From the Shelf
Solving Mysteries from the Head and the Heart
Female sleuths have been my heroes since childhood, from Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden to Miss Marple and Harriet Vane. But my favorite female investigators have an extra dimension: their complex, layered backgrounds influence their approaches to the cases they take.
Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs starts out as a scullery maid, but thanks to a wealthy patron, she attends university, then works as a battlefield nurse before hanging out her shingle as a private investigator. Her eponymous first adventure (Soho Crime, $16.95) lays out her background and her first few cases, and sets up a richly drawn, insightful historical series. My favorite installments illuminate aspects of Maisie's personal life, such as A Dangerous Place (HarperPerennial, $15.99), which follows her to Gibraltar and Spain following a great loss.
Orphaned, bookish and prickly, Mary Russell literally stumbles over Sherlock Holmes while walking on the Sussex Downs. The great detective takes her on as his protegeé in Laurie R. King's The Beekeeper's Apprentice (Picador, $18), and they eventually become full partners in crime-solving and life. But Mary resolutely pursues her own scholarly interests at Oxford, which leads her to a mystery that quickly goes beyond the academic in A Letter of Mary (Picador, $18). Russell's complicated history, academic prowess and sharp wit make her a more-than-worthy compatriot for Holmes.
Arriving in Millers Kill, N.Y., the newly ordained Reverend Clare Fergusson, carrying the scars of her army career, must prove she's a capable priest (In the Bleak Midwinter, Minotaur, $17.99). But as Clare is drawn into several local mysteries and a growing friendship with the married police chief, Russ Van Alstyne, things get messy. Julia Spencer-Fleming's gripping series ably explores Clare's grit, compassion and her complex bond with Russ. You have just enough time to get up to speed before Hid from Our Eyes, the long-anticipated ninth installment, comes out in April; I can't wait to see where Clare's unusual talents take her next. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
In this Issue...
by Nick Petrie
Racing against time, the authorities and the unforgiving climate of Iceland, former Marine Peter Ash must find a father and son on the run in a powerfully wrought addition to the series.
by Vikram Paralkar
A story of magical realism set in rural India that boldly challenges ideas about death and addresses the soul-crushing corruption endemic in that country.
by Kacen Callender
Kacen Callender's second middle-grade novel deftly confronts racism and homophobia as a black teen struggles to find "a new normal" after the sudden death of his brother.
Review by Subjects:
From Pages Bookshop
08/11/2020 - 6:00PMThis month we are reading "Orphan Train" by novelist Christina Baker. Whether you have just started the book or finished it months ago, all are welcome to come and join our book club, we would love to have you! This book club is a virtual book club. You can join it here or copying the link into your browser: https://meet.google.com/qts-qdtc-ewz This book club is free and open to the public. Purchase your copy at Pages and get 15% off. This book club meets the first Tuesday of every...
08/13/2020 - 6:30PMPages Bookshop and WDET are excited to present a live conversation with author and radio broadcast host John Moe to discuss his new book "The Hilarious World of Depression." John will be joined in conversation by the host of WDET's CultureShift, Amanda LeClaire. All ticket sales from this event will go towards WDET's fundraiser to raise 2 million dollars before September 30th. To learn more about their fundraiser please visit WDET's website. Tickets are available at different amounts in...
08/18/2020 - 6:30PMLooking for something to help you get through this long, hot summer? We have just the thing! Join us for an evening of poetry with Detroit writer and poet, Nandi Comer. Nandi's latest book of poetry, Tapping Out came out this past May and since we couldn't celebrate with her at Pages, we've decided to take the celebratory reading to a virtual realm. You can register for this event here. You can buy Nandi's book of poetry here. About Taping Out The relentless motions...
08/25/2020 - 6:30PMWe are beyond excited to virtually host poet francine j harris and debut novelist, Raven Leilani for their newest books "Here is the Sweet Hand and "Luster." Both francine and Raven's books come out on August 4, 2020! We cannot wait to hear what these incredible writers have to say to each other and learn more about their books and what it's like to have them come out now. This conversation with be hosted on Crowdcast. You can register for the event here. You can...
Valentine's Day Cards Through the Years
Blast from the past: Mental Floss shared "31 Valentine's Day cards through the years."
"Hansel and Gretel: new looks at an old tale" were offered by the New York Public Library.
Merriam-Webster shared "10 words for the angry and upset."
Author Sarah Blake chose her "top 10 tales about the rich" for the Guardian.
Bookniture's Wisdom Tree bookcase "is a solution to keep your books neat and tidy," Bookshelf noted.
Rediscover: The Boys of SummerThe timing of this sad tribute seems appropriate: this week marks the unofficial start of baseball season as Major League pitchers and catchers report for spring training. Last week, Roger Kahn, author of one of baseball's best-known books, The Boys of Summer (1972), died at age 92. As a young reporter for the New York Herald Tribune, Kahn covered Brooklyn Dodgers games during the 1952-53 seasons. The Boys of Summer chronicles Kahn's time with the team, the run-up to the Dodgers' 1955 World Series win and beyond, including later lives of the players. The book is as much memoir as sports history, focusing on Kahn's relationship with his father and their shared enthusiasm for the Dodgers. In 2002, Sports Illustrated ranked The Boys of Summer number two on "The Top 100 Sports Books of All Time." It has sold three million copies over the course of 90 printings.
Kahn was also the author of A Season in the Sun (1977), Joe & Marilyn: A Memory of Love (1986), The Era: 1947-1957, When the Yankees, the Giants, and the Dodgers Ruled the World (1993), A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and The Roaring Twenties (1999), Men: Reggie Jackson, George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, and the Yankees' Miraculous Finish in 1978 (2002), Into My Own: The Remarkable People and Events That Shaped a Life (2006) and Rickey & Robinson: The True, Untold Story of the Integration of Baseball (2014). The Boys of Summer was last published in 2006 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics ($17.99, 9780060883966). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Reading with... Nicolette Polek
|photo: Matthew Childers|
Nicolette Polek is the author of Imaginary Museums: Stories (Soft Skull Press). She is a recipient of a 2019 Rona Jaffe Writers' Award, and has been published in Chicago Quarterly Review, New York Tyrant, Hobart, Fanzine and elsewhere. She grew up in northeastern Ohio and lives in Maryland, where she is working on her first novel.
On your nightstand now:
The Collections of Barbara Bloom; Jana Beňová's Honeymoon, which I hope will get translated into English and whose book Seeing People Off I recommend; Megan Boyle's LIVEBLOG; Kathryn Scanlan's forthcoming collection The Dominant Animal; and the Bible.
Favorite books when you were a child:
A Mango-Shaped Space, about a 13-year-old who finds out she has synesthesia. I made this title into my first e-mail address. Also, Regarding the Fountain and the rest of Kate Klise's books, told in memos, letters and other pieces of evidence. I enjoyed books that strung together found objects to make a story, like it was a pasta necklace. I liked field guides on birds and wildflowers.
Top five authors:
This changes, but writers I love to return to are Joy Williams, Lydia Davis, Dorthe Nors, Clarice Lispector and Chelsey Minnis.
Book you've faked reading:
All the President's Men, assigned in high school. There was a year that I didn't do much homework and started watching movies. I spent a lot of time sitting by Lake Erie, reading like, Richard Brautigan, and later Candide, which I also may have faked reading.
Books in your bag:
The Missing Pieces by Henri Lefebvre, which is a winding catalogue of unfinished, destroyed, lost and erased work throughout history, and These Possible Lives by Fleur Jaeggy, a book of three micro-biographies of Thomas De Quincey, John Keats and Marcel Schwob.
Books you've bought for the cover:
The Fitzcarraldo Editions copy of John Keene's Counternarratives. The first edition copy and the Vintage Contemporaries edition of Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine. NYRB books that I find at book sales.
Book you hid from your parents:
I still shouldn't say.
Books that changed your life:
Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller made me love reading again; a book that follows a group of students in Communist Romania. It's poetic and political, challenging and filled with beauty.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Stern showed me about being playful with form. It was published in 1759, but still, there's a torn-out chapter, a blank page, a blackened page, a marbled page that at the time would have been different in every copy. There is a squiggle in the middle of a paragraph to show the way a man waves a stick in the air.
Books you most want to read again for the first time:
Us by Michael Kimball. Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante, a book that put me in so much despair that I read it in one sitting without getting up to turn on the light after the sun set. It would be cool to read The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald for the first time while completing his walking tour of Suffolk.
by Vikram Paralkar
Night Theater by Vikram Paralkar is set in an Indian village medical clinic and transpires over the course of one fateful night. With an ethereal twist, as well as subtle humor, it dismantles the stories people might tell themselves about the great beyond. Physician and novelist Paralkar (The Afflictions) wants to make sure readers don't get too comfortable about what awaits them after death.
The clinic sits atop a hillock while the village sprawls below, symbolic of the high pedestal doctors are often placed upon, especially in places where medical care is scarce and the need is great. The clinic is run by an overworked, nameless surgeon and an uneducated woman referred to as "the pharmacist." She is responsible for jobs like disinfecting the poorly lit operating room, making the doctor's lunch and administering the insufficient medical rations the clinic receives from crooked officials in the city. The stink of bureaucratic corruption is a recurring theme.
The other actors in this spare, powerful story are a ghostly family who have suffered fatal stab wounds. They return from the afterlife with one more chance on Earth. Such is the challenge they present to the horrified surgeon: if he can repair their wounds before daybreak, then they will be allowed to stay among the living.
Paralkar's remarkable first novel will intrigue readers of thrillers and ghost stories alike, exploring as it does a macabre premise with spiritual dimensions as well as a host of terrifying earthly dilemmas facing the poor surgeon. Night Theater unfolds in a meditative, trancelike fashion, culminating in an act of divine grace that will take readers' breath away. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer
Discover: A story of magical realism set in rural India that boldly challenges ideas about death and addresses the soul-crushing corruption endemic in that country.
by Lidia Yuknavitch
Lidia Yuknavitch (The Book of Joan; The Chronology of Water) evokes a range of strong and subtle emotions with Verge: Stories, a collection dealing with "the spaces between things." These stories are shocking, stark, pulsing; their power lies in their realism, even when the tone turns dreamy and approaches magical realism. Yuknavitch's clear voice, with its unflinching demand that her readers recognize pain as well as beauty, is as precise and distinctive as ever.
The earthshaking opening story, "The Pull," features a swimmer whose "shoulders ache from not swimming" in wartime, one of two sisters "twinning themselves alive." It feels as if set in a world far from the average everyday--until the final, heart-dropping line. Verge most frequently features female characters, but some male, including a couple of tender stories starring gay men. There are traumas--violent, sexual, emotional--and revenge, as well as quiet recoveries and acts of grace and mercy.
Other stories deal with children employed as black-market organ runners; men working at a fish processing plant in Seattle; a man seeking recovery both physical and psychological in an eye-opening cross-country drive. In "Shooting," a woman's want feels "like a mouth salivating... like the weight of an arm. Like the next sentence."
Disturbing and essential, these stories emphasize the forgotten, the pushed aside, the marginalized. Yuknavitch's storytelling is urgent, raw and inspired, and if Verge is a love letter to those on the edge, it is equally important for all of us. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: These dark stories about the disregarded misfits of the world force readers to look at "the in-between of things" and see beauty there, too.
by Melissa Anne Peterson
Melissa Anne Peterson makes her fiction debut with the dark and explosive Vera Violet. The novel's namesake character hails from a rural and hardscrabble small-town named David in rainy Washington State. The narrative follows Vera as she flees to St. Louis and tries to establish a new life working in an urban school. Her life in David is revealed in flashbacks. The narrative slowly circles a series of harrowing crimes and a cast of scrappy, small-town characters, including Vera's love, Jimmy James Blood. The characters get involved in the crystal meth trade with devastating consequences.
Peterson, who grew up in rural Washington, writes visceral and darkly poetic prose. She first entices readers with a reference to a lurid crime and a kind of neo-noir appeal: dark, foreboding landscapes, a rusty white Ford and a .40 caliber handgun. What Vera is fleeing from isn't just an isolated crime, but rather an entire way of life. She contrasts small-town life with her new life in St. Louis. Rather than being an ideal refuge, the city is rife with poverty and inequality but structured differently from her hometown. In the city, she notices economic stratification along lines of race and other factors. In this way, Peterson builds a class consciousness between poor rural whites and disenfranchised people of color living in urban areas.
Peterson brings life to a host of memorable characters whose struggles are seared into readers' brains. Vera Violet announces the arrival of a new writer who is comfortable with her craft and knows how to relay a story in vivid and affecting detail. Vera Violet packs a powerful punch. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: This dark and gritty debut novel focuses on a group of small-town youths who battle against rural poverty.
St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets
by Annie England Noblin
In one day, 36-year-old Seattle sportswriter Maeve "Mae" Stephens is laid off from her newspaper job, learns that her boyfriend (a left fielder for the Mariners) is cheating on her, and gets mugged for $32 in her wallet. No sooner does down-on-her-luck Mae move in with her parents (who lovingly adopted her as a baby) when she receives a phone call informing her that her birth mother, Annabelle, has died in a freak accident. An old friend of Annabelle invites Mae to attend the funeral in the small town of Timber Creek.
For years, Mae wrote Annabelle letters, which were returned to her unread. But with life at a standstill, Mae sets off for Timber Creek and learns she is the beneficiary of Annabelle's worldly possessions, including her house, an old VW and a moody cat. When a wayward bulldog is found chained to the front porch, Mae extends her stay. She's befriended by curious townsfolk, including a handsome but blocked writer and a group of women as tight-knit as the colorful sweaters they craft to keep local animals warm. Is there more than meets the eye to the idyllic town--and to the story of Annabelle's life?
As Mae learns more about the woman who gave her up and why, she also discovers herself--who she is and what she wants out of life. Annie England Noblin (The Sisters Hemingway, Pupcakes) spins a poignant, heartwarming story about secrets and lies, strangers and lovers. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A colorful story about a washed-up writer whose life changes after inheriting her birth-mother's estate--and her memories.
by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
The Mercies is a dread-soaked retelling of real events. Kiran Millwood Hargrave (The Girl of Ink and Stars) makes her adult debut with a historical novel based on calamitous events at the far-flung town of Vardø in northern Norway. In 1617, a storm surprises 40 fishermen at sea, killing the majority of the town's male population. The women are left to fend for themselves, the harshness of their situation demanding that they put aside their grief and fulfill roles typically reserved for men if they want to survive.
One protagonist is Maren, a young woman who loses as much as anyone else in the storm: a brother, father and her husband-to-be. When the town divides after the storm, she finds herself drawn to Kirsten, who confidently flouts gender norms. The town's remoteness has offered a degree of freedom to the women there, a freedom that will soon be challenged by the arrival of commissioner--and witch-hunter--Absalom Cornet. His arrival represents an assertion of state and church authority over what Absalom sees as a wild, devilish place.
Absalom brings his new wife, Ursa, who is unprepared for the harshness of Vardø. The Mercies is, in part, about how repression and power imbalances function at different levels. Ursa's experience of marriage is a painful one, but she finds small pockets of freedom where she can, including in an increasingly intimate relationship with Maren. For all the novel's outer grimness, it finds a warm heart in the relationship between Maren and Ursa. By the novel's bloody end, they are the only spark of hope left. --Hank Stephenson, manuscript reader, the Sun magazine
Discover: The Mercies draws from an extraordinary incident in 1617, when almost the entire male population of a tiny Norwegian town was killed, to meditate on patriarchy, oppression and love.
Mystery & Thriller
The Wild One
by Nick Petrie
Nick Petrie's The Wild One is the thrilling fifth novel in the Peter Ash series about a wandering Marine veteran of the Iraq War seeking to calm his PTSD demons by doing some good in the world.
On his way to finding some peace in California's Death Valley, Peter gets a call from Tom Wetzel, a former Marine turned corporate fixer, who begs Peter to help a desperate client named Catherine Price. Catherine's eight-year-old grandson, Óskar, has been taken to Iceland by his father, Erik, after Erik was accused of killing Catherine's daughter, and Catherine fears for Óskar's life. She'll finance whatever Peter needs to get the boy back.
In spite of his mental health concerns, Peter agrees to fly to Iceland to look for Óskar. But as soon as he lands, he's met by customs officials and a member of the U.S. Embassy. They tell Peter he has 48 hours to leave the country or be taken into custody--and they won't explain why. With the police, embassy officials and an intensely fierce storm nipping at his heels, Peter races against time, freezing temperatures and impassable terrain to rescue the boy.
According to the author's note, Petrie performed exhaustive research on Iceland to give readers a nail-biting, immersive experience. The storms Peter encounters are bone-chilling in ferocity. The fight scenes are brutal hand-to-hand battles, with huge Nordic locals throwing Peter around like a rag doll. But he gains help from the unlikeliest of sources to unravel this intensely paced mystery of what made Erik and Óskar run. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer
Discover: Racing against time, the authorities and the unforgiving climate of Iceland, former Marine Peter Ash must find a father and son on the run in a powerfully wrought addition to the series.
The Wife and the Widow
by Christian White
In this gripping thriller, John Keddie's wife and daughter are left waiting and confused after his flight home to Melbourne has disembarked and there's no sign of him. Calls to John's office reveal he didn't attend a palliative care conference in London. In fact, John also concealed from Kate that he left Trinity Health's employ three months previously, after the death of an elderly patient hit him particularly hard.
Hours away, on Belport Island, Abby Gilpin, her property caretaker husband, Ray, and their two teens are struggling through the tourist off-season. Abby doesn't think much of it when she finds Ray's work boots and clothes in the trash and she simply moves them to the salvation bin. But Ray's whereabouts have been a bit mysterious lately, and Abby recently heard him crying in the bathroom.
Kate and Abby's individual points of view begin to merge after Kate receives a call that an alarm has been triggered at the Keddie holiday home on Belport and a body is found at the island's ferry terminal. Kate and her father-in-law head to investigate, putting all the story's principals on the island, but Australian author Christian White has plenty of clues to toss into the mix before the true connections between The Wife and the Widow are revealed.
White, Victorian Premier's Literary Award winner for The Nowhere Child, maintains a steady flow even as he nimbly uses history and secondary characters to create multiple potential scenarios. Misdirects and a terrific reveal midway through the novel add to the pleasure of White's second standalone thriller.--Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: Two women must unravel their husbands' secrets to determine their connections to an island's violent past.
Food & Wine
Rage Baking: The Transformative Power of Flour, Fury and Women's Voices: A Cookbook with More than 50 Recipes
by Kathy Gunst , Katherine Alford , Jerrelle Guy, photographer
Both timeless and also a direct response to the war on American women's civil liberties and body autonomy of the late 2010s, Rage Baking: The Transformative Power of Flour, Fury and Women's Voices is a manifesto for channeling anger into positive action.
"This is not a book telling women that if they get back into the kitchen and start baking, their rage will be sedated and all will be well," writes James Beard Award-winning co-author Kathy Gunst (Soup Swap). "This is a book about women's voices, women's recipes, women in community with one another."
The community of women Gunst and co-author Katherine Alford (Food Network) got to participate is impressive. Contributors include all-star chefs and restaurant owners, cookbook authors and food writers, Emmy-winning musicians and documentary filmmakers, television hosts and writers. Together, they have produced a distinct combination of more than 50 recipes. From around the world: Arabic baklawa, Baton Rouge lemon bars, Indian thepla, Jewish challah, Swedish visiting cake, bizcocho de ron (Mami's rum cake). For resistance: Impeachment Upside-Down Cake, Drop Dead! Pecan Spice Cookies, Rainbow Cookies, Power Muffs, (Don't Call Me) Honey Cakes. All these are augmented with essays, personal stories, poetry, in-depth interviews and baking tips.
"Here's the bad news, America," writes Tess Rafferty in "The Revolution Will Be Catered," "you've woken a white-hot atomic geyser of rage in women. Here's the good news: we've brought cookies."
In short, a passion for baking + activism = rage baking. A percentage of book sale proceeds goes to EMILY's List, an organization dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women. --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co., Beaver Dam, Wis.
Discover: A collection of more than 50 sweet recipes, personal essays and inspiring interviews to fuel women's fury and passion for activism in the 21st century.
How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish
by Ilan Stavans , Josh Lambert, editors
"The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men/ Gang aft agley," wrote Robert Burns; in Yiddish, "Der mentsh trakht un got lakht" translates to "Man plans and God laughs." While "To a Mouse" may not have been quoting Yiddish exactly, as an immigrant culture, Yiddish has far-reaching influences throughout Europe, the Americas and beyond. Published in partnership with the Yiddish Book Center to commemorate the organization's 40th anniversary, How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish traces the historical impact of Yiddish and celebrates its vibrant relevancy today.
Editors and scholars Ilan Stavans and Josh Lambert organize the volume into six sections (Politics and Possibility; The Mother Tongue Remixed; Eat, Enjoy, and Forget; American Commemoration; Oy, the Children!; and The Other Americas) and present a veritable who's who of Yiddishists who contribute essays, memoir and fiction (Isaac Bashevis Singer, Michael Chabon, Grace Paley); plays (Moyshe Nadir); poetry (Allen Ginsberg); recipes (Procter & Gamble); songs (Sophie Tucker); cartoons (Liana Finck); oral histories (Fyvush Finkel, Walter Matthau, Alan Alda); and more. There are works in translation--as their creators wrote in either their native tongue (from Belarus, Ukraine, Argentina, etc.), Yiddish, or both--with full credit given to the translators (living in Scotland, Canada, the U.S., etc.), showcasing the breadth and depth of Yiddish reach.
Alan Alda provides a fitting description of this momentous anthology in the included piece "Yiddish Hollywood," in which he says, "[Yiddish stories] are an expression of the character of the Jewish people. They have an acute sense of humor which they're able to express even in the midst of their deepest suffering." Though Alda is not Jewish, his insight proves everyone can appreciate Yiddish's cultural legacy and current importance. --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co., Beaver Dam, Wis.
Discover: These essays, fiction, plays, poetry, cartoons and more celebrate Yiddish culture, immigrant history and current relevancy.
Olympic Pride, American Prejudice: The Untold Story of 18 African Americans Who Defied Jim Crow and Adolf Hitler to Compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics
by Deborah Riley Draper , Blair Underwood , Travis Thrasher
Jesse Owens's performance on the track at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is now legendary, but lesser known are the stories of the other 17 black athletes from the U.S. who competed at those games. The 16 men and two women whom the Nazi newspapers referred to as America's "black auxiliary" had a far-reaching impact on the face of international sports, but the mainstream of history forgot most of them.
In Olympic Pride, American Prejudice, Deborah Riley Draper, Blair Underwood and Travis Thrasher focus on five track athletes--Tidye Pickett, Louise Stokes, Mack Robinson, Archie Williams and Ralph Metcalfe. This history showcases their dual awareness, both as athletes competing against each other and, perhaps more importantly, as black athletes representing a country that did not fully consider them human and facing down white supremacy globally. They knew that no amount of medals won abroad would make the segregation waiting for them at home disappear. The book also demonstrates how different each of their experiences of overcoming the odds was. Particularly in the case of the women, being better than the rest of the field was not always enough in the face of prejudice. Nevertheless, even when robbed of their chances to compete, their presence was enough to push back against racism and indicate that times would eventually change.
In the words of Tidye Pickett, "Politics and sports, sports and politics, they've always gone together." Ultimately this powerful volume reminds readers how true that statement is. By reflecting on this pivotal point in history, it helps to show how much progress is yet to be made. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer
Discover: Fans of Daniel James Brown's The Boys in the Boat will appreciate this history of 18 black athletes who challenged white supremacy at the 1936 Berlin Olympics while facing prejudice at home.
Children's & Young Adult
King and the Dragonflies
by Kacen Callender
Kacen Callender's second middle-grade title, King and the Dragonflies, deftly treads familiar, challenging territory--race, sexual identity, death--again in a sensitive and age-appropriate manner.
Kingston Reginald James hates his name. His parents' regal choice was deliberate, "so I'd remember... that I've got ancestors who used to rule their own empires before they were stolen away." King doesn't feel like royalty, though. These days, he's mostly just scared. Older brother Khalid would say, "If you're always too busy hiding, then you're not really living, are you?" But Khalid is dead at only 16, and the family, perhaps King most of all, is struggling to move on. Khalid is buried, but King knows he's just swapped his human form for that of a dragonfly.
King is also afraid to admit how much he misses his friend Sandy, with whom he severed his relationship after Sandy told King he was gay; Khalid overheard Sandy's confession and warned King to stay away because "Black people aren't allowed to be gay." Besides, even if Sandy is nothing like his family, everyone knows they've got multigenerational connections to the KKK.
In conflating Sandy's family's hateful background with King's own rejection of homosexuality, Callender (Hurricane Child) is especially effective at exposing the many ways we unfairly dismiss, reject and harm one another. "You think my granddad is bad because he was a racist.... You're doing the same. Exact. Thing," Sandy schools King about his internalized anti-gay fears. Beyond the robust roster of crucial issues (unpunished murder, racist law enforcement, child abuse, runaways), Callender's King and the Dragonflies is ultimately a resonating family story of tragic loss, shattering consequences and finding "a new normal" enabled by unconditional love. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Kacen Callender's second middle-grade novel deftly confronts racism and homophobia as a black teen struggles to find "a new normal" after the sudden death of his brother.
Give Us the Vote!: Over 200 Years of Fighting for the Ballot
by Susan Goldman Rubin
The history of voting rights in the United States has been one of constant struggle for many. Susan Goldman Rubin (Maya Lin) outlines this tumultuous evolution in a concise account that includes both those who fought heroically for a voice in their government and those who worked to keep them silent.
African Americans, Native Americans, women and young people have all taken stands--confronting bigotry, intimidation and violence--to demand an equal opportunity to vote. Rubin faithfully portrays how long and hard their fights were (and, in too many cases, continue to be). Suffragists protesting for women in 1919 were imprisoned and some even "lost their jobs." In 1965 when a group of peaceful protestors marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., "they faced Alabama state troopers and Sheriff Clark's posse carrying bullwhips and batons wrapped in barbed wire." But these groups persevered for the precious privilege of casting a ballot. Rubin quotes Marcia McMillan Edwards, a marcher in Selma, "It is the duty of every eligible person in the United States to vote. Too many have fought and died for everyone to have the right to vote."
Give Us the Vote! is an invaluable resource on the development of the U.S. voting process that offers a plethora of avenues for discussion on every page. In addition to Rubin's gripping narratives and powerful anecdotes, she includes a wealth of information in the book's back matter such as a timeline of voting rights in the U.S., sources and an index. A reminder of how priceless voting is, Give Us the Vote! displays how vital it is to protect the right from those determined to suppress it. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: Susan Goldman Rubin's middle-grade Give Us the Vote is an invaluable examination of the struggle to vote in the United States.