From the Shelf
Annie Barrows: Saying Goodbye to My Girls
In the grocery store a few days ago, I inadvertently climbed aboard the following train of thought:
Wouldn't it be great if bean sprouts cured Covid-19?
The person who discovered that would get a lot of glory.
Ivy and Bean love glory.
Ivy and Bean would definitely try to discover the cure for Covid-19.
They'd start with bean sprouts.
Nah. Too plain.
Bean sprout/almond milk paste? Yeah.
Flower-petal-and-tree-bark poultices? Yeah!
Something involving earwax? Sure!
But wait--I already wrote the last Ivy and Bean book.
Seventeen years of Ivy and Bean are coming to an end, and I miss them already. I don't mean just writing about them. I mean having these two girls as my constant companions, my imaginary friends and my own squeaky little Greek chorus. Even as my own kids grew up, Ivy and Bean stood by to give me the proper perspective on the world: to urge me to look under rocks, to hope for magic solutions and to suggest that bean sprouts might work. Ivy and Bean have been my escape hatch from adulthood.
The final book is Ivy and Bean Get to Work! Does the title indicate that Ivy and Bean are buckling down, preparing themselves to face the challenges of adult life, progressing toward responsible and serious futures?
I don't want anyone to get serious, especially not Ivy and Bean. I want them to have fun. I want them to be seven forever. I want them to know that they have never once been wrong in their desires. I want them to congratulate themselves on their resourceful and inspiring solutions to problems. And I want to thank them for giving me 17 years of their company. --Annie Barrows
In addition to her many children's books, Barrows is the co-author, with her aunt Mary Ann Shaffer, of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
In this Issue...
by Daniela Krien
Sensitive and incisive, blending humor and melancholy, this novel follows five German women and their modern-day love lives.
by Andrea Wang
Through powerful poetry and exquisite illustrations, the daughter of immigrants relates an emotional childhood memory that opened the door to her Chinese roots.
by Haruki Murakami
The perfect story collection for a rainy, meditative morning, First Person Singular showcases Murakami's enduring style and demonstrates his ongoing dedication to moody precision.
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...
Children's Books Set in Museums
Children's books that take place in museums, recommended by the New York Public Library.
"From sisterly love to frenemies," author Lucy Jago chose "the best female friendships in books" for the Guardian."
"Name that thing. Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!" Merriam-Webster challenged.
"Watch rare footage of Anne Frank before her family was forced into hiding." (via Mental Floss)
Open Culture's invitation: "Behold the elaborate writing desks of 18th century aristocrats."
Rediscover: The Mosquito Coast
This year is the 40th anniversary of Paul Theroux’s The Mosquito Coast, in which a disillusioned American inventor moves his family from Massachusetts to the eponymous Mosquito Coast of Honduras. Teenage narrator Charlie and the rest of the Fox family follow Allie on a perilous trek deep into the jungle, away from Western influence and technology. The Mosquito Coast won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and in 1986 was adapted into a film directed by Peter Weir, starring Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren, Andre Gregory and River Phoenix. Apple TV+ recently released a trailer for a new series based on The Mosquito Coast, with Justin Theroux, Paul's nephew, executive producing and starring alongside Melissa George, Logan Polish and Gabriel Bateman. It will premiere with the first two episodes on April 30 followed by new episodes every Friday.
Paul Theroux wrote several other novels, including Jungle Lovers (1971), which was banned in Malawi for many years, before turning to travel writing. Theroux's travelogues include The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, The Kingdom by the Sea, The Happy Isles of Oceania, Riding the Iron Rooster and more. His most recent book, a novel about an aging big-wave surfer called Under the Wave at Waimea (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), will be released April 13. The Mosquito Coast is available in paperback from Mariner Books ($15.95). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Reem Kassis: A Mélange of Tradition and Taste
|photo: Dan Perez|
Reem Kassis (The Palestinian Table) is a Palestinian food writer and chef currently living in the U.S. Her newest cookbook, The Arabesque Table: Contemporary Recipes from the Arab World (Phaidon; reviewed below), is a gorgeous and well-researched tribute to Arab culture, food history and her own family memories. She recently chatted with Shelf Awareness about her earliest kitchen experiences, current culinary inspirations and the important message she hopes readers will take away from her book.
The memories you share in this book, from the lemon and pomegranate trees in your parents' garden to your grandmother's beautiful needleworks, elevate the experience of each recipe. Tell us about your writing process--did you find food to pair with the memories or the other way around?
It was a symbiotic process in many ways. My memories and experiences undoubtedly inspired many of the dishes I chose, but I almost always wrote the headnotes after the recipe was written because the process of testing these recipes far away from home, from the people who inspired them, from the specific era in which they were cooked, or even from the exact original ingredients, all made me experience them differently. It was that juxtaposition that helped the different elements come together in what you see as headnotes throughout the text. As for the chapter intros, those I wrote at the very end because I knew from my first book that the idea you start out with is never the book you end up with, and I wanted my experience of writing and living this book to inform the essays throughout the book. This way, the writing grows naturally out of the experience rather than forcing the experience and recipes to fit into particular writing.
You describe how "centuries of migration... have left their mark on Arab cuisine." You've lived in several places: Jerusalem, the U.K., Germany and currently the U.S., to name a few. How has your own personal migration left its mark on the way you now cook?
Growing up, I would look at a dish made by someone and, if it wasn't exactly the way my mother or grandmothers made it, judge it as inferior or not correctly made. My experiences abroad have taught how there is no right or wrong in food and how many different versions can exist for the very same dish. I've also learned how much of the way we perceive flavor, how we perceive good vs. bad, is subjective and is influenced by intangible factors like our love for a certain place or people or experience.
From a less philosophical standpoint, my living abroad has forced me to adjust my cooking to cater to the different ingredients and different appliances I have access to, to the different climates and geographies which yield different produce and quality of ingredients. It has also introduced me to foreign ingredients and techniques, which I might incorporate into certain dishes, and even if it happens to be on a small scale, you start to see how over time the evolution of food can take place.
The Arabesque Table is steeped in thoroughly researched Arab food history. What were some of the things you discovered that really stood out and had an impact on you?
The number one thing that I had heard in passing but not really seen concretely was the scope of influence Arab cuisine has had on the food of the entire world. Arabs always brag about how "we invented this or we showed this culture how to do that" and I would shrug it off as a natural tendency towards grandiosity. But in my research, I actually saw just how far the sphere of influence Arab culture and cusine reached, all the way to every corner of the world. Bagels are first mentioned in an Arabic cookery book. Milk puddings, and the very idea of thickening milk with starch, can be traced back to the Arabs; the use of oil for deep frying in Spain, and many other examples, can all be traced back to Arab cuisine.
In the introduction, you state that "rather than focus on what differentiates the various cuisines of the Arab world, you wanted to show the commonality across the many Arab nations." What do you hope will be the greatest takeaway from this book?
I hope people realize that food, just like the arabesque patterns which inspired this title, is inherently cross cultural and intertwined, and that this does not detract from its importance in defining our national identities or connections to specific cultures, countries and cuisines, i.e., those things are not mutually exclusive.
You describe many beautiful moments spent in your mother's and grandmother's kitchens. Did your family share collections of written recipes with you or did you learn by watching them as they cooked?
We have this concept in Arabic called nafas, which roughly translates into breath or spirit, but which in the context of cooking is much more--it's an energy a person possesses which allows them to make food that is exceptional. But basically, no written recipes--and I talk about this in my first book and how difficult it was to transcribe recipes from my mother and grandmother, how I would have to watch and reverse engineer or reverse measure to accurately pin down what they were doing!
At what stage of your life did you learn to make the food of your childhood?
I learned to make the food of my childhood only after I left home. I would call my mother or my grandmother and have them call whoever else I wanted a recipe from and I would get things like "a pinch of this and a pinch of that" or "until texture is as soft as earlobe" or "the consistency of yogurt," etc., and it was through my own trial and error that I eventually learned a lot of the details of these dishes, but am still learning to this day. I'm learning how different crops or different seasons affect the outcome, how your mood, your environment, your ingredients, all of it influences your food and learning to cook is always a work in progress, it is a skill you perfect with time or experience, but it definitely helps if you have good nafas!
What are some of the well-worn and spice-stained cookbooks that will always have a place in your kitchen?
As surprising as it may sound, my first cookbook The Palestinian Table is the one I use the most. It is the traditional foods of my childhood and the dishes I make most often at home, and even though I know them by heart, I still reference the book time and time again (especially for pastries and cakes). Other than that, I use a book called 660 Curries [by Raghavan Iyer] on a regular basis for inspiration to Indian curries (I'm obsessed with Indian food). I also often use The Flavor Thesaurus [by Niki Segnit] when I want to figure out which flavors might go with what. Finally, this is not a cookbook, but I use the recipes from a Korean food blog called Korean Bapsang for the most delicious Korean recipes. --Grace Rajendran, freelance reviewer and literary events producer
First Person Singular: Stories
by Haruki Murakami , trans. by Philip Gabriel
In First Person Singular, international bestselling author and critically acclaimed storyteller Haruki Murakami (IQ84) offers eight poignant and atmospheric short stories. In "Cream," a young man reflects on the elusive meaning behind seemingly confounding life experiences. In the titular "First Person Singular," the narrator experiences a surreal and noirish encounter with a woman who mistakes him for someone else on a lonely evening in a bar. Whether offering an imaginative review of a nonexistent album in "Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova" or reflecting on his own poetry inspired by the experience of in-person baseball games in "The Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection," Murakami's signature and yet still mesmerizing first-person singular voice shines.
Scattered throughout these tales is Murakami's magical touch of whimsy and nostalgia, both his melancholic tone and his playfulness. His protagonists experience their world with a kind of clear-eyed lucidity despite their admissions, as in "Cream," that "a deeper understanding eludes me." The sense of this clarity comes from Murakami's prose itself, as well as his nonchalant approach to the extraordinary. The collection's stand-out, "Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey," never shies away from fantastical elements (the titular talking monkey) and yet directs its gaze much more earnestly to the story's emotional core (the monkey's uncomfortably familiar loneliness and his unnerving ability to steal the names of the human women he loves). These short stories, like all of Murakami's best work, demonstrate his talent of being able to make complex concepts seem simple and graspable, if only for a fleeting moment. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Discover: The perfect story collection for a rainy, meditative morning, First Person Singular showcases Murakami's enduring style and demonstrates his ongoing dedication to moody precision.
Love in Case of Emergency
by Daniela Krien , trans. by Jamie Bulloch
Witty and candid, Love in Case of Emergency deftly examines the world of relationships, and the challenges, ambitions and failures of the women who take part in them. Daniela Krien (Someday We'll Tell Each Other Everything) follows five interconnected German women dealing with love, motherhood and employment with varying degrees of success. Tackling divorce, infertility, trauma, narcissism and self-destruction from a variety of perspectives, the novel explores the complex dynamics of modern-day womanhood.
Krien carefully constructs five intriguing characters out of their ambitions, philosophies and hopes. Despite their different approaches to life (and love and childbirth), Paula, Judith, Brida, Malika and Jorinde are each complex, given the space to develop discernable personalities. Their relationships, wants and needs are familiar without being cliché. Each vignette feels remarkably true to life. Krien masterfully blends humor and melancholy, comedy and sorrow; these moments do not arrive in distinct packages, but in surprising combination. This balanced tone contributes to the novel's quiet brilliance.
For fans of German history, there are some references to the country's political dynamics, which enrich the plot (Malika and Jorinde's father, for example, is labeled a fascist sympathizer). But the stories are personal enough to be universal. As the characters deal with similar crises--how to balance a career and a child, how best to experience life without a partner, how to handle the dissolution of a relationship--the different ways they react reveal as much about the women themselves as the society they occupy. --Simone Woronoff, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: Sensitive and incisive, blending humor and melancholy, this novel follows five German women and their modern-day love lives.
by Roy Jacobsen , trans. by Don Shaw , Don Bartlett
Roy Jacobsen's White Shadow is the second in his Barrøy trilogy, following The Unseen, which introduced readers to the Barrøy family and the small Norwegian island that shares their name. Now in her mid-30s, Ingrid Barrøy works on the mainland, splitting and salting cod and herring. She "longed to be gone, to be back on Barrøy, but no one can be alone on an island and this autumn neither man nor beast was there... but she couldn't be here on the main island either."
After paddling back to Barrøy, Ingrid is indeed alone amid the ruins of her family home, until the British bomb a German steamer carrying troops and prisoners of war in nearby waters. In her family's hayloft she finds a man alive. They do not share a language, but they share much. Hiding her guest from the Nazis and their Norwegian collaborators will send Ingrid away from home again, and it will be another arduous feat to return, but it is always Barrøy for this stalwart protagonist. She stands "suddenly wonderstruck at all the things that had kept her on the island, which in truth were nothing at all."
Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw, Jacobsen's prose is as stark and unadorned as the landscape he portrays. His characters are hardworking, worn and stoic against a ruthless natural world, but there is beauty in their strength, and in the harsh simplicity of island life. No familiarity with The Unseen is necessary for this second installment, which stands alone comfortably, although the final lines do gesture at questions about the future of Barrøy. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: This second in a gripping trilogy of home, place and relationships sees a woman struggle alone, and then less alone, in World War II Norway.
by Wendy Francis
Wendy Francis (Best Behavior) delivers a smart, probing drama that skillfully unravels the complex emotional lives of an ensemble cast in Summertime Guests, a novel set over one weekend in June at a posh hotel on Boston's North Shore.
Legendary elegance is the hallmark of the Seafarer, a famous, historic hotel. After a major renovation, the landmark destination reopens under the management of workaholic 39-year-old Parisian Jean-Paul, who has a wife and new baby he is woefully neglecting. There are 250 rooms at the Seafarer. Francis narrows her focus to a handful of guests: Riley and Tom, a young Midwestern couple planning a wedding at the establishment, are challenged by the overbearing expectations of the groom's mother. Widowed Rhode Island journalist Claire O'Dell, age 61, checks into the hotel to take a breather. Claire wrote a provocative article about a local politician with mob ties, and her newspaper suggests she take some time off. Claire uses the opportunity to reconnect with an old flame who lives near Boston. And then there is a 30-something couple: Gwen, a teaching assistant, who treats her beau, Jason, an adjunct professor, to a weekend birthday getaway in the hope of healing their fraught relationship. Emotional and personal complications abound and deepen for these strangers after a woman plunges to her death from a hotel balcony.
The subsequent investigation into the mysterious sudden death makes for a reflective, deeply engaging and suspenseful story with many threads sure to ensnare the attention of rapt readers. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: This probing, suspenseful drama follows strangers at a posh hotel as they reflect on their lives after a jarring sudden death.
Mystery & Thriller
Heaven's a Lie
by Wallace Stroby
Joette Harper, the heroine of Wallace Stroby's action-packed ninth novel, Heaven's a Lie, lives paycheck to paycheck. The young widow's job as a desk clerk at a run-down Jersey Shore motel barely pays enough to maintain her decaying trailer, since most of her money goes toward her mother's medical bills and nursing home fees.
Her break may come in the oddest way. Driving erratically at high speed, Thomas Nash crashes his BMW outside the motel one night. As Joette drags him from the wreckage, he tells her to grab a bag in the trunk, which she does seconds before the car goes up in flames. A couple minutes later, Nash dies. She rationalizes keeping the nearly $300,000 she finds in the bag, knowing it would pay her debts, care for her mother and help the single mother and her daughter who live at the motel. Of course, no one just drives around with all that cash--Nash is a drug dealer who planned to steal the money from his partner Travis Clay, whose greed is matched by his propensity for violence. The money isn't mentioned in the police report, but Travis is spurred to retrieve his cash after finding evidence that Joette isn't just a good Samaritan. While Joette shouldn't be a match for Travis's ruthlessness, she is driven by sheer determination to stop being on the losing end of life.
Stroby (Some Die Nameless) has an affinity for brisk storytelling that keeps Heaven's a Lie on a breathless path. The tidy plot elevates the novel into a metaphor for the country's current economic downturn, and the appealing Joette keeps readers firmly on her side, even when she is skirting the law. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer
Discover: In this highly entertaining, action-packed thriller, a young widow eking out a living is targeted by a ruthless drug dealer after she finds nearly $300,000 that belongs to him.
by Anna Porter
Anna Porter (The Appraisal) has created a sprawling, fast-moving fine-art thriller in Deceptions. Former Budapest cop Attila Feher has been hired to help protect a Hungarian diplomat named Vaszary, representative to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France. Vaszary and his wife are divorcing, and arguing about whether a large painting is a genuine Artemisia Gentileschi or not. To help end the divorce stalemate, Attila calls in his friend and former lover, Helena Marsh, an art appraisal expert and investigator. Helena is surprised to discover that the painting may be an unknown Gentileschi work that could be worth massive amounts of money, since the pupil of Caravaggio is rising in popularity.
Then a range of shady characters show up--mysterious Russian oligarchs, corrupt Hungarian officials and a murderous man who seems to be stalking Helena. Helena and Attila are now in a race for their lives, attempting to stay one step ahead of the gangsters as they change identities and move from Budapest to Paris to Strasbourg and back, in a quest to identify both the painting and who has it out for them.
Fast-paced and funny, Deceptions captures kleptocratic vibes in modern Hungary, police corruption, money laundering in the art world and much more. Helena is a kick-ass heroine--brilliant and strong, who can hold her own with the bad guys both physically and mentally. Perfect for fans of Alan Furst or Dan Brown, Deceptions is an exceptionally enjoyable thriller. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this fast-paced thriller, an art appraiser tries to identify a Baroque painting while staying one step ahead of Russian gangsters.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
A River Called Time
by Courttia Newland
A River Called Time combines speculative fiction and alternative history to bring to life a disturbingly recognizable portrait of pressure-cooker existence in cities plagued by vast inequality. Courttia Newland (The Gospel According to Cane) imagines a world where colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade never took root and English-speakers occupy the very bottom rung of society. Newland's worldbuilding is dense and impressively detailed, incorporating many strange new technologies, but protagonist Markriss Denny's motivations are grounded as they come, at least at first. Markriss hopes to study his way out of his violent, impoverished home and into a city-sized building called the Ark, where the inhabitants are presumed to lead lives of ease and plenty.
Unfortunately for Markriss, his goal of upward mobility is complicated by an alarming and involuntary power: at unpredictable moments, his soul leaves his body in something between an out-of-body experience and astral projection. In this unbounded form, his soul can travel throughout the city and beyond the physical plane. It is here that Newland's novel takes a turn for the deeply strange, with Markriss encountering a long-deceased inventor in his astral travels who warns him of someone with a similar power and even greater ability. Markriss is charged with finding and stopping this person before his power can be used to wreak terrible havoc.
Newland has managed to craft a narrative where the otherworldly coexists alongside more recognizable concerns, such as the spiritual cost of collaboration with an immoral system versus the very real costs of resistance. A River Called Time is ambitious, sprawling, unpredictable and fascinating. --Hank Stephenson, the Sun magazine, manuscript reader
Discover: A River Called Time is a relentlessly imaginative novel about a world where colonialism and slavery never occurred and yet brutal inequality persists.
Food & Wine
The Arabesque Table: Contemporary Recipes from the Arab World
by Reem Kassis
"History leaves its marks through a region's architecture, music, markets, literary arts... and most of all, through its cuisine." So observes Palestinian writer and chef Reem Kassis (The Palestinian Table) in The Arabesque Table: Contemporary Recipes from the Arab World. This stunning cookbook is a celebration of the centuries of migration and trade that shaped the evolution of Arab food, filled with well-researched food history and rich, evocative family memories.
Kassis's own personal history somewhat mirrors that of the cultures she discusses, since she has lived in several locales--from Jerusalem to the U.K. and now the U.S.--which have all left their mark on her own cuisine. The food within the pages is inspired by the entire Arab region, primarily focusing on the Levant (present-day Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan), where the author has her most personal memories. Kassis takes readers to the gardens and cities of her childhood in scenes that bring life to her favorite recipes.
The recipes are easy to follow; the food and the photography--vibrant! Organized by primary ingredient, The Arabesque Table contains 130 recipes that will please chefs who are looking to add nuanced flavors of Arab cuisine to their home menus. From Sudanese Peanut Butter Eggplant Mutabal to Muhallabiyeh and Hibiscus Rose Tart, Kassis offers a varied assortment of appetizers, mains and sweets from which to choose.
The Arabesque Table showcases how cuisines evolve with their culture, highlighting dishes found in the earliest Arabic writings, along with ways those recipes are being reinvigorated by cooks of today. --Grace Rajendran, freelance reviewer and literary events producer
Discover: A personal and accessible collection of 130 recipes spanning generations of Arab history.
Biography & Memoir
Broken (in the Best Possible Way)
by Jenny Lawson
Humor writer Jenny Lawson, aka the Bloggess, is wildly popular for sharing wacky, unfiltered stories about her life and struggles with illnesses both physical and mental. Her third collection, with some three dozen essays, arriving after 2015's Furiously Happy, puts that bluntness right in the title: Broken (in the Best Possible Way).
Her work is captivating because Lawson is imperfect. As she writes in the introduction, "who wants to see that level of fraud" where people present only neat, shiny lives? Readers embrace her books because they "want to know we're not alone in our terribleness." Nowhere is this more evident than in the most hilarious chapter, titled "Awkwarding Brings Us Together." It starts with Lawson saying she tweeted about an airport cashier wishing her a safe flight and Lawson replying, "You too!" What followed was an avalanche of tweets from people sharing their own misadventures in societal interactions. Lawson devotes an entire chapter to the highlights, which are impossible to read without howling with laughter.
But Broken isn't just about the funny. It's incredibly moving when she shares details about being submerged in the deep end of depression and writing notes to remind herself the dark days will pass. She also pens an open letter to the health insurance industry, excoriating it for illogically refusing to cover treatments and medication that would help her and similar sufferers heal. And in the chapter where she mentions kintsugi, the Japanese art of fixing broken items with gold-laced lacquer to enhance the cracks, it becomes a perfect description of her writing: showing the damage makes the stories more, not less, beautiful. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: The Bloggess Jenny Lawson shares stories about her outrageous everyday mishaps as well as living with mental illness in this hilarious essay collection.
Send a Runner: A Navajo Honors the Long Walk
by Edison Eskeets , Jim Kristofic
Not many people could fathom running close to a marathon a day for 16 days, but in the summer of 2018, that is exactly what Navajo ultrarunner Edison Eskeets planned to do, to honor the survivors of the Long Walk, the period that saw the Diné forcibly removed from their ancestral lands to a military-run reservation and ended only when they were able to return to their homelands. Send a Runner: A Navajo Honors the Long Walk weaves together the chronicle of Eskeets's 330-mile route from Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, to Santa Fé, New Mexico, with a history of the conquest of the region that encompasses Diné ancestral lands. It begins in 1540, and ends with both the historical signing of the Navajo Treaty of 1868 and Eskeets's arrival in Santa Fé on the 150th anniversary of the signing of that treaty.
This book bears witness to Eskeets's journey and the message he carries--that "We are still here. We have survived. There will always be Diné. We will always be here"--and also to the brutality and the lies of colonization, and the violence visited upon the region in the quest to own it. It also highlights how running is a form of survival and persistence, referencing other runs such as the 1,800-mile Hopi trek from Arizona to Mexico City to honor water and protest the Peabody Coal mines. Both Eskeets's run and the Long Walk itself are given greater context here so that these peoples' stories might not be lost. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer
Discover: This moving, powerful account of ultrarunner Edison Eskeets's journey honors the survivors of the Long Walk.
Children's & Young Adult
by Andrea Wang , illust. by Jason Chin
Andrea Wang (The Nian Monster) relates the memory of a childhood experience in touching narrative verse that is at once universal and distinctly personal. Paired with stunningly detailed watercolor illustrations by Caldecott Honoree Jason Chin (Grand Canyon; Your Place in the Universe), Wang's story--like the titular plant--takes root in the ground of humanity and blooms into nourishing fare.
Being embarrassed by one's parents is a ubiquitous rite of passage. That shame is enhanced when one already feels like an outsider; as the daughter of immigrants, preteen Wang is an authority on this distress. But when her parents stop on the side of the road one day to pick weeds from a ditch, Wang is truly mortified. "They haul us out of the back seat./ We are told to/ untie our sneakers,/ peel off our socks,/ and roll up our jeans." While her brother revels in the mud, dirty water and tiny snails, Wang stews: "A car passes by/ and I duck my head/ hoping it's/ no one I know." Throughout Wang's ordeal, Chin juxtaposes Midwestern Americana--cornstalks, a barn draped with the American flag, a Pontiac--with famine-struck China: in the gutter of one double-page spread, cornstalks turn into bamboo, with the embarrassed Wang on the left-hand page and an adult and child scrounging for food on the right. Ultimately, this humiliating field trip opens the door for her mother to share a story of her own youth, and Wang learns much more than family history. The time slips elicit an appreciation for the pain suffered by Wang's family in China and the cultural battle silently taking place in her psyche. Sincere and subtly inspiring, Watercress is transformative. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: Through powerful poetry and exquisite illustrations, the daughter of immigrants relates an emotional childhood memory that opened the door to her Chinese roots.
The Mirror Season
by Anna-Marie McLemore
Anna-Marie McLemore's seventh YA novel, The Mirror Season, is intelligent, brutal and exquisitely written. This novel, like many of their previous works (Dark and Deepest Red), is a contemporary retelling of a fairytale ("The Snow Queen") with elements of magical realism.
Graciela Cristales is "the pastry witch of San Juan Capistrano": the girl "who knows what kind of pan dulce you want before you do." This gift has made Ciela something of an "obscure tourist attraction" at her family's pastelería. Ciela was the type of girl who "reveled in... her brown skin... matching [her] lace-trimmed underwear to [her] makeup." But the party changed that. This season is "strange": "No Santa Anas. Trees vanishing right out of front yards." When commonplace items begin turning to glass, a shard gets stuck in Ciela's eye. At the party, Ciela and Lock Thomas were both sexually assaulted. Ciela tried to help Lock, a visiting white boy who had been drugged into unconsciousness, but believes she instead put them both in danger. Now, she wants only to forget. When Lock shows up as a new student, though, he notices right away that Ciela has "the something-happened look," meaning that the boy who can't remember his assault is going to make Ciela remember her own.
An author's note says, "this book draws on my experiences as a survivor of multiple sexual assaults," and it is clear that this is the book of McLemore's wounds. Their craft is superb and the emotions they describe are raw and realistically confused. There are places where the story doesn't quite connect, but that takes nothing away from the ferocious beauty of The Mirror Season. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Two people--a young man who remembers nothing and a young woman who remembers everything--were sexually assaulted at the same party in this staggering YA novel.
by Shannon Hale , illust. by LeUyen Pham
In a breathtakingly adorable picture book by superstar creative team Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham (Real Friends and Best Friends), a tiny cat and a towering unicorn learn that true friends see each other for who they really are.
Kitty thinks she might be a unicorn. She wears a pointy horn and "prances on her pawed, clawed, unicorn hooves. She gallops on her eensy-weensy unicorn legs." But: "You're a cat," says Parakeet. "And that's that," says Gecko. Undaunted, Kitty continues to strut her unicorn-y stuff... until a real unicorn comes along and bursts her bubble with his sheer magnificence. It turns out, though, that Unicorn has his own dreams of glory: "Did you know," he whispers, "that I am a Kitty-corn?" "Yes," Kitty says, "I see that now"--one Kitty-corn always knows another. The two "toss their manes... brandish their horns" and scamper together after bumblebees before stretching out in a patch of grass.
Newbery Honor author Hale (Princess Academy; Kind of a Big Deal) and Caldecott Honor illustrator Pham (Bear Came Along; Outside, Inside) have created a sweetheart of a picture book. Pham's digital illustrations are awash in hot pink and purple, which smartly uses readers' own biases to set them up for a frivolous story. But no! Kitty, though cute as a (pink, fluffy) bug, has a serious identity issue to work out. She is a cat on the outside, but who is she on the inside? Who does she want to be? Combining emotive illustrations that make excellent use of white space and only a few brief lines of text per page, the pair capture the poignance of the struggle to find oneself. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: In a picture book both sweet and powerful, a cat perseveres in her belief in herself in spite of teasing from peers... and finds a soulmate in the process.