From the Shelf
Revisiting A Swiftly Tilting Planet
|photo: Savanna Sturkie|
In the months leading up to the release of the A Wrinkle in Time movie, we're asking authors of middle grade and young adult titles to revisit one of the first four books in Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quintet. For January, Caleb Zane Huett, a bookseller at Avid Bookshop and author (Top Elf), looks at A Swiftly Tilting Planet.
Revisiting A Swiftly Tilting Planet was hard.
Like all of the books in the series, the novel asserts that everything in the universe is connected, and even the smallest choices matter. It's a series of Quantum Leap-style situations in which Charles Wallace follows the winds of the universe to change historical events: he must shape history such that the leader of a fictionalized South American country is born as El Zarco, good and "peaceful" from a blue-eyed bloodline, instead of as the war-mongering Mad Dog Branzillo of the "arrogant and angry," dark-eyed timeline.
As I reread, I became worried. I loved these books as a child. What did I take away from this? I didn't consciously register an insidious concept behind the importance (and goodness) of the blue-eyed timeline; I just liked the magic.
All of us--especially creators of works for children--have to think further than the magic. We must pay attention to the literature we produce and avoid repeating tired, harmful tropes. Real people can be affected for decades by our decisions. Thankfully, we're working on it: We Need Diverse Books and the OwnVoices movement are examples of groups making positive change in children's publishing. I'm grateful that they (and so many others) are dedicated to creating an industry that values everyone, not just the same people we've valued for centuries.
Every choice matters, big and small. The story choices we make and the structure of our fantasies affect actual humans and actual issues. Our planet, the real one, is swiftly tilting. Let's make sure we like where it's going.
In this Issue...
by Neel Mukherjee
This powerful, multilayered novel depicts the indignities and small victories of India's working poor.
by Anna Meriano
Eleven-year-old Leo discovers she comes from a line of brujas (witches) and tries to learn magic on her own.
by Brian Clements , Alexandra Teague , Dean Rader, editors
A compelling combination of poetry and prose reflect the epidemic of gun violence and make the case for increased gun control in the United States.
Review by Subjects:
From Pages Bookshop
01/27/2018 - 3:00PMEven in 1960s Detroit, race isn't everything. Tom Daniels and "Cookie" Marsh will be the first to tell you that race isn't everything. But it did shape the way they experienced the world growing up in Detroit in the 1950s and 60s. Tom "Cookie" Marsh grew up in a black neighborhood on Detroit's west side. Tom Daniels grew up in a mixed, working-class neighborhood on Detroit's east side. Both men grew up in strict households where they "always got what we needed, and sometimes what we wanted...
02/06/2018 - 6:00PMGR Reads! The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston. Purchase your book at Pages for 15% off. A five-hundred-year-old legend. An ancient curse. A stunning medical mystery. And a pioneering journey into the unknown heart of the world's densest jungle. Since the days of conquistador Hernan Cortes, rumors have circulated about a lost city of immense wealth hidden somewhere in the Honduran interior, called the White City or the Lost City of the Monkey God. Indigenous tribes speak...
Book tats update: Buzzfeed featured "20 literary tattoos that can melt every book lover's heart."
Headline of the Day: "Elena Ferrante to become Guardian Weekend's new columnist."
Pottermore recalled "all the times Hermione Granger secretly liked breaking the rules."
"Turkish sanitation workers opened a library with their collection of discarded books," Bustle reported.
Who knew? "Artifacts show Blackbeard's pirates liked reading pirate stories," IFLScience wrote.
Rediscover: Personal History
Katharine Graham's path to publisher of the Washington Post was hardly written in ink. Her father, Eugene Meyer, was a wealthy investor and public official who purchased the Post at a bankruptcy auction in 1933. Despite her privileged economic conditions, Graham grew up with a distant socialite father and a condescending mother. She graduated from the University of Chicago and worked for a San Francisco newspaper before marrying Philip Graham in 1940. In 1946, Katharine's father gave the Post to her husband, which he ran until he committed suicide in 1963.
Katharine Graham became the only woman newspaper publisher of her era and the first female Fortune 500 CEO. Under Graham's leadership, the Post published the Pentagon Papers and broke the Watergate scandal, which, in response to an upcoming article, led Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell, to tell Carl Bernstein that "Katie Graham's gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that's published." Katharine Graham's 1997 autobiography, Personal History, explores these historic events and her personal experiences as a woman in a male-dominated industry, her evolving stances on gender and labor issues, her family life (including her husband's mental illness) and her rarefied social circles. Personal History won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, and is still in print in paperback (Vintage, $18, 9780375701047). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Pierce Brown: Returning to the World of Red Rising
|photo: Joan Allen|
Pierce Brown is the author of the Red Rising series, which includes Red Rising, Golden Son and Morning Star. The science fiction trilogy follows protagonist Darrow and his campaign to overturn a color-based caste system characterized by rigid inequality. Iron Gold is the first book in a new trilogy set 10 years after the events of Morning Star and focuses on the consequences of Darrow's rebellion. The novel also continues to reflect Brown's interest in Roman history, which is a strong influence on the world of Red Rising.
How did you balance the demands of pleasing existing fans with appealing to new readers?
Iron Gold is the first volume of a new story arc set in the Red Rising saga. Many familiar players from the earlier books continue their adventures, which should appeal to existing fans. But the introduction of multiple new characters and viewpoints also make this book a possible entry point for new readers. The next generation is starting to make their mark, and readers will see the worlds through their eyes. Fans who have read the earlier books will certainly have an enhanced experience, knowing all of the backstory and motivations. But these new characters make Iron Gold accessible.
Did you draw on any specific incidents or periods in Roman history in crafting your new trilogy?
Much of the historical and event-driven inspiration for the series comes from the Republic Era of Rome, while much of the iconography, nomenclature, etc., comes from the Empire. The heaviest influence on the narrative of Iron Gold comes from the years between the death of Julius Caesar and the rise of his nephew and heir, Octavius. The shifting alliances, the political shenanigans, the privatization of armies all make one deliciously violent stew for egos to rise and fall.
In Iron Gold, were there ways in which you tried to provide more perspective on the failures of the Rising?
The fact that there are four POVs instead of just Darrow's gives Iron Gold fundamentally different DNA. This story is about the consequences of war. It is impossible to look into the lives of Lyria, a disenfranchised Red from the "freed" mine of Lagalos, and Ephraim, a disillusioned former Gray rebel, and not see the failures of the Rising. The failures are many, layered, significant and impossible for both Darrow and the reader to ignore. I think that is what makes this such a fun tale to tell. There is no easy solution. No black and white. Each character thinks they stand upon the moral high ground--isn't that our nature? But over the course of the story, they see new dimensions to their own morality, to their place in the world and the effects of their actions.
When your series started, many of the major characters were quite young. How did you go about imagining adult versions of characters who have lived traumatic lives in the shadow of near-constant war?
I imagined it would be quite difficult. It wasn't--partially because I had a crutch. The characters have aged with me. I wrote Red Rising when I was 22 and my life was in an emotional tumult. Darrow was 16 and his blunt, simple anger at his surroundings very much mirrored my own. Now I'm 29, and instead of the world around me taking greater clarity, it is more opaque and convoluted. I see the cracks in institutions which I used to respect. I see complexity where I once saw simplicity. My characters reflect that. They fought for freedom. But what the hell does that mean? Sure, break the chains, break the oppressor, but then what? The grappling with that question is the key to their evolution and their adulthood, and is asked at the same time that I'm really taking my first large leaps away from my own youth.
The various Colors obviously correspond to issues of class, but did you also draw from the history of racial prejudice in writing about the Society's caste system?
Yes--a good amount was drawn from post-Civil War Reconstruction, particularly the pernicious difficulty former slaves faced in finding work and true liberty after their emancipation. Some influence also comes from the caste system in India. But I also drew significantly on pre-gunpowder eras and eras in which slavery wasn't yet defined by race. Rome was around for 700 years, and dominated most of the known world for a good portion of that time. But to have the colossus that was Rome, you had to have millions of slaves squished under foot. To have the Mongols, you had to have their victims. The victims of Rome and the Mongols were not racially targeted. They became slaves and chattel because of military conquest.
What I really wanted to focus on was the social and economic systems that enslave people or marginalize them--and how that can continue long after legal freedom is attained.
There's a quote from Voltaire that I've heard used in reference to Roman history: "History is filled with the sound of silken slippers going downstairs and wooden shoes going up." The Rising seemed epochal, but is there a way in which Iron Gold reveals it to be part of the natural churn of history? I'm curious whether you're cynical or pessimistic about the idea of creating lasting change.
Damn. It's a good interview when you face down one of your favorite quotes in the interviewer's questions.
I'll not tell you if I'm a cynic or an optimist--the course of the new trilogy will likely give you better and more honest insight into that than my words here. But I will say yes, the Rising seemed epochal--the end of tyranny, the beginning of a new age in which sparrows sing and freedom rings. The fact that the consequences of the Rising have led to brutality, violence and upheaval doesn't invalidate the Rising, just as World War II--which sprang from the seeds of World War I--doesn't invalidate World War I. In fact, World War II led to a much better world than World War I led to. For the greater part, it fundamentally divorced the populaces of the world from nationalism, led eventually to greater freedom, a real and lasting deconstruction of imperialism and more self-determination. So I don't look at the war that follows the Rising to be an indictment against lasting change. Instead, I look at it as the greatest challenge to creating lasting change--realism. Can Darrow, Mustang, and the rest create lasting change in a world riven by social strife, racial divide, and military conflict? I'm just as eager to see as you are.
Is there a way in which Darrow and others must now struggle not to buy into their own propaganda and think of themselves as Gods?
That is the central question of Darrow's story. Billions follow him. Millions worship him as if he is a living god. Others form human mountains in their desperate scramble to vest that adulation and power away from him and crown themselves with it. How does a man make decisions under such strain? How can he lead without confidence becoming hubris? How can he win without becoming the very thing he once despised? It is a delight to try to answer those questions within the narrative.
On a more technical note, the universe you've created has grown to be complex, with many unusual terms and neologisms. How do you make sure the reader doesn't feel overwhelmed by jargon?
In a word: context. I don't pull a full Clockwork Orange and use jargon to jar the reader's sensibilities. Burgess used jargon and violence to bludgeon the reader so that they felt violated. It was an incredibly effective tool, which helped him develop the thesis of his book. I use jargon for another reason: to make the reader feel as though the world of Red Rising is real, with its own rules, its own idiosyncrasies, in order to help create a feeling of immersion. The key to doing that effectively for me is to give the reader clues or context so that they don't puzzle over something for very long until it is explained implicitly or explicitly.
Iron Gold can't help but have some contemporary resonance with its discussion of fierce political divides, refugees, foreign wars, terrorism, etc. How much impact does the atmosphere of our times have on your writing?
A fair bit. But I think it would be fair to say that almost any period in time has many of these same issues, and perhaps to a greater extent. The very last thing I want to do is tell the reader how to think about current issues like Trump, Syria, immigration. That would be presumptuous as all hell and would marginalize their own personal experience. I'd rather pose thematic questions in the context of my story and let the reader come up with their own answers. Those are the stories that last, and I hope mine does. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
A State of Freedom
by Neel Mukherjee
Neel Mukherjee's incredible third novel, A State of Freedom, presents a mosaic of life in modern-day India that is chaotic and tragic, but also inspiring.
The story follows a number of poor residents struggling to work their way up in a deeply stratified society. Two of the most compelling characters are domestic servants Renu and Milly, who both migrate from rural poverty to Mumbai and find work with well-to-do families. They live in the same seaside slum, folded into the city's infrastructure, almost out of sight from the luxury apartments nearby. Milly increases her workload and saves money to send her children to school. Mukherjee (The Lives of Others) has created a character of admirable tenacity and singular purpose, a woman who refuses to be broken by adversity. Similarly, Renu is also saving money to support higher education for her family. In the course of her work, she forms an improbable friendship with the son of a wealthy family. The son is a London resident who has returned to his native country to write a cookbook about Indian cuisine. He is shocked to find the slum in which both Renu and Milly live.
A State of Freedom is a complex, groundbreaking novel that blends mythic pathos with unflinching social realism. Mukherjee's India is a place beset by poverty, corruption, exploitation and gross inequity, but a place, nonetheless, in which the human spirit survives. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: This powerful, multilayered novel depicts the indignities and small victories of India's working poor.
Steal Away Home
by Billy Coffey
Owen Cross, from a small town in Shenandoah, Va., thought playing baseball was all he ever wanted. His passion was instilled by his father, Paul, whose big league aspirations were cut short by an injury. Paul--a high school janitor--encouraged Owen to master all aspects of the game. But when Owen crossed paths and fell in love with Michaela "Micky" Dullahan, a rebellious local girl "considered plain white trash," his life was upended. Micky's family was poor and struggling, her father a notorious alcoholic. Owen and Micky forged a bond they kept secret, lest they face familial and public disapproval. And the limits of their relationship became even more dramatically tested as Owen readied to leave for college on a baseball scholarship.
At the age of 29--in the 1990s, the heyday of Cal Ripkin and Derek Jeter--Owen is finally called up from the minor leagues to serve as a fill-in catcher for the Baltimore Orioles, playing against the New York Yankees in the Bronx. Over the course of that one special Major League baseball game, star-struck Owen closely re-examines his life and the emotionally charged circumstances that led to the pinnacle of his long-held dream.
Coffey (Some Small Magic) beautifully renders a thought-provoking story about the stony path toward spiritual enlightenment. As Owen experiences all nine innings of the big game, the idea of time and how it can lend perspective rises to the fore of this powerful, inspirational story centered on the bittersweet nature of grace and redemption. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A revelatory, spiritual novel about a young man whose big-league baseball dreams upend his life in extraordinary ways.
by Clarissa Harwood
Convictions clash with the passion of love in Impossible Saints, Clarissa Harwood's debut novel. In England in 1907 and 1908, an early suffragette and an Anglican priest must decide if their attraction can withstand the personal and social conflicts it generates.
When Lilia Brooke outgrows her teaching job in the Ingleford village school (teaching girls Latin was the last straw), she's promptly relocated to London, with the caveat that family friend and respectable cathedral vicar Paul Harris will look out for her. Feisty feminist Lilia and spiritual leader Paul are immediately attracted; they're intellectual equals and respect each other.
Lilia's job at a National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies school feeds her belief in women's rights, and she becomes a spokeswoman for girls' education reform and "direct action" for women. Paul is skeptical but open-minded until Lilia moves from the less-radical NUWSS to the militant Women's Social and Political Union, where she is injured in a violent protest at Parliament. Meanwhile, their friendship has evolved into a love that both acknowledge, but Lilia steadfastly refuses marriage.
While Lilia and Paul remain in a romantic standoff, her involvement in the suffrage fight grows more violent, and Paul struggles in his career goal to become cathedral dean. He risks censure for associating with a feminist, but eventually convinces Lilia to marry him--which she does on terms that maintain her independence. While bliss may yet be unattainable, both newlyweds sacrifice, compromise and remain true to themselves for a happy ending. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: This historical novel of the early British suffrage movement is told through the love story of an activist and an Anglican priest.
Mystery & Thriller
My Brother's Keeper
by Donna Malane
When Diane Rowe says, "Okay, it's official," and admits that she's a bad girlfriend, a bad dog owner and a bad "missing persons so-called expert," she's way off on only the third charge.
Set in New Zealand, My Brother's Keeper opens with ex-con Karen Mackie seeking Diane's help. Karen was locked up for seven years for the drowning death of her five-year-old son. She wants Diane to find her daughter, Sunny, who nearly drowned alongside her younger brother in the submerged car. Now 14, Sunny lives somewhere with her father and has had no contact with her mother since the arrest. Diane accepts the job even though Karen got her name from the woman incarcerated for murdering Diane's sister; work takes her mind off her troubles, which include, but aren't limited to, dealing with her ex-husband.
Diane finds Sunny easily enough in Auckland. She also finds the girl's petulant stepmother, a lavish lifestyle that the family business--a gym--couldn't possibly support and a seductive Irishman who sorely tempts Diane to cheat on her boyfriend. Donna Malane, author of a previous Diane Rowe novel that hasn't had a U.S. release, keeps her thriller's multiple strands aloft while teasing a thread about the repercussions of sacrifice. As protagonists go, Diane is appealingly dogged, amusingly self-deprecating and sympathetically flawed--occasionally too flawed, as when the reader is a step ahead of her. Nevertheless, My Brother's Keeper, shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, is a consuming two-sitting read. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and author
Discover: Donna Malane's second Diane Rowe mystery revives the plucky missing persons expert who's a little lost herself.
by Garry Disher
Garry Disher (Kickback; Whispering Death) skillfully showcases Mornington Peninsula, near Melbourne, Australia, in Signal Loss, the seventh in his Inspector Hal Challis series. Challis is investigating a pair of bodies in a burned-out Mercedes, as well as a meth dealer named Owen Valentine who seems to have gone missing. Meanwhile Sergeant Ellen Destry, Challis's significant other and the newly promoted head of the Sex Crimes Unit, is frantically trying to track down a serial rapist before he strikes again.
Challis's team ends up scouring the Peninsula's small towns and suspected meth factories in search of Valentine, especially after they discover that his stepdaughter is also missing. And the pair of bodies leads in a compelling direction when a rifle in the backseat is identified.
Things get more complicated for both Destry and Challis when the big guns from Melbourne's drug squad show up, muscling in on their respective investigations. But the police officers from all three teams will have to work together in order to quell the chaos breaking out across the Peninsula.
With striking imagery and nuanced characters, Signal Loss is a fast-paced thriller. Disher's vivid prose captures small-town Australia, and he skillfully interweaves three police investigations into an intriguing whole. The setting may be unfamiliar for most American readers, but they are sure to recognize the excellence of the mystery. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson
Discover: This atmospheric thriller set in Australia focuses on a serial rapist, a missing meth dealer and two dead bodies.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Nora Roberts
A viral plague strikes Earth, killing billions of people. Those left are thrust into a chaotic world where the normal conventions of life--electricity, running water, food production, television and the Internet--have ceased, leaving the survivors to fend for themselves. Some lean toward the dark side, letting loose the evil that's lurked inside them, joining groups of Raiders and Purity Warriors. Others discover they are filled with light and gifted with magical powers that they must learn to use if they hope to live another day; their kind, called The Uncanny, includes fairies, elves, witches and shape-shifters. Still others remain simply human, but they, too, gravitate toward good or evil. All struggle to find balance in this new world where most have lost loved ones.
Nora Roberts, famous for her romance novels, enters a new writing genre with Year One. With this post-apocalyptic fantasy, she focuses on one band of survivors as she deftly builds her post-Doom world, giving readers a rich view of the gradual destruction dealt to the world's infrastructures and humanity. She includes the graphic and gory results of the twisted Raiders, as well as bits of satisfying romance from The Uncanny. An abrupt turn near the end leaves the door open for book two. Despite some disorienting leaps in point of view, Roberts has written an entertaining and enjoyable fantasy. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: Survivors of a viral plague are divided into good and evil as they learn to live all over again.
Biography & Memoir
Swords in the Hands of Children: Reflections of an American Revolutionary
by Jonathan Lerner
Jonathan Lerner (Alex Underground) was 20 in 1968, "a year of such cascading disaster that it felt to many people, including me, that there could be no rescuing the broken promises of American Democracy." Though he has long since moved on, recent political events in the U.S. stirred him to revisit the radical militancy of his youth in the Weather Underground Organization. The result is this memoir: Swords in the Hands of Children.
A white middle-class suburban kid, Lerner began his activism as a teenager inspired by the civil rights movement. He dropped out of college to become a full-time activist with Students for a Democratic Society, partly motivated by his desire to "humanize" the world. He was also a closeted gay man, and he connects his private self-criticism and self-deception with his willingness to become involved in the Weather Underground. "The breaking down of self-esteem, the abdication of critical judgment, the omnipotent leadership, the not-quite-free free love, the ever-present threat of banishment: We didn't identify our organization as a cult, but I guess people in cults usually don't."
Members romanticized violent resistance and embraced an isolating self-righteousness. They attempted to partner with the Black Panthers, in a "toxic ecosystem of sycophancy, bullying, degraded principle, and madness." He was not involved in the infamous bombings, "just because I was never asked." Lerner's story of emotional and moral development in this environment is intimate. It is also a broad consideration of how radical ideas can seduce apparently nice, normal, quiet people into ideologically driven terrorism. --Sara Catterall
Discover: In this memoir, a past member of the Weather Underground examines how a desire to save the world can morph into a drive to burn it down.
Bullets into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence
by Brian Clements , Alexandra Teague , Dean Rader, editors
In the midst of an epidemic of violence in the United States, editors Brian Clements, Alexandra Teague and Dean Rader have brought together poets, politicians, survivors and activists to proclaim a crucial need for gun control. Contributor Jessica Pollock Mindich, president of the Caliber Foundation, explains, "Art creates change. It has the power to heal, inspire, teach, and unite."
Bullets into Bells offers a stunning array of such art, focusing on myriad tragedies occurring at the end of a gun barrel. Mass shootings, gang murders, domestic violence, accidents, racially motivated crimes--the intensity of the problem glares back through the book's 54 poems, crafted with forceful imagery and haunting words. Richard Blanco writes in "One Pulse--One Poem," "bullets, bodies, death--the vocabulary/ of violence raging in our minds, but still mute, choked/ in our throats."
While readers process each poem, so does an individual touched by the destructive nature of guns, including a U.S. senator, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and John Grauwiler, co-founder of Gays Against Guns--who admits, "As a teacher, the Sandy Hook massacre shook my faith in humanity. As a person of color, the Charleston shooting at the Mother Emmanuel Church crushed my soul. As a gay man, Orlando broke my heart." But he's also able to find hope, and says, "Activism is what love looks like in public."
Passionate, thoughtful, informed and persuasive, this poetry collection is art and activism in its rawest form. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: A compelling combination of poetry and prose reflect the epidemic of gun violence and make the case for increased gun control in the United States.
Essays & Criticism
Why Comics: From Underground to Everywhere
by Hillary Chute
Comic book histories are rife with the origin stories of famous superheroes, but rare is the history of underground comics--comix--a subject that has found more coverage in documentaries and independent film. Why Comics? is Hillary Chute's compelling and all-inclusive examination of underground comics artists and how their work has entered into the mainstream as serious literature and social commentary.
Chute (Graphic Women) arranges her discussion of these artists in 10 carefully researched and thematically arranged chapters. She shows how their visual and narrative techniques have affected mainstream comics and influenced discussions of politics, race, war, sexuality, feminism and illnesses both mental and physical. Chute devotes significant real estate to those comix voices who brought sophistication to the medium and broadened its readership: Robert Crumb (Zap), Art Spiegelman (Maus), Justin Green (Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary), Lynda Barry (One Hundred Demons), Chris Ware (Building Stories) and Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez (Love and Rockets).
While Chute applies considerable scholarship to her coverage of these artists, the discussion never devolves into pure academia. She invites readers to uncover these treasures and read them for artistic merit as well as cultural and genre-bending impacts--comic fan to comic fan. "It's the connection of intimate parts to one another--one mark to another mark, panels to other panels, words to images--that makes up the stuff of comics," writes Chute.
Why Comics? is a delightful tour de force that shares the depth of Chute's love for the medium and reveals why it continues to grow in literary and academic stature. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: Hillary Chute's carefully researched history of underground comics explains how the artists have changed the medium and influenced the mainstream.
Cuba on the Verge: 12 Writers on Continuity and Change in Havana and Across the Country
by Leila Guerriero, editor
"Sometimes one doesn't leave to go outside, but to go inside," writes Carlos Manuel Álvarez in the essay that opens Leila Guerriero's anthology Cuba on the Verge: 12 Writers on Continuity and Change in Havana and Across the Country. In the collection, Argentine journalist and author Guerriero (A Simple Story) compiles perspectives of both insiders and outsiders on the ideologies and idiosyncrasies of modern-day Cuba.
Guerriero offers a collage of viewpoints; journalists, authors, actors and artists construct a spirited, spiritual portrait of a country in constant flux. The essayists write of passion, progress, pain and poverty. They consider love of country and love of baseball. They meditate on the famous Tropicana and the dancers who graced its stage, and the taxi drivers and sex workers ubiquitous on Havana's streets. They reckon with the choice to stay or go. They crack jokes, get personal and get political--all in different, but meaningfully wrought, ways.
Views on Fidel Castro vary. The shifting relationship between Cuba and the United States figures largely in the conversation; some laud what they see as progress, while others view the same developments with ambivalence or even disgust.
Guerriero acknowledges the contradictions and themes that arise throughout, as well as the impossibility of comprehensively explaining what "Cuba" is or was or means. Still, her anthology admirably weaves the common and uncommon threads of a culture's fabric into a complex whole, cohesive but complicated, replete with beautiful detail. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: This rich collection of essays explores the fascinating, multifaceted culture of Cuba, its traditions and the evolution of la revolución.
Children's & Young Adult
Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble
by Anna Meriano , illust. by Mirelle Ortega
"What's the point of having magic if you can't use it to fix things?" Eleven-year-old Leo Logroño has spent her life trying to catch up to her four older sisters. Her family's bakery, Amor y Azúcar Panadería (Love and Sugar Bakery), has hosted the local Día de los Muertos festival "for as long as there had been a Rose Hill, Texas, to celebrate it," but, much to Leo's chagrin, she will once again be left out of prepping for the festivities. This year's festival has a tent she's forbidden to enter and whispers in Spanish that everyone knows she doesn't understand. Determined to uncover the secrets and not be left out any longer, Leo goes snooping and discovers that the women in her family are all brujas (witches). Their magic "comes from the magic of sweetness; sweetness from love and sweetness from sugar" and training begins when a Logroño girl turns 15. But then Leo's best friend gets in trouble. Leo finds the family recipe/spell book and sets out to use magic to save the day.
First in a promising new series, A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano is refreshingly fantastical, marrying the realistic lives of Leo's Texan ,Mexican-American family with "love and sweetness"-based witchcraft. Leo's lack of formal training results in some hilarious--and regrettable--high jinks, as the rules of magic slowly unfold. Inspired readers can even try their hand at a few of the Logroños' (magical) recipes scattered (in both Spanish and English) throughout. While the root of the Logroño family's magic is all the same, each sister's distinct power makes her a formidable force on her own. Full of spirit and humor, A Dash of Trouble truly is love, sugar and magic. --Kyla Paterno, former children's and YA book buyer
Discover: Eleven-year-old Leo discovers she comes from a line of brujas (witches) and tries to learn magic on her own.
Welcome to Country: A Traditional Aboriginal Ceremony
by Aunty Joy Murphy , illust. by Lisa Kennedy
In a front-of-book note, author and senior Aboriginal elder Aunty Joy Murphy explains, "The Wurundjeri Wominjeka (welcome) ceremony is a cultural greeting by the Elders (liwiki), who give permission for yannabil (visitors) to enter onto their traditional lands."
Talk about a warm welcome: "We invite you to take a leaf from the branches of the white river gum," begins the text on a spread honoring guests; four hands reach for offerings on a plate of food. On another spread, "We thank you, for you have now joined with us to pay respect to the spirit of our ancestors who have nurtured this land for thousands of years" flanks an illustration showing diaphanous people and birds flying before concentric earth-toned circles that seem to represent the planet. In the book's concluding spread--"Wominjeka Wurundjeri balluk yearmenn koondee bik. Welcome to the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people. Welcome to Country"--two dozen individuals stand in a line facing the reader in an unmistakable gesture of acceptance.
Kids may pick up Welcome to Country: A Traditional Aboriginal Ceremony expecting something less abstract, but they won't be disappointed. Murphy's book-length meditation invoking Wurundjeri customs and values is beguiling, and Lisa Kennedy's acrylic paintings--some so multilayered that they could pass for embroidered tapestries--are dazzlers. That Kennedy depicts the Wurundjeri people with their eyes closed works with Murphy's first-person-plural narration to suggest a group prayer of benediction. While Welcome to Country uses the distinctive voice of the Wurundjeri of Australia, it speaks to everyone. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: In this picture book, the ceremonial welcome of Australia's Wurundjeri people reads like an illustrated prayer.
Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race
by Margot Lee Shetterly , Winifred Conkling , illust. by Laura Freeman
Margot Lee Shetterly's bestselling adult book, Hidden Figures, is made accessible to young readers in this elegantly illustrated picture book.
In 1943, "Dorothy Vaughan wanted to serve her country by working for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.... [S]ome people thought it would be impossible for her to get a job as a computer" because she was black. "But Dorothy didn't think it was impossible. She was good at math. Really good." In 1951, "Mary Jackson got a job as a computer at Langley," the agency's laboratory. Mary "wanted to become an engineer" and was also told it was "impossible" due to her race. "But Mary was good at math. Really good. And she refused to give up." In 1953, Katherine Johnson, "on a team that tested actual planes while they were flying in the air," wanted to "help the group prepare its research reports." Despite repeatedly being told no by her white, male supervisor, Katherine knew she "was good at math. Really good. And because she fought... she became the first woman in her group to sign her name to one of the group's reports." In 1967, Christine Darden wanted to become an engineer, "and thanks to Dorothy, Mary, and Katherine, she knew it was possible."
In Shetterly and Winifred Conkling's approachable text, the reader is introduced to these four hidden figures and given a broad look at the United States' history of segregation and the fight for civil rights. Laura Freeman's illustrations, whether depicting human figures or the vast expanse of space, are striking, featuring bold, fully saturated colors. Hidden Figures is a young readers' edition that feels as fresh as the original with a timeline, author's note and a "Meet the Computers" section to provide more information for those who want to go deeper. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A delightful and informative young readers' edition of Margot Lee Shetterly's bestselling Hidden Figures.