From the Shelf
Hena Khan: Searching for Connection
Living through a pandemic, with movement restricted, we all yearn for places and people who are out of reach. This feeling has long been familiar to me. As a child of immigrants from Pakistan, I felt my parents' ache for their homeland, although they had settled happily into life in the U.S.
I visited Pakistan a handful of times as a child, but the most powerful trip was when I went as a teen. Suddenly, I was aware of how different I was from my cousins, even though they looked like me. I felt out of place, awkward with my poor Urdu, a misshapen piece of an extended family puzzle.
And yet, I was met with overwhelming love from my relatives, simply for who I was. It didn't matter that they had to negotiate for me at markets, translate what I didn't understand or explain parts of my family history. I soaked up their affection--along with the sounds, sights and smells of a place I didn't want to leave--realizing how much I had hungered for it.
My character Amina has similar feelings in Amina's Song when she visits her extended family in Pakistan. Like I did, she feels unexpectedly out of place when she returns home. She's back to the same life, school and friends, but filled with new experiences she wants to share but doesn't know how--and others don't seem overly interested.
Amina is longing for a place far away, for people she misses and for memories that might have been. Like so many of us today (and for months now), she finds herself searching for ways to feel connected to all of the things that matter to her, near and far. --Hena Khan
In this Issue...
by David Thomson
These 15 entertaining essays on numerous filmmakers and their work are insightful, succinct and exciting.
by Constance Sayers
Sayers's atmospheric second novel reveals the spellbinding past of a cursed circus and the woman bound to its future.
by Richard Ho
When a package lost in transit gets found, serendipitous connections happen in Richard Ho and Jessica Lanan's informative and inspiring picture book collaboration.
Review by Subjects:
From Garden District Book Shop
09/16/2021 - 6:00PMEVENT Postponed THE GARDEN DISTRICT BOOK SHOP HOSTS KENT BABB TO CELEBRATE HIS NEW RELEASE, ACROSS THE RIVER: LIFE, DEATH, AND FOOTBALL IN AN AMERICAN CITY The Garden District Book Shop is thrilled to host an evening celebrating the recent release of award-winning sportswriter Kent Babb’s, Across the River: Life, Death, and Football in an American City. What is sure to be a classic work of sports journalism, Across the River is an investigation into the...
A Spy Recommends the Best Spy Novels Written by Spies
"The best spy novels written by spies, according to a spy," via CrimeReads.
Douglas Adams's note to himself revealed that the author of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy found writing torture, the Guardian noted.
Pop quiz from Mental Floss: "How well do you remember literary devices from high school English class?"
A Canadian college is home to some of rarest books in the world, CBC reported.
Rediscover: Joan Walsh Anglund
Joan Walsh Anglund, the "prolific children's author who earned the devotion of millions of readers with her sentimental depictions of little ones, their features often reduced to their all-seeing eyes in illustrations that sought to capture the essence of childhood," died March 9 at age 95, the Washington Post reported. Anglund produced more than 120 books that sold 50 million copies worldwide in multiple languages. Her illustrations "became ubiquitous through their adaptation for greeting cards, calendars, figurines and other collectible merchandise," the Post noted, adding that she had a "signature style in which children's round faces were rendered without mouths or noses. Much like children themselves, they were a tabula rasa, a screen on which young readers could project and try out their own new and unfamiliar emotions."
Her first book, A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You, was published in 1958, and she went on to produce dozens more books, finding particular success in the early years of her career with Love Is a Special Way of Feeling (1960), Christmas Is a Time of Giving (1961) and Spring Is a New Beginning (1963). Her more recent books include Babies Are a Bit of Heaven (2002), Love Is the Best Teacher (2004) and Faith Is a Flower (2006). In addition to illustrating her own works, she provided drawings for The Golden Treasury of Poetry by Louis Untermeyer (1959). Anglund also wrote several volumes of poetry for adults. A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You was last published in 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers ($9.99).
The Writer's Life
Reading with... Mike Chen
|photo: Amanda Chen|
Mike Chen is the author of Here and Now and Then and A Beginning at the End. His short fiction is featured in Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View--The Empire Strikes Back, and he has written about geek culture for Tor.com, Nerdist and StarTrek.com. In a previous life, he covered the National Hockey League for Fox Sports and SB Nation. His latest novel is We Could Be Heroes (Mira), about two super-powered individuals trying to make a name for themselves and figure out who they really are.
On your nightstand now:
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow and Star Wars--Dooku: Jedi Lost by Cavan Scott are on my nightstand right now. I want my brain to really de-stress before I dive into them. Also on my phone is an ARC of Anne Tibbets's upcoming Screams from the Void.
Favorite book when you were a child:
When I was younger, A Royal Pain by Ellen Conford was something I constantly re-read--it was the first book I read that really felt like the voice and pace drove the story, which is something I appreciate to this day. When I was a little older, Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles became a teen obsession.
Your top five authors:
It's hard for me to pick a top five because I find my tastes fluctuate. So each of these represents something different:
Top influence (voice and character): Nick Hornby
Top influence (world and story): James Luceno
Top Star Wars author: Claudia Gray
Top instant-buy author: Kat Howard
Top author whose writing makes me jealous: Alix E. Harrow
Book you've faked reading:
I could not get through Heart of Darkness in high school. I think it's only like 100 pages? And it was worse than reading a technical manual (and I should know, I used to be a technical writer).
Book you're an evangelist for:
There are two books I constantly tell people to read. The first is An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard, which is a beautifully written adult urban fantasy that takes Harry Potter-esque houses with modern New York City mob rivalries. The second is Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, the novelization of the film by Matthew Stover. Much more than just a novelization, this is the closest to literary fiction as I've seen in Star Wars media--it plays with structure, tone and tense while diving deep into character. They are both among my favorite books ever.
Book you've bought for the cover:
I actually don't think I've ever impulse-purchased strictly from a cover. I'm a very word-of-mouth reader, which is why having author friends is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to a TBR pile.
Book you hid from your parents:
My parents were actually pretty cool about me reading anything. My dad is a big reader, so we were always allowed to ask for as many books as we wanted. So they bought me pretty much Anne Rice's entire catalog when I was a teen--I don't think they realized just how sexual those were!
Book that changed your life:
Nick Hornby's About a Boy is the first book I read that made me think that I wanted to try to tell stories like this.
Favorite line from a book:
I mentioned the Revenge of the Sith novelization by Matthew Stover above, and one thing I love about it is how it presents the dark side as this all-consuming evil. It closes with this passage on how to defeat the dark, and these are words I lean on when things are rough (so a lot in recent years):
"The dark is generous and it is patient and it always wins--but in the heart of its strength lies its weakness: one lone candle is enough to hold it back.
Love is more than a candle.
Love can ignite the stars."
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
At the midpoint of Fonda Lee's Jade War, there's a fight that involves my favorite character from her Green Bone Saga. The fight and its stakes were so intense that I actually read line by line by moving a sheet of paper to make sure I didn't pick up any accidental spoilers by looking away for a second. It was probably the most visceral reading experience I've ever had, and it would be really cool if I could always read that section without knowing what happened.
Book you had to read in high school that you actually liked:
I read Judith Guest's Ordinary People in high school, and it's a book I still have on my bookshelf. It was my introduction to literary fiction and it did several things for me. First, it showed how artful prose could be while still telling a compelling story. Second, it played with structure in a way that I hadn't seen before. And third, it demonstrated how an emotional arc can drive a story forward without necessarily being plot heavy. Even though I don't revisit this book that often, it's still a milestone read for me.
Ladies of the Secret Circus
by Constance Sayers
Constance Sayers (A Witch in Time) conjures a dark vision of a demonic circus lost in time in this atmospheric paranormal mystery.
"Todd might have left her, but... he never would have abandoned his car," Lara Barnes thinks of her fiancé, who went missing on their wedding day 10 years ago. Despite the observation, she has always believed Todd disappeared of his own volition. However, local police chief Ben Archer notes that he vanished on the 30-year anniversary of an eerily similar incident. When Lara comes into possession of her great-grandmother Cecile Cabot's journals, she uncovers the secret history of a mysterious circus that once tantalized 1920s Paris, including the famous American expat community. A place of dark beauty, cruelty and dangerous magic, Le Cirque Secret and its pitiless owner hold the key to Todd's disappearance and Lara's own supernatural powers. Her quest for answers will take her from Virginia to Paris and into a world of whimsy and horror where she soon learns why "few people run away from the circus."
To make the inevitable comparison, Sayers's Le Cirque Secret is as spellbinding as Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus--but several shades darker. Ladies of the Secret Circus, both decadent and chilling, is at once mystery, fantasy, romance and a tale of dark obsession that would make Edgar Allan Poe swoon. Evocative of a Golden Age horror movie, it will leave readers wishing one of Le Cirque's magical tickets might find its way to them. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: Sayers's atmospheric second novel reveals the spellbinding past of a cursed circus and the woman bound to its future.
The Whispering House
by Elizabeth Brooks
The walls at Byrne Hall seem to whisper. In British author Elizabeth Brooks's spooky and captivating thriller, The Whispering House, that's what Freya Lyell notices when she travels to the stately yet dilapidated mansion for a wedding, and discovers its mysterious connection to her sister's death. An aspiring poet, 23-year-old Freya is immediately enchanted by handsome painter Cory Byrne, who lives in the house with his ailing mother, Diana. Having spent the last five years grieving for her sister Stella, Freya is eager to cast aside her old life and plunge headfirst into what she calls her "Bohemian idyll" with Cory--but it won't be that easy. As their love affair becomes all-consuming, Freya's youth and naïveté often work against her. She continues to explain away Cory's increasingly controlling and dangerous behavior--and overlook his shocking connection to Stella.
Set near the sea in late autumn, this unsettling story about heartache and yearning is filled with bone-chilling breezes, taunting ghosts and maddening isolation. Despite the story's thematic depth, Brooks's (The Orphan of Salt Winds) sweeping prose feels fresh and often surprising, packed with rich metaphors suitable for a thoughtful, observant narrator like Freya: "The page was yellow in the candlelight--smooth, pure, and inviting. It was like fresh snow at sunrise, when you stand at the back door and look down at the garden, loathe to mark it with your footprints yet longing to do exactly that." Equal turns tender and haunting, this gothic tale shows how people's experiences shape them, for better or for worse. --Angela Lutz, freelance reviewer
Discover: In Elizabeth Brooks's spooky and captivating thriller, a woman travels to a rundown mansion to investigate her sister's mysterious death, only to be drawn into a dangerous love affair.
There's No Such Thing as an Easy Job
by Kikuko Tsumura , trans. by Polly Barton
Kikuko Tsumura has already won major Japanese literary prizes--most often writing about women in the workplace. Her U.S. fiction debut, There's No Such Thing as an Easy Job, smoothly translated by award-winning Polly Barton, features a 36-year-old unnamed working woman, her anonymity convincingly suggesting universality. While 400-plus pages of career-meandering might seem long, the narrator's sly humor and ever-so-droll observations will delight readers.
"Burnout syndrome" has returned the narrator to her parents' home. She's drained her unemployment insurance. She's realized "hanging around doing nothing forever probably wasn't the answer either." She finds a surprisingly indulgent temp-agency recruiter and announces she'd like a job close to home, "ideally, something along the lines of sitting all day in a chair overseeing the extraction of collagen for use in skincare products." Her first gig isn't far off--she's sent to mindlessly video-surveil a writer unaware he's harboring smuggled contraband. She doesn't last long, and moves on to write audio ads for buses, create fun-facts copy for rice crackers, (re)place outdoor posters, monitor a park outpost. She's remarkably adaptive but proves especially capable at her bucolic assignment where she solves the mystery of inexplicable tampering, random lost objects and ghostly rumors. Only then does the narrator reveal the job that had "sucked up every scrap of [her] energy," but it's a career she might just be ready to try again.
As light and charming as the novel might initially seem, Tsumura perceptively examines on-the-job disparity, gender inequity, search for fulfilment. Her own early experience with workplace harassment inspired her first novel; such all-too-familiar career challenges continue to fuel her notable, growing oeuvre. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Award-winning Kikuko Tsumura makes her U.S. debut-in-translation in a slyly charming novel about a 36-year-old woman and her year spent in career crisis.
Raft of Stars
by Andrew J. Graff
Andrew J. Graff's debut, Raft of Stars, is a magnificent saga of friendship, loss and heroism, wrapped in the fallout of war and action that recalls adventure stories of old. In 1994 Claypot, Wis., 10-year-old best friends Fischer "Fish" Branson and Dale "Bread" Breadwin tear around town on their Huffys and roam the Northwoods, exploring and escaping their respective sorrows. Fish is mourning his military father's death, which precipitates his summer visits to Claypot, to his maternal grandfather, Teddy Branson, widower and Korean war veteran. Bread's father is an abusive drunk they avoid at all costs.
At the local gas mart, Tiffany works the counter, staving off homelessness, bantering with the locals and trying to catch the attention of Sheriff Cal. Cal is new to town, up from Houston where his confrontation with a violent parolee made a fresh start necessary. After Fish shoots Bread's father to stop another beating, the boys pack supplies, leave a note for Teddy and run away to build a raft and live off the land. The life-battered locals join with Fish's stalwart mother, Miranda, in a frantic search for the boys in the Wisconsin wilderness.
As the pairs (Fish and Bread, Teddy and Cal, Tiffany and Miranda) converge at the perilous gorge rapids the boys don't know exist, they learn about themselves, each other and the things that are most important. Graff's nature writing is absorbing, and his characters generate a yearning to know them. Raft of Stars is a quest story full of heart and humor. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: This thoughtful yet epic adventure tale pits two boys against nature as their families and the authorities try to reach them before disaster strikes.
Mystery & Thriller
Every Vow You Break
by Peter Swanson
During her bachelorette party in California, New Yorker Abigail Baskin had a one-night stand with a stranger from San Francisco. Expecting never to see each other again, they don't share their real names or contact info. Abigail doesn't tell her fiancé. Three days before her wedding, on her way to work, Abigail spies the stranger. Then she gets an e-mail from him saying his name is Eric, and begging her not to get married and to meet him in Nebraska. A myriad of strange twists riddles the thriller Every Vow You Break.
Abigail met her fiancé, Bruce, in a coffee shop. Three days later, Bruce proposed. He's rich, while she can barely make ends meet. It's a whirlwind romance, and Abigail is swept off her feet. Bruce generously arranges and pays for a bachelorette getaway for Abigail and her bridesmaids at a swanky winery in Northern California. That's where an inebriated Abigail hooks up with a handsome stranger who shares all her interests and even quotes lines from her favorite poems. The bride-to-be is remorseful but committed to marrying Bruce. Then Eric appears at her wedding and, later, at the same resort where she's having her honeymoon. A confrontation is inevitable but Abigail suspects something much darker is going on.
What author Peter Swanson (Eight Perfect Murders; The Kind Worth Killing) puts his heroine through is maniacally cringe-worthy. Luckily for readers, he keeps the story grounded by making Abigail an average person who refuses to be a victim. It's this simplicity that makes the character appealing and her triumphs magnificent. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer
Discover: A bachelorette party transgression leads to dire consequences in this twisted thriller.
Meet Me in Paradise
by Libby Hubscher
Meet Me in Paradise, Libby Hubscher's debut novel, blends one part self-discovery adventure, one part vacation romance and one part family heartbreak into a story that reads like a summer romantic comedy movie with a surprisingly tragic base.
After the death of their mother, teenagers Marin and her younger sister Sadie take two different approaches to life. Marin assumes responsibility for Sadie and everything else in their lives, while Sadie adopts a "life is short" mentality and eventually follows their investigative journalist mother's footsteps as a risk-taker and world traveler. Hoping to convince Sadie to finally settle down, Marin agrees to her first-ever vacation outside of Tennessee--but Sadie abandons her before the flight. While Marin stumbles through a comedy of errors--an emergency plane landing, misplaced luggage, accidentally exposing herself to Lucas Tsai, the sexy owner of the resort where she's staying--Sadie is at home coming up with more ways to keep Marin out of her comfort zone. While most of the book is told in Marin's point of view, short interstitial chapters from Sadie reveal the reason she's so determined to give Marin the adventure of a lifetime.
Every vacation has to end, and as Marin finds herself--and a new love--she's about to lose something precious. Not simply a breezy romantic comedy, Meet Me in Paradise captures the duality of life's highs and lows. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels
Discover: This romantic comedy offers tropical vacation mishaps, a burgeoning romance and an undercurrent of heartbreak.
New Yorkers: A City and Its People in Our Time
by Craig Taylor
Canadian author Craig Taylor is intrigued by New York City: brash, nonstop, pulsating with energy, containing millions of stories. In New Yorkers, his follow-up to Londoners, Taylor collects and presents interviews with 75 of the everyday heroes who make up New York. The result is a joyous, unfiltered cacophony of the city's myriad voices.
"New York is less of a melting pot and more of a mosaic," a formerly incarcerated artist tells Taylor. "It's really like different colored tiles, and different people being who they are." Taylor tries to capture as many of those tiles as he can: he talks to elevator repairmen, bodega managers, nannies, homeless people and those who run soup kitchens. He travels the length and breadth of the city, visiting with ICU nurses, protestors, aspiring actors and singers, and a security guard at the Statue of Liberty. He hears about the mundanities of daily life, the irritations of crowded subways and too many tourists, and learns how different New Yorkers have carved out lives for themselves in their city. Taylor also renders, with care and humor, accounts of New Yorkers surviving historic challenges: September 11, Hurricane Sandy, the coronavirus pandemic. The grit and resilience of his subjects, whether bankers or electricians or subway conductors, is on full display. But so is their love for their city: most of them can't imagine living anywhere else. Taylor's collection is a tribute to the triumph and perseverance of a place--and a people--unlike any other. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Journalist Craig Taylor collects and presents a joyous, unfiltered cacophony of interviews with dozens of New Yorkers.
Delicious: The Evolution of Flavor and How It Made Us Human
by Rob Dunn , Monica Sanchez
Delicious: The Evolution of Flavor and How It Made Us Human is a lively and fact-filled exploration of how flavor, although often overlooked in scientific research, has played an important role in shaping human history. Rob Dunn (Never Home Alone), a professor of applied ecology at North Carolina State University, and Monica Sanchez, a medical anthropologist, liken the book to "a dinner party" at which they "are the hosts." Dunn and Sanchez are indeed the perfect hosts, guiding readers, with humor and expertise, through a feast of entertaining anecdotes in fields such as ecology, agriculture, psychology, art and chemistry.
The chapters follow a chronological sequence, starting with how taste receptors played a role in helping animals evade danger, then positing that the search for palatable foods hastened the creation of tools by our primate ancestors. They move on to the role and significance of spices, and eventually explain the role of flavor in the extinction of various species over millennia.
The list of topics covered is extensive--cheese-making, fermentation and the biology and physiology of taste receptors, to name a few. The authors write in a very accessible style, making all of the scientific facts, charts and diagrams easily understandable to a lay audience.
The final chapter highlights the ultimate sociological importance of everything that was previously presented. Dunn and Sanchez observe that "while the rules of dining vary in many ways among cultures, the importance of eating together transcends human culture and time. And this togetherness improves the deliciousness of food." --Grace Rajendran, freelance reviewer and literary events producer
Discover: An ecologist and an anthropologist present a diverting examination of the impact flavor has had on evolution and culture.
A Light in the Dark: A History of Film Directors
by David Thomson
Prolific British film critic and historian Thomson (The Biographical Dictionary of Film) writes with breezy, effervescent assurance and lucid insight about filmmaking and filmmakers in A Light in the Dark. These 15 razor-sharp essays offer thoughtful biographies of numerous film directors and assessments of their work. Thomson will remind many film buffs of Pauline Kael in his ability to combine succinct, maverick appraisals with an encyclopedic knowledge of films to back up his beliefs. His life and career overviews of the directors are equally original and fresh.
Even fans who have read many biographies of Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock will find those concise chapters full of new insight. Thomson calls Welles "a perfectionist who loathed his own meticulous craft, and a philosopher who had lost faith in meaning." He believes Welles intentionally sabotaged many of his films (including Touch of Evil and The Magnificent Ambersons) by walking away from them so he could blame others for ruining them. Thomson writes that the pitch of suspense in Hitchcock's films is "tied to his smothered lust." He also theorizes that Hitchcock's brutal film Psycho was his revenge on filmgoers who rejected his most nakedly confessional film, Vertigo.
Among the many other directors profiled and critiqued here are Fritz Lang, Nicholas Ray, Jean Renoir, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Peter Bogdanovich, D.W. Griffith, Robert Altman, Leni Riefenstahl, Howard Hawks, Jane Campion, Stephen Frears and Spike Lee.
A Light in the Dark is an astoundingly entertaining, persuasive and cohesive collection of essays that should delight film buffs with new insights and new titles to add to their "must see" film lists. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: These 15 entertaining essays on numerous filmmakers and their work are insightful, succinct and exciting.
Children's & Young Adult
The Lost Package
by Richard Ho , illust. by Jessica Lanan
"Serendipity" perhaps best describes Richard Ho's (Red Rover) second picture book, The Lost Package, enhanced by writer/artist Jessica Lanan's (The Fisherman & the Whale) superbly expressive watercolors. Together, the creative pair present a wondrous story about separation and near-magical reunion.
Under the watchful eye of a tortoiseshell cat, an Asian American girl packs a box with great care. She drops the package at the post office, where it's "weighed, stamped,/ labeled, and loaded onto a truck." At a building with "wondrous machines" and "a maze of moving belts," the package is processed for airport transport. Alas, the delivery truck ferrying the box to its intended flight hits a pothole, throwing the box out of a suddenly open door into a roadside puddle. Many pass by, until a spotted dog insists its humans stop and look. The timing proves perfect... because the box's intended destination is exactly where the canine and his two people (a Black mother and child) happen to be moving to that very day. Both a happy ending and hopeful new beginnings ensue.
Despite this USPS truck's unlatched door, Ho's author bio credits USPS with his very existence: "I might not be here today," he insists, had the USPS not provided his immigrant father with stable employment that allowed his parents to have a second child--him. Lanan's stellar artistry gorgeously amplifies the USPS's sophisticated processes, while simultaneously enhancing the personal links (matching bff photos, cross-country breaks, introductory tea) the package enables. Both informative and inspiring, The Lost Package celebrates surprising connections that can happen when what's lost gets found. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: When a package lost in transit gets found, serendipitous connections happen in Richard Ho and Jessica Lanan's informative and inspiring picture book collaboration.
Trouble with a Tiny T
by Merriam Sarcia Saunders
Westin Hopper's constant case of "Vacation Brain" tends to make his life difficult. Then he finds a magic pouch that produces a "ten-inch high, very live, very angry T. rex." Now Westin has a whole new problem to deal with in Trouble with a Tiny T, a thought-provoking, riotous middle-grade novel.
Last year Westin was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD. He thinks of it as Vacation Brain--it feels as if his brain never does quite what it should. Because of that, he gets in trouble both at home and school. While exploring at his grandparents' house, Westin stumbles upon a magic pouch that brings to life whatever the member of their family holding it is thinking about. When Westin's constantly roving mind accidentally conjures up a tiny T. rex, Westin realizes he will have to learn to control the magic in order to get rid of the dinosaur before it grows and wreaks havoc on the town.
Trouble with a Tiny T by Merriam Sarcia Saunders (My Whirling, Twirling Motor) convincingly presents the world of ADHD from the perspective of a fifth-grade boy. Westin is a gifted young artist but he is racked with insecurity because few people in his life are patient with or understand his symptoms. Saunders deftly demonstrates the impact ADHD can have on a child while never making it an excuse for actual bad behavior or romanticizing the condition. Using magic as a catalyst to explore how mighty Westin truly is, Trouble with a Tiny T promises that everyone has strengths and struggles, and the power within themselves to work through difficulties. --Kyla Paterno, freelance reviewer
Discover: Fifth-grader Westin Hopper has ADHD and a magical pouch that produces a tiny but growing T. Rex in this thought-provoking and funny middle-grade novel.
Follow Your Arrow
by Jessica Verdi
This engrossing contemporary YA novel is a sweet romance with timely commentary on influencer culture, queer identity and political activism.
At only 16, CeCe is already #internetfamous. As a social media influencer, her posts about fashion and her interracial, same-sex relationship (CeCe is white and Silvie, a fellow influencer, is Latinx) have garnered 985,000 followers. Like their fans, CeCe believes she and Silvie (#Cevie) have a perfect partnership, so she is shocked when Silvie breaks up with her. CeCe is heartbroken but she's also worried about her online future: "Every photo or video either of us posted was rooted... [in] our relationship"; without #Cevie, CeCe may "have nothing left." The teen starts spending time with an aspiring musician, Josh, who is "the first person I've ever met who was born in this century and doesn't use the app." CeCe discovers that she enjoys being known as someone other than a social media celebrity. However, things get complicated as CeCe and Josh start to fall for one another. CeCe is bisexual, but she worries how her followers will react to her dating a guy. As her online and real worlds collide, CeCe, who has spent years working "to get people to like me," has to decide whether she's brave enough to be her authentic self everywhere.
Jessica Verdi (And She Was; What You Left Behind) crafts a charming romance between CeCe and Josh while tackling serious issues like the pros and cons of social media and biphobia within the LGBTQ+ community. Verdi also considers contemporary feminism: CeCe is unwavering in her progressive political convictions yet hesitates to share them for fear of being branded "too difficult, too opinionated." Teen readers will almost certainly root for this willful, conflicted and intrepid Internet celebrity. --Alanna Felton, freelance reviewer
Discover: Teenage social media influencer CeCe deals with Internet drama and romance in this engrossing, socially conscious contemporary YA novel.