The Writer's Life
Reading with... Tessa Fontaine
|photo: Claire Marika
Tessa Fontaine's writing has appeared in PANK, Seneca Review, the Rumpus, Sideshow World and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from the University of Alabama and is working on a PhD in creative writing at the University of Utah. She also eats fire and charms snakes, among other sideshow feats. The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, May 1, 2018) is her first book. She lives in South Carolina.
On your nightstand now:
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I'm almost done with this one, and truthfully, I'd like to hide out for a few days so I can finish and then immediately reread it. A traveling symphony and band of Shakespeare performers journey together after a flu epidemic has wiped out most of humanity, and the novel amazingly weaves the stories of a handful of characters pre- and post-epidemic. I love the way the characters diverge and then reconnect, and how at the center of it all, this human need to perform and tell stories and see art connects people to one another.
The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair. My mom was a painter, but beyond that, she was a lover of colors, so I (have been forced to?) pay a lot of attention to color. This book gives little histories to 75 colors, with anecdotal stories about the ways we have revered them or used them or the mythos behind their naming, like Dragon's Blood, a shade similar to maroon, in whose description we get a brief history of dragon-sightings. I like to read this book before I go to bed, especially if I've been reading Shirley Jackson or something and have scared myself awake.
It Had Been Planned and There Were Guides by Jessica Lee Richardson. I've read this collection of stories before, but wanted to revisit this one story, "Not the Problem," about a lonely grandmother who befriends a family of talking spiders. The writing is so weird and beautiful, and it's fabulist in a way that makes it ring perfectly true. This book plays with short story forms in wild and wonderful ways.
Favorite book when you were a child:
The Patchwork Cat by William Mayne, illustrated by Nicola Bayley. This illustrated book is the story of the cat Tabby whose favorite old quilt is thrown into the garbage. She follows it out and takes a nap on it, only to find she's been dumped into a truck and taken to the dump. She must carry the quilt in her little cat teeth on an arduous quest back home. The illustrations are so evocative--both gorgeous and emotional. I still perfectly remember the cat's pained face as she is dragging that blanket home, her furrowed eyebrows, her matted, garbage-laden fur--and also her determination. Apparently, I was so obsessed with reading this book at a friend's house when I was young that her parents just sent the book home with me one day. Persistence!
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. As a kid whose parents divorced when I was very young, the story of a boy flying between newly divorced parents whose plane crashes in the woods had the perfect emotional grounding. And then the real tale is about how he survives alone in the wilderness! It's great, with the kind of gore and terror that kids love--like the scene where Brian (still remember his name without looking it up, thank you very much) has to dive into the sunken plane to retrieve supplies and sees the bloated, drowned pilot still buckled in. Maybe I should blame more of my darkness on Gary Paulsen.
Your top five authors:
This is so hard to choose, so I'm going to qualify this by saying that this is my list of the moment:
Toni Morrison: her books have blown me away at every stage of my life that I've read them. Ok I'd probably always choose her.
Tana French: she both reveals so much in her books but also maintains mystery that makes her books so propulsive.
Jesmyn Ward: both Salvage the Bones and Sing, Unburied, Sing are two of the best novels I've ever read, and the collection The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, which she edited, is dynamite.
Stephen King: he is, of course, the master of horror. One of his lesser-known books, Lisey's Story, is one of my favorites of all time. And On Writing is fantastically helpful and funny. When I need a treat or reward, I read King.
Robert Hass: I fell in love with Hass's poems when I was in high school, and they still strike me as some of the finest poetry I've ever read. They are not easy, but they are fairly accessible, and they are funny (like his poem about nose-picking called "Shame: An Aria," which is total genius), and sexy and smart and deep and happy and sad.
Book you've faked reading:
I've never read War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, but once someone told me it was foolish to be a writer without having read that book, so I said I had, and he asked me something about it, and I excused myself for the bathroom.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Lately, Things That Are by Amy Leach. This collection of essays begins with some subject matter from the natural world and through a series of amazing and unexpected leaps, connect disparate ideas and objects and animals in such a way so as to make me feel as if everything in the world is new again.
Book you've bought for the cover:
I have a collection of the old Oz series by L. Frank Baum (and then others, over the years), most of which I haven't read, but they have gorgeously illustrated covers. I have them in a glass case and display them like fine china.
Book you hid from your parents:
Somehow I got my paws on the techno-thriller The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton in third grade. It was a hard book to read--each page took me a long time to decipher--but I was so enthralled by reading something I probably wasn't supposed to be reading that I carried on until at least page 60, which took me probably two months.
Book that changed your life:
The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. This is the first hardcover non-children's book I ever had, purchased at a reading of hers I accidentally stumbled into with my mom. We didn't have much money, and it was a big deal my mom bought me this book. I loved it first for that preciousness, and then once I read the book, I loved it like a limb. The language is poetic and stunning, there is sex and magic, and it absolutely changed what I, as a 12-year-old, thought was possible to make happen with words. I think it might be the moment that I knew I would never stop writing.
Favorite line from a book:
This line, from the poem "From Blossoms" by Li-Young Lee:
"There are days we live/ as if death were nowhere/ in the background."
I liked it so much I quoted it in the speech I gave at college graduation. It made me feel very wise.
Five books you'll never part with:
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski: so weird, so formally creative, so mysterious and compulsive. I treasure the object.
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien: one of my favorites of all time. A circular, nonlinear book about war that blurs some interesting fiction/nonfiction lines.
The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch: a stunning, heartbreaking memoir of loss and swimming and finding air with language that makes and then unmakes itself.
Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje: this is a near-perfect book. The imagined life of a New Orleans jazz musician we know very little about. It's written in fragments and operates like a mystery at times. So good.
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell: this was another early favorite. It follows the story of a Native American girl learning to survive alone on an island. She is bold and brave and miraculous.
Though to be honest, this list really includes about a thousand books.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Round House by Louise Erdrich. At the heart of this novel is a mystery--who attacked Joe's mother? But the book is far from simple. It's set on the edge of an Ojibwe reservation and dives deeply into questions of sacred spaces, land legality, spiritual travel, familial healing, racism, sexism and the moments when we cross our most important thresholds. In addition to the urgency and compulsion of the story, the writing is so, so, so damn good. It's a perfect mix of wanting to turn the page faster to know what happens and wanting to slow it all down to enjoy the ride. Erdrich is a wonder.
Mark Haskell Smith
Los Angeles comic crime novelist Mark Haskell Smith (Moist
) sends up Wall Street in the comic thriller Blown
. Bryan LeBlanc works the esoteric foreign currency trading desk among "the US Marines of capitalism... the few, the proud, the completely full of themselves... surfing the algorithm, riding the markets in new and ever more complex machinations, shooting the tube to wrest lucre from the system." Fed up and seeing a loophole that will allow him to embezzle $17 million while sending an "up yours" message to the fat cats sitting at the top of his firm, LeBlanc engineers a complex scheme to skim clients' margin accounts for a bundle of foreign currency stashed in the Cayman Islands. The chase is on.
As LeBlanc goes island-hopping, Smith flexes his character muscles and funny bone with a colorful coterie of company bloodhounds unleashed to track him down. There's his immediate boss, Korean American Seo-yun Kim, who's an algorithmic automaton chafing under an impending conventional marriage and getting a little frisky sexually. The firm's chief security investigator, Neal Nathanson, is recovering from a boyfriend break-up and looking to trucker porn for comfort. After a fatal run-in with his silent partner in George Town, LeBlanc finds yet another pursuer closing in--a relentless, randy 4'7" ex-cop PI from Curaçao. Like one of Tim Dorsey's Serge and Coleman road trips, LeBlanc's romp through the Caribbean is full of conniving and missteps. Cleverly plotted, raunchy and very funny, Blown
is a crime novel with an edge--an unlikely mashup of Gordon Gekko and Jimmy Buffet. --Bruce Jacobs
, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe
, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: In this comic thriller, Smith takes on Wall Street in a wild embezzlement caper leading to a Caribbean island-hopping chase.
$16, paperback, 304p., 9780802128140
Into?, the third novel by North Morgan (Highlights of My Last Regret), follows 32-year-old Konrad Platt, an aimless, neurotic and narcissistic gym-obsessed gay man caught up in the revolving door of unfulfilling hookups and even worse relationships.
Platt feels similar to Bret Easton Ellis's privileged, passive and disaffected protagonists in Less Than Zero and American Psycho. After a messy breakup with his boyfriend, he moves from London to California. A financial adviser at his wealthy father's firm, he works from home; his job requires very little time and is very lucrative. Most of his days are spent trolling his ex's Facebook posts, going to the gym to exercise and cruise men, and searching gay hook-up apps for men who fall into his strict physical and mental parameters (i.e., straight-acting, closeted "bros" with little interest beyond physical encounters).
Handsome, buff and financially well-off, Platt is still a victim of his own insecurities and neuroses. When he has bad sex with a hook-up, he still texts the guy afterward seeking validation. He is self-aware enough to realize how empty his life is, but diverts himself with sex, drugs and social media whenever he's tempted to make changes.
(previously published in the U.K. in 2016 with the better title Love Notes to Men Who Don't Read
) is a fascinating and compelling novel of internalized homophobia among gay men and how social apps have increased the availability of sexual encounters while keeping people more emotionally detached. Readers won't get bored following Platt's repetitious encounters, though, thanks to Morgan's lacerating observations and cool, dry wit. --Kevin Howell
, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: North Morgan's third novel, Into?, is as cool, detached and fascinating as his handsome and wealthy gay protagonist.
$21.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781250147448
Mystery & Thriller
You Were Made for This
Michelle Sacks's debut novel, You Were Made for This, follows a seemingly perfect couple down a dark rabbit hole of sexual obsession and domestic isolation. When Sam inherits a picturesque cottage in Sweden, it seems to be the perfect opportunity for him, his wife, Merry, and their newborn, Conor, to make a fresh start. But beneath their beautiful and tranquil existence, they both hide dark secrets from their past, and Merry's domestic exterior is cracking under the pressure of their marriage and motherhood. Frank, Merry's seductive, charismatic childhood friend, comes to visit, and all of their lives unravel in the face of past horrors and new tragedies.
As in her short story collection, Stone Baby, Sacks proves herself to be an expert of both language and atmosphere. By turns mesmerizing and horrifying, You Were Made for This confronts the dark truths behind motherhood, marriage and female friendship with disquieting lyricism. Her intricately woven perspectives and carefully drawn fairytale setting create a world that soon feels more convincing, albeit more disturbing, than our own. The voices of her consistently rotten but unmistakably human characters seduce the reader into a nightmarish dreamscape that is terrifying and thought-provoking for its uncanny familiarity.
You Were Made for This
plumbs the thematic depths of the popular domestic thriller genre, showing a literary self-awareness while still spinning an intoxicating narrative. With her captivating characters and mesmerizing style, Sacks forces us to stare at what lurks beneath a modern, cool exterior, and touch the mold that grows in the corners of an idyllic cottage in the woods. --Alice Martin
, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye meets the set of a David Lynch film in this haunting, psychological portrait that takes the dark domestic thriller into a new, literary realm.
$27, hardcover, 352p., 9780316475402
Science Fiction & Fantasy
As far as first days at a new job go, Hannah's couldn't get much worse. She's just shipped in to Sigma Station, a luxury hotel overlooking the Horsehead Nebula on the distant edge of Frontier space. The area was once a battleground between the Frontier and its breakaway Colonies, but that was years ago, and now Sigma is full of vacationers and tour guides. As one such guide, Hannah shepherds visitors onto smaller touring ships, where they can see Sigma Station and the nebula in all its glory. Hannah finds her ship, the Red Panda, at a fraction of its full capacity, with fewer than a dozen passengers of all ages, and a grizzled captain impatient with Hannah's lateness. The shuttle sets off and starts the tour, which comes to a shocking halt when Sigma Station is utterly destroyed by a mysterious warship.
Though the Red Panda
survives the initial attack--one committed with terrifying, high-tech weapons--Hannah and her charges are stranded with little food and less hope. The passengers are a volatile mix of personalities and allegiances, a situation that Hannah is ill-equipped to handle. Events on board quickly grow out of her control, and somewhere nearby, the ship that murdered thousands of people on Sigma Station is still lurking. Adrift
by Rob Boffard (journalist and author of the Outer Earth trilogy) is a tense, sci-fi survival story with intriguing twists and sympathetic characters. Adrift
's thrilling pace and high stakes are sure to find fans across genres. --Tobias Mutter
, freelance reviewer
Discover: The passengers and crew of a small touring ship are stranded in the depths of space when their hotel is destroyed by an unknown ship.
$15.99, paperback, 416p., 9780316519113
A Love Like This
Irish novelist Maria Duffy (In Search of Us) has crafted a charming, suspenseful romance in A Love Like This. William and Donna were born on the same day in the same Dublin hospital, and spend their whole lives almost meeting. Will Cooper-Smith is raised in an affluent suburb by his stern lawyer mother, while Donna O'Neill is mostly raised by her elder sister, Tina, as their mother descends into an alcoholic stupor. Will and Donna cross paths briefly in childhood; as teenagers, they nearly meet when Tina gets a job cleaning the Cooper-Smith house.
Then as adults, when something shocking shatters Will's life, he quits his mother's law firm and heads to Perth, Australia, in search of contentment. Donna, who's been happily working in a bakery, finds herself doing something surprisingly out of character after a tragedy in her own life, and sets off on a trip to Australia and New Zealand.
The tension in A Love Like This
is the perfect balance to a sweet story. Duffy has created a believable series of near misses; readers will wonder if Will and Donna will finally meet. The descriptive journeys through Western Australia and New Zealand are a delightful and exotic contrast to Will's and Donna's everyday lives in Dublin. A story of overcoming odds and tragedy in search of love, A Love Like This
will make even the most cynical skeptic want to believe in love at first sight, and is sure to appeal to fans of Jane Green or Cecilia Ahern. --Jessica Howard
, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this star-crossed romance, Will and Donna, born in the same Dublin hospital on the same day, spend their whole lives nearly meeting.
$16.99, paperback, 368p., 9781510733688
Biography & Memoir
Ghostbuster's Daughter: Life with My Dad Harold Ramis
Violet Ramis Stiel
Violet Ramis Stiel's affectionate memoir of her father, writer-director-producer-actor Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day, Animal House, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters), offers an overview of both his successful career and their often chaotic family life. At one point, Ramis tells his daughter, "I think, really, being an adult is about acknowledging ambiguity in all areas of life and finding a way to be okay with that." Stiel embraces the disorder of her childhood and her father's life.
Stiel's parents had a "marital arrangement of low-key nonmonogamy." When Stiel was eight, her parents decided to divorce because Ramis had fallen in love with his personal assistant (and soon-to-be second wife, Erica). That same year, Ramis and his daughter visited director Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) in the hospital after she'd given birth. Later, Stiel discovered her dad had fathered Heckerling's baby girl. From an early age, Stiel visited the sets of most of her father's films, graduating to bit parts and working behind the scenes. The book ends with heartfelt memories of her father's four-year battle with debilitating vasculitis and a brain hemorrhage--something the family kept hidden. The secret kept his career safe but left the family without emotional support from loved ones.
is a genuine love letter to Harold Ramis from his adoring but clear-eyed, shrewd and opinionated daughter. Her portrait captures her father from all sides, calling him a "perfectly imperfect person" and "the best father I could have ever imagined." Fans will enjoy Stiel's deeply personal, irreverent and loving valentine to her beloved father. --Kevin Howell
, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Harold Ramis's daughter remembers her beloved father and her disorderly childhood in this supremely loving but emotionally candid memoir.
Blue Rider Press,
$28, hardcover, 384p., 9780735217874
The Last Cowboys: A Pioneer Family in the New West
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Branch (Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard) immerses readers in the history and deep-rooted traditions of the Wright family--who have lived in southern Utah since their Mormon ancestors arrived 150 years ago. At the heart of the narrative are contemporary patriarch and matriarch Bill and Evelyn Wright of Smith Mesa, parents of 13 children and legions of grandchildren. Love abounds as the family grows, but chronic struggles plague a way of life disappearing from the landscape of the American West.
The Wrights, herding cattle ranchers, manage and oversee hundreds of cattle over thousands of acres. Branch depicts, through riveting scenes infused with colorful detail, the many challenges posed by the politics of land management and grazing rights, urbanization and tourism, the influx of corporate cattle ranching, fluctuating beef prices and droughts. Added to the mix are adventurous stories of the modern rodeo circuit, where the Wright boys are among the world's best saddle bronc riders. The dramatic thrill of victory and the agony of defeat and injury force this hardworking, faith-filled family continually and creatively to adapt and reinvent themselves--all in an effort to maintain their way of life in the hope it can be sustained for future generations.
Branch's chronicle of a tight-knit, loyal family is meticulously researched and vividly presented. The lengths the family goes to in support of each other is thoroughly engrossing and offers a great appreciation into the plight of modern American cowboys. --Kathleen Gerard
, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A gripping account of a modern American ranching and rodeo family and the many challenges they face.
$26.95, hardcover, 288p., 9780393292343
Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age
On a planet undergoing severe climate change because of the burning of fossil fuels, some argue that nuclear energy is a smart energy alternative. But in the insightful Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age, London environmental journalist Fred Pearce (The Land Grabbers) questions that logic after visiting nuclear disaster zones in Russia, Japan and the United States.
In Russia, a scientist who has helped monitor the aftermath of the 1957 Mayak reactor disaster describes for Pearce the lax safety regulations that have been a long-time staple of the power plant: "Until 1955, even pregnant women worked on plutonium products," he says. In Japan, Pearce visits the evacuated villages near Fukushima, where nuclear reactors melted down and exploded after being flooded by a tsunami in 2011. The villages have become home to several plant and animal species that are thriving in the absence of humanity. This is, Pearce argues, the happiest legacy of nuclear energy on planet Earth.
Most terrifying are Pearce's discoveries of government cover-up. He presents evidence of government officials in Japan, Russia, Britain and the United States failing to warn the public about the dangers of nuclear energy. In Russia, the government went so far as to refuse to send help to fallout victims in the name of national security. Part history lesson and part call to action, Fallout
is an eye-opening and much-needed addition to the literature on nuclear power. --Amy Brady
, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Fallout is a fascinating but enraging look at the international history and present-day problems of nuclear energy use.
$27.95, hardcover, 264p., 9780807092491
Nature & Environment
Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America
In Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America, poet and journalist Eliza Griswold chronicles the impact on landowners in western Pennsylvania when the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) industry comes calling with deep pockets and false reassurances. It is both an intimate portrayal of one family's protracted struggle with gas and chemical contamination and also a frank rendering of the collateral devastation often wrought by companies bent on extracting natural gas from the land.
Amity and Prosperity is centered on Stacey Haney, a nurse and landowner. Her property is contaminated by a leak at the large fracking site up the hill from her farm. Haney gets sick, along with her children and animals, and is forced to abandon her beloved farm. Therein begins her protracted six-year fight for justice and for her family's health and security. Griswold (The Tenth Parallel) reminds us that Haney and her community represent the human cost of energy development and that exploiting energy often involves exploiting people as well as the environment.
It is a testament to Griswold's gift for the written word that an account of the perils of fracking is transformed into a gripping legal drama, pitting farmers and their small tight-knit community against one another and against the powerful forces jeopardizing their land and their families' physical and mental health. Griswold boldly takes the fracking industry to task, as well as the government agencies that fail in their civic mandate to protect the environment and the rights of landowners like Haney and her neighbors. --Shahina Piyarali
, writer and reviewer
Discover: An absorbing account of the devastation wrought by the fracking industry on farming families in western Pennsylvania.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
$27, hardcover, 336p., 9780374103118
Children's & Young Adult
Summer of Salt
"On the island of By-the-Sea, you could always smell two things: salt and magic." For Georgina (Georgie) Fernweh and her twin sister, Mary, odd occurrences are a part of everyday life. The Fernweh family, which has lived on By-the-Sea for hundreds of years, is magic. Every Fernweh woman inherits an ability--controlling fire, walking on water, teleportation--before her 18th birthday. While Georgie's mother is skilled with potions and Mary has been able to float since birth, Georgie is still without a gift, and, with her birthday right around the corner, she fears she may be "normal... just a sidekick." The twins are also preparing for this to be their last summer on the island, since both are setting off for college in the fall.
The twins plan to spend the summer working at their mother's inn, which caters to the devout birdwatchers who return each year to observe an unusual, maybe-300-year-old bird named Annabella on its annual island pilgrimage. But when a chilling crime shocks the island and the community is divided, the superstitious islanders (who know about but never speak of the Fernweh family magic) become suspicious of Georgie and her sister. Assisted by a few faithful friends--including Prue, a beautiful tourist with whom Georgie is quickly and secretly falling in love--Georgie races to find justice.
Treacherous weather, shaken faith, a sister who seems to lose herself more each day and insecurity in her own magical abilities all plague Georgie as she vows to protect her family, find the real perpetrators of the crime and right the wrongs in the only world she has ever known. Readers will find themselves absorbed in Katrina Leno's (Everything All at Once
) Summer of Salt
as they are pulled inexorably toward the painful but powerful conclusion. --Jennifer Oleinik
, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Twin sisters from a magical family find themselves at the center of a mystery in this modern novel steeped in magic, love, loss and redemption.
$17.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 13-up, 9780062493620
Fat Girl on a Plane
Fashion blogger Cookie Vonn is the daughter of a famous supermodel--she could even be "Leslie Vonn Tate's doppelganger," except that she weighs 330 pounds. Cookie has just scored an interview with her idol, designer Gareth Miller, at her first ever fashion preview. En route through Chicago, however, flight attendants decide she needs a second seat and won't let her leave for New York unless she buys one. Mortified (and down an interview opportunity), Cookie decides she's "done being the fat girl on the plane" and joins NutriNation. Slowly, the pounds come off. When Cookie does finally meet Gareth Miller (on a plane, no less), he introduces himself with a joke about a woman who's too fat to fly! Cookie still intends to design plus-size clothes that let women "look and feel great," so when, as a PR ploy, Gareth is convinced to "launch a plus-size capsule collection" with her, Cookie seizes the opportunity.
But if Cookie thought her life would be perfect as a thin person, she has to rethink that. She's still feuding with "snothead" nemesis Kennes Butterfield; can't get anything going with her longtime crush, Tommy Weston; her parents remain mostly absent; and attending Parsons for fashion design continues to be financially out of reach. She's not even sure she likes the way people look at her now that she's thin.
Cookie is a strong character, one whom readers will enjoy accompanying on her journey of self-discovery. Engagingly told, alternating chapters go back and forth in time, allowing the author to contrast the way Cookie is treated when she's heavy and after she's lost weight. Kelly deVos, who, like Cookie, was also once "declared too fat to fly," says it best in her compelling note at the outset: "It's what's inside us that counts." --Lynn Becker
and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: When 17-year-old Cookie, the daughter of a famous supermodel and fashion devotee herself, is forced to buy a second seat on an airplane, she vows to lose weight and take the fashion world by storm.
$18.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780373212538
Not the Girls You're Looking For
Aminah Mae Safi
In her compelling debut, Aminah Mae Safi depicts with poetic beauty the emotional chaos of being a teenage girl. Leila "Lulu" Saad describes herself as not "rainbows and sunshine... not some magical f*cking princess who can't form a serious opinion." With one Iraqi parent and one American parent, she goes through more turmoil than the average teen and feels like an outsider in both groups. Lulu's father's Arab family is very close: "These women [know] how to look after one another. But they never [extend] the courtesy to her mother. And they only [give] such consideration to Lulu when they [see] her father in her." At the same time, some of her white classmates view her as a terrorist after the attack on Paris: "She was Iraqi, wasn't she, they... accused. They knew she was Muslim. Her fault... the dirty little terrorist." Luckily, though, Lulu is fully accepted by her three best friends, Audrey, Emma and Lo. Lulu knows that each of the girls would go to the ends of the Earth to help any of the others--until she manages to make a horrendous mess of their friendship and winds up completely alone.
Not the Girls You're Looking For
is emotionally raw and relentlessly honest and funny. Safi celebrates young women and their distinctive bonds, depicting her characters with all the foibles growing pains produce. She also presents the identity struggles of blended families with candid realism, encouraging empathy for those who find themselves straddling two vastly different cultures and are trying to figure out who they are. Though they may not be the girls you're looking for, you should definitely seek out this book. --Jen Forbus
Discover: An Arab-American teen mangles the friendships that sustain her and struggles to find her place in the world.
Feiwel & Friends,
$17.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 13-up, 9781250151810