From the Shelf
Gift Books: Creatures Great and Small
I was horrified to learn that there are at least 89 Christmas radio stations already playing "Little Drummer Boy" over and over. On the other hand, that means it's time to begin thinking about gift books. We'll ease into one of the pleasures of the holidays with animals, dogs in the forefront.
Two years ago, Underwater Dogs was a big hit; this year, Dogs in Cars by Lara Jo Regan (Countryman Press, $19.95) is just as much fun--they smell the breeze, they howl, they help steer. Dogs in other places are represented by War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love by Rebecca Frankel (Palgrave Macmillan, $26) and Top Dog: The Story of Marine Hero Lucca by Maria Goodavage (Dutton, $26.95). These stories will move readers to tears, but mainly happy tears.
But what about cats, we feline lovers ask? Lisa Erspamer has collected letters celebrating kitties in A Letter to My Cat (Three Rivers Press, $25), coupling them with charming photos. Cats (and owners) will like Mouse Muse: The Mouse in Art (Monacelli Press, $35). Lorna Owen has compiled an adorable selection of images of "nature's most humble creature," from Roman bronzes to laser-scanned mice on a Prague building.
This year's entry into the magnificent equine photography category is Horse Medicine--photographs by Tony Stromberg (New World Library, $45). "Horse medicine" refers to horses being considered wise and healing creatures, and the elegant images in the book attest to their powers.
Rabbits are probably not deemed elegant by even the most die-hard fans, but "elegant" is a perfect word to describe Bunnies (Glitterati $95). Quirky, funny and sweet, the bunny paintings of Hunt Slonem are delightful, and presented in a large format with bunny endpapers, bunny-print fore edge, and bunny ribbon for marking your favorite cottontail. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers
In this Issue...
by Jules Howard
The sexual habits and workings of the animal kingdom described in decidedly entertaining fashion.
by Nicholas Wapshott
How FDR secretly prepared the U.S. for World War II against fierce domestic opposition.
by Mark Newgarden , Megan Montague Cash
A wordless adventure, part mystery and farce, that makes the most of the timeless tension between cats and dogs.
Review by Subjects:
Fictional Families' Thanksgiving Dinners; Winter Books
Noting that "Thanksgiving dinner is an endurance test," Bustle imagined how the annual Turkey Day gathering "might go down for these 5 literary families."
Snow? What snow? Flavorwire recommended "50 great dark books for the dark days of winter."
After visiting 826 NYC, Buzzfeed featured "9 adorable kids talk[ing] about why books are the best."
Attention Muggles aspiring to be wizards. According to io9, California State--San Marcos is offering a three-credit study abroad course in England called "British Culture & Harry Potter Program."
Noting that "there are books that stay with you during important times in your life," Mashable featured "9 writers on the inspiring books that shaped them."
On the auction block: "16,000 amphetamine-fueled, stream-of-consciousness words written by Neal Cassady to his friend Jack Kerouac in 1950" that inspired On the Road will be put up for sale December 17, the Guardian reported.
Rediscover: I Cannot Tell a Lie, Exactly
When Mary Ladd Gavell died in 1967, she was a 47-year-old unpublished writer and managing editor of Psychiatry magazine, which ran her story "The Rotifer" as a memorial. Calling it a "gem," John Updike included "The Rotifer" in The Best American Short Stories of the Century (Vintage, 2000). A year later, the publication of I Cannot Tell a Lie, Exactly: And Other Stories (Random House) finally introduced readers to Gavell's fierce yet subtle narrative voice and her intriguing cast of characters, who often smile politely through masks that never quite cover their terror and misunderstanding of life's cruel ironies. In "Baucis," for example, a woman struggling to care for her demanding and sickly husband fantasizes about being a widow, but instead becomes ill herself. The woman's last words--"I didn't want to die first"--are mistakenly interpreted by her sons as a noble lament. Rediscovery seems inadequate for Gavell's brilliant stories. Unearthing "buried treasure" is more apt.
The Writer's Life
Charles D'Ambrosio: Loitering with Intent
|photo: L.E. Baskow|
Charles D'Ambrosio has published two collections of short stories, The Point and The Dead Fish Museum, of which Michael Chabon wrote: "No one today writes better short stories than these." He has a new collection of essays, Loitering: New and Collected Essays (see our review below). D'Ambrosio was born and raised in Seattle and now lives in Iowa City, Iowa, where he teaches fiction at the Iowa Writers' Workshop.
How did Loitering come about?
If you're talking about the writing itself, it came about just like my grocery lists, one word at a time. If you're asking about the book itself, I can say that it has something of a checkered history, but that ultimately Loitering evolved quite naturally out of a longstanding relationship with Tin House and the people who make that great magazine and writing conference and book-publishing venture hum. Two years ago I was invited by the Tin House Writer's Conference to participate on a panel about nonfiction, and because I sat on that panel, jawing on about the personal essay, I decided it was only right to give a reading from one of my essays. Afterward, people were asking where they could get the book, but there was no book, and not too long after that Tony Perez, my editor, contacted me. At first we talked about simply reissuing Orphans, a small press edition of some of the essays, but that conversation quickly expanded and so did the scope of the book, which now gathers new and uncollected work and is, I believe, truer to the range of things that I think and write about.
In your "By Way of a Preface" you describe the essays as a kind of container, the "thing that caught and held words like holy water, offering the gift of awareness." Where did this fascination for the genre come from?
It probably came from several lucky encounters. The first was a small bookstore across the street from the stop where I always caught the bus home. The place stayed open late, and at first I went in there only to keep warm, but the women who owned it would ask what I was looking for, and of course I didn't know, so they'd recommend books they were high on. They were high on M.F.K. Fisher, and that got me going. The second lucky encounter took place in an Intro to Lit class I took as a freshman at the University of Washington. I had this great teacher, Helen Menke--years later I would realize she was only a grad student, a TA, but she was a life-changer for me--who put me on to Edward Abbey and Joan Didion. And the last lucky encounter was with the Sunday New York Times, which my father, a professor of finance, subscribed to for the business section. In the Book Review one week there was a piece on cinephile culture by a woman named Susan Sontag. I'd never heard of her, but I liked the way she wrote. She sounded smart. Of course she was smart, but I had no basis for understanding that at the time. I immediately bought Against Interpretation and Styles of Radical Will, and when I dropped out of college, for those two years, Susan Sontag was my teacher. Everything she read, I read. Everything she liked, I liked. I was so caught up in the slipstream of Sontag's passions, and so without other forms of motivation or guidance, that I can now say I've watched a 10-hour movie about Hitler, some of it done with puppets. I was 19. The movie showed to a nearly empty house on two successive nights. I went both nights and ate a lot of jelly beans and popcorn.
Your essays always seem to involve you. Do they start out that way, or do you find yourself "discovering" something autobiographical about yourself or your family as you write?
Well, this is a book of personal essays, so of course I'm involved. As for autobiography, by my count there are only two pieces that deal directly with my family, one called "Documents" and another called "This Is Living." Otherwise, I write, in a personal way, about my hometown, Seattle, circa 1974, whaling, riding freight trains, manufactured homes, gambling and gamblers and brick, a Pentecostal haunted house, a vacant lot/eco-village in Austin, Tex., Russian orphans, The Catcher in the Rye, Mary Kay Letourneau, Richard Brautigan, showing up as a character in someone else's novel, 9/11 and a poem by Richard Hugo, and a few other things. The book is a kind of omnium-gatherum of my concerns. You can discover yourself in all kinds of ways, it seems to me, and dwelling on your family is only one of them.
Has an essay ever turned into a story?
No, the head spaces are so different, the demands of each form so unique, that I can't imagine transcoding an essay into a story. However, I can easily imagine "essayistic" fiction, and I don't believe the line that separates fiction and non is nearly as strict as we might think. I like the seams, but I also like the seams when they tear and fray.
Who are some of the masters of the essay you admire? Do you find their work influencing your own?
I could drop names, a ton of them, but in the end I'm a creature of the alt-weekly, and in Seattle the Stranger gave me a start, providing the space and the freedom, the permission to go at things in my own way--and that was as much of an influence on my work as any shelf of writers I could name. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher
Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories
by Ron Rash
The 34 stories in Ron Rash's Something Rich and Strange were selected from his previous collections, which include the 2010 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award–winning Burning Bright and the 2007 PEN/Faulkner Award–winning Chemistry and Other Stories. Taken together, these pieces trace the development of a major writer whose Appalachian canvas encompasses lives as varied and universal as any in the U.S.
Rash's characters are beset by calamity and loss. In "The Ascent," a young boy finds a downed biplane on a snow-covered mountainside, its wealthy occupants killed in the crash. He takes their jewelry to his meth-addicted parents, who will sell it for drug money, but returns to repair the plane's wing, imagining it whole and ready to take the couple back to their burnished lives. In "The Lincolnites" a young woman, her husband away fighting for the Union, is forced into the unthinkable when a Confederate soldier stops by her farm. In "The Dowry," the local parson plays intermediary with shocking consequences when a raging Confederate colonel, one hand lost in the war, demands a hand in retribution as a condition for his daughter's marriage to Union soldier.
These stories are both tragic and surprising and become more confident, more probing over the course of the collection. The Appalachian Mountains, beautiful and foreboding, mirror the unknowable possibilities and insurmountable limits of Rash's characters' lives, characters whose voices are matter-of-fact even when they shock. Though they may be compromised by circumstance or temperament, Rash suggests each deserves the chance to tell his or her story and be heard. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: A retrospective of Ron Rash's career in the form of 34 previously published stories set in the mythic landscape of the Appalachian Mountains.
The Final Recollections of Charles Dickens
by Thomas Hauser
In The Final Recollections of Charles Dickens, Thomas Hauser (Missing) delicately weaves together Dickens's well-known history with an imagined tale of mystery, murder and romance. The novel opens in 1870--the year Dickens died--as the ailing author sits down to write his final story, a tale he lived himself in the early years of his career and kept secret until this point.
Hauser sets most of the action in the early 1830s, just as Dickens's early collection Sketches by Boz began to gain notoriety and he was becoming a household name in England and beyond. The young man is called on to write a sketch of a powerful businessman, Charles Wingate, who purports to be the most honest of investors. As Dickens digs deeper into Wingate's past, however, he finds not the honest history he has been promised but a string of suspicious murders, falsified wills and a brutal attack against a prostitute that left her scarred and destitute. He also finds himself falling in love with Wingate's wife, Amanda, though his own wedding day is rapidly approaching.
Hauser has taken some liberties with Dickens's timeline, but has also included key biographical details--such as his unhappy marriage to Catherine Hogarth--that will delight devoted students of the writer. What is even more delightful is how truly Dickensian Hauser's novel proves to be, exploring not only this imagined incident but also the real man's favorite themes of London life and class inequalities. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: A fictionalized story of Dickens's life told in a Dickensian way.
Mystery & Thriller
by E. Michael Helms
In the second Mac McClellan mystery (the first is Deadly Catch), E. Michael Helms's retired Marine protagonist finds himself investigating a ghost. While out together on a date, Mac's girlfriend Kate is certain she sees her ex Wes Harrison in the theater lobby. The only problem is that Wes has been dead for a dozen years--he and two others disappeared at sea in a boating accident.
Recognizing that "no B-movie in Hollywood would buy into [the] scenario," Mac agrees, nonetheless, to explore--with the help of Kate's private investigator uncle, Frank Hightower--the possibility that Wes is still alive. Mac sifts through Wes's past, shaking loose an eclectic group of shady characters with ties to the former jewelry store employee: the head of a Christian missionary organization, the director of personnel at a Texas orphanage and the president of a private investment partnership. As Mac fits the oddly shaped pieces of his puzzle together and a clear image begins to form, those in the picture grow more determined to stop him.
Deadly Ruse is a well-constructed mystery full of twists and red herrings. Helms keeps the stakes and the suspense high with ripped-from-the-headlines crimes involving blood diamonds, drugs and gambling. The pacing occasionally lags, due in part to the amount of exposition, and Helms could strengthen the first-person narrative with more showing and less telling. But fans of the traditional PI novel will still find plenty to enjoy in this dedicated military man turned investigator. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts
Discover: The possible sighting of his girlfriend's supposedly deceased old flame sends retired Marine Mac McClellan on a deadly quest for the truth.
The Laws of Murder
by Charles Finch
After six years in Parliament, Charles Lenox, gentleman detective and frequent consultant to Scotland Yard, decides to give up his seat and open a detective agency with three colleagues. All four are excited about the new venture, but as the months pass, Lenox watches his caseload steadily decline. Sneering articles in the London newspapers question his detective abilities, and his friends at the Yard stop asking for his help. Then, one of Lenox's longtime colleagues at the Yard is murdered, and the case leads Lenox into a larger web of lies, violence and revenge that may be connected to his professional struggles.
In his eighth Lenox mystery, Charles Finch (An Old Betrayal; The Last Enchantments) returns to the world of 1870s London, displaying his talents for historical detail and intricate plots that turn on a few key details. Longtime readers will appreciate the presence of recurring series characters: Lenox's wife and daughter; his doctor friend, Thomas McConnell; and his protégé, Lord John Dallington, now a valuable colleague at Lenox's detective agency.
As Lenox and Dallington work to solve the murder case and unravel the trickier mystery behind it, Lenox wrestles with questions of vocation: Is he destined for a career in detection; if not, can he be satisfied with the life of an idle gentleman; and perhaps most importantly, will his determination to catch the killer put his family in jeopardy? Well-plotted and thought-provoking, The Laws of Murder will satisfy Lenox fans and appeal to readers of historical mystery. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: An intricately plotted historical mystery that begins with the death of detective Charles Lenox's colleague.
The Sphinx: Franklin Roosevelt, the Isolationists, and the Road to World War II
by Nicholas Wapshott
Franklin D. Roosevelt faced one of the greatest political challenges in United States history: steering a stringently antiwar nation toward armed intervention against the Nazi conflagration sweeping Europe. Neutrality Acts of the 1930s, passed by isolationists horrified by the costs of American entanglement in World War I, kept the president from outright aiding any "belligerent" nations--including Britain, the last major democracy standing in Europe by 1940 (an obstacle eventually circumvented by the Lend-Lease program). FDR struggled even to bolster America's own inadequate armed services. Despite such intense opposition, he believed American involvement was inevitable and that Europe could not be abandoned to the Nazis without imperiling the United States. Roosevelt needed all of his political cunning to undermine isolationists and essentially dupe the American public by running on a pro-neutrality platform for his third term in 1940 while secretly preparing for war.
Nicholas Wapshott (Keynes Hayek; Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher) charts this political balancing act in The Sphinx (the title refers to Roosevelt's often cryptic treatment of the press). The narrative closely follows Roosevelt and a handful of his isolationist rivals, particularly Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., and Charles Lindbergh, from the late '30s through the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The result is a compelling mix of biography, politics and history. Roosevelt comes across as a conniving mastermind with good intentions. Wapshott uses diaries and personal correspondence to portray isolationists as sincere, often with good intentions of their own, but ultimately severely misguided. The Sphinx is a fascinating account of a pivotal period in political history. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: How FDR secretly prepared the U.S. for World War II against fierce domestic opposition.
Medieval People: Vivid Lives in a Distant Landscape
by Michael Prestwich
In Medieval People: Vivid Lives in a Distant Landscape, historian Michael Prestwich (Knight; The Three Edwards) challenges generalities about the Middle Ages by looking at the specific, offering biographies of 69 people who lived between 800 and 1500, a period that stretches from Charlemagne's empire to the early Renaissance.
Prestwich's choice of title invites inevitable comparison with Eileen Power's classic Medieval People (1924). Like Power, Prestwich is interested in giving history what Power called the "personal treatment": making the past accessible for the general reader by putting a face on it. Many of his essays deal with the usual suspects (kings, popes, emperors). But Prestwich moves beyond the expected. He recognizes the important roles Muslim scholars and the Central Asian conquerors Chinggis Khan and Timur (Tamerlane) played in shaping medieval Europe. He includes biographies of illustrious women, noting that their contributions were more remarkable than those of their male counterparts because of the difficulties they faced in making their voices heard. To the extent that reliable sources are available, he includes individuals from the middle classes or lower: merchants, mathematicians, artists, French peasant leader Guillaume Cale and a leper. (Of course, as he points out, it is impossible to consider the career of a specific hermit unless his contemporaries wrote about him at some length.)
Written with authority and occasional humor, illustrated with both contemporary artwork and modern photographs of key historical sites, Prestwich's Medieval People brings the Middle Ages to life in all its complexity and diversity. Eileen Power would have approved. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins
Discover: Sixty-nine faces of the medieval world.
Business & Economics
Chinese Rules: Mao's Dog, Deng's Cat and Five Timeless Lessons from the Front Lines in China
by Tim Clissold
Tim Clissold learned the hard way that if he wanted to survive in China as an investment consultant, he'd have to live and deal as the Chinese would. His memoir Mr. China described his way of doing business with Wall Street trader Jack Perkowski as his muse. In Chinese Rules, Clissold hones his negotiation tactics by adapting and relying on the Five Chinese Rules, centuries-old strategies gleaned from such classics as Sun Tzu's The Art of War, ancient Han battle plans and The Book of Qi.
Clissold considers the value of each rule through entertaining anecdotes and reflections on the success or failures of his own business, a clean-energy start-up. He shows how simple observation of the world using indirect methods--silence, stealth, surprise, manipulation and deceit--has vaulted China from the poverty and despair of the Mao years to open prosperity, and why these methods are superior to the West's preferred business model (directness and shows of force).
By practicing these rules, Clissold has turned the tables on his Chinese counterparts in negotiations. Urging analysis and appreciation of this superpower's history in order to face the myriad opportunities and challenges a resurgent China brings, he writes, "perhaps that's the key to understanding China; not to view it as just another country, but as a civilization." Here he provides a practical rulebook for executives looking to make deals with the Chinese on their own terms, punctuated with the wink of a casual observer and co-conspirator. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: A practical guide on how successfully to do business in China--by doing as the Chinese do.
Essays & Criticism
The World Split Open: Great Authors on How and Why We Write
by Margaret Atwood , Wallace Stegner , Edward P. Jones , Ursula K. Le Guin , Marilynne Robinson et al.
In the opening of his lecture "Fiction to Make Sense of Life," Wallace Stegner describes attending a seminar in his youth called "How to Write a Short Story Though Ignorant." Tonally, the recollection strikes a note that pervades The World Split Open. These speeches--given at Literary Arts events (the Portland, Ore., organization celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2014)--offer a refreshingly candid, self-aware look at the writing life at its brightest and most daunting moments.
Thirty years of concentrated wisdom amounts to a lot of knowledge in a relatively slender tome, made all the more compact by the writers' refusal to cite the old clichés. Instead of truisms like "Write what you know," these artists delve deeper, offering insight that's complicated by its relationship to money, time and luck. In "Finding the Known World," Edward P. Jones chronicles the years between his MFA and his award-winning novel, a span in which he did little but pay the rent. This is no how-to guide; instead, readers inherit the years of experience each writer shares, presented in language as artful, as pointed, as crisp as a paper crane. These nuggets of truth are worth their weight in National Book Awards.
Toward the end of "Spotty-Handed Villainesses: Problems of Female Bad Behavior in the Creation of Literature," Margaret Atwood states of the human psyche, "Many doors stand ajar. What is in the forbidden room?" It's a question--like many others in the collection--that comes as close to the pulse of good writing as any theorist or prose stylist can get. --Linnie Greene, freelance writer
Discover: A far-reaching and edifying collection of literary lectures from a menagerie of writers, including Chimamanda Adichie, Wallace Stegner and E.L. Doctorow.
Loitering: New and Collected Essays
by Charles D'Ambrosio
Charles D'Ambrosio's short stories (The Dead Fish Museum) have been described as elliptical, skewered, melancholic. These adjectives could apply to his essays as well. Some of Loitering's 17 pieces come from an earlier collection, Orphans, which (because of the limited print run) was essentially lost. No longer. Readers can once again fully experience D'Ambrosio's unusual and idiosyncratic mind.
His preface lays out his own assessment of his "scrappy, incondite" essays. Writing one is a form of loitering--a "lingering, a skulking, a meandering" with intent. His works mix fact, autobiography, story and feelings. "Seattle, 1974" explores his hometown and the sense of isolation it imparted upon him. The title essay, also focused on Seattle, delves into a night's "dreamy drama" that leaves him all alone, "loitering." The "mythopoeia of my family" in "Whaling out West" is arrived at by way of the Makah Indians (who still hunt whales), a Coleman lantern and p*ssing in the ocean.
For something a little different, there's "Casting Stones," about his experience sitting in the courtroom during the Mary Kay Letourneau trial (the teacher was convicted of raping her 12-year-old former student). He includes assessments of the careers of Richard Brautigan, J.D. Salinger (he told us what it "feels like to feel too much") and Richard Hugo. One piece chronicles his visit to an orphanage in Russia and another a Pentecostal "haunted house" in Texas where one can visually experience "sins" and their consequences. These essays merge a supple, sensitive mind with personal prose that surprises like sparks from a Roman candle. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher
Discover: Wide-ranging, thoughtful, deeply personal and sometimes eccentric essays by a true craftsman.
Sex on Earth: A Celebration of Animal Reproduction
by Jules Howard
Jules Howard is a well-established zoologist, but you wouldn't know it from the self-deprecatingly droll tone he takes in his first book, Sex on Earth: A Celebration of Animal Reproduction. The subtitle is slightly misleading; far beyond simple reproduction, Howard is intrigued by sex in all its forms and purposes. Inspired by captive pandas saddled with a reputation for sexual failure (unfairly, he thinks), he pursues diverse and myriad questions. He is specifically interested in getting beyond issues of who has the largest penis (the blue whale, if you must know) or exhibits the most outrageous behaviors--matters he finds, frankly, slightly pornographic--and instead examining the everyday as well as the eccentric. The heartwarming monogamous habits of the jackdaw, the incredible asexual abilities of the rotifer, homosexuality in penguins and iguana masturbation are just the beginning. And while the outlandish is indeed presented, Sex on Earth likewise narrates basic mechanics and relates them to evolution and animal life in the face of human impact.
Howard approaches his many expert consultants with a wide-eyed respect bordering on awe, and this is just one of the charming personality quirks that win his readers' hearts. A comic (and overwhelmingly British) tone borders on the silly, but Howard's science is solid and the overall effect is positively winning. In Howard's capable hands, the sex habits of diverse creatures such as dinosaurs, hedgehogs and caddisflies are engrossing (not gross), and the language is accessible. His debut achieves a fine balance to which all popular-science writing should aspire. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: The sexual habits and workings of the animal kingdom described in decidedly entertaining fashion.
Children's & Young Adult
Bow Wow's Nightmare Neighbors
by Mark Newgarden , Megan Montague Cash
The team behind Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug brings back their hero in a wordless adventure that's equal parts mystery and farce.
Attentive readers' first clue to the identity of the title's "Nightmare Neighbors" may be found (if not on the endpapers) on the jet-black page facing a peacefully slumbering Bow Wow: three white, sausage-like hooks move across its expanse. Three sets of ears peering over a windowsill into the full-page image of the room where the golden pup naps provide the next hint. Then pandemonium strikes with a turn of the page: one of the white kittens bites Bow-Wow's tail and sends him skyward, and the three kittens steal away with the teal dogbed that matches the pup's collar. Newgarden and Cash use framed images like camera close-ups and cutaway views, moving from Bow-Wow's open-mouthed roar on a full page to a sequence of panels chronicling the pooch's pursuit of the thieves. Views that mimic those seen through a telescope or keyhole help readers understand Bow-Wow's missteps (a flowing teal dress, a burglar's teal loot bag, a teal toilet cover). One of the funniest moments occurs when Bow-Wow at last locates his dogbed, and the recurring tail-biting gag gets a big payoff in the penultimate conflict.
Newgarden and Cash use body language, facial expressions and color to superb effect, building suspense and dishing out humor seemingly effortlessly. Readers will appreciate the fact that, when a real crisis strikes, cats and dogs can band together. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A wordless adventure, part mystery and farce, that makes the most of the timeless tension between cats and dogs.
Adrian and the Tree of Secrets
by Hubert , trans. by David Homel , illust. by Marie Caillou
A Parisian author-artist team follows Adrian as he makes his first attempts to claim who he is and whom he loves, in this emotionally resonant graphic novel.
Marie Caillou's (Fear of the Dark) flat colors in a palette of salmon, cornflower blue and beige telegraph the claustrophobic French town in which Adrian lives. As Hubert (Miss Don't Touch Me) chronicles a "beautiful" boy trapped by his strict mother and Catholic school, readers sense his limited options. When Jeremy, a strong athlete, knocks down Adrian in gym, Adrian lets him (verbally) have it, and the two discover they have similar views--and a mutual attraction blossoms. A daydream in English class, in which Adrian imagines himself cheek to cheek with Jeremy, foreshadows their later encounter, when Jeremy offers him a ride on his scooter. Jeremy attempts to bring Adrian into his popular crowd, and Caillou ramps up the dark tones inside the bar, with Laura, Jeremy's "cool" girlfriend, matching the seductive backdrop. Jeremy's friends soon depart, leaving Adrian and Jeremy to bond on their scooter ride.
The next day, Jeremy takes Adrian to the title's "tree of secrets." They bare their souls and kiss, and Jeremy is the first to express affection--but also the first to abandon the relationship when it's discovered. Author and artist expertly balance naïveté and worldliness, allowing readers to empathize with both Jeremy and Adrian. The ambiguous ending could begin a conversation about society's and religion's rules and how challenging it can be as individuals to carve one's own path. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A graphic novel from a French team explores the challenges facing a gay teen in a small town.