From the Shelf
How I Discovered Poetry
It would be only a slight exaggeration to say that I read my very first poem five months ago, on October 3, 2020--a poem from Marosa di Giorgio's scalp-tingling collection about loss, I Remember Nightfall (Ugly Duckling Presse, $20). I recall a seventh-grade textbook that featured a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay and, later, because of the person I was dating, perhaps something by Sharon Olds. It wasn't until completing in one long go Proust's In Search of Lost Time and I asked, what could I possibly read next? that I realized what the gift of this bizarre life-long desire to resist poetry has left me with in middle age: wide-open reading country.
In fact, poetry is no country, it is a multi-dimensional universe filled with the strangest magic. Some poems change meaning with each reading; others reveal secrets only when spoken aloud (or, conversely, when seen on the page). Reading from the bottom up can be as pleasurable as top to bottom, or one line at a time! Oh, and reading a poem once is like reading a poem never.
In addition to di Giorgio, books meaningful to me in recent months have included Dan Beachy-Quick's translation of six Greek poets in Stone-Garland (Milkweed, $16) and his own poetry in Arrows (Tupelo, $22.95). He taught me to suspend expectation, the key to unlocking first, Alice Notley's brain-stretching For the Ride (Penguin Books, $20) and then, whoosh, so much more.
Layli Long Soldier's use of past, present and the page in her Whereas (Graywolf, $16); The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa (Modern Library, $16)--how a dozen lines can rival fireworks in the mind. And the beautiful, comforting, inspiring nihilism (really!) of Fernando Pessoa's Complete Works of Alberto Caeiro (New Directions, $18.95) or The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Books, $20)--the book I now take wherever I go, just in case.... --Neil Strandberg, director of technology and operations, Shelf Awareness
In this Issue...
by Helen Oyeyemi
The acclaimed British novelist transforms a romantic getaway for two into a high-stakes, and supremely absorbing, test of human perception.
by Margarita Engle
Two Cuban teens scavenge for food and hope in this harrowing novel in verse.
by Ben Aitken
This wry British travelogue puts a millennial on holiday with wise and chatty retirees.
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...
Remembering Beverly Cleary
"The hottest literary travel destinations (to visit when lockdown ends)" were showcased by the Guardian.
Beat author Jack Kerouac didn't just enjoy fantasy baseball, "he arguably invented it," Open Culture noted.
A Soviet TV adaptation of The Lord of the Rings recently surfaced on YouTube, Ars Technica reported.
Palace Green Library in County Durham, England "dates back to the late 17th century and was one of the first public lending libraries in England," Atlas Obscura noted.
Rediscover: Budge Wilson
Canadian writer Budge Wilson, who was best known as a children's author but wrote more than 30 books for all ages, died March 19 at age 93. A mentor to many Nova Scotia writers, and good friend of fellow Canadian literary icon Margaret Laurence, Wilson was a member of the Order of Canada and Order of Nova Scotia. Her books include The Leaving, an award-winning collection of short stories; The Best/Worst Christmas Present; Lorinda's Diary and Thirteen Never Changes. After Swissair, Wilson's first book of poetry, was about the Swissair crash of 1998, and children's author Jill MacLean said the collection was very important to Wilson, whose former home overlooked the waters where the plane went down.
One of her recent works, Before Green Gables, is a prequel to L.M. Montgomery's famous book series. The L.M. Montgomery Institute tweeted: "Today we remember our friend, Budge Wilson, who died last week. Wilson's novel, Before Green Gables, was a big part of the 2008 Biennial Conference, 100 Years of Anne.... She will be missed." The Japanese translation of Wilson's book was titled Konnichiwa Anne, and in 2009 it was adapted into a 39-episode anime series called Kon'nichiwa Anne: Before Green Gables. Before Green Gables is available in paperback from Berkley ($16).
The Writer's Life
Sonora Jha: Nurturing a Feminist Ally
|photo: Ellie Kozlowski|
A respected South Asian literary voice in the Pacific Northwest and a professor of journalism at Seattle University, Sonora Jha worked as journalist in India and Singapore before moving to the U.S. Her debut novel, Foreign (Random House India), was long-listed for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. Jha is a contributor to Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of Covid-19 (Central Avenue Publishing), an essay collection edited by Jennifer Haupt. How to Raise a Feminist Son: Motherhood, Masculinity, and the Making of My Family (Sasquatch Books, April 6), reviewed below, is Jha's gorgeously rendered, deeply intimate and inspirational account of nurturing in her Indian American son, Gibran, the critical values that will guide his life journey as a feminist ally.
Your goal, as you articulate with such elegance, was "to tailor a beautiful, sleek, custom-made, expandable, steeped-in-history, and yet timeless feminism" for your son. Is that work complete now that he is an adult?
The work of raising a feminist son is never quite complete. It just morphs into engaging his feminism. On the best days, it means enjoying his feminism and reaping its benefits, such as when he supports you or shows up for the women in his life. On the worst days, it involves challenging him to be a better feminist.
Empathy is the foundation for feminism in boys, as you point out. Does technology hinder the development of this critical trait in boys?
Not necessarily. Let's take social media, for instance. The #MeToo movement and the Black Lives Matter movement grew on social media and have spurred millennials and Gen Z youth to mobilize and fight for justice. On the other hand, some video games are horrifically misogynistic. It really depends on the conversations we are having with boys about their use of technology. As with other tools, we can use it for its better parts.
Your mother believed you to be a reincarnate of one of her heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That's a lot of pressure!
May we all be under such pressure, right? I imagine her grief over Dr. King's murder and her hope for his legacy to somehow be continued through her child. We can all do our tiny bit in the steps of that giant. The part of my mother that values social justice would like that.
As a child you were an avid reader of comics depicting stories of Hindu mythology and the mortal lives of gods and goddesses. What was it about these stories that so captured your imagination?
Mythology is so captivating, especially for a child. Those comics were so vividly illustrated. It was only later that I realized how darker-skinned characters were depicted as "marauders" and lighter-skinned ones as pure and good. Also, the men were muscular and the women sexy. The stories were about classic good versus evil, but the biggest draw was that these stories were really the only ones in comic-book form that represented Indian (mainly Hindu) culture, in the sea of Archie and Richie Rich comics we were inundated with.
You describe the way Hindu goddesses created their male offspring, literally shaping them from turmeric, clay and sandalwood and raising them to be loyal. How does a parent's work in raising a feminist son parallel that of a mythological goddess?
Shaping a feminist child, especially a feminist son, is not unlike Parvati shaping her child from her own skin and turmeric and clay and sandalwood. To raise a feminist son, let him know about the skin you're in--as a woman, a woman of color, a white woman. Talk about these things, talk about your dreams and aspirations and disappointments. Give him a sense of women's voice, their love, their anger, their power. Let him be witness and follower, not just a "leader." Teach him to be mindful and respectful of all of these.
How did South Asian cultural norms and practices inform your understanding of a mother's role?
I leaned into the parts that celebrate the love of motherhood. I call bullsh*t on the parts that exalt motherhood to some sort of higher status than those women who choose not to be mothers or are unable to be mothers. I also stepped away from the nonsense of "self-sacrificing" motherhood that South Asian cultures promote. I embraced a "self-actualizing" form of motherhood, where my mothering was just another aspect of my life, cherished and nurtured alongside my career, my love-life and my leisure. It's hard on some days, because we are so deeply conditioned into minimizing ourselves for our families and perhaps erasing ourselves for the benefit of our kids.
Are there Indian role models in popular culture for the feminist man?
I love the line in Monsoon Wedding in which the father figure played by Naseeruddin Shah says to the women in his family, "I will protect you even from myself." A few good depictions have come up in recent advertising, such as for Gillette in India. We're seeing movie stars like Ranveer Singh dressing beyond gender binaries. Some newer films show supportive male characters. But Indian popular culture is overwhelmingly sexist and misogynistic.
How to Raise a Feminist Son will be published in India a few weeks after its U.S. release. Do you expect it to change the conversation there for families raising boys? What is the state of feminism in India?
I sure hope it will contribute to the rich feminist conversation that's been ongoing in India. I have long said that some of the best feminists I know are in India. For the Indian edition, I spoke to feminists of different genders in India and also to Dalit and Muslim feminists--they are all advancing the feminist discourse so beautifully, and I hope my book, with its elements of memoir and manifesto, is a useful tool to them.
How to Raise a Feminist Son is profound and intimate, a true labor of love. What do you most hope readers will take away from it?
More than anything else, I want readers to enjoy the book. I want them to warm to the story, find beauty in the writing, and to find some hope in the insights I have shared. I want it to contribute to feminist theory and to the feminist conversation. And, I hope it helps others, especially South Asian women, to speak up, to speak out, to stop upholding the systems that make them live smaller lives.
You've lived in different parts of the world and various cities in the U.S. Where is "home"?
Seattle is home. I feel my strongest and kindest self here. It's filled with memories for this family of mine--my son and me. It's where my dog lives. It's home. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer
by Helen Oyeyemi
Helen Oyeyemi's command of magical realism is practically mind altering in her unforgettable seventh novel. Under a somewhat twee pretense, freshly committed partners Otto and Xavier Shin, accompanied by their faithful mongoose, travel by boutique train carriage for their "non-honeymoon." But from there, Peaces sprawls into astonishing, and even frightful, territories of the interior, more so than new horizons abroad.
The couple's peculiar accommodations aboard The Lucky Day's Clock Carriage are a gift from Do Yeon-ssi, the aunt who raised Xavier during "strange times for the Shins of Sangju." The train is owned by the mysterious theremin savant Ava Kapoor, and is managed by the hilariously blunt Allegra Yu. The only other consistent occupant seems to be the "neither hostile nor curious, but quite French" Laura De Souza, "a black [Catherine] Deneuve" (circa 1968) with unsettling ties to both Xavier and Ava's pasts.
Oyeyemi (Boy, Snow, Bird; Gingerbread) may appear to direct this beguiling novel off the rails at times, but its manic twists never spin out. They instead serve to reorient the gravity of the situation. The Shins' getaway becomes hitched to the rising stakes surrounding a sizable inheritance promised to Ava by a former employer. The only catch is that she must prove her sanity on the final day of a train ride riddled with apparitions: phantom whistling, disappearing mongoose catchers, perplexing incidents of "bespoke vandalism" and mystifying "canvases... bathed in white."
A superbly fun Rorschach test of staggering creativity, Peaces asks how much attention one person can spare another in an increasingly chaotic world. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: The acclaimed British novelist transforms a romantic getaway for two into a high-stakes, and supremely absorbing, test of human perception.
The Last Bookshop in London
by Madeline Martin
Madeline Martin tells a heartwarming story of a young woman discovering the joys of reading--and forming a new community--in The Last Bookshop in London. Grace Bennett has never been a great reader--she's been too busy running her uncle's village shop, especially since her mother died. But when she moves to London with her best friend Viv in 1939, she lands an assistant position at a dusty bookshop.
Martin (author of more than 30 historical romances) draws her characters, including the bookshop, with care: Primrose Hill Books will appeal to readers who love an afternoon browsing crowded shelves. As Grace seeks to improve the store's sales, and begins reading a bit more herself, Hitler invades Poland and then the Blitz comes to London. Viv joins the Auxiliary Territorial Service, most of the young men in the neighborhood go off to fight, and Grace is left to help on the home front. Spending her days at the bookshop and her nights patrolling the nearby streets as an ARP warden, Grace must call on courage she didn't know she possessed to make sure she and the bookshop survive the war. Martin vividly portrays the stoic determination of the British people and the importance of small joys, such as Grace's impromptu read-alouds while sheltering from air raids in a tube station.
With likable characters, countless nods to classic literature and a heroine possessed of both compassion and grit, The Last Bookshop in London is a treat for historical fiction fans. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: An inspiring and heartwarming novel about a young woman keeping a London bookshop afloat during the Blitz.
by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
Following The Nest, Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney once again tests the bonds between people in Good Company. Though it treads familiar ground--infidelity, the ups and downs of lifelong friendships, raising and letting go of a child--the author freshens the story by setting it against the backdrop of stage and screen productions.
Good Company is told mostly in three points of view: middle-aged mother and voice actor Flora; television actress Margot; and charismatic actor and theater founder Julian. Moving back and forth through 20 years, Sweeney draws out each character, exposing their flaws and strengths as they support and hurt each other.
Good Company is bookended by two photographs, aptly capturing moments that tell just one part of the truth. The story begins as Flora searches for a photo taken the year they all went to upstate New York and put on a play, when her daughter was five. Instead, she finds, tucked in a drawer, the wedding band her husband, Julian, claimed to have lost that summer--a discovery that calls her entire reality into question. By the time Flora and Julian, their daughter, Ruby, now 18, and their friends Margot and David all return to Stoneham for their annual retreat, readers have seen two marriages stretch and change, a child grow to adulthood, and four careers take off, flounder and settle.
Ruby takes a photo and everyone smiles. Despite this snapshot ending, Sweeney makes it clear that things are still in flux. Life, after all, isn't wrapped up neatly with a bow, and the betrayals and heartbreaks in Good Company won't be smoothed over any time soon. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels
Discover: Good Company is an emotional and thought-provoking novel about the strains of marriage, friendship and motherhood.
Mystery & Thriller
What the Devil Knows
by C.S. Harris
What the Devil Knows shows C.S. Harris (Who Speaks for the Damned) at her best. Tightly plotted, fast-paced and based on historical events, the 16th entry in the Sebastian St. Cyr series brings the seamy side of Regency life to light.
A city magistrate, Sir Edwin Pym, is found brutally murdered, his body left in much the same way the seven victims of the Ratcliffe Highway murders were found three years earlier. The Ratcliffe Highway murderer was purportedly brought to justice by Pym himself, but hanged himself in his cell before he could be tried. Was he actually innocent?
London begins to panic that the killer is at large, and Sebastian St. Cyr, who is both Viscount Devlin and an amateur investigator, is called in to help, since the politics of the situation are tricky. As Devlin digs further into the life of Pym, he discovers that the man had even more unsavory habits than his known abuse of sex workers. Meanwhile, Devlin's wife, Lady Hero--constantly fighting the unenlightened ways of the upper classes--is continuing a series of articles demonstrating the appalling living conditions of London's poor, and starts interviewing prostitutes who had interactions with Pym. Together, Devlin and Hero make shocking discoveries that will threaten their very existence.
Perfect for fans of historical mysteries, the Sebastian St. Cyr series is an excellent, gritty exploration of an era mostly known via sparkling romances. What the Devil Knows continues plotlines begun in earlier novels in the series, but also offers up an intriguing, all-new mystery that will keep readers guessing until the final pages. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this gritty and atmospheric historical mystery, a viscount investigates a series of murders in London's back alleys.
Tower of Babel
by Michael Sears
Michael Sears launches a bold action-packed series that delves into ambition, redemption, morality and the changing landscape of Queens, N.Y., in Tower of Babel. Shamus winner Sears puts aside his intriguing series about disgraced Wall Street trader Jason Stafford (Long Way Down) for a financial thriller with an equally compelling anti-hero.
Former attorney Ted Molloy scrapes by as a foreclosure profiteer, seeking out those Queens commercial properties that sold for more than demanded, often resulting in "surplus money." If those funds aren't claimed, they are returned to the government. For a substantial fee, Ted finds those situations, getting the owner at least some of their money. It's a shady business, bordering on the immoral, but not illegal. He stays away from "big" surplus--more money, more problems. He resists a potentially million-dollar property suggested by his research partner, Richie Rubiano, who is murdered days later. Richie's volatile widow, Cheryl, demands Ted find the killer--and go after the money. The investigation tangles Ted up with a massive real estate deal, the Russian mafia and cutthroat attorney Jacqueline Clavette, the woman now married to his ex-wife, Jill.
Sears keeps Tower of Babel's plot tight, making the complicated financial shenanigans understandable and the characters realistic. The likable Ted desperately needs redemption, though he's not quite sure how to achieve that, nor if he is worthy. Queens's changing landscape, with its "stew of cultures," variety of languages and "disparate communities," make it a modern Tower of Babel, almost unrecognizable to long-time residents like Ted. His favorite restaurant--a neighborhood fixture--now serves a popular dim sum brunch and a great cheeseburger. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer
Discover: This action-packed financial thriller introduces a former attorney whose shady real estate dealings make him the target of developers and the Russian mafia.
Biography & Memoir
Beeswing: Losing My Way and Finding My Voice: 1967-1975
by Richard Thompson , Scott Timberg
Although guitarist and singer-songwriter Richard Thompson was born in 1949, his lovely memoir, Beeswing: Losing My Way and Finding My Voice: 1967-1975, starts when he's 18. The book does dip back in time, as to touch on young Thompson's quest for a guitar (by age 11, "posing in front of a mirror with a tennis racquet would no longer suffice"), but fittingly, Beeswing really begins when Thompson's life begins: when he becomes a musician.
Thompson was a founding member and, while he was in the group, the guiding spirit of the mythic British folk rock band Fairport Convention. In Beeswing, he chronicles his early days--both with and without Fairport, both on and off the road--with specificity and an utter lack of pretention. Fans will quaver as Thompson walks readers through the album tracks he worked on and shares his impressions of his peers, including the mercurial singer Sandy Denny ("She possessed a tremendous empathy for others. She lacked a layer of skin"), who died at age 31. Thompson comes across as a visionary holding firm against the dominating influence of American rock in order to create a distinctly British musical sound.
Beeswing leaves off in the mid-1970s, not long after Thompson has embraced Sufism and while he's making now iconic records with his then-wife, Linda. One needn't be an acolyte of Thompson's music to appreciate the story of an artist fighting the tide of commercialism while on a path beset by Spinal Tap-evoking mishaps ("Somehow we contrived to take the wrong train twice"). --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: This memoir by guitarist and singer-songwriter Richard Thompson, a founding member of Fairport Convention, is unpretentious, particular and entirely lovely.
by Caitlin Ring Carlson
Hate speech is not a new phenomenon, but how many people truly understand what it is, and what it is not? In Hate Speech, Caitlin Ring, professor in the Communication Department at Seattle University, clearly sets out various definitions of hate speech, while examining how different countries have grappled with their historical problems with it, the violence it can lead to and how it can be countered both legally and socially.
Carlson dives into the histories of the U.N., the E.U. and countries such as South Africa, the U.S., Japan, Rwanda, Germany and Brazil to trace how hate speech leads to trauma for its victims and to their dehumanization, and she highlights why this must be countered in a society. She also explains how social media and the Internet have complicated the management of hate speech. By looking at the problem as "a structural phenomenon in which those in power use verbal assaults and offensive imagery to maintain their preferred position in the existing social order," Carlson moves the onus of response away from individuals and onto governments, corporations and international bodies. She also examines the particular case of the protection of free speech versus the protection of hate speech in the U.S. and how attempts to limit hate speech can be used to instead limit protest speech against those in power. Carlson presents a compelling view of a problem that seems to have no good answer, and yet she provides suggestions for methods that might help to end the easy spread of hate speech in media and online. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer
Discover: This fascinating, global examination of hate speech considers what it is, how it spreads and what might be done to counter it.
Hawking Hawking: The Selling of a Scientific Celebrity
by Charles Seife
In his brilliantly titled Hawking Hawking: The Selling of a Scientific Celebrity, science writer Charles Seife (Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea) deconstructs physicist Stephen Hawking's (1942-2018) celebrity, separating the complicated human being and the scientific problems that fascinated him from the popular image of Hawking as a towering genius. Seife focuses on Hawking as a scientist, arguing that in his later years Hawking had trended toward scientific irrelevance. In adopting an unusual reverse-chronological approach to biography--Hawking Hawking opens with Hawking's funeral and proceeds backward from there--Seife is able to show Hawking's celebrity fade away as his scientific achievements come to the fore.
Late in Hawking's life, there was a tendency to turn him into a symbol of intellect transcending earthly circumstances--namely, his almost miraculously long life with ALS. Hawking's illness did play an enormous role in his life and his work, putting strain on his relationship with his first wife, for example, and making communication more and more difficult. However, Hawking always resisted being defined by his illness, and Seife likewise places the greatest emphasis on the remarkable scientific achievements that brought him notice in the first place. Here, Seife demonstrates his own gift at explaining seemingly arcane theoretical problems and solutions to a lay audience, succeeding in communicating the magnitude of Hawking's breakthroughs. In examining Hawking's work on black holes, the nature of the early universe and much more, Seife is able to give Hawking's sweeping ideas the pride of place they have long deserved. --Hank Stephenson, the Sun magazine, manuscript reader
Discover: Hawking Hawking punctures the myth of Stephen Hawking as an indomitable genius, explaining his theoretical achievements and how they were eclipsed by his celebrity.
The Gran Tour: Travels with My Elders
by Ben Aitken
The Gran Tour is a witty, incisive travelogue from Ben Aitken--a barely-30 author who joins busloads of retirees for all-inclusive tours of England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Italy's Lake Como. Aitken's fine eye and spirited pen offer evocative accounts of seaside towns, misty summits and Highland pastries, but the book's heart is in the pensioners, the chatty coach-mates and bingo champs who spend a chunk of their golden years talking to the oddball youngster who's crashed their tour. When Aitken's grandmother (well, "nan") joins him on one trip, the duo becomes the subject of bus gossip: Is he a "toy boy" after her money?
With a light touch and a marvelous ear, Aitken captures the wisdom, jokes, complaints and disclosures of his companions. He's a world-class eavesdropper (the overheard remark "She's nice but just not at that time of year" is rich enough to stand as a creative writing class prompt), but he's also a sympathetic listener and interlocutor. He makes friends, asks questions, gets his people talking and then sets down their endearing, surprising flows of thought. Even as the tour cycle grows familiar--bus rides, villages, dinners, bingo nights featuring local singers--Aitken's chapters stay fresh. When a raffle winner is told, by the evening's master of ceremonies, that it's customary to share the prize with the evening's entertainer, the winner replies, "Fair enough. Just let me know when he turns up." For all the laughs, the book's power comes from Aitken's discovery of the value of greater intergenerational connection. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor
Discover: This wry British travelogue puts a millennial on holiday with wise and chatty retirees.
Parenting & Family
How to Raise a Feminist Son: Motherhood, Masculinity, and the Making of My Family
by Sonora Jha
How to Raise a Feminist Son: Motherhood, Masculinity, and the Making of My Family by Sonora Jha is a stunningly candid account of the struggles, victories and life lessons accumulated by the author as she nurtured in her Indian American child, Gibran, a feminist consciousness. It is also an intriguing, beautifully articulated memoir about single motherhood, marriage, disability and surviving a violent childhood.
Jha (Foreign), a professor of journalism at Seattle University, reflects with humor and humility on strategies that influenced her hopeful parenting mission, sharing insight and practical to-do lists to guide readers embarking on their own feminist journeys.
With graceful determination and a confidence that didn't always come easily, Jha exposed Gibran to her feminist approach from an early age by helping him to recognize troubling stereotypes in the movies and books they consumed together. She urges adults to re-create beloved stories in a feminist mold and construct new stories centering strong female characters. For older children interacting in an online world, Jha advises constant engagement and conversation to take advantage of teachable moments, even if that means playing video games together.
How will readers know they are on the right path? One sign is if a son exercises compassion, kindness and empathy to stand by the women in his life, serving as an ally. Crucially, Jha acknowledges that parents and children will slip up, and that too is an important part of the conversation. Admitting that her own feminism sits on wobbly legs, like the sofa she self-assembled, Jha wisely points out that "feminism, like yoga, is a practice, and perfection is an illusion." --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer
Discover: With graceful candor and courageous optimism, an Indian American journalist and academic recounts her parenting adventure and offers child-rearing strategies for developing feminist allies.
Children's & Young Adult
Your Heart, My Sky
by Margarita Engle
Love blossoms and endures during Cuba's period of famine in Margarita Engle's heartrending novel in verse, Your Heart, My Sky.
It's the summer of 1991 and the Pan American Games are being held in Havana. Liana and Amado are teens living in a rural part of the country and going hungry while resources are funneled into the city. In Liana's words, "We are like an outer isle off the shore of another island. Forgotten." When her family's rations are depleted, she sips on sweetened water "because sugar is the only food... abundant enough to share." Meanwhile, Amado is searching for freedom. Both Liana and Amado skipped "la escuela al campo," a summer of "forced so-called-volunteer farm labor." This rebellion could be costly, but they're at war with hunger. The teens are brought together by Paz, a dog that functions as a stray cupid. They scavenge the beach for seaweed, frogs and dead crabs, but need something long term, so they visit Amado's abuela, who is "almost blind from malnutrition." His grandparents teach the teens how to farm vegetables--which could land them all in jail seeing as even "roadside bananas belong to the government."
At times, Your Heart, My Sky feels like dystopian fiction, where teens risk their lives to quell cramping bellies. Former Young People's Poet Laureate Engle (With a Star in My Hand; Soaring Earth), who describes witnessing similar events firsthand in her author's note, doesn't back down from the harrowing depiction of this very real time, historically known as "the special period in times of peace." Liana and Amado's revolutionary summer is open-ended, leaving the reader with a mix of melancholy and luminous hope. --Zoraida Córdova, author and freelance book reviewer
Discover: Two Cuban teens scavenge for food and hope in this harrowing novel in verse.
Zonia's Rain Forest
by Juana Martinez-Neal
In Juana Martinez-Neal's Zonia's Rain Forest, super-cute critters are out in force, ready to woo lap sitters. But this book also offers something for older siblings ready to do some sightseeing beyond the familiar comforts of the First World.
Young Zonia lives in the rain forest among "those she loves"--her mother, her baby brother and a bevy of creatures she greets at the start of each new day. "Good morning!" she says to four shaggy, moonfaced Hoffman's two-toed sloths. "Welcome! I live next door," she tells some red-feathered, bitty-eyed Andean cocks-of-the-rock. After she has finished making the rounds, Zonia encounters something she hasn't before: her friend the blue morpho butterfly is sitting on the trunk of one of several freshly cut trees. Zonia runs home and alerts her mother. When her mother reminds her that the forest "is speaking to you," Zonia vows to answer it. "We all must answer" is the only text on a concluding two-page spread that shows Zonia standing with a protective hand on a tree, proudly defiant in traditional dress and face paint.
The generous and valuable back matter in Zonia's Rain Forest includes insight into the significance of Zonia's face paint, information about her background (she's Asháninka, the Peruvian Amazon's largest Indigenous group), and a pictorial glossary of her rain forest friends. Caldecott Honoree (Alma and How She Got Her Name) and Sibert Medal winner (Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story) Martinez-Neal created Zonia's art on handmade banana bark paper, against which dabs and swaths of well-chosen color blaze. Readers too young to appreciate the book as a call to environmental action will find sport in spotting the blue morpho butterfly that Martinez-Neal has introduced in each spread, nearly every illustration a tropical enchantment. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: A girl who lives in the rain forest begins each day by greeting her animal friends in this exuberant picture book crowned with an environmental message.