From the Shelf
Work Zone Ahead: Read Without Caution
It's never too late to celebrate Labor Day. I often read about work during my time off, which may seem counterintuitive, but work is... complicated. Consider Philip Levine's poem "What Work Is." Here are a few of my recent favorites.
In the NYRB Classics edition of The Farm in the Green Mountains, Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer chronicles a critical period in her life when she and her husband, playwright Carl Zuckmayer, fled Berlin and the Nazis. They eventually landed in Vermont for a few years of unaccustomed hardscrabble farming. I love her chapters on finding refuge in the Dartmouth College Library: "Here is then the library, my rock, my refuge, my cloister. When I sit in my cell, no goat bleets, no chicken cackles, no pig grunts, no duck quacks, no goose honks, no rooster crows."
Finn Murphy is a hard worker and great storyteller. The Long Haul: A Trucker's Tales of Life on the Road meshes those qualities seamlessly. "Since most of my job satisfaction comes from the work," he writes, "I don't get too indignant whether I'm treated like a galley slave, a potential threat, an uncomfortable example of the dark side of the labor pool, or a helpmeet and partner. I try to keep things smooth and easygoing."
A couple of years ago, I was recommending Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business by Paul Downs, which offers a fiercely honest behind-the-scenes look at the professional and personal life of an independent furniture designer and manufacturer.
My TBR-soon list includes Danger: Man Working: Writing from the Heart, the Gut and the Poison Ivy Patch by Michael Perry, who has long been one of my favorite writers on work. His advice for aspiring writers "is predicated on formative years spent cleaning my father's calf pens: just keep shoveling until you've got a pile so big, someone has to notice." That's as good a way as any to end a Labor Day piece. --Robert Gray, contributing editor
In this Issue...
by Kelly Grey Carlisle
An unstable childhood on the harbor in Los Angeles yields a wise, contemplative, forgiving memoir by a likable narrator.
by Anne Ostby
Five women take a chance on friendship and chocolate being the recipe for happiness after 60.
by Melanie Florence
A young girl helps her grandfather remember words from his Cree language that he thought were lost forever.
Review by Subjects:
Back to School
Back to school! "King's Cross Station was filled with Harry Potter fans for the celebration of a special Back to Hogwarts Day," Bustle reported.
Terrifying pop quiz (via Buzzfeed): "Which Stephen King novel are you?"
Author Nicholas Royle picked his "top 10 books about birds" for the Guardian.
To celebrate the recent 118th birthday of Jorge Luis Borges, Quirk Books showcased "five ways he's stuck around pop culture."
Ralph Steadman's "rare and rapturous" illustrations for Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 were showcased by Brain Pickings.
Rediscover: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
Today marks the release of John le Carré's A Legacy of Spies, the first novel featuring George Smiley in more than 25 years. Smiley has been a staple of spy fiction since the 1960s. He was introduced in le Carré's first book, Call for the Dead (1961), and has appeared in eight other espionage novels since. Le Carré's career-launching bestseller came in 1963 with The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. The success of this novel, about a British agent sent to East Germany as a false defector, allowed le Carré to quit his day job as an MI6 intelligence officer and write full time. Smiley and the Circus--i.e., MI6--brought morally ambiguous, realistic spy fiction to a Cold War audience more accustomed to the likes of Ian Fleming's James Bond. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold depicts Eastern and Western intelligence services as equally willing to commit cruelty in the name of national security, starring anti-heroic agents, like Smiley, with human flaws and burnt-out or misdirected moral compasses.
A television miniseries of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is being developed by AMC and the BBC (with no word on which actor will play Smiley, masterfully portrayed by Alec Guinness in TV adaptations of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley's People). A Legacy of Spies (Viking, 9780735225114) promises to dig up ghosts from the Cold War as Peter Guillam, Smiley's former colleague, is summoned back from retirement to answer for events that took place in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. A 50th anniversary edition of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was released by Penguin Books in 2013 (9780143124757). --Tobias Mutter
Excerpt: Laura Marshall's Friend Request
Debut author Laura Marshall's Friend Request, available now from Grand Central Publishing ($27), tackles some tough questions in thrilling fashion. Can you ever really be free of your past--especially one filled with long-held secrets and half-truths?
The e-mail arrives in my inbox like an unexploded bomb: Maria Weston wants to be friends on Facebook.
For a second I miss the Facebook reference, and just see "Maria Weston wants to be friends." Instinctively I slam the laptop shut. It feels as though a sponge has been lodged in my throat, soaking up water, swelling and clogging, leaving me struggling for breath. I attempt to breathe deeply, trying to get myself back under control. Perhaps I was mistaken. I must have been mistaken because this cannot possibly be happening. Slowly I raise the lid of my laptop. Hands shaking, I go back into the e-mail and this time there is no denying the bald fact of it. Maria Weston wants to be friends with me.
It's been a fairly unremarkable day up until now. Henry is at Sam's tonight, so I've put in a long day working on some initial plans for a client who wants everything from walls to carpets and sofas in varying shades of beige and taupe, but at the same time doesn't want the house to look boring. When I saw I had an e-mail, I was glad of the distraction, hopeful of a personal message rather than yet another company trying to sell me something.
Now though, I'd be grateful for marketing spam, and I long to go back to the mild tedium of a few minutes ago. This must be someone's idea of a sick joke, surely. But whose? Who could think this funny? Who even knows the effect it would have on me?
There's an easy way out of this, of course. All I have to do is delete the e-mail, go to Facebook and decline the request without looking at the page. A part of me is screaming out to do this, to end it here; but another part of me--a quiet and buried part--wants to see, to know. To understand.
So I do it. I click "Confirm Request" and I'm taken straight to her page: Maria Weston's Facebook page. The profile photo is an old one from a pre-digital age that has obviously been scanned in. Maria, in her green school-uniform blazer, long brown hair blowing in the wind, a small smile playing across her face. I scan the screen, searching for clues, but there is very little information on the page. She doesn't have any friends listed or photos uploaded other than the profile one.
She stares at me dispassionately from behind my computer screen. I've not felt her cool gaze for over twenty-five years, not been the recipient of that look, which tells you she's sizing you up, not in an unpleasant way, but appraising you, understanding more of you than you want the world to know. I wonder if she ever realized what I had done to her.
The red brick of the school buildings lurks in the background, familiar in a way but strange too, as if it belongs to someone else's memories, not mine. Odd, how you spend five years going to the same place every day, and then it's over, you never go there again. Almost as if it never existed at all.
I find I can't look at her for long, and my eyes roam around the kitchen, wanting something mundane to fix on, a break from this bewildering new reality. I get up and make a coffee, gaining comfort from the ritual of putting the smooth shining pod into the machine, pressing the tip of my finger onto the button in the precise way I always do, and warming the milk in the frother.
I sit there amid the trappings of my very comfortable, very middle-class, nearly middle-aged life. The kitchen gadgets and the photo on the fancy fridge of me and Henry on our first holiday alone last summer, a selfie taken by the pool: our skin salty and sun-kissed, a shadow around Henry's mouth where the dust has stuck to the remnants of his daily ice cream.
Outside the French windows, my tiny courtyard garden is wearing its bleak late-autumn clothes, paving stones slick with the earlier freezing rain. Chipped plant pots trail the dead brown remains of my doomed summer attempt at growing my own herbs, and the darkening afternoon sky is a dull sheet of slate gray. I can just see one of the tower blocks that loom here and there like malevolent giants over the rows of Victorian terraces all turned into flats like mine that make up this part of southeast London. This room, this home, this life that I have built up so carefully. This little family, with only two members. If one of us falls, then what is left is not a family at all. What would it take to tear it all down, to bring it tumbling and crashing to the ground? Perhaps not as much as I thought. Maybe just a nudge in the back; a tiny push, so slight that I would hardly feel it.
The kitchen with its muted dove-gray walls and bleached wood worktops is warm, uncomfortably so. As the coffee machine hums its everyday tune, I half listen to the news on the radio, which chatters all day every day in my kitchen: a sporting victory, a cabinet re-shuffle, a fifteen-year-old girl who has killed herself after her boyfriend posted naked pictures of her online. I flinch at the thought of it, sympathy for her mixed with a shameful gratitude that there were no camera phones around when I was that age. I move over and open one of the French windows, feeling the need for fresh air, but an icy blast slams it shut again.
My coffee is ready, and I have no alternative but to sit back down at the laptop, where Maria has been waiting for me: steadily, impenetrably. I force myself to meet her eyes, searching futilely for any hint of what was to happen to her. I try to see the photo as a casual observer might: an ordinary schoolgirl, an old photo that's been sitting on some mother's sideboard for years, dusted and replaced weekly. It doesn't work; I can't see her like that knowing her fate as I do.
Maria Weston wants to be friends with me. Maybe that was the problem all along; Maria Weston wanted to be friends with me, but I let her down. She's been hovering at the edge of my consciousness for all of my adult life, although I've been good at keeping her out, just a blurred shadow in the corner of my eye, almost but not quite out of sight.
Maria Weston wants to be friends.
But Maria Weston has been dead for more than twenty-five years.
This is an excerpt from FRIEND REQUEST by Laura Marshall. Copyright © 2017 by Laura Marshall. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing, New York, NY. All rights reserved.
Pieces of Happiness
by Anne Ostby
In a novel as stunning as the island her characters inhabit, Anne Ostby tells the story of five sexagenarian women who take a leap of faith and move to Fiji to start a chocolate business. The women, friends since childhood, found vastly different paths through life after graduation. Ingrid studied accounting and spent her adult life keeping the County Bus Service books. Sina, single with a baby right out of high school, worked hard to raise and support her son. Now at almost 50, he's still sponging off of his mother, relying on her guilt in order to take what little money she has. Lisbeth, the most physically attractive, married her high school sweetheart. As her beauty waned, so did her husband's interest. Maya became a schoolteacher, but dementia is taking hold of her now. And Kat, the grand adventurer, left Norway to travel the world with her husband. Following his unexpected death, Kat invited her friends to join her in Fiji. They each arrive with cautious hope and buried secrets.
Pieces of Happiness bursts with the delicious flavors of friendship, self-respect and risk. Ostby's wonderfully flawed characters remind readers that there's plenty of life after gray hair, laughter is life affirming and a good friend is priceless. She crafts a Pacific island atmosphere so authentic, the salty sea air and dark chocolate aroma seem to envelop every page. The charming magic Ostby infuses into her Fijian cocoa farm and the women who run it makes Pieces of Happiness a joy to behold. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: Five women take a chance on friendship and chocolate being the recipe for happiness after 60.
by Paul Kingsnorth
Beast is the second in Paul Kingsnorth's planned trilogy. The first, The Wake, was post-apocalyptic fiction set a thousand years ago and written in an invented language. Beast shares its main character, but feels more like McCarthy's The Road, its language spare and intense. In these novels, Kingsnorth searches beyond current civilization to ask how we might live instead. He doesn't have answers, and his anguish is haunting.
Beast follows Edward Buckmaster, a man compelled to escape the literal and spiritual noise of the city. He's left his family to live on the vast English moor, "far from the estates and the ring roads and the car parks and the black fields of beet and the screen-dumb people pacing out the slow suicide of the West."
Buckmaster finds a derelict barn; he fixes it up. He suffers an injury; he heals. He visits an empty church. He wanders in the heather. He senses some undefined beast tracking him and begins to hunt it instead. In his isolation and increasing obsession, Buckmaster's mental state deteriorates. He becomes more animal.
Fair warning: Beast is challenging, as many books about hermits can be. Little happens, the structure is bare and there's minimal punctuation to buttress reading. It reckons with God and humanity, and is designed to be read millennia from now. That might be arrogant if the author presumed to offer answers, but the novel is written primarily in a questioning register. Beast may very well succeed at surviving. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller
Discover: Paul Kingsnorth continues his trilogy with a searching novel about a modern-day ascetic, set in the English moorlands.
The Flight of the Maidens
by Jane Gardam
The Flight of the Maidens opens as three girls, eager to leave their English village, celebrate the arrival of their scholarship notices: "Una was off to Cambridge to read Physics and Hetty off to London to read Literature, and Liesolette, who had joined their sisterhood really seriously only today... was off to Cambridge, too, to read Modern Languages." The girls are poor. It is 1946; rationing is still in effect. Physical and emotional vestiges of two world wars are all about them.
Neverthless, the girls' vigor during their summer before school infuses Jane Gardam's (A Long Way from Verona) 24th book with optimism. Even enigmatic Liesolette, who arrived at her foster home in 1939 via the Kindertransport from Hamburg in Nazi Germany, is enthusiastic. Each chapter features one of the girls, their stories progressing independently amid townsfolk gossip. Hetty is on a solo holiday to the Lake region with a rucksack of books and a deep desire to escape her overbearing mother, while Una is focused on a bike trip with another longtime friend, a working man. A Jewish rehabilitation group whisks Liesolette to London, where her resilience sustains her as agencies seek any surviving relatives. Minor characters are richly portrayed. Hetty's father, the kind, "loopy" gravedigger whose World War I battles put him "always at the Somme"; Una's widowed mother, a jolly, self-taught hairdresser; the rich great-aunt who flies Liesolette to California to be her caregiver--any of them could carry novels of their own. Often hilarious, The Flight of the Maidens, originally published in 2001, is a well-crafted coming-of-age novel. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: Three friends in post-World War II England celebrate their summer before leaving for university.
The Grip of It
by Jac Jemc
When Julie and James Khoury's marriage nearly ends because of his gambling addiction, they decide to make a fresh start by moving to a new town. They purchase a large Victorian home idyllically situated between a forest and lake. Even more attractive is its low price, thanks to being on the market for some time.
At first, the young couple dismisses the odd sound that permeates the house's interior as something electrical, an easily fixed nuisance, but soon the strange noise intensifies. "It's like a mouth harp. Deep twang. Like throat singing. Ancient. Glottal. Resonant. Husky and rasping, but underwater." More bizarre incidents follow: Julie develops ghastly bruises, stains appear on the walls, objects disappear and vultures gather in the backyard, where mysterious phantasmal children climb trees. Julie and James seek information about the previous owners from their eccentric, reclusive neighbor Rolf Kinsler, whose tragic past may be connected to their terrifying present.
Jac Jemc (A Different Bed Every Time) has crafted a dark psychological thriller that effectively uses the destruction within a couple's new home as a funhouse mirror to reflect the emotional disintegration that occurs after trust and honesty collapse. "The inability to trust ourselves is the most menacing danger. I fear what we could find there. I fear what we won't. What is worse? To be confronted with an obvious horror, or to be haunted by a never-ending premonition of what's ahead?" In short chapters alternating between Julie's and James's narratives, The Grip of It asks whether it is possible fully to excavate emotional demons with a tight grasp on the souls. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at melissafirman.com.
Discover: A new house terrorizes a young couple as they struggle to rebuild their marriage.
Mystery & Thriller
A Nest of Vipers
by Andrea Camilleri , trans. by Stephen Sartarelli
Andrea Camilleri (The Brewer of Preston) continues his evocative Inspector Montalbano mystery series with A Nest of Vipers, the 21st entry. The bright covers and Camilleri's descriptions of beautiful scenery and delicious Sicilian food contrast sharply with the underlying corruption and crime that Montalbano must fight at every turn.
As A Nest of Vipers begins, Montalbano makes the unlikely acquaintance of a homeless man who lives in a cave, before being abruptly called to the scene of a murder. Cosimo Barletti, an accountant, was found dead at his breakfast table. As Montalbano and his team investigate Barletti's life, they discover that he was essentially a loan shark, charging his clients usurious rates of interest. Furthermore, he blackmailed several young women into having sex with him.
The more they dig into Barletti's past, the more people they find who would have been willing to shoot him, and Montalbano cannot help but contrast Barletti's scheming existence with the simple life of the cave-dwelling man.
Sad, fascinating and occasionally funny, A Nest of Vipers is an interesting glimpse into quotidian life in Sicily, and into the nasty underside of apparently respectable people's lives. Anyone who loves a good mystery set in a faraway locale is sure to enjoy this Camilleri mystery, which can easily be read out of context, if readers are short on time. Afterward, though, they may want to catch up on the first 20 entries. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans
Discover: Inspector Montalbano must solve the murder of a loan shark in this Sicilian mystery.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
A Song for Quiet
by Cassandra Khaw
"The train rattles like teeth in a dead man's skull as Deacon James sags against the window, hat pulled low over his eyes," writes Cassandra Khaw in her eerie horror novella, A Song for Quiet. Set in the 1940s, when racism and Jim Crow laws were rampant in the Deep South, the second in the Persons Non Grata series features Deacon James, a black man who plays the blues on his saxophone like no one's ever heard before. As he passes from known tunes into the world of improv, the music he plays morphs into a foreign entity in his brain that threatens to consume him if he gives it full reign. Others also want what he carries inside his head, including the crazy John Persons, who seems to appear and disappear like magic. When Deacon meets a young wisp of a girl who can play haunting improvisations on the cello, the action ramps up as the pair struggles to cope with the nightmares that surround them.
Khaw has carefully and poetically blended the notations often used to describe music with a twisted and horrific world of hallucinations, violence, grief and "gaping mouths and grasping tendrils." The story is subtle and open-ended, leaving readers to ponder what is really after Deacon and the girl, and why Persons wants what they have so desperately. It's a quick, unsettling read that reverberates inside the head, a musical riff sure to appeal to those who love noir horror. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: A bluesman speaks to the horrors around him through his saxophone.
Food & Wine
The Modern Jewish Table: 100 Kosher Recipes from Around the Globe
by Tracey Fine , Georgie Tarn
Tracey Fine and Georgie Tarn, the self-styled "Jewish Princesses" of kosher cooking, offer up a collection of recipes and advice in The Modern Jewish Table: 100 Kosher Recipes from Around the Globe.
The Princesses design modern spins on traditional Sephardic, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi dishes, such as Jewshi Japanese Gefilte Fish, Sephardi Saffron Chicken Soup with Fragrant Matzo Balls, and Princess Pitas, made with mashed potato and matzo, an ideal choice for Passover. The authors also get creative with salads like Sharon Persimmon Fruit and Sugar Snap Peas. Up last come four (four!) dessert chapters, including a chapter each on dairy-free desserts, cakes, tiny treats and couture chocolate.
The descriptions convey a sense of the dishes' taste and a sense of humor. Fine and Tarn vow that their Mock Chopped Liver, "really works, unlike fake Hermes handbags." They suggest readers try the Popcorn Cake "for when you want to butter someone up," or enjoy Dark Chocolate Amaretto Cake that is "like a date with Al Pacino."
Essays precede each section, full of meditations on feeding families and the magic of Nutri-Bullets. Fine and Tarn pepper in translations for readers who might not get a joke, such as explaining that kneidlach, which they call "Jewish penicillin," are dumplings. Cooking instructions are streamlined--sparse, even--and luscious photos accompany most recipes.
Fine and Tarn write with warmth and encouragement, even when suggesting bold feast preparations. The essential ingredient? In their words, "A pinch of chutzpah." --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: Cooks of all skill levels and faiths will find colorful, delicious and kosher recipes both modern and traditional in this collection.
Biography & Memoir
We Are All Shipwrecks: A Memoir
by Kelly Grey Carlisle
A young mother tucked her three-week-old daughter into a drawer in a Hollywood motel room before leaving for the night. A police detective would lift the baby out again, after the mother was murdered. In the opening scene of Kelly Grey Carlisle's memoir, We Are All Shipwrecks, an eight-year-old Kelly meets that detective for the first time, having just learned how her mother died. It sounds like a sensational beginning, but Carlisle's measured, wondering tone allows the reader, like the author's child self, to meet each disorienting new situation with curiosity rather than a sense of spectacle.
Kelly was raised by her maternal grandfather and his much-younger wife, whom she calls Daddy and Mommy. They own a pornography shop near the Los Angeles airport, and for many of Kelly's formative years, they live on a boat in a marina. Their neighbors are unglamorous down-and-outs, and Kelly is wracked by how normal her childhood isn't. But in her reflections on the page, she realizes that the adults who surrounded her in her youth played various parts in her unconventional upbringing; many of them were loving, positive figures. As she matures and learns more about her grandfather and Marilyn--the nearest to parents that she'll ever know--Kelly persists in wondering about the mother she lost.
We Are All Shipwrecks is a personal history, a commentary on the experiences of childhood (uncertainty, pain, possible acceptance) and an investigation into what creates us. Readers who appreciate thoughtful memoirs will be charmed by Carlisle's generosity and easy, open reflections. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: An unstable childhood on the harbor in Los Angeles yields a wise, contemplative, forgiving memoir by a likable narrator.
Gene Smith's Sink: A Wide-Angle View
by Sam Stephenson
Eugene Smith was a larger-than-life figure of 20th-century photography, but biographer Sam Stephenson uncovers the small intricacies of Smith's life in his compelling portrait, Gene Smith's Sink: A Wide-Angle View.
Stephenson approaches his subject by interviewing Smith's friends and associates--including famous figures like Thelonious Monk who hung out in "the isolated squalor" of Smith's New York loft--and by poring over Smith's letters and own writings. Stephenson includes Smith's pawnshop receipts, court summons and other sundry documents, developing a picture of an itinerant life and lending the biography an aesthetic of marginalia that serves its subject well. By using this "wide-angle view," Stephenson explains, he can get "a clearer picture of Smith by averting my focus slightly to the side of him, the way you can see stars in the sky clearer by doing the same thing."
What emerges is a portrait of Smith not so much in his prime--when he was taking iconic portraits for Life magazine midcentury--but in his later work, when his alcohol abuse, obsessive behavior and reclusive lifestyle led to more complex photography and a number of ambient sound recordings that demonstrated his pervasive need to capture his surroundings. "Not many people are truly able to understand beauty and pain and ugliness," says Smith's former assistant Tamas Janda. "Most people don't want to be reminded of their humanity, which is inherently painful and ugly. Gene sought that out."
In opening his aperture for this biography, Stephenson gives shape to the vagaries and fleeting enchantments of human life, which photography tries to hold still. Gene Smith's Sink is a haunting exploration of the photographic mind. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: This eclectically sourced biography illuminates the life and mind of famed 20th-century photographer Eugene Smith.
Business & Economics
Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy
by Tim Harford
Often tagged by the name of his Financial Times column (and title of his first book), "The Undercover Economist," Tim Harford has built a reputation as someone who can turn marginal utility curves into common sense. In Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy, he writes clever, quixotic essays exhibiting his take on the singular innovations that seeded the contemporary way of life. These are pithy vignettes about objects people may take for granted now, but which were hardly obvious when somebody dreamed them up. Based on history, biography and a splash of economics, Harford's fresh look is great entertainment, with enough ah-ha wisdom to evoke a "listen to this," reading aloud of a favorite passage.
While he includes the usual heavy-hitters like barbed wire, air-conditioning, the elevator, the clock and the computer, he also throws in several of his own unexpected quirky favorites. Who would have highlighted the TV dinner, the Ikea Billy bookcase, the passport, the Pill or mundane business tools like insurance, index funds and management consulting? But he has his reasons. The Billy, for example, is included not so much for its design as for IKEA's mass production and packaging techniques. Each day in southern Sweden, "in goes particleboard by the truckload... out come ready-boxed products, stacked six by three on pallets"--adding up to a cumulative total of 60 million shelving units. That's a lot of head-scratching DIY assembly across the globe--and homes for a lot of books. Put this one among them. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Popular economist Tim Harford's book about inventions is a personal, funny and quixotic portmanteau of innovations upon which the modern world rests.
Children's & Young Adult
by Melanie Florence , illust. by Gabrielle Grimard
Skipping and dancing home from school, a young girl carries in one hand a dream catcher she's made, and with the other she holds onto her Grandpa. "How do you say grandfather in Cree?" she asks. And suddenly their walk turns somber as Grandpa admits, "I don't remember... I lost my words a long time ago."
Bewildered, the little girl presses, "How do you lose words, Grandpa?" He tenderly explains about the residential schools to which First Nations' children were forcibly sent, meant to "assimilate" them and erase their identity: "They took our words and locked them away, punished us until we forgot them, until we sounded like them."
By the next day, the little girl has a plan: "My teacher helped me find this for you at the library," she says, presenting her grandfather with a "tattered well-worn paperback"--a dictionary--in which he finds the soft, familiar words of his past. Together, grandfather (nimosôm) and granddaughter (nôsisim) will reclaim their Stolen Words.
Melanie Florence, of Cree/Scottish descent, won Second Story Press's 2015 Aboriginal Writing Contest with Stolen Words, a sobering ode to her heritage, presented through eyes filled with love and hope. Artist Gabrielle Grimard (who previously illustrated Margaret Pokiak-Fenton's two-part residential school memoirs, When I Was Eight and Not My Girl) is Florence's ideal creative partner, enhancing each page with depth and movement, capturing every touch, every gaze with enveloping empathy. Adding a grey overwash on Grandpa's memories proves especially effective in emphasizing the traumas he survived.
Although an afterword with historical context and suggested further reading feels missing here, Florence's narrative couldn't be more affecting. Word by word, her story--written in honor of her Cree grandfather--is a significant step toward forever healing. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: A young girl helps her grandfather remember words from his Cree language that he thought were lost forever.
by Jason Reynolds
Patina and Maddy's father died six years ago. Maddy, "all fidgety in Ma's stomach" at the time of his death, never knew him. And she doesn't remember how their Ma's diabetes made her lose first a few toes, then a whole foot and finally both legs. But middle school-aged Patina remembers it all: how her dad "never woke up. Like... ever."; how Ma's legs got "swollen and dark like she'd been standing in coal" before they were amputated. Now living with their father's brother, Uncle Tony, and his white wife, Mama Emily (whom the girls call Momly), Patty has "swallowed it all" and learned to act like she's okay.
Living with Uncle Tony and Momly is "fine" and Ma sees the girls every chance she gets, but Patina has never really been given the chance to mourn the loss of her father, the almost loss of her mother. And now she's trying to make a place for herself on the track team of her brand-new school, a place with "a whole bunch of rich girls whose daddies own stuff." She's defensive and angry but mainly afraid--afraid to be herself, afraid she's not good enough, afraid she'll lose someone else.
Patina, Jason Reynolds's second book in his Track series, has the titular character interacting with and befriending the cast of characters from Ghost while maintaining a stand-alone story. It is simply impossible to not love Patina. She is, as she states of herself, "No junk. Frida [Kahlo] in a suit. Mary J. Blige in track shoes." Charming, hardworking and a dedicated sister, runner and student, Patina is a sympathetic and wholly sympathetic character who finds her own peace by learning to work with others. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Jason Reynolds's second book in the Track series features an independent young woman whose old scars begin to heal as she learns to work with a team.