator invites us to witness his vulnerability and imagination, shepherding us through time and place from Chicago to the South and back again as he shares his research into his lineage and the depths of his depression. Through smart cultural critique to rich poetic imagery, Randall’s writing moves at a quick pace that reflects his city roots; but when he slows down to describe the lands and people that haunt him, we witness a gifted Southern storyteller. And so we gather on the porch, waiting to hear this story, low and soft, drifting through the kudzu.

H The White Bonus

powerful and necessary exposé of the financial benefits of whiteness in the U.S.

In a style reminiscent of Barbara Ehrenreich, The White Bonus spotlights five workingand middle-class white families, including a very revealing and honest look at McMillan’s own. The book examines how zoning laws, discrimination in trade unions and the failure of school desegregation have rippled into the present, giving white families what McMillan calls the “white bonus,” a multigenerational “societal and familial security net unavailable to Black Americans.” In chapters focused on school, work, poverty and crime, McMillan develops case studies of how individuals and families benefit from whiteness even when they are accused of crimes or are scraping by on minimum wage. McMillan’s quantitative analysis starkly reveals how American institutions continue to benefit white people at the expense of Black Americans.

McMillan offers a powerful and necessary exposé of the financial benefits of whiteness in the U.S.

Chamber Divers

HISTORY

June 1939: British naval sub HMS

Thetis sinks in sea trials. Ninety-nine people die. August 1942: Allied forces raid the coastal town of Dieppe in Germanoccupied France.

Thousands are killed, captured or wounded. Luckily for the Allies in World War II, a group of scientists in London risked their lives in secret pressure chamber “dives” to give future underwater and amphibious missions better odds.

Author Rachel Lance is a biomedical engineer and blast injury specialist who has worked on underwater equipment for the U.S. Navy, making her unusually suited to unveil the forgotten story of these scientists in Chamber Divers: The Untold Story of the D-Day Scientists Who Changed Special Operations Forever (Dutton, $32, 9780593184936).

SOCIAL SCIENCE

Acclaimed journalist Tracie McMillan’s muckraking, experiential methods have earned her prizes, acclaim and the special animosity of Rush Limbaugh, a sure sign of the power of her investigative work.

With The White Bonus: Five Families and the Cash Value of Racism in America (Holt, $32.99, 9781250619426), McMillan offers a

Each case study is supported by extensive interviews and reporting, and presented with novelistic detail in a propulsive narrative. A chapter about the Becker family of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, illustrates “the steady reemergence of racially homogeneous schools after a few decades of progress toward racial integration” that followed Brown v. Board of Education. The Beckers bucked the trend of white flight and sent their children to local public schools that had predominantly Black student bodies. While the oldest sibling benefited from “gifted and talented” programs that primarily served white students in an otherwise diverse student population, the youngest sibling experienced a stark decline in educational quality at the same school after many of the white families left the district.

McMillan’s own family story is told with admirable honesty, particularly regarding the impact of her father’s abuse after her mother’s death. These autobiographical chapters not only provide a detailed financial accounting of her own family’s white bonus, but also brilliantly shape a central insight that analogizes its dangers: The silence surrounding domestic violence is replicated in our society at large when we avoid addressing the impact of structural racism. Remaining silent about either is incompatible with morality.

Their project at University College London was led by J.B.S. Haldane, a brilliant, annoying eccentric who hired scientists shunned by others, among them Jewish refugees, women and Communist sympathizers. As the bombs in the Blitz exploded around them, these scientists subjected themselves again and again to dangerous pressure in chambers that simulated deep underwater dives in order to design more effective breathing equipment for submarine crews, frogmen and torpedo riders.

Relying on their experiment notes, Lance takes us inside the metal tubes where scientists suffered life-threatening injuries. She explores their backgrounds and relationships, which included a love affair between Haldane and research colleague Helen Spurway. And she ranges throughout combat zones to show the dangers of underwater action. But Lance’s singular strength is her lucid explanations of complex science, making it accessible to untrained readers. Lance also uncovers the combination of official secrecy, prejudice against outsiders and bureaucratic skulduggery that obscured this story until now.

Lance begins her book with the Dieppe disaster and ends with D-Day—an Allied triumph that might have gone badly wrong without the chamber divers’ dedication and resilience. Chamber Divers is a necessary reminder that not all war heroes were on the front lines.

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What’s in a name?

In Darcie Little Badger’s Sheine Lende, the prequel to her acclaimed Elatsoe, the answer to that question is: everything .

Names often play a pivotal role in stories—and like many aspects of fiction, their importance is reflected in the real world. The novels of award-winning young adult author Darcie Little Badger draw on the power of names: In Elatsoe, Little Badger’s 2020 debut, the titular character carries the name of a legendary ancestor. Little Badger’s new novel (and prequel to Elatsoe) employs the same convention: Sheine Lende, which translates to “sunflower,” is both the title and the Lipan name of Shane, the book’s protagonist.

Little Badger explains that, in her Lipan Apache tribe, “names were given to a person when they’d grown up enough that their personality and other aspects of them had developed, so it’s a coming of age thing. I got my name after I graduated high school.”

Sheine Lende tells the story of 17-year-old Shane, a Lipan Apache girl in 1970s Texas. Including the diacritical marks that indicate pronunciation, Shane’s Lipan name is spelled Sheiné łénde, but the marks were omitted for the official title. When considered in the context of the story, this difference illuminates much of what Little Badger explores in the novel about names, language and the erasure of native peoples.

“I wanted Shane to be named after a sunflower, and there were a couple of different ways that we could have spelled it. We eventually settled on Sheiné łénde,” she says. “Then I learned from my editor that apparently, the system that’s used to distribute books to booksellers, etc.—it’s really not set up to take diacritical marks. Unfortunately, that means that we had to take off the diacritical marks in the title. It was interesting, because part of the book is Shane learning how to say her name. So it was sad that we couldn’t have the faithful pronunciation indicated in the title itself. But throughout the book, you see the diacritical marks are there. That’s the way it should be,” Little Badger says, as she explains the correct pronunciation (phonetically, it’s close to SHAY-neh LEN-day).

Lorenza and Shane scrape by however they can. Lorenza, who is a gifted tracker, offers search and rescue services to local families. Along with their two well-trained hounds, Lorenza and Shane also have the help of a powerful secret weapon: the ghost of their dog Nellie, brought back through their ancestral gift.

To Shane, her mother is the truest rock Shane has had since the flood. But when Lorenza accidentally steps into a wild fairy ring and vanishes while looking for a pair of missing siblings, Shane’s entire world turns upside down. The ensuing search for her mother forces Shane onto her own turbulent path of reconnection to her people, her family and herself.

Sheine Lende, with its animal ghosts, fairies, vampires and other mythological figures, is firmly rooted in genre fiction. But each fantastical element is anchored by very real and historic truths. Even in a magical version of the world, natural disasters are as unavoidable as carnivorous river monsters, and Shane and Lorenza feel they must hide their sacred abilities as they navigate systems of oppression augmented by the dominance of white European magic systems.

“The cool thing about writing fantasy is that you can use a lot of different tools to present what you want to say about the world,” Little Badger says. “For example, I studied invasive plant species in the United States when I was in college, and they’re called ‘invasive’ because they cause ecological and/or economic damage to the environment that they’re growing in. So I was like, ‘Well, these fairy rings and fae people in the world of Elatsoe and Sheine Lende are extradimensional, so it’s almost like they’re being introduced to Earth. What if there are unintended consequences and they start to spread like an invasive plant?’”

YOUNG ADULT

“The Lipan language is currently in a revitalization process,” Little Badger says. “Lots of people are working on trying to not just fill in holes in our language, but to teach the next generations how to speak it.”

“With Shane,” Little Badger continues, “she does feel embarrassed that she can’t really pronounce her own name. It’s almost like she can’t wrap her head around who she really is. And that makes her wonder, ‘Maybe that’s not me.’ It was important for me to highlight that.”

Shane lives with her mother, Lorenza, and her little brother, Marcos. The family has spent the last several years rebuilding their lives after a devastating flood took their home, community and, worst of all, Shane’s father and paternal grandparents.

Now, living far from “la rancheria de los Lipanes,” the community in which they used to live that was composed mostly of Lipan households,

The role of the fairy rings and their environmental impact in the story contribute to a larger metaphor for collective responsibility and environmental stewardship. Though fairy rings are magical, it’s easy to draw parallels to real-world stories of environmental destruction on Indigenous land, such as the heavily protested Dakota Access Pipeline construction at Standing Rock, or the similarly problematic Keystone Pipeline.

Little Badger hints at the importance of collective responsibility early on in the novel, when Shane’s mother comes down with the flu while on a mission. Despite needing help, she stops Shane from using a flare gun because there’s a risk of it starting a fire in the area, which has recently experienced a drought: “She’s thinking of other people in a wider context, but also there’s this acknowledgment that the land we live on is going to be the land that grandchildren and great-grandchildren live on. There’s one Earth. And the actions we take, often to our own benefit, and sometimes even with noble intentions, could potentially cause negative impacts that carry over into the future.”

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H Sheine Lende Levine Querido, $19.99 9781646143795

“It’s especially hard,” she continues, “because a lot of times, it’s not just individual decisions. It’s the decisions made by corporations or by entire countries. It can make someone feel small and overwhelmed when they’re like, ‘Okay, well, I recycle all the time and I do all these things. And it’s just not enough.’ But I do think that, collectively, if we can move to a place where we take future generations and people who aren’t like us into

“There’s this acknowledgement that the land we live on is going to be the land that grandchildren and great-grandchildren live on.”

greater consideration—that’s what Lorenza was trying to teach Shane—it’s always a positive thing.”

Little Badger’s unique approach to genre fiction has been described as Indigenous futurism, an artistic movement that considers the histories of Native peoples and uses the past to inform reimagined or recontextualized stories and futures. Throughout Sheine Lende, Little Badger uses fantastical devices to create a fun house mirror reflection of her tribe’s experiences.

The Lipan Apache are not a federally recognized tribe, and there is no Lipan reservation. Search engines offer contradictory information about the tribe. Links to the tribe’s official website and history are brought up next to an article from the Oklahoma Historical Society, which speaks of the tribe in past tense, and claims “little of their culture remains.”

“That’s . . . definitely not true,” Little Badger says. “That’s a choice. It ties into the erasure that Sheine Lende shows.” Little Badger explains that before the Republic of Texas acquired statehood, “there was a ‘treaty of peace and perpetual friendship’ that Texas made with us. But then Texas became a state. Government officials did talk about potentially making a reservation for the Lipan Apache outside of the state of Texas, but unfortunately—well, they would consider us defiant, but we just couldn’t be rounded up. We couldn’t be captured. So they decided to do an elimination extermination campaign instead.”

deserts that transition into prehistoric tundras. She encounters strange and terrifying beauty, confronting extinction and memory.

By the late 1870s, Congress had made it illegal for any Indians to exist freely in Texas. Without a reservation, the Lipan Apache were among the Native peoples who suffered from this lack of recognition. “Until around 2021, we had no tribal land, so essentially we’d always be one disaster or unpaid bill away from losing our homes and having to start over somewhere else in Texas. I’ve heard people call us ‘disenfranchised natives,’” Little Badger says, referring to the fact that Native groups without tribal recognition from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs lack rights given to officially recognized tribes by the federal government.

“With Sheine Lende, so much of it is about that struggle to survive on land that has been, according to the United States government, taken away from you, on which you don’t even exist,” Little Badger adds. Towards the end of the novel, Shane enters the land of the dead, “almost like she is drawn to the thought that she belongs with the dead.” While a physical concept in Sheine Lende, the underworld also “represents Shane’s mental health and the way she sees herself and her people.” This fever dream sees Shane wandering through enchanted

“It’s her struggling against that urge to give into despair and remain there with the dead, which eventually she overcomes by thinking of her family out there waiting for her—and a hope for the future, that those who remain need her to be with them and she needs to be with the living for herself,” Little Badger says. “It’s my meditation on what it means to be a disenfranchised native who is so erased by the law, by the military, by history, by books, by everyone outside of your community.”

Ultimately, “Shane finds strength by looking within herself and her community.” It’s this final sentiment of turning toward living, hope and the people who need you and nourish you, that most fully embodies “futurism,” and it’s where Shane embodies her namesake. At the end of Sheine Lende, her family’s grief has not been magically healed, and the ripple effects of colonialism are far from being calmed. But on the book’s final page, there is a note: “This is not the end.” In that message, there is a fervent reminder of hope, if only one remembers to turn, like a sunflower, toward the light.

—Mariel Fechik
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Visit BookPage.com to read our starred review of Sheine Lende. © BEKAH M PHOTOGRAPHY

H Song of the Six Realms

Xue is a talented musician of unfortunate background. Years ago, her uncle brought her to the famous House of Flowing Water to hone her skills in music, courtly manners and the arts, in order to one day earn a place in society. Xue’s quiet life of study and performance is punctuated by visits from her beloved uncle, until tragedy strikes and all she has left of the only family she remembers is a qin he gifted her.

When an inscrutable new customer, Duke Meng, asks to purchase the instrument, Xue barely has time to process his odd request before danger strikes in the form of an attack by a strange beast. In the aftermath, the Duke offers a bargain: journey to his estate to work with him, and afterward he will reward Xue

The Vanishing Station

FANTASY

Between the grief of losing her mother to cancer and the strain from caring for her father, Ruby Santos is just trying to stay afloat. So when she discovers that her father is in debt to a powerful family who secretly rules the San Francisco BART system, Ruby doesn’t hesitate to take on his contract—which means becoming a “jumper,” or a person who magically travels between train lines to make mysterious, under-the-table deliveries. Soon, Ruby begins to wonder if things are darker—and deadlier—than she expected.

The Vanishing Station (Amulet, $19.99, 9781419764226) is a sweeping journey told in beautiful first-person prose. Ellickson brings to life Ruby’s destinations with vibrant descriptions, including sensory elements and Ruby’s emotional responses. Ruby’s charming, dynamic personality comes through to the reader in asides, exclamations and clever quips.

Raised by her Irish mother and Filipino father, Ruby lives between many worlds. She has a burning desire to pursue art but feels pressured to focus on jobs that pay more because of her father’s mental and physical health issues. Isolated by her family’s troubles and the death

with admission to any music academy she wishes. Apprehensive but hopeful, Xue accepts and is thrust into a world of courtly intrigue, godly squabbles, ancient grudges and interplanar consequences. Xue’s music might be the key to helping the Duke unravel the plots swirling around his family.

Judy I. Lin’s Song of the Six Realms (Feiwel & Friends, $20.99, 9781250871619) is both a love letter to the power of music and a heady tour through a setting inspired by Chinese mythology and legend. Xue’s quest unfolds with elegant prose that complements her world’s courtly formality.

Much of the novel retains a contemplative pace despite its high stakes, mirroring the tranquil beauty of poetry. This unusual prioritization of introspection bucks expectations of the young adult fantasy genre in a refreshing way, while still delivering an action-packed climax that feels all the more earned after the slow buildup. With a smart, steadfast heroine, a charming love interest and compelling side characters, Song of the Six Realms is a dazzling, dreamlike escape into a world of powerful poetry, godly magic and humble heroism.

of her mother, Ruby initially feels completely lost. Becoming a jumper seems to promise a life of adventure.

But Ruby finds herself entangled in lies and secrets, stuck trying to balance her heavy responsibilities and her beliefs. As she learns more about the people around her, she begins to recognize that power can manifest and be claimed in many different ways. The Vanishing Station is an impressive reminder that even under the heaviest, most difficult circumstances, it’s worth it to love, try and believe in yourself.

H Icarus

For years, Icarus Gallagher has slipped into the dangerous Mr. Black’s mansion on opportune nights to steal priceless artworks and replace them with perfect forgeries created by Icarus’ father, Angus. Mr. Black hurt Angus’ family, and so Angus has spent almost two decades enacting revenge.

As a consequence of his father’s obsession, Icarus lives a half-life devoid of real connection. Except one night, Icarus is caught by Helios, Mr. Black’s teenage son. While Helios

originally appears to be a threat that could expose Icarus, the two soon form a tentative friendship—and then something more intense.

K. Ancrum’s extraordinary fifth novel, Icarus (HarperTeen, $19.99, 9780063285781), is an elegant, multifaceted gem about art, power and fear. Ancrum performs a confident high-wire act in balancing the weighty manifestations of these themes alongside those of connection, desire and contradiction.

Icarus—book and boy—is the embodiment of raw yearning, and all of Ancrum’s characters wear their hearts on the tips of their tongues. Occasionally, the book’s dialogue can feel unrealistic as it shows an honesty not necessarily common among 17-year-old boys: But there is an intimate truth in the intensity of feeling behind their words, and this is one of Ancrum’s greatest skills as a writer.

Icarus explores not only the unreality of a teenage art thief who scales buildings, but also that of everyday injuries and ecstasies: the cold rage of abuse; the emptiness of grief; the rapturous beauty and agony of being touched.

Ancrum’s prose is thrillingly decadent in certain moments, channeling the artworks whose power she telegraphs through every page. Often, sudden bluntness, either of sentence length or metaphor, gives an edge to the gilded phrasing. In Ancrum’s world, Icarus’ wings striving for the heat of Helios’ sun becomes both a beautiful representation of queer love and a sharp, artful subversion of the original Greek mythos.

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—Mariel Fechik

H Safiyyah’s War

In 1940, Safiyyah lives in the Grand Mosque of Paris with her parents, grandmother Setti, toddler sister and several other families. Smart, curious and spunky, she loves exploring the city—especially the map room of the nearby library, as she dreams of becoming a world explorer. Her carefree ways change, however, as Nazi soldiers invade, plunging her orderly world into the chaos of World War II. Setti warns Safiyyah, “There will come a day when you have the choice to use what you’ve been given in one way or another. . . . There is no use in a million maps unless they lead you to light.”

Hiba Noor Khan’s debut novel, Safiyyah’s War (Allida, $19.99, 9780063351868), is a beautifully written, well-plotted work of historical fiction based on the heroic efforts of Mosque activists who forged identity

Signs of Hope

Signs of Hope, the Revolutionary Art of Sister Corita Kent (Abrams, $19.99, 9781419752216) presents readers with the life and art of nun, teacher and artist Sister Corita Kent. Written from the perspective of one of her many students, this vibrant picture book biography depicts the lessons Sister Corita taught about art and the world around us, encouraging her students to see “what everyone else sees, but doesn’t see.”

Sister Corita taught the art of the ordinary, found in street signs, billboards and signs at the grocery store. To her, these things are art! From her messy and exciting classroom, Sister Corita encourages her students to think outside the box when drawing. With Sister Corita, there is no right or wrong way: There is just art. Always calm and busy, she gathers words clipped from magazines, excited to see what these words might be arranged to say. With her bold works, Sister Corita both celebrates and marches for peace and justice during the anti-Vietnam war movement, and the world begins to notice this “revolutionary nun.”

Mara Rockliff’s text is clever and thoughtful. Caldecott Honor recipient Melissa Sweet

documents for Jews, hid them in the mosque and led an estimated 500 to 1700 through the catacombs to safety. Khan does a particularly good job at making Safiyyah not only an eyewitness but also a bold heroine who dives into action, risking her life for others.

As Paris becomes increasingly dangerous, Khan introduces a diverse, multigenerational cast that enriches the novel. There’s Safiyyah’s father, who taught Safiyyah to always help others; Monsieur Cassin, an elderly botanist who shows Safiyyah the wonders of an adventurous life; Timothée, a refugee shepherd boy from France; and Hana, a

uses watercolor, collage and mixed media in colorful artwork that is bold and richly layered, taking inspiration from Sister Corita’s own pop art. Quotes from Sister Corita and quotes she herself found inspiring are interspersed among the illustrations. As this book culminates, the student narrator charges us all to share what we have learned with others. With this final appeal, the handwritten quotes transition to words from Sister Corita’s former students: “She didn’t teach us how to draw or paint so much as she taught us to care.”

Together, writer and artist have created a beautiful book reminding us all “to make art all our lives and to make our lives ART,” just as Sister Corita taught. Signs of Hope is a dynamic and inspiring book for art lovers everywhere.

H Gray

We all have days where everything feels dull and monotone. Calmly encouraging, Gray (Candlewick, $18.99, 9781536235463) examines those emotions and gives its young narrator—and us—space to feel all the colors.

Jewish classmate whose parents have been captured by the Nazis.

Khan builds an intricate drama around these characters, ramping up the tension as Safiyyah carefully observes what’s happening both in the city and within the Mosque. Adept at investigating, Safiyyah soon finds herself helping the resistance out in unimaginable ways

Safiyyah’s War brings WWII Paris clearly into focus as it shows how people of all kinds can band together in the face of evil. Khan is a writer to watch, and Safiyyah is a heroine worth remembering.

Author Laura Dockrill writes in a manner that matches how one might feel on gray days: not exactly sad, but flat like “tea when it’s gone cold,” with simple words, short statements and a serious tone. A second look will have readers appreciating Dockrill’s skill at subtly peppering in alliteration, assonance and repetition. Hidden within this deceivingly overcast narration are the keen observations and striking descriptions of a watchful, thoughtful child. Later, another, chattier narrator—perhaps the child’s parent—joins in, turning the monologue into a conversation. But this second voice isn’t here to cheer us up. Rather, they remind us that even gray has its purpose, just as sidewalk puddles give the sun a chance to reflect. It’s a gentle, loving and well-handled approach that stands out against more typical attitudes of forced positivity. Lauren Child, of Charlie and Lola fame, enlivens a somber day with her spot-on artwork that ventures outside the lines. Just like a little kid’s emotions, the artwork is charmingly messy and crayon-sketchy, bold and straightforward. Child brings us in extremely close, focusing our perspective on the child’s immediate surroundings and foregoing minute details. But her cleverly pared-down art captures a spectrum of emotions. We instantly become part of the child’s struggle, with little to distract us— much like how the child is unable to think about much besides their gray feelings. Child’s characters are always lovable and empathetic. Maybe it’s the side-eye

29 reviews | children’s

expression she has mastered drawing. We can’t help but care.

Readers will appreciate Gray for a genuine and realistic voice that will speak to young people (and not-so-young people) without feeling cloying or annoyingly cheerful. Gray doesn’t end in an unrealistic explosion of ecstasy, but in the exact way it should: full of color, not necessarily happy, but safe and calm and wrapped in love.

Shine

PICTURE BOOK

Being afraid of the dark is “a family thing” for the young moth protagonist of Shine (Tundra, $17.99, 9781774884287). When the sun goes down, he doesn’t want to leave his cozy home, but the twinkling stars give him the strength to fly away from his family and discover how many creatures there are to befriend—in particular, a host of fireflies.

However, fireflies aren’t the only animals in the dark. Despite his fright, can the moth discover the bravery he needs to keep his new friends safe?

Debut author-illustrator Bruno Valasse pulls from his own childhood fear of the dark in this inspirational picture book, which encourages children with the knowledge that “together, we can always be a light in the darkness.”

Where Shine glows brightest is in Valasse’s illustrations. An earthy, muted palette allows Valasse’s fantastic creatures to take center stage as our moth friend hides among mushrooms, camouflages against an owl and hides other bugs within his wings. This beautiful artwork may inspire parents to theme a room around its imagery, and make little kids want to design big, beautiful wings of their own.

The sparse text of Shine is perfect for its message, but the short book may not be enough for eager young readers who fall in love with Valasse’s whimsical illustrations. Those kids will find that Shine pairs well with books like Phoebe Wahl’s Little Witch Hazel and Yeorim Yoon’s It’s Ok, Slow Lizard. But for parents who love to read nature-driven, emotional tales to their children before bed, Shine will provide a beautifully illustrated, bite-sized storytime.

—Nicole Brinkley

H Terrible Horses

BOOK

Celebrated Deaf poet Raymond Antrobus originally resisted the idea of writing children’s books because of what he called “snobbery” in a 2021 interview with The Guardian. Thankfully, Antrobus came to see the immense importance of these stories, and released a tremendous debut picture book, Can Bears Ski? Readers will delight at his latest offering, Terrible Horses (Candlewick, $18.99, 9781536235487), which features a protagonist with hearing aids who fights with his older, much cooler sister.

‘Terrible Horses’ is instantly relatable, conveying the tensions of sibling rivalry and all the associated emotions.

The picture book form is a wonderful vehicle for Antrobus’ poetry, which shines through each lovely line in the use of poetic devices such as alliteration and repetition. Despite these higher-level literary elements, the narrative is instantly relatable, conveying the tensions of sibling rivalry and all the associated emotions. Declarative sentences combine to form poetic yet authentically childlike stanzas that sing. Though Terrible Horses is not overtly about the Deaf experience, Antrobus provides thoughtful and gentle representation by expressing the little brother’s unique type of isolation. Ken Wilson-Max’s whimsical mixed media illustrations unite with Antrobus’ careful word choice to show the explosiveness of the siblings’ fights and the healing power of words as the protagonist retreats to write “stories about terrible horses” in which he is a lonely little pony “that can’t compete / that can’t speak / that can’t sleep.” These stories comfort the young narrator, but they also serve to heal the sibling relationship once his sister reads them and starts to better understand her little brother. The energy of Wilson-Max’s colorful line drawing enhances this rich story, creating the perfect combination for children and their caregivers and storytellers.

Anzu and the Realm of Darkness

MIDDLE GRADE

Anzu is used to classmates making fun of her name, food and culture. In a new town, she’s prepared for the teasing to continue. When she asks for spirits to help her disappear during the Obon festival, Anzu doesn’t expect the spirit guardian of Yomi, the Shinto underworld, to steal a necklace gifted to Anzu by her grandmother. When the canine guardian disappears back to Yomi, Anzu chases after him and accidentally falls into the spirit realm.

Most of the souls in Yomi mean Anzu no harm, but Queen Izanami wants to add Anzu to her collection of spectral children. For Anzu to return home, she must escape Izanami’s magic and flee through the damaged Marsh Gate back to her own world. But Anzu realizes it isn’t enough to save herself. If she’s careful and brave, Anzu can save every child Izanami has stolen and help repair the gate before Obon is over and she is lost forever.

Pilu of the Woods author Mai K. Nguyen explores the strength that culture and ancestry provide in Anzu and the Realm of Darkness (Viking, $23.99, 9780593525272). Muted purples and blacks with occasional pops of brighter pigments from colorist Diana Tsai Santos help set the mood of the whimsical yet spooky spirit realm.

There are many characters to love, from the too-cute Nurikabe spirit that helps Anzu escape, to Anzu’s magically gifted grandmother, but Anzu still shines brightest. Despite her best attempts to hide herself—introducing herself as “Anne,” a nickname given by cruel classmates who thought her given name too strange—Anzu’s strength comes from embracing who she is. Anzu and the Realm of Darkness reminds readers that girls like Anzu need not shrink themselves: They deserve to use their voice, love what they love, and take up space.

Nguyen blends Japanese folklore with Shinto and Buddhist stories to create the spirits Anzu meets in her interdimensional adventure. For children who want to learn more, a mythological guide to the kami and yokai that make appearances in the story can be found in the backmatter.

Fans of Hayao Miyakazi’s beloved film Spirited Away or supernatural graphic novels

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reviews | children’s

like Remy Lai’s Ghost Book will find Anzu and the Realm of Darkness a worthy addition to their shelves.

—Nicole Brinkley

H Tree. Table. Book.

MIDDLE GRADE

Sophia Henry Winslow and her neighbor Sophie Gershowitz are best friends with a lot in common. They both go by “Sophie,” love the color mauve, aren’t big fans of quesadillas and loathe gossip. And both Sophies, as readers learn in Lois Lowry’s lovely and moving Tree. Table. Book. (Clarion, $18.99, 9780063299504), embody the saying that “age is just a number.” Although Sophie W. is 11 years old, and Sophie G. is 88 years old, they are undoubtedly kindred spirits who “have a true and lasting friendship, a friendship of the heart.”

When young Sophie’s parents explain to her that the elder Sophie has been having problems with her short-term memory—so much so that her son Aaron is considering moving her from their New Hampshire town to an assisted-living facility near him in Ohio—she is devastated. But also determined: She’s going to help Sophie G. prepare for cognitive testing so they won’t be separated.

Sophie W. knows just the thing to use as a guide: the Merck Manual medical reference, provided by her friend and classmate Ralphie, whose dad is a doctor. Their precocious 7-yearold neighbor Oliver also joins the endeavor, cheering on the Sophies as they work through a series of exercises.

Lowry, winner of two Newbery Medals for The Giver and Number the Stars, does an excellent job building tension as Aaron’s impending visit—and the prospect of the Sophies’ lives changing forever—looms ever larger. When the test prep unlocks memories of Sophie G.’s childhood in Poland during World War II, Lowry conveys with sensitivity and realism Sophie W.’s sorrow upon realizing that things she’s only learned about in school have had a painful, lifelong impact on her beloved friend.

Tree. Table. Book. is yet another story from a cherished author that will captivate readers as they reflect on the vagaries of history and the beauty of friendship, which are so poignantly conveyed in this timeless tale.

meet Cathy Wu

Cathy Wu won the Little, Brown Emerging Artist Award for Popo & Meimei Can Help (Little, Brown, $18.99, 9780316500708), her debut picture book. Based in Seattle, Wu is a freelance designer and illustrator who also runs a small paper goods business and teaches on Skillshare. In Popo & Meimei Can Help, Meimei and her grandmother Popo explore the different ways they rely on each other as they complete household chores and surmount a language barrier.

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