From the Shelf
Advice to Graduates: Read Make Trouble
I'm not adept at taking advice, good or otherwise. And I've sat through a few too many achingly bad commencement speeches. In fact, the previous two sentences could serve as the start of yet another earnest trip down the rabbit hole of "as you go forth into the world on this auspicious day...."
Fortunately, great commencement speeches do happen sometimes. While some attain digital immortality, a chosen few even become books. My favorites include George Saunders's Congratulations, by the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness; Ann Patchett's What Now?; J.K. Rowling's Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure & the Importance of Imagination; and Neil Gaiman's Make Good Art.
Any of these would make an excellent graduation gift. And this year their select ranks have been joined by a wonderful addition--filmmaker, writer and exquisite troublemaker John Waters's Make Trouble, which is taken from his 2015 Rhode Island School of Design commencement speech.
"Remember, a 'no' is free," Waters counsels. "Ask for the world and pay no mind if you are initially turned down. A career in the arts is like a hitchhiking trip: All you need is one person to say 'Get in' and off you go. And then the confidence begins... Remember: You must participate in the creative world you want to become part of. So what if you have talent? Then what? You have to figure out how to work your way inside."
But wait, there's more: "Listen to your political enemies, especially the smart ones, and then figure out a way to make them laugh. Nobody likes a bore on a soapbox. Humor is always the best defense and weapon. If you can make an idiot laugh, they'll at least pause and listen before they do something stupid--to you."
My advice to graduates: If you can't make trouble today, then at least read Make Trouble. --Robert Gray, contributing editor
In this Issue...
by Rakesh Satyal
In Cleveland's Indian American community, two discontented middle-agers break out of ruts with help from their friends.
by Gengoroh Tagame
Cultures clash and secrets surface when a lovable Canadian muscle bear visits his deceased husband's family in Tokyo.
by Megan Whalen Turner
Continuing in the realm of her Newbery Award-winning YA fantasy series, Megan Whalen Turner takes a Mede slave on a harrowing life-or-death journey across the empire.
Review by Subjects:
Poems About Summer
Bustle shared "10 poems about summer that you can read online right now."
"Because exclamation points and question marks are so basic," Mental Floss suggested "13 little-known punctuation marks to try."
"Amazing Stephen King-inspired artwork from Gallery 1988" was displayed by Flavorwire.
An exhibition of Charles Dickens's "campaigning journalism shows the fruits of his night-time walks and how his issues are also ours," the Guardian reported.
"These 15 shelfies will help you up your book Instagram game," Bustle promised.
Discovering Joy with His Holiness the Dalai Lama & Archbishop Desmond Tutu
|(photo: Miranda Penn Turin)|
Douglas Abrams is the founder and president of the book/media agency Idea Architects, where he collaborates with visionaries to create a better world. For more than a decade, Abrams has worked with Archbishop Desmond Tutu on various books and projects, including co-founding Human Journey, an initiative "committed to spreading the African understanding of Ubuntu--the realization that each of us thrives only when all of us thrive." In April 2015, Abrams spent a week with the Dalai Lama and Tutu as they tackled an age-old question: How do we find joy in the face of life's inevitable suffering? The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (Avery), which Abrams co-authored with the two spiritual leaders, is the outcome. Abrams lives with his wife and children in California.
What an extraordinary experience it must have been for you to spend a week with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.
It was truly extraordinary to be in that room facilitating what we knew was going to be a historic dialogue during what was perhaps the last time these two leaders and close friends might ever meet. I think what we didn't quite realize--even though we knew how much this would mean to the world--was how much this experience would mean to the two of them. Seeing how significant, rewarding and delightful it was for them to be with each other for that amount of time--to play together, explore together and share their traditions--was incredibly moving to witness.
That comes through in the book. I almost got the sense that writing this book was a spiritual experience for you. Did this project transform you in any particular way?
My journey to writing The Book of Joy has been a lifelong process. It began with growing up in a home shrouded by the black dog of depression. Working on The Book of Joy allowed me to see how all the suffering and experiences in my life were necessary for the completion of this project and for me to play this role of scribe. I think there are experiences where we see a larger pattern and a larger meaning, and this was certainly an experience that went beyond the body, the mind and into the heart. It felt like an expanded state of consciousness.
Tell me about the preparations for the visit. You share a long friendship and a long working relationship with Archbishop Tutu. Had you previously met the Dalai Lama?
I met the Dalai Lama in Washington, D.C., during the preparations for the book, which was created in honor of his 80th birthday as a gift for the world. The Book of Joy was envisioned as a layered birthday cake, with the first layer being their insights, teachings and stories, followed by a travelogue experience of being there with them during this time as they shared their lives. The Dalai Lama teaches Archbishop Tutu how he meditates, and the Dalai Lama dances for the first time in his life. You get those very intimate experiences, along with the science behind their insights.
Their message is universal, one that resonates with people of all faiths as well as those who are unchurched or atheist, or who have had that part of their lives fall away. They offer a very practical way of living that doesn't make the reader subscribe to any one faith.
The Dalai Lama was adamant that this needed to be a universal human book. It shouldn't require people to believe in any one thing. We knew we were dealing with two global moral leaders who are much larger than their faith traditions and who also speak to people of many faiths or of no faith. They're also very deep practitioners of their traditions. It was an opportunity to bring their two traditions together, along with their universal worldview.
This visit took place in April 2015, before many significant world events, such as the Brexit vote and the U.S. presidential election. At one point in the book, Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama comment that the world is getting better. Do you think they would still say that? What part of the book's message do you think is most pertinent for us living in these uncertain times?
I visited with Archbishop Tutu right after the Paris bombings, and he spoke specifically of what to say to people who were so discouraged by the terror and intolerance. He remained adamant that we need to have a wider perspective, to realize humanity progresses two steps forward and one step back; however, if you look at the long sweep of human history, we are going in the right direction. We forget that we evolved and grew as a species in a context very different from the world now, and we're not going to further evolve overnight. The book talks about how we deal with despair and those feelings when it seems we're taking a step backward, and even in our own lives when we feel overwhelmed by bad news and feel like we are personally going in the wrong direction.
It's not a "don't worry, be happy" book or one that promotes a superficial understanding of joy while denying the real suffering that exists in the world. Rather, it's about how to cultivate joy in the face of adversity in our own lives. These are two men who speak with the mantle of moral courage because of the suffering they faced. Through them, we understand how we transcend and grow through adversity rather than ignoring or denying it. There's a zig and zag to all our lives and we don’t evolve without that.
We need the pain to realize the growth we're capable of and that we have inside. We have the capacity within us to become stronger and better people.
That's exactly right. For me that was one of the most profound things I learned while growing up around depression. We don't have to get stuck in those emotions. We don't have to live there. As the Dalai Lama would say, we have mental immunity. None of us would be the person we are without our respective losses. The key is not to look at those losses from a place of deficiency, but as a foundation for the character we need to fulfill our purpose. Archbishop Tutu would not be Archbishop Tutu if he hadn't stared down apartheid. The Dalai Lama would not be the Dalai Lama without the experience of being in exile.
That concept is a powerful one when combined with the understanding that developing this mental immunity is a lifelong learning process, one that can be cultivated. Very few of us can meditate five hours a day like the Dalai Lama, but there are things we can all implement in our own lives. Your book includes a section of practical ways to cultivate those pillars of joy.
If the book was envisioned as a birthday cake, that last layer is the frosting. The overall goal isn't to experience joy as a fleeting emotional state, such as when we're enjoying a song or our lunch. What the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu model for us, and which we saw so powerfully over the course of a week, is how it is possible for joy to become an enduring character trait in everyone's life. --Melissa Firman
No One Can Pronounce My Name
by Rakesh Satyal
No One Can Pronounce My Name, the second novel by Rakesh Satyal (Blue Boy), pays a humorous, loving visit to the Indian immigrant community of Cleveland, Ohio, where a handful of oddballs and outsiders come together to form a circle of support that changes their lives.
Middle-aged Harit doesn't know how to talk to his mother after his sister, Swati, dies in a freak accident. Shy and socially maladroit, he works in sales in a department store, where he becomes friends with flamboyant coworker Teddy, who introduces Harit to alcohol at their local T.G.I. Fridays.
Newly minted empty nester Ranjana thinks her husband, Mohan, has a girlfriend. Not wanting to become the subject of gossip, she keeps her suspicions from her friends and throws herself into writing a vampire novel. At her day job as a receptionist at a proctology clinic, she forges a friendship with Achyut, a young gay patient and bartender, leading her outside her comfort zone and bringing Harit into her orbit.
No One Can Pronounce My Name meditates on immigrants' lifelong struggle for acceptance in the U.S., but also demonstrates that the support of communities of friends can make all the difference. Though the main players' specific circumstances are different, all face loneliness and struggles with identity. Satyal delves deeply into each character's past and psyche, mining fragility and heartache like rare jewels. While the introspection at times slows the action, the natural outgrowth of situational comedy balances the pace. Satyal never plays his characters for fools, though, and book clubs will find rich fodder for discussion in this sparkling, deeply felt story of emotional growth. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: In Cleveland's Indian American community, two discontented middle-agers break out of ruts with help from their friends.
The Last Neanderthal
by Claire Cameron
Claire Cameron (The Bear) explores the lives of a modern-day archeologist and the skeleton she discovers in the compelling novel The Last Neanderthal.
Rose Gale is an ambitious archeologist obsessed with her latest find in a cave in France: the remains of a female Neanderthal buried intimately with a male Homo sapiens. The artifacts Rose uncovers, as well as the burial of the two species together, cast doubt on long-held theories about Neanderthals and modern humans. In a race against time, she works to unearth more evidence despite her advancing pregnancy.
About 45,000 years earlier, a Neanderthal family is living in that same region of France. Big Mother, the matriarch, is becoming frail as her oldest remaining daughter, Girl, comes of age. Cameron puts the reader in the mind of Girl to experience the world as she does: the comfort of family, the excitement of the summer fish run and the serious dangers inherent in her daily life.
The Last Neanderthal is emotionally engaging and, as it alternates millennia, echoes of the past arise in Rose's modern life. She and Girl are both pregnant and experiencing great changes in their lives. As Rose continues to excavate the skeleton, readers learn more about Girl's life in this immersive story that unites the two women across time. Cameron infuses the interrelated stories with warmth, enhanced by vivid details about Neanderthal experiences. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book by Book blog
Discover: A modern-day archeologist leads a parallel life to the Neanderthal woman she is uncovering.
by Brittany Newell
Lush, edgy, lyrical, bad-ass, pensive, taxing--it's hard to paint Oola into a picture that captures its striking prose and fearless curiosity about identity and obsession. In performance artist, drag queen, recent Stanford graduate and Pushcart nominee Brittany Newell's first novel, 25-year-old Leif housesits for his moneyed New England family's network of friends with empty domiciles around the world. Oola is a striking six-foot music student raised by a metal band roadie and a casino hostess. They meet at a hipster London flat party; and with the impulsiveness of unencumbered youth of means, they take off on a global romance in great houses across Europe, the Middle East, Canada and, finally, at a remote cabin in Big Sur.
As the sparkle of discovery shines on the hidden pleasures of sex, drugs, food, conversation and the mysteries of each other, Leif becomes obsessed with Oola's body and habits, turning his observations into what he envisions will be a novel of celebration. He boasts: "I loved to watch Oola in the shower.... I came to memorize her postures, the hygienic loop (rinse, wash, repeat) that, like prayers of digestion, lent me a glimmer of infinity via the banal."
Like Leif's book, Oola is a novel of discovery--ever shifting and digging deeper. It is a diary, a romance, a dark trip over the edge. Capturing today's zeitgeist of an experimental, hungry, indulgent youth, it also harkens back to the masculine, queer, trippy work of William Burroughs and Hubert Selby. But Newell is very much her own woman, and make no mistake. As the title suggests, this is Oola's story--not Leif's. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Fearlessly exploring the nuances of gender, sexuality, obsession and identity, Brittany Newell's first novel is a wicked, lyrical trip into self-discovery.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Jeff VanderMeer
In the post-apocalyptic ruins of an unnamed city, a woman named Rachel survives by scavenging for food, water and biotech--living experimental refuse cast off by the defunct Company. She braves desperate fellow humans, inhuman organic horrors and the predatory Mord, a behemoth bear that terrorizes the city. Rachel brings her discoveries to Wick, her partner in love and survival, whose mysterious past with the Company helps him turn Rachel's treasures into drugs--for profit and personal use. Balcony Cliffs, their hidden compound, is precariously perched between Mord's territory and the territory of a rival biotech dealer called the Magician.
Rachel's latest find threatens to upend their uneasy existence. It's a blob clinging to Mord's fur, a thing neither plant nor animal that quickly becomes as threatening as it is unusual. Rachel names this amorphous entity Borne, and decides to keep it despite Wick's reservations. Borne speaks, grows and learns under Rachel's care, ever curious about its possible personhood and purpose--one that may decide the fate of Rachel, Wick and the city itself.
Jeff VanderMeer, author of the Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance), proves himself a wizard of weird fiction with Borne. The titular creature is lovably charismatic, vaguely menacing and presents a peculiar parable of parenthood in its relationship with Rachel. The setting is a delightfully bizarre mix of post-apocalypse, dystopia and light science fiction, blended with the creeping unease of the unknowable that made Southern Reach so memorable, and delivered with VanderMeer's keen eye for natural--and unnatural--detail. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: A scavenger in a post-apocalyptic city raises a charismatic, possibly dangerous piece of biotech.
My Brother's Husband, Vol. 1
by Gengoroh Tagame , trans. by Anne Ishii
A death in the family will always leave an empty place in someone's heart. Yaichi knows this well: both of his parents died in a freak car accident, leaving him and his twin, Ryo, to look after one another. In the years following, the brothers slowly became estranged, and then Ryo left Tokyo. Yaichi, now a single father of an energetic girl named Kana, has all but hidden his painful past when Canadian Mike Flanagan arrives on his doorstep as Ryo's grieving widower.
Gengoroh Tagame's beautiful manga novel My Brother's Husband disentangles family secrets and homophobia with endearing grace. Though her father is reluctant to open his home and heart to Mike, Kana is eager to learn everything about Canada and the uncles she never knew she had. The two share a mutual fascination with each other's culture, and bond instantly. Yaichi, however, wrestles with preconceptions about what it means for men to love each other, reservations that Kana's boundless curiosity disarms at every turn.
Tagame reins in his trademark erotic style for this heartwarming story without being disingenuous. Yaichi and Mike boast impressive physiques, a quality the former never tried to hide until his brother-in-law arrived. "I always tell him to put on clothes," Kana tells Mike with exasperation. The wildly expressive girl alternately shouts and pouts through her growing empathy for people restricted in the ways they can live and love.
Thoughtful and fetching, My Brother's Husband is the first in a two-volume omnibus about grief, reconciliation and the strength to be who you are. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Cultures clash and secrets surface when a lovable Canadian muscle bear visits his deceased husband's family in Tokyo.
Food & Wine
Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen
by Stacy Adimando , Gonzalo Guzman
Brooklyn food writer Stacy Adimando, co-author of Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen, says, "Hearing about Mexican cuisine from someone who loves it so much makes you almost homesick for a place you may have never even been to."
Chef Gonzalo Guzman, born in Veracruz, wants home cooks to explore and experiment with Mexican cooking, and shares the recipes "that have made the deepest impression on my heart and live on in my memory since being away from home." While still a teenager, he worked in one of Nopalito founder Laurence Jossel's kitchens. He rose rapidly in the business, and now in his 30s works as the sole chef of both Nopalito restaurants in San Francisco.
Fresh, seasonal ingredients are the hallmark of Guzman's Mexican-by-way-of-California food. He packs tips, secrets and passion into his cookbook, noting the "intricacy, variety and layers of flavors involved." Complexity of flavor doesn't require "fussiness," but does emphasize authenticity. He includes specifics on building a Mexican pantry, including a glossary of chiles and other basics. He stresses making components ahead of time and storing them (pickled jalapeños, fresh cheese and pork sausage are in the early chapter "House Recipes").
Guzman coaches the home cook in a conversational tone: an avocado "should feel slightly spongy but not smushy." Small plates, big plates, drinks, desserts and 15 salsas pack this beautifully photographed cookbook. He is proud that his mama could walk into Nopalito and see "the heart of our family cuisine is still intact in our restaurant kitchen." --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: An authentic southern Mexican cookbook emphasizing fresh ingredients brings a popular San Francisco restaurant to the home kitchen.
Biography & Memoir
Guesswork: A Reckoning with Loss
by Martha Cooley
Each person's experience of profound loss is different. Novelist Martha Cooley (The Archivist) has chosen to describe hers in Guesswork: A Reckoning with Loss, a collection of lyrical personal essays. The 16 shimmering pieces pay homage to a group of recently departed friends while affirming, with a poet's sensibility, life's fragile beauty as Cooley experienced it in a sabbatical year she and her husband spent in a tiny Italian town.
The eight friends whose deaths Cooley experienced over the decade preceding her arrival in Italy include the writers David Markson and Nuala O'Faolain, along with others not as well-known but no less dear to her. Cooley admits that these "accumulated losses have upended me," describing herself as "still down in an emotional crouch, hands over head." Yet one of these deaths--that of her husband Antonio's first wife from cancer--gave birth to the new life of their relationship, prompting Cooley to recall how the two of them stood "the autumn after Valeria's death, arms wrapped around each other, both of us astonished by a love so visceral and unexpected." At some moments explicitly and at others more obliquely, the looming mortality of Cooley's ailing mother, Nancy, also shadows many of these essays.
Cooley's description of a sky that is a "jeweler's pitch-black velvet cloth sprinkled with diamonds" is only one of many examples of her poetic gift of observation. Guesswork is anything but a maudlin work. It's a tribute to the enduring power of friendship and of the ability of love to outlast death. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer
Discover: Novelist Martha Cooley's Italian sabbatical inspires a moving collection of essays about the power of love to survive loss.
Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber and the Invention of Criminal Profiling
by Michael Cannell
Fascinating true crime stories still require compelling narrators, and Michael Cannell (The Limit) demonstrates he's perfect for the task with Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber and the Invention of Criminal Profiling. The New York Police Department of the 1940s and '50s relied heavily on strong-arm methods, which proved ineffective against a schizophrenic serial bomber. The Mad Bomber confounded authorities for 16 years, planting more than 30 devices in public areas. Pressure to catch the faceless bogeyman ultimately forced the department to embrace a method of detection previously used only by literary icons such as Sherlock Holmes.
Psychiatrist James Brussel, the acknowledged father of modern criminal profiling, played a key role in the bomber's arrest. After looking through the police files, he provided details about what type of man he believed the villain to be, describing him down to the suit he would be wearing when captured. The subtitle's emphasis on profiling is, however, somewhat misleading; Incendiary provides a broad view of the case from several intriguing fronts, including psychiatry, forensics, bomb squad technology, the role of media and the changing landscape of criminal insanity laws.
Cannell captures his audience like quicksand with a brief prologue, then sets off on a manhunt rich with historic details and a fantastic sense of time and place--a New York full of trench coats, brimmed hats, long-finned sedans, Checker Cabs and the greatest individual menace the city had yet to face. Incendiary is a firecracker of a case history about one of the country's first terrorists. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: One man terrorized a city and evaded capture for more than a decade, forcing the authorities to use methods seen before only in literature.
Flavor: The Science of Our Most Neglected Sense
by Bob Holmes
In Flavor: The Science of Our Most Neglected Sense, evolutionary biologist Bob Holmes serves up insightful connections about some strange bedfellows. He pairs subtle aromas of wine, the crunch of fresh Pringles and the nuances of a frozen chicken nugget with the particulars of neuroscience, and the results are a sheer delight.
Holmes quickly admits that he lacks a formal culinary background and is no "supertaster." Yet that makes Flavor all the more digestible; his explanations of technical aspects of taste rely not on foodie or scientific jargon but plain English. Even better, Holmes is as funny as he is enlightening. On taste buds, he writes, "Those mushroom-shaped bumps on the surface of the tongue that most people call taste buds are, technically speaking, really fungiform papillae, an impressive-sounding Latin term that means 'mushroom-shaped bumps.' " He also convincingly compares the human brain to a layer cake.
A broad cast of experts populates Holmes's exploration. He hops between continents visiting conferences, labs and restaurants, meeting with scientists, chefs, researchers and wine growers. All five senses, he learns, shape the perception of flavor, as do genetics, neurobiology, culture and the timing of exposure to new foods. Holmes navigates olfaction research, wades through molecular gastronomy and even braves a taste test of a variety of hot peppers, or as he calls it, a "pursuit of pain." He grants that much about flavor remains to be understood, but as studies on the subject continue, Holmes makes a compelling case that its appreciation is a learnable, worthy pursuit that literally makes sense. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: An evolutionary biologist digs deep into what flavor is and how people perceive it.
Health & Medicine
The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in "Healthy" Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain
by Steven R. Gundry
Using years of research and case studies, heart surgeon Steven Gundry takes a close look at the intriguing science behind plants, their defensive tactics against predators and how one particular protective measure can cause many illnesses. The large plant protein called lectin, found in seeds, grains, skins, rinds and leaves, is often indigestible for humans, and Gundry analyzes how this protein wreaks havoc on bacteria in the intestinal tract. One well-known lectin is gluten, but there are thousands more in all types of food, including gluten-free grains such as buckwheat, oats and quinoa, as well as in fruits, legumes, certain nuts and animals fed a diet of corn and soybeans. Gundry expertly illustrates how lectins are responsible for multiple health issues, including inflammation, heart disease and a susceptibility to viruses and bacterial infections.
Patients who switch to Gundry's plant paradox eating lifestyle claim to have reversed the effects of diabetes, MS, RA, fibromyalgia, IBS, Crohn's disease, cancer, obesity and a host of other ailments. Gundry's logical and extensive investigation into lectins provides readers with more than enough evidence to take this information to heart and try his method. A comprehensive list of foods with and without lectins, sample menus, multiple recipes and a list of recommended supplements help readers make the switch to a diet that Gundry declares will eliminate numerous illnesses that plague modern humans. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: A heart surgeon offers an informative look at the lectins in foods that can cause multiple health issues.
Children's & Young Adult
Thick as Thieves
by Megan Whalen Turner
Thick as Thieves offers Megan Whalen Turner's fans an eagerly anticipated return to the Queen's Thief world, but it also extends to a new generation a stand-alone introduction to a spectacularly enchanted empire imagined by a master storyteller. Neither group will be disappointed.
Kamet is a slave, but one with significant position. Literate and educated, he is the personal secretary to the prince Nahuseresh, nephew of the Mede emperor and brother to the emperor's chosen heir. His position has encouraged Kamet to envision lofty goals, "Someday [my master] meant to make a gift of me to his brother, and then, as the next emperor's personal slave, I would be one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in all the empire." But when a friend and fellow slave whispers a warning to Kamet, he realizes his life is in grave danger, bringing his aspirations of greatness crashing down around him. Left with no choice, Kamet runs.
The complexity of Turner's world combined with the suspense of her layered plot creates a story that will appeal to readers of all ages. The thrill of the chase is magnetic--as is Kamet's budding and unlikely friendship with an Attolian soldier. This enemy of his master is offering to save Kamet, but is he really just leading the slave to his death? The stakes are high, and Turner keeps the intensity elevated throughout the novel, making it a challenge to tear oneself away from the exploits of this diminutive slave with his larger-than-life personality. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: Continuing in the realm of her Newbery Award-winning YA fantasy series, Megan Whalen Turner takes a Mede slave on a harrowing life-or-death journey across the empire.
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
by Rita Williams-Garcia
Clayton Byrd's "lungs and soul were ready to pour out his own story through the ten square holes of his blues harp" (harmonica). All he wants is to play the blues with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd. Although Cool Papa lets him play gigs with his band, the Bluesmen, in Manhattan's Washington Square Park, he won't let him take a solo. Cool Papa says, "When you can bend that note proper, I'll wave you in... a bluesman ain't a bluesman without that deep-down cry."
But before Clayton has a chance to prove himself, trouble finds him, as the song goes. Cool Papa falls asleep reading to Clayton one night, and never wakes up. After a lifetime of resentment over her musician father's long absences, Cool Papa's daughter--Clayton's mother--promptly gives away all his things: the records, the guitars and even Cool Papa's trademark porkpie hat (before Clayton yanks it back). Heartbroken and fed up, Clayton goes underground, skipping school to hop the downtown train in hopes of joining up with the Bluesmen. Trouble keeps finding him, though, in the form of beatboxing young subway hustlers.
Rita Williams-Garcia, author of the Newbery Honor Book One Crazy Summer and their sequels, Gone Crazy in Alabama and P.S. Be Eleven, is masterful in her use of music to tell the story of one boy's coming of age. Clayton is so squarely on the cusp of adolescence; the downbeat of his grief falls in with the sharp percussion of his rage against his mother to produce "that round-the-corner, back-to-tell-the-tale blues bend" the Bluesmen talk about. Readers will willingly accompany Clayton and his family in this aching blues riff. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: When his beloved blues-playing grandfather dies, a young New York City boy sets off on a subway adventure to pursue their shared musical love--and to escape his angry, blues-hating mother.