From the Shelf
John Sandford: Thrills, Chills and Wit
I'm a big fan of John Sandford's thrillers, both the Lucas Davenport Prey books and the Virgil Flowers novels. After reading the newest Flowers, Storm Front (Putnam), I had the opportunity to ask Sandford a few questions.
Is he running out of title ideas, after 23 Prey books and 7 Flowers? No, Sandford said, because Storm Front came from his editor, Neil Nyren. "I'm not good at titles--I might go with Virgil Flowers Gets Laid, but Neil might hesitate to consider that... I don't know how Neil finds them; I suspect he'd tell you there's a scientific process, but in reality, he probably sits in his chair and mutters to himself, as if he's tasting different varieties of cheese...."
Virgil is a womanizing fisherman who writes for outdoor magazines and Vanity Fair--interesting variations on the former-military-cop-turned-detective trope. Sandford noted, "Most thriller cops have limited life-styles and strong prejudices. In my contact with real cops, I found that was often not the case--they had extensive hobbies or other interests outside the job." The two characters, Flowers and Davenport, are quite different, "a matter of literary engineering: Davenport is very intense and focused; Virgil is laid back to the point that he forgets his gun. Yet their styles overlap, and Virgil's overall style is just as effective in clearing crimes as is Davenport's."
The Flowers books can be dead funny, a bit more than the Prey series. Sandford said that it's for relief: "I have a hard time wading through a lengthy book that is just one terrible thing after another. I think better writers try to portray their characters as people who might be real--and real people are all over the place, when it comes to what they do in their daily lives… And even in the most intense jobs, funny things happen."
John Sandford's books are eminently enjoyable--characters, tension, plot and wit never let you down. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers
In this Issue...
by Helen Docherty
A whodunit features bedtime reading as a ritual to be revered, and a thief who just wants to share in the fun.
by Graeme Simsion
A romantic comedy with a few twists, like genetics research and Asperger's, that is tender and sweetly funny.
by Janette Jenkins
In her American debut, British novelist Janette Jenkins re-creates the final act of Noël Coward's life as he reminisces about his loves, his work and his friends.
Review by Subjects:
From Garden District Book Shop
03/10/2021 - 6:00PMJoin us for the discussion the second Wednesday of every month. New Members are always welcome. Purchase book in-store for a 20% discount. Beginning in June book club meetings will be virtual.
03/11/2021 - 7:00PMThursday, March 11th 7:00-8:00PM CT New Orleans, LA, March 11, 2021, 7:00-8:00PM CT: Steven Salvatore in conversation with Jason June, discussing his book, Can't Take That Away. Steven will personalized book plates and mail them to us, for this event. Order on the website (include how the book should be personalized in the note section) or call the book shop to order (504.895.2266). This event is free, however a ticket is needed. Get Tickets Here An empowering and emotional...
03/13/2021 - 5:00PMOFFSITE Saturday, March 13th 5:00-7:00PM Walter Isaacson discusses and signs his book (personalization is available at event), Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the...
Books About Paris; Books That Will Change Your Life
Lisa Appignanesi, author of Paris Requiem, chose her "top 10 books about Paris" for the Guardian, noting that it "has been a city of memory and myth for me. Oddly angled sights and childhood smells live side by side with that dream city built up of the words of novelists and poets."
Buzzfeed suggested "35 childhood books you may have forgotten about."
Need a little inspiration? Buzzfeed gathered "14 Rumi quotes that will motivate you to follow your dreams" and "32 books that will actually change your life."
"Happy families all LOL alike..." Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is explained in GIFs by the N.Y. Daily News Page Views blog, which recommended this capsule version of the "classic novel of morality and society whenever you need to prepare for a fancy intellectual party, freshen up the literary references in your OkCupid profile, or just convince your parents that the $120,000 they spent on your English degree wasn't a waste."
Flavorwire unveiled "11 ingenious bookshelves made from unusual repurposed items."
Dutch artist Dewi van de Klomp created an "amazing melting bookshelf... that changes shape depending on its contents."
The Writer's Life
Monique Brinson Demery: Searching for the Dragon Lady
|photo: Jessica Tampas Photography|
Monique Brinson Demery's fascination with Madame Nhu began when, as a little girl, she first saw Larry Burrow's 1962 iconic photo of her "with piles of black hair and lacquered finger nails," in a form-fitting traditional Vietnamese dress, holding a black .38 pistol--the same image that appears on the cover of Demery's biography of the former First Lady of South Vietnam, Finding the Dragon Lady. That initial attraction to Madame Nhu's glamour gradually evolved into an awareness of the problem attractive, intelligent women married to powerful men still face today: What is the proper mode of conduct for a political leader's unelected spouse if she refuses to be her husband's "safe" accessory?
Demery received a Master's degree in East Asia Regional Studies from Harvard University. Her initial phone interviews with Madame Nhu in 2005 were the first granted to any Westerner in more than 20 years.
How would you describe your friendship with Madame Nhu?
My relationship with Madame Nhu began in 2005 and ended in 2011 when she passed away. It was through conversations and interviews over the phone (in French) and, at the end, through e-mail messages--but we never met in person. Madame Nhu set up elaborate schemes to meet in Paris, "very discreetly," as she put it, but she stood me up each time. The only way I was able to make sense of her conflicting behavior--saying she wanted to meet me and then staying home--was by sympathizing with how difficult it must have been for Madame Nhu to appear as a fragile old woman, or worse, as an ordinary one. She preferred to remain a mystery.
The iconic image of her is the one on the book's cover, in which she wears a tight-fitting traditional dress and aims a gun. Can you explain why that photo still generates such a powerful effect?
If I knew nothing of Madame Nhu and was passing by the book in a bookstore, I would definitely do a double take--which is certainly the purpose of a provocative cover. That image draws people in to the seductive, dangerous image of Madame Nhu, but does so by leaning heavily on the Dragon Lady stereotype--a Western construct. My hope is that what is on the inside of the book peels away that imposed caricature of her and reveals the woman beneath the image.
Stanley Karnow mentions her décolletage and imperious manner in his Vietnam book. Edward Lansdale, more sympathetic, said in an interview that she was a warm, caring woman "well-trained in all the feminine arts" but underappreciated by her husband and family. What factors contributed to these conflicting, but ultimately limited, views about Madame Nhu?
As you correctly point out, the descriptions of Madame Nhu by both Karnow and Lansdale are both oversimplistic and neither one captures the full spectrum of Madame Nhu. I don't want to make the same mistakes. Instead, I really do think that the best approach for me was to put Madame Nhu in her historical context.
The French colonial era was ending, and nationalist sentiment was taking off. What had once been a strict hierarchy in rural society was changing as it migrated to the cities, and emphasized different values, social change for women was butting heads against traditional gender roles. One great example of an obvious conflict within Madame Nhu were her social norms--she insisted on French at the dinner table while professing a hatred of the legacy of colonialism and encouraging Vietnamese women to follow her into forging their own nationalist identity.
Back in the 1960s, even liberal American journalists sounded like traditionalists when they judged Madame Nhu. This reminds me of the press' ambivalence toward Hillary Clinton during her husband's administration. Was the '60s media's judgment based on racial and gender prejudices?
I do think that the prevailing attitudes in the media that forged Madame Nhu's legacy as a Dragon Lady were racist and sexist, although I don't think they set out to be. Again, it was a product of the times--and for Americans, Vietnam was so foreign and exotic that the mostly male media tried very hard to force Madame Nhu into a stereotype. By demonizing Madame Nhu, it made the American public confident that she was "other" and that they, the Americans, were the good guys and needed to rush in.
With the publication of Finding the Dragon Lady, do you think that Madame Nhu will be rehabilitated in the public eye?
My purpose in writing this book was not necessarily to rehabilitate or redeem Madame Nhu, but to expose the injustice of how other historians regurgitate the same old Dragon Lady tropes without examining who this powerful woman really was, and how she made an impact on Vietnamese and American history. I also wanted to personalize the story of the early years of the Vietnam War, and found that Madame Nhu was such a colorful character that she breathed life into the larger and very confusing story of just how we Americans found ourselves enmeshed in a decade of war, and why the legacy of Vietnam haunts us to this day. --Thuy Dinh, editor, Da Mau magazine
The Rosie Project
by Graeme Simsion
Geneticist Don Tillman knows he should have no trouble finding a mate: "I am thirty-nine years old, tall, fit, and intelligent, with a relatively high status and above-average income as an associate professor.... In the animal kingdom, I would succeed in reproducing." This unfortunate statement demonstrates his personality--analytical, logical and largely unable to anticipate or correctly respond to human social behavior. After one date disaster, Don has an epiphany: Why not develop a test that will find his ideal mate scientifically? So begins the Wife Project but, meanwhile, he meets Miss Completely Wrong: Rosie. In no time, Rosie begins to turn Don's carefully calibrated world on its head with her spontaneity and joie de vivre. Can a free spirit like Rosie ever see through Don's pocket protector to the heart underneath? Can Don shed his narrow worldview to recognize his feelings for Rosie?
A subtext of the novel is Don's implied Asperger's, as Simsion shows that while Don's eccentricities are not without effect, the lack of diagnosis or intervention has not kept him from building a successful professional life. Don is different, but not disabled, and while his social missteps and innocent tactlessness drive the story's humor, one never gets the sense that Simsion is making fun of Don; rather, he pokes fun at the rest of humanity--irrational decisions, unnecessarily complicated nuances of courtship and apparent aversion to punctuality.
While Simsion's charming hero is unconventional, expect a traditional romantic comedy with sly nods to film classics of the genre. Sometimes touching, sometimes thought-provoking and always hilarious, The Rosie Project is a feel-good novel that, just like your favorite romantic movie, you'll want to enjoy again and again. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, Latah County Library District; blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: A romantic comedy with a few twists, like genetics research and Asperger's, that is tender and sweetly funny.
by Janette Jenkins
In prose alternately tart, cranky, nostalgic and poignant, Janette Jenkins brings the last days of Sir Noël Coward to life in Firefly. The playwright, composer, director, actor and singer was known for his wit, flamboyant homosexuality and poise in any circumstance; he defined Englishness.
The novel takes its name from Firefly, Coward's retreat high on a hill in Jamaica, so small that it could not accommodate an overnight guest--unless he slept with Noël. Farther down the hill was Blue Harbour, Coward's "real" Jamaican home.
Jenkins fills out Coward's last years, focusing on a few weeks in the early 1970s. He was ill much of the time. He had a "weak chest" all his life; smoking incessantly didn't help. He drank too much, ate nothing or all the wrong things, refused to walk even a little and was, sadly, losing his mental acuity.
His manservant, Patrice, a cheery, 22-year-old Jamaican, longs to go to London and become a waiter at the Ritz. In two funny vignettes, Coward invites his former lover, Graham Payn, and Coley, another friend, to dinner so that Patrice can "practice silver service." Alas, a great deal of practice is needed.
As preparations are underway for the annual trip to Switzerland, it is all Coward can do to get out of bed, making the rigors of a long trip seem quite beyond him. He reminisces in a waking dream about past glories, events, play openings, his knighthood, lovers and friends.
Firefly is a brilliant portrait of a man who lived a full life, in every sense of the word. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.
Discover: In her American debut, British novelist Janette Jenkins re-creates the final act of Noël Coward's life as he reminisces about his loves, his work and his friends.
by Thomas Rayfiel
At first glance, a reader might reject In Pinelight. Where are the quotation marks? The paragraph breaks? The punctuation? A few pages into Thomas Rayfiel's sixth novel, however, and the rhythm of the narrator's soliloquy becomes addictive; it feels rude to interrupt his story by closing the book.
Confined to a retirement home, Bill relates the story of his life to an unknown narrator. On the surface, it was an uneventful existence. He never left his village in upstate New York, but change came to him. The narration unfolds in a stream of consciousness: "Brown was handsome in a forward-looking way full of possibilities or so I recall. It could all be colored by what happened subsequently subsequently yes I know my English three and a half years of high school then I had to go to work but Rebecca what on earth are you asking about her for? Of course I know there's a town under there. When they decided to flood the valley no one objected money was hard to come by then."
Bill is a smart man. His stories speak to universal themes as they detail the particulars of life in his little town, the tensions between the educated and the working class, the vacation homes that sprung up for down-state summer people, the friendships, loves and small-town gossip, much of it more sophisticated than one might expect, all of it offering food for thought. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: This stream-of-consciousness novel reveals thoughtful truths through a slice of backwoods 20th-century life.
The Ice-Cold Heaven
by Mirko Bonne
Ernest Shackleton's expedition to Antarctica is legendary. The Endurance became stuck in the ice and the crew wasn't heard from for nearly two years; that everyone lived is one of the greatest survival stories of all time.
German poet Mirko Bonne's The Ice-Cold Heaven re-creates this incredible adventure from the inside. "Cowering down here for a night and half a day," says the novel's 17-year-old Welsh narrator, Merce Blackboro. Merce is a stowaway--the 28th man--on the British barque as it sets sail from Buenos Aires in October 1914. "You must be half starved," Shackleford says when they finally meet. "Fine. So now you're here."
It grows colder. Unrelenting rain turns to snow, painting the ship white: "Every day a slightly thicker coat sticks to the deck." Soon the ship is sheathed in ice. It grows colder. Blink too long, your eyelids freeze shut. Boiling water freezes before hitting the ground when poured. Eventually, the ice begins to crush the ship's hull. The crew tries to strengthen it from within, but to no avail. Then it's time to leave, with sleds, boats on top, dogs pulling, men pushing, taking with them just 150 of their precious photographs.
We know how the story will turn out, but Bonne invites us to join this close-knit group of comrades so we can experience the expedition's inhumane conditions first-hand. Thus we embark on a well-told, totally engrossing voyage. Bring warm gloves. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher
Discover: A stowaway brings new perspective to the familiar story of Shackleton and the crew of the Endurance as they struggle to survive in the Antarctic cold.
Mystery & Thriller
by Nanci Rathbun
If you've ever wondered what Stephanie Plum would be like with a little experience in life under her belt, Nanci Rathbun has the answer. Her debut novel, Truth Kills, introduces readers to sassy librarian turned private investigator Angelina Bonaparte (pronounced Bo-nah-par-tay, thank you very much). In this first book of a planned series, Angelina finds herself in the unenviable position of working for a cheating schmuck accused of murdering his greedy, narcissistic mistress. Going toe to toe with the local cops puts her squarely in the path of danger--and also in the path of Detective Ted Wukowski, who might be the man to break down her walls.
Rathbun injects a lot of depth into a standard romantic mystery story. Her heroine is flawed and complex, her plot perfectly constructed to bring out all of the facets she's created. Angelina is surrounded by extreme personalities that play off and against each other to punctuate the risks in adhering too closely to a system of absolutes. From the militant members of an extremist right-wing religious group to the heroine's deeply traditional (and thus regrettably sexist) Sicilian father, Rathbun populates her novel with people who can't or won't bend and ultimately suffer for it. In the mercurial Angelina, rigid only in her refusal to compromise herself, however, she shows us the many perks of flexibility. For mystery lovers, or fans of romantic suspense, Nanci Rathbun is one to watch. --Judie Evans, librarian
Discover: A new mystery series introduces a feisty and mercurial heroine with biting wit, keen audacity and compelling vulnerability.
Biography & Memoir
Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris
by Ann Mah
Ann Mah and her diplomat husband, Calvin, lived in New York, Beijing and Washington, D.C., during the few years they'd been married. Then, in 2008, Calvin got a dream posting: three years in Paris. Ecstatically, they packed their belongings, only to have Calvin sent onward for a year's posting in Baghdad. Because of the dangers there, Ann wasn't allowed to accompany him, and found herself alone in Paris.
Like Julia Child, another diplomat's wife, Ann decided to spend her year learning about the history of French cuisine by taking a series of excursions around France in search of famous regional dishes. She devours crêpes in Brittany, boeuf bourguignon in Burgundy, fondue in Haute-Savoie, soupe au pistou in Provence.
Along the way, Mah learns how hard it is to live alone, perfects her French, starts to make friends and creates a solid career of her own (to escape the feeling that she's merely following Calvin around the world).
Mastering the Art of French Eating is chock-full of delicious recipes, luscious descriptions of the French countryside and fascinating glimpses into Ann's background and personal life. Her Chinese-American perspective on French culture makes for interesting insights, and her love of cooking and food shine through the pages of the book. Armchair travelers and foodies alike will enjoy Mastering the Art of French Eating. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Discover: A year in Paris leads to profound discoveries--both personal and culinary.
Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Madame Nhu
by Monique Brinson Demery
Fifty years ago, Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu, National Assembly representative and sister-in-law of South Viet Nam's celibate President Ngo Dinh Diem, was a controversial figure who both fascinated and repelled the American press. Named Tran Le Xuan, or "Beautiful Spring" by her parents, she became known in the West as "the Dragon Lady," an alluring but treacherous femme fatale whose infamous "monk barbecue" statement following a Buddhist bonze's self-immolation triggered the U.S.'s deeper involvement in the Vietnam War and its eventual loss in April 1975.
After the U.S.-backed 1963 coup that killed Diem and her husband, Madame Nhu spent many years in obscurity, until 2005 when Monique Demery, a young scholar with an interest in Vietnam, decided to track her down. Demery's persistence helped her to locate the elusive Madame Nhu, who created elaborate cat-and-mouse schemes for their purported meetings but stood Demery up each time. They nevertheless formed a six-year friendship during which Demery succeeded in calling forth, via phone and e-mail conversations, poignant remembrances from Nhu, until the latter's death in April 2011. In Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Madame Nhu, Demery paints Nhu as thoughtful, passionate and perennially embattled: a plucky teen who chose the role of the evil stepmother "for its magnificent potential" in a school's ballet performance of Snow White; a young mother fiercely protective of her infant daughter during a Communist forced march; a reformer critical of gender inequality yet whose strident ways alienated her from the very women whom she wished to save. --Thuy Dinh, editor, Da Mau magazine
Discover: A lively, complex portrait of a woman long demonized as the Dragon Lady.
Jim Henson: The Biography
by Brian Jay Jones
Jim Henson died at the age of 54 in May 1990, leaving a vast legacy of warm, joyful puppetry that influences the world to this day. Brian Jay Jones's Jim Henson: The Biography tells the story of Henson's life, starting with his upbringing in Greenville, Miss., his early career in children's television and his rise to fame.
Henson created the Muppets used on Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock. He spent years pitching The Muppet Show to American television networks, eventually heading to the United Kingdom to produce it. Using the show's international success in syndication as a springboard, The Muppet Movie hit theaters in 1979 to rave reviews and big box office. His later, more experimental films, like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, weren't as well received initially, but have become classics.
What is most telling throughout Jones's biography is how much Henson loved what he did. His family, his marriage and his company all took a back seat to his genuine enjoyment of the work involved in bringing puppets to life onscreen. Not one of the people Jones quotes has a bad word to say about Henson, noting his gentleness and charm throughout.
Jim Henson: The Biography feels comprehensive without bogging down; it will keep readers turning pages and enjoying every scene from Henson's life. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor
Discover: The story of a man who, with the help of his puppets, dreamed the world to a better place.
Essays & Criticism
The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You
by Ella Berthoud , Susan Elderkin
Any bibliophile would rejoice upon discovering a copy of The Novel Cure. This delightfully unusual self-help book prescribes cures for common ailments including Breaking Up, Being a Coward, Internet Addiction, Not Taking Enough Risks, Being Seventysomething and Tonsillitis. But the briskly practical (and sometimes quite funny) advice from Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin is only a prelude to their "prescriptions" of novels to help the reader feel better about his or her dilemma.
For each recommendation, Berthoud and Elderkin share a brief synopsis of the novel in question,explaining why it relates to the ailment at hand. Some ailments, like Fear of Commitment, elicit only one suggestion (José Saramago's Blindness), while Not Enough Orgasms merits 16 recommendations, ranging from Flowers in the Attic to Fingersmith.
Vanity Fair is prescribed as a cure for Social Climbing, the audiobook version of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to help with Road Rage. A very few ailments, such as Reading-Induced Loneliness, don't prompt specific novel recommendations, but rather suggestions for how to alter one's reading habits (read in company!).
Berthoud and Elderkin have created a book that can be savored in snippets or devoured in a sitting. Full of hundreds of great recommendations, The Novel Cure is a welcome answer to the perennial question: "What should I read next?" --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Discover: An enchanting look at how to cure common ailments by reading novels.
Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater
by Michael Sokolove
Touted as the ideal suburb when it was built, Levittown, Pa., is today a depressed town, an unlikely destination for top Broadway producers. In the theater program at Harry S. Truman High School, though, generations of students have flourished under the tutelage of director Lou Volpe.
Over four decades, Volpe's productions have drawn such acclaim the school has become a regular testing ground for high school versions of such shows as Les Misérables, Rent and Spring Awakening. Sokolove (The Ticket Out) returns to his hometown to observe Volpe in action, chronicling the theater program's growth as he watches the students develop several challenging, powerful shows.
Sokolove mixes biography with memoir, journalism with social commentary, as he interviews Volpe and his students and attends dozens of rehearsals. Volpe expects total commitment from his students: the atmosphere of the theater program is one of kindness, professionalism and fanatical attention to detail. Offstage relationships among cast members, while sometimes complicated, are never allowed to interfere with a show.
The economic and social realities of life in Levittown are rarely far from Sokolove's mind. As a Levittown native who "got out," he understands how difficult it may be for these students to escape the confines of their hometown--and the potential of the theater program to open their eyes to a bigger world.
Clear-eyed, thoroughly researched and quietly joyful, Drama High is a testament to Lou Volpe's dedication and to the transformative power of his beloved stage. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: The story of an extraordinary teacher who transformed the high school theater program in a struggling Pennsylvania town.
Children's & Young Adult
by Helen Docherty , illust. by Thomas Docherty
This whodunit with an uplifting ending will appeal to fans of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Instead of a villain who makes off with the fixings of the season, this one steals stories from the shelves as children sleep. While Cindy-Lou Who caught the Grinch in the act, here Eliza Brown, an industrious bunny, corners the Snatchabook.
The rhyme scheme and meter, too, echo Seuss's: "In every house,/ in every bed,/ a bedtime book/ was being read." Charming cutaway views of scenes inside tree trunks and underground burrows show animals snuggled up with their little ones, reading stories under a full moon. The badger family reads "tales of dragons, spitting flames," with an open page depicting a dragon in hot pursuit of a sword-wielding badger hero. Pirate and princess stories delight the owl and bunny families, and children will recognize a bunny toting a basket and wearing a red cape as Little Red Riding Hood in Eliza Brown's book. That is, before someone (or something) snatches her storybook right out from under her. Other critters' books disappear, too, and "Eliza Brown, at Number Three,/ was keen to solve the mystery."
When she does catch him, the Snatchabook is repentant: "Eliza sighed. He looked so sad./ If he just had a mom or dad/ to read him stories every night--/ well, then he might behave all right!" Eliza has a remedy for that, too, but first the Snatchabook must set things right. Children will revel in the message that bedtime reading is a ritual to be revered and will forgive the Snatchabook for his wish to share in it. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A whodunit features bedtime reading as a ritual to be revered, and a thief who just wants to share in the fun.
How to Love
by Katie Cotugno
Debut author Katie Cotugno's powerful love story effectively alternates "Before" and "After" chapters. She doesn't play her entire hand immediately, always managing to reveal new information that seamlessly ties into the story's crux when the time is right.
Reena Montero, now 19, had finally gotten used to life without Sawyer LeGrande, when he returns to their Florida hometown after a three-year disappearance. In his absence, Reena gave birth and raised their daughter, Hannah, and has rebounded with a new boyfriend, Aaron. But Sawyer's reappearance revives feelings Reena had buried and introduces confusion as to what's best for herself and her daughter. The "Before" chapters offer readers the chance to see why Reena fell in love with Sawyer, even when a tragedy threatens to divide them. Reena, who narrates, was preparing to graduate early to major in travel writing at Northwestern, neatly playing into the book's overarching themes of belonging. The wrenching "After" sequence follows Reena as she struggles to forgive the boy she once thought was so special and mature that he must've "already lived a thousand different lives." Cotugno crafts many touching moments between these young parents and their daughter.
Even with an unexpected pregnancy, the novel avoids preachy territory. Cortugno does not dismiss the struggles; instead, the once naïve Reena takes charge, grows up and makes mistakes. Readers will want more from this fresh new voice. --Adam Silvera, reviewer and children's bookseller
Discover: Teen parents explore a second chance at love after three years apart.