From the Shelf
The Fourth Trimester
Toward the end of my pregnancy, I picked up Great with Child (W.W. Norton, $15.95), a collection of letters from poet and author Beth Ann Fennelly (The Tilted World) to her newly pregnant friend. Full of insights large and small about what it means to shift from pregnant person to parent, this book made me realize that while I had spent much of my pregnancy reading about what to expect while pregnant, I was still entirely unsure of what to expect once I actually had a child. I loved science-minded Emily Oster's Expecting Better (Penguin Books, $17), so I quickly purchased her Cribsheet (Penguin Books, $18), which promised the same data-driven exploration of the many parenting decisions I'd face in my child's early years.
In my early postpartum weeks, I flipped through the pages of The First Forty Days by Heng Ou, Amely Greeven and Marisa Belger (Abrams, $29.99). Though ostensibly a cookbook (with recipes for nourishing soups, snacks and teas), it is also filled with warmth and encouragement for new mothers navigating a difficult--and significant--time of change. I explored this transition in a more analytical way with To Have and to Hold: Motherhood, Marriage, and the Modern Dilemma (Harper Wave, $26.99), in which clinical psychologist Molly Millwood dissects the frequently gender-imbalanced world of parenting.
In the throes of sleep deprivation, I picked up Alexis Dubief's Precious Little Sleep (Precious Little Sleep, $16.99), packed with tips for helping babies sleep (it works: I am writing this column during a solid two-hour baby nap). Up next: All Joy and No Fun (Ecco, $15.99), in which Jennifer Senior explores whether or not children make their parents happier. I'll have to get back to you on that one--naptime, it seems, is over for today. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
In this Issue...
by Yukio Mishima
In this dark comedy, available for the first time in English, a young Japanese man reacts to his failed suicide by putting his life up for sale.
by Deborah Wiles
This YA novel-in-verse is both a factual account of the 1970 Kent State shootings and an imagined conversation between people affected by the event.
by Shaun Bythell
A shop owner in the famous bookstore town of Wigtown, Scotland, shares the joys and frustrations of independent bookselling in this often hilarious diary.
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...
Women in Comics: Looking Forward and Back is a group exhibition at the Society of Illustrators, featuring more than 50 female cartoonists.
Pop quiz: "Can you guess the novels based on their protagonists?" (via Mental Floss)
The New York Public Library compiled an "auditory love letter" of the city's missing sounds.
To mark the 30th anniversary of the original publication of Good Omens, Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and Crowley (David Tennant) considered the age of Covid-19.
"In Thailand, funeral cookbooks preserve recipes and memories," Atlas Obscura reported.
Anna Solomon: Make an Absence into a Presence
|(photo: Willy Somma)|
Anna Solomon is the author of Leaving Lucy Pear and The Little Bride. She is a two-time winner of the Pushcart Prize, and her short fiction and essays have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, One Story, Ploughshares and Slate. She is coeditor, with Eleanor Henderson, of Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today's Best Women Writers. Solomon was born and raised in Gloucester, Mass., and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children. Her new novel is The Book of V. (Holt, May 5, 2020).
What makes for a compelling protagonist?
A compelling protagonist is someone whose wants and desires and needs are in conflict in some way with the realities of her life. What draws me in as both a reader and as a writer is the tension that exists between the longing and the reality. I also want my protagonists to be inwardly multifarious, ambivalent in what they want. I'm interested in seeing the characters that I read and write struggle not just to get what they want but to figure out what they want.
Was one of these three women the starting point?
When I write a novel, it's almost impossible for me to remember where I began. But really, Vashti was the beginning. In a lot of ways the three women who hold the book's core for most of it--Lily, Vee and Esther--were not really where it began. It began with this banished ancient Persian queen, Vashti, who I always wondered about. I wanted to figure out how to make her absence into a presence. So it began with a question about her, but in terms of the characters forming, I'm pretty sure I began with Vivian Barr (also known in the book as Vee), who is my Vashti.
Do you have a favorite character, or one with whom you especially identify?
The answer to each of those questions is different. Certainly, in terms of her relationship to my own life, and the contours of our lives, I identify most obviously with Lily. She is the mother of two in Brooklyn, which is where I live as a mother of two. Our lives are really different from each other: Lily has given up her work, where I have not. But in a lot of ways, writing Lily felt like taking many of my own impulses and questions and exaggerating them to the hilt.
She's like alternate-reality you.
Kind of, yeah, like what would have happened if I had stopped working? What would that do to me, if I had not held onto the part of me that creates and is out in the world as an adult and a professional and an artist?
As for which I like the most or enjoyed writing the most, the one who was the most fun was Vivian Barr, in part because I got to write her in two very different parts of her life. Writing Vivian both as a young woman and as an older woman, and watching her both evolve and not evolve, was really thrilling for me as a writer. In some ways, I found her development came most easily to me.
How long does it take you to write a novel? You said you don't always remember the beginning!
That's also hard to identify by the end! In part because there are so many different stages to writing a novel. And, at least in my experience so far, in the middle of writing a novel I have another one come out in the world. And so I take time away to go introduce that book to the world, and then I come back to it. But I think it's fair to say that this novel took me three to four years to write and research and edit and rewrite, and all the rest.
I feel as if this book was created perhaps a little more efficiently than my first two, and that's probably because I did not have a baby while in the middle of writing it. It's the first book I did not have a baby while in the middle of writing.
That makes a difference, huh?
Yeah! Who knew! (We all knew.)
Your three novels each center on women chafing against limitations of their eras and cultures. How have these projects differed from one another?
When I began dreaming up this book I knew what I wanted to do was much more ambitious structurally than what I had done before. The first book, The Little Bride, featured one protagonist, one clear arc from beginning to end. In Leaving Lucy Pear, I broadened the cast of characters, and there was certainly more complexity in terms of time, but there was still a kind of unified arc to the book. And in this book what I set out to do was thread together three very distinct narratives that were happening in completely different time periods--in fact over the course of 2,500 years. And that was a huge challenge, but I loved the work of orchestrating it. It felt musical, which is why I say orchestration, and it also felt architectural. I really enjoy structure. And I think in a lot of ways this book came to be through its structure as much as through the story. In many ways the structure and the story happened symbiotically. And playing with the structure, kind of seeing how I could move the chapters from one to the next, and the way these women's stories would overlap and eventually converge in the way that I wanted them to--that was really the great challenge of this book. I really, really enjoyed doing it and I learned a lot about my capabilities as a writer as I did it.
As I wrote it, the big fear was "Can I do this? Will I be able to pull it off?" And of course, there was a lot of work that I did in revision and rewriting to smooth out and fine tune those linkages. But it did feel, once I got going with it, like it came together pretty naturally.
How much research went into this project? Do you enjoy that part?
Yes! I did enjoy it. I do love research. There was a lot of it involved, in terms of understanding the conversations that have come before me around the Book of Esther in particular, and also in terms of getting a hold on the 1970s in Washington, D.C., and in Massachusetts (where I grew up). One of the things that surprised me is how little is actually known, both about how the Book of Esther came to be, but also what it might have been like to live in Persia in 462 B.C.E. I really enjoyed the license that that gave me to really just play. That license is part of what encouraged me to go in certain directions.
One of my favorite parts of research, always, is contacting people. Reaching out beyond the Internet and books and finding people who already know a lot about what I'm writing about, and are almost always eager and generous with their expertise. Everybody from a nonprofit international development expert who can talk about what's going on in that world today, to my rabbi, and a guy who does shellfish work in Rhode Island and knew all about which shellfish might have been eaten in the 1970s and which wouldn't. I really enjoy that part of the process. --Julia Kastner
Rediscover: Maj Sjöwall
Maj Sjöwall, co-author with her partner, Per Wahlöö, of the 10 Martin Beck crime novels that are widely credited with founding Scandinavian noir, died last week at age 84. Beginning with Roseanna, first published in Sweden in 1965, the Beck series focused on Swedish police detective Martin Beck, part of the National Homicide Bureau, and the books appeared annually until The Terrorists in 1975, immediately after the death of Wahlöö at 49. The series has been honored around the world, been the basis for many TV series and feature films (including a Hollywood production of The Laughing Policeman, which also won a best novel Edgar in 1971), and was a precursor for many later masters of Scandinavian noir, including Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson.
In his foreword to the 2008 edition of Roseanna, Mankell wrote in part, "I think that anyone who writes about crime as a reflection of society has been inspired to some extent by what they wrote... Of particular importance was the fact that Sjöwall and Wahlöö broke with the hopelessly stereotyped character descriptions that were so prevalent. They showed people evolving right before the reader's eyes." The entire Martin Beck series was republished by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard between 2008 and 2010.
Life for Sale
by Yukio Mishima , trans. by Stephen Dodd
Two years after the original 1968 publication in Japan of Life for Sale, which opens immediately with a young man's failed attempt to die, Yukio Mishima (Star) led an unsuccessful military coup d'etat that ended with his highly publicized, gruesomely violent ritual suicide. Just 45 at the time of his death, Mishima was a prolific, prodigious author, playwright, poet, actor, film director and model, often rumored to be repeatedly considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Life for Sale is a black-comedy-of-errors available for the first time in English translation by University of London professor Stephen Dodd.
Hanio Yamada is a 27-year-old copywriter with a "sudden urge to die." He quits his advertising job and takes out a tabloid ad: "Life for sale. Use me as you wish." In case he might encounter walk-bys, he posts his door with a similar sign: "Hanio Yamada--Life for Sale." He has no lack of clients--plural, yes, because he can't seem to die, although the body count grows around him, not to mention his lucrative earnings. An old man hires him to die with his much younger wife; a woman sacrifices him to test a new drug; a son needs a body for his vampire mother; two rival embassies need him to eat carrots.
Ludicrous situations, farcical exchanges and nonsensical plot twists might easily derail a less accomplished author's narrative, but Mishima embraces the outlandish and bizarre with affecting results. Life for Sale proves to be an almost-morality tale about the immeasurable value of life--and, of course--the elusive unknowability (despite its unavoidability) of death. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: In this dark comedy, available for the first time in English, a young Japanese man reacts to his failed suicide by putting his life up for sale.
The Moment of Tenderness
by Madeleine L'Engle
The Moment of Tenderness offers 18 short stories by Madeleine L'Engle (1918-2007), author of more than 60 books, including the beloved 1963 Newbery Medal-winning A Wrinkle in Time. In "The Birthday," a young girl struggles to understand the mysterious illness that has left her mother incapacitated, while in "Summer Camp," a girl learns the cruelty of others as she's bullied for her emotional letter-writing. "A Room in Baltimore" tells the story of two aspiring actresses going door to door to find room at an inn. And "The Foreigners" tracks the social upheaval in a small community after the entrance of two outsiders.
These stories are stand-alone works written in the 1940s and 1950s (some previously published and others appearing here for the first time), but they all still embody the same soft-footed, timeless elegance of L'Engle's emotional and aesthetic sensibility. Her ability to peer into the mundanities of life to find surreal, divine mysteries is apparent in each. Some stories, such as "Madame, Or..." remain grounded in reality, while "Poor Little Saturday" departs into the enchanting world of fantasy for which L'Engle has become best known. But at the heart of it all, like the motif that begins many of the collection's best stories, is the focal character, peering out a window at a group of people she cannot quite reach and a gradually changing world. No matter the age of L'Engle's characters, these are coming-of-age stories, built on a foundation of nostalgia, yearning and uncertainty, that ask, in 18 different ways, "after we have made the great decision to leave the security of childhood and move on into the vastness of maturity, does anyone ever feel completely at home?" --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A master storyteller, in 18 intimate stories, cherishes the emotional joys and traumas of everyday existence.
Mystery & Thriller
The New Husband
by D.J. Palmer
One dark morning, a fisherman spots a boat a ways off and waves, but no one waves back--what he saw moving was not another boater, but a golden retriever. The fisherman gets closer and, seeing no one, boards the boat--where he finds the deck covered in blood, but no body. The boat belongs to Nina Garrity's husband, Glen; after a months-long search, he's presumed dead. During that search, Nina discovers that not only was Glen having an affair, he didn't have a job and had drained their investments. "It wasn't a perfect marriage by any stretch," she explains, "but I guess it was enough for me." Until this.
Months later, Nina falls in love with Simon Fitch, the local history teacher. From the first, she is amazed at how well Simon fits into her life: he's perfectly aligned with her tastes--from comfort food to jewelry--and almost uncannily senses her feelings. But blending Simon and her two teenage children is a problem, at least for her daughter, Maggie. Everyone likes Simon; why does Maggie dislike him so? One time she glimpsed a "flicker of a super-disturbing, dark look" on his face, "full of hate, but somehow also empty, as cold as an ice storm." He scares her.
A grieving widow. A perfect savior. A suspicious child. Clever gaslighting. A familiar plot, and well done, but D.J. Palmer (Saving Meghan), in The New Husband, gives the familiar a shocking twist that is a stunner. --Marilyn Dahl
Discover: When widow Nina Garrity finds love again, her daughter is suspicious, and Nina begins to have doubts about a man who seems to be perfect.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
The Last Emperox
by John Scalzi
With wit, vigor and a winning humanism, science-fiction star John Scalzi (Old Man's War; Redshirts) wraps up his ambitious Interdependency trilogy on a sunny note. Rarely have mutinies, assassination plots and a civilization facing its own self-inflicted doom been rendered with such good cheer. Even the rampant swearing and sex talk is genial, but don't mistake Scalzi's comic brio for a lack of seriousness--this series is rich with contemporary resonance.
Scalzi's space opera pits an inexperienced, civic-minded leader, recently raised to the position of emperox, against the monopolistic merchant houses that mostly control the Interdependency, a millennia-old galactic empire. In The Last Emperox, "The Flow"--the interstellar pathways that have linked and enabled the survival of far-flung human settlements--is collapsing. The new emperox wants to find a way to save all of the Interdependency's soon-to-be-isolated citizens, while the merchant houses would prefer just to save their own elite families. Schemes, murders and triple-crosses ensue, all dramatized in classic Scalzi fashion, with lengthy, hilarious dialogue scenes better suited to the stage than the Hollywood blockbuster.
Scalzi loves a chatty two-hander, where pairs of characters (usually powerful women, in this series) quip and talk over each other, taking turns wielding the upper hand. He also loves love, and his romantic pairings here stir more warmth than you might expect in a book with gleaming spaceships on the cover. His mode, essentially, is the intergalactic Shakespearian comedy, right down to the wordplay, revelations of disguised identity and rousing belief in the power of speechmaking. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor
Discover: The heartening conclusion to Scalzi's Interdependency space opera is part twisty sci-fi and part Shakespearian comedy.
The Sisters Grimm
by Menna van Praag
Four young women find themselves drawn together as they rediscover a dark magical connection in Menna van Praag's ethereal fantasy novel The Sisters Grimm.
Each Grimm girl, a daughter of the devil Wilhelm Grimm, is born with powers over the elements of earth, water, fire or air, and the ability to test their skills in Everwhere, their father's magical domain. Seventeen-year-old Grimm sisters Goldie, Liyana, Scarlet and Bea spent childhood exploring their magic together. But now they struggle to survive the hardships in each of their lives--caring for a little brother alone, an unwanted arranged marriage, a failing family business and the ever-increasing fear of insanity--and have forgotten each other and Everwhere completely. They have no idea that in 33 days, on their shared 18th birthday, they will reunite to test their abilities and make the ultimate choice: Will they stand with their father, devoted to evil, or fight him and sacrifice themselves in the name of good?
In a narrative that moves among characters, timelines, the real world and Everwhere, van Praag (The House at the End of Hope Street; The Witches of Cambridge) carefully develops each sister into a complex character: from pale Goldie, "a crouched hare ever ready to dart to its burrow," to harshly contrary Bea, who would "leap into [death's] jaws with a warrior's cry," all four sisters evolve from children of loss into young women discovering their own strengths. Lush descriptions of Everwhere--"a nocturnal place, a place crafted from thoughts and dreams, hope and desire"--and vivid depictions of the girls' modern, everyday travails create a captivating canvas for the ever-increasing suspense in this evocative and winding story. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Four daughters of the devil, unaware of their magical abilities and unusual lineage, must decide whether to serve the forces of good or evil.
To Have and to Hoax
by Martha Waters
In Martha Waters's debut novel, a young, estranged married couple engages in a protracted battle of wits and minor deceptions. To Have and to Hoax is an authentic romantic comedy set in Regency-era England, complete with high-society expectations and familial obligations. It is also a very funny but heartfelt story of two people who desperately want to reclaim the love and happiness of the first year of their marriage.
When James is thrown from his horse at their country estate, Violet rushes from their London residence to be by his side, only to discover that he doesn't want her there. Exasperated, she hatches a fake-illness scheme to win back his attention and, hopefully, his affection. When she discovers that he's found her out, it's too late for either of them to admit to knowing, and a good-natured battle of pretending continues for much of the book. Grounded by a deep affection and attraction, their little lies and manipulations never sink to the level of meanness and instead result in a thoroughly enjoyable series of hijinks, lingering glances and a bit of steam. As they go on and their friends both aid and despair of them, James and Violet finally learn the truth about the final fight--the one that broke them apart--and some truths about themselves in the process. To Have and to Hoax is a refreshing debut full of laughs and banter, sure to leave readers clamoring for more from Martha Waters. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels
Discover: This fun and fresh historical debut will delight readers with humor and romance as a young couple battles to win back each other's affection.
Biography & Memoir
Confessions of a Bookseller
by Shaun Bythell
Anyone who loves books will be delighted with the diary of Shaun Bythell, owner of The Bookshop. With 100,000 titles, it is the largest secondhand bookstore in Wigtown, in the Galloway region of Scotland--a village known as Scotland's National Book Town. Bythell covered the days of 2014 in his first book, The Diary of a Bookseller, and continues into 2015 with Confessions of a Bookseller.
Bythell nurtures his curmudgeonly image and pens droll summaries of daily annoyances. Entries vary from the quotidian (totals of customers and sales) and the mundane (the seat has broken off the loo) to tales of customer interactions, notable book finds (he lists "an interesting old book on the Sandwich Islands" at £125) and updates on fellow Gallovidians. While readers of the first book will recognize themes, such as the continued impertinence of his unreliable staff person, Nicky, Confessions of a Bookseller is entertaining as a stand-alone. Not so jaded after 14 years of bookselling, Bythell maintains his sense of humor (" 'I wonder if you can help me. I'm looking for self-help books,' a customer says. I'm almost certain he failed to see the irony"). Online sales, critical to his success, prompt stories of indignant customer e-mails and inconsistent internet service. An active advocate of bricks-and-mortar stores, Bythell is committed to "making the bookshop an 'experience' and offering something fresh and different."
Short of a flight to Scotland, Confessions of a Bookseller is the quickest escape to a seaside village where books reign. -- Cheryl McKeon, bookseller, Market Block Books, Troy, N.Y.
Discover: A shop owner in the famous bookstore town of Wigtown, Scotland, shares the joys and frustrations of independent bookselling in this often hilarious diary.
More Than Love: An Intimate Portrait of My Mother, Natalie Wood
by Natasha Gregson Wagner
Natasha Gregson Wagner's heartbreaking and scorchingly frank memoir More Than Love is a loving but clear-eyed biography of her mother, Natalie Wood, as well as a candid account of the decades Wagner spent grappling with crippling grief and depression. When Wood drowned in 1981, 11-year-old Natasha had already spent more than a year seeing a therapist twice a week about separation anxiety and fear that her mother would die. Her mother's death was the defining moment in her life. "No other event would ever again so sharply etch its mark upon my soul or so completely color the way I navigate the world," she writes, "or leave my heart quite as broken."
Acting from the age of four, Wood was the major breadwinner in her family, and her over-possessive mother/agent made Wood crave attention and rebel against restraints. This dynamic passed down a generation when Wood became a mother. Wagner's abandonment problems only accelerated after her mother's death: "I didn't know how to be emotional without being overwhelmed by my feelings."
Wagner's compelling memoir rejects the tragic and doomed legend surrounding her mother and recasts her as a vibrant woman who was devoted to her profession, friends and family. Wagner also speaks out against the decades of tabloid fabrications of cover-ups and foul play conspiracy theories, often fanned by her aunt Lana Wood for attention and profit. This beautifully written memoir will appeal to movie fans, but Wagner's long search for emotional stability also makes it a compelling tool for those crippled by grief. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: This frank, compelling memoir revises the biography of Natalie Wood and offers the inspiring tale of her daughter's fight through decades of debilitating grief and depression.
The Women with Silver Wings: The Inspiring True Story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II
by Katherine Sharp Landdeck
In The Women with Silver Wings: The Inspiring True Story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II, pilot and historian Katherine Sharp Landdeck tells the thrilling, and sometimes heartbreaking, story of the female aviators who flew for the United States in World War II.
More than 1,100 women served in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Despite initial doubts as to whether women could do the job, they successfully trained male pilots for military service, transported planes across country and served as test pilots. As the war drew to an end and male pilots came home, the women were forced to give up the jobs they had done so well and were immediately forgotten by the country they served. Landdeck tells their story with empathy and academic rigor.
Landdeck brings more than intellectual curiosity to the task. The WASP community welcomed her into their circle, as both a pilot and a historian. Drawing on interviews with surviving pilots and their unpublished letters and journals, she uses the personal stories of individual women--why they enlisted, where they learned to fly, and what happened to them after the war--to enrich her account of the creation, growth and dismantlement of the service.
The result is an eye-opening account of the first American women to fly for their country--and their subsequent fight to be recognized for their role in history. The Women with Silver Wings will appeal to fans of women's history, aviation enthusiasts and World War II buffs. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins
Discover: A historian and pilot introduces readers to the often-overlooked women pilots who helped the United States win World War II.
Health & Medicine
Growing Old: Notes on Aging with Something Like Grace
by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
"Human wreckage" or "functional elder"? Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (The Hidden Life of Dogs) says she's both in Growing Old, a lively examination of the aging process.
With "the average age worldwide" hovering around 30, old age has become perhaps the last conversational taboo and the least illuminated stage of existence. When Thomas introduces herself as "a widowed great-grandmother" who's approaching 90, she knows her readers may feel "a little flash of aversion." She understands. She, too, once saw aging as "a rare condition I didn't need to think about." Now she sees it as a form of "space travel."
In a conversational, anecdotal style, Thomas looks at hearing loss as a precursor to brain damage and transforms the use of hearing aids from a stigma into a miracle. She enumerates her "daily reminders of failure" and how these losses "brighten when I'm working." She tours senior living communities as a way to fend off the mortal danger of isolation, urging that these places should be researched long before they're needed. And she doesn't shrink from discussing death as "the conclusion of old age," and advocating the use of death doulas, whose clients have been "eased into space and died softly."
Whether she's explaining cannibalism as a "sacred practice" that allows people to keep the dead inside themselves, or the modern practice of liquefaction, which results in remains "going down to a sewer with everything else," Thomas's lively curiosity is contagious, capable of turning frequently avoided topics into matters of essential discussion. --Janet Brown, author and former bookseller
Discover: This sprightly and informative look at old age is certain to launch discussions of this often neglected subject.
Children's & Young Adult
by Deborah Wiles
National Book Award finalist (for Each Little Bird that Sings and Revolution) Deborah Wiles's passionate, multifaceted Kent State chronicles "those four days in May 1970 when America turned on its unarmed children... and killed them."
After a straightforward introduction that traces the actions that led to the murder of four Kent State students, Wiles delivers an unusual and theatrical reading experience. One of the many plural narrators addresses the reader: "we will start by telling you what is most important: They did not have to die." Another plural narrator, distinguished by a different font and placement on the page, appears and argues with the first. As Wiles's first and second narrators attempt to give their own accounts of what led to the Ohio National Guard killing four protesting students, more narrators announce themselves. Memories are muddled, tensions are high, facts are confused--it feels like a literary mix of Thornton Wilder's Our Town and a CNN six-person split-screen.
That is the point. Wiles states in a note that she knew she would never "be able to do [the students'] stories justice, or tell definitively what happened, because there is so much unknown." Instead, she aimed to include all voices and all memories; she represents students, townspeople and members of the National Guard. The chaotic nature of the words on the page symbolize and mirror the tumultuous feelings of the event. And, even though the narrators directly address recent acts of violence and hate, the nature of the book--the lack of discussion, the disagreement on the facts--drives home Wiles's desire to connect the past with the present. It is only on the day the National Guard opens fire that the many voices become one and reader is reminded, fiercely, painfully, that "they did not have to die." --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: This YA novel-in-verse is both a factual account of the 1970 Kent State shootings and an imagined conversation between people affected by the event.
The Silence of Bones
by June Hur
June Hur's gripping debut re-creates the Joseon Dynasty, when Korea relied on brutality to contain the spread of foreign Catholicism. During this bloody time, 16-year-old Seol's irrepressible curiosity is about to become her best asset for solving crime... and staying alive.
In 1800, Seol is a new damo, "an indentured servant-of-all-work." She is bound to Hanyang's (today's Seoul) Capital Police Bureau, where she uses her hands to arrest female criminals and examine female victims, because men are legally forbidden to touch any woman (alive or dead) who is not a close relative. Although she has only recently arrived in the capital city, she's already been branded as a troublemaker--literally marked with the character "bi," for female servant--after a failed escape attempt to visit her ill older sister. Seol longs for home but she remains in service, hoping to discover information about her older brother who has been missing for 12 years. When Seol is summoned to handle the corpse of 19-year-old Lady O, her initial shock and fear quickly turn to fascination, emboldening a tenacious determination to find the young noblewoman's killer.
Confessing her obsession for books about Joseon Korea in her author bio, the Korea-born, Canada-raised Hur presents a vast cast that is methodically depleted as the body count grows, set against a historically tumultuous background. Beyond the rigorously researched, culturally specific narrative details, The Silence of Bones is an exhilarating thriller, pitting the powerful against the power-hungry, endowing the powerless with affecting agency. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: June Hur's debut introduces a 16-year-old indentured servant girl whose curiosity proves to be the best weapon in solving a young noblewoman's murder in 1800s Joseon Korea.